August 30, 2011


Although we whine and complain a lot about not having a car, there are lots of suburban restaurants easily accessed by public transportation. A friend of ours recently moved to Collingswood, so we made plans to take PATCO out to see her. Collingswood is a cute little town, but its proximity to the city ensures a thriving food scene. We decided to check out Sagami, a well-reviewed sushi restaurant. We couldn't recall the last time we'd had sushi and well... Philly doesn't have a whole lot of options in that category.

The unassuming beige building is somewhat inconveniently located on a divided highway- miss it and you're in for a few minutes of rerouting (or just walk from the PATCO stop- about a mile and a half). Parking is at a premium, but we grabbed one of the last spots behind the building. We were seated in a "traditionally" decorated room complete with paper lanterns and Maneki Neko sculptures. Of course, the meal started out with a steaming pot of tea- a pleasant mild green tea that was frequently refreshed. We went through several pots of it throughout our meal.

Although a variety sashimi and sushi rolls are obvious menu offerings, there are also numerous appetizers and entrees available. We started out with a few cold apps- the Hiyashi Wakame (spicy mixed seaweed, $3.50) was our favorite. A small bowl was heaped with seaweed of varying shades of green, lightly tinted with a chili-flaked dressing that didn't amount to a significant amount of spice. This would be a great "intro to seaweed" dish for a hesitant diner- nothing too exotic.

Source Our pic was a little blurry but.. it looked like this.

Another simple appetizer is the Oshinko (pickles, $2)- a compilation of crunchy, mildly vinegar-y vegetables including daikon, cucumber, and cabbage. Nothing exciting, but a cheap little bowl of munchies.

Keeping with the simple theme, the Zaru Soba (cold buckwheat noodles, $6) came in a pretty pile atop a bamboo tray (this is actually the "zaru"), neatly spinkled with dried seaweed and served with a cup of thin sauce. This was another traditional Japanese component- a mixture of mushroom broth, soy sauce, and sweet rice wine. The sweet and salty soup imparted its flavor onto the firm, nutty soba noodles. We were also offered a small plate of green onions and wasabi as sauce "mix-ins" to personalize it according to your flavor preferences.

Opting for more of an adventurous appetizer, the Nashu Shigiyaki (pan fried eggplant with chicken miso paste, $9) was a fun and delicious choice. A thick slab of eggplant serves as a base to the dish- cooked until soft with a melt-in-your-mouth crispy outer skin. Eggplant itself has a pretty neutral flavor, so here it really acted as a textural component to the chunky (thanks to the ground chicken) sauce- surprisingly sweet and a little on the greasy side, a lethal combination that was incredibly addicting. I could have ordered another of these for dessert.

A & I played it safe in our fish selections, splitting two rolls and 4 pieces of sashimi. A tuna and avocado roll ($6) was served "inside-out", the leaner cut of fish and creamy avocado complementing each other in a combination of textures- nothing fancy but still extremely enjoyable. Cooked salmon complete with crispy skin was packed with crunchy cucumber in another roll ($4.50)- not as fun as raw fish but something a little different. Fried salmon skin is pretty delicious- wrap it up in some rice and dab it with wasabi and you've got a real winner. We recently had a commenter note that sashimi is the real way to judge a sushi restaraunt and we were quite pleased with the quality (and quantity) of our chunks of fish- tuna, salmon, yellowtail, and sea bass (ranging from $2.50 to $3.50 per peice). My favorite was the salmon- firm and silky and just the right amount of butter-y.

Our friend is a lot more experienced in the field of sashimi and had a few pieces of mackerel, octopus, and a bright orange blob of sea urchin roe that looked questionable.

After our little raw fish fest, we placed another order to extend our dinner (we had lots to catch up on). We all split the agedashi dofu ($6), large chunks of extremely smooth, creamy cold tofu smeared with a bit of sweet miso paste and served in another traditional meaty broth complete with tiny button mushrooms. The texture was unlike any other tofu I've ever tasted- like a cool, thick custard. Everything about the dish came together to create something much more extraordinary than tofu soup.

We also tried a few more pieces of sashimi- the eel was a standout in this group, a naturally rich, smoky-sweet meat that lends itself to being eaten alone.

