Thursday, December 22, 2011

Peking Gourmet Inn

Happy Holidays to you! If you're like us and like to celebrate the holidays with Chinese food (one of the many stereotypical traits shared by our Chinese and Jewish heritage), Peking Gourmet Inn in Falls Church, VA will be right up your alley. We first heard about the restaurant when Duff Goldman (of Ace of Cakes fame) said on Best Thing I Ever Ate that he goes to Peking Gourmet Inn during the holidays with his family for the Peking duck.

Though you can't tell from the strip mall front, Peking Gourmet Inn is a huge, bustling palace of Peking duck wonders. Signed photos of pseudo-celebrities and military brass peer down at you as you eat.

We ordered the house specialty Peking Duck which is carved table-side.

While the duck was being carved, our waiter brought out thin pancakes, sliced spring onions, and hoisin sauce. He proceeded to bundle up the duck into moo-shu style wraps with expert precision. Novices will appreciate that they create the first wrap for you so you know how to do it.

We thought the duck was very nicely cooked with crispy skin and tender flesh. The pancake/hoisin/onion/duck combo was well balanced. My biggest complaint is that for $39, we did not get a whole lot of duck. B and I managed to polish off the whole plate in about 5 minutes.

Since we like to over-order and take Chinese leftovers home, we tried the other signature dish: garlic sprouts with shrimp. The garlic sprouts are grown locally and a unique twist on the standard shrimp with vegetables dish. I liked the garlic sprouts a lot but the shrimp wasn't de-veined. As a general rule of thumb, I don't want to eat shrimp poop.

Peking Gourmet Inn advertises its noodles as house-made, so I couldn't say no. We ordered the Singapore rice noodles because they were listed as "spicy" (that was the only descriptor beyond the name of the dish). We expected a Sriracha-style or peppery spice, so we were a bit surprised when the dish was tossed in a mild yellow curry sauce. The noodles were also under-cooked and a bit hard to bite through. Skip this one and focus on the duck.

Overall, Peking Gourmet Inn was a fun experience with some culinary bright spots. In his 2011 Spring Dining Guide, Post food critic Tom Sietsema said the restaurant had a "Beijing-size ego" and was snoozing on its laurels. While we liked the food better than Tom did, given the prices, I think you're much better off getting your quack on at Mark's Duck House.

Second Thoughts from B

I'm going to make this very easy for you... the best thing about Peking Gourmet Inn was the friendly and attentive service and the fact that J was able to check another thing off of our DC Bucket List (she sings a celebratory song when she crosses something off, which makes things especially fun).

Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed our lunch. I just didn't enjoy it and the ample leftovers enough to justify the equally ample bill. It's a stereotype that the Chinese and Jewish communities congregate at Chinese food restaurants during the holidays and that they also share a love of bargains. J and I fit the stereotype perfectly... and this was no bargain.
Peking Gourmet Inn on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Burger Tap & Shake

Lately it feels like there is a new burger joint opening on every block. Bobby's Burger Palace opened on K Street in late summer and shortly after that, Burger Tap & Shake opened right down the street on Washington Circle. The folks behind Acadiana, Ceiba, DC Coast, and Passionfish decided to throw their hat into the burger ring. In addition to BT&S, they opened District Commons right next door.

I've always thought of Washington Circle as just another roundabout that stands in the way of us getting to Trader Joes. With the recent opening of Whole Foods and a slew of new restaurants, it is becoming hipper and more action-packed. Since it is set basically in the middle of the GW campus, these places are filled to the brim with college students.

As we entered BT&S and started to place our order at the counter, the cashier told us that we could take two open seats at the bar and order right from the bartender. We took a stool in between exhausted-looking students in the midst of finals week. You know the look: sweats and wrinkled shirts that normally would serve as PJs but, during finals week, become a convenient 24-hour wardrobe staple. The people watching was pretty great.

If you're into beer, the "tap" part of BT&S means they have a lot of interesting beers on tap. They also blend "shaketails" which are boozy milkshake concoctions that look a lot like those served up at Ted's Bulletin. We skipped the alcohol and split the BT&S shake (Butterfinger, Twix & Snickers). While packed with candy fun, the shake itself was a little on the thin and icy side. Not the best in town, but solidly above average.

