Archive | February, 2012

First Look: Haven Pizzeria Napoletana

24 Feb

In what has nearly been a year in the making, Haven Pizzeria Napoletana finally opened in downtown Bethesda last week. Influenced by New Haven pizzerias such as the famous Frank Pepe’s, Haven is the latest entrant in a town that has suddenly seen an influx of pizza joints.

Haven, however, was a massive undertaking. With construction that had started last summer, the pizzeria features a large dining space lined with oak floors that were originally from the Maker’s Mark distillery. The two anthracite coal ovens can reach a temperature of up to 2200 degrees and collectively weigh 100 tons. Yeah, this isn’t your typical pizza parlor.

The menu keeps things simple: appetizers range from salads to meat and cheese boards (“peels”) to an enticing coal-oven tomato. Pizza pies can be ordered in small or large sizes with additional toppings that will cost an extra $1.50 to $13 (fresh clams on a large pizza, in regards to the latter).

Tomato pie with mozzarella

Rachel and I decided to split a small tomato pie with mozzarella as well as a white clam pie. The charred crust is the most distinctive part of Haven’s pizza — thin and crispy with a hint of smokiness. While the cheese pizza was nothing extraordinary, the white clam pie really stood out. The blend of olive oil, garlic, oregano, grated cheese, and fresh clams pays homage to New Haven in splendid fashion.

White clam pie

The housemade gelato, which is made every morning, is a must-get. We opted for a bowl of the vanilla bean and loved every spoonful. You can even bring home a quart to-go, though $13 is sort of steep.

Housemade gelato

One thing the restaurant needs to work on is their sound insulation – it was extremely noisy inside. Another qualm is their lackluster beer offerings. For a place that calls its bar area “Bar Haven”, there is not much of a selection to choose from. The most exotic brew they had was a bottle of Fat Tire. Meanwhile, Pete’s has an always-rotating draft list that features some terrific breweries. Of course, both of these issues can be remedied, and given that it was Haven’s first day, I’m sure that they are still working out the kinks.

Haven Pizzeria Napoletana is located on 7137 Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda.


Exploring Innovation with Jose Andres

17 Feb

We were fortunate to attend the Washington Post Live event that was part of the GE American Competitiveness:  What Works summit at the Andrew Mellon Auditorium earlier this week. For the luncheon keynote, Mary Jordan of the Washington Post moderated a discussion between local celebrity chef Jose Andres and Tom Sietsema, the Post’s infamous food critic. Disguised with a toupee and sunglasses, we’re sure Andres was a little uncomfortable sitting inches from the man who can easily make or break a restaurant in D.C.

Chef Jose Andres

We won’t go into too much detail about the event since you can read more about it here and here, but we’ll say that Jose Andres is definitely a captivating and engaging speaker. He truly has some inspiring ideas and cares about his adopted home of D.C., the obesity epidemic, food truck regulations, and of course, his beloved Spain.

Chef Jose Andres

Here are some highlights:

