Himitsu

Himitsu has been open for almost 3 years, but the fact that it did not accept reservations gave us pause every time we considered going. The restaurant is tiny and we never felt like standing in line for hours. However, they finally started taking reservations a few months ago. With a place as small as Himitsu, though, actually getting a reservation isn’t easy. We were fortunate enough to snag a reservation on a Tuesday night, the week of Valentine’s Day.

Himitsu restaurant in Petworth, DC

We told our server up front that we were not drinking alcohol and she accommodated us with a non-alcoholic cocktail simply called “Orange-Ginger.” A frequent concern about mocktails is that they often skew sweet, but this one had a nice kick from the ginger which balanced the orange’s natural sweetness.

Orange Ginger cocktails at Himitsu restaurant in Petworth, DC

We started out with the “French Onion Dip” with chives and ranch powder, which is meant to evoke Lays’ French Onion Dip. Believe it or not, I have made it 32 years without eating French onion dip, so the flavors were new to me! But if all French onion dip tastes like Himitsu’s, I certainly will not be going another 32 years before eating it again. The best part of the dish was the deep, narrow bowl of seasonal veggies, all you could see were the green tops which made it feel like reaching into a garden and not knowing which veggie you were going to get.

French Onion Dip appetizer at Himitsu restaurant in Petworth, DC

Vegetarians take note – you can eat well at Himitsu. In fact, three of our four dishes were vegetarian. Marnay thought that the vegan Nasu Dengaku, thin slices of grilled eggplant in a Szechuan black bean paste with pickled red onions, tasted more like pork belly than a vegetable. The eggplant tasted like so many different amazing textures and flavors I couldn’t decide what it reminded me of. Whatever it was, it was thrilling—and very spicy.

Vegan Nasu Dengaku eggplant at Himitsu restaurant in Petworth, DC

The piece de resistance, as our server put it (to our table to and to all the tables surrounding us), is the kaarage fried chicken in a gochujang glaze. It is served with hot housemade buttermilk biscuits that easily break in half, Japanese mayo and pickles. Those easy-to-break biscuits come in handy for making sandwiches, which is the way the chef intends that you eat it. As Marnay put it, this may have been one of her favorite “first-bites” in a long time. It was so crunchy and flavorful, with a little bit of heat from the gochujang. The thing that puts it over the top, though, is the salt sprinkled on top of the biscuits.

Kaarage Fried Chicken with buttermilk biscuits at Himitsu restaurant in Petworth, DC

The service at Himitsu is relaxed and professional, if perhaps a bit scripted. That being said, the restaurant is so small and cozy every meal feels like a special occasion. There is no doubt that we will be back soon.

Best Bite
Paul: Eggplant in Szechuan black bean sauce
Marnay: Kaarage Fried Chicken

Address
Himitsu: 828 Upshur St, NW Washington, DC 20011
Closest Metro: Georgia Avenue – Petworth

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Rye Street Tavern

I work in downtown Baltimore and wanted to have a fun daytime adventure before the end of 2018. So, before the holidays, Marnay met me for lunch at Andrew Carmellini’s Rye Street Tavern, in the Port Covington section of south Baltimore.

The restaurant, for now, is nearly all alone in Port Covington. The only exceptions are a few industrial buildings, an UnderArmour office and the restaurant’s sibling distillery, Sagamore Spirits. Down the line, though, this will be a large mixed-used area that will grow around the restaurant. As of now it is a destination spot with an incredible waterfront location. On nice days (such as the day we dined), the windows are opened for a cooling breeze.

Paul and Marnay Meyer standing outside Rye Street Tavern in Port Covington, Baltimore, Maryland

Since the restaurant is isolated from residential areas, we were surprised to find it crowded on a workday. We went to the bar but had trouble finding two seats next to each other. We briefly had a feeling of helplessness until the wonderful bartender saw our plight and came out from behind the bar. She was able to play bar-patron Tetris and figured out a way for Marnay and I to sit next to each other. During the whole meal, in fact, she really went above and beyond!

The free cornbread to start the meal was a bit dry (but, hey, also free) but after that just about everything was fantastic. I opted for the $25 three-course prix-fixe, a good deal. The ember-roasted beets with sheep’s milk yogurt and candied hazelnuts tasted smoky like barbecue. Plus, the big chunks of sweet beets were so juicy they reminded me of watermelon, but with the texture of a root vegetable. The yogurt and the hazelnuts made it feel like a complete dish. Above all, the presentation was stunning.