B ordered the Apache Sweat Lodge burger ($8) with fire-roasted green chiles, pepperjack cheese, smoked onions, and spicy XXX sauce. He was afraid it would be all spicy and no flavor, but was impressed by its depth. The XXX sauce did not wipe out the other subtle flavors and B gave it two messy thumbs up. We split an order of onion rings and they were a big disappointment. Not particularly crunchy or interesting, just "meh."

I ordered the house burger called the Six Buck Chuck. It comes topped with lettuce, pickles, onions, tomato, "Government Cheese (aka American)," and their signature AP sauce (a blend of ketchup, mayo, mustard, BBQ, and chipotle). I asked them to add some jalapenos for extra zing. The first thing I noticed about the burger was the quality of the bun. They make them fresh every day and you can tell. Buttery and perfectly toasted, it made a very nice vehicle for getting the juicy burger to my mouth. About half way through however, the juices from the burger won their battle with the fluffy bun and I resorted to eating the last bits with a knife and fork. Luckily they serve their burgers on paper-covered trays so I didn't make a ginormous mess.

All of the burger places run together in my head but I'll remember BT&S for the great bun, big and juicy patty, and the friendliness of the bartender/waiter. Next time I'd skip the onion rings and order a different shake. Have you checked out BT&S? Where do you think it ranks in DC's oversaturated burger market?

Second Thoughts from B

Because of the prevalent gourmetization of the all-American hamburger and our need to try every place in town, it is hard to resist the urge to rank our favorites. At the same time, it is hard to separate so many great offerings. But as we sat at the bar, watched the scene, and stuffed our faces, we couldn't come up with a burger joint in the city that we definitively liked more.

The selling point for BT&S would be perfectly-seasoned and cooked patties and fantastic buns. (Internal debate: do I make a joke about my wife having fantastic buns too?) The trick to fantastic hamburger buns is texture and proportion. Many places get the texture right but are so infatuated by their achievement that they forget that the role of the bun is to complement, not consume, the patty. BT&S nailed it.

Unfortunately, the onion rings were as disappointing as the burger was impressive. The shake wasn't bad but they looked so good on the menu that I think our expectations were too high. The service and the scene were both very good, which is certainly factored in when we decide where to go.

I still think Good Stuff is the best all around burger joint in the city (burgers, fries, and shakes considered) but I'd not be upset if runs to Whole Foods included a stop at BT&S.
Burger Tap & Shake on Urbanspoon

Friday, December 16, 2011

Library of Congress: Inside the Main Reading Room

Anyone who visits us and participates in our infamous DC Death March... errr... tour of the sites, will attest that I think the Library of Congress is the most underrated building in our Nation's Capital. And no, this has nothing to do with the National Treasure sequel.

J and I have made it our mission to experience as much of DC, and this world for that matter, as we can. We've been on more tours of iconic buildings than I can count, and it is clear that I'm a sucker for grand architecture and historical symbolism. The Library of Congress has these in spades. It is a library after all, and telling the story of civilization is its jam. Unfortunately, I've met far more people in DC that have never entered the building, taken the time to marvel at the iconography, and enjoyed the free tour. 'For shame' I say to you, as I waggle my finger.

One of the tour's highlights is a glimpse into the Main Reading Room (where no photos are allowed much to the chagrin of this blog post). This is the Sugar Ray Robinson of interior spaces; pound for pound, it can't be beat. I love the grandeur created by the traditional columns and arches. I love the openness from the building's height and the natural light that flows in. I love the 3 different colors of marble and the history lesson painted on the ceiling. I love the categorical luminaries hovering over users and providing inspiration. I just love it.

Any time we're in the area and have an extra 10 minutes, I jump at the opportunity to sneak a peak. But, pressing my face against the plexiglass wasn't doing it for me (or the window washers). Going into the Main Reading Room was added to the top of our DC Bucket List.

While intimidating, this is actually really easy. First, you must obtain a library card from the Madison building across the street. You fill out a form and get your picture taken. That's it. I've heard that there can be lines, but we lucked out. 20 minutes tops. And yes, it is free.

