|dumplings in hot oil sauce|
|sizzling lamb with ginger and scallion|
|longan and sugar snap peas with shrimp and scallops|
|dumplings in hot oil sauce|
|sizzling lamb with ginger and scallion|
|longan and sugar snap peas with shrimp and scallops|
I am really fired up about having a hot new restaurant on Rockville Pike. In fact, I had such a burning desire to get to Matchbox during opening week, that I was willing to put up with crowds, the potential for poor service, and the likelihood that the food would not yet be up to par. So, I lit up when we were able to get a table for six this past Sunday night.
I couldn’t decide which of these imaginative fiery phrases to use when describing Matchbox in Rockville, so I threw them all in. I’m done- for now.
Truth be told, I really was excited from the moment that I heard that this popular DC restaurant was heading to Congressional Plaza. My office is in Rockville, so I have a standard list of go-to places for lunch (Urban Barbecue, Ambrosia, Mem Sahib, Pho’ Hoa, and La Brasa to name a few.) I also take out the California Chicken Salad at White Flint Mall on a regular basis. Dinner in Rockville opens up a few more possibilities, particularly when you take into account the options uptown at Rockville Town Center (Spice Xing, Thai Pavilion, and La Canela).
Matchbox has the potential to bring a little more flare to the area with casual American fare in a suburban locale that feels like downtown. Clearly Montgomery County residents were starved for this because at 5:15 on a Sunday night there was barely a table to be had. By 7:15 the entrance way was filled with people waiting for tables. All this in an establishment that seats more than 400 people. It really is too bad that Againn Tavern can’t get it right–they could at least get some of the overflow.
The place is hopping. Our group is led through a maze of rooms to the far side of the restaurant, a fair distance from the entrance. It feels surreal to be in a familiar part of town in such unfamiliar surroundings.
The appetizers on the menu have zero options for the two non-meat eaters in our party . Apparently this is not always the case, but the menu changes according to availability of ingredients. We order mini-burgers for the rest of us. They are served rare and with cheese. The only problem is that we ordered them medium and without cheese. They are covered in onion rings, which are nice and salty but fairly cold. We would have mentioned this to our server, but we devour them before we have a chance. The toasted brioche is quite good and the burger has nice flavor. Some heat would have made this starter ideal.
Our initial inclination is to order three of the same pizza because it appeals to us all. The Fire and Smoke Pizza features fire roasted red peppers, spanish onions, chipotle pepper tomato sauce, garlic puree, smoked gouda, fresh basil, and a warning: very spicy. In the interest of variety, and to save ourselves from overdoing the spicy, we order one Veggie pizza which consists of cremini mushrooms, spanish onions, roasted poblano peppers, roasted garlic, mozzarella, fresh herbs, and fingerling potato crisps. We also order two tuna nicoise salads, one Matchbox chopped salad, and one simple salad (their words, not mine).
|Fire and Smoke Pizza|
The pizzas arrive and once again the restaurant fails to deliver the heat. The veggie pizza in particular is served lukewarm. The Fire and Smoke Pizza, is as promised, very spicy. A warning: this may be too spicy for the fainthearted. I wished, as I always do, that the pizza stayed crispy in the center, but that is not the case. Both pizzas deliver on flavor, if not on temperature.
One salad does not come as ordered with dressing on the side. They are cordial about taking it back but not so speedy on returning the new one to the table. The server apologizes and explains that the kitchen is having challenges. I’m actually surprised that more doesn’t go wrong.
At this point we agree that the meal has been good if not perfect. We can’t leave without at least trying some dessert so we order a trio that includes a molten chocolate cake, doughnuts, and a sorbet trio (it’s a trio within a trio). I have to say that the desserts are a highlight of the meal- each one a little better than the next and worth the calories.
Matchbox Rockville has great potential. I’m sure that it will be the hot place on Rockville Pike for a long time to come. I’ll be back, in fact I already have a reservation for lunch next week. If they can figure out how to get the food a little hotter to match the buzz, we’ll really have something to strike up a conversation about.
Matchbox Rockville, 1699 Rockville Pike at Congressional Plaza
My rating (on a 1-5 scale): 3.6
Mark Zuckerberg deserves to be Time Magazine‘s Person of the Year. He successfully reunited me with my three best friends from freshman year of college. And that’s something that no one else has been able to do.
