When we moved to our single family home last year, we wanted to immediately make use of our cozy little backyard. So, one of our first purchases was a charcoal grill. Summer Sundays are for grilling at our house! Pizza being my favorite food, I really wanted to learn how to make a grilled pizza. Turns out it’s a lot easier than I thought…although, I let Neil handle the grilling part with my supervision :)
The end result of a light, smoky, crisp, yet chewy crust is the closest you’ll have to the high end pizzerias in our area. The key is in the high heat provided by a grill. It seems like a daunting task, but if you work quickly enough, and pay attention, it’s very simple. If you do grilled pizza research on the web, you’ll find that grilling experts have 3 steps: sear the crust, add your toppings, and then cover to cook your toppings. I’ve elaborated on those steps below, but then included my own variation on the steps.
First you have to get your unbaked crust ready and toppings ready to go. That means you should have all of your toppings ready to go in small bowls right next to the grill (salt, pepper, cheese, olive oil, etc). I do all the prep work. Then Neil gets the grill to a high temperature. I gently slide the crust on to the grill off of a pizza paddle right next to the flame (but not directly on top of the flame). Neil moves it on and off the flame depending on how fast it’s bubbling and puffing up. This process is only a few minutes. Once it’s puffed up, it’s time to flip the crust over. You have to work quickly. We burned our first one pretty bad! So, if it’s your first time, make extra dough to practice. Once you do, you’ll know the limits of your grill and have the technique down.
After your crust is flipped over, move it to a cooler part of your grill (away from the flame). This will allow you some time to top it and finish the cooking without burning. Once your toppings are on, cover the grill so, the cheese can melt. Keep checking the underside of the crust though to ensure that it’s not burning. Of course if it isn’t browning enough, slide it over to the hotter part of the grill. Once toppings cooked/melted and your crust is nicely crisp and chewy, transfer to your pizza stone (or whatever you plan to cut on). Always give a nice drizzle of olive oil for taste and presentation. Slice and eat!!
So, this is the general method for grilling pizza. However, I’ve been switching up the technique lately. If you notice from the picture above, when you initially put the crust on your grill, it puffs up beautifully. But, once you flip it, those puffs and air pockets are all gone. So, I don’t flip it anymore. I just grill one side to nice pillowy puffs, remove from the grill onto a pizza stone, and top it. Then I transfer it to my broiler to cook the toppings and crust all the way through. I like the end result of this method better, but you decide what works best for you.
Btw, the pizza as pictured is topped with a homemade tomato sauce, roasted peppers, red onions, salami, fresh mozzarella, and parmesan…AKA, the “Norcia” at 2 Amys. If you missed my earlier post for pizza crust, I’ve provided the link below.
See Pizza Crust Recipe!
Guacamole is a summer time staple at my house. Paired with some warm tortillas, and a refreshing glass of sangria, I’ve got the perfect dinner! It’s really easy to whip up as long as you have good, ripe avocados. You can check for ripeness by gently pressing the outside of the avocado, and it should give a little. If you have rock hard avocados, speed up the ripening by placing them in a brown paper bag at room temperature. For even quicker ripening, throw in an apple or banana to the bag. Hass avocados are the most common variety, and perfect for guacamole. They’re ripe when the skin is nearly black and yields to soft pressure.
Ripe avocados taste delicious just on their own with a sprinkle of salt. So, when it comes to making the perfect guacamole, the simpler the better. But, you can easily throw in other ingredients (i.e., corn, black beans, scallions, bell peppers, cheese, etc) for unique variations. My recipe has minimal ingredients, but play around with it as you wish.
I’ve been spending a good part of the spring/summer hitting all the wine bars, and I still have a lot to go. Frankly, I’m starting to get a little exhausted by all of the wine venues toting small plates, charcuterie, and cheeses. U Street Corridor’s, Vinoteca is one of the same. It’s a fun place, sprawling with the young, lively atmosphere, decent food, and of course good wine. It’s also a very small, almost cramped restaurant, but they take reservations for big parties. I had a reservation for 8, which I made at the last minute.
