Kapnos: Roasted Duck Phyllo Pie

Kapnos: Duck Phyllo Pie

At Top Chef Mike Isabella’s foray into Greek cuisine, we ended our evening with a little game called Duck Duck Dinner. The Best Thing on the Menu: Roasted Duck Phyllo Pie with Cress, Cherries and Pistachio Yogurt was so good, we called in a second order for dessert. The plate shuffling and utensil conundrum we caused our server by throwing an appetizer in with our dessert order was as awkward as a duck on water-skis, but when it came to devouring a double dose of the BTM, we didn’t care.  Tender shredded duck fills freshly-baked phyllo dough and the tart cherries and tangy pistachio yogurt are the perfect accompaniments. Each order comes with two triangles, so order accordingly or you’ll contribute to making doubling-up at dessert a true trend.

Duck wasn’t the only protein we were passionate about at Kapnos, which translates to “smoke” in Greek. It should come as no surprise that all of the spit-roasted meat was divine. We tried the lamb, suckling pig and the baby goat. If you’re only a table of two and need to pick one, definitely go for goat, which by the way is increasing in popularity.

Contrary to its meat-centric menu and carnivorous vibe, Kapnos has the potential to be a real haven for vegetarians. There are 20 items on the menu that are purely vegetarian. For herbivores sick of cobbling together a meal out of side dishes, you can call Kapnos home.

Finally, a word on imbibing. Come to Kapnos with an open mind when it comes to the wine list. Simply saying, “I’ll have the Greek wine to go with my Greek food” won’t get you very far, as there are an overwhelming number of hard-to-pronounce varietals offered. Perhaps this is one of those situations where you really do need a sommelier, or at least an oenophile server. Just for fun, here are seven top Greek varietals.

Roasted Duck Phyllo Pie with Cress, Cherries and Pistachio Yogurt not your BTM? Post your favorites in the comments section.

If you like this, you may also like: ZaytinyaAgora, or Kellari Taverna.

Westend Bistro: Pan Roasted Salmon for 425 Calories

Westend Bistro Low-Cal Salmon

Washington is a city that revolves around dining – Maybe you’re a 20-something with an insatiable hunger for networking and small plates, or a lobbyist lunching with gentle persuasion on K Street, or just a good friend being dragged to yet another non-profit fundraiser happy hour complete with “heavy apps.” This is all before the weekend hits and we know DCers live to brunch. With all this eating, our waistlines are bound to take a hit that even the most aggressive CrossFit WOD or death-defying pole dancing class can’t fix.

Enter Westend Bistro, an oasis of delicious healthy food in a vast desert of trending devilish indulgences. We left our meal guilt-free and extremely impressed. The Best Thing on the Menu: Pan Roasted Salmon with Three Lentil Salad, Lemon-Basil Vinaigrette, Olive Tapenade and Sundried Tomato Pesto appeared in the much appreciated “Bistro Light” section of the menu, accompanied by other mid-section mindful meals. This small portion of the menu includes calorie counts, eliminating the guesswork and mystery. The acidity of the salmon’s accompaniments hid the fact that little to no butter was used, and the plate was so colorful that it added to the satisfaction.

Salmon wasn’t the only fish that stood out at Westend Bistro. Chef Devin Bozkaya‘s passion for poisson was quite apparent and we’re not surprised by his marine mastery since his career began in Anchorage, Alaska and continued on to Seattle, Washington. The Tuna Carpaccio was an actual magic trick. It appeared to be one impossibly thin slice of tuna rather than the small circular slices one is accustomed to. The Pan Roasted Bass with Mushroom Risotto, Lemongrass and Coconut Sauce and Baby Bok Choy was another winner.

Westend Bistro Carpaccio Westend Bistro Bass

The Ritz-Carlton restaurant is also a respite from the small-plates craze. With great gusto we each chose the ONE dish that struck our fancy. Committing felt good again.

Pan Roasted Salmon not your BTM? Post your favorites in the comments section.

