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Jul 13, 2009

D.C. Beer Bars: Birreria Paradiso - The first and the best

18 Here in the D.C. area, we are blessed with an abundance of bars. Well, maybe not blessed, but we sure do have a lot of them.

In the sense of four walls and booze, all bars are basically the same. But there's more to a watering hole than elixir and shelter, much more.

In this new series, we're looking at a very special category of bars - beer bars - and telling you of the very best in our area. Stealing the rating system Top Gear magazine uses to rate vehicles (it really is a great magazine), I'll be rating beer bars on a 20 point scale. I'll consider the beer, particularly the tap selection, the bar's atmosphere, bartenders and other elements, such as the presence of a beer engine, all of which make up a great beer bar.

I'm getting ahead of myself. If you think about it, you know what a beer bar is, sort of. I came across the term on the Beer Mapping Project's fantastic Web site. Beer geeks from around the world plug their favorite beer bars into the site's maps so that other beer geeks can track them down. Whenever I travel, I consult the Web site to find the breweries, beer stores and beer bars in the cities I'm visiting. It's a fantastic resource that if you're not using, you should.

Anyway, a beer bar is obviously a bar that serves beer. But a beer bar is an establishment that specializes in beer, that pays particular attention to the beer it serves. It may do other things, such as the beer bar in our inaugural profile, but there is a distinct emphasis on beer.

If you agree with my selections and ratings, great. If you don't, let me know. And if you know of a beer bar I should check out, let me know that, too.

The first beer bar in this series is the best beer bar in the D.C. area: Birreria Paradiso. Tucked into the basement of the Georgetown pizzeria, Pizzeria Paradiso, the Birreria is a destination for area beer lovers. The basement and sunnier ground-floor bar feature a regular rotation of American craft beers and imports.

And that's just the 16 taps.

I've visited the Birreria quite a few times, and on several occasions I've been surprised by what was on draft and what was hidden away. During last year's election, I came across Avery's limited release Ale To The Chief on draft in the first floor bar, complete with a hand-painted Obama tap head. There was the evening my wife and I were chatting with bar manager Greg Jasgur about how hard it is to find North Carolina beers in the D.C. area. He spun around and produced a bottle of Gaelic Ale from Asheville's Highland Brewery.

That's Asheville, North Carolina.

7 Local beer geeks will know the story of Greg flying to Chicago only to drive back with a moving truck full of Three Floyds. And during a recent visit, Greg (pictured) had Three Floyds' Robert the Bruce Scottish Ale on the beer engine (a magical machine, if ever there was one).

Between the regular rotation of drafts and the 200 or so bottles, 25 percent of which are rotated regularly, Greg runs a quality beer bar. Does it hurt that he doesn't stock any beers from the big three American imports (Anheuser-Busch, Coors and Miller)? No, it doesn't hurt at all. Sorry Bud lovers, but anyone willing to eschew the bounty and revenue that comes with keeping the big three on hand is taking a chance to do something right.

And while owner Ruth Gresser gives Greg the reigns on stocking beers, Greg is willing to turn some of the decision making over to his customers. Got an idea for a beer that the Birreria doesn't offer? Let Greg know, he might just have it the next time you come in.

16 So, will the best beer bar in D.C. score a perfect 20? I'm afraid not. As much as I like the Birreria, it is a pizzeria first and a bar second. You could argue that that means there is always great food available to go with your Double Dead Guy. That's true, but that also means that you're sharing the bar with the Johnson family who brought the kids for pizza. As wonderful as I'm sure the Johnsons are, they take me out of the moment. When I'm in a bar, I want to be in a bar, not a family restaurant.

Despite the fact that Pizzeria Paradiso caters to diners and beer lovers equally, I have come across the occasional server and bartender who didn't know much about the beer. Fortunately, the beer menu does a decent job describing the styles and characteristics of the beers, but to be great, all the bartenders should be well versed in the beers on draft and familiar with the bottles on hand. The servers should at least be familiar with what's available.

Finally, and this is a minor quibble, but there could be a better focus on local beers. One of the things I appreciate about the bars in the Triangle area of North Carolina is the fact that it's not uncommon to find local beers on tap, often two or three. Locals drink local beer, so local bars kept them on draft. I understand that D.C. is a city of transients, but that's no reason a few of the quality beer bars, like the Birreria, can't dedicate a few draft lines to the likes of Hook & Ladder and Flying Dog.

Still, Birreria Paradiso is a damn fine beer bar. If you haven't wandered downstairs to pay Greg a visit, you're missing out. He's running a fine establishment with consistently the best selection of quality craft beers and imports you're going to find in the area.