No wait when we arrived! In fact, they seated us even though our full party wasn’t there yet. That’s a nice change! We were seated very comfortably at a round table. Talking was a little hard. Noise is definitely a big issue there. Service that night was exceptional. Our waitress was very friendly and explained the menu items very enthusiastically. She set a very nice tone for the evening. She was also very patient considering that we had a big party.
Wine list was very good, and they even have a nice champagne flight section. We went straight for the wine bottles. We ordered some very nice Malbecs and Sangioveses. No complaints.
The menu items were a little scattered. They have small plates, and just a few large plates. None of the menu items really follow a theme, but we enjoyed the variety. Everything was fairly prices as well. Here it goes:
- Cheese Plate- We got the goat cheese flight. The cheeses were semi-hard and tasty. I would have liked a soft goat though. They were out that night, so our waitress had to substitute other goats.
- Charcuterie- Prosciutto w/ crusty bread. Can’t go wrong there!
- Assorted Olives- Nice assortment of plump olives and even cornishons.
- Sliders- These are everywhere now! We got an assortment of lamb, bison, beef, and venison. I had all but the bison. They were all decent tasting. None really stood out though. I found myself needing salt. It’s very fairly priced at 3 for $9.95.
- Shrimp & Grits- My favorite of the night. It was served with habanero chili and jack cheese grits along with fried green tomatoes. Very tasty, but it would also be very easy to replicate at home, which I will definitely do.
- Panini with Cheddar, Prosciutto, Apples- This was delicious and another one that’s easy to replicate at home. I found it odd though that they used red apples instead of green….I prefer green.
- Red Snapper- Served with an ancho chili sauce that added a nice bite. Snapper was cooked perfectly too.
- Tsaziki Salmon- Cooked well, but a little on the boring side. Almost like a weeknight meal dish.
Vinoteca also has an upstairs private that can be reserved for parties. It’s a pretty venue and not known to many. From what I hear, they don’t even charge for the use of the room…but, that could change.
I’ll probably return when I need a last minute reservation somewhere. For now, I need a break from wine bars.
1940 11th St
NW, DC 20001
I have been so excited for the opening of Co Co. Sala since I first read about it in the paper. It was going to be DCs first dessert bar. NY already has so many, so it’s about time that DC picked up on the trend. I was also excited because Nisha Sidhu, a former graduate of L’Academie de Cuisine (where I currently attend classes) and former chocolatier at 2941, is the executive pastry chef. From what I had read about Co Co. Sala, I truly felt that this was going to be my haven, as every detail was so “me”..the chocolate, desserts, fancy cocktails, tapas, ambiance… could it really be true? Co Co. Sala was suppose to open back on Valentine’s Day, and didn’t actually open till the first week of May (just in time for my bday!!). So, without my knowledge, Neil planned my 30th bday surprise there with 20 of my closest family and friends.
When we arrived, I was delighted to meet one of the owners, Bharet, Nisha (pastry chef), and even the executive chef (forgot his name). They were incredibly nice, welcoming, and I could feel the passion they had for their baby, Co Co. Sala. It was very inspirational. They set us up with a nice loungy area for our party to dine in. They even made me a personalized bday card, which was a very nice touch. The owner was also sure to walk by all night to make sure our party was okay. Kudos for that!
The concept is genius, and the venue absolutely sexy, stunning, and striking… very NY. There are fancy chandeliers, appetizing and romantic colors (reds and browns), an open pastry kitchen, sugar sculptures (made by Nisha herself), even TVs at the bar that show enticing chocolate images. I don’t think I’ve seen a prettier, sexier space in DC. Check it out for that alone, because my description does not do it justice!
The food can be described as trendy and innovative (maybe a little too innovative at times). There’s a heavy focus on chocolate and spice. In fact I think you can find something chocolate in almost everything you order. The chocolate didn’t always compliment, but it was subtle enough. They have a selection of fun tapas (macaroni, sliders, salads, and crabcakes) as the savory items. But, the main course is really the dessert flights. There are 4 types of dessert flights each having 5 courses (Aztec, Grown Up, Italian, Indian) for $30. You can also order a la carte or choose a 3 course dessert flight. Take a look at the menu online. Each of the dessert flights also includes a cheese course (very cool!!). It’s almost impossible to decide which flight to choose.
