August 2009

Paradiso ExteriorAs we mentioned yesterday, Pizzeria Paradiso has made the move.  For months now, we’ve been watching and waiting to see when Ruth Gresser’s temple to wood-fired pizza would shutter their cramped cozy digs at 2029 P Street to make the move into the newly-renovated space at 2003 P.  This Saturday, it was finally go time, and we were some of the first folks to stop in and check the new space out.

The differences between this location and its predecessor begin to make themselves apparent right away.  Big glass windows on two sides allow in a tremendous amount of light, offsetting the exposed brick and wooden tabletops.  The result is a feeling very similar to that of Paradiso’s M Street location.

Birerria TooPerhaps the most noticeable change, though, is the bar that runs along the right-hand wall.  Fans of the original Paradiso will remember that the close quarters left little room for any kind of bar, let alone one of the best-stocked and most knowledgably-serviced bars in the area.  That was what made the addition of Birreria Paradiso, the basement beer bar on M Street, such a welcome addition.  The new expansion has taken that beerphoria and integrated it into the P Street location.

More photos of the interior, some details on what the new space offers for beer-lovers and pizza fans alike, and an old favorite pie from a new oven after the jump. (more…)

Paradiso ExteriorIt’s a big week for pizza lovers here in Washington.  In case you haven’t heard already, Pizzeria Paradiso has officially made the move from 2029 P Street to 2003 P Street in Dupont Circle.  First announced by the Going Out Gurus on Friday, the news was quickly picked up by Mike at DCBeer.

We swung by to check out the new space and will be putting up our first look tomorrow.  For now, just know that everything you love about the M Street location has been carried over to this newer, larger P Street space…including the Birreria concept that has made Paradiso a destination for beer lovers as well as a pizza afficionados.

SeventhHill LogoBut that’s not all!  Wood-fired pizzas seem to be cropping up in restaurants all over town, and the next location is slated to open this week.  SeventhHILL, a concept from the folks who own Montmartre on Seventh Street, SE, is just about ready to start turning out their own version.

Though nothing is ever certain when it comes to final approvals and restaurants’ timelines here in DC, there’s a very good chance that Chef Stephane Lezla’s new restaurant – next door to Montmartre in the space formerly occupied by Ben & Jerry’s – will be open for business on Tuesday, September 1.

I stopped into Hill’s Kitchen one day last week and was rewarded with a bite of a pizza that owner Leah Daniels was sampling.  The vegetables that topped the blistered crust were bright and crisp, with strips of fresh zucchini and sweetly caramelized onions as well as briny Italian olives (like Kalamata olives).

The menu she showed me listed a variety of pre-set topping combinations as well as a ‘top-your-own’ selection.  No word on prices or delivery options yet, as their website ( has not yet gone live.  We’re going to be watching for more information on SeventhHILL as it develops.

canning logoTim Carman at the Washington City Paper tipped us off to Kim O’Donnel’s “Canning Across America” effort with a write-up over at Young & Hungry yesterday evening, and it put us in a thoughtful mood.  Though we don’t have the equipment to do full-on long-term storage canning, we try our best to prolong the flavors of summer here at Capital Spice.

We can’t get enough of our homemade half sour pickles (and apparently neither can you!).   We’ve even tried our hands at quick-pickling a variety of other vegetables to make our our giardiniera-style snacks.  And we’re very popular around the holidays when handing out jars of bourbon-soaked cherries and peaches.  While we may not be raising our tongs in solidarity with canners across the country this weekend, we definitely support the cause.

As much as we might enjoy making smoky, tangy gazpacho (using both heirloom AND hybrid tomatoes from the farmers’ market…Jane Black would be proud), it can get a bit pricey to go around throwing 5 or 6 pounds of tomatoes into the food processor each week when you’re shelling out $3, $4, even $5 per pound.  Thankfully, there’s a way to make your share of season-stretching recipes without breaking the bank – even if you don’t have your own backyard garden or orchard to pick on.  They’re known as “seconds,” but they’re the first thing I go for at the market.

