Thursday, January 3, 2019

worlDCrave: Brooklyn Foodie Tour Part1

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A few weeks ago, I visited one of my oldest friends from college, Erin. She's one of those friends where no matter how much time has passed, you pick right back up where things left off as if you just spoke last week. Both of us were married this summer and attended each other's weddings, but as brides we couldn't spend as much one-on-one time together. So, a Brooklyn visit was long overdue!

This post will be a little different than most - rather than a review of one restaurant, it will be part 1 of a 2 part recap post of all of our food-related adventures. 

My late arrival on Thursday night meant that Friday morning brunch was our first foray out on the city streets. Based on a recommendation from another friend, we tried House of Small Wonder in Williamsburg.

Tiny with no reservations, we definitely lucked out being able to go on a weekday, otherwise I'm sure we'd have had a lengthy wait. 

Erin and I literally had the same thing, starting with the Shochu Bloody Mary. Shochu is a Korean liquor.  It was light and refreshing - not too spicy. A great way to wake up and get the day started. I did feel a bit cramped in the super cozy seating area; privacy should not be an expectation when dining here.

The cuisine at House of Wonder was a unique combination of French-influenced, and Japanese fusion. For our meal, we each enjoyed the Okinawa Taco Rice. Served over a bed of sushi rice, fresh lettuce, tomatoes, and avocado, the star of this dish was really the tex-mex ground pork ). The perfect combination of sweet and spicy - I found myself scooping this into my mouth not wanting the dish to end. You might be thinking 'A French-influence Japanese fusion restaurant featuring a tex-mex dish, huh?'. Some research revealed that this dish originated due to large U.S. military presence in Okinawa, and catered to American's taste preferences. This dish is widely popular in Okinawa now as part of their 'fast food' culture!

After brunch, we wandered around the city, eventually making our way into Manhattan. Before heading to happy hour we had a quick snack - pizza and garlic knots - our only food consumed in Manhattan proper. It totally hit the spot - though I could have done with warmer knots. I am so jealous of all the New Yorker's endless supply of pizza whenever the urge strikes. All of my DC people know this is just not our reality (although, thanks to Timber Pizza and Wise Guys, things have improved significantly). 

We made our way back to Brooklyn once happy hour ended. Erin and I planned to see the Christmas lights in Dyker Heights - if you haven't done it, it's totally worth it! Sadly it was miserable weather, so we drove to the restaurant and planned to drive around to see the lights after. Another recommendation led us to Mama Rao's - and it didn't disappoint! Note - this is not THE Rao's.

I was totally craving old school Italian food. And Mama Rao's delivered. We started with a classic caprese salad. Fresh and light, a perfect start to the meal. I also enjoyed the soft red peppers served on top of this dish for an extra bite of sweetness.

Stuffed rigatoni was one of the main courses. I've never had this before (and I've been to my fair share of Italian restaurants) and I will definitely return for this dish. Filled with cheese and served with a classic meat sauce, if I had to choose a final meal, this dish would be part of it. Of the two pastas, I think this one was my favorite - thought it was a really, really hard decision!

We also opted for the gnocchi based on the recommendation of the server. Light and fluffy, these gnocchi passed (with flying colors) my 'do they melt in your mouth?' test. Served with fresh mozzarella, and a light tomato cream sauce with fresh basil, I am so glad we opted to give it a try.

Though we were stuffed, I couldn't resist the cheesecake. Served with caramel sauce and whipped cream - the cheesecake was perfectly airy but appropriately dense - in that way that only cheesecake can be. Erin sampled the tiramisu, served in a dessert dish. I was a bit surprised to see the dessert served in this fashion, but Erin was pleased with the flavor (I didn't try it myself because I wanted to savor every bite of my own).

I'll wrap up the review of this amazing Brooklyn weekend with Part 2. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Kith & Kin - a classic take on afro-cuisine

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A few months ago, one of my bridesmaids and long-time BFF, Jackie, and her husband, Steve, took my husband and me out to dinner at Kith and Kin as their wedding gift to us. I loved this idea and thought it was a very special way to celebrate our friendship and create new memories together. 

