Thursday, July 29, 2010

What If We Went to Italy?

Welcome to our first guest post at This review comes from my good friend Abby Horowitz who was the first person I met upon arriving at college. Please leave a comment or email me at if you are interested in contributing a guest post.

No denial here - I am a child of the drive-thru. As such, the thought of my office's proximity to downtown Silver Spring is enough to make my heart rate quicken. With Moby Dick, Chik-fil-a, Chipotle, and Potbelly (and so! many! others!) lined up all in a row, jockeying for my attention, it may be just one Burger King short of my fast food Eden.

My first day at the job, before I even got my chance to frolic through this quick service jungle, a coworker steered me to door on a drab patch of Georgia Avenue. Olazzo the sign said. Italian? Really? Lackluster location or not, there's something so bougie and overindulgent, I thought, about ordering table service Italian in the middle of a Monday at the office. Please mark me down as pleasantly mistaken.It would take something pretty special to drag me away from that strip.

In food and in atmosphere, Olazzo delivers an expertly crafted balance between casual and upscale. The air of nonchalant classiness is contagious, and all feelings of indulgence are comfortable ones.

On that initial visit, I gravitated toward the Shrimp Rose. Two bites in, I knew I'd be back. At lunch two, the dish called to me again. By trip three, despite some initial separation anxiety, I decided it was time to start seeing other people. (But honestly Olazzo, that creamy tomato sauce concoction you’re serving up. Do you bottle it maybe? In the privacy of my own home, I would probably drink it straight.)

And when my time came to branch out, my server was there, armed with freshly baked bread, an unrequested drink refill and a battery of solid recommendations. The Salmon Mango Salad is a nice break from the carbier (yes, I did just invent a word) menu items. The Steak Milanese is another winner. And as someone who regularly takes personal offense to any dish not comprised predominantly of meat, Olazzo’s Eggplant Parmesan, well, it's pretty excellent.

With a noticeable void of solid independent eateries in the neighborhood, Silver Spring patrons would have definitely settled for less. But Olazzo bypasses the opportunity to cut corners. The food is fresh. The prices are reasonable. The service is sharp, but not pushy.

One caveat however: Olazzo has been known on at least one occasion to overwhelm the patron’s lunchtime thoughts so fervently that it only dawned on her months later, over a dish of lasagna alla Bolognese, that though she passed it five days a week, she hadn’t even set foot in Chik-fil-a yet.

image: courtesy of guest blogger

Monday, July 26, 2010

Show Us Those Mussels

Since I was a little girl, I have been a huge fan of mussels. I remember being about three years old and sitting on my grandfather's lap, trying my first bite of this delectable shellfish. Twenty some-odd years later, I still crave mussels on a regular basis.
Last week, Chef Robert Weidmaier opened his newest restaurant on Bethesda Row, which he appropriately dubbed Mussel Bar. Chef Weidmaier is already well known inside the Beltway because of his more upscale restaurants (including Brasserie Beck, Marcel's, and BRABO) that are located downtown and in Old Town Alexandria. Yet I believe the hope is this Belgian gastropub will be enticing to a more casual crowd that is just looking for a great place to eat in the neighborhood.

I try not to make a habit of going to a restaurant the first full day that they are open, but I work in Bethesda, and the thought of mussels was just too appetizing to resist. When I walked in at 1:00 p.m. on Friday afternoon I was greeted with a big smile and a half-full dining room. Since I was by myself, I chose to sit at the wooden bar. The bartender was extremely helpful and walked me through the menu. She clearly had tried most everything the restaurant offers and steered me toward her favorite mussel preparation: the classic.

The mussels came out of the kitchen within mere minutes, but the speed did not detract from the quality. Every mussel in the dish had an open shell, making it seem as if they were begging you to eat them. The shellfish were served with warm french bread, frites and garlic aioli. The bread was perfect for sopping up the broth that devouring the mussels leaves behind. Although I enjoyed the frites, I was not blown away. The aioli could have used a bit more zing and I couldn't tell if the fries were hand cut back in the kitchen or if they were just taken out of the freezer. The broth the mussels were served in was so aromatic that the garlic, shallots and white wine tickled the insides of my nose and sinuses. I am going to take a leap and say that these are easily the best mussels that I have tried since I moved to DC almost 6 years ago.

The bar also has one of the more impressive beer menus that I have seen in my time. They stock upwards of 130 beers, most of which are imported from Europe. Believe me when I say if I wasn't heading back to work, I could have enjoyed a few of them.

