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Co Co. Sala opens chocolate retail boutique.

Co Co. Sala Chocolate Boutique.

Whomever said that money can’t buy happiness — lied. The Rammy award winning Co Co. Sala, renowned as the chic fine dining place to gorge oneself on artisan coffee, gourmet chocolate, decadent desserts, and exceptional cocktails has opened a Chocolate Boutique! Yes, you read that right. A Chocolate Boutique: designed for a quick chocolate get-a-way. With a prime location in the heart of Penn Quarter, stop by on your way home from work or indulge yourself in a delicious mid-day snack. In addition, chocolate tastings & classes will also be offered to customers for both private and public events.

Chocolate Ribbon for ceremony. Photo by Revamp.com

Co- owners Bharet Malhotra and Nisha Sidhu opened the exceptional chocolate boutique yesterday, Monday, September 27th to showcase Co Co. Sala’s artisanal, handcrafted retail chocolates created by Executive & Pastry Chef Santosh Tiptur and co-owner Nisha Sidhu. On the counter for all to enjoy are pieces of their chocolate ribbon that was created for their ribbon cutting ceremony. The chocolate is delicious and took me back to the days of eating the ears off the chocolate Easter bunny.

Signature Co Co. Sala bars and bacon treats.

The new retail boutique, a 200-square-foot space was designed by award-winning architect and designer Alex Hurtado of Collective Architecture and feature luxurious finishes, including imported stone, glass and a golden wall, the boutique reflects the opulent warmth of the main lounge. It has several glass display cases to showcase the small jewel-like artisanal chocolates as well as the signature chocolate bars crafted from luxurious Valrhona chocolate. Behind the cases are voluptuous hand-sculpted chocolate and sugar showpieces created by Executive & Pastry Chef Santosh Tiptur and co-owner Nisha Sidhu.  The boutique will also offer an array of packaged chocolate indulgences such as the popular chocolate-enrobed bacon, various chocolate barks, cognac truffles, hot co co. pops (like a melt used in milk) and seasonal chocolate items to reflect the various holidays.

Co Co Pop melt for hot chocolate

The unique collection of artisanal chocolates includes intriguing flavors such as Banana Ginger, Rosemary Caramel, Chipotle, Peanut Butter & Jelly, and Mango Lassi, ranging in variety from white to dark chocolate.  All chocolates are made using the finest ingredients without any preservatives or additives.

Seasonal items will include the Somethin’ Pumpkin Bar, Om chocolate bars dusted with edible gold to celebrate the Hindu holiday Diwali, and Champagne-Infused Chocolate Ganache perfect for celebrating that special occasion. The boutique has its own separate entrance and hours of operation so don’t miss the chance to get in on the goodies!

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Breaking News: Chef Enzo Fargione announces new restaurant, ELISIR.

Chef Enzo Fargione

Washingtonians have been waiting to hear the next steps of Chef Enzo Fargione, formerly of Teatro Goldoni, ever since it was announced on March 11, 2010 that the restaurant and Fargione parted ways. Most would agree that Fargione took Teatro to a new level, including its well-deserved 2010 Rammy nomination for the coveted Power Spot of the Year.

Today Chef Enzo Fargione announced that his restaurant company Cucina Moderna, LLC has signed a Letter of Intent for a restaurant space that will be located at 427 11th Street. This space occupies that same building as 1001 Pennsylvania Avenue NW in Penn Quarter neighborhood of Washington, D.C where other well-known restaurants such as Central Michel Richard and Passion Food Hospitality Group’s Ten Penh Restaurants currently reside. According to the release, the agreement was reached and signed yesterday, Thursday, August 19th 2010 for the 4000 sqft space presently occupied by La Prima Food Group Via Cucina Café. His new restaurant, “ELISIR by Enzo Fargione” will seat approximately 90 patrons in the dining area, 20-25 patrons at a bar, and 20 patrons in a private room. It is slated to open at the end of March 2011 and will feature the distinctive hands-on approach and interpretation of modern Italian cooking.

Fargione’s home town is Torino, Italy had dreams of having his own restaurant ever since he was a young man. He said, ” I was a bomb ready to explode. It was not much of a surprise when I told my parents that I wanted to be a cook. I remember my Father looking at me like I was drunk or I needed brain surgery.  My Father said “I don’t think it’s a good idea. Pick something else”…. and it was then that my professional career started.”

