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Cesco Osteria: Familiar Name, New Location

19 Jan

A few weeks ago, I was able to visit the new and improved Cesco Osteria and Co2 Lounge on Woodmont Avenue in Bethesda. Most people would be familiar with this locale from its predecessor, McCormick and Schmick’s, known for their fresh seafood and famously good happy hour. Unfortunately, their lease was up and they decided not to renew, so Cesco decided to jump into the space.

Cesco has for years lived on a corner block on Cordell Avenue, and earned a reputation over the years for quality Italian food from head chef Francesco Ricci. Brett and I have always wanted to try their food but never had the opportunity. So when I went to lunch with a few coworkers and vendors we do business with, this was one of the first places that came to mind.

Lobster bisque with angel hair pasta

Walking in, the space was huge. It seemed even bigger than when McCormick was there. We were seated right away and I immediately recognized our waiter from Mussel Bar. I guess they had recruited him over to the new digs. For lunch, there are essentially two menus to choose from — the main menu has more formal signature dishes from the chef, while the casual menus (which were also our placemats) included pizza and build-your-own pasta or salad with different ingredients.

I ordered the soup of the day, which was lobster bisque with angel hair pasta. It wasn’t cream-based so I didn’t find it very heavy, and it served as a nice starter. I tried not to consume all of the pasta in the soup since I knew I wanted pasta for my entrée.

Gnocchi with roasted vegetables, ricotta, and a light tomato sauce

I decided to try a homemade pasta dish and went with the gnocchi with roasted vegetables, ricotta, and a light tomato sauce. I have to say, this might have been one of the better gnocchi dishes I have had recently. The potato dumplings themselves were light and fluffy and paired really well with the roasted vegetables that seemed almost like a ratatouille. There was just enough sauce to bind everything together but it wasn’t too much where that was all you tasted. I really loved my entree and could have easily finished the very large portion but somehow made it home with enough to share with Brett. He agreed that it was a great gnocchi preparation and expressed his eagerness to try Cesco as well.

Overall, everyone was happy with their dishes and enjoyed the service and atmosphere. I would come again to try one of their build-your-own pasta dishes and see what their happy hour is like.

I should state that this review is solely for Cesco Osteria and not its new counterpart lounge, Co2 Lounge. There are many things I could say about that, but I’ll just let the press release speak for itself. One bit of advice for the restaurant: we know you want to be exclusive for your club, but just having a sign-up form on your website is not an inviting way to get to know a restaurant. It would be helpful to also post information on the restaurant, the chef, and the menus. In the world of Yelp and Facebook, no one wants to be surprised with menus or prices before eating somewhere.

Cesco Osteria on Urbanspoon

An Evening at Obelisk

29 Dec

Over the past couple of years, I have gone all out for Rachel’s birthday when it comes to surprise dinners. Not only is it a great gift, but it’s also a fun way to try new restaurants as well as expand our palette. This time, however, I wanted to do something a little more romantic and intimate, but also dine at a restaurant we had never been to before. One destination instantly came to mind: Obelisk.

It’s amazing that after all these years that we had never to been to one of DC’s finest Italian restaurants up until last month. I felt it was an ideal destination given the intimacy (the dining room only hosts a handful of tables) as well as the universal praise. Oh, and compared to past birthdays, it was an incredible value.

Swiss chard stewed with wine and crostini

Obelisk features a prix-fixe menu – five courses for $75 per person. And while that may appear steep to some, between the quality and quantity of food, it is well worth the money.

Fennel and radish salad

After ordering a few glasses of wine and noshing on their delicious bread basket, we chose our primi, secondi, and dolci from the handwritten menu. However our first course, or antipasti, was completely predetermined by the kitchen.

Sardines topped with house made breadcrumbs

Our waitress soon brought over a variety of plates within minutes of each other, the first of which was their homemade burrata. My goodness was this delicious. Drizzled with olive oil, the cheese was creamy, delicate, and really got our taste buds flowing.

Salt cod frittata

Up next was a salt cod frittata that featured a pleasant balance of sweet and salty. Soon after, we received a fennel and radish salad, fresh-roasted sardines topped with house made breadcrumbs, and finally, swiss chard stewed with wine and crostini. While the burrata was our favorite of the antipasti course, the swiss chard was a close runner-up thanks in part to its savoriness.

