The autoFoodie Itinerary

Navigate to autoFoodie's: Cookbook Top Ten Lists[forthcoming] Tips[forthcoming] Culinary Philosophy & Fun Reads[forthcoming]

autoFoodie's Restaurants (and reviews):

Washington DC

Café Asia (The Good)

Café Asia (The Ugly)

Chef Geoff’s (January 2009)

Chef Geoff’s (September 2009)

Clyde’s of Georgetown

Fogo de Chao

Hudson Restaurant and Lounge

Kaz Sushi Bistro


Old Ebbitt Grill

Sake Club

Taste of Georgetown (Savory)

Taste of Georgetown (Sweet)

The White House

Tortilla Coast

Tuscana West



Zaytinya (Award-Winning Review)


Washington DC Lunch Places


Fojol Bros

G Street Food


Met Café

Naan & Beyond


Phillip’s vs. The Breadline

The Bottom Line

The Breadline (The good)

The Breadline (The less good)

Arlington, Virginia

Bob & Edith’s

Dan & Brad’s


Harar Mesob

La Creperie

Legal Seafood

McGinty’s Public House

Pentagon Row

Z Pizza

Ann Arbor, Michigan


Le Dog

Mr. Spots

Pizza House

Saica (November 2008)

Saica (May 2009)


Silvio’s Organic Pizza


Fairfax, Virginia

Coastal Flats

Bethesda, Maryland

Bethesda North Marriott



Street Food

Las Vegas

Tacos & Tequila

Silver Spring, MD


The autoFoodie Cookbook

Navigate to autoFoodie's: Restaurants Top Ten Lists[forthcoming] Tips[fprthcoming] Culinary Philosophy & Fun Reads[forthcoming]

autoFoodie Cookbook

ALL can have fun with the over 100 of my original recipes listed below in its full interactive capabilities. For all, I hope this inspires you to try some new dishes and tell me what you think of them.


