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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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.

Marta

We have been to many Italian restaurants in our lives, consuming many different varieties of pizzas. But I don’t think that we have ever been to one which focuses on Roman style pizza, that is, until we went to Marta in New York. When you take a laser-like focus on Roman pizza and Italian wine and combine it with Danny Meyer’s Union Square Group trademark hospitality, you get a winner.

Marta plate

Going in, we knew that we wanted a bottle of wine and we knew that we wanted to speak with the sommelier. Before we could ask, the sommelier came to us to see if we had any questions! I gave her a challenge: help us choose a bottle of white wine from either Fruili, in the northeastern corner of Italy bordering Slovenia, or Mt. Etna, in Sicily at the southern end of “The Boot”.

The sommelier gave us two options: a fruit forward wine from Friuli or a flinty, medium-bodied wine from Mt. Etna. We chose the 2015 Benati Etna Bianco, which complemented but did not overpower our food.

Joining us for dinner was Marnay’s sister, Cheray. We ordered two pizzas among the three of us as our main course, a suitable amount of food along with two other small bites. Both of our pizzas were on the simple side without an abundance of toppings so that we could get the true essence of the pizza. Roman pizza is very thin and has a cracker-like crust. The margherita was a textbook example of a crispy Roman pie. The ample basil leaves gave it a fresh, herbal vibe.

Marta roman pizza in New York

That aforementioned cracker-think crust couldn’t quite stand up to the housemade stracciatella in the stracciatella pizza, but it was delicious, maybe even better than the margherita. Structuaral issues aside, it was damn good.

good pizza

We took our time eating the pizza because we liked the first wine so much, we knew we wanted to order a second bottle. It took a while to flag down a sommelier, but she eventually came over and I gave her another challenge: we just had a bottle of wine from Siciliy, let’s travel as far away as possible to the other side of Italy. Let’s go to Valle d’Aosta, in the Italian Alps, bordering Switzerland and France. The sommelier steered us towards the 2015 Ottin Petite Arvine. She described it a big, bold, funky wine from a grape that had only recently been rediscovered in the region. All three of us absolutely loved the wine! When she came to check on us, the sommelier told us that she was personally excited that we ordered this bottle, since they rarely sell it. She said that it is one of her favorites. That made our night!

Marta 2015 Ottin Petite Arvine wine bottle in New York City

We rounded things out (because hey, we needed to eat something with this wine) with roasted carrots, cooked in the pizza oven, with pistachios, lemon and crispy sage. We also had an order of fried artichoke hearts, perfect finger food.

An extremely fun night thanks to the sommelier, the food and the company.

cheray

Best Bite
Paul and Marnay: Stracciatella pizza

Address
Marta: The Redbury Hotel, 29 E. 29th Street, New York, NY 10016

Northwest Vacation Recap: Portland

We have just returned from a Northwest Adventure in Portland and Seattle, our first trip to the West Coast since our honeymoon (in 2014!) where we traveled to San Francisco and Sonoma. We look forward to telling you about our favorite activities and of course our favorite restaurants! First up, Portland!

Saturday

We arrived in Portland late Saturday night, tired from our flight but definitely ready to do some exploring. We were staying at an Airbnb in the North Mississippi/Williams neighborhood, a hip neighborhood in Northeast Portland bustling with nightlife. One of my friends had told me about Alibi Tiki Bar, a 1940s tiki bar that is still in existence today. Our impression is that it felt very “Portland” – quirky and laid-back. Basically, the complete opposite of life in the Northeast. We were starving, so we ate a little bit of food – I would describe it as vaguely American Chinese food. This may sound odd, but the original tiki bars served an American version of Chinese food, considered exotic in the 1930s.

Alibi Tiki Bar neon sign

Sunday

Portland is known for being the premier biking city in America, due to having decades of bike-friendly policies. It should be no surprise, then, that we mainly got around the city by Biketown bike, their bikesharing system. The orange bikes were lighter than Capital Bikeshare, plus they had a basket which made running errands easy. You can also dock Biketown bikes at any public bike dock, which is incredible.

Marnay on a Biketown bike in Portland

We biked across the Broadway Bridge and arrived at Ken’s Artisan Bakery. Ken’s is one of the best and most well-known bakeries in America. Of all things, we shared a locally made hot dog on an incredible baguette-like bun and some incredible macarons. A great way to start the morning in Portland.

Ken’s Artisan Bakery macarons

Portland has an aerial tram. It goes from a medical school and doctors offices to the corresponding hospital, on top of a hill. Still, it offered some incredible views of the Willamette River below and I’m glad we did it!