So, how did our group of 20 find the food? Overall, everyone enjoyed it. I have to admit that I personally enjoyed the flavors in the savory tapas more than the dessert flights though. The spicy shrimp macaroni was delicious, as were the swordfish and blue cheese burger sliders. I also tried the tandoori chicken sliders, bacon macaroni with chocolate coated bacon, goat cheese & beet salad, mini pepper cheese enchilada, and crab cakes w/ coffee crème fraiche. Each one had eclectic ingredients mixed in to it, giving it a unique flavor. Are they to rave about?..No, but, they are satisfying nibbles in such a beautiful atmosphere. The tapas are portioned very small @ $7 each, but they were pretty filling. If I had to pick my favorite savory item, it would be the mini enchilada (which is actually a cheese course in the Aztec dessert flight). The flavors of the spice, fruit, cheese all packed in a tortilla was delish.
On to the desserts: The dessert flights make you feel like a kid in a candy store, and it’s an experience to be had for sure. Again, just read the menu, and your mouth will water. Desserts are supposed to the main event, and conceptually and visually it does not disappoint. Each dessert course is presented so artistically with fun, whimsical accompaniments. I chose the “Co Co. Grown Up” flight consisting of a number of nostalgic childhood desserts from boston cream donuts to cupcakes. We all had different themes. So, I got to sample some from the Aztec and Italian flights as well. I was very impressed by the presentation and thought process that went into the dessert pairings/themes. However, some of the flavors didn’t completely deliver. Some flavors were a bit exaggerated, and had they not been, the dessert would have been almost flawless. For example, the chocolate soufflé w/ the “fiery” center was so spicy in the throat that I couldn’t take another bite. The spice was too overwhelming. The chocolate, peanut butter and banana split was overwhelmed by the taste of peanut butter. The mint chocolate chip cone was so herby and minty that I couldn’t enjoy the chocolate. I really feel that all these desserts would have been perfect had the “key” flavor not been exaggerated. Don’t get me wrong, we did have some other mouth-watering desserts. The churros with cinnamon cream dipping sauce melted in your mouth, and the texture was perfect. There were a lot of fun “shooters” that came with the different flights too that were delicious. The pop rock cheesecake was a party on my tongue and perfect consistency to the cheesecake too. After the dessert coma, Co Co. Sala even presented everyone in our party with peanut butter jelly shooters for my birthday. They were super cool (even though I don’t like PBJs).
Co Co. Sala has almost as many eclectic cocktails as it has desserts. Prices are steep at $13 a drink, but worth it. I wish I had the tolerance to try more than just two, but the two I tried were amazing. I had the Cocojito made w/ chocolate vodka, fresh mint and chocolate shavings. How can you go wrong with chocolate and mint in a drink? It was awesome! The owner also gave me a shot of coffee flavored Petron tequila for my bday. That was divine and went down nicely…I was sipping on it though (can’t do shots).
Service was very spotty, from missing silverware to drink orders. We had one waitress, and she was very overwhelmed. I can’t really fault the restaurant though. They are brand new, and all of a sudden have a party of 20 people! Had Neil included me in the birthday plans, I wouldn’t have chosen Co Co. Sala, b/c I like to give restaurants a little time to work out their kinks. Nonetheless, I was thrilled to ring in my bday at such a unique venue.
By the end of our evening ,the place got packed with the young, attractive, and trendy. It seems like Co Co. Sala is trying to do it all. I hope that they keep the emphasis going on the food and desserts though instead of “after hours”. I think this place will only get better. Some kinks need to be ironed out, but I’m confident, they will be. The owner told us that they plan to expand the restaurant to have a full dining menu and seating. I’m definitely interested in checking that out!
This place is definitely worth a visit! There’s nothing like it in DC. If it’s your first time, experiencing a dessert flight is a must. I definitely plan to go back, this time to sample more cocktails, and a la carte desserts. Did I mention they also have hot chocolate flights?
Co Co. Sala
929 F Street NW
Washington DC 20004
Once you have mastered this basic recipe, experiment, and create your own unique blend. The one I made above is pistachio flavored. I also mixed in some chocolate chips to a portion of the ice cream. Next time I’m going to make a crushed Samoa cookie ice cream!
