Old City Market and Oven

When I made my “to-eat” list for the summer, I called Old City Market and Oven “The Place Near Whole Foods” because I can’t possibly be expected to remember this long of a restaurant name despite the fact that I drive past it once a week and every time I do drive past it, I think “Huh. I should really remember the name of that place so I can go eat there.” I had to do a thorough scouring of google maps to find the right place. After a long day to cap off a long weekend, I was thrilled to see that Old City Market would deliver food to me for the low low delivery charge of $5.99. Fortunately for them, my laziness won out over my cheapskatiness on this one occasion only.

Their menu is long and varied and I thought all was lost when I couldn’t narrow down my selection past the final two dinner contenders. But then my husband said, “You choose for me. You know what I like.” Have more beautiful words ever been spoken? A more selfish wife might have ordered herself two sandwiches with little thought for her spouse. A more selfish wife could have ordered the roast salmon sandwich she kind of wanted.

I ordered the summer corn salad as a side. It sounded pretty standard but I was starving and they’re a little lacking in side dishes. For my first sandwich–I mean, my husband’s sandwich, of course–I got the skewer chicken sandwich, and for myself I ordered the pear and chorizo panini.

mvimg_20180708_172516.jpg

The corn salad was refreshing, I can’t lie. Red bell peppers and cilantro made it stand out. It was a good-size portion too, but it was nothing super innovative.

mvimg_20180708_172454.jpg

The skewered chicken flatbread was solid. The chicken pieces were moist and lightly spiced, tzatziki and feta are always winners, and the addition of artichoke hearts was mildly interesting. The flatbread itself felt fresh and homemade, with a texture somewhere between a flour tortilla and naan. 10/10 would eat again.

Now we come to my panini: it doesn’t look like much, and it wasn’t exactly what I expected, but damn it was tasty. Crispy multigrain bread held up only okay to the addition of fig jam and chorizo grease, but it had a nice texture. The pears inside were ripe and plentiful–maybe too plentiful as they kind of overwhelmed the meat. The jam was pretty sweet too. The chorizo, while not being the whole sausage I was expecting but rather thinly-sliced cured meat, was still delicious and mildly spicy. My only other commentary was that provolone was way too mild of a cheese to stand up to the other bold flavors in this. Stinky brie or bust. But for real, I wolfed this down and not just because I was hungry; it was actually really good.

mvimg_20180708_172506.jpg

Price: $12 per person.

Bottom line: You want some fresh, semi-creative, and reasonably-priced noms near H Street? You could probably make all this food yourself but why? They deliver.

Declaration

Between parties, being out of town, and revisiting old favorite spots, it’s been a few weeks so I was excited to start trying out some new places and Declaration was next on the list, mostly because I had seen it during our visits to Hazel and Haikan. I associate only good things with those places, plus then I found out that Declaration specializes in pizza so it was a shoe-in for family fun Friday.

I was excited when we were seated and found out about the special tasting menu that is a glorified version of Panera’s U-Pick-2 deal. My father-in-law and I decided to choose opposite tasting menu dishes for the full effect. My husband ordered the cheesesteak, my mother-in-law ordered the Thomas Heyward pizza, which Declaration bills as its most popular choice. We also were lured in by deviled eggs and the brussels sprouts appetizer. In this family, we never turn down either of those.

img_20180608_184552.jpg

The deviled eggs were good but very garlicky. I appreciated the simplicity and the strong, classic flavor. The sprouts were perfectly crispy and served with golden raisins, green apples, and a glob of melty bleu cheese. I cook sprouts approximately once a week, and order them in a restaurant almost that often too, and it’s rare that I’ve had ones this good. The salty-sweet-funky combo went so well with the crispy, bitter veggie. Declaration set me up with high hopes for the main meal.

My mother-in-law’s pizza and half of my father-in-law’s tasting menu meal came out first. Yep–looks like a pizza:

img_20180608_190430.jpg

It tasted like a pizza. It was light on toppings, particularly the pepperoni. If you happen to be looking for interesting specialty pizza, this was not it. You could have told me this was from Paisano’s and I would have believed you (and I love Paisano’s for what it is: a no-frills choose-your-own-adventure place where pizza doesn’t cost a gimmicky $17.76).

