The DMV Dining Guide to Passover: 2014 Edition

10 Apr

Now that we are officially less than a week away from Passover, we thought we would take the time to compile a list of DC area restaurants that will be offering Pesach-friendly menus.

After all, just because it’s Passover doesn’t mean you can’t go out for dinner! So put down that box of matzo meal and start reading…

Matzo Ball Soup

BLT Steak: A new entrant in the Passover scene, the DC steakhouse is offering some intriguing items such as deviled hen eggs with challah croutons and pike “gefilte” fish with English pea velouté. Guests can order items a la carte or create their own three-course menu for $60 per person. The menu runs from Monday, April 14 to Saturday, April 19.

Call 202-689-8999 to make a reservation.

Commissary: The Logan Circle eatery is offering one of the more affordable Passover-centric dining options with a $28 prix-fixe three course dinner that includes matzo ball soup, brisket, and sweet matzo kugel. The menu is also available a la carte and will be available from Monday, April 14 to Saturday, April 19.

Call 202-299-0018 to make a reservation.

Fiola: Chef Fabio Trabocchi introduces his “Passover Seder All’Italiana” with an exquisite six-course tasting menu that will be offered from Tuesday, April 15 to Tuesday, April 22. The dinner will feature an Italian twist on the Passover Seder with items such as baby artichokes salad, red mullet and fennel risotto, and a kosher rack of lamb. The dinner is $105 per person along with an optional $60 wine pairing.

Call 202-628-2888 to make a reservation.

DGS Delicatessen: Already one of the most popular restaurants in Dupont Circle, Barry Koslow’s kitchen will be featuring a spit-roasted lamb dinner for the first night of Passover on Sunday, April 13. The menu will feature spit-roasted lamb served family style, along with latkes, roasted beets, asparagus, and honey glazed donuts for $35 per person. Additionally, DGS will be offering a “Seder at the Delicatessen” four-course dinner from April 14 to 21 for $45/person, and will feature matzo ball soup, pan-roasted striped bass, Shenandoah Valley lamb, and charoset cake. There is also a $20 optional wine pairing.

Call 202-393-4400 to make a reservation.

Equinox: Chef Todd Gray will be offering a farm-to-Seder party on Monday, April 14. Featuring recipes from Todd and Ellen Gray’s cookbook, The New Jewish Table: Modern Seasonal Recipes for Traditional Dishes, the $90 dinner will include matzo ball soup, short rib, and pineapple upside down cake.

Call 202-331-8118 to make a reservation.

Rosa Mexicano: It’s Mexican Passover over at Rosa Mexicano from Monday, April 14 to Tuesday, April 22. Their Penn Quarter, Chevy Chase, and National Harbor locations will feature a “Passover a la Mexicana” menu which puts a south of the border twist on traditional favorites. From tropical haroset to chipotle-marrow matzo balls, Rosa Mexicano offers perhaps the most eclectic selection of Passover dishes thus far. Menu is prix-fixe.

Call 202-783-5522 (Penn Quarter), 202-777-9959 (Chevy Chase) or 301-567-1005 (National Harbor) to make a reservation.

Mon Ami Gabi: The French bistro located in downtown Bethesda will be offering a prix-fixe Seder menu on Monday, April 14th and Tuesday, April 15th. Dinner will feature classic Passover dishes such as matzo ball soup, chopped liver with egg and onions, and beef brisket. Rachel and I went a couple of years ago and really enjoyed it.

$36.95 for adults and $15.95 for children under 12. Call 301-654-1234 to make a reservation.

Vince & Dominic’s Pizzeria: Just because it’s Passover doesn’t mean you can’t eat pizza. The Bethesda-based pizzeria will be serving up unleavened pies all throughout Passover. Make sure to place your orders ahead of time as demand will be high during the holiday.

Call 301-365-4190 to place your order.

Georgetown Cupcake: DC’s most famous cupcake outpost will be selling a variety of Passover Macaroon cupcakes at both their Georgetown and Bethesda locations. These flourless coconut macaroon cupcakes will be available with either caramel or chocolate drizzle.

Sprinkles: The latest cupcake import from Beverly Hills will be selling flourless chocolate cupcakes, topped with a blue Star of David naturally, from April 14 to 22.

If you know of any area restaurants not listed above that are offering Passover menu options, please let us know by either leaving a comment or emailing us at dmvdining AT gmail DOT com.

Urban Butcher a Meaty Addition to Silver Spring

21 Mar

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of all things meat, so when I heard that Raynold Mendizabal was going to open a butcher-themed restaurant in Silver Spring, my ears (and my taste buds) piqued with interest. Urban Butcher is the newest entrant in downtown Silver Spring’s restaurant scene, and it’s certainly one of the most interesting when you scroll down their long if not diverse menu.

