Mintwood Place

Mintwood Place is one of the most interesting restaurants I’ve been to in a long while. Very casual, but the food is serious and oh so good. I was not surprised to learn that the Chef is a semi-finalist for a James Beard award and that he recently nabbed honors as Best Chef Food & Wine Mid-Atlantic.Mintwood Place in DC

As is often the case, the appetizers were the best and most unusual part of the meal. We started with a burrata and kale salad, which looked nice enough, but tasted great. The kale was crispy, the burrata was creamy smooth and the sprinkling of apple and hazelnut on top added a bit of crunch. Really awesome.P1010165

Having read reviews online beforehand, I knew we needed to try the goat cheese and beet mountain pie even though I had no clue what it was. What it turned out to be was the most unusual beet dish I’ve ever had. Though it sounded unappealing from the description our server gave us, the four of us devoured it in seconds. As my son said, Arthur Bryant’s wasn’t the only restaurant up in arms when Hostess stopped making Wonder Bread, because this “mountain pie” featured two pieces of Wonder bread enveloping the goat cheese and paper thin slices of beet. Somehow the pie is closed up and the bread is toasted, sealing in the ingredients so the goat cheese can melt without oozing out until you slice it open.Goat cheese and beet mountain pie--Mintwood Place

Photos on the internet showed that the Tagliatelle Bolognese was a treat to behold, and the real thing was just as enticing. The noodles had been wrapped tightly and topped with a mound of Parmesan cheese that made my husband think he should order it despite the fact that he doesn’t eat meat. Instead he got the best of both worlds: the chef made him a vegetable pasta with a myriad of vegetables, and the same mound of grated cheese.Tagliatelle Bolognese--Mintwood PlaceTagliatelle with vegetables--Mintwood Place

We happened to go to Mintwood on a Sunday evening, which is Porchetta night. I’ve always shied away from ordering this Italian preparation of a pork roast because of the huge ring of fat that envelops the actual meat, but the server convinced me that it wasn’t overly rich, and that I wouldn’t regret it. So I went with his glowing recommendation and wasn’t disappointed. Yes, there was that huge ring of fat, but just like with a big piece of prime rib or a hunk of steak with the fat still on, you can just cut that part away and dive into the middle….which I did, and it was fabulous. The meat was pink in the middle, which made it moist and flavorful. A mustard-flavored charcuterie sauce accompanied the dish, but I preferred it unadulterated. The dish came with one side and I chose the Brussels sprouts. Roasted with ham, they were a bit smokey for my taste, but otherwise flawless. The better vegetable was the roasted broccolini, with glazed bits of nuts and onions.Porchetta--Mintwood PlaceBroccolini--Mintwood PlaceBrussel Sprouts--Mintwood PlacePotatoes Gratin--Mintwood Place

Though we had had more than enough to eat during this last meal of a marathon weekend of eating, we couldn’t resist trying one of the desserts. The key lime pie and the pecan pie were hard to pass up, but we went for a brownie sundae, whipped cream on the side. Good choice–the ice cream was full of chocolate chips and the brownie was chewy and fudgy.Brownie sundae--Mintwood Place

Mintwood’s decor deserves a mention as well, though it’s a struggle to describe. It fits right in the Adams-Morgan section of DC, epitomizing a neighborhood restaurant where patrons can have a drink and nibbles at the bar, a full on dinner, or a hungover brunch on a Sunday morning. The wood walls and tables offer a nice contrast to the tile floors, and the rusty machine parts displayed throughout the room give the interior a funky look.Mintwood PlaceMintwood Place

There’s nothing casual about the service. Servers are well-trained, friendly, capable and knowledgeable.

If our evening was any indication, this hot spot of the moment in DC is not going to fade anytime soon.

