Centrolina

For Marnay’s birthday celebration, we made reservations at Chef Amy Brandwein’s Centrolina, located in CityCenter DC.  We were 15 minutes late for our 8:00pm reservation—our fault, although we did call ahead to let them know.  However, we were not seated until 8:35pm—their fault.  They acknowledged it and made up for it, though, with a gratis cheese plate.  Not the first time that I have seen this technique in a restaurant and I think it works really well to engender good will.

Centrolina gratis cheese plate

Centrolina (pronunciation: “Chen-tro-leena”) specializes in housemade pasta dishes, which we were most excited about.  We ordered one small plate, one large plate and two pastas.  The melone with cucumber, tomato and extra virgin olive oil was refreshing on a hot day, although it would have been better if the salt and pepper was applied evenly.  The few bites I tried with salt and pepper were markedly better than the ones without.

Centrolina melone appetizer

The branzino was a standout, with its crispy exterior.  The crisp skin and tender flesh went well with the cool butter beans and yogurt sauce it was resting on.  We would get this dish again.

Centrolina branzino

Centrolina needs to hold on to the server we had.  She was in charge of the entire room and extremely knowledgeable about the menu.  She gave us our space but also understood when we needed some help.    Marnay’s Mom loves Prosecco, although it was not on the menu by the glass.  Instead, the server steered her towards a glass of Franciacorta, a sparkling white from Lombardy made using the champagne method.  That means that it undergoes secondary fermentation in the bottle, as opposed to a steel tank like Prosecco.

As mentioned early, we were excited about the pasta dishes.  My take is that they were mostly good, although a bit of a mixed bag.  The fusilli with tomato, fennel sausage and calamari was delicious, the salty sausage and the chewy calamari going particularly well with the fusilli.  The neri, or squid ink pasta, with tuna crudo and spicy nonnata di pesce loaded with Calabrian chiles was good, but also could have benefited from more salt.  I have had a similar dish at Osteria Morini in the Navy Yard which was considerably better.

Centrolina fusilli and neri pasta dishes

It’s worth noting that the fusilli was the only dried pasta on the menu.  I could taste the difference, in favor of the dried pasta.  It held its chew and soaked up more sauce than the slippery fresh squid ink pasta.

We tipped off our server that it was Marnay’s birthday, so the pudding-like budino we shared for dessert came with a candle on top.  Centrolina is a solid restaurant with good, but not amazing food.  It is worth a trip if you are in the area.

Centrolina birthday cake

Best Bite
Paul: Fusilli pasta
Marnay: Branzino

Address
Centrolina: 974 Palmer Alley NW, Washington, DC 20001
Closest Metro: Metro Center

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Rose’s Luxury

At 8:30 on a Wednesday night, Marnay and I and six of our friends had the incredible fortune to dine (with reservations!) at one of the best restaurants in DC for a five course pre-fixe meal.

Rose’s Luxury: party of six

All eight of us started the night off with a cocktail, the best way to start a meal at Rose’s.  Since the food options were decided ahead of time, we sat back and let the talented staff put on a show.  The first hit of the night was Rose’s whimsical bread course, a take on a baked potato with potato brioche and a side of whipped sour cream butter topped with chives and crumbled potato skins.  After devouring the bread, the staff brought over a single-bite amuse bouche: a potato chip with crème fraiche and salty orbs of trout roe, or, for the vegetarians, capers.

Rose’s Luxury: potato chip with crème fraiche

Our first full course was foie gras and chicken liver pate with plum mostarda and slices of toasted brioche on a bed of plums.  While the rich pate was great on the toast, one of our dining companions noted that it was even better on the soft potato brioche.

Next up was grilled romaine heart with hard-boiled duck egg, crispy potato, herbs and creamy buttermilk dressing.  The strong flavor of the grill on the romaine made this dish a winner.  It tasted like we were all hanging out at someone’s backyard barbecue.

Rose’s Luxury: grilled romaine heart with hard-boiled duck egg

The servers and staff at Rose’s Luxury want to make sure that you are having fun.  They are extremely skilled and knowledgeable, but they are equally laid back and funny.  While the restaurant has received numerous accolades (2016 James Beard Award Best-Chef Mid-Atlantic Aaron Silverman, Bon Appetit Best New Restaurant), and its heart Rose’s is just a neighborhood restaurant.  It just happens to have incredible food and be nationally recognized.

Anyway, our next dish was their signature dish and the one that I was looking forward to the most:  Pork sausage, lychee and habanero salad.  The salad comes in a bowl topped with a poof of coconut milk cream, which acts as the dressing.  As our server explained, the fifteen-ingredient salad tastes best when all of the ingredients are mixed together so that the disparate salty-sweet-spicy components become one.  While I loved this dish, if you are not a fan of very spicy foods, like one of our companions, this is not the dish for you at Rose’s.

