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.

The Red Hen on Urbanspoon

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.

Casa Luca on Urbanspoon

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.

Rose's Luxury on Urbanspoon

Maketto at Hanoi House

16 Oct

A few weeks ago, my friend and I decided to try somewhere fun and new for dinner on a Saturday night. Lately, this seems to be easier said than done, especially if you want a reservation and don’t want to wait hours for a table.

While scanning OpenTable, the listing Maketto at Hanoi House piqued my interest. I didn’t realize that Erik Bruner-Yang of Toki Underground was doing a three-month residency there to test out the menu for his new restaurant on H Street, slated to open later this year.

The concept was $30 per person for a prix-fixe meal of seven courses, in the cuisine of Cambodian and Taiwanese food. This seemed similar to Little Serow, but with actual reservations available, and online no less. We couldn’t pass up the chance to try Bruner-Yang’s food without waiting hours for a table, so off we went!

Udon noodles

We started out with simple udon noodles with a salted egg and a separate bowl of ponzu sauce for dipping. These were some of the freshest noodles I have tasted – thick but also light at the same time.

Japanese fish cake

The second dish was called Okonomoiyaki, which was a Japanese fish cake. It was also prepared with pork belly, shrimp and some shaved mackerel on top.  It packed incredible flavor and was a great indication of what was to come. I loved how the spice gave the dish a kick but didn’t completely overwhelm it either.

Prahok Kh'Tih

The third and fourth dishes came together. The first was Prahok Kh’Tih, which was like a spicy dip blended with ground chicken and came with a side of fresh raw vegetables for dipping as well as some white rice to help soak up the sauce. I only wished there were more vegetables for us to dip with. The other dish was called Samlah Machu Kroueng, and it was a big bowl of soup with chicken wings, vegetables, and lemongrass. It was delicious, but not my favorite dish of the night.

Samlah Machu Kroueng

While we were eating these two plates, the dim sum cart rolled by. We were on our way to getting full with even more food coming, but it was hard to pass up on at least trying one or two items at only two dollars a piece. We wound up ordering a steamed pork bun and a spicy corn dish that the server recommended.

Steamed pork bun

Moving on, the last two savory dishes that came together were Mapo Tofu and Taiwanese fried chicken. The fermented tofu dish was probably the only one that was a little too spicy for me, so I didn’t eat too much of it. At that point, I realized that they would pack home anything we didn’t finish, so Brett got to enjoy that one later. If only I knew that with some of the other dishes, too!

Mapo Tofu

The fried chicken was incredible. They were small, boneless pieces that were tender and worked wonderfully well with the accompanying dipping sauce. We both remarked how we would order the fried chicken as a separate to-go order.

Taiwanese fried chicken

Just when we couldn’t eat any more, out came dessert. I didn’t know what to expect since the dish was called Vigilante Coffee. It was actually beignets served over coffee beans and came with a foamy dipping sauce. It was the perfect ending to a fun and adventurous meal.

Vigilante Coffee

If our outing to Maketto was any indication for how the real restaurant will be on H Street, then DC is in for a treat and another blockbuster hit from Erik Bruner-Yang. Go while you still can – the residency ends October 31.

Hanoi House on Urbanspoon

Ovo Simply Veggie: It's the (Soy) Bomb

27 Sep

Let me preface by saying that I am the farthest thing from a vegan, but I couldn’t help but be intrigued by all the praise around Ovo Simply Veggie. And considering it’s a short drive from my office in Hyattsville, the fairly new College Park eatery drew my interest, so I decided to give it a try and see what all the excitement was about.

Located in downtown College Park right off of Route One, diners construct their entrée around a choice of four proteins: seaweed yuba, tofu, mushroom protein, or soy protein. From there, you pair your protein with a flavor, which range from sweet & sour to ginger soy to fiery Kung Pao. And for a little over nine dollars, diners can create their own entrée combo which comes with a choice of salad, soup, or Oogave organic soda.

Vegan wonton soup

I opted for what Washingtonian food writer Todd Kliman loved the most – the mushroom protein with coconut green curry, and paired it with their homemade vegan wonton soup. The broth was robust and full of flavor while the wontons replicated the texture of its non-vegan variant.

Mushroom protein with coconut green curry

As for the entrée, the mushroom protein’s texture resembled that of sautéed beef – chewy, flavorful, and with just the right amount of salt. The coconut green curry was a real treat as it not only added some spice to the dish but also complemented the crispy vegetables as well as the beautifully-presented side of brown rice.

