Sorriso offers a taste of Italy right in the heart of the district.
By Roshan Farazad
The bustling area of Cleveland Park is filled with shops, restaurants, historic buildings, and cultured Washingtonians who fill the surrounding neighborhoods. Nestled in a small, quaint, and cozy spot on Connecticut Avenue is Sorriso.
Inside Sorriso Bar, Pizzeria, and Ristorante, owner Pietro Polles and his son are making homemade pizzas, pastas, and gelati. Polles’ daughter is serving tables and his wife is seating customers.
“Our business is completely run by our family,” said Polles.
Sorriso opened in 2004 after Polles retired from the World Bank. When he retired in 1998, Polles went back to his homeland of Italy for a few years, to submerge himself in food, wine, and the art of cooking.
He grew up in a typical Italian family; his parents were winemakers. Polles would spend many hours a day cooking with his grandmother.
“I decided to fulfill my lifelong dream of having my own Italian restaurant,” he stated.
Sorriso offers a taste of Italy right in the heart of the District of Columbia. Only steps away from the Cleveland Park Metro stop, the restaurant is easily accessible to Washingtonians all over the area who want to fill their cravings of homemade Italian cuisine.
Sheila Farahpour and her husband, Ali, trek to Sorriso from Potomac, Md. to indulge in the homemade lasagna.
“I love knowing that it’s run by a family. The ingredients they use are so fresh; you can really taste the difference,” she said.
The first floor of the welcoming trattoria contains the bar, which allows for a perfect view of the brick pizza oven, and a few tables with seats against the windows, cushioned with comfortable and decorative pillows. Walk upstairs and you’ll see more tables, and photographs of Italian markets adorning the yellow walls.
Polles’ business philosophy for his restaurant is to always use seasonal and fresh ingredients in his cooking.
“Now that we are in the fall season, we use a lot of squash and pumpkins in our dishes. We’re making pumpkin ravioli and butternut squash soup right now. I have a vegetable garden at home where I grow arugula and Swiss chard. I use those ingredients in the restaurant,” said Polles.
Polles also travels back to Italy about three times a year to check on his house and vineyard in Pordenoni, which is about 50 miles from Venice. He learns about new dishes and takes wine, made from his vineyard, back to his restaurant.
Economically, Sorriso has done well since its opening in 2004, but started to see a 20 percent decrease in sales in 2007, according to Polles.
“From time to time we’ve seen ups and downs in our sales. There has not been any signs of steady increase,” he stated.
To help make up for the decrease in sales, Polles’ son, Stefano Polles, gives pizza-making lessons at the restaurant on Saturday mornings.
After college, Stefano Polles moved to Italy to learn the art of pizza making for four months. He also attended Carpigiani Gelato University, near Bologna, Italy. Stefano Polles brought his skills in gelato crafting back to the district and now makes homemade gelato in house, which include pistachio and hazelnut flavors. The gelato is usually sold out nightly.
As far as Pietro Polles is concerned, competition with other restaurants is not a problem.
“We are only worried about giving our client total satisfaction; that’s our only competition. We cannot control what goes on outside of our restaurant,” he stated.
Sorriso does not advertise, but counts on word-of-mouth to spread its name. Its clientele includes politicians, the Obama administration, journalists, lawyers, and professionals, according to Pietro Polles.
“I picked this location because it’s in a trendy neighborhood. I wanted a location where people could afford to go out to dinner two times a week,” he said.
Many of his clients are regulars who have been dining at Sorriso for years. Ali Farahpour, a Sorriso regular, states that there are three things that have him coming back.
“The family atmosphere. The owners make me feel right at home. Secondly, when I sit down and they recommend me the amazing pizzas, I feel like I am in Italy. Thirdly. The lasagna. All I have to say is ‘forget about it.’”
What is Pietro Polles’ favorite part about owning a restaurant?
“I love meeting interesting people and having wonderful conversations until 2 a.m., drinking Grappa,” he laughed.
Sorriso is located at 3518 Connecticut Ave. DC 20008-2401. Telephone: 202. 537. 4800