We have been to many Italian restaurants in our lives, consuming many different varieties of pizzas. But I don’t think that we have ever been to one which focuses on Roman style pizza, that is, until we went to Marta in New York. When you take a laser-like focus on Roman pizza and Italian wine and combine it with Danny Meyer’s Union Square Group trademark hospitality, you get a winner.

Marta plate

Going in, we knew that we wanted a bottle of wine and we knew that we wanted to speak with the sommelier. Before we could ask, the sommelier came to us to see if we had any questions! I gave her a challenge: help us choose a bottle of white wine from either Fruili, in the northeastern corner of Italy bordering Slovenia, or Mt. Etna, in Sicily at the southern end of “The Boot”.

The sommelier gave us two options: a fruit forward wine from Friuli or a flinty, medium-bodied wine from Mt. Etna. We chose the 2015 Benati Etna Bianco, which complemented but did not overpower our food.

Joining us for dinner was Marnay’s sister, Cheray. We ordered two pizzas among the three of us as our main course, a suitable amount of food along with two other small bites. Both of our pizzas were on the simple side without an abundance of toppings so that we could get the true essence of the pizza. Roman pizza is very thin and has a cracker-like crust. The margherita was a textbook example of a crispy Roman pie. The ample basil leaves gave it a fresh, herbal vibe.

Marta roman pizza in New York

That aforementioned cracker-think crust couldn’t quite stand up to the housemade stracciatella in the stracciatella pizza, but it was delicious, maybe even better than the margherita. Structuaral issues aside, it was damn good.

good pizza

We took our time eating the pizza because we liked the first wine so much, we knew we wanted to order a second bottle. It took a while to flag down a sommelier, but she eventually came over and I gave her another challenge: we just had a bottle of wine from Siciliy, let’s travel as far away as possible to the other side of Italy. Let’s go to Valle d’Aosta, in the Italian Alps, bordering Switzerland and France. The sommelier steered us towards the 2015 Ottin Petite Arvine. She described it a big, bold, funky wine from a grape that had only recently been rediscovered in the region. All three of us absolutely loved the wine! When she came to check on us, the sommelier told us that she was personally excited that we ordered this bottle, since they rarely sell it. She said that it is one of her favorites. That made our night!

Marta 2015 Ottin Petite Arvine wine bottle in New York City

We rounded things out (because hey, we needed to eat something with this wine) with roasted carrots, cooked in the pizza oven, with pistachios, lemon and crispy sage. We also had an order of fried artichoke hearts, perfect finger food.

An extremely fun night thanks to the sommelier, the food and the company.


Best Bite
Paul and Marnay: Stracciatella pizza

Marta: The Redbury Hotel, 29 E. 29th Street, New York, NY 10016


Chicago recap

During the long Columbus Day weekend, we took a train trip to Chicago! It was another overnight Amtrak trip, this time on Amtrak’s Capitol Limited.


Friday was a travel day. Our train left Union Station at 4:05pm with a scheduled arrival of 8:45am Saturday. The Capitol Limited starts in DC and then heads through Maryland, West Virginia, returns to western Maryland and then turns north through Pittsburgh and Cleveland. Finally, it takes a more direct route through northern Indiana before arriving in Chicago.

Paul sitting in the Capitol Limited train from Washington DC to Chicago

Our sleeping car was a little more modern than the Crescent, which we took to Greenville. The Capitol Limited is a double-decker train and our bedroom was on the top level, which made for some great views. We ate dinner in the dining car as we arrived in Martinsburg, WV. Even the food was better on the Capitol Limited. In particular, Marnay’s vegetarian pasta with soy chorizo was a hit.

Capitol Limited dining car

The Capitol Limited also has an observation car! It has huge floor to ceiling windows and seats which face outward. We watched the sunset there until we arrived in Cumberland, MD and then went back to our room. The last stop we saw before setting up our beds was Pittsburgh, at around 11:30pm. Time to call it a night! Unlike Greenville, we had the added bonus of getting a full night of sleep instead of waking up at 4:00am.


Good Morning from Indiana! We woke up at 7:30am and pulled open the curtains to watch the farmland go by. It was so much fun to wake up on a train! We skipped the sit-down breakfast in the dining car and instead opted for the free coffee in the hallway of our sleeping car.

Capitol Limited Amtrak train stop in South Bend, IN

We arrived at Chicago Union Station around 9:15am and were ready to hit the ground running. We ran right to Firecakes Donuts, in fact! The donuts were delicious but not as good as Blue Star. It’s an unfair comparison but we had Blue Star so recently, we can’t help but make it.


We checked into our fantastic Airbnb, located just steps from the Logan Square L station. After resting and regrouping, we met our friend Rachel at Portillo’s, one of the most famous places for Chicago-style hot dogs. If you aren’t familiar with Chicago-style dogs, a true Chicago-dog has: all beef hot dog, yellow mustard, chopped raw onions, neon green relish, tomato slices, a dill pickle (spear), sport peppers and celery salt. In my opinion, the celery salt is what makes the hot dog so tasty.

hot dog

Our big plan for the afternoon was to take an architecture boat tour of the Chicago River, rightfully one of the most popular ways to see Chicago. One problem: it started to pour about 30 minutes before our boat was scheduled to leave! No worries, though, we found ponchos at Walgreens and were good to go! It was amazing to learn about the architecture and history of Chicago. The best views on the boat are from the top deck, but we took shelter from the rain on the indoor lower level for the first half of the 90-minute tour. During the second half the rain started to clear up and we made it to the top deck. We even saw a rainbow! There were so few people on the top deck that it was practically a private tour!

