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

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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

2 Amy’s / Inferno Pizzeria Napoletana

2 Amys

We have been writing this blog long enough that we are starting to revisit some earlier restaurants. It’s always good to check in with an old favorite every now and then to see if they are still putting out quality dishes. This past weekend, we went to both 2 Amys and Inferno Pizzeria Napoletana.

2 Amys Paul

Our assessment of 2 Amys remains the same: the crazy good small plates steal the show from the good but not quite as amazing pizzas. The last time we went to 2 Amys it was winter, so this time the ever-changing small plates menu was full of spring produce. The radishes with ramp butter and “sexy salt” was an example of a spring menu item, as ramps have a very short window. I tasted the butter on its own and got a hit of garlicky, oniony flavor from those ramps mellowed out by the creamy room-temperature butter. The ramp butter on housemade bread, topped with radish slices rolled in salt was one of my favorite dishes of the month and something we would happily order again. Another winner: Cantabrian anchovies, which are from the northern coast of Spain, on top of the same housemade bread with a dollop of butter.

2 Amys radishes with ramp butter and “sexy salt”

A surprise hit was a salad of orange-segments splayed out on a plate and simply topped with sliced red onions, olives and chives. The salt and pepper topping was an effective way to bring out the flavors of the oranges.

2 Amys salad of orange-segments topped with sliced red onions, olives and chives

After all these incredible small plates, the pizza was almost anti-climactic. We ordered the special of the day, which was tender squid, green tomato sauce, ramps, parsley and hot pepper. We could taste the hot pepper, for sure, and the squid would have been great on its own or as a small plate. But the (intentionally) floppy authentic Neapolitan crust could not hold the ingredients. It was a mess. And it could have used some salt.

2 Amys pizza

Inferno Pizzeria Napoletana

Inferno Pizzeria Napoletana is in Gaithersburg, which is not that easy to access from Silver Spring if you don’t have a car. As a result, we decided to make a day out of it. We started with brunch at Peter Chang in Rockville and then biked to Downtown Crown in Gaithersburg. We walked around the mixed-use neighborhood and then sat outside drinking refreshing local beers at Downtown Crown Wine and Beer.

Marnay outside drinking refreshing local beers at Downtown Crown Wine and Beer

The last time we went to Inferno, it was late summer, and as such our favorite dishes involved sweet corn. This time, we made sure to hit anything involving asparagus, rhubarb or strawberries. A creamy orb of burrata sat on top of sweet and sour strawberry-rhubarb puree that tasted like sorbet and was a welcome start to a fantastic meal. Another hit was tender roasted asparagus with sauces of black truffle and egg yolk, topped with crunchy hazelnuts. A large plate of this would make for a hearty vegetarian meal. Ember roasted beets, on the other hand, were a little too one-note (vinegar).

Inferno Pizzeria Napoletana tender roasted asparagus with sauces of black truffle and egg yolk, topped with crunchy hazelnuts

The pie de resistance (get it?) was artichoke with San Marzano tomatoes, fior di latte mozzarella and nduja, that spicy spreadable salami that is having its moment right now. The nduja came in big chunks and it brought some welcome heat and texture to the pizza. In general, whenever I think of artichokes, I think of the artichoke hearts in a jar sitting in a salty brine. These, on the other hand, brought freshness and lightness to the pizza. It didn’t hurt that the crust was able to hold the ingredients much better than our pizza from 2Amys.

Inferno Pizzeria Napoletana artichoke with San Marzano tomatoes, fior di latte mozzarella and nduja

Not only did we get dessert, we went all out and got one dessert each. A root beer float transported me back to childhood days at Sundae’s Sweet Shop in Branchburg, NJ. This time the float was upgraded with housemade vanilla soft-serve and Sprecher’s root beer, from Wisconsin. I did not think I was going to be able to finish even half of it, but it was just so good I inhaled the whole thing. We also couldn’t go to Inferno without getting the soft-serve special. On this day, it was wildflower-honey with a strawberry rhubarb topping.

Inferno Pizzeria Napoletana ice cream

We ate extremely well at both 2Amys and Inferno. While there were some very minor hiccups among the food, service was excellent at both and we would happily go back again and again.