Entering the Library and passing the information desk, you flash your newly minted card and warder through an endless maze of halls and up an elevator (don't forget to check coats and bags). Flash your card again, sign your name on a sheet, and there you are... in the Library of Congress' Main Reading Room.

Some people are legitimately studying (it seemed like the majority were law school students), but I just wandered around and tried not to say "Wow!" too loudly. Can you imagine the shush I would get? We stayed for over an hour, not doing anything other than taking it all in. Just another hidden gem in this great city of ours and another check off our bucket list.

J Says

You know those people who can just "act like they belong" and wander into any room or setting without fear? I'm not one of them. I'm generally convinced I'm going to get into trouble and get kicked out of places. I'm a rule follower and will check the policies and procedures before visiting a new museum, going to a concert, etc. Don't I sound like fun?

With this background, you'll understand that I was nervous about going into the Main Reading Room. I searched online for details of the experience but found little other than that the room is reserved for people doing actual research. Yikes!

Before our visit, we came up with elaborate reasons for needing to go into the Main Reading Room. We were rehearsed and ready. When we walked past the security guard and flashed our library cards, I was ready to launch into my research explanation. However, much to my comfort, nobody ever asked why we were there. In fact, since we were quiet, nobody paid any attention to us at all. Whew.

So, while I'm not advocating that you scoff at the Main Reading Room's rules and use it for you own personal hangout spot, I do think you can get your library card and visit the beautiful space (quietly and respectfully) without having a legit research reason. As B so often tells me: "See? There was no reason to be worried!" Lesson learned.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


I'm kind of embarrassed to admit that we watched the first (and only) season of America's Next Great Restaurant. The runner-up on the show was a guy named Sudhir who wanted to create a fast casual Indian restaurant. Basically, his goal was to create the Indian Chipotle. As we watched, I kept telling B "there is a new restaurant in Penn Quarter that is already doing this!" Merzi, on 7th Street, looks to be a lot like what Sudhir wanted to bring to cities all across the U.S.

Merzi's fresh and modern decor (and use of some standing-room-only tables) looks a lot like a jazzed up Chipotle.

The similarities continue when you get to the counter to order. You choose a base for your meal (naan, rice, roti wrap, salad, or chaat), then pick a protein (chicken, lamb, tandisserie chicken, shrimp, beef, or veggies only), then choose some veggies, and finally pick a warm sauce or cold chutney to top it all off.

My naan topped with chicken, veggies, tikka masala sauce with a side of spicy red chili chutney was a flavor and texture party. Merzi has not dumbed down the bold Indian flavors and a couple of bites of the spicy chutney had me wiping away tears.

B enjoyed his lamb rice bowl and was impressed with the freshness of the ingredients, but felt that he could get more food at our local Kabab House for a slightly lower price.

I don't think Merzi is a substitute for your favorite local Indian restaurant, but it is a healthier (so they claim... less butter used + calorie counts on the menu) and faster option. I like having it in the neighborhood as a lunch option because its in-your-face flavors spice up a work day better than any deli sandwich can. Sudhir didn't win the glory (or the chance to have his restaurants shuttered within a few months), but you can get a taste of the concept in DC any day of the week.

Second Thoughts from B

When my father was 19, he traveled around the world with a budget appropriate for a 19 year old. He hitched rides on barges with murderous thieves, found shelter in rat-infested monasteries, and ate whatever was cheap and available. In short, he had the time of his life.

However, after 9 months, his stomach quit on him somewhere in India. He never trusted spicy food again.

The point is, I didn't grow up with Indian food. I had only heard about how it turns my dad's stomach inside out. I was scared of it. In fact, I still remember my apprehension when I first went to an Indian restaurant with my high school girlfriend's family. Thankfully I was brave enough to try it and from that day on, I've craved Indian food.

People from India probably view Merzi the same way people from Mexico see Chipotle, or the way I look at Panda Express. It is more Indian-inspired than true Indian food. But if Merzi can be that entry point for great Indian flavors to be appreciated by American palates, it will open up a whole new world for many people. I'll still frequent Kabab House, but would encourage anyone looking to spice up the usual meal of a hamburger and fries, to check out Merzi.
Merzi on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Pitango Gelato

As our trip to Italy draws near, we're preparing by brushing up on our Roman history, watching (bad) movies set in Italy, and preparing our gelato tastebuds. I want to make sure I'm in prime gelato-tasting form when I arrive in Italy. As a training run, we went to Pitango Gelato in Penn Quarter.

