Archive | Culinary Travels RSS feed for this section


27 Jul

Last year when the Las Vegas season of Top Chef aired chef/owner Brian Voltaggio and his restaurant Volt moved into the spotlight in the DC restaurant scene. Fredrick, Maryland suddenly became a culinary hotspot. This becomes especially apparent when making a reservation. Plan to call for dinner three months out and YEARS ahead for Voltaggio’s chef’s table, Table 21. This place is not cheap brunch however is  surprisingly reasonable, three courses for $25. Not bad at all.

Reservations made month’s in advance, my family trekked out to Fredrick with high brunching expectations. The restaurant itself is a massive, old brick town home. The interior is quirky and fun and the attentive converse clad waiters will roll a wall away for you (literally) should you need to use the restroom.

The brunch menu offers five or six choices for each of the three courses. The first course brought a tasting of beets and shitake veloute to our table, both dishes offering a new take on tradition. The veloute, a rich mushroom soup is mixed with a frothy pine nut sabayon and brightened with a swirl of chili oil. The beets are an intriguing play on texture, sliced beets are accompanied by beet meringue and fluffy poufs of goat cheese.

Beet Art

Our main courses bring more creative presentations to the table, even simple dishes like omelets and roast chicken become plated works of art. My pork tenderloin is delicious, juicy and cooked to perfection. The accompanying fava beans and earthy, salty mushrooms are perfect for an early summer meal.

Chocolate, Chocolate with Chocolate

Finally dessert , no one at our table could say no to the ‘textures of chocolate,’ a ribbon chocolate ganache with a dense mousse-like texture, raw cocoa, chocolate turned to a fine powder, milk chocolate ice cream, a dab of chocolate caramel… in short: chocoholic heaven.

From the service to the plating Volt is a memorable dining experience. The restaurant mixes the whimsical and the formal to deliver a meal that is surprising, delicious  and also a lot of fun.


Father’s Day: Grilled Primanti Brother’s Sandwiches

30 Jun

Last weekend in celebration of the day of dads (Happy Father’s Day!) my family unit decided to whip up a Pittsburgh tradition for my Pittsburgh native father: Primanti Bros Sandwiches. If you have ever tuned into the Food Network or Travel Channel, or visited Pittsburgh itself you have probably heard of the legendary sandwich shops, famous for topping their sandwiches with French fries and coleslaw.

If visiting the shop itself you can choose from a myriad of deli meat options, in our version we used sweet and hot capicola ham. To make things a little healthier (and easier) we went with a freezer fry over the twice fried version in the original. Also, bucking tradition, we threw our sandwiches on the grill, because on Father’s Day firing the grill up is practically a requirement.

Grill it

The end result? Awesome. The capicola and provolone, purchased that morning at a Pittsburgh deli for extra authenticity, were extra flavorful and the vinegar-based coleslaw brightened up the whole concoction.  These sandwiches got rave reviews around our table, but then again who wouldn’t like a sandwich stuffed with French fries?

Your Whole Meal in a Sandwich

Grilled Primanti Bros. Sandwiches
adapted from the Washington Post, January 28, 2009


For the slaw:

  • 1 pound (about half of a medium-size head) green cabbage, shredded or finely chopped (about 6 cups)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon celery seed
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • Freshly ground black pepper

 For the Sandwiches:

  • 2 pounds spicy, thinly sliced capicola ham (we used one pound sweet and one hot)
  • 8 thin slices provolone cheese (about 5 ounces)
  • 4 vine-ripened tomatoes, cut into 16 thin slices
  • 16 large slices of soft Italian bread (18 ounces total)
  • 2 bags frozen french fries


For the slaw: Combine the cabbage, sugar, salt and celery seed in a colander set over a medium bowl. Let stand at least 1 hour and up to 4 hours; the cabbage will be wilted (about 4 cups total).

Discard the draining liquid in the bowl; rinse and dry the bowl, then transfer the wilted cabbage to the bowl. Add the oil and vinegar; toss to coat. Season with pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

For the sandwiches: Cook fries according to package instructions. Drizzle the bread with olive oil, and top the opposite side with a layer of sweet capicola, a layer of hot capicola and a slice of provolone. Top with remaining slices of bread, oil side up. Place sandwiches on a medium-hot grill for approximately 2 minutes on each side, or just long enough to put grill marks on the bread and melt the cheese. Remove the sandwiches from the grill and add  generous portions of warm fries and coleslaw and tomato slices. Enjoy with your extra fries and slaw. Yum.


24 Jun

On the way back from a quick trip to Charlottesville Rob and I decided to grab dinner in the historic downtown mall area. I really enjoy the area, a little brick-cover strip of cutesy shops and restaurants, set to the soundtrack of area street performers. Old Town meets College town.

We went with a friend’s recommendation and wandered into Bizou, a contemporary American bistro decorated with high red leather booths and vintage movie posters. The menu is short with a focus on seasonal dishes and a few standards such as meatloaf and buttermilk fried chicken. We opted to order a few appetizers and the evening’s special of scallops and seasonal veggies.

