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

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

Vernick Food & Drink

This is not something that I say lightly, but our meal at Vernick Food & Drink was the best all-around meal we have ever had.  It started before we even got there.  We were running a little late for our reservation, so I called to let the restaurant know.  When we arrived, the hostess was genuinely thrilled that we let them know.

We were dining with Marnay’s good friend Tracy as well as Marnay’s Mom, who has joined us for a number of the dining adventures featured on this blog.  The hostess led us back through the bar to the narrow dining room in front of the open kitchen.  Our table was in the section of the dining room that was right in front of Chef Vernick.  It was actually a better location than the chef’s counter, at the opposite end.  The smell from the kitchen was intoxicating as soon as we sat down.

The menu is separated into toast, raw, vegetables, small plates, large plates and simply roasted from the wood oven.  Vernick is famous for its toast, so we knew for sure that would be an essential part of our meal.   Before we made any decision, though, we ordered some drinks.  Marnay’s Mom and Tracy got glasses of cava and Marnay had a glass of Sonoma Chardonnay.  I had a cocktail named El Chucho Roto, a mezcal and amaro based drink.  The amaro really cut out the smokiness of the mezcal.

After consulting with our server, we ordered the Maryland crab toast, the pumpkin and brown butter toast, the spaghetti squash salad with a crispy egg and mushroom leek vinaigrette, the pasta special with homemade spaghetti, olive oil poached Icelandic cod in a spicy saffron tomato sauce, brussels sprouts in an ancho caramel sauce and finally, half of a roasted organic Amish chicken in a lemon herb jus.  Our incredible server asked if she could take the liberty of pacing out the dishes for us, which the restaurant did beautifully.

First came an amuse bouche of celery root soup w/ spicy arugula oil in an espresso cup, for drinking.  Our first official course was the crab toast with a lemon aioli and the spaghetti squash.   The spaghetti squash had a breaded, fried poached egg sitting in the middle which our server suggested that we break open first.  That way, the runny yolk would become the sauce for the squash.    The toast, cut in threes, is intended to be shared.  When we started biting into in, the entire table fell silent.  The toast was thick but not so thick so that you couldn’t bite into it, with just the right amount of crunch.  The crab was extremely fresh and tasted like the sea.

Once we were done, the server brought our next course about three minutes later.  We thought that the pumpkin and brown butter toast might be sweet, but we were pleasantly surprised to find that the rich pumpkin only had a touch of sweetness.

After we finished the toast, our server brought us a chili vinegar for the roasted chicken.  As an example of how great our server was, Marnay asked her what was in the vinegar.  Our server knew every ingredient, down to the toasted fennel.  It was as if she made it herself.

Before our next course, we ordered a second round of drinks.  Marnay got another chardonnay and her Mom and Tracy got more cava.  I, however, wanted to test our server.  I told her that I wanted a local beer—the style didn’t matter, but since we don’t live in the area, I want something local.  She stared at me for a few seconds and then asked, “Do you like sour beers?”  I love sour beers!  It was almost as if she stared into my soul.  She recommended a saison from Tired Hands that’s brewed with salt and citrus.

When the rest of our order came out, we received potatoes and shishito peppers “complements of Chef Greg.”  We had been praising him and pointing at the kitchen all night, mesmerized by what was going on, and he must have heard us!   He was so focused all night, though.  It was a wonder to watch.

The chicken was possibly the most perfectly seasoned roasted chicken any of us had ever had.  It went very fast.

The cod in the homemade spaghetti was broken into small pieces, which reminded me of shrimp.  The brussels sprouts were at once smoky and hot from the ancho and sweet from the caramel.  The flavors were intense, but they balanced out nicely.

When we first ordered, I mentioned that we could always take home leftovers if we were ordering too much.  That certainly was not necessary!  All that was left was a few brussels sprouts.

After a meal this great, of course we had to get dessert.  We got the toasted walnut maple pie with bourbon ice cream as well as the chocolate crisp ice cream.  The pie tasted like a much, much better version of a pecan pie and the bourbon ice cream was rich, dense and flavorful.

As we were leaving, we noticed that the Chef took a break from what he was doing.  He waited until we put our coats and then personally thanked us for coming.  We did not see him do that for anyone else.

A little touch like that just set us over the edge from a great meal to an exceptional meal.  All four of us agreed that this was probably the best all-around meal ever.  We felt like we were treated like VIPs.

