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LivingSocial Lunch at Equinox

22 Apr

When LivingSocial launched its Instant Deals program by offering dollar lunches at many of the city’s restaurants last Friday, it caused quite the stir in the District. While there were a plethora of options to choose from, perhaps none were more worthwhile than Equinox and its participation in the promotion.

Todd Gray’s restaurant was not only the best venue LivingSocial offered, but given that it cost just one dollar for $20 worth of food, it was arguably the biggest steal of the day.

Hawaiian escolar filet with spring vegetable ratatouille

Rachel and I decided to meet for lunch after booking a reservation on OpenTable, as this was too big of a deal to pass up. Apologies to the turkey sandwich I made the night before.

Rachel arrived right on time, as the Metro gods smiled on her that day. Brett, on the other hand, wasn’t so lucky. When she got there, a representative from LivingSocial checked her in as she sat down and perused the menu.

Once we were ready to order, we realized that the offer was only valid for one per table, but it was still a fantastic deal for an impromptu Friday lunch. Since both of us work at places that allow you to wear jeans on Friday, we were feeling a little underdressed at such a fancy establishment, but hopefully they didn’t mind too much.

Eggplant Frites

After much debate, Rachel ordered the Hawaiian escolar filet with spring vegetable ratatouille while I got the pork tenderloin with mustard greens and baked potato tots. We decided to splurge a little since we had such a great deal and also got a side of eggplant frites with a spicy rémoulade.

The frites were an excellent side as Rachel and I were pretty much in a contest on who could finish them first. With a light, flaky coating of panko breadcrumbs, the eggplant had a creamy texture that was both unexpected and delightful. Meanwhile the rémoulade was irresistibly good as we could not stop dipping our frites in it.

Pork tenderloin with mustard greens and baked potato tots

The tenderloin, cooked medium-rare, turned out to be a very generous portion given the mealtime as well as the fabulous deal we were participating in. The meat was tender albeit a tad dry, but overall I didn’t have any qualms with the dish. The homemade tots were a nice side in terms of a meat and potatoes entree as it proved to be lighter than heavier alternatives such as a puree or even fries.

Rachel’s escolar literally melted in her mouth, and the buttery fish was an ideal complement to the ratatouille. If Hawaii is known for their escolar, she will definitely be on the look out for it when we visit there in September.

We have always wanted to visit Equinox, and are so glad we were able to take advantage of this great offer. We will definitely be back again. In fact, Rachel will be checking out Todd Gray’s new Watershed restaurant this weekend!

Stay tuned for a report…

Equinox on Urbanspoon

Crumbs Arrives in DC

23 Nov

Well, it’s finally here. After much hype over the last few months, New York’s famous Crumbs cupcake shop has landed in DC. The first location in the DMV opened near Metro Center at 11th and F Street, and two more locations are expected soon in Clarendon and Union Station.

Crumbs Thanksgiving Gobble GobbleMy friends and I happened to be in the area last night for a pre-Thanksgiving happy hour at Vapiano, and decided to check out Crumbs to see if it lived up to the hype. I have tried a small cupcake from one of their New York shops in the past, and my friends have always raved about them, so we couldn’t resist and headed over there.

There were way too many to choose from, from simple flavors like Pumpkin and the Vanilla Gobble Gobble (Vanilla Cake with vanilla frosting) to more creative confections such as Cookie Dough and the “Squiggle”, a Hostess cupcake lookalike.

Some selections appeared extremely decadent, such as Peanut Butter Cup, Tiramisu, and Blackbottom Cheesecake. They also had massive “cupcakes”, dubbed The Colossal Crumb, which were literally the size of a whole cake, as well as seasonal collections for Thanksgiving, Hanukah, and Christmas.

Crumbs Four PackThe shop had an extensive drink list on their wall of hot and cold beverages, and last night they had a special where you could get a free small coffee with the purchase of a cupcake.

My friend purchased a four pack which we were all drooling over, while the three of us decided to split a Cookie Dough cupcake. I even brought home a Vanilla Gobble Gobble for Brett and me to share.