According to the releases, ELISIR means ELIXIR in english: a mix of flavored liquids containing alcohol and it was used in Medieval times in Italy as welcoming beverage for important guests when visiting court. Elisirs were commonly made from grappa or other in house distilled spirits. Nowadays it could be compared to an elaborated cocktail or a sofisticated martini made with only the best quality ingredients.

Chef Fargione has retained the renowed architectual firm Grupo 7 to design and create a contemporary first class fine dining restaurant with stylish décor and typical European flares. The Restaurant will incorporate a glass fronted wine cellar, fine wood millwork, porcelain tile and carpet floors, pendant lighting and custom metal details. The kitchen will be partially open and enclosed with high circular glass panels, featuring a plating station, which will highlight the work of the chef in the observation deck.

The Restaurant, initially, will be open 5 days a week for ELISIR Bistro Lunch and 6 days a week for formal Dinner service.
For lunch, the bar will accommodate the faster pace customers with a more affordable quality menu with approximately 15 options for $15 set price including a glass of wine or a non alcoholic beverage offering a quicker alternative for those on a time frame.
The dining room lunch menu will offer a great value with selections of fish and meat preparations as well as in house made sausages, cold cuts and fresh pastas. Like Fargione’s previous succesful project The Chef’s Table, ELISIR on a typical night will offer a choice of two prix fix tasting menus and an optional smaller one a la carte which it will change seasonally. The wine list will feature extensive selections from Italy, California, Virginia and a few French pearls and multiple wine pairing programs.

Congratulations, Chef Fargione. I look forward to dining with you, soon!

I was a bomb ready to explode. It was not much of a surprise when I told my parents I wanted to be a cook.I remember my Father looking at me like I was drunk or I needed brain surgery. My Father said ”I don’t think it’s a good idea. Pick something else”….and it was then that my professional career started ……

Carmine’s DC packs the house and stuffs the belly. Great for groups and family fun.

Carmine's Exterior. View from street.

Carmine's Exterior.

The new Carmine’s DC, a New York outpost of the famous family-style restaurant is doing what they set out to do — pack the house and stuff the belly. The largest restaurant in Washington, DC with more than 20,000 square feet and 700 seats, Carmine’s has managed to draw thousands within days of opening. In fact, according to Jill Collins, who is managing their public relations effort in DC said, “Carmine’s did 1,000 covers on its first Friday of business -and it had been open only 3 days.” With their enormous portions, (each dish designed to serve 4-6 adults), it’s impossible to leave there without being completely full to the brim.

Carmine's Family-Style Menu.

I was there for their opening on Tuesday, August 3rd and to interview Alicart restaurant group CEO, Jeffrey Bank but this past Friday night was my first time ever trying Carmine’s famous cuisine. I had relatively high expectations, since I had heard good things but was somewhat skeptical. What is so remarkable, especially for a restaurant its size is that their sauces and pasta are made from scratch daily and every dish is made to order.

What is also quite impressive is that Carmine’s has a special “menu” that provides recommendations of dishes for those with dietary restrictions, vegetarian, vegan, or have food allergies, including gluten. This is not yet available on the website; however, it may be added in the future.

Eggplant Parm

Part of the decor, yet is also functional is the enormous menus that hang on the wall in prominent places throughout the restaurant (see photo on left).  Bank said, “There are no daily specials at Carmine’s. The menu hasn’t changed in 20 years. We’re not big on creativity but we’re big on consistency. The food is the same in each location. With our enormous portions — it’s a tremendous value.”  Bank added, “There are many popular dishes, such as the Fried Calamari, Caesar Salad, Eggplant Parmigiana, Linguine with Clam Sauce, Rigatoni Country Style, Chicken Scarpariello, the 46 oz Porterhouse, and Chicken Contadina.”

Chicken Saltimbocca

With a group of 6 adults, we ordered two appetizers, three entrees, and two desserts. For the first course, we ordered their famous Cesar salad and the Eggplant Parmigiana. Yes, it’s true that I don’t like eggplant but I have heard so many good things about Carmine’s Eggplant Parm that I decided to try it. Quite to my surprise, I loved it and thought that it didn’t even taste like eggplant. The tomato sauce was tangy, just the way that I like it. Also, I could see why people rave about their Cesar salad and why it has been one of their top sellers since the first Carmine’s opened in 1990.

