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  1. Um, I think I just started a thread! Inspired by Sietsema's first bite article last week, friends called us and asked us to join them for an early dinner on Saturday at the new Ottoman Taverna. We had all traveled to Turkey on various trips (separately) so we were psyched to get some good Turkish food. TL:DR - Really good food, really average service, decent price (for DC), Michelle Obama sighting. Details follow: We were only able to get a 5:30 reservation so we decided to get there, have drinks, then order mezze, then wait, then eat mains, and proceed on. That was a good strategy. The room is gorgeous - really really nice with interesting decor. The hostesses were a little flaky (trying to give us someone else's table even though the last name on the reservation was a simple as could be) but nice, and we were seated. As soon as we sat we realized that something was going on -- Secret Service were swarming the place and started wanding all the people coming in just after us. The waiter told us Michelle Obama was there, in the private room (which we had guessed) hosting a party. (Coincidentally this is the second time in a year that I have been at dinner when Michelle shows up -- last time was Rose's Luxury). The Michelle situation may have been the reason for all the weird service. For more on Michelle, see this: "Michelle Obama Dines at Ottoman Taverna" by Anna Spiegel on washingtonian.com I'll get the service out of the way. Our waiter (not Turkish, Latino, which only matters because he didn't know much about the food and was hard to understand) was a bit amateurish. Knocking into glasses, not really knowing the cuisine, not able to answer many questions, and just a bit bumbling. I think the service (at the prices they charge) needs to be much more polished. That's all I'll say. The food, however, was great. We started with 4 mezze - a cold chicken salad, Imam bayidli (cold eggplant with tomatoes), kofte kabob, and something else I can't remember (but was the best of the bunch.) The chicken and kofte were well spiced and moist. My Imam bayildi was just OK. It was the weak link. I love this dish at Zaytina and think theirs is better. For mains I had the Iskender Kabob, which was shaved lamb and beef over cubed fluffy pita with spicy sauce. It was the best dish on the table and I LOVED it. Two others had the Manti (small pasta filled with meat in a cream sauce) and it was good (if a small portion) and authentic. My other friend had some sort of kebab I can't recall. Desserts were Turkish coffee and some really nice baklava with walnut ice cream. Drinks-wise I had a gin and ginger cocktail that was out of this world refreshing and good (with beach plum gin) and we split a bottle of Turkish red wine (I didn't choose it, so don't remember what it was). For 4 of us with 4 cocktails, a bottle of wine and a glass, 4 mezze, 4 mains, 4 desserts, and 3 coffees the bill was about $350, which was not cheap, but seems to be the norm in this town these days. I'll be back. Funny moment (I was talking about artificial insemination during dinner and turned my head and happened to say "sperm" really loudly just as an older couple walked by. The husband was in a non-ironic Donald Trump hat. They kind of looked at me and continued on. They sat a bit far down from us. Later in the meal, when their server told them that Michelle was in the house the woman loudly exclaimed "Oh GOD!" and they left shortly thereafter. I guess you really can't escape politics in this town. And, Trump lady, I am sorry I seemingly shouted "sperm!" at you.)