Burrata

After finishing our quintet of plates, it was time to move onto the primi course. Rachel ordered the butternut squash ravioli. Meanwhile, I went in a completely different direction and ordered the lentil soup after the waitress remarked how much she loved the house ground sausage that’s in it. Well, it turned out she was absolutely right – the meat was outstanding. It also wasn’t your typical lentil soup since the beans were pureed, resulting in a much thicker consistency. It practically felt like comfort food considering how cold it was outside. It’s not often I opt for soups for a first course, but I’m really glad I took the waitresses’ advice in this case.

Lentil Soup

Rachel’s butternut squash ravioli literally melted in her mouth. She savored each bite and reluctantly gave me some to try, which I agreed were incredibly light while at the same time rich in flavor.

Butternut squash ravioli

For our main/secondi course, I went with the roasted duck breast. Cooked medium-rare, the duck was tender, succulent, and generously portioned. I often forget how fatty duck is, and given the size of the portion, there’s a considerable amount of fat to work around. Nonetheless, I have to tip my hat to the kitchen on the execution of the dish. It was wonderfully juicy, full of flavor, and cooked at exactly the right temperature.

Roasted Duck Breast

Rachel had the grouper which was lightly seared with artichoke, pork belly, and onions. The fish was superbly cooked and even I agreed how well the artichokes and pork went with the fish, and I’m not even a fish person. To put it succinctly, I would have ordered this dish for myself.

Grouper

Following our excellent entrees, we then moved onto the cheese (formaggi) course. We received three different varieties of cheeses as well as a side of sour cherries. I’m not going to lie, we forgot to take notes at this point in the meal (blogger fail), but to my recollection, we had Pipe Dream Farm’s goat cheese, Bonrus (a soft sheep’s milk cheese), and Pecorino (a harder sheep’s milk cheese). Again, I am not entirely sure if these were the exact cheeses we received, but the sour cherries were a nice accompaniment.

Cheese Course

We had finally reached the dolci part of the evening, and given how much food we had consumed up until this point, it was a good thing that this was our final course! Naturally, it did not disappoint. I went with the chocolate cake accompanied with a mint crème anglaise. I, like others I’m sure, love the combination of mint and chocolate and this dessert absolutely nailed it. The chocolate cake was wading in a small layer of anglaise which contained just the right amount of mintiness. An excellent dish all around.

Chocolate cake accompanied with mint crème anglaise

Rachel didn’t want to get the same dessert as me, so she got the pear polenta tart with basil ice cream. This was the only dish she was a slightly disappointed with as it was tasty but didn’t really wow her. She felt she should have ordered the chocolate cake after she tried a bite of mine, but what is the fun in that?

Pear polenta tart with basil ice cream

We had an exceptional meal at Obelisk and I was very glad we ended up going here this year for Rachel’s birthday. The service was pleasant, helpful, and we never felt rushed. We were even more amazed that we received so much food for just $75 per person. While DC is in the midst of opening more restaurants than ever before, it’s good to know that Obelisk has proven that they are still one of the very best in the city.

Petits fours

Obelisk on Urbanspoon

Fiola Shines in Penn Quarter

28 Dec

A few weeks ago, I went out to dinner for a girls’ night with a bunch of my close friends in DC. We weren’t celebrating any special occasion, but it had been awhile since all of us were together and we decided to have a fun night out at Fiola, one of the newer and more acclaimed restaurants to open this year.

While I had never been to Fabio Trabocchi’s original restaurant, Maestro, I have always heard great things about his food and reputation, and I was very excited to try his new venue that has been receiving rave reviews all year. We knew this meal would put a dent in our wallets, but we were ready for a fun and memorable evening.

First things first, we had to find Fiola! A word to the wise: while the address says Pennsylvania Avenue, it actually leads you to the back of the restaurant. Turns out that you need to go around to Indiana Avenue to come across the entrance. Tricky, indeed.

Dates stuffed with fois gras wrapped in prosciutto

Once we all gathered and had some cocktails, we were seated to our table. I had heard that Jeff Faile’s cocktails weren’t to be missed, so I ordered a Milan Mule, which was his take on a Moscow Mule but was concocted with Plymouth gin, Amaro Abano, lime juice, and Blenheim ginger ale.

There were seven of us, so we split two bottles of tasty prosseco throughout the meal. The first item brought to our table was their incredible homemade rolls. These were more like buttery croissants or brioche buns as opposed to traditional rolls, and they were a great indication of what was to time. I swear I would go back to Fiola in a heartbeat just for these rolls alone.