  • The session opened with a video of someone caramelizing olive oil, something that has never been done before, in addition to a “Garden on a Plate”, aka the prettiest salad anyone has ever seen.  He then explained that it was an homage to Dale Chihuli.
  • Jose knew he wanted to be a chef since he was 15 years old.
  • Talking about tapas, Jose explained that the concept took time for Washingtonians to get used to because you have to think differently.
  • For those still wary of tapas and the idea of sharing, he suggests the rule of 15 inches.  If you want to enjoy tapas the Spanish way, put the plate in the middle of the table. If you don’t, move the plate 15 inches in, and put it in front of you. This was the difference between success and failure for the restaurant.
  • Andres confirmed that his new food truck, Pepe, will be opening next week.
  • Some would say he should be against food trucks since it takes away from his restaurants; he wants to embrace the new trend and feels it drives innovation and creates jobs. But, cities need to come up with the right legislation for food trucks to not alienate or discourage them from opening.
  • When Jaleo first opened downtown 20 years ago, his first guest was Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. It will be closing for a few weeks soon to allow for renovations and a refresh of the oldest ThinkFoodGroup restaurant.
  • The idea behind America Eats Tavern:  Every restaurant needs a story. He wanted to open the pop-up restaurant as a way to give back to America and to show America’s real culinary history.
  • Some may criticize Andres that, because he has so many restaurants, there is no way he can possibly spend time in all of them and therefore the quality goes down. He said it’s not like the CEO of GM is overseeing every car, but he understands with food it is more personal. However, he claimed he has people working for him now that are more talented than him, so it is a win/win.
  • For the last 2-3 years, members of his team have been teaching at Harvard’s School of Physics, showing the science of physics through food. They have had over 1,000 applicants to the class so far.
  • He has many ideas on ways to fight obesity by showing the importance of food.  Innovation over the last 60 years has made us used to mainly processed food.
  • We need to bring more grains, fruit and vegetables, less quantity but higher quality of meat to all families.  Rural America should be empowered to bring more natural, less processed food to the table of America.
  • When asked what was the coolest thing done he has done with potatoes, he replied he turned them into air, but people didn’t get it.
  • At ThinkFoodGroup they are working towards understanding food as an artistic expression. For example, one of the newer creations that will be on the menu at the revamped Minibar will be a potato chip you don’t eat, but listen to.
  • Obviously, you don’t want to feed America with the sound of chips, but they can be a course on a menu as a way to think differently.
  • At Jaleo in Las Vegas, they were selling their coquettes in designer Spanish sneakers. Eventually they had to stop because of health-code violations, but the concept of serving the dish in a glass sneaker will be brought to D.C. when Jaleo reopens downtown.
  • As Andres explained, serving food on a flat table with white plates is boring. He wants to make sure the culinary experience is enjoyable.
  • As a member of the board, Andres thinks DC Central Kitchen is the most innovative organization, and that it is amazing to see that through feeding people, there is the power to innovate.
  • If Jose Andres was not a chef, he would be an idea man. His newest idea is a way to boost the economy and awareness of Spain. He envisions opening a school to train Americans in Spanish cooking as a 13-weeks program, and then have them travel to Spain. From there, they can open their own Spanish restaurant, or at use Spanish products in their cooking. In his mind, a simple idea can create thousands of jobs.

Kraze Burgers: From Korea to Bethesda

16 Feb

Rachel and I finally ventured out to the recently-opened Kraze Burgers in downtown Bethesda last weekend. The Korean-based chain decided to open its very first United States location in the Washington suburb, but is also planning to open several more stores in DC as well as Virginia.

The addition of Kraze Burgers would make this Bethesda’s fourth burger-focused outpost, following in the footsteps of BGR, Fresh Grill, and Five Guys. And that doesn’t even include all of the full-service restaurants that offer burgers on their menu, but we’re way too lazy to list all of those (though Freddy’s deserves some props for their patties).

Kraze Burgers

So what differentiates Kraze from the rest of the pack? Well, they certainly offer one of the most extensive menus compared to their competitors. Their ordering is broken down into five components: 1) bread, 2) protein, 3) cheese, 4) free toppings, and 5) additional toppings. Kraze offers three different types of fresh-baked buns, even offering a “bowl of greens” option for those who decide to go bunless (for a nominal fee of 95 cents).

As for proteins, they offer all-natural hormone-free beef, turkey, grilled tofu, and vegetarian patties. Cheeses consist of the usual suspects (American, provolone, bleu, Swiss, mozzarella, and cheddar) while additional toppings range from grilled pineapple to a fried egg.

The Matiz

And while you can build your own burger, Kraze offers more than a dozen of its own concoctions. I happened to order their best-selling burger, The Matiz. It featured grilled onions marinated in their house BBQ sauce, American cheese, bacon, lettuce, tomatoes, mayonnaise, and pickles, all stacked on a freshly-baked bun.

The burger was juicy and flavorful, but it was the grilled onions that really stood out thanks in part to the BBQ sauce. It gave the patty a hint of Asian flavor due to its tanginess. The bun was also noteworthy as it kept the burger intact without getting soggy, yet was soft and even had a little bit of sweetness to it.

