We didn't want to get our kitchen dirty again after having just cleaned it, so we decided to go out. I suggested Bonaroti - an Italian restaurant in Vienna that I had heard good things about. It is located in a strip center and the decor (over the top old world luxury) reminded us of Cafe Renaissance* - which we hated - so we were a little worried. But luckily our fears were unfounded, Bonaroti is quite good.
With the table bread, they serve olive oil and balsamic vinegar, olive tapenade, and sun dried tomatoes. Jasper ordered Prosecco to start and they brought out a tiny bottle that was very good. We also ordered a very nice Chianti Classico. For our first courses, we had beef carpaccio, caprese salad, and risotto with scallops. The carpaccio was lovely - fresh and very thin, with only lemon juice, olive oil, and shaved Parmesan. The caprese came with Mozzarella di Buffalo that was soft and creamy and wonderful; large, ripe slices of tomato; and huge fresh leaves of basil drizzled with balsamic and olive oil. The risotto was the perfect texture and the scallops were nicely cooked. The sauce was savory and not too fishy (unlike Assagi Osteria). For our entrees we both ordered pasta. I had the spaghetti "Chris Cooley" (local football player), which is served with a bolognese sauce, truffle oil, fluffy meatballs, and a little dollop of mascarpone cheese. It was tasty and satisfying, but I must say that I was jealous of Jasper's capellini carbonara - angel hair pasta in a rich cream sauce with Parmesan, bacon, onion, and egg yolk. It was decadently delicious. I also had a side of creamed spinach in a Parmesan bechamel sauce - very creamy and comforting. Neither of us were able to finish our pastas because the portions were so large (comforting since each was $20+). We decided to try dessert anyway. I had a cream puff cake that was pretty much like a cream puff in cake format, and a wonderful moscato. Jasper had a chocolate mousse cake and a tawny port. Just when we were ready to be rolled home, the waiter came back with complimentary sambucca and biscotti.
While Bonaroti is too expensive to be a weeknight haunt, it would be lovely for a date night or a big lunch.
*I never got a chance to write about Cafe Renaissance, but it was awful. The server was pushy, the food was so-so, and the wine made us instantly sick (and sick the whole next day) after one glass.
We went back to Taro in October to see what it was like on a regular night (as opposed to a holiday). We both ordered the sushi tasting menu which comes with come cooked dishes and some sushi. I won't go into too much detail this time because, frankly, the cooked dishes were forgettable. Sure they were savory and good (except for the frequent use of large, chewy matsutake mushrooms), but they were not really special - not like that incredible sukiyaki from February. The sushi, however, was fantastic - the standouts being fatty tuna (of course), white salmon, and the wagyu beef (I realize this is not a fish, but my goodness it was amazing). We have decided to skip the tasting menu the next time we go and just order sushi a la carte, because the fresh fish is definitely the star of Taro.
I suppose it is about time for me to review OUR restaurant, the one where Jasper proposed to me, where we spend most of our anniversaries and special occasions - Marcel's. It is a romantic, old world, French restaurant. Marcel's gives you the ability to choose how many courses to have in your tasting menu - 3,4,5, or 7. You may chose multiples of a dish, choose all appetizers, all desserts - whatever you want! You may also order a la carte, but I wouldn't recommend it. You will want to be able to try many things. The Pre-theater 3 course menu is also a wonderful option (remember that you will have an amuse bouche and several additional sweets in addition to the 3 courses). If you valet your car, they will arrange to drive you via towncar to the Kennedy Center, and bring you back after the show. You can even opt to have the dessert course when you come back after the show. The wine list here is, of course, impressive. Leave yourself in the hands of the excellent sommelier - he knows what he is talking about.