Firefly: Goat Cheese Gnocchi

Firefly: Goat Cheese Gnocchi

Escape for an evening of enchantment and whimsy when you enter Firefly, a true fairytale of a restaurant. Adorned with beautiful birch bark and a central tree, you get the sense that you are in for an ingredient-centric meal that features sustainable food as the star.

Thanks to local-born Chef Daniel Bortnick’s strong command of produce, you can enjoy four seasons of flavor no matter what the month. Spring claims our favorite dessert of warm zucchini bread with basil corn ice cream as well as the halibut served with carrot puree, spring pistou, fingerling potatoes and snap peas. Summer highlights include fried green tomatoes and a farro salad full of a garden’s treasures. There are hints of fall in the smoked lamb shoulder, another winner. Finally, winter is represented in one of Firefly’s signature dishes, a personal pot roast, which we would likely be writing about if it wasn’t 100 degrees.

But the Best Thing on the Menu: Goat Cheese Gnocchi with Morel Mushrooms, Sweet Corn, Squash and Truffle Vinaigrette stands alone atop of the flavor pyramid. Replete with earth-driven umami goodness, this winning dish combines elements of all four seasons. Needless to say, it warranted multiple orders from our table.

In a city that loves customization and catering to dietary needs, Firefly takes their menu options to the next level by offering gluten free dinner, lunch, brunch and dessert menus in addition to the cutest kids menu you’ve ever seen. It appears Chefs Danny Bortnick and Todd Wiss know their clientele, which is made up of primarily locals despite being housed in a Kimpton Hotel.

Think you’ve experienced all the magic once dessert is through? Just wait for the whimsical way they deliver the check.

Goat Cheese Gnocchi not your BTM? Post your favorites in the comments section.

Veritas Wine Bar: A Deal on Fun Finds (CLOSED)

VERITAS IS NOW CLOSED. STAY TUNED FOR A NEW COCKTAIL BAR THIS FALL.

Veritas Wine Bar Ganeta Rose   Veritas Wine Bar Sexual Chocolate

Our Mission: Complete a six-person takeover of a corner of Veritas Wine Bar in Dupont Circle and determine the Best Wine on the Menu. But there’s more. We weren’t looking for a face-melting Cabernet or a seductive Bordeaux blend. Instead, we were seeking fun, off-the-beaten path wines with great value. Read on because you can get a dollar off the winning wine on your next visit to Veritas …

Wine bars in DC are few and far between. That’s why we’re extra grateful that we found a true gem that we want to return to time and time again. Because you climb down a few stairs to enter, instead of up, Veritas reminds us a little of the romantic wine “cuevas” you find in Spain.

What else sets Veritas apart from other vinotherapy spots in DC? They have 70 wines by the glass, a great mix of old world and new world styles, unpretentious wine-tenders, and unfussy snacks that are simple, gourmet, fresh and pair perfectly with what you’re drinking. We enjoyed delicious charcuterie, cheese selections with a lot of personality and freshly caught crab served three different ways. Oh, and the best chocolate truffles we’ve ever tasted.

Veritas Charcuterie     Veritas Wine Bar Truffles

When it comes to wine, we sampled:

  • Gañeta Rose from the Basque region of Spain (2012)
  • Geil Scheurebe Kabinett from Germany (2011) that tasted like its cousin, German Riesling
  • Vasse Felix Chardonnay from Margaret River region of Australia (2011) that even “anything but Chardonnay (ABC)” people enjoyed
  • SLO Down Wine’s Sexual Chocolate composed of Zinfandel, Syrah and Petit Sirah from California (2011) which was bold but also enjoyable for every day drinking
  • Coriole Vineyards Sangiovese/Shiraz blend from Australia (2010) that had a big nose of plum and spice
  • Cuvée Del Maule Cauquenes from Chile (2010). This very special wine carries the phrase “Earthquake Harvest.” Immediately after the grapes were picked in 2010, a massive earthquake struck Chile, leaving winemakers to carry out their craft without modernity. No water, no power, no irrigation. In the end, they threw all of the grapes together creating an “everything but the kitchen sink” blend comprised of Cabernet Sauvignon, Carigan, Carmenere, Pais, Merlot and Zinfandel. Kudos to surviving a true make-it-work moment, because this wine was powerfully earth-driven and delicious.

