Crystal City

Crystal City Farmers Market

Crystal City Sign Arlington County welcomed its sixth farmers market on Tuesday with the addition of the Crystal City Farmers Market.  The new market, located steps from the Crystal City metro station, is the brainchild of the Crystal City Business Improvement District, a public-private partnership established in April 2006 to provide a “higher level of service to visitors, workers and residents in Crystal City”.  Last year Crystal City BID began a Community Supported Agriculture program with Great Country Farms for residents and employees of Crystal City.  The overwhelming success of this program highlighted the demand for fresh produce, meats and dairy within Crystal City, leading to the creation of its first farmers market.  My friend James, a resident of Crystal City, first told me of the new market back in April, so I was looking forward to opening day.  To add to my excitement, I saw on their website that both Red Apron and Meat Crafters (two vendors I’ve been dying to try) were participating in the new market.  As I reviewed the expected list of vendors on their site, I was impressed that a brand new market was able to get such a diverse list of vendors.  The list included four bread/pastry vendors (including one of my favorites, Atwater’s Bakery), four meat producers (with everything from pork to lamb) and a wealth of fruit and vegetable farms.  Even more interesting, I noticed a loose leaf tea vendor (and we all know by now how much I love my loose teas) and a seller of salsas and pico de gallos made from locally grown ingredients (for a full list of vendors, go to the Crystal City Farmers Market website).  To say I was excited would be an understatement (and let’s not point out how sad it may seem that I get this excited about farmers markets).  So on Tuesday, I headed over to Crystal City with my reusable shopping bag in tow.

Togio Farms Tomatoes When I got off the metro, I was a little disoriented, as I’m not familiar with Crystal City.  I took a guess and walked down the hill, hoping I was going in the right direction.  When I saw the white tents on Crystal Drive, I figured I had either stumbled upon the farmers market or some sort of tent revival.  The market stretches from 18th to 20th street, lining both sides of the sidewalk with vendors.  The first vendor I saw was a familiar one, Toigo Orchards.  Sprawled out along the table were an intricate mass of tomatoes still clinging to their bright green vines.  These were the first vibrant tomatoes I’ve seen this Spring at any farmers markets.  I had promised myself I would try my hand at making and canning my own tomato sauces this year, so they were quite tempting.  But I opted to wait until tomato season was in full swing before making my own sauces.  Togio also had their collection of tomato sauces and apple products prominently displayed next to the tomato shrine.  People were lining up for the sample of apples out and animatedly asking about the various products for sale on the tables.  I usually pick up a jar of their tomato sauce but since I still had some of Chef Stefano’s smoky bacon and Parmesan pasta sauce from The Copper Pot, I decided to move along to the other vendors.

Tea Company Teas Jars of loose teas populated the next table, signaling that I’d found the new loose tea vendor TeaCo.  Myra Ceasar, one of the people behind TeaCo, was explaining the various blends to an eager young lady, unlocking the jars for her to smell.  She had the black teas separated from the other teas, allowing customers to see the various lines offered.  Myra admitted she’d brought a limited supply of teas since it was their first time at the new market.  As with many loose tea purveyors, TeaCo offers a variety of  blends of tea leaves that fall into one of six categories:  black teas, green/white teas, oolong teas, herbal teas, rooibos teas and medicinal herb teas.  They work with tea growers around the world in an attempt to get high quality leaves for their tea.  While she had the more familiar blends like Earl Grey and English Breakfast, she also had some unique blends that caught my eye.  The Persian Rose blend was already in a cute glass jar container, perched at the front of the table.  The blend has a strong, earthy aroma, mixing the smells of rose with a hint of cardamom and bergamot.  I love a good rose tea and I also love cardamom, so I was anxious to see how the two would work together in one cup.  Myra offered other blends to smell, each having its own signature fragrance.  I asked about the coconut creme blend listed on the sign.  Myra laughed and said unfortunately, she hadn’t brought that blend to market.  However, several people had already asked her about that very blend.  She said she would probably bring more varieties of tea next week, including the coconut creme.  She mentioned that they also sell their teas at Eastern Market during the weekends, bringing a larger selection of their blends to that market.  I bought the jar of Persian Rose and thanked her for bringing loose teas to more markets in the DC area.