Portland aerial tram

 

Dinner that night was with one my old MARC train friend, Marcel, and his wife Martha. In June, Marcel moved to Portland from DC for work, so it was awesome to see them. We met at Tusk, a Middle-Eastern restaurant that Food & Wine Magazine recently named one of the best new restaurants in the country. All of the food was communal and it made a great way to catch up. All four of us agreed on a best bite: Melons, cucumbers, celtuce, pepper (hot!), cilantro and pepitas.

Tusk hummus with tehina, paprika and cumin

Tusk melons with cucumbers, celtuce, pepper, cilantro and pepita.

Marnay, Paul, Marcel and Martha at Tusk in Portland

It had been a long day, but we fit in some walking through the Laurelhurst neighborhood and a trip to Base Camp Brewing for a nightcap. A long but exciting day.

Monday

One requirement for Portland was that we needed to stay in an Airbnb that was walking distance to a Blue Star Donuts location and luckily we were two short blocks away from their Northeast Portland shop. We shared their signature Blueberry Bourbon Basil and their incredible Apple Fritter. So darn good!

Blue Star Donuts in Northeast Portland

Next, we headed to Portland’s Waterfront Trail, and biked along the Willamette River. We ended the ride by crossing the river over the Tilikum Crossing, the country’s first pedestrian and transit only bridge. It carries bikes, pedestrians, buses, light rail and streetcars. How amazing is that?!

Paul biking on the Tilikum Crossing bridge

That night, we had a nice bike ride through a few different neighborhoods en route to Han Oak, a Korean-inspired restaurant from chef Peter Cho. We were second in line, so we were able to sit at the chef’s counter right in front of the open kitchen. What a view! On Sunday and Monday nights, Han Oak has dumpling and noodle night. However, that night they had a guest chef cooking Indonesian Barbecue. Our best bite, and possibly the top bite in all of Portland, was the Indonesian Barbecue platter.

Han Oak dumplings

Han Oak Indonesian Barbecue

After dinner, we did some walking through nearby neighborhoods and then biked to Stormbreaker Brewing, just outside of our apartment. We stopped to pick up a growler so that we could enjoy it at home with the rest of our donuts. There wasn’t a TV, so we watched Portlandia on Netflix! Another fun night!

Blue Star Donuts, Stormbreaker Brewing growler and Portlandia on Netflix in our Airbnb in Portland

Tuesday

Tuesday was wine country day. But first, we had breakfast at Pop Bagel, a small bagel shop where all the bagels are pretzel bagels! It was a cool concept. The location, inside of an office building, made me jealous because my office building doesn’t have anything like this!

Pop Bagels

We took an Amtrak bus from Union Station to Salem, the capital of Oregon and our jumping off point for exploring the Willamette Valley. Once we arrived in Salem, we headed straight to Brooks Wine, Riesling specialists located in the Eola-Amity Hills subregion of the Willamette Valley. Before we left for Oregon, I read a wine column from a national columnist about wines to get for special occasions – one of the wines was from Brooks!

Brooks Wine vineyard

Brooks was incredible, the best winery we have ever been to. Since they specialize in white wines, we made sure to both get white wine tastings. Our favorites were the Sweet P Riesling (the one that was recommended in the column) and the Amycas, a blend of Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Muscat, Gewurztraminer and Riesling. We came away with a bottle of each.

After Brooks, we headed to Domaine Drouhin, in the Dundee Hills subregion. The Drouhin family is originally from Burgundy, home of the best Pinot Noir in the world. You can understand why we took home a bottle of their 2014 Dundee Hills Pinot Noir.

Paul and Marnay at Domaine Drouhin

We took the very retro Amtrak Cascades train from Salem back to Portland. Although we were tired, we were hungry after a day of drinking wine! When we were back in Portland, we grabbed Biketown bikes and picked up takeout from Pok Pok Noi, part of the amazing Pok Pok family of restaurants. The boar collar and Vienamese wings were delicious!

retro Amtrak Cascades train from Salem to Portland

Wednesday

Our last full day in Portland. We got an early start by heading to Blue Star Donuts for another apple fritter. The best fritters ever! We took Biketown bikes and ended up at the iconic Powell’s Books, a must visit in Portland.

Lunch was at Maurice, a really cool European-style café that is only open for lunch. They serve French-Danish food plus vermouth, wine and sherry and incredible desserts and pastries. I do not think that we have been anywhere in America like this, it was really unique.