  2. Alta Strada opened three weeks ago and MichaelBDC and I have already stopped in twice for two very good dinners. After returning from a quick trip to New York, starting a new job, and facing an empty refrigerator, I convinced MichaelBDC to go to Alta Strada for opening night. We were surprised that the restaurant was only half full, but one of the GMs told us it was by design in order to allow the restaurant to ease into business. Michael Schlow was on hand to expedite and do some quality control. We started with the grilled octopus with chickpeas, calabrian chiles, and parsley. About 80 percent of the chickpeas were blended with the chiles to form a hummus like consistency and spread in a crescent shape on the plate. This was topped with the perfectly cooked octopus (which was poached and then grilled) a few whole chickpeas, and parsley. MichaelBDC and I both enjoyed this dish, especially the spice from the chiles. We also had the crunchy meatballs to start. MichaelBDC enjoyed this dish a bit more than I did, though I thought it was very good. I agreed with him that the outside of the meatballs were very crisp but did not result in a dry meatball. The restaurant also gave us an order of whipped ricotta to start. This was a luscious and great dish MichaelBDC and I both enjoyed. The only downer was the gratis bread and olive oil. The Italian sesame bread was average and the olive oil needed some salt. But since MichaelBDC and I enjoyed the starters so much, it was easy to overlook this part of the meal. We were already pretty full after the appetizers but had already ordered the Maltagliati with rabbit, fresh fava beans, and pecorino. This was my favorite dish of the evening. I really enjoyed the bits of rabbit and the fava beans. The pasta was lightly sauced, enabling the ingredients to shine through. We also ordered the broccoli rabe and spicy sausage pizza. It was good but not great pizza. There was nothing wrong with the dish, I just felt that the other items on the menu were much better. However, the pizza is perfectly good for an Italian place trying to offer a bit of variety. MichaelBDC and I each had a slice and asked for the rest to go. Last weekend, my brother and cousin were in town to run the Cherry Blossom Ten Miler with me and we decided to have our pre-race dinner here. We ordered everything that MichaelBDC and I had at our previous dinner minus the ricotta and added an order of tagliatelle bolognese and local striped bass with rosemary, white beans, escarole, and lemon. I only had the tagliatelle and thought it was very good. For dessert the table split the lemon sorbet, which was delightfully tart, and the nutella tarte, which was delightfully rich. MichaelBDC and I had two very successful visits to Alta Strada and are looking forward to more. It's so great to finally have a solid and decently priced Italian restaurant in the neighborhood.
  3. Today, Monday, is opening day for Alba. We went to Alba on Thursday night for their "friends and family." We found it to be extremely imaginative with a number of dishes that I think are extraordinary for North America. I believe that it presents a new depth of Italian to Washington, D. C. that most have not seen before. I'd even suggest it is a real credit to D. C. that we have a restaurant like this. The setting is familiar and reassuring but a number of the dishes are a very real adventure. For anyone reading this who might have shared in one of the Laboratorio dinners I organized a number of years ago: do you remember the "duck stew?" Roberto has a dish called trofie all finanziera which is a type of pasta with what is essentially "duck stew" sauce. Remarkable. Also, an intensely delicious agnolotti al brasato (another Laboratorio dish), tamarin and an amazing chicken soup. Yes, chicken soup. It is even called this on the menu. Intensely reduced, deeply flavored chicken stock with cream, white wine and cubes of chicken breast and veggies with little "nuggets" of a pasta. Topped with homemade croutons. If it were not for our passionate waiter we would not have tried it. "Chicken soup" sounds so simple, so "Carnegie or Stage or Katz' deli like. But this was incredible. Better than any New York deli-all of which i have had chicken soup at. Others saw us, asking what we'd ordered. Pretty soon there were a half dozen or more bowls around us with another half dozen spoons for others so they could try, too. Roberto has never had chicken soup before-this is his first time presenting it. It will become a signature. Chicken soup. Trofie finanziera. Agnolotti al brasato. Tamarin. For starters and a bit of direction. Alba is an adventurous, exciting restaurant that gives full credit to the piedmont region where Roberto is from. And for anyone going, you'll see thematic features (various metallic structures and designs) throughout the restaurant which are from the Crayola factory which closed in Sandusky, Ohio in the late '50's. Alba recovered them from salvage and restored them where today they help create the unique but reassuring ambience of the room. Sandusky is also the home of Cedar Point, the greatest amusement park on Earth. It was once called 'the amazement park." There is both literally and figuratively a bit of the amazement park in Roberto's new Alba!