Pitango is a local group of 5 stores dishing up gelato made with the highest quality ingredients. Their inventive flavors run the gamut from Spicy Chocolate to Cardamom. Intrigued by a flavor but afraid to order it? The friendly Pitango folks will let you try a few samples. Just don't be that person who asks to try lots of flavors then doesn't order gelato. You know who you are!

B and I shared a cup of Gianduja (chocolate hazelnut) and Pistachio. No freaky bright green food coloring or artificial flavors here. Just real food blended into creamy perfection. One regular size gelato (two flavors) was plenty for B and I to share. This stuff is rich and the little tiny spoons help you slow down and savor each bite.

I look forward to my scientific analysis of Italian gelato to see how it stacks up to our own local favorite.

Second Thoughts From B

Anyone who knows me knows that I lived/studied in Rome for a summer while in college. To say that I loved my experience and love telling and retelling stories about that trip would be an understatement. And my poor wife - who has never been to Italy - has endured the "When I was in Rome..." lead-in for way too long.

So taking what we learned from our weekender in Paris last winter, we've planned another low-season trip to Europe. Sure it might be a little chilly but the crowds will be minimal and the prices are great. That sounds like a good trade-off when we're in the land of museums and churches. After all, the Sistine Chapel looks the same every month of the year.

I do wonder, however, how this will affect our relationship with gelato. When you're in the Roman oven that is July and August (and have the metabolism of a 21 year old), a run for a cup of delicious frozen relief happens multiple times a day. When it is 45 and raining? I don't know... but I look forward to figuring it out.

My memories of gelato are sweetened by memories of a life-changing experience. Pitango cannot possibly compete with that. But based solely on the gelato, I think it holds its own. The selection is robust (I tend to like the fruit/tart flavors while J likes the richer ones), and the quality and freshness is clear. It might not be my favorite shop off the Piazza di Montecitorio, but for the next couple of weeks, it'll have to do.
Pitango Gelato on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 5, 2011

Tout de Sweet

I love that B reads the Express on the Metro every day and brings home all the fun food articles for me. When he brought an article about Tout de Sweet, a new pastry shop in Bethesda that makes French macarons, I was pumped to check it out. The stars finally aligned recently when we were dropping off shoes to be repaired next door. We just had to stop in and take some treats home.

I was excited by all of the fun macaron and cupcake flavors, and B was excited by the prices. At $1.50 (cheaper if you buy a dozen), the macarons were less than half the price of those at the famed Laduree in Paris. We ordered a sleeve of a dozen macarons. The Hawaiian Colada cupcake looked lonely so I invited it to come home with us too.

While the macarons were not as cloud-like as those in Paris, they were very, very good. The cupcake was moist and packed with chunks of pineapple. The frosting was tangy and it was topped off with a fun artistic chocolate piece.

If you can't get away to France and want a taste of the City of Light, Tout de Sweet is just the ticket.

Second Thoughts From B

Even at a dollar a piece (when buying a dozen), these are expensive cookies. But when our first exposure at Laduree cost a whopping 3 euros a pop, these were a bargain. It is all relative, isn't it?

So are they worth it? That depends on if you prefer quality or quantity. Since I don't have much of a sweet tooth, I'd rather savor the delicate texture and punchy flavors of a gourmet macaron or two over a bag of Chips Ahoy any day.

Most would agree that the famed Laduree in Paris sets the standard for macarons. In my opinion, Tout de Sweet's versions were just as beautiful, flavorful, and fun to eat as any that I've had in France. The significant difference was in the texture of the cookies. While Laduree's were light and brittle (though still moist), Tout de Sweet's were a bit chewy. If forced to choose, I might lean towards Laduree, but you simply can't beat having Tout de Sweet in your neighborhood at non-Parisian prices!
Tout de Sweet on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thankful for DC

We wanted to take a moment on the eve of Thanksgiving to jot down a few things about DC that we're thankful for. We often take for granted the amazing things our fair city has to offer and thought it'd be good to reflect on the things (some serious, some not) that we appreciate.

