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. 

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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.

The Partisan: Corned Beef Belly

Corned Beef Belly

The newest Neighborhood Restaurant Group debut, The Partisan, does things just differently enough to get noticed. The menu at the 100-seat restaurant departs from the typical appetizer, entrée, and dessert menu structure opting instead for a tiered clipboard divided by protein.

While most would tell you to skip straight to the page with pig dishes (including a full pig’s head), the Best Thing on the Menu is Corned Beef Belly with Braised Cabbage, Grated Pumpernickel and Pickled Mustard Seeds. The mustard seeds pop in a caviar sort of way and the meat is salty, smoky and tender. We can’t wrap our heads around what this would be like between two slices of rye with all the fixings of a Reuben.

Another top pick is from the charcuterie menu, which you fill out much like a form at a sushi counter. It’s Red Menace: A Calabrian spreadable sausage called ‘Nduja. During the day you can get it spread between two tigelles next door at Red Apron.

Malort Face

The beverage program at The Partisan is also worthy of some serious cheers and glass clinking. Three booze kings, including beer man Greg Engert, put their brains together to create a program most notable for what’s on tap. Draft beer is familiar, so what’s fresh is Jeff Faile’s decision to put four sprits on tap, including malört. I trust Jeff so whole-heartedly that I tried it. While I know I was supposed to make a face and compare malört to the likes of poison or prison time, it wasn’t that bad. It was like Fernet’s brutish cousin. Here are a few places to try it in D.C.

Furthermore, oenophiles can try one of Brent Kroll’s 25 wine drafts, or a rare wine offered by the glass thanks to new technology.

Click here for more photos from the meal.

Corned Beef Belly not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.

You might also like The Arsenal or Birch & Barley.

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.

Petworth Citizen: Grilled Short Ribs

Petworth Citizen Short Rib

Chef Makoto Hamamura may have made a huge culinary switcheroo from fine dining to elevated bar food, but he hardly touched the vowels and consonants in his place of employment – moving from Cityzen to Citizen.

Petworth Citizen is a neighborhoody restaurant and bar located in (you guessed it) Petworth. They churn out creative cocktails and some of the best bad-for-you-but-who-cares food around.

The Best Thing on the Menu: Grilled Beef Short Ribs with Grilled Romaine Lettuce and Smoky Ranch also happens to be the most expensive thing on the menu. Demonstrating how reasonable this literary-inspired spot is, the short ribs will run you $16. Calling the sauce ranch is almost a crime. It’s SO much more than ranch. Impossibly smoky. Grilling lettuce is spreading like wildfire in DC. Rose’s Luxury does a mean job at it too.

Other menu winners? The fried chicken sausage sandwich, which reminds us of our favorite “convini” grab and go lunch in Japan as well as the Asian-inspired fried chicken wings.

As of this week, Petworth Citizen will now be serving brunch. Our friends over at Prince of Petworth have the menu for you to take a look at. They offer both chicken and waffles AND shrimp and waffles. Hmmm. We’re also looking forward to taking a book and leaving a book in their planned reading room, which they proclaim will the best place to hang out on Sundays if you’re not into football.

Beef short ribs not your BTM? Post your favorites in the comments section.

You might also like The Pig, Bar Charley or Chez Billy.

Bar Charley: Jiro Dreams of Sidebar

Bar Charley's Jiro Dreams of Sidebar

It’s a showdown of food vs. beverage at Bar Charley.  If your experience is anything like ours, you’ll be impressed by both and it’ll be hard to decide which program comes out on top. We went for the cocktails but were impressed by the food, which led to more cocktails and then you guessed it, more food.

When you visit this cozy new cocktail den located next to Lauriol Plaza, be sure to order the Best Thing on the Menu: Jiro Dreams of Sidebar – Wasabi, Ginger, Shochu, Rice Vinegar and Nori.  It’s sushi in a glass. Other top cocktails? The Stepdad if you’re in the mood to be dramatic or tiki drinks on tap if you’re feeling fratty.

Ask for Paul Martinez behind the bar, he’ll craft you a killer cocktail and look for a beaming blonde out on the floor, that’s Jackie – one half of the dynamic duo of restaurateurs that also brought you El Chucho.  

The food menu is a trip around the world: An Indian chaat, German frankfurters, tapas-like anchovies on toast with marrow butter, some kind of Nordic cheese and a New England lobster roll. Finish off your sampling of small plates with a go-big-or-go-home dish for the table.

Bar Charley Whole Fish

The whole grilled fish is served with fennel, grape jam and potato puree. Feeling more like meat? No problem, get the grilled steak for two served with fries & kimchi ketchup and a compressed duck sauce.

The good news continues: Bar Charley is now open for brunch! So resist the urge for flavorless fajitas and head a few doors down for creativity, quality and value.

Jiro Dreams of Sidebar not your BTM? Post your favorite (food or drink!) 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.

Le Diplomate: Sea Scallops with Spring Peas, Orzo and Carrot Vinaigrette

Le Diplomate Scallops

At last, Philadelphia food mogul Stephen Starr has made his DC debut with Le Diplomate. We hope that this cousin to “Parc” in Philly is the gateway drug to many more Starr restaurants like Alma De Cuba, El Vez and Jones making their way down 95 South to the District.

The restaurant interior, as well as the patio seating, has succeeded in capturing a French feel. This holds especially true for the “Garden Room,” which is appointed with green tiles and a glass ceiling, lending a very Gatsby vibe to your dining experience.

Chef Adam Schop churns out wonders from the kitchen including The Best Thing on the Menu: Sea Scallops with Spring Peas, Orzo and Carrot Vinaigrette. What the menu doesn’t tell you is that the carrot vinaigrette packs a curried punch. This perfectly balanced dish took us by surprise. Come for the frites; come back again and again for the scallops.

There’s something on the menu for every season at Le Diplomate. When November rolls around, we’ll be sure to visit and order two helpings of the Beef Bourguignon to prepare for hibernation.

One note of caution, if you make your dining decisions based on decibels, Le Diplomate reaches the upper echelons of being boisterous. But to most, that’s part of the charm.

The talk around Logan Circle tables these days seems to center on determining if the mussels are better at B TOO (Previously covered on BTM here) or Le Diplomate. We want to hear from you, share your favorites in the comments section.