NYC’s Betony- A Best Bet-in-ny

A question that I get asked frequently is where should I eat in NYC…this weekend?  It’s a question that leaves me cringing.  My New York trips have always involved hours of obsessive research.  I mark my calendar for the exact moment I can call for reservations, since many spots won’t reserve more than a month out.  It has always been unthinkable to me that other people don’t plot out their trips the same way.

My mind-set is beginning to shift, however, as some very desirable restaurants in NYC don’t take reservations.  So, when I reunite with a childhood friend for our third annual Manhattan indulgence-fest, my attitude is a little more casual.  The truth is, DC’s Rose’s Luxury has taught me the advantage of dining without planning months in advance.  And there is a caveat-  we are only two people, which is not so difficult to accommodate.

Less than two weeks out, with only one reservation on the books, I panic.  Maybe we really should have a reservation for our Friday evening meal.  I check my NYC dining wish list, and hone in on relative newcomer Betony as my first choice.

Betony has impeccable credentials.  Chef Bryce Shuman is the former executive sous chef of the top-rated Eleven Madison Park.   Esquire Magazine named Betony Restaurant of the Year on its list of Best New Restaurant 2013. Pete Wells of The New York Times gushed about it in his review titled “A Testament to Flavors Clear and Pure.

Miraculously, a table for two is available.  This is really a stroke of luck.  When I check again moments later, all tables are booked.  Someone up above is looking out for my dining desires. Betony, here we come.

My idea of a perfect dining companion is one who lets me make all the decisions about what to order, and has minimal food restrictions.  My friend P is just that kind of companion.  We agree on starters of fried pickles with fennel and aleppo yogurt, and “cruciferous” salad with smoked chevre and pickled egg.

Our first bites are tiny wisps of salted bread sticks. Adorably light, we eagerly devour them.  This is followed by an amuse bouche of carrot veloute with buckwheat and buttermilk. We are off to an impressive start.

The fried pickles are light as air bundles – delightfully sour, salty, and crisp.

fried pickles

fried pickles

The kale salad with pickled egg is deceptive.  At first glance it looks somewhat ordinary, but the dish is far from it, with unexpected flavors bursting through. The egg white is actually chèvre cheese and the yolk is pickled.  Amazing!

Cruciferous salad

Cruciferous salad

Seared duck breast is accompanied by glazed cabbage, apples, and duck jus.  Served on the side is a dish of baked apple with bits of duck confit.  This is melt in your mouth meat, with a taste that still lingers in my memory.

 

seared duck breast

seared duck breast

Roasted chicken with peas and carrots and king trumpet mushrooms has received well-deserved accolades.  It’s hard to recall tasting a more tender piece of chicken, and the squiggle of sauce is just enough to enhance but not drown the flavor.

roasted chicken

roasted chicken

Our meal concludes with amaranth cake and maple ice cream, distinguished by simultaneously spicy, salty, and peppery notes.

 

amaranth cake

amaranth cake

While Betony’s food is certainly attractive, the appeal runs far deeper than looks. These are dishes to be enjoyed for their seductive complex flavors and textures.

The decor at Betony may be described as modern antiquity.  Dark brown hues, textured concrete walls, carved wood.  It has a weighty, important feel that matches the food.  The services is the same- professional, competent, serious.

 Betony interior

A big plus for Betony is its location on the Upper West Side. I am always hard-pressed to come up with options in this area, even though I know there are plenty of decent restaurants to be found.  Still, I am thrilled to discover such an incredible restaurant that’s not too terribly far from the theater district.

I highly recommend Betony as a best Bet-in-ny.  My other recommendation- do try and plan ahead, and make a reservation. You can thank me later.

 

Betony, 41 West Fifty-seventh Street, New York, NY

Pete Wells, New York Times review

 

Betony on Urbanspoon

Aggio Expands a Restaurant’s Range

Change can be difficult, particularly as one ages.  I have deep admiration for a friend, who at the age of 60 abandons his consulting business and enrolls in L’Academie de Cuisine.  He plans to become a personal chef upon graduation.  I truly am in awe of this bold move.  I can think of no better place to dine with soon-to-be-chef M. and his wife, than the newly transformed Aggio.

Aggio is Chef Bryan Voltaggio’s restaurant-within-a-restaurant.  Chef Voltaggio and Chef de Cuisine Johnny Miele are cooking up Italian specialties in a space carved out within the massive Range in Chevy Chase.

Range opened in December 2012.  I dined there four times within its first months of opening, but haven’t returned since.  This is partly due to burnout, and also because Range ultimately got lost in the shuffle of new restaurant openings that made their way to the top of my dining list.

Aggio is located in Range’s back room, an area that lacked character.  I can’t wait to see whether a makeover breathes new life into the space.  An early indicator of success is Tom Sietsema’s Washington Post review, which awards Aggio three stars (excellent).

We are ushered to the newly-designed back room, and enthusiastically welcomed by every staff member we encounter.  There is a palpable excitement in the air.  The decor is dark and more sophisticated than the mother ship. In fact, there is little to connect the two restaurants, with the exception of a shared main entrance. But this is precisely what makes Aggio such an interesting endeavor.

