Centrolina: Tonno

Tonno

Bring on the side eye because the Best Thing on the Menu at Centrolina isn’t a pasta. Rather, it’s surf & turf on speed: “Tonno” with rare tuna, bone marrow, charred onion, snap peas and Barbaresco. Chef Amy Brandwein’s CityCenterDC stunner has been open less than two months and we’ve already ordered it twice.

Obviously, you’re not consuming the two main components in isolation. Grab a tiny spoon or fork fit for a squirrel and dig around inside the bone until you have a nice lobe of gelatinous goo and then spread the marrow on a slice of seared tuna. The hot and cool temperature combination is playful, and the wine reduction adds further richness. Is it $30? Yes, but at least you’re not throwing money at 10 different small plates and leaving hungry.

Strozzapreti

If you’re going to go down the pasta path, opt for the fusilli with suckling pig ragu and Moliterno cheese. On our last visit, it was an off-menu item Chef Brandwein was playing around with, but we’re happy to see it officially on the menu. Just one disclaimer: the Centrolina menu changes as often as an Italian fashion model, so don’t get too attached to dishes, especially the pastas.

Tonno not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.

Find Centrolina (restaurant and market!) at 974 Palmer Alley NW in CityCenterDC. 

G by Mike Isabella: Gnudi

G Gnudi

Expecting to see a sandwich? Sorry to disappoint between-the-bread lovers, G by Mike Isabella is more than a scrumptious sub shop. By night, the casual spot changes over to an Italian restaurant serving a tasting menu. The meal begins with an explosion of antipasti encompassing everything from marinated vegetables to fried arancini, followed by a pasta course, main dish and desserts (all for $40!).

The Best Thing on the Menu at our latest meal was a plate of steaming hot gnudi. The G dish hit the spot (get your mind out of the gutter). Gnudi is an adorable Italian way to describe dumplings made from what would normally be enclosed in a ravioli. In other words, you’re eating the filling, which we suppose could also be considered a fun form of gluten free pasta!

Making Gnudi

The dish has a small piece of my heart since I learned to make gnudi on my honeymoon in Italy. It also has a big part of my admiration, because IT IS DIFFICULT. The little balls of filling are tough to keep together once they hit boiling water. When finished though, they match well with a sage brown butter sauce or a simple marinara.

It’s unlikely that gnudi will be at G when you turnover your menu because things change from week to week based on what’s in season. But not to worry – the other pasta dishes look tasty too like this past week’s pappardelle with lamb ragu, peas and pistachio.

Share your favorites from your G by Mike Isabella meal in the comments section.

G is located at 2201 14th St NW, Washington, DC.

You mint also like Osteria Morini or Alba Osteria.

Etto: Roasted Cauliflower Pizza

Etto Pizza

My father had a unique way of getting boys to steer clear of me in high school. Right before date night o’clock, he would send me to the local pizza joint to pick up his pizza. This sounds innocent enough – a man’s gotta eat. But, he insisted on his favorite topping each time: anchovies. That anchovy stench would seep deep into the seats of my Ford Focus. It even clung to my clothes and my hair. So naturally, I developed an aversion to anchovies that lasted until my most recent trip to Etto.

It was there that I tried the Best Thing on the Menu: Roasted Cauliflower Pizza with capers, pine nuts, anchovies and bread crumbs. The anchovies are so briny that no other salt source is needed, and they add just enough subtle funk to make the pizza memorable. Etto, after all, has a real love affair with these little fishies, as they also serve them as a part of their salads/small plate selections. But back to the pizza, which is like none other in the city (Except maybe 2Amys, which is from the same owners). What differs slightly is the dough and how it’s cooked.

The flour is milled in house. In fact, you can see the mill in the back of the restaurant. What results is a crust with billiard ball sized bubbles that you and your friends will fight over when divvying up slices (also just like high school). The restaurant recently opened up their sweet little patio, so there’s a better chance of getting a table and eating The Best Thing on the Menu al fresco. Also try Etto’s strong selection of small plates, they make a good warm up to the main event.

Roasted cauliflower pizza not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.

Etto is located at 1541 14th Street NW. 

You might also like Casa Luca or Lupo Verde.

The Fainting Goat: Porchetta

Fainting Goat Porchetta

A block off the intersection of 14th and U Street sits The Fainting Goat: Middle ground between the cheaper but more blasé food of U Street and the more inventive, but sometimes overpriced, food of 14th Street. Read: Food that doesn’t know how great it is yet!

The menu categories at TFG – nibble, graze, chomp and feed – hold no more than four selections each, making the menu easy to conquer for four diners willing to share. Start with The Best Thing on the Menu: Porchetta sandwich with fennel, dill and parsley on cibatta. It blew our hoofs off.

So what the pork is porchetta? It’s been popping up on a lot of menus lately, and for good reason. Typically a whole pig is prepped (we’ll spare you the gory stuff) then lovingly layered with stuffing, meat, fat and skin. Next, it’s rolled, spitted, and roasted with a heavy hand of salt and sometimes garlic, rosemary, fennel or other herbs. Thank you Italy, we were grateful for Barolo, but this is better. At TFG, the chef spreads cibatta with a miracle paste made of fresh dill and fennel before generously applying the porchetta.

 Is it criminal that we didn’t go with goat for the BTM? Perhaps, but we gave it a good hard try – two different ways in fact. The Fainting Goat offers their namesake meat as an appetizer tartare and a juicy seared entree. Our BTM pick doesn’t so much shun the goat, as it does celebrate the best damn sandwich we’ve had in months.

