Spice 6: Naan Pizza

Spice 6 Naan Pizza

There’s nothing better than food that proves you wrong. Fast casual CAN be flavorful. Fast casual CAN mean from-scratch cooking. Fast casual CAN be so good that it warrants a trip down Rhode Island Avenue to Hyattsville, MD.

Meet Spice 6, a fast casual Indian restaurant that only shares one thing in common with the Chipotle concept: Speed. Spice 6 hasn’t conformed to be bland. Those who fervently avoid shy spices and mild flavor will see what we mean, especially if they go off menu by requesting Vik’s hot sauce.

The Best Thing on the Menu: Naan Pizza is innovative, yet familiar enough that Indian newbies will feel comfortable. Load up a freshly baked round of naan with a sauce (Tikka Masala, Kadai Masala, Korma Masala or Spinach Masala) plus a protein (chicken, lamb, veggies, tofu or house made paneer cheese). Complete your pizza with a few more toppings and mozzarella cheese before it goes back in the oven for a hot sec. Then, BOOM New Delhi Domino’s to the face.

In choosing your protein remember that lamb is the reigning defending, undefeated, undisputed champion of Indian food. It’s not like chicken, which just sits there soaking up sauce. The owner, Vik Singh, must really trust his Nepali Chef, Upendra Thapaliya. Being a strict vegetarian, Vik’s never tried the meaty parts of his menu. Don’t worry Vik, your chef’s got it under control.

Spice 6 Chaat

Another top pick is the chaat, a typical Indian street food. In a year when street food is king (even Anthony Bordain is opening up a street food hall in NYC), the chaat is a must try. Fried strips of naan are topped with a savory pile of chickpeas, herbs and sauces (the best of which is a sticky sweet tamarind chutney). Wash it all down with a mango lassi.

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

You might also like Rasika or Bombay Club.

Volt: Young Carrots (What’s Up, Doc)

Volt Carrots

The carrot is a humble food. It’s typically one of the first foods we enjoy as babies; a popular dieter’s on-the-go snack; a cartoon meal for Bugs Bunny; and the food our mother’s tell us will aid our vision. But, the carrot dish at Volt stood up against the likes of calamari and bacon smoked pasta Bolognese, lamb necks braised with hulled barley, corn dumplings and many other winning dishes.

The Best Thing on the Menu was none other than: Young Carrots charred backed in an aromatic salt crust, dressing made from the carrot’s green tops and marsh samphire, soured sheep’s milk ice, pickles of icicle radish, bitter and sweet lettuces. Like other molecular gastronomy chefs, Top Chef Bryan Voltaggio somehow creates the illusion of that you’re pulling carrots directly out of the dirt by using culinary magic tricks.

Our meal at Volt was a tale of two tasting menus. We experienced both the protein-driven tasting menu and the fruits & vegetables tasting menu. It was fun to pick a head-to-head matchup winner each course —  A long delicious boxing match that ultimately had the vegetarian tasting menu coming out on top. We feel we’re really putting our money where our mouth is, seeing as though we chose Volt as one of the top five surprise picks for vegetarians earlier this summer.

Even the dessert on the vegetarian tasting menu won out: Meyer Lemon aerated white chocolate, pudding of ruby grapefruit, sorbet of celery hearts and leaves, coriander blooms, crisp cardamom and bitter cocoa.

Meyer Lemon Dessert at Volt

A visit to Volt is worth the trip to Frederick, MD. Unfortunately, the drive precludes most DC diners from taking advantage of the wine program, but the food should more than make up for it. One last tip, Volt has a parking lot that’s free for diners located immediately adjacent to the restaurant.

Want to try one of Bryan Voltaggio’s creations a little closer to home? There’s always Range.

Young Carrots 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.