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Restaurant Review: Vivace (Charlotte)

Possibly one of the best Italian meals I’ve had.  Ever.  And not enhanced, at all, by the fact that Angie Harmon and Jason Sehorn were sitting less than 20 feet away from us.

Angie Harmon was at the same restaurant as I was.  And we didn’t even realize it until we were leaving.

Now, I’m not sure what she ate for dinner that night, but what my fellow diners and I had was a pleasure to the palate.

We started with salads and meatballs.  What?  You didn’t know four perfectly sized, perfectly seasoned, perfectly perfect meatballs could be an appetizer?  Well, they can be.  And they were.  A mixture of beef, veal, cheese, heavy cream, herbs and spices (and, as one of my friends said, “a little bit of heaven”).  Topped with a bright red marinara and shaved piave vecchio, the four healthy sized meatballs were a great way to start off the meal.  Obviously, ordering the meatballs as an app allowed me to indulge in their deliciousness while freeing up my entrée options since I no longer felt obligated to order the spaghetti and meatballs.

I wonder if Angie Harmon had some meatballs.

Pre-entrée, my dinner pals and I also had salads.  Two of them had the Vivace seasonal salad, which was a rainbow on a plate.  Loaded with grapefruit, oranges, goat cheese, spiced walnuts atop mixed greens, served with a lemon honey vinaigrette.  For a cold day in January, this was a refreshing treat, summoning visions of summer and sunshine, not slush and bitter winds.

I shared a Caprese salad with a friend.  It was delicious.  A take on the tradition tomato, cheese, and basil setup, this salad came before us slightly altered.  The tomatoes were roasted and slightly charred.  The tanginess of the tomatoes was nicely offset by the slight char from the roasting; this choice of preparation also allowed for the tomatoes to retain their moisture and remain decadently juicy (which may not have been the case had we gotten regular, plain old boring sliced tomatoes out of season).  Instead of leaves of basil littering the plate, these tomatoes were covered with a perfect basil pesto.  And, the mozzarella–soft and buttery and served in perfect proportion to the tomatoes and pesto.

On to the entrees!

Because I had gotten my taste of the meatballs with my brilliant appetizer selection, I opted for the pappardelle alla Bolognese.  The thick, ribbon-like pasta was covered generously with the savory Bolognese.  And an added bonus?  The goat cheese crema (when is goat cheese ever a bad addition, really?) and more of that delicious piave vecchio.  The best thing about this dish was that you could get it in two portion sizes.  I opted for the smaller one and finished every last morsel and was quite sated.  Had I ordered the bigger portion, I would have probably finished every last morsel, as well, so as not to let any go to waste.

We had two orders of the spaghetti and meatballs arrive at the table.  Usually considered a favorite among the much younger set, this was enjoyed by my 30-something friends with as much glee as if they were 5-year-olds. The meatballs on top of the spaghetti were a tad bit larger than the appetizer portion and were a generous quantity (five!).  The sauce, while labeled on the menu as “tomato sauce” is, in fact, a little bit creamy.  The spaghetti is a bit thicker than your average spaghetti, allowing the sauce to stick to it heartily.  The secret to ordering this—and to jazz it up and make it a bit more adult—is to order it with a few shakes of red pepper flakes.  The difference is dramatic.

The final entrée for the table was the chili-capellini and lump crab.  One word:  amazing.  The capellini was a vibrant red from the chili and the flavor was quite evident—but not overpowering.  The roasted tomatoes, garlic, and generous portion of lump crab meat downplayed the spice nicely.  Again, a clean plate.

And, because there were four clean plates (and that’s just the entrees!) we had no room for dessert.  But it was well worth it to give up the calories.

I wonder if Angie had dessert.

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Restaurant Review: Artisa Kitchen Supper Club (in pictures)

The What:  Artisa Kitchen Supper Club

The Where:  The Fridge Art Gallery, Washington, DC

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Restaurant Review: Kinkead’s

We finally made it to K.  After four rescheduled dinners, dinner club finally has K under its belt.

