Tuesday, January 18, 2011

J'adore Crepe Amour

The beauty of crepes lies in their utter simplicity. You start with flour, milk, butter and a tiny bit of salt and wind up with a beautiful flat pancake that acts as a blank canvas for savory and sweet flavors. Luckily there are plenty of places in and around DC where you can get this French treat, but one that stands out is Crepe Amour in Georgetown.

I had walked by Crepe Amour plenty of times, but I have never been into the restaurant. In fact seeing them on the Cooking Channel’s Unique Eats over my “winter break” was just the kick in the butt I needed to go check them out.

We opted to head there before going to Trader Joe’s for our weekly grocery trip since it’s never a good idea to go to the store with an empty stomach. Luckily the Georgetowner crepe I ordered was filled with freshly scrambled eggs, bacon and cheddar managed to fill up my tummy quite nicely. Elliot opted for the traditional Monsieur (ham and cheese) crepe. We were filling boring that morning, but if you are in the mood for something more adventurous you can get a crepe filled with a ton of different flavors and cuisines. The menu at Crepe Amour lists a mac & cheese crepe, a crepe with all the Thanksgiving fixings and a crepe filled with tandoori chicken.

If you are in the mood for a sweet treat you can find that as well. Elliot and I shared a crepe filled with Nutella and sprinkled with a generous amount of powdered sugar. To me it tasted exactly like the one I had while walking between museums in Paris, which I took to be a good sign. I opted to go the traditional route, but Amour offers a crepe called “Steve’s Job” that is stuffed with apples, almonds, cinnamon and caramel. If that doesn’t strike your fancy go with the “Nutty Buddy” that contains Nutella, peanut butter and crushed Reese’s cups. Talk about a sugar high.

Not only was the food at Crepe Amour fresh, hot and delicious; the food is also cheap. For 2 savory crepes and a sweet crepe we spent around $17. For an even better deal flash your student ID on a Monday and get ½ off all food.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Merzi Beaucoup

Washington's latest fast-food restaurant is actually cheap, healthy and Indian. Three things that I wouldn’t necessarily put together – that is, until I tried Merzi, a new restaurant in Penn Quarter. Merzi (which means choice) offers new interpretations of classic Indian flavors in a Chipotle-esque environment.

Once you get to the front of the line you are instructed to do the following:

1. Pick one of the following for the base for your meal: naan, rice, salad or chaat.
2. Pick one: Black-eyed peas, garbanzo beans, or onion-pepper mix.
3. Choose your meat (or not!).
4. Pick your fresh vegetables
5. Select a sauce or chutney

This build-your-own-lunch assembly line makes Merzi perfect for a quick lunch or a dinner on-the-go. The night that I went there I got a rice bowl with black-eyed peas, onions and peppers, lamb, corn, a yogurt sauce and the mild buttery sauce. The portion sizes were incredibly generous and the food was clearly fresh. I’m generally not a huge fan of Indian cuisine, but I devoured my rice bowl, savoring all the different flavors and textures that came together so beautifully.

My friend Abby joined me for dinner that evening and also liked her dish. She is trying out the whole vegetarian lifestyle and she was able easily create a balanced meal out of the different offerings. I think if she had a regret it was getting the medium sauce in her rice bowl. Abby had to go back up for some of extra yogurt sauce to cool down her palette. Oops.

We also considered trying the samosas since they looked incredibly good (and extra crispy!). The person behind the counter honestly told us that he (and the rest of the staff) weren’t in love with them. To me this is the mark of good service. Not only did we receive an honest answer, we also were informed of what he thought was worth trying on the menu.

All in all I think Merzi is a great (and much needed) addition to Penn Quarter/Chinatown. If I worked in the area I would be here all the time for lunch. But, since I’m not I will have to put it in my rotation of restaurants that are great for a quick dinner on the go.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

First Bite - Smith Commons

Smith Commons is named for the most ubiquitous surname in England and the US. Luckily, this new H Street restaurant is anything but common; instead it stands out from the other food options along this corridor. Chef Frederik De Pue has created a menu full of that is full of creative, yet approachable cuisine and has stocked the bar with plenty of craft beers and imaginative cocktails that can satisfy any palate.

Even though Smith Commons is the new kid on the block, they appear to operating like an old pro. We were seated for our reservation in a timely manner, even though the bar was bustling and there was a large group of people gathering around the hostess stand. The waitress seemed well versed on the menu and was happy to make recommendations.

The night we went, the kitchen was offering a limited menu because they had been open less than a week. Yet, the menu still felt more than adequate with a nice selection of appetizers, salads, a soup, entrees, various cuts of meat and sides. Both Elliot and I are suckers for macaroni and cheese. I also happen to think that it can say a lot about the quality of ingredients that are being used in the kitchen. The manchego cheese was full of flavor, and I was pleasantly surprised to find little oil at the bottom of the ramekin. Was it may favorite dish of the night? No, not really. But I do have to give the kitchen credit for doing justice to a comfort food favorite.

For our main meal Elliot ordered the half-pound burger and I opted for the wood-grilled tiger prawns. My giant shrimp were served with a watermelon and tomato chutney (the menu refers to it as a dressing, but I think it’s an inaccurate description). The shrimp were well seasoned and the “dressing” was good enough to ask for extra bread to absorb the remaining juices on the plate.