Chicago architecture boat tour skyline

For dinner, we had an Opentable gift card at the Publican, one of Chicago’s hottest restaurants. We enjoyed our time, but weren’t blown away. Best bite: the Iowa ham steak, smoked with hay and then flash fried.


Sunday was biking and exploring day! We grabbed breakfast at Intelligentsia coffee and then walked through some tree-lined neighborhoods to pick up a Divvy bike, Chicago’s bikeshare system. The bikes are exactly the same as Capital bikeshare, so it didn’t take any getting used to.

Marnay biking on a Divvy bike in Chicago

We biked on the 606, a former elevated train line, now a biking and walking trail. It goes east-west from Logan Square to West Town. I would really classify it as more of a linear park than just a trail, as it was quite wide and there was lots of greenery and benches for hanging out.

The trail dropped us off under a freeway, so we walked through the Lincoln Park neighborhood and got lunch at Budlong Hot Chicken. I got “spicy” chicken and it was so hot I was tearing up! Marnay’s hot chicken tenders were also crazy hot! All and all, it was a delicious lunch and it gave us energy for the rest of the day.

Budlong Hot Chicken in the Lincoln Park neighborhood in Chicago

Post lunch, we made a beeline for North Avenue Beach and dipped our toes in Lake Michigan. The azure water was cold! It was like 80 degrees outside, though, so we didn’t mind. After drying off our feet, we walked along the Lakefront Trail and then biked back west into town, eventually taking the 74 bus back to our place.

Marnay and Paul on a pier in Lake Michigan in Chicago

Marnay found a place called Cruz Blanca, a Rick Bayliss creation that was a combination brewery and taqueria. It was a really cool concept: You order food at the counter, get your beer at the bar, seat yourself and they bring everything out to you. We got a particularly prime seat on the sidewalk patio. We shared an awesome Oaxacan-style taco plate with half chorizo, half carne asada, drank our beers and people-watched. I think this was one of our favorite memories of Chicago.

Cruz Blanca brewery and taqueria

We weren’t ready to call it a night, though. Instead, we headed back to Logan Square and to Lost Lake, a tiki bar. We love tiki bars!! Lost Lake had delicious tiki drinks and a very cool, laid back vibe. Despite being a well-known bar, it had the feeling of a neighborhood spot. Most important: Marnay’s drink came in a parrot glass!

Lost Lake tiki drinks in a parrot glass in Chicago

Lost Lake neon sign in Chicago

We had a nightcap of malort at Longman & Eagle. What is a malort? After Chicago-style dogs and deep dish pizza, it’s one of Chicago’s most famous culinary tradition. It’s an extremely bitter liquor made with wormwood. Ninety percent of all malort is consumed in Cook County, Illinois, which includes Chicago. We had never had it before and we felt that it was something we needed to try before leaving Chicago. It was BITTER, and I can’t say that it ever got less bitter or had a pleasant aftertaste. But it was a fun cultural experience!


Even though we were out late Sunday night, we woke up early so that we could appreciate our last few hours in Chicago. We got a small bite to eat at Intelligentsia and then took the L downtown.

One of the major tourist attractions that we had yet to do was Millennium Park and The Bean (aka Cloud Gate). It was very cool! Mainly, it was a nice day out and it was fun to get some walking in.

Millennium Park and The Bean (aka Cloud Gate) in Chicago

After walking for a while, we were hungry! Since we only had a few hours left in town, we decided to get another Chicago hot dog, this time from U.B. Dogs in the West Loop.

Besides the traditional Chicago-style dog described earlier, Chicago also has a traditional of Polish sausages, historically centered on Maxwell Street in what’s now University Village. I got a Polish sausage that was charred, placed on a poppy seed bun and topped with the traditional griddled onions, mustard and sport peppers. The flavor was just outrageous, easily one of my favorite bites of the trip.

U.B. Dogs Chicago-style hot dog and Polish sausage

After lunch, we took a stroll on the Riverwalk and then headed back to our Airbnb to relax for a bit before heading to the airport. What a trip!

Things we did and places we visited

Firecakes Donuts: 68 W. Hubbard Street Chicago, IL 60654

Portillo’s: 520 W. Taylor Street Chicago, IL 60607

Chicago Architecture Foundation Boat Tour

The Publican: 837 W. Fulton Market Chicago, IL 60607

Intelligentsia: Logan Square 2642 N. Milwaukee Avenue Chicago, IL 60647

The Budlong: 1008 W. Armitage Avenue Chicago, IL 60614

Cruz Blanca: 904 W. Randolph Street Chicago, IL 60607

Lost Lake: 3154 W. Diversey Avenue Chicago, IL 60647

Longman & Eagle: 2657 N. Kedzie Avenue Chicago, IL 60647

U.B. Dogs: 185 N. Franklin Street Chicago, IL 60606

Northwest Vacation Recap: Seattle

Welcome to our second post from our Northwest Adventure in Portland and Seattle. You can read our Portland recap here. We already posted a sneak-peak of our Seattle adventure with our review of JuneBaby, the fantastic Southern restaurant in Seattle’s Ravenna neighborhood. It wasn’t just JuneBaby that excelled, however. We ate well and had fun our entire time in Seattle.