Asiago & Jalapeño Scrambled Eggs

Baked Eggs

Fried Egg Sandwich

Greek Baked Eggs

Olive and Tomato Frittata

Over Easy Eggs

Poached Eggs

Scrambled Eggs

Sunny Side Up Eggs

Salads, Snacks, Appetizers, Sides and Bite Size Food

Apple, Citrus Green Salad with Maple Vinaigrette & Shaved Parmesan

Asiago Cheese Puffs

Baked Ziti Cups

Black Bean Crunch Salad with Garlic Olive Vinaigrette

Black Beans and Rice

Bruschetta Fresca

Cheddar, Sage & Tomato Puff Pastry Amuse-Bouche

Chicken Caesar Dipping Skewers

Dijon Mustard Popcorn

Famous Crunchy Asian Salad

Famous Panzanella

Homemade Corn Tortilla Chips

Insalata Caprese Skewers

Italian Roasted Fennel

Mini Pizzas

Mini Quiches with Cheez-It Crust

Mushroom Mascarpone Naan Pizza


Puffed Pigs in a Blanket

Pineapple Cream Cheese Wontons

Pretzels and OJ

Roasted Tomatoes

White Wine Mushroom Medley

Whole Wheat, Oven-Baked Onion Rings

Wild Mushroom Soup

Wild Mushroom & Soy Crumble Asian Dumplings

Winter Vegetable Mash


Ben’s Catsup

Fresh Salsa

Greek Yogurt Cheese

Quick Trick Polenta

Tangy & Sweet Fruit Dip

Tomato Baba Ghanoush

Wonton Wrapper Chips

Wonton Wrapper Noodles

Main Dishes

Arugula, Mushroom, Cheddar and Gouda Quesadilla

Bagel Panzanella

Black Bean Sliders with Tangy Slaw

Buckwheat Noodle and Sesame Nori Pasta

Chicken Vegetable Wrap

Chili-Corona Chicken Skewer Tower

Chicken and spicy lentils

Crispy Asian Empanadas

Crispy Italian Rice Patties over Salad

Easy Pizza

Eggplant Cheddarean

EVOO Polenta Salad

Faked Baked Ziti

Feta Leek Stuffed Tomatoes

Fresh Tostadas

Ginger Sticky Rice

Heirloom Tomato Pie

Homemade Pasta with Zesty Truffle Sauce

Leek Burgers

Lobster Sticky Rice

Margarita Pizza with Homemade White Crust

Mediterranean Lentil Salad

Mushroom Risotto

Pork Tenderloin Sliders with Tangy Slaw

Quick Trick Ravioli with Polenta

Red Onion & Goat Cheese Tart

Roasted Pork Tenderloin

Seared New York Strip Steak

Slow-Cooked BBQ Pork Tenderloin

Slow-Cooked Indian Sweet Potato Soup

Slow-Cooked Soft Polenta with Hot and Cold Toppers

Spinach and Kalamata Cannelloni

Stuffed Avocados

Stuffed Bell Peppers (a la Jamie Oliver)

Super Spaghetti

Tangy Toastadas

Truffle Butter & Leek Linguine

Ultimate Black Bean Soup

Vegetable Wonton Wrapper Potstickers

Vegetarian Chili

Vegetarian Scampi

Whole Wheat Veggie Pita Pizza

Wild Mushroom and Arugula Pizza with Homemade Whole Wheat Crust

Wonton Wrapper Raviolis


All Natural Sweet Tart

Birthday Cake Ice Cream

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Milk Shakes

Chocolate Shot Trio

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies

Chocolate Tapioca Pudding

Cinnamon Toast Quesadilla

Cinnamon and Powdered Sugar Homemade Doughnuts


Mexican Drinking Chocolate

Mini Cinnamon Rolls

Mini Jelly Rolls

Nutella and Banana Paninis

Salty Fruit Salad


Soda Lite

Strawberry Smoothie


Going Coastal

I've been hearing people hype and buzz about Fairfax's Coastal Flats restaurants for several months now. Notably Julia. And her co-workers. And the Arlington V. Fairfax rap battle on YouTube (yes I'm encouraging you to click the links and watch them and laugh). Yesterday, I finally got to experience the phenomenon first-hand at the Tyson’s Center installation of Coastal Flats.

The menu at Coastal Flats is polished and bold American, and it's a very casual atmosphere, no fancier or less busy than mall staple California Pizza Kitchen. The difference is the selections are mouthwatering and memorable: fresh (1.25 pound) lobster roll with grilled corn on the cob, sesame crusted ahi tuna salad, (supposedly dynamite) crab cakes amidst a large number of spectacular-looking fresh seafood dishes. The meat was even tantalizing, with my (eventual gotta-have-it) order of the falling-off-the-bone, absolutely divinely finger-licking outrageous beef ribs with a divine mustard BBQ sauce being the star of the show.

Ok I was going to save talking about those for later but I just can't. These ribs were absolutely show stopping. I can't get over them. Two stacks of four huge, juicy ribs (yes that's EIGHT in total). The crust was crispy and perfect and the meat was so moist, buttery and exploding with flavor, I only stopped eating them to rave about them. Served with some thin and crispy fries (how I like them and can never get them), their famous Aussie rolls for the table and a curious slaw that tasted like it had a hint of cinnamon in it, the ribs were the star but the meal was wonderful in its entirety. Do you think I fell in to the Coastal hype?

I DID, OH YES I did! But I don't care. This place can flat out mesmerize you with taste. I haven't even gotten started on Julia's very authentic and delicious lobster bisque and her favorite crispy goat cheese salad. But did I mention the Coastal hype is only HALF about the food?

There are lots of places with great and interesting menus. Maybe not as good as this one as casual places go, but still. Coastal sets itself apart with its out-of-this-world service – and man that didn't disappoint either. From its swarm of friendly meeters, greeters and seaters to the two or three or four knowledgeable and excitable wait staff who combine to perfect your meal, I couldn't believe the service. Not to mention the managers who are radioed in to every problem in the dining room so they can swoop in and make life wonderful again for any and all distressed patrons. Not bad by my book. Ice teas came with long mixing spoons for stirring under the ice. Ribs came with a wet napkin afterward. Crumbs were brushed off the table several times. And great care was taken for even the slightest of details: did we need our check quickly; in what order would Julia like her salad and soup to be served; and of course delectable descriptions and recommendations of the menu items upon request.

