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Rasika

26 Aug

Rasika is one of those places that has been on the top of my ‘to try’ list for quite some time now. For one reason or another I just never made it in, then suddenly last week I had the opportunity to try it… twice… and at the very same table. Now that is a happy coincidence.

Rasika’s interior reminds me of dining in an Indian jewel box, everything is very rich, warm and plush, there are also actual (plastic) jewels suspended from the ceiling. The staff is friendly and happy to guide you through any menu items you might be unfamiliar with. Before you get to the menu however be sure to dive into their cocktail list, which is now one of my favorites in town. My favorite was the Chili Fizz a spicy gin based drink with just enough kick.

If you have ever heard mention of Rasika then you have more than likely also heard of their palak chaat aka crispy spinach. It is the stuff of legends and rightfully so, this is some very special spinach: flash fried, yogurt sauced, melt in your mouth, boyfriend says he will be returning to have just spinach for lunch the next day- kind of spinach. I couldn’t resist ordering the dish on both visits. So good.

Heavenly Spinach

‘Do you like spicy?’ our waitress asks as we choose entrees. We do and she recommends lamb kolhapuri, a dish laden with spices: red chilies, coriander, cinnamon and cloves. The meat is lovely, fork-tender, and the dish packs quite a bit of heat. It is quite tasty though it did require an extra order of naan and a cold Kingfisher beer to temper all those chilies! The Andhra chicken curry we ordered was much less spicy with a sweetness from the coconut and poppy seeds in the dish. The black cod I had on trip two is a horse of a different color in comparison with these heavier, comforting curries. It is a delicate dish, with just enough spice, sweetness lent by honey and the surprising flavors of fresh dill and star anise. The fish melts in your mouth in a way I was unaware cod was able to melt.

One Fish, Two Fish

On the dessert front Rasika tempts the dinner with a selection of new and interesting offerings. On my second visit my whole table succumbed to the gulab jamun, little donut like desserts, soaked in honey with an interior consistency of a custard. They are served with cardamom ice cream and manage to be delicious and complex at the same.

Two visits, one table, two amazing meals (and hopefully more to come)!

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Seventh Hill

18 Aug

When wondering to Eastern Market for dinner supplies a few weeks back Seventh Hill Pizza managed to delay shopping endeavors, luring the boyfriend and I inside for a quick lunch. We were not the only ones, well after the customary lunch hour the teeny pizzeria is packed, perhaps having something to do with the glowing review the Post published the week before. With the tables full we migrate toward the one open seat at the bar… right next to the pizza oven on a day when the heat index reached a number I don’t even want to think about. “That seat,” chef Anthony Pilla warns while shaping pizza dough a few feet away, “Is at your own risk. It’s going to be hot.” Noted.

Thankfully a table opens and we snatch it up quickly. Seventh Hill is an order at the counter operation. We opt for the Eastern Market pizza and the soup of the day, a white grape gazpacho. When the food arrives the gazpacho comes with a surprise, a small round of pizza dough with a crunchy, cheesy topping. The cool soup itself is delicious blend of flavors, refreshing and smooth with a little tang from the grapes. On that particularly suffocating Sunday in July it made me want to forgo my spoon and gulp the contents directly from the bowl.

Mmmm... gazpacho.

The pizza is served Neapolitan style with a thin crust. Ours was topped with tomato, goat cheese, basil, rosemary, tapenade and mushrooms. It tasted like the kitchen had just plucked the ingredients from the garden, so fresh. My only complaint would be that our crust was a bit flimsy/floppier than expected, another minute in that oven probably would have  made it just right.

Pizza, Pizza

While were munching Pilla comes out from behind the oven to chat with his customers, going out of his way to make sure everyone dining feels welcome and satisfied. “Thumbs up?” he asks. Definitely. We’ll be back.

Volt

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.

Masa 14

9 Jul

When one walks into Masa 14 the space seems to be equal parts restaurant and night club. Every time I have been in the place is packed, the music and conversation is loud, the décor is trendy and the patrons are well-healed. At places like this food is often an afterthought , taking a backseat the beautiful and the boozy. This is not however, the case at Masa 14, where the Latin-Asian fusion plates are routinely delicious.

Duck, Duck...

On a recent visit we started with the peking duck flatbread, a tangle of duck confit, mango, and cojita cheese all drizzled with BBQ sauce on warm bread. The combination of East, West, salty and sweet made for a tasty concoction.  Our grilled baby octopus was served in a chimichurri sauce with pickled vegetables. Interestingly Masa leaves the heads on, they have a odd squishy texture but the dish as a whole is worthwhile. My favorite dish to hit the table so far is the bulgulgi sopes, a Korea meets Mexico dish in which little fried corn cakes are topped with bbq skirt steak, kimchi , apple and cojita cheese. They are addicting little tidbits, that I would have been happy to receive another plate of.

Surprisingly the disappointment of the evening came in our glasses. Their signature sangria tasted watered down and like someone had forgotten to add the alcohol. Next time I will stick to one of their 500 tequilas.

Adventures in Latino Dim Sum Brunch: Cafe Atlantico

16 Jun

Recently I went to a regular ol’ Sunday brunch with my mother and small brother. We had all the traditional fixins: foie gras soup, pork belly, a little eel. Ok. Maybe not so traditional. But all part of the Latino Dim Sum brunching experience at Cafe Atlantico. (Warning: picky eaters need not proceed).

Jose Andres’ dim sum experience is like traditional Chinese dim sum, a mishmash of  small plates and tastes, only his transports you to Mexico. Being new to the Atlantico version we went with the chefs tasting menu, fourteen mini courses of his choosing… and then if we were still hungry extra rounds of whatever we liked.