The adventure begins with complimentary funnel cake sprinkled with parmesan cheese.  It is an amusing amuse bouche.  This is followed by delightful olive focaccia, accompanied by mortadella mousse and creamy whipped burrata with olive oil.

The list of antipasti and zuppe e insalata selections is particularly enticing, so we select four to share.  Tuna with pistachio, castelvetrano olive, blood orange sugo, citrus pith, and black radish is refreshing and bright.  Its breezy citrus notes make me eager for warmer weather.

Aggio Tuna

tuna

Bagna cauda unites celeriac baked in aromatic salt, with hazelnut and chunks of marinated sardines.  My dining companions deem the dish praise-worthy. I take a pass, as sardines and hazelnuts are on my list of least favorite ingredients.

bagna cauda

bagna cauda

I skip right over to the appealing ravioli filled with roasted artichokes, mint, and chili.  This dish incorporates some of my favorite ingredients.  I am compelled to sop up some of the liquid with bits of bread.

Aggio Marinated Artichokes

marinated artichokes

Chioggia beets with tonnato sauce, charred rosemary, pine nuts, mullet roe, and arugula is a well-crafted, smoky-flavored, complex composition.

chioggia beets

chioggia beets

Asked for entree recommendations, our waiter recites the most popular dishes.  We wonder if this translates to best.  Chef M. decides to veer off the popular path, and orders monkfish tail with cranberry beans, alga marina, country ham, fennel, and charred lemon. It arrives seriously undercooked, and he sends it back.  When the waiter returns with the properly prepared fish, he says the dish will be removed from the bill.  This demonstration of goodwill makes our hearts grow fonder. It is unnecessary and appreciated.  In the end, this seductive and uniquely flavored dish is the highlight of the night.
monkfish tail

monkfish tail

I make a slight misstep by selecting king crab with spinach tagliatelle and buttered popcorn as an entree. It’s a lovely dish with a distinct buttery flavor, although I do expect the popcorn to pop rather than appear in the sauce as a purée (I should have read the Post review more closely).  My real issue is that I would prefer this as a shared dish, preceding a heartier fish or meat.  I am suffering from monkfish envy.
king crab pasta

king crab pasta

 

Velvety rich beef cheek with farro, bone marrow, glazed turnips, parsley, and garlic is a heartier option. After one bite, I put it on my wish list for a future visit.
beef cheek

beef cheek

Ultimately, I am grateful to have an appetite left to enjoy sweetly satisfying zepppole punctuated with mandarin fudge, pistachio, honey caramel, and ricotta gelato.  We also eagerly devour delicate olive oil cake, with pistachio cream, cara cara orange sorbet, crispy pomegranate, and kumquats.  Both desserts maintain the high bar that has been set for this meal.

zeppoli

zeppoli

olive oil cake

olive oil cake

 

 

Service at Aggio is noteworthy.  While  service issues at Range have been noted in a variety of forums, the staff at Aggio couldn’t be more attentive.  Napkins are folded when you leave the table, water glasses are always kept filled.  Staff are unobtrusive but ever present, which serves to enhance the experience. Our dinner is a leisurely one, and we appreciate that no one seems anxious to rush us out of the restaurant.

Kudos to Chef Bryan Voltaggio for expanding his range by creating Aggio.  His action is proving to be a success, not unlike the one taken by my career-changing friend, who demonstrates that transformation at any stage is possible.

 

Aggio on Urbanspoon

Tom Sietsema’s Washington Post review

My Related Reviews

Range

Volt, Table 21

Mare Me: Fiola Mare

It’s not like I ever need an excuse to dine out.  But I do have a list of restaurants held in reserve for special occasions.  My wedding anniversary deserves a top tier restaurant, particularly since we are now at 31 years.  Last year’s 30th meant dinner at two phenomenal restaurants- Inn at Little Washington and Chicago’s Alinea. That’s impossible to top.  What is perfectly reasonable, however, is double dipping dining. One restaurant the Saturday night before the anniversary, and one the night of the anniversary.

Our pick for the weekend before is the brand spanking new Fiola Mare on the Georgetown Waterfront. We are dining with Cousins A & B, whose anniversary falls a few days before ours.  We dined with them last year at the Inn, and we decide to pair up for a celebration dinner again this year.  We are not necessarily the most perfectly suited dining companions.  The cousins are not adventurous eaters, and B is watching his diet. (As I claim to be, but anniversaries don’t count).  I am hoping that Fiola Mare will satisfy my desire to try an exciting new restaurant, while at the same time fulfilling the requirements of A & B.

Fiola Mare is the third DC restaurant from Chef Fabio Trabocchi.  We have enjoyed a few special meals of Fiola, and are also fans of the fare at the more casual Casa Luca.  Fiola Mare focuses on seafood, and the beautiful waterfront view evokes a Mediterranean seaside experience.

The only reservation available at the already-popular spot is at 6:00 pm or 9:00 pm.  We choose the early arrival, and benefit from the opportunity to witness the sunset.  As the light in the room gradually dims, the atmosphere in the restaurant palpably changes from bright and airy to something more elegant and serious.