Score: 17 of 20 (beer selection: 7 of 8, atmosphere: 4 of 5, bartenders: 4 of 5, other elements: 2 of 2)

Categories: Bar/Club, Beer, Georgetown, Restaurant Reviews
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Jun 04, 2008

Dean & DeLuca on M Street - A DC Foodie Fixture for 15 Years

Danddupdates In 1977, the first Dean & DeLuca opened its doors in New York's Soho.  Since then, the company has been introducing hardcore foodies and the merely curious to all kinds of new ingredients and preparations.  They were trailblazers in the introduction of upscale prepared foods that could be purchased, taken home, and served with little more effort than heating and plating.  In The United States of Arugula, David Kamp goes so far as to suggest that their aesthetic (and its accompanying commitment to quality ingredients) helped to usher in the idea of food and cooking as part of the refined lifestyle that evolved into the 'foodie' mindset so prevalent today.

All of that is great, but it is of less interest to me than one of their other noteworthy contributions - the celebration of cheese!  Even before Dean & DeLuca came into existence, Giorgio DeLuca operated a cheese shop where he imported some of Europe's best cheeses and offered them up as an education to his customers whose experience with cheese tended toward Swiss, American and Cream.  With Steven Jenkins - a man who has established himself as one of the foremost American authorities on cheese - behind the counter, Dean & DeLuca quickly established itself as a place to go to find some of the best cheeses you'd never tasted before.

Pic_store1With that kind of pedigree, it would be inexcusable to overlook Dean & DeLuca's Georgetown outpost in any survey of Washington cheesemongers.  Even so, you would be hard pressed to find a D.C. Foodie who lists them among their top 5 cheese shops in the Metro area.  Competition from dedicated cheese purveyors like Cowgirl Creamery and Cheesetique as well as newer (and larger) upscale grocers like Whole Foods and Wegman's, coupled with its location amidst the retail establishments of Georgetown's M Street, makes D&D more of an "Oh yeah, them too!" than a "To start with, there's..."

And that's actually to our detriment.  Their location and selection make them an excellent choice, and one I intend to employ more often in the future.  Since 1993, Dean & DeLuca has occupied a renovated Georgetown market hall that dates back to the 1860s.  This is a beautiful, if somewhat small, space that encourages lingering over the numerous hot and cold prepared foods, the wall of obscure (and pricey) spices, and the racks of California wines at the back of the store.

Deandeluca They continue to offer a great selection of hard-to-find imported and domestic cheeses at a counter that can be found about a third of the way into the store down the right-hand side.  Cheese counter duties are handled by knowledgeable staff who are also able to help with questions about their wide selection of charcuterie, salumis, and good old-fashioned deli meats.  Though they're not as likely to offer a sample as the folks at Bowers in Eastern Market or even at Whole Foods, they are happy to take the time to talk about your preferences and make recommendations - especially when they carry cheeses that you are unlikely to have encountered elsewhere.  On a recent visit, I was encouraged to try Rouge et Noir when I professed a fondness for Triple Cream Brie - a relatively inexpensive and widely available suggestion I was happy to embrace. 

It's hard to make a generalization about their price points when it comes to cheese.  Some of their unique offerings (like their 8 oz rounds of Grafton cheddar that sell for $10) carry pricetags that compare well with those of the local purveyors and our neighborhood farmers' markets.  Others, including several of the more widely available international offerings, come in $1-$3 more expensive per pound at Dean & DeLuca than at competing cheese shops in the area.

The combination of variety, atmosphere and location makes Dean & DeLuca a great cheese option for Georgetown residents and anyone else who find themselves craving quality cheese after a day of shopping on M Street.  Though the selection is no longer unique enough to warrant a visit merely for the cheese, their wide range of gourmet products makes it a splurge of a shopping experience that is easy to recommend.

Dean & DeLuca
3276 M Street, NW
(202) 342-2500
Open 7 days a week, 8 AM - 9 PM
Catering available

Categories: Cheese, Georgetown
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Feb 25, 2008

Hook Restaurant

You might have read my initial review of Hook back in July when the restaurant first opened. If you did, and listened to my advice and gave it a try, then you' understand why I say that it's quickly becoming my favorite seafood restaurant in DC. Just about every time I've been to Hook, the menu is a little different, which means you can come back time and time again and never get bored. One of the reasons for this is that they maintain a menu of sustainable fish and seasonal, locally-produced ingredients, which at other restaurants can translate to inconsistent dining experiences, but at Hook, it's just the opposite. Hook is very consistent.

I've been to Hook a couple times in the last month, and both times, my meals were very impressive. The fish always comes out out perfectly cooked. The server doesn't ask how you want the fish cooked, it just comes out the way it should be cooked depending on the cut of meat. A sablefish (or black cod) is left a little rare so to not cook away all the oil in the fish that gives it its aroma and flavor, yet it's not served with a typical Asian inspired soy marinade. Instead, the fish is served with a cranberry-red wine sauce, braised chanterelle mushrooms, and smoked lentils, a nice combination of flavors that I would never dream of.

Any wood-grilled fish is worth ordering. Last time, I had the mahi mahi, and the time before that, the wahoo. Both came with ingredients that complimented the flavors of the fish, but don't hide the flavor of the fish. In the case of the mahi mahi, it came with a delicate squash risotto and with the wahoo came a salty squash and shell bean ragout.