My husband’s cheesesteak arrived. I had a little bite of this meaty, bready, mayo-y concoction. If you, like him, are trying to eat as much as possible, this may be the sandwich for you! It had vegetables and nicely-caramelized onions, which put it a step above the average cheesesteak in my mind (although I’m from California and admittedly have no appreciation for authentic Philly sandwiches).

Then I waited. And waited. I took another little bite of the pizza. I waited some more. Then one-half of my tasting meal arrived: the branzino (note: this photo shows the acutal size of the food).

img_20180608_190848.jpg

I take back all the bad things I said about Kith/Kin and their tiny baby food. I regret that there’s no way to correctly judge the size of the food in this picture, but the carrots on the plate are regular-to-small sized baby carrots. That branzino was approximately 1.5 inches long. It’s okay to have food this size if you’re at, say, Komi and you’re going to be served twelve courses. At Declaration, this was my main meal. And it was served before my salad but somehow still ten minutes after everyone else’s food. It tasted good, but at what cost?

img_20180608_191528.jpg

Here’s the salad I got, approximately ten minutes after finishing my fish. I could have made a more imaginative salad at the Whole Foods salad bar (I know this specifically because I do exactly that every single weekend).

I can’t even review the drinks or my father-in-law’s food because no amount of fairly-good steak could make up for the sins Declaration committed against fish and pizza.

Price: $35 per person.

Bottom line: If you want cheap, boring pizza, go to Paisano’s. If you want interesting pizza, go to Bacio or Little Coco’s or Ghibellina. If you want a bowl of arugula, go to Whole Foods. Leave this one to the tourists. You’ve been warned.

https://goo.gl/maps/P9EVuTtSa5r

Ghibellina

It’s taken me an embarrassing amount of time to actually get here, due in no small part to the inflated price tag and the main offerings of pasta and pizza, which I am generally not particularly enamored of. But! It was my mother-in-law’s birthday, and cheese and pizza (and cheese pizza) are kind of her things, so here we go!

img_20180511_183417.jpg

We ordered drinks–some standard IPA’s and the bicicletta rossa cocktail for me (dry and herbal)–and their cheese board. Since the untimely demise of Sona creamery (RIP, never forget), I don’t know where one could find a better cheese board than this. They clearly chose these carefully as they were all very different, but all well-complemented by the fig jam and all tasty in their own right. I was particularly fond of the truffle cheese and the soft goat, which was extremely mild and melty.

For my main meal, I ordered the kale salad. It had a nice tang of citrus and the polenta croutons were unique and delicious, although I think Ghibellina of all places could step it up with the cheese on this. It tasted like Kraft parmesan from a can and it coated everything. Why?

MVIMG_20180511_191559.jpg

My husband ordered the squid ink spaghetti with soft shell crab. This was my one wish for him. I grew up in California where soft shell crab (and tiny East Coast crabs in general) are unheard of, and now eating an entire crab with the shell on feels both exotic and totally barbaric, and I secretly love it. The spaghetti itself had a nice chew to it and the crab was very flavorful and crispy. The whole dish was made 150% better with the addition of house-dried red pepper. Definitely demand that they bring you this.

mvimg_20180511_191619.jpg

Ghibellina was offering a daily fish special of pan-seared branzino with quinoa and cherry tomatoes, and this was my father-in-law’s pick. The whole thing was delicious but definitely had the air of being too healthy for this place (and I ordered a damn salad!)

I was shocked to see that my mother-in-law ordered…drumroll please…a cheese pizza! Their crust is really soft and chewy, but also airy in a nice way. The cheese is definitely quality. Since she ordered it without the spicy pickled peppers on top, they brought them out on the side, and these made a boring cheese pizza vastly more interesting, although it still never would have been my pick with so many others (and optional toppings) on the menu. On the other hand, the giant scissors that Ghibellina gives you to cut your own slices and/or potentially murder someone are pretty great.

mvimg_20180511_191603.jpg

All in all, we got a good meal and I’m glad we made the trip. The place is gorgeous, the service was impeccable, and the pasta and cheese were stand-outs.

Price: $50 per person.

Bottom line: Ghibellina is fun and has a wide variety of pizzas to please your favorite pizza eater.

Little Coco’s

20180119_184431.jpg

It’s not often that I’m in the mood for Italian, because, well, I can boil spaghetti myself at home, so when I want Italian, I want something totally different. Little Coco’s had that going for it from the beginning, exemplified by the fact that I had to google several ingredients while reading the menu.

