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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ristorante Piccolo

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: Georgetown

The Setup


Looking for a nice, out of the way restaurant to celebrate our anniversary, the girlfriend and I decided on Ristorante Piccolo, located on 31st between K and M.

The Vibe

Ristorante Piccolo is situated in a charming little row house, but like most restaurants in Georgetown, it extends much farther back than you might think. The lighting was quite dim, which I (who would be perfectly happy living in a cave) always enjoy.

Unfortunately, that is where the charm ended. The wait staff was not very friendly, which always frustrates me. I mean, that's their job. And sadly, there were issues with the food as well.

The Food


For the appetizer, I ordered the bruschetta al granchio (bruschetta with crab meat). Maybe it was because I wasn't particularly hungry that day, or maybe it was because I had been turned off by the staff. But for whatever reason, I wasn't overly distressed when the appetizer simply never came.

Onto the entree, which was another issue. They were out of my first two (!) choices. The waiter, perhaps sensing I was getting annoyed, recommended the lobster ravioli, served over a lobster bisque with pieces of lobster meat. I wasn't impressed (editor's note: something probably not helped from the plating, which looks TERRIBLE). The ravioli were fine, but only that: just fine. Overall, the meal lacked any pizzazz. Plus, I know I mentioned I was not that hungry, but more than 5 small ravioli would have been appreciated.

The Verdict

Decent food, but a less than hospitable wait staff. Had it not been for the happy occasion, the evening would have been an unfortunate one. Ristorante Piccolo has some out-of-the-way charm going for it, but that's not enough to make up for its shortcomings.

Food Rating: **
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 1.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
N/A
Vibe:
Calm to chatty
Cost:
$$
(out of 5) ($25-$50 for two)
Pairing
: Have an early dinner then head down to the waterfront and watch the sunset over the Potomac.

Ristorante Piccolo on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 29, 2010

Monday Munchies: Panas Empanadas

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: Dupont Circle

The Setup

Looking for some post-bar munchies, Official Friend of DCWD Power and I wandered over to one of the newest establishments: Panas Empanadas.

The Vibe

Panas is a basement shop on P Street and is thus both clean and funky. The furniture is orange plastic, the walls are lined with plastic grass, and the lighting is provided by hanging bulbs in glass fishbowls. Otherwise, seating is a bunch of limited two-tops around the service counter.

The Food

Unlike its competitor Julia's, Panas' empanadas are smaller and thus cheaper, and range the gamut in terms of fillings: ingredients as diverse as Brazilian-style shrimp, coconut, brie, artichoke hearts... the list goes on. On this trip I got the six piece combo (six empanadas, soda, and plantain chips). The six I got were:

Carne - beef, green olives, Spanish peppers, hard boiled eggs, onions, parsley
Chipotle steak - shredded sirloin steak, onions with chipotle sauce
Chicken pesto - grilled chicken, pesto sauce, fresh tomatoes, onions
CubaNovo - roasted pork rillette, onion, cilantro, lime, Grand Marnier
Smoked eggplant - smoked eggplant, roasted red peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes, mozzarella, onions, hardboiled eggs
Popeye - sauteed spinach and onions, golden raisins, cream, goat cheese.

Seeing as how my level of intoxication was fairly sizable, my observations on the empanadas are fairly stilted and not at all the sophisticated, discerning, incisive commentary readers of this blog might be used to (I hope anyway). But here's what I do have: flavor combinations are pretty right on. The bite size is perfect for post-bar snacking. The crisp on the empanadas is fantastic.

The Verdict


With the barflies coming in from the circle, this place should take off. And rightfully so.

Food Rating: *** 1/2
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 1.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
N/A
Vibe:
Calm to chatty
Cost:
$
(out of 5) (less than $25 for two)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Veritas

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: Dupont Circle

The Setup


Groupon in hand, Official Friend of DCWD Hanson joined me for a dinner at Dupont wine bar Veritas.