I really enjoyed the more traditional aspect of this restaurant as compared with others "Japanese" places we've patroned. While the latter are usually heavy on the extravagant sushi roll concoctions, Sagami kept it sweet and simple with more of an emphasis on traditional appetizers and flavorful sashimi. We got to try a few things that we'd never been exposed to, which is always a highlight. Although our well-traveled friend didn't think it was the best sushi she'd ever had, even locally, it was certainly an enjoyable meal. Unfortunately, my desire for good sushi was reignited...

37 W Crescent Blvd
Collingswood, NJ

August 25, 2011

Blogger Benefits

Since starting this blog 1.75+ years ago, I keep hoping the constant eating, photography, writing, editing and posting is going to have some sort of pay-off. Ha! Just kidding- we clearly do it because we LOVE the Philly food scene so much, we just want to share it with everyone! But. Free stuff is pretty nice too. Recently, I've received not one but TWO free products, basically just for having a food blog.

First up: a lovely consolation prize from the nice people at Attune Foods. Remember how I blabbed about my version of healthy living in order to enter a contest? Yeah, I didn't win the grand prize- but I did win two free boxes of cereal! It's basically just as good, right?

After running down the UPS truck, I was excited to find a box of Uncle Sam's Strawberry Cereal (and a gluten-free rice cereal that I haven't tried yet). I've seen this around the blog world, but never tried it myself.

It's made from wheat berries that are steamed, rolled, and toasted- super healthy but looks kind of like deeply toasted oatmeal, so not too far "out there" (I'm looking at you, Kashi crunchy fiber twigs). The nutritional stats are pretty insane for cereal- it's difficult to get this much fiber and protein from most other cold, out-of-a-box breakfasts.

However, with the amount of cereal I like to eat (at least a cup?), I was afraid of overloading on fiber, so decided to taste test the new product on one of my favorite summer breakfasts- a smoothie.

In a blender, I mixed:
1/2 frozen banana
1 c. frozen strawberries
1 Tbs. ground flax
1 serving chocolate whey protein
2 c. baby spinach
1/2 c. almond milk
1/2 c. water

Even without a cereal topping, this makes a nutritionally sound and fun to eat meal, but is clearly lacking in the texture department. With a sprinkle of Uncle Sam, every bite had a good amount of crunch with a little added nutty flavor from the toasted wheat.

I've also tried the cereal in a mix with plain Greek yogurt and fresh fruit- it's a great granola substitute with way less sugar and fat. The only thing I didn't like about it was the quantity- only five small "servings" in a box. This certainly wouldn't last me a week, and with two of us in the house, we'd have to buy 2+ boxes in one go.

Our next free item came courtesy of the Foodbuzz Tastemaker program. As our one and only sponsor, Foodbuzz sends us promotional offers once in awhile, which we are allowed to sign up for. However, just signing up doesn't give you a guaranteed in- so I was excited when I was delivered a fat packet of coupons to try a new Birds Eye product. As much as we love fresh vegetables, sometimes it's impossible to get our favorites year round, and frozen vegetables are our next best bet. Birds Eye is our go-to brand for easy, pop-in-the-microwave kind of eats- usually broccoli or brussels sprouts as a dinner side. They also make complete meals in a bag, which I've never tried- I like to put together my own meals. However, in a pinch, a healthy frozen meal wouldn't be turned down.

We sampled the Chicken Florentine version (flying all the way to Florida to find it!), but there are a variety of flavors including Sweet and Sour Chicken, Chicken Pot Pie, Chicken Parmesan, and Shrimp Alfredo. We picked the Florentine since it looked like a good dose of veggies- it includes penne, grilled chicken strips, zucchini, squash, spinach, and tomatoes, and is coated in a garlic-cheese sauce.

The overall nutritional stats weren't our favorite- tons of sodium, as expected. However, for the most part the long list of ingredients was fairly neutral (although really, why would you add sugar to this at all?).

The directions were so easy- just empty into a microwave safe dish and microwave on high for 7 minutes, stirring halfway. The final contents stirred together to look surprisingly homemade. We split the 3 serving bag in two (really, a cup of this isn't a whole lot for an entire serving) and dug in. Salty for sure, but for a frozen meal, quite delicious. The fresh herbs in the sauce really stood out- strong flavors of basil and oregano, and the vegetables weren't mushy or tasteless. Overall, a winner in our book, although I can't see us purchasing the item frequently on our own.

I now have 100 buy-one-get-one-free coupons, so if anyone is interested, shoot us an email! I may look back on this post later and cringe at the fact that I blogged about cereal and a frozen dinner, but currently I'm just enjoying the perks of blogging!

