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

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

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Sally’s Middle Name

Many restaurants in Philadelphia have a “neighborhood” vibe – relaxed, intimate, unpretentious—possibly because of the low rents and less demand for older housing stock which can be used to create smaller restaurants. We are always on the lookout for restaurants with this vibe in DC, and were pleasantly surprised when we found Sally’s Middle Name.

Sally’s Middle Name restaurant

The restaurant has two levels: downstairs is decorated with white subway tiles and was bustling with the din of diners when we arrived. Upstairs, where we sat, was calmer and felt more like someone’s home. In fact, it is so much like a person’s home the upstairs bathroom even has a shower. The entire menu, including drinks and dessert, is written on a full-size chalk board on the wall. While I think this approach is cute, it is frustrating to have to keep getting up to check the board. We took a picture with our phones, but everyone may not recognize that as an option.

Sally’s Middle Name cocktails and menu chalk board

Sally’s Middle Name is a small plates restaurant. We have noticed that servers at small plates restaurants tend to recommend an absurd amount of food—a suggestion of three to four dishes per person is not uncommon. It was a breath of fresh air, then, when our server at Sally’s Middle Name recommended 3 to 4 dishes total, meant to be shared. That immediately endeared us to the place.

We ordered four dishes, and we ordered them all at the same time: the housemade bread and butter, the cucumber salad, the braised collard greens with Szechuan pork and the seared scallops. The result was that all four dishes came out at the same time. Not a good look, in my opinion. I would have been much more annoyed, though, if our server demanded that we order four dishes per person and then eight dishes came out at the same time. If that were the case, we would have needed to steal a neighboring table.

Sally’s Middle Name housemade bread and butter, the cucumber salad, the braised collard greens with Szechuan pork and the seared scallops

Anyway, the housemade white and wheat breads were delicious and a great start to the meal. They were even better with creamy housemade butter, although the white bread would have been fine on its own. For our remaining three dishes, we mixed and matched bites, not eating the dishes in any particular order. The collards appropriately got top billing, as this was a collard dish and not a pork dish—not that we minded. It was a play on traditional Southern collard greens, cooked with spicy Szechuan pork instead of a more traditional ham hock. We first got a major hit of ginger and then the lingering spice of Szechuan peppercorns.

Both of us were big fans of the buttery seared scallops served with a sauce of fermented turnips, lightly smeared on plate. The scallops were then topped with pea shoots, a nice taste of early summer. The cucumber salad, on the other hand, could have used some salt, even with a dressing of fermented carrots.

All of the portions at Sally’s Middle Name were reasonable in size, so we had room for dessert. We got an impressive Olive Oil cake with strawberry jam. The jam and the olive oil cake, which actually tasted like olive oil, were a perfect match.

Sally's Middle Name Olive Oil cake with strawberry jam

Based on atmosphere alone, we would go back to Sally’s Middle Name. We loved the lack of pretense, and oh yeah, the food wasn’t bad either.

Best Bite
Paul: Olive Oil Cake
Marnay: Scallops

Address
Sally’s Middle Name: 1320 H Street NE Washington, DC 20002
Clsoest metro: Union Station to H Street Streetcar

Vedge

We had quite a weekend adventure in Philadelphia recently, which included visits to Martha for drinks, American Sardine Bar for snacks and beer and culminating in dinner at Vedge. Vedge is located in a historic townhouse in Midtown Village, Philadelphia. We were seated in a small side room in front of a fireplace and beneath whimsical chandelier made out of spoons.

Vedge in Philadelphia

The menu is divided into “The Vedge Bar”, mostly cold small plates, “The Grill”, which is the entrée section and finally “The Dirt List” which are sides. We started out with the beautiful “Fancy Radishes”, which were served sashimi-style. Four types of radishes: watermelon, spanish, meat and daikon are splayed on top of various accompaniments including yuzu avocado, pickled tofu, shishito and shredded zucchini along with a spoonful of smoked tamari for dipping. Of course, similar to sushi, we made sure to only dip the radish end in the tamari! Served at the same time was the avocado stuffed with pickled cauliflower “fried rice” and held in a rice cracker shell. It was pleasant, particularly the way the creamy texture contrasted with the crunch of the rice cracker.

Vedge: Fancy Radishes and Avocado stuffed with pickled cauliflower “fried rice”

From the grill, we got a gigantic wood roasted carrot and the eggplant braciole. Every time I went to take a forkful of the braciole, I expected it to be biting into an Italian sausage—the resemblance was uncanny. The rolled smoked eggplant is stuffed with cured olives and mushrooms, seared at what must be an extremely hot temperature and served with salsa verde. The eggplant tasted more like meat than meat does at some lesser restaurants.

