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February 2007

Il Pizzico

I think it's only appropriate that I finally write about Il Pizzico. After all, I give most of the credit for my intense love of Italian food to Il Pizzico. Back when Amy and I lived in Gaithersburg, I swear we were at Il Pizzico three or four times a month, but of course, that was before I started this web site so I never got a chance to write about them.

Just about every time I tell someone about Il Pizzico, they give me a puzzled look. "So they serve Pizza?" they always ask. Although it might look like a pizza joint from the outside, and the parking lot might be a challenge to find a space, trust me, the inside is NOT like that of a pizza joint and is actually a very nice looking establishment. (And no, the name has nothing to do with pizza and they don't even have pizza on the menu.) It's easily recognized by the crowd of people in the door on a Friday or Saturday night. Il Pizzico is well known among the locals and continues to draw a crowd.

Strangely enough, Il Pizzico hasn't changed much in the past 6 years that I've lived in the D.C. area. When I returned to the restaurant for the first time in 3 years last week, I was greeted by the same hostess, the bartender was still the same, and there were still a good deal of the same servers working. One person on the staff who used to wait on us regularly, recognized us, shook my hand and said "hello". That's just the kind of place that Il Pizzico is and they love their regulars and as a regular, it's not uncommon to find a dessert or two missing off the check at the end of the night.

The atmosphere is casual -- some people wear jeans and others dress up a little more. Since they don't take reservations, if you arrive after 6:30 on a Friday or Saturday night it's likely that you'll wait although the wait in the summer is usually a little shorter than the winter months. I've heard the hostess tell people the wait is over an hour which can be a hassle, but the food is worth the wait. Just take a seat at the bar, order a glass of wine, and have a nice chat with the bartender.

To start with, I recommend trying the soup of the day which is always reliable. The pasta fagioli, a thick, starchy soup with white beans, tomato and tubular pasta and the hearty lentil soup are good examples of this. Also, the crostini can be tasty as well depending on what the topping of the day is. On my last visit, Amy had the crostini with white beans, spinach, and garlic and it was fantastic.

Of course, you can always order a half portion of pasta as an appetizer, which I do quite regularly. Start with some pappardelle with duck ragu, continue with the veal scaloppine or rack of lamb, and finish with some coffee and dessert, and you've got yourself one great meal. Or, those of you that don't have quite the appetite that I have, you might just want to order a pasta for an entrée, which is pretty common to see.

I like just about all of the pastas at Il Pizzico, except for the gnocchi which comes off too dense like the kind that you'd buy at the grocery store. Other than that, all of the pasta is excellent. My favorites range from the pappardelle with hearty duck ragu to the maltagliati with veal meat sauce. But neither of them come close to the mushroom ravioli with pistachio cream sauce. The cream sauce is thick and creamy like no other sauce you'll ever have, but the flavor is magnificent. You might think at first that the chef is putting too much sauce on the ravioli, but then you realize that you can use your bread to clean the dish off!

The meal can sometimes go downhill from there depending on what you order and I've had mixed experiences when I try to branch out from my favorites from the entrees. You generally can't go wrong with the grilled sirloin steak topped with fresh mushrooms and a red wine sauce. It's a pretty basic dish, but also a satisfying one. I also like the veal roll ups. The chef takes veal scaloppine, fills it with fontina cheese and spinach, and then rolls it up like a sausage. That's topped with a savory sage flavored veal jus. Entrée prices are all below $23 so the portions aren't enormous, but after a salad or soup and possibly a pasta course, who has room for a 20 ounce steak?

For some reason, the desserts don't seem as good as they used to be. Maybe it's just because my tastes have changed since when I used to dine at Il Pizzico. I recall there being an amazing pear tart on the dessert menu almost all the time, and that's gone now. The vanilla bean creme brulée, however, is Amy's favorite, and she's as close to a creme brulée connoisseur as you get.

It would be a shame to not tell you about the wine list, which happens to be one of the more interesting that I've seen, despite the Montgomery Country liquor board. The wines are reasonably priced and the staff always seems to know which will go well with your meal.

Il Pizzico
15209 Fredrick Rd
Rockville MD 20850
(301) 309-0610

Mon - Fri: 11:00 am to 2:30 pm
Mon - Thur: 5 pm to 9:30pm
Fri - Sat: 5 pm to 10 pm

Dress Code: Business Casual
Parking: Parking at the strip mall. If there isn't a spot out front, then try around the back.
Closest Metro:  Rockville
Reservations: Not taken.
Baby-Child friendly rating: 2 Diapers. It's not uncommon to see people there with their children, but the restaurant doesn't have an overabundance of child seats.