Village Belle

While Philly is sandwiched between two great rivers, we tend to spend most of our time closer to the Schuylkill. The dining scene in Old City isn't really our style (with a few exceptions), plus it's a bit of a hike. However, there have been a few recent additions to the Philly food family which have pulled us closer to the Delaware- all on the same little strip near Front and Fitzwater. We've tried out Catahoula and Kennett, and next on our list was Village Belle. We were just invited to join Savored, a discounted restaurant reservation site, which includes Village Belle. Thirty percent off my meal? You know I'm there.

The restaurant is located right on the water, and is incredibly spacious. Significant outdoor seating is available, as well as several partitioned indoor spots- a long, swanky bar (with free snacks!), a small back room, several long tables for large groups, and a raised platform near the front of the room. It was pretty much empty upon our early arrival, but the quiet didn't last too long.

The restaurant seems to represent both Mediterranean and Italian flavors and cooking techniques- a mix which blends particularly well. By reading past reviews of the place, we decided to stick with the appetizer and pasta portions of the menu- but the entrees certainly LOOK enticing.

After making fairly speedy decisions, my friend and I (J was in Boston.. as always) chatted for more than twenty minutes before realizing that our waiter had seemingly forgotten about us. With the staff to customer ratio hovering around 1 at this point, I found this blunder rather unacceptable- and semi-scolded our server when he FINALLY arrived (he seemed rather defensive, so I let it go, but I like to think we got extra good service for the rest of the meal to make up for it). After placing our order, we were immediately given bread service- light, fluffy strips of focaccia with an olive oil/herb blend. I appreciate a bit of originality in the bread service- a good time to set the tone for the meal.

I started with a salad- figured I'd get some greens while sampling from a different part of the menu. My quest for health fell flat though, as I selected the Country salad ($9)- light green frisee carefully tossed in a not-too-heavy-handed bleu cheese dressing and topped with chunks of thick-cut bacon (sorry, lardons). Thankfully, the flavors and textures made up for it- three simple ingredients still made a very satisfying starter.

I also split an order of the Gravy Meatball Sliders with my dining date ($9). These came with rave reviews across the board, so I knew we had to try them- and they stood up to their lofty reputation. This appetizer could easily make a meal, as a single little meatball sandwich was more than enough to satisfy me. The meatball to bread ratio is quite large, giving each bite a huge hunk of soft, juicy meat (a mix of beef, pork, and veal). The "gravy," or red sauce for those non-Italian among us, was just the icing on the cake, with bright tomato flavor that balanced the rich meat. The bun had a faint flavor of Asiago, but honestly just enclosed the little ball of delight without competing or falling apart- just as it should.

I wanted to order all of the pasta dishes (all are homemade, which makes more than a slight difference). However, two of them in particular caught our eye- oddly enough, both of which were complemented with their own amazing red sauce. My friend chose the small portion of Spaghetti, which is served in a beautiful swirling heap with "crab gravy," a mix of their delicious tomato base and large chunks of lump crab meat ($13). Each component on its own was fabulous, but together, the dish as a whole seemed to be missing something.. or perhaps just somehow incongruous. Thankfully, the small portion was easily tackled (half portions are available for most of the pastas!) and we moved on to our main course.

I don't always take professional food critics word for truth, but when Craig LaBan declared Village Belle's Crespelle the "most soulful dish," I knew I had to try it (the professional photo of the dish didn't hurt either). For $17, it's more than I'd typically shell out for a plate of pasta, but the quantity, quality, and yes, soul, of the food made it all worth it (oh, yeah, and I was getting 30% off). The plate starts with a base of the delicious, tangy tomato sauce, and is then layered with small crepes, made from thin sheets of pasta. Inside each palm-sized triangle is a mix of smooth ricotta and crunchy pine nuts, and then somehow cooked (baked? boiled? both?) so that the tips of the triangles are al dente and the edges are ever so slightly crisp. The whole dish is topped with a sprinkle of basil for additional freshness.

After the salad and sliders, I had to call it quits after just a few of the crespelle- thankfully they made for a delicious lunch as leftovers. Avoiding sugar the night before a long run, I skipped dessert and enjoyed a delightful (decaf) cappuccino. However, next time I'm not skipping the third course- the dessert menu looked divine, and my friend's choice was beyond all expectations. A mix of fresh peaches, cooked just until their juices began to release, a creamy, sweet ricotta soup and an adorable soft shortbread "spoon" was beautifully arranged and even more beautiful to eat (yes, I tried a bite!). We were very happy that our waiter recommended this dessert- we decided he completely redeemed himself.