This is not your typical $35 quick dinner out type meal experience. Normally you sacrifice SOMETHING in the food or service compared to, say, a fancy restaurant. Nope. Not at Coastal Flats. They wowie kazowied me with their charm, value and unique flair. I promised Julia this will not be just her “lunch with coworkers” spot any longer. I will be back for the service and hurry back to try yet more of their tempting menu marvels.


Frittata King

I'm not sure I know of any other dish that can be as perfect of a light, easy, yet immensely satisfying dinner as the lovely frittata. That's why I made it last night after a filling (and expensive) dinner out the night before.

My basic frittata is incredibly easy, and that's what I love most about it. I take 6 eggs and 2-3 tablespoons of milk and beat them together like scrambled eggs. Then I add a pinch of salt, fresh cracked pepper, a few dashes of hot sauce and the toppings/ingredients. Yesterday I chopped four small Campari tomatoes and 15 or so standard green olives with pimiento. I also finely grated a large handful of sharp cheddar cheese and sprinkled it into the mixture. I mixed the entire very hard together so that the cheese and all the spices incorporated amongst the egg and ingredients.

I sprayed a glass, round baking dish with non-fat cooking spray and poured the entire mixture inside. I sprinkled another small handful of cheddar on top and carefully placed the dish in the oven at 350 degrees and baked for a little under 25 minutes – until the top was golden, the frittata had puffed up a bit and most importantly, that a toothpick stuck through the center came out clean.

The end result was lovely and golden, fluffy and inviting. I cut it into four, each piece with only 1.5 eggs and served one to each of us along with a couple pieces of toast. We both enjoyed it immensely; the egg had become perfectly fluffy, and the ingredients had just the right tangy, salty and savory elements that were ideal and satisfying. For a dish that can be prepped in 5 minutes and baked in another 25, the frittata is about as good as it gets. The fact that it gave dinner for TWO nights was just icing on the cake, or cheese on the frittata.


Lentil Leftover Delight

The other night I had no idea what to make for dinner. I had some leftover lentil salad that had been delicious but looked a bit cold and tired. I also had two nice boneless chicken breasts. I thought, “how about spicy chicken and lentils?” Like a non-Asian stir fry. And that is exactly what I did.

I started with some olive oil in a pan and heated it to medium. I then cut the chicken breast into chunks so it would cook faster and more evenly in the stir fry. I seasoned the chunks with some kosher salt, pepper, small drizzles of olive oil and white wine vinegar and a sprinkle of paprika. When the pan was hot enough, I turned it down slightly and added the chicken in. I sautéed the chicken for 8-10 minutes until the internal temperature of the chicken was just around the mark used to judge cooked chicken (165 Fahrenheit). I deglazed the pan with several tablespoons of white wine vinegar, scraping little bits of flavor off the bottom. As the vinegar sizzled, I added three heaping cooking spoons worth of lentil salad to the pan.

What was in the lentil salad, you may ask? It was small black lentils, chopped tomatoes, chopped onion and feta cheese mixed with a homemade mustard vinaigrette, salt and pepper.

Before even mixing the lentils in I added another tablespoon of Dijon mustard, a little more paprika and some chipotle powder on top. These additions married the chicken with the lentil salad and also added that smoky, spicy kick I was going for. Only then did I mix the lentils, the chicken and all of the flavors together for another minute or two. By then, the chicken had nice color and the lentils were warmed up and looking far livelier than they had in their cold leftover state.

The pan made enough for two meals or a little more, so I portioned a nice plateful for myself and then packed up the rest.

It turned out to be a delicious little dinner. As random as the dish may have been, the chicken and lentils married together beautifully and they both really popped in the presence of the other and the nice tangy, spicy flavors binding them together. The chicken was juicy, and the lentils flavorful and not overcooked despite their reheating. Of course I could have done this with fresh lentils and fresh lentil salad, and I may in the future, but it's always a small victory for me when I can rebrand some boring leftovers into an exciting and tasty dinner.

There's still more lentils left over. And now there's some wonderful chicken and lentils too. I bet you know which one I'll be reaching for first.