Best Bite
2 Amys
Paul: Radishes and ramp butter
Marnay: Orange salad

Inferno Pizzeria Napoletana
Paul: Artichoke pizza
Marnay: Soft-serve

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

Tail Up Goat

As part of the post half-marathon celebration, we talked about having dinner at Tail Up Goat. Of course, it’s a popular restaurant and we knew we would have to make reservations at least three weeks out. However, we were on a group winery tour on Saturday, sitting on the upstairs porch at Cana Vineyards in Middleburg drinking some Albarino, when we decided to take a look at reservations. To our shock, there was a reservation at 5:00pm that night!

Cana Vineyards

There was a little problem in that our tour ended at the West Falls Church metro at 4:15pm. Luck was on our side because we somehow were able to take the metro to Farragut West and then a Lyft to Adams Morgan just in time for our reservation.

Once we were seated, the server gave us a shrub made out of sour cherry, lemon and lavender, a way of awakening the taste buds. Now awoken, our taste buds were assaulted by the charred carrots, one of the meatiest vegetables we have ever tasted, served with carrot slaw, crème fraiche, dill and crumbled poppy seed cookie. It tasted at once sour, salty and sweet. It reminded me a little of barbecue, likely because of the smokiness.

Tail Up Goat charred carrots

Tail Up Goat is known for their freshly-baked bread, and we made sure not to miss that. The thick slice of toasted brown rice bread was so fresh it reminded me of my Mom’s homemade bread when it came right out of the oven. The toast is brushed with what tastes like olive oil and salt, then topped with a heavenly house-made ricotta, the first green garlic and garlic chives of the season and drizzled with pine nut syrup. I want to go back with a large group solely to get all the varieties of breads!

Tail Up Goat bread

The piece de resistance was the heaping pile of lamb ribs served on top of onion yogurt, fig puree and grilled lemon rind. The yogurt really cut the fattiness from the lamb ribs and the dish would not be the same without it. We liked the flavor of the lemon, but not the crunchy chewy texture which felt out of place and reminded us of fish bones. Still, these minor issues did not detract from the prehistoric pleasure of eating the pile of ribs. We used a knife and fork, although we noticed other tables eating the ribs with their hands. The knife wasn’t all that necessary since the meat falls right off the bone. The menu says the lamb ribs serve two, although we would have been able to share them with at least one more person—it’s a lot of food.

Tail Up Goat ribs

Having been there for the first time, we can now understand why there is so much buzz surrounding Tail Up Goat. The food is incredible, the prices are reasonable and the vibe is casual.

Best Bite
Paul: Brown rice bread
Marnay: Charred carrots

Address
Tail Up Goat: 1827 Adams Mill Rd, NW Washington, DC 20009
Closest Metro: Columbia Heights or Woodley Park

Pinot Noir-Braised Pot Roast with Mashed Potatoes

We are going to try a new feature on ENRL. We cook often, and we want to share our favorite recipes with everyone. There certainly will be some trial and error but that is part of the fun of cooking.

First up, a Pinot Noir-Braised Pot Roast with Mashed Potatoes, recipe courtesy of Cebo in Geneva, NY and Chef Ben Dailey. We found this recipe in Food & Wine magazine, of which we are avid readers. Full disclosure, we have made this dish once before.

Food & Wine Pinot Noir–Braised Pot Roast with Root Vegetables

There are not too many ingredients in this dish: mainly chuck roast and root vegetables. Okay, there are some tubers as well if you want to nitpick. The thing about the recipe is that it takes time to break down the chewy chuck. We omitted the pickled red onions, mainly because of the time factor.

Union Market, Washington DC

Since it was a Saturday we had time to shop, so we did our ingredient hunt at Union Market. We got the chuck roast, which was sourced from Roseda Farms in Monkton, MD, from Harveys Market. Roseda Farms, in northern Baltimore County, provides beef to area restaurants including Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore and 8407 Kitchen Bar in Silver Spring.

Harveys Market, Union Market DC

Our celery root, leeks, carrots, parsnips and onions were from Almaala Farms, which grows its produce on the Eastern Shore. Finally, the all-important bottle of Pinot Noir was from Cordial. We couldn’t help ourselves and also got a bottle of Untitled Whiskey No. 3, aged in Vigilante coffee barrels, from Ivy City’s One Eight Distilling.

