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Paul from No Va's Profile

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Where do the foodies eat in Wilmington, NC

Well, we made it to Mark's on Market and had a miserable experience: Mark wasn't in the kitchen and whoever was salted everything on all four entrees to death. A dry, salty chop, salty chicken, and on and on. We'll return, but we were disappointed in this Wilmington foodie fave.

Osteria Cicchetti, however, floored us the first time and continued to floor us the next three times we've dined there. Consistently excellent, classic Italian cuisine, a nice wine list, absolutely killer deserts, and a wait staff that knows exactly what they're doing: we went there with a big, complicated party, ordered a few dishes that were off the menu and the kitchen had to specially prepare, and they not only accommodated us, but our server staged it beautifully, got salads/soups/apps out a the right moment, in the right order, and was otherwise extremely helpful and efficient.

Mar 08, 2012
Paul from No Va in Southeast

Suggestions for restaurant in Penn Quarter/Chinatown/Mt. Vernon Triangle?

We were a table of foodies who have eaten our way through most of Penn Quarter. We'll now gladly go a few blocks out of our way for pre-theater or pre-Caps drinks and a dinner at Sixth Engine, a sparkling new establish in Mt. Vernon Triangle, a neighborhood sorely in need of what Sixth Engine offers: great food and great drinks at a great price point in a historic old DC building. Classy downstairs, attractive bar, and cozy upstairs, with a nice Norman Rockwellesque mural on one tall bare brick wall. We ate our way through the spectacular apps, one of which, the "duck confit scrapple," is wholly unique and deliriously delectable: no meal will be complete without that dish. We also enjoyed the pork belly in a Stilton drizzle and Chef Paul's take on fried oysters and spinach risotto. This is that rare joint, however, whose striking appetizers are surpassed by the even more striking entrees, all variations of American comfort food. We enjoyed the Beef Rossini - perfect cuts of finest tenderloin in a black truffle and medeira jus and FOIE GRAS PIEROGIES (the Polish half of me wept hot tears of pleasure), a brilliant Pot Roast that was more like "short ribs ," the chicken pot (pie) waffle , and, for hamburger afficionados, a cheeseburger that rivals the best in town (I won't plug the 3 or 4 consensus best burgers in the National Capital Region by naming them, but you know who they are, and Sixth Engine is in that elite group, differentiated by its garnishes). And of course the fries were perfect - crispy on the outside, melt-in-your-mouth on the inside. (So were the fried onion ring garnishes.) We finished with absolutely SICK apple fritters in a honey/cider cream drizzle and bread pudding in a dulce de leche and ancho chocolate sauce that made us bread pudding devotees swoon. Not just a good meal: memorable. We cannot wait for our next opportunity to dine at Sixth Engine, our new favorite in the neighborhood.

Feb 17, 2012
Paul from No Va in Washington DC & Baltimore

Where do the foodies eat in Wilmington, NC

We've been coming to Wilmington several times a year for three years and have gone to most of the joints our foodie friends have recommended, sometimes dragging local and not-so-local foodie friends along for the ride. Hands down favorite is Caprice - the waterzooi and escargots are transcendent dishes: owners are experienced French-restaurateurs and know exactly what they're doing. (And really, if you've been reluctant to try escargots, set your reservations aside: this is the place. (And a good wine list priced to sell, but they'll let you BYOB for a corkage fee that they've waived twice when we've also ordered something off their list - they always have a decent Muscadet to go with the shellfish.)

Had a very bad experience at Deluxe - server lied to us about a wine (they sneaked in a substitute, same maker as the one we ordered, but very much a lesser wine, but told us it was superior and a bargain at $69, then brought another server over, announced her to be the wine steward when she wasn't - learned from later email exchange with the wine steward that he wasn't on the floor that evening); they also left advertised "winter root vegetables" off the plate and, when called out, said they had run out (but they let us order). Will NEVER return: haughty staff, tells themselves they're loved by entertainment people. Feh.

Have been to Circa 3 or 4 times, always with very pleasant results. Good wines by the glass, lots of intriguing tapas-style small plates to sample. And a lovely room, no more so than when their piano player sings "As Time Goes By" 'round about midnight. (Okay, 10:30.)