The beautiful display of fresh seafood perched next to the kitchen tempts me.  Do I opt for a simple whole fish, grilled and deboned tableside?  Or, should I  stick to something that exhibits a bit more culinary flair?  Once I glimpse Chef Trabocchi toiling away in the kitchen, it fuels my desire for flair.

Burrata of buffalo mozzarella rests atop a salad of baby artichokes and cucumber, and basil Genovese pesto.  The dish gently eases us into the meal with sophisticated but not over-complicated flavors.

Burrata of Buffalo Mozzarella

Burrata of Buffalo Mozzarella

We share smoked potato gnocchi with wild cod, spring peas and fava, dusted with lemon zest and a sprinkle of fresh herbs. The smokiness of the gnocci sends me to the moon.  Cousin B isn’t quite as delighted with the intense flavor.
Smoked Potato Gnocchi

Smoked Potato Gnocchi

I waver on my entree choice. Our server steers me to Adriatic Seafood Brodetto, with her description of the carefully prepared stew that hails from Italy’s Adriatic coast.  This is traditionally a dish designed to incorporate leftover pieces of fish. But this mixture of scallops, black cod, calamari, mussels, clams, prawns, and grey mullet is much more deliberate and painstakingly prepared.  Each element is cooked separately before being combined into one sumptuously divine dish.  At $40, it may be an extravagance, but it’s worth it.
Adriatic Seafood Brodetto

Adriatic Seafood Brodetto

Olive oil poached black bass is a stunner, with melted leeks, spoonbill caviar, and prosecco zabaglione.  The dish isn’t just about style.  Its flavor lives up to its promising looks. My husband omits the oysters intended for the dish, but the missing element has no apparent effect.
Olive oil poached black bass

Olive oil poached black bass

Cousin A enjoys Fiola Maine lobster ravioli, a dish that hearkens back to Trabocchi’s days at Maestro.  Although, I am wondering what happened to the foam, which I recall being an integral element to the dish.
Fiola lobster Ravioli

Fiola lobster Ravioli

Cousin B is happy with a wild turbot special, with charred spring onions and olive oil crushed smoked potatoes.  He doesn’t care for the potatoes, which incorporates the same smoky flavor as the gnocci.  Guess who ate his potatoes?  Lucky me. Sautéed spinach and meyer lemon is a worthy companion to our meal, although we’re too stuffed to finish the side.
In Tom Sietsema’s Washington Post review, he complains about wordy waiters who want to give a dissertation about the food.  His review must have been taken to heart, as we have attentive but somewhat detached service.  Our only real complaint is that our entrees are served just moments after we finish our first course.  Some breathing room would have been appreciated.
Three of us conclude with a trio of gelato.  I wish the burnt honey had more flavor. My husband orders torta al limone with lemon curd, yuzu, and coconut sorbet, which is a more fitting ending to the delightful meal.
Fiola Mare Torta al Limone
Fiola Mare is the epitome of a special occasion venue, transporting diners from the banks of Georgetown to the captivating Mediterranean seaside.  I cannot think of a more appropriate place to celebrate the anniversary of when we consummated our “mare me” proposals.

Fiola Mare, 3050 K Street, NW, Washington, DC

Fiola Mare on Urbanspoon

My related reviews

The Skinny on Rockville’s Nantucket’s Reef

I suffer from an ailment that plagues me nearly every day. It isn’t painful, but it does bring on pangs…of hunger.  This ailment is food envy, and I feel it most often on weekdays as I browse through other people’s photos on Twitter and Instagram.  Photos of tantalizing doughnuts, exotic sandwiches, and food truck delicacies make me wish that I lived or worked closer to the District.

The reality is that I am a suburbanite. Sometimes I need to just embrace it.  I do this with a visit to Nantucket’s Reef- a restaurant off of Traville Road in Rockville that just may be the antitheses of a DC restaurant.  It’s brightly lit, the tables aren’t jammed in next to each other, and there is free parking.  While the bright lights make me feel like I’m in a cafeteria, I can’t complain about being able to hear the person across from me.

Nantucket’s Reef is meant to conjure up a visit to a New England.  It takes some imagination to evoke New England in a shopping center anchored by Giant Food, but once inside it’s not impossible to get swept away by the nautical theme.

I am attempting to stay faithful to a weekday Weight Watchers regimen.  This is entirely feasible at a seafood restaurant.  I can’t help but think about many of my female dining companions who routinely order a serving of fish atop a healthy pile of vegetables for dinner.  I am one of you now, at least temporarily.

I’m torn between “lobsta” and crab salad.  I am at a New England style restaurant, so lobsta (their word not mine) seems like the way to go.  On the other hand, I am actually in the state of Maryland.  This sways me to order crab.  Both salads have the same elements: romaine, avocado, roasted corn, tomatoes, tortilla strips, croutons, and cilantro vinaigrette.  I hate hearing myself say hold the croutons, and dressing on the side.  But I have goals to meet, and weekend indulgences lie ahead.