When our bill came, I was even more delighted- somehow I made out with a $35 bill (including tax and tip)., thank you (and no, I'm not a sponsored endorser of the website). Even at full price though, Village Belle makes a lovely date spot, but was also enjoyed by a huge group seated nearby. Despite its location being quite far away from us, I might intrude the neighborhood more often to enjoy a little quality Italian.

Village Belle
757 S. Front Street (at Fitzwater)

August 22, 2011

CSA Inspired Eats

After our success with last years CSA (community supported agriculture) subscription, it was a no-brainer that we'd sign up for the 2011 season. Although some people might see it as a downside to the format of this program, I enjoy the regimented meal planning tightly controlled by the items we receive each week. Since its apparently the cool thing to do, we thought we'd document "a week in the life" of our CSA inspired meals.


Weekly Half-Share Contents List
1 bag jalapeno peppers (3 large)
1 head red romaine lettuce
1 small head red butterhead lettuce
1 white eggplant
1 pint cherry tomatoes
1 bunch basil
1 bag Yukon Gold potatoes
2 red onions
3 green bell peppers

A & I receive our CSA each Thursday, leaving us a couple of days to brainstorm and collaborate on our meal plan for the coming week (Sunday-Thursday) based on our extracurricular activities and evening plans- this helps specify who will be making what and how much time we will have to devote to cooking. This planning is absolutely vital to making fresh, healthy dinners (and leftovers for lunches!) without a bit of stress.

Obviously Sunday provides the most time for cooking, so A utilized some fresh corn leftover from the previous weeks CSA to make a corn chowder. Loosely following this recipe, she made a creamy blended corn soup with a jalapeno mixed in for kick. The warm, thick chowder was topped with a crunchy roasted corn salsa made with red onion and a few cherry tomatoes. The fresh corn really gave a depth of flavor and silkiness to the soup, eliminating the need for heavy cream. I really enjoyed the idea of "corn two ways", a great way to use up a big stash of corn all at once.

We eased into the work week with a simple Monday night recipe. A big bunch of fresh basil doesn't last long, so we knew we needed to use it early. Pesto is always a real treat; this one was made with walnuts and creamy goat cheese. The great thing about pesto is how many variations exist- a nut, a cheese, basil (or even spinach!), a sprinkle of salt and pepper, and a drizzle of oil and you're ready to blend.

We baked slabs of green pepper and white eggplant and complemented the softened veggies with firm slices of fresh tomato.

Toasted white bread (a rarity in our house) gave structure to the juicy layers of the sandwich. The salty pesto really brightened the summer flavors. A handful of raw carrots and some Trader Joe's lentil dip rounded out the meal.

A's fiance typically joins us for dinner once a week, so she has to be a bit more creative to work in vegetables that he will tolerate. Tiny golden potato orbs are a real crowd pleaser, especially when sliced and baked under a sprinkled coating of sharp cheddar. We mixed in sweet potato to bulk up the smaller Yukon Golds.

Since we're in full-swing peach season, grilled chicken with a jalapeno peach salsa also made an appearance. A few cherry tomatoes and a bit of diced red onion went into that as well. Steamed broccoli from the freezer appeased our "need for green"- a great thing to have on hand for an easy side.

Even though cauliflower hasn't come in our CSA, I've been wanting to experiment with "cauliflower rice"- shredded cauliflower sauteed with seasonings and served as a starchy base. Inspired by this recipe, I made a fried rice version with a little carrot, garlic, a couple of eggs, and a splash of chicken broth to help steam the vegetable. The finished product had all of the consistency of rice and none of the cauliflower flavor- try it! I made a taco salad, layering the "rice" over a bed of red romaine on top of a whole-wheat tortilla. I also sauteed a red onion with a package of ground turkey. The quantity of food that a head of cauliflower and a pound of turkey made was astounding- and super cheap. A very satisfying, well-balanced meal. (Note: Use a food processor to shred the cauliflower. I used a hand grater and will probably be picking cauliflower from every crevice of my kitchen for the next few weeks.)

Leftovers for lunch.