Kith and Kin focuses on Afro-Caribbean cuisine. Their space is modern, bright (but not offensively bright), and spacious. Situated within the InterContinenal on the Wharf, this is Kwame Onwuachi's return to the DC restaurant scene after Shaw Bijou's shutter in early 2017. As a Top Chef fan, I always love checking out the alum's restaurants. Call me a fan girl, I'm OK with it.

After we checked in with the hostess, we were immediately shepherded to our table - with beautiful views overlooking the water (remember this was back in September!). Our meal started out with cocktails, of course. I opted for the Caribbean Mule. It was a bit more tart than I expected, but such a beautiful shade of pink. Later on, I moved to the Daiquiri Standard, which I much preferred for its sweeter flavor. The cocktails were beautifully crafted, and you paid the price - $15-$17 each.

The service at Kith & Kin was superb. We were promptly served bread - sweet in flavor (a theme of the evening) and served on a gigantic plate. After conferring with the server on our order, we decided to go with several small plates and three entrees to share. I love what seems to be a new trend (at least to me) where restaurants are finally bringing back true entrees to their menus. Small plates are great, but sometimes a larger portion is a nice option.

Our first small plate was beef patties with a sweet jam-like sauce made of tamarind and a spicy calypso sauce. I was definitely surprised when the plate arrived to see and taste something very similar to an empanada. Everyone really enjoyed this dish- the ratio of beef to pastry was perfect and the portion size was plentiful for a tapa.

In an effort to hold on to summer for as long as possible, we had a tomato and cucumber salad dressed lightly in olive oil and vinegar. I thought the colors and plating of this dish were so pretty. Though the dish itself honestly wasn't anything truly innovative, it was refreshing and tasty. (Side note: it looks like the current menu contains this dish in a slightly modified version, so it may be more unique now).

Next up, the wagyu short rib. The meat was melt-in-your-mouth tender. The sweet dipping sauce that accompanied the meat was the perfect pairing. There was definitely rationing of this dish to make sure all four of us had equal parts of the three pieces (yes, this picture is actually what we were served)- always a good sign.

The mushroom forest was deemed an entree, but I am glad that we opted to share this plate. Playfully named, the mushroom forest featured a heaping mound of veggies, bread, and eggplant dip. The bread reminded me of funnel cake dough - light, fluffy, and sweet. Honestly, this dish wasn't my favorite, but the others in the group disagreed with my critique. The veggies were great - but it felt like this was blatantly catering to the vegetarian diner. If I were a veg and ordered this, I would have felt a bit miffed. The meatless dishes at Fancy Radish were much more creative.

The king crab curry was a polarizing dish. I loved it - the crab was fresh and the curry was not overwhelming. Served with plantain chips, this was another dish that definitely geared towards the sweet flavor profile. Jackie quickly proclaimed that she could eat another bowl of the plantain chips, but her husband wasn't crazy about the curry. I would order this again and thought this was a winner.

Mama Duke's shrimp with crispy brioche and buttered rice may have been my favorite dish of the night. The shrimp were served head and shell-on. I normally don't appreciate fine dining courses that require me to de-shell my food - but this was well worth it for the zesty, perfectly cooked shrimp.  The rice was also out of this world. Light, fluffy and oh-so-buttery, I could have gone for another round.

An interesting part of Kith & Kin, we all had a personal favorite. Hands down, Jackie couldn't get enough of the chicken. Perfectly moist with traditional jerk flavors, the chicken was served with sauerkraut and a spicy sauce. The balance between sweet, savor, and spice was in perfect harmony. 

The final dish of the night was a goat roti. I was introduced to goat when a co-worker offered briyani prepared by his Pakistani mother. I was smitten from first bite and have always opted for goat when I see it on restaurant menus since it's not something I cook at home. The goat shoulder was braised and plentiful - no scrimping or rationing necessary. Served with potatoes, this dish was definitely on the heavier side. 