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Coopers Hawk Winery and Restaurant

Cooper’s Hawk Winery and Restaurant is the new kid on the Plaza, taking the space previously occupied by 810 Zone. Fortunately, no remnant of the former tenant remains. CHW executed a total redo and introduced a new concept in the process. Walking into the building, one first encounters a retail store. I was a little surprised by the commercialism, but was later told that the idea is to replicate a Napa winery, complete with tasting room and outlet to buy wine and accessories. The Napa theme isn’t far fetched. I interviewed corporate winemaker Rob Warren last month and he explained that while the wine itself is made in Illinois, most of their grapes are sourced from vineyards on the West coast, as well as some from Michigan. Perhaps Missouri grapes will be added to the lineup at some point?! P1000834

Before we had a chance to check out the merchandise, we were greeted by a server offering us a glass of bubbly from her tray. And because it was the first week of operation, staff members were swarming, some in training and others undoubtedly on loan from other CHW operations around the country. While roaming we noted that wine-tastings are available for a small fee, and all 15 varietals of Coopers Hawk wine are available for purchase. There were also a number of pretty cool wine accessories that would have made great stocking stuffers.Coopers Hawk

The check-in desk for a table is located behind the store, at the base of the steps which lead to the dining room and in front of the bar area. We were led upstairs to our booth, which was in one of many small dining areas, making the cavernous space seem more intimate and quiet than I would have thought possible. I did note that a couple of the rooms were too brightly lit, but we were seated in a room that was more appropriate for evening dining.Coopers Hawk

My visit had been set up by the CHW public relations firm and we received a complimentary meal. Our server was a college student who loved everything on the menu, making her recommendations a bit suspect, but she was attentive, friendly and well-intentioned.

We started with a bottle of Cabernet/Zinfandel which is described in the menu as being “full-bodied and jammy with aromas of black currant, pepper, and cherry.” Ordering a bottle of red wine triggers somewhat of a production–while our server went to get the bottle, another server brought to our table a huge decanter with a tap for releasing the wine into a glass. After opening the bottle, the server poured the wine over a glass ball which aerates the wine, cools it and releases the bouquet. Looking around the room I noticed one of those decanters on almost every table. Gimmicky? Perhaps, but it was a fun touch.Chicken Lettuce Wraps--Coopers Hawk

Word to the wise, many of the apps are for sharing; we ended up with way too much food. The lettuce wraps could have been a full meal on their own, and definitely a good item to share among 3 or 4 people. There were 5 individual tuna tacos to that order, again a fun appetizer to pass around the table.Tuna tacos--Coopers Hawk

The menu is huge. It’s one of those “something for everyone” type of menus. Salads, sandwiches, burgers, chicken, pork, beef, pasta and fish specialities fill the pages.

Though it’s probably a throwback to the 90s, I love fish with wasabi mashed potatoes, so I couldn’t resist the grilled salmon with those potatoes and Asian slaw. I like my salmon medium rare and it came to the table just as I requested. Visually, there was too much wasabi butter floating on top of the potatoes; I’d rather not see just how many calories I’m consuming, but the end result made me banish that image and just enjoy them.Salmon with Wasabi Mashed Potatoes

My husband had the Angel Hair Neapolitano with Fresh Garlic, Chili Flakes, Rotisserie Roasted Chicken, Broccoli, San Marzano Tomato Sauce, and Extra Virgin Olive Oil. For someone who loves pasta as much as he does, he was happy, but it wasn’t exceptional. He did have to ask for Parmesan, but he’s not shy…Angel Hair pasta with chicken--Coopers Hawk

I must have had pretzel rolls at 3 or 4 restaurants the week I dined at CHW. They certainly are the “it” bread of the moment. Here, they bring one large round loaf on a cutting board to the table for sharing.Pretzel Roll--Coopers Hawk

Of course we had to try dessert, so we picked the warm chocolate chip cookie in a skillet that had Reeces peanut butter cups baked in. Naturally it was topped with vanilla ice cream. Not a bad way to finish the meal before we rolled ourselves to the car.warm chocolate cookie with ice cream--Coopers Hawk

When dining at Coopers Hawk, the word “formulaic” comes to mind, but it works so I guess that’s something. If you’re looking for a nice meal, competent service and some good wine on the Plaza, add this to your list. It’s not a small, cozy independent restaurant but, except for a few restaurants like Classic Cup, you pretty much need to leave the Plaza to have that experience these days.

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The Jacobson

The Jacobson, the Crossroad’s newest hip restaurant, shares space with Lulu’s Noodle shop. Both occupy the old A.D. Jacobson Heating and Plumbing Company building. It’s a very cool space with glazed cement block walls, a mix of high and low tables, secluded boothes and plenty of bar counter seating. Some of the cocktails come in flasks to the table, sitting in an ice bucket so diners can pour their own or share.