J is thankful for:

  • all of the new friends we've made that makes DC feel like home

B is thankful for:

  • to have a job that keeps a roof over my head, food on my plate, and does good for the world
Wishing you a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Source

I smile every time Wolfgang Puck is featured on Best Thing I Ever Ate. His joy for life and for food is contagious. As California kids, Wolfgang was the first celebrity chef we ever knew. Several years ago, Chef Puck brought his California style to DC and opened the Asian-inspired The Source next to the Newseum. I had the flu the first time we dined at The Source back in 2008. I couldn't taste anything, but remember liking the atmosphere and being impressed by the beauty of each dish.

I was thrilled to return to The Source with my sense of smell and taste intact. We met two of our friends for dinner and had a fantastic time celebrating their recent marriage.

We started with two sets of dumplings recommended by our waiter.

In addition to being beautifully presented, they were delicious. B thinks most dumplings taste about the same, but even he admitted these were pretty stellar.

For my main course I ordered the night's special lobster dish. It was prepared table-side by our waiter who delicately removed the meat from the shell, leaving me with a plate of plump lobster meat in a spicy, tangy sauce. All delicious lobster meat with no work to get it out of the shell = win. (the eerie lighting is from the street light outside the window... this dish looked much more appealing in real life)

B ordered his 999th zillion lamb dish and boy, what a dish it was. He devoured it so quickly that I couldn't even tell you how it was prepared.

For dessert, we couldn't decide what to order so we split a variety of things. The warm blueberry crumble and 15-layer carrot cake were among the best desserts we've had in town. The warm chocolate chip cookies were so good that our friend contacted the chef for the recipe.

While Wolfgang is probably rarely (if ever) in the kitchen at The Source, his joy is passed through to his Executive Chef Scott Drewno who has created a somewhat whimsical and completely yummy menu. A trip to Asia via The Source is not cheap (despite the crappy and splintery disposable chopsticks), but it is a special occasion meal that is likely to leave you smiling too.

Second Thoughts from B

Maybe you do get a second chance to make a first impression...

While I was fully healthy for our 2008 trip, something just didn't click. Maybe it was an off night, maybe I ordered the wrong thing, maybe they've revamped the place since then. I don't know. All I know is that this latest trip completely changed how I now view The Source. In one meal it quickly went from overpriced yawner to special occasion contender.

Let me set the record straight on this lamb obsession I have. I won't argue with the fact that I love it. Lamb has all the things that I crave about a great steak, plus just a touch of sweet gaminess to make it that much more interesting. I feel this adds complexity to any dish and offers good chefs with another angle to play off of. And, you don't put lamb on your menu if you don't know what you're doing (unlike many a steak dish).

J has made it no secret that I love lamb, but she always somehow fails to note that she encourages me to order it, especially when it comes highly recommended by the staff. That was certainly the case here. When the lamb is talked about in such glowing terms, how can I refuse? And our waiter was right! The Asian flavors perfected by Chef Puck in Los Angeles, especially the sweet soy and black bean, paired seamlessly with the meat that was cooked perfectly.

Hall of Fame pitcher, Lefty Grove, was once described as being able to throw a lamb chop past a wolf. (Even though Grove pitched in the 1930's, years of listening to Vin Scully makes you know things like this) Wolfgang Puck, or "Wolfie" as J likes to call him, might not be much of a baseball player, but he sure hit this lamb chop out of the park (insert rim shot here).
The Source on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

DC Metro Food Tour

For my birthday, one of my friends gave me a gift certificate for a food tour with DC Metro Food Tours. The certificate allowed me to bring one guest and choose between 3 tour options: Old Town Alexandria, Little Ethiopia, and Capitol Hill. I opted to bring B (lucky guy!) and signed us up online a few weeks in advance of the Sunday afternoon Capitol Hill tour.

We met our tour guide Andrew (a recent DC college grad) and the rest of the group (7 other people) at the Eastern Market metro station. We set off around the Barracks Row neighborhood learning interesting tidbits about the area's history.

