Well Dined


Launch Pad Culinary Entrepreneur Competition

Last month, I wrote about a competition that I was invited to attend as a media person, and the breakfast meet and greet that went with it.  Well, the finale event of the competition was 3 weeks ago, and it was wonderful!  I apologize for the delay in writing about it, but 2 days after the event I flew to Texas to keep my mother company while she recovered from surgery, and I just got back!  So let's talk about this thing!

Well Dined | Launch Pad Finale

As I mentioned before, Launch Pad is a competition sponsored by Mess Hall, Ris, and Union Market to give culinary entrepreneurs a jump start.  The winner of the competition would take over the Ris stall in Union Market for 6 months.

Well Dined | Launch Pad Finale

I had never been to Union Market before this, so I got there early in order to wander around.  This place is so cool!  They were having a farmers market outside, with live music, and inside is a series of stalls with all kinds of food.  What a foodie dream!

Well Dined | Launch Pad Finale

I really wish that I lived closer to this market, because it is really cool.  I hope that you DC dwellers are appreciating this!

Well Dined | Launch Pad Finale

The Launch Pad event took place in Dock5 - the event space at Union Market.  It really is a big industrial loading dock that you can set up any way that you like for your event.


Launch Pad Finalist Breakfast

Last week I had the opportunity to attend a breakfast in order to meet the finalists of the Launch Pad Culinary Entrepreneur Competition.  Before I tell you about that breakfast, I need to explain what it was for, and that may get a little convoluted - so stick with me!  Launch Pad is a competition sponsored by Mess Hall, Ris, and Union Market.

Union Market is a revitalized indoor market area and collection of restaurants near Gallaudet University in DC.  It opened in September 2012 and has about 40 shops.  There are plans to add multiple levels and expand it greatly to include retail, restaurants, hotel, entertainment, and incubator space for new food concepts, as well as wholesale space.

Mess Hall is the aforementioned incubator space for new food concepts, which opened in October 2014.  Their mission is to "support up-and-coming food entrepreneurs by providing commercial kitchens, combined with institutional knowledge and extraordinary opportunities."

Ris is a restaurant in DC that also has a satellite location in Union Market, it is owned/operated by chef Ris Lacoste.

Are you still with me?  Great!

Back to Launch Pad - it is a competition for food entrepreneurs to launch a concept in a quick service space in Union Market.  The winner of the Grand Prize will receive (according to the Launch Pad website):

  • 6 – 12 month opportunity to launch a dream concept using a built out space in a prime location at Union Market
  • Free Mess Hall membership
  • Full Service Restaurant Pop-up opportunity at Mess Hall’s event space
  • Mentorship from Ris Lacoste
  • Consultation on lease negotiations with master DC restaurateurs the Hilton Brothers
  • Business plan vetting and design services from EDENS
  • A luncheon organized with successful restaurant investors
  • And a growing list of unique prizes and opportunities courtesy of our event Sponsors.
  • PLUS – All finalists will have their knives sharpened by DC Sharp.

Pretty great, right?!  This is the second year for the competition, and last year the winner was Mason Dixie Biscuit Company.

You know what else is great? The list of judges and advisers for the finalists:


Al Goldberg – Founder, Mess Hall
David Hall – Investor, Revolution
Ris Lacoste – Chef / Owner, RIS
Drew Nieporent – Restaurateur, Myriad Restaurant Group
Patrick O’Connell – Chef / Owner, The Inn at Little Washington
Aaron Silverman – Chef / Owner, Rose’s Luxury
Audience Vote – Each member of the live audience will receive a single vote. The Audience Vote will count as 5% of the overall vote.


Richie Brandenburg – Directory of Culinary Strategy, EDENS
Terrell Danley – Chef, DC Central Kitchen
Eric and Ian Hilton– Restaurateurs
Kathy Hollinger– President and CEO, Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington
Eric Kessler – Founder / Managing Director, Arabella Advisors
Mike Lenard – Owner, Takorean, Former Head of the Food Truck Association
Winston Lord – Co-Founder, Venga
Spike Mendelsohn – Good Stuff Eatery, DC Food Policy Council Chair
Nick Stefanelli– Chef / Owner, Masseria

Now, let's talk about the finalists and the meet-and-greet breakfast event at Ris restaurant!  There were lots of bloggers and media people there, but plenty of opportunity to speak with the finalists individually.