The joy of “secs” after the jump. (more…)

Living in DC, our culinary cup runneth over. There is absoluely no shortage of sophisticated restaurants for the perfect ladies’ night dinner. Every few months, the stars and blackberry calendars align and I’m able to get together with my favorite former co-workers La La, Mrs T, and Prison Becki for drinks and a nice meal. Wolfgang Puck’s The Source has been on the “we’ll get to it one day” wishlist since it opened this winter. However, when La La brought it up as one of her favorite restaurants in DC, it shot to the top of the list.

courtesy of

courtesy of

The Source is known for an Asian-fusion menu, combining familiar flavors from our friends across the bigger pond with Puck-inspired executions (brought to reality by Executive Chef Scott Drewno). Walking into the The Source’s soaring lounge with sleek, clean lines and more white that a blizzard in a Q-tip factory, I suspected we were in for a treat. The scene was set for a meal that was fresh, modern, and precise. After enjoying a few cocktails on the lounge level (including Mrs T’s favorite cucumber martini), the hostess led us to the dining room upstairs.

The Source is all about glass. Even the ubermodern wine rooms are on clear display and for good reason: I thumbed through 20 pages of wine options before hitting the abbreviated beer list. I left the wine selection in the competent hands of La La and Mrs T and when our pinot arrived, we were treated to drinks and a show. The server, who is also a manager at the restaurant, “prepped” each of the wine glasses. This process included decanting a small amount  of wine into a glass, swirling, and pouring it into the next glass to repeat the process. “It’s an Italian tradition,” the manager explained, “Wolfgang brought it back with him.” I don’t recall ever seeing this on my trip to Italy but then, I was in college at the time and probably drank wine in less savory environments than Mr. Puck. The efforts seemed to work – the wine was already full bodied in our glasses at the first sip. It should also be noted the red was served at the perfect cool (not room!) temperature.  

Appetizers, entrees and a slaughtered dessert after the jump.


Crisp and JuicyWhen it comes to pollo a la brasa, it seems like the Washington area is second only to Lima in terms of options.  Once you cross over into Northern Virginia, the concentration of Peruvian-style rotisserie chicken establishments is through the roof – each neighborhood has its own, and everyone swears that they know the “single best place” to find brined, spice-rubbed, coal-fired chicken.

Even though we live inside the District, we still head out to Arlington to eat fairly regularly, meeting MrMikesDad for dinner when he’s in town for work.  Since we still haven’t found a suitable substitute for our formerly regular sushi fix, we’ve been trying some of the other options in the nearby area.  Last week, that led us to Crisp & Juicy.

This being our first experience with Peruvian chicken (other than a volunteer trip to Cuzco we took through GlobeAware), we weren’t quite sure what to expect.  But the name kind of established our expectations for us.  With a name like Crisp & Juicy, you’d better be prepared to deliver on texture and tenderness.  And with the number of competitors nearby, you’re going to have to bring the flavor, as well.  At this point, there are seven locations in the Crisp & Juicy empire; we figured that was a pretty good sign.

We walked up to the restaurant, located in the same colorful shopping plaza as Arrowine, and prepared to be blown away. (more…)

About-to-quit-New York Times food critic Frank Bruni shares this outstanding article on the lessons he learned about human nature during his time as a top-notch restaurant critic. Namely, everyone wants steak, everyone wants their dish to be the best at the table (well I’m sure I wouldn’t know anything about competitive ordering), and the world is divided between hoarders and sharers.
Are the world’s best peaches from an obscure section of China? Somebody get Snapple on the phone. 
Watermelon Bloody Marys from The Bitten Word. 
Here’s a shock: An obesity researcher shares her concerns with the proliferation of prepared foods
We’re hoping time speeds up to bring the new H St NE German Beer Haus to us even faster.

Crispy on the Outside finds a potentially lucrative way to combine a love of food and law.   
Pringles takes advantage of social media to push its sweepstake on 100 ways to eat your Pringles.  
DCist has the dirt on organic grocery stores in Columbia Heights and Petworth. 
Wondering where past season winners of Top Chef are working now? USA TODAY has a round up (get out your reading glasses – the print in this story is tiny!). 
10 mistakes diners make in restaurants.  
Imagine if Chef Maupillier quit his job at Central to become culinary director of DC Central Kitchen. Switch the DC locations for Bay Area spots, and that’s pretty much what this guy did.  
How to make homemade orange bitters.  

History’s greatest wine hoax.  
Check out the art in the garden culinary arts festival at the Bontanic Gardens today.  Don’t worry about the weather – the event is under a tent and rain or shine. 
A global shortage of hops has promoted many Canadian farmers to grow their own, resulting in a new set of microbrewers.

