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With my left hand, I twirled bucatini onto my fork. The aggressive use of black pepper in this version of cacio e pepe was stunning. The last few years thrust this Roman pasta into the spotlight, though its muted color palette makes it a surprising Instagram star next to the unicorn-inspired treats also winning on social media.
It’s simple—the name itself translates to cheese and pepper—but when done with a deft hand and good ingredients, it’s a dish elegant and comforting all at once.
And I needed that meditative twirling and carb-loading.
This is my first week back after more than three months on maternity leave.
Dinner at Mia’s Italian Kitchen in Old Town Alexandria was in parts delicious, mediocre and manic. Holding a sleeping infant with my right arm, I navigated the menu, rapid-fire ordering appetizers to appease my almost-3 year old who was almost throwing a fit. She started preschool this week and is still adjusting to a new schedule.
Because I’ve been eating dinner professionally for almost seven years at Northern Virginia Magazine, I can scan a menu, understand what it’s trying to be, taste dishes on that theme and judge the atmosphere, service and food while still keeping my infant asleep. At least on that night on King Street.
Of course, sitting in front of a screen takes a lot of thoughtful consideration and time. Writing never gets easier.
So here I am, back at the table. And I have a lot of catching up to do because while I’ve been at home experimenting with cooking times and liquid ratios for dried beans, and, you know, keeping a newborn alive, there’s been a lot going on in the local restaurant scene.
I guess the poke trend isn’t going away. SER launched a six-course tasting