February 26, 2010

Dinner Together

What makes a restaurant romantic? The setting? The atmosphere? The food? Maybe these factors contribute, but I think the key element is something different – being there with the right person.

Insieme
means together in Italian. The restaurant by this name in New York's Theater District has assembled all the ingredients for an intimate and romantic dining spot. The restaurant is quiet and elegant. Several of the booths are divided by curtains of long thin cords – like fringe, but not in a fairytale way. The light is dim but not too dark and there is jazz playing at a level that allows for easy conversation. The service is attentive and accommodating without being overbearing. It is a wonderful place to be together with loved ones.

My husband Jonathan and I went to Insieme for Valentine's Day dinner this year and had a wonderful time. After sitting down and settling in our waiter brought us a couple complimentary bites to start. First came little pieces of breaded fish that Jonathan enjoyed and then small cups of soup. Jonathan's cup was filled with an Italian style egg-drop soup and mine had creamy parsnip soup. (I am vegetarian and the staff was very accommodating, like with this soup.)

Next we had our appetizers – sunchoke soup and ravioli al uovo. The soup was creamy with intense flavors of Jerusalem artichokes and black truffles. Wonderful! The ravioli stuffed with ricotta cheese and egg yoke was also very good!

For the main course, Jonathan ordered the duck breast and I had butternut squash tortelloni with sage. The pasta – like everything I ate previously – was delicious! With our food we enjoyed a bottle of Tuscany. The wine list at Insieme is impressive – over thirty pages of great wines and commentary.

Finally, we arrived at dessert time. We both got lavender mint tea and shared the bomboloni and chocolate budino. Both were amazing! The bomboloni were served with a rich caramel sauce and were light and sweet. Served with almonds and espresso cream, the budino had intense chocolate flavor.

Jonathan and I both enjoyed everything! A perfect dinner. A perfect date. A perfect evening together – Insieme.

February 24, 2010

Valentine's Day Weekend in New York Continued

We spent Sunday – Valentine's Day – enjoying New York City. We walked around Soho and I revisted my favorite clothing shop, Rosebud Boutique. We went to Varda Shoes, a wonderful shoe shop on Spring Street. Their shoe styles are classic and elegant and all the shoes are handmade in Italy. (And Varda has recently started making tall leather boots with wider calves for women with athletic legs.)

Then Valentine's Day dinner. It was amazing – but the details will have to wait as it is the subject of my next post.

On Monday we spent time in the Upper West Side neighborhood. First we stopped for brunch at Sarabeth's West – busy and good cafe on Amsterdam Avenue. We shared the lemon ricotta pancakes and a red omelette. Both were very tasty, but the pancakes were exceptional. When I was a child, my parents often made us cottage cheese pancakes for breakfast. The ricotta pancakes were a lighter and more delicate version of my childhood favorite.

From Sarabeth's we continued walking around the Upper West Side. Before heading leaving the New York we stopped at Zabar's and purchased snacks for our trip home. Located at Broadway and 80th Street, Zabar's is huge emporium of edible items! After roaming the aisles for a bit we went to the deli and ordered our sandwiches. All that remained of our trip was bus ride home...

A great weekend in New York! I look forward to having the opportunity to visit again soon!

February 22, 2010

Back in New York

Ah, the city that never sleeps, the Big Apple, Gotham. New York City!

This is one of my favorite cities in the world – the intense energy, the tall buildings, Central Park, the avenues bright with the lights of taxicabs in the evening.

This year my husband Jonathan and I spent Valentine's Day weekend in this great city. After a parade of weekend snowstorms, the weather for our trip turned out to be sunny and beautiful!

We arrived at Penn Station around noon on Saturday and headed to shop. Our first destination was for Jonathan – 8th Avenue in Chelsea which is home to several small men's clothing and shoe shops (including Camouflage Clothing). Camouflage is two shops a couple doors from each other – both selling classic high quality men's casual and business casual clothing. From there we headed to Wall Street, home to famous financial institutions and the discount fashion mecca of Century 21. This store is a crowded and overwhelming shopping experience, but has the potential of rewarding the persistent patron.

After an afternoon racing around the city, we met some friends for dinner in Greenwich Village at Otto Enoteca Pizzeria. Jonathan and I first visited this restaurant on our trip to New York last fall and we were excited to have the opportunity to return! Again we thoroughly enjoyed dinner – excellent antipasti and pizza! For dessert I tried the gianduja calda, a creamy hazelnut hot chocolate. I read about this dessert online in an old New York Magazine article after our previous visit to this restaurant. It was good with rich hazelnut flavor, but on the sweeter side. The brioche with nutella is still my favorite dessert here.

After dinner our friends led the way to Raines Law Room – a classic and composed cocktail lounge in the Flatiron neighborhood. When we arrived there was an hour wait for this small (and apparently exclusive) lounge, so we headed across the street to a place with a diabolically opposite atmosphere – Karaoke 17. After an hour of comedy at the expense of others, we returned to Raines Law Room and enjoyed talking in the more quiet ambience.

