Tag Archives: desserts

Spring is in the Air at Seasons 52

3 Apr

Last week, we had the opportunity to attend an event at Seasons 52 where they would be debuting their new spring menu. Brett and I have wanted to try this place since it first opened, so this provided to be a good introduction to the restaurant. While we were not seated in the main dining room as this was a private event, just from walking in, we could tell that the ambiance was very inviting. We even noticed a piano man at the bar by the entrance. Anyway, we could not wait to see what we would be trying that night.

Seasons 52

If you weren’t already aware, Seasons 52 is a chain operated by Darden Resaurants (their brands also include Red Lobster, Olive Garden, and Capital Grille) but the large space definitely didn’t have the atmosphere of one. Their whole concept is based on fresh, seasonal ingredients, and they change their menu four times a year. Also, nothing on the menu is more than 475 calories, and that includes their “mini indulgences” desserts.

We were able to try several items on the new spring menu, which ranged from starters to entrees to those decadent desserts, as well as wine pairings for each course. Let’s just say I stared at my wine while Brett indulged.

Plum tomato and artichoke & goat cheese flatbreads

We arrived a little late to the event but the servers were very accommodating and still let us try their well-known flatbreads to start. I particularly enjoyed the plum tomato flatbread, which included fresh basil, roasted garlic, and parmesan cheese. Someone detected a hint of lavender in there and they were right, as that was mixed into the crust. The artichoke and goat cheese flatbread was very light and perfect for spring.

Tomato and Haas avocado salad

Next came the tomato and Haas avocado salad. The server mentioned they use Haas avocados because they are available right at the start of spring and have a higher fat and taste content. I loved the combination of tomato, avocado, balsamic, and arugula, and would definitely come back and make a meal of that with the add-on of chicken or another protein.

Columbia River steelhead trout

For our entrees, we all shared the Columbia River steelhead trout, lamb t-bone chops, and spicy snow peas with shitake mushrooms. I really liked the trout, and had no idea that that particular type was part of the salmon family. It paired well with the spring vegetables, basmati rice, and lemongrass sauce. I’m sure it also balanced well with the recommended Botani Moscatel, but I digress.

Lamb t-bone chops

I know that Brett’s favorite was the lamb t-bone chops as he had three of them and couldn’t get enough. He commented how he generally doesn’t order lamb because it is so fatty and gamey, but these pieces of meat were incredibly lean and flavorful. Even more amazing were the truffle mashed potatoes that accompanied the chops. We all asked how it was possible for them to be low-fat, and they answered that the chef uses fat free sour cream instead of butter or cream. Amazing!

Spicy snow peas with shitake mushrooms

The snow peas were a nice side dish and we enjoyed the contrast of the crunchy peas together with the meaty mushrooms and almonds, but I don’t think I would call them spicy, more like sweet and savory. That dish was paired with the Lioco Indica Rose from Mendocino which we were told is 100% natural with no additives. This is a wine that is hard to obtain on the east coast, and we will definitely look for it when we are out on a trip to California in a few months.

"Mini indulgences" desserts

Finally, the desserts. We had heard about these small desserts, but until you see them all together it is hard to grasp just how many varieties and indulgences there really are. They had everything from mango cheesecake to rocky road to pecan pie. We tried several of them and I have to say that my favorite might have been the key lime pie, but the chocolate peanut butter was pretty amazing too. Bottom line – none of these are more than 300 calories, so indulge!

Their menu changes every 13 weeks, so you have plenty of time to check out some of these new items, plus some staples. I could definitely see us going back for the flatbreads and desserts alone. But I know Brett is still thinking about that lamb t-bone too, so a return trip is definitely on the horizon.

Seasons 52 on Urbanspoon

Eleven Madison Park

22 Mar

A couple of weeks ago, we went to New York City for the weekend to celebrate our second wedding anniversary. Why NYC, you ask? Well, we wanted to be tourists for a change. Seeing as how we have friends and relatives around the area, we have never stayed in Manhattan, at a hotel, just the two of us. Instead of trying to make the last bus to Jersey or catching a late train back to Queens, we were on our own schedule, absorbing the sights and sounds of the Big Apple like we had never visited before. We saw a show on Broadway (Memphis – which was outstanding), walked the entire length of the High Line, and frolicked around Central Park… the whole nine yards.

