Jennie Tai
Dupont Circle Italian Pasta

The Squid Inked Love Letter

As rare as it is to find an authentic Italian meal in DC, it’s all the same when it comes to finding genuine love it seems. Sometimes we find ourselves settling time after time for that desperately needed quick fix. Whether it’s making a fast food run every other night, or finding ourselves at the front door of a dead-end fling – after a while, we forget what real food tastes like; what real love feels like. I’ve had so many globs of tough, clumsily-battered calamari that I forgot how soft rings of fresh squid requires no chewing, and instead – gives into a single, effortless bite. I’ve made my way through so many bad dates, pushed through so many bad flings that I forgot real love is, and always should be effortless, sweet, and uplifting. Sometimes we don’t realize that complacency with mediocrity is the way we forget how great food, and how great love is supposed to be. My dinner at Floriana a few nights ago refreshed my memory of these few things.

{ L’Estate | Fresh Bread & Pesto | Black Gnocchi in Lobster Cream }
I cleaned out my closet a few days ago, and fell upon a dusty old shoe box filled with cards and hand written notes. They were birthday cards, photos, and letters from all sorts of different people that came through my life. Whether they were best friends, family members, or high school sweethearts – I read through some of the sweetest poems, the funniest memories, and laughed at some of the silliest love letters. After so many years had passed, I forgot how ridiculous, yet heart warming love once was, and wondered how I could have forgotten how deep and meaningful it could be. When you love someone so much, that sitting down to write a poem, or gluing together a photo montage of your favorite memories is the only way you want to express it. Or when you love someone so much that even after gazing up at the majestic Eifel Tower in Paris, you still decide to take a few moments from your vacation to send a post card back to your best friend, telling them how much you wish they were there.

As I made my way through my first course at Floriana, my lapse of irresponsible, quick fix indulgences came to a bittersweet halt, just as the rain finally decided to pause from a three day down pour. Each letter I read through was a reminder of how love was, and should be. A reminder to never settle for anything less. Each course at Floriana was the same reminder of how home made italian cuisine was always meant to be prepared, and enjoyed. After you’ve made your way through store bought, or poorly made gnocchi, you forget that real, fresh, hand made gnocchi doesn’t taste like thick knobs of dough; but soft pillows of creamy mashed potatoes under a light blanket of lobster cream. I decided I’d never have a bite of gnocchi, unless it was fresh and hand made like it was at Floriana. In that same moment, while I took a bite of the sweet red bell peppers, the tiny cubes of andouille sausage and the soft rings of calamari – I decided I probably shouldn’t spend any more time trudging through another empty relationship, or chasing down another withering friendship unless there was genuine love at the core either.

{ Tagliatelle with Beef Ragu }

I asked to sit outside by the streets, where I could enjoy the warm weather before Fall settles in these next few weeks. I drank the L’Estate, a sweet medley of prosecco and fresh strawberry puree; and watched the couples walk by hand in hand as they came out to enjoy the warm night as well. And as much noise as there must have been around me, sitting right by the busy sidewalks of Dupont Circle on a Friday night – my dinner was quiet and serene as I sat back in a wired garden chair, twirling wide, hand made noodles into a savory knot of beef ragu, tagliatelle and parmesan cheese. I enjoyed the little Christmas lights that hovered above our tables, and watched the stop lights change different colors every few minutes, inviting more and more crowds of stylishly polished strangers to make their way across the glowing streets of DC.

Before the sun set on the very last warm Friday night of an ending season, I sat back to take a breath from the daily grind, and enjoyed the three hand crafted courses of an Italian love letter.

{ Street Lights of Dupont | Di’Leonardo Pinot Grigio | Tiramisu }
You know when you find something you really, really like? Whether it’s a song you can’t get enough of, a new beau in your life, or even just discovering a new snack you want to eat every day? You play it over and over til you get sick of it, you find every reason to see him every minute of the day, and like discovering french fries for the first time – you’re addicted. But after a while, it becomes bland, boring, and not as exciting anymore. You look for newer songs to put you in that same mood, you look for someone new to make you feel the same way someone else did, and eventually – you find out that french fries can be made a million different ways that are also pretty enjoyable. You move on, and forget about those little firsts that once stimulated your life, but after a while – you come back to them and feel it all over again. Because no matter how many times you’ve heard the cover of You Don’t Know Me,┬áRay Charles always sings it better. No matter how many boys come and go – you’ll never forget what real love feels like. And no matter how many beer-battered, chili-slathered, or rosemary-buttered ‘pommes frites’ you’ve tasted in your life – there’s nothing like a large order of McDonald’s french fries and sweet tea at 2 am.

With that said – I was a little spoiled when it came to tiramisu. You would think that the only time you’d ever get to enjoy rum soaked lady fingers with sweet espresso cream in between, would be at a fancy restaurant or a cobble stoned cafe around the corners of Paris – but my mom made it all the time when I was younger. She would make batches and batches of endless tiramisu, trying to perfect her recipe while my cousins and I were her eager and willing guinea pigs. However, she eventually moved on to perfecting other recipes, and I started ordering tiramisu everywhere I went, trying to find one that was just as good as hers. If we had Italian for someone’s birthday, I’d check to see if Tiramisu was on the menu. If my mom dragged me on another shopping trip, I’d patiently sit between racks and racks of clothing, waiting for her to stop by a bakery for coffee so I could skim the pastry displays for tiramisu. I asked for it everywhere I went, but unfortunately – I had come across so many poorly made tiramisus during my adolescence that I eventually stopped ordering it all together for years. It wasn’t until my last course at Floriana that I decided that in light of how perfect everything else was that night – and even though I normally order Creme Brulee without a thought if it’s on the menu – I decided I’d take a chance and see if the tiramisu was as good as I once remembered.

Needless to say, it was perfect. Soft layers of rum and espresso soaked sponge cake, with even layers of sweet, creamy mascarpone in between. I took each bite slowly like you’d savor every last word of a heart warming love letter you never want to end. In a three paragraphed meal, this deliciously hand crafted love letter reminded me of how traditional Italian food was meant to be. From the hand made squid-ink gnocchi to the reminiscently delicious tiramisu – it was the perfect way to welcome the season of change, and the beginning of wonderful holidays with a desire for great food, and endless love.

Happy Autumn!

Floriana
1602 17th Street Northwest
Washington, DC 20009-2404
(202) 667-5937

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