February 21, 2010

February 19, 2010

A Monument Weathers the Storm

Washington Monument, National Mall
Washington, District of Columbia

Now a Visit to Vinoteca

In previous posts I discussed my visits to two Washington DC wine bars, Veritas Wine Bar and Cork Wine Bar. Today I am going to write about Vinoteca Wine Bar & Bistro. While I would say the afore mentioned two are definitely my favorite wine bars in the city for their more quiet ambiences, excellent wines (especially at Veritas), and good food – this place is a fun place to visit too.

Located in the U Street Corridor, this wine bar and bistro was quite crowded when Jonathan and I arrived on a chilly Friday night. The atmosphere in both the bar and dining room areas is warm and lively – reminiscent of a neighborhood meeting place.

We got a glass of wine while we waited to be seated at our table and for my husband's friend to arrive. Even with a crowd that was fairly large for the small bar area, service from the bartenders was attentive and prompt. And soon we were all seated at our table chatting in the cozy dining room.

For dinner we ordered some cheeses and charcuterie, a grilled flatbread, homemade sweet potato gnocchi, and a pork belly dish. My favorite thing was the gnocchi – it was soft and light and very tasty! But, the cheeses were also very good. My other dinner companions enjoyed the non-vegetarian items as well.

The wines we tried during the evening were good and reasonably priced. No, Vinoteca has not made my favorites list – but it is a fun and lively place to spend an evening with friends!

Flavors of India in Washington DC

So recent snowstorms – and the associated necessity to enjoy the snowflakes and shovel – has gotten me a bit behind on blogging. But, I will do my best to catch up in the next few days.

In the beginning of February my aunt took Jonathan and I to dinner at one of her favorite restaurants in the city. Located in the Penn Quarter of Washington DC, Rasika is a modern Indian restaurant named after the Sanskrit word for flavors.

The restaurant interior is contemporary with exotic design accents. A curtain of chandelier crystals separate the dining room and bar areas; while soft hues of yellow add warmth to the space.

But, on to the food... My aunt also ordered her favorite dish – palak chaat (crispy spinach) – to start. Then we ordered a variety of different dishes to share – dal, cucumber raita, malai palak (spinach), paneer with a creamy saffron sauce, roast bison, seasonal vegetables, and mint paratha. Everything was delicious! The flavors of the different dishes we ordered were unique and intense – each celebrating different tastes of Indian cuisine.

February 7, 2010

February 5, 2010

Perfect Little Cakes

What is it about a cupcake? To me these cute creations are so much better than cake, have the status of being a comfort food, and are the perfect size for a snack.

America's preoccupation with cute cupcakes began several years ago when Magnolia Bakery cupcakes was featured in Sex in the City. Since then artisan cupcake shops have been opening in major cities all over the country.

That said, my obsession with cupcakes is more recent. When I lived in San Francisco I enjoyed the cute little cakes from Baked, Kara's Cupcakes, and Miette – but would rarely search out a cupcake. Then I moved to Washington DC and my aunt introduced me to Georgetown Cupcake. Thus my obsession with cupcakes was established.

Of the artisan cupcakes I have had the opportunity to sample, Georgetown Cupcakes definitely stood out. The cake is moist and delicious and the frosting is rich and creamy . The flavors range from traditional to creative – from chocolate and vanilla to toffee crunch. They serve several everyday flavors, special flavors (available only on certain days of the week), and seasonal flavors (which change monthly). In addition, starting in January 2010, they started making a daily secret “Fan Favorite” flavor. The secret cupcake flavors are announced on Facebook and Twitter each morning and free to Georgetown Cupcake fans. (Great marketing idea!) But, back to the subject at hand – the cupcakes. So far, I have tried chocolate ganache, chocolate3, toffee crunch, red velvet, salted caramel, and chocolate strawberry. My favorite flavors are salted caramel and red velvet. But, I will definitely return to try more flavors!

February 2, 2010

In Search of Brunch

Weekend brunch is one of my favorite meals. Living in San Francisco there were some fantastic restaurants to go to for brunch. Since moving to Washington DC two months ago, my husband and I have been in search of the perfect place for brunch. So far we have found some interesting cafes – but not yet achieved our goal.

We have been to a variety of places and some were not bad.

Bardia's New Orleans Cafe in Adams Morgan was good. It is a cozy cafe and the food was homemade and unique. Jonathan and I both had poached egg dishes – eggs sardou (eggs on artichokes with creamed spinach and hollandaise sauce) for me and creole eggs benedict for him. In addition, we shared an order beignets, Jonathan had chicory coffee and I had hot chocolate. The beignets were very good – puffy and warm. Jonathan enjoyed his coffee, but the hot chocolate a bit too sweet for me.

Other places we have tried are the Grill from Ipanema and L'Enfant Cafe and Bar. Jonathan enjoyed the Brazilian brunch at the first restaurant and I enjoyed the hot chocolate and crepes at the second.

That said, none of these restaurants have come close to being a new brunch favorite. So, the search continues... Any suggestions?