And then of course, there was the food. I surprised Rachel that Saturday night with dinner at one of the city’s top restaurants – Eleven Madison Park. One of the toughest tables in NYC, their reservation system is very similar to that of Minibar: you can only make a reservation exactly 30 days to the date starting at 9am (Jose Andres’ phone line opens an hour later, but I digress).

However, Eleven Madison Park also takes reservations not only by phone but also via OpenTable, which made things a lot easier. While vigorously pressing the F5 key, I grabbed whatever slot was available. As soon as the clock struck 9, a 6:15pm table for two soon showed up. I clicked, and it was booked. Certainly beats hitting the redial button 100 times. Patting myself on the back, I had to keep our reservation a secret for an entire month.

Fast forward to March 3rd. We grab a cab from the hotel and make our way down towards Madison Square Park. Rachel still has no idea where we’re going, and when we arrive, she admits she has never heard of it before. Nonetheless, the friendly host greets us at the door, takes our coats, and congratulates us on our anniversary while showing us to our table.

The sommelier then comes over and hands me their wine list while providing Rachel a menu of “soft cocktails”. You see, Rachel is… well, you guessed it (surprise!), and I gave the restaurant a heads-up when I originally made the reservation. We were already wowed by the service with that gesture, and we hadn’t even ordered anything yet.

Then comes their fascinating menu concept – the meal is set up as a four-course tasting menu, but the menu lists 16 main ingredients arranged in four rows of four. Diners choose one main ingredient from each row which represents that course, and each dish revolves around said ingredient. For example, the first row had a choice of hamachi, octopus, fois gras, and sunchoke. Needless to say, but we have never seen anything like this before. No descriptions, just the name of the ingredient.

Black and White Cookie Box

And despite that the menu lists only four courses, the restaurant also provides an array of amuse bouches and small plates along the way. For instance, the meal started out with the kitchen’s take on a New York staple, the black and white cookie, served in a wrapped box. This rendition, however, was savory and comprised of parmesan and black truffle. From there on out, we knew we were in for a memorable evening.

Savory Black and White Cookie

We then received a cup of smoked apple-thyme tea accompanied with a sunny side up quail egg on toasted brioche with applewood smoked bacon.

Our next amuse bouche was a mackerel and scallop crudo. Unfortunately for Rachel, she was unable to have it since she obviously has to avoid raw fish, but the waitress was very accommodating and offered to bring her a cooked version of it. She returned with a new plate within a matter of minutes, leaving Rachel and I very much impressed by the outstanding service.

Mackerel and scallop crudo

Our fourth and final amuse was perhaps the most impressive – frozen Greek yogurt lollipops with curried lentils, as well as a plate of panisse (chickpea fritters) with yogurt. Yes you read that correctly, frozen Greek yogurt lollipops!

Frozen Greek yogurt lollipops with curried lentils, panisse (chickpea fritters) with yogurt

We were then served a pair of their croissant rolls, which were accompanied by fresh cow’s milk and goat’s milk butter. The goat’s milk butter was irresistible as we both kept spreading it across the warm, flaky rolls. They reminded us of the ones you can find at Fiola.

After a wonderful array of small plates, we then began our first course. Rachel ordered the octopus, which was poached and prepared with chorizo, onions, and lemon.


I went with the hamachi, which was marinated with horseradish and peppercress. It was a lovely piece of yellowtail.


For our second course, Rachel ordered the lobster. The beautifully presented plate featured poached knuckle and claw meat with Meyer lemon beurre blanc and was accompanied with charred leek, leek puree, charred bay leaf, and dehydrated squid ink. The lobster was impeccably poached in the lemon sauce and each bite was heavenly. Amazingly, the charred bay leaf had the flavor of toasted bread.


I, on the other hand, decided to be a little adventurous and opted with… a vegetable? Seeing as how I typically stick to proteins, I’m very much a fan of potatoes and felt that the kitchen could wow me with such a simple ingredient. The plate featured several smoked miniature potatoes on a bed of potato puree, topped with bacon crumbles and black truffle shavings. It was good, but I was definitely eyeing Rachel’s lobster for a good duration.