The menu is large, and diners can choose to go light with flatbreads and salads, or heavier with entrees, both day and night.

On my first visit I indulged in a rich and decadent Banh Mi with sliced pork belly, cilantro and carrots, and a spicy mayo. I loved every bite, but it’s definitely not an every day kind of sandwich. If it were sliced pork loin or pulled pork shoulder I could pretend it wasn’t too bad for me, but pork belly is by definition fatty.

The Ahi tuna salad may be a standard on many a menu these days, but this is a good one, with good quality rare tuna and a very pleasant miso vinaigrette dressing up the greens.

On another go around we started with a wild mushroom and ricotta flatbread. The flatbread was crisp, with plentiful toppings, but the dough could have benefited from perhaps a bit more salt (which I hardly ever recommend!).

I really enjoyed the unusual Crossroads salad. The crisp romaine is  tossed with bacon, corn, tomatoes, avocado and a creamy oregano dressing, and a soft poached egg sits on top.  Eggs on salads are big right now, with good reason. The oozing yolk mixes with the dressing to add complexity to the salad.

The J has Happy Hour every day. It would be fun to hit the patio on a beautiful autumn day and throw back a few. There’s a full bar with beer on tap outside, and a water and fire element on the patio. It can be noisy with all of the construction going down in the Crossroads, but that’s the price of progress, and that stops in the early evening.

Desserts are definitely worth ordering. If you’re into Dutch Babies (looks like a cross between a huge pancake and Yorkshire pudding), I saw a few of them  pass by and they looked like the real deal. Servers seem to be partial to the Fig Newton, an unusual twist on my childhood fig newton sandwich: squares of bread pudding serve as the sandwich to the fig perserve filling and are drizzled with chocolate sauce. In a cute riff on cookies and milk, the dessert comes with a shot of Shatto banana milk. Adorable lookng, but since I’m not a bread pudding lover, I don’t think I’d get it again. The Brown Sugar cake on the other hand, with peanut butter ice cream and caramel sauce was a winner.

Chef John Smith has some impressive credentials, having worked with some of the great chefs in Chicago, New York and Paris. Based on his resume, I’m looking forward to trying out the dinner menu, which is more extensive and emphasizes fish, chicken and meat entrees.

It’s fun to go to the Crossroads these days. The ability to experience high quality fare from independent restaurateurs seems to be increasing at an exciting pace.

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The Boot

Walking into the Boot is such a pleasant experience. Someone will quickly greet you and guide you to your table while you look around and take in the very charming interior. The side walls are brick. Old wooden ladders hang sideways and their rungs are interspersed with flower vases. On one wall sits a painting that hung in proprietor Aaron Confessori’s dining room when he was growing up. On another is artwork that was created by an employee, and the back wall is covered with white subway tile. In the middle of the room is a communal table where diners sit in candy- cane red chairs making new friends. The vibe is energetic but not ear-splitting.

Front-of-the-house man Confessori and chef Rich Wiles own both the Boot, Westport Cafe and Bar, and also the Westport Street Fare, a food truck parked just down the street from their brick and mortar restaurants. I recently wrote a story for the Kansas City Star about these up-and-comers.

The Boot strives to be for Italian fare what the Westport Cafe is for French food–the restaurateurs want to provide simple and hearty meals in a casual setting.

Menu items include antipasti, Krizman’s sausages, meatballs, pizza, pasta and a handful of entrees. Based on my several trips there, I’ve found the best way to approach the menu is to order (depending on the size of your group), a couple of dishes in each category and then share them among your table mates. My favorite dishes include the handmade pulled mozzarella with beets and mushrooms, a riff on the more traditional caprese salad with mozzarella and tomatoes, the sheep’s milk ricotta with chile oil (addictive slathered on bread), braised short rib with polenta, and the skirt steak with salsa verde. Pasta dishes worth trying include the Parpadelle with red sauce and squid, and the Risotto Raggio, a not-very-pretty-looking but flavorful mushroom risotto. Both of these are based on recipes from the owners’ families. Other offerings that win praise are the short rib ravioli and the meatball sub.