K is for Kinkead’s.

Since we arrived a bit early, we sat at the bar for a cocktail before our table was ready (and, happily, were able to sip and chat for as long as we wanted and were not rushed, even though we were at the bar beyond our reservation time).  It was nice to sit and catch up.  It was not nice to get the stink eye when I asked the bartender if he had a cocktail list I could peruse.  I’m not good on the spot, I need ideas.  Apparently, I should know better than to be so gauche as to ask for a menu.  Vodka cranberry, then, it is.

Upon being seated, we were immediately given a wine list—but not menus.  In fact, we weren’t given menus until we had been sitting for five minutes or so.

While we looked over the menu (which, we noted, was different than that which was on the website—I understand this is normal and should know better than to choose and commit myself to something online), the waiter brought us a bread basket.  Filled with a variety of choices (cornbread and slices of white and wheat) the basket was accompanied by a dish of soft butter.  Soft butter is key.

The cornbread was fantastic—it had a touch of cumin and a kick of chili pepper, which were both nice surprises that were subtle enough that you could taste something “different” but not so overpowering that they took over the sweetness of the corn.

Not surprisingly, we each started with an appetizer.  Two of us ordered the pumpkin ravioli with a sweet balsamic glaze, crispy sage, crisp prosciutto, and pine nuts while the other two ordered the Hawaiian style tuna tartare “poke” with sushi rice, mango, toasted macadamias and taro chips.  Not a drop of anything was left on any of the four plates.  The ravioli appetizer (the long plate had four on it) were tender and the pumpkin puree was sweet and smooth, complemented well by the acidity of the glaze.  And the sage was a perfect touch.  I always forget how much I like crispy greens; it reminded me, a bit, of the crispy spinach appetizer (the palak chaat) at Rasika.  The tuna tartare was perfectly seasoned, with the mango adding sweetness and the macadamia nuts adding texture to the appetizer.

We practiced a little more individuality when ordering our entrees.  As this is a restaurant known for its seafood—and since there was really only one non-seafood entrée option (a NY Strip), we each stuck with the fruits de mer.

The most impressive of the entrees was the crispy grilled whole black sea bass with cucumber salad, baby bok choy, and a Chinese fermented black bean sauce.  The waiter made sure that we knew that the fish was whole.  A whole fish means that it comes with the head still attached and that you have to figure out how to filet and debone it yourself.

Yes, we know.

The fish came curled around the cucumber salad.  It was perfectly crisp on the outside, flaky and moist on the inside.  The Asian flavors—ginger, sesame, fish sauce—added a complexity to the dish which, otherwise, would be simple but still delicious.

Another entrée selection was the swordfish served with cannellini beans and ditalini pasta.  The fish was perfectly cooked and topped with a fragrant pesto.  The sauce that accompanied the fish was the perfect complement.

I stayed “safe” and ordered the cod.  But it was topped with imperial crab and served with pureed sweet potatoes so delicious we ended up ordering a separate side order for the table.  The dish also came with a stuffing like concoction, the components of which I was never sure but the taste of which I was certain was delicious.  There was definitely corn in it—it was sweet like cornbread but had the consistency of stuffing.  I also had a small pile of wilted spinach on the side, but, alas, I can’t tell you how that tasted.

The fourth selection was autumn themed—a flaky white fish served with carrots, root vegetables, and a beet puree that gave the plate a beautiful fuschia color.  The mixing of the flavors was warm and comforting.