Maurice cardamom kissed squid

Maurice scone and pepper cheesecake

After our midday meal, we got some hiking in at Washington Park, a huge urban park in a particularly hilly section of Portland. We explored the Hoyt Arboretum and the International Rose Garden. Conveniently, the MAX light rail has an underground stop in the heart of the park and there is a free shuttle bus that can take you to the different attractions.

Paul walking on a trail at Washington Park

Dinner that night was our favorite dinner in Portland. We started at Jaqueline, in the Ladd’s Addition neighborhood, where we enjoyed $1 West Coast oysters along with a $2 Rainier tallboy and a $3 Topo Chico. So cheap! After our happy hour, we biked to Ken’s Artisan Pizza to grab some pizzas to go.

Jaqueline oyster happy hour

Back at home, we ate our two pizzas and drank the bottle of Brooks Sweet P Riesling. The Riesling had an aroma of petrol that reminded us of that bottle of Hermann J. Wiemer from Tail Up Goat. The two pizzas we ordered were: Handmade – hand-pulled fresh mozzarella, tomato sauce, garlic, fennel seed and chile flake and the Brooklyn – tomato sauce, mozzarella, capicollo, pickled jalapeño and honey. The Handmade pizza stole the show. A simple yet perfect pizza.

Ken’s Artisan Pizza and Brooks Sweet P Riesling in our airbnb in Portland

Thursday

We were taking the Amtrak Cascades to Seattle, although our train did not leave until about 3:00PM. That meant that we had plenty of time to partake in one of Portland’s favorite activities: brunch! Sweedeedee, a little less than a mile from our apartment, is known for their pie selection, in addition to more traditional breakfast food. The catch is that you order all of your food at the counter, but you are served pie immediately. What a concept! We shared a slice of peach pie with cream, which was divine. By the time our real breakfast arrived, we were nearly too full to eat. Marnay’s bee pollen biscuit sandwich with ham was memorable, though.

Sweedeedee peach pie

After brunch, we took a meandering walk around the neighborhood and then one final Biketown ride before heading to Union Station. On to Seattle!

Click here to read all about our Seattle adventure!

Tail Up Goat Revisited

Every once in a while, we have a meal that absolutely blows us away. This week, we revisited Tail Up Goat and had a truly special experience. Last time we went to Tail Up Goat, we ate dinner at 5:00pm on a Saturday. This time, we had our meal at 8:00pm on a Thursday night. Why does this make a difference? The middle of the week is when the pros dine out—the true foodies. It’s when the kitchen has the most fun, too, because they don’t have to worry about picky eaters and/or diners who rarely eat out. That means that the kitchen can worry about doing the thing they do best, cooking.

Tail Up Goat on summer weeknights has an electric vibe. We were seated by the window, just one table behind we were on our last visit. We even had the same server as last time and she recognized us. We were thirsty, which was a good thing because Tail Up Goat has an exemplary wine list, created by sommelier Bill Jensen. The list is divided into many different sections, mainly by region, and the first section is based on whatever the sommelier is interested in at the moment. This day’s theme was “Summer of Riesling”. I absolutely love Riesling and we were in the mood for a bottle. We weren’t sure what bottle to get, so we asked our server for help. She took us on a tour of the wine list, going into impressive detail about each wine and covering Rieslings from all regions and price points. One wine stood out. She explained that the 2007 from Hermann J. Wiemer, one of the first wineries in New York’s Finger Lakes region, had a petrol smell, caused by a chemical reaction that occurs in Rieslings that have been aged for a long time. That sounded so cool!

Tail Up Goat Hermann J. Wiemer wine bottle

She did let us know that it was a bit of a splurge pricewise, but she talked it up so highly that we had to get it. I am glad that we did order it, because it was a truly special bottle of wine that made the evening even more enjoyable. The smell of petrol was intoxicating and the wine hit that sweet spot between dry and sweet Rieslings. Plus, the mouthfeel was out-of-this world.

Now that we had our wine to keep us company, we started ordering food. Tail Up Goat has a traditional first course, second course and entrée menu, and we ordered one of each. Our seaweed sourdough bread was slathered with ciccioli and topped with pickled fennel stems. Ciccioli is an Italian pork spread, similar to a rillette. The combination of the ciccioli and the fennel stems tasted remarkably like Italian sausage, which inspired memories of eating at baseball games as a kid.