Our favorite activity in Seattle was walking up the giant hills! We got started right away, since the bus from King Street station dropped us off at the bottom of the Fremont neighborhood. Our Airbnb was at the top of the hill, so we had to walk with all our suitcases on what felt like a vertical sidewalk. I do not think we will ever forget the hills of Seattle!

On Thursday night, we stayed in Fremont and went to Revel, from acclaimed Seattle chef Rachel Yang. We sat on the outdoor patio and enjoyed our dumplings and noodles, particularly the handmade noodles with Dungeness crab. So good! Afterwards, we had a nightcap at Barrel Thief, a local bar with a great whiskey selection.

Revel handmade noodles with Dungeness crab


I think now would be a good time to mention that our Airbnb hosts raise hens in their backyard! We could see their pen from our kitchen window. When we woke up on Friday, we spent some time just watching the hens and all their funny, herky-jerky movements.

Seattle Airbnb hens

Friday was ferry day! When we think about Seattle, I think the thing we will remember most is taking the ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge Island. The ferry ride was magical! The deep water and foggy skies felt very true to the Northwest. We started out standing near the front of the boat but it got really windy. We then made our way to the back and got some amazing views of Seattle as we drifted further and further away.

Marnay and Paul on the ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge Island

The ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge Island

We did not spend too much time on Bainbridge Island but we did walk around the main street and explore the shops. The town was very quaint and had that maritime charm. Lunch was at Bruciato, a place on the main street that specializes in Neapolitan pizza. We would have been fine with just a solid lunch, but we were both extremely impressed with Bruciato. The plate of gorgeous local tomatoes with basil and a little bit of salt was excellent and our prosciutto cotto pizza hit the spot.

Bruciato prosciutto cotto pizza in Bainbridge Island

Friday night was when we had our dinner at JuneBaby. Afterwards, we walked around the Ravenna and Roosevelt neighborhoods for a while. Although we had plenty of Oregon wine during the trip, we hadn’t actually had any wine from Washington. We found a Whole Foods, picked up a bottle of Yakima Valley Riesling and some snacks and drank it back in the apartment!


Our last full day of vacation. I made some coffee in the kitchen and took some time to watch the hens. They’re just so entertaining! We still hadn’t done any “touristy” activities in Seattle, so we got that out of the way by going to the Chihully Museum, home of the works from the famous glassmaking artist Dale Chihully.

Chihully Museum

Marnay and Paul at the Chihully Museum

The other ultimate touristy thing we did was go to Pike Place Market. We are really glad that we went, but the market was OVERWHELMING. We did get to witness the fish toss, at least. We walked up and down some more hills and then took the bus home for some much needed relaxation.

Pike Place Market famous fish toss

Prior to dinner, we walked around Fremont and finally got up close and personal with the famous Fremont Troll. It’s a sculpture of a troll located underneath the Fremont Bridge. This was just so quirky and unique.

Fremont Troll underneath the Fremont Bridge

For the last meal of our Northwest Adventure, we headed to Sitka and Spruce in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. Tom Sietsema has been recommending Sitka and Spruce for years, so we were excited to go. Its focus is on Northwestern cuisine, and it did not disappoint. Our best bites: West Coast oysters and local Ling Cod in a tomato béarnaise sauce. Yum!

Sitka and Spruce West Coast oysters

Sitka and Spruce local Ling Cod in a tomato béarnaise sauce

We had an absolutely epic time in Portland and Seattle. I do not think we could have gone much longer, we just had so much fun and did so much! While we unfortunately had to leave Seattle on Sunday morning, we will always have our memories!

Northwest Vacation Recap: Portland

We have just returned from a Northwest Adventure in Portland and Seattle, our first trip to the West Coast since our honeymoon (in 2014!) where we traveled to San Francisco and Sonoma. We look forward to telling you about our favorite activities and of course our favorite restaurants! First up, Portland!


We arrived in Portland late Saturday night, tired from our flight but definitely ready to do some exploring. We were staying at an Airbnb in the North Mississippi/Williams neighborhood, a hip neighborhood in Northeast Portland bustling with nightlife. One of my friends had told me about Alibi Tiki Bar, a 1940s tiki bar that is still in existence today. Our impression is that it felt very “Portland” – quirky and laid-back. Basically, the complete opposite of life in the Northeast. We were starving, so we ate a little bit of food – I would describe it as vaguely American Chinese food. This may sound odd, but the original tiki bars served an American version of Chinese food, considered exotic in the 1930s.

Alibi Tiki Bar neon sign


Portland is known for being the premier biking city in America, due to having decades of bike-friendly policies. It should be no surprise, then, that we mainly got around the city by Biketown bike, their bikesharing system. The orange bikes were lighter than Capital Bikeshare, plus they had a basket which made running errands easy. You can also dock Biketown bikes at any public bike dock, which is incredible.