Ember-roasted beets with sheep's milk yogurt and candied hazelnuts at Rye Street Tavern in Port Covington, Baltimore, Maryland

Marnay ordered the Southern-style fried chicken, Rye Street’s Tavern’s signature dish. It was perfectly seasoned, and we especially liked the housemade hot sauce, which the bartender encouraged us to use. It really only needed a little bit because it was well-seasoned already. The only disappointment was the honey-butter biscuit, which tasted like it had been drenched in melted butter.

Southern-style fried chicken with honey-butter biscuits at Rye Street Tavern in Port Covington, Baltimore, Maryland

I came in with low expectations for the rock shrimp tacos—after all Rye Street Tavern is a modern-American restaurant. But the battered and fried shrimp topped with pickled jalapenos and a fiery guajillo chile paste and young cilantro were quite good. I would even consider getting them again!

Rock shrimp tacos at Rye Street Tavern in Port Covington, Baltimore, Maryland

My prix fixe came with dessert, so we shared a slice of vanilla buttermilk pie. It was a tasty end to the meal. Throughout everything, our bartender did a fantastic job of taking care of all, as while still serving the other bar patrons. If I had gotten her name, I would have passed along a good word to the manager on the way out. On a nice day, it’s hard to top Rye Street Tavern’s waterfront setting as a place to grab a bite in Baltimore. I can definitely see us going back in the Spring when the weather is warmer.

Slice of vanilla buttermilk pie at Rye Street Tavern in Port Covington, Baltimore, Maryland

Best Bite
Paul and Marnay: Ember roasted beets

Address
Rye Street Tavern: 13 Rye Street Baltimore, MD 21230

Bindaas – Foggy Bottom

On a frigid Thursday night, Marnay and I checked out Bindaas at the Indian street food purveyor’s Foggy Bottom location. This was our first time at Bindaas (the original is located in Cleveland Park). Afterwards, the most important question in our head was – what took us so long?!?

Bindaas Indian street food in Foggy Bottom, DC

I started out with a masala lassi – a traditional yogurt and spiced based traditional Indian beverage. It was nearly savory, although with a touch of sweetness. We ordered four dishes, and once they are ready they start appearing rapid-fire. There isn’t much coursing, but since you are going to end up sharing everything it is not a big deal.

The puffy, pillowy olive oil naan was a great way to orient our palates from the work day to the Indian subcontinent. A wild mushroom uttapam, or rice pancake, was a mushroom bonanza. Not only that, though, it was quite spicy. A swab of mint raita proved to be a worthy foil.

Wild mushroom uttapam at Bindaas Indian street food in Foggy Bottom, DC

Then there was the shrimp bezule, or breaded and fried shrimp, which was pleasantly light. The modest-sized shrimp gave off a very distinct jalepeno flavor. A garnish of mustard seeds, toasted in oil, added a bit more crunch and heat.

Shrimp bezule at Bindaas Indian street food in Foggy Bottom, DC

We rounded the meal out with a chicken kathi wrap. The chicken tikka masala, wrapped in naan, was dripping with flavor. A little mint chutney on the side for dipping helped lighten things and give a contrast in temperatures (the wrap was really hot, temperature-wise). It seriously was cold on the night that we went to Bindaas. But the Indian comfort food really warmed our souls and left us wanting more.

Chicken kathi wrap at Bindaas Indian street food in Foggy Bottom, DC

Best Bite
Paul: Chicken Kathi Wrap
Marnay: Shrimp bezule

Address
Bindaas Foggy Bottom: 2000 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20006
Closest Metro: Farragut North or Farragut West

Park Place Café and Restaurant

“Hi Paul, not Tom”, was our greeting upon entering the beguiling Park Place Café and Restaurant, a six-table BYOB in sleepy Merchantville, NJ. Since the restaurant only takes reservations by voicemail, they thought I said my name was “Tom” when the restaurant called that afternoon to confirm. We thought it was clever to use that as a greeting when we walked through the door. It was a light-hearted, warm welcome.

We were greeted by Francesca, the restaurant’s relentlessly charming host and co-owner. Our table had four seats and the restaurant was a bit loud, so when it came time to order Francesca actually sat down next to Marnay to go over the specials and to take down our order. It made us feel like we were regulars, even though it was our first time.

The chef and co-owner Phil Manganero, runs the kitchen but also spends his days off foraging for ingredients. The restaurant also has its own garden and gets the rest from mainly local purveyors. Their vision for the restaurant, among a sea of red sauce Italian joints, is to create a “New Jersey Terroir.”