Veritas Wine Bar Wine    Veritas Wine Bar Wine

When the time came to fulfill our mission, we flirted with the success of choosing just one wine, but simply couldn’t pick from our two favorites. So instead, we feature the Best WINES on the Menu: The perfectly balanced, refreshing Gañeta Rose from Basque Country and Sexual Chocolate from SLO Down wines.

Napa Valley’s SLO Down Wines actually began as a bootleg operation and they’re not afraid to say it. A couple of college guys started making wine “knowing it would be used for late night drinking and that the French are annoying,” says the bottle label. The bottle label also recommend that “This be drank immediately, and shared with girls.” They even have entertaining, (Not Safe for Work) videos to enjoy.

Because we love these two wines so much, you can get $1.00 off each glass of the Gañeta Rose or Sexual Chocolate on your next visit to Veritas. Simply mention that you saw this post on Best Thing on the Menu and the secret code: BTM. This offer comes to an end August 31st or until these delicious wines run dry.

Other ways to enjoy Veritas include a wine tasting with Mario Montecelli from Trinchero Vineyards in Napa Valley (July 25) as well as an upcoming class on the wines of Australia (July 27/28). Both events are held at Veritas in Dupont Circle.

Special thanks to Veritas General Manager and Sommelier Jamie Smith for his wisdom and generosity!

Out of Town Edition – State Bird Provisions (San Fran)

State Bird Provisions' Pickled Anchovy-Sesame Pancake
Guest Post: Eric & Ashely

With the well-known dearth of quality food in DC (PSYCH!), longtime FoBTM (friends of BTM) escaped to the food mecca of San Francisco to see firsthand what this first class food city is all about. In between copious helpings of sourdough and avocados, we had a chance to dine at some of SF’s most delicious eateries, including a stop at State Bird Provisions – the 2012 James Beard award winner for Best New Restaurant.

The unique menu and dining style at SBP is split into “commandables” and “provisions.” The standing menu of commandables has long-time favorites like their namesake, the CA State Bird, an amazingly crispy, juicy and tender quail with lemony onions, and a helping of savory pancakes. Meanwhile, dim sum carts meander through the crowded restaurant, offering diners a peek at the daily specials or “provisions.”

You may be thinking, “oh no, not another gimmicky small plates agenda,” which we FoBTM are totally out on. Instead, knowledgeable, enthusiastic and friendly servers describe each dish in detail, allowing diners to conjure what their meal might look like (and taste like) before making difficult choices. With plates coming out of the kitchen every few minutes, you can pace your meal however you’d like, not end up with too much food and save lunch money for the rest of your trip. The best of both worlds.

Lucky for you, the Best Thing on the Menu: Pickled Anchovy-Sesame Pancake with Crème Fraîche and Basil is on the reliable list of commandables, upping the likelihood that you can try the dish on your next trip to San Fran. Gently pickled anchovies and just-picked radish sit atop a thick, brioche-y sesame pancake. A touch of sour cream and you’re eating the best version of latkes and herring you’ve ever tasted. Even one anchovy-hating FoBTM needed a second bite. With most dishes priced around $10, you can eat stacks on stacks of pancakes, instead of spending stacks on stacks on stacks.

Not a fan of anchovies? Try the Charred Octopus in Tomato-Chickpea Salsa or Garlic Bread with Buratta. Or, you could follow the advice of this four-year old.

It won’t be long before other restaurants mimic SBP’s distinctive dining style, and as long as they can come close to matching the quality of the food at State Bird Provisions, we are looking forward to what the future brings.