Who were we to say no to dessert?  We tried, we really did, but as we saw plate after plate of dessert parade past us, we knew we had to give it a chance.  What better way to try things out than to get two samplers?  We ordered the sorbet (mango, passionfruit, and raspberry) and the crème brulee (pistachio, dark chocolate, and salted caramel).  The mango sorbet was the star of the desserts—it tasted like summer.  Sweet and fresh, the sorbet was so authentic it was as though you were eating a mango half that had been frozen.  The passionfruit was very tart.  Very.  The raspberry was nothing to write home about; we decided it was the best “go to” in terms of sorbet flavors.  Each of the crème brulee selections were tasty.  The chocolate tasted more like pudding than crème brulee.  The pistachio was so subtle we had to be reminded what the flavor was but, once you had it in your head, the flavor became more pronounced.  The salted caramel was the best of the three and the only one that we finished completely.

The crowd was a bit older, but we enjoyed livening the place up with our youth and our interesting young folk conversation.  Parking was plentiful on the street, but the restaurant does validate garage parking.  On an expensive or not scale, Kinkead’s falls more on the former side but the quality of the food and its presentation is worth it.

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Restaurant Review: Poste Roast

A long overdue review. 

Several weeks ago, my friends and I got together for a farewell dinner for two friends of ours who would soon be picking up and moving themselves all the way out to Seattle.  What better way to celebrate them, our friendship, and the beginning of summer than an authentic pig roast?  And what better place to do that than Poste?

Every summer, Poste does nightly (except for Thursdays) family style dinners.  Poste Roasts are intimate, family style dinners for 6-12 people.  Held in the restaurant’s Chef’s Garden amid pots of herbs, these dinners are definitely an experience to be had.   Make your reservations at least seven days in advance  and you and your friends can sit at the big marble table and sample the deliciosity that Chef Robert Weland has to offer. 

And there is a lot that he offers.  When you make your reservation, you are asked to give your meat selection (as roasting an animal on a spit obviously takes a long time and needs to be done prior to your arrival).   The options (main dish and sides) are all locally sustainable foods.  For your meat selection, you can choose from standards such as suckling pig, beef brisket, or lamb.  There is also salmon, squab, poussin, or goat.   Each meat selection comes paired with specially chosen sides that are served family style. 

My friends and I decided to go with the pig.  Aside from it being a delicious choice, its paired sides of macaroni and cheese, grilled seasonal fruits, and sauerkraut were options we could not turn down.  

(As an aside:  we could also not turn down the truffle fries (or truffle frites, if you want to be French).  We ordered several baskets (why get plain fries when you can get truffled ones?)  for the group and devoured them within minutes.   They seemed to be double fried in what I guess was duck fat.  The truffle flavoring was there but subtle enough that it was not overpowering.  Served with a homemade ketchup that many of us had to keep from licking off our plates, these were a perfect beginning to what would turn out to be a spectacular meal.)

So, we’re all sitting around the table, engaging in our usual banter, when out comes our pig.  Our very own pig!  Our host presented it to us and allowed us a chance to look at it (and take pictures with and of it) before they took it to the kitchen and (SORRY) beheaded it.  The staff was kind enough to split the head (sorry, again) and separate the pieces (ears, brains) so that we could sample them as we pleased.  I actually expanded my culinary palate and pulled up my big girl pants and spread a little bit of the pig brain on toast.  The verdict?  Not so bad.  It had the texture of liver, I thought (kind of velvety) with the same kind of iron undertones.  I can’t say that I’d ever order it on its own (or by choice) but I’m glad that I tried it.

The pig itself was amazing.  We all had a little bit of the crispy skin…think Thanksgiving turkey yumminess times about one hundred.  The meat itself was succulent and juicy and its only downfall was that we had to carve the pig ourselves.  Thankfully, there were several brawny men in the group who not only embraced the task but, also, enjoyed doing so.  The pork belly was as good as you could expect, if only in small portions.  We all had our fill of the pork and then some, and still went home with six doggie bags (for which several actual doggies were very thankful).

