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.

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.

Lupo Verde: RA2 Pizza

Lupo Verde Pizza

Lupo Verde is the newest Italian stallion to set up shop on 14th Street, falling in line after Ghibellina, Etto, Mcafe Bar and Posto. Lupo Verde stands out because of its cheese shop operation, which we’ll try when spring gets its act together, making picnics possible. Oh, and the dashing Italian chef (Domenico Apollaro) and Italian owner (Antonio Matarazzo) are standouts too. They grew up in neighboring towns in Italy.

Antonio Matarazzo

Get ready for some intense menu handholding. You will get a walk through of every menu category in terms of portion size and the “prescribed” number of items you MUST order per category. Don’t you wish you had a little card that you could display on your table that said something like This Isn’t My First Rodeo? Kind of like the Green GO/Red STOP card at Brazilian steakhouses?

We’re glad we went rogue and ordered too many pizzas, because that’s how we discovered The Best Thing on the Menu: RA2 Pizza with Mozzarella, Stracchino, Mortadella, Pistachio, Radicchio and Honey. This pint-sized pie doesn’t rely on tomato sauce to sting you with flavor. Nuts and honey, plus some bitter greens do the trick.

Lupo Verde Pasticcio

Other top picks? The Seppia al Forno from the Antipasti section. It turns out squishy cuttlefish covered in shoestring fries is a winner.  So too is the Pasticcio. Though we wish they would call it what it is: Mac and cheese inside a pastry shell. Your inner child will thank you.

RA2 Pizza not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.

2941: Smoked Burrata Ravioli

Ravioli at 2941

If you’re married, you’ll face immediate regret upon dining at 2941. The high ceilings scream special occasion and the naturescape (albeit man-made) on the other side of the widows is picturesque enough for your big day. Even Frida Kahlo would envy tying the knot there, given the funky art punctuating the walls.  The decor isn’t the only thing that changed for the better after the recent renovation, so did the food.

Classically trained, adorably accented French Chef Bertrand Chemel has a habit he can’t kick. He spends every day trying to make his customers happy, which can be a challenge given the eclectic mix likely to wander into a restaurant accessible only by traversing a ganglion of highway intersections in Virginia. What he settled on thematically is Upscale Casual Modern American French Mediterranean Cuisine, which takes a full breath to say. But only one bite to enjoy.

The Best Thing on the Menu is a prime example: Smoked Burrata Ravioli with Escarole, Spicy Duck and Arbequina Olive Oil. France and Italy share a border. They also share secrets. When Chef Chemel was working for Daniel Boulud (yes THAT Boulud) he had chance to learn pasta making from Andrew Carmellini. That is why an uber-talented French chef can pull off pasta. The ravioli dish is smoky because of the burrata, bitter from the escarole and gamey due to the spicy duck sausage. Try this along with the pillow-top mattress gnocchi and minty lamb orcchiette.

2941 Lamb

Another stunner is the Elysian Fields Farm roasted lamb loin with gnocchi alla greca, semi dry tomato, feta cheese and garlic-mustard jus. Further evidence that lamb > beef. We also can’t stop ourselves from mentioning that the 2941 dessert menu is an (unintended?) hat-tip to Justin Bieber. Don’t skip the Never Say Never selection.

2941 Table

Despite our fawning over the space, there is one bad seat in the house. According to sommelier Jonathan Schuyler, it’s next to the big, beautiful amethyst because it’s a sobriety stone. In Greek, amethyst means not drunk or a remedy for intoxication. So, if you want your wine to work its magic, sit elsewhere.

Ravioli not your BTM? Share 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.