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Mrs JPW, Peanut, and I stopped by Isabella's for lunch on Saturday. The best I can say is that the service was good. Shrimp on black rice was overcooked add oddly flavorless. Duck sausage on relish was OK, but a tad too gamy. Goat cheese empanadilla had no distinct goat cheese taste, but the crust was light and flaky. I'd go back, but only because tapas is a good way to eat with Peanut. What really shocked me was the prices. Granted that it's been a while since I've been to Zaytinya or Jaleo so my ability to make direct price comparisons is limited, but Isabella's prices seemed to be about $1 higher for every plate than they should be.
Opened about six months ago, Ayse (pron: eye-shae, 6 North East St, 240 651 5155) specializes in small plates of Turkish, Greek, and Lebanese origin, but the primary emphasis is on the Turkish offerings, which are hard enough to find even in the DC area. We stopped in for dinner last night, and left with a very positive impression of the food. The menu itself is rather long, and will take several visits to sample fully. Most dishes were in the $6-8 range, with some items as low as $4, but hardly anything that could even be considered moderately expensive. Value was generally spot on, although some items like the mantÄ± were a bit precious at $8 for three not-too-large dumplings. The whole fish, on the daily specials sheet, are noteworthy. FedExed from Turkey, they were a steal at $18-19 for authentic branzino or dorade. Limited availability, by their very nature, and no indication of how frequently he has these flown in. There was a definite pecking order to the "cigars" (aka sigar boregÄ±), although all of them suffered slightly from a rather thick pastry which fried up more like a wonton wrapper than like a delicate boregÄ± pastry. I was a bit underwhelmed by the cheese version, where it was difficult to detect any of the non-cheese components of the filling. The lamb version was nice, and boosted by an excellent yogurt sauce which also accompanied a number of lamb-based items. The duck version was excellent...do make sure you try this item. Vegetable-based items were delicious all around, the squash fritters having a nice bit of salt to their crispy exterior. I found the use of dill to be more restrained here than in Turkey. The housemade suí§uk and also the Adana kebab were decidedly spicy, and well-moderated by the yogurt sauce. Both had a somewhat dense chew that is authentic. The kebab here is served curiously unadorned though, over a thin layer of rice and without the customary heaps of chopped onions, tomatoes, or other green. It turns out that somebody *does* import salep dondurma (orchid root mastic ice cream) to the USA by way of New York, if our server was correct. You can choose that, or two other housemade flavors. I had the salep, which might not have been the most refined version I've had, but definitely had the characteristic elasticity and stretchiness. I don't know if real salep or credible substitutes were used in the ice cream, but again, it's a Turkish specialty worth trying. We didn't really explore the beverage list much, but there are five types of rakÄ± available, plus a short list of beers including a number of Oliver Ales on draft. The wine list is also appropriately Mediterranean, and organized into sections labeled Greek, Turkish, Israeli, Lebanese, and "other". Our tab for two, including beverages but before tip, was under $90 for a face-stuffing variety of dishes. Two could easily assemble a nice meal here in the $75 range all in, but you'll probably want to explore instead of holding back. I'm probably damning the place with faint praise, but this is an excellent addition to the area (not quite Family Meal good, but better than any of the Market St options close to Carroll Creek) and I can't wait to get back and dine on the outdoor patio as the weather warms up.
Website 221 N East ST Frederick, MD 21701 This is a new place from the same group who run Brewer's Alley, Isabellas, and Ayse. It replaces what used to be the Shab Row Bistro and Wine Bar, in a somewhat awkward to reach part of East street adjacent to a tiny park. As you can probably guess, they specialize in Neapolitan pizza and feature beers from Monocacy Brewing (the Brewer's Alley guys). We heard about this place from my dad actually, who heard about it from the FOAM club. We'd been wondering what was going on with this building for a while, since we drive past it fairly often and they had covered all the windows for a time. Turns out this place had opened in early April, and has quickly become a new trendy spot in Frederick. There appears to still be a side of the building dedicated to wine casks, I'm not sure if that's in use, planned to be put to use, or planned to be turned into an expansion for the restaraunt. We got there pretty early on a Tuesday, around 5:30. The place has a decent amount of seating, a number of oversized tables which they may seat multiple parties at, two bars right next to each other (a proper bar and a bar overlooking the pizza oven), and outdoor seating. It was still pretty empty at this point, so we got seated immediately. Down to the important stuff. My wife decided to try the Blu Fico (gorgonzola, yukon gold potatoes, figs, mozzarella, rosemary oil), and I dared try recreate a favorite of mine (panna sauce, mozzarella, ricotta, prosciutto). The pizza here is fantastic, this is easily the best pizza you can get in Frederick. People who have eaten at Pizza CS in Rockville are going to find the style and taste of the pizza very familar. Delicious crust and toppings. We've only been here the once so far so I can't speak for any of the other options, but I'm desperate to go back and try a pesto & chicken pizza next. As far as desserts go, I got the Chocolate Bundino (which is the same one they serve at Ayse), wife ended up getting a Cannoli. These were fine, but next time I'm definitely going to try out some of the cookies instead. Beer selection is mearly okay, they have a few of the Brewer's Alley beers on tap, and a few random bottles and cans from Maui, Monocacy, and Oscar Blues. While I'm a fan of Monocacy's stuff, it's kind of a small and boring list by comparison to many other places in town. I don't know beans about Wine, so someone else will have to chime in on the quality of the wine list. Our food came out pretty darn fast I should mention, only took a few minutes for the pizzas to come out. The service was very good, friendly and fast and answered my many dumb questions. By the time we were leaving at around 6:30 or so, the place was already completely full and people were waiting for tables, and keep in mind this was on a Tuesday and two months after opening. I suspect this place will be quite impossible to get into on a Friday or Saturday, at least for a good while anyway. So there you have it. I'll be back here soon enough to try some other items, but if everything else is as good as what I had on my first visit, I'm pretty sure this will be locked in a tie with Pizza CS for my favorite pizza in Maryland. Give it a shot and see what you think, just make sure you go early.