If you’re looking to quickly stand out on the Washington dining scene, Italian cuisine may not be the best way to go.  Even before the restaurant boom of the past fifteen years, DC has had its share of quality Italian chefs and restaurants: Roberto Donna and his various incarnations of Galileo, the “pasta mamas” of Filomena and Fabio Trabocchi’s Maestro are just a few that readily spring to mind.  The field is even more crowded today, with newcomers like Casa Nonna, Carmine’s and Roberto Donna’s newest Galileo competing with long-time favorites.

Ari Gejdenson and Ralph Lee knew all that – they both grew up in the area before making their separate ways to Florence.  They have since returned, bringing with them Acqua al 2 (the 2 is pronounced in Italian as “du-ay”).    This is the second American outpost of the Florentine original – the first was in San Diego, naturally – and it’s a welcome addition to the restaurant options around Eastern Market.  I recently had a chance to check them out with a coworker and a friend who is already well on her way to becoming a regular despite the fact that the restaurant has barely been open six months.

Mural painted on the wall outside the window

We knew we wanted to experience a broad range of dishes – apparently Acqua al 2 knew it, as well.  The first few items on their menu are assaggi, sampler platters featuring varieties of pasta, steaks, and even desserts.  The Assaggio di Primi gave us a chance to try five of their vegetarian pasta options in portions scalable to fit the number of diners in our party.  All we had to do was sit back and enjoy the ride.

Details on the dishes we tasted after the jump. (more…)

With a flourish and a staff of literally dozens, SweetGreen opened their fifth storefront this morning on Capitol Hill.  Staffers and interns can rejoice in a new (and, more importantly) healthy lunch option.  While it may not be a ‘food desert,’ the healthier lunch options in the vicinity of the Congressional office buildings have been few and far between.

I took a walk past the Pennsylvania Avenue location at lunchtime, wondering just what I’d find in the old Trover Books space.  Would the green in SweetGreen show through?  Or would they emphasize the sweet to bring in the crowds?

As it turns out, there’s plenty of both with an entire floor’s worth of space left to spare.  And after an abbreviated opening (they closed early at 4 PM) yesterday, they’re now ready to handle the crowds from 11 AM to 10 pM daily.

After the jump, check out their fresh, local focus (and maybe some frozen yogurt while you’re at it). (more…)

Firehook ExteriorAsk any DC transplant from New York, New Jersey or Philadelphia and they’ll tell you – in no uncertain terms – that you just can’t get good bread in Washington.  It’s the water, they say.  Whether it’s the crust, the crumb or the taste, something is always just a little off.

The folks at Firehook would politely disagree.  That’s just how they are.  Since 1992, Firehook Bakeries have been turning out bread from natural steam ovens that makes the argument for Washington.

Along the way, they’ve built up quite the following.  Whether you visit them in Old Town, Dupont Circle or Cleveland Park, you’ll find a selection of breads, but you’ll also find cookies, pastries and even sandwiches and salads.  On Capitol Hill, there are more than a few offices that rely on Firehook for their regular meeting sustenance.

Beyond the baguettes after the jump. (more…)

Le Bon ExteriorMy work has always required me to spend at least some time on Capitol Hill, but until recently my office has been elsewhere.  Now that I’m working on the Hill full time, I’ve begun to explore the lunch options in much greater detail.  Lucky me, right?

I had always felt that the restaurants in closest proximity to the Congressional office buildings lacked a certain…I don’t know what. (Bet you thought I was going to toss off a French phrase there, didn’t you?)  Simply put, the majority of the choices seemed to be geared toward expediency – sandwich chains, steam table buffets, and coffee shops abound.  I was ready to start investing in brown bags.

Le Bon CounterBut then I decided to stop into Le Bon Cafe, a quaint little storefront on 2nd Street SE between a FedEx Office and Pete’s Diner.  I had seen plenty of people streaming in and out of the bright blue doors and even some friendly gatherings at the tables outside, so I decided to check it out for myself.  The line, which ended just inside the door, struck me as a good sign (though it was lunchtime on Capitol Hill and that’s hardly unusual).