I may be one of the few people to have left University of Maryland in College Park with a New York accent. Most of my college friends were from New York, and they were determined to beat the Virginia out of me. It worked. So once my friends and I found each other on Facebook, we immediately planned a get together. It was only natural that our UMD reunion take place in NYC.
Obviously the trip would include some opportunities for dining. Twenty-eight hours in New York equals five meals. The fact that I was going to be in the city with locals took some of the usual pressure off of me having to make all of the dining decisions. I didn’t mind as long as I had the right of refusal.
I arrived hours before my reunion so that I could have a little time to explore on my own. My destination was never in question. I wanted to visit Mario Batali’s new food emporium, Eataly, which is described as the the largest artisanal Italian food and wine marketplace in the world.
I arrived in time for a late lunch. There are a variety of separate eateries featuring fish, sandwiches, pizza, meats, and much more. I decided to try La Pizza & La Pasta with a wide selection of Neapolitan-style pizzas. Dining alone gave me an advantage, as I was moved ahead of other groups and immediately seated at the counter where I had a perfect view of the food preparations. The server encouraged me to order a pizza with a spicy salami and fresh mozzarella cheese. He warned me that the pizza would quickly turn soggy due to the freshness of the ingredients. I am always in search of crispy pizza and rarely find it, so I hesitated but went ahead with the order.
The pizza, as promised, was delicious but it did turn soggy in the center within seconds. In this case the great flavor more than made up for the texture. Still I fondly remembered the crisp pizza I had at Batali’s Otto Enoteca Pizzeria, perhaps the best I ever had.
I wasn’t ready to leave Eataly without sampling something else, so I headed to the gelateria and ordered a pear gelato. This time the texture won out over the flavor. It was nice and creamy but I wished the gelato had a more pronounced pear flavor. I’ve had better gelato in DC. Take that, New York.
|Photo: Roxanne Behr/New York Magazine|
I still wasn’t done with Eataly. After wandering around the area for a couple of hours, I circled back to Eataly for a Lavazza cappucino, which was excellent.
I would definitely go back to Eataly as there’s so much more sampling to be done, and I wished I had purchased a few delicacies to bring home. Next time. I am not done with Eataly.
My reunion began in the rooftop bar of the Gramercy Park Hotel. It was definitely surreal to be with three friends who I hadn’t been with in more than 30 years. The voices, inflections, and mannerisms were immediately familiar, even if some of the stories were fuzzy. “Remember the time so and so….” Um, not so much. The prices of drinks had definitely changed since college. Seventy dollars for four drinks seemed a little pricey.
Dinner was at Maialino, also in the Gramercy Park Hotel. Maialino is a “Roman-style trattoria from award winning Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group. It serves lovingly prepared Roman-style cooking from Executive Chef Nick Anderer.”
To be honest, I didn’t focus on the details of the meal and I didn’t take notes as I normally do. I was a little preoccupied with catching up on the last 30+ years. Plus, it was a little dark for photos. But here’s a brief review.
I started with the Frittura vegetale, which is a dish featuring battered beets and cauliflower. It was a nice dish with an inviting presentation. My only complaint is that I wished it had a sauce. It was a little dry.
Each of us ordered a pasta dish as an entree. I had Agnolotti di Zucca, which is pumpkin, balsamic & ricotta salata. I can tell you that I couldn’t stop eating my pasta, despite all there was to distract me. Each of the four entrees delivered to our table was met with squeals of approval.
|this is what happens when my husband isn’t with me to take photos|
Dessert was Torta Sbrisolona, an almond and apple crumb cake and caramel gelato. At this point of the evening, given that I’d had a few drinks, the dessert would have to be pretty outstanding for me to remember it. I don’t, so I’m going with it being good, but not great.
If I lived in New York City I am guessing I would visit Maialino again.. Since I don’t, I can say that I’m glad to have had a meal there but I’m not compelled to go back, given the dozens of other restaurants that I’m anxious to try.
The eating did not stop at Maialino, but I won’t go into great detail. Briefly, we had a decent breakfast at Tick Tock Diner, followed by an excellent lunch at Aquagrill in Soho. I can’t say enough about the grilled Atlantic salmon with falafel crust, cucumbers, tomatoes and lemon coriander vinaigrette. In fact, this may have been my most favorite dish of the trip. If you’re in the neighborhood, it’s well worth a visit.