Overall, I enjoyed the experience at Kith and Kin. The flavor profiles were unique and the food is not something we experience many places (unlike Italian, Spanish, etc.). The ambiance was also pleasant and the service was on point. Definitely recommend checking out Kith & Kin for a cultural fine dining experience.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Officina: Possibly worse than going to your actual office

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Have you ever been asked to pay $24 for two Diet Cokes? I mean . . . I am sure rent at the Wharf doesn't come cheap, but really? Sadly, the overpriced fountain soda wasn't even the worst part of my recent experience at Officina, a new "all-day" Italian restaurant. 

I loved Masseria, so when head chef Nick Stefanelli opened Officina, I broke my usual rule of not going to brand new restaurants and went the first Friday night they opened to the general public. My experience at Officina was so strange and beyond the typical service issues you might expect at a newly-opened restaurant. It's almost hard to talk about the food, which was fine, because the service bordered on rude and the ambience was downright uncomfortable.

The service problems started right from the outset. We arrived at Officina a few minutes early for an 8:30 PM reservation, and were immediately informed that our table was still occupied but that we could wait by the bar.  No indication as to how long it would be. The bar itself was interesting - the design was nice, but it was filled with extremely bright white lights that I found off-putting. 

Over the next HOUR we checked in with the hostess several times, and we were repeatedly told that our table was still occupied and there was nothing they could do it about it. Finally, I asked to speak with a manager. I was really surprised how unapologetic she was about the delay on our table. I do not expect a restaurant to be perfectly accurate on table timing - especially in the first few weeks - but the entire front-of-house staff acted like we were unreasonable for inquiring about the status of our reservation. I finally asked whether we could expect a table anytime soon, and if not, could we eat something at the bar because it was almost 9:30 PM and we were hungry. Unable to predict the table time yet, the manager offered us a glass of wine.  We accepted the free wine (who wouldn't?); but the whole experience was incredibly uncomfortable. 

Finally, we were escorted up this beautiful light filled staircase to the main dining room. As an aside, one step was oddly higher than the others and nearly tripped several guests - proceed with caution! At the top of the stairs was this very sweet little second bar nook with comfortable couches. My first thought was - why didn't the hostess tell us about this other bar area when we were awkwardly waiting by the hostess stand for way too long? 

I was shocked when we were led into the main dining room, which shared none of the same virtues of the dimly lit bar nook. The room is HUGE and has harsh, bright, white lighting - like the downstairs area. The size of the room paired with the bright lighting instantly gave off a cafeteria or diner vibe that was totally unappealing. We sat at one of the larger booths that could have fit six people, but we were only four. Two of my guests were at far ends of a long table and felt like they were yelling across to talk to each other.

Our server came over, and the first thing I noticed was that she seemed young and inexperienced. When I started asking her questions about the wine, she stared at me blankly and then offered something along the lines of, well most people like the Chianti. She was nice, but clearly knew nothing about the wine or the food.

We took matters into our own hands and ordered a couple of appetizers to start out. First we got the Polpette, which were a mix of veal and pork meatballs in a hearty red sauce. These were as expected and were pretty tasty. I always like extra cheese, so I was pleased with the generous heaping of Parmesan on top. 

We also ordered the Foccacia Barese, which is a thick flat bread topped with tomatoes, olives, and fresh oregano leaves. I love dense, chewy breads, so this was a good one for me. We used the bread to soak up the extra sauce from the meatballs. We also got (unpictured) the burrata mozzarella appetizer.  Burrata is pretty hard to mess up, so it was good. They didn't do anything special to it, but burrata is always good. 

The pastas at Officina are small portions designed to be a first course before the meat and/or fish entrees. For four of us, we shared two pastas and two entrees and that was plenty of food. The pastas were generic - nothing particularly inventive like at Masseria -and neither were particularly memorable.    

First we got the linguine with clam sauce, which is a typical dish at many Italian restaurants around the US. The linguine was al dente, which was a plus. Aside from the shelled clams, to make the dish "clammier" they could have added in chopped clams. Since there were four of us, we each only got 1-2 clams and a few bites of pasta. Since it wasn't amazing, that was enough.