Both a butcher shop and a full service restaurant, Urban Butcher features everything from steaks to crispy pig tails to… ratatouille? Why yes, surprisingly enough, the restaurant accommodates vegetarians quite nicely as they offer a handful of non-meat items, something which our vegetarian friend Katie was really surprised by.

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We started the evening off with some capocollo from their meat cellar. The house-cured meat was delicious, and with one bite you can easily tell that this is what they excel at.

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But what was more surprising was how good the ahi tuna and ginger ceviche turned out to be. For a place that specializes in meats, this was one of our favorite items of the evening. Light and refreshing, the sushi-grade tuna was beautifully presented in a shot glass situated in a mason jar of ice.

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Meanwhile, the winter chicory salad was overly salty and probably the weakest dish of the meal.

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The beef empanadas, however, are worth getting. Stuffed with tender meat in a delightfully crisp shell and accompanied with chimichurri, I could have had a trio of these for myself.

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Just as good was the thick-cut house pastrami. Smoky and tender, my only qualm was the small-sized portion.

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The grilled Brussels sprouts were another unanticipated hit. Prepared with soy butter and garlic, it’s one of the best preparations you will find in the area – right up there with Red Hen’s. A vegetarian’s, or even vegans, delight.

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Our party couldn’t resist ordering the crispy fries, which were accompanied with a side of mayo for dipping, as it was a good dish for sharing amongst the table.

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The four of us decided to split two desserts. The first was a chocolate soufflé with goat cheese gelato. While the soufflé itself was grand, the goat cheese flavor was too overpowering and didn’t really complement the chocolate as well as anticipated.

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On the other hand, the churros were simply fantastic. Served with an orange-cocoa dipping sauce, the fried dough was exceptionally crispy and was easily the better of the two desserts we ordered.

And while Urban Butcher is relatively new, the kitchen really needs to work on the pacing of their dishes. As soon as we were halfway done with the charcuterie, the rest of our dishes came out at nearly the same time. It was a mad dash to try most of them while they were still hot. Meanwhile, the desserts took an extraordinarily long time to come to the table after we had ordered them.

Hopefully management is trying to remedy that as they are producing some quality food in the kitchen, let alone in downtown Silver Spring. I’d certainly make a return visit, just for that ceviche of all things.

Urban Butcher on Urbanspoon

An Anniversary Dinner at Marcel’s

12 Mar

As is the tradition every year, Rachel and I always love to try out some of the very best restaurants in the Washington metropolitan area whenever our wedding anniversary rolls around. From the glamorous Inn at Little Washington to the gluttonous BLT Steak to the classical L’Auberge Chez Francois, we have always looked for a romantic backdrop to celebrate the occasion.

When choosing a restaurant, we always pick a place we have not been before, and considering that Marcel’s, chef Robert Wiedmaier’s flagship establishment of his ever-growing brand of restaurants (his Ballston branch of Mussel Bar being the most recent opening), has been a mainstay at the top of the charts, we thought it was an ideal venue for dinner this past Saturday night.

Marcel’s is the epitome of French-Belgian fine dining without the stuffiness and outdated dining room. Instead it felt homey and modern. When we walked in, maitre d’ Adnane Kebaier warmly greeted us by wishing Rachel and me a happy anniversary and seated us at a table for two while pouring us each a glass of celebratory champagne. Needless to say we were both taken aback by this gracious gesture and already fell in love with the place.

Our table captain Jonathan then introduced himself and broke down how the menu works. It is a prix-fixe format where diners have the option to choose four to seven items from each of the seven courses on the menu. For example, if you do a four-course menu, you can choose two items from the first course, one from the third, and then a dessert. Four courses start at $85 per person, five courses at $105, six at $125, and if you’re hungry enough, seven for $145.

For some odd reason, we had the preconceived notion that every meal included the dessert course, so we opted for the four course menu, not realizing that we were doing five courses at the time. That was our fault as we should have asked sooner, but I’m honestly glad we made the miscue as there was literally zero regrets about what we ordered once the meal concluded. Besides, this is a special occasion place, so you might as well go all out, right?

Jonathan was great as he was extremely familiar with the preparations and was entertaining to boot. Restaurants always carry a certain kind of charm when the staff has such great personalities, and Jonathan was no exception. Being the head captain of Marcel’s, it’s a big responsibility to ensure that his diners leave satisfied, so we knew we were in good hands all evening.

Lobster bisque

Before we got started, we were served an amuse bouche of lobster flan that was housed in an egg shell. Despite just being a teaspoon or two worth, the amount of flavor packed inside was tremendous. Just one taste and we knew we were going to be in for a very memorable dinner.

Hudson Valley Foie Gras Torchon

For our first official course of the evening, I had to go with the Hudson Valley Foie Gras Torchon. Served atop a slice of grilled brioche and situated on a bed of blackberries and port syrup, the foie gras was sublime and was one of the best preparations I had ever come across.