The “Kitchen Sink Salad”, a weekly special, is a good example of what they are trying to do. It’s a mix of just about every fresh and seasonal or foraged fruit and vegetable that was available that week. Our salad had wild purslane, wax beans, blackberries, blueberries, herbs from the garden and a few other things thrown in. This seems like a lot, but it made sense. All of the flavors came together in harmony, and they were tied together with a sublime vinaigrette.

Park Place Cafe Kitchen Sink Salad in Merchantville, NJ

The housemade rigatoni, which Francesca informed us that the chef had finished making just before service, showed great restraint. It’s Jersey tomato season, so the pasta highlighted a light tomato sauce and a bit of parmigiano reggiano on the rim of the plate. The dish was brilliant simplicity – there was nowhere for imperfections to hide. A lesser chef would have drowned the rigatoni in sauce – but the housemade rigatoni was way too good to do that and needed to shine on its own.

Park Place Cafe housemade rigatoni in Merchantville, NJ

We had seen on Instagram that Park Place was popular with wine aficionados and it did not disappoint. Shortly after we arrived, a table of six showed up, each person with three bottles of wine! I didn’t want to stare at them too long, but judging by the color of their white wine (almost brownish yellow) it had some serious age. It was entertaining to watch them pour each glass.

The olive oil poached tile fish, a special, was blitzed with shaved truffles and chanterelles. It was an umami bomb that was also intriguing because of its mix of temperatures – warm fish, cold chanterelles that tasted like they had been soaking (perhaps reconstituting?) in vinegar. Meanwhile, the poach in olive oil kept the white tile fish from overcooking.

Park Place Cafe olive oil poached tile fish and bottle of wine in Merchantville, NJ

The walnut cake for dessert reminded me a fancier version of my grandmother’s walnut rolls. Park Place takes it to a whole other level with a rich cream and extra walnuts placed on the side.

Park Place Café is a dream of a restaurant tucked away in Merchantville, NJ. Looking back, it’s hard to believe that place was real. If you live in the area, we strongly suggest that you check it out.

Best Bite
Paul and Marnay: Housemade Rigatoni with Jersey tomato sauce

Address
Park Place Café and Restaurant: 7 East Park Avenue, Merchantville, NJ 08109

Royal Nepal

Last Saturday, Marnay and I dined at Royal Nepal, located in the Del Ray section of Alexandria. Since Alexandria is a bit of a trip for us, we spent the afternoon walking around the Old Town Alexandria waterfront and then headed to dinner. The restaurant was crowded when we arrived at 7:30pm and there was a 15 minute wait for a table. Once inside, we encountered a dining experienced not typically associated with “cheap eats” restaurants.

outside

The staff set the tone as soon as we ordered drinks. I got a well-thought out cocktail with bourbon, walnut liquor, housemade cinnamon syrup and Angostura bitters. It even had a slow melting ice cube, which I think is practically a necessity these days. Meanwhile, when Marnay ordered her glass of California Pinot Noir, the sommelier presented the bottle to her and poured her a taste. This is even though she had only ordered a glass, not the whole bottle. You don’t see touches like that at even the most fine-dining of restaurants.

Now, this is a true Nepalese restaurant. It’s not a combination Indian/Nepalese restaurant. To give an indication of its authenticity, Royal Nepal places a piece of paper on each table describing the health benefits of eating yak.

The meal starts out with a gratis bread basket, sel roti, containing a cake doughnut-like object, alongside pickled vegetables that will have you breathing fire. Marnay marveled at the combination of the slightly sweet and cakey bread with the red-hot pickled vegetables.

bread

After that gratis bread, we ordered goat momo in a light tomato sauce. It seems like almost every culture has its version of dumplings, a momo is Nepal’s take. Goat is an acquired taste, but Marnay acquired it quickly and really enjoyed the dumplings! She was particularly impressed with how the dough held its soft texture even after being pan-fried.

We also ordered Aloo Sadheko, or steamed potatoes marinated with green chiles and spices. We have had potato dishes many times at Indian/Nepalese restaurants, and they are typically huge chunks of overcooked, dried out tubers. That is not the case at Royal Nepal, where small, uniform pieces of potato have a velvety texture and are slicked with chile oil along with balsamic vinegar for swiping.

dumplings

The showstopper was the lamb chops, sourced from local farms in Pennsylvania and Virginia and cooked to a perfect medium and then topped with mint chutney. Every single bite was tender, even the fatty parts. The chops are served alongside extremely rich duck fat fried rice, with pieces of pulled duck thrown into the mix. Blistered eggplant and sliced vegetables provide some welcome lightness to contrast all that meat. These may have been some of the best lamb chops we have ever had, and at $25 for a dish that can easily be shared among two people, it’s a steal.

lamb

If you want authentic Nepalese food with fining dining touches and careful sourcing, Royal Nepal in Alexandria is the place to go. It’s a little out of the way for us, but it’s a place we will definitely go back to.