The Fainting Goat Garden

Other top picks? Seared scallops that taste of vanilla, and a bowl of warm winter vegetables called “The Garden,” that’s topped with caper-sized mustard seeds. Click here for more photos of the meal.

Porchetta not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.

Alba Osteria: Mezzeluna

Alba Osteria

No, we did not upload the wrong picture. This is in fact an adorable little bamboo steamer at an Italian restaurant – Alba Osteria. This newcomer, albeit located amidst endless construction (at 4th and I Street NW), is worth a visit. They win at pasta made with love, Neapolitan pizza with perfect crust, charcuterie, and adventurous proteins. How about a chestnut pasta that incorporates veal brains right into the dough for example?

You can find the Best Thing on the Menu: Mezzeluna nestled inside the aforementioned bamboo steamer. These (you guessed it) half moon-shaped morsels are delicately filled with a blend of cheeses and served with spinach. The kicker? They’re boiled in water that has been infused with hay. Don’t see this dish on the online menu? Don’t fret;  it just happens to be brand new and you can order two different portion sizes – dainty European or generous American.

Chef Roberto Donna, who was named “Chef of the Year 2012” by Esquire magazine, hails from the Piedmont region of Italy. There, a traditional dish incorporates ricotta cheese that has been aged with hay, making Alba Osteria’s take on the dish a shout out to the chef’s home cuisine.

Alba Osteria Rabbit

Another winner? The crispy rabbit Milanese. Under a golden crust, tender rabbit is lovingly wrapped with pungent fontina and salty prosciutto. Our one question: Where did they find a rabbit so big? We’re hoping it wasn’t a Flemish Giant. This is actually the second of two rabbit dishes available. The other involves thinly sliced shaved rabbit incorporated into a refreshing salad.

Save room for dessert and try their unique take on crème brûlée. It’s actually “Snow White” polenta that has been caramelized just like the traditional French dessert. Click here for more photos from Alba Osteria.

Mezzeluna not your BTM? Post your favorites in the comments section.

Casa Luca: Branzino al Forno

Casa Luca Branzino al Forno

Sorry to those who were sad to see AGAINN go, but we think DC came out on top with the addition of Casa Luca. This rustic Italian restaurant has special touches like a section of the drink menu featuring 14 different bottles of wines priced at $28 and they offer to make any of their mouth-watering pasta dishes with gluten-free pasta. We also suspect that they spike their gelato sundaes with some kind of booze, never a bad thing.

With Italian cuisine, sometimes it’s best to put your meal in the hands of an expert. That’s why we’re suggesting you start with Luca Antipasto Misto, letting Fabio Trabocchi and Erin Clarke school you on what’s best when it comes to meats, cheeses and small sides. 

But when it comes to the Best Thing on the Menu, get the Branzino al Forno with Red Peppers, Tomato, Olives and Basil. Besides being breaded in magic fairy dust of some kind, it comes with a grilled lemon. BTW, branzino is European seabass, a fish that continues to grow in popularity in America. I caught you a delicious bass.

You’ll be tempted to get pasta, so, get that too. They can do half portions. But still, save room for dessert. Perhaps you’re getting the picture that this is a meal fit for a post-marathon binge.

You may see a pint-sized version of Chef Trabocchi tending to the kitchen or out on the floor. Don’t worry, MasterChef Junior hasn’t come to town. That’s Luca, the chef’s son and the restaurant’s namesake.

See some pictures of Casa Luca.

Branzino al Forno not your BTM? Post your favorites in the comments section.

Ghibellina: Gnocchetti con Pesto di Cavolo

Ghibellina Gnocchi with Kale Pesto

It’s no secret that Americans have been sustaining a healthy obsession with kale since the super food became a super trend in 2012. Chances are, you’ve had a friend, neighbor or yoga instructor climb onto a leafy-green soapbox to tell you why you should be eating kale … every day.

You’ve probably heard that it’s one of the most nutrient dense foods you can eat, can help reduce your risk of certain cancers, and packs in fiber without the calories. Kale me crazy, but what we’d like to throw in there is that it’s cheap, affordable and most importantly, versatile. Virgin kale consumers don’t have to dive into the deep-end by sticking a straw into a raw green smoothie. There are plenty of more palatable ways to sneak kale into your diet.

Enter Ghibellina, the 14th Street newcomer and the Best Thing on the Menu: Gnocchetti con Pesto di Cavolo. Gnocchi as light and fluffy as a Four Seasons down pillow come adorned with kale pesto, walnuts and taleggio. While it’s fun to cut pizza with scissors (one of the better gimmicks we’ve seen in a while),  we were more excited about the kale pesto as a fun take on an Italian classic. The BTM comes in two sizes, so you can enjoy it as an appetizer and still get the full experience of using sheers to slice your main-course pizza pie. We found a gnocchi with kale pesto recipe if you’d like to give it a whirl at home.

Ghibellina was in the same 14th Street draft class as Etto and Le Diplomate, and is faring extremely well. It fits that the Italian gastro pub serving up Tuscan cuisine has found a niche for itself doing happy hour, since the majority of the restaurant is bar seating, with only a few tables tucked away. Their fantastic happy hour is offered Tuesday-Sunday from 4:30-6:30 p.m. and specials include 1/2 price pizzas, Imperial Pints (20oz not 16oz) at $3.50-$4.00, $5 wines and $6 specialty cocktails.

We look forward to trying Ghibellina for brunch because we love the quirky nature of an Italian joint serving Challah French Toast.

Gnocchetti con Pesto di Cavolo not your BTM? Post your favorites in the comments section.

If you liked this, you might also like: Firefly and Urbana.