Nantucket’s Reef crab salad satisfies my desire for a healthy and and relatively low cal dish. It’s not the least bit creative, but I appreciate the generous serving of fresh crab, and the tortilla strips sate my desire for crunch. It’s just salad, which makes it hard to make much of a judgement about the food, but it is respectable if not covet-able.

Would I prefer my friend’s New England stuffed cod with jumbo lump crab, seasoned cracker crumbs, and lemon butter sauce?  Why yes, yes I would.  Although, I wonder how an ordinary blend of zucchini, squash, and carrots can be called Nantucket veggies. I get that it’s just a weak attempt to incorporate the theme. My friend is delighted that the fish is served piping hot.  Accompanying corn meal muffins are a plus. And while she would appreciate more crab and less butter, she is satisfied enough to consider a return visit.

nantucket's reef

Nantucket’s Reef New England stuffed cod

Nantucket’s Reef calls itself  “a casual ‘New England’ style seafood restaurant with top quality fresh food, affordable prices, unmatched service, in a ‘Nantucket’ beach setting.”  The moderate prices are indeed a plus, and service is attentive. The menu also features a selection of oysters, clams, lobster rolls, and fried seafood baskets. Nantucket’s Reef may fill a void for those who are pining for a taste of New England, and live in the surrounding area.  For me, it doesn’t satisfy my food envy, but I am able to resist temptation and stick to my diet plan.  And that, as they say in New England, is “wicked hahd.”

Nantucket’s Reef, 9755 Traville Gateway Drive, Rockville, MD

 

 Nantucket's Reef on Urbanspoon

Lupo Verde: The New Italian Kid on the Block

Is there a tipping point when it comes to having too much of a good thing? Will DC diners tire of new Italian restaurants considering that we’ve recently gained Ghibellina, Etto, Osteria Morini, Alba Osteria, Fiola Mare, and now Lupo Verde?  Will 14th Street, bursting-at-the-seams with new restaurants, eventually start to see some attrition?  We will have to watch and see what happens. My guess is that answers may lie in quality and not quantity.

I make two visits to Lupo Verde, DC’s newest Italian kid on the block, within a week.  My first visit is a small media dinner. I head back a few days later with friends, because there is much about this restaurant that leaves me wanting more.

Lupo Verde (which translates to green wolf)  is brought to us by Antonio Matarazzo and Med Lahlou, owners of Ulah Bistro, Tunnicliff’s Tavern, and Station 4. The restaurant features a formidable selection of cheese and charcuterie, along with pastas, pizzas, and mains inspired by Matarazzo’s hometown in the Campania region of southern Italy. One distinguishing factor, and an emerging trend, is that the restaurant also doubles as a shop.  The cheese, charcuterie, and a majority of menu items will be available for take-out. There’s something so appealing to me about the ability to dine out and shop simultaneously.

Corporate chef Orlando Amaro oversees the menu, alongside chef de cuisine Domenico Apollaro, who has moved from Italy to D.C. to work at Lupo Verde.  Lupo Verde’s rustic Italian cuisine features some familiar dishes (li.e. lasagna, carbonaro, bruschetta) with some that are out-of-the-ordinary.

Breaded testa (head cheese) anyone? I am initially reluctant to try the dish, but once I get past the idea of eating something from the head of a pig, I admit that it’s quite good.  It’s certainly not the first time I’ve ventured into pig head territory, but I always seem to need a bit of coaxing before diving in.

Octopus on an Italian menu is de rigueur  these days.  (Pardon my French.)  Lupo Verde’s version comes with farro salad.  The octopus is integrated nicely into the dish, and the farro adds a pleasant earthiness. Extra points for presentation.

Lupo Verde braised baby octopus

Lupo Verde braised baby octopus

Homemade striglie (pasta) is laced with lamb ragu, polpette, and ricotta salata.   After sampling a number of dishes on the menu, this one is memorable for its rich and complex flavors – perfect for a winter night. This is on my list for a future visit.

Garganelli al Nero features squid ink pasta with shrimp, scallop, and calamari in a saffron broth.  The rough-hewn house made pasta has just the right amount of chew. The fish-infused broth has a mere hint of heat, which allows the seafood flavors to shine. I find the dish noteworthy on my first visit, but it suffers  from over-salting the second time around.

lupo verdi garganelli al nero

Lupo Verde garganelli al nero

Lupo Verde’s pizza is a plus.  RA2 features mozzarella, stracchino, pistachio, radicchio, and honey.  The pistachio adds a pleasant and unique crunch.The RA2 is intended to have mortadella, which we omit on both visits. I imagine it to be a worthy addition. I love the idea of honey on pizza, but find it to be a little subtle.  A bit more honey, please.

lupo verde pizza.JPG

Lupo Verde RA2 pizza

Lupo Verde has a wide and varied menu to suit any diner’s tastes and moods.  In my opinion, there is one must have.  Do not miss out on Coppa del Nonna for dessert.  This coffee and chocolate semifreddo features Nutella and coffee gelato. I actually despise hazelnuts, and yet I could not resist dipping into this cool concoction again and again.  It looks like hot chocolate, but  is instead a light and creamy semi-frozen mousse with a layer of Nutella that is only unveiled as you continue to dig deeper into the ceramic mug.  A menu highlight for sure.