Arugula Plants Displays of colorful hanging baskets of flowers dotted the Four Seasons Nursery tent.  Although I’m not one to buy plants (mostly because I am the equivalent of the plant Grim Reaper), the vibrant colors drew my eye to the stand.  The gentleman manning the tent was giving an older lady advice about low maintenance, but pretty plants for her condo.  Apparently she also had problems keeping plants alive for very long.  Four Seasons also had several herb plantings, including bushy basils and arugula plants that looked ready to eat.  But Four Seasons wasn’t the only stand with plants and flowers.  Beautiful orchids (one of my favorite flowers, mind you) lined the Orchid Station while LynnVale Studios had an assortment of different flowers in rich, lively tones.  Even though it wasn’t all that sunny, the array of flowers at the market certainly reminded us of Spring’s arrival.  Considering my long metro ride home, I opted against getting any plants or flowers from the market that day.

I was pleased to see one of my new favorite vendors Cherry Glen Goat Cheese at the market.  However, I was a little disappointed to find Cherry Glen was the only cheese or dairy vendor at Crystal City.  I was consoled, however, by the fact that Cherry Glen had samples of their goat cheeses out to try.  I still had a bit of the Monocacy Gold left from my purchases at the Mount Pleasant Farmers Market, so I didn’t pick up any more.  But I did learn they also offer fresh ricotta cheese. 

Bigg Riggs Ramp Vinegar As I continued along, I caught sight of the sign for Bigg Riggs Farms, a vendor I have read about numerous times from my fellow DC Foodies writer, Ramona Padovano.  I had never seen them at other markets I frequent, so I was curious to see what they had to offer.  One side of their tent was a table filled with salad greens fresh picked that day.  The mixes were voluminous, spilling out of their baskets and onto the table.  It looked like an explosion at a salad bar with green and deep purple leaves everywhere.  Before buying a bag of them, I looked around the rest of the tent and saw an interesting glass bottle sitting atop wooden crates.  Upon closer inspection, I found a ramp suspended in clear liquid, labeled ramp vinegar.  I have seen my fair share of ramps this season at the markets, but this was the first time I saw a ramp product at the market.  Although I was tempted to buy a bottle, my lack of affection for vinegars in general kept me from doing so.  Bigg Riggs also had a nice selection of jams, sauces, apple butters and hot pepper jellies for sale, all stacked strategically around the tent.   I bought a heaping bag of the salad greens and promised myself I’d get the ramp vinaigrette if it was available next time.

Atwater’s familiar display case of breads was a welcome sight, but so were the other bread vendors at the market.  Great Harvest Bread Company was giving out samples of their bread, so James (my frequent farmers market companion) decided to try their cheddar garlic bread.  Unlike some vendors who only give small samples, the man standing guard at Great Harvest cut off a healthy chunk of the bread for James to taste.  As we both sampled the hunk, we were told all the bread was made from fresh ingredients using no preservatives.  The taste of garlic permeated every inch of the bread, but the addition of molasses kept it from overpowering it.  James bought a loaf of their jalapeno cheddar bread while I mulled over the selection of cookies.  In the end, I decided not to get any because a lovely container of strawberries caught my eye. 

Westmoreland Strawberries The strawberries in question lined the front table at Westmoreland Produce.  Their sign promised fresh produce free of any pesticides or chemicals, but I didn’t see any other information about the farm.  The table was fairly crowded with people looking over their selection of salad greens, spring onions, strawberries and container plants and flowers.  The strawberries were a bright red and plump – in other words, irresistible.  A large container of strawberries was only $5, so I snapped up some with the intent to make a shortcake with them.  As I was paying for the strawberries, I chatted briefly with one of the ladies at the stand.  She said they were surprised at the turnout for the new market but happy to be busy.  And they were busy – as I finished paying, she ran off to help another lady looking at the various plants available. 

I will be honest; I was really scanning the market for the Red Apron sign.  I glanced here and there at the other vendors, but my eyes were always on the hunt for the red sign marking Nathan Anda’s charcuterie.  His hot dogs and cured meats have set the DC foodie community buzzing, with entire threads posted about them on and other DC centric food blogs.  While his meats are currently available for sale at Planet Wine in Alexandria, I don’t make it out to the less than metro friendly Alexandria that often.  So you can only imagine my disappointment when I didn’t see the elusive meat vendor at Crystal City.  Market manager Sara Abramson informed me logistical issues kept Red Apron and Meat Crafters from joining the market on its opening day.  The next day at Penn Quarter I finally met up with Nathan and his hot dogs and learned red tape with Arlington County was holding up their start at the Crystal City Farmers Market.  They do, however, hope to have everything resolved shortly and to start selling at Crystal City soon. 