We split two appetizers for the table and were very happy with both. First up were the Fiola meatballs, topped with a sunny side up egg and Pecorino Toscano. I’m starting to learn that everything tastes better with a runny egg on it, and these were no exception. The meatballs were wonderful and the sauce was irresistible. The bread we had wasn’t the best for dipping, but we made sure there was nothing left in the bowl.

Fiola meatballs

Next up was one of the restaurant’s daily specials. If they are offering it, do not hesitate to order the dates stuffed with fois gras wrapped in prosciutto and served with generous shavings of Parmesan and drizzled with balsamic. There were only a few dates, so we cut them up for everyone to try. It might not have been the best way to sample it as it is meant to be a singular burst of flavor, but I still savored each bite.

There were so many appealing entrees to choose from that it was hard to make a decision, especially since you can order most fresh pastas as half portions if you are torn between pasta and something else. In the end, I knew I had to get Fabio’s signature dish that was a carryover from Maestro, and that would be the lobster ravioli. It just sounded too good to pass up, and I definitely wasn’t disappointed.

Lobster Ravioli

The waiter informed me that the dish consists of one and a half pounds of lobster in total, and I believed him once it was placed in front of me. In the dish were giant chunks of lobster claw and tail sitting in a lobster broth, not to mention even more chunks of lobster stuffed inside the ravioli, which more closely resembled thin wontons. I loved the delicate pasta with the meat inside as opposed to the commonly found version of pureed lobster with cheese. The lobster itself was infused with ginger and the sauce was creamy but somehow not heavy at all. I was in heaven. I don’t think I’ll order it if I come back, only because there are so many other appealing dishes on the menu that I want to try.

We were completely stuffed at this point, but we wanted to try at least one dessert to see what they were like, so we ordered the Bombolini. The dolce comprised of donuts filled with ricotta and were topped with powdered sugar. There was also marmalade and gelato to dip the donuts in, and they were great fluffy bites to share amongst the table. They reminded me of the zeppoles from Graffiato, and I have to admit, I think these were even better.

With the bill came more sweets, including a tiny macaron and a piece of chocolate with cream inside. I always love when restaurants give an extra treat to send us home.

Bombolini

I should also mention just how wonderful the service was. We were a large party with a baby and stroller and they were definitely accommodating to us. When our entrees came, a few of them seemed to be more room temperature as opposed to hot, and when we said something, the waiter quickly took them away and brought up fresh dishes for us within minutes. While some of us were waiting for our dishes to come back, he even poured some extra prosecco into our glasses to make up for the delay. We certainly appreciated the gesture.

Overall, we were all very full and content when we left the restaurant. Fiola is certainly not somewhere I would go on a regular basis as it was certainly an expensive meal, but everything tasted like it was prepared with great care and simply tasted of a higher caliber. I was definitely eying some of my friends’ dishes, like the homemade lasagna, the short ribs, arctic char, bucatini, gnocchi, and scallops.

I should note that Fiola also has a “Presto!” lunch special where you have your choice of entrée and a beverage for only $15.  There are only half a dozen entrees to choose from, but it’s a great way to try Fiola without breaking the bank. There’s also a happy hour from 4pm to 6pm that features $6 cocktails and glasses of prosecco. So whether you go for lunch, happy hour, or dinner, do not miss out on Fiola. I’m sure glad I didn’t.

Fiola on Urbanspoon

Burgers and Beers at Dino

22 Nov

I feel like I have been on a burger kick lately, and I’m perfectly okay with that. I might be catching up from all my years of burger deprivation, and have been trying to go to all of the great places in this city that offer burger specials. Last week I went somewhere that you typically wouldn’t associate with burgers, but then again, you would also be depriving yourself of an awesome burger and an even better deal. The place? None other than Dino in Cleveland Park.

Whenever I’ve thought of Dino, I think Italian food, great Restaurant Week deals, and Passover menus. Now I can add burgers and a great happy hour to the list too. I got there in time for their happy hour and had some complimentary snacks of olives, duck pate, roaster red pepper, and olive tapenade before my friend arrived. I ordered the Raven beer from Baltimore-Washington Beer Works for only $4, and then we got down to the real reason we were here.

Burger and a Brew

Every night, Dino offers their “Burger and a Brew” deal. That’s right, you can order a pint from their selection of craft beers and a 10-ounce farm-aged beef burger with an accompanying mixed greens salad, all for $12.