First up the tacos, tuna tartar on a bed of baby greens with siriracha cream.  The tartar was great, and siriracha sour cream that is  Latin-Asian fusion that I can get behind. The problem with dish was the taco shells whose fried taste overwhelmed the tartar itself. This was easily remedied however, just scoop the fish out of the shell… et viola.

The mozzarella salad fared much better. It was delicious with fresh, creamy cheese, prosciutto, peppery arugula and a just sweet enough balsamic reduction. Yum. Our main course was just as good. The scallops were nicely seared and very tasty with the accompanying pesto. I was pleasantly surprised by the summer vegetables that came with. Often I find that such sides are overcooked and under seasoned. These were no throwaway, thinly sliced summer squash, peppers and green beans topped with arugula goat cheese and pesto, so good.

This is a place I definitely wouldn’t mind having closer  to Washington.

Blue Ridge Pig

21 Jun

After a day of vineyard hopping in the Charlottesville, VA area a few weeks back my group of tasters was in need of a little snack attack. With wineries closing up shop and putting away the cheese plates my friend, who happens to be a longtime vegetarian, suggested a nearby BBQ shack. When a vegetarian sings the praises of an establishment  devoted primarily to pork, it must be good, so on we ventured.

Pig on a Hot Tin Roof?

The Blue Ridge Pig is a tiny, rustically-charming (read: cute and comfy but you might not want to use the restroom) type of place nestled about 20 minutes outside of Charlottesville in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The place lives up to its name. There are pigs everywhere, the windowsills and picnic tables are bedecked with a flurry of piggy banks, ceramic pigs and piggy shaped Christmas lights and a giant smoker turned pig greets you from the rooftop as you walk in.

Now ceramic pigs are cute and kitschy and all but what is important is the pig on the plate. We ordered a pulled pork sandwich with slaw(what else?), potato salad and limeade. The sandwich was some great BBQ, the meat nice and smoky, coated in a thick BBQ sauce that had a nice mustardy tang to it. Extra points for a toasted bun that was soft without having it melt into the sandwich as you eat; and vinegar based coleslaw topping which I’ll take over the mayonnaise laden versions any day. The potato salad harbors a little surprise, we opened the container to find pesto, totally unexpected at a pig shack in the mountains and totally tasty.  We washed our pork and potatoes down with limeade, fresh squeezed onsite and perfect on a hot summer day in Virginia.

Pork BBQ

Good BBQ with a few gourmet sensibilities, on a scenic mountain route dotted with vineyards? Not a bad reason at all for a little summer escape from the city.

Kybecca Wine Bar and Shop: Tasty Sips and Nibbles in Fredericksburg

4 May

Last weekend I ventured to the outer boroughs of the Metro area. During my adventures in these exotic locals (read: Stafford County and Fredericksburg) I wandered into a little wine bar that the Post credited as being worth trip down 95, Kybecca Wine Bar and Shop in downtown Fredericksburg. If you have never been to the area historic Fredericksburg is quite similar to Old Town, Alexandria, cutesy, historic and whatnot. Kybecca offers indoor and outdoor seating, in cozy booths or bar tops. There is a wall of enomatic machines (fancy schmacy keep wine fresh for 45 day gizmos) that allow them to offer over 30 wines by the glass or as samples.

Tasty Little Finger Foods

The wine bar’s kitchen focuses on locally sourced small plates or ‘tastes’ as they bill them. We started our tasting with a very reasonably price cabernet sauvignon and bacon wrapped dates stuffed with blue cheese. This is one of my favorite little appetizers and they do theirs very well, the blue cheese is a nice addition. My only complaint? Their date portion consists of two dates, just two, to me the $6 price tag merits at least four but oh well.  Next up lamb rib chops and bison blue cheese sliders. The lamb, served bone-in as finger food, was delicious. Tender meat topped with pistachio pesto and pecorino, it was my favorite taste of the evening. The sliders? Disappointing, with far too thin patties and basic buns, they reminded me of the drive through variety. Finally lobster mac and cheese made with cheddar and pancetta. Every table in the restaurant seemed to have ordered the dish so we followed suit. It was good dish but didn’t knock my socks off (though I may be biased after the amazing truffled lobster mac I was treated to recently at Sante in Sonoma).

Little Lobster, Little Mac and Cheese

On the food front it was an evening of hits and misses and while I would certainly eat there again what is more likely to bring me back to Kybecca is the wine and the wine shop. The bottle of cab we drank with dinner was lovely and at $26 a serious steal. After dinner we picked up two bottles priced at under $12 from the shop and enjoyed both. They have a huge selection with bottles at every price point, including a large selection of budget friendly bottles and that is definitely something I can get behind.