We celebrated my 30th birthday over Memorial Weekend. Neil planned the celebration to be on that Saturday, so Friday night we wanted to go to a relaxing venue to have some wine and nibbles with a few friends. Cork fit the bill. It is cozy, relaxing, and the ambiance created by the dimmed lights, and brick walls clearly reflects the “wine bar” theme. The space appears to be very small when you first enter. But, you soon discover that they have a lot more seating in the back and upstairs.
When we got there, we were still waiting on a couple of friends, so we started off with some wine and cheese at the main communal bar (once the seats finally opened up). It’s a nice size bar and accommodates a large number of people comfortably. Also, there’s an extension to the bar that can accommodate a party of 5. In fact, that’s the area we got while waiting. Choosing a wine is a task...very extensive list. We ended up with a nice Sangiovese. Ordering the cheeses was equally difficult. Since it was very packed, the bartender/waitress behind the bar was less than helpful on what cheeses to choose. So, we picked at random. The cheeses come with bread and some delicious cumin spiced nuts. We especially enjoyed the aged manchego and soft goat cheeses.
Once our friends arrived, we were shortly seated at our table, which ended up being right by the semi-open kitchen. It was fun watching the kitchen staff/chefs behind the window executing their assembly line. The room we were in was also very cozy and private. Cork offers a series of wine flights, but we stuck with a couple bottles of the Sangiovese the remainder of the evening. I particularly wasn’t interested in doing a wine flight that night. I’m sure it would be fun though, and the best way to sample the offerings. For food, Cork offers a series of small cold and hot plates that are all meant for sharing. It’s not a very expansive menu in comparison to other wine bars I’ve been to, but it doesn’t need to be. The selection was decent and there’s something for everyone. We ordered the following:
- Sautéed Wild Mushrooms w/ Madeira- Everyone at the table enjoyed this dish. I thought it was tasty, but I would have liked some caramelization on the mushrooms. It would have given a greater depth to the flavor. I could taste the Madeira, though. The dish was little watery (maybe also from the lack of sautéing the mushrooms). A touch of cream would have helped that.
- Duck Confit over Polenta- The polenta was creamy and delicious. The duck was very tender to the bite. It was a little salty though. I would have preferred a sweet contrast on it.
- Potato & Leek Gratin w/ caramelized onions, gruyere, bacon- Need I say more with that combo of ingredients?
- Brioche Sandwich w/ prosciutto, fontina, egg- This was the favorite amongst our selection of dishes. It was perfectly crisp and a very tasty little sandwich. The runny egg was a nice touch.
- Lemon Pepper dusted Calamari and Rock Shrimp- It had a bit more breading than I would have liked, but it the calamari had a nice texture, and not chewy at all. And who doesn’t like fried food? I don’t recall their being on any rock shrimp on the plate.
- House Cured Trout- Refreshing and good. Nothing stood out with it though.
- Flat Iron Steak w/ brussel sprouts, pancetta- The steak was nicely seared and tender. There were minimal seasonings. The sprouts were yummy…I’m sure they were cooked in that pancetta grease!
We ended with a flourless chocolate torte. Nobody at the table really cared for it. It was a little dry, and I didn’t like the flavor of the chocolate that was used in it.
I recommend ordering about 3-4 plates per 2 people. The food comes out as it’s prepared, so it’s very staggered. We literally got each item separately. It worked out fine though. The sizes were decent enough for all 5 of us to have a good taste. The prices were also decent for what you get. I didn’t find anything to be overpriced on the menu.
The service was mediocre. Our waiter often forgot the items we ordered, but as soon as we reminded him, they were brought out shortly. He even brought out one of our dishes twice. Overall, he was just very “forgetful”, but equally apologetic for his memory lapses. However, he did manage to get the bill right!
So, my overall view of Cork…I didn’t love it, but I liked it. I’m not sure I’d go back anytime in the near future. The food was decent, some solid, some mediocre, but nothing really blew me away. It’s just not worth hiking out for since I live out in Vienna. Also, it's location is a little isolated. There isn't much around there, and the now lively U Street corridor is about a 5-10 minute walk. However, if you live in the area, it’s a wonderful neighborhood eat and drink.