Nantucket Bay Scallops,

Rachel decided to go with the Nantucket Bay scallops, along with marinated octopus, black garlic purée, and smoked tomato coulis. The combination of all the flavors was outstanding, and she particularly loved the black garlic with the octopus. It was a light and lovely dish to start things off.

Seared rare 'big eye' tuna

For our second course, I went with the seared rare ‘big eye’ tuna. Topped with seared foie gras (because hey, you can never get enough foie gras) and accompanied with purple potatoes and a Cabernet reduction, the tuna, which was a generous portion, was actually cooked more on the medium to medium rare side. Nonetheless, I really enjoyed the seared foie gras/tuna combination despite the slight overcooking.

Roasted monkfish cheek

Next for Rachel was the roasted monkfish cheek with white asparagus, mandarin, and a Maltaise sauce. This might have been the weakest dish of the evening, but she still loved the perfectly cooked monkfish and the decadent sauce. The mandarin added a nice tang as well.

Boudin Blanc.

While we were waiting for what was to be our third coach, Chef Wiedmaier surprised us with his renowned Boudin Blanc. If you are to ever dine at Marcel’s, I highly recommend you order this dish. In fact, we felt foolish not ordering it to begin with as it is one of their most ordered items. The housemade sausage, prepared with a blend of chicken and pheasant, was deceptively light and wrapped in a lightly browned casing. Topped with a generous amount of black truffles and placed under a bed of butternut squash puree, caramelized onions, and Madeira sauce, the savory, melt-in-your-mouth sausage is one of the very best dishes you will ever come across in the District. There’s a reason why it’s so popular.

Five Spice Beaver Creek Wood Pigeon Breast

Following that extravagant course was the Five Spice Beaver Creek Wood Pigeon Breast. The juicy slices of pigeon breast were complemented with a stuffed leg, Napa cabbage slaw, and Madeira sauce.

La Belle Farm duck breast

Rachel then had the La Belle Farm duck breast, with braised salsify, duck confit, chocolate, and brandied cherries. The duck was phenomenal, but the best part may have been the cherries. These deceptively small gems packed a powerful punch, and you could taste the brandy in each bite. What you would think is a traditional duck with cherries dish was anything but.

Border Spring lamb chops

I went with the Border Spring lamb chops as my final main course of the evening. Outside of the Boudin Blanc, this was my favorite dish of the meal. Prepared medium rare with a horseradish crust, the succulent lamb was simply extraordinary. Served with a smoked mozzarella polenta cake and rainbow chard, it was at this point that I began to hit the proverbial wall in terms of being full, but I marched on as I could not leave one bite of lamb behind. I just felt it would have been sacrilege to do so.

Martin's Angus filet mignon

The last savory dish for Rachel was the Martin’s Angus filet mignon, with Yukon gold potato purée, wild mushrooms, lemon zest, and horseradish. It may sound boring to have a filet, but how can you not? Of course it was cooked to a perfect medium-rare, and paired with the potato puree and sauce made for wonderful bites. Granted, she was slowing down too, but what a way to cap off dinner.

Melting hot chocolate cake

For dessert, each of our plates arrived with “Happy Anniversary” spelled out in chocolate, which was a very nice touch. Despite being absurdly full, I could not resist ordering the melting hot chocolate cake. Beautifully arranged with a scoop of salted praline gelato and a dollop of hazelnut coffee crema, the melting cake was as decadent as it sounded. The warm, rich chocolate cake paired incredibly well with the creamy gelato, which as it turned out was caramelized on the bottom! Just a transcending finale to a great meal.

Pineapple souffle

Rachel went with the special dessert for the evening, which was a pineapple souffle, served table side with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and pineapple sauce on the side. Jonathan had mentioned that the sauce was particularly sweet so to use it sparingly, and he was spot on. While you didn’t need much of it, the sauce added just enough to bring it all together.

And then there was the service. Part of going to Marcel’s is the white tablecloth experience, and the waitstaff operates like clockwork. Between the timing of the dishes, the highly knowledgeable sommelier, our enjoyable table captain, and the friendly maitre d’, the service was immaculate. It really adds to the overall experience and makes the evening feel that more special.

Miniature desserts

Overall this was arguably one of the best meals we have had in the District. Between the outstanding cooking and exceptional service, Rachel and I left with a smile on our (very full) faces. I was already joking with Rachel that I would gladly go back here for my birthday in a few months. With so many new restaurants that have opened in DC the past few years, Marcel’s is one that should not be overlooked. Wiedmaier works wonders in the kitchen and this is one place you should not pass up for your next special occasion.

Marcel's on Urbanspoon

A Long-Awaited Dinner at Le Diplomate

24 Feb

Considering that Rachel and I are the only ones  in the DC foodie blogosphere who still haven’t been to Stephen Starr’s bustling brasserie in the ever-growing 14th Street Corridor, we finally booked a reservation for Le Diplomate the week before Valentine’s Day. We decided to celebrate the holiday seven days early, as we wanted to avoid the trap of prix-fixe menus and overpaying for a meal, especially that we have also have to spend extra for a babysitter these days.

