Brunch at Etto

Etto just started serving brunch, and I stopped by to try out the menu on their first Saturday open. I was wildly impressed with the dishes we tried: a pumpkin frittata with a lightly dressed salad, and a breakfast pizza with bacon, eggs, potato, and cheese. Both were delicious, and the warm and cozy space on 14th & Q made it a great place to spend the afternoon.

Other brunch items include yogurt and granola, and a handful of tempting brunch cocktails in addition to their normal menu selections. Etto will be open for brunch starting at noon on the weekends.

Etto
1541 14th Street NW
Washington, DC 20005
@EttoDC

Bread Furst

There's a strange and disappointing void in Washington. You thought I was going to say bagels, right? You're right, but I'm actually referring to the lack of bakeries. We just don't seem to have many around town, and it's a sad state of affairs. However, the recent addition of Bread Furst in Van Ness has changed this fact, and I hope this starts a revival of quality pastries in town. Bread Furst comes to us from Mark Furstenberg, the owner of Marvelous Market and Breadline. The bakery offers beautiful housemade pastries such as croissants and donuts, baguettes and loaves of bread, as well as salads and sandwiches for the lunchtime crowd.

We went this past Sunday which was a gorgeous day, and we were able to snag an outdoor table so we could enjoy the sun. I absolutely devoured the vegetable frittata which included potatoes, asparagus, squash, red pepper, zucchini, and more. It was a hearty and healthy lunch that I would eat regularly if I lived in the neighborhood. We also enjoyed the glazed doughnut, a flaky chocolate croissant, and some small cinnamon buttons. It's so nice to see a quality bakery thriving in town, and I'm thrilled Mark brought this to us.

On Thursday evenings Bread Furst offers Bread Feast Dinners which include a four course family style meal cooked by Chef Frank Ruta, formerly of Palena Restaurant. The dinners are $85 per ticket and can be purchased on their website here. The dinners appear to be social and include the opportunity for mingling with others, in addition to getting to taste food from a top-notch chef, as well as the pastry chef at Bread Furst, Jack Revelle. I plan to check out one of these dinners, but in the meantime, I recommend you stop by for a coffee and a pastry, pull up a chair, and enjoy Bread Furst's delicious sweets.

Bread Furst
4434 Connecticut Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20008
@BreadFurst

Bread Furst on Urbanspoon

Alphonse Italian Market and Osteria

The newest Italian restaurant to grace the streets of U Street NW is Alphonse Italian Market and Osteria. Upon entering for the first time this past Saturday night, I immediately appreciated the casual and comfortable neighborhood vibe. The black and white tiled floor, the cabinets filled with Italian salads and ingredients, and the cozy booths donned with red and white checkered table cloths all made me excited to welcome Alphonse to the restaurant scene. I was struck by how friendly the staff was, and they took good care of my friend before I arrived.

We ordered three dishes for dinner, all of which we planned to split. The eggplant parmigiana, a special pasta dish with potatoes and steak, and the Milano pizza. Our favorite was the eggplant which was served in a cast iron skillet topped with sauce and melted cheese. The eggplant was cooked nicely, although we thought the dish should have been hotter given it had come straight from the oven.

The Milano pizza comes with Sopressata,  cipollini onions, and pipe dreams goat cheese, but we ordered it without the Sopressata because my friend doesn't eat pork. The pizza arrived lukewarm, but the staff was incredibly apologetic and insisted on making us a new one that arrived piping hot. While it was delicious, I had hoped they would have been a bit more generous with the other toppings since we had omitted the meat, but instead the toppings were a bit sparse.

Finally, the chestnut pappardelle pasta dish was good-- but we felt it was more of a hash than it was a pasta dish. It also arrived in a cast iron skillet like the eggplant, with chunks of potato and steak, but unfortunately there was a very limited amount of pasta to be found. It was unable to be twirled, and it appeared that the pasta had been torn into small sheets which were hard to locate within the skillet. The flavors were enjoyable, but it wasn't what we had expected or hoped for when we ordered it.

To end the night we split a piece of the cheesecake which had a delicious crust, and a dense consistency. I loved the dessert, and would come back for that slice of cheesecake anytime. We also enjoyed very affordable glasses of Vermentino wine, and overall had a really nice experience at Alphonse. While the food isn't perfect and some work needs to be done, the atmosphere won us over. And the things that were done well were done very well. I think they're onto something with the takeaway counter for sandwiches and Italian products. It's something we do not currently have in D.C. and there's a need for it in the market. For those who are looking to sit down and relax, they offer that experience as well. I'm looking forward to giving Alphonse a second try, as it seems they have all of the elements necessary for success once they iron out some minor kinks.