The Vibe

The wine bar is dark, the product of a generally dark color scheme and very little lighting. The room is brick and black, with the occasional red and white accents. The whole space is essentially just a bar with some bar seating; I know this sounds like it might be obvious, but some wine bars are more restaurant than others. Consequently, aside from the eight or so bar stools, all the seating is four tops, both in high chair and regular form. Simple mostly straight lines in the furniture, though there's a interesting quirk with acoustic foam underneath the table. Then again, with everyone so close to one another, the noise level is fairly high, so maybe it serves an actual purpose.

The Food


Hanson was the better wine expert, so she picked our bottle: a Spellbound petite syrah from 2008, which was a solid choice (as she put it, she wanted something a little bit stronger than my typical pinot noir). To pair, we ordered from Veritas' fairly limited menu: a charcuterie board of duck rillette and pheasant with figs and pistachio, and a cheese plate of idiazabal sheep, a Brillat-Savarin milk, and a smokey Oregon blue.

The meal was fine, but nothing substantial. The pheasant was actually the surprise, more of a pate than anything, and the figs and pistachio gave it an interesting flavor. Of the cheese, it was the Brillat-Savarin (named for the eponymous epicurean) that stood out the best. Still, it's hard to both judge or really get on a wine bar for their menu, especially one whose menu is as limited as Veritas'. Sure we could've gotten one of their sandwiches, but that just wouldn't have seemed right.

The Verdict


Decent place, some good things happening, but a couple other wine bars in this city I would head to instead.

Food Rating: ** 1/2
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 3 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Classy Crowd
Vibe:
Energetic to Noisy
Cost:
$$
(out of 5) ($25-$50 for two)
Pairing
: Cruise up into the Hillyer Art Space, a hidden but well-curated art space found in a back alley next to the Phillips Gallery on 21st St.

Veritas on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 22, 2010

Monday Munchies: Crumbs Bakery

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: Metro Center

The Setup


It was Official Friend of DCWD CarrieC's birthday and so some fellow coworkers brought her a dozen mini cupcakes from newly opened Crumbs Bakery (an offshoot of the eponymous New York chain). In the name of science (and in this instance, breakfast), I volunteered to eat one. You know, for science.

The Food


As always, I'd like to take this opportunity to reiterate my stance on cupcakes. Not the cupcake in and of itself, but the trend it's caused.

Apparently, Crumbs' cupcakes come in four sizes from this miniature bite-sized version to one that's the size of a softball. These were the mini ones, and our colleagues had taken care to select 12 different varieties, ranging from Mint Chocolate Chip, to Red Velvet, to something vaguely resembling a ho-ho.

With CarrieC claiming the Mint Chocolate Chip (as was her right), she offered me my choice of the rest, so I went with what I guessed was strawberry shortcake. Unfortunately, the novelty of the tiny cupcake was sort of lost on me after I ate it. Not particularly moist, and nothing particularly groundbreaking. Sort of the substandard cousin to the one I ate at Baked and Wired. Makes you sort of wonder what the New York hype is all about.

The Verdict


Cute present if you get the atypical sizes, but is it the best cupcake for your money? That's a negatory, Captain.

Taste Test:
2 Forks
(out of 5)
Pairing
: Cupcake gift moments.

Crumbs Bake Shop on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 19, 2010

Friday Night Flights: Weingut Wien Cobenzl Gruner Veltliner

Disclaimer: This is the first of three reviews we're posting on Austrian wines. Long-time readers of the blog will remember we had a not too fond experience with a Gruner Veltliner not so long ago, and so in an effort to change our minds, we here at DCWD received some Austrian wine to sample as part of a promotion centered around the pairing of Asian food with Austrian wine.

With that in mind, I invited Official Friend of DCWD Madison (our partner-in-crime for the last sampling, and one of my go-to oenophiles), and we rallied fellow coworkers and Official Friends of DCWD Talia, Manica, JB, and JK to takeout from new Logan Circle eatery Teakwood (review to come) and drink it down.

Up first was the Gruner Veltliner classic, a 2008 from Weingut Wien Cobenzl. It's described as having "a juicy entry on the palate, a hearty mature fruit acid and elegant course with a lot of spiciness, and an animating finish." What did we taste? Well frankly, it was stony according to Madison, and we all thought it tasted altogether sweet. JK noted it had tastes of honey, and in fact it did have a lot of fruit range. What we did note, was that in fact, yes, it did pair well with spicy Thai food, having its sweetness tempered by the food. So, hey point them.

