Vin 909 Winecafe

On Sunday morning we got a Zipcar and took a day trip to Annapolis.  After a day full of walking and light eating, were hungry.  That is to say, there was no better place to be in Annapolis than Vin 909.  Now, you will have to wait outside before the 5:00pm opening—the restaurant does not take reservations.   Still, this is not a Rose’s Luxury type line either.  It is very reasonable and it’s no place to shy away from just because there may be a line.

We were one of the first people in line when we arrived at 4:40.  As a result, we were able to snag two of the four stools at the chef’s counter, facing the open kitchen.  (Interestingly, were seated next to two guys we had been sitting next to at the bar at Preserve a few minutes earlier).   Vin 909 has a concise menu and is known for its small plates.  In fact, there are no traditional entrée sized dishes on the menu.  The choices are salads, small plates and pizzas.  I am not sure that the tiny kitchen in this former Sears Craftsman home could handle much more than that.

We started with the local dayboat sea scallops from Cape May with hand ground polenta, pickled ramp puree and sea urchin sauce.  The seared scallops were some the best we have ever had, golden on the outside and soft on the inside.  The polenta was rich, made even richer by the sea urchin sauce.  We had the added benefit of watching our scallops prepared right in front of us.

Vin 909 makes “Eastport” style pizzas, named after the neighborhood of Annapolis where the restaurant is located.  This style of pizza is rectangular and extremely thin, with a nice char on the crust.  It’s more than enough for two people.   We ordered the “OMG”, which looked like the epitome of spring.  It had local Berkshire speck, asparagus, spring onion, cumin spiced olives, three types of cheeses and chive oil.  Despite seeming like an odd combination, all the ingredients went extremely well together.

Our busy server abandoned us for a while after we finished the pizza, but we were able to order our dessert from one of the runners who came for our plates.  There was a lot of teamwork on display among the staff members.  It seemed like they genuinely wanted the restaurant to succeed.

We finished up with a light and airy butterscotch pudding, served with homemade caramel cookies for scooping.  A sweet end to a delicious meal.

Best Bite
Marnay: the the “OMG” Pizza
Paul: the “OMG” Pizza

Address
Vin 909 Winecafe: 909 Bay Ridge Ave Annapolis, MD 21403

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La Fia Market Bistro

I ran my second marathon on Sunday May 8th in Wilmington, DE.  Part of the reason I chose this particular race was because of my schedule.  The other reason was so we could eat at a great restaurant the night before!

Bryan Sikora was nominated for a James Beard Award in 2014 for Best Chef Mid-Atlantic for his work at La Fia and he is quickly taking over the nascent downtown Wilmington dining scene, having recently opened Merchant Bar and Market Street Bread & Bagel. We had previously gone to La Fia in November 2014 and had been looking for an opportunity to return. The marathon seemed like the perfect opportunity.

We ate with my grandparents and parents but I am only going to focus on what Marnay and I ate. The two of us made a meal out of two small plates and one large plate. If you go to La Fia, I recommend getting this amount of food as it was good for two people. The laid back and gracious servers will not pressure you to order a certain amount of food, either.

The server asked if we wanted the small plates first or with everyone’s entrees.  We asked them to come first.  I’m just impressed that he even asked, instead of the dishes coming from the kitchen “as they’re ready.”  We started out with the lightly seared smoked salmon with shaved turnips in a sweet, acidic sauce and a vegetable puree.  The dish also came with “horseradish crackers.”  We had never had such thick pieces of smoked salmon.  It looked a lot like a play on sliced rare tuna.

Along with the salmon, we ordered the grilled smoked merguez with chickpeas, roasted cherry tomatoes, and greek yogurt.  The best part of this dish was the THICK housemade greek yogurt mixed with the slight heat of the merguez and the chickpeas.  The merguez was good, although a little crumbly.

We’re always on the lookout for restaurants that serve gruner veltliner by the glass, and La Fia had one.  Marnay enjoyed a glass while I abstained, since of course, I was running 26 miles in the morning.