With repurposed materials being all the rage in new restaurants, the interior of Le Diplomate is absolutely stunning. You would never know that it was the site of a former laundromat, let alone open for a little under a year.  The moment you step inside, you’re instantly transported to a classic French bistro that looks like it’s been open for business for decades.

After a drink at the bar, we were seated at a lovely booth in the corner of the dining room. Great for couples, we had a view of the entire restaurant and watched as servers were jumping from table to table delivering some French classics like escargot and Onion Soup Gratinee.

Bread basket

While reviewing the menu, our server dropped off their famous bread basket. Overflowing with three different kinds of bread, ranging from sourdough to a classic French baguette to my favorite, cranberry walnut, it’s no wonder why Le Diplomate (along with Rose’s Luxury) features one of the best complimentary bread baskets in the District.

Mushroom Tart

For our appetizer, Rachel and I decided to split the mushroom tart after hearing such glowing recommendations from friends. Arriving to the table at room temperature, the buttery, flaky crust combined with the pioppini mushrooms and grated truffle pecorino made for an outstanding first course. Perfect to split between two people, it’s a great if not filling dish.

Steak frites

As for our entrees, considering that this was our first ever visit to Le Diplomate, I simply had to go with the traditional order of steak frites.  Prepared medium rare and served with two handfuls of crispy pommes frites, the pan-roasted hanger steak was topped with a hearty amount of maître d’ butter resulting in a smile to my face. There’s a reason why this is one of their bestsellers. If I wasn’t biting in the succulent, buttery steak I was dipping the crisp frites into the accompanying side of mayonnaise. You can’t go wrong with this dish.

Trout Amandine

Rachel, who already felt somewhat full after the mushroom tart, opted for a “lighter” entrée in the Trout Amandine. The filet was layered with almonds and sitting in a bed of haricots verts and cooked in a brown butter sauce. While the fish was nice and moist, the sauce had an overpowering flavor of vinegar that detracted from the overall taste of the dish, not to mention the overabundance of butter used. Not sure if it was a bad night in the kitchen, but it was slightly disappointing as Rachel regretted not ordering the Beef Bourguignon instead.

Despite the snafu, we had a lovely time as the atmosphere made for a romantic evening. The service was great if not a little rushed, but then again, we left at 10pm and people were STILL waiting for tables. One thing is for certain — Le Diplomate is a legitimate cash cow. No wonder we had to book a table a month in advance.

Le Diplomate on Urbanspoon

 

Alba Osteria and Amy Brandwein are a Perfect Match

17 Jan

When Casa Nonna shuttered in the spring of 2012, the District not only lost a great, reasonably priced Italian eatery located in the heart of Dupont Circle, but it also displaced Chef Amy Brandwein. Brandwein, who was a disciple of famed Italian chef Roberto Donna, has reunited with her mentor with the opening of Alba Osteria in Mount Vernon Square. Rachel and I, who are big fans of Donna’s work at Al Dente, went out to dinner at Alba Osteria last weekend with a few friends.

Unlike Al Dente, Alba Osteria’s menu focuses on the Piedmont region of Italy, with a heavy emphasis on rich cheeses, filling pastas, and a wide selection of antipasti. In fact, there are more than a dozen small plates to choose from on top of a handful of soups and salads. Alba Osteria also features six or so freshly made pastas that can be ordered as a small dish or entrée-size as well as a trio of entrees such as beef tenderloin and rabbit. Furthermore, there’s over a dozen wood-fired Neapolitan-style pizzas to pick from on the reverse side of the menu. And to top things off (literally), you can add duck liver to any dish for twelve dollars.

With six people in our party, we decided to try a variety of Piatti Caldi as well as a handful of pastas. Oh, and a couple bottles of wine for good measure.

Birille di Carne

We started the evening off with Birille di Carne, tiny meatballs with a hint of mint, served in a cast-iron skillet and accompanied with a Piedmontese red sauce. It wasn’t your typical marinara sauce as it was also prepared with red peppers and vinegar, which I rather enjoyed as it was a subtle departure from classic Italian fare.

Ratatuia Piemontese

Next was the Ratatuia Piemontese, a Piedmont take on ratatouille. Prepared with cauliflower, cardoons, squash, garlic, onion, and an anchovy sauce, both Rachel and I remarked how much we liked the blend of flavors on the kitchen’s rendition of this French classic.

Barbabietole

The Barbabietole was a beautifully arranged beet salad with arugula, pistachio, Pecorino cheese, and balsamic vinaigrette.

Batsoa

The Batsoa, or fried pig’s feet, were topped with pickled vegetables, accompanied with Mostrada, and situated under a bed of salsa verde. It was an interesting flavor combination to say the least.

Cavolfiore alla Cavour

We also split the Cavolfiore alla Cavour, which was prepared with grilled cauliflower, Parmesan, anchovy, and egg.