My burger came prepared medium, and was incredibly juicy and flavorful. It was topped with house pickle relish, anchovy and sriracha aioli, crucolo cheese, and piled on a ciabatta bun. Livya ordered hers with bacon and remarked that it brought the burger to another level. It was a very thick cut of meat, and Brett was greeted that night with both of our leftovers so he got to try his share as well.

Burger and a Brew

While we were eating our burgers, I was definitely eying some other dishes brought to customers at the bar. It’s been years since we’ve been back to Dino for a proper meal, and we’ll definitely have to go back for a nice dinner or brunch. I must say though, it will be hard to resist that burger. If you’re in the neighborhood and have a hankering for a burger and a beer, not only is it a steal, but it’s simply delicious.

Dino on Urbanspoon

PS 7's Transforms into Italian Trattoria for One Night Only

25 Oct

When we made a reservation for PS 7’s a few weeks ago, we had no idea that Chef Peter Smith would be transforming his restaurant into an Italian Trattoria the very same night. In fact, we had only found out just a couple of days prior thanks to Eater, but if anything, it made our dinner plans even more appealing.

When we arrived at the restaurant, PS 7’s had gone into full pop-up mode. The tables were adorned with red and white tablecloths, Billy Joel’s “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” was playing over the PA, and the menus were replaced with handwritten ones featuring Italian dishes inspired by Smith’s great grandmother, complete with illustrations scribbled in pen. It felt very authentic.

PS 7's Trattoria MenuPS 7's Trattoria MenuPS 7's Trattoria Menu

The full menu was also available, but it proved difficult not to partake in the festive atmosphere given the exclusive dishes being served that night. On top of that, the menu also featured its own wine selection as well as several desserts.

Roasted peppers

For our first course, Rachel ordered the roasted peppers appetizer. Featuring fire-roasted red and yellow peppers, arugula, ricotta salata, black pepper, and drizzled with a white balsamic and rosemary reduction, it was a nice way to start off our Italian meal. The best part, however, might have been the polenta croutons.

Rice balls

I went with the rice balls, or Arincini. While I’m partial to the ones found at Taylor Deli, Chef Smith’s rendition took it to the next level. Comprised of mozzarella, salami, ricotta, roasted garlic, tomato confit, and a ricotta schmear, the Arincini were nicely crisp on the outside and completely savory on the inside.

Veal Saltimbocca

As for our entrees, I went the traditional route with the veal saltimbocca. Topped with slices of house-cured ham, and accompanied with a hard-boiled egg as well as a side of spinach while sitting in sage sauce, it really exceeded my expectations. The veal was excellently cooked, tender, and full of flavor. Combined with the fact that you received two cutlets for a very reasonable price of $18, it proved to be an incredible value.

Zuppa di pesce

Rachel ordered the zuppa di pesce, which included clams, mussels, shrimp, and calamari, all sitting in a bowl of shellfish tomato broth. She loved the richness of the broth but thought it was just a tad too salty. The seafood was delicious but felt that the bread was a little too oily. She only wished that there was more seafood or even some pasta to accompany it.

As much as we wanted to continue the Italian theme, we went against the grain and ordered dessert from the regular menu instead. PS 7’s is particularly known for its desserts thanks to pastry chef Lauren Whitledge, and let me you, she did not disappoint. We decided to share three of her dishes amongst our table so we could try a bite of each.

Lemon Ice Box

First up was the Lemon Ice Box. If you’re a fan of all things lemon, then this might prove difficult to pass this up. Featuring blueberry jam, lemoncello gelée, and lemon custard, just the presentation alone was stunning. This might have the unanimous favorite with the table.

P.B. & J

Up next was the P.B. & J. Comprised of peanut butter crème, peanut sponge, and concord grapes, it was by far the richest of the three desserts. It was a great interpretation of the lunchtime favorite, though Rachel felt that the grapes were a little overpowering at times. Still, it was a fun, imaginative dish that you wouldn’t be able find at other places.

Sorbet trio

We decided to keep it simple with our last dish, a sorbet trio. While it might have been the least creative dessert of the three we ordered, the flavors were some of the best. Seriously, this is some excellent sorbet. Featuring raspberry, mango, and lavender, we were all wowed by the taste as well as the texture.