It was then onto our main course. Rachel ordered the rabbit, which was prepared two ways: loin wrapped in pancetta, and rabbit rillette. It was accompanied with mustard seed au jus, endive, and fried tapioca balls. Now Rachel isn’t one to normally order something like rabbit, but she thought she’d try something different, and it was certainly of the most unique dishes she had.


I ordered the beef, which turned out to be a 55-day dry aged rib eye. It was an exceptional piece of steak, prepared medium-rare and delightfully tender. Lightly drizzled with sorrel sauce and served with picked mushrooms, it wasn’t the largest cut of beef but it was satisfying nonetheless.

55-day dry aged rib eye

Just when it couldn’t get any better, our next course was the restaurant’s take on another New York classic — egg cream. Prepared tableside, our waitress mixed whole milk infused with cacao nibs, orange syrup, and seltzer poured from a classic soda siphon. We loved every second of it.

Egg cream

Then came the deconstructed New York cheesecake. Prepared with goat cheese and situated in a glass with blood orange sorbet while topped with vanilla “snow”, this dessert was simple divine. Oh, and we hadn’t even got to our actual dessert course yet.

Deconstructed New York cheesecake

Speaking of which, that came next. I ordered the chocolate dessert, which was a combination of sweet and salty. It featured crunchy mounds of chocolate atop of layer of crème, lightly drizzled with olive oil.

Chocolate Dessert

Rachel went with their renowned “milk and honey” dessert, which featured milk sorbet with a honey center, dehydrated milk foam, and milk snow.

Milk Dessert

Our waitress soon came by pouring me a glass of cognac, leaving the bottle at the table in case I wanted to refill it. Yeah, they left us alone with the entire bottle! The restaurant was probably fortunate in that I’m not a huge fan of cognac, so the bottle was left untouched, but still, that’s one incredible gesture. And of course they one-upped themselves by serving Rachel a glass of sparkling cider so she wouldn’t feel left out.


And to top things off, the meal ultimately concluded with black and white cookies, but this time they were actually sweet, prepared with vanilla, chocolate, and lemon. A fitting end to a fabulous meal.

Sweet Black and White Cookies

Just when we thought we were done, they not only handed us a jar of granola to take home for breakfast, but also gave us a box of chocolates with a “Happy Anniversary” insert placed inside. Talk about leaving your customers with an everlasting impression. Chef Daniel Humm even stopped by our table to say hello. The staff at Eleven Madison Park went above and beyond and truly made our anniversary a memorable one. If you’re ever in the city for a special occasion, Eleven Madison Park is highly recommended.

Chocolate Box

Eleven Madison Park on Urbanspoon

New Years Eve Dinner at Ardeo

13 Jan

New Years Eve is perhaps the most overrated holiday of the year, so instead of dropping over $100 on one of those silly “open-bar” parties where the venues are overcrowded and short-staffed, we opted to go out with a few of our close friends for dinner instead. We ultimately decided on Ardeo which offered a four-course prix-fixe menu for a reasonable price of $65.

New Years Eve Menu

Rachel and I haven’t dined at Ardeo since 2008, and it’s received quite the makeover since our last visit. Because we had a party of ten, we were seated at their “community table” – a long table which made conversation with the entire community just a tad difficult. I won’t blame that on Ardeo though, a round 10-top is typically found at banquet halls, not restaurants.

Anyway, the amuse bouche for the table was a beef tartar accompanied with egg “caviar” and black truffle. I liked the execution of the egg caviar, very clever.

Beef tartar accompanied with egg "caviar" and black truffle

Diners had six options to choose from for their first course, so naturally I went with the beef carpaccio. And yes, while I’m aware I just had the beef tartar moments ago, I’m a glutton for all things beef, so this decision was rather easy. The four thinly-sliced pieces of beef were topped with a couple of 63 degree quail eggs as well as pickled brown beech mushrooms. Lovely presentation and a solid first course dish.

Beef Carpaccio

Rachel ordered the gnocchi salad, which was prepared with spinach salad, crisp gnocchi, braised fennel, and truffle vinaigrette. She thought it was a great first course. The gnocchi were a little different than what she is typically used to in that they were longer pieces, but they weren’t too heavy and you could definitely taste the truffle oil.

Gnocchi salad

For our main course, I ordered the seven hour braised leg of suckling pig. I haven’t had suckling pig since my 30th birthday at Komi, and while the grilled barrel-cut rib-eye caught my eye, I simply could not do a trifecta of beef in one sitting (… or could I?).