We like Elijah's al fresco for drinks and light seafood seafood in the late spring and early fall. Not really a "foodie" place; we've never gone indoors in the winter; for us it's mostly a pleasure-of-the-experience/ambiance thing on a beautiful evening. And it is very beautiful with the sun setting behind the river, and they do nice things with fresh oysters and offer good seafood salads,

We've had mixed experience at foodie fav South Beach Grill, the first so good that we brought friends back, the second so bad it made us wonder whether the first was simply a one out: lousy service, frozen (watery) grilled fish, meh crabcakes, just not a good experience. If we're in Wrightsville Beach again, we may give it another shot, simply as a rubber match decision point.

If you have a yen for sushi/sashimi, Yo Sake should take care of that. Only been once, but the fish was all extremely fresh, generously cut, and deliriously priced (I think we were there, though, on a half-price or two-fer night or something like that - the bill was ridiculously low).They also has an extensive Pan-Asian menu that I didn't sample, and 16 varieties of sake, some of which I did, as well as a good wine list and a dimly lit, trèschic room filled with conversation-piece eye candy.

Everyone raves about PT's for hamburgers. Someone has to tell you, though, that it's just a hamburger, and not a very special one. The meat is fresh, the bun okay. The price point is fine - and I think that, plus the solid fries and the brewskies (but don't you dare ask for a glass of wine), are what really brings people back. Because it's. Really. Just. A. Piece of. Overcooked. Fried. Meat.

We had an extremely good experience over in Monkey Junction at the Cape Fear Seafood Company, where they were running a special that was too inviting to pass up: two three-course dinners and a bottle of cheap plonk for 49.99. That's right: subtract the price of the most inexpensive wine you've every purchased in a restuarant and it's still two three-coursers for $35.00. It was all fresh, well prepared, and topped off with a delightfully strong cup of what seemed pressed coffee and a very creamy, vanilla-ee, creme brulee.

And foodies buy their craft beers at the Cape Fear Wine and Beer on North Front Street, where you'll find beers on tap and in the bottle that you've been looking for for a long time. Great stuff, pricey to go - no discount if you're putting together a six-pack - but reasonable to quaff at the bar. They'll give you a taster of the kegs as well.

We haven't made it to Mark's on Market or Osteria Cicchetti, but this trip we may.

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Osteria Cicchetti
1125 Military Cutoff Road, Wilmington, NC 28405

Apr 04, 2011
Paul from No Va in Southeast

Close to Perfect

This quiet little Foggy Bottom trattoria has received a lot of mixed reviews, particularly after it lost its first executive chef c. 2008 and thus its place on several local "best of" lists. For our pre-Kennedy Center dinner last night, we settled on Notti Bianchi based on literally hundreds of reviews from other sources that, if they faulted anything, faulted the service. Canny restaurateurs read their reviews and respond accordingly, so we presumed we'd have at least tasty meal of fresh ingredients with at least adequate service (which would beat anything we might get at the Kennedy Center itself...as in "a dry sandwich and a bottle of Dasani filtered tap water). Not a very high bar for Executive Chef Robert DeCoste and his kitchen to top, right? Well, in our judgment - and this is a data point of 2 - our expectations were wildly exceeded.

The room itself is located on the ground floor of the George Washington University Inn, a clean, pleasant establishment where you can get a room for under $100.00 in a the pleasant "Historic Foggy Bottom" neighborhood, literally five minutes on foot from the Kennedy Center, 10-15 minutes from the State Dept. and the western edge of the mall - a nice location. We strolled around before our reservation and admired the mid-19th C. bracketed Italianate residential architecture.

"Spare" and "understated" is how I'd describe the room, with faux stucco walls replicating a look you'll see a lot of in Rome or Naples. Nice. We were there very early - the DC area had just been bombed with three feet of snow and we had no idea the roads would be as clear as they were - and settled in to the back bar, where Notti Bianche connects to the Inn, for a drink. I had my standard - an old-school dry Beefeaters martini - and my wife had a house concoction, a "Bellissimo" (cute, huh?), consisting of equal parts of citron, limoncello, and topped off (in a martiini glass) with prosecco. My wife sighed and pronounced the drink "sublime." My martini stayed on ice a little too long, its bite diminished, but it was tasty, generously portioned, the "splash" of vermouth indeed just a splash, and did its work.