Pickled Anchovy-Sesame Pancake not your BTM? Post your favorites in the comments section.

Rice: Sautéed Chicken and Asian Pumpkin

Rice: Sautéed Chicken & Asian Pumpkin

Eating at Rice in Logan Circle is like stepping into a spa. Its minimalist, natural décor coupled with the dining experience actually causes you to leave feeling lighter than when you came in. Unlike some Thai restaurants, the cuisine at Rice comes without the grease. Enjoy a guilt-free meal, eaten at the restaurant, as take-out or as delivery. They have one of the fastest delivery times in the area.

We loved learning that Rice owner Sak Pollert created the restaurant with the inspiration of his childhood in Thailand. Sticky, fragrant jasmine rice played a leading role in all three meals of the day, hence the name of the restaurant. All entrees are served with diamond shaped mounds of rice that come in a variety of colors and flavors. You never know which one you’ll get, it’s like playing rice roulette.

The menu at Rice is divided into three sections: Rice Specialty, Authentic Thai and Healthy Green. The Best Thing on the Menu: Sautéed Chicken and Asian Pumpkin with Basil and Peppercorns is highly addictive and can be found in the “Rice Specialty” section of the menu. Its mild heat is a treat for the tongue, as is the texture and flavor of the Asian pumpkin, also known as Kabocha. Unlike other pumpkin produce products, kabocha is available year-round and tastes much like a sweet potato.

Pumpkin makes another appearance on the menu in the form of Pumpkin Empanadas. We recommend these, as well as the Crispy Brussels Sprouts Salad.

Sautéed Chicken and Asian Pumpkin not your BTM? Post your favorites in the comments section.

Dirty Dinner: The Best Thing We Did All Summer

Pulling up to the expansive, 165-acre Calleva Farm, you are greeted with warm smiles, fresh popcorn, beaming red barns, friendly livestock, overwhelming rustic charm and a sense that, at least for the evening, you’re family. The summer series of Dirty Dinners at Calleva Farm provides locals and urbanites alike the opportunity to escape for an evening of homegrown good times.

Calleva Farm Dirty Dinner Hayride Dirty Dinner Guests on Hayride

A great first impression is made when a plaid-clad tractor driver pulls up to offer hayrides of the property during the welcoming social hour. Equipped with a crisp “mocktails” and skewers of fresh fruit, you’re whisked away to learn about all the moving parts of life on a farm. There’s something to be said for seeing where your food comes from, only hours before you eat it. It helps us DC folk who are accustomed to convenience and perfection understand how much work truly goes into a meal.

Calleva Farm Pig Dirty Dinner Table Setting

After the social hour, which also allowed us to get up close and personal with livestock, Dirty Dinner guests were ushered via dinner bell into what can only be described as a glass dining terrarium, open yet protected from the rain. It was like the best possible outdoor wedding: simple, natural, rustic, authentic and overflowing with heart. As an added bonus, we were serenaded throughout dinner by local band Smoke N Mangos.

Smoke N Mangos at the Calleva Farm Dirty Dinner Dirty Dinner at Calleva Farm

The guests varied in age as well as in their connection to the property. Young city dwellers that luckily made reservations before the summer sold out rubbed elbows with older couples whose kids went to camp at Calleva. We straddled the median line between these two groups at Table #4 allowing us to hear the din of new DC parents enjoying a night out without kids (they rented a party bus so they could enjoy the local West Virginia wine) and at the same time, the chatter of seasoned couples providing insight on what makes Calleva so special, spirited and innovative.

The Best Thing on the Menu wasn’t any one dish, but rather the ingredients as a whole. Most of what was served at the Dirty Dinner came from the farm and the few exceptions came from within a 50-mile radius. It was like mounting the summit of the local food movement. It goes without saying then, that the word that most perfectly encapsulated the dinner was fresh. Sauces, spices and perfect plating stepped aside to let ingredients take center stage. We devoured three kinds of hummus with just-picked veggies, “cucumber noodles” with pesto sauce, Moroccan chicken thighs, homemade pizza and so much more.