Back on topic, the pork was accompanied with cheddar grits, black-eyed peas, redeye gravy, and peanuts. It slightly reminded me of the Kalula pork we had in Hawaii, except the meat at Ardeo was dry in some areas and not as rich in flavor as its Pacific counterpart. It’s also a shame there that wasn’t any crispy skin included, but again, that’s Komi’s fault for taking this dish to the next level. I probably would have enjoyed Ardeo’s rendition more had Johnny Monis not completely spoiled me with his exquisite preparation.

Seven hour braised leg of suckling pig

Rachel’s entrée was the Day Boat Scallops with a butternut puree, spaghetti squash, bacon, and a lobster emulsion.  The scallops were charred nicely on one side, but as our friend Keith mentioned who had also got the same dish, they may have been better if they were seared on both sides. The best part may have been the butternut squash puree as dipping the scallops in it made them taste even better. The spaghetti squash added a nice texture to the dish, but she couldn’t really taste any lobster in the emulsion.

Day Boat Scallops

For dessert, each patron received a trio of desserts. The first was a chocolate bonbon stuffed with vanilla ice cream and then dusted with more chocolate, the next was a coffee mousse, and the third was a chocolate-pistachio tart with salted caramel and a milk chocolate glaze. The tart was my personal favorite while Rachel favored the mousse.

Trio of desserts

Because it’s not New Years Eve without some bubbly, our waiter came by with some complimentary glasses of champagne to close out the meal. While the service was slow at times, I have to tip my hat to the manager. When one of our friends thought her cod was overcooked, the manager sincerely apologized and asked if she would like to order a different entrée. Within minutes, she received a freshly-grilled rib-eye and was very pleased with it. Now that’s excellent customer service.

When we received the bill, gratuity was not included which I felt was a little peculiar. Because we were such a large party, it’s often typical that restaurants include gratuity at a predetermined percentage, but apparently this was not the case for us. No matter, it just made splitting the check a little more time-consuming.

Overall, we had a great New Years Even dinner at Ardeo. Everyone had an enjoyable time and was satisfied with their meal. While restaurants are typically more expensive during the holiday, I felt that $65 was a fair price considering the quality and quantity of food we received throughout the night. I wouldn’t mind going back in the near future just to order from their regular dinner menu let alone their champagne brunch.

Ardeo+Bardeo 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

Ululani's Hawaiian Shave Ice

26 Sep

We knew that the one thing we had to try in Hawaii was shave ice. As we generally do when visiting somewhere new, the first thing we did was research TripAdvisor and Yelp to find tips on where to eat in Maui. To our surprise, the top ranking for the island wasn’t a fancy restaurant like Mama’s Fish House, but rather Ululani’s Shave Ice. Considering the number of shave ice establishments in Maui, we knew we had to check them out for ourselves.

If you are not familiar with shave ice, it is literally what it sounds like:  ice that is shaved from a block and then topped with flavored syrup. What makes it a completely decadent treat is when the ice is topped over a scoop of ice cream.

Ululani's Hawaiian Shave Ice

Ululani’s says it stands out by using pure cane sugar, purified filtered water, and flavors made from premium purees or extracts. They have countless flavors to choose from as well as several interesting toppings that range from homemade Azuki beans to fresh Mochi balls.

Needless to say, we were fairly overwhelmed by our choices and decided to go with a set combination of red velvet, root beer, and vanilla topped with a “snow cap”, all over a scoop of macadamia nut ice cream. A snow cap is a sweet cream mixture which makes the flavors meld together, and all in all, it was heavenly. We were fairly full from dinner so we ordered a mini size, which was perfect as it was still a substantial portion in our eyes.

From that point on, we definitely weren’t sure if any shave ice place could top Ululani’s. Not only was it excellent, but the staff was extremely helpful and friendly. The only one that was even comparable was the Wishing Well Shave Ice truck in Kauai, but we know we only scratched the surface in terms of shave ice delicacies throughout the islands of Hawaii.

Ululani's Hawaiian Shave Ice on Urbanspoon

The Atlas Room Shines on H Street

1 Aug

It seems like yesterday when Granville Moore’s and The Argonaut were the pioneers of the rapidly developing Atlas District back in 2006. Flash forward five years: H Street is now lined with sushi shops, biergartens, and concert venues. It has truly become a neighborhood of its own within a few short years. The Atlas Room might be the gem of the block.