Inside, we had a pleasant, well-informed server who offered up her favorites only after we had ordered one or specifically asked her which items on the menu she enjoyed most - a risky strategy, I know, for a myriad of reasons, but it was an empty room, we were in no hurry, and why not kibitz a bit? From the small-plates selections (I suppose Notti Bianche has joined the small-food tapas craze and has a few items - olives, anchovies - here) we settled on a shared caponata, an eggplant-tomato-olive preparation that, if spread on bread and grilled, would have made dandy bruschetta. A good start, if not one that caused our eyes to roll back in our heads.

We picked salads that did in fact cause our eyes to roll a bit: I had the arugula Caesar, which comes out with a sizable sea-faring white anchovy on an oily crouton on the side. The greens were piled high and crunchy, the dressing neither over- nor under-applied, and, although I could have crushed the anchovy side and tossed it into the salad, I snapped it up in two bites - delicately delicious. My wife had the mixed fresh greens with goat cheese - similarly fresh, simply dressed with oil and vinegar, and delicious. Both salads were ample - you could split one, expecially if you were expecting to finish with deserts.

And a note on the table olio - frankly, a lot of Italian joints presume their patrons know nothing about olive oil and will put literally lamp oil, lampante, on the table. And indeed, many Italian oil bottlers are big cheats, who label their oil "extra virgin" but put lampante in the bottle for unsuspecting foreigners, who slurp it up and wonder why it tastes like crankcase oil. The oil Notti Bianche puts on the table would honor a Roman trattoria and demonstrates a respect for the cuisine that I thought noteworthy. The bread was good - solid Italian loaves cut into inch-wide slices and served in a conical napkin holder. I like a crustier, more rustic bread and push away second rate supermarket breads, but this was perfectly fine. And given our app and my entree, I asked for a second serving, which we seldom do unless we're a big party.

On the eye-roll meter, one of our main courses produced a "10" - "wholly whites, disappearing deeply into the recesses of the skull, shudders of delight optional." This was my wife's filled-pasta dish (I want to say "large Tardelli" but I just don't know - bigger than a ravioli, smaller than manicotti shell, tubular and closed at both ends, probably a house contrivance) with pumpkin and butternut squash filling, brown butter sauce, and an unadvertised but easily detectable surprise splash a truffle oil. Absolutely brilliant - the truffle oil a bare suggestion, the butter sauce topped with roasted crushed hazlenut (an Italian standby, not our favorite nut, but here it simply adds texture and, again, a subtle shading of flavor complexity), all of which mingled with the savory fillings in perfect harmony. We were reeling in ecstasies.

We both chose items off the day's specials. I had a cioppino, kind of an Italian bouillabaisse of catch-of-the-day fare, whatever's fresh: here, mussels, shrimp, and crab croquets (a surprise - no calamari) sitting in a tomato-and-garlic broth. It was fresh, well prepared, extremely ample, and the broth thickly delicious - indeed, much more substantial than customary (I finished it all with the bread). Very stick-to-your ribs on a cold, snowy day, extremely satisfying - what you'd hope for a well-prepared cioppino.

But the pasta... Notti Bianche seems quite the place for pasta dishes. The good reports seem absolutely spot on.

We finished with a shared mascarpone-based desert, a scoop of almond-and-vanilla infused mascarpone cream that was essentially Italian cheesecake without crust, very nice if you're on the Atkins and delicious in any event. My wife thought the pineapple compote on the side was a bit much - I frankly like sticky, sickly sweet in small quantities and thought it quite the thing. The coffee was a decent bean: well prepared, sufficiently strong French Roast from a press.

The wine list is short, generally well selected, and will do quite nicely. We ordered by the glass - we were going to two and a half hours of ballet, and after my martini, a half bottle of wine would have knocked me out - and the Notti Bianche's by-the-glass wine service will give you a taste before the full pour, a nice touch that a few other local joints are now including. I had an Umbrian wine that I later regretted accepting (my bad - a trebbiano, the weed of Tuscany, but in Umbria... I should have asked for something else but was being insufficiently finicky), my wife a New Zealand sauvignon blanc that was very nice indeed.