Lupo Verde chocolate hazelnut semifreddo

Lupo Verde chocolate hazelnut semifreddo

Lupo Verde has a convivial atmosphere that evokes a true Italian cucina and bar, and a multi-faceted menu that encourages guests to linger. While the restaurant is only days old, it is already drawing impressive crowds.

My second visit to Lupo Verde suffers from the restaurant’s early success.   We have a 7:30 reservation for a party of eight.  Forty-five minutes later there is still no table available.   It’s a Sunday night, my friends are hungry, and getting understandably crankier with each passing minute.  They end up bailing.  Once I have my mind set on a particular restaurant, it’s impossible to tear me away, so my husband and I hang on.  While the staff couldn’t have been more apologetic, it is hard for us to recover and fully enjoy the meal. The owner explains that they are still tinkering with the timing on reservations, as guests are staying longer than initially expected. As with any brand new restaurant, there are kinks to work out. 

While 14th Street doesn’t need another restaurant, it’s breadth is deepened with the addition of Lupo Verde.  I expect that someday it will be known as the old Italian kid on the block.

 Lupo Verde, 1401 T, Street, Washington, DC

My reviews of DC’s  newest Italian restaurants

Osteria Morini

Alba Osteria

 

Lupo Verde on Urbanspoon

Red Apron Butcher Kicks off a Red Letter Day

My sister is visiting from Cleveland to attend a shower for my son’s future wife.  (Did I really just type that sentence?  It is starting to get real.)  She is accompanying me on a shopping trip to Georgetown, on a day when our list is filled with far too many to do’s.  I have one more item to add to the list.  “Can we please stop by Red Apron Butcher for breakfast?  It just opened and I really want to try the tigelles,” I say. She has no idea what Red Apron Butcher is, much less a tigelle.  But she knows better than to argue with me when it comes to food.

She catches on fairly quickly that Penn Quarter is not on our way to Georgetown.  I have to get her some coffee and quickly, or she will make me go to Dunkin’ Donuts instead of Red Apron Butcher.  And then I’ll be the cranky one. I’m pretty sure that my crankiness when I want food is uglier than her crankiness when she needs coffee.

It takes us close to an hour but ultimately we arrive, find a parking space, and miraculously find only a few people ahead of us in line.  I assure my sister that the coffee from Ceremony Coffee Roasters in Annapolis will far surpass the Dunkin Donuts brew.  One sip and she is sold. I love this coffee, having had it recently at Takoma Park’s Republic.

It’s time to decide on our tigelles.  A tigelle is a sandwich that originates from the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy.  A specially-made electric iron imprints a lovely floral pattern on top and presses the ingredients until they are soft and gooey on the inside, while maintaining a crispy exterior.  The tigelle is made with lard, and apparently took two years for Executive Chef and partner Nathan Anda to get it right.

Is a breakfast sandwich two years in the making worth the detour?  Why yes, I believe it is.  The “buenos dias” tigelle includes egg, pickled onion, chorizo, cheddar, and sour cream.  The melding of these ingredients makes for a delectable sandwich.  The sour cream in  particular impresses me.  It adds a uniquely light creaminess.

Red Apron buenos dias

Red Apron buenos dias tigelle

I try to steer my sister towards “The Aristocrat” with ricotta, honey, smoked pine nuts, and gala apple.  She opts to go more classic with “The Patriot” featuring sausage, American cheese, egg, and maple butter.  It’s very good, but I must return for “The Aristocrat.”

Red Apron is part of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group (Buzz Bakery, Birch and Barley, Tallula, Iron Gate, etc, etc), which means that our sweet tooth can be satisfied with a jelly doughnut by pastry chef Tiffany MacIsaac.  Doughnuts and tigelle are an unbeatable combo, and fuel us for the grueling shopping trip that lies ahead.

Our weekend includes dinner with the engaged couple at The Red Hen, where we feast on fantastic food. The saffron fettuccine with rabbit sugo, cinnamon, grilled kale and mustard breadcrumbs is out of this world.  The maple gelato is equally mind-boggling in its appeal.  I can’t miss the opportunity to tie the pieces together, as Red Apron Butcher and The Red Hen are truly part of a red letter day and weekend for our family.

Red Apron Butcher, 709 D Street  NW, Washington, DC (Locations also in Union Market and Merrifield, Va)

Read more about the tigelle in Jessica Sidman’s article in Washington City Paper

My review of The Red Hen (July 2013)

Red Apron Butcher on Urbanspoon

DC’s Italian Accent Thickens With Alba Osteria

Dining at Alba Osteria on Valentine’s Day goes against my better judgement.  I  cancelled a reservation here during Restaurant Week, fearing crowds and a new kitchen wouldn’t serve up the best representation of the food.  So, why am I making my first visit at another time notorious for overwhelming a restaurant kitchen?  I’m either a glutton for punishment, or just a glutton.  Actually, I’m hopeful that Alba Osteria is up to the challenge.  Early reviews have been good, including one from The Washington Post’s Tom Sietsema.