Fegatini e Porcini

The table’s favorite small plate of the evening goes to the Fegatini e Porcini – sautéed chicken livers blended in a Marsala wine sauce and Porcini mushrooms, all under a bed of rich and creamy polenta.

Agnolotti al brasato

After we finished our antipasti, we then moved onto the pasta course by sharing a handful of dishes amongst the table. The first was the agnolotti al brasato, and it was outstanding. Stuffed with braised beef and lightly adorned with beef jus, shaved bone marrow, and Parmigiano Reggiano, the agnolotti was cooked al dente and was a very hearty, rewarding selection.

Seafood special

My younger brother ordered the seafood special, which consisted of mussels, shrimp, and squid in a white wine and garlic red sauce, but it was the squid ink spaghetti that really stood out.

Cannelloni alla Barbaroux

The Cannelloni alla Barbaroux was one of the richest items we ordered that evening. Stuffed with veal, beef, Bescamella, and Parmigiano Reggiano, this is one dish you might want to share given how heavy it was.

Tajarin

The tajarin with veal ragu was also excellent, but what’s really remarkable is that the kitchen uses 42 egg yolks per kilo to produce this ribbon pasta!

Gnocchi Verdi

The Gnocchi Verdi was my personal favorite. The small, pillowy dumplings were stuffed with spinach and potato and dressed with a succulent sausage ragu.

Frittelle di Mele

For dessert, we had the Frittelle di Mele and Polenta Bianca. The former was a fried, sliced apple dipped in rum batter, drizzled with caramel, and served with a scoop of vanilla gelato sprinkled with sage.

Polenta Bianca

As good as the Frittelle di Mele was, the Polenta Bianca was even better. Served in a style similar to that of crème brulee, the snow white polenta was topped with a thin layer of crunchy caramel and accompanied with one of the best scoops of chocolate gelato you’ll find in the District. Easily one of the best dishes of the night.

Alba Osteria is a terrific addition to the Mount Vernon Square neighborhood and offers a taste of Italy that’s substantially different than what you’ll find at other osterias in the area. On top of that, the prices are very reasonable and makes for a fun night with a group so everyone can sample the extensive list of dishes on the menu. Just be sure you finish your meal off with the Polenta Bianca.

Alba Osteria on Urbanspoon

Our Favorite Dishes of 2013, Part II

31 Dec

Okay, my turn. Most of Brett’s dishes I agreed with (although as much as I loved the brisket at Rose’s Luxury, it was a little too fatty for my taste). Here are a few others that I loved from this year, and would get again in 2014 in a heartbeat.

Brussels Sprouts – The Red Hen

We went here for my birthday, and it was a perfect meal. I loved everything we got, but my favorite part might have been the side of Brussels sprouts that we ordered as an afterthought. They were perfectly crispy without being too dry or too oily, and were served atop a garlic and dill aioli. I could have eaten an entire dish of it all to myself.

Brussels sprouts

Popcorn Soup with Lobster – Rose’s Luxury 

Brett already mentioned the brisket, which was the main event of our meal. I have to say the standout dish for me was the popcorn soup with grilled lobster. The only way I could describe the flavor was that it was similar to eating a buttered popcorn Jelly Belly. You know it isn’t popcorn, but it sure as hell tastes like it. It was smooth and velvety without being heavy, and the lobster pieces found at the bottom were the icing on the cake. It was so unique that I felt like I with every spoonful I had to comment about how much I was in awe of the dish.

Popcorn soup

Schmutzy Fries – DGS Delicatessen

We’re already big fans of DGS, and have been before for brunch and lunch. We decided to check it out for dinner when my brother and sister-in-law were in town, and we instantly decided to start off our meal with an order of the Schmutzy Fries. It was basically poutine, or disco fries from a New Jersey dinner, but the toppings instead were what you would find on a Reuben: corned beef, sauerkraut, melted Swiss, Russian dressing, and harissa. In other words, amazing.

Schmutzy Fries

Pork and Crispy Rice Cake in a Sweet and Sour Sauce with Vegetables – Sichuan Jin River 

So this may not be the real name of the dish, but it was how it was described to me. Between the crispy rice cake that soaked in the sauce to comb-shaped Chinese mushrooms, I couldn’t get over how delicious and complex this dish was. After getting something like this, it makes it hard to go back to a generic Chinese takeout place.

Pork and crispy rice cake in a sweet and sour sauce with vegetables

Olive Oil Ice Cream – Jaleo 

I would say that hands down the most unique dessert we had in 2013 was the olive oil ice cream dish at Jaleo. What seemed like a simple dish on paper was actually a scoop of olive oil ice cream surrounded by fresh grapefruit, a grapefruit granita, and topped with candied grapefruit. If you dipped your spoon so you had every component together for each bite, it was a perfect blend of flavors.