The entrée that we shared was grilled hanger steak with sautéed littleneck clams, pancetta, a crispy potato cake, broccoli rabe and a red wine nage. Nage is a type of seafood stock. The hanger steak, one of the most flavorful cuts of meat, was cooked to a perfect medium and had its characteristic chew. The grill imparted just the right amount of char and the nage gave the dish a rich, umami flavor. While the clams were one of the better parts of the dish, the potato cake tasted extraneous.

I ended up having a very enjoyable marathon experience and I think that our meal at La Fia played a role!  This is definitely a restaurant we would go back to.

Best Bite
Marnay: hanger steak
Paul: smoked salmon

Address
La Fia Market Bistro: 421 N. Market Street Wilmington, DE 19801

Kapnos Kouzina

I am currently training for a marathon—the second of my life and my second of the year.  On Saturday, I ran 19 miles from our home in South Silver Spring west to Bethesda and then north to the White Flint area.   The next night, on a whim, we went to one of the restaurants that I ran past, Kapnos Kouzina.

Kapnos Kouzina opened about a month ago and is the second Kapnos spin-off from Mike Isabella.  The original is in the U Street corridor and the second is in Arlington.  When we arrived, we headed to the huge wrap-around bar.  We made sure to sit on the side facing the open kitchen.

Our first impression was this that is a beautiful, modern restaurant.  By the time we left, we had completely forgotten that we were in Bethesda. While we looked over the food menu, I ordered a Oaxaca Old Fashioned (tequila, el silencio mezcal, house bitters, agave) and Marnay got the Bubbles Make Me Clap (house gin blend, hibiscus, lemon, cava).  My drink was started by the novice bar assistant who was having some difficulty with other orders, which made me a little nervous.  However, the head bartender tasted the drink and then put the finishing touches on it.  The smoky, savory mezcal really made the drink.  I liked it so much that I ordered a second before the night was through.  We both agreed that Marnay’s drink was well-made, but it was a little sweet for her taste.

The head bartender was one of the more knowledgeable bartenders that I have talked to in Montgomery County.  A good sign for the county’s dining scene.

Fortified by our drinks, it was time to order some food.  We ordered the hummus, which came with a folded over piece of house made flatbread and the Aleppo king salmon kebab with cauliflower puree and shaved brussels sprouts.

We were both a little starstruck when we looked into the kitchen and saw that George Pagonis, of Top Chef fame, was at the helm that night.  He rotates between the three Kapnos restaurants so we felt fortunate that we were there on one of his nights in Bethesda.

The hummus was very flavorful and went well with the fresh, warm flatbread.  I have found that hummus is almost always served too cold.  This hummus was the perfect temperature, slightly colder than room temperature.  The salmon kebabs were good but could have used a little more salt.  Out of the two dishes, the hummus was the best and we would order it again in a heartbeat.

Still hungry, we ordered the tuna tartare with harissa, grilled avocado and taro chips for scooping as well as the marousalata, a salad of mixed baby greens, apple, crushed sesame crackers and tahini dressing.  We were thirsty as well.  I ordered the aforementioned second Oaxaca Old Fashioned.   Marnay got a glass of “Atlantis white” assyrtico.  Kapnos, being a Greek restaurant, has a fantastic selection of Greek wines.  Marnay had never tried assyrtico before and now it is one of her favorites.

I was pleasantly surprised by how delicious the marousalata was, particularly the sweet crunchiness that the sesame crackers provided.  It was my best bite of the meal.

“Pleasantly surprised” sums up our visit to Kapnos Kouzina.  It is well worth a trip on the J2 from Silver Spring, and one day, the Purple Line.

Best Bite
Paul: Marousalata
Marnay: Hummus

Address
Kapnos Kouzina: 4900 Hampden Ln, Bethesda, MD 20814
Closest Metro: Bethesda