Best Bite
Marnay: Crab Toast
Paul: Spaghetti Squash Salad with Crispy Egg

Best sip
Marnay and Paul: El Chucho Roto

Address
Vernick Food & Drink: 2031 Walnut Street Philadelphia, PA 19103

Ripple

On Friday night, we met at Union Station after work and took the metro to Cleveland Park to go to Ripple. We were 30 minutes early for our 7:30 reservation, but the hostess immediately walked us through the long, narrow bar area to our seats in the small dining area. She even took our coats.

I noticed that the bar area had a grilled cheese station manned by a student from L’Academie de Cuisine in Gaithersburg (he was wearing an LADC chef’s hat), which I thought was a nice opportunity. The décor and concept of Ripple is very similar to Jackie’s; colorful dining area, couch-like seating, etc. The only difference is that the flannel-clad servers at Ripple are a bit more relaxed than the servers at Jackie’s. It’s hands-off service, which can be refreshing.

  

We knew that we wanted a bottle of wine and since Ripple’s wine list is huge, we asked our server for her recommendation. We let her know that we wanted a Pinot Noir or something similar for around $50. She recommended a 2013 St. Innocent Village Cuvee Pinot Noir from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. (Coincidentally, I had been reading an interesting article on 2013 Oregon Pinot Noir That afternoon) Since they also sold it by the glass, she let us try a little before we decided!

  

We were brought fresh, pillowy-soft rolls with what taste like everything bagel seasoning. I would buy these if they sold them, they were so good.

  

We had our first two courses brought out to us at the same time: Marinated endive with roasted baby beets, walnut butter and blood orange and then venison tartare with juniper scented yogurt, smoked egg yolk and sunchoke chips. The roasted beets went well with the walnut butter. While the endive was nice and bitter and good on its own, it did not go as well with the butter. The best part of the tartare was the smoked egg yolk. It brought so much richness as well as an intensely smoky flavor.

We shared a main course of hot smoked sablefish with horseradish crème fraiche, marble potatoes and dill. Sablefish, or black cod, is similar to Chilean Sea Bass. The fish was so smoky it reminded me of bacon, though it still had the consistency of a flaky white fish. The root vegetables went well with the fish, but there was a little too much crème fraiche on the potatoes. Ripple focuses on serving seasonal products, which is why there were a lot of hardy root vegetables on the menu.

 

We wanted to try a little bit of everything, so we had charcuterie with our main course. We ordered prosciutto di Parma, bresaola (air-dried beef) and house made duck prosciutto. The meats went well with the flatbread crackers they were served with.

We had eaten a lot at this point, but the dessert list was too good to pass up. Warm cranberry apple cobbler with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top served in a mini cast-iron skillet.  

  

We were treated very well at Ripple. The food was good and I am pretty sure that we will go back and sit in the bar area. I can’t say that the food was that much different than other fine-dining restaurants throughout the region. The relaxed service may give Ripple an edge over the others, however.

Address
3417 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008
Closest Metro: Cleveland Park

Bartlett Pear Inn

We stayed in Easton during my birthday weekend, our first trip to this part of the Eastern Shore. I let the restaurant know on the opentable reservation that this was my birthday dinner. When we walked in, the hostess sat us in this little private alcove by the window. Sitting on the table was a “Happy Birthday” envelope and inside was a note signed by every member of the staff! Even the chef! This gesture was only a sign of things to come.

The restaurant is in a historic house and it is very cozy. It really feels like you were invited to a dinner party at someone’s home. The place reminded us of the Kitchen at Rock Hall, a little further up the Eastern Shore, which unfortunately is no longer in existence.

The first thing that I noticed about our server was a jarring lack of polish. I thought about it for a while, and then I remember that this place is on the rural Eastern Shore. There is not exactly a large pool of experienced servers who have worked in a fine dining atmosphere.

We started with a half bottle of Sancerre Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley. A good wine will complement an occasion, and this wine only made the night better. Before we ordered, we were served a house made baguette from the Inn baker, along with butter molded in the shape of a pear and sprinkled with coarse black pepper and salt.

We could not decide on our entrees, so we put in an order for the Duo of Tuna Tartare. Half of the dish was slices of raw tuna crusted in what tasted like Old Bay and then sprinkled with coarse salt. The Old-Bay-like crust was different, but I liked the familiar taste of the spice blend. The coarse salt could have been applied more evenly, however. I got a few bites with no salt.

The other half of the dish was a more traditional tartare, with small chunks of raw tuna in what tasted like a sesame oil marinade. Rounding out the dish were roasted beets in a very light cream sauce, raw almonds and a black and white sesame seed cracker.