All and all, we felt that PS 7’s trattoria concept was an unqualified success. I have to admit, I was a little skeptical how the dishes would turn out since this was the first time they were running this event, but the saltimbocca tasted like the chef had been cooking it for years. The whole concept was executed very well, and what’s even better was that the prices were substantially less than what is offered on the regular menu.

Trattoria Menu

PS 7’s has hosted their trattoria event twice now, and we hope that it continues. They served up some fine Italian cuisine that evening, and while they might be known more for their ahi tuna sliders and housemade hot dogs, I hope it’s not the last we see of that saltimbocca.

PS7's on Urbanspoon

Casa Nonna

28 Sep

While Casa Nonna has been open for a little over a year, we made our first visit to the Southern Italian restaurant just last weekend.

After some cocktails and appetizers at nearby Vento, we ventured over to the restaurant around 8:30pm and had no problems procuring a table for four. I was kind of surprised we were seated so soon given that it was a Friday evening and footsteps from the Dupont Metro, but then again, the space is huge as it used to hold a California Pizza Kitchen.

Our waiter soon came over and dropped off a basket of cheesy flatbread while we glanced over the menu. It’s a shame we had not dined at Casa Nonna during their initial family-style format (which was scraped just months later) just to compare and contrast their current a la carte offering.

Polpettine (Meatballs)

Offering a selection of antipasti, homemade pastas, Neapolitan pizzas, as well as chicken, beef, and seafood entrees, one has plenty to choose from. In fact, it was almost daunting at times as they offered a multitude of items under each category. Our waiter had mentioned that they were debuting their new fall menu that day, so we couldn’t wait to try out some of their recommended dishes.

We decided to start off the evening by sharing a plate of their braised miniature meatballs. Sitting in a bowl of rich tomato sauce, the meatballs, which were comprised of beef, veal, and pork, were rather good. I’m still partial to the ones found at Olazzo, but given that the bowl was wiped clean in a matter of minutes, our table didn’t have any qualms with these.

Bigoli Con Vongole e Salsiccia

As for our entrees, I ordered the Bigoli Con Vongole e Salsiccia. The housemade bigoli, otherwise knows as “fat spaghetti”, was served with cockle clams, crumbled sausage, and hot pepper. Blended with garlic, olive oil, and salt and pepper, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I did feel, however, that the portion was just slightly undersized for the price ($21). That’s not to say there wasn’t a fair share of clams included, but it wouldn’t have hurt to include a little more pasta and sausage to the dish.

Rachel got the pumpkin gnocchi with sage butter and shaved parmesan. These dumplings were so rich with pumpkin flavor that they, as Rob Lowe’s character would say on Parks and Recreation, literally melted in your mouth. It was delicious and tasted so decadent that she couldn’t finish it all, and I certainly enjoyed whatever bites I had as well.

Butternut squash gnocchi

We were too full for dessert, but our friends Mike and Randi decided to order a cannoli to-go. When the waiter came back with the container, packed inside were not one but three mini cannolis! They insisted we take one, and since I’m one to never turn down food, we obliged.

Drizzled with chocolate sauce, the dessert featured a touch of pistachio which was different than your typical Italian cannoli. Not to bring up Olazzo a second time, but Casa Nonna’s were just all right.

Overall, we had a very pleasant experience at Casa Nonna. I think the two of us felt it was slightly overpriced for what you received, but at least all of their plates feature homemade pasta. The pizza appears to be a better value given the size, but I’m still kicking myself for missing out on their Monday night endless spaghetti and meatball promotion (which was discontinued earlier this year). That would have been trouble.

Casa Nonna on Urbanspoon

Graffiato Shines In Debut

11 Jul

It’s not often that we write about a restaurant as soon as it opens, but Mike Isabella’s Graffiato was about as flawless as a debut as we could have imagined. Even though the Top Chef alum’s restaurant has now been open for several weeks, we have heard such positive word of mouth that we were eagerly counting down the days until our reservation last Wednesday night.

With our friends Pat and Fraser, we headed to Chinatown while discussing our game plan on what to order. When we arrived, the place was full to the brim but we were immediately seated by the hostess after checking in for our 8:30pm reservation. The modern yet simple interior was very inviting, and with two floors of space with a kitchen on each floor, Graffiato can certainly accommodate many guests.