Even less memorable was the tagliatelle bolognese, which was somewhat unappetizing just based on the appearance. Don't get me wrong, there was nothing horrible about it, it just tasted alright.

Considering these are small plates of pasta (equal to a 1/2 portion at most typical Italian restaurants), $24 per plate seemed hefty.  By comparison, I would gladly pay the $60 for 4 lobster raviolis at Fiola Mare many times over because they are just that good; these did not even come close.

Some might disagree with me on this, but there is something so unappetizing to me about a giant slab of protein just thrown on a plate, with nothing served with it. Part of a restaurant experience is the presentation, and I found this plain white plate with a large steak on it to be very lazy. That being said, the steak was probably the best food item we had. It was cooked to a perfect medium-rare and had a great char on the outside. I just can't get past that we paid $68 for this 20oz piece of meat that came with literally nothing else on the plate. There was also a 40oz option for $145.  Think about that pricing for a second . . . doesn't actually make sense to get the bigger option.  Also, its a  bit ridiculous to serve that with nothing else, IMHO.

As the steak came with nothing, we made the mistake of pairing it with this unfortunate butter bomb of mashed potatoes.  Generally a waste of $11.

Finally, we ended the meal with the whole roasted branzino. One thing I liked about this dish was that, even though it appears to be a whole fish, they kitchen had actually deboned the whole thing for us. That was a nice touch.  Like the steak, this dish was totally lackluster in presentation. It was cooked well, I have to admit, but the plating really took away from the experience.Since it was almost midnight by the time we finally finished our entrees, we didn't stick around for dessert. A few other hiccups when we got the bill.  First, as I mentioned above, we were charged $24 for two Diet Cokes. I don't know on what planet that is acceptable, and it is actually downright offensive. When we tried to question our waitress about the bill, she was literally nowhere to be found. We tried for over 10 minutes to flag down a server, literally any server, and could not get anyone to come over. Finally, one of my guests got up and had to walk over the computer where 5 waiters were crowded around hanging out. No one was able to answer his question, and they had to get a manager. We also were charged for one of our "free" glasses of wine for having to wait over an hour for a table -- either they literally meant one free glass, rather than one-per-person, or the front-of-the-house is not communicating with the back-of-the-house.  Overall, Officina was probably the most disappointing and bizarre dining-out experience of 2018.  Proceed with caution; we will not be back.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Chloe - the trifecta of service, amibance, and food

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When the server tells you mid-meal that she has a crush on you because of your ability to consume all the amazing food, you know you're in the right place. When she proclaims to your husband that he better know how lucky he is to have found a woman who can eat at his pace - you may have found your restaurant soulmate. Our amazing waitress was only part (a big part!) of why we absolutely adored Chloe. 

My husband and I made a date night out of Chloe, located in the basically-unrecognizable Navy Yard neighborhood. The host greeted us upon arrival and immediately ushered us to our table. The space was light and airy, with the perfect lighting and music, not too loud so you couldn't hear your dining companion, but loud enough to muffle the sound of the conversations of other diners. 

We started with cocktails - and over the course of the night sampled 6 varieties. I started with a lemon-bubbly lavender-infused vodka cocktail, while my husband opted for the ***VERY SPICY*** tart gin drink. They didn't lie - it was extremely spicy. I wouldn't have been able to tolerate the whole beverage. The cocktails overall were unique and unexpected, of note was my spiked grape-fruit juice. I've never had a cocktail like this and enjoyed it immensely, thought it wasn't the best to pair with dinner. 

Onto the food! We started with the sheep's milk ricotta. Sprinkled with figs, honey, rosemary, and olive oil, I found myself wanting to hoard this course for myself. The fresh bread paired perfectly as the vehicle to enjoy the simultaneously sweet and savory cheese. I could've done without the greens - they did make the dish more colorful, but my motto is always - more cheese please!