The absolute best thing on the menu is Chef Robert Wiedmaier's signature Boudin Blanc - a fluffy, creamy, melt-in-your-mouth, mousse filled white sausage. I get this absolutely every time I come. If there is foie gras on the menu, get that too - they know how to do it right. Usually it will be served on top of brioche, which is good for sopping up all that blackberry or truffle sauce - yum. Jasper loves the Diver Scallops, I love the raw fish crudos. Anything with lobster, especially if it is with pasta, is fantastic. The cooked fish courses are consistently good (especially turbot), as are the snails, when they are on the menu. The entrees are always good - I typically go for lamb, duck, veal, or anything involving phyllo pastry. Jasper tends to go for the beef. Sometimes I skip the entree entirely and order everything from the beginning of the menu. Sometimes I don't even get dessert *gasp*! Though, of course, they are very good. They change constantly, so I can't offer any specific review, except to say that I have never been disappointed on the few occasions I have chosen sweets over cheese. The cheese course is top of the line with cheeses like Roquefort and Taleggio, and accompaniments like honeycomb and Sauternes syrup.
I know that this review is a bit vague, so the next time that we go, I will bring back a report of exactly what we ordered to give you a better idea. Trust me though, this is a special restaurant, and special things will happen to you here.
By the way, Chef Wiedmaier practices the philosophy of using the whole animal. His other restaurants include Brasserie Beck, BRABO, The Tasting Room, and Mussel Bar.
Last weekend, we decided to visit a few wineries along the Potomac River, north of Leesburg, and end up at Patowmack Farm for dinner. The first winery we stopped at, Fabbioli Cellars, was by far our favorite. There were plenty of people there, but it didn't feel crowded. The people were really genuine, laid back, and fun - they were even wearing costumes in honor of Halloween. For tastings ($5), you sit down at one of several small tables (4-6 ppl max) and get basically one-on-one attention from the staff member in charge of your tasting. Our server, Melissa, was one of the winemakers - so we got to hear a lot about what went in to each wine. We got generous pours of 8 wines, plus one that we requested that wasn't on the tasting list. The wines are very good, we particularly liked the lighter Chambourcin - a variety that I had never had before; the Tre Sorelle Bordeaux; and the Reserve Cabernet Franc. The real stars of the winery are their dessert wines, though. They have a Raspberry Merlot made with raspberries that they grow themselves. They also have the Rosa Nera - a fortified wine (think port) with black raspberries - again grown by Fabbioli. The Raspberry Merlot is sweeter and lighter, the Rosa Nera is richer and goes wonderfully with dark chocolate. They had some nice fires going outside, so we bought some bread, cheese, and salami, corked one of the bottles we bought, and had a little picnic by the fire. It was lovely.
The second winery, Lost Creek, was seriously unimpressive. It was very crowded, and they only had 2 people serving tastings, so they were rushing around a lot. We had to wait a long time for our next pour, occasionally, and had to keep reminding the server which wine we were on. The pours were ludicrously tiny, barely a sip, which was perhaps a good thing considering how bad the wines were. Save your $5, do not go here. We were originally thinking about trying Hidden Brook, next door, but I had read reviews about it saying that Lost Creek was better. And we didn't want to go to anywhere WORSE than Lost Creek.
Our last winery was Tarara (Ararat spelled backwards in honor of the Biblical story of Noah). It is a very large property with a lake, pavilions for parties or concerts, trails, etc... They are more structured here, perhaps because of volume of visitors. They have a large counter at the entrance for buying tickets to tours or tastings. We had wanted to do a tour of the cellar, but they had already sold out of tickets. After paying our $5 for a tasting, we were told to go into the next room. It was extremely crowded in the tasting room, we had to wait for a couple to leave before we could get a space at the counter. Our server was not as overstretched as the one at Lost Creek, but it was definitely not the intimate experience of Fabbioli. Her comments on each wine sounded very rehearsed, she would pour the wine (a decent size pour), give her speech, and move on to the next person. The wines were ok, nothing to write home about. Our favorites from the tasting were the Charval - a white blend, and the Long Bomb Edition 1 - the signature red. Tarara offers a wine club that includes 3 bottles every quarter, 20% discount on purchases, free tastings, and tickets to summer concerts.
At the end of our day, we headed of for dinner at Patowmack Farm - a literal farm to table situation focused on sustainable foods. Reservations are required here, by the way, no walk-ins allowed. We arrived a little early for our reservation, so we wandered around and got a look at their vegetable garden, chickens, and goats, before heading to the glass greenhouse like structure for dinner. We were seated (by the owner) with a gorgeous view out to the hills and the Potomac, and got to enjoy a lovely sunset. Our menus were printed with a welcome and our last name at the top - a wonderfully personal touch. Our server, Bill, was enthusiastic about the philosophy of the restaurant and the ingredients used. We got detailed descriptions from him at each course explaining where the ingredients came from and how each vendor practices sustainability.
