Friday, August 22, 2014

Rustico (Ballston, Arlington, VA)

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Post number 100!

Rustico, being located just a short walk from my apartment, and possessing a superlative beer list and interesting looking menu, has been on my short list of places to go since I first moved some of my stuff down here in late July, and I was not disappointed with my first visit.  While I did not have anything to drink, since my accompaniment was not partaking, I did have both a delicious entree and a spectacular dessert.

The menu includes several very clever appetizers and "snacks," including fried deviled eggs, "risotto tots," and the ever delicious fried green tomatoes.  While I did not partake in any of these this trip, I will definitely be trying them all in the future.  This time, I was waffling between the grilled rainbow trout and the Pea and Mascarpone Ravioli, but upon asking the waitress which I should go with, she immediately and without any hesitation answered to go with the ravioli.  Served with shrimp, snap peas, toasted pistachios in a buerre blanc, the ravioli themselves were quite well made, with fresh pasta cooked properly, and the filling was creamy and delicious.  The buerre blanc was also well made, did not separate, and had just the right consistency to cling to the peas, shrimp and ravioli, but not so thick as to be clumpy or become oatmeal-like.  Shrimp are often overcooked, and these were not, and the peas were delightfully crisp, maintaining that "snap" that gives them their name.

For dessert I broke my custom and went overtly sweet, with a Peach Crumble Sunday.  Using homemade cheesecake (I thought it was vanilla, to be honest, but that's okay, it was delicious) ice cream, clearly homemade bourbon whipped cream, peach compote and a cornmeal crumble, this was incredibly good, possibly even more successful than the entree, which I had really no major complaints with other than that I wish they had given me more.  The ice cream had the perfect smooth texture, without any obvious ice crystal formation despite not being, as far as I could tell, liquid nitrogen frozen.  The whipped cream was delicious, with just a hint of flavor from the bourbon, while the compote was sweet but not cloying, with some crunch from the peach, which did nothing to detract from the crunch of the cornmeal crumble, which was the perfect counterpoint to the ice cream and whipped cream.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Jetties (Washington, DC)

So as my consistent readers know, I have primarily written about western Massachusetts, the Boston area, and the Portland, Maine area over the life of this page.  Now, however, I have moved, as I decided to go back to school, and thus find myself for at least the next two years a resident of Arlington, VA.  This will give me a huge amount of new opportunities to try restaurants and beers, though seeing as I am now a grad student and no longer gainfully employed (for the time, at least) my options will be limited.  That said, I can't wait to try all sorts of new places, and I am incredibly excited to review them for you!

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Jetties is a small, four location local chain of sandwich shops in and around DC, with locations on Foxhall Rd, Macomb St, in downtown on Eye St, and in Bethesda on Fairmont Ave.  I had lunch today at the Foxhall location, and despite arriving at the tail end of the lunch hour, the place was absolutely packed; good sign.  With ample outdoor seating, a clear dog-friendly policy (several people had their dogs there, and they clearly did not mind if someone filled up a dog bowl with water), and a nice location near Georgetown University, the French Embassy, and American University, this is a great place for college kids, tourists, and locals alike.  Everything seems to run like a top, as their system of ordering is quite simple: you grab a pre-printed "menu" for either sandwiches, salads, or kids sandwiches; write your name on it; and either select from their list or design your own.  You then hand it to the check-out person, pay, and await your sandwich. 

I selected the Surfside (the whole place actually is "surf-inspired"), with roasted turkey, Havarti, bacon, avocado, and whole grain mustard, on sourdough.  I was instantly impressed when I saw the roasted turkey breast sitting on a butcher's block, and someone slicing off large hunks of it for sandwiches.  This was clearly no ordinary compressed deli "meat," but obviously roasted in house, and it looked absolutely delicious, as did all the other ingredients, most assuredly fresh as well.  The giant hotel pan of bacon was not a bad sign either.

When I got my sandwich (after a wait of about five minutes, I would say; not bad, considering the number of people still ordering a little after 1:00pm), and grabbed a seat, it was all I could do not to just destroy the sandwich.  Thankfully I was not alone, and thus forced to savor it, and boy am I glad I did.  The turkey was perfect, not entirely overcooked like most poultry (though I would have cooked it a little less, but that is true of almost everything, and would make serving it to the majority of people difficult) so it was not too dry, though being white meat it was not exactly moist either.  The bacon was crisp but not crunchy, perfect for a sandwich where you do not want to risk it disintegrating on the first bite, while the avocado added a smooth, creamy texture and fattiness that was just fantastic.  While Havarti is among my favorite sandwich cheeses, it was a little lost here; something more prominent, like very sharp cheddar (Cabot Seriously Sharp, anyone?) or even a (gasp!) Swiss would have been better choices in my mind.