Ted’s Bulletin

I had heard of this place in some magazine or other because of the homemade poptarts.  So when I was in Reston and craving some mid-day breakfast, I decided to try it out.  It's kind of like an upscale version of an old-fashioned diner.  If that makes any sense.

Well Dined | Ted's Bulletin

The menu is a mini newspaper (or bulletin, if you will) that also has some articles on the namesake and how the restaurant was founded.  They have boozy milkshakes (very on trend right now), so I tried the Bananas Foster with banana rum and caramel.  Very good.

Well Dined | Ted's Bulletin

Then I tried the signature breakfast combo - The Big Mark - which comes with 3 eggs, 2 bacon, 2 sausage, hashbrowns, toast, and a poptart (I chose the brown sugar bacon flavor).  Everything was great except for the sausage, which was way too spicy for me.  The poptart was indeed tasty, but I thought it needed a higher filling to crust ratio.

Well Dined | Ted's Bulletin

I brought a couple more flavors of poptart home (blueberry cheesecake and strawberry, I believe) to sample a range and so that Jasper could try them.  Again, they were good but we both agreed they needed more filling.

Here's the fun news for breakfast-loving me - they are opening up a location at Mosaic, which is very close to me!  I might even sample some non-breakfast items... maybe... probably not.


Grapes of Spain Wine Dinner at Marcel’s

You should know by now how much we love Marcel's - the restaurant where we got engaged and where we spend many of our special occasions (previous posts here and here).  So when I saw a post about an amazing looking wine dinner on their Facebook page, I immediately called and made reservations.  The dinner was four courses (plus Amuse and cheese) designed to pair with seven wines from Grapes of Spain, a Spanish wine importer with a focus on new talent and modern wines.  Grapes of Spain president Aurelio Cabestrero, and winemakers Javier Candon and Isaac Fernandez were in attendance.  For each pairing, we were given an in-depth description of the wines from the type of land the grapes are grown on, to how they are harvested and prepared, to the tasting notes.  It was incredibly informative and a lot of fun, especially as we got to know the other people at our table.  The best part?  These wines are incredibly reasonably priced, I would even say cheap - most were between $15-$20 a bottle!  And we got a discount for being at the dinner, and an even bigger discount for buying a case (mix and match, too).  Such an insanely great deal!

Without further ado, I present to you the pairings:

Amuse Bouche - Lobster Egg with Osetra Caviar.  This was a lobster bisque topped with custard and caviar, served in an egg shell - delicious.

Biutiful Cava Brut Rose NV - 100% Garnacha.  A delicate, subtle, dry, sparkling rose with notes of raspberry and citrus.

First Course - Diver Scallop Tartine, Aged Sherry Shallot Butter, Smoked Trout Roe.  Excellent, my favorite course.

Adras Godello 2012 - 100% Godello.  My favorite wine of the night - earthy and funky like my beloved French whites, but with more floral and citrus notes making it super balanced and perfect for pairing with food.

Second Course - Saddle of Rabbit Stuffed with Cumin Scented Rabbit Sausage, Butternut Squash Puree, Chanterelle Mushrooms.  Very earthy and yummy (I think we can acknowledge that all the courses are going to be yummy).  I was starting to get tipsy already at this point, yikes!

Adras Mencia 2012 - 100% Mencia.  A light bodied but velvety fruit-forward red.

Third Course - Breast of La Belle Farms Duck, Duck Confit, Valrhona Chocolate, Brandied Cherries.  I really liked this course, and boy were those cherries boozy!

Acentor Garnacha 2012 - 100% Garnacha Tinta (Red Grenache).  Dry and spicy, Jasper preferred this wine with the duck (and overall - it was his favorite).  We both thought it was the most drinkable of all the wines (meaning on it's own, not necessarily with food).