All of the dishes at the restaurant are served in the modernist-style, with very small portions and beautiful arrangements. For Marnay’s entrée, she got Rhode Island Sea Scallops with beluga lentils, swiss chard and bacon lardons. The bacon made everything SO deliciously smoky and the large scallops were perfectly seared.

I got the seared duck breast with pickled walnuts, baby greens, pomegranate-quinoa and a cherry dark-chocolate jus. We shared our entrees, each eating about half and were happy with how they came out.

Afterwards, we decided that we had room for dessert. Marnay got a scoop of house made vanilla ice cream, while I opted for a pear liquor. Much to our surprise, the server came out with a chocolate soufflé and crème anglaise! Dessert was incredible and was our favorite part of the meal. The chocolate soufflé with crème anglaise poured in the center may have been my favorite dessert EVER. And the vanilla ice cream had such an intense yet balanced vanilla flavor that I am still thinking about it. Who would have thought, memorable vanilla ice cream!

I want to reserve the last part of this post to talk about how genuinely warm every member of the staff was at the Bartlett Pear Inn. This was a birthday meal that I will not soon forget, and I would go back in a heartbeat next year!

Address
Bartlett Pear Inn: 28 S Harrison St, Easton, MD 21601

Woodberry Kitchen

Woodberry Kitchen is from 2015 James Beard Award winning chef Spike Gjerde in Baltimore’s Woodberry neighborhood, just off the Woodberry light rail stop. The chef is almost obsessive about getting all of his products from local farms, finding products that haven’t been used in generations and then making as much as possible in-house. Interestingly, Woodberry Kitchen uses many of the same products and has a similar mentality to Husk in Charleston. Eating at Woodberry Kitchen was a little like being back in Charleston.

The restaurant is in a huge converted barn, with multiple levels of seating plus an outdoor patio. Our table wasn’t ready when we arrived, so we waited outside around a fire pit. It was a breezy, overcast night, so the fire pit was welcome.

Our table was upstairs, with a commanding view of the dining room as well as a partial view of the open kitchen. I (Paul) had the luxury of being able to see the list of homemade ice creams available that night. To drink, Marnay had “To Betty June”, a mocktail made of Jasmine peach tea, verjus, honey, Woodberry Kitchen mint and sparkling water. I had Millstone Hopvine hard cider. The cider was very tart, as it was intended to be, since it was made with sour apples. Sweet, mass produced stuff it was not! (I’m looking at you Angry Orchard)

We ordered one snack and one small plate as our appetizer. We considered making a meal out of small plates, since usually all you need is a few bites to fully appreciate a dish. Our “snack” was Bartlett Pears Out of the Oven, which was Bartlett pears cooked in the wood oven and then drizzled with alfalfa honey and hillbilly salt, also known as seasoned salt. I think that we both agree that this was our favorite dish of the evening. We had been looking forward to ordering it and were hoping that it would still be on the menu. We also ordered the Watermelon Salad, which had Heirloom tomato, black walnut, pickled watermelon rind, watermelon dressing and apricotta. The apricots added great sweetness to the dish, especially when eaten with the acidity of the tomatoes.

For our main courses, Marnay had Maryland Rockfish Out of the Oven, with roasted La Ratte potatoes, Jimmy Nardello peppers, fennel, peanut dressing and pepper jam. The wood oven roasted rockfish and the peanut dressing went very well together. I had Cape May, NJ Yellowfin Tuna with buttered Carolina Gold rice, roasted haricot vert, red-chile shire sauce (worcestershire sauce) and benne seeds. Carolina Gold rice and benne seeds are two quintessential Charleston ingredients. Woodberry Kitchen was similar to Husk, but better on all levels (in my opinion). Which is good because it’s a heck of a lot closer to us! I ordered the tuna rare, with enough searing on the outside to form a crust. It was hands down the best looking piece of tuna that I’ve ever seen, and it tasted just as fresh. No doubt my favorite piece of tuna ever.

As an end to our meal, we had a liquid dessert called “The Clean Slate.” It consisted of a shot of Distillery Lane Celebration Cider (another local cider), a shot of espresso and a shot of Fernet, taken in that order. We shared the shots, each taking half a shot each. The “Clean Slate” was one of my favorite endings to a meal ever. Another ending to a meal that sticks out in my mind as being special was our birthday dinners at the Kitchen at Rock Hall. Since we can’t go back there again, Woodberry Kitchen will certainly do!

Address
Woodberry Kitchen: 1020 Race St, Philadelphia, PA 19107