Marnay on a Biketown bike in Portland

We biked across the Broadway Bridge and arrived at Ken’s Artisan Bakery. Ken’s is one of the best and most well-known bakeries in America. Of all things, we shared a locally made hot dog on an incredible baguette-like bun and some incredible macarons. A great way to start the morning in Portland.

Ken’s Artisan Bakery macarons

Portland has an aerial tram. It goes from a medical school and doctors offices to the corresponding hospital, on top of a hill. Still, it offered some incredible views of the Willamette River below and I’m glad we did it!

Portland aerial tram


Dinner that night was with one my old MARC train friend, Marcel, and his wife Martha. In June, Marcel moved to Portland from DC for work, so it was awesome to see them. We met at Tusk, a Middle-Eastern restaurant that Food & Wine Magazine recently named one of the best new restaurants in the country. All of the food was communal and it made a great way to catch up. All four of us agreed on a best bite: Melons, cucumbers, celtuce, pepper (hot!), cilantro and pepitas.

Tusk hummus with tehina, paprika and cumin

Tusk melons with cucumbers, celtuce, pepper, cilantro and pepita.

Marnay, Paul, Marcel and Martha at Tusk in Portland

It had been a long day, but we fit in some walking through the Laurelhurst neighborhood and a trip to Base Camp Brewing for a nightcap. A long but exciting day.


One requirement for Portland was that we needed to stay in an Airbnb that was walking distance to a Blue Star Donuts location and luckily we were two short blocks away from their Northeast Portland shop. We shared their signature Blueberry Bourbon Basil and their incredible Apple Fritter. So darn good!

Blue Star Donuts in Northeast Portland

Next, we headed to Portland’s Waterfront Trail, and biked along the Willamette River. We ended the ride by crossing the river over the Tilikum Crossing, the country’s first pedestrian and transit only bridge. It carries bikes, pedestrians, buses, light rail and streetcars. How amazing is that?!

Paul biking on the Tilikum Crossing bridge

That night, we had a nice bike ride through a few different neighborhoods en route to Han Oak, a Korean-inspired restaurant from chef Peter Cho. We were second in line, so we were able to sit at the chef’s counter right in front of the open kitchen. What a view! On Sunday and Monday nights, Han Oak has dumpling and noodle night. However, that night they had a guest chef cooking Indonesian Barbecue. Our best bite, and possibly the top bite in all of Portland, was the Indonesian Barbecue platter.

Han Oak dumplings

Han Oak Indonesian Barbecue

After dinner, we did some walking through nearby neighborhoods and then biked to Stormbreaker Brewing, just outside of our apartment. We stopped to pick up a growler so that we could enjoy it at home with the rest of our donuts. There wasn’t a TV, so we watched Portlandia on Netflix! Another fun night!

Blue Star Donuts, Stormbreaker Brewing growler and Portlandia on Netflix in our Airbnb in Portland


Tuesday was wine country day. But first, we had breakfast at Pop Bagel, a small bagel shop where all the bagels are pretzel bagels! It was a cool concept. The location, inside of an office building, made me jealous because my office building doesn’t have anything like this!

Pop Bagels

We took an Amtrak bus from Union Station to Salem, the capital of Oregon and our jumping off point for exploring the Willamette Valley. Once we arrived in Salem, we headed straight to Brooks Wine, Riesling specialists located in the Eola-Amity Hills subregion of the Willamette Valley. Before we left for Oregon, I read a wine column from a national columnist about wines to get for special occasions – one of the wines was from Brooks!

Brooks Wine vineyard

Brooks was incredible, the best winery we have ever been to. Since they specialize in white wines, we made sure to both get white wine tastings. Our favorites were the Sweet P Riesling (the one that was recommended in the column) and the Amycas, a blend of Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Muscat, Gewurztraminer and Riesling. We came away with a bottle of each.

After Brooks, we headed to Domaine Drouhin, in the Dundee Hills subregion. The Drouhin family is originally from Burgundy, home of the best Pinot Noir in the world. You can understand why we took home a bottle of their 2014 Dundee Hills Pinot Noir.

Paul and Marnay at Domaine Drouhin

We took the very retro Amtrak Cascades train from Salem back to Portland. Although we were tired, we were hungry after a day of drinking wine! When we were back in Portland, we grabbed Biketown bikes and picked up takeout from Pok Pok Noi, part of the amazing Pok Pok family of restaurants. The boar collar and Vienamese wings were delicious!

retro Amtrak Cascades train from Salem to Portland


Our last full day in Portland. We got an early start by heading to Blue Star Donuts for another apple fritter. The best fritters ever! We took Biketown bikes and ended up at the iconic Powell’s Books, a must visit in Portland.

Lunch was at Maurice, a really cool European-style café that is only open for lunch. They serve French-Danish food plus vermouth, wine and sherry and incredible desserts and pastries. I do not think that we have been anywhere in America like this, it was really unique.

Maurice cardamom kissed squid

Maurice scone and pepper cheesecake

After our midday meal, we got some hiking in at Washington Park, a huge urban park in a particularly hilly section of Portland. We explored the Hoyt Arboretum and the International Rose Garden. Conveniently, the MAX light rail has an underground stop in the heart of the park and there is a free shuttle bus that can take you to the different attractions.

