Thursday, June 27, 2013


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On Monday night, my good friend Adam convinced me to head to the Glover Park neighborhood in DC to check out new Italian/Pizza Restaurant Acuri (pronounced r-curry).  One of his friends from Alexandria spot Overwood is part owner—his first foray into his own business.  The menu focuses on classic Italian dishes.

Located in the ground floor space with a handful of outdoor tables, I was impressed with the space from the minute we walked in.  From the brick wall lining the bar, to the delicate candles flanking homemade bottles of limoncello, the shiny new floor, great tables and chairs, to the brick oven pizza flaming in the back, it all had me smiling.  And let’s be serious, I’m not the easiest person to impress!

My happiness continued as we sat at the bar and ordered a $7 glass of Prosecco on tap.  You read that right, $7, and on tap.  Graffiato can no longer claim they are the only restaurant in DC with Prosecco on tap.  It wasn’t the most acidic Prosecco I’ve had (I like a bit more bite to my drink than this offered), but it was still delicious.  We were also welcomed with a shot of the housemade limoncello.  And seriously, it’s made in one of the owners houses.  Well, it was.  They now make it at the restaurant, but we were told that many a batch was prepared in a part-owner’s house, requiring much effort to keep his 2-year-old from eating the alcohol rich lemon peels!

As we moved to the table, my friend Jackie joined us.  For appetizers we tried the mussels and the crostino.  The mussels were served in a red tomato based broth with white wine and garlic.  The sauce had a bit of a bite, which was much welcomed.  The product was clearly fresh and steamed to perfection.  I also loved the fresh herbs that added to the flavor palate.  This may be on my list of best mussels in DC, but a second slice of grilled bread would have been nice to sop up the leftover broth.  The crostino was good.  Crusty bread with buffalo mozzarella and roasted red peppers.  Nothing phenomenal or different, but a solid appetizer.

Next we moved on to the tagliatelle Bolognese.  As you know, we made a similar dish for one of our Tiny Dinner Parties, so I am always interested to taste others take on the dish.  The pasta was fresh – hand-made in the kitchen -  and it was apparent.  The long strands of noodles were bathed in the meat sauce featuring pork shoulder and veal.  I never ate veal until I tried Bolognese.  These are true words coming out of my Italian mouth.  I now hold a secret love for the meat.  (Back story: I grew up in Lancaster, PA.  There are a lot of veal farms in Lancaster.  Baby cows chained to their pens makes me sad, and the thought of eating the meat was unbearable for many years.  Until I tried Bolognese and that went to pot).  I digress.  The sauce was extremely flavorful.  Notes of the meat came through in every bite, strong and prevalent.  Next time I will not be sharing this with two other people.

Onto the pizzas.  I ordered a pizza featuring gorgonzola, apple, and pork cheek (guanciale).  Normally I do not love meat on my pizza.  I decided to branch out.  The flavors were surprising, but delicious.  The gorgonzola did not overpower, as I expected.  The meat was a bit stronger than I expected (almost like a more flavorful bacon), but worked well with the cheese.  The apples were sliced so thin, that I almost forgot they were there.  I think this actually worked in the dish’s favor because their sweetness was just an undertone to the dish rather than a dominating flavor. 

Adam ordered the prosciutto pizza with arugula and fontina cheese. It was just as good as everything else, though the slices were cut awkwardly, leaving tiny slices and huge slices. The shredded fontina tossed with the fresh arugula was a perfect balance to the salty meat. The only drawback was that the arugula was piled on so high that it made it hard to see where the prosciutto was, making it hard to get all of the flavors in each bite.  

Jackie ordered the squash blossom pizza.  Apparently, squash blossom is the flower that exists before it blooms into a full blown squash.  Jackie assumed it was actual squash, and was surprised when the server explained this.  Skeptical, she decided to give it a try since it featured pesto and buffalo mozzarella.  When the pizza came out, she was glad she took the risk.  The dough was crisp yet chewy, the perfect combination.  Although she couldn't taste much of the squash blossom flower, the flavors of the pesto, mozzarella and tomato were exceptional.  She could tell the ingredients were fresh from that day.  Overall this is one of the best pizzas Jackie has ever had!

One thing about all the pizzas that I must mention….the dough.  Oh, how could I forget the dough.  The fermented, cooked to perfection pizza dough was some of the best I’ve had in DC.  The birck oven prep definitely did its job.  I quickly dubbed it far superior to 2Amy’s up the street.  Seriously I do not get the hype with that place. 