In a neighborhood flattened by foot traffic, a new restaurant with an accessible menu is always going to be a welcome addition. At the Columbia Firehouse, the latest installment from the Neighborhood Restaurant Group (who also brought Rustico and Tallulah to grateful NoVA neighborhoods), delivering elevated but recognizable food in a friendly setting is what they do best.

IMG_8971This decree was apparent when Mike and I arrived to meet my parents who were not only seated but already enjoying a steaming bowl of mussels they spotted on the menu and just couldn’t wait to try. Their instincts were spot on: the juicy, briny mussels were served with a generous helping of thick cut bacon, arugula, and oven-dried tomatoes, a dish that pushes you long past any “just one taste” intentions. The broth was rich, complex, and buttery; the kind that makes you ask for extra bread to mop up all the flavor. Be careful of this bread by the way. It looks innocent but with a crust bathed in salt and butter, it’s far too easy to suddenly inhale it. In no time Mike and I were licking stray broth from our fingertips and thinking bashfully about opening the menu for our actual orders. 

We were helped along by our criminally adorable waitress Erim, who guided us with cheer. We swayed between the cornmeal crusted oysters and blue-crab hush puppies before deciding on the ‘pups.  Arriving piping hot with a crispy golden crust, the hush puppies were rich on the inside and complemented nicely by a dollop of savory pepper mustard. IMG_8974

The slow-roasted Amish chicken “is actually Amish,” Erim assured my father in her uncannily Bart Simpson-like voice, “from a farm in Pennsylvania.” In just the few weeks since the restaurant opened, the chicken quickly rose to most popular dish status.  This is not a meal for a shrinking appetite. The portion is generous, served with a leg, thigh, and a breast, alongside a healthy side of cornbread stuffing and andouille sausage: a citified country comfort meal.

I couldn’t resist another order of mussels, this time going for a kettle with tasso ham, red-pepper flakes, garlic, and lager. With ingredients like that, how could it be wrong? Although the broth was a touch thinner (my fault: I asked the kitchen to scale back on butter this time) the flavors still came alive with a rich, deep zest. 

More food and dessert after the jump! (more…)

ExteriorDuring our interview with Chef Mike Isabella, he pointed out just how big a restaurant Zaytinya is.  160 employees, 60 of them in the kitchen…this is a massive undertaking.  We couldn’t get a reservation, but we naturally assumed we’d have no trouble getting a table on a Friday night in August, when half of DC has left town.  Makes perfect sense, right?


Turns out, Zaytinya holds a majority of their tables back for walk-ins.  Because they get A LOT of walk-ins.  When we arrived at the restaurant around 7 o’clock, we were told that our wait for ‘first available’ seating could be as long as 45 minutes.  So we did what any sensible people would do: we retired to the bar.

Beef TenderloinZaytinya’s bar is centrally located within the restaurant and elevated slightly from the dining areas on either side.  The cool stone surface, white walls and bright blue bar backing set a soothing tone that offsets the drop ceiling and the overall volume of the space.  Flipping through the drink menu, we were impressed by the diverse options: plenty of wines from the eastern Mediterranean (primarily Greek), traditional anise liqueur (ouzo in Greece, raki in Turkey, arak in Lebanon) and beers from around the region abound.  But Zaytinya also boasts a creative cocktail menu overseen by Rachel Sergi, featuring such winners as the Apple Cart Upsetter (Maker’s Mark, apples, lemon and moscato) and the Eros (42Below honey vodka, St. Germain, lemon juice, baby roses and honey dust).  It was a great way to kick off our evening…with one exception.  Looking up at the tiles in the drop ceiling, we couldn’t help but notice a number of fruit flies congregating above the bar.  No doubt all the freshly-squeezed juices and glasses of wine were just too much of a draw for the little annoyances.

After half an hour or so at the bar, our table was ready.  Hungry for mezze, we dove into the menu.

A great collection of small plates (don’t call them tapas!) after the jump. (more…)

Photo Credit: Bravo

Photo Credit: Bravo

Today’s the day.  Top Chef season six (Sous-Vide-a Las Vegas?) debuts tonight at 9, an hour earlier than usual and supersized with an extra 15 minutes of footage.  By this time tomorrow, we’ll see the field of 17 cheftestants thinned by at least one – two, if they follow the format in last season’s premiere.