The Boot recently started serving brunch on weekends, utilizing the same enticing deal as the Westport Cafe of offering a free mimosa or Bloody Mary with the purchase of an entrée. Both restaurants are becoming the place to be on Sunday mornings–especially the older crowd coming in early after church as well for twenty-somethings who roll out of bed at noon and want a hangover cure.

Aaron and Rich are very personable and aim to please, essential attributes for building a loyal clientele.

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Pasta with Ramp Sausage

On my first visit to the Local Pig, I selected a variety of items to try, including freshly homemade ramp sausage. Made with pork, it had flecks of the green vegetable in it. For those who are unfamiliar with ramps, they are similar to wild onions and have a garlicky flavor. 

I decided to cook up the ramp sausage and use it as the foundation for a pasta sauce. I sautéed some garlic in a touch of oil, added the sausage (after extracting it from the casing and crumbling it), and stirred until the pink was gone. I then added oven-roasted sungold cherry tomatoes and fresh tomato sauce, some red pepper flakes, and chopped up broccoli rabe and its stems.

I planned on using orchiette pasta, but went with the trofie pasta I had in my pantry. Tossing it with the sauce, I scooped the finished product into pasta bowls and served grated Parmesan at the table.

A winner of a dish and stunningly simple.

Locanda Verde–New York City

Locanda Verde has been on the map for quite some time. This charming Italian hot spot in Tribeca is owned by Andrew Carmellini, who just added The Dutch to his resume. Securing a reservation for dinner is no easy task, so rather than eat super early or late, we opted for brunch. Tables started filling slowly at 11:00 am, but by the time we left at 12:30, the place was packed and people were hanging out on the sidewalk waiting for people like us to abandon our table. To the waiter’s credit, we were never rushed as I’ve heard often happens in New York City restaurants. (In Kansas City would you ever be offered a dessert menu only be told by your server a few minutes later that you couldn’t order dessert because they needed to turn the table? True story…..)

No such issue at Locanda Verde as we took our time settling in and perusing the menu, which had so many appealing options that we couldn’t decide what to order.

At Locanda Verde I only took two photos before I was informed by management that they don’t allow diners to take pictures. That must be a new policy because there are photos of their dishes all over the Internet which, in fact, helped me decide what to order.

We started with Sheep’s Milk Ricotta with truffle honey and burnt orange toast for the table, though we were tempted by the pastries that were beautifully displayed on a nearby counter. The server also brought some very soft and spongy focaccia which we had no trouble devouring.

Moving on, I ordered shrimp and grits with a poached egg, and it was as luscious as the server described. Other dishes at the table included a soft scrambled egg crostini with leeks and mushrooms, wood-fired baked eggs with corona beans, mozzarella and black Tuscan kale, and lemon ricotta pancakes with blueberries and Meyer lemon curd. Not a dud in the group. In fact, everyone was happy and sated when we left, and I suspect a return visit is in our future. It would be hard for me not to repeat the same meal, but the dinner menu looks so amazing, I might try a little harder to score a night-time reservation.

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Fiola DC

Though Fiola is new to the DC dining scene, its chef/owner Fabio Trabocchi is not. The James Beard award winner is back after leaving the area to run Fiamma in New York’s SoHo.  Before that, he ran the kitchen at Maestro in Tyson’s Corner.

It’s safe to say DC diners are happy that he has returned, as Fiola is already being touted as one of the best Italian restaurants in the District. After my dinner there this summer, I’m not surprised.  While I didn’t love the fact that so many tables shared a common banquette that runs the length of the dining room, making  the quarters a bit cramped, I did like the Tuscan villa ambiance. It has a pleasant vibe, one where everyone realizes they are in a happening place.

And I loved the food.

My table mates are big into pasta and, as is often the case, they opted to order pasta for their appetizer as well as an entrée. Not a bad move, as that is definitely a specialty here.

Two of us started with Spaghetti mare with lump crab, sea urchin and spicy controne chiles. It had a decent kick to it, but not enough to overwhelm the seafood. It was one of those dishes that grows on you–the first bite was good but not awesome, by the time I finished the bowl, I wanted more. (I also wanted the bowls; they were gorgeous.)

Parpardelle funghi burst with mushroom flavor and, though it was billed as having a cream sauce, it wasn’t overly creamy. The morels made the dish.