Paul walking on a trail at Washington Park

Dinner that night was our favorite dinner in Portland. We started at Jaqueline, in the Ladd’s Addition neighborhood, where we enjoyed $1 West Coast oysters along with a $2 Rainier tallboy and a $3 Topo Chico. So cheap! After our happy hour, we biked to Ken’s Artisan Pizza to grab some pizzas to go.

Jaqueline oyster happy hour

Back at home, we ate our two pizzas and drank the bottle of Brooks Sweet P Riesling. The Riesling had an aroma of petrol that reminded us of that bottle of Hermann J. Wiemer from Tail Up Goat. The two pizzas we ordered were: Handmade – hand-pulled fresh mozzarella, tomato sauce, garlic, fennel seed and chile flake and the Brooklyn – tomato sauce, mozzarella, capicollo, pickled jalapeño and honey. The Handmade pizza stole the show. A simple yet perfect pizza.

Ken’s Artisan Pizza and Brooks Sweet P Riesling in our airbnb in Portland


We were taking the Amtrak Cascades to Seattle, although our train did not leave until about 3:00PM. That meant that we had plenty of time to partake in one of Portland’s favorite activities: brunch! Sweedeedee, a little less than a mile from our apartment, is known for their pie selection, in addition to more traditional breakfast food. The catch is that you order all of your food at the counter, but you are served pie immediately. What a concept! We shared a slice of peach pie with cream, which was divine. By the time our real breakfast arrived, we were nearly too full to eat. Marnay’s bee pollen biscuit sandwich with ham was memorable, though.

Sweedeedee peach pie

After brunch, we took a meandering walk around the neighborhood and then one final Biketown ride before heading to Union Station. On to Seattle!

Click here to read all about our Seattle adventure!

5 Best Pizzerias in the DMV

In our household, we like pizza. A lot. Part of this is due to the fact that we each grew up in pizza-crazy regions of the country (New Jersey and Philadelphia, respectively) and part has to do with the fact that pizza makes a relatively inexpensive night out. After living in the DC-area for the last five years, our taste in pizza has changed from New York style to Neapolitan, but when it comes down to it, a good pizza transcends styles.

Without further ado, here is our list of the top five pizzerias in the DMV. Note that it’s not in order, because they are all excellent!

Inferno Pizzeria Napoletana

Inferno graces our list having the “chefiest” pizzas around, made by former Oval Room executive chef Tony Conte. You will do well with a classic margherita, but this is the place to load-up on top-notch toppings and well-thought out pizza-creations. One of our favorites was a summertime special – a shrimp sausage pizza with sweet corn, smoked parmesan and basil. Don’t forget to end your meal with soft serve ice cream!

Inferno Pizzeria Napoletana

Inferno Pizzeria Napoletana soft serve ice cream

Frankly Pizza

Frankly Pizza is the place for pork. That’s because chef-owner Frank Linn makes his own bacon and sausage The crust is thicker than the other pizzerias on this list and the tomato sauce is a touch sweeter. It’s liberally applied, but not excessive. The Porky Marge is the best way to experience Frankly Pizza, with mozzarella, bacon, basil, tomato sauce and a light topping of romano cheese. The restaurant has a very small selection other than pizza, so you may want to try multiple pies while you are here, along with a housemade soda.

Frankly Pizza Porky Marge

Pizzeria Vetri

Our award for best crust goes to Philadelphia-import Pizzeria Vetri. The crispness and char are something to behold. We like to wash it down with a beer or wine, both on draft. Since the crispiness of the crust makes for a lighter pie, we have plenty of room to pair it with a rotolo, a cinnamon roll-looking creation filled with ricotta, mortadella and pistachio pesto.

Pizzeria Vetri neapolitan pizza

Pizzeria Vetri pistachio rotolo

Pizza CS

Pizza CS, in the Twinbrook section of Rockville, has taken the time to earn VPN-certification, making pizzas to the exacting standards of the international Neapolitan pizza organization. This is the place to go when you’re in the mood for an absolutely textbook Neapolitan pizza. Pizza CS is good for kids, since it’s a counter-order spot with plenty of space of kids to run around. Other than pizza, there are a few basic salads to choose from, so come to CS to get your pizza-fix. Plus, there’s foosball.

Pizza CS

Pizza CS

Pacci’s is our neighborhood pizzeria and we feel fortunate that we have it in walking distance. The pies here are Neapolitan and margherita is your best bet if it’s your first visit. Our favorite, however, is the La Diavola, which really brings the heat. That traditional Neapolitan base is then topped with copious slices of spicy Neapolitan salami. If it’s nice out, ask to sit on their large outdoor patio. The experience is worth it.

Pacci’s La Diavola Pizza

I hope that you enjoyed our list! What are you favorite pizzerias? They don’t even have to be in the DMV – a great pizza is something worth traveling for!


(Note: We spent some time in Portland and Seattle for our vacation this year. We will be posting more in the next few weeks, so this review is just a taste of things to come!)

