Thursday, February 25, 2016

Atlanta Dining: Campagnolo

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A couple of weeks ago, my girlfriends and I decided to head out for dinner after a school-related event. We were in the downtown area, and selected Campagnolo, an Italian-focused restaurant. When we walked in, we were greeted by a crowded bar and a pianist pounding out classic tunes (read: Billy Joel & Elton John). We wanted to be able to talk over our meal, and the music was a bit loud, so we asked to be seated in the back section. After settling into the cozy booth, we checked out the menu.

 
 
For drinks, we sampled a classic martini (no blue cheese stuffed olives), a cocktail, and wine. The drinks were wonderful, but I hate it when servers do not carry drinks on a tray - more than 2 drinks requires a tray! Unfortunately, the server spilled quite a bit of my martini before setting it in front of me, without even the slightest apology.

The appetizer was classic arancini, with a delicious balsamic reduction. My friends have not tried this delicious fried ball of risotto before, so I was happy to introduce them to it. They were cooked to perfection (not overly friend or greasy), and perfect to share. Though, I secretly wanted the whole plate for myself.
 
 
For entrees, we each sampled something different, which always makes it more fun! I had the lasagna, which the server told me is their number one seller. It was meaty, saucy, and cheesy. Three things every lasagna should be. I savored almost every bite, but had to bring some home for the boyfriend to try.
 

Brett had the mushroom risotto, which she loved. She said you could truly taste all the flavors of the dish, including a hint of acidity. This meal was enough for two, and she brought half home to enjoy the next day.
 
 
Katherine tried the gnocchi. While under-salted, some table-side doctoring fixed the plate right up. It was truly a beautiful presentation and Katherine said that the gnocchi was cooked flawlessly.
 

Amy spiced things up by opting for seafood. The scallops were served grilled, with potatoes, parsnip puree, and wild mushrooms. She felt she could have done with fewer potatoes and more veggies. The scallops, though, were meaty and not chewy - exactly how a scallop should be.

We could not resist dessert, and decided to sample two of the offerings. We quickly settled on the banana semifreddo (another new introduction to my friends) and the chocolate torte. The semifreddo was served with warm beignets, while the chocolate torte had mixed berry coulis (basically homemade syrup) and whipped cream. Both desserts were fantastic endings to a delicious meal.


Overall, Campagnolo was great. We loved the ambiance, though were a bit chilly at our table. The restaurant is in an old building, so it got a bit drafty near the big windows. The service was good, but a bit awkward at times. We will definitely be back to check it out again!


 

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Atlanta Dining: Antico

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Since I moved to Atlanta in April, I've been hearing about a pizza place called Antico. Located just north of downtown, Antico is part of a group of restaurants owned by Giovanni Di Palma. 


In 2009, Giovanni bought a bakery in a not-so-appealing neighborhood and has slowly been growing his eatery empire. Not only does he have the famous Antico, but he also has restaurants serving up chicken and gelato, a bodega, and a bar with small plates. 

I finally headed to Antico with my good friend Keiylene for lunch one day during exam week.  The restaurant opened at 11:30 and we got there just in time for the doors to open. Antico is not a sit down restaurant. Rather, you order at the counter and then take your seat. 


There's two main seating areas in the restaurant, the most popular being in the 'Dough Room' which is where the pizzas are made. Antico is super casual. Grab a seat at one of the many tables with benches and wait for your pie to be brought to you.
 

I'd been told that the pizza here was very similar to the slices they serve up in New York, so I was pretty psyched. The closest thing I had to NY pizza in DC was Wise Guys, and they were pretty spectacular. Keiylene and I shared a pie--they are huge! We went very traditional with the basic margherita pizza. With fresh buffalo mozzarella and basil, it was cooked to perfection. 

While the pizza was really delicious, I definitely missed out on some of the 'insider information'. I noticed as I was nearly done with my meal that most diners had a small container of sauce on the side. It's no surprise that I love a good dipping sauce, so I was bummed I had failed to notice this earlier. Additionally, there was an accouterments bar up at the counter where the pizzas were being made -- another fail on my part. This had things like red pepper flakes, marinated peppers, and fresh basil, and Parmesan cheese. I think these additional items would have helped make the dining experience even better.


Next time, I'll definitely be trying a pizza a bit more exciting than the basic one I sampled this first time around. I brought home the San Gennaro for my boyfriend, Nick, to try and he thought it was exceptional. 

I've also heard that during dinner time the pizza chefs serenade the guests, so I'll absolutely be checking that out! I also think it's important to say that this pizza is NOT New York style. It's Neopolitan, and there's a big difference! It was much better than 2 Amy's in DC, which I think is highly overrated!



Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Comeback Dinner at Momofuku

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Well, it's been a while. First, let me apologize for our disappearing act. Amanda has been busy at grad school in Atlanta. The separation has been challenging, primarily for the blog! While grad school has been keeping Amanda busy, I switched jobs several months ago. Our goal is to get back to business starting with this post!