Vedge eggplant braciole

The wood-roasted carrot is Vedge’s take on a Reuben. It’s a huge carrot cut lengthwise and served on top of a white-bean puree, garbanzos and pumpernickel toast with carrot kraut off to the side. This is the dish that we have been raving about since our visit. We noticed that our server brought out our entrees about a minute before our sides. We think that this was so we could fully appreciate the entrees and not get overwhelmed by all of the food on our table.

Vedge wood-roasted carrot

To keep our carrots & eggplant company, we ordered nebrodini mushrooms served in the style of fazoletti pasta with charred ramp butter and roasted cherry tomatoes as sauce. We also got the campfire potatoes and shaved brussels sprouts. The char from the nebrodini mushrooms dish was evident in the ramp butter, although the ramp flavor was a little more subtle. For those not aware, ramps are everyone’s favorite foraged vegetable. The fazoletti was very tender with a pleasant mouthfeel and had been truly transformed into pasta cooked al dente.

Our campfire potatoes with black garlic tahini and za’atar was good enough, but not transformed. That seems like a high bar to set for a dish, and admittedly it is, but it was just that all of the other things we ordered at Vedge were SO unique that a simple dish of potatoes didn’t quite cut it for us.

Vedge nebrodini mushrooms, campfire potatoes and shaved brussels sprouts

Dessert seemed like the most difficult dish to pull off without dairy, but Vedge knocked it out of the park. The Chocolate Uber Chunk, consisted of malt custard, pretzels and peanut butter and stout ice cream served three different ways. The ramekin filled with layers of custard and crunchy peanuts and pretzels was one of our best bites of the night.

Vedge dessert

One of my concerns about Vedge, and perhaps I was being naïve, was that we would walk away hungry. That CERTAINLY was not the case. Beyond just being delicious, it was inspiring the way that vegetables can be transformed into a hearty meal.

Best Bite
Paul: Fancy radishes
Marnay: Wood-roasted carrot

Address
Vedge: 1221 Locust Street Philadelphia, PA 19107

Marcel’s

Thanks to a generous OpenTable gift card we received from our family for Christmas, we were able to have dinner at Marcel’s, the French-Belgian fine-dining destination in the West End. From 5:00pm-6:30pm each night, Marcel’s offers a $70 per person pre-theater menu. You can choose from one of three options for a first course, main and dessert. When it’s all said and done, you get whisked away in a town car to the Kennedy Center. When we were first seated, our server asked us what time our show was so that the kitchen could get could get the timing down.

Marcel’s, the French-Belgian fine-dining destination in the West End

For our first course, the local mixed green salad with shaved cucumber, beet, carrot and sherry vinaigrette topped with shaved cheese was a master-course in proper seasoning and texture. Meanwhile, the duck confit tortellini with black trumpet mushrooms and scallions in a parmesan cream sauce was the definition of decadence. We both forgot what was stuffed inside the pasta because all of the flavors went so well together.

Marcel's duck confit tortellini

Marcel's local mixed green salad

Mains included pan-seared Norwegian salmon with lobster risotto and English peas and the New York strip steak with potato gratin and white asparagus matchsticks in a cabernet reduction. The salmon had an impossibly crisp skin, but it was the lobster risotto, with its huge chunks of sweet lobster, that stole the show. The New York strip compared favorably to the “DC Steakhouse” course at Pineapples & Pearls, thoroughly seasoned and with a nearly complete absence of grit and gristle. Chef Paul Stearman cooked the steak to medium rare, which is his preference, but the server gave me the option of choosing something else if that is what I wanted.

Marcel's pan-seared Norwegian salmon with lobster risotto

Marcel's New York strip steak with potato gratin

Dessert is where we encountered a minor hiccup in the meal’s pacing. Everything had been planned out just so, but the restaurant did not account for the fact that the hot chocolate soufflé would take longer than our other dessert. As a result, we arrived at the Kennedy Center minutes before our show started. It didn’t affect our experience at either Marcel’s of the Kennedy Center, though.

The hot chocolate soufflé with raspberry white chocolate ice cream was a showstopper. Our server punctured the inflated soufflé, added the ice cream in the middle and then doused everything with hot chocolate. We also got the chocolate mousse with crispy praline, chocolate caramel sauce and a cocoa nib tuille. The best part was the praline on the bottom, although the whole dessert was good. The soufflé was just amazing, though.

Marcel's chocolate mousse with crispy praline

Marcel's hot chocolate soufflé with raspberry white chocolate ice cream

Marcel’s is one of the best examples of old-school fine dining in DC, and the complementary town car ride to the Kennedy Center put it over the top. However, the food is anything but old-school.

Marcels, Marnay and Paul

Best Bite
Paul: Hot Chocolate Soufflé
Marnay: Duck Confit Tortellini

Address
Marcel’s: 2401 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20037
Closest Metro: Foggy Bottom

Ultimate Staunton Weekend

Friday

Staunton weekend was birthday weekend for me. We picked out Staunton because of the fact that we could take Amtrak there and because there was a restaurant that we wanted to try. Of course, we have taken Amtrak many times. However, we had never taken this line or been on these tracks before. I was SO excited!