Build Your Own with Multi-Grain Bun

Rachel did a build-your-own option since none of the combinations really appealed to her. She ordered a beef patty on a multigrain bun, lettuce, tomato, pickles, sweet onions, grilled mushrooms, and ketchup. She enjoyed her burger and thought that the multigrain bun added some texture but felt that the bun would have probably gone better with a veggie or turkey burger. The mushrooms were a nice added topping, and maybe she’ll be more a little more adventurous next time.

We also shared an order of fries as well as a side of grilled asparagus. Kraze certainly offers some of the most health-conscious items for a burger joint. Despite eating a burger, I didn’t feel bogged down the next few hours as the grease was kept to a minimum.

Hawaiian Burger with Turkey

The prices are also fair. Burgers are around $7 each, and while that’s not Five Guys pricing, you’re also paying for better quality. It was certainly evident in the ingredients. While Bethesda now has a plethora of burger options, Kraze is a nice change of pace from your typical cheeseburger.

Kraze Burger on Urbanspoon

Stardust Cafe Sparkles in West Virginia

14 Feb

A few months ago, my coworker told me about this great special at the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia where, during the offseason, local residents can book a two-night stay for a fraction of the price of a regular visit. Brett and I hadn’t heard much about the resort, but we decided to go as a nice winter getaway for the weekend.

It was definitely a relaxing trip and we were glad we went, but we were a little disappointed in the dining options. Two of the restaurants at the Greenbrier were closed for winter cleaning, so that left us with a stuffy formal dining room, an extremely pricey steakhouse, or a mediocre comfort food restaurant (Draper’s). After a dinner at Draper’s, we decided that there had to be more options, so off we went to explore the nearest town of Lewisburg. We decided to try Stardust Café because of its universal praise on TripAdvisor as well as its eclectic menu. Needless to say, we made the right choice.

Sesame Ahi Tuna

I should mention that Lewisburg is this cute little town with one main street. You’ll know you are close when you see a sign that says: “Lewisburg, Voted America’s Coolest Small Town!” We had made reservations earlier in the day, although it clearly wasn’t necessary as there were very few people in the restaurant. Granted, this was also a Monday night in January. The place was small, romantic, and just what we were looking for. The staff was incredibly friendly and helpful, and everything on the menu sounded appealing. Their philosophy to only use local and sustainable ingredients was definitely apparent throughout the menu. They also had a great drink list as well, as I got their concoction of a “wine fizzy” while Brett ordered a Rogue Mocha Porter.

Trust Me Salad

After eating a heavy chicken pot pie the day before, my eyes lit up at the description of the “Trust Me Salad”: fresh greens with local spring mix, tomatoes, red onion, chevre goat cheese, sprinkled with crunchy grains, nuts, seeds, and topped with avocado. I added shrimp to top it off and it was the perfect dish. They were right, you really had to trust them on how the ingredients go together, but they really did. Between the creamy avocado, goat cheese, and the crunch of the grains, I was a happy camper.

Brett’s ordered the seared sesame ahi tuna to which he immediately fell in love with. There must have been at least two dozen pieces of center-cut filet on the plate, beautifully arranged and flawlessly cooked. When one thinks of excellent fish preparations, land-locked West Virginia typically doesn’t come to mind, but this was one of the best tuna dishes we have come across. The attention to detail was a nice touch as even the wasabi was formed into miniature leaves.

Sticky Toffee Pudding

We were full but couldn’t pass up dessert as they are all made by the Crazy Baker, aka the owner’s twin brother. We had to try the sticky toffee pudding as they claimed it was his signature item. In one word: wow. We were blown away by how simple the dish looked yet how wonderful it tasted. Essentially a date cake topped with hot caramel sauce, we were scraping every last bit off the plate.

Grass-fed beef burger

We loved the food and atmosphere so much that we actually decided to come back and have lunch before we made our way back to Maryland. Between the local grass-fed burger and the curry chicken tacos, Stardust once again did not disappoint.

Chicken Curry Tacos

Granted, this may not be a place you would drive four-plus hours out of your way to go to, but if you are ever in the Lewisburg area of West Virginia, we highly recommend the Stardust Cafe. It’s a great place to go for Valentine’s Day, or any day of the year!