I loved learning that the Arcuri menu is that it is in constant evolution.  They tailor the menu to what is in season and they don’t have a freezer.  Maybe this is more common than I am aware of, but I was pretty blown away by this fact.  We got some insider tips that a 14oz bone in pork chop and a prosciutto wrapped cod (yes please!) may be appearing on the menu soon…along with a few more dessert additions.  Currently, the only dessert offered is a fresh strawberry, marscapone, and sabe dish with graham cracker crumbs. Adam also ordered a limoncello slushy swirl, combining both strawberry and lemon flavors, into a perfect adult treat. Acuri, welcome to DC.  You do good food proud.  Stellar space, people and food.  I will see you again soon.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Linguine with Scallops and White Wine & Clam Sauce

Pin It Now! Sometimes, I wander aimlessly through the grocery store looking for inspiration.  My interest is often piqued at the meat and seafood counter when I see something on sale.  Last weekend at Harris Teeter, bay scallops were practically begging me to buy them for only $8 a pound.  I quickly obliged, deciding I would purchase them and create a meal around them.  I grabbed about 2/3 of a pound, followed by a bottle of clam juice, planning a meal on a whim.  Very unlike me.

For this recipe you will need:
1/2 cup of clam juice
6 cloves of garlic
1/2 yellow onion
1 cup dry white wine
1 box linguine 
2 large tomatoes
2 tablespoons butter
Sprinkle of breadcrumbs
Red Pepper Flakes

First, dice your onion and tomatoes.  Make sure you remove the seeds from the tomatoes.  Then, mince your garlic.

Before starting the sauce, place your scallops on a dry paper towel.  Use another paper towel and press the scallops, drying them completely.  I then cut the scallops in quarters to get the most bang for my buck!

Once all your prep work is done, start on the sauce.  Melt the two tablespoons of butter in a large frying pan. Add the garlic and onion.  Cook 3-5 minutes until onions are soft.  

Next, add 1 cup of dry white wine, 1/2 cup of clam juice, and red pepper flakes to taste.  Bring the sauce to a boil and cook for about 5 minutes.  As soon as you add the wine and clam juice to the sauce, turn on a pot of water to boil for the pasta.  Add the pasta as soon as the water begins to boil.

Once the sauce has boiled for 5 minutes, add the scallops and tomatoes and reduce the heat to medium-low.  Simmer about 7 minutes until scallops are white.  Add a sprinkle of breadcrumbs to the sauce and stir.

When the scallops are cooked through, turn the heat off and remove the sauce from the flame.  At this point, your pasta should be finished cooking.  Drain it and return it to the pot.  Add the sauce from the frying pan to the pasta and stir.  Voila.  

This meal was flavorful, filling, and with a pretty healthy sauce satisfied my pasta tooth (like a sweet tooth, only for pasta) fabulously.  It also left me with leftovers for another 2-3 meals.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Taqueria Nacional

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Two weeks ago, Liz and I checked out the newly opened Taqueria Nacional. Taqueria was a former Capital Hill joint and earned high marks from reviewers on Yelp.  They closed in early 2012 and were supposed to re-open in the late fall of 2012 on T Street just off 14th Street. They finally reopened a few weeks ago and we are happy to welcome them to our neighborhood!  The space, both outside and in, is absolutely gorgeous.  Latin American style frescoes adorn the walls and a huge window opens to the bustling activity on the street.

The food is served in a line-style fashion, where you walk up, place your order and shuffle down the line specifying what toppings you want on your food.  Not only does Taqueria serve tacos, but they also serve tostadas, quesadillas, salads, and an array of delicious sides.  The menu is expansive and reasonably priced.

I sampled two tacos: one steak and one carnitas (pork).  The soft corn taco shells were steamed on the grill using a piece of cloth to cover them and maintain the steam.  I added cheese, lettuce, pico de gallo and a spicy green sauce to complete my meal.  The meat was incredibly flavorful and perfectly cooked, though I did prefer the steak over the carnitas. The toppings I added enhanced the flavors and tied the food together.  I did have to go back and ask for a bit more sauce, which I was charged $.50 for.  Next time I’ll just ask for extra in the line.  The tacos, although they appear small in size were incredibly filling!  Two was more than enough for a small lunch, and left me full until dinner time.  At a price of $7 for the entire meal, who could ask for more than that?