Dirty Dinner Pizza and Bean Salad Dirty Dinner Menu

The dish that really got guests talking was the snakehead fish, which was served with purple potatoes and a salad of fresh herbs including dill and Thai basil. Snakehead fish is actually an invasive species wreaking havoc in the Potomac, so we diners happily did our part controlling the population. Top DC restaurant Little Serow occasionally has snakehead fish on the menu, accompanied by similar herbs. Kudos to the culinary team of Eric “Flash” Hill and Ben Ritter on a great six-course meal that was a celebration of local flavors.

There are about 20 spots left for the September 14 Dirty Dinner. Click here to book. Also keep an eye out in January, when dates are released for 2014. Best Thing on the Menu will be sure to inform you when they begin taking reservations.

Calleva is a family operated farm that hosts kids year-round for educational experiences. Three brothers, Nick, Alex and Matt Markoff have joined forces and combined their respective backgrounds to bring outdoor experiences to our area. Learn more about Calleva programs here.

Click here for more pictures from the Dirty Dinner.

Sign of the Whale: Philly-style Soft Pretzels

Sign of the Whale's Philly-style Soft Pretzels

Best Thing on the Menu was starting to get a little stuffy, so with some prodding from our followers, we sought an opportunity to show our IDs at the door, eagerly await bar stools and dive in to dive-bar cuisine.

When was the last time you got your bill at a bar or restaurant and smiled? That’ll probably happen if you visit Sign of the Whale on M Street NW. Sure you might have to listen to amateur karaoke, drink out of plastic cups or find alternatives to traditional toilet paper, but the beer flows cold and cheap and there are some great eats.

Sign of the Whale’s Best Thing on the Menu: Philly-style Soft Pretzels with Horseradish Dipping Sauce won’t disappoint, and by glancing at other patrons, they’re quite popular.

When those two steamy, buttery, salty hot pretzels arrive, they have the power to turn any bad day around, and for only $4.00 at happy hour! We suspect they take a bubble bath in butter, but we chose not to ask the chef this time. While we typically don’t recommend Philly anything served outside of the City of Brotherly Love, we let this slide because Sign of the Whale is regarded, at times, as a Philly bar.

We aspire to one day try Chef Donny Frazier’s “Man Overboard Burgers.” Who wouldn’t want the “Humpback Whale,” which consists of two half-pound burgers served open faced on two grilled cheese sandwiches topped with waffle fries and tater tots covered with chili and cheese sauce? If only there was an alternate universe where you could forever maintain your collegiate, consequence-free eating abilities. Reading about that burger makes us feel better about the two orders of pretzels.

One fun fact about Sign of the Whale is that they offer the opportunity to put your day job on hold for just one night to step into the shoes of a bartender. Click here to learn about their Wednesday guest bartender opportunity.

Philly Soft Pretzels not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.

Top Five Eats to Beat the Heat

DC is at the height of swelter season and so we thought we’d provide some recommendations on five treats to eat in the heat. If you venture out in the humidity, head to the following five spots for these cool dishes.

Mari Vanna's Borscht1. Mari Vanna’s Cold Borscht

Borscht is the perfect chilled, colorful summer soup. Unlike its hot winter counterpart, laden with beef, potatoes and sour cream, this vegetarian version is light and refreshing. Just don’t wear your best summer whites to eat beets. For more on what to order at this charming Dupont Circle Russian establishment (besides vodka), click here.

B TOO's Fried Orange Sherbet2. B TOO’s Fried Orange Sorbet

This is like the tempera ice cream you would beg your parents for when they “dragged” you to a sushi restaurant to “expand your horizons” when you were little. Fried ice cream is back with a bang at B TOO. This temperature impossibility sits atop sweet, candied fennel and is surrounded by fried basil leaves. Quite simply, it’s summer on a plate. For more on this Top Chef-studded Logan Circle restaurant click here.