Best Bite
Paul: Lamb Chops
Marnay: Sel roti with marinated vegetables

Address
Royal Nepal: 3807 Mt Vernon Avenue Alexandria, VA 22305
Closest Metro: Braddock Road

Happy Early Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving! We made a quick getaway over Veterans’ Day weekend to visit my parents in North Carolina. They live along the southeastern coast, north of Myrtle Beach and south of Wilmington. Since we will be traveling over Thanksgiving this year, we decided to celebrate two weeks early.

Ingredients:
Other than the turkey, there was no clear theme to our meal, as is the case for most people’s Thanksgivings. We purchased many of the ingredients from a local farm stand and a local Italian butcher. The collards, peppers, gourds and country ham came from the farm stand. The turkey, charcuterie and bread came from the butcher.

Meyer family thanksgiving: charcuterie and bread

Wine and Prep:
Wine is one of the most important considerations for Thanksgiving, so we made sure to put some thought into it. We purchased the wine from a small beer and wine store in Wilmington, NC. Our first thought was something that would go well with turkey, and that was a 2015 Loire Valley Chenin Blanc (or Vouvray). I later learned that 2015 was a really good year for Vouvray! The medium to full-bodied white can easily stand up to the rich, buttery bird.

We also bought a 2015 dry Riesling from the Mosel Valley of Germany because it is so versatile it can go with anything, which is great since Thanksgiving is a buffet-style meal where you eat a little bit of everything. It also works well as an aperitif before a meal. Same thing can be said about the bottle of rosé that we bought, a 2016 rosé from the Willamette Valley. I picked this bottle in particular because I wanted to show people that not all rosés are that light pink color, some can be almost red due to extended skin contact. Finally, although we did not end up drinking it, we bought a bottle of red wine for those people who enjoy full-bodied reds, such as Cabernet Sauvignons. I wanted to change things up from the typical bottle of red, so I chose a 2016 Nero d’Avola from Sicily, another example of a full-bodied red.

Meyer family thanksgiving: 2015 Loire Valley Chenin Blanc, 2015 dry Riesling from the Mosel Valley of Germany, 2016 rosé from the Willamette Valley and 2016 Nero d’Avola from Sicily wine bottles

Our main contribution to the meal, other than selecting the wines, was roasted brussels sprouts with cranberries and brown butter. This recipe is a Marnay and Paul favorite that we have been cooking at holidays for years now. My Mom picked up the brussels sprouts on the stalk from a farm in New Jersey, so they were nice and fresh. We made a sauce from butter, cranberries (also from the New Jersey farm), maple syrup, ginger, orange zest and few other good things.

Meyer family thanksgiving: Paul cooking roasted brussels sprouts with cranberries and brown butter

Meal:
We kicked things off with a glass of the Riesling and it was bone dry, with only a slight amount of residual sugar. In my opinion, it’s the perfect wine for converting riesling skeptics into riesling fanatics (or at least non-haters). The turkey took a bit longer than expected, but that wasn’t an issue. We helped ourselves to the spread of charcuterie and drank some more wine. The Riesling went fast, which made me happy! Even my grandfather, who only drinks Chardonnays, asked for seconds of the riesling. I truly feel as though it is my mission in life to spread the gospel of riesling.

Meyer family thanksgiving: glass of 2015 dry Riesling from the Mosel Valley of Germany wine

The rosé was a little sweeter than I thought it would be, but it made an excellent aperitif. Interestingly enough, the riesling was the *least* sweet of the wines we drank (take that Riesling haters!)

Once the turkey was done, we poured ourselves some chenin blanc. As promised, it did go well with the turkey. It’s a high-acid wine with a good amount of residual sugar – lots of flavor. The wine’s high-acidity allowed it to stand up to not just the turkey but also the collard greens with hot pepper vinegar and the brussels sprouts. I would be interested in comparing this Loire Valley chenin blanc to a chenin blanc from South Africa, but let’s save that for another post.

Meyer family thanksgiving: turkey cooking in the oven

Time for dessert! We each had a slice of my Mom’s chocolate cream pie and her pumpkin pie, made with a real pumpkin from the farm stand. Our contribution was making bourbon whipped cream for topping the desserts – we did not go light on the bourbon!

