Dino’s Grotto: Free Form Lasagnette

Lasagnette

The Shaw reincarnation of the shuttered Dino’s in Cleveland Park, Dino’s Grotto, held on to a couple signature dishes. And thank god for that because The Best Thing on the Menu is one of them: Free Form Lasagnette with pork & veal ragu, besciamella, pomodoro, bacon, and grana. If you put bacon in lasagna you win. It’s as simple as that. You may be thinking, a $20 lasagna!? But this crock pot of Italian flavor is quite sharable, so don’t try to tackle it yourself. The “free form” part describes the fact that you won’t find perfectly arranged rectangles of pasta. Rather, this dish is more like a game of Jenga with pasta sheets strewn every which way. It’s as if a four-year-old did his or her best job and building something organized. The messiness makes the dish more fun.

Trotter Tots

A close runner up is an order of Trotter Tots filled with pork shank & hock (truck patch), potato, lioni smoked mozzarella, bread and egg. This appetizer comes with three sticks of golden fried pork goodness and  a side of pepper gravy for all your dipping needs. Dean Gold’s dish is more similar to Spanish croquettas than American tater tots. Order a few for the table and try not to diagram in your head which part of the piggy these hail from. 

DSC_5964

At Dino’s Grotto you’ll also find a souped up bar program. A series of seven signature cocktails is constantly changing because they’re doing all their infusions in house. Right now a favorite is a summery (and world cup-y) “Bitter fruit of a Brazilian Threeway,” with aqua cachaca, punt e med, and aperol grapefruit bitters. But, it could be gone tomorrow so be flexible in choosing a libation. The wine program impresses too.

Free Form Lasagnette not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.

You might also like Osteria Morini, Lupo Verde or Alba Osteria.

Sushi Taro: Kaiseki Edition

Sushi Set 1

Tasting menus are all over town, whether at supper clubs, pop-ups or even grocery stores (Glen’s Garden Market!) But what about the OG (original gangster) of tasting menus? We’re talking about kaiseki, a multi-course, visually stunning display of the best Japanese cuisine has to offer.

somen noodles

Modern kaiseki, like the kind on offer at Sushi Taro, pulls from many historical and cultural references including imperial court cuisine, meals devoured by samurai warriors, the Japanese tea ceremony and healthy Buddhist temple fare. If you decide to take this adventure in the care of Chef Nobu Yamazaki, you will face a choice of four different kaiseki tasting menus: Traditional, sushi, suppon (soft shell turtle!), or wagyu beef/lobster surf and turf.

Unless you have yen to burn, the traditional or sushi kaiseki courses are your best bets. We couldn’t decide…so instead, we bring you the tale of two kaisekis. Here are their merits:

Sushi Tasting:

Sushi Set 2

+ You’ll get to try types of nigiri you’d never think to order like succulent sweet shrimp, bursting ikura or raw abalone.

+Your nigiri sushi comes with a paintbrush and premium soy sauce so you can embrace your inner artist.

Ichigo Daifuku

+ Your dessert choice includes ichigo daifuku (a fresh strawberry lovingly wrapped in mochi) which is arguably the best dessert on earth (zero hyperbole here).

Kaiseki Tasting:

Hassun

+ You are privy to the “hassun” a hodgepodge of morsels arranged to look like a landscape in miniature.

+ If you’re a big eater and it takes a lot to fill you up, take comfort knowing that the traditional kaiseki has an entrée-sized finale. In this case it was pork belly shabu-shabu. Diners whisk raw slices of thinly sliced meat through a hot pot of delectable spicy soup before drinking the broth at the end.

+ At the end you’re asked to select your final sushi course from the menu. Only the traditional kaiseki menu allows you to choose a roll, like the Best Thing on the Menu: spicy spider roll.

Verdict? Go with a friend and get both – they actually let you do that. If you ask really nicely, they’ll even give you a sharp knife to slice nigiri sushi in half. Just ignore the stares and head shakes from the Japanese embassy officers seated at the adjacent table; they’ve never seen such things.

Click here for more photos from the meal. Learn more about Sushi Taro’s kaiseki options.

Masa 14: Spicy Tuna Nachos

Tuna Nachos

Masa 14 has a bright and shiny new chef de cuisine, Felipe Milanes, and he just rolled out (literally) a whole line of new sushi like the Rainbow Tropico Roll with tuna, hamachi, salmon, avocado and a mango-papaya salsa. But the Best Thing on the Menu isn’t in roll form however…it’s far more representative of the restaurant’s Latin/Asian fusion persona: Spicy Tuna Nachos. Thick, crispy wontons are dressed in their finest sushi attire: Generous chunks of spicy  tuna tartare plus avocado, cotija cheese, and salsa picante.

Foie Jita

The menu at one of the original 14th Street spots has gotten a whole lot more creative under Milanes, who hails from Panama City. For example, he dares to serve Foie Jitas, like the fajitas you used to get at Chili’s on high school first dates but with foie gras, shallots, poblano peppers, red peppers and guava creme. It ALMOST works. The guava crema is divine, but unfortunately overpowered by the red peppers and onions. Lose those and this dish is a 10.

Other can’t misses include the Scorpion Roll and Pork Belly al Carbon. Look for new menu additions to continue to stream in and await the Twitter war that always follows when favorites are taken off the menu to make room (Just ask Taylor Gourmet). Change is hard. Click here for more photos from the meal.

Spicy Tuna nachos not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.

Tico: Two Texture Beef Tacos

Tico Tacos

Michael Schlow’s in town. Perhaps you saw him making the short trek from his Columbia Heights pad to his brand new 14th Street restaurant that opened last night. You might recognize him from Top Chef Masters! What’s heartwarming is that unlike some celebrity chefs who pop in to open a restaurant, Schlow’s committed to staying around for more than a hot sec…and it shows.

This is the second Tico to open its doors – the first is in Schlow’s hometown of Boston – but he’s tweaked the menu to match our tastes, like by sprinkling in some Old Bay when appropriate. Overall, the restaurant aims to serve American food with Latin/Spanish twists inspired by Schlow’s travels.

The Best Thing on the Menu: Two Texture Beef Tacos are a lot of fun. Super tender beef is juxtaposed by crispy beef that’s been dehydrated, not fried, and chili and fresh herbs kick up the flavor. Schlow says he pays just as much attention to texture as he does flavor. Look for something soft and chewy to be balanced by crunch in almost every dish.

Manchego

… Like these manchego fritters, which you dip in a sticky, fruity sauce on the side. This dish is symbolic of how vegetarians can go buck wild at Tico, because a large portion of the menu celebrates seasonal vegetables, and they’re used quite creatively. A standout is an order of edamame falafel tacos. Click here for more photos from the meal.

We couldn’t be happier about this addition to the neighborhood. They’ve thought of everything. The artwork lining the walls is the work of Schlow’s wife; Schlow himself built all the music playlists; and Schlow committed a whole lot of resources (read: cash money) to build an acoustically sound dining room to make sure you can still hear your dining partners in a lively atmosphere. The guy literally had someone poke thousands of holes in tin tiles to ensure that sound would get trapped instead of bouncing right back down to disturb diners. Cheers to that.

Two texture beef tacos not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.