Clearly I’ve been on a bit of an Italian food kick lately. As well as a ragu binge. But is there anything better than a huge, warm pot of zesty, savory tomato sauce cooking away while it’s cold outside? Chef Ari Gejdenson’s recipe for beef ragu at Acqua al 2 is simple and delicious. Click through for the full recipe.
Watching executive chef Ari Gejdenson swiftly expedite plates at Acqua al 2, you’d never guess that he was previously an international soccer player and that the sport was what got him into the restaurant industry. For starters, playing soccer allowed the young chef to travel and be exposed to all different kinds of cuisines in foreign countries. And it was soccer that took Ari to Florence where he began his unorthodox journey to the kitchen. Not long after moving to Italy, he wound up opening Ari’s Diner, an American-style eatery. “I saw a gap and that it was something that was needed in Florence,” he says, adding that a lot of the clientele were American students who were studying abroad.
For Ari, playing soccer and running a restaurant aren’t so different, as he explains that in both arenas your job is to entertain people. “These homesick kids would come in[to the diner] upset. And they would come to this place that reminded them of home and they’d leave happy,” he says. “The whole idea of bringing people into a moment by heightening their tastes was what made me want to become a chef.” At Acqua al 2, you can see him work the room with ease, transitioning from calling out food orders to the kitchen to shaking hands and hugging regular customers.
After running Ari’s Diner with his childhood friend, Ralph Lee, who is a co-owner of Acqua al 2 in Eastern Market, Ari started working at the original Acqua al 2 in Florence and eventually served as the chef for several years there. Gejdenson says it’s hard to be in Italy and not get swept up in the incredibly rich food culture. “The passion for food in Italy is a different thing. You’d have to have a blindfold on not to notice,” he says. After years of living and working in Florence, the Washington native returned home to open the second U.S. location of Acqua al 2.
One year later and I still want to call this fantastic Italian restaurant Acqua Al “Two,” so apparently I still need to brush up on my grasp of languages. Acqua Al 2 came to Capitol Hill a little more than one year ago thanks to DC natives Ari Gejdenson and Ralph Lee. The first location is actually in Florence, Italy and the other is located in San Diego.
Acqua Al 2 is long and narrow. You just can’t imagine how far back it goes when looking at the small front. Still, good luck trying to come here during dinner hours and not have to wait – it’s impossible. Thankfully, you have a bar to your right to hold you over (with extra seats). Or walk around looking at the plates encased in glass and signed/decorated by patrons.