Valentine’s Day marks my second time in a week dining at a new DC-based osteria. Last week it was Osteria Morini. This week Alba Osteria. Chef Roberto Donna of Al Dente, and Amy Brandwein formerly of Casa Nonna, bring us cuisine from the Piemonte region of Italy.  The accent is heavier at Alba Osteria compared to Osteria Morini, and not just because Donna hails from Italy.  

Some of the dishes have Italian names that we can’t easily identify, so we find ourselves turning to Google translator for assistance. Cavolfiore alla Cavour comes from the piatti caldi (hot dish) section of the menu.  Need a translation?  It’s cauliflower with parmigano reggiano, anchovy, and egg.  My husband says it is molto buona (very good). The egg and anchovy add character and distinction.

Alba Osteria Cavolfiore Alla Cavour

Alba Osteria Cavolfiore Alla Cavour

The zesty lasagnette piemontese with robiola cheese, leek, and béchamel sauce speaks to him in any language. No translation needed.  He has a full order, but all pastas on the menu are available in a smaller size.     

Alba Osteria Lasagnette Piemontese

Alba Osteria Lasagnette Piemontese

The four-course $54 Valentine’s Day special attracts my attention, and it’s all in plain English.  My meal commences with roasted tomato soup dotted with pieces of firm shrimp and topped with parmiagiano reggiano cream.  The soup arrives piping hot. I gasp, initially at the heat, but also in response to the delightful depth of flavor. My second course is an “awwww” moment.   What ‘s cuter than heart-shaped beet raviolo with butter and poppy seed sauce?  After a hefty portion of soup, I tread lightly on the pasta, offering half to my husband.  It is Valentine’s Day after all.

Alba Osteria Beet Raviolo

Alba Osteria Beet Raviolo

My main course is described as lamb rack with rosemary sauce, accompanied by potato tart, and fried artichoke.  While the first two courses are generously portioned, the “rack” of lamb is a single small chop. It is well-seasoned, and I savor every bite, although what I wouldn’t give for just one more taste…. The potato tart suffers from a lack of seasoning, but overall it’s a satisfying dish. I’m happier when I think about it within the context of the preceding courses.

Alba Osteria Lamb Rack

Alba Osteria Lamb Rack

Our service is competent, although we are amused by a situation unfolding nearby. A food runner is repeatedly attempting to deliver a salad to the couple at the table next to us, only to be told each time that the salad isn’t theirs. This scenario repeats itself three times, until he finally gives up.  The same couple is subsequently delivered another duplicate dish, which they initially try to decline. Ultimately they spare the confused staff and accept the gift. Their clumsy service has an upside for us, as we end up having a laugh and a lovely conversation about DC dining.

My dessert is a plus-sized portion of polenta bianca ( snow white polenta) with crunchy caramel and chocolate gelato.  I admire the not too sweet polenta underneath the sugary brulee topping, and the gelato is fantistico.  One of our new dining companions likes the dessert, while the other isn’t quite so enamored.  His quotable comment:  “Its a dessert that’s functional, but not crave-able.”  I want to claim this phrase as my own. Love it.

Alba Osteria Polenta Bianca

Alba Osteria polenta bianca

Despite witnessing a few service snafus, I’m impressed with Alba Osteria’s ability to keep up with the crowd.  Overall, I find the special menu to be a hit, but wisely the restaurant has kept its full menu available as well. Options are appreciated.

Alba Osteria demonstrates a love for Italy in its cooking.  And for me, especially on Valentine’s Day, that’s amore.

 

Alba Osteria, 425 I St, NW, Washington, DC

Tom Sietsema Washington Post review  

Alba Osteria on Urbanspoon

Osteria Morini Gives Me Something to Cheer For

Anyone who knows me is aware of my complete disinterest in sports. I did go to a National’s game back in 2012.  I had every intention of making it to a game last year, but it felt like such a hassle to go to a game, particularly to cheer on a somewhat uninspiring team. Recently, however, the stadium/Navy Yard area has attracted my attention. It has become home to some appealing new restaurants including Blue Jacket Brewery, Agua 301, and Osteria Morini.

Baseball wasn’t the only thing I experienced in the summer of 2012.  I also visited the Soho, NY location of Osteria Morini. I marveled at the  “rich and rustic raviolo filled with ricotta and topped with an egg and mushroom ragu.” When chef/restaurateur Michael White announced he was joining the cadre of successful out-of-towners opening restaurants in DC, I did a happy dance.  I knew his rustic Italian cuisine would be another positive addition to our burgeoning dining scene.

Osteria Morini’s cuisine is inspired from the region of Emilia-Romagna, known as the Italian Breadbasket.  Executive Chef, Matt Adler, who trained with White at some of his New York restaurants, is now hitting it out of the park in DC.

The ambience at Osteria Morini has some familiar ingredients:  rustic feel, high ceilings, open kitchen.  But it has a light/bright feel, which I find very appealing.  The restaurant is packed on a wintry Saturday night, and it is certainly loud, but happily I can hear my five dining companions.