Graffiato

Once we were seated upstairs, the four of us deliberated over ordering a la carte or getting the tasting menu for $55 per person. The tasting menu limited us to four courses, and while everyone would receive different plates, we still wanted to have the freedom of choosing our own dishes as we went along. Thus, we went the a la carte route. I don’t think any of us could imagine sharing 16 dishes!

Of course before ordering our food, the ladies couldn’t resist indulging themselves with a few glasses of prosecco. And how could you blame them when it’s the only venue in the city serving the sparkling Italian wine on tap? They also carried several local brews including DC Brau and Port City.

Even though Isabella is from Jersey, Graffiato gives off a sense of DC pride as it sources its ingredients from nearby farms and vendors. It emits an authentic neighborhood vibe despite Isabella’s nationally known mug from Top Chef. The fact that Mike himself was making rounds with customers all night made you feel at home which resulted in a nice, laid-back atmosphere.

Sorry for going off tangent – let’s get onto the food!

Bread Basket

Up first was the bread basket which featured polenta, focaccia and raisin bread, along with olive oil jam and fresh ricotta. If this was a taste of what was to come, then we were in for one heck of a meal. All four of us devoured the freshly-prepared bread while scraping the ramekin clean of any leftover ricotta. Our only negative comment would be the fact that bread isn’t included and will cost you $5, but maybe they are going for a European feel there.

Stretched mozzarella

Next was the fresh stretched mozzarella with fava bean relish. This was one of my favorite dishes of the evening. I have never tasted mozzarella so fresh with such an engaging texture. Well done, Mike.

Polenta with spicy pork meatballs

Following the excellent mozzarella was the polenta, accompanied with three spicy pork meatballs as well as a soft egg. I really enjoyed the meatballs even though they seemed to fall apart a little too easily. Blending the over-easy egg with the polenta and meatballs created a rich sauce which made the dish even more pleasurable.

Wood-roasted mushrooms

The next plate was wood-roasted mushrooms with cherry peppers and mustard. While this should have been served earlier given the complexity of the previous dish, plus the fact the fungi are served cold, it was still another solid choice. The mushrooms were rich in flavor and were one of Pat’s favorite items of the night.

Chicken Thighs

Our collective heads then turned towards the chicken thighs featuring Chef Isabella’s infamous pepperoni sauce. In all honesty, it didn’t quite meet the hype after Gail Simmons gushed about it back on Top Chef. That’s not to say it wasn’t good, because it most certainly was, but it wasn’t particularly mind-blowing. It more or less had the taste and consistency of wing sauce (we thought it would be thicker), but with a hint of pepperoni. The chicken, however, was excellently cooked.

While the pepperoni sauce was slightly underwhelming, our next dish shot us right back to euphoria. Words cannot express how delicious the gnocchi was. Just order it – you can thank us later. Served with braised pork shank and burrata, this dish was simply exceptional. The gnocchi was extraordinarily delicate while the pork was the perfect complement to Isabella’s pasta. Kudos to the chef on this one.

Jersey Shore Pizza

Our first pizza of the night (yes, we ordered two) was the Jersey Shore. Featuring fried tomato, provolone, cherry pepper aioli, and pieces of fried calamari placed atop each slice, this wasn’t your average pizza. The ingredients were fun, but there just wasn’t that much flavor coming out of the pizza. The calamari provided a nice, crunchy touch while the aioli almost tasted like the spicy mayo you would find on a California roll. At least the crust was nice and crispy, but as a whole, it was just lacking something.

Wood-roasted octopus

Following the pizza was the wood-roasted octopus. Served with chickpeas and baby artichokes, we thought it was just average. In fact, I might have enjoyed the artichokes and its sauce more than the octopus. While nicely cooked, it lacked a distinctive char flavor that set it apart from superior versions found at Cava and Isabella’s old haunt Zaytinya.

Bone Marrow

Up next was the bone marrow. While Rachel and I had never had marrow before, Pat and Fraser recently ate it at Marrakesh and wanted to try it again. Served inside a split-open bone, the marrow was stuffed with pistachio, bread crumbs, and bacon crumbles. It was granular in texture and incorporated a bacon flavor that was a tad overwhelming at times. Interesting dish, but I’ll probably pass on this one next time.