Easy 'Za

Sometimes the easiest and most satisfying dinners are the result of a major assist from a store-bought item. I, for one, fell in love with these personal-sized, thin pizza crusts. They are (coincidentally) named Mama Mary's Gourmet Thin & Crispy Pizza Crusts and I just started noticing them at our local grocery stores. They taste delicious and are made with honey. Plus, each 7-inch crust only has 8 grams of total fat, 1 gram of saturated fat, 300 mg of sodium and absolutely no trans fat or dietary cholesterol. Not a bad line for such a tasty and store-bought item. Plus, they were far cheaper than those more-prominent and less healthy other pizza crusts. Boboli anyone?

But the key to making these into a shining dinner was adding a few quality ingredients to the mix. These added taste, depth and sparkle to the crusts that really made them shine.

I brushed the crusts with an extremely thin layer of high quality extra virgin olive oil to help them crisp and add some beautiful flavor, and then sprinkled a tiny pinch of sel de guarande to add a little texture and marry all of the flavors together. I used a ladle of my favorite jarred tomato sauce (a spicy red pepper marinara sauce) for the sauce and some chopped onions and sundried tomatoes for some flavor-packed toppings. Finally, I finely grated some extra sharp cheddar cheese and put a small handful atop each pizza.

I baked the crusts in a 450 degree oven for 10 minutes until the crusts were crisp and the cheese browning and bubbly. And the resulting pizza was absolutely delicious. In less than 15 minutes, start to finish, we got pizza that tasted no less than gourmet. We gobbled as much as we could alongside a little salad, and we still each did not even eat one personal crust's worth. So those crusts certainly aren't skimpy either. The most wonderful part is how crispy and golden the outer crust became while the inner part was still chewy, providing that satisfying “real pizza” quality. These are surely to become a staple for us now. Because what could be better than cheap, easy and healthy pizza? Can't think of anything.


Stream of Pastaness

One of the fastest homemade dishes is the pasta. You boil up pasta in a pot while sautéing some vegetables and/or meat together with some flavors in a side pan. At the end, you deglaze the pan with some acid and scrape the bits of flavor off the bottom. You drain the pasta at al dente simultaneously, saving the slightest bit of pasta water and pouring the pasta into the sauté and cooking everything together briefly to marry the flavors of your sauté and your little pan sauce together through the magic of the acid and the pasta water. This also crisps the pasta slightly while keeping that al dente inner texture intact. You've now got a nice hearty meal, tasty to all, customizable to most and scalable to one or many. It even will make remarkably consistent leftovers and can be eaten hot or cold. You can be as creative as you desire. You can use whole wheat pasta and olive oil or nonstick cooking spray to help make the dish as healthy as you'd like. Or you could add a little extra sparkle and marry the main meat with a spicy sausage version of itself like chicken and chicken chorizo, or turkey breast with turkey Italian sausage – you get the idea. Deglaze with vinegar to get a peppery finish, or with wine to get an aromatic and subtle finish. It's whatever you like, whatever your mood, a thousand different versions. I could go on, but I think you get it.

(Plus, I wrote this as quickly and efficiently as I could, and I still think I could have made a delicious pasta dinner for four for you in less time. So I guess I should shut up and leave you to it.)


Gee, Street Food?

When a new lunch opens near the White House, it generates a decent amount of buzz, and generally crowds for at least a little while. Lots of folks work around there, and top lunch places are in high demand. As such, there was definite excitement when it was announced that a mediocre lunch place (Ecco Cafe) was being rebranded as a great-sounding “street food” place, featuring street foods from around the world.

As G Street Food (located on G near 17th NW in DC) opened recently, the buzz was still with it, and we quickly decided we needed to make it a priority to go there at lunch to try it out. When we arrived it was moderately crowded, but nothing more than Ecco ever got.

There's a big menu board when you first walk in to G Street Food and get in line. This contains specials, rotating features and staples. All of the stuff looked reasonably interesting, but we all agreed that there were not a lot of jump-off-the-page items and also not much that was very recognizable as street food. They have a sausage of the day with the highly recognizable Chicago hot dog on Tuesday, but the other days had bratwurst with kimchi and chorizo with an Indian-like sauté in a Middle Eastern saj bread. I find it hard to believe that those combinations actually exist somewhere on the street, as they seem a bit too cross-cultural.