Three of us (the women) decide to share dishes, despite my incessant complaints about shared plates. I have to admit that it is a most efficient way to experience a menu, and we’re in the mood to explore. We leave our men to approach the menu in whichever way they see fit.

We nod in approval as a trio of spreads and crostini arrive with a heaping portion of grilled bread. Each spread is distinct in its flavor. Smoked trout is pureed with olives and sour cream;  parmigiana “gelato” is dotted with aged balsamico; and winter squash mixes with sage and crispy speck.  My preference is for the squash, with the specks of speck (a type of prosciutto), adding an extra layer of texture to the slightly-sweet spread.  

Osteria morini crostini.JPG

Osteria morini crostini

This would more than suffice as a starter for three people, but salad with wild arugula, more crispy speck, pears, and parmigiano sounds too good to pass up.  You can never have too much speck. The perfectly-dressed salad proves to be a successful distraction in keeping us from eating too much bread, although ultimately we ask for a bit more to accompany our remaining spoonfuls of spread.

Pastas are not to be missed at Osteria Morini.  House-made and hand-rolled, I imagine that any ingredient that touches them will shine.  Bucatini with crab, sea urchin, and basil is a satisfying way to go.  Even better is stracci with braised wild mushrooms. The wide ribbons of stracci are chewy, earthy, and impossible to resist digging in for another bite.

  

Osteria Morini Stracci

Osteria Morini Stracci

Branzino is another winner, simple but expertly prepared with fennel, green beans, and charred lemon. 

Osteria Morini branzino

Osteria Morini branzino

I only have two bones to pick with Osteria Morini.  Brussels sprouts with pancetta are mushy and bland.  We now know that brussels sprouts have the capacity to shine, so these are disappointing.  We’ve almost completed our entrees when a server appears with a basket of foccacia.  Where was she earlier in our meal, when this would have been a welcome sight? These are minor irritations, and don’t make a dent in affecting the good vibes we are feeling towards our meal.

Full disclosure…we order two desserts but after seeing a tweet I’ve sent, pastry chef Alex Levin appears at our table with two additional desserts for our group to enjoy.  The former finance executive, turned pastry chef, has found his calling. I am enthralled with banana caramellata with milk chocolate crema, brownie, pine nut crunch, stracciatella gelato.  I tackle it before my husband has a photo opp. Oops.

We are also captivated by a special dessert not yet on the menu.  Ricotta Bavarian is topped with mandarin gelee, and accompanied by angel food cake, passion fruit curd, fresh citrus, red wine meringue kisses, and grapefruit campari sorbet. This is beautiful, refreshing, delicious, and hopefully will take its place on the menu soon.

Osteria Morini Ricotta Pana Cotta with Grapefruit Campari Gelato

Budino consists of butterscotch crema, olive oil cake, dark chocolate toffee crunch, and pine nuts.

Osteria Morini Budino

Osteria Morini Budino

Tortino al Cioccolato features  warm chocolate cake with a liquid ganache and espresso gelato. It’s difficult to save room for dessert with so many worthwhile savory dishes.  My advice is don’t try.  Over-indulge and have dessert.

Osteria Morini Tortino Al Cioccolato

Osteria Morini Tortino Al Cioccolato

One of my friends admits that earlier he had grumbled to his wife about heading downtown for dinner.  The Navy Yard area gave him more cause for complaint.  After dinner he sings a different tune, and even asks if he can make a reservation for dinner next summer.  Osteria Morini is guaranteed to be a very hot spot this summer, particularly before or after games and concerts at the stadium.

I may or may not get to Nationals Park in 2014.  But I will definitely get to the Navy Yard area, now that Osteria Morini gives this non-sports fan something to cheer for.

Osteria Morini, 301 Water Street, SE, Washington, DC

The Washington Post, Tom Sietsema review

 

Osteria Morini on Urbanspoon

Soom Foods Sisters Turn Fantasy into Reality at Chop’t

We have a fantasy in our family.  We are going to open a kosher restaurant focused primarily on chicken wings.  Really, really good chicken wings.  Oh, and hot and crispy French fries. It’s not totally out of the realm of possibility, but the likelihood is that this will never happen.  Truth is…I can’t imagine working day in and day out with family.

Family businesses aren’t for everyone, but Shelby, Jackie, and Amy Zitelman are making it work.  Big time. The “Soom Sisters” are the proprietors of Soom Foods.  Soom Foods launched in 2012 as a purveyor of tehina made from roasted and pressed Ethiopian white humera sesame seeds. When Jackie’s husband, Omri, an Israeli tehina expert, introduced the girls to this sesame treasure they were determined to make it available to the American market. 


The Zitelman sisters are positioned to take tehina to a new level, with a high-quality product that is kosher-certified, gluten-free, peanut-free, and vegan.  I was never the biggest fan of tehina. But the Zitelman girls, all graduates of the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, are former classmates of my children. After hearing about the new venture from their mom, I had to give it a try. The Soom Foods tehina changed me. I fell hard, and now my kitchen is never without it.

Soom Foods
tehina has also captured the attention of restaurateurs, such as Michael Solomonov of Philadelphia’s Zahav and David Magerman of Citron and Rose.  Chop’t Creative Salad Company, with 24 locations in the Greater New York and Washington, DC area, is currently offering two salads featuring Soom Foods tehina.