The main drawback of this place is it’s in Petworth. I guess if you live in Petworth or CoHo, it’s not a big deal, but I felt like I was entering some alternate universe on my way here. All these rowhouses look just like my house, and yet I have no idea where I am…

Everyone at our table started with an alcoholic beverage, mostly beers and wines, but I ordered their house Manhattan. It came in a glass that was approximately the size of a thimble. It was bitter…but good…and despite its tiny size it was surprisingly potent. What did I even drink here? I walked away feeling slightly sloshed after just one of these things.

I was originally thinking I would split a pizza with my beloved husband, and wow did they have some original-looking pizzas. But I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try one of their really interesting pastas. It was a hard decision, but I finally settled on the squid ink pasta with crab.

20180119_191529.jpg

This is a horrible picture that doesn’t do justice to this dish. Under that ‘nduja crumb is was a veritable mountain of flavorful pasta in a light but still-rich seafood broth with chunks of crabmeat and the interesting touch of slivered ginger and sauteed jalapenos. Ordering this was not a mistake. The ginger and peppers added a unique kick that I feel is often lacking in Italian food, and the lobster sauce was just seafoody enough without being overly fishy and gross. P.S. yeah, ‘nduja was totally one of the things I googled at the table. It’s basically spicy sausage meat, you uncultured swine.

My husband and mother-in-law ordered the Mt. Vesuvius and Italian Stallion pizzas, respectively. They were…surprisingly similar. The main draw of the Mt. Vesuvius was the pepper honey that allegedly was one of the toppings. I think I tasted a small amount of this, and the sweetness added an interesting contrast to the spicy meats. There was definitely not enough of it, but it was still a solid pizza, although pepperoni and jalapeno is not anything new. The Italian Stallion was Meat and Onion City, and I mean that in the best way possible. There was no lack of meat here, and two kinds of onions made it pop in a way that a meat-lover’s pizza rarely does alone. This was the pizza winner, although I personally would have opted for either the Caulifornication or the ‘Nduja Really Want to Hurt Me had I had the opportunity. I may just try to recreate one or both of those pizzas at home. These pizzas are totally 2-person splittable.

20180119_191542.jpg

My father-in-law ordered the lasagna, which had a punny name I can no longer remember. It was definitely good, on the cheesier side, with that caramelized edge I love. It was surprisingly normal considering all the really unique dishes Little Coco’s has to offer. A good option for the person in your group who thinks ketchup is too spicy.

Price: $30 per person

Bottom line: You could do worse than Little Coco’s for sure. I recommend the pasta much more than the pizza, and I suggest that if you do come, you get something out of the ordinary because that’s what they do best. The prices are decent and the vibe is neighborhoody and friendly. So friendly, in fact, that our waitress asked us three times in the span of two minutes if everything was okay, and my father-in-law knew one of the other waitresses from her previous stint at EatBar. Yep, this is definitely a local place.

Bidwell

 

20171208_183703.jpgAhhhh Union Market, the mecca of urban parents trying to feed their toddlers artisanal grilled cheese sandwiches. Bidwell would be no exception and we were not immune to the three year-old screeching in the booth behind us. It’s always kind of creepy when you encounter kids in restaurants in DC, right? You don’t notice that they’re not there until they’re suddenly there. And loud.

I can’t deny that Bidwell is beautiful. It also feels a bit like eating at, say, Cheesecake Factory in that it’s sort of the flagship upscale restaurant inside of a larger food court (the food court, in this case, being all of Union Market). The service was also friendly and the menu was extensive, although my discerning spouse was quite skeptical of their draft beer list.

We got all of our ordering out of the way immediately–a house cocktail, two beers, and a glass of wine, plus their fried deviled eggs and burratta to start. I ordered the arugula and pork belly salad, my husband had the short rib, my mother-in-law got the kekele (prosciutto and pineapple) pizza, and my father-in-law had their daily lasagna special. My mother-in-law was asked what type of pizza crust she wanted, and our server recommended the charcoal crust for its smoky flavor. You see, Bidwell had four types of crust to choose from and not one of them is just a normal pizza crust. Because this is a restaurant that caters to the organic gummy snacks crowed and did you know? Charcoal helps your digestion. It also tastes like an ashtray.

My drink, the You Like Daq?, was grapefruity and refreshing. The starters were also brought out quickly. I have no complaints. I’d never had fried deviled eggs before and they were quite delicious, with a buttermilk dipping sauce that I discovered too late. The burratta was creamy and the beets were roasted and delicious. I wish it had had more of the hazelnut topping.