Rachel and I have been meaning to try The Atlas Room since they first opened last November after hearing friends rave about the place. We felt it was an ideal place to go with friends, including some who were visiting from New York City. The six of us made a reservation for Saturday night after spending the day as tourists, which was capped by a stunning view from the top of the Old Post Office Pavilion (highly recommended by the way, DC resident or not).

Short Rib Ravioli

If you have never been to The Atlas Room before, it’s easy to miss. Granted, it has more signage than Granville Moore’s, but it is one of the smaller restaurants you’ll find in the District. In fact, they only have seven tables (with seating up to 28) in their dinning room according to their website. There was a bar in the back left corner of the space which had some additional seating as well.

Speaking of the bar, we started the evening off with some pre-Prohibition style cocktails. I ordered the Ward 8, which was made with bourbon, orange juice, lemon juice, and grenadine. Props to the bartender as this was one tasty beverage – it went down smooth without being overly tart. Rachel ordered a Pisco Sour, which featured Macchu Pisco, lime juice, and egg whites. It was sweet and frothy and was a great hint of what was to come in terms of creativity.

Macchu Pisco

The menu at The Atlas Room is different from most restaurants as dishes are categorized by their main ingredient (chicken, pork, beef, etc.) and then broken down into three sizes (small plate, appetizer, entrée). Our waiter helped explained the structure of the menu and provided a very helpful method on how to order.

He suggested that the plates be broken down into a points system, where the small plate is equivalent to one point, the appetizer is equivalent to two, and the entrée is equivalent to three. He recommended that each diner should order four points worth of dishes for dinner.

Roasted Free Range Chicken Breast

I decided on the short rib ravioli and roasted free-range chicken breast after following the waiter’s advice. The former sounded delicious just from its description while the latter was an appealing main course without the red meat double-dipping.

The ravioli was indeed excellent, and even then some. Between the tender short rib, al dente pasta, and outstanding demi-glace, it was a marvelous dish. While the plate only came with three ravioli, I tried to ration them as much as I could. In fact, at least half of our table ordered it and had the same glowing response as I did. If there’s one dish I would wholeheartedly recommend at The Atlas Room, this would be it.

That’s not to say the chicken wasn’t great, because it most certainly was, it was just a hard act to follow. Nonetheless, it was a generous amount of food for $19. The plate came with a breast and thigh as well as roasted potatoes, grilled spring onions, sautéed oyster mushrooms, and a rosemary jus. Chicken is typically difficult to pull off given the potential dryness, but Chef Beard executed it wonderfully. The meat was juicy, the skin was crispy, but it was the rosemary jus that really brought the flavor out and made it a more memorable dish.

Beet Salad

Rachel went with two small plates and one appetizer. First up was a beet salad, which was one of the day’s specials, and consisted of mixed greens, fresh heirloom tomatoes, balsamic, and fresh beets. You could tell the produce was straight from the market as it was a great, fresh summer salad, but it didn’t particularly wow her.

She had heard from friends that we had to order the chicken wonton soup, and it may have been her favorite dish of the night. The soup featured chicken dumplings, shitake mushrooms, and a savoy cabbage broth with crispy onions. If wonton soups were prepared like this in Chinese restaurants she would order them all the time.

Her last dish was the grilled seafood salad and was prepared with chilled mussels, calamari, and shrimp over Israeli cous cous. You could tell that this was meant to be a small plate in that it felt like a dish that would build to bigger flavor profiles. There was definitely enough food and she felt full after these three plates, but Rachel wondered if she would have been better off just trying one of their main entrees (with the wonton soup, of course).

Pineapple cake topped with hazelnut ice cream

We split two desserts amongst the six of us. The first was an upside-down pineapple cake topped with hazelnut ice cream while the other was a chocolate cake topped with lavender ice cream. Looking back, we probably should have ordered the ricotta fritters as we didn’t need two ice cream-topped pastries, but I digress.

The pineapple cake proved to be the favorite between the two given how refreshing it was. The hazelnut ice cream was a nice touch and complemented the pineapple flavor without overwhelming the cake. The chocolate cake was clearly the more decadent of the two desserts as the chocolate was topped with an almond cookie which was then topped with hazelnut ice cream! I really enjoyed it but I think it was too a little heavy for some of our tablemates.