Alphonse Italian Market and Osteria
1212 U Street NW
Washington, DC 20009
@Alphonse_DC

Alphonse on Urbanspoon

Scenes from Dinner at Urbana

Urbana Restaurant at the Hotel Palomar in Dupont Circle recently made some important changes to their physical space as well as to their identity. The restaurant has gone through a makeover which includes new furniture, a more modern look, a redone private dining space, a larger patio, and a brighter environment. In addition, Chef Ethan McKee made a decision that is near and dear to my heart: to move the menu in a more Italian leaning direction. Last night I had the chance to taste test many of the new items on the menu, and the pastas are definitely where the Chef excels, although the fish and pork dishes were both incredibly flavorful and used beautiful and seasonal ingredients.

Sardines at Urbana.jpg
Pork Cheek Mezzaluna at Urbana.jpg
  1.  Porcini arancini with roasted tomato sauce. A perfect snack they serve at the bar.
  2.  Marinated sardines served with basil, pine nuts, capers, chili oil, and crostini.
  3.  Mezzaluna with pork cheeks, guanciale, chanterelles, and black truffle. This dish had heft to it, and the flavors were deep and rich.
  4.  Risotto with lobster-scallop sausage, tarragon, and coral butter. I enjoyed the intense seafood aroma, and the butter added an important creamy element.
  5.  Squid ink bucatini with calamari, shrimp, and mussels in a bagna cauda sauce. This was my favorite dish of the night. Slivers of garlic packed the dish with punch.
  6.  Whole dorade with cippolini onions and hazelnut brown butter. The fish was flaky and buttery, and the hazelnuts were the perfect ingredient to tie the dish together.
  7.  Pork chop with cabbage, speck, balsamic, and cherry tomatoes. I loved the acid in the dish from the balsamic and tomatoes. A really nice pairing.

In addition to a new restaurant menu, Urbana continues to offer one of the best happy hour deals in the city which runs Monday-Friday from 4pm-7pm and includes wines and beers from $5-$7, and pizzas and snacks from $5-$10. I like the new Italian lean for Urbana, it seems to be a good look for the restaurant.

Urbana
2121 P Street NW
Washington, DC 20037
@UrbanaDC

A Trip to Paris, Aix en Provence, and the Luberon

Some vacations are made for relaxation, and some are made for exploration. I just returned from a week-long trip to Paris, Aix en Provence, and the towns of the Luberon, and this trip was about both. Paris continues to be one of my favorite cities in the world, and provides endless beauty, incredibly culinary experiences, and an opportunity to explore by foot. It's hard for me to sit still when I am in Paris, there is just so much I want to do and see. The south of France provided the perfect counter to Paris with time for relaxation and a slower pace. It was a wonderful trip, and one I will always remember.


PARIS


My friend Tammy and I had both been to Paris before (see my trip from 2012 here), but we were thrilled to have two full days to explore and soak up the city of lights. We started with lunch at one of my favorite spots, L'Avenue on Avenue Montaigne. It's chic, delicious, and has an outdoor terrace with a view of the Eiffel Tower. We enjoyed delicious fresh salads of crab meat and burrata, multiple glasses of rosé wine, and a beautiful strawberry napoleon for dessert. The crowd at L'Avenue couldn't be more beautiful, and the interior space is lined with purple velour couches. It's a stone's throw from the Champs Élysées and the Eiffel Tower, so I always recommend it for a great leisurely Parisian lunch. L'Avenue is located in the 8th arrondissement at 41 Avenue Montaigne.


Our first dinner was at David Toutain, located in the 7th arrondissement. There was a lot of buzz about this restaurant which opened back in December from young star chef David Toutain who had previously cooked at Agapé Substance. We had high hopes for this gastronomic experience which includes no menu, and allows the kitchen to bring out small dishes to enjoy as the evening progresses.

The staff was lovely, and they were also playful which we appreciated. The courses were interesting and small, many of which were to be eaten just with your hands with no utensils to be found on the table. Our favorite was the soft egg with creme caramel served with warm cornbread. It was decadent and creamy, and was one of the few substantial bites we had all evening. While I enjoyed the inventive food and atmosphere, I failed to have an amazing food moment, and I left a bit hungry. Overall, I would call the meal a fun but expensive experience. David Toutain is located in the 7th arrondissement at 29 Rue Surcouf.



Since I picked our lunch spot on the first day, Tammy got to pick it on the second day. We were heading to the Marais for some shopping, and she knew just the place. On a bustling street corner at Au Petit Fer a Cheval, we took a tiny table outside facing out so we could people watch. The restaurant name means "at the little horseshoe", which is reminiscent of the little bar inside at this establishment. It's small, quaint, and authentic, and we had an amazing lunch with many glasses of wine.

I had the vegetarian salad which was big enough for two. It had tomatoes, cucumbers, mushrooms, radishes, lettuce, and best of all... lots of cheese! The highlight was the warm crispy toasts with goat cheese on top. I have also read great things about their crispy duck confit. Au Petit fer a Cheval is located in the 4th arrondissement at 30 Rue Vieille du Temple.


