Pasta and opera night at Trattoria da Franco in Old Town

Pasta comes the way you like it in Old Town

There's loyalty, and then there's the unbowed allegiance that Trattoria da Franco elicits.

Hidden behind plants and completely unassuming, the venerable Old Town restaurant is as haunt-like as they come. It boasts patrons fiercely committed to the Northern Italian cuisine of its namesake, septuagenarian chef and restaurateur Franco Abbruzetti.

A recent meal reminded us why. Though diverse, the restaurant's menu is merely a suggestion, rather than a rule. The kitchen encourages special requests, even thriving on the challenge. Puffs of chewy gnocchi ($17) can be upgraded from their sauce of simple tomatoes and basil to the off-menu Bolognese, a robust ragout–provided the restaurant stocks the necessary ingredients.

Still, the menu also hosts classic pleasures. House-made stracciatelli ($5) soothes with tender egg noodles and chicken-broth-soaked greens.

Agnolotti ($17), fattened with a ricotta-spinach filling, sit in a voluptuous sauce of garlic and heavy cream. White onions and black pepper add bite to linguine carbonara ($17), the lanky noodles slicked with an egg and studs of coarsely chopped bacon.

As if Abbruzetti's fine food weren't enough, dinner and a show take on new meaning at the trattoria. For the last 15 years, Abbruzetti has hosted Opera Night ($55), a monthly evening of arts appreciation featuring a buffet dinner, a bottle of Chianti and over two hours of arias by Kennedy Center ringers. Aspiring singers can–and often, unexpectedly, do–join in the action.

For anyone vocally impaired, the sound of voices aloft and a custardy zuppa inglese are treats enough.

Trattoria da Franco, 305 S. Washington St., Alexandria; 703-548-9338 or trattoriadafranco.com