Bar Review:
2.5 Cheers
Perfect for: Spicy Thai food apparently.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Busboys and Poets

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: One in Mt. Vernon Square, one in U Street

The Setup


On this night, I headed over to the 5th and K Busboys and Poets for a benefit concert put on by Official Friend of DCWD HR Intern.

The Vibe
Both locations are pretty similar in their set-up: a large cafe space, this one with two floors, huge, hip, and modern. True to its locations in both U Street and Convention Center, it celebrates black heritage in a very noticeable way, with paintings of Dr. King and Obama (though in fairness, there's also Gandhi and the Dalai Lama). To your left as you walk in is a shop that sells mostly fair trade goods and the best of black literature: Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Alice Walker.

As you look into the space, you find the massive bar which wraps around a winding metal staircase. It'd almost be pointless to describe the seating arrangement, because there is seemingly every variety: quiet coffeeshop type space upstairs, bar seating in the center, two-tops, four-tops, half-booth seating in the side room. The downside is that the space is almost always filled up with sound, bustling and vibrant and probably musical or poetic with the stage in the side room where we were.

The Food


Starving, I ordered the Mediterranean burger, a patty inside a wheat pita covered in goat cheese and tomatoes. Let's be clear: I love goat cheese. Everyone knows this, so I was already digging it in that way. But I thought the pita thing was sort of inspired, the culinary opposite to Wendy's "Where's the Beef?" campaign, as it stripped away all of the unnecessary starch fluff from the burger. Plus, the burger was exceedingly and surprisingly well-cooked, melting very well with the creaminess of the goat cheese. Actually pretty fantastic.

The Verdict


Without too much to judge it on, it's hard to make a definitive decision on Busboys and Poets, but for what it is, the meal was pretty good. Will definitely have to go back and see what's up.

Food Rating: ***
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 3 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Hipster Hangout to Suits Scene
Vibe:
Energetic to Noisy
Cost:
$$
(out of 5) ($25-$50 for two)
Pairing
: Considering the sheer amount of events there, just stay at Busboys and Poets and take in a poetry reading or a small concert.

Busboys and Poets on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 15, 2010

Monday Munchies: Turkey Burger at BGR

We've had a multitude of adventures at the Dupont location of BGR, epitomized by our own CC's birthday with two nine-pounders. One of the amazing things that can be said about BGR is its creativity and its willingness to push the limits on what they'll use as toppings, which offers them a certain panache and coolness, something especially important in a suddenly saturated high-end burger market on Connecticut Avenue.

On this dinner trip with Official Friend of DCWD Rajistan, I ordered this month's Burger of the Month: the Thanksgiving on a Bun. Their normal turkey burger, but topped with stuffing, cranberry sauce, and gravy, it was actually fairly delicious all things considered (as in, as much as I wanted beef, and cheese). Grab it before it goes the way of supermarket turkeys on November 24 and disappears.

Taste Te
st: 3 Forks (out of 5)
Perfect for
: Anytime you want a preview of Turkey Day

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Matchbox

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: One in Chinatown, one in Southeast

The Setup


Looking to get some nosh after seeing Tuesday's Daily Show taping, Official Friend of DCWD Juju and I headed off to much-heralded pizza shop Matchbox.

The Vibe

The Chinatown location of Matchbox is, at least to my experience, always packed; reservations are only taken for parties of 6 or 10-12, and only Sunday through Thursday at that. Both locations are built into existing locations with interesting architecture, in this instance a slim three story townhouse. The inside is interestingly set up: you walk into a bar with about 12 seats and overhead clubby music. From there, you can see the brick oven in the back which fades into the exposed brick walls, as well as the metal staircase up to the upper levels of seating.

The lighting situation varies from section to section: the second floor seems bright but the bar and the side room both are dim. The furniture upstairs is simple golden-colored wood, which matches well with the brightness, while the other sections are mostly black. Overall, the word for this place would be trendy... fitting in perfectly with its neighborhood and thus clientele. The other notable space is the small patio, lit with a flame lantern, and where we sat for dinner.