Countryman Pizza

Our second pizza of the evening, for a lack of a better term, knocked it out of the park. If you should order one pizza when dining at Graffiato, we highly recommend the Countryman. I’m glad our waiter purposely served the Jersey Shore first, as the Countryman was just on a whole other level. Topped with black truffles, fontina, and a duck egg whose yolk is spread over the surface by our server, this felt like you were eating deliciously rich pasta that happened to be on top of a pizza crust. Between the gooey egg yolk, robust fontina, and subtle hints of black truffles, it was a hit amongst all four of us. We have heard good things about the White House pizza too and may have to get that one next time as well.

We somehow still had room for dessert, so we ordered the chocolate tart as well as the unlisted zeppoles. Yes, the latter is not on the menu, but within less than a month it’s already achieved “Animal Style”-like status where it’s a secret but, well, not really a secret.

Zeppoles

One reason why the zeppoles are not on the menu is because they are cooked to order, and they do take some time before they ultimately reach the table. It was well worth the wait, however, as they were purely outstanding. These fried dough balls, dusted with strawberry flavored powdered sugar, were piping hot and utterly delightful.

Chocolate Tart

Meanwhile the chocolate tart was accompanied with olive oil and sea salt gelato, which gave the dessert a nice balance of sweet and salty. The tart even had some saltiness to it, but in the end, I think the zeppoles might have been our favorite of the two desserts.

Overall, we walked away very impressed with Graffiato. It’s a positive sign when even our least favorite dish was still good, you know? The service was first-rate, the atmosphere was pleasant, and the food was consistently great. We honestly cannot wait to go back and try many more of Chef Isabella’s dishes, as long as we order the gnocchi and zeppoles, of course.

Graffiato on Urbanspoon

The Silver Spring Side of Olazzo

26 Apr

With Passover concluding tonight, what better way to celebrate than discussing a return to carbs, and more importantly, pasta!

While we adore Olazzo in downtown Bethesda, we have never been to its nearby location in Silver Spring. As it turns out, Rachel inadvertently bought a BuyWithMe certificate for the Italian restaurant without realizing it was for the latter as opposed with the intention of buying it for the former.

Thanks to Rachel’s slight oversight, it gave us an opportunity to try their sister location, and especially in my case, their great meatballs.

Chicken Cardinale

One huge pro about their Silver Spring location is that they accept reservations, something that isn’t a practice at their Bethesda restaurant. Our table was ready as soon as we arrived, but given that it was a Thursday night instead of a weekend, this was anticipated.

Another noticeable difference between the two venues is that Silver Spring has a much larger dining area. The front of the house features an extensive bar area while Bethesda’s is essentially non-existent save for a few barstools. There were also several booths lined up opposite the bar that made for a cozy pub atmosphere.

Meanwhile, we were seated in the backroom which was just slightly smaller than their entire Bethesda dining room, but with higher ceilings and, even better, less noise. Then again, our reservation was around 9pm, so that probably helped in regards to the decibel levels.

Pasta Primavera

Our waitress soon came by and asked for our drink orders while one of the busboys brought out their trademark warm, fresh bread with freshly-poured olive oil. Needless to say, I went through the whole loaf.

I ordered the Chicken Cardinale while Rachel got the Pasta Primavera. And of course, we shared a meatball.

Rachel got one of her go-to dishes here, the Pasta Primavera. The description lists the dish with olive oil and garlic, but like Brett, she loves her marinara sauce. However, she didn’t think that took away from her dish, and while it wasn’t amazing or completely unique, it was a very satisfying and heaping portion of penne pasta with an array of vegetables and a zesty sauce.

Being a huge fan of marinara, I foolishly opted for that over the tomato cream sauce that came with the Cardinale. I should have stuck with the original recipe as the red sauce’s texture wasn’t optimal for the dish, but despite the substitution, I was rather disappointed with the quality of the chicken.  It was dry, stringy, and downright unflavorful.

Meatball

The meatball, on the other hand, was terrific as always. Almost the size of a softball, this (along with their excellent cannolis) is one of their signature items and is a must-order if you’re dining at Olazzo. I’m honestly annoyed at myself for not ordering a plate of spaghetti and meatballs for dinner instead, but I digress.

Our bill came out to a little less than $50, and given that our BuyWithMe offer cost $20 for $40 worth of food, an inexpensive dinner turned out to be even more economical. It’s not often you receive a check for two entrees, two glasses of wine, and a side dish that comes out to $10 (excluding tip)!

Outside of the Chicken Cardinale, some of which was my fault as well as the kitchen’s, it was another great tonight at was is typically a very reliable establishment. Given that we’re walking distance to their Bethesda location, I sense I’ll have plenty more opportunities to get my cherished spaghetti and meatballs.