The Cesar dressing is thick, creamy, and has just enough anchovy to taste the way a good Cesar dressing should. The recipe in the Carmine’s cookbook, which Bank graciously gave to me when I met him on opening day, calls for anchovy fillets, garlic, egg yolk, red wine vinegar, lemon, and spices. I’d love to know how much Romaine lettuce Carmine’s goes through in a day! They probably could set a Guinness Book World Record for the amount used per year. We had only Cesar salad leftovers. We scarfed down the Eggplant parm. I think we would have finished off the salad also but I think people were saving room for the next course. Rightfully so! These portions are huge!

Server holding Lasagne.

We ordered three entrees, the traditional Lasagne, Chicken Saltimbocca, and the Seafood pasta with red sauce. The lasagne was enormous (see photo below which gives you an idea of the scale). After trying a couple of dishes with Carmine’s marinara sauce, I knew that I would like the lasagne. It was hearty with a meat sauce and thankfully not too much ricotta cheese.

Of the three entrees that I tried, the Chicken Saltimbocca was my favorite. The chicken is pounded flat, with prosciutto, and fresh sage leaves, dredged in flour, and then sauteed. It is served on a bed of spinach with a white wine sauce and melted mozzarella on top. The seafood pasta was a huge portion as well. It was chock full o’ seafood pieces such as lobster, calamari, mussels, clams, and jumbo shrimp. The pasta in the red sauce was delicious but I had a hard time eating the seafood, especially the lobster pieces which were often mostly shell. We had a lot of leftovers of this pasta and since my husband couldn’t join us for dinner, I brought it home to him. He loved it. I wasn’t surprised since he enjoys more hearty seafood fishes than I. He has eaten the pasta for two meals and we still have more left in the fridge.

Bill being serenaded for his Birthday.

For dessert, we ordered the Tiramisu and the Strawberry shortcake. One of our guests, Bill was celebrating his birthday so they brought out the Tiramisu, which was as large as a pie, with a candle on it. In addition, one of the staff song Happy Birthday to Bill beautifully. The entire restaurant cheered and clapped. The Tiramisu which means, “pick me up” in Italian was delicious. It tasted like creamy chocolate custard. Carmine’s uses super-rich Mascarpone as well as whipped cream and then tops it all with large chocolate shavings. I didn’t taste the espresso coffee flavors at all (which I don’t really like anyways).

The enormous strawberry shortcake was like a huge mountain of cream with strawberries decorated the way a Christmas Tree would with a stand of pound cake. It was difficult to serve but it was delicious. It was as large as my head!

Me holding the Strawberry Shortcake.

My only complaint is that the servers serve you and it takes too long. I would prefer to serve myself so I can put what I want and the right amount on my plate.

Bottom line: Carmine’s serves great food and makes dining in groups a lot of fun. The value for the amount of food that you get is unmatched. The decor is rustic and the photos on the walls makes you feel like your at Grandma’s house eating at your Nonna’s dinner table.

For more info: Carmine’s Website for reservations and more information. Carmine’s DC:425 7th Street NW (Penn Quarter metro)
Map/Directions : Google
Telephone: 202.737.7770

Chat with CEO of Carmine’s of New York, Jeffrey Bank.

Today I had the opportunity to meet the Chief Executive Officer of Alicart restaurant Group, Jeffrey Bank.  He’s in Washington, DC to oversee the opening of the new Carmine’s DC located at 425 7 Street NW in the Penn Quarter neighborhood. Everyone’s been chomping at the bit awaiting its opening. Today when I was there around 12 p.m. there were dozens of people standing around and peeking in the windows, which are now uncovered. They are in fact open this evening at 5 p.m. for dinner service.