Breaking away from the Hill lunch rut after the jump. (more…)

I walked into Sonoma restaurant and wine bar on a wet, cold Wednesday night about 20 minutes before Mike was supposed to arrive. I knew on the metro over to Capital South I was running ahead of schedule but looked forward to finding a quiet corner at the bar where I could savor a glass of full-bodied red wine and bury my nose in a book. Tough luck for me. Weather and January trends be damned, the bar was packed. Turns out Congress in session trumps freezing rain. I squeezed past the hostess stand and managed to find a tiny plot of real estate by the end of the bar, where I was pleased to see Executive Chef Drew Trautmann walking the floor and keeping an eye on his diners. sonoma-0011

The interior of Sonoma is sleek and cool – grey walls, long low tables and minimal decor. There is a very urban West Coast feel to the place. The only clue that you are dining on Capitol Hill is the patrons. Make no mistake, this is a Hill place.  The bar is packed with clean cut 20 and 30 somethings (aka, the people who actually run the political show behind the scenes) and everyone who walks through the door gets an immediate up and down. Is it because they may know who you work for or because they are giving you the eye for a pick up line? Either. Both. That’s the magic elixir of DC.

Sonoma focuses on local, seasonal dishes although the line for “local” is often blurry. Sometimes it means DC area meat and produce, sometimes it’s reflected in farm-raised offerings from further afield. Ether way, the menu offers classic American staples with a creative twist. Two good friends of ours, Neil and Kiki, were nice enough to buy Mike and me a gift card to Sonoma as a joint birthday gift. Not only was it thoughtful, it allowed us to attack the menu with a vengeance. Did we ever.

What we ordered after the jump! (more…)

Living in DC has never been cheap but these days the financial hit can be downright painful.  Restaurants are raising prices to handle the rising food costs, and the 1 in 4 DC residents who work for The Man are eyeing November wondering if they’ll have a job in 2009.

Lucky for us, Jimmy T’s on the Hill offers up retro prices in a kitschy, old school atmosphere: this greasy spoon is one of the few places in town where you can order a full meal for less than $10. For years, Jimmy T’s has been a Hill institution for those looking for a quick breakfast before work or a hangover antidote on Sunday morning.  (more…)

When it comes to sushi in Washington, there are a few names that everyone knows for quality, selection and all-around positive dining experiences.  Sushi-Ko, Kaz Sushi Bistro, and Sushi Taro all come to mind immediately, and it’s a pretty safe bet that you’re going to find something on each of their menus to satisfy you.

But if you’re looking for good sushi on Capitol Hill, your options are far more limited.  While the Kabuki Sushi counter in Union Station offers decent handmade rolls at hard to beat prices, the atmosphere of the food court leaves quite a bit to be desired.  Kyoto Sushi, near the Union Pub where D Street intersects with Massachusetts Avenue in Northeast, is a reliable source of traditional nigiri and maki, but there’s not a lot of imagination on their menu…and they don’t exactly keep the most convenient hours.

Thank goodness for the wonders of the Internets!  Back when I was researching Makoto for Elizabeth’s celebratory dinner, I found one or two passing references to a little place called Momoyama.  From what I could tell, Momoyama was a little hole-in-the-wall sushi place that was all but unknown to most sushi-lovers in the District (a recent search of Don Rockwell, Chowhound, and a few other gathering places for foodies confirmed this when they came up empty).  I filed it away, resolved to check it out at some indeterminate later date.

The time finally came on a recent Thursday evening, when we found ourselves craving sushi but unwilling to wait the 20+ minutes that we were quoted at Sticky Rice.  We headed home and were resigned to a sushi-free evening until I remembered the little sushi place that was supposedly hiding out near My Brother’s Place behind the massive 101 Constitution Avenue.

What we found after the jump. (more…)