My salad, and my husband and father-in-law’s entrees were brought out first. Then we waited. And waited. And waited. And waited for my mother-in-law’s pizza. I mean, we waited in the sense that we noticed her pervasive lack of food but it didn’t actually prevent anybody from eating.

20171208_191454.jpg

My salad was crisp and refreshing, with apples, which I like, and fennel, which I also like. What first appeared to be two small pieces of pork belly turned out to be one very large piece of very melty, yummy pork belly whose fattiness was countered with the sting of red onion and tartness of apple. Yum.

My husband’s short rib was tasty, moist, and fork-tender with buttery mashed potatoes and a modicum of brussels sprouts that Bidwell would have you believe are “caramelized,” but which were really just lightly roasted. They were certainly not the worst, but they were just brussels sprouts, cooked the way your annoying vegan aunt might cook them. My father-in-law’s lasagna was fairly good lasagna with crispy cheese on top and plenty of meat, but still just…fairly good, standard lasagna.

Finally the pizza arrived. I think they may have started adding charcoal to the crust to cover up their propensity for burning the crust. Prosciutto is good. Pineapple is good. Charcoal crust tastes ashy. I appreciate good ingredients but there is nothing groundbreaking or interesting about this pizza.

20171208_192110.jpg

We got the dessert menu but nothing looked life-changing so we opted for liquid dessert across the street at Cotton and Reed and were not disappointed.

Price: $40 per person.

Bottom line: I guess I’d eat here again if, like, one of my friends’ kids was severely craving organic PB&J or something.

Bacio Pizzeria

Bacio has been around a while, and used to be a mainstay in my house, but it’s been a while for me. Nothing I had planned for tonight sounded good. It could only be time for pizza.

20171028_200444.jpg

Now. My review comes from the perspective of a person who knows this place. Perhaps, like a parent who has suddenly found herself to be “not mad, just disappointed,” I set my initial expectations too high.

It was a beautiful night, so we sat on the patio out front. They do have some inside seating, but the patio is where it’s at. It’s beautiful and the service was also great.

The canned beer list is great, let’s just say that much. I almost–almost– ordered a hard root beer. I have waited my whole life to try a decent hard root beer. Who even stocks this? But then the Boulevard lemon ginger shandy caught my eye. It was basically alcoholic ginger beer, and it was super refreshing, so I guess it checked all the boxes. They were out of the first thing my husband ordered, but this place is so small that I’m impressed they have the storage space for what they have.

Bacio has tons of great-looking toppings and some seriously delicious-sounding signature pizzas. I was unsuccessful in convincing my better half to get anchovies (and, in his defense, I’ve never actually had anchovies on pizza, I’m really just curious!), so we got a large pizza with pesto sauce, pepperoni, roasted red peppers, and caramelized onions. The fact that they even offer pesto is amazing. Obviously, we are not dealing with Pizza Boli-caliber pizza here.

20171028_194023.jpg

The bad: As you can see, they uncharacteristically skimped on the toppings here. Notably mostly-absent: pepperoni. Also sad was the light touch they used with the pesto. In my recollection it has been not only fantastic but also heavy-handed.

The good: Onions. Yes. The sweetness was perfect on this. It’s nice that they give you something other than the conventional nasty white onions chopped into tiny pieces that you can’t even pick off. Onions are meant to be cooked. It would have been better if I had had more pepperoni to pair with it. Their cheese is always high-quality too, and they actually offer other options for cheese, including gorgonzola and vegan mozzarella. You can’t order the vegan cheese and still be my friend, but it does exist. The crust is actually flavorful; a solid, medium-thick crust (they also offer thin crust for losers who like that sort of thing).

The more good: we were seated next to a gaggle of awkward 14 year-old girls and got to overhear their entire conversation. It’s always weird to see kids in the wild here in DC, so I feel like witnessing a bunch of weirdo kids without any parents around was like finding a four-leaf clover. They even treated us to a serenade from their collectively favorite musical. As you may have gathered, it was delightfully painful.

Price: $15 per person.

Bottom line: Bacio is still great. My qualms with it were minor. It’s great sit-down or take-out pizza that’s actually fresh and high-quality instead of franchised and bad. It’ll run you more than Papa John’s but at least then you don’t have to eat Papa John’s.