Bovale 2011 - 100% Bobal.  Jammy with ripe berry and chocolate notes.  I thought this was the better pairing with the duck because of the chocolate in the dish, but I was definitely in the minority at the table.

Fourth Course - Herb Brioche Encrusted Rack of Border Springs Lamb, Scarmoza Polenta Cake, Madeira Lamb Jus.  I think I ate this really fast because I needed food at this point, haha.

Finca La Mata 2011 - 100% Tinta del Pais (Tempranillo).  Medium-bodied and fruit-forward with depth.  Very satisfying, but not a standout in this group, especially since it was more classic versus unusual.

Arrocal Selection 2010 - 100% Tinto Fino (Tempranillo).  This was deep and rich with notes of black cherry, vanilla, and spice.  This wine was the outlier in terms of price point - at $40 it is well above the others.

Cheese - Reblochon Cheese Cake with Green Gauge Plums.  There was no wine paired with this course, so we all took our time finishing whatever we hadn't been able to yet.

Then came a few petite fours and the filling out of the order forms.  The wines were ready to pick up in just a few days.  We got ours yesterday and I am so excited!  The dinner was lovely and I highly recommend looking to see if any of these wines are available near you.  The quality is wonderful on they're own, but paired with the price they're unbeatable.


Range by Bryan Voltaggio

Another belated Restaurant Week post brings us to a somewhat new Bryan Voltaggio concept in Chevy Chase - Range.  Located inside Chevy Chase Pavillion (across from Mazza Gallerie), the interior is huge and split into multiple dining rooms.  Unfortunately, we were sat in the far back in the most remote and boring corner.  We still had pretty decent service, though, especially considering how packed it was.

The New American menu has a lot to choose from with a raw bar, charcuterie, wood fired pizzas, and a range of cooked dishes.  The cocktails are innovative, and the wine list is good (our server recommended a wine from a vineyard that has a personal relationship with the restaurant and is hard to get elsewhere).

Well Dined | Range

There was a cheese course on the restaurant week menu, so we went ahead and got that.  But we also wanted charcuterie, which wasn't on the RW menu, so we ordered that a la carte - you can see the portion difference in the photo.  Both selections were great and the housemade accompaniments were topnotch.  I especially liked the mostarda and the fig jam.

Well Dined | Range

My second course was the kale caesar salad with egg emulsion that everybody is always posting about, with good reason!  It's a caesar, but it's one of the best you are ever going to get.

Well Dined | Range

Jasper choose the beet salad with burrata.  Pretty standard combo, well executed.

Well Dined | Range

For my entree, I choose the goat cheese ravioli with meat ragu.  Yummy, but the filling was pretty much just goat cheese, and a lot of it.  I like goat cheese, but I would have appreciated a better balance.

Well Dined | Range

Jasper choose the lamb with carrot-jalapeno romesco, which he said was awesome.

We had a good time and enjoyed everything we ate.  I would like to return to try out more of the menu, especially with a group since the menu seems to be suited for it.


Restaurant Week – Kaz Sushi Bistro

I know, I know - Restaurant Week was last month.  I'm slow, get over it.  So I had heard that Kaz was some people's favorite sushi joint in town and we hadn't tried it out yet.  Well, that's what RW is for!  Except that we got to there and Jasper promptly threw out the RW menu, crying "I want to eat whatever I want!".  This is not the first time this has happened.  Oh well.

First thing's first - the sake.  They have a couple of sake tastings, and one of them is all nigori, so of course we ordered that!  It was fun to try out a couple different ones, and all of them were new to us.  We picked out favorite of the three and ordered a bottle.

Well Dined | Kaz Sushi Bistro

First up - pork belly appetizer.  Yummy, I mean - it's pork belly.  Liked the presentation, too.

Well Dined | Kaz Sushi Bistro

Okonomiyaki - Japanese pancake with cabbage, bbq pork belly, mayo, and bonito.  I scarfed this down before taking a photo, so obviously I liked it.  But I did think it was too heavy on the bbq sauce.