Olive oil ice cream

Okonomiyaki - Maketto 

This was a Japanese-style pancake with so many layers to it. Pork belly, shrimp, shaved mackerel, vegetables. There’s a lot going on in this dish that I was fortunate enough to try at the Maketto pop-up at Hanoi House earlier this fall. If this is any indication of what’s to come from Erik Bruner-Yang’s new restaurant opening in early 2014, then you can be sure to wait hours for a table here just like people do at Toki. If only we can make it to either one!

Japanese fish cake

Grilled Trout – Et Voila 

We went here back in February, and it still stands out as my favorite fish dish of the year. Sometimes simple is better, and this was perfectly grilled trout. The grill marks added a smoky flavor to the fish, and the champagne sauce with leeks was lovely to dip it in.

Grilled trout

Our Favorite Dishes of 2013, Part I

30 Dec

It was quality over quantity in our dining adventures this year, and with visits to new restaurants such as Rose’s Luxury and Ghibellina, it’s been an exciting year for eating in the District. With that said, Brett takes a look back at some of his favorite dishes of the year. Be on the lookout for Rachel’s favorite dishes tomorrow.

Rose’s Luxury – Smoked brisket platter

I don’t know what’s more amazing: that Rose’s Luxury was hands-down our favorite dinner of 2013, or that the place has only been open for four months. While each dish was stellar, it was the family-style platter of smoked brisket that was truly outstanding. The smoky, thick slices of beef are so juicy and tender that a knife is not necessary. Making a sandwich with the accompanying Texas toast, pickled cabbage, and horseradish sauce was a real treat.

Smoked brisket platter

Rappahannock Oyster Bar – Crab Cake

Let’s face it: anything you order from Rappahannock Oyster Bar is going to be good, especially the Lamb and Clams, but their crab cake is the best in the city. Yeah, I’m going there. Using only lump and backfin meat, the portion is very generous given the affordable price of $14. Lightly crispy on the outside and topped with a dab of remoulade, it’s hard to find a better preparation of this Maryland staple in the city.

Crab cake

Range – Skillet Corn Bread

One of the best values in Bryan Voltaggio’s massive Friendship Heights restaurant, the iron skillet corn bread is large enough to share amongst four people. But it’s the bacon marmalade that really makes this dish shine. Spreading it over the warm, flaky corn bread creates a flavor combination that leaves you wanting more. And more. And more.

Skillet cornbread with bacon marmalade

Ghibellina – Stracotto

One of the many great new restaurants that opened along the 14th Street corridor this year, the casual offshoot of Acqua Al 2 really stood out with its excellent pizzas and freshly-prepared pastas. But it was the Stracotto, Ghibellina’s version of pot roast, which made this visit a memorable one. Prepared with white wine and tomato, I took my time enjoying the succulent, tender beef with each forkful.

Stracotto

Rasika West End – Banana Avocado Chaat

Both locations of Raskia are always a tough table for one simple reason: they consistently serve up some of this city’s very best Indian cuisine. And while each visit requires an order of their Palak Chaat, it was the banana and avocado preparation that left an indelible impression. You wouldn’t think at first that these two flavors go together at all, but when you pair up a bite of the grilled, crispy banana with the creamy avocado, it’s pretty much transcendent.

Banana avocado chaat

Acqua Al 2 – Filetto al Mirtillo

I’m a big steak fan, but reading over the menu description of the Filetto al Mirtillo made me do a double-take. A hand-carved filet mignon cooked in blueberry reduction sauce? But our friend insisted we order it, and well, he was right. Never in my wildest dreams would I imagine pairing up a tender, medium-rare filet with blueberry sauce, yet somehow, the duo worked. Chalk it up to the subtle flavor of the sauce, which added just a hint of blueberry without overshadowing the steak.

Filet with blueberry sauce

Be sure to check DMV Dining tomorrow for Rachel’s favorite dishes of 2013!

A Birthday Dinner at The Red Hen

5 Dec

Let me preface by saying that I fell in love with the Red Hen the moment I walked into the Bloomingdale restaurant. I don’t know if it was the raised ceilings, the bustling yet homey atmosphere, or the exposed kitchen towards the back, but the place felt real and not manufactured. Rachel and I had been meaning to check out Michael Friedman and Sebastian Zutant’s new venue since it opened to rave reviews back in April, so I thought it would be an excellent dining destination to celebrate Rachel’s birthday.

First of all, Red Hen takes reservations! Considering how many new restaurants in the District have opened over the past year that only offer walk-ins, it was incredibly refreshing to know there would be a table reserved for us when we arrived. What a novel concept!

And then there’s the menu. Oh look, an actual list of appetizers and entrees! Judging by my sentiment you can probably tell that I am completely tired of small plates (with Rose’s Luxury being the rare exception), so I was thrilled when glancing over Red Hen’s menu that not only do they offer a traditional carte du jour, but the prices are rather reasonable, too. Like, really reasonable. But more on that later.