Ricotta gnocchi is on the menu as a side dish, but it was filling enough to be a full appetizer. Instead of using potato to make the gnocchi, it was made with ricotta and then tossed with fresh pesto.

The winner of the group was probably the lobster ravioli, not only in terms of taste but presentation as well. There were chunks of lobster floating on top of the pasta, with a lobster foam capping it off. `

I had grilled langoustines for my entrée. The plate came with half a dozen of the crustaceans, and a small fork was all that was needed to pull the meat from the shell. The shrimp tasted more like lobster, but they were a bit mushy.

The bread was interesting, basically a cross between a popover and a croissant. I prefer something yeasty and chewy to mop up pasta sauces, but if you like buttery goodness, this wasn’t a bad alternative.

Though I prefer the feel of Bibiana, another Italian hot spot, I’d have a nod to the pasta at Fiola. Next on my list of trendy Washington Italian restaurants? Galileo III and Obelisk.
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Jasper’s Restaurant

A group of us went to Jasper’s on a recent Saturday evening, and the place was hopping! Every table was full, but we had made an early reservation and were able to secure a booth for six. It was comfy and conducive to conversation. I had not visited the restaurant in years other than to grab a quick sandwich in the Marco Polo deli side of the operation, and was reminded what a nice job the kitchen and staff do to facilitate an enjoyable evening.

This is tomato season, so of course we had to start with the freshly made mozzarella and heirloom tomatoes. Though frankly the tomatoes didn’t compare to the ones we’re growing in our garden, the  mozzarella was a real treat, and it was fun to watch it being made tableside.  Having seen how easy it was to make,  I really need to get on the stick and make it at home. The texture was smooth and silky and I loved that it was slightly warm from the water that had been used to create it. If you look closely in the photo, you can see the cheese being stretched and formed. It went nicely with the rolls that are brought to the table (no paying extra for bread here, we were given as much as we desired.)

A salad also comes with each entrée. It’s your typical house Italian salad with crisp iceberg, but the dressing was tangy and the lettuce was cold, so though it was unimaginative, it was good for what is was. Full dinners and pastas are quite large, but the restaurant discourages splitting meals by hitting customers with a $6.95 charge if they choose to do so. It comes with an extra salad, but I think I’d rather see a smaller portion than adding the additional fee since so many diners can’t or don’t want to eat such massive quantities.

I had a dish off of the summer menu, Chicken Toscaini. It was a combination of diced chicken and Italian sausage, with peas, mushrooms, artichokes, and Kalamata olives, all mixed together with Jasper’s tomato sauce. Too much to eat, but I thought the ingredients worked very well together, and it was lighter on a hot night than a big bowl of pasta would have been.

But there were plenty of pastas at the table as well. A summer pasta with uncooked tomato sauce, pasta with meat sauce, Linguine Con Vongole (clams),  and Linguine Fra Diavolo (spicy) Con Scampi. Nothing mind-blowing emerged from the kitchen, but everything was certainly satisfying, on a par with Garozzo’s and Carmen’s Cafe.

We all had more than enough to fill our bellies, and told the server that we didn’t want dessert. But when she brought by the cart and started describing each of the desserts on display, we were putty in her hands. We tried the tartufo, my favorite, a peach Napoleon and traditional cannoli. I’m partial to chocolate, so I only sampled a bite of the others, but it’s obvious they have a good pastry/dessert chef on staff. The tartufo reminded me of the one I adored at Fedora’s on the Plaza. My husband and I shared one for many an anniversary treat, and we were so sad when the restaurant closed. Jasper’s version isn’t rolled in white chocolate as Fedora’s was, but the ball is made of white chocolate and sits in chocolate sauce.

We rolled out of the restaurant at that point, sated to say the least, and very  pleased with the quality of the food, service and overall experience.

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ABC Kitchen–New York City

Recently named the James Beard ” New Restaurant of the Year 2011″, this was not an easy reservation to snag. But it was worth the effort to get a table at ABC Kitchen in New York City. It’s in the old ABC Home space and that alone is an enticement. The restaurant employs artisan, sustainable, local and recycled materials on the walls and at the table, marrying beautifully with the food on the plate.

