Tazza Kitchen (Arlington Ridge)

Hey ya’ll.

We’ve been enjoying having a new perspective on Alexandria since we moved in October. We didn’t move far, but having a whole new home base has completely changed our patterns. We’ve also been going out less and cooking more. But, when we do go out, the focus has mostly been on what’s closest to home and what’s cheap. Rather than trying to stay on the front of the wave of what’s new and hot, we’ve been trying places that we hope can become our regular go-to spots. I’ll admit, it has been nice to not feel like I HAVE to go somewhere new every weekend just to keep up. That’s not going to stop us from trying new things that we discover, but it has been much more comfortable at a slower pace.

That being said, last weekend we decided to try a new spot super close to home in Arlington Ridge, Tazza Kitchen. It’s right off of 395, just around the corner from Crystal City, and north of Del Ray. The shopping center that it’s in has our vet’s office, my new gym, a grocery store, froyo, and a liquor store. What more could you possibly need? We had been meaning to try the restaurant that was in the building before Tazza, but never got around to it. So, we jumped on the new spot as soon as we knew it was open.

The exterior of the restaurant is decked out in wood paneling and is quite inviting. There is an outdoor patio that I’m stoked to enjoy come spring.  The warmth of the wood on the outside continues onto the inside. It has a sort of modern lodgey kind of feel? All I know is that it was a cold miserable rainy night and I forgot the foul weather as soon as I sat down.

We were greeted by an extremely friendly server. Maybe a little too chatty, but I never mind a little bit of extra service. We also noticed that the happy hour specials were NOT limited to the bar. How awesome is that? The lady started with the $5 Sazerac. And since I’m currently in an epic battle to have my pants continue to fit, I went with a glass of the house red wine. I know how many calories are in that and it’s something I drink slowly. 

We decided to start with the brick oven brussel sprouts. They were served with bacon jam, a smoky tomato puree, and pickled mustard seeds. And they were delicious. I love a good savory jam, smokiness, tomatoes, and anything pickled and I’m having a love affair with brussel sprouts at the moment so this appetizer was like it was created for me. It was a perfect size for two people to split without filling up before our entrees.

 

For entrees, the lady went with the Prosciutto and arugula pizza and I had the crispy polenta and shrimp.

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The crust of the pizza was really tasty and the arugula was dressed nicely. I ended up actually having a few bites of hers because it was brought out several minutes before my entree. The server seemed to be aware of this issue, so I was a little surprised that they didn’t hold her pizza back until mine was ready. We can just chalk it up to new restaurant hiccups.

 

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The shrimp was a tad rubbery and overcooked, but the polenta was perfect. Crispy on the outside, but creamy on the inside. The portion was a little bit small, but since I’m watching what I eat, I was grateful. There were two polenta cakes and they were pretty filling. I liked the cooked cherry tomatoes in the shrimp broth. Overall, pretty tasty.

As we were leaving, one of the investors followed us out the door and introduced himself to us. He asked how we enjoyed our meal and told us he was glad that we gave them a try. We were glad too! We’ll be back.

  • Favorite thing I had: It’s a 3-way tie between the toppings on the brussel sprouts, the pizza crust, and the polenta cake.
  • Favorite thing she had: She liked the brussel sprouts.
  • Most interesting thing I want to try next time: The salads look really interesting. And we saw one come out of the kitchen, it was towering. Of course I’ll have to try the pizza: the spicy sausage and black pepper honey one sounds really great. And brunch of course. We’ll definitely be trying their brunch.
  • How soon I’d go back (tomorrow/next week/next month/special occasions): Next week. Maybe not literally, because of Christmas, but this was a very affordable and solidly good meal. Close to home and entrees a dollar or 2 cheaper than comparable restaurants, it’s definitely somewhere I will frequent.
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Nicecream Factory (Clarendon)

I heard  buzzing about Nicecream Factory on Twitter. Ice cream made while you wait, liquid nitrogen style? Awesome! Then I read the article on Best Bites Blog and knew that I had to check it out on my Friday off from work. I e-mailed the owners and told them about the blog and that I wanted to come in, check it out, and write it up. Sandra, one of the two co-owners wrote back and was as friendly as could be. Sold.

So, I headed over to Clarendon, had some lunch at Pete’s Apizza, and headed just a block south to Nicecream Factory. Sandra wasn’t there, but her business partner, Gil, was. I introduced myself to him and we chatted. He told me about how he and Sandra heard about making ice cream with liquid nitrogen and played around with it at home. When they looked into how to make ice cream, apparently it often starts with a paste. So they ordered the paste and were grossed out. Instead they opted to go all natural, with local cream and other local ingredients. They started selling at Farmer’s Markets about a year ago and then decided to take it brick and mortar.