The sides were also a hit.  Expecting to have grilled peaches (because that would seem obvious, considering the season), I was surprised when our cassoulets revealed grilled apples, instead.  Needless to say, this fruity accoutrement was my least favorite part of the meal, though the sweetness did work well with the savory aspects of the pork and the macaroni and cheese and with the acidity of the sauekraut.  Now, let’s talk about the macaroni and cheese.  In a word, it was scrumptious.  Absolute carbohyrdate cheesey perfection.  There were at least three different cheeses integrated into the sauce, though if quizzed, we couldn’t tell you which.  But they were fancy cheeses, no doubt.  The top was perfectly crisped, allowing for a slight crunch to go with the soft gooeyness. 

We all ate our faces off.  And enjoyed every second of it.  Of course, though, we had to have dessert.  Well, I did.  For the record, everyone else said that they did not want anything.  Fine, I could take one for the team.  Little did I know that, once the tasting of salted caramel (um, yum, no??) arrived, every single person within a five foot radius of me would dig in a spoon “for a taste.”  Good thing I don’t mind sharing.  We took down the dessert and enjoyed every last drop.  The selection included a coulant (which was really just a fancy caramel cake…it was actually pretty bland but had a hidden hint of caramel), caramel ice cream (not overly sweet, not overly salty), caramel creme brulee (with a perfectly hardened layer of scorched sugar, though it was still my least favorite component) and some caramel popcorn (super sweet but with a final kick of heat).

For $38/person (excluding drinks (take note of their cocktail menu, it’s pretty unique), appetizers, and additions), this is a great dining experience for a group of friends to share on a warm summer night.  The ambience is awesome, the food is fantastic, and the pace of the meal is perfect for a night out in the garden.

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Restaurant Review: Ketchup OR An Open Letter to Ashton Kutcher

Dear Ashton,

I’d like to tell you to stick to acting and not restaurants, but I’m having a hard time choosing the lesser of the evils here.

Ketchup?  What were you thinking?  Obviously, not much other than “I want a hip looking place that has a great sounding menu with all kinds of hipster servers.”

Thanks to my fabulous friends, I was able to experience Ketchup at the National Harbor for dinner last weekend.  We were all very excited to try it out and had been looking forward to it for weeks.  Being the foodies we all are, we had perused the menu before arriving and knew we’d need at least two of the “Threesome” appetizers.  Ashton, this is a fried potato lovers dream.  The trio consisted of seasoned curly fries, waffle fries tossed in roasted garlic, and sweet potato fries.  The carb load came with six (six!) different ketchups:  housemade “regular,” smoky chipotle, spicy chili, golden barbecue, creamy herb, and tamarind.  Tamarind!  That’s what that weird tasting one was.  Lee, our mohawked and over enthusiastic (but under motivated) server left that descriptor out! 

Laden down with a table of potatoes and our ketchups and beverages, we tackled the menu.  $12 for one slider (yes, it was a slider, not several, as one would expect) seemed a bit excessive.  We pondered and pondered while we waited and waited for Lee to return to clear our table, refill our drinks or, I don’t know, take our order.  Once he finally came back, Ashton, he told us that two of the menu items were unavailable.  Cool.

NO, Ashton, NOT COOL.  He didn’t tell us ANY of this until AFTER WE HAD ORDERED SAID ITEMS (specifically, the ribs and fried chicken and waffles).  So, off he scampered while we looked over the menu AGAIN.  (And for another 15 minutes, at least.  Dude, our choices were obviously now severely limited, so we had LESS to choose from so, really, we probably didn’t need EXTRA TIME.)

Among the seven of us, we ordered a variety of dinner entrees.  I had the Shake and Bake chicken.  It was two chicken breasts, pounded thin and allegedly crusted with a bourbon-cider glaze.  I got the shake and bake.  I got some rosemary (much to my dismay and I wish that you had included that small bit of info in the menu).  My chicken was a bit dry but, luckily, the delicous barbecue baked scarlet runner beans and geen beans laden with butter made up for it.   The dish was missing the spicy pecans that the menu promised.  At $18, this was a good meal, considering I finished only half of it before I surrendered.