Reservations are not taken, but they have a call-ahead policy, which is how we got our table so quickly. Just call 30 minutes ahead and they will tell you a wait time and put you on the list.
There is a greater emphasis on the wine than the food (understandably so). We ended up moving to the front bar after dinner for some dessert wine, which was much better than our previous dessert. Next time I go, I’ll give the wine flights a try.
1720 14th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20009
My actual birthday fell on a weeknight (Wed, May 28th), so after an insane 30th bday celebration over the weekend, we decided to take it easy. My stomach was also not feeling so hot after I abused it during the all the eating and partying. Neil had originally planned Restaurant Eve, but given my exhaustion, he suggested Michel Richard’s Central. Although, it has a major kink (service was awful), the food was absolutely delicious, and I will be returning.
Central is a French bistro, highlighting DC’s top chef, Michel Richard’s cuisine in a more informal and less expensive setting. It gives people like me (that can’t go to Citronelle every month) a viable option. The menu choices can be described as fun, comforting and elegant. There are cheese puffs, burgers, and even bangers and mash. Of course, more “gourmet” entrees, such as steak au poivre, also exist. We were started off with delicious bread having a crispy exterior and super soft interior. This is the way real French bread should be! I could have eaten the bread all night with some wine, but I saved myself. The menu is very extensive (especially the apps), and it was very difficult decide, especially since it was only the two of us. We ended up ordering a lot more than we could eat, but all worth it! Due to my stomach, we stuck w/ some of the safer options follows:
- Crab Cake w/ Leek Tartar- Absolutely perfect! It was all big chunks of crab and the leek tarter was so refreshing and tasty on its own. Neil was eating the tartar alone by the spoonful. The portion is a nice size as well, and it should be at $22.
- Mushroom Pearl Pasta Risotto- Creamy and delish. A very generous portion as well. My only criticism would be to add porcinis into the mix. I wanted a deeper mushroom flavor, but the texture was divine.
- Spinach & Goat Cheese Torte- Beautifully presented spinach and goat cheese sitting on top of a very thin, flakey crust. The spinach portion was very creamy and dense. Nice flavor combination.
- Hamburger- Definitely worth the $16. We were hesitant to order it, because after all it’s a burger. But, wow, each bite just got better and better! And the brioche that it sits inside is buttery and soft. The meat was cooked to a perfect temperature also. Get a side of mayonnaise to go with the fries!
- Macaroni & Cheese side- Not very “safe” for my stomach, but I couldn’t help it. Very creamy, tangy, and cheesy. It was made with a penne, so every bite oozed out with luscious cheese. It also had a very crisp, charred top.
I wish I could be as complimentary regarding the service, but it was just terrible. Our waiter couldn’t care less. We asked him simple questions about the menu, and his one word responses obviously didn’t help. He wasn’t attentive at all, and he appeared thoroughly annoyed that we were taking a while deciding on what to order. Had he assisted, we probably wouldn’t have taken as long! I have heard of other patrons having similar experiences with the wait staff at Central. This is a major fault of the restaurant.
Neil told them it was my birthday, so they brought our dessert (not complimentary) with a candle on it. It was pretty awkward actually, because the waiter just put it on the table and quickly ran off. If I remember correctly, the candle almost blew out, because he ran away so quickly. But, when the check came, he said happy birthday to me repeatedly (for the tip of course). Anyways, we had the chocolate lava cake a la mode, which was your typical dessert, but delicious, nonetheless.
Central is a comfortable restaurant, but doesn’t offer much in terms of ambiance and décor. There wasn’t anything that stood out to me. However, I didn’t get to sit near the open kitchen. In fact, it wasn’t even visible from my table, but I hear it’s really cool. Perhaps sitting there would have changed my opinion on the ambiance. The restaurant is mostly meant for small parties. If your party is over 10, they require you to use their private room that has an up charge and minimum that you have to meet.
It’s very hard to get reservations, and even on the Wednesday night that we went, it was completely packed. The bar area is first come first serve. I may opt for that area next time to get a different experience. I hear the cocktails are really good. I plan to go back to try more adventurous dishes. Maybe the service will be better, as I can’t imagine it being worse.
1001 Pennsylvania Avenue
NW Washington, DC 20004