Almaala Farms, Union Market DC

Assembling the dish is not difficult; it just involves some peeling and rough chopping. I cut the chuck into small cubes while Marnay peeled and cut the vegetables into 1 inch pieces. We kept some fat on the meat for flavor, but didn’t keep all of it.

Pinot Noir-Braised Pot Roast with Mashed Potatoes

Next, we browned the cubes of meat in our cast-iron dutch oven. The purpose of browning is to give the meat flavor, not to cook it. There will be plenty of time to cook the meat. Once the meat was ready, we removed it and added the vegetables, also to brown. We did not add the potatoes or onions because they are used for the mashed potatoes.

Pinot Noir-Braised Pot Roast with Mashed Potatoes

After the vegetables are browned, we put the meat back in and then poured the entire bottle of Pinot-Noir into the dutch oven, as this is the braising liquid. After adding the wine, your job is basically done. Stir the pot occasionally and return in one and a half hours.

In the meantime, we started the mashed potatoes, another set-it and forget-it dish. All we did was add the potatoes and onions to a large sauce pan and then we covered it with water. Once the water is boiling, we added a generous pinch of salt and let it cook for 40 minutes. Again, lots of downtime.

During our downtime, we made negronis! A negroni is equal parts gin, Campari and sweet vermouth. Our gin is from Joseph A Magnus distilling, also in Ivy City. To go along with our drinks, we watched Somm: Into the Bottle, a sequel to the film Somm. I think that the original Somm is required watching for any foodie who wants to know more about wine.

When the potatoes are done, they need to be drained. After that, we added the butter, salt and pepper and whisked it until it was creamy. When we took the lid off of the dutch oven, the ingredients had soaked up the wine and the alcohol had cooked off, leaving an intoxicatingly fruity essence. We took a scoop of mashed potatoes in a bowl and layered the pot roast on top, a rich and satisfying meal for a cold winter night.

Bob’s Shanghai 66

Bob’s Shanghai 66 is located in a strip mall just off Rockville Pike, near the Rockville metro station. It has been in Washingtonian’s Best Cheap Eats for many years, so I was very excited to finally get to try it.

Bobs Shanghai 66

When we walked inside from the cold at 8pm on a Friday, the dinner rush was just about ending. We were greeted by a genial host who brought us to our table. Upon being seated, we were served complementary tea. The menu at Bob’s is long, but it helps to go in knowing that they specialize in soup dumplings, also known as XLB. You will want to make sure soup dumplings are part of your meal at Bob’s.

We took our own advice on the soup dumplings and also ordered lamb with cumin, sautéed snow pea tips (leaves) and dry noodles with pork. It takes practice to eat the dumplings, because they are twice the size of normal dumplings. They are also filled with very hot broth, so putting the whole thing in your mouth and biting it is out of the question. My suggestion is to gently pierce the top and have a spoon nearby, ready to scoop up the rich, gelatinous, porcine broth.

Bobs Shanghai 66 dinner

The surprise hit of the night was the snow pea tips. Next time we sauté greens at home, this is how I want them to taste. The preparation is simply snow pea leaves cooked in flavored cooking oils. Even when our table was crowded with food, this was the dish we kept coming back to. Also a surprise was that, at $16.95, they were the most expensive dish of the night.

Both ma and la of “mala” were present in the lamb with cumin. I had heard of mala before and knew that it had something to do with Sichuan peppercorns, but I did not know the exact translation until a read a review by the New York Times’ Ligaya Mishan of a restaurant named Sichuan Dry Pot. She explained that “ma” means tingling and “la” refers to heat.  The lamb was not quite as spicy as similar dishes at Peter Chang, but it was full of flavor.  I happily ate the leftovers for lunch on Monday. The dry noodles with ground pork, on the other hand, were unremarkable.  They were not bad, but it isn’t something I would order again.

As we finished our meal, the kitchen staff sat down at a spot near us to enjoy a tableful of their hard work.  Bob’s Shanghai 66 is a good deal in a metro-accessible location in Rockville. We will be back.

Best Bite
Paul and Marnay: Snow pea tips

Address
Bob’s Shanghai 66: 305 N Washington Street Rockville, MD 20850
Closest Metro: Rockville

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

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