There were lots of breakfast pastries, including tiny Montreal bagels, a tatine and pizza of the day, the Vietnamese pork sandwich bahn mi and a variety of other tatines, sandwiches and salads. Again, only several items really seemed like they would lend themselves to being street food (who gets salad on the street?). And absent were street food classics: burrito, quesadilla, crepe, Middle Eastern halal bowl, Asian dumpling and potsticker, Indian curry, samosa, Philly cheesesteak, Po Boy, Korean ba bim bop. I could go on. Instead what was there was eclectic if not esoteric, and just NOT ringing of street food to me. Even the presentation, in awkward paper bowls with no lid made portability – a street food must – very difficult and awkward.

What I ordered – the chorizo in saj – was actually very tasty. The chorizo was spicy and very flavorful, and served in the thin crispy saj bread with a terrific sauté of greens, paneer-like cheese, spices and chickpeas served with very good fries. It was a delicious meal, and the flavors melded together wonderfully in each bite. I was not complaining about that. Nine dollars for a sausage is a bit much, but it was tasty. But even this seemed like a combo of three cultures and a bit contrived for street food. Unfortunately, my compatriots weren't quite so pleased with the taste and preparation of what they ordered.

But for now, I'll say the taste and quality is good at G Street Food, but executing the key design – the design that's going to bring me and many others back again and again – is failing right now. Bring me AUTHENTIC street food treasures that I've never heard of from all around the world and dazzle me, but also keep me coming back with some of the street food that we know, love and identify with. Make me know – and not question – that its “street food” on “G” not just “food” on “G Street.”


Woe is Breadline

I totally foresaw Breadline's tragic fall from fortune. And there are witnesses. Or just the fact that I boycotted one of DC's formerly hottest lunch spots more than four months before its temporary August closure for health code violations. Only 2 months before my boycott, I even endorsed and lauded Breadline on this very site (see below).

My newfound complaints at the time were due to inconsistency in ingredient quality, taste and preparation. Sometimes the ham, turkey and Russian dressing tasted as divine as Breadline's high quality reputation and price tag prescribed. Other times the ham was gelatinous, the turkey full of gristle and the Russian dressing, well, rancid-tasting. I gave it more than enough chances before privately deriding the establishment to all the Breadline fans I knew, and ceased my patronization. But none of the other devout Breadliners (the witnesses I alluded to above) heeded my warnings, and before long I thought I was the crazy one.

Turns out Breadline didn't refrigerate its food properly. Among quite a number of health code violations. Whoops. Crow was eaten. My palette screamed for joy that its reputation was justified. And I was no longer the nut who thought Breadline was not worth its weight in, well, bread.

To Breadline's credit though, it took the wakeup call in stride. Its doors were closed for a month or so, the familiar manager/expediter seemed to have been replaced, and most noticeably, there were no more premade sandwiches and other items lining the prep tables behind the counter. All of the sandwiches are now prepared fresh. What a concept! I feel lucky the improperly-stored meat, cheese and dressing that I had previously eaten hadn't gotten me (or anyone I knew) sick. It sure tasted like it could have.

About a month after its reopening, I was finally convinced to return to Breadline – nearly 6 months since my last visit. I was pleasantly surprised by the changes I noted above. I ordered one of my classic favorites, the French ham and Swiss sandwich on baguette. They made it fresh right then – something I had never seen before with this cold sandwich – and the result was wowing. It was actually good again! Same ingredients – high quality ham, cheese, butter and bread – but completely different story, as these were fresh, plentiful and tasty. I went back again and got the same sandwich a week later and it was good again. What a start!

Now my third time back was just yesterday and I was finally ready to order the fresh turkey sandwich with Russian dressing, a sandwich I once declared a dream sandwich, but also one that nearly made me sick several times prior to my boycott. I believe it is the only food that I am repulsed by due to a bad experience. Unfortunately, while the sandwich was colder than before and did not taste rancid, that once-beautiful, fresh roasted turkey meat still contained ungainly fat and gristle and still REMINDED me of the rancid-tasting turkey sandwiches that I may forever associate with turkey or at least Breadline. The Russian dressing was still awful, though again, not rancid. I'm starting to think they have a bad recipe. The bread was good. As usual.