We each ordered the tasting menu, and Jasper got a wine pairing - several of the wines were from Fabbioli Cellars! We were served an amuse bouche of a mini flatbread pizza, with pumpkin puree, organic feta, and olive. This was followed by a gougere - a cheesy bread puff - that was incredible. It made me want to try out the gougere mix we sell at Williams Sonoma. The first course was a raw crudo of swordfish with pickled carrots and celery, saffron, and fresh anchovy. It was very fresh and flavorful. Both the menu and Bill were careful to point out that the swordfish came from Linda Greenlaw, whose name you may recognize from The Perfect Storm. She is the only female sword-fishing captain on the East Coast, and only uses rods (not nets) to catch fish, insuring that she is not damaging the ocean floor and that she can throw back anything that is too small. Anyway, the next course was a green apple consume with butternut squash tortellini, puffed barley, and sage. The broth was sweet and tart and very clear, the barley adding a little crunch. I wished there was more than one of the tortellini. The third course was our favorite - braised veal ragu with potato and pumpkin gnocchi, ricotta, and nasturtium leaf (similar to watercress). The ragu was tender, rich, and flavorful, and the gnocchi were tiny and perfect. This was followed by a frozen spiced pear palate cleanser, and the main course - Venison Leg with autumn greens, marinated apples, rosemary pear sauce, and juniper spice pesto. The venison was good - not tough or gamey. However, venison is not my favorite meat, and the veal ragu from the last course was so delicious, that it was a little disappointing. The greens, and rosemary pear sauce were very good accompaniments, and I was fascinated by the juniper spice pesto - it was an incredibly strong blend of spices. We were warned that a little of the pesto went a long way, and it was very true. I ended up dipping the tines of my fork in it to get the right amount for each bite. The venison came from Broken Arrow Ranch in Texas, where they take a mobile processing center around to cooperating ranches to hunt and process wild animals on site. The animals are not trapped or transported, so they never become stressed or afraid - it is very humane. For dessert, I had the butternut squash cheesecake, which was creamy and delicious. Jasper had a mocha souffle, which he enjoyed thoroughly. Overall, it was a lovely experience, and one that I would definitely recommend if you have time for a bit of a drive and a relaxing dinner.
We went to see Cirque du Soleil's OVO Sunday night at the National Harbor. The show was great (as usual) and afterwards we headed to the waterfront to have dinner. We went into the Gaylord National Resort to eat at their steakhouse - Old Hickory. The inside of the Gaylord is amazing - a huge glass atrium with a fountain light show. Old Hickory looks out onto the atrium and, more importantly, onto the Potomac river. The decor is GORGEOUS - room after room of clean, white, square architectural details on dark blue paint. I loved the bar area especially with it's white marble bartop and modern glass doors. We were sat with a view out to the river, it was dark already but the view was still lovely.
For my first course, I had the beef tartare. It came with crunchy potato strings, a gorgeous fried egg coated in a crispy batter, and a sprinkling of fluer de sel. Cutting into the egg and having the warm yolk drip all over the beef was wonderful. The meat was bright red and very tender - just right. Jasper ordered the warm Maryland blue crab on recommendation of our waiter. It was a large portion of lump crab meat mixed with a mustard aioli and topped with crunchy cauliflower. I managed to steal a bite and it was very good. For our entree, we both ordered the grass-fed tenderloin (medium rare, of course). Oh my goodness - tender, tender, tender, and packed with flavor. It didn't need the sauces we ordered, but I am glad we ordered them. Jasper said his peppercorn sauce was the best he's ever had (and he has had a lot), and I could have eaten my Bearnaise with a spoon - creamy, lemony perfection. We opted out on dessert in favor of a cheese course, for which the Old Hickory is famous. They have a special case calibrated to keep the cheeses at the perfect temperature. The Maitre D'Fromage wheels out a case filled with cheeses and explains each one. We opted for six cheese selections, since we like different kinds of cheeses. Jasper picked a cheddar, a pecorino, and another sharp hard cheese. I selected a smokey blue from Oregon, a fragrant triple creme, and a gorgeous taleggio. The cheeses were served with pickled raisins, dried apricots (of which I wished there were more), and Marcona almonds.