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I had a hard time deciding which flavor I wanted, but I decided on Chocolate Sea Salt.  Gil told me about how Sandra is the sweets person and that he is a more savory guy, so they have plenty of sweet and savory flavors in their rotation. Besides Chocolate Sea Salt, they also have caramel pretzel and chocolate bacon. (Can’t wait to try those!) He walked me through the process while he made my ice cream. They make the favors with only fresh ingredients. The ice cream is made instantly before they hand it to you, so there’s no need to add preservatives. They throw the flavor and cream (and a little bit of milk) into the mixer bowl and mix until just combined.

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And then the fun part! They add the liquid nitrogen and let it go about about 60 seconds until it’s ice cream. This is awesome to watch. As soon as the liquid nitrogen is poured in, there’s a giant cold cloud of steam? that floats out. Like a witch’s cauldron.

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Since there’s minimal churning between liquid stage and ice cream stage, there’s not a lot of air in the ice cream, so like gelato, it’s very dense and rich.

 

Gil handed me the ice cream and since there was no one else in the shop, he sat down with me to chat some more. The ice cream was decadent, almost like fudge. With just a tiny hint of salt to cut the sweetness. It was perfect. I asked him about their soft opening week and what kind of turnout they had been having. It sounded like they had been getting good foot traffic and lots of exposure from the recent articles. He told me about how when they were just doing pop-ups, they’d order 20 gallons of cream for a weekend but for their Grand Opening, they ordered 101. I have a feeling with that location and the upcoming summer, they’re going to be needing way more than that.

I let Gil get back to work prepping for their Grand Opening and told him I’d be back later in the weekend with the lady so she could give it a try as well. I had planned to pop in for the Grand Opening, but instead, the lady and I went back for dessert that same evening.  She ordered the pistachio- which is made with pistachio butter(!).

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Yum! I feel sort of bad because I ate about half of the lady’s ice cream. I just couldn’t help myself! It was SO GOOD. We’ll definitely be back to try more.

Beyond just enjoying putting tasty things into my face, and loving supporting local business, I’m discovering that I also really like supporting places run by friendly people. It’s fun to connect with the people who are coming up with and executing such awesome ideas and learning more about the businesses. That’s definitely been one unexpected perk of writing this blog.

  • Favorite flavor I had: The chocolate sea salt was decadent and almost like fudge, but I think her pistachio was a little better.
  • Most interesting thing I want to try next time: The strawberry basil sounded excellent. It also sounds like they’re going to have some nice sweet/savory flavors in their rotation.
  • What makes this place stand out: As far as I know, it’s the first liquid nitrogen ice cream place in the area! And I’m pretty sure that it’s going to become the next froyo/cupcake/donut.
  • How soon I’d go back (tomorrow/next week/next month/special occasions)I have a feeling we’re going to end up there on the regular. I might use that as an excuse to start exploring Clarendon for the blog.
  • Places to go afterward (what’s nearby): Anywhere in Clarendon. You could hit dinner at Pete’s Apizza, Cava Mezze, or Fuego, and then get ice cream for dessert!

Bob and Edith’s (Arlington)

This past Sunday, we helped one of our college friends’ and her husband move into their NEW HOUSE! in the city. We decided that a day of moving boxes and carrying furniture called for a good hearty breakfast beforehand. Another college friend, M, asked to catch a ride with us from the Columbia Pike area of Arlington. I used this as the perfect excuse for us to FINALLY check out Bob and Edith’s. The lady and I had tried to head there once before, but were dissuaded by the lack of parking in the tiny lot. This time, we were armed with that knowledge, the suggestion to park on a side street and not even fool with the lot, and were accompanied by a B&E veteran. Seriously, M has been going to Bob and Edith’s since she was a kid, to have pie with her dad. I knew that with her expertise, this was going to be an awesome experience.

We arrived around 10:30am. We though that because it was Mother’s Day, it might be a little more calm than usual. I don’t know what usual is, but we only had to wait about 5 minutes for a table to open up. It is pretty amazing how many seats they can fit in the tiny space and how quickly they turn over. We sat down and studied the menu. There is every kind of breakfast food you can possibly imagine. And then’s there’s a board on the wall with weekend specials. M was telling me about how she usually orders the corned beef hash, but always considers the banana walnut pancakes. She ultimately decided on her usual, so I went for the waffle! The lady also went for a waffle, but hers with pecans. The waffles came with bacon.