Stardust Cafe on Urbanspoon

Dinner (and a Movie) at Potenza

10 Feb

Rachel and I, as well as our friends Mike and Randi, scheduled a “dinner and a movie night” last weekend. We were planning to see The Artist at E Street Cinema later that evening, so Mike suggested we get dinner beforehand at Potenza. We haven’t been to Potenza in years, and given their reasonable prices and the proximity to the theater, it was an ideal choice.

After receiving a basket of fresh bread along with a plate of oil and vinegar, we put our orders in with the waiter. Rachel decided to get the Mezzelune con Pollo Affumicato while I went with the Funghi pizza.

Funghi pizza

When the pizza arrived, I happily surprised by the size of the pie. Cooked in their 6000 pound ceramic pizza oven, this was a generous portion, and for the price of $15, it’s enough to split between two people. As for the actual quality of the pizza, I thought it was rather good.

Topped with Portobello, domestic and oyster mushrooms, tomato sauce, fontina, and parmesan, the two of us really enjoyed this pizza. With a charred, chewy crust and just the right amount of sauce, I nearly finished the entire pie. (And yes, while I could have, I would have been most likely passing out during the movie).

Mezzelune con Pollo Affumicato

Rachel really enjoyed her mezzaluna dish of smoked chicken-filled ravioli, tomato parmesan sauce, house-made mozzarella, and crispy celery leaves. While there were only a few pieces on the dish, they were incredibly filling and she could barely finish what was there. The smoked chicken flavor was very pronounced yet delicious, and she didn’t think the sauce was too heavy. The mozzarella was beautifully drizzled on top and really went well with the chicken and sauce.

Considering that I nearly forgot about Potenza amidst all of these new restaurants opening up around town, I’m glad we came back. We both really liked our entrees and felt that the price was right considering the portions as well as the quality. And while it was a little bit of a walk to the theater, it was probably for the best considering how much pizza I consumed that night.

Potenza on Urbanspoon

Dim Sum at Hollywood East Cafe

3 Feb

Let me preface by saying that Rachel and I are both dim sum noobs, so a trip to one of the area’s most popular dim sum restaurants was long overdue. With our friends Keith and Casey, we drove out to Wheaton Plaza for a New Years lunch at Hollywood East Cafe.

Dim Sum Cart

As soon as we were seated, the carts came rolling by. The first cart contained an assortment of steamed plates, so we went with an order of shrimp and pork dumplings to kick off our meal. I particularly enjoyed the steamed beef balls. With a slightly different texture than your typical meatball, the beef balls were full of flavor yet light and airy.

Steamed Beef Balls

An order of their baked roast pork buns was a hit amongst our table. The buns were not piping hot when we got them from the cart, but regardless, they provided a nice combination of sweet and salty.

Steamed spare ribs with black bean sauce

As the carts rolled on, our plates stacked higher and higher. The steamed spare ribs with black bean sauce was one of the heartier dishes of the day while the baby bok choy was deliciously garlicky.

Shrimp rice noodle crepes

One dish that really stood out was the shrimp rice noodle crepes. This was my first encounter with rice noodle rolls, and given that my dexterity with chopsticks is minimal at best, my tablemates had a blast observing my futile attempts.

Steamed shrimp dumplings

Just when we though we were full, the dessert cart came around, so we decided to get a plate of deep fried sesame balls with lotus paste. This is clearly an acquired taste as I wasn’t that big a fan of the pastry, though I was more than happy with everything else we ordered.

Fried shrimp and and pork dumplings

Speaking of which, considering everything we got, the bill was rather reasonable. The total was around $60 before tip, or $15 per person. Not too shabby especially since I’m fairly confident that I didn’t mention every single dish we ordered that day. The service was friendly as well — everyone was very helpful explaining each item in the carts.

All and all, Hollywood East Café was a great introduction to dim sum. Between this and Ping Pong, there’s simply no comparison: Hollywood is legit dim sum in terms of both food and atmosphere, I actually left full (something that never happens at the latter), and it wasn’t overpriced. Bottom line, if I’m going for dim sum, I’d rather make the drive to Wheaton.

Hollywood East Cafe on Urbanspoon