The cookie dough flavor was mainly in the icing, accompanied with vanilla cake and some chocolate filling. It was decent but didn’t necessarily blow me away. I was hesitant to bring home such a simple flavor considering the options offered, but as it turns out, simplicity goes a long way. When we cut into the huge cupcake, the vanilla cake was incredibly moist and went perfectly with the vanilla frosting and festive fall-colored sprinkles.

If I had to compare Crumbs to any local cupcake spot, I’d say their cupcakes most resembled those found at Baked and Wired, due to the sheer size and variety of flavors. These made Georgetown Cupcake’s product seem tiny by comparison, and were much more cake-like in consistency. Given the downtown location, we would most likely visit if we happen to be in the neighborhood, so it looks like we’ll be in the area a lot more in the coming weeks, err, days?

Crumbs Bake Shop on Urbanspoon

Galileo III: Third Time Is a Charm for Roberto Donna

19 Oct

Roberto Donna’s long-awaiting Galileo III recently opened in Downtown DC, and DMV Dining could not hold out another day without trying the Italian chef’s newest venture. Let’s just say we’re glad he’s back.

We were able to grab a last minute reservation for last Friday, and had less than 24 hours to process the notion we’d actually be spending our evening dining on fine Italian cuisine from one of the area’s most beloved chefs rather than catch up on hours of DVR from this past week (ah, married life!).

Located in the space previously occupied by Butterfield 9, Galileo III is situated in a prime location in Downtown Washington. Valet parking was our only option as it was still rush hour, but for $8, it wasn’t the end of the world.

Bread PlateThe hostess was very warm and friendly and immediately sat us near the front of the house. The space is very modern yet homey at the same time, but that could be because Roberto Donna’s wife Nancy, who was making the rounds at every table, makes you feel like you’re a part of the family. We struck up a nice conversation with her as she wholeheartedly approved of Rachel making the wine selection instead of myself.  Little touches like that go a long way.

Our waiter asked us if we wanted sparkling or still water, and when we had asked for still, he immediately brought over a bottle of water and poured it into both of our glasses before we had enough time to realize that we had really asked for simple tap water. We noticed other tables around us also had tap water, but because the waiter never even mentioned tap as an option, we had simply assumed that “still water” meant “tap” in this particular case.

The waiter not initially offering tap water as an option was obviously an error on the restaurant’s part, but we also did not act soon enough to deny the water before it was too late. Both of us were not vocal enough about the gaffe, but seeing how the restaurant was only in its second week of operation, we still probably should have said something.

Wine: Considering the price for the meal itself, it was refreshing to see a good number of wine bottles priced at $30. We chose a Bordeaux that had a very distinct taste to it. We were a little unsure of our choice and I noticed that other tables had a sommelier spend more time in helping other diners choose, but they were likely buying a bottle that was probably at least twice the price that ours was.

Carne Crude All' AbeseFirst course: I decided to order the Carne Crude All’ Abese, which was layered hand-chopped veal with slivers of rich Parmesan cheese, slices of mushroom, artichoke chips, and a mixture of olive oil and lemon juice. As the beginning of my meal, it certainly raised the bar as to what was yet to come. I had no idea veal could taste this good, yet Chef Donna pulled it off with ease. It was an excellent first course as the succulent veal blended well with the dressing, not to mention its gorgeous presentation.

Tonno Delle IsoleRachel went with the Tonno Delle Isole which was tuna prepared three ways, but only two of the methods were easily distinguishable. One was more of a thinly sliced piece of smoked tuna, and the other was a tartar below that, with little balls of couscous holding it together. There were small pieces of lettuce on top and a hint of orange dressing. The tuna tasted delicious, but it didn’t stand out as a must-try dish.

Raviolini del PlinSecond course: I went with the Raviolini del Plin – small pinched ravioli stuffed with three meats and served with veal au jus. Another fine dish as the homemade pasta was simply delicious. For one reason or another, it just felt that there was a lot of dedication from the kitchen in concocting the pasta considering how authentic it tasted.