The restaurant also has a cigar terrace with a cedar humidor, should you be a fan of after dinner cigars.
This Italian restaurant in McLean is the sister to Assagi Mozarella Bar in Bethesda (#90 on the best of list), and also Open Table's winner of Diner's Choice 2010. But the reason we decided to eat there was because we missed Italy. We were sat in the private-ish wine room at the back of the restaurant, which fills up pretty quickly. The view out of the large windows was, unfortunately, of the Irish Pub next door. Other than that, it was a very nice table. The outdoor sitting at the front of the restaurant looks lovely, though.
We were served fresh bread accompanied by some FANTASTIC olive oil that needed no salt or vinegar added to it. The Sommelier recommended a fantastic Super Tuscan (Il Solissimo Lucignano) based on our description of wines that we liked. We decided to start in the traditional Italian way with some fresh burrata cheese with baby tomatoes and basil. Fresh, creamy, with a juicy tang from the tomatoes - this is the perfect way to start an evening (or morning, or afternoon...). For my primi piatti I had the butternut squash soup with crispy prosciutto. It was very good, just right for a squash soup - but nothing extra special. Jasper had the scallop risotto, which he found tasted too fishy. For our secondi piatti we both had the special - a veal ravioli with mushrooms and sage. This was excellent (Jasper is still talking about it weeks later). The veal was moist and flavorful and rich, and the sage flavor was very present without being overpowering. The pasta, of course, was the perfect texture. If this was a regular menu item, we would go back all the time. For dessert we had the signature zeppoli - Italian doughnuts served with a sabayon sauce. One word: heaven.
While there were some missteps, the overall experience was very nice and we will likely return. Based on other reviews I have read, I definitely want to try the beet ravioli stuffed with goat cheese. It is purported to be a winner. But oh, those zeppoli... I will be thinking of them the entire dinner.
So - we finally made it out to Komi (the raved about #1 restaurant in DC) for our 6 month wedding anniversary. It is a tiny little place right next door to Sushi Taro. The decor is very simple and clean. The service is enthusiastic and friendly and not at all stuffy. This is not a white glove type of establishment, but definitely a special occasion spot.
The dinner is a set price of $125 per diner and is degustazione style, meaning - the chef sends out what he wants, there is no menu. You can of course request a dish you have had before and loved, or ask to avoid foods you are allergic to/ don't like. The meal progresses from a series of mezze (small dishes), to a pasta course, to a shared entree, then a series of desserts. The chef is Greek, and the name Komi comes from a location in Greece, so it is no surprise that the food has a Mediterranean influence.
The mezze portion was definitely my favorite of the evening. I love small perfect bites, and this was exactly that - brought out one by one in a parade of tasty excellence. The first bite set the tone - a wonderful warm ball of bread topped with Greek yogurt and trout roe - yum! Included in our mezze for the evening were also several raw fish selections topped with various herbs and sea salts - super fresh, and the accompaniments were just right. The scallop with truffle was particularly special. One of my favorite bites was a take on spanakopita (phyllo dough with spinach and feta) that had a liquid spinach center, a crunchy outside, and sat in a greek yogurt sauce. And let's not forget the medjool date stuffed with mascarpone and topped with sea salt... heaven. I had specified in the beginning that I did not like spicy dishes, so when they brought a spicy sandwich out for Jasper, they also brought a dish made for me. That kind of service really makes me smile. My dish was dragon tongue beans (which I had never heard of) with a gorgeous soft farm egg on top. The pasta course was a house-made tagliatelle with duck ragout and truffles. The pasta was the perfect texture, and the duck ragout was creamy and gamey (in a good way), and the truffles... how could you go wrong? But the main entree stole the show. It was a huge portion of roasted goat that was crispy and salty on top and falling off the bone. It was served with the thickest, freshest pita and all kinds of house-made accompaniments including tzatziki, hot sauce, oregano salt, pickled cabbage, and eggplant puree. I was very impressed, and very pleased. The desserts were a bit downhill from there, but good nonetheless. A standout was the "frozen baklava", which I liked better than I have ever liked actual baklava. Others included loukoumades (Greek doughnuts), and a cannoli type dessert that neither of us particularly favored.