Well Dined | Kaz Sushi Bistro

Next up, sushi - lots of sushi.  Standouts were the Hawaiian Walu special with wasabi leaf  (top center), lobster with wasabi mayo (bottom right), and seared salmon belly (bottom center ) - though the salon belly was not as good as Kushi's.  Toro, uni, and unagi were standard.  The foie gras miso on the tuna and masago and creme fraiche on the salmon didn't really add anything, I wouldn't get them again.


SushiKo (Chevy Chase)

I don't really know what to say about this place. The reviews were all great, and my husband really liked it, but I wasn't impressed.

Well Dined | Sushi Ko

We tried plenty of sushi, as you can see, and I thought it was just average (especially for the price).  Taro and Kushi are way better in my opinion.

Well Dined | Sushi Ko

I was more impressed with this creamy lobster and scallop dish, but not enough to make me come back.

There was nothing really wrong with any of it, but it didn't stand up to my expectations.  My husband might disagree, but I found it to be overpriced for average sushi.  The pear martini, however, was delicious.



DC Wine Week Brunch at Sonoma


As a thank you to all the bloggers and media folks supporting their events, DC Wine Week hosted an invitation only brunch at Sonoma Restaurant and Wine Bar.  The space is very cool - a three story townhouse with big windows and modern decor.

Well Dined | DC Wine Week

There were three sparkling wines available for tasting: Ca'del Pucino Prosecco, Lovisolo Brut Nebbiolo Spumante Rose, and Opera Lambrusco.  The Lambrusco was our favorite - a sparkling red with raspberry notes that reminded us of our favorite black raspberry port from Fabbioli.

Well Dined | DC Wine Week

Small bites of brunch food were served buffet style.  This was a sneak peek at the new brunch menu at Sonoma, just for us!

Well Dined | DC Wine Week

On the menu were roasted baby beet skewers, prosciutto wrapped melon, French toast bites with apple and cinnamon, cured meats, and cheeses with homemade fruit spreads.  The big item on the buffet was a breakfast "burger" - with a house-made sausage patty, bacon, and Cabot white cheddar on a  house-made bun.

Well Dined | DC Wine Week

Everything was very tasty so I would love to check out the regular brunch menu, or the dinner menu, or any menu - why isn't this place in NoVA?!

And that brings us to the end of DC Wine Week!  We had a great time and will definitely be participating next year.  I hope to see you there!

What's your favorite wine bar?  Leave your answer in the comments.


DC Wine Week Kick-Off

Well Dined

This month is the 25th Anniversary of Virginia Wine Month, which I didn't know about until last week.  I also didn't know about DC Wine Week, which kicked off it's 3rd year last night, until I got a special invite to attend some of the events.  You see, the co-founders are social media marketing experts, and they scour the web looking for locals who might get excited about their events.  And let me tell you, I was excited.

Lisa Byrne and Vanessa French started DC Wine Week as a celebration of all things wine, but especially of local wines and the places that serve them.  So it makes sense that they chose Veritas Wine Bar (one of the best wine bars in the city and, I'm told, one of the first) for their opening event.

This was my first time at Veritas, but I would love to go back.  The selected wines were all new to me, and all fantastic; and the cheese and charcuterie pairings were outstanding on their own, but also some of the best examples of food and wine pairings I have ever experienced.  These guys know what they are doing.  Period.  Special shout-out to Uri Martinez, who took really good care of us even though the place was packed.  They do seem to serve their reds at room temp, whereas I like them around 55 degrees, but it's hard to find anyone who puts a little chill on a red.

Well Dined

I don't have many photos of the event, so here are some shots of me doing silly poses. You're welcome.

Wines and Pairings

1) Sparkling, Rossignol de Moragas, ‘Brut,’ Cava, Penedes, Spain, NV - This was clean, crisp, and dry (everything I love in a sparkling wine) and paired with some fantastically meaty (read: not thin and dry) prosciutto.

2) Sparkling, Cricova, Spumante Original, Brut, Moldova, NV - As much as I liked the first wine, I liked this one even more.  Also crisp and dry, it had a lot of floral going on that brought out the more complex flavors (like juniper) in the wild boar salumi it was paired with.