Our last meal of the week was another super simple one- a salad made with the butterhead lettuce, which is a really soft, wide leafed lettuce similar to Bibb. Green peppers, grape tomatoes, avocado, and a big hunk of broiled salmon made a really easy and super healthy salad. I made a dressing with Dijon mustard, garlic, and a little coconut oil- my new favorite for a little hint of the tropics. I love salad.

I think we had a green pepper left over that we chopped up for a snack, and A also sliced the remaining jalapeno, adding it to an almost empty jar of pickles for use in future meals or just to eat whenever. Obviously we have to buy additional produce to supplement the CSA offerings, but its great knowing that we're primarily consuming fresh, local, seasonal stuff. While we didn't document the lettuces and green onions of the spring, we'll check back in with what the CSA brings us in the fall.

August 18, 2011

Cheap Eats: Rotisseur

Maybe it's a throwback from our completely broke college days (NOT like we're rolling in the dough now), but I'm always excited when a new inexpensive-yet-somewhat-classy-and-if-it's-unique-that-helps-too spot opens in the city. You KNOW we're holding our breath for the opening of Federal Donuts, but that's a story for another day (hopefully soon). Recently, a quirky little rotisserie opened nearby, and thankfully, we didn't wait long to try it out. Coincidentally, our visit was planned for a night very soon after a glowing review by one of our fave food writers in the city, Adam Erace.

Apparently the article had people arriving in droves, so although we came in early for dinner and weren't fighting a crowd, the chef looked exhausted and the pickings were slim. Thankfully, many of the items we were bent on trying were still available. (Also of note, the server informed us if we just "went out for a pedicure," by the time we were done, freshly made items would be available. Yeah. No, thanks.)

The menu highlights the star of the show-- the rotisserie chicken, which is organically and locally produced, and then brined, glazed, salt-rubbed, and roasted on the spit for an hour (thanks, Adam, for doing your research). However, the other menu items are definitely not left in the dust- and honestly, they were what sold me on the place as a whole. You're not going to find any floppy green beans or canned corn here- instead, you'll face options such as kale chips and orzo salad.

On our visit, we had exactly four options for sides, so we both ordered a quarter chicken meal deal and two of the sides, and off we went to the park for a little pre-baseball game picnic.

Everything is packaged up separately in tiny little to-go boxes, making it nice and easy to share, as well as keeping us relatively clean. With six boxes to choose from, I started with what I considered a little appetizer- the pickled vegetables. Shredded red cabbage, whole green beans, and a few giant slices of cucumber were quick-pickled in a salty, vinegary mix (I guess that IS how you make a pickle), leaving the veggies crunchy but with the good pickle flavor. J wasn't a fan of the green beans- they almost felt raw as you bit into them, but the spicy brine gave them a great afterkick.

I couldn't stay out of the roasted potatoes for long- they were one of the highlights of the meal. Small slices of skin-on yellow potatoes are roasted until just cooked on the inside, but with a definitive crispy skin surrounding the entire piece. I find it impossible to make potatoes like this (without frying them), so I'm curious about the process- apparently it involves a good amount of melted chicken fat. They had me fighting J for the last few slivers at the end of the meal.

I may have been a bit distracted by a few of the sides, but eventually worked my way to the main event- the chicken. Since I am slightly obsessed with chicken thighs (especially in pepperoni sauce), I ordered the thigh and leg combo ($7). The skin came off the meat easily, and while flavorful, didn't offer the crispness I was expecting. After a couple greasy nibbles, I moved onto the underlying meat- which, again, didn't quite meet my expectations. Similarly, the flavor was there, but something about the texture wasn't quite right. I may have been overhyped from the Erace review, and let's be real- I still ate the entire thing, but not while expressing undying loyalty to Rotisseur.

Another side that I had been eyeing on the menu was the watermelon orzo salad, so I was glad to see a freshly made batch ready to eat. This salad screams summer- the combination of watermelon and feta is so classic, yet never done enough. The orzo itself was large and so fluffy it almost melted in your mouth- I almost felt I didn't need to chew the soft pasta and the crisp, fresh fruit. A few toasted pinenuts added an extra dimension of flavor and texture, and the heavy dose of salt from the feta brought it all together.

With a side such as this, I can't wait to see what interesting homemade salads they think up for the other seasons of the year.