Rose’s Luxury: Pork sausage, lychee and habanero salad

My favorite dish of the night was the confit goat with BBQ Sea Island red peas, creamy Carolina Gold rice and garlic bread crumbs.  This dish received universal praise from everyone at the table.  It was layered together with the confit goat on top, the BBQ peas and breadcrumbs in the middle and the rice on the bottom soaking up all of the umami-flavor.

Rose’s Luxury: confit goat with BBQ Sea Island red peas

Now I know that this seems like a lot of food, but we still have four more courses!  The pasta course of bucatini with sungold tomato sauce, basil and parmesan was one of my surprise favorites.  Best parts: the texture and chew from the housemade bucatini and the sweetness of the fresh tomatoes.  Our main course was smoked brisket, better than at any barbecue restaurant I have ever been to, with Sunbeam white bread, horseradish cream and slaw.  We had this the only other time we were at Rose’s and I thought it was better this time, more tender.

Rose’s Luxury: smoked brisket

Dessert was two courses—first up, a deceptively simple bowl of vanilla ice cream with sea salt and olive oil.  This was another dish that received universal praise at the table.  Finally, our last course of the night was coconut ice cream with kiwi, lime zest and edible flowers on top of a caramel sauce with what I think were pieces of sugar cone.  This was a good dish, no doubt, but I think we all would have been fine without it.

Rose’s Luxury: coconut ice cream with kiwi

Out of all the meals we have reviewed on this blog, I would put Rose’s in a tie with Vernick Food & Drink in Philadelphia for the best meal ever.  A truly special experience.

Best Bite
Paul and Marnay: Goat confit

Address
Rose’s Luxury: 717 8th Street, SE Washington, DC 20003
Closest Metro: Eastern Market

Inferno Pizzeria Napoletana

We were feeling adventurous on Sunday so we spent the day biking and walking around Rockville and Gaithersburg.  We used Bikeshare to go from the Rockville Metro to the Medical Center area then explored Downtown Crown.  Downtown Crown is an award-winning New Urbanist community in Gaithersburg, located near the Washingtonian town center.  All the biking and walking that we did got us hungry, so when 5:00pm rolled around we were ready to eat.

Inferno Pizzeria Napoletana

Inferno Pizzeria Napoletana is the new Neapolitan pizzeria from former Oval Room chef Tony Conte. Although he has a fine dining background, he opened the pizzeria so that he could be closer to his family in Gaithersburg. We chose to sit at the chef’s counter right in front of the Marra Forni oven.  Marra Forni ovens, which are made in Beltsville, MD, are internationally known as probably the best Neapolitan pizza ovens in the world.  The menu and kitchen are small, meaning that the restaurant has a short and simple list of small plates, pizzas and desserts.  It also means that the restaurant can focus on what it does well.  And Inferno does a lot well.

We have a format when we go to Neapolitan Pizzerias: one to two small plates and then one pizza.  It’s a format that we have stuck with almost everywhere, including some places reviewed on this blog.  Blown away by the pizza options at Inferno, however, we decided to do the once unthinkable: order one small plate and two pizzas.  The small plate we ordered was prosciutto Americano with melon caponata, slices of cantaloupe and an herb salad.  The herb salad in particular was fantastic and included peppery, flavorful arugula.

Inferno Pizzeria Napoletana: Prosciutto Americano with Melon Caponata

We were torn between three different pizzas and trying to decide which to get.  We were about to abandon the corn and shrimp sausage when our server stepped in and strongly suggested that we get it.  Boy, are we glad that we listened to her.   The shrimp sausage pizza came with corn, basil and smoked parmesan and was incredible.  It definitely seems like a pizza that would be best in the summer time, because of the fresh sweet corn.  The smoked parmesan had a ricotta-like taste and consistency.  As we were eating, I actually thought it was ricotta.  The shrimp sausage was a bit lighter than traditional pork sausage and the corn brought a pleasant sweetness to round things out.  I honestly cannot pick my favorite topping because they were all in perfect harmony.

Inferno Pizzeria Napoletana: Shrimp Sausage Pizza

Our second pizza was the DOC Margherita, with the traditional Neapolitan ingredients: buffalo mozzarella, San Marzano tomatoes and basil.  The char on the pizza from the Marra Forni over was out-of-this world.  For a traditional Neapolitan pizza like we had, you want a lot of char.

Inferno Pizzeria Napoletana: DOC Margherita

We were certainly full from our two pizzas, but we could not leave Inferno without getting dessert from the soft-serve machine.  The soft-serve of the day was sweet corn with blueberry compote and crumbled cookies.  A sweet way to end an excellent meal.

Inferno Pizzeria Napoletana: Sweet Corn Soft-Serve with Blueberry Compote

Best Bite
Paul and Marnay: Shrimp Sausage and Corn Pizza

Address
Inferno Pizzeria Napoletana: 12207 Darnestown Road, Darnestown MD 20878
Closest Metro: Shady Grove, then taxi or Uber