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I figured mine would be easiest to eat if I smooshed the bananas down into the waffle squares. So I did, smothered it in syrup, and went to town. the waffle was cooked perfect, just the way I like. Crunchy outside, soft inside. The bananas were an awesome choice. And the bacon, as bacon is, delightful. I tried M’s potatoes and they were really tasty as well. The lady enjoyed her waffle. As soon as the food got there, we were all basically silent, so I think that’s telling to how delicious it was.

Since there were people waiting for tables, we didn’t linger. We paid our surprisingly cheap check ($33 for 3 people, I think?) and ventured out to help our friends move into their awesome new house. (Where I fully expect to spend my Sundays, cooking out in the summer and watching football in the fall.)

  • Favorite thing I had: Everything I had. That waffle was so good. And with the smooshed bananas. Perfect.
  • Most interesting thing I want to try next time: The pie!  The biscuits and gravy!! I felt a little glutenous from the night before, so I went waffle (Which is silly, I know. It had fruit! Rather than sausage?) rather than biscuits this particular visit.
  • What makes this place stand out: It’s TINY! It’s just a little diner with a tiny parking lot. First come, first served. You wait until there’s a table and you swoop in and take it.
  • How soon I’d go back (tomorrow/next week/next month/special occasions)It won’t be too long. I’m thinking maybe we’ll go in next time we want breakfast for dinner but I don’t feel like cooking it myself.
  • Places to go afterward (what’s nearby)This area is growing up like crazy. You could walk across the street to Society Fair for some coffee or wine. Other than that, it’s mostly food. Which you will not need more of after you’re finished here. Maybe a show at Arlington Cinema and Draft House?

Favorite Friday: Lost Dog Cafe (Arlington)

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I’ve already said plenty about how much I love pizza. And I’ve told you a little bit about how much I love beer. I’ve even talked a little bit about sandwiches. Well, I love Lost Dog Cafe because they have all 3 of those things, and they do them so well. They now have 4 locations (two in Arlington, one in McLean, and one in Dunn Loring along with Stray Cat Cafe, also in Arlington) but we’ve only been to the South Arlington location.

Lost Dog was something we knew about before YEARS before we actually made it there. We made plans to go there once with friends, but it just so happened to be when that particular location was closed for renovations. We lived in Rockville at the time, so we weren’t spending much time in Arlington. When we moved to Alexandria, it came back onto our radar, but still took some time to expand our local circle to that point. As soon as we finally made it there, I regretted waiting so long to make it back! We’ve been making up for lost time and now visit on a regular basis.

My most recent visit was last weekend. My friend, P, asked me if I could drop him and his boyfriend off at his sister’s place for Easter dinner. He described where she lived. I agreed because I love him and it wasn’t too far out of my way, but also because I knew that meant I could have pizza and beer for my own Easter dinner! It had been a long day with two football games (that didn’t go so well for our team) and I just didn’t feel like cooking. So, I dropped them off and hurried over to Lost Dog to pick up a pizza for me and the lady. I plopped down at the bar, perused the beer menu and grabbed a beer by one of my favorite VA breweries, Wild Wolf. The lady had given some guidance via text of what she wanted, so I checked those out and settled on the THE CATAHOULA: Spicy tomato sauce, marinated chicken breast, spinach and sliced tomatoes, covered with mozzarella cheese and basil. It was so much effort to have the pizza in the front passenger seat and not eat a piece of it on the way home, but I made it. I didn’t even change out of my football clothes before I sat down to inhale the pizza. It was a perfect end to a long day.

  • What I usually order: The menu is so huge, I don’t have a regular thing yet. The past couple of times, we’ve gotten pizza. Before that, I was making my way through the sandwiches. The Catahoula we had last time was SO GOOD.  I want to know the secret to the spicy tomato sauce.
  • Why I keep going back: Because I know it’s going to be an awesome meal! The beer selection is huge, so I know I’ll be able to get pizza and whatever beer I want. Or I’ll be able to find a unique sandwich. The one off of Columbia Road is a perfect meet-in-the-middle place for us with friends who live in Arlington. The menu is diverse enough that everyone can find something.
  • Thing I still haven’t tried yet: About 90% of the menu. The pizza that caught my eye last time was the CHULITA’S MADNESS — Cheese pizza topped with homemade meatballs, oven roasted tomatoes, pineapple, and banana peppers. I’m totally going for that one next time. I also still need to get to The Stray Cat Cafe, by the same owners.
  • Fun things about this place: The owners have been rescuing stray dogs and cats for almost as long as they’ve been in business. How can you argue with a business that’s tied to animal rescue? I love my rescue cat as much as or maybe even more than I love pizza.