Service: generally good, unobtrusive, knowledgeable, not quite hyper-efficient in an empty room. I would like to have had salt and pepper on the table to season my olio. I know: I might have asked (but my wife hates when I salt anything, so I decided to skip the lecture and enjoy the delicious oil sans seasoning.) We were offered fresh pepper with the salads but not the entrees (a kind of "Big Night" touch - is this the presumption of a kitchen that believes its preparations are perfect when they come off the line?). We might have been offered grated cheese for our entrees as well, even if the chef might have cringed at the thought. My cioppino needed a shell bowl (I used the bread dish), a finger wipe, and a soup spoon. None of these appeared or were even offered (although again, benefit of the doubt, old-school mussels service allows for using a mussel shell as a spoon).

Price point: moderate. Small dishes and apps, $5-10. Salads, $7-10. Entrees: $15-30 (at the top end are costly cuts of meat, steak and veal chops, rack of lamb - the menu is short and variable). The out-of-sight pasta dish was $16. My cioppino was $26. I thought both were bargains. Wines: by the glass $8-12, those bottles were $30-40 and mostly good choices at those prices.

So, except for a few small glitches, nearly perfect: if I could, four-and-a-half stars. We were both in such a glow (it was probably the good cup of coffee - how many fabulous meals are ruined by finishing with a liquid brewing science would scarcely recognize as "coffee") I rounded up to nearly 30 percent. We'll be returning later this month before another KC event. And if Notti Bianche does as well on our second visit, we'll make it our default pre-KC choice. I'll report back (at much briefer length) on the second trial.

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Notti Bianche
824 New Hampshire Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20037

Feb 13, 2010
Paul from No Va in Washington DC & Baltimore

Pizza in Perth Amboy

No one has replied to this post in more than 7 years. Well, I remember Capri Pizza, and I used to take the bus from Menlo Park Terrace to spend the exorbitant price of 35 cents a slice to feed there when I was a kid. Then we'd cross the street and catch a movie at the Majestic, and then go up a block a shoot straight pool for 75 cents hour at Mizerak's (yeah, that Mizerak, when Steve Mizerak, the owner's son, was a fat kid in highwater pants with white socks.) The pizza at Capri was unlike any other, just as Paul Sky noted 7 years ago...I'll never forget it, nothing I've had in the ensuing 50 years has ever come close, and when I do taste something that approximates it, all the old neurons fire off, but...close is close, but no cigar. You'd walk in the door - open the door and the fragrance of baking dough, tomatoes,cheese, and garlic would almost blow you back into the street - and buy right at the counter to your left...nothing like it, before or since.

Jan 22, 2010
Paul from No Va in New Jersey

Reston/Herndon/Sterling Chinese?

Chinese isn't a strong northern Va. cuisine. Mama Wok in Reston is fine in a pinch, and they deliver. We use them a lot, and everything is relatively fresh (but, strange, they've left the peanuts off the gongbao jiding TWICE in the past three months or so). AND they offer brown rice and passable sushi. And yes, they have a "Chinese-style" menu that you should order from - the Chinese-style dishes seem significantly better than the guailo versions. You should also try Cheng's in Sterling, which reminds me of a big old Hong Kong joint. They serve ample quantities of well-prepared familiar favorites. And Cheng's unfailingly gets all the big old-school celebratory platters - e.g., Beijing Duck and Crispy Whole Fish - done in high style. Neither Cheng's nor Mama Wok will season your dishes very powerfully, but if you tell them "bu pa la" (I'm not afraid of hot) when you order, they'll compliment you on your Chinese and then light you up.

Jun 13, 2009
Paul from No Va in Washington DC & Baltimore

Good Restaurants in Vienna, Virginia

We live in Reston, right down the road, and the only places in Vienna worth the trip are Ristorante Bonaroti and Cafe Renaissance - both on the higher end, both providing a very agreeable dining experience each time out. Bonaroti has been our "event" restaurant for years - we've celebrated graduations, promotions, awards, etc., had the rehearsal dinner there for our kids' weddings, etc. Knowledgeable, seasoned staff, owner Sergio D. hovering over the entire bustling scene. My only gripe - for years - is that the wine list doesn't show vintages. But if you know the makers, you should be okay. And Sergio or any of the servers will be helpful on wines - we've never been disappointed. It's been around for 25 years and none of the Vienna chowhounds thought to mention it. Why not? 25 years and closed on Sundays says something, doesn' t it. http://www.bonarotirestaurant.com/

May 25, 2009
Paul from No Va in Washington DC & Baltimore