But I jumped to the entrees too quickly and failed to mention the appetizers. The first section on the menu is called "Crudo". Each crudo comes with three slices of a certain king of raw fish, each slice is topped with a different light topping, and cost about $8 or $9. Some have criticized the size of these starters calling them little postage stamps of fish, and I've had similar criticisms, but on my last visit, they had an oyster crudo. I thought the oyster crudo was a pretty good value considering they were Stellar Bay oysters.

There's usually at least one soup menu and I've ordered it every time because they've just sounded so damn good. Recently, I had both chestnut soup with raw oyster and apple and roasted beet soup with yogurt. Both soups weren't overly creamy, but had just the right silky thickness in the broth and the flavors were subtle. Other than soups on a recent trip, I also had a delicious steel head trout tartar with just the right amount of mayo mixed with blood orange, red onion, and macadamia nuts. But, the reality is that there are so many dishes that sound amazing on the menu, that it's extremely difficult to narrow your choices down to a single appetizer and entree.

For desserts, you really can't go wrong. Heather Chittum is easily the best dessert chef in DC in my opinion. I was first introduced to her creations 4 years ago at Circle Bistro. Her heavenly Madelines with lavender honey were love at first bite. Now at Hook, she's coming up with her own version of moon pies and gingerbread which require no elaborate description except to say that either of these desserts are a perfect way to end a meal.

Hook
3241 M St NW
Washington, DC 20007
202.625.4488
hookdc.com

Hours:
See web site.

Dress Code: Business Casual
Parking: There is no valet parking. I repeat, there is no valet parking despite what you may read elsewhere. Parking is not simple in Georgetown. If you can't find a spot on the street, just park in the Georgetown Mall lot across the street.
Smoking: Not Allowed.
Closest Metro: Foggy Bottom
Reservations: Taken and recommended.
Baby-Child friendly rating: 1 diaper. I wish I could give it more but the atmosphere just isn't appropriate for a child.
Amy's Bathroom Rating: Very clean and kept up well. Of course the restaurant is still pretty new that that's expected.

Categories: Georgetown, Restaurant Reviews, Seafood
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Feb 21, 2008

Birreria Paradiso

The M Street drag in lower Georgetown has long been a bastion of the hip and cool in DC — yet somehow, certain establishments manage to fly just under the radar. Pizzeria Paradiso, a longtime Birreria1 institution is well known, and deservedly so, for the quality of its wood-fired pies. However, relatively few people know of the other great stuff that lurks down below.

The DC craft beer scene is a relatively new development compared to those in other major metropolitan areas. Yes, I know, we have the Brickskeller, which has held the world's record for most beers in one location for several years. But the 'Skeller, by its very nature (i.e., huge), is lumbering and static. Maintaining a list such as theirs, some 1000+ beers strong, necessitates that the status quo reigns; sure, there is bound to be the occasional change in the lineup, but when placed among its hundreds and hundreds of brethren, who is bound to notice the newbie?

To the Brickskeller's behemoth, Birreria Paradiso offers an elegant counterpoint. Small and dynamic, it represents the very quintessence of a proper latter day spirits program, so lacking in the District. Housed in the cozy downstairs area of the Georgetown location, the Birreria is a welcoming space, featuring a 10 seater bar, a fireplace lounge, and table seating for about 20.

Well, I guess calling the beer program "small" only works in comparison to the Guinness record holder.  In fact, the Birreria's selection is quite impressive, being some 80+ strong in the bottle department. Selections run the gamut from the $5.50 Austrian Pilsner to several $50 Belgian Bieres Brut (the closest thing any beer lover is going to find to the glories of vintage Champagne). The bottle menu is extremely well laid out, oriented by category with general descriptions, with each brew identified with its own pithy couple of lines. Given the specificity, you are very unlikely to end up with something unexpected. The selection features a wide array of both domestic and imported novelties; if you are a fan of rare bottle-conditioned ales, be aware that Paradiso is near the top of the allocation list, and you will find things there you may never see in any other bar or retail store. In addition they regularly stock the full compliment of Belgian Trappist beers (at least, those that are available) and local favorites from Dogfish Head and Victory.

Birreria2_2

While the bottle list is well appointed, it is in the draft department where I think the Birreria really shows its stuff. Their draught selections are constantly rotated, featuring some of the best and hardest-to-find beers in the country. Do not come here if you are looking for Miller Lite or Coors— if your idea of a complicated wheat beer is Blue Moon, you may be a bit put out. What you should expect is a full complement of beers you've never heard of, and assume that nearly all of their 16 taps will be different than the last time you'd visited. Paradiso is also one of the few venues in town where you can experience real cask ale: served unpasturized and unfiltered, unadulterated by CO2 or nitrogen, at room temperature, this stuff is the closest you will find to those served in the British pubs of yesteryear. If you’d like to know what you are getting into before you go, rest assured that the list on the website is kept very up to date despite the disclaimer.