The service was very efficient as it took no less than ten minutes to receive my order while the cashier was very helpful in explaining how their menu works. Ovo is a terrific addition to the College Park area, so if you’re a vegan or vegetarian that lives in the area, it’s well worth the trip to Prince George’s County for some excellent vegan fare. And trust me, from someone who loves his fair share of meats, this is high praise.

Ovo Simply Veggie on Urbanspoon

Kapnos: A Culinary Tour of Northern Greece

20 Aug

Rachel and I were excited to try Mike Isabella’s latest venture, Kapnos, so we jumped at the chance when friends of our made reservations for a Saturday night a few weeks ago. Situated in the dining hotbed of the 14th Street corridor, Kapnos features a small plates menu that is centrally focused around Northern Greek cuisine.

Before even arriving, Kapnos already has a distinct advantage: they take reservations (via CityEats). Compared to many new 14th Street eateries where tables are first-come, first-serve, this was a refreshing change of pace and great for those who don’t live in U Street and are unable to stroll in on a moment’s notice.

When we walked in, we immediately noticed the two massive spits in the open kitchen, slowly rotating the chicken, duck, lamb, goat, and suckling pig that have been roasting all day.

Given how unbearably humid it was outside that Saturday night, the four of us started the evening with a pitcher of their homemade kegged lemonades. The Skinos Lemonade featured Skinos, a liqueur made from a Greek tree, watermelon, tarragon, and lemon. Incredibly refreshing, it was also just as overpriced at $42 for a rather small pitcher. I’m not one to usually complain about drink prices, but I felt that this was rather excessive. That didn’t stop us from getting two pitchers though, since like I said, they were ridiculously good and refreshing.

We decided to split a duo of housemade spreads – the tzatziki and melitzanosalata (eggplant dip). The former was light and refreshing while the latter featured a good amount of smokiness. Not to be outdone was the piping hot, fluffy flatbread that accompanied the spreads. Spreading the smoky eggplant over the fresh bread made for a great appetizer.

Roasted duck phyllo pie

Up next was one of our favorite dishes of the evening, the roasted duck phyllo pie. Flaky on the outside and tender in the inside, Rachel and I only wished there was more of it. And for what equated to be two small pieces, there should have at least been a third give the $13 price tag.

Smoky beets

The smoky beets were another hit amongst our group, albeit a little hard to share. Featuring yogurt, green peppercorn, and citrus, this made for a quality summer dish.

Clams

The clams dish from the “Barely Raw Mezze” portion of the menu was probably one of my least favorite dishes of the evening. Prepared with cod belly, wild onion, and dill pollen and atop a bed of salt, the flavors didn’t really work for me.

Braised cauliflower

On the flipside, the braised cauliflower was terrific. Featuring tomato, chickpeas, and fenugreek, the entire table really enjoyed this vegetable dish and the sauce was great to sop up with the pita bread.

Charred octopus

The main highlight, however, might have been the charred octopus. Prepared with green harissa and eggplant, each bite transported us back to Mykonos when we were on our honeymoon. Just wonderfully executed.

Poached lobster

The poached lobster was a bit of a letdown given how little meat there was. Prepared with hilopites pasta, tomato, and mizithra, the dish itself was fine but the lack of lobster put a damper on it as a whole.

Spiced baby goat

Meanwhile, you can’t go wrong with their meats from the wood-fire grills. We tried both the suckling pig and the spiced baby goat. Both were tender and succulent, though I enjoyed the suckling pig a little more personally.

Suckling pig

The desserts look delicious but we were full at that point and decided to call it a night.

As for the service, our waiter was very helpful in helping us what to order given his knowledge of the menu. If there was one thing I would have to nitpick about, it would be the prices. I’m not going to go into a small plates tirade, but when the cost of some these dishes amounts to an entrée at another establishment, it means the menu is overpriced.

For instance, the lobster dish had two tiny pieces of meat in it, and it was $19. A lobster roll from Red Pound is four dollars less and is overflowing with lobster meat. I know I’m comparing a full-service restaurant to a food truck, but you get this gist of it. Maybe we were just craving simple steak frites at the time. It’s not to say the food wasn’t good, but next time we go out I’m looking forward to my own plate of meat.

Kapnos on Urbanspoon