College Town Comida

20 Apr

When one thinks of college food the stereotypes that inevitably spring to mind are: cereal, Cup o’ Noodles, delivery pizza, dorm food and more cereal. I was lucky enough however, to go to school in Berkeley, CA where my diet, apart from the ever-present Honey Bunches of Oats, also regularly included fresh sandwiches and salads from locally owned cafes, sushi, Indian, Mexican, Thai etc. I would be ecstatic to see any of my Berkeley favs migrate east. Until then I’ll just have to keep visiting.

On my last trip out West, I took a little trip down memory lane with the lovely Jessica and her family in the form of dinner at a little Italian place called Filippos. Filippos was a short walk from each and every one of the bevy apartments I inhabited during my four years in Berkeley. It was cozy, cheap and turned out reliably tasty food and some good brunch options, so it was visited with some frequency.

On this visit however the familiar spot brought something new to the table, $5 bottomless glasses of house red and white: win. (Dear Filippos, Why did we not employ this concept while I was attending school?? Would have appreciated, for serious). We ordered an appetizer sampler of bruschetta, calamari and mini pesto caprese salads which had some hits and misses but was great for sharing.

For my main course I went with the fettechini al salmon. The pasta was made fresh from spinach and was served with spring peas, sundried tomatoes and flaky smoked salmon, all tossed in a light and lemony dill cream sauce. One thing I definitely appreciated was that they didn’t drown the pasta in cream sauce, leaving the dish light and tasting of Spring. The food doesn’t leave you saying ‘wow’ but its good and it hits the spot.

All in all, Filippos is a good neighborhood Italian spot, with friendly service and wallet friendly dining that tastes good. And that, in school or out, is definitely something I can appreciate.

I Left my Fork In San Francisco

12 Apr

I love San Francisco. The winding (or should I say rolling) streets, the laid back vibe, the laid back weather, the fact that no matter where you are you are likely to have a gorgeous view of some body of water be it the Pacific or the Bay.  It is a city of little surprises and it is a city of really good food.

I do love the dining scene in DC but after four years living in and subsequent visits to the Bay Area here is what I have discovered. Both DC and San Francisco are great culinary cities. The difference in my opinion is that in DC you PAY for food to knock your socks off. My list of really-really good cheap eats in this city is not a long one where as in SF every corner of the city seems to have some adorable little cafe turning out good food at reasonable prices. Fresh ingredients, simple preparations, they just seem to get it right out there.

Last week I wondered out West for a visit and after a lovely stay in Sonoma I spent the remainder of my time in the Bay Area, a little SF and a little East Bay. Earlier this year I had read an article in Food and Wine entitled ‘The 10 Best Bars in the World’ and one of the ten, Rickhouse, happened to be in San Francisco. We decided to check it out. Rickhouse is a relatively new bar from the owners of Bourbon and Branch. The outside of the bar is unassuming. The inside is all rough wood and old barrels; the staff dons bowties and suspenders. It is like stepping into the prohibition era. An era, I should mention that apparently a whole lot of people like to step into, the place was packed. It took us forever to get our first cocktail but once we did we located the back room where it was easier to order and to sip.

And the cocktails? Amazing. I love a good cocktail but my issue is that most cocktail lists are heavy on the fruity or sickeningly sweet side. Please dear God, not another Flirtini! Rickhouse’s cocktail menu, for me, is like the stuff of dreams. Nearly every offering is infused with some herb or savory element. We had cocktails with basil, cucumber, foamed egg whites and more basil. The bar specializes in bourbons and whiskeys but the bartenders were happy to whip up quite a few vodka/gin/tequila drinks for those who like me who aren’t exactly friends with dark liquor.

This is definitely a place I’ll make a point to visit on my next trip out. So good.

Now a question: What does one need after a night of perhaps one too many basil infused cocktails? Answer: Brunch! So after our evening out in SF Jessica and I pulled ourselves out of far too comfy hotel beds and trekked to North Beach in search of eggs. North Beach, San Francisco’s Little Italy, has about a billion little cafés to choose from and on this occasion we selected Café DeLucchi just off of Washington Square.

Caffé DeLucchi is a little corner spot that blends local ingredients with Italian sensibilities. Their brunch menu had so many tasty looking options it took us forever to decide what to order. Breakfast paninis and pizzas, Benedicts and pancakes, eggs galore… and then there was the lunch menu.  In the end I decided on something one doesn’t encounter on many brunch menus, breakfast polenta.

Bacon & Eggs...& Polenta

I might just have to eat breakfast polenta more often. This version was comprised of a big bowl of soft, creamy polenta with gorgonzola and clover honey melting throughout, topped with extra thick applewood smoked bacon and a pair of poached eggs. It was quite the sweet and salty delight and really hit the one-too-many-cocktails nail on the head. My only complaint was that there could have been more of the add-ins. I ate a few too many bites of plain polenta, a bit more cheese or bacon and a little less polenta would have evened things out nicely. Though I think everything could benefit from a bit more bacon.

So maybe that’s just me?