Says Soom sister Shelby, “High school friends will tell you that our Mom always made the most delicious, creative salads for our school lunches.  So it is very exciting that Soom Foods can now pay that forward as a part of Chop’t Creative Hokkaido and Cairo Salads. According to Chop’t Chef Aneesha Hargrave, “Soom is the best, silkiest, sweetest and nuttiest tahini we’ve ever tasted. After tasting Soom Foods tehina, we liked it so much we really wanted to craft a salad dressing around it. We ended up with two really bold, really different flavor profiles that we’re excited to share with our guests.”


Chop’t is my go-to for lunchtime salads, and a Chop’t salad for dinner isn’t out of the question.  I stopped by the Chop’t in Bethesda’s Wildwood Shopping Center to sample the salads, which for now are only offered in February.

The Cairo is a Vegan salad, with a blend of pita chips, cucumber, tomato with romaine, kale, and creamy tahini harissa.  The fiery dressing awakens the senses, transforming a few fresh ingredients into a bold and exciting salad.
Chop't Cairo salad

Chop’t Cairo salad

 
The Chop’t’ Hokkaido salad with lemon pepper chicken, kohlrabi, soba noodles, carrots, walnuts, and mesclun and spinach is recommended with creamy Asian sesame dressing, also made from Soom Foods tehina.  I change it up, adding the dressing to the Modern Asian salad instead. This is a more subtle dressing that nicely ties together the Asian-inspired ingredients of edamame, pickled broccoli and carrot slaw, crispy Chinese noodles and spinach and romaine lettuces.

The Zitelman sister’s growing success is evident as soon as you enter the Chop’t in Bethesda.  Jackie Z., now living in Israel, says “Before I moved to Israel I worked at an office in Dupont Circle in D.C. When I felt like eating out for lunch there was only one place I would go – CHOP’T. At that stage in my life it didn’t occur to me that one day I could actually be selling a product to them. And here we are, about five years later and our picture is ON THE WALL!! It is very exciting!

 

Soom poster
I’ll be making a return visit to Chop’t this month in support of Soom Foods and their fabulous dressings.  And, if my family ever decides to turn our fantasy into reality, I can promise you there will be chicken wings with Soom Foods tehina.
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Soom Foods tehina is available in Maryland at Moti’s Market, Shalom Kosher, and more.  The tehina can also be ordered online.

Chop’t Creative Salad Company has locations in New York and DC.

Chop't Creative Salad Company on Urbanspoon

Sugar and Champagne: A Treat to Attend

When something has gone to the dogs, there usually is an “uh oh” to follow. Last night’s Sugar and Champagne event to benefit the Washington Humane Society turns that phrase on its head.  Dogs were everywhere, wagging their tails, and leading their human companions on an indulgent adventure filled with sweet treats.

Approximately 800 humans and 100 canines attended the event in the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center. The evening began in the VIP Chef’s Tasting Room with savory bites from Equinox, Bernaise, Blind Dog Cafe, and many more.  The food was center stage, but I was enthralled with a fascinating exchange between a baby and dog, getting to know each other.

sugarandchampagnemakingfriends

There was an overwhelming selection of delectable desserts,.  Here are a few of my favorites:

The Daily Dish served up bacon blue cheese cheesecake, a wonderful blend of savory and sweet.

sugarandchampagnedailydish

Founding Farmers sweet corn panna cotta with bacon blueberry sauce was exceptional. (Clearly, I can’t resist any dessert that includes bacon.)

sugarandchampagnefoundingfarmers

The offering from La Taberna Del Alaberdero was one of the most beautiful presentations of the night.  It featured red velvet cake, cotton candy, and champagne sorbet.  It tasted as good as it looks, it not better.

sugarandchampagnetabernadel

My very favorite bite came from Vinoteca Wine Bar & Bistro.  The duck confit trail mix featured sunflower seeds, green apple, sesame seeds, and more. The crunchy sweet bite had me begging for more. I’ve never dined at Vinoteca, but I plan to change that in the very near future.

sugarandchampagnevinoteca

It was impossible not to succumb to a sugar high, but I soldiered on to sample many more outstanding tastes, both sweet and savory. When my own “dogs” started barking, I knew it was time to take my tired self home.

Sugar & Champagne is one of DC’s most unique and fun-filled events.  It was definitely a treat to attend.

sugarandchampagnetreat

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The Washington Humane Society’s annual dessert and champagne reception honors our local crusaders against animal cruelty: Washington Humane Society’s Humane Law Enforcement Officers, Animal Care & Control Officers, and Humane Educators. This celebration of all things sweet, showcases the DC area’s most talented pastry chefs.

In addition to honoring our own, the Washington Humane Society (WHS) honors our community’s “Humane Heroes” who have had a positive impact on the lives of animals in the District and who have shown tremendous support for our programs and services. These award recipients have proven their commitment to and support of WHS and we truly appreciate their dedication to our mission.

To make a donationplease click here.

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Send an email to lorisue6@gmail.com