Rachel opted for the Porcini Mushroom Two Ways, which meant stuffed legs with fonduta cheese, breaded & sautéed, and roasted head with garlic & parsley, with black truffle sauce. This was a dish that looked much different than she thought it would when first reading it on the menu. Porcini Mushroom Two WaysIt seemed like the mushrooms would be displayed as the stem and legs as the star of the dish, but when Rachel received it, the main component was a fried tart stuffed with creamy cheese and mushroom stems. The second part was a thin piece that lay on the tart, accompanied by a truffle sauce. The flavors all mixed well together, but it was a little heavy and after eyeing someone else’s scallop dish, she wondered if that would have been a better choice.

Pappardelle Al CinghialeThird course: It is pretty amazing when the following pasta dish is able to top the previous one, but that turned out to be the case as the Pappardelle Al Cinghiale was simply divine. This was my favorite course of the meal as the fettuccine was perfectly cooked while the wild boar sauce was the best ragu I had ever tasted. Seriously, I wish I had a jar of this stuff to take home with me.

Mezzelune di Melanzane E GranchiRachel’s next pasta course was the Mezzelune di Melanzane E Granchi, and the flavor combination was very unique. The half moon shape pasta was filled with spinach and crab meat, with a light tomato sauce, finished with a hint of orange juice. There was a stark contrast between the tomato and the orange flavor, which was enjoyable but also overpowered the filling of the pasta. It was hard to taste the crabmeat, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t a winning dish. It was certainly her favorite of the pasta dishes that night.

Tagliata (beef rib eye)Fourth course: I ordered the Tagliata (beef rib eye) and it was perhaps the only misstep of the evening. I had asked for it to be prepared medium-rare, but when it arrived, the majority of it was more on the medium-well side. It was also a bit dry, but the sun-dried tomatoes it was topped with aided the overall flavor of the entree. I’m not one to send a dish back unless it is extremely necessary, so there was really no reason to ask the waiter to have it prepared again as it was still good overall. Out of all the courses thus far, this was the weakest in terms of execution.

Rachel was in a predicament as she was originally set on trying the Branzino, especially since it received rave reviews from those who have tried Galileo III during the first few weeks. Always a big fan of lobster, she had planned on getting the Taglierini Neri All’Aragosta with lobster tail as one of the earlier courses, and then the Branzino for the entree. However, there was a significant upcharge for the whole fish, and when spending so much for the meal to begin with, it just didn’t seem necessary when all the other entrees were most likely just as good.

Arogosta E CalamariIn the end, she went for the Arogosta E Calamari (lobster tail), which came with calamari stuffed with cabbage and pancetta, as well as cubed red beets and creamy polenta. The dish itself was delicious and very unique. The calamari side with the cabbage tasted very similar to a stuffed cabbage dish, and was perfect comfort food. She said she would eat more of that even just as a main dish! She wasn’t sure how well it went with the rest of the entree, but the lobster itself was perfectly cooked, and very delicate.

The only thing she noticed was, at the table next to us, that the person who ordered the lobster appetizer had a significantly larger portion of lobster than what she had for the main entree. It was hard to complain with so many courses, and considering the fact that if the portion was any larger she would have been completely stuffed. It just made her think that if we ever came back, that she would definitely try the lobster pasta starter dish.Torta di Cioccolato

Dessert: For dessert, the waiter recommended the Torta di Cioccolato. It proved to be a great suggestion as the tort was very rich while the small portions of basil and coconut gelato added some variety to the dish. Rachel went with the Crostata di Mele, which was essentially a small apple tart with caramel ice cream. It was a simple dessert and the apple combined with the caramel ice cream was a perfect way to end a delicious meal.

Crostata di MeleOverall, Galileo III turned out to be a great experience. It’s not the best meal we’ve ever had, but I can easily see it becoming one of the city’s best Italian restaurants once they work out the kinks both in the kitchen and on the floor.  The service was otherwise top-notch.

Let’s just hope that the waiter will actually offer us a third water option on our next visit…

Galileo III on Urbanspoon

Zentan: Great Sushi, Not So Great Service

14 Oct

This past Saturday night’s dining outing proved to be a challenge from the get go in terms of finding a place that could accommodate a large party as well as offer food options that were agreeable to everyone.