Strawberry Shortcake 2 Strawberry Shortcake with Black Pepper Biscuits

For the biscuits:
2 cups all purpose, unbleached flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
7 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into squares
1 1/2 cups Buttermilk
1 egg and a teaspoon of water, for the egg wash

For the strawberries:
1 quart strawberries, hulled and sliced
2 tablespoons quality, aged balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar

For the whipped cream:
2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Place the bowl and whisk attachment of a stand mixer in the freezer.
In a bowl, combine the strawberries, balsamic vinegar and sugar.  Place in the refrigerator for at least three hours to allow the berries to marinate. 
Sift together the flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, pepper and baking soda. In a food processor, combine the sifted dry ingredients and the butter, evenly distributing the cubes of butter amongst the flour mixture. Pulse the ingredients repeatedly until they form a dry crumble consistency. Slowly pour the buttermilk into the food processor and resume pulsing until a soft, wet dough is formed. Gently scrape out the dough onto a floured surface.  Knead the dough until it is smooth and then roll it out to 1 inch thick.  Using a biscuit cutter, cut eight circles and place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Whisk together the egg and water and brush the wash over each biscuit.  Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until golden brown. 

While the biscuits are cooling, take out the whisk and bowl for the stand mixer.  Place the heavy cream, sugar and vanilla in the bowl and whip on medium speed until soft peaks are formed and no liquid remains.  Be careful not to overwhip, as this will cause the cream to curdle and become a mess.
Allow the biscuits to cool to room temperature.  Split one of the biscuits in half and place a dollop of whipped cream on top.  Spoon some of the strawberry mixture onto the cream.  Place the biscuit top slightly askew of the cream and berries.  If you’d like, top the biscuit with some more cream and a bit more of the berries (this is totally optional and depends on your level of decadence).  Repeat this procedure for the remaining biscuits and serve.

The Crystal City Farmers Market is located on Crystal Drive between 18th and 20th Street from 3 pm to 7 pm every Tuesday. 

Bebo Trattoria

Bebo Back in September, when I first found out that Roberto Donna was opening Bebo Trattoria, I was really excited. The idea of a reasonably-priced Italian restaurant in the area run by Roberto gave me goosebumps! I'd always enjoyed dining at Osteria del Galileo, the cheaper, value-centric face of Galileo, and Bebo Trattoria just sounded like the same thing on a much larger scale.

I didn't go to Bebo Trattoria for a while after it opened, but people let me know, practically the day after they opened, about the bad service they were experiencing there. My response was simply, "Well, what do you expect? Give them another month or so to settle into the new space and get used to the new menu."

Following my own advice, I waited until the end of November, the Friday evening after Thanksgiving, and the restaurant wasn't very busy at all. Food and service on that first trip actually were both very good, but it was hardly representative of the typical experience at Bebo -- the restaurant was mostly empty.

I'd never been to the humongous, modern space previously occupied by Oyamel. A large bar overlooks a kitchen open for everyone to see -- and you occasionally see Roberto Donna and Executive Chef Amy Brandwein, slaving away over the presentation of that veal scallopine or whole roasted Branzino. Next to the bar, there's a very large room that can be curtained off for large parties or events, and then you step down into the spacious dining room.

Bebo's prices, quality of ingredients, and preparation set it apart from other Italian restaurants in the DC area. Entree portions aren't huge, but the prices make up for it. A polpette (meatball) entree comes with four (or maybe it was five) veal, beef and pork meatballs in a bed of chunky tomato sauce with garlic bread toasts for $12, or veal scallopine, lightly breaded, pan fried and topped with mozzarella cheese and a salty slice of anchovy.

However, fried foods have left me unimpressed. The fried mozzarella comes out greasy and heavy rather than the light and fluffy cheese puff that I'm used to. The same goes for the fried rabbit entree.

But who doesn't love pasta?! Bebo serves up simple pasta dishes with the occasional surprise like a deconstructed lasagna with bechamel and meat ragu (a subtler, less knock-you-on-your-fat-ass version than the one you'll find at Dino) or a hearty paccheri (think of a smooth-surfaced rigatoni) pasta with pork rib ragu.

I always hesitate to order risotto. How a restaurant can put the care and love and constant stirring into a risotto dish with all the craziness that goes on in a kitchen is beyond me and I always find that risotto is either underdone or overdone. At Bebo though, I've had the most amazing risotto. Each delicate morsel of rice had the right consistency and texture. Of course, that was the first time I ordered it. The second time, it was underdone, but the chance of eating perfection will keep me re-ordering it regardless. It helps to know that if you order the risotto, it will be a 25 minute wait. The first time I ordered it as an appetizer and we waited, for what seemed forever, for our appetizers to come.  The second time I ordered it though, our server informed us that the risotto takes 25 minutes, which explained a lot.