After walking around a bit, we stopped at the first restaurant on the tour, Capitol Hill Tandoor & Grill. Andrew described the food as Anglo-Indian and we feared it would be watered-down and flavorless. To the contrary, the food (including a tandoor chicken dish and soup) had the zesty Indian kick that I love but also incorporated more "American-style" vegetables such as broccoli and carrots. It was an interesting fusion and one I'd be happy to try again.

After eating our fill at the first stop, we continued our walk around the neighborhood and learned more history. I was beginning to sense that the history lesson and the food part of the tour were not really connected. We'd learn about a historic home and then go to a seemingly unrelated restaurant. After learning about the Marine Corps Barracks we went to Las Placitas, a Salvadorean/Mexican restaurant. The food here was fine, bordering on good, but nothing I need to race back to the Hill for.

After Las Placitas, we returned to the streets for more walking and more learning about the neighborhood. Then we entered one of the most random stops on the tour: a relatively new Italian restaurant named Lavagna. I was expecting some discussion of the historic nature of the building or a lesson on Italian food's connection to DC, but there was none of that. The food we had was very good (particularly the gnocchi) and the manager who greeted us was as friendly as they come.

Our last stop was at Zest American Bistro. Again, there was no tie-in to the history of the neighborhood but the bread pudding was damn good.

After 3 hours our bellies and minds were full of good food and historical tidbits about the Barracks Row area. We had a great time on the tour and were grateful for the chance to try out four new restaurants. If you're expecting a tour providing a historical connection and backdrop for the food your are eating, this is not for you. If you want to spend a day learning about a new neighborhood with stops to eat in between, this is your ticket.

Second Thoughts from B

This was not a food tour. This was a Barracks Row tour. Since restaurants are prevalent on 8th street, they fit with the neighbor walkabout theme, but then again, going into the costume store or bicycle shop would have as well.

Don't get me wrong, I very much enjoyed our 3 hour tour. I'm a sponge for any kind of oddball historical fact and it is no secret to you, dear reader, that I live to try new restaurants. But to call it a "food tour" is a bit misleading. Andrew certainly possessed sufficient expertise of the area's history and architecture, but he was far from an expert on food (poor kid had never heard of gnocchi before starting this job).

J and I went into this adventure expecting to get a behind the scenes tour of several Capitol Hill restaurants... hear about the building's history, learn about the eatery's place in the community, and meet a chef or two. Rather, we visited a few historical buildings, discussed architecture and the evolution of the city, and broke it up with a bite to eat. Definitely not what we had in mind, but a great way to spend the afternoon anyway. We might have even discovered a few places to return to when we are in the area...

Perhaps it was said best by the Rolling Stones, who certainly were talking about DC Metro Food Tours when they sang:

You can't always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you might find
You get what you need

Capitol Hill Tandoor & Grill: Capitol Hill Tandoor & Grill on Urbanspoon
Las Placitas: Las Placitas on Urbanspoon
Lavagna: Lavagna on Urbanspoon
Zest American Bistro: Zest Bistro on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Alberto's Pizzeria

What do you do when a craving for deep dish pizza strikes but you don't have time to leave the house to go pick up a pie? If you're like me, you head to the trusty old interwebs and google "Deep Dish Pizza Delivery DC." Said search led me to Alberto's Pizzeria near Dupont Circle.

I really wanted pizza from Pi (see our review of their food truck here), but they don't deliver and the other option, Armand's Chicago Pizzeria, wasn't great on our first and only trip there. So even though our house is located just a smidge outside the delivery area, I called up Alberto's and they agreed to deliver a stuffed chicago pie with pepperoni and mushrooms if I was willing to wait 90 minutes (those thick pies don't cook at light speed). 90 minutes later, a friendly delivery driver was at our door and I summoned all my strength to lug the heavy pizza up to our kitchen.

B arrived home at this point and I sheepishly served him up a mammoth slice and told him not to expect much. The reviews of Alberto's weren't stellar and I wasn't sure how a deep dish pie would hold up during delivery. I didn't want to take a picture of it because I didn't think it would be worth blogging about.