Tapas are fun in theory for a big group, but it gets tough sharing with so many people, especially when guys are involved and walk away hungry. You either wind up ordering too much or too little, and it only works out if it is the right mix of people and everyone wants to share everything.

You also want a place that isn’t too over the top expensive, so that people don’t feel uncomfortable. What started as dinner for six people turned into 12, and by that point OpenTable was no longer an option. I usually love challenges like this, and after making a few phone calls, it occurred to me what I thought would be the perfect place.

Zentan is a fairly new Asian restaurant in the Donovan House hotel. The executive chef at the restaurant is Susur Lee, who some may remember from Top Chef Masters. The expansive menu varies from small plates for starters, to sushi, to larger entrée dishes. Sushi can be difficult because not everyone likes it, but I figured this place had options for both sushi and other dishes. I also knew the space was fairly large and had been there before with a large group, so securing a reservation wasn’t an issue either.

We arrived at 8pm and some of our party was already there with some drinks in hand. The bar offered some fun and creative cocktails, in addition to sake, wine, and beer. When the waiter finally got to us after we had been sitting for some time, we ordered our drinks and looked at the menu. It seemed like the drinks were taking forever, and finally, the waiter had come around and said the delay was because they ran out of flutes for the sparkling wine I had ordered. I honestly could not have cared less if it had come in a flute or a plastic cup, and it pretty much seemed silly that was the reason he had disappeared for so long.

Caramelized Black CodSzechwan-style sliced duck with crepes Donovan Platter

By the time we had ordered our food it was close to 8:45, so needless to say, everyone was a little impatient waiting for the food to come. We ordered some edamame and two Donovan Platters to share with the table, which consisted of crusted vegetable dumplings, salt and pepper calamari, crab cakes, and a satay trio. Everything was tasty, but for $24 per platter, it was still barely enough food for everyone. We may have been better off just getting one or two regular appetizers instead of the sampler.

For dinner, most people ordered entrees, but Brett and I weren’t super hungry so we decided to share some sushi and an appetizer dish that I have been eyeing for some time, the Singapore Slaw. I have heard that it is one of their signature items on the menu, and the description of 19 ingredients, hazelnuts, and salted plum dressing certainly was appealing. For the sushi, we went with a slightly traditional rainbow roll of tuna, salmon, and yellowtail atop a California roll, and the Brick Roll, which consisted of spicy lobster, BBQ eel, and scallop.

Singapore Slaw

I have to admit, the Slaw lived up to its reputation just from its sheer size and color alone. It was a giant tower of ingredients, although when mixed up it’s hard to tell if there really are 19 ingredients. It seemed more like five or six to us. The restaurant obviously doesn’t list them out, but it was certainly unique and different than your average green salad. That might have been a better dish to share with the group than the platter, just for its generous portion alone.

The sushi might have been the highlight for me. It was extremely fresh and flavorful, and the Brick Roll was literally shaped like small rectangular bricks. The only downside was that it was hard to pick up and we wound up having to eat those in sections.

One friend got Szechwan-style sliced duck with crepes while another got caramelized black cod, which looked like something I would order the next time we would eat there. Oddly, they recommended that people order side dishes of vegetables, but I’m surprised they didn’t inform us of how large the portions would actually be. For $6, a bowl of string beans was easily twice the size of the bowl of edamame we ordered earlier in the evening. In my opinion, I’m not entirely sure those entrees needed sides to begin with, but they were so large that we ended up sharing with those who ordered them. I should note that the string beans had this garlic sauce on them they made them slightly addictive.

By the time everything had come out, we had inhaled our appetizers so people were slowing down on the entrees fairly quickly. Despite the wait, everyone seemed to like what they ordered and the presentation was very unique.

Unfortunately, no matter how good the food may have been, a bad impression of poor service from the start is what everyone seemed to remember, but I guess that is to be expected with a larger group. However, I would think if they knew ahead of time that a large party is coming, and that the bill and order will be substantial, that they would get not one but two servers on us to make sure everything is running smoothly. I think Brett and I will be back, but it will probably be the two of us if anything.

Zentan on Urbanspoon