Please, please go to Komi at least once in your life. It is magnificent. Just make sure to call at noon exactly one month in advance of the date that you want a reservation.
We have eaten at Bazin's on several occasions, and are never disappointed. It is in a cute, oldtimey looking stretch of Church street in downtown Vienna. The decor is traditional American - with exposed brick walls, exposed wood ceilings, large stretches of windows, and a pub style bar. DO NOT try to do a walk-in on a weekend night, as we did the first time we went, it fills up completely and quickly. Luckily we were able to snag some space at the bar (after waiting about 45 min). After that, we have been careful to always make a reservation.
They have a few signature drinks, my favorite being the fleur-de-lis - vodka, elderberry liquor, and grapefruit. It is incredibly crisp and refreshing. The peanut butter dessert martini is also pretty special.
The pre-meal bread is lightly toasted and warm, which I love (toast being my favorite food). I usually like to order a selection of appetizers instead of an entree, because I like to sample lots of different tastes. One appetizer that I make sure to always get is the lamb lollipops - a generous portion of char-grilled rack of lamb that tastes like the outdoors and summer - I'm not even kidding. They are served with dollops of goat cheese crema and red grape relish. I order this as an entree all the time, it is definitely filling enough.
The asparagus salad is a mix of crisp asparagus (obviously), warm roasted fingerling potatoes, a warm goat cheese fritter, spicy arugula, edamame, and fresh tomatoes in a citrusy vinaigrette. The combination of cold and warm, crisp and creamy, spicy and acidic make for a very satisfying dish. The chopped salad is a bit of a Mediterranean departure from the usual - involving feta, pistachio, chickpeas, and olives in a lemon dressing.
The potato and onion ravioli is so intriguing that you will find yourself taking bite after bite wondering "what is that?", and suddenly it will be all gone and you will be craving more. The filling is so creamy, and the ravioli is perfectly cooked. It is served with a creamy lobster sauce with generous chunks of tender lobster, drizzled with herb oil, and sprinkled with chives. It is a perfect combination of savory and sweet with plenty of tangy acid. One of my favorite pasta dishes was a special that is not regularly on the menu but should be - a gemelli pasta with pesto and speck. It was so perfectly creamy and salty and fresh and herby - yum!
I rave about the appetizers but don't get me wrong, the entrees are very good as well. Jasper usually orders a steak, and he has also tried the scallop dish. He is always very pleased. If you do order an entree - make sure you get the truffled macaroni and cheese as a side. It is the god of all macaroni and cheese - decadently creamy and rich with plenty of truffle flavor - served piping hot and oozing over the side of it's individual size dish.
The deserts are good, but not stunning. We enjoy the berry crisp and the creme brule. My favorite dessert, however, is a nice glass of moscato After writing this, I am really craving some Bazin's... maybe we will go tomorrow...
... is sliding a bit I was really disappointed by our last visit.
I decided to deviate from my usual favorites - which was my first mistake, I suppose. I ordered the hoisin duck crepes, which ended up being too spicy for me to eat. Jasper ordered the clam chowder - which he enjoyed, but I thought was waaaaay too salty, to the point of being inedible. I had been wanting to try the goat cheese agnolotti for awhile. It was alright, but I found myself wanting more of a citrus flavor in the butter sauce. I was also confused by the zucchini in the dish - it was in awkward little rounds that should have either been cooked much longer or much less - the in-between texture was disconcerting, and the flavor did not mesh with the agnolotti at all! It was the only bad meal I have ever had at CG's, and it was very frustrating
You may have noticed a gap in the postings and a change from my referring to Jasper as my fiance to my husband. That's right, we got married! And then went on a gorgeous honeymoon to Italy (I mean, we love food - hello!). I am now working at Williams-Sonoma and cooking a lot. I could start posting recipes and tips here, would that be something that you would be interested in? Whoever you are out there? We'll see. For now, it's good to be back.