As a fan of white meat, J chose to order the breast and wing meal ($8), and for an additional dollar, got significantly more meat. The breast meat was the best of the bunch- large, juicy chunks that almost fell off of the bone. I still was slightly weirded out by the texture (ever so slightly rubbery is the only way I can describe it), but I think it may be a result of the long brine the chicken undergoes. Salt goes in, water follows, principle of physics. It lends for juicier meat, but may also contribute a different texture based on the added liquid.

Next time, I'll choose the breast over thigh- usually dark meat is more flavorful and moist, but with the cooking techniques employed here, the extra fat isn't necessary.

Our final side of the evening was another winner- the succotash. Sometimes just hearing this word makes me cringe a little- it reminds me of flavorless vegetables boiled together in a mushy mess. Rotisseur brings the fresh back to succotash, using summer corn, zucchini, and onion, cooked until just slightly soft in a buttery sauce. The corn is clearly cut right off the cob, as large chunks of corn kernel clusters still remained- our favorite. The vegetables each contributed their own flavor without being lost in the mix.

The meal was perfect for a little impromptu Friday night picnic, and its nice to have another takeout option so close to Rittenhouse Park. Next time you're wanting a little rendezvous in the park, and are tired of breaking the bank at DiBruno's (as much as I love you, DBBs, you have got to stop charging such exorbitant prices), make the trip to Rotisseur. Unfortunately, they're currently not open on the weekends-- so plan your trip accordingly.

100 S. 21st Street (Between Chestnut and Sansom)

And if you've made it through the entire post, I know you're a true Philly/food/blog lover, so I'd like to mention that we have been kindly nominated for CBS Philly's Most Valuable Blogger Awards, in the Dining and Entertainment Category. We're up against some steep competition- including a few of our favorites, Foobooz and 22nd and Philly. If you could take a moment to vote, it doesn't require an email or a sign-in, AND you can vote once per day until September 9th! Special thanks to all our readers, regardless of whether you vote or not!

Click here to vote- Two Eat Philly is located near the bottom of the list

August 16, 2011


As much as we like going out and enjoying the culinary creations of others, we're also suckers for really knowing the story behind the food. There aren't many opportunities to get the inside scoop on a chef or a restaurant concept, which sometimes prevents a real connection from being formed with the eating experience. However, after following the "characters" on Top Chef All-Stars, it was impossible not to feel a vested interest in our favorite chefs careers. While we felt a love-hate relationship with Mike Isabella, there was no doubt we were drooling over his food after every Quickfire Challenge.


Two months ago, Mike opened a casual Italian-inspired restaurant in Washington, DC. When A & I got wind of this, we immediately started plotting a trip of our own. A quick search of our calendars and a few clicks on and we were set- a day trip to DC planned in a matter of minutes.

After an afternoon of memorials and art museums, we arrived at our final destination- Graffiato. Located near the Verizon Center in "Chinatown," the two-story restaurant has a hip, urban feel to it- nothing overdone. We were seated upstairs near the window, and our waiter immediately launched into an explanation of the restaurant concept (small plates) and commitment to local, seasonal ingredients. We were also served complimentary "filtered" water and some sweet and spicy roasted pistachios coated in smoky paprika and a touch of chili.

Our waiter suggested 3 to 4 plates per person- we ended up with 6 (including a pizza) plus a dessert, and it was the perfect amount. Our first was a cold vegetable dish, the sweet and sour eggplant ($7). For some reason I was expecting a Chinese sweet and sour dish, so I was definitely surprised by the "bread and butter pickles" element. Chunks of baby purple eggplant and a few pearl onions are marinated in a sugary vinegar concoction until soft, then tossed with fresh zucchini and green pattypan squash. A few pinenuts for crunch (and the beginning of an Isabella pinenut obsession...) and voila! A unique take on pickled vegetables, and a fun way to start the meal.

Out next was a highly anticipated dish from the "wood oven" section of the menu- the chicken thighs ($10). Three firm chunks of surprisingly white colored meat, skin intact, had a slightly crispy outside, very succulent inside thanks to the perfect amount of time in a perfectly temperature controlled oven. The skin somehow seemed fused to the meat, making each bite a rich, extremely flavorful little piece of chicken. However, the obvious winning component of this dish is the "pepperoni sauce" that made Gail Simmons throw an absolute fit of joy on Top Chef. You can imagine what it tastes like- a literal pepperoni puree that makes you think of pizza and calzones and other delicious things. A spicy intenseness that paired well with the simply done chicken. We wiped the plate clean.