I first heard about JuneBaby on chef Edward Lee’s Instagram page, when I saw that the renowned Southern chef visited and loved it. Very high praise for what at the time was a brand new restaurant. The chef, Eduardo Jordan, is certainly not new to the scene, having previously been named a Food & Wine Best New Chef for his first restaurant, Salare. He also not new to Southern food, having growing up in Florida. However, we only had two full nights in Seattle. Did we really want one night to be spent at a Southern restaurant, instead of somewhere serving local Northwestern cuisine?

If you find yourself in this situation, the answer should be “yes”, you will want to get yourself to JuneBaby.

JuneBaby by Eduardo Jordan in Seattle, Washington

In our opinion, cornbread is all about balance. Not too sweet, not too dry. We’ve eaten and made cornbread that’s all over the spectrum. The cornbread at JuneBaby is just about as perfectly balanced as you can get. Here, the cast-iron cornbread is made with heirloom cornmeal and then supplemented with sorghum molasses baked into the bread, giving it a subtle amount of sweetness

JuneBaby cornbread with sorghum molasses

Smoked carrots topped with nutty benne seeds are substantial and the accompanying collard greens give off some serious vinegary heat. Tahini, swiped along the bottom, is meant to cool things down. Wisely, though, there isn’t enough to rob the dish of its intense flavor.

JuneBaby moked carrots topped with nutty benne seeds

The entree I was looking forward to most, just from perusing the menu prior to trip, was “Mama Jordan’s” oxtails, served in consumme with a squash salad. The oxtails did not disappoint! The braised oxtail tasted like a more flavorful, more tender brisket. The squash salad at first seemed a bit out of place, but thinking back, it worked to cut all that meatiness.

JuneBaby has a rice program, one of the most important heritage crops of the South. Each night they feature rice from a different growing region and the night we were there was a rice from the Jacksonville area of Florida. It was unwashed and then cooked in a Dungeness crab stock with crab meat on top. The unwashed rice gave it a creamy, starchy taste similar to risotto. As a side note, we made sure to order Dungeness crab, that prized ingredient of the West Coast, any time we saw it on a menu.

JuneBaby Mama Jordan’s oxtails with featured rice from Jacksonville, Florida

To top things off, our bubbly, slightly awkward but always polite server kept the mood light and relaxed. The two well-made cocktails didn’t hurt, either. You may not think of Seattle when you think of authentic Southern food, but here’s hoping you do now.

Best Bite
Paul: oxtail
Marnay: cornbread

JuneBaby: 2122 NE 65th Street, Seattle, WA 98115

Fiola – Maria Menu

Some of Washington, DC’s pricier restaurants have more affordable lunch deals during the week. You can take advantage of them if you know where to look. Luckily, we are here to give you a review of one of our favorite lunch spots.

Fabio Trabocchi’s restaurant group in particular has some wallet-friendly lunch offerings during the week. On a rainy Monday, we spent the morning exploring some of the Smithsonian museums and enjoyed a mid-day meal at Fiola in Penn Quarter.

Fiola menu

The Maria Menu is named for chef/restauranteur Fabio Trabiocchi’s wife and business partner, Maria Trabiocchi. Described as being based on a “healthy Mediteranean diet”, the Maria Menu is three courses for $32, which is a steal considering most entrees alone at Fiola cost more than $32.

Another great thing about the Maria menu for the cost-conscious diner (and let’s be real, we all are) is that it starts out with an amuse bouche plus housemade rosemary bread. In our case, it was watermelon-tomato gazpacho with chive oil – a good way to start the meal, although it could have used a touch of cream to cut the acidity.

Sometimes servers can be a little too informal for their own good, which can be offputting. That is certainly not a problem at Fiola, where the well-trained and impeccably dressed staff are completely focused on making sure you have the best meal possible, no fooling around.

The Madai snapper crudo, from Japan, was paired with slices of grilled Jersey peaches and peach gel for swiping. The chilled, well-salted fish was the perfect foil for the peaches, ripe but by no means cloying and kissed by the char of the grill.

Fiola Maria Menu: Madai snapper crudo

Our main course was a hulking Australian tiger prawn on a bed of Sicilian capunitina, similar to an eggplant caponata. This puree contained eggplant, pine nuts, capers and golden raisins. I found the capunitina to be too sweet at first, thanks to the raisins, but as I kept eating the flavors came together and made sense. The buttery, mild shrimp flesh needed the intense flavor of the capunitina.

Fiola Maria Menu: Australian tiger prawn on a bed of Sicilian capunitina

Dessert was billed simply as “Raspberry & Hazelnuts”, but it was far more interesting that those two ingredients. When it arrived at the table, it looked like raspberry custard with hazelnut flakes on top. A plunge of the spoon, however, revealed an entire ecosystem of flavors. Inside of custard was raspberry sorbet, whole raspberries and a luscious hazelnut praline.

Fiola Maria Menu: Raspberry and Hazelnuts

The restaurant had been crowded when we first sat down, and we observed people talking and eating. I couldn’t help but think, though, that we were spending a lot less than they were.