Sampling the Paradiso draft lineup is a great way for both the expert and the neophyte to learn a thing or two. Bartenders are keen to let you taste new offerings, and Manager/Buyer Greg Jasgur, a one-man beer encyclopedia, is usually running in and out of the place. Tuesday and Wednesday the Birreria features half-priced drafts and pizza specials from 5 to 7 pm. This happy hour is easily one of the best in town, and as such the space becomes packed with in-the-know regulars. I heartily suggest you go, but expect to stand and have your personal space a bit encroached. Bartenders tend to be very competent, but given the crowds and the Birreria's commitment to serving their beers in the proper glassware, you may have to wait a bit for your next drink. Be patient, and don't rush: many of the beers on draft are 10% abv or higher, so resist the urge to get as many in as possible, especially if you are driving. If you can find a spare bit of flat space, have a pizza, too. Beer has the same food pairing potential as any beverage, wine included, and with the breadth of choices available you are sure to find a match for your favorite toppings.

Birreria Paradiso
3282 M Street NW, downstairs
Washington, DC
202.337.1245
eatyourpizza.com
Map
Dress Code: Casual
Parking: Garage nearby. Street parking is hard to find.
Closest Metro: Foggy Bottom or Rosslyn

Categories: Bar/Club, Beer, Georgetown, Pizza, Restaurant Reviews
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May 01, 2007

Hook Restaurant

Ever since I found out that Barton Seaver was leaving Cafe Saint Ex to go to Hook in late February, I've been anxiously awaiting the restaurant's opening. One of the things I liked the most about Cafe Saint Ex were the seafood dishes, and the idea that Hook would be primarily a seafood restaurant was exciting.

There's obviously been a lot of buzz around the opening of Hook, because calling same day to get a reservation and Thursday was challenging. As usual my lack of planning ahead meant I couldn't to drop by Hook until the following Saturday after it opened. The place was bustling with people.

The space, previously occupied by Cilantro, has been completely remodeled to give it a sleek, modern look. The bar at Hook takes up almost half of the restaurant, which will make it a popular happy hour spot for the Georgetown crowd. Even though space is limited, the owners haven't spaced the tables too closely together, so you have a good amount of privacy when eating. Despite the modern look, the atmosphere is pretty casual at Hook, but people still seem to dress up a little (Dress is dress casual to business casual.) Amy noticed that high heeled stilettos were a common sight.

The wines selection seems well thought out and the prices will suit anyones budget ($26 to $140 a bottle). Most interesting is that the wines are sorted by how strong and complex the flavor is which makes it easy to pick out a wine. Of course, when you're dealing with seafood, it can't hurt to pick out a Muscadet (I had a nice Muscadet from Loire, France and loved it. It's a very good choice at $28 a bottle.)

You should start you meal at Hook with a crudo sampler (or two). Crudo are slices of raw fish (basically sushi Sashimi) that come served with some condiments like a grapefruit slice, ginger, an oil, or something similar. For the more adventurous fish eater, skip the oyster, tuna, and salmon, and go for the wahoo, weakfish, or mackerel which have more interesting preparation. If you're there with a companion, the sampler comes with three that can each be shared between two, so don't feel like you need to order a set for each person.

For appetizers, the grilled shrimp are a hit and give any grilled shrimp in the area a run for their money (yes, even Ray's). They come on top of salty stewed beans that taste like they have a ton of pork fat in them. We also had the "country ham tasting" which is a Virginia version of a Charcuterie plate, but in the stead of prosciutto and french bread, you get Virginia ham and biscuits. I really think this would be perfect if it came with some sausage gravy on the side instead of mustard.

Fish dominate the entrees at Hook like the rest of the menu, except for the mushroom risotto and pork belly dishes. I really enjoyed the bluefish which is one of your more dense, oily fishes, but is complemented nicely with a basil pesto. Serving sizes aren't huge, which can be one of the drawbacks depending on how you look at it. Personally, I was pretty full at the end of the night and you know how big of an appetite I have.

Desserts are done by Heather Chittum, formerly of Circle Bistro, Dish, Notti Bianche, and...oh right, Citronelle. My favorite dessert ever from Circle Bistro has returned on the menu at Hook which are the Madeleines. They're soft and lemony and a light way to finish off the meal.

Oh, and I happened to bump into Sebastian Zutant at the bar, former sommelier of Komi, Rasika and the future sommelier of Proof. When I asked about the status of Proof, he said that it wont be open until very late May. He seemed to be having a good time like Amy and I, although it could have been the wine.

Hook Restaurant
3241 M St NW
Washington, DC 20007
www.hookdc.com
202.625.4488
Map

Categories: Georgetown, Restaurant Openings, Restaurant Reviews, Seafood
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Oct 31, 2006

Circle Bistro

I want to write about this while it's fresh in my mind...