I also stopped at Balthazar for a tuna sandwich and some goodies to take home with me on the Vamoose ride home. My advice: never miss an opportunity to take home baked goods from New York.
For me, dining in New York City is about as good as it gets. Imagine my pure joy at dining there with old friends and realizing that sometimes you can go back to the seventies. Sometimes you can even move forward, feeling like you’ve never been apart. Thanks Mark Zuckerberg, for the opportunity!
Eataly, 200 Fifth Ave., nr. 23rd St
New York Magazine review of Eataly
Maialino 2 Lexington Avenue, NY
My rating (on a 1-5 scale): 4.3
Zagat rating: 25
I was raised to be a bargain shopper. Why pay full price when you can get something on sale or at a discount store, or better yet, on sale at a discount store? That’s pretty much my shopping philosophy today, although I will splurge at boutiques every now and then. But Loehmann’s, TJ Maxx, Marshalls, andTarget play an important role in my menu of stores.
Dining discounts are just as important to me. In the old days I always had an Entertainment Book in my car. The book typically offers 50% discounts at a variety of restaurants. The majority of the coupons were for restaurants I didn’t care about, but there were always a few gems in there that made it worthwhile.
Now, of course, there is Groupon, and Living Social, and What’s the Deal, etc. Zagat and Open Table have gotten into the discount coupon business as well. Restaurant Week offers discount dining during select times of the year. These all now factor into my dining decisions.
Recently, I’ve discovered some deals at terrific restaurants that are available year-round, no coupon necessary. This includes the $38 Sunday night dinner at Trummers on Main and the $25 brunch at Volt (see index for my reviews).
2941 serves a three course lunch for $24 on Monday through Friday and Restaurant Eve has a Lickety-Split Lunch for $13.50 Weekday lunches in Northern Virginia don’t work for us all, but it might be worth a field trip. I understand that Tosca and Corduroy offer good deals as well.
My most recent value meal was at Dinoin Cleveland Park. This was one of those opportune times when I was able to use my Living Social coupon and apply it to a $38 three course Italian dinner, which makes me feel like I’ve won the lottery.
I select the risotto to start, which has recently been recommended by a friend. Ingredients include chanterelle mushrooms and grana cheese. The portion is sized nicely, it has a rich and creamy texture, and the flavors are delicate and satisfying. My husband starts with Fonduta D’Aglio which is a fondue of roasted garlic, gorgonzola and sweet spiced onion, which is spread on crostini. A yummy beginning for us both.
I choose a special for my entree called Capesante. It consists of “elephant’s trunk” scallops, aperol butter sauce, and sauteed pea shoots. The sauce is pleasantly tangy, and I particularly like the pea shoots. But the scallops lack seasoning and are a disappointment. I decide to add sea salt to my one remaining scallop, which definitely improves it.
My husband selects the Rockfish Selvaggio special, which has a creamy tomato sauce with sauteed veggies and grilled winter squash. He is particularly complimentary of the vegetables, and says that the fish is not over-salted, which is a pleasant surprise as too many times he finds fish in restaurants to be over-salted.
For dessert I order the Sorbetti Fatti in Casa, which includes three sorbets and is described as “spirited, for adults only.” It includes ginger, lime & Bluecoat gin, Concord grape & Pimms , and Bosc, Rothman pear liqueur & Hangar One. I find the alcohol taste way too strong, and while some may appreciate these flavors, I do not. My husband has the ianduia “Nico,” bittersweet chocolate gelato with chopped chocolate, hazelnut gelato with toasted hazelnuts, chocolate sauce and amaretto whipped cream. He is happy. I detest hazelnuts, so I am less so, since I cannot even taste his dessert.
I find Dino to be is more than the sum of its parts. There is no element of the meal that I can describe as fabulous, but still I am left feeling as if I have had a solid dining experience. Good food. Good value. There is always a place in my life for fine dining. However, I greatly appreciate those restaurateurs who understand that there is something quite valuable about a value meal.
Dino, 435 Connecticut Avenue NW, Cleveland Park, Washington DC
My rating (on a 1-5 scale): 3.75
Zagat rating: 22