And like others have said, the service can be as inconsistent as the risotto and seems to depend completely on the server. A night where we had flawless service, the table next to mine waited 30 minutes before their server came to greet them and had to go talk to the hostess before their waiter came over. When ordering the whole fish, the server brings it to the table and de-bones the fish. When I first ordered the fish, my server butchered the fish and left half of the meat still hanging off the bones. But, the other night, I saw another server fillet the fish perfectly, getting every little piece of that fish off the bones.

Desserts on the other hand, are anything BUT inconsistent as each and every dessert I've ordered is completely delicious. My favorites are a creamy and sweet panna cotta with a sinfully sweet  strawberry sauce and the tiramisu, which is anything but typical, with brandy and espresso drenched lady fingers in a pool of sweet, fluffy marscarpone....and the firm chocolate pudding with crumbled merange...and the list goes on.

Wines are available by the glass and bottle and there are a good deal of bottles that are reasonably priced unlike Galileo. Roberto Donna's commitment to good cuisine continues with the recent reopening of "The Grill" which has been a longstanding DC foodie staple since its opening. Roberto has also resumed his cooking classes (which I've written about here before) at Bebo. Pizza will soon be offered too as soon as the wood-burning oven is installed.

My suspicion is that as time goes on and the servers get more experienced, the service issues will disappear. But regardless, Bebo is a great restaurant overall that I'll continue to return to as often as I can.

Bebo Trattoria
2250-B Crystal Drive
Arlington, VA 22202
(703) 412-5076
Web Site

Dress Code: Casual
Parking: There is a parking garage under the shopping center where Bebo Trattoria is located and parking is free after 4 PM. 
Closest Metro: National Airport Crystal City
Reservations: Taken and recommended.
Baby-Child friendly rating: 3 Diapers. The atmosphere isn't too quiet but not too loud either. The waitstaff seems very amicable to children and it seems pretty common for people to bring children to the restaurant. Highchairs and boosters are available.


Recently, I found myself in Bethesda with Amy and Noah. It was the middle of the afternoon and we hadn't eaten lunch yet (God, this sounds like just about every Saturday since Noah's been born). Originally, we intended to go to Divino Lounge but once we parked the car, got Noah out of the car, and walked around the corner...oh crap. They're closed. Son of a...!!

"Way to check their hours Jase...What else is around here?" Amy asked.

Man she gets grumpy when she's hungry. Kind of like me.

I thought about our options for a couple minutes. I was obviously taking to long, because Amy suddenly suggested that we go to Jaleo.

The last time we went to Jaleo, we had a pretty mediocre meal and I was hesitant. It's amazing how one bad meal will do that and so many people, including myself, will write off a place after one semi-bad experience, but we decided to give them another chance regardless.

The good news is everything was very good that afternoon (and the following Saturday night as well), unlike most tapas restaurants, where half the dishes your order end up being boring. My favorite tapa (geez I ate that word) was the duck confit, which is by far, one of the best deals that Jaleo has to offer at $7.50, with a very large duck leg that seems to never end. Sadly, it's on their "temporary" menu, so get it while its still on the menu.  Other amazing tapas include the homemade grilled pork sausage with white beans thats salty and well seasoned, grilled sirloin with sherry sauce, or some sinful béchamel chicken and Spanish ham fritters.

The only dish I had that I wasn't crazy about was a surprisingly bland Chorizo sausage. Seriously, Chef Andrés, spice this up a bit. No not a bit, a lot! I mean, chorizo is supposed to be spicy, right?  So the menu is still a bit hit or miss. Another disappointment was the pork rib that was almost completely fat. We sent that one back it was so bad.

During our afternoon visit, service was very smooth and we couldn't really ask for more. When we returned again the following Saturday, things weren't quite as smooth, which I remembered from our previous experience at Jaleo. That evening, despite the fact that the service was very rushed, which is understandable, considering how crowded the restaurant was, the kitchen continued to bang out dish after dish.

As far as the wine list goes, there are many options all across the different price ranges, which I can appreciate because I don't always feel like dropping $60 on a bottle of wine. Glasses at the bar are reasonable as well. The slightly tart, yet fruity, Albarino that Amy and I had at the bar was only $8 a glass.

It's easy to get carried away at Jaleo, which can easily be considered a cheap eats restaurant, but also can break the bank if you order a ton of tapas and a more expensive bottle of wine. I can appreciate that though, because it means you have the flexibility to make what you want of the meal. All of our bills were under $100.

480 7th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20004
(202) 628-7949   

7271 Woodmont Avenue
Bethesda, MD 20814
(301) 913-0003

2250 A Crystal Drive
Arlington, VA 22202
(703) 413-8181

Web Site

See Web Site

Dress Code: Business Casual to Casual
Reservations: Taken.
Baby friendly rating: 2 Diapers