Aldine

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.

apps

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.

cabbage

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.

meat

Best Bite
Paul: Corn Custard
Marnay: Shrimp Crudo

Address
Aldine: 1901 Chestnut Street Philadelphia, PA 19103

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Ultimate Richmond Adventure: Part 2

We usually go to Richmond two to three times per year, once in the summer and once during winter. As you may recall, it was about 100 degrees on our last visit to Richmond. This time, even though it was only February, it was nearly 60 degrees outside. I had thought of a bunch of indoor activities for the day, but since it was spring-like weather, we had to take advantage of it.

Rapp Session

From Main Street Station, we walked west through downtown a grabbed brunch at Rapp Session, the more casual sister restaurant to Rappahannock Restaurant. Travis and Ryan Croxton, the owners of Rappahannock Oyster Co. and local oyster gods, also own Rappahannock Restaurant and Rapp Session. Marnay got the hangtown fry, a 19th century San Francisco creation, which is scrambled eggs, cornmeal crusted fried oysters, bacon and salsa verde served with a green salad. I have never loved fried oysters, but this dish may have turned me into a fried oyster convert. I got the absolutely addictive sourdough beer-battered fried local catfish sandwich with tartar sauce and vinegary slaw on crusty buttered bread. We try not to repeat things on our Richmond visits since there is so much to explore, but it will be difficult not going back to here next time.

Rapp Session brunch

Exploring

Because it was so nice out, we set aside our plan to go to the Virginia Museum of Fine Art and instead spent the afternoon walking and exploring. We walked down to the James River onto Browns Island and the brand new pedestrian bridge across the river to the south side, where we took in the views of downtown from the river bluffs.

Richmond James River pedestrian bridge

We made our way back across the bridge, through the Oregon Hill neighborhood, the bustling VCU campus and the Fan District. When all was said and done, we walked 10 miles! The neighborhoods would alternate between reminding us of Capitol Hill and the more quirky Hamden in Baltimore.

Sugar & Twine

When we reached Carytown, we briefly paused to have mid-afternoon snack at Sugar & Twine, a confectionary from a Portland ex-pat who decided to set up shop in Richmond. We sat on a sidewalk table off West Cary Street and people-watched while devouring a heart-shaped meringue cookie, a peanut butter brownie and an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie.

Sugar & Twine cookies

Isley Brewing

Each time we visit Richmond, our train back to Union Station leaves at 6:30pm. Even though we had done a lot on this trip already, we still had a surprising amount of time left in the day. After finishing our treats, we walked to the Scott’s Addition neighborhood, Richmond’s de facto brewery district. The area used to be industrial but one by one the warehouses are being converted into lofts, breweries, distilleries, CrossFit gyms, etc.

We checked out Isley Brewing, a family-owned brewery that opened in 2013. It had been a while since we had sat down and our legs were a little tired, so we grabbed a stool and enjoyed our Need for Greed black IPA and the quaffable 1708 ACDC Belgian IPA.

Isley Brewing Company

Metzger Bar & Butchery

After finishing our beers, we ubered to the Union Hill neighborhood, just east of Main Street Station. Metzger Bar & Butchery is a small German restaurant, which, just days after we dined there, was named a semi-finalist for a James Beard Award in the Best Chef Mid-Atlantic Category.

Metzger Bar & Butchery cocktails

Marnay started out the meal with a very refreshing cocktail called the Land of Flowers, with gin, mandarin thyme cordial, lime, fino sherry and luxardo bitters while I went with a bone dry Riesling from Pfalz, Germany.

Metzger Bar & Butchery striped bass crudo

Food-wise, we ordered the house bread basket, striped bass crudo and pork schnitzel. The bread basket was superb, especially the buttery parker house rolls and the pretzel rolls. I mean, if you are a German restaurant, you really need to have good pretzel rolls and Metzger delivered. The star of the show, though, was the outrageously delicious, transcendent striped bass crudo with red pepper flakes, sea salt, citrus, chives and pickled cabbage. Seriously, we could have easily eaten three plates of the crudo.

Metzger Bar & Butchery golden pork schnitzel

The finale was golden pork schnitzel, another traditional German dish. The schnitzel was glistening when it first came to the table and believe me, it tasted as good as it looks. We couldn’t linger at the restaurant on account of our train, but we will definitely be back to Metzger on our next Richmond trip.

Video Recap

 

Places we visited:

Rapp Session: 318 E. Grace Street Richmond, VA 23219

Tyler Potterfield Pedestrian Bridge: North end at Browns Island

Sugar & Twine: 2928 W. Cary Street Richmond, VA 23221

Isley Brewing Company 1715 Summit Avenue Richmond, VA 23230

Metzger Bar & Butchery 801 N. 23rd Street Richmond, VA 23223

Momofuku CCDC

On a Tuesday night we made reservations at one of DC’s most popular new restaurants, Momofuku CCDC.  This is the DC offshoot of David Chang’s extremely successful Momofuku empire.  The restaurant offers limited reservations and we made ours’ a month out.

The space is rather bare, with concrete floors and not much on the walls.  There is a giant peach projected above the bar, which is a nice touch.  The curved wooden seats do not even have backs.  My first impression was that this does not seem like a restaurant where guests are expected to linger.  While we reviewed the food menu, we started off with some drinks.  I got the Seven Spice Sour, which had some serious heat.  It consisted of sake, yuzu, lime and shichimi, that ubiquitous reddish-orange spice found at Japanese restaurants.  Marnay got a Grenache rose from Provence, the birthplace of rose.