During our hiatus, when we haven't been busy with networking and working, we've been holding our breath waiting for David Chang to appear in DC. I have personally been peering in the windows at City Center for months waiting for Momofuku to open. We lucked out on Halloween by dropping by the new space that happened to have a table for 4 available.  



The menu at Momofuku is incredibly unique - blending traditional David Chang-style Ramen and pork buns with some unique DC elements, like Virginia ham and Shrimp Louis. We tried a wide variety of dishes from the menu, but stuck to traditional Japanese dishes for our dinner.

There are about 4 different types of steamed buns on the menu.  For appetizers, we tried the shrimp buns and the pork buns - the pork buns being the clear winner. 

                     

Reviews on the shrimp buns were mixed.  Instead of whole shrimp, the buns were filled with a shrimp patty, pickled red onion, shredded lettuce, and a Russian style dressing. Honestly, we weren't crazy about the patty and instead would have loved to have seen jumbo shrimp inside.  


The pork buns, however, were amazing. Despite being filled with rich pork belly, it tasted light and fresh. The crunch of the cucumber and bite of scallions perfectly complemented the sweet pork and fluffy bun.  


My boyfriend ordered the Taiwanese-style beef noodle soup as his main entree. This was definitely a group favorite. It was set up like a ramen, but had a rich beefstock broth with heat on the back end. Generous slices of rare brisket and shredded beef topped the bowl. 


Amanda and I sprung for the Momomfuku ramen. The broth flavor was different than most of the other ramens we've tried in DC.  Chang uses bacon to flavor his ramen, and the smoky flavor definitely came through. The bowl was topped with both pork belly and shredded pork as well as small fish cakes. We liked the meat, but the fish cakes were off putting to us.  The fishy smell was a bit overpowering. We did love, however, the perfectly runny egg and chewy ramen noodles.  


One of the best entrees was the cold noodles with spicy Szechuan sausage and candied cashews. The spicy and sweet balance was amazing, and the cold noodles somehow balanced the heat. We would totally come back for this noodle bowl.  

The meal would not have been complete without dessert from the famous Milk Bar. While people lined up outside to get into the bakery, as a diner at Momofuku you can get their whimsical and delicious desserts delivered table side. That is perfection. 

I ordered the cereal milk soft serve ice cream topped with crunchy corn flakes. The flavor was both rich and subtle and perfectly reminded me of that sweet sip of milk at the end of your childhood cereal bowl. 



 
Amanda went for the birthday cake flavored milkshake - bits of crumbled birthday cake truffles were blended with vanilla soft serve. It was so rich and delicious, but we had a lot of leftovers. 


Finally, our fellow diners got the Compost cookie, which our waiter aptly described as "containing every kind of chip (chocolate, toffee, and potato)" and the birthday cake truffles - akin to cake balls. All in all, amazingly rich and fun desserts that perfectly balanced the spicy and complex flavor of our dinner. 



Sunday, July 12, 2015

Launchpad Picks New Vendor for Union Market!!

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Yesterday we had the pleasure of attending the final round of the Mess Hall Competition to find a new food vendor for an open stall at Union Market.  There were 5 vendors in this final round, all amazing cooks and entrepreneurs. 
The event kicked off around 1pm at Dock5 - the event space at Union Market. Each of the competitors were setting up their stations for the attendees and judges to sample their goods. 
First I tried a pork belly bao bun and mango slaw from the newly minted Bao Brothers Bar. The buns were fluffy, the meat tender and flavorful, and perfectly topped with cilantro and slaw. They kicked it up a notch with hoisin and sriracha on top- making for a sweet and spicy finish. It rivaled other Bao buns I've tried from Chaplin and Maketto. Nice work, especially considering they've only been in operation for a month. I also really enjoyed the mild mango slaw. I am hopeful these guys will keep the DC bao dream alive! 
Perhaps the booth I was most excited to visit was Arepa Zone. I have been a fan of their food truck for a year now, and just love their homemade Venezuelan food. 
The Arepa Zone booth had a wide range of offerings, including a couple different arepa flavors. For those who don't know, arepas are like a fluffy corn-meal bun that is sliced in half and stuffed with any combo of shredded chicken, beef, beans, cheese, plantains, and avocados. They also served other traditional specialties like sweet corn pancakes and arroz con leche. All so amazing! I had the chicken and avocado arepa, which is one of my all time favorites. 

One of the more DC-oriented vendors was a new business called Half Smoke. They will feature, not surprisingly, half smoke sausages in a variety of meat options with some pretty gourmet toppings. I am not a big hotdog or sausage fan, but even I was impressed with the caramelized onion and pepper jack cheese-topped half smoke. I also love that they plan to have a fast-casual concept that hires graduates of DC Central Kitchen
One of the steep competitors was Whisked bakery. Handing out hundreds of cookies and home made pies, they were in it to win it. Their peach rasberry pie and their sea salt chocolate chess pie were delicious. But I have a feeling Union Market may already have its fill of bakeries. 
One vendor that took me completely by surprise was Bene.  Bene is gearing up to be a fast-casual Italian kitchen, that serves gourmet pastas for a reasonable budget.  It's run entirely by Koreans who grew up in NYC and met at GWU. I was particularly struck by Bene's presentation to the judges.  When the chef from Daikaya challenged them for not including their Korean heritage in their cuisine, they deftly explained that while they came from Korean families, they grew up eating slices of pizza and pasta al vongole around New York.  I am with Bene on that one; as much as we can be inspired by our heritage, we don't need to be bound or limited by it.  
Bene offered a sampling of two pastas, a vegetarian white manicotti with fried basil leaves on top and a rigatoni-type pasta with a hearty ragu. 

