Manassas / Italian / $$$
The jackets of the ravioli are almost paper-fine. The calamari contain tiny tentacles enrobed in the crispiest coating. The panna cotta bounces suggestively, yielding the pop of a blueberry as you cut in with your spoon.
There’s no doubt about it: Chef Franklin Hernandez cooks some of the best food in Prince William County and among the lustiest in NoVA. This is date-night food that may look hearty, but won’t leave you overstuffed.
That’s because it’s prepared with such skill; Hernandez doesn’t shrink from sharing all his tricks from the open kitchen. And chances are, you’ll be taking notes. For example, those calamari include a few pickled jalapeños that are also lightly battered and fried to set diners’ tongues ablaze. Even more heat arises as you dip into the spiced marinara.
But don’t ignore the specials. They might include everything from lobster spaghetti or tagliarini with truffles to local seafood grilled simply with lemon and butter. That risotto that sounds particularly compelling may never return, so go ahead and order it. You can count on Hernandez to prepare you a meal to remember.
See this: The interior is suburban-strip-mall incarnate, but focus on the open kitchen instead of the red or blue lights.
Eat this: Calamari fritti, fettuccine Bolognese, berry panna cotta
Service: The servers rattle off long lists of specials with startling familiarity. This is a team that knows what it’s doing.
When to dine here: You and your date are more focused on the food than the setting.