Momofuku DC cocktails

Our food was coursed out, but it came fast.  The first two dishes to arrive were the Shiitake Buns with hoisin, scallion and cucumber and the Rockfish crudo with yuzu, bonji and sliced apples. The shiitake buns tasted like they were filled with crispy bacon. It was incredible what they did with the mushrooms…it was pure magic.

Momofuku DC Shiitake Buns and Rockfish Crudo

There was no indication on the menu that the Rockfish would be raw until the server told us after we ordered.  Not a problem, but a little warning on the menu would be nice.  The paper thin slices of raw fish came with bonji sauce, a David Chang trademarked creation similar to soy sauce.

Very soon after these two dishes left the table, the famous Momofuku Ramen arrived.  It is a pork based soup with sliced pork belly, pulled pork shoulder and a beautiful poached egg floating in the middle.  Piercing the egg provides even more delicious richness to the broth.   The bowl was substantial and even though we shared it, we were not able to finish.

Momofuku DC Ramen

Out of all the reasons to come to Momofuku CCDC, we were most excited to try dessert from Milk Bar.  Trying their famous Cereal Milk ice cream is almost a cultural experience and we were looking forward to it.  Honestly, though…we were a bit disappointed.  I guess it tasted like milk-flavored soft-serve, but we thought there would be a lot more flavor.  Same goes for the Compost Cookie that we ordered.  It was good enough, but we were expecting great.  Momufuku CCDC is not about to give Osteria Morini a run for its money as best restaurant for dessert in DC.

Milk Bar Cereal Milk ice cream

Outside of Milk Bar, Momofuku CCDC is very good.  I think that the next time we go we will just get dessert from RareSweets.  Or, if we’re feeling really adventurous, we will go to the bar at DBGB and order the Baked Alaska.

Best Bite
Paul: Shiitake Buns
Marnay: Momofuku Ramen

Address
Momofuku CCDC: 1090 I St, NW Washington, DC 20001
Closest Metro: Metro Center

Masseria

Masseria is a unique restaurant that actually looks like three restaurants in one.  Set on a barren, industrial stretch of 4th St NE, although one block from Union Market, there was plenty of space to build the restaurant however they wanted.  The front is an open courtyard lounge area with couches and some small tables.  The first indoor dining room is all windows, even the part that is attached to the second indoor dining room.  Finally, the back dining room, with the open kitchen, has no windows and mostly cinder block walls.  It truly feels like a wine cellar.

We were lucky enough to eat in the “wine cellar” dining room.  At Masseria, you choose a four or five course pre fixe menu.  You do not have to choose one from each category, but your last course must be cheese or dessert.  Cocktails are the best way to start a meal.  We got The Toronto, with Dickel Rye, Fernet, a touch of sugar and a lemon twist.  We also got the Count Camillo, with St. George Gin, Contratto Bianco Vermouth and Beet Infused Campari.  I really enjoyed the sweet earthiness from the beets while Marnay liked how the sugar cut the bitterness from the Fernet in the Toronto.

We were served gratis arancini, potato doughnuts with mushroom powder, focaccia and a squid ink sesame breadstick that had some serious heat.  Our first courses could not have been more different.  Marnay got the cobia crudo with fennel, blood orange, basil, basil seeds and green chiles.  The chiles were hot but the cold, raw slices of fish mercifully took out much of the punch. I got tender sweetbreads in a sweet and salty salsa benadetto with almonds. This was one of my favorite bites of the meal.

Our second course was pasta, which Masseria excels in.  I got the linguine with XO sauce, olive oil, garlic and a handful of spicy breadcrumbs.  XO sauce, which is a Chinese dried fish-based sauce, is one of the most delicious sauces on earth, so it makes perfect sense that an Italian chef would want to play around with it.  The breadcrumbs soaked up the sauce and the housemade linguine had a good chew to it.  It’s hard for me to decide between the linguine and the sweetbreads as my best bite. Marnay got the egg raviolo with Louisiana Crawfish, Olio Santo and Falanghina Zabliglione, possible the best looking dish of the night.  It tastes best with all of the ingredients eaten together, in one bite.  Leave any element out, however, and the dish just was not the same.

Another great presentation:  Two “scarpettas” of semolina bread served in a cigar box, intended for the remaining pasta sauce.

The third courses are divided into fish, meat and vegetables.  I went the vegetable route with the wild mushrooms, turnips, Tuscan kale and honey, and I am glad that I did.  The meaty, umami-packed mushrooms certainly did not make us miss meat.  Marnay’s striped bass with bacala, potatoes, black garlic and a brown butter sauce was a heavy misfire.

Dessert included more free bites, such as passionfruit sorbet with coconut crema and pineapple salsa.  This was truly one of our favorite parts of the meal.  I ordered a plate of poached rhubarb with lychee ricotta spuma, preserved lemon meringue and rhubarb sorbet.  Marnay got the crostata al marmellata, which was a spiced pasta frolla, preserves, berries, malted milk gelato and almonds.  We each really enjoyed our desserts.  My favorite part was the cool, soft sorbet with the crispy meringue and the spuma eaten all together.  Marnay liked how her dessert looked simple but clearly involved a tremendous amount of skill.  Our check came along with cannoli and a housemade lemon gelee.

The only quibble I have with Masseria is that the servers tend to be absent most of the meal.  This is a good thing in the sense that you are saved from unwanted intrusions, but it does lead to glasses being left empty for long periods of time.

Masseria is an experience with the food to match.  It is not an “everyday” restaurant but for special occasions, it is a great choice.

Best Bite
Paul: Sweetbreads
Marnay: Linguine with XO sauce

Best Sip
The Toronto

Address
Masseria: 1340 4th Street, NE, Washington, DC 20002
Closest Metro: Noma