Tail Up Goat Hermann J. Wiemer wine bottle

Next up was pasta primavera with salty trout roe, squash blossoms, garlic scapes and crunchy aleppo breadcrumbs. The trout roe and the squash blossoms brought an intense orange color that was fun to look at as we ate. If money weren’t an issue, we would have ordered three of these.

Tail Up Goat Hermann J. Wiemer wine bottle

After our pasta, we were waiting for our lamb ribs and enjoying our wine. Suddenly, the sommelier walks over carrying two large red wine glasses and a bottle. It turns out that he came to give us a pour of a delicious, fruity red wine from volcanic Mt. Etna in Italy. It was fun to watch his enthusiasm as he talked about the volcanic soil. The experience made our meal!

Within a few moments, our lamb ribs arrived, piping hot. We noticed that there had been a bit of a delay between our pasta and the lamb ribs, and perhaps that’s why we got free wine, but neither of us minded. Plus, the lamb ribs tasted even better than last time., possibly because they were right from the kitchen.  Unlike last time, we ate the ribs with our hands and I think it made the meal more fun.

Tail Up Goat Hermann J. Wiemer wine bottle

I feel like we gained a lot of trust with Tail Up Goat after this visit. By trust, I mean that the next time we’re there, and our server makes a suggestion, we will take it. It was an amazing meal and it would not be the same without the incredible service that we received from our server and the sommelier.

Best Bite
Paul and Marnay: Pasta primavera

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

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

Marcel’s

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

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

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

Marcel's duck confit tortellini

Marcel's local mixed green salad

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

Marcel's pan-seared Norwegian salmon with lobster risotto

Marcel's New York strip steak with potato gratin

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

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

Marcel's chocolate mousse with crispy praline

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

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

Marcels, Marnay and Paul

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

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

Le Virtu

Back when I was in law school, we lived just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, so we know that the city has lots of Italian restaurants. However, we were on a tight budget so we would mainly frequent pizzerias and red sauce joints. Now that we are older and wiser we are starting to explore more diverse Italian restaurants which focus on a specific region of Italy. One such place is Le Virtu in the East Passyunk neighborhood.

Le Virtu specializes in the cuisine of Abruzzo, located in Southern Italy just west of Rome and stretching from the Apennines in the east to the Adriatic in the west. Montepulciano is the wine to drink, and Le Virtu has 9(!) bottles of it. With that many to choose from, I asked our server for some assistance. He recommended the Cataldi Madonna Malandrino, a bold, flavorful red that set the tone for the entire meal.

Le Virtu Montepulciano red wine: Cataldi Madonna Malandrino

Arrosticini d’agnello, or grilled lamb skewers, is the best preparation of the night. This fatty, chewy (in a good way) roadside snack is served in a specially-made clay pot that says “arrosticini” on the side.

Le Virtu Arrosticini d’agnello, or grilled lamb skewers

For my entree, I was torn between the bucatini all’ amatriciana and the taccozzele all’aquilana, named after the capital of Abruzzo. I asked the server for advice and he said that the taccozzele was his favorite thing on the menu. I couldn’t turn that down! The thick folds of the spinach handkerchief pasta were coated with chunks of Abruzzese sausage, saffron, and earthy porcinis. Everything was then topped with grated Parmigiano Reggiano. By the end of the dish, we were planning our trip to Abruzzo.

Le Virtu pasta: taccozzele all’aquilana

Inspired by our pasta dish at Taglio in Milan, we ordered the Maccheroni alla chitarra con ragu d’agnello, or guitar-cut pasta in lamb shoulder ragu. At Taglio, we had also ordered pasta with lamb shoulder rage, but there was a clear difference between the Northern Italian version in Milan and the Abruzzese version at Le Virtu. That difference; tomatoes! Tomatoes can grow in the warmer climate of Southern Italy but not in Northern Italy. Most of the Italian immigration to America was from Southern Italy, which is why we tend to think of tomatoes as being an integral part of Italian cuisine.

Le Virtu pasta: all chitarra con ragu d’agnello, or guitar-cut pasta in lamb shoulder ragu

We ended the meal with semifredo (semi-frozen) chocolate bon bons and a housemade fennel digestif. If you are looking for an intimate Italian restaurant in Philadelphia with sublime cooking and cheerful, knowledgable staff, it is hard to beat Le Virtu.

Le Virtu dessert

Best Bite
Paul: Taccozzele all’aquilana
Marnay: Maccheroni alla chitarra con ragu d’agnello

Address
Le Virtu: 1927 East Passyunk Ave Philadelphia, PA 19148
Closest Public Transit: Snyder Broad Street Line stop

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