I know that a burger seems boring, especially considering the long list of places in DC where you can get a way above average version. This one absolutely stood out with the grilled portabellas and miso mayo. The meat was juicy and the brioche bun absorbed all the exceptional flavors that came from it. It was this dish that reinforced to both Elliot and I that this is going to be a great neighborhood place to watch a game while enjoying a pint and a burger.

Speaking of places to hang out, Smith Commons has 3 floors with 3 bars and 2 lounge areas. These cozy nooks will soon be serving small plates alongside the beer, cocktails and wine that they are already offering. This will be a perfect location to come on a date or with a group of lively group of friends. Though it is worth noting that you can't order every drink at every bar; some of the beer taps don't extend all the way.

And so even though Smith Commons is still in its infancy, I have a good feeling that this will quickly become one an acclaimed place to eat on H Street.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Italian Paradise at Pizzeria Paradiso

It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost six and a half years since my mom and sister helped me move into Letts Hall at American University. After hauling all my stuff into the dorm and sizing up my roommate I think we were all more than ready for a great meal. Even though I was new to the city I still had the foresight to do my research and find a great restaurant that would cater to me (the adventurous foodie), my sister (the picky eater) and my mother (who’ll eat anything). I had read great things about Pizzeria Paradiso, so off we went to Georgetown.

Although I don’t remember precisely what I ordered that night, I remember the lemonade that I tried. It was clearly made in-house and it was bubbly and tart and sweet. Yum. But, now that I am legally allowed to drink there are other drinks that draw me back, both to the location on M Street, and the locations in Dupont and Old Town Alexandria. Their beer list at Birreria Paradiso (also known as the bar) is quite impressive. Each location has at least 12 beers on a tap, a beer on cask and over 80 bottles in the large refrigerated cases behind the bar. Although the bar tends to be extremely crowded with people enjoying the suds or waiting for their table, the bartenders are helpful and will happily steer you toward something that will please your palette.

Pizzeria Paradiso the perfect casual restaurant to share a pizza, try a new panini or discover a new antipasti. The offerings range from traditional to the extraordinary, and 9 times out of 10 they nail the flavors and cook everything to perfection.

When you sit down you are greeted with a tiny bowl of various olives. Pizzeria Paradiso immediately wins my heart for ensuring that the olives still have their pits intact and supplying you with another bowl for the discarded insides.

The last time we were at the Dupont Circle location Elliot and I opted to go the traditional route and ordered bruschetta and an old fashioned Margarita pizza. Although the food came out a bit too fast for my liking, it was the perfect way to warm up on a Friday evening after a long cold week. The bruschetta was garlicky and topped with sweet cherry tomatoes, creamy mozzarella balls and seasoned well with salt and pepper.

I believe the best way to judge a pizzeria is with a traditional cheese pizza. There are not toppings for the sauce and crust to hide behind. Luckily Pizzeria Paradiso does it right. The cheese comes out hot and bubbly and the sauce stays true to the tomato taste that is so ubiquitous in Italian cooking. If you are looking for a bit more variety when it comes to your pizza toppings, you will find everything from basil to pine nuts on the menu.

Just a quick final note – if you can belly up to the bar between 5 and 7pm on Monday and Tuesday you can enjoy ½ price draft beers and discounted pizzas and appetizers.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

District 2 Bar

If you head to the corner of Wisconsin and Macomb NW, you will find the newly opened District 2 Bar & Grille where you will be treated to innovative takes on traditional American bar food.

District 2 is named for the police department that is located around the corner. It seems appropriate because I could very easily see a bunch of policemen hanging out in the restaurant on their off hours. There are high backed booths, a long wooden bar and large flat screens TVs on just about every wall. I can absolutely envision people coming here to have a beer and watch football (they have the game-day package on DirecTV).

I went to the restaurant with two of my best friends from my college sorority, and we decided on this restaurant because their menu said they had fried pickles. One of my friends saw that and replied to an email by saying “I am not Snookie, but those just sound SO good.” Fair enough. And really, who am I to turn down anything fried, especially when it includes my favorite Kosher pickles.

Even though that is what got us in the door, we soon found out that the pickles were no longer on the menu due to limited kitchen space. Apparently they will be returning as soon as an additional fryer comes in, but for the time being they have been 86’ed. After inner Snookie got over the pickle disappointment we ordered the spicy Chorizo dip. The dip was not terribly spicy, but it did have a nice flavor. It was served with chips that were gave the creamy dip the touch of salt that it needed.

We decided to order two main dishes and split them among the 3 of us. The D2 Mac & Cheese was pretty much awesome, but I can only begin to imagine the sheer number of calories that it contains. The dish is cork screw pasta that is smothered in beer cheese fondue and topped with bread crumbs. The flavors blended nicely to create an enviable version of this classic.

In an effort to be healthy we opted to go with the grilled chicken platter as our second dish. As soon as the plate was set down in front of us we were validated in our decision to only order two main dishes. There was at least a pound and a half of chicken next to a larger serving of mashed potatoes and grilled mushrooms and onions. The chicken was moist and seasoned well, not something that is expected when ordering bar food.

Even though I would give the atmosphere and the food a thumbs up I have to give the service a bit fat X. It took over 10 minutes to get water and the waiter barely paid attention to us throughout our meal. I even had to get up to track down our waiter to get an extra set of silverware. If District 2 can get their act together I envision this restaurant sticking around longer than Alliance Tavern and Enology.