It was fun to celebrate Thanksgiving early this year and we enjoyed picking out the selection of wines. When choosing wines for Thanksgiving, make sure that there is variety for those picky wine drinkers and focus on wines that are versatile and will go well with everything. You will also want to choose wines that work well as an aperitif, especially if you have to wait a bit for your meal. Looking forward to preparing for next year!

Meyer family thanksgiving: family meal table

Crispy Salmon with Wilted Chard and Oregon Pinot Noir

This blog is mainly about restaurant reviews, but most nights you can find us cooking at home. We love to cook, and we love it even more if there is a bottle of wine involved! When we were in Oregon last month, we visited the Domaine Drouhin winery and took home a bottle of the 2014 Domaine Drouhin Dundee Hills Pinot Noir. I was flipping through October’s Food and Wine magazine when I found the perfect dish to pair it with: Crispy Salmon with Wilted Chard.

Food & Wine Crispy Salmon with Wilted Chard recipe

Now, let’s step back. You may have heard that red wine and fish do not go together. Not so! Salmon is meaty and oily, so it can easily stand up to a medium-bodied red like pinot noir.

Before we started cooking, we had a glass (or two) of the wine. The wine has a ruby red appearance, with notes of vanilla, oak and baking spices. At 14.1% alcohol, it packs a punch, but is still well-balanced.

2014 Domaine Drouhin Dundee Hills Pinot Noir wine

The recipe we are presenting here serves four people. Since we were just making dinner for the two of us, we cut everything in half. The recipe is simple and can be broken down into three elements: making the vinaigrette, sautéing the chard and searing the salmon.

Vinaigrette:
Combine 2 tablespoons champagne vinegar, 2 tablespoons chopped tarragon, 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard and ¼ cup olive oil in a bowl and whisk away, then season with salt and pepper. The tarragon is important, since some of the most prominent flavors of the dish are going to be produced by the herb.

Marnay cooking Crispy Salmon with Wilted Chard

Chard:
Chard stems are thick and similar to celery. After thoroughly washing the chard, tear the leaves, leaving only the stems. Put the leaves aside and then cut the stems into 2-inch pieces. Next, prepare your aromatics: mince 2 cloves of garlic and 1 large shallot. Since the chard stems are thick, you will want to sauté them first. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a saucepan and sauté the chard stems with the shallot and garlic for 5 minutes. Once your kitchen smells like garlic and the stems are softened, add the chard and cook for another 3 minutes. The final step is to add half of your vinaigrette to the saucepan plus salt and pepper. That vinaigrette is going to bring big flavor!

Salmon:
Last up is the centerpiece of the dish, the crisp-skinned salmon. You will want about 5 to 6 ounce of salmon per person. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the pan and heat it up over medium high heat. A non-stick pan is best for this so that there are no concerns about losing the skin. Once it’s hot, add the salmon skin-side down. Make sure you press down on the salmon! You need to do this so that all of the skin touches the pan and has a chance to get crispy. And you want crispy skin, right?!? After 3 minutes, flip the salmon and cook for another 3 minutes until just cooked through. If your salmon is on the thicker side, cook for another minute.

Paul cooking Crispy Salmon with Wilted Chard

When it’s done, serve up the salmon with the chard and pour the rest of the vinaigrette over everything. You also could just pour the vinaigrette over the salmon, since the chard already received its vinaigrette. The earthy Oregon pinot noir pairs well with the salmon and does not overpower it with fruit. Pinot noirs from Oregon have more in common with the subtle pinot noirs from Burgundy, rather than the fruit bombs from Napa and Sonoma. There’s a time and place for the California pinot noir, it’s just not right now.

Homemade Crispy Salmon with Wilted Chard and Oregon Pinot Noir

If you aren’t able to find Domain Drouhin Pinot Noir, feel free to get another Williamette Valley Pinot Noir. If you can find one from the Dundee Hills subregion, even better. Doing a quick online search, I saw that this exact wine is available at Calvert Woodley, across from the Van Ness metro station, along with a few other Dundee Hills wines.

Now that you’ve finished cooking, all that’s left for you is to enjoy your meal and drink your wine. Cheers!

Looking for more recipe posts? Check out our Pinot Noir-Braised Pot Roast with Mashed Potatoes recipe.

JuneBaby

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

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

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

JuneBaby by Eduardo Jordan in Seattle, Washington

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

JuneBaby cornbread with sorghum molasses

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

JuneBaby moked carrots topped with nutty benne seeds

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

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

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

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

Best Bite
Paul: oxtail
Marnay: cornbread

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

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

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