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After a drink at the bar (which featured some amazing Heroes of the Torah glassware), we were seated towards the front of the house with a terrific view of the neighborhood from our table. We started the evening off with an appetizer of grilled octopus. Topped with frisee and crispy capers while under a bed of Romesco sauce and shelling beans, the octopus was perfectly grilled and had some nice char to it. Both Rachel and I remarked how wonderful it tasted as it was a sign of things to come.

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Given how cold it was outside, we opted to split a bowl of their autumn squash soup. Prepared with pumpkin seeds, toasted squash oil, and a dollop of sage cream, the soup was simply phenomenal. Rich and flavorful, the soup warmed us right up as the bowl was scraped clean in a matter of minutes.

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Red Hen offers a handful of pastas as well as large plates, but each category represents an entrée-sized portion, so we decided to order one of each as our main course. We ordered the Creste de Gallo, which was prepared with braised duck, wild mushrooms, sweet potato, and basil. The homemade pasta blended seamlessly with the hearty, tender pieces of duck. We really loved this dish, and considering it only cost $17 and was a slightly larger portion of pasta than what you’d find at, say, Casa Luca (where most pastas run for over $20), this was an exceptional value.

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As for the large plates, while we initially decided upon the grilled short ribs, we thought it might have been too heavy after ordering the pasta with braised duck, so instead went for the wood-grilled chicken ‘Fra Diavolo’. It turned out to be a great choice. The incredibly moist chicken rivals Palena’s excellent bird, though the Red Hen’s recipe offers more of a kick with its spicy seasoning. Placed atop a bed of Swiss chard, roasted potatoes, and currants, this was one terrific piece of poultry. Juicy and tender, we loved each bite.

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We also ordered a side of their crispy Brussels sprouts. Blended with a dill and anchovy aioli, we absolutely adored this side dish. The Brussels sprouts had just the right amount of crispness while the mild sauce really complemented the vegetable.

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Closing out the evening, we split a dessert of pumpkin cake with hazelnut sauce and brown sugar gelato. Accompanied with a birthday candle, it was delicious but may have been the weakest course of the night. We were expecting a warm cake but it was actually served room temperature, but the sauce made it delicious while the homemade gelato made for a great ending to a spectacular meal.

And while the service was a little slow at times, I was more than happy with our experience at the Red Hen. Rachel and I kept remarking how great it was to not only see a restaurant offer outstanding food without resorting to a small plates menu, but also offer reasonable prices too. It’s something this city lacks, and I am extremely jealous of those who live in Bloomingdale as they have a neighborhood spot to call their own without having to trek to other parts of the District. We can’t wait to go back.

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Casual Elegance at Casa Luca

20 Nov

While I have only been to Fiola, chef Fabio Trabocchi’s Italian gem of a restaurant, just once, I was elated to find out that he would be opening a more casual, affordable venue within the same square mile of downtown Washington. His trademark lobster ravioli remains one of my favorite dishes, but given the high price tag, I was hoping his sister establishment would be a little more reasonable for those just looking for a nice Italian dinner.

When we arrived for our 8:30pm reservation, the bar was nearly two rows deep. Whether it was the Friday happy hour crowd or people simply waiting for a table, Casa Luca was incredibly busy. We weren’t even seated until almost half an hour later – not the best way to start the evening, but we had a glass of wine while we waited for our table to be ready.

Luca Antipasto Misto

We started the meal off by ordering the Luca Antipasto Misto, a platter of prosciutto, pecorino fieno (sheep’s milk cheese), and a couple of small bites. The heirloom beets, which featured stracciatella and walnut pesto, as well as the lentil salad were well-received by our party of five.

And while we enjoyed the thin-grilled crescia, having to pay $8 for a small amount of bread for the table was slightly off-putting.

Bucatini

As for the pasta course, we decided to share three dishes amongst the five of us. All housemade, the bucatini was prepared with guanciale, tomatoes, and pecorino.

Pappardelle

Meanwhile, the pappardelle was blended with Borlotti beans, rosemary, duck livers, and Parmigiano Reggiano – an interesting, if not slightly intimidating combination for those of us not a fan of all things liver, but thankfully it didn’t overwhelm the dish and made for an enjoyable pasta.

Smoked potato gnocchi

My favorite pasta, however, was the smoked potato gnocchi. Engulfed in a hearty duck ragu with a smattering of Cremini mushrooms, the soft, pillowy gnocchi perfectly complemented the outstanding sauce.

Grigliata Mista di Pesce

We also decided to split the Grigliata Mista di Pesce amongst the table, which was a heaping family-style platter of grilled seafood. It included bronzino, calamari, prawns, clams, and scallops and made for a great sharing dish between our group. The fish was impeccably cooked while the grilled calamari was excellent.