We’ve already introduced you to Bryan Voltaggio of VOLT and Mike Isabella of Zaytinya, two chefs representing the DC metro area.  Skilled chefs with impressive resumes, they’ve both got the chops to go far in the competition.  Voltaggio’s sibling rivalry storyline should guarantee some good face-time for him (and his brother, Michael) – always a positive on competition shows.  And Isabella is the head chef at one of Jose Andres’ busiest restaurants here in DC, which means he knows how to handle pressure and turn out good food for large numbers with ease.

That brings us to our third (somewhat) local competitor – Jesse Sandlin.  Chef Sandlin will be representing Charm City this year, following in Jill Snyder’s footsteps (but hopefully sticking around a bit longer).  She’s the Executive Chef of Jerry Pelegrino’s Abacrombie Fine Foods & Dining.  Over the course of her career, she’s cooked her way from Maryland to Los Angeles and all the way to Australia before returning to Baltimore.  Check out her Top Chef bio, and you’ll learn that she considers bacon AND duck fat to be kitchen must-haves…sounds like we need to make a trip to Abacrombie soon!

We had a chance to chat with Chef Sandlin last week, and we quickly learned that she’s not one to hold anything back, either in the kitchen or in an interview:

Capital Spice: Congratulations on making Top Chef.  What drew you to the show in the first place?
Jesse Sandlin: I’ve been a fan for a while.  I hope my appearance on Top Chef encourages people to check out new places and try new things.

Photo Credit: Bravo

Photo Credit: Bravo

CS: And what was your approach to the competition?
JS: Honesty is the best policy when it comes to reality shows like Top Chef.  Sure, there’s a lot of footage that they have to edit down and those editorial choices can have an impact on how you come across, but if you’re being yourself the whole time it’s going to show through.

CS: You’ve cooked all over the world.  What brought you to Baltimore?
JS: I’m originally from Baltimore, and my family is still in the area.  I came back to be “Aunt Jess” to my brother’s kids and to be a part of the restaurant scene here.

Chef Sandlin’s approach to cooking and keeping secrets – and her take on a Baltimore institution making its way to DC – after the jump. (more…)


Photo Credit: Bravo

We’re a little more than 24 hours away from the premiere of Top Chef’s sixth season (Cleaving Las Vegas, anyone?), and the excitement is definitely building in Washington as we watch for our local competitors to show the rest of the country what we already know: that DC is underrated when it comes to the quality of our up-and-coming chefs.

Yesterday, we gave you a first look at Zaytinya’s Mike Isabella.  Today, we’re chatting with Frederick’s own Bryan Voltaggio.  After working his way up through the stations at Charlie Palmer’s Aureole (eventually earning the role of sous chef), Voltaggio was named Executive Chef of Charlie Palmer Steak when it opened here in Washington.

As much of a home coming as that was for Voltaggio, he had always envisioned owning his own restaurant and bringing something back to Frederick County where he grew up.  In July 0f 2008 that vision became reality with VOLT, a modern American restaurant that is at once part of the DC restaurant scene and the agricultural community that supports it.

We talked with Bryan Voltaggio about his approach to Top Chef, the way he was able to stay under the radar (at least relative to Isabella) and sibling rivlary:

Capital Spice: Thanks for agreeing to this interview, chef.  We’ve heard you were actually a big Top Chef fan even before you started the application process.  Is that true?
Bryan Voltaggio: Absolutely, though I rarely get to watch the episodes when they first air since I’m usually working.

CS: Did that have anything to do with your decision to apply for this season?
BV: It did.  I’ve actually always wanted to compete [on Top Chef].

Photo Courtesy: Bravo

Photo Credit: Bravo

CS:Was it a tough decision to make to apply this time around?
BV: Yes and no.  On the one hand, it meant that I was applying soon after VOLT opened up, and I knew that if I was accepted I would need to leave the restaurant for a month or more.  But I’ve got a great team working with me at VOLT, so I wasn’t too worried.

CS: It seems like you had an easier time keeping your participation under wraps than Chef Isabella of Zaytinya did.  Considering how many food bloggers DC has these days, how did you manage to pull it off?
BV: I think there were a couple of factors that helped.  First off, we’re a bit removed from the downtown dining scene, so I’m able to keep a lower profile in general.  Second, I think the timing made a lot of people skeptical that I would do it.  And the fact that I’ve already opened my own restaurant makes me different than a lot of the other competitors, whose goal is to win and then roll the prize money into a new venture.

Voltaggio vs. Voltaggio and Bryan’s connection to another Top Chef after the jump. (more…)

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