Fiola Marnay and Paul Meyer

Best Bite
Paul and Marnay: Raspberries & Hazelnuts

Fiola: 601 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20004
Closest Metro: Archives or Judiciary Square

Tail Up Goat Revisited

Every once in a while, we have a meal that absolutely blows us away. This week, we revisited Tail Up Goat and had a truly special experience. Last time we went to Tail Up Goat, we ate dinner at 5:00pm on a Saturday. This time, we had our meal at 8:00pm on a Thursday night. Why does this make a difference? The middle of the week is when the pros dine out—the true foodies. It’s when the kitchen has the most fun, too, because they don’t have to worry about picky eaters and/or diners who rarely eat out. That means that the kitchen can worry about doing the thing they do best, cooking.

Tail Up Goat on summer weeknights has an electric vibe. We were seated by the window, just one table behind we were on our last visit. We even had the same server as last time and she recognized us. We were thirsty, which was a good thing because Tail Up Goat has an exemplary wine list, created by sommelier Bill Jensen. The list is divided into many different sections, mainly by region, and the first section is based on whatever the sommelier is interested in at the moment. This day’s theme was “Summer of Riesling”. I absolutely love Riesling and we were in the mood for a bottle. We weren’t sure what bottle to get, so we asked our server for help. She took us on a tour of the wine list, going into impressive detail about each wine and covering Rieslings from all regions and price points. One wine stood out. She explained that the 2007 from Hermann J. Wiemer, one of the first wineries in New York’s Finger Lakes region, had a petrol smell, caused by a chemical reaction that occurs in Rieslings that have been aged for a long time. That sounded so cool!

Tail Up Goat Hermann J. Wiemer wine bottle

She did let us know that it was a bit of a splurge pricewise, but she talked it up so highly that we had to get it. I am glad that we did order it, because it was a truly special bottle of wine that made the evening even more enjoyable. The smell of petrol was intoxicating and the wine hit that sweet spot between dry and sweet Rieslings. Plus, the mouthfeel was out-of-this world.

Now that we had our wine to keep us company, we started ordering food. Tail Up Goat has a traditional first course, second course and entrée menu, and we ordered one of each. Our seaweed sourdough bread was slathered with ciccioli and topped with pickled fennel stems. Ciccioli is an Italian pork spread, similar to a rillette. The combination of the ciccioli and the fennel stems tasted remarkably like Italian sausage, which inspired memories of eating at baseball games as a kid.

Tail Up Goat Hermann J. Wiemer wine bottle

Next up was pasta primavera with salty trout roe, squash blossoms, garlic scapes and crunchy aleppo breadcrumbs. The trout roe and the squash blossoms brought an intense orange color that was fun to look at as we ate. If money weren’t an issue, we would have ordered three of these.

Tail Up Goat Hermann J. Wiemer wine bottle

After our pasta, we were waiting for our lamb ribs and enjoying our wine. Suddenly, the sommelier walks over carrying two large red wine glasses and a bottle. It turns out that he came to give us a pour of a delicious, fruity red wine from volcanic Mt. Etna in Italy. It was fun to watch his enthusiasm as he talked about the volcanic soil. The experience made our meal!

Within a few moments, our lamb ribs arrived, piping hot. We noticed that there had been a bit of a delay between our pasta and the lamb ribs, and perhaps that’s why we got free wine, but neither of us minded. Plus, the lamb ribs tasted even better than last time., possibly because they were right from the kitchen.  Unlike last time, we ate the ribs with our hands and I think it made the meal more fun.

Tail Up Goat Hermann J. Wiemer wine bottle

I feel like we gained a lot of trust with Tail Up Goat after this visit. By trust, I mean that the next time we’re there, and our server makes a suggestion, we will take it. It was an amazing meal and it would not be the same without the incredible service that we received from our server and the sommelier.

Best Bite
Paul and Marnay: Pasta primavera

Tail Up Goat: 1827 Adams Mill Rd, NW Washington, DC 20009
Closest Metro: Columbia Heights or Woodley Park


We were on our way to our annual beach trip in Margate and had some time in Philadelphia in between our Amtrak and NJ Transit trains. That meant that there was no better time to check out a new-to-us restaurant. We made the 0.5 mile walk from 30th Street Station to Aldine, located just outside of Rittenhouse Square in Center City.

Aldine, from owners George and Jennifer Sabatino, is creatively wedged into a second floor space between two storefronts. The front door leads to a staircase that takes you practically straight up into the restaurant. Inside, the space is airy, full of dark wood and surrounded by windows on almost all sides. From our perch, we were able to look out onto the bustling street life below.

Aldine restaurant interior in Philadelphia

When we first entered the restaurant, we noticed a plaque hanging outside the door. The plaque was from Philadelphia Magazine and it was the award for “Best Non-Vegetable Restaurant for Vegetarians”. I don’t know if we have eaten at enough Philadelphia-area restaurants to have an opinion on this, but I feel comfortable saying that Aldine is a good spot for vegetarians and pescetarians.

The restaurant was empty when we arrived, possibly a result of it being a summer Friday. In spite of the calm, Marnay and I got the party started with glass of Spanish rose and a truly interesting housemade cream soda. The sweet but not too sweet soda had vanilla beans floating on top and the server instructed me to stir them for maximum flavor.