Our third dish was probably the most complex of the evening- a "kaleidoscope" baby carrot salad ($8). The base of the salad was actually a grain- farro- tossed in a light mint vinaigrette. A subtle sweetness from chopped dates infused the grains, pairing well with the herby mint. Tiny baby carrots of varying colors (white, orange, purple) were roasted whole, tops on, until caramelized and soft. A bit of roasted radicchio is also added to the mix, offering some bitterness to counteract the sweet roots. Crunchy shavings of raw white and orange carrots lay atop the salad, and on top of THAT is the best part- thin slivers of lardo- a cured fat that was like a melt-in-your-mouth flour and butter candy. Almost like a shortbread. We loved everything about this "salad", from the firm grains to the sweet dates to the buttery lardo- the carrots were almost an afterthought.

Served at the same time as the salad was my absolute favorite dish of the night- the roasted potato gnocchi ($12). While the gnocchi itself was fine- fluffy, creamy, and a bit buttery, the pool of pork shank ragu on which it sat was absolutely ah.may.zing. I definitely have a problem when it comes to slow cooked pork, but this really raised the bar. I literally sat for a solid three minutes with a mouthful of tender shredded meat, refusing to swallow in fear of never tasting something so good again. Any description of flavor won't begin to do it justice, so I'll leave it at that. Shaved parmesan, enormous fresh peas, and a few sprigs of spicy arugula were icing on the cake.

We're always seeking out good pizza (we inherited the pizza gene directly from our dad), so we chose the Jersey Shore ($15), a somewhat ridiculous combination of fried calamari and cherry pepper aioli atop a more traditional tomato and provolone base. Six small-ish slices of thin crust pizza were definitely floppy under the load. There wasn't much crispiness, leaving the outer crust chewy and doughy.

The calamari, on the other hand, was super crispy with a thick breading, though without being overly greasy. The aioli was exactly like the spicy sauce you might find drizzled over your favorite sushi roll, it would also serve well as a dipping sauce for calamari. While we loved the concept- something unique and over-the-top- I can't say calamari really belongs on a pizza. The toppings and the underlying pizza itself didn't "marry" well, it was more like two separate dishes. Additionally, the pizza sauce itself is a tad too sweet for our standards, which somehow blended with the aioli to form a slightly unpleasant sourness.

Out of the kitchen last (it required a reminder to our waiter) was the sweet corn agnolotti ($11). Fellow diners raved about this dish, but it wasn't my favorite. The lasagna noodles were soft and slippery- a great texture for sure. I must be used to eating whole grain pasta, but I didn't think it had much in the way of flavor. Seven noodles encased small pockets of sugary creamed corn that pooled out onto the tongue with each bite. A few chanterelle mushrooms, an additional drizzle of sweet corn sauce, and a few pine nuts for crunch finished the dish. The dish definitely needed a crunchy element, but the slight saltiness of the pine nuts was completely drowned out by the corn. I think you get the point- this dish is sweet! A little too one-note for me to really get behind it.

Though the majority of our plates came out all at once towards the beginning, a moderate wait for the last pasta dish, paired with the fact that the dishes are on the small side (plus two pieces of pizza boxed up), allowed us room to split dessert. Options are limited, but the chocolate tart ($8) sounded great. Chocolate, salt, and olive oil are a tried and true combination, and this was no exception. A pine nut crust was a nice twist (yes, more pine nuts), the olive oil had the high quality aftertaste of lemon, and the creamy sea salt gelato perfectly complemented the fudgy chocolate of the tart. I enjoy eating my desserts in small bites, so I do wish the chocolate was a little darker to make each bite a bit richer, but it just forced me to take big bites.

During our meal, Mike Isabella came out of the kitchen several times to greet and speak with diners (mostly women..). By the end, we had to track him down right outside the kitchen downstairs. We complimented him on his two-month-old baby (the restaurant..) and suggested the pepperoni sauce be used to make buffalo wings (he claims that was the original plan). We also told him we had made the trek down from Philly- he said that Philly is "too small" for him to consider opening a restaurant here (really???) Overall, the trip down was absolutely worth it. Does Isabella's stint on Top Chef probably add unnecessary hype to Graffiato? Absolutely. While this certainly wasn't the best meal of our lives, it was pretty darn good, hype or not.

Washington, DC