I stopped by Circle Bistro tonight for an early dinner. The place wasn't very busy due to it being Halloween and we had Noah with us so we just sat at the bar. After a few drinks with their happy hour specials (half price wine glasses, beers, and cocktails), we just ordered a bunch of appetizers.

To start with, at $8, Circle Bistro's duck confit is a steal. Yum! Yum! Yum! As is the three cheese plate at $9. Go soon and try the sweet potato soup with fennel sausage and sage croutons -- the best soup I've had in a while. When Chef Cox stopped by to say hello, he told me that this wont be on the menu long (soon to be replaced by an onion soup), so go to Circle Bistro and try it now. Also, the papardelle with duck ragu...a perfect hearty dish for the fall - Love it!

When I return, I need to try the monkfish - It sounded sooooo good!

Categories: Bar/Club, French, Georgetown, Kennedy Center, New American
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Apr 05, 2006

Notti Bianche

I first visited Notti Bianche on the first floor of the GWU Inn very soon after they opened. That one visit left me with fond memories of their crispy roast chicken and questions about their nontraditional (at times) pasta dishes, but of course that was only one visit and it was close to their opening.

Obviously, Notti Bianche (translates to White Nights in Italian) has come into their own since then, because recently (or maybe since they opened, I'm a little oblivious at times) people have been talking about Notti Bianche quite a lot. I wondered, "Was I missing something?" So I made a couple return trips to reassess my original opinions.

I'll start with what I found good...Executive Chef Anthony Chittum makes a nice hearty minestrone made with lardo. I'm almost depressed that spring is here, which means that the wonderfully hearty soups of winter will start disappearing from menus.

If you're unfamiliar with what lardo is, it's basically...no, not basically -- it is 100% unadulterated pork fat, cured and smoked. The minestone soup was one of my favorite things on Notti Bianche's menu and quickly reminded me how mediocre the minestrone that I've been making at home is. I think I need to find some lardo rather than the ham hock that I've been using to flavor my stock. What is it with chefs that come from Equinox and their soups?!

If you are brave enough to eat sweetbreads (come on, grow a pair people!) the crispy veal sweetbreads should be ordered by your group. Now they're not the best I've ever had (that honor goes to Galileo), but they're crispy, juicy and served with seasonal ingredients. The current menu has them with squash caponata, pine nuts and aged balsamic now, which are mostly just distractions from the big enchilada, but add subtle flavor to the dish.

For a salad course, you should try Notti Bianchi's tender baby octopus salad with firm cannelini beans and lemon. The octopus isn't rubbery and the charring gives it a wonderfully smokey flavor. I've had some octopus elsewhere that had more the consistency of overcooked chicken reheated in a microwave -- which doesn't make for a very good salad.

At Notti Bianche, the entrees aren't overshadowed by the appetizers and second courses which means your meal doesn't peak early. The roast chicken from when I first visited is gone and has been replaced with a crispy-skinned poussin (or spring chicken or cornish game hen), served with polenta cake, foie gras and grapes. All combine to make hearty, meaty and sensuous flavors.

While there are many Italian wines on Notti Bianche's wine list, there are also wines from other  countries like Greece, Argentina, and Australia. Danny Boylen, restaurant and bar manager, does a hell of a job managing the service and wine. One of the key indicators of this? Most of the staff actually seems happy to be working at the restaurant. All too often you hear staff bitching to each other while the boss isn't around -- not at Notti Bianche. Oh, and the wine list is pretty kickass as well.

From the Notti Bianche web site, "at Notti Bianche, we are committed to a comprehensive wine program which reflects our passion for wine and our pursuit of excellence. Our list focuses on 'boutique' wines from very small vineyards where the winemakers are involved in the entirety of the process. We believe that we have crafted a list that harmonizes with our food and enhances your dining experience." You'll find many bottles of wine in the $30 to $40 price range, and the wines are interesting and different than you find everywhere else.  I always like to see wines other than the typical Mezza Corona Pinot Grigio.

Now before you continue reading, you need to know that for me, Italian food is all about the pasta. Maybe that's a little short-sighted, but that's just what I like. I can go to an Italian restaurant and order a pasta course for my main course and if it's good, I'll be very content.

Ok now for the not so good...(and it's just my opinion, and many others have said they love the pastas here) but I just don't care for the pasta dishes at Notti Bianche. I think I just always find something wrong with them. For instance, the ricotta gnocchi has completely wrong texture for gnocchi. The large lumps of gnocchi combined with the meaty trumpet mushrooms have a heavy texture that I just can't get over. There's just something about a light, melt-in-your-mouth potato gnocchi that this dish is missing.  When the server asked how I liked the gnocchi, I was honest, "I didn't care much for it." They were surprised I didn't like it, stating that it was their most popular pasta dish. Perhaps it's just me?

I'm also torn on how I feel about the risotto. The last time I was there, the featured risotto was a saffron risotto with pork belly. While I thought the flavor of the risotto with saffron and pork belly were a fun combination, the risotto also seemed overly al dente.

