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

Advertisements

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

Serpico

We were in the Philadelphia area visiting family for Thanksgiving, and since we needed a break from the traditional Thanksgiving turkey and assorted sides, we took advantage by having dinner at Serpico. Serpico, from James Beard Award-winning chef Peter Serpico and acclaimed restauranteur Stephen Starr, is located on a gritty two block stretch of South Street. Inside however, the space is full of handsome dark woods and has a completely open kitchen, full of buzzing cooks.

Serpico restaurant in Philadelphia

If you have been reading this blog, you may know that we are big fans of the Philadelphia dining scene. In fact, the Monday before our trip, I received in the mail Craig Le Ban’s Ultimate Dining Guide which I read cover to cover in anticipation. Craig Le Ban, by the way, is the widely respected long-time Philadelphia Inquirer food critic and I was excited to check out another one of his favorites. It also gave us a chance to have a meal with my Mom and Grandmother, neither whom we had seen in some time.

Confit carrot in butter foam with crispy phyllo, ginger sauce and thyme is a stunner. You will want to cut a slice of tender root vegetable and scoop up as much foam as possible, the experience bringing back memories of buttered popcorn at the movies. Expertly crafted cocktails include a classic white negroni as well as walnut-infused mezcal with manzanilla sherry, smoked maple and mole bitters.

Serpico confit carrot in butter foam with crispy phyllo

A beet and goat cheese salad with pistachio, kohlrabi and thai basil showcases winter’s fruits and vegetables and is a beauty of a presentation, the best of the night. After these two dishes, though, it would have been nice to get new plates. I understand that restaurants do not have unlimited resources but this is a high-end restaurant and I didn’t want to eat the rest of my meal on a blood orange stained plate.

Serpico beet and goat cheese salad

Spicy rice cakes, accurately described by the server as being similar to gnocchi, are enveloped in a sauce of XO, gochujang, white sesame and scallion. The texture from the rice flour makes the cakes gummy and chewy and we enjoyed every bite. The sauce was a huge hit at our table—my grandmother actually scooped up spoonfuls of sauce long after the rice cakes were gone.

Serpico spicy rice cakes

The slow poached halibut with charred cabbage, pistachios and raisins gets its “skin” from a light breading and a quick detour to the frying pan, the real skin having been removed. Olives can sometimes be overpowering, but the green olive sauce shows that the kitchen understands this and correctly gives them a supporting role to the halibut.

Serpico slow poached halibut

A seafood stew with mussels, scallops, charred brussels sprouts and butternut squash in a tomato dashi has pleasantly chewy clams and squid and showcases more of winter’s harvest. But at a restaurant where food is meant to be shared, it would have made sense to give everyone bowls instead of plates for the broth. Eating soup from a bowl was futile and I just gave up trying to enjoy the broth.

Serpico seafood stew

We finished the meal with tender slices of short rib in a glaze of whole grain mustard with grilled broccoli and fried potatoes. I did not think much of this dish initially, but in the last few days since our meal I’ve had the taste and texture of the short rib on my mind. It’s actually become the second most memorable dish of the meal, after the spicy rice cakes. If you can get past the location, and really, it is not that bad…Serpico is well worth a trip. And if you enjoy good food, get the spicy rice cakes.

Best Bite
Paul and Marnay: Spicy rice cakes

Address
Serpico: 604 South Street Philadelphia, PA 19147
Closest Public Transit: Lombard South Broad Street Line Station

Whaley’s

Marnay works near Farragut Square and I take the MARC train to Baltimore, so the perfect spot for us to meet after work is Union Station.  On a beautiful Wednesday, we met up and went to Whaley’s in the Navy Yard by the fastest and easiest way possible…Bikeshare!

Whaley's Navy Yard

Whaley’s is a raw bar and seafood restaurant  from the team behind DGS, appropriately set on the Anacostia waterfront.  I have been really into Italian apertivos lately, especially since I started reading Spritz by Talia Baiocchi and Leslie Pariseau, so I ordered an Americano.  An Americano is made of Campari, sweet vermouth and soda water. Marnay got House Cocktail #2, which is a refreshing combination of gin, yellow chartreuse, tarragon, cucumber and lemon.

We sat at the large wrap around bar, near the very prominently displaced raw bar.  Whaley’s is rather small on the inside, although there appears to be just as much outdoor waterfront seating as indoor seating.  Tempted by the aforementioned raw bar, we got poached Gulf shrimp from Alabama as well as 6 local oysters from New Jersey, Virginia and Maryland.  We rarely see oysters from New Jersey around here, so I was excited to try them.

Whaley's raw bar

No exaggeration, these were the best oysters we have ever had.  They were perfectly shucked with absolutely no grit and chilled to the perfect temperature.  The shrimp were huge and  buttery and something I would get again without hesitation.

We still haven’t gotten to my favorite dish!  We ordered the crispy fried squash blossoms, filled with the same shrimp and placed on top of a swipe of ginger aioli.  The blossoms are then topped with chives and esplette pepper.  The squash blossoms actually come from the same town in Alabama as the shrimp.

Whaley's squash blossoms

Whaley’s is very new and we noticed a few hiccups, mainly with bartenders not remembering how to make drinks and servers not sure where to bring plates.  These were minor and they did not directly affect us, we just could hear a lot from our perch at the bar.

I recommend Whaley’s if you are in the mood for quality raw seafood at reasonable prices and an A+ view.  We will be back!

Best Bite
Paul: Squash blossoms
Marnay: Oysters

Address
Whaley’s: 301 Water Street, SE #115 Washington, DC 20003
Closest Metro: Navy Yard

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