Valentine's Day Menu

This year for Valentine's Day, I decided that we'd eat in -- mostly because other people had planned way further ahead than I had. First, my babysitter was already taken and second, the restaurant I wanted to take Amy to was completely booked the day before and after Valentine's Day.

So I figured that instead of going out, I'd make dinner myself (yes, I do actually cook sometimes).

Picking out the menu was the toughest part. I had some ideas for dishes that I wanted to make, but when I put them down on paper in front of me, I realized that they really wouldn't go well together. How professional chefs do tasting menus on a regular basis, I'll never know. Here's the menu I ended up with:

Malpec Oysters with Mignonette Granité
2005 Santa Rita Reserva Sauvignon Blanc

Truffled Red Wine Risotto with Parmesan Broth
2003 Savannah-Chanelle Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

Fig Balsamic-Glazed Duck with Pearl Onion and Pear Hash
2000 Leclerc Briant Rubis de Noirs Brut

White Russian Milk Shake

You can click the links on the dishes to see where I found the recipes for them.

All and all I think I batted about .500. I didn't like the Malpec oysters too much; there wasn't much to them. And the mignonette recipe used too much red wine vinegar and I overdid it with the pepper.

The risotto came out great, and I'd recommend the recipe for anyone looking for an out-of-the-ordinary risotto. I think the key was using a good Pinot Noir and then serving the dish with the same wine, which really brought out the flavor of the wine in the dish. But the best thing was the Parmesan broth. I prepared it the night before and it was really easy to make. If you're wondering where you can just get parmesan rinds, Whole Foods sometimes sells them.

I killed the duck (not in a good way). I've made this recipe before and nailed it, but this time I was trying to time three different dishes and actually sit down and enjoy the meal with Amy, so I cooked all of the dishes at the beginning and them put them in the oven on warm. The risotto was fine since I purposely left it a little undercooked, but I pan-fried the duck at the recommended six minutes a side, and it came out way overdone. Oh well.

Whenever you mix Kahlua, Vodka, and vanilla ice cream together, you can't really go wrong. I wanted to make my own dessert -- buying one at the market just seemed like cheating, but I'm no pastry chef, so the white Russian milkshake seemed just right and it ended up being a good finishing touch on the meal.

So if you want to impress your special someone next Valentine's Day, I'd recommend the above menu except for the oyster mignonette. Just find some oysters that you like and serve them on some ice. Oh, and don't eff up the duck like I did. I think next time I try to do this with the duck, instead of putting it in the oven, I'll under cook it (probably three minutes a side) and then when I'm ready to serve it, I'll re-fry it quick before I plate it.

Amici Miei

I've been a lucky bastard since I moved to my new place considering all of the awesome restaurants that are now a 5-minute drive away -- like Joe's Noodle House, Amici Miei, India Grill, Passage to India, Faryab, David Craig, Ray's the Classics, and uh...Hooters. The wings are really good, I swear! I've probably been to Amici Miei a lot more than the others. I'll usually go a little out of my way coming home from work to pick up some takeout.

It was about a year ago that I first went to Amici Miei. I'll admit that the only reason I ever went there was because they suddenly appeared on Washingtonian's 100 Best (Yes, I have read the latest 100 Best and like the rest of you I'm a little blown away by some of the restaurants that were included this year, but that's another topic and one of my favorite restaurants, Il Pizzico, was missing again). I don't remember much from one year ago, let alone one month ago, but one of the things I do remember was how good the service was.

The service never seems to suffer no matter how busy the restaurant is. One night when Amy and I stopped by sans reservation, the host was able to squeeze us in and despite the restaurant being almost completely full, our service was spotless and the server still managed to maintain an amicable attitude despite probably being overloaded with tables.

Amici Miei is a neighborhood restaurant. I say that because it's family friendly and inexpensive, and not necessarily because it's easy to get a table. During the week, you shouldn't have a problem getting a table, but in the weekend, you might wait a while and you're wise to make a reservation. But even then, sometimes you might find yourself out of luck depending on the size of your party. I tried calling last weekend with a party of six on a Saturday, and there was nothing available.