Bread being a key ingredient of any sandwich, I should mention that the sourdough used in this sandwich was really good, very fresh tasting, with just a hint of that classic sour flavor.  It held up well to the sandwich, not falling apart of becoming soggy in the least, and it had a nice crust that provided just the right amount of bite.  Less successful, though not for any real reason other than getting lost (in much the same way as the cheese), was the mustard; I barely tasted it, and while it was not needed necessarily, a good spiciness would have been a good addition.  I suspect it was simply an issue of not having enough applied because many people would not want a huge amount of it, but for me, it lacked the mustard flavor.

All in all, I had a great sandwich, which could have used some minor alterations, but nothing earth shattering, and the menu looks like there are several more I should be trying, not the least of which is the "Nobadeer," a Thanksgiving themed sandwich with roast turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and mayo on sourdough.  There are also several vegetarian items and a lobster roll, though having lived part time in Maine for most of my life I have an issue ordering them south of Kittery.  There are more than enough options between salads and sandwiches to make just about anyone happy, and I highly recommend checking it out.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Matt the Miller's (Columbus, OH)

This will be the final post I make from Massachusetts for quite some time; from here on out, I will be in the DC area.  I could use some restaurant recommendations in Arlington and Washington!


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Day one of a five day road trip with my friend Forrest was, to say the least, long.  I worked a 12 hour shift the night before that concluded at 7am, leaving me with less than an hour at home to attempt (unsuccessfully) a nap before Forrest arrived and we took off for Columbus, Ohio.  Thus, when we finally arrived in Columbus, late for the baseball game we were going to attend (we went the next day, which was fine), we were both starving and exhausted.  Eleven hours on the road will do that to you, I suppose.  Thankfully, a little internet searching found us Matt the Miller's Tavern, a small local chain with a lot of good beers, and some damn fine steaks.

Forrest and I both ordered beers, then each went with the 10oz Flatiron steak, a piece of meat that came out looking far larger than its listed weight.  Each steak comes with one of three "toppers" (garlic butter, Gorgonzola, or fried onion strings), and one side from a list of about ten.  Forrest had the fried onion strings and mixed vegetables, and I went with the Gorgonzola and horseradish mashed potatoes, with mine ordered rare of course.

The steaks came out fairly quickly, so clearly the kitchen is on their game, and our waiter did not dawdle with putting in the order, something we greatly appreciated in our near starvation.  Both steaks came liberally topped with our respective choices, with mine having so much Gorgonzola that I actually had to scrape some off, though I used it to mix into the mashed potatoes, which made them better.  My steak was cooked perfectly, with a cool, deep red interior and slightly crusty exterior.  The beef itself had almost a blackened flavor from the spice mixture that had been rubbed on it, which was unexpected but pleasantly spicy and salty, and the steak clearly of high quality.  My mashed potatoes were fine, nothing incredibly special, and the horseradish flavor was non-existent, but the addition of the Gorgonzola was delicious.  Both of us powered through our meals and, despite how insanely hungry we had been, were quite full and pleased with the meal when we left.

The draught beer list was not huge, but was well stocked with both local and national level brews, including Ballast Point Grunion Pale Ale.  I was looking for a lower alcohol content beer, and was feeling decidedly anti-IPA that day, a rarity for me, so I went with the Grunion, a 5.5% light-in-color-but-not-flavor type.  It definitely is what you go for with a pale ale, very lightly malty, very lightly hopped (contrary to what their website says, quite frankly), and just incredibly refreshing.  I think Forrest went with a local beer, but I cannot recall.

The beer was not cheap, but the steak was reasonably priced, just $16.99 for a large piece of very good meat, a side and a topping.  The setting is nice, and I suspect sitting on their patio is pleasant when the weather is better, but sitting in the bar area was just fine, as they have a few high tops with real chairs in addition to booths and stools at the bar itself.  It never got too loud, was well lit, and there were several televisions showing everything from bull riding to the World Poker Tour to the Crossfit Championships, and some more mainstream options as well.  I would definitely go back if I find myself in Columbus again, and I immediately recommended it to my friend who moved there the day we left.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Lolita (Cleveland, OH)

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Over a five day road trip to the Midwest, my friend Forrest and I hit four different baseball stadiums, generally eating standard ballpark fare and breakfast at our hotels.  We had one very good meal at a restaurant the first night of the trip, in Columbus (OH), but it was dinner on the final night that was really something special.