I was excited to meet Mr. Bank but I didn’t know what to expect since I don’t spend that much time with New Yorkers but I really enjoyed speaking with him. He’s funny, witty, and he knows his stuff. Carmine’s is a big business. He said that last year, Carmine’s served over 800,00 meals and is the 2nd largest grossing independent restaurant group in the country.  This month Carmine’s is will celebrate its 20th year in business. The first to open was in New York City on the Upper West side.  Since in December 2004 Carmine’s opened at the Tropicana Casino and Resort in Atlantic City and in July of 2005 Carmine’s went international when it opened Carmine’s Atlantis at the Atlantis Resort, Paradise Island in the Bahamas. Now Carmine’s can add the nation’s capital to it’s list of locations but do Washingtonians really know what to expect from a big New York family style restaurant?

Carmine's DC is Now Open!

Carmine's DC is Now Open!

Bank said, “Carmine’s is like going to an Italian wedding or to your Italian Grandmother’s house for supper. It’s a big feast!” He said that when diners come to Carmine’s the first thing the server asks is if they’ve ever dined at Carmine’s before — that they need to know what they’re getting into.  He added that Carmine’s is well known for what he calls, “the Wow! factor” — guests are surprised by the over-sized, very generous portions which are made to serve 4-6 people.  In addition, he said that, “everyone is treated like a VIP. Everything is made to order.”

So what’s on the menu? There are no daily specials. You aren’t handed a menu when you’re seated.  The gigantic menus are posted on the walls for all to see. Bank said, “the menu hasn’t changed in 20 years. We’re not big on creativity but we’re big on consistency. The food is the same in each location and with our enormous portions, it’s a tremendous value. A group of college kids could come here and share a salad, some pasta, and a dessert and split it and pay seven bucks. You can’t beat that — it’s an incredible value”. Even for lunch, Bank said that there are lunch sized portions and their hero sandwiches comes with a free salad. Bank also said that, “the DC prices are actually lower than the New York City restaurant menus.”

Bank said that, “the number two dish is the Chicken Parmigiana” he added, “there are many popular dishes … the Fried Calamari, Caesar Salad, Eggplant Parmigiana, Linguine with Clam Sauce, Rigatoni Country Style, Chicken Scarpariello, the 46 oz Porterhouse, and Chicken Contadina.”

The Executive Chef at the Carmine’s DC, Terry Natas has been with Carmine’s for 6 years. He started as an Executive Sous Chef at the Atlantic City, NJ restaurant and was eventually promoted to the Executive Chef at the Atlantic resort Carmine’s in the Bahamas. Bank laughs, “Yeah, poor kid.” Chef Terry also served at Virgil’s, their barbecue restaurant, which Banks said will open in the DC area in the next 6-7 months.

The new Carmine’s DC is housed in 20,000 square feet with 700 seats, a colossal 40 seat wrap-around bar, a 50 seat cocktail lounge, 3 separate dining areas thanks to movable walls and 6 private dining rooms all equipped with state of the art technology. For private dining rooms, there are no rental fees — everything is already there, another great value.

At the bar and lounge, there are purposely placed outlets for guests to plug in their laptops, netbooks, phone, iPods, you name it. Oh, and if you forget your charger, no problem — the bartender has extras to loan. It’s incredible! It’s better than Starbucks — and way more swank!

Chandelier donated to Carmine's by Doug Jemal

Bank said that they came to DC because they thought the “demographic in DC worked for them”. He added that Carmine’s is perfect for the student, the “little red hat club” (old ladies going to the theatre) (I couldn’t help but laugh when he’s describing this), lobbyists, tourists, and of course, businessmen. Yesterday, the Dictrict of Columbia Mayor, Mr. Adrian M. Fenty credits that the new restaurant will bring 200 new jobs to Washington DC in the Washington Post. Bank said that they signed a 25 year lease and they plan to be here a while.  Inside the DC location, there is the nostalgic signature Carmine’s décor with walls strewn with black and white photographs depicting Italian American families surrounded by hanging chandeliers. Bank said that there are two very special chandeliers and one very special photograph on the wall. Douglas Jemal, President of Douglas Development donated two antique chandeliers that are worth over $60,000 a piece. Bank said that only the DC location has them but joked that Mr. Jemal could donate them all of the restaurants if he wanted. In exchange for his generous offering, Doug has his photo on the wall in the bar lounge area.

Worried about trying to get a reservation? Don’t! Bank said that they only take reservations for half of the restaurant’s capacity so that there will be tables available for walk-ins. Pretty cool … is it possible to fill up all 700 seats? I think tonight they might be surprised! Go get em’ foodies!