Liz wasn't super hungry, but decided to order two tacos anyways. Typical. She got the chicken and the egg taco. No one is ever the best judge when they are not hungry, but she really enjoyed her meal. Neither of us had ever seen scrambled eggs in a taco before, but mixed with chiles and guacamole, who wouldn't like it? Delicious. The chicken tacos were standard, but the owner (seen below) gave Liz a heaping portion. At a $3 price point, we were both really satisfied. 

Overall, we loved Taqueria Nacional and are excited to have an affordable fast dining option on the 14th Street Corridor.  We can’t wait to go back and try some of their other offerings.  I know I will be ordering a salad the next time I’m there.  They looked huge and delicious.  A bar also features some delicious beverages including frozen margaritas and draft beers.  Welcome to the neighborhood Taqueria Nacional, we will definitely be back soon!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Le Diplomate

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I have been a fan of restauranteur Stephen Starr since high school when my parents first took me to his restaurant, Pod, in Philadelphia. At the time, Pan-Asian restaurants were unique, and Stephen Starr was just a Philly guy. Since then, he has expanded to markets throughout the country, but unlike some celebrity restaurantaurs, I have continued to admire his innovation and talent in designing beautiful restaurants, creating interesting menus, and hiring awesome chefs to cook delicious meals. Since my parents live outside of Philadelphia, it's always been a treat to go to one of Starr's restaurants when I go home. For years, one of of my favorites has been Parc, a French brasserie right on Rittenhouse Square. Needless to say, I was more than a little excited when Starr decided to model his first DC restaurant, Le Diplomate, after Parc. 

My first visit to Le Diplomate (and definitely not my last) was for brunch two weekends ago. The first thing that struck me was the beautiful design of the restaurant. Until about six months ago, the space that Le Diplomate now occupies was a boarded-up building. The transformation is remarkable. It literally looks like you sidled up to a cafe in Paris. It is adorable and I love it. 

Although we sat inside, I really enjoyed the blend of indoor-outdoor space. The window over our table opened up to sidewalk tables along 14th Street, and there is a large patio along the back side of the restaurant. This is going to be a perfect spot for outdoor dining and drinking this summer. I almost hate that I am telling you how great this place is, because it's already hard enough to get a table! But I cannot resist. 

When you first walk in, a waitress is slicing fresh baguettes by the bar. Another delightful touch. 

The first thing we ordered was a basket of pastries for the table. Although I am not usually keen on the idea of having to pay for your bread basket, this was no ordinary basket. The reasonably-priced assortment included  croissants, muffins, and pastries. Each was flakier and more buttery than the next. Do yourself a favor: splurge. 

Next we got the Salad Verte. It was a really light and refreshing blend of butter lettuce, watermelon radishes, haricot verts, and a gentle red-wine vinaigrette. With the amount of food we ordered, the salad wasn't totally necessary, but the vegetables were amazingly fresh, vibrant green, and served as a perfect palette cleanser between courses. 

I am a total sucker for any type of Benedict, and this particular occasion was no exception. So for my entree, I ordered the Salmon Benedict and was very happy with the outcome. 

The smoked salmon was plentiful, smoky, and not too salty; the eggs were perfectly poached; and my hollandaise sauce (on the side at my request) was the perfect creamy accompaniment. 

One of my friends, who is on a health-food kick (wrong place for that, ladies), ordered the egg-white omelet filled with ratatouille. PaleOMG is right! This dish was hearty, flavorful, and (arguably) "healthy."


On the complete oppostie end of the diet spectrum, my other friend ordered the Eggs Boudin Noir. This consisted of a skillet baked with polenta, blood sausage, asparagus, gruyere cheese, levain bread, and was topped with a poached egg. 

The richness of this dish was unparalleled, but it was worth every bite. I don't even like blood sausage, and I had to resist every urge to keep my fork on my own plate. This dish was definitely a winner. 

My friend Jenna visiting from SF- loved her meal! 
The nice thing about Le Diplomat's menu (and brasseries in general) is that they really offer a great variety of items. They can totally cater to different diets, palettes, and moods. I am already excited to go back and check out the dinner items later this summer. 

Welcome to DC, Stephen Starr. I hope to be seeing a lot more of you.