As you'll see from their online menu, prices range from $6 to $27, which makes Notti Bianche pretty reasonably priced, and below average for restaurants of this caliber. My checks have come in at about $100 to $150, depending on how expensive a bottle of wine and the number of courses I've ordered.

Notti Bianche
824 New Hampshire Ave, NW
Washington, DC
(202) 298-8085
Map

Hours:
Hours of Operation:
Breakfast:
Mon-Fri 7AM to 10AM, Sat-Sun 8AM to 10AM
Lunch:
Mon-Fri 11:30AM-2:30PM
Dinner:
Sun-Thu: 5PM-10PM, Fri-Sat 5PM-11PM

Dress Code: Business Casual.
Parking: Valet ($6) and street if you can find it.
Smoking:
Allowed at the bar.
Closest Metro:
Foggy Bottom.
Reservations: Taken.
Baby-Friendly Rating: 2 out of 4 diapers. Dining room isn't huge, and the atmosphere is a little too quiet to warrant bringing a baby to. However, if you can time it right and go while your child is sleeping, you're probably golden.

Categories: Georgetown, Italian, Kennedy Center, Restaurant Reviews
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Feb 20, 2006

Pizzeria Paradiso

Recently, I've been working more at my real job's Georgetown office, which gives me the opportunity to eat at Pizzeria Paradiso's Georgetown location, a much roomier and less crowded space than its older sister in Dupont Circle.

Lunches here are calm and relaxing. There's rarely a wait (at least at the Georgetown location) and I find that it's a good place to stop and have a business lunch with coworkers. Service is prompt and usually congenial (and is anything but perfunctory), but try to get a table for dinner or lunch on the weekends, and you'll find it's a different story. I stopped by last Saturday and there was a very long wait so I had to find somewhere else to eat lunch.

The pizzas come in two sizes, 8 inch and 12 inch, and range in price of $9 to $11 for the 8-inch pizzas and $15 to $17 for the 12-inch pizzas. My favorites so far are the salty Bottarga, with an egg, garlic and of course, bottarga, and the Atomica, with tomatoes, salami, olives and black pepper flakes. As you all know, pizza for me is all about the crust, and while Pizzeria Paradiso's toppings are fresh and of a high quality, I find the crust is a bit dry and not as chewy as I would like. It's just personal taste though. For everyone that agrees with me, there's probably someone who prefers it that way.

There are a couple appetizers that I'd recommend you order. I love the tuna and white bean salad, which is covered in olive oil. The white beans are firm and not out of a can as far as I can tell, which means they are either getting them from a high-quality supplier or soaking the beans themselves. Also the milky-white mozzarella with sundried tomatoes and olive oil is always sure to please, even for the pickiest eater in your group.

It's also worth mentioning that on Tuesday nights, Pizzeria Paradisa has a special they call "Two for Two-sdays." The special is meant for two people and includes an antipasto plate with salad, mozzarella and sundried tomatoes and some charcuterie; a 12-inch pizza of choice, a dessert sampler, and a bottle of wine for $50. While your choices for the bottle of wine are limited to one of two bottles, either will go well with the pizza. Overall, it's a very good deal. The bottle of wine normally costs close to $30 by itself.

I haven't been too happy with the panini I've ordered. The marinated roast pork panino had more onion on it than roast pork -- I counted two slices of meat which wasn't quite what I was expecting. The bread was very thick as well, and when combined with the lack of meat, made it seem like I was eating a bread sandwich.

Just a little tidbit of knowledge for you. I did a little research on Panini and the proper ways to make them, and it turns out that a real panino (not panini which is the plural of panino) is made with grilled ciabatta bread. Perhaps the panino I had was made on Ciabatta bread, but it seemed a little thick to be Ciabatta to me.

The recently opened Birreria is a welcome addition to the Georgetown bar scene in my opinion. The bar has 18 taps and over 80 microbrews available, including (what I would say is my favorite that I've tried there so far) the J.W. Lees Vintage Harvest Ale, which is matured in casks of either Calvados, Sherry, Port or Lagavulin casks for flavor. They also have a couple Rogue drafts on tap including Imperial Stout and Shakespeare Ale. If you come during happy hour from 4PM to 6:30PM weeknights, you can get $3 selected drafts and bottles, discount pizzas and antipasto plates. Hell, if it's a Monday or Tuesday, you might see me there...

Pizzaria Paradiso
Dupont Circle
2029 P Street NW
Washington, DC
(202) 223-1245   
Map

Georgetown
3282 M Street NW
Washington, DC
(202) 337-1245
Map

Hours:
Dupont Circle and Georgetown
Mon-Thurs: 11:30 am to 11:00 pm
Fri-Sat: 11:30 am to midnight
Sun: noon to 10:00 pm

Dress Code: Casual
Parking: Find a lot in somewhere that let's you park all night for $5. Street parking is hard to find.
Smoking:
Not Allowed.
Closest Metro:
Foggy Bottom
Reservations:
Not taken.
Baby-Friendly Rating: 3 out of 4 diapers.