  4. Being new to donrockwell.com I decided to look around and see what I could find about the places in my neighborhood. I was a little surprised that there were not any posts about Sixth Engine even though they've been open for over three years now. Perhaps that's because it wallows in mediocrity. Don't get me wrong, they've always had a consistently good brunch and well cooked burgers. The problem for me is that much of the rest of the menu has always been a little 'heavy handed' when it comes to ingredients and sauces. Thankfully, the chef who opened the place, Paul Madrid, has left and things are starting to get better. Additions like the arugula salad and roasted cauliflower with "Ling Sauce", which is very much a sweeter General Tso's sauce, have injected life back into the menu. Hopefully they will continue down this path. The bar program, on the other hand, came flying out of the gate and hasn't lost its momentum. Draft beers rotate regularly to highlight the best of the season and the bartenders take pride in not only making the drinks, but also the ingredients, creating custom shrubs and tonics to use in their creations. While I realize the latter can be found at craft cocktail bars all over the city, it's surprising to find in a place that has the vibe of a glorified TGI Fridays. The layout is more on par with the food than the bar program. Do not go there if you're looking for a quiet evening. The bar bleeds into the downstairs dining area and with TVs in both, it can quickly become a situation where you have to yell at the person across the table from you in order for them to hear you easily. The beautiful upstairs dining room has exposed brick walls and hardwood floors that echo all of the activity in the kitchen that adjoins it. Surprisingly the outdoor patio is the least noisy of the three even with the traffic on Mass Ave just a few feet away. There are a plethora of tables and the service is good. The sun us really the only enemy. During happy hour you're fine and in the shade while the sun scorches Philos' patio across the street. During brunch though you are in the sun's crosshairs and it will roast you at your table even with umbrellas in place to help prevent that. At the end of the day Sixth Engine is a nice place to get a drink and maybe have something to eat if it speaks to you. Otherwise, have a few drinks and walk around the corner to Wise Guy Pizza and score a slice of pie.
  5. It took some digging, but I independently confirmed that L'Hommage Bistro will be opening at 450 K Street NW, just east of Mount Vernon Square. The Chef de Cuisine will be Josh Perkins, who was most recently at Ecco in Atlanta - he has 25 years of experience in the industry. The Mâitre d' is named Mustafa Fairtout (I'm not sure about the spelling of Mustafa's last name), who was a Server at Cafe Milano. This will be a classical French bistro with onion soup, páté, steak frites, etc. The restaurant will seat 175 with 50 at the bar and 80 on the patio. Owner is Hakan Ilhan of Al Dente et al. A bakery will be attached to the bistro, selling French breads, sandwiches, coffee, and to-go meals - the bread will be made in-house. --- I was also sent this article: "Alba Osteria Owner Hakan Ilhan to Open French Restaurant in Mount Vernon Triangle" by Rebecca Cooper on bizjournals.com
  6. A 12.5 mile run in this weather will really do a number on a gal. After taking some time to stretch and foam roll at Vida Gym, I crossed the street to check out the new and nameless shop from Baked and Wired. The space is really open and has a very contemporary feel with bright white countertops and clean lines. There is a small retail area on the right after you enter with items such as pickles and jam made by Baked and Wired, coffee beans (Stumptown and Blueprint coffee from St. Louis), granola, bars of chocolate, and some baked goods. Additional baked goods (bread, biscotti, brownies, etc.) are behind the counter where you register. The place has a lot of seating, including a nice looking communal table. The food offerings looked pretty tasty including the much talked about artisinal toast, quiche, and yogurt and granola. A good option for a light breakfast or snack. The coffee offerings were also pretty interesting ranging from regular drip coffee to pour over to espresso drinks and even iced coffee on nitro. The service is still working itself out. Everyone was friendly and eager to help but it took awhile to ring up simple orders as the employees seemed to still be getting used to the cash register. Also, there were a few people behind the counter that kept asking people if they needed help which seemed to be confusing to people who were expecting to order at the register. Finally, when food and espresso drinks came out, one person was just shouting the name of the customer and it caused a bit of confusion. If the pace keeps up, I think it would be much better if they moved to giving people numbers at the register so food can be delivered to the appropriate table. I walked in around 10am and the place had seemed to settle into a good pace and not too busy, but within five minutes about a dozen people had streamed in and it was a bit more chaotic and busy. I ordered a pour over of the Blueprint coffee and a chocolate almond biscotti. I really enjoyed the pour over and the biscotti did a good job of holding me over until I could make my post run breakfast tacos. While I love Chinatown Coffee Company and La Colombe, this Baked and Wired sister place is the place where I would want to sit down and spend some time or meet with friends. In other news, on my walk home I saw signage up for L'Hommage Bistro Francais (from the owner of Alba Osteria) two doors down. According to the Washington Business Journal the place also has plans for a bakery and cafe, so it'll be interesting to see how A Baked Joint and L'Hommage co-exist. Then across the street, the Rays joint seems to be coming together (I saw dining tables set up!). If good Kushi (not the mediocre/bad Kushi of the later years) were still around and the strip club formerly known as the Cloakroom/Louis Rogue could be replaced with something respectable, the 500 block of K would be an interesting block to spend some time.
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