You'll remember from my write-up of Taste of Bethesda that I thought that Olazzo was the star of the show. They by far had the best offering of food in my opinion, between their chicken cardenale and meatball sandwich. Since Taste of Bethesda, I have been there twice - both times for dinner. I've also tried to go there twice for lunch with no success. Both times they were closed. Now I'll mention that the first time I tried to go for lunch was on a Sunday, a day on which they are closed for lunch.
(God, what is with Italian places being closed on Sundays. We had the same problem with Il Pizzico in Rockville. )
The second time I tried to get lunch there was yesterday. Amy and I got a really late start and didn't get out of the house until 3. WE WERE STARVING!!! It turns out that they are only open for lunch until 3. Ugh. So in this review I will keep my observations to dinner and I won't cover Olazzo's lunch menu.
When you first walk into Olazzo , it seems very small. In reality, it probably only seats about 60 people including the tables on the patio. There is no entry area. People waiting for tables, have to wait outside. In the cold months ahead I bet this is a real deterrent to eating at Olazzo - especially since they don't take reservations. The bar is the only waiting area. It too is very small and when you get more than 6 people waiting at the bar, they start to get in the way of the servers. The hostess told me that the most popular nights are Friday, Saturday, and Monday nights. You can count on there always being a crowd on those nights.
With all the inconvenience to eat at Olazzo, people still line up to eat there, which tells you a lot (or….maybe it doesn‘t). On the weekends, if you arrive after 7:30, you will wait for a table. The two times that Amy and I went for dinner, we arrived before 7 and we were able to get a table soon after we arrived. People arriving after us though…they were waiting because both times we got the last table.
Everything at Olazzo is meant to give it a homey, trattoria-like feel, right down to the TV with a DVD loop of a fireplace. The tables and chairs remind you of those that you would find in a corner coffee shop in Italy (not that I would know because I've never been there - but I have seen them on TV).
Looking at the menu, you see that Olazzo serves no nonsense Italian American food. You don't see any fancy cream sauces like you'll see at Spezie, nor do you find any hand rolled tortellini or ravioli. You will, however, see lots of penne, lasagna and fettuccine. Their "fanciest" and best dish in my opinion is the chicken cardinale. It contains penne, a tomato cream sauce, sun-dried tomatoes, bits of white-meat chicken, and parmesan cheese. There are two styles of Lasagna on the menu, a "normal" style with ricotta cheese and a Bolognese style with marinara and mozzarella cheese. Out first trip, I ordered the Bolognese style and it was very good. Amy ordered the chicken cardinale and enjoyed it very much as well. Our second trip, we BOTH ordered the pasta with meatballs. I have to say the meatballs at Olazzo are some of the best I have ever had. They are very large and contain the perfect combination of meats and seasoning. Portions are on the larger size. Both times, Amy couldn't finish her entrée and we did not have room for dessert. The good thing is you have leftovers for lunch the next day.
Praise aside, I think Olazzo would be a LOT better if they used homemade pastas. The pasta they use is very obviously out-of-the-box. It is always al dente, but that only makes up for so much. This is one thing that places like Il Pizzico and Spezie will always have over places like Olazzo and Maggiano's.
Appetizers are pretty typical for a restaurant of this style. Mozzarella Neapolitan (which is really just a Tomato and mozzarella salad stacked vertically) with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, fried calamari, peel and eat shrimp, ceviche, etc. Oh, and I almost forgot the Italian wedding soup, which was really good. In reality, you really don't need to order an appetizer at Olazzo if you plan to order an entrée for yourself.
If you have room for dessert (and that's a BIG if), they have cannolis and tiramisu. We've never had room for dessert, so we have yet to try either. However, the cannolis seem very popular - I don't know how people have room for them.
Overall, the service has been pretty consistent the few times we have been to Olazzo. The servers are friendly and eager to please. Food comes out promptly and is well timed and glasses of wine are kept full, which is always a bonus. This leads me to Olazzo's half-price wine Mondays.
Monday night is a very popular night at Olazzo. We went last Monday, and it was very crowded. Luckily, we arrived before the crowd showed up. In reality though, the half-price wine does not buy you very much when the most expensive bottle of wine on the menu is $45. However, it does cut a good chunk of the check off. The wine list is extremely average and nothing worth making a special trip to Olazzo. That said, it is very rare to find out-of-the-ordinary wines in a Maryland restaurant, mostly due to state liquor laws. Also, on Wednesday nights, Olazzo has $5 martinis.
The average check varies for Amy and I at Olazzo. Entrees range from $10-$15 - appetizers average around $6. When we went on half-price wine night, the check was around $50 with two entrees, an appetizer and a bottle of wine. The other nights we went, the check averages about $10-$20 more without the half-price wine.
If you want good, consistent Italian American food at a budget price, I would say your best choices today are Olazzo and Il Pizzico. If you live closer to Il Pizzico in Northern Rockville, I would say you should go there though. The prices are about the same, and Il Pizzico uses fresh, homemade pasta. If you live in NW DC like myself, Olazzo is the best choice that I know of.
7921 Norfolk Ave.
(they are not posted anywhere online, so I will have to update this the next time I go there)
Open Daily for Dinner)
Closed for lunch on Sunday.
Dress Code: Casual
Reservations: Not Accepted