The Food


I've talked about the beer selection at Matchbox before which was very nice in its variety; Juju was particularly happy about their inclusion of her home state's Bell's Two-Hearted.

We ordered two large pizzas, with me wanting leftovers for the next day at work. The white pizza we ordered was the prosciutto white, topped with kalamata olives, garlic puree, ricotta, mozzarella, and EVOO. This was delicious, dancing that line between being light but flavorful. The olives and garlic packed a nice punch, but were mellowed out by the ricotta. The one complaint I had was the way the prosciutto was cut, in big slices on each slice, meaning that only one bite per slice would be prosciutto filled, as the whole chewy slice usually went with the bite.

The second pizza we ordered was the veggie pizza, normally a white pizza but one we added tomato sauce to. This one came topped with cremini mushrooms, Spanish onions, roasted poblano peppers, roasted garlic, mozzarella, herbs, and probably most importantly for our decision making process, fingerling potato crisps. I'm not a fan of vegetarian things, this much is known. But this pizza was actually pretty fantastic, especially the potato crisps, which just added an extra dimension to the pie.

The Verdict


People always tell me how Matchbox is the best pizza in DC. From this meal, I might start believing them.

Food Rating: ****
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 3 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Suits Scene to Party in the USA
Vibe:
Energetic
Cost:
$$
(out of 5) ($25-$50 for two)
Pairing
: It's Caps season again. Considering that's where the Matchbox crowd comes from, join your fellow hockey lovers for another season of Ovechkin, Semin, and the Capitals.

Matchbox Chinatown on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 8, 2010

Monday Munchies: The Search for Banh Mi: G Street Food

This week's Monday Munchies follows our search for variations on the Vietnamese classic banh mi. This time, it shows up at a soup and sandwich shop for the working crowd, G Street Food. Very much a jack-of-all-trades place, it's actually sort of cute, with faux wood walls and an overall rustic decor.

This banh mi's description was okay, though a bit troubling: "roasted pork and pickled vegetables on a baguette." But the follow through was dubious. Roasted pork was literally sheets of meat much like deli turkey. Pickled vegetables included whole discs of carrots. Was it a good sandwich? Alright. Was it a banh mi? Definitely not close.

Taste Test:
2 Forks
(out of 5)
Perfect for
: The midday work lunch.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Friday Night Flights: Schneider Aventinus

This week's Friday Night Flight is a beer I had from the surprisingly diverse beer selection at Matchbox, the Schneider Aventinus. After finishing my standard Allagash White, I was looking for a new beer to mix it up. I settled on the Munich-brewed weizen doppelbock, which I understood to be like a Belgian wheat dubbel. This one had a nice banana finish, which might sound unappetizing, but was actually really good and pleasant. They definitely made a fan out of me.

Bar Review:
4 Cheers
(out of 5) ($75-$100 for two)
Perfect for
: Sipping on in the fall weather.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Casa Nonna

UPDATE: THIS RESTAURANT IS NOW CLOSED.


Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: Dupont Circle

The Setup


Stuck in the office entering the evening hours on a Saturday, I needed a rallying point... and what better escapism is there than food? Luckily Official Friend of DCWD Rajistan's girlfriend, Official Friend of DCWD Chill, was in town, and we were looking to all meet up anyway. Perfect combination. Given a choice of a few restaurants I hadn't tried yet, Chill picked just-opened Casa Nonna.

The Vibe
Casa Nonna is the latest in the DC BLT empire (though I can't remember for the life of me who got the ownership of the restaurant in the publicized divorce of the BLT partnership), and actually lies across the street from the other new BLT eatery: Go Burger (terrible name, by the way). Casa Nonna sits in the old California Pizza Kitchen space, and it seems likely that they kept the oven. Aside from that though, and perhaps the segmented way in which the layout is set up, the interior is a significant transformation. A color scheme of varying shades of brown surrounds you, with light sand walls unfortunately covered in Marshall's-quality paintings. Like seemingly all places of this type (huge family-style Italian restaurants), the mood is set with a constant influx of songs like Dave Brubeck's Take Five and very dim lighting, if it's perceptible at all. Between that and the new window design, all of the people-watching that you got from CPK is gone.