Breadline didn't lose me this time. I'm all for giving more chances, and I'm convinced that their violations are behind them and that they are still capable of making good food. Their turkey sandwich and its fall from fortune will perhaps be the lasting personal scar that Breadline will never be able to make go away for me. But the bigger scar for Breadline is the scar of the closure itself. Yes, diehard fans may have forgiven and forgotten, but when I've been in there recently the line has been noticeably shorter, the tables not close to the crammed-full of old, the crowd not even close to as dense an hour before or an hour after the main noon rush as it used to be. There used to be a line out the door practically from 11 to 3. No longer. We customers are fickle. Especially when their sky-high prices of old have not fallen a penny. Perhaps Breadline isn't off everyone's list, but it certainly isn't at the top of many anymore either. It's hard to get to the top in the crazily competitive lunchtime market in a large downtown area. Breadline was there in DC and they blew it. But kudos to them for lifting their heads back up and trying to grind away once again, this time the right way. It's what will likely keep them on my list at all in the future.


The Hunt for Brigafood

Every 100 years, out of the deep mist, appears an enchanted Scottish village, or Indian food cart. And if you miss this magical moment, it shall be lost once again for 100 long, foodless turns of the calendar…

Call me Ishmael. Call me Tommy Albright. As long as you can find me Fojol! Fojol Brothers of Merlindia that is: a traveling Indian street food cart that bears the fictional moniker and serves up some incredible Indian grub to the working folks of Washington DC every hundred years when they appear out of the mist. Or so it seems.

This cart frustratingly bounces around DC, seemingly in a longer and more erratic orbit than I originally inferred when I was first told of the wonder of Fojol's food. The only clues as to their whereabouts are their extremely inconsistent and sparse updates of their Twitter page (on the day of only). Yet wherever their colorful truck, blaring hippie anthems to the surrounding streets and their patrons alike, happens to be, the word spreads like wildfire and the patrons arrive in swarms. The line quickly gets 20 or 30 deep or more and stays that way for the duration of that day's lunch.

My buddy Eric and I started searching for Fojol every day at lunchtime at least a month ago after we saw them one day in Farragut Square with an insane line. We were fools enough to bypass this alleged amazing experience and went elsewhere. After realizing our blunder we vowed to keep searching, every day at lunch, until we were as maniacally committed as Captain Ahab was to his quest for Moby Dick. But it would not elude us. Fortune struck just last Thursday when we were least expecting it. Fojol had returned to Farragut! Plus, we had noticed early and were able to get in line even before the word had completely spread. And NOW the magic would finally happen!

So simple though, was this magic. Fojol has four (seemingly variable) Indian dishes. Our day, it was chicken curry, buttered chicken, chickpeas and pumpkin. You can pick 1, pick 2 or pick 3, and they heap large amounts of each over basmati rice in successively larger biodegradable containers (with biodegradable plastic forks even) depending on your selection. I picked all but the pumpkin (sorry, had to play it safe: no gourd today) and was highly satisfied and impressed. It really was high quality Indian food, exploding with flavor, and in this context is just fantastic. It tastes amazing – it's why they're so highly reputed – but it's at least in part due to that sweet taste of victory for even making a Fojol lunch happen.

And the buzz was certainly in force. As the line grew and grew, we were hearing the whispers on the street, in our building, everywhere. Everyone wanted some of that hype. Did they desperately want one of their famous mango lassi popsicles? Did they yearn for some of the delicately flavored Indian fare, piled high? Or were they secretly and perhaps insanely obsessed with finding that little, musical street food truck before it faded into the mist of Farragut Square for another 100 years, or possibly forever? Or perhaps their nickname was Ahab and that was enough?

Severely mixed literary metaphors or not, there IS something to get excited about this lunchtime experience. So hunt with me. Mine starts again today.

…Or you could miss out on THE experience of well, the next HUNDRED years.


Meatball Quest

So I'm just slightly obsessed with tasting different homemade meatballs. Be they in homes, be they in Italian restaurants or American restaurants or Middle Eastern restaurants or wherever, the obsession is in full force. I don't think I even realized how much I enjoyed trying these delicacies until I noticed how rare it can be to find an especially good one, and how much I love when that happens.