With Italian food, you all know that I'm all about the pasta. Amici Miei's standout pasta dish is their rich, homemade veal and chestnut agnolotti. At $14.95, it's the perfect winter dish, and comes served in a scant pool of veal and rosemary reduction sauce. Another favorite of mine is the gnocchi with pillow-y soft potato dumblings topped with a thick boar and tomato ragu. I also appreciate that most of the pastas on the menu are homemade. But that isn't always a good thing in the case of the lasagna, with homemade lasagna noodles that have a tendency to get lost with all the cheese because they're thin and soft -- it just comes off as overcooked to me.

I've found that the entrees can be a mixed experience. As a basic rule I have to add some salt, which is possibly because my palate is becoming more immune to the flavor of salt, and since there are salt and pepper shakers on the table I guess it's good for the more health conscious. There's almost always a seafood special available like a whole branzino or some other type of sea bass, which is good, but not much different than how I can make it myself at home. In general though, I've always found the seafood dishes like the trout and turbot to be fresh, flakey and flavorful. Sometimes the accompaniments just don't seem to have a lot of thought put into them, like in the case of the green lentils that come on the side of the turbot that just don't seem to belong on the plate.

Veal is done very well by the chef. Both veal dishes come with a creamy polenta on the side, which is bland on it's own, but when you mix it with the other ingredients on the plate, it can be heavenly. As any neighborhood restaurant should, the chef keeps things interesting with an extensive specials menu. There are usually 2 or 3 choices for specials for each course which keep the regulars coming back.

I regret to say that I typically steer away from desserts at Amici Miei. I've been able to try most of them, and they're usually either dry or lacking the sweetness that's needed to complete my meal. Good examples of this are the ricotta cheesecake which is more cakey than creamy and a pear tarte with a dry crust and bland filling. It's too bad because I so love desserts with pears! If you find yourself craving something sweet, you can't go wrong with the tiramisu which is a traditional version or a tiramisu and is bound to please just about anyone. (Or just take an alternative route and order the cheese plate.)

Our bills for the two of us are usually under $100 and that's usually with a mid-range priced bottle of wine, dessert, and coffee which makes definitely qualifies Amici Miei in the cheap eats category.

Amici Miei
Located in Potomac Woods Plaza
1093 Seven Locks Rd
Rockville, MD 20854

(301) 545-0966

Mon-Sat: 11:30 AM to 2:30PM

Sun-Thu: 5 PM to 10 PM
Fri-Sat: 5 PM to 10:30 PM

Dress Code: Casual
Parking: Plenty of parking at the strip mall. 
Closest Metro:  You'll have to drive.
Reservations: Taken and recommended on weekends.
Baby-Child friendly rating: 3 Diapers. The restaurant is very child friendly and it's common to see people there with their children.

February 2007 Food Charity

Thanks to all the people that clicked on the Google Ads in January, D.C. Foodies had its second best month ever for Google Ads and sent over $200 to Food and Friends. Thanks everyone! Keep clicking on those ads!

For February, I'll be donating the ad revenue to D.C. Central Kitchen. From the D.C. Central Kitchen web site:

DC Central Kitchen, Inc. is a non-profit, tax-exempt 501(c)(3) corporation that was incorporated on July 27, 1988 and began its first phase of operations on January 20, 1989, redistributing the excess food from the Presidential inauguration. The Kitchen is founded on the premise that when fighting poverty, one must fight to win by using every resource available. Be it food, money, or people, we at the Kitchen hate to see wasted potential. Since its inception, DC Central Kitchen has used the kitchen as a central location to recover unused food, prepare and deliver meals to partner social service agencies, train and employ homeless men and women for the food service industry, and intellectually engage volunteers.

DC Central Kitchen is not a 'soup kitchen'. Our cohesive approach to solving the interconnected problems of poverty, hunger, and homelessness has led us to become a recognized national leader in our field. As a community kitchen, we recycle over one ton of surplus food each day that would otherwise go to waste and turn it into 4,000 meals for the hungry in the greater Washington, DC region. Among the people preparing these meals are the students of our Culinary Job Training program; once homeless and hungry individuals themselves, these aspiring men and women are equipped with professional and life skills. DC Central Kitchen uses the existing ingredients of our society to strengthen bodies, empower minds, and build communities.

You can find out more about donating or volunteering with D.C. Central Kitchen on their web site.