You enter immediately into the bar area, a pretty sizable portion of the restaurant all things considered. I couldn't tell if the hostess was condescending to me because of my disheveled mess look, or if they were actually full up, but she noted that while they couldn't seat us, the pizza bar and the general bar area were all full-service. The bar tables themselves are like laminated ends of wine casks which is sort of cool. Seating is otherwise half-circle family-style booths, with a few two-tops here and there. That being said, I really don't know all of it: the space is just so huge that frankly, they could have a slip-and-slide in the back and I wouldn't know it. We ended up seating ourselves in the bar area.

The Food


Food at Casa Nonna is served family-style, and so quite literally the three of us were forced only to order a few dishes if we didn't want to have 18 carry out boxes for the walk home. We settled on the stracci di manzo, rags tossed with braised short rib and tomato, in combination with two appetizers: risotto balls and speck fontina.

The pasta was a pleasant surprise, as it turns out that along with the linguine and fettucine, the stracci is made in-house. This is a distinction worth passing on, because the quality of the fresh pasta was notable. I also thought that the ingredients tasted as if some degree of care was taken in their sourcing. About my only complaint with this dish was the fact that there wasn't enough meat to go around, as it all clumped in one place, and therefore Chill got the lion's share.

I was definitely more meh about the appetizers. The risotto balls, way bigger than I was expecting - and thus there were only three of them - were best described as okay. Not as creamy on the inside as I would have liked, and it was only after adding the garnish basil to eating it, that there was any strong likable flavor. As for the speck fontina, ordered solely because we had no idea what it was (turns out, fontina wrapped in prosciutto), it was satisfactory. Then again, I'm not sure anybody could do anything with that dish.

The one other part I'll mention is the downright amazing bread course (I know I'm talking about this meal in reverse order, but sue me). Fresh made garlic bread, which was flavorful and made an impact. So I guess our meal was bookended in that way.

The Verdict


Just like another Italian place I went to within weeks of its opening (Bibiana), I found that there were a lot of good things, and a lot of meh things. If it's the restaurant working out the kinks, or just actual things I don't like will have to be seen. But for now, a solidly good start.

Food Rating: ***
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 3 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Smart Casual
Bar Rating:
Classy Crowd
Vibe:
Chatty
Cost:
$$$
(out of 5) ($50-$75 for two)
Pairing
: Looking to nurture the inner songwriter? Walk down the street to the Guitar Shop on 18th St and buy yourself a nice acoustic to serenade your date.

Casa Nonna on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 1, 2010

Monday Munchies: Amsterdam Falafel Shop

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: Adams-Morgan

The Setup

Looking for some late night munchies on our way to a bar, along with Official Co-Writer of DCWD CC and Official Friends of DCWD HR Intern, Yupster, The Suit, and Aaron, I headed to Amsterdam Falafel Shop to scarf down some quick dinner.

The Vibe

Amsterdam Falafel Shop sits on the second floor of a townhouse on 18th St and takes its decorative theme from the shop's namesake. Posters from Dutch concerts, a large mural, and a faint smell of incense (at least I hope its incense). Space is cramped and the red and yellow space isn't exactly the cleanest, but then again this is more of a grab-and-go place anyway.

The Food


The shop's menu is simple: a small (3 falafel balls) or regular (5 balls) on white or wheat pita, and then potentially fries. Where there is diversity is the condiment bar, which is crazy in both the number of options and in the strict way they monitor how you use them (don't take your falafel up and fill the pita with toppings, don't put them in the water cups, etc.). Everything from the basic hummus and tomatoes and cucumbers, to tahini and cauliflower and cabbage.

On this trip, I loaded up my regular white with grilled eggplant, cucumber and onions and hummus. I've had some bad falafel in my life (crabcake falafel at that), but this was actually pretty good, not dry in any way without sacrificing any crunchiness. Pretty awesome, actually.

The Verdict


Great for the grab-and-go, and or better-for-you drunk food alternative to Jumbo Slice.

Food Rating: ***
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 1 Heart (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
N/A
Vibe:
Energetic
Cost:
$
(out of 5) (less than $25 for two)

Amsterdam Falafelshop on Urbanspoon