ABC Kitchen is currently the hottest restaurant in Jean-Georges Vongerichton’s empire, with good reason. It’s an incredibly cool-looking space, with a fabulous array of lighting fixtures hung and strung throughout the restaurant. (The overall effect is quite dark, hence my pictures didn’t come out well enough to give you an accurate portrayal.) It’s also a celebrity hot spot–we saw actor Hugh Jackman and magician David Blaine chatting it up with Chef Jean-Georges.

But the food is the real star here. Though the appetizers and salads were more inventive and eye-popping than the entrees, we enjoyed all the dishes we ordered. And the presentation was marvelous.

We started with spring pea soup. The bright Kelly green puree was dotted with fresh peas and had several mouth-watering croutons floating on top.

Having read countless online reviews that the Roasted Carrot and Avocado salad was a must, we followed instructions and were not disappointed. The way the carrots were roasted brought out their sweetness in remarkable fashion which, when combined with the buttery avocado made for an unlikely but lively duo.

The tuna sashimi marinated with ginger and mint was not the best I’ve ever had, but it was silky and refreshing.

There are a number of pastas and pizzas on the menu, and tempted as I was by all of the raves I had read about the mushroom pizza with a fried egg is a real winner, we decided to go for the mozzarella and bread instead. It turned out to be a great decision, as one of the highlights of the dinner was the large bowl of warm, fresh mozzarella covered with olive oil, sprinkled with freshly grated black pepper and sea salt, and served with a spoon and awesome bread.

We also shared fresh cavatelli with guanciale, ramps, spring vegetables and pecorino. Not a complicated dish at all, but deeply satisfying. We fought each other for the last bite.

The two entrees we split were the steamed halibut with mushrooms, asparagus and topped spring onion chili vinaigrette, and black bass with chiles, herbs, spinach and potato. As I mentioned, next time I’ll skip the entrees, which were lovely but not sensational. They just couldn’t compete with the appetizers and salads. I wouldn’t resist one of those pizzas either.

I would, however, have dessert again. The same one. We ordered a sundae with caramel ice cream, fudge sauce and popcorn. Fortunately, it was a huge bowl, though the three of us managed to scrape the sides. What a stellar combination.

My only complaint about the evening is that the hard surfaces and tall ceilings result in a very loud decibel level, making it a bit problematic for easy conversation. But nothing could detract from the meal itself. It was a glowing example of how fresh is best and food need not be complicated to be delicious– culinary artistry at its finest.

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Yia Yia’s Euro Bistro

I’m always on a hunt for the latest and greatest new restaurant, so I often forget about older spots that are still playing to large crowds.

Yia’s Yia’s is a case in point. It is the last of the full service PB&J restaurants still standing, after Grand Street Cafe, Coyote Grill, Paulo and Bill’s and Yahooz closed or were sold. It continues to be packed at all hours, and is a constant in a sea of Leawood restaurants that is always in motion.

At the urging of a friend who frequents Yia’s Yia’s on a regular basis, a group of us went for lunch recently. We took advantage of the salad and sandwich combo, which allows you to order any salad and sandwich and get a half of each.

The lobster sandwich sounded like a riff on a classic club, with smoked bacon, baby arugula and tomatoes with ancho mayonnaise. Grilled on sourdough bread, it was more like a lobster salad, with the bits of lobster tossed in the mayonnaise rather than layered in chunks. It was tasty, but just off–the flavor of the lobster was lost in the mix of ingredients. The Grilled Beef Tenderloin was piled high with roasted mushrooms, caramelized onions, sundried tomatoes and cheese on a chewy ciabatta bun. A burger, roast turkey, grilled chicken and vegetarian sandwiches are also offered.

Bill’s Chicken salad is still a staple, having been popular on all of the PB&J menus for decades. The Grilled Salmon salad is also alive and well, the crispy shoestring potatoes  providing a welcome crunch to the salad. There is also the ubiquitous cobb, as well as a Caesar, pear and gorgonzola, Greek and steak salad.

Full entrees and wood fired pizzas round out the extensive menu and, in a nice touch, instead of serving butter with their bread, baba ganoush is brought to the table.

The tri-level restaurant was packed for lunch and reservations are still hard to come by on the weekends. There is also an outdoor seating area that is very popular in warm weather.

My visit to Yia Yia’s was a reminder that new is not always better. There’s something to be said for reliable.


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