Monday, December 27, 2010

Floriana Reborn

To Die For: ambience

You don’t notice it at first. Entering the tiny bar in the basement, a short flight of stone stairs below street level, you still feel like you have stumbled in on the best party ever. This time of year, it’s especially festive. As you are led upstairs to your table in the cozy dining room, you may not notice that the walls are a slightly lighter hue, not quite a deep a red as before. The difference is subtle. It’s only when you open your menu that you can no longer escape what has happened: Floriana has been reborn!

While still nominally Italian, both the graphic style of the menu and its culinary offerings have changed. The familiar trope of Italian home cooking has been shot through with the energy of a young Brazilian chef who wants you to try new creations. He has been hired by Dino, Floriana’s son, who bought the restaurant from his mom in April 2010. Floriana put up a brief resistance to Dino’s brash new ideas, but soon decided she was ready to move on: as of October, she relocated to Mexico with a new husband.

The new menu still has pasta, but the once signature lasagna is downplayed now, in favor of goat bolognese and pork belly ravioli. Mussels have appeared. And, blurring the boundaries between the new world and the old, dishes like moquesa de pesce – a Brazilian fish stew made with coconut milk and rice croquettes -- and duck ropa vieja with Arborio rice, black beans and fried plantains – a distinctly Cuban riff -- are now on offer.

Well, why not? To be honest, I felt the new chef was still finding his sea legs, but the place has an invigorated feel to it, and it still is hard to beat its fun and cozy atmosphere. For that reason, the new Floriana is “bloggable” in the sense that this blog uses the term, and I am looking forward to giving it another try.

Floriana on Urbanspoon

Sunday, December 26, 2010


Dishes To Die For: autumn woods pasta, caesar salad, pecan carrot cake

You may have noticed that I have not blogged about many cooked dishes. I raved about the prosciutto at Dino, was over the moon about the oysters at BlackSalt, and was enamored with Zola’s service. But none of these say much about what is going on in the kitchen in any of those restaurants. After all, shucking an oyster does not exactly involve culinary skill, even if it is a superior oyster, and neither does procuring high end charcuterie.
In my mission to write only about outstanding dining experiences, there have been loud silences in many of my posts. After all, my slogan is “if I don’t love it, I don’t write about it.” So there have been several restaurants I have eaten at but not written about at all, for lack of bloggable material.

Ris has ended this drought. The food at Ris is simply sublime, restoring my faith in dining out. The most outstanding dish on the menu, in my mind, is the Autumn Woods Pasta:  house made ricotta cavatelli with roasted butternut squash, mushrooms, sherry caramelized onions, cranberries and walnuts. This description is coy about the wondrous wild mushroom sensation that pervades the dish – if “pervades” is the right word to use for a flavor that is robustly present without being overwhelming. And if the mushrooms had any aspiration to dominate, this is kept in check by the surprise entrances of other elements. Enter left, the roasted butternut squash, whose bright orange color grabs your attention and holds it there with an uncharacteristic al dente bite. Enter right, the caramelized onions, more crunchy than you would expect, deflecting attention from the mushroom wannabe. And in the background is the ricotta cavatelli, the demure canvas backdrop holding it all together. High drama on the tongue, I tell you.

Three in our party had split the pasta entrĂ©e as an appetizer. The fourth was in an obdurate mood and insisted on the Caesar salad as his appetizer. Another knock out. The bite he gave me included a delectable anchovy. They don’t have to be hairy, you know. It is slicing them in half which reveals their hairy underbellies, and Ris thankfully refrains from exposing them thus. Served whole, they are silvery and elegant, and quite presentable to company. This salad is out of the ordinary, respectful of the soul of the dish but refusing to bow to convention.

And there was a third dish to die for in this meal: the Pecan Carrot Cake. In part, the joy of this dish was its presentation – it looked more like an updated swiss roll than a slice of cake. But the cakie-ness was perfection itself (avoiding the over-moistness that often engulfs carrot cake) and the sour cream with its butterscotch sauce was the right side of sweetness. I snuck a few extra bites when (I think) Matt wasn’t looking. All of this was swirled down with a snifter of perfect Armagnac.

I could also praise Ris as a physical space, with its sparkling bar and subtlely Asian, zen-like dining rooms. And I could compliment the flawless service. But that would be to distract from the food, which is what I really want to draw attention to. Ris is the real thing, reason to draw a wayward foodie back to the fold.

Ris on Urbanspoon

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Chairman's Reserve Spiced Rum

The bitter cold this past week in DC made me lazy. Rather than walking home from the Dupont Circle metro stop as I usually do, I took to taking the bus. That's how I discovered Chairman's Reserve Spiced Rum. When the bus is nowhere in sight, I duck into the liquor store right by the bus stop to escape the cold. And on one of those nights, there was a tasting in progress.

Chairman's Reserve makes artisanal rums at a distillery in St. Lucia, which in my mind has always produced the finest rum. This one takes it to new heights, though. I liked the spiced best, with its bright flavors of vanilla, cinammon, clove and nutmeg on your tongue. The burn that spreads slowly from your oesophagus through your chest cavity follows soon after. You can also get just regular rum, or a peanut flavored cream, which tastes much like Bailey's if you like that sort of thing. But it was the spiced rum that was special to me.

So, no dishes to die for this week, but something to cheer about nonetheless.