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February 28, 2011 // UPDATED 9:03 am - February 28, 2011
By: Carla Waldemar
Carla Waldemar
It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood, crooned Mr. Rogers in the day of kinder, gentler TV shows. Were he beaming his feel-good message today, the folks in Northeast could agree he’d got it right. Johnson Street & 28th flourishes with a gaggle of small-business start-ups — a vintage store, crafts shop, a beauty salon, all drawing customers from across the metro, and a couple of mom-and-pop cafes that do the same. We congratulated Hazel’s recently. Now it’s Amici’s turn.

The thrust is Italian here, and just as wholesome, calling on foodstuffs raised thoughtfully and locally, like Fischer Farm pork, Izzy’s ice cream and poultry from Larry Schultz. No Kraft truck delivering ready-to-nuke pasta sauces, either — an improvement on the former pizza joint adopted by the Pratt family a year ago.

Décor is minimal but comfy, over shone by service that excels in making diners feel at ease. My only quibble is the inflated prices on the wine list, but by lucky chance, we’d stumbled in on a Wednesday evening, when bottles are half-price.

The apps ($5–9) read well — brochette, baked goat cheese, mussels in a spicy tomato sauce — but we dove straight for the pizza. Build your own, or leave it to the pros, as we did, summing the winter special. It was an amazing multi-culti mix of pulled pork — lots of it — topped with smoked fresh mozz, sweet pickled onions and a fiery tomato sauce, all topped by sprigs of fresh arugula. Mighty tasty. But it’s the unique crust that tugged my heart, slender and bubble-light and rich with crunchy cornmeal. Mamma mia!

The beet salad, not so much. It’s a clunky toss of chopped greens (Don’t do it!), chopped walnuts (again, way too fine), goat cheese (ditto) and roasted rounds of beets tossed in a suave puree of cannellini beans balanced by a shot of tart-sweet pomegranate ($7), which we mopped up with bread from the bakery next door.

Next, a couple of hearty, winter-ready pastas: orichiette, rustically thick and cooked, perfectly, just short of al dente. They came heaped with bits of roasted cauliflower, sundried tomatoes and pistachios, silky with cream. However, those treasures sat heaped atop the spectacular pasta and resisted fraternizing, even with the guidance of our serving spoon. Same situation with the cavatappi, another hearty-as-you-please pasta, this time partnered with roasted butternut squash, bacon, kale, pumpkinseeds and grated Pecorino cheese. Good idea; once again, so-so execution. It’s harder to discern, and enjoy those terrific ingredients when they’re all so tiny, rather than given their 15 minutes of fame (pastas $13).

But the star of the evening was yet to come: a homey, juicy, heart-melting pot roast sided with fingerling potatoes and other root vegetables soothed by a comforting mascarpone cream ($17).

Our dessert choice also was over the moon: a perfect (and mammoth) panna cotta, lightly quivering and ultra-creamy, drizzled with pomegranate molasses and topped with a crisp tuile cookie.

2851 Johnson St. NE