Chocolate Cake

Overall, we were very impressed with The Atlas Room not only because of the great service (our waiter was extremely accommodating), but also because of the excellent food. Our entire party was very happy with the entire experience and left The Atlas Room full and content. It really is H Street’s finest.

Atlas Room on Urbanspoon

Annie's Bannanies – The Perfect Beach Treat

29 Jul

This past week, Brett and I shared a beach house with a few friends in Dewey Beach, Delaware. It was an ideal weekend of sun and sand, and of course, great food and drinks. Just a few weeks prior, I had traveled to Rehobeth Beach with some girlfriends, and it was then that I finally got my hands on my very first taste of Annie’s Banannies.

You may wonder, what exactly is Annie’s Banannies? Well, “Annie” is Ann Ketchum, the owner and founder who learned how to transform frozen bananas into an ice cream consistency from her parents and decided to honor their memories with a store of her own.

Mocha Nannie

Between my two visits, I can safely say that I have had Annie’s at least six times. It’s just that good. You can watch the employees push the frozen bananas through the Champion Juicer, and out comes thick swirls of “ice cream.” It’s healthy, vegan, and gluten-free, something that has become even more important as more people are diagnosed with Celiac Disease.

The banana base may be a little bland in itself, but that is when the fun toppings come in. You can choose from many concoctions like the Nutty Banannie (natural peanut butter and chopped peanuts), the Tropical Banannie (mango, pineapple, and coconut flakes), and the Banana Cream Pie (crushed graham crackers and whipped cream). You can also create your own from a variety of toppings. My personal favorite is anything blended with their natural peanut butter. Mix that peanut butter with chocolate syrup and some nuts for an indulgent dessert, or with strawberry puree for a taste just like peanut butter and jelly.

Snicker Nannie

You really can’t go wrong with any of the selections. I even got Brett hooked and it’s tough to lure people away from other boardwalk options such as Kohr Brothers! And for all you Weight Watchers out there, keep in mind that the Bannanie is simply a frozen banana, and if you add just fruit toppings, you have yourselves a Zero Points Plus treat.

And here’s the really good news: you don’t even have to trek out to Rehoboth to enjoy it. Annie’s has opened up a temporary location at the Inner Harbor Light Street Pavilion in downtown Baltimore! It’s slightly closer than Delaware, but we would be doing backflips if she opened up a shop in DC.

One thing to note is that apparently Chicken Out also serves a similar variation of Annie’s. I haven’t tried it yet so I can’t vouch for it, but if it’s anything close to Annie’s, it may have to do to feed my addiction before our next beach outing.

Annie's Banannies on Urbanspoon

Bethesda Restaurant Week: Newton's Table

22 Jul

While Bethesda has an innumerable amount of restaurants that are within walking distance from one another, there are very few that offer fine dining and, more importantly, successfully execute it. The recently-opened Newton’s Table accomplishes both.

When Newton’s Table opened back in April, we were very excited about the notion that Dennis Friedman, the chef and co-owner of the renowned Bezu in Potomac, would be opening his very own restaurant in downtown Bethesda. Occupying the former Rock Creek space, Newton’s Table is perhaps one of the more expensive restaurants in the DC suburb, but for good reason: their high-quality ingredients make for an excellent meal.

Salt and Pepper Shrimp

Because of their pricey menu, we initially postponed a trip to Newton’s Table unless it was for a special occasion. Then Bethesda Restaurant Week came along, and wouldn’t you know it, Friedman’s venue was participating! Rachel worked her OpenTable magic within minutes of hearing the news.

With our cousins Scott and Barbara, we arrived a few minutes early and got a drink at the bar. While their wine list is nothing to scoff at, their beer selection is rather limited. Hopefully it’s something they can improve in the near future, especially given all the relatively local breweries in the area.

Kapow Flank Steak

While our reservation was for 8pm, we weren’t seated until 8:30 due to a table taking an excessive amount of time chatting it up. Not that it was a big deal for us, but the hostess was very apologetic for the inconvenience.

Once we got to our table, we looked over their Restaurant Week menu. While it was only limited to three entrees, the least expensive dish would have cost $26 a la carte, so this was a very good deal considering we were paying $30 for three courses.