Next up was the cobia crudo. This dish was flavor and textural perfection. The acidity of the lime juice, spiciness of the Thai chiles, and chill of the fresh fish were a literal party in my mouth. The crispy shallots and puffed black rice added crunch to an otherwise soft bite. Crudos are a popular main-stay on many restaurant's menus, but are not always easy to do successfully. When you're lapping up the sauce and cutting a small piece of fish into 3 bites to make it last, you know you've hit it out of the park.

My husband wanted to try the pickled vegetables. I agreed because I also share a love of all things pickled. However, when the plate arrived I was surprised to see a ton of olives - this is not something I think of as commonly pickled. It was clearly called out on the menu, but I didn't pay close attention. Since I had snacked on olives earlier during the afternoon, my olive quota of the day was near its threshold. The unique item on the plate was the pickled garlic. I probably wouldn't have guessed it was garlic if I hadn't known - it had lost all of the bite garlic normally has and was rendered a delicious lighter version of its formal self. This is the only dish of the night I would pass on ordering again.

The grilled scallions are an homage to a popular Spanish dish. I did find these somewhat hard to cut, resulting in nearly choking as I tried to swallow a mouthful of the flimsy green. The char on the veg and the acidity of the Romesco sauce were in perfect harmony. Another plate that I found myself wanted to lick clean. 

One of the most popular dishes, so we were told, is the caramelized cauliflower. I can see why! I'm not usually a fan of the cousin to broccoli, which I more prefer, but somehow the chef managed to cook the cauliflower in a way that made it simultaneously soft and crunchy. The veg was perfectly covered in the tahini sauce, while not being too heavy as to overwhelm the dish. 

Our server almost talked us out of the potato gnocchi - she was worried we were ordering too much. I quickly assured her we are not like most people, we come to eat! I am so glad we proceeded as planned - it was a sweet balance to many of the savory courses throughout the meal. The gnocchi was melt-in-your-mouth soft in a beautiful orange broth, which I assume was based on the butternut squash and mushrooms that made appearances in the dish. I could have done without the Brussels, and found myself digging past them in search of more gnocchi, squash, and mushrooms. 

My husband loves sausage, so we decided to try the spicy garlic variety at Chloe. I am not a huge fan of the cased meat, but for blogging purposes did give it a try. WOW! I was pleasantly surprised. The meat was tender, which is not a word I commonly use to describe sausage. Though exploring the menu now I did not think it was particularly spicy. I also don't remember any cornbread, but my husband devoured this dish so quickly it's possible I missed it - similar to my photo opp!

The waitress really pushed the fingerling potatoes. I wasn't sold because...potatoes...but we trusted her. They were crisped nicely, albeit slightly greasy, and paired with a delish spicy mayo. I would have liked more mayo, but the potatoes did go nicely with our last dish, a special that night.

We snagged the last skirt steak, an off-menu item being offered on Saturday night. Cooked to a perfect rare and served with chimichurri sauce and buttered 'winter greens' (kale or chard? I couldn't tell!), and tempura-fried mushrooms. Surprisingly for me, the mushrooms were the least notable part of this dish - their flavor was completely overwhelmed by the coating. While most dishes at Chloe are tapas style, the restaurant does offer a few entree-sized dishes. The steak was 8-ounces, perfect to share in addition to the many other tapas we sampled. 

Our dinner stomachs were full, but our dessert stomachs still had plenty of room! I had been excited to try the brownie sundae, but was sad to learn it had been dropped from the menu 4 weeks prior. Instead we opted for the chocolate red wine cake with grape ice cream. Chloe should call this dessert what it is - an ode to Little Debby Swiss Rolls. I've never had grape ice cream before, and it was a nice pairing with the beet-red wine sauce the dessert was surrounded by. Although I was hesitant at first, I'm very happy we gave this dish a chance.

By mid-meal, my husband had proclaimed this our best meal of the year in DC. From our amazing server, Tiffany, to the fantastic food (both visually and in taste), and beautiful environment, I can see more evenings at Chloe in our future. Cheers!