3) Chardonnay, Slo Down Wines, ‘Broken Dreams,’ California, 2012 - Oh my gosh, you guys - this wine.  My favorite of the night, possibly my new favorite ever.  This is not your standard buttery CA Chardonnay (which is good, because I don't like those) - full bodied and fruity (think tropical), this reminded me more of a dry Riesling.  It was paired with a firm sheep's cheese from Spain called P'tit Basque.  The guys who make Broken Dreams are hilarious, and the wine is less that $20 a bottle.  Seriously, check it out.

4) Viognier, Barboursville, ‘Reserve,’ Virginia, 2012 - VA is famous for Viognier, so of course there had to be one on the list!  This particular one was very nice, with a good amount of terroir (aka funk).  We really loved the cheese it was paired with - a firm cow's cheese with peppercorns from Oregon called Marco Polo.  With the wine, I was picking up notes of citrus and herb in the cheese - super yum!

5) Pinot Noir, Laetitia, Arroyo Grand, California, 2012 - Light bodied and dry with notes of cherry, this was paired with a killer braseola.  It didn't set off the allergic reaction I get with some Pinots, so that was definitely a plus for me!

6) Tempranillo, Baron Ladron De Guevara, Rioja, Spain, 2012 - Medium bodied, dry, and jammy and paired with an outstanding duck rillete.  Neither of us really likes pates or terrines, and we loved this rillete, so that says a lot.

7) Sparkling, Aecovi, ‘Penelope,’ Jerez, Spain, NV - This was another favorite.  Very sweet, a sparkling dessert wine, with honeyed apple notes that reminded me of a Tokai.  Paired with a creamy and salty blue cheese.

Well Dined

And here is Jasper - drinking and thinking. What a cutie!

This event was super fun.  I learned a lot, I met some cool people, and I had some really great food and wine.  Be sure to go to www.dcwineweek.com and sign up for one of the events!



We finally got to try out Top Chef Alum Mike Isabella's DC restaurant Graffiato.  Of course by now the buzz has died down and he has opened 2 other restaurants, doh!  But that's okay, it means it was easy to get a table, even on the weekend.  The restaurant is trendy and urban and almost a little hipster, with rustic wood tables and graphic, cartoon wall murals.  The cocktails are inventive and the wine list is good; they are even using a new type of device that let's them pour from a bottle without removing the cork and without introducing oxygen, so that they can do wines by the glass that never would have been available before.  Nifty.  The food is Italian style small plates, which overall were quite yummy.  It is overpriced, though, which is what you get with "celebrity" chef's in already pricey places like DC.  So just be prepared for sticker shock if you go.


First small plate was burrata with kumquat and shaved smoked pork loin.  A beautiful mix of creamy, sweet, tangy, smokey, and salty - A+.


Next up was the charred octopus, which was good but wasn't as charred as I would like it and definitely wasn't better than Nostos's.

We also had the focaccia with Mike's famous pepperoni sauce, which I didn't get a photo of.  I was surprised at how good the sauce was, considering I am not a fan of pepperoni.  Jasper, who loves pepperoni, was a big fan.


Ravioli special - chicken and mushroom.  This, along with the sweet corn agnolotti that I didn't get a photo of, was the best dish in my opinion.


This pappardelle with rabbit was good, but not great.


It was the same story with the seashells pasta with snails and bone marrow - good, but not great.  Here I think the problem was a mint pesto that was overwhelming.

We were focused on ordering small plates to get a sampling of the menu, so we weren't able to order a pizza.  I hear that they are fantastic, so I would like to return to try one (the countryman, in particular).  I would say that the stuffed pastas are smaller portions than the other pastas, but have much better flavor; the burrata was a standout; and the pepperoni sauce is worth the hype.  If I hadn't been with my meat loving husband, I would have loved to try some vegetable dishes.  Isabella treats his ingredients with care, so I imagine that he could make a simple vegetable dish amazing.

Overall, worth a try if you can afford it.  Valet is available, but it is right next to the Chinatown Metro stop.