For our first course, both Rachel and I ordered the salt and pepper shrimp. The jumbo shrimp was atop a bed of creamy polenta that was drizzled with chili sauce. The combination made for a great first course. In fact, I might have enjoyed the polenta more than the shrimp itself. The presentation was also a very nice touch and something you typically don’t see in Bethesda restaurants outside of a few places (which is sort of depressing when you think about it).

Fuzu Noodles

For our entrees, I went with the Fuzu Noodles, a dish Friedman made famous when he was the chef at Bezu. A modern twist on pad Thai, it featured a mixture of rice noodles, snow peas, carrots, onions, bean sprouts, eggs, chicken, shrimp, scallops, sweet and spicy soy sauce, black sesame seeds, crispy shallots, and scallions. Phew!

Anyway, I really enjoyed it. Between the silver chopsticks protruding from the heap of noodles as well as the generous portion size, I could see why this was such a hit at Bezu. I especially liked the crispy shallots that were sprinkled atop as it gave the dish a subtle, crunchy texture.


The rockfish was prepared grilled and complemented with Israeli couscous, basil pesto, summer squash, and a saffron aioli. The rockfish was simply prepared, but perhaps it needed to be in order to balance with the flavors of the couscous. Rachel couldn’t get over how good it was, especially combined with the pesto flavor. Usually I think of pesto as fairly heavy when accompanied with pasta, but with this, it was very light and perfect for summer.

Lemon Sorbet with Fresh Fruit

For dessert, there were only two choices for Restaurant Week: lemon sorbet with fresh fruit, and vanilla bean honey cheesecake. Rachel ordered the former while I went with the latter. We both agreed that while the sorbet tasted good when blended with the fresh fruit, it was overly tart by itself.

Meanwhile, the cheesecake was absolutely phenomenal. I’m not even a big fan of cheesecake, but this was some of the best I have ever come across. I hate to make blanket statements like that, but seriously, it’s that good. The vanilla and honey blended together in perfect harmony while the cheesecake itself wasn’t overly heavy, making for a nice summer dessert given the extraordinary heat we’re currently having.

Vanilla bean honey cheesecake

All and all, Newton’s Table has a very promising future. Outside of waiting for our table earlier in the night, the service was fine as our waiter was friendly and attentive. It’s a welcome addition to Bethesda and will hopefully cause a ripple effect for other restaurants to step up their game. One thing is for certain: Chef Friedman is swiftly making his mark in this town.

Newton's Table 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.


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.


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

Cava Grill Adds Greek Yogurt to its Menu

7 Jul

With little fanfare, it seems that Cava Grill has tweaked their menu a bit, and for the better might I add. Not that we didn’t love it before, but there are some great new additions. For example, you can now top your pita with kalamata olives. Meatballs have also replaced the sirloin as a protein choice.

The biggest change would be the recent addition of Greek yogurt to its menu. A few weeks ago they had a free sampling, so I went down to grab some while expecting long lines as per the norm for free food in DC. When I arrived, I was surprised to find no line at all, and was offered yogurt with my choice of toppings. Granted, the promotion ran from 2 to 5 pm (and this was at 4:50), but as soon as I took a bite, I felt like I should go outside and shout to people to take advantage of trying this wonderfully creamy yogurt.

Cava Greek Yogurt

Greek yogurt has become extremely popular in recent years, not only as a breakfast item but it has also been incorporated in tart frozen yogurts found at places like Pinkberry. The owners of Cava Grill wanted to capitalize on this by offering their own version. Since Cava offers an interactive nutritional guide on their website, you can see that a 5.3 oz serving size will cost you only 140 calories, 2.5 grams of fat, and includes 12 grams of protein. Not bad for breakfast or a quick snack!

Two toppings are included, but you can always add on more. I decided to try mine with strawberries, blueberries, walnuts, and honey. The yogurt itself was rich and creamy, but it was also light and didn’t feel too heavy or like sour cream, as some Greek yogurts tend to do.

While the yogurt may not feel as indulgent as a trip to Haagen Daaz, it is definitely a great new option and could be a serious competitor to Sweetgreen’s Sweetflow yogurt as well as the self-serve yogurt machines at Yogiberry. I for one welcome the competition and will add it to the rotation of Bethesda treats!