Aldine Spanish rose and a truly interesting housemade cream soda

Aldine is a small plates restaurant and we want to thank them for flawlessly coursing out our meal without us having to say a word. The pace of the meal felt more fine-dining than small plates. There were two plates that we were most excited about ordering: the poached shrimp crudo and the corn custard. Neither disappointed. The custard was savory in the sense that there were no added sugars, but the fresh corn gave plenty of natural sweetness. The dish is topped off with crunchy hazelnuts and tart pickled corn kernels and pickled mushrooms. The shrimp crudo, made with chilled poached shrimp, sat on top of a crisp bed of fennel salad and aioli and then was topped with everything spice, the spice of the moment right now.


The braised purple cabbage with black-garlic glaze was an example of how Aldine can make vegetables the star of a dish and was as good as any dish at Vedge. The thick slices of cabbage were layered in a broth that tasted like soy, mirin, sugar, plus a few other ingredients.


We rounded everything out with a culotte steak. The steak came with grilled peaches, cucumbers and black garlic chips, and really, the non-steak components were the best parts of the dish. The steak was fine, just a little chewy. We are not against ordering steak at restaurants, but often times steak feels like a throwaway item that restaurants put on a menu, intended for less-adventurous diners. For more on this, I recommend this article from former Washingtonian food critic Todd Kliman on how to read a menu like a food critic.

That being said, you really can’t go wrong with anything that Aldine serves.


Best Bite
Paul: Corn Custard
Marnay: Shrimp Crudo

Aldine: 1901 Chestnut Street Philadelphia, PA 19103

5 Must Have Summer Cocktails in the Meyer Household

When summer comes around, we can’t help looking forward to sipping cocktails on our balcony. And when we think of cocktails, one word comes to mind: “Spritz”. Sure, we occasionally drink spritzes during the winter, but to us no drink feels more summery than the spritz. (As a side note, no cocktail book has been more influential than Spritz by Talia Baiocchi and Leslie Pariseau. I highly recommend this book as I am deeply indebted to it).

We’ve listed five essential cocktails for summer in our household. Not all of them are spritzes, but many of them are light cocktails that are low in alcohol. I love whiskey, but when it’s 90 degrees outside I really do not want a Manhattan. We have also included places in the DC area where we have had the drink or where we know it’s served. What are your essential summer cocktails? Let us know!

1. Venetian Spritz
The Venetian spritz is a spritz in its most classic form. It’s three parts prosecco, two parts bitter liquor and one part soda water. For the bitter liquor, the most popular and the sweetest is Aperol. However, our favorite is Select, an aperitvo that is very popular in Venice but which was just imported to the U.S. The only place we were able to find a bottle was Manhattan, actually. Feel free to use whichever bitter liquors you like.

Venetian Spritz cocktail

3 oz. Prosecco
2 oz. Aperol, Select, Cappelletti, or Campari, or other bitter liquor
1 oz. soda water

Where to find it:
On the list at Acqua Al 2, 212 7th Street, SE Washington, DC 20003

2. Little Grey Lady
The Little Grey Lady cocktail features one of my favorite spirits, Cocchi Americano, an Italian fortified wine. This cocktail is on the sweeter side, although with a touch of bitterness from the Cocchi Americano. I found this cocktail in Wine Enthusiast magazine. Cocchi Americano is my favorite aperitivo, as it has a base of wine, some light sweetness and then it’s flavored with gentian root for bitterness. The powerhouse of this cocktail is the elderflower liquor.

Little Grey Lady cocktail

¾ oz. gin
¾ oz. cocchi Americano
¾ oz. elderflower liquor
¾ oz. lemon juice
1 dash bitters

3. Rome with a View
Of all our of summer cocktails, this one looks the most like summer with it’s bright red color. While it contains Campari, the most bitter of the Italian bitter liquors, that robust bitterness is necessary to stand up to the tartness of the lime juice. It’s that combination of bitter and tart that makes this drink work.

Rome with a View cocktail

1 oz. Campari
1 oz. dry vermouth
1 oz. lime juice
¾ oz. simple syrup
Soda water to top

4. The Rib Tickler
Close behind in the “looks like summer” category is the yellow-hued Rib Tickler. The rib tickler gets its color from Suze, a French bitter liquor made with gentian. To offset that bitterness, we bring sweet elderflower liquor in the mix, an essential ingredient in the Meyer household.

The Rib Tickler

2 oz. dry vermouth
¼ oz. Suze
½ oz. elderflower liquor
¼ oz. lemon juice
½ oz simple syrup
Soda water to top

Where to find it:
This drink is very similar a white negroni, on the list at Dino’s Grotto, 1914 9th Street, NW Washington, DC 20001

5. The Last Word
The last cocktail on our list is aptly The Last Word, a great cocktail any time of year but particularly refreshing during summer. The Last Word is a classic pre-Prohibition cocktail, although the first time we had it was at The Gin Joint in Charleston, SC during our Charleston trip. We have been hooked ever since the first sip and we have turned many of our friends onto this drink.

The Last Word cocktail

1 oz. gin
1 oz. lime juice
1 oz. maraschino liquor
1 oz. Green Chartreuse

Where to find it:
It’s not on the list, but we have had a good version at Whaley’s, 301 Water Street, SE Washington, DC 20003

Keep in mind that these are not the “five essential cocktails for summer”; they are the five essential cocktails in the Meyer household. Your experiences may differ. What drink would you add to this list?