For our last night in Paris we decided to go for a super classic French meal. We went over to one of my favorite streets, Rue Saint Dominique for dinner at La Fontaine de Mars. The tables are lined with red and white checkered cloths, and the menu is filled with comfort dishes such as steak, duck confit, dover sole, and coq au vin. We started the meal with Champagne and creamy fresh goat cheese with herbs and toast. For my entree I enjoyed one of my favorite dishes of the trip: roast chicken breast with morels and morel cream. It was donned in a perfect sauce with huge morel mushrooms over a bed of rice. The chicken was cooked perfectly, and I found myself savoring every bite. In addition, we splurged on a side of the gratin dauphinois which was oozing with cheese. It was so rich, but we couldn't get enough of it.

We finished the meal with a decadent chocolate mousse, and we both were stuffed silly. Fontaine de Mars is very close to the Eiffel Tower, making it a great spot for lunch or dinner. If you're looking for a classic meal with French favorites, I highly recommend it. La Fontaine de Mars is located in the 7th arrondissement at 129 Rue Saint Dominique.


AIX EN PROVENCE

This was my first time visiting the south of France, and boy was it everything I had hoped for. I spent the majority of my time staying in Aix en Provence, and it is hard not to fall in love with the cobblestone streets, the beautiful markets, the fountains, and the lively people. I spent most days wandering the streets, eating croissants, sipping on wine, and just enjoying the pristine blue skies and the sun soaked city.


I stayed at a stunning hotel called Villa Gallici which was about a 10 minute walk from the city center. Villa Gallici is a classic Provençal estate with a breathtaking view of the French countryside. I enjoyed drinking rosé on the outdoor patio, relaxing at the pool, and dining at the gourmet restaurant. For those that are looking for an upscale and authentic French experience, I highly recommend the hotel.

To start the mornings in Aix, I loved stopping by Patisserie Weibel and grabbing an almond or chocolate croissant. The store itself is beautiful with lavender colored packaging and pastries that looked like pieces of art.

In addition to the patisserie, I stumbled across a small coffee shop called Coffee To Go. I know that taking coffee to go is not exactly French in spirit, but this small Australian shop had wonderful coffee drinks and I enjoyed picking up an iced latte to enjoy while walking around town. It also doesn't hurt that the owner/barista was quite adorable. Patisserie Weibel is located at 2 Rue Chabrier and Coffee To Go is located at 20 Rue Jacques de la Roque.


Two meals in Aix en Provence stood out: dinner at Le Bistroquet and lunch at La Fromagerie du Passage. Le Bistroquet was located in a charming little plaza with a few other restaurants. There was a great outdoor patio, and I really enjoyed the baked Camembert appetizer that emerged from the kitchen oozing and bubbling. I ate an entire wheel, and continued to dip the bread into the warm cheese until there was nothing left. The steak with frites was a nice choice, and the chocolate spring rolls with pistachio were a great dessert.

Perhaps the best meal of the trip was found just by wandering the streets of Aix with Tammy. We ducked into a small passageway and there we found a wine and cheese shop which had a restaurant on the top level called La Fromagerie du Passage. We each had phenomenal salads-- mine included orecchiette pasta, prosciutto, shaved Grana Padano, sundried tomatoes, and pesto. It was the perfect blend of ingredients, and it paired nicely with a glass of rosé from the Bandol region. If you are ever in Aix, I say this place is a must. Le Bistroquet is located at 27 Place Ramus and La Fromagerie du Passage is at 55 Cours Mirabeau, Passage Agard.


The Cours Mirabeau is the main drag in Aix, but I tried to stay away for meals as I was afraid the restaurants would be tourist traps. Famous spots along the street include Les Deux Garçons and Bastide du Cours. I actually ended up lunching outside at La Rotonde which is just off of the fountain, and it was surprisingly good. I enjoyed tuna tartare, burrata with grilled vegetables, and a chocolate lava cake. I also had a nice dinner at Bistrot des Philosophes, which was located in a big open air square with a lively atmosphere. Other highly regarded restaurants in Aix include Mitch and Pierre Reboul, which are both high end establishments that require reservations. Overall, the food in Paris is better than the food in Aix en Provence, but it's hard to beat the lovely small town charm.


THE VILLAGES OF THE LUBERON

I had the good fortune of spending the day with a friend of mine's aunt and uncle who live in Provence for half of the year. They picked me up in their convertible and spent the entire day driving me through the breathtaking perched villages of the Luberon. They knew all of the best spots, and were generous to ensure that I got the best views that the south of France has to offer. In one day we visited Lourmarin, Saignon, Bonnieux, Roussillon, and Isle Sur Sorgue. All of them were gogeous, but Roussillon was a favorite. I was wowed by the strikingly colorful red cliffs and buildings.


I'm thrilled I was able to have this wonderful experience exploring France. I can't wait until my next opportunity to travel, but I know I will be back soon. I just can't stay away. La vie est belle.