I can't wait to see where Mussel Bar goes in the coming months and years. I do hope that they debut a lunch menu and happy hour specials (because this is not the cheapest meal that you can have in Bethesda), but I'm sure those changes will come once the restaurant gets into a routine. One thing is for certain, there is no doubt in my mind that Mussel Bar will become a place where one can take a break, have a beer and enjoy some good food. As they say in Belgium - eer smakelijk - or bon appetite.

images: bloggers own

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Ice Ice Baby

I'm not from the east coast. I'm just a good ol' midwesterner who knows and loves her ice cream Yet, when I moved out to DC I kept hearing about this mythical thing known as "water ice" from all of my friends from New Jersey and Philadelphia. I found the term to be a bit repetitively redundant considering water that is frozen is ice, but then again what do I know.

Well, last week a Rita's Water Ice opened just a few blocks away from me on H Street, meaning that I could no longer deny the existence of this supposedly amazing dessert. So on Monday night, after we hit 100 degrees in the District, I decided to take a little walk down the street to reward myself for surviving the heat (and give myself a reason to continue to deal with it).

Rita's first location opened in 1984 in Philadelphia, and has been expanding ever since. This small Italian ice concept has won the hearts (and taste buds) of people across the country. And, as of last night I am a convert as well. At Rita's they not only serve the Italian ice in the traditional way, they also serve it sandwiched between vanilla custard or blended with the custard. Holy gelati is that stuff good! The staff at the Rita's on H Street were friendly and helpful. I couldn't make up my mind about what to get, so the man behind the counter allowed me to try about half the flavors they had. I also was sad that they no longer had the famous "Alex's lemonade," so they gave me a coupon to come back and try it for free!

I walked away with Island Infusion (it had hints of mango, pineapple and peaches) and vanilla custard and the person I was with had the black cherry with custard. We both agreed that it incredibly refreshing while still being light on the stomach. When I threw out my regular sized cup I felt like I had just had the perfect sized summer treat.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Country Club Living

The Washingtonian recently published its annual "Best-Of" issue. There were the usual 'bests' including cupcakes, golf courses and the best tailor. As I'm sure you can expect, I was most interested in the best places to eat. So, when skimming the magazine's pages for potential double-date locales, I took the advice of the Washingtonian readers and made a reservation for 4 at H Street Country Club.

Before the doors of H Street Country Club first opened in 2009, there was no where to play mini-golf inside the district. If you wanted to enjoy some friendly competition - and maybe some flirting - while lining up the perfect putt, you would have to get in a car, drive somewhere and probably play behind whiny kids. Luckily, that is no longer the case. At this country club you can rest assured that everyone is 21 or over, that the food will be more sophisticated than french fries and the drinks will include some adult beverages - sounds like the makings of a perfect date to me.

The creative mind behind the Mexican-influenced food is Chef Ann Cashion, a James Beard Award winner. Her fresh and authentic cuisine is executed by Pablo Cardoso. Between the four of us, we were able to sample a number of the dishes off the menu and more than a couple of the specialty drinks. (Full disclosure: we had a LivingSocial deal that helped pay for all the food that we ordered). We started with the calamari, which was battered and fried to perfection. I am not one for spicy foods, but it was a nice change of pace to have hints of chiles coming through to give the flavors a bit more depth.

The two boys at the table chose to order the lamb enchiladas for their main course, and I think both of them were about ready to leave their significant other's cooking behind for the juicy and tender meat. My good friend chose to try to Steak Tampiqueno, which was outstanding. The skirt steak was marinated with lime juice and served with all the proper 'upscale' fixings - including guacamole and rajas. Following dinner, my boyfriend commented that "the first surprise [of the evening] was that there was Mexican food on the menu in the first place. The second surprise was that it was good quality Mexican food." Yes, some of the main dishes on the menu can be a bit pricey, but they do offer happy hour specials every night weeknight and on Tuesday nights they offer $1 tacos. Not too shabby...

But what sets H Street Country Club apart (read: what makes it such an amazing place to take a date) is its Washington-inspired, indoor 9-hole mini golf course. The sites, people and jokes of the beltway are all at your feet. I honestly don't think I know a single person who doesn't enjoy a good game of mini-golf (especially if they can have drinks served to them on the course). It's a great way to hang out with a date without feeling the pressure to keep a conversation going for a full evening, but it's also a great activity to spice up an evening with your significant other or friends. A quick word to the wise - the later it gets the more crowded the course gets. I would recommend putting your name in at the "caddy shack" when you arrive and head downstairs to play some skeeball while you wait. For some, my boyfriend included, that is the most exciting thing the Country Club has to offer. They even have skeeball leagues throughout the year.

Oh - one more tip: don't forget your camera. You will want to capture the (inevitably) hilarious evening in photos so you can show your friends what a great time you had. And, lest we forget, golf is the path to enlightenment.