Among the other dishes we ordered were the Fish and Grits (grits were a bit bland but okay with the fish, which was a relatively small portion considering the enormity of the bowl in which it came), the Crabake Entree (the two snowball looking crabcakes that had a little more filler than promised were lukewarm but the red pepper coulis they were served sitting on top of was tasty.  The avocado remoulade was negligible), and the $18 Black Angus Burger (I mean, good going on that one…you can’t really go wrong with a burger).

One of my friends ordered the salmon special, which came Hawaiian style all adorned with giner and pineapple.  No complaints on that one.  Wings, veggie chili, and a spinach apple salad rounded out our orders…neither of which were horrible but, again, nothing to write home about.

By the time we finished eating, we had been at the table for a good two hours (Mohawk Lee would scurry by in a tizzy and say how hard he was working quite often…though, to us, it seemed as though he only had two tables).  Luckily for you, we enjoy the pleasure of each others’ company.  What we did not enjoy was having to ask several times to have our table bussed and to have our drinks refilled. 

Speaking of drinks, your wine list was commendable, having a favorite of one of my friends that isn’t always on a wine menu.

Now, I usually have much more to say when I write my restaurant reviews.  Maybe it’s because a week has passed.  Or maybe because there really wasn’t much to say.  Mediocre, at best, I think.  Nothing was great.  Nothing was horrible.  In an area as “happening” and up and coming as the National Harbor, you and your staff and your consultants and your chefs and your entourage are going to have to work a little harder to draw people in.  What you have going for you is that this is a location that does cater to the tourist, which means that return customers may not be high on your list of priorities.  But for those of us who live in the area, it would be nice to have Ketchup as an option. 

Thanks for tryin’,

La

PS you should have gotten higher billing for your role in Valentine’s Day.  It was, pretty much, your movie.  Though, I hate to admit it, not such a good one but for McSteamy and Mr. Cooper, from whom you stole a lot of screen time. 

PPS the best part of the meal was dessert…thanks, girls, for the awesome variety pack from Alexandria Cupcake.

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Hot Dogs, Starfish, Some Great Music, and a Bus to Nowhere.

Disclaimer:  I’m not, nor have I ever considered myself to be, a music critic.  Despite the ten years of [expensive, sorry Mom and Dad] piano lessons and my brief stints at the clarinet and alto clarinet, and my affinity to all things pop, I really know nothing of the subject.  It is for that reason that, while a review of the fabulous concert I went to last night would be interesting and beneficial to my readers, I cannot bring myself to pen one for you.  Instead, I will write about the adventure of it all.  An adventure that included, in no specific order, some delicious food, some good friends, some Metro transportation shenanigans, some annoying 20 something gals, Blackberries, bad accoustics, and, oh yeah, Billy Joel and Elton John. 

Thanks to Arizona Foothills Magazine for the photo.

Thanks to Arizona Foothills Magazine for the photo.

We’ll talk about the food first, because, for once, it’s not going to be the highlight of my post.   We made good on our Saturday Faturday designation.  We had some good stuff all throughout the day.  We started off our girls’ day at Chick Fil A, which we are all very happy to have in the neighborhood (for the record, I played tennis in the morning…time of game irrelevant, it’s quality over quantity, right?).   After some pool time we were able to reconvene for some pre-game snacks.  Lucky for us, the stadium is not lacking in dining choices and, happily, the four of us all managed to incorporate chili and cheese into our dinner choices.  We did not manage to make it to 7-11 for the birthday slurpee (they wouldn’t let me run in to get one while we waited for a cab [that never arrived]).  Ok, fine, we weren’t in the best part of town.  But a slurpee is a slurpee. 