On Friday morning, we got Shake Shack breakfast at Union Station. We enjoyed our greasy (in a good way) sausage and egg sandwiches and before we knew it, we were boarding Amtrak Cardinal train 52 en route to Chicago. The trip took a little over four hours and it brought us through the Blue Ridge Mountains of southwestern Virginia. We got some picturesque views of the Shenandoah Valley after we left Charlottesville.

Once we arrived in Staunton, we walked from the station to our Airbnb. I would describe it as a fancy treehouse located on the fourth floor of a 19th century mansion, with a scenic rooftop deck.

Staunton Virginia Airbnb

We started our tour of Staunton by scaling the steep streets to the highest point, Mary Baldwin College. The main building of the college is a great example of Greek-revival architecture, slightly resembling the White House.

Mary Baldwin College

Hungry from our journey, we had an early dinner at Taste of India where we enjoyed two different types of naan, Lamb Rogan Josh and Aloo Tikka.

Taste of India

We happened to go to Staunton during their annual holiday event, known as Sparkles & Sweets. All of the stores on Beverley Street are open later than usual and they give out cookies and refreshments. Many have live music and events. Our Airbnb host owns an antique store, which was having an art show that night in their “Artisans Loft.”

Later on in the night, we checked out Yelping Dog Wine, a retail store which also served wine by the glass. Each of us had two glasses of Virginia wine. After that, we were tired and ready to call it a night.

Yelping Dog Wine

Saturday

We woke up early to go to the Staunton Farmers Market. There were a lot of vendors selling root vegetables, as you would expect this time of year. More surprising was a food truck serving Salvadoran food, which I would not expect in this corner of Appalachia.

Next, we took a self-guided tour of the 19th century homes in the Gospel Hill neighborhood. There is some truly stunning architecture in this area.

Staunton Virginia architecture

Staunton Virginia architecture

After traipsing around Gospel Hill, we walked north and checked out Gypsy Hill Park and sat around the duck pond. We watched the birds and the children trying to play with them.

Paul standing at Gypsy Hill Park

On the walk back, we shared a maple bacon doughnut from Rolling Pin Pastries. Rolling Pin is only open 3 hours a day, 3 days a week and the doughnut was one of my best bites of the weekend.

Rolling Pin Pastries: maple bacon doughnut

Still hungry, we shared a bratwurst sandwich with local sausage from By & By. At this point, we had done a lot of walking and a lot of snacking, so we headed back to the treehouse to nap. The big activity of the day, anyway, was dinner at The Shack.

The Shack lives up to its name; it really is a shack, and in a less than desirable location at that. These factors allow the chef, Ian Boden, to focus on food rather than trying to make rent. By the way, our Airbnb hosts were actually the chef’s parents! They were very nice and welcoming to us.

We went with the four course pre-fixe meal at The Shack. Both the food and the hospitality met our high expectations. Some highlights included crispy sunchokes and sweet potatoes with black garlic and chile dressing, squid ink rigatoni with pesto, crispy garlic chips and bottarga and an apple fry pie.

The Shack: Squid Ink Rigatoni

The Shack: Farro Pappardelle

The Shack: Lambchette

The Shack: Wild Black Bass

Sunday

On Sunday morning, we made coffee and enjoyed the mountain views from our Airbnb’s rooftop deck one last time. Next, we walked down the hill on Beverley Street for bagel sandwiches at the By & By.

By & By bagels

Fortified by breakfast, we walked up a very steep hill in the Sears Hill neighborhood. Our reward was the overlook at Wilson Park, where we got a view of the entire town. We stopped in Gospel Hill to see the homes and then got a quick lunch to go at Cranberry’s Grocery & Eatery, a natural foods store.

Wilson Park

At 2:03pm, exactly on time, Amtrak Train 50 stopped at Staunton and we started our journey home. I am emphasizing the fact that it was on time because the train left Chicago at 5:45pm Saturday!

Staunton makes a great weekend trip from the DC area and is accessible by public transportation. It has a perfect combination of history, nature and food. We highly recommend it!

Ultimate Staunton Weekend: Marnay and Paul

Where we went
Taste of India: 105 West Beverley Street Staunton, VA 24401
Yelping Dog Wine: 9 East Beverley Street Staunton, VA 24401
Gypsy Hill Park: 600 Churchville Avenue Staunton, VA 24401
Rolling Pin Pastries: 302 N Central Ave Staunton, VA 24401
By & By: 140 East Beverley Street Staunton, VA 24401
The Shack: 105 S Coalter Street Staunton, VA 24401
Cranberry’s Grocery & Eatery: 7 S New Street Staunton, VA 24401

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

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

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

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