The meatball is a true rock star of Italian and other cuisines. Typically a combination of several high quality ground meats (beef, pork, lamb, veal, sausage itself are possibilities). They are bound together and prepared in mysterious and varying ways, such that no two meatball recipes ever yield the exact same meatball. A perfect meatball can be fluffy and savory, crispy and sweet or dense and spicy. Or you can jumble those adjectives up a different way and you'd be right. The perfection comes from that feeling deep down you get when the meatball has IT. Too dry, bad spice combo, too greasy or not held together well and the meatball can quite easily flop.

To taste a meatball I really don't need to bother with a whole plate of spaghetti with it. That is nice, but often I'd rather just try the meatball as a little appetizer or tasting or tapas. Maybe just one or two meatballs too, depending on the size. Of course a little sauce and maybe a little cheese is needed, depending on the cuisine. And I don't look for anything but that “ooh” and “aah” factor that the meat and the spices and the consistency and the heat and the warmth and the sauce and the oil and the texture and the love bestow upon my tongue. Nothing more. But that's asking a lot. They aren't always easy to find.

This weekend I was lucky though. At one of my favorite restaurants, Chef Geoff's Downtown in Washington DC, with Julia and my parents, not only did they have homemade meatballs, but they had a small taste portion (and rightly with sauce but not pasta). Of course I ordered this tasting and I was surprised to receive a little plate with as many as eight or ten little meatballs covered with a thin layer of tomato sauce and Grana Padano. I was certainly more suspicious than usual, as I was sharing the table with one of the great meatball makers, my very own Mom. She makes one of the lightest, fluffiest, most delicate, yet extremely tasty Italian meatballs that I've ever encountered. So that example tends to be my personal standard bearer. To their credit though, Chef Geoff's makes a mean meatball as well, though quite different. These meatballs are small and a little denser than most. But they were incredibly tender and moist still and brimming with flavor and a nice spicy kick. The sauce and cheese just added to the overwhelming savory gush that each bite entailed and I found my self savoring and gobbling simultaneously. These were quite worthy. And my Mom, after a couple enthusiastic tastes, agreed.

I'll continue to be on the lookout for awesome homemade meatballs and fill in from time to time on the most noteworthy and taste-worthy.


Village Gem

During our New York visit last weekend, I made it a point to go down to my old stomping grounds – Soho and the NYU/west village area – from when I spent a summer living in Manhattan. There are just so many tiny spots in these neighborhoods to eat and drink well in countless cultures and styles. Italian cuisine is foremost though; it's only 5 blocks from Little Italy. I love this part of New York! On MacDougal Street, between Bleecker and Houston, there's one of my favorite hidden gems: Focacceria. It's a tiny little place, split between perhaps 6 tables outside and 6 inside. The menu is simple: Italian classic entrees and fresh made pasta dishes along with an assortment of wonderful classic hot and cold Italian sandwich combinations on the gorgeous tomato or rosemary focaccia bread that is made fresh in the store each day. They'll give you some bread for the table no matter what. So even if you order primavera or melanzana or gamberi or vodka or 1 of their other 25 pasta sauces/dishes over 1 of their 8 pasta types – or get chicken or veal parmesan, picatta or marsala or ravioli, you'll still get to try the focaccia.

Their entrees are fantastic and fresh, but for me I need more than just a little hunk of focaccia. I need the full Italian sandwich on focaccia and the light green mesclun green salad that accompanies it. From combinations like fresh mozzarella with tomatoes, roasted peppers and olive oil to prosciutto, sopresseta, fontina, tomato and greens to sandwich versions of eggplant or chicken parmesan, I cannot and never was able to resist getting ANYthing from Focacceria that was not squarely situated in between two pieces of that lovely focaccia. It's pillowy and warm, crusty on the outside with zings of flavor from top to bottom. Throw in my personal favorite salami, prosciutto, provolone, tomatoes and greens and I'm in heaven. Every bite has tang and salt, crunch and softness. Makes my mouth water just sitting here. If you've ever been in this neighborhood, you might have walked right by the tiny Focacceria. But if you have, you just walked by the delicious sparkle of this village gem – the unrivaled focaccia.