We first ate at Potenza about a year ago. We shared pizza and a couple of side orders -- the roasted brussels sprouts were good -- and we each had a decent and reasonably priced glass of wine. On that visit, we liked Potenza's informality and unpretentiousness and even preferred it to another downtown Italian restaurant that had been billed as "the best restaurant in Washington" but whose food, atmosphere, and service turned out to be nothing special. So we returned to Potenza on our next trip to Washington. This time we ordered a full meal, and we were disappointed.
The first thing we noticed was that the prices on the wine list appeared to have gone up a lot. We're used to paying up to 300% of a wine's value when we order it in a restaurant -- a $12 bottle for $36, a $20 bottle for $60 -- but in this case it was closer to 500%: we had a $50+ bottle of wine that we later found advertised online for $11.99. The prices for entrees, salads, and appetizers also seemed to have increased: they were more like those of "the best restaurant in Washington" than the ones at the cozy pizza-and-pasta place we remembered from last year.
By this time, however, we were already seated and not in the mood to go anywhere else, so we ordered a couple of our favorite dishes. They were not terrible, but they were uninspired and not worth the price. When you spend over $100 for a restaurant dinner for two, you expect the food to be at least a little more interesting than if you'd cooked it yourself.
The service might also have been better. Our waiter seemed to be a nice guy, and our salads came quickly, but then there was a thirty-minute wait for the entrees. And the waiters are now all wearing black zip-up jackets, apparently made of some artifical fabric, with the logo of the Italian national soccer team on the back. These seem to be something new -- at least we didn't remember them from last year -- and they made us feel like we were in a sports bar.
There are still some good things about Potenza: the portions are generous, the tiramisu is delicious -- soft and moist and bursting with flavor -- and the booths are comfortable and inviting. (By all means do try to get a booth: when you sit at a table you'll find yourself inches from other diners.) And if you split a pizza, a couple of salads or side orders, and dessert you can get away for about $50 per couple including tax and tip. But two glasses of wine will add $30 or so to this bill.
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