While the service was fine, my one qualm with Casa Luca was the prices. Given how expensive Fiola is, I had assumed that Casa Luca would be more affordable, but when looking at the menu, the majority of the pastas still cost over $20. And not only that, but the portions weren’t even that generous. In short, it turned out to be a more expensive meal than anticipated which was slightly disappointing.

On the flipside, Casa Luca also offers 20 bottles of wine for $28, a very reasonable price that helps offset the cost of the otherwise expensive food menu. It was a very good restaurant, but if Casa Luca were to either slightly lower its prices or increase the portion of its dishes, I probably would have left dinner a little more satisfied.

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Rose’s Luxury is an Instant Classic

23 Oct

It’s very rare that the first visit to a brand new restaurant can leave such a joyous first impression. In fact, I almost feel guilty blogging about it because I want it all to myself. Rose’s Luxury, the newest addition to Capitol Hill, is already one of my favorite restaurants. I feel confident in saying that because every aspect, from the food to the service to the atmosphere, made our evening special.

We were able to procure a table for four in the upstairs part of the restaurant without a wait on a Saturday night, something I sincerely doubt will happen anytime soon once the word gets out on this place.  I loved the cozy, unpretentious vibe of Rose’s – from the antique chandeliers hanging from the ceiling to the dining room soundtrack that featured Divine Fits. Everything just felt so homey while the crisp, autumn breeze drifted through the open windows.

Chef Aaron Silverman’s menu focuses around small plates and is broken down into several categories such as cold dishes, pasta, and grilled items. On top of that, the restaurant offers two family-style entrees to share amongst the table. What really impressed us was that nearly half of the dishes were either vegetarian or could be prepared as vegetarian-friendly (the pork sausage, for instance). Considering we had a vegetarian in our party, this was music to our friend’s ears.

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Before we had even placed our order, our waiter brought over what I thought was our first dish. Instead, it was actually an amuse bouche of grilled octopus, compliments of the chef. And I should use the term “amuse bouche” loosely as this was a portion large enough to share for the entire table.  Gorgeously presented and garnished with a burnt lemon puree, the fresh octopus was a real treat.

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Up next was a fresh loaf of potato bread from the kitchen. Served on antique china, which would make several appearances throughout the meal, the bread was so warm, soft, and delicious that I almost asked a second loaf. When you pair it up with the accompanying butter, which was topped with fried pieces of potato skin, it almost feels like you’re eating a loaded baked potato.  (Side note: Jessica Sidman of the Washington City Paper wrote a fantastic article on the resurgence of bread baskets in the area).

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The dish that followed was Rachel’s favorite of the night: popcorn soup with grilled lobster. One of the most creative dishes we have tried this year, it’s exactly how it sounds – creamy soup that tastes like movie butter popcorn. Blended with bits of lobster, the soup was able to achieve its buttery flavor without being overpowering. Our waiter was even kind enough to provide them in separate jars as each couple was sharing their respective soup. Very nice gesture.

Burnt romaine salad

The burnt romaine with avocado, poblano, and Cotija cheese was another hit amongst the table. The poblano gave the charred romaine a subtle kick while the crumbled Cotija added a good amount of texture to it. I also appreciated how the kitchen was able to take something as bland as a romaine salad and transform it into such an inventive dish.

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The caramelized cauliflower, which was situated under a bed of Greek yogurt and raisins and topped with breadcrumbs, was also fantastic.

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After that came our first pasta dish, Cacio e Pepe, which literally means cheese and pepper. As minimalist as it gets, the execution was flawless. The homemade pasta seamlessly blended with the cheesy, peppery sauce. In fact, it was so good that we ordered a second helping of it!

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Just as good was the strawberry spaghetti. Prepared with ricotta and black pepper, there was more a hint of strawberry in this dish than a burst of it, and that’s a good thing.

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Then came the main event. We decided (well, at least three of us) to conclude dinner with the family-style serving of smoked brisket. Served with slices of Texas toast, pickled cabbage, and horseradish cream, the incredibly tender brisket rivaled that of barbecue you’ll find in Kansas City, or anywhere else for that matter. It was so soft that you didn’t even need a knife. And while it was a little fatty, it didn’t matter. I loved every bite of it. For $28, it’s one of the better values at Rose’s considering the generous portion as it was more than enough for the three of us.

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Just when we thought we were full, our waiter ran down a trio of dessert options available, with the homemade brioche battered in cinnamon toast ice cream sounding the most tantalizing. Originally topped with foie gras, our waiter was able to take it off for half the price so that all four of us could share it.  Instead, it was topped with the cinnamon toast ice cream. And yes, it was just as amazing as it sounded.

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As for the service, it was impeccable.  Our waiter was not only very knowledgeable about the menu but also had a great personality to boot. Everyone was so warm and inviting, and the positive vibes kept flowing throughout the evening. Each and every one of us was very happy not only with the meal, but also the overall experience. It’s hard to find a flaw in Rose’s Luxury, and considering they have only been open less than a month, that is pretty darn impressive.

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