We both were pretty shocked at how much we enjoyed the pizza. The crust was thick, without being dense as a doorknob, and the cheese was delightfully rich and stringy. For $22.95 we got enough pizza to feed a basketball team. With each order, Alberto also throws in a complimentary item such as a mini Caesar salad. While my Chicago friends would probably scoff at Alberto's pies, I think he's dishing up pretty good deep dish for delivery in DC.

Second Thoughts from B

Isn't it fun to be pleasantly surprised, especially when that surprise is deep dish pizza?

I was recently reading a piece by Bill Simmons on Eddie Murphy's career. The point was made that Murphy's career was so white hot for the first 7 years that the past 20 have been disappointing. Murphy's early brilliance raised expectations to the point that making hugely successful children's moves seemed to be a waste of his talents. The Shrek franchise would make most people's careers, but for the guy that gave us 48 Hrs and Beverly Hills Cop, we expect more.

So back to the pizza... Expectations can run the other way too. When you're expecting another low brow comedy with Eddie in a fat suit but end up with Coming to America, all is right in the world. That was Alberto's. I came home exhausted one night expecting nothing more than something that would fill my belly. Instead I got a pizza reminiscent of Chicago's best. I'm sure that is an overstatement, but that's what happens when you're pleasantly surprised.
Alberto's on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 4, 2011

Papa Razzi

Are you familiar with Papa Razzi? Not the catchy Lady Gaga song or the hordes of camera-toting, traffic-causing "reporters" that stake out celebrities. I'm talking about the Italian restaurant in Georgetown that is directly across the street from another Italian restaurant in Georgetown.

Papa Razzi is part of a mini-chain with 11 other restaurants (mostly in Massachusetts). It bills itself as "a taste of Italy without the airfare," which is precisely why we found ourselves there recently. We just booked a winter trip to Italy and wanted to celebrate over an Italian dinner and discuss all things Italian.

We toasted Italy with a flight of Italian wines (white for me and red for B). Since I'm not a huge drinker, tasting flights are the perfect way for me to get the variety without the hangover. Bonus points for placing each glass on a card describing the wine.

While a Caesar salad may not be an authentic way to kick off an Italian meal, Papa Razzi claims to have an award winning Caesar. They kindly split the salad on two plates to avoid the inevitable "dropping the croutons on the tablecloth" that arises when we try to split a salad ourselves. B, who ordered a Caesar salad at every restaurant as a kid, gave this one high marks.

As we perused the menu, I was torn between the gnocchi with a pink sauce and the evening's special risotto with beef tenderloin. Because B is awesome, he ordered the gnocchi so I could focus on the risotto. I've never met a gnocchi I didn't like and I think pink sauce can make anything taste amazing, so this dish was perfect for me. Sure, it is probably uber-Americanized, but it was tasty!

The risotto was very unique. It was very al dente and the rice appeared to have a longer grain, lending it more of a rice feel than a pasta dish feel. The beef tenderloin portion was generous enough that it felt like eating an entire steak served on a large bed of risotto. I had plenty left to take home for a great lunch the next day.

We have had several enjoyable meals at Papa Razzi. Is it the most authentic Italian experience? I suspect not, but I'll let you know after I eat my way through Italy next month!

Second Thoughts from B

When we were new to DC, we made the terrible mistake of going to Georgetown for Halloween, which has all the charm of a traffic jam.

Barricades are erected to keep people out of the streets, which would be fine if the sidewalks were not overflowing with a) drunk people, b) drunk people in huge, unwieldy outfits, and c) drunk people in huge, unwieldy outfits that were compelled to stop every four steps to take a picture. The point is, unless you are hammered or have a desire to be a slaughterhouse cow for Halloween, I'd recommend avoiding Georgetown.

So there we stood; packed in with nowhere to escape and moving at a rate of 1 block/hour. When we finally got to an intersection, we jumped at the opportunity to escape to the calm of whatever restaurant would take us. That was Papa Razzi.

Since that traumatic time we've been back several times, including a visit with a proud Italian friend of ours who gave the pasta his coveted stamp of approval. We've also discovered the glory of Papa Razzi's neighbor, Filomena, which certainly splits our pasta-eating loyalties. Nevertheless, like that favorite childhood blankie, we'll always have special place in our heart for the place that offered us shelter from the storm.
Papa Razzi on Urbanspoon