The first few dishes are mostly one bite dishes: tiny oysters that taste like the ocean, tuna tartar accented with coconut and mango-anchovy ravioli that is surprisingly tasty.Then came one of my favorite guilty pleasures to come out of a Jose Andres kitchen: fritters with a liquid conch center. You bite in and its creamy conchy goodness pours into your mouth with a tasty surprise, the fritters also harbor bacon. Yes, please.

Bitsy Brunch Bites

Next up: soup. We get two shooters, the first an extra thick potato vanilla mousse that I found to be overwhelmingly rich until I found the caviar at the bottom, which balanced it out nicely. Then came the dish that befuddled even this adventurous eater: hot and cold foie gras and corn soup? Simply too odd to be tasty.

Tasty on the right, Bizarre on the left

The next plates to emerge were portioned more like mini entrées. Highlights included a fried egg over black beans and pork that I would be happy to have after any boozy Saturday night, and the famed ‘egg 63’ where the egg is cooked low and slow so that when you break into it, it immediately dissolves into a creamy sauce over the mushrooms served below. My favorite was the carne asada, grilled skirt steak charred on the outside, juicy on the inside and all around delicious. To cap off the tasting we were served a sweet ending: pan dulce with cinnamon syrup, a french toast like concoction that even a family of trench toast haters dug into.

Among the hits of the menu there were a few misses, bites of pineapple unagi went untouched and pork belly was hard to manage in the morning, but these misses just left us with a little extra room to order more of our favorites at the end of the meal.

I’ll take the conch fritters.

Kushi

25 May

The first time I walked into Kushi for dinner at 11:00 pm I wasn’t even sure they would still be open, much less still seating. Instead of the few lonely patrons I expected however, the restaurant seemed to be just getting started. The music was loud and the tables full of twenty and thirty-somethings enjoying late night sushi and sake. The restaurant, as it turns out, is open till 1:30 am. Late night Japanese street food? Sounds good to me.

Serious Sushi

Seated, and starving, we consulted our waitress on some unfamiliar items on the menu. We order a mixture of maki and items from the charcoal grill. Our sushi arrives first, fatty tuna and scallion and salmon and avocado. They are dainty rolls that showcase the very good  fish inside. Salmon paired with avocado takes on a creamy texture and the fatty tuna makes you wonder how the mealy tuna one is often served comes from the same school of fish. This is some of the best, if not the best, traditional sushi that I have found in this city.

Grilled to Go

As we work through the sushi our grill items arrive, petite skewers of meat smelling of charcoal. We order a range: wagyu beef, duck sausage, pork belly and chicken meatballs. I was surprised when, raw fish addict that I am, I enjoyed these just as much as our sushi. Each skewer was delicious but the favorites at our table were the wagyu and the duck, so tasty I would have been happy to eaten four or five more portions. We rounded the meal out with the grilled rice ball of the day. The dish is crispy on the outside and harbors a surprise with a mushroom filled center.You know a restaurant is doing well when they even manage to make rice exciting.

Kushi? I can’t wait to go back for more!

http://eatkushi.tumblr.com/

Taylor’s

20 May

There are a few places in the District that I visit with almost ridiculous frequency. The kind of place whose name pops up on my credit card statement every week. The kind of place where I’m pretty sure I cover their water bill on a monthly basis. One of these very select few is Taylor Gourmet Deli. I love me some Taylor’s. If you have never been to one of their two delis (there is one in the Atlas District and one in Chinatown), go.

Top Sandwich

Taylor’s was founded by two Philadelphia natives who were tired of the lack of hoagie options in the District, so they decided to make a go of hoagie production themselves. They bring the bread in from Philadelphia and source all their meats and cheeses from Italy. This is a sandwich shop that takes its hoagies mighty seriously.  Just to make me love them more they also take being green seriously. EVERYTHING in their restaurant is repurposed, from the 5-gallon bucket light fixtures, to the garage door that serves as the front of the space, allowing them to open it up when the weather cooperates. Hoagies with principles, I like that.

So Tasty Right Now

I have never tried a sandwich that I disliked at Taylor’s (and they have a lot of them) but I do play favorites and one of them is the Columbus Boulevard. It features salty prosciutto, roasted red peppers and mozzarella. The saltiness of the prosciutto is cut by the fresh mozzarella, which is far from the tasteless rubbery stuff so many places use, and the brine from the peppers is all soaked up by that famous soft bread. Win. This winter I discovered their hot roast pork hoagies and have been ordering the Pattison Avenue ever since. Shaved roast pork, topped with spicy broccoli rabe and sharp provolone that is aged long enough to legally drink… to that I say, Yes and Please.

Baby Pasta

Taylor’s doesn’t stop tempting you there. As the weather gets warmer I’ve gravitated toward their pastina salads with heaps of arugula with teeny tiny pasta in a simple vinaigrette. My favorite, the Fairmount Park, adds gorgonzola, sundried tomatoes and red onion. Top it with grilled chicken for $2 extra and you’ve got a salad big enough for two meals (though to be honest I never make it quite that far). Their fritto menu of fried treats is also worth a look: fried risotto, mozzarella and ravioli, they are quite tasty especially after a night of one drink too many.

Just to cap all that off they also have an Italian market place where they sell beer, wine, gelato and the like. To me the reason Taylor’s does so well is that they keep it simple, really good sandwiches, a few good salads and some extras; and a local institution that stands behind a simple (yet very tasty product) is defiantly a win in my book.

http://www.taylorgourmet.com/