Sushi Taro's Sashimi Omakase3. Sushi Taro’s Sashimi Omakase

You may not know the meaning of the Japanese word omakase, but chances are you’ve eaten a tasting menu or two in your time. Omakase essentially means you’re getting the top, chef-recommended selections of the day. And at Dupont Circle’s Sushi Taro, where they fly in a large portion of fish from Tokyo, you’re in for a wild ride. Sometimes, it’s far more fun to let the experts decide! There’s nothing steamy about sashimi, it’s light and fresh and the perfect summer eat. For more on Sushi Taro, click here.

Del Campo's Scallop Ceviche4. Del Campo’s Grilled Scallop Sushi Ceviche

It’s sushi, no it’s ceviche, no wait, it’s both! Del Campo continues to turn out great grilled items and this one in particular is perfect for warm weather. The scallops sit atop nigiri sushi-like rice mounds and are adorned with a smoked uni sauce. A little bit of raw, and a little bit of heat. We just visited Del Campo in Chinatown and had the special opportunity to interview Chef Victor Albisu. Click here to hear his thoughts on the most popular, and most daring, menu picks.

Teddy's Crab and Avocado5. Teddy’s Crab and Avocado

Teddy’s is a great second edition to the presidential-themed dining establishments in DC. We admit that Dupont Circle’s Teddy might be a little more fun in the winter, when it’s time to pack on the pounds by eating game meat, carbs from the heartland and rich desserts. However, there are a couple items on the menu today that are ripe for summer consumption. The best of which is their crab and avocado dish served with grilled corn and a sauce that’s worth soaking up with their homemade breadbasket. See our pick for Best Thing on the Menu here.

Agree/Disagree with our top dishes? Tell us in the comments section or on the BTM Facebook page.

Del Campo: Rolled Wagyu Skirt Steak

Del Campo's Rolled Wagyu Skirt Steak

Del Campo is exactly what DC has been waiting for: It’s the answer to our cooped-up in-condos-without-a-grill gripes. At Chef Albisu’s South American asado oasis, flames have kissed everything from cocktails to dessert.

In a special interview with Best Thing on the Menu, Chef Victor Albisu elaborated on his grilled cocktail menu, grilled ceviche, smoked caviar and a very umami-tasting smoked uni sauce. In addition to adding smoke to almost every dish, he also pays homage to his heritage. His mastery of meat comes from observing butchers from Uruguay and Argentina at his mother’s shop in Northern Virginia; his perfect empanadas are an inspiration from his Cuban baker father; and the fresh and feisty ceviche is a gift from his Peruvian mother.

Chef Albisu pointed out some of the most popular picks including the octopus causa and wagyu empanadas. He said more daring guests order the beef heart anticucho, which contains both grilled and raw elements. However, the Best Thing on the Menu is the: Rolled Wagyu Skirt Steak.

He got the idea for this rolled flavor powerhouse from a dish in Argentina called Matambre. Tender skirt steak is stuffed with Parmesan cheese, Dijon mustard and burnt onions and then rolled and braised. We noticed that the dish came with grilled veggies and a stick of bone marrow, just for fun. In our interview, the chef explained that the bone marrow is a gift from the kitchen that plays the roll of adding richness, like butter typically does, at American-style steakhouses.

You may need to run your mouth through the neighborhood car wash after dining at Del Campo, but the addictive chimichurri sauce, creative cocktails and ability to get the gourmet grill fix we crave will keep us coming back.

If it’s easier for you to visit Del Campo by day, Chef Albisu has launched Street Food Fridays, where he steps onto the street to cash in on the mobile cuisine craze to offer chorizo sandwiches called “choripans.”

We also look forward to visiting Chef Albisu’s Taco Bamba next time we ‘burb out in Falls Church, VA.

Rolled Wagyu Skirt Steak not your BTM? Post your favorites in the comments section.