Categories: Dupont Circle, Georgetown, Gourmet Pizza, Restaurant Reviews
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Jan 04, 2006

Leopold's Kafe & Konditorei

I've wanted to try Leopold's Kafe & Konditorei for a while now, ever since Todd Kliman wrote about it in the Washington City Paper. Outside of the reports of bad service, the idea of trying their Eastern European fare sounded like it would be interesting, and it wasn't a cuisine that I'd had a lot of exposure too, outside of the perogi I used to get in my college dorm cafeteria.

Now that I'm working out of my company's Georgtown office more, Leopold's was one of the first places on my to-do list. I have a friend named Alex, who happens to be from the Ukraine, and works in Georgetown also. I figured, "Who better to go to Leopold's with than someone who would be familiar with this type of cuisine?"

When we arrived, it was interesting to see that the restaurant was buried back in an alley called Cady's Alley. When I read that the restaurant was back in an alley, I pictured something like the alley where Blues Alley is located. However, once we got back into the alley, I realized there were a whole bunch of stores there. Who knew?

The kafe was mostly empty which wasn't surprising considering the restaurants location and the fact that even Pizzeria Paradiso wasn't very full. There was only one other table with people and we had our pick of seats. The waitstaff seemed to be all huddled by the door waiting for people to come in. The overall look of the kafe is modern and sleek and reminded me of LeftBank in Adams Morgan, so it was not very welcoming. 

I wonder if the reviews by Todd Kliman and Tom Sietsema that were wrought with reports of poor service kicked this place into gear. I mean, we didn't have any problems with service, but that could have just been the kafe wasn't very busy.

So onto the food. The menu is not what I expected. I mean, where were the perogi? Ha. Seriously though, there were many dishes on the menu that I wanted to try, but Alex and I decided to stick with some of the more traditional dishes of schnitzel and bratwurst. We also had a crostini ($8) topped with a cheese spread, chopped roasted red peppers, sweet peas, fava beans, shredded lettuce and pecorino shavings.

When the crostini first appeared, I didn't expect to like it based on what I saw. I've always had an aversion to peas and there were a lot of them, and this looked like a salad on top of toast. But after I bit into one, I noticed that the best thing about the crostini were the peas. They were very sweet and had a nice texture - not too soft and not too crunchy, like a ripened cherry. The sweetness, combined with the salt and pepper flavor of the cheese, tomatoes and spread was interesting, but the crostini were difficult to eat. The peas went all over the place when you lifted the bread up to your mouth so we mainly ended up eating them with our forks.

Alex had the bratwurst ($16) which had a crunchy skin, with juicy meat in the center. On the side was a heavy-handed swirl of spicy Dijon mustard, fingerling potatoes, and sauerkraut. Alex wasn't impressed with the sauerkraut. He prefers it crispier than Leopold's serves it. It's probably just a matter of taste.

My entree was pretty basic, but good. The gulyas ($19) was made with tender chunks of beef in a tomato and paprika sauce, egg noodles and a dollop of sour cream. Mixing the sour cream into the beef sauce gave the dish a completely different tangy flavor.

None of the portions were huge, but they also weren't overfilling.

There was no dessert for us. I was in a hurry to get back to the office, so there was no time, but as we walked past the dessert case on the way out (which pretty much takes up an entire wall), I saw that we were probably missing what might have been the best part of the meal.

On our way out, everyone said, "Thank you. Come again!" I responded, "Thanks, I will!"

Probably for dinner though. Our lunch for two came to $70 after tip. A pretty hefty bill. I think that Leopold's would be well-served by having a lunch menu and then they might be a little more crowded for lunch.

Now I just need to stop by for dinner and see if the service degrades when the place is more crowded.

Leopold's Kafe & Konditorei
3315 Cady's Alley, NW
Washington, DC 20007
Map
(202) 965-6005

Hours:
7 am to 12 am Monday - Sunday

Dress Code: Casual (at least for lunch)
Parking: lots are your best bet - street parking is a rare in Georgetown. There seemed to be valet available. I recommend taking a cab.
Smoking: Not Allowed.
Closest Metro: Foggy Bottom (don't take Metro unless you plan to supplement with the bus)
Reservations: Call

Categories: Eastern European, Georgetown, Restaurant Reviews
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Aug 31, 2005

Circle Bistro

I often wonder what goes through the average Washingtonian's mind when they are deciding where to dine. Maybe because it's summer time and everyone was away for the weekend, but the first time I went to Circle Bistro, it was nearly empty. I made a late reservation at about 9 PM, and when we arrived, there were only two other tables. Now, I knew from my research that Circle Bistro was good, but I'd started to think that maybe I'd missed something. Could the chef recently have changed? Had the restaurant been closed due to a failed health inspection in the last couple days? What the hell??