Now on to the show.  I’d love to just devote the rest of this blog to the gaggle of gals who were sitting in front of us.   As an older and more mature member of society, I feel I have the right to be judgey about these girls.  Twenty-two beers between the five of them is not so appalling.  Their behavior and dance moves, however, are another story.  First things first, though:  they all had matching Blackberries and were texting male friends incessantly throughout the concert’s entirety (Christopher K, whoever you are, I’m sorry she kept asking you about pierogies) to meet up with them in Georgetown afterward.  Sorry we couldn’t join them.   They all had matching dance moves, as well.  And by having dance moves I mean not having them.  If cell phone video was transferrable, you all would be in for a treat.   They all also had on similar outfit components.  One of the girls was wearing the same pair of shoes as the girl sitting to her left and the same shirt as the girl sitting to her right(but thankfully not the same sequin adorned khaki shorts).  We couldn’t figure out if they were copying her or if she was the trendsetter. 

The best part of watching them came toward the middle of the show, when Billy Joel sang “Only the Good Die Young.”  The girls went crazy!  We decided they were either former Catholic school girls, that the song was their senior class anthem, or both.  They also really liked “Crocodile Rock” and “The Bitch is Back.”  And you can bet your bottom dollar that they rose and swayed as soon as the Piano Man started playing the first notes of that song.  What better way to convey your friendship?  I can’t think of a better one…

Well, maybe I can.  It’s demonstrating braveness and solidarity and getting on a Metro bus, in a not so good neighborhood, at 11:30 pm, not knowing where you’re going but knowing you can do it together…when neither of you have ever done it, before, alone.  Our Metro bus to nowhere, while an intimidating option, turned out to be the best decision of the evening and was certainly our best ticket out of town.  Surrounded by other forward thinkers, we loaded onto the bus, took our seats, and waited until we recognized a stop name.  Turns out the V8 bus to the Archives is a lifesaver.  We learned a few things on that trip:

  1. We know as much as the next guy.  Don’t listen to the next guy.  He was trying to get us to get off at Archives.  L’Enfant Plaza, dude.  L’Enfant Plaza.
  2. The age when a young man should begin wearing deodorant should be, oh, 10.  And, the smell of tween perspiration on a crowded commuter bus late on a Saturday night is not very pleasant. 
  3. Any street in the Southwest portion of town named after one of the original 13 colonies is not a good one on which to disembark the bus. 

We made it home with no casualties and in a little over two hours.  Conisdering there were tens of thousands of people at this concert, many of whom were heading in the same direction as we were, this is not such a bad thing. 

The concert itself, despite our limited view when our young friends decided to dance it up, was pretty spectacular.  The dueling pianos bit came at the end of the show instead of the beginning.  Why?  Because something was up with Sir Elton’s piano pedals and they had to fix it.  He left the stage in a [unsurprising] tizzy.  Billy Joel played all the favorites, while Elton played some stuff that wasn’t so interesting, especially considering the number of songs and albums from which he had to choose (“Zanzibar,” Elton?  Really?).  He did play a lot of the favorites–“Tiny Dancer” , “Daniel,” and “Your Song,” though.  I can’t be too demanding.

 They both seemed to tire quicker than you’d expect, but considering their ages, they put on a really entertaining show.  The biggest complaint (and it wasn’t just me–the girls were texting about it, too) was that the accoustics were horrible–there was a delay and tremendous amounts of echo.  We found that the best place to enjoy the concert was actually underneath the stairs…kind of like hiding under the bleachers at a football game.  But not.

In case you’re wondering, as I’m sure many of you are, thanks to the jumbotron close ups of the piano keys we were able to see that Billy was not donning a wedding band.

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I’m guest host…kind of.

Following in the footsteps of the Real Housewives, many of whom “filled in” for Kathie Lee on the Today Show recently (fill in, though, is a misnomer–first, it implies they did something and, second, it implies there was a role to fill).  Anyway, today I am guest blogging at my dear friend Ada’s blog.  Go check us both out!

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