The chef behind one of D.C.’s most beloved pasta dishes is ready to roll out two new Italian spots in Bethesda, showcasing handmade spaghetti, bubbly focaccia, classic Roman cooking, and New Jersey-style pizzas all on one cute block.
Aventino and AP Pizza Shop (4747 Bethesda Avenue, Bethesda, Maryland), opening in tandem on Wednesday, January 31, are the latest projects from Italian hitmaker Mike Friedman. His Bloomingdale trattoria the Red Hen continues to remain relevant nearly 10 years in, thanks in part to its best-selling rigatoni and fennel sausage ragu that counts the Bidens as big fans. Friedman is also the mind behind a pair of All Purpose locations in the city, which serves as the blueprint for its casual new offspring AP Pizza.
At Aventino, Friedman steers away from Italian-American nostalgia and taps into the longstanding culinary traditions of Rome and Italy’s Lazio region. The sprawling, sit-down dinner spot with room for 135 specializes in antipasti, pasta, and homemade gelato, plus spritzes and Negronis stirred at its emerald and marble-clad bar.
“I’ve always loved Roman food, as someone who has cooked Italian food for so long,” says Friedman. “It symbolizes the simplicity and seasonal nature of what Italian cooking is.”
Winter produce takes center stage in dishes like a fennel, radicchio, and endive salad and a sourdough panzanella built around trumpet, maitake, and porcini mushrooms.
Aventino’s Roman muse invites Friedman to explore Jewish and Italian heritage across the menu, as the Eternal City is home to the one of the largest Jewish ghettos in the world.
“Where I grew up in New Jersey and New York, you had those cultures mixing. And I like to say that they swim downstream on two separate rivers in the same direction but they never really touch. But in Rome, they touch,” he says.
As with any Italian restaurant, pasta will surely be a draw, and Aventino has six preparations to start. Each bowl stars a different shape of homemade pasta and honors time-tested recipes that remain staples in kitchens across Rome.
“This is not the restaurant where you’re going to get spaghetti and meatballs and garlic bread,” Friedman says.
Tonnarelli, for example, provides a canvas for cacio e pepe, made with pecorino Romano and parmesan cheese. Rigatoni is prepared into a carbonara with homemade guanciale. Other opening carbs include a linguine with clams and white wine and pappardelle with braised short rib and oxtail ragu. Many of the dishes rely on homemade dried pasta, which Friedman favors for its toothsome, “al dente” bite.
Friedman advises no meal end without a glimpse (and ideally a taste) of the pastry work of Anne Specker, formerly of Kinship, Metier, and CityZen. The roundup includes homemade gelato and sorbet, in addition to intricate desserts like a chocolate and coffee budino and the Amalfi float that tops vanilla gelato, kiwi, coconut and lemon granita with a juniper-coriander soda.
“It’s just amazing, you’ll want to order two at the same time,” he says.
The adjoining AP Pizza Shop, which shares an address with Aventino, grew out of a pandemic-fueled demand for takeout and delivery options at All Purpose. Along with All-Purpose’s popular lineup of pizzas, the lunch-and-dinner spot showcases salads, sandwiches, Italian-American starters (roasted garlic knots and a Jersey-style eggplant parmesan), and other nostalgic odes to the red-sauce joints he grew up around.
The setup is designed to be convenient and tech savvy, with digital, photo-packed tablets for ordering and a front window for easy pickup. Lunch is focused on slices, with whole pies on offer during the brief dinner service. Friedman says he looks forward to giving fellow New York and New Jersey transplants access to a literal slice of home in D.C.
“Being able to serve the community here with the style of pizza that I love is really, really exciting,” he says.
The pair of projects is a collective effort from Friedman, Colin McDonough, Gareth Croke, Mike O’Malley, the team behind D.C.’s Red Hen, All-Purpose, and Boundary Stone.
Aventino is open Sunday to Thursday, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Friday to Saturday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. AP Shop is open 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday to Thursday and 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.