The manicotti was a little rich for my personal taste, but everyone around me agreed the ragu, slightly smokey and spicy, was one of the best things they had all day.  I am hopeful this team opens a permanent shop in DC soon, because I would definitely be in for that ragu! 

In addition to the food, we also got to sample cocktails, wine and beer from local mixologists and producers. The cocktails were served in pretty copper mugs that we got to take home at the end of the day!

After an hour of face stuffing, we made our way to the seated area for the team presentations and official judging. The audience vote counted for 5%, but the real judging was made by the chef/owners of Rose's Luxury, Ris, Nora's, the Inn at Little Washington, Daikaya, and other members of the Mess Hall team.  
Almost like a mini Shark Tank episode, each vendor presented their business case and gave the judges the chance to ask questions. Whisked had the most impressive presentation -- they clearly had a real handle on their numbers, projections, and margins.  
While the judges deliberated, we were treated to a second round of food and drinks from the competitors as well as a number of other DC food vendors like Bullfrog Bagels, Capital Kombucha, and other delicious treats from around the area. Needless to say, we were well fed all day long!

Finally, around 5pm the emcee came back out and announced two winners. First, Bao Brothers Bar took home the People's Coice award by winning the audience vote. 
And lastly, a moment of real pride and anticipation, they announced Arepa Zone as the official winners. Which is good news for everyone really, because soon they will have their own stall in Union Market! Arepas for all!!

Congrats again to the winners, we will definitely be in to support them at Union Market


Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Vinofest DC 2015: A Preview

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If you are like us, by Wedsnesday you are scouring the Post, Washingtonian, and the local blogs for interesting and fun stuff to do over the weekend. If you are also like us and love wine, you may have already heard of, and scored tickets to, Vinofest DC 2015 over in Storey Park in NOMA. If you are more of a music than a wine fan, it may pique your fancy that Questlove, amongst others, will be performing. Oh, and in case you weren't already convinced, it's a charitable event. Proceeds will benefit then Make A Wish Foundation, DC Central Kitchen, and the Network for Teacher Entrepreneurship.

If you haven't yet heard about the event, but want to know more, read on for the details. We will be in attendence sampling the diverse wine selection and will be reporting back on our favorites after the weekend. 
Check out the event website: http://Vinofest.co
Buy tickets for the event: 

When: Saturday May 9th from 3:00-10:00 PM 
Where: Storey Park in NOMA, 1005 First Street, N.E.
Artists: Questlove, White Ford Broncos, Black Masala, Alma Tropicalia, Trouble Funk, Alison Carney, DJ Adrian Loving, and DJ Neekola (hopefully you've heard of more of these artists than we have!)

Hope to see you there! 

Liz

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Chiang Mai, Thailand

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After a few days in Northern India, we were so excited to spend time in Thailand. After a flight to Bangkok, an airport transfer, and another flight, we arrived to Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai,  a city in the northern hills of Thailand, is the country's fourth most populated city. We arrived late at night and immediately felt a welcoming, safe tone--we quickly decided to get a bit to eat at the night market just five minutes away from our hotel. 


Our first meal was amazing, and cost about $5 total! We enjoyed cashew chicken and spring rolls.

The first full day in Chiang Mai we strolled around looking for breakfast around 8 am. Apparently this is a night city, because we could barely find one place to eat! 

We settled on a local spot and discovered that Thai people don't eat different foods for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. So we ordered a papya salad and pad see ew at 9 am! So delicious.

We took a ride in a songthaew up a huge mountain to visit the Doi Suthep temple and the Bhubing Palace, the winter residence for the Royal family. The views on the ride up and down the mountain were spectacular!
 
That afternoon, we participated in a cooking class at the Siam Rice Thai Cookery School. 


As part of the class, we got to visit a local market and learn about traditional Thai ingredients. Then, at the school we got to pick a soup, a main course, a curry, and a dessert to make from scratch. 



For my soup, I chose the Tom Kha, a traditional coconut milk soup with chicken.




My main course was druken noodles with chicken. 


As you can see, it was a really exciting dish to cook!



For the curry dish, I opted for panag and even got to make the curry paste from scratch. This is no small feat, but made the dish even more enjoyable to consume. Dessert was an easy choice: mango sticky rice. I'm not sure I'll be able to prepare this dish as amazingly as I did at the cooking school because the sticky rice takes hours up on hours to prepare. That was basically the only ingredient that was pre-preared for the class.



Overall the cooking school was probably my favorite experience of my entire vacation. I highly recommend it and can't say enough great things about Bunpot and his amazing school!