Restaurant Relationship Status: It’s Complicated

My relationship status with restaurants became official in August 2010, when I launched Been There, Eaten That. My feelings have intensified through the years. Fine dining has played a role in every milestone in my life. Family members and friends- without exception- can relay a story about dining with me, and most likely how I pushed them outside of their comfort zone. My weekends have always included restaurant exploration as an activity. But now our relationship is at a crossroads.

As the DC metropolitan area enters a new phase of the pandemic and restaurants allow patrons on their patios and even inside their buildings, I feel challenged about how to express my feelings. Ultimately, I just don’t want anyone to get hurt.

This leaves me where I’ve been since the beginning of COVID-19. I  have a deep love for restaurants, but I must maintain my distance. Fortunately, two recent carryout meals remind me that relationships can be sustained and nurtured this way, at least for now.

Centrolina

Back in the day when we frequented restaurants without a care in the world, I went to Centrolina for superb pasta, pitch-perfect grilled fish and vegetables, and an atmosphere that oozed casual elegance. Chef/owner Amy Brandwein wins admirers with two successful Italian-accented restaurants in DC’s City Center- Centrolina and its younger sister, Piccolina.  Brandwein is a three-time James Beard Award nominee for Best Chef Mid-Atlantic (this year’s awardees have yet to be announced) and was named Chef of the Year at the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington’s RAMMY Awards in 2018.

Centrolina is my restaurant of choice when I decide it’s time for a super special takeout meal. I’m attracted to the dinner sets for two – which includes antipasti, pasta, side dish, entree, bread, pastry and a bottle of wine for $125.

Entrée selections are whole grilled branzino, wood roasted lemon chicken, or grilled lamb sausage. The branzino is simply but beautifully dressed with slices of lemon, olives, basil and potato confit. As weeks turn to months, it’s easy to lose track of time. You can identify the season with Brandwein’s dishes as a guide. Our late spring dinner includes a salad composed of greens, strawberries, snap peas, and goat cheese dressing. Bright and shiny cavatelli ricotta dumplings are draped with charred ramps and asparagus.  I am overcome by a wave of nostalgia over the turmeric roasted carrots with yogurt and fresh herbs. The dish has captured my heart during previous visits to Centrolina. I’m happy to be reacquainted.

Centrolina branzino dinner set

 

Indulging in desserts by Pastry Chef Caitlin Dysart is a sure-fire way to keep the pulse racing. We cross Palmer Alley to Piccolina to pick up two whole cakes that our friends have ordered. This is the new definition of friends with benefits. They share slices of a perfect coffee cake topped with pistachio crumble and lemon meringue tart with just the right amount of sweet and sour.

Piccolina desserts

The Centrolina space includes a market, so while many restaurants have incorporated groceries into their business model, it’s always been an option here. Bread, dairy, flour, eggs, nuts, cheese, fruits and vegetables, fish, chicken- this is a one-stop shop in the best possible way.

Centrolina Mercata e Osteria , 974 Palmer Alley NW, Washington, DC

The Osteria is open for contactless pick-up and dining. The Mercato is open for a single guest grocery shopping experience. 

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Bresca

Here is what I hope for in a carryout relationship: honesty, reliability, durability. Good looks are nice, but I understand that in these difficult times, appearance may have to be sacrificed for other qualities. I’m delighted to report that Bresca checks all the boxes.

As food is transported from restaurant to home, there can be bumps in the road. Chef Ryan Ratino’s dishes sustain the turbulence. I pluck containers from a shopping bag and lay them out on a table for review- and by that I mean a photo. I gasp at the sheer beauty of the contents.

Bresca Bee Home dinner

Bresca’s Bee Home dinner offers a variety of snacks, a main course, and dessert. The $42 price tag seems too good to be true.

Flavors are big and bold, and capably snap me out of a pandemic-induced lethargy. Beets- golden and red- are adorned with pickled strawberries and herbs. Asparagus is dotted with marcona almonds, bits of cherries, and lemon balm. Tuna crudo is adorned with slivers of kohlrabi and bathed in chili, lime, fish sauce, and fried garlic.

Bresca beets

Bresca asparagus

 

Entrée options change weekly. I get googly-eyed over vivid spiced leg of lamb with pistou marinade and blueberry mustard.

Bresca lamb

My husband is bowled over with a dish that is more about personality than looks.  Vegetarian chicken of the woods gets folded into lettuce wraps and topped with spring radish, charred ramps, and black garlic XO sauce.  The happy ending to the meal is a peanut butter tarte with banana and chocolate ganache.

Ratino’s food is consistently well-composed and refined. It’s heartening to enjoy those traits now, despite missing the inherent charm of the experience. For those who are ready for dine in, Bresca opens indoors on July 16 and is taking reservations now.

Bresca, 1906 14th St NW, Washington DC

Bresca’s #BeeHome Menu is available Thursday-Monday.

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I’m thankful for restaurants like Centrolina and Bresca that offer meaningful ways for us to connect in this strange and bewildering time. Restaurant’s opening their doors is a good thing for business, but with limited capacity there is still a place for the carryout customer. Sure, sustaining a long distance relationship is a challenge. There are key ingredients missing and they can’t be replicated.

My love for dining has not waned, not even a bit. I’m just expressing my affection in a way that’s most comfortable at this moment. I hope we will all emerge stronger in the end.

 

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