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A Pre-Race Dinner at Vapiano

13 Apr

A few weeks ago, I ran the Cherry Blossom Ten Miler for the first time. As with every race, before the run comes the carbo loading. To make things simple, we decided to eat at Vapiano in Bethesda and sit in the lounge area so we could also watch the Final Four basketball games. I had a lot at stake because if UConn won, there was a good chance I was going to win not one but two pools!

Penne with pesto

We have been to Vapiano several times and have always thought it was good for what it was. Quick, easy, no frills Italian pizza and pasta. The gimmick is you get a card when you enter, and can watch them make your pasta to order. The pizza takes a little longer, so they usually give you a buzzer while you wait at your table. I have also had some of their salads and soups before, and while you get a good portion for your money, nothing stood out there either.

On this particular night, I decided to order the Fusilli pasta with pesto and pine nuts. On a previous trip I went with a red sauce (which I usually prefer), but I realized that I usually love drowning my pasta in red sauce, and they are fairly skimpy on the sauce here. I had a feeling something like a Pesto sauce would stick better to the pasta, and I was right. There was definitely a generous portion of oil in it, but it was a very satisfying pre-race dish.

Penne Arrabbiata

Brett ordered the penne arrabbiata which featured spicy tomato sauce. He also added grilled chicken to the dish for additional three dollars, which he thought was rather steep. This was Brett’s second time to Vapiano and he was just as dissatisfied, if not more so, than he was during his first visit. While he enjoyed the spicy marinara, the pasta was mediocre at best. The worst part, however, was the grilled chicken. He had a problem with both the quality (very dry) and quantity (sparse) of the protein which really questioned the supplemental charge.

I will say that any time we have ordered pizza at Vapiano, there hasn’t been any complaints. It’s by no means the best pizza in the area, but you get decent, freshly-baked pizza at a reasonable price. Unfortunately, each time we go we try to get some pasta too, seeing as that it is one of their specialties. We should stick to their pizzas and salads, and keep the place in mind for their decent happy hour deals. Oh, and the bowl of gummy bears when you leave isn’t a bad touch either. Vapiano is a fun chain to have in the area, but if we want real pasta, we’ll stick to Olazzo and Trattoria Sorrento.

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Happy Hour at Sei and an Encore Dinner at Carmine's

30 Mar

Before meeting a group for dinner at Carmine’s, we went across the street to Sei Restaurant & Lounge for happy hour.

The restaurant offers specials at the bar Monday through Friday from 5pm to 8pm, making it one of the longer happy hours available in DC. Considering it is difficult to get down to the Penn Quarter area before 6pm most evenings, Sei was very appealing.

Spicy tuna roll

We ordered drinks right away and I got the Asian Pear Sangria while Brett ordered a Sapporo. Although we were about to head to Carmine’s for a big dinner, Brett was a little hungry so we ordered the  to tie us over. I had one of the rolls and can say that they were incredibly fresh and had a nice kick to them. We have been to Sei for happy hour several times now, and I definitely want to go back at some point soon for dinner.

Sapporo and Asian Pear Sangria

We then headed to Carmine’s and somehow managed to order the perfect amount of food for 14 people. This was a dinner through a group at our synagogue, and I volunteered to help plan the event. We had to find a place that could easily host large parties, but didn’t want to worry about itemizing everything on the bill. Carmine’s was a no-brainer in that sense. We split the costs for the family style meal, and then everyone added in what they owed for drinks.

Somehow, each person only owed $18, and that included tax and tip (at least for the food bill)! We all shared Caesar salad, mixed greens, eggplant parmesan, chicken marsala, Penne alla Vodka, spaghetti and meatballs, spinach, and broccoli. Everything was delicious, and we both agreed that some of the dishes even tasted better compared to our first visit a few months ago.

Carmine's Titantic

The spaghetti and meatballs was a proven hit, and everyone really loved the eggplant parmesan and chicken marsala. We definitely didn’t need dessert, but decided to go big or go home, and ordered the monstrous Titanic.

Yes, it’s called that for a reason. Think of it as a colossal banana split sundae, complete with fudge brownie, countless scoops of vanilla ice cream, chocolate syrup, and of course, whipped cream. We all attacked the sundae and then cried mercy. The evening turned out to be a fun time with good food, great conversation, and all at an incredibly affordable price.

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