Lucky for me, all of those questions were answered with a resounding, "NO!" Our meal that night, and every other night we've been to Circle Bistro, has been quite good. Of course, there were some annoyances, but I'll get to them in a bit.

I'll start with the appetizers. Picture two large fried zucchini blossoms, stuffed with goat cheese and pine nuts and served with a colorful, chunky vegetable "salsa" on the side -- I wish I could've taken a pint of the salsa home with me. (Sadly, the fried zucchini blossoms are a summer dish and are no longer on the menu, but they've been replaced by a tomato and zucchini tart.) A soft shell crab fried in tempura batter is also done especially well -- I thought frying the crab in a light tempura batter was a nice touch and kept the batter from getting too heavy.

Executive Chef Brendan Cox, who's trained under such notable local chefs like Todd Gray of Equinox and Roberto Donna of Galileo, has a purpose for every ingredient on your plate at Circle Bistro -- you want to be sure that you get a little bit of each ingredient in every bite. This was so with the hanger steak which I had on my first visit. The steak is seared on cast iron and then served on a bed of baby spinach with roasted fingerling potatoes, and organic sweet onions. Each ingredient on its own is good, but the combination of all of them together does wonders for my mood. If it weren't for my incessant need to always try something different, I'd probably order this on every return trip.

Soups at Circle Bistro are magnificent.

In our first visit, Amy ordered an un-ordinary minestone soup (sadly no longer on the menu either -- serves me right for doing a thorough review after multiple visits). I counted 13 ingredients ranging from rapini (or broccoli rabe) to lima beans. What really made the soup, though, was a fritter (that looked like a wonton) filled with herbed goat cheese. When you cut open the fritter with your spoon and mixed the goat cheese in with the soup, it gave the broth a creamy texture. Brilliant!

Other than the minestrone, you'll find a hearty and spicy gazpacho with heirloom tomatoes and jumbo lump crab remoulade, which just had to be the best damn gazpacho I've ever tasted. I commented to Amy that if she's overdue with our baby boy, we should go to Circle Bistro and the gazpacho might kickstart labor. More recently, there's a yellow pepper soup that's so popular, they ran out last Saturday night when I was there.

Other highlights include just about anything with mushrooms. Brendan Cox is a self proclaimed "Mushroom Maniac" (as am I).  The pan-roasted rockfish with girolle (or small chanterelle) mushrooms and zucchini is evidence of this. The fish is roasted with the skin side up in order to leave the skin extra crispy. As I was eating this dish, I noticed a pleasant salty flavor and I said to Amy, "I taste a slightly salty flavor in this dish, but it's not from extra salt." Then I noticed the little bits of crispy pancetta and it all made sense. Yum. I recall eating a similarly served dorade at Citronelle that wasn't nearly as good as this dish.

Of course, Circle Bistro isn't The Most Perfect Restaurant In The World like I've made it sound so far. The nights that I've been there when they were actually busy, I noticed that the kitchen would get a little behind and there was a noticable wait between courses. Luckily, my wife and I have plenty of things to talk about, but if I was on a first date with someone, it might get awkward.

Also. glasses of wine are more expensive than I like to see, ranging from $8 to $13. They seem especially expensive when you can get a full bottle of the $9-a-glass Kermit Lynch Cote du Rhone for just $28.

In all my trips to Circle Bistro, I've had no complaints about the service. It is always spotless and the servers are very familiar with the menu. I'd say the only tiny complaint would be that sometimes my empty glass of wine wasn't replaced with a new one quite as fast as I like. But honestly, I drink like a fish, and most people can stand to have their glasses empty for a short period of time. I also wouldn't mind if when I order the cheese plate the server explain what each cheese is instead of vanishing instantly. It tends to remove some of the guess work.

I'd be remiss if I left out details about the desserts. Heather Chittum, Circle Bistro's pastry chef, makes a bad-ass madeleine -- one shouldn't leave Circle Bistro without trying them. Others worth noting are the profiteroles with homemade mint ice cream and chocolate sauce and a bittersweet chocolate mousse with raspberries.

And finally, if you get a chance, stop by the Circle Lounge, Circle Bistro's bar, for happy hour from 5-7 PM, Mon - Fri, where all glasses of wine, beer and cocktails are half off. Make sure you order the pomme frites with garlic aoli (butter) and ketchup -- they're a guilty pleasure.

Circle Bistro
One Washington Circle Hotel
One Washington Circle, NW
Washington, DC 20037
Map
(202) 293-5390
Circle Bistro Web Site

Hours:
See the Circle Bistro web site.

Dress Code: Business Casual
Smoking: Allowed at the bar
Closest Metro: Foggy Bottom
Parking: Free Valet at the hotel!
Reservations: Taken
Amy's Bathroom Rating: Hotel restrooms are always pretty clean, although the location right next to the hotel's basement-like laundry room is a little weird.

Categories: French, Georgetown, Kennedy Center, New American, Restaurant Reviews
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