I watched a lot of Food Network for a couple years, as it was just about the only channel with anything good on during the wee hours of the nights while I was at work with nothing to do, and every time Michael Symon was on, I would drool over the thought of going to one of his restaurants.  The man just seemed to appreciate pork in a way that no one else does, and that is my kind of chef.  So, when we arrived in Cleveland and were looking for somewhere to eat dinner, I checked out his restaurants.  Lolita, the more casual of his two primary restaurants (the other being Lola), is located in Tremont, at the corner of Literary Rd and Professor Ave.  Every day, Lolita has a happy hour menu (served only at the bar) for a couple hours, which has a white wine, red wine, two mixed drinks, a beer, and four small dishes available, with the food just $5 per plate and the drinks that or less.  This was perfect to try a few different things on the menu, so we sat at the bar, ordered a couple beers ($2 each!), and a few items off the menu.  Sadly I did not think to write down what the beer was, since it was actually pretty good, but I do remember the food!

Forrest had to step out to take a call right when we arrived, so I ordered us the Mac & Cheese (a half portion of their regular serving) and the Mussels off the happy hour menu, and the Crispy Pig Tails & Ears appetizer from the regular menu.  The Mussels arrived first, a large portion for just $5, perfectly cooked (aka not chewy), with a creamy sauce including house-made chorizo, garlic and parsley, along with a couple pieces of bread to soak up the sauce, which the bartender replenished at my request so as not to waste the remnants of the sauce after we were finished with the shellfish itself.  The chorizo was delicious, salty and savory, and the sauce was perfectly creamy, with a slight tang.  Not quite as good all in all as the mussels at Local 188 in Portland (ME), but probably top three I've ever had.

The Crispy Pig Tails & Ears arrived at about the same time as the Mac & Cheese, so I tried the pasta first.  This was the only real disappointment of the evening, as the macaroni (rotini, in this case) was slightly overcooked, the chicken was boring and plain, and the cheese sauce was nothing I could not make myself.  In fact, my own version of the dish is better.  I am glad I did not order the full portion of this, because I think I would have had a very disappointing meal if this were my entree.  It was not even that it was bad; it simply was nothing you could not get at any decent diner or at most peoples' homes.

The Crispy Pig Tails & Ears made up for that disappointment and more.  I have been describing the pig tails to my friends as a perfect combination of bacon and chicken wings; they were crisp, succulent, and fatty.  The sauce they were tossed in was a fennel-onion agrodolce, which resulted in a very slightly sweet and very vinegary flavor, which actually would be great on wings as well.  There was a salad of fried slices of pigs ear, pickled chili peppers, and the onions and fennel from the agrodolce, which was just absolutely amazing; the fried pigs ear pieces were so incredibly good they were only topped by the tails themselves, and the crunch from them was a great counterpoint to the soft vegetables and even the tender meat of the tails.  The whole thing was prepared so well I honestly can not find a single flaw, and I can usually nitpick something in every dish.  This is probably the single best dish I have ever eaten, and I would drive back to Cleveland just to have it.

We were still hungry after those three, so we ordered the Fried Brussels Sprouts (Forrest does not like eggplant, so the Charred Eggplant Dip was not an option), and they were also incredibly good, even surpassing my previous favorite preparation of these formerly hated greens at Portland's Pai Men Miyake.  Deep frying makes everything better, and that holds true for these, with the crispy outer leaves and slightly crunchy center giving it a nice contrast to the softer inner leaves.  Served with walnuts, capers and anchovies, there was a vinegar-like tang (likely from the capers) to these as well, just like the pig, and the walnuts added a nice meatiness to the dish.  The anchovies were a bit lost, though there was a healthy saltiness that could have been from them.  For people who think they do not like Brussels sprouts, they should really try these; I think they would change their minds.

Food is obviously the main thing you go to a restaurant for, but I firmly believe that people go back for service; after all, you can get good food just about anywhere, but really superlative service is honestly kind of rare.  While I was a little leery of the bartender at first, as he did not immediately provide the attentiveness that I am used to at higher end restaurants, he eventually turned it around, joking with us, talking about basketball (we were in Cleveland, after all; LeBron was bound to come up, right?) and baseball, and just generally chatting with us in a way that was pleasant and unobtrusive.  Top notch service in the end, and a really nice guy in general.

All in all, this was one of the best meals I have had, with just the one dish that was not spectacular, and two that were legitimately incredible in the Crispy Pigs Ears & Tails and the Brussels Sprouts, while the mussels were really delicious as well.  I cannot recommend this restaurant highly enough.  It is also most assuredly not vegetarian friendly, but if you are looking to break out of that lifestyle, this is the place (and the pigs ears are the dish) to do it.  Additionally, though it is not cheap for a real dinner, if you just go for the happy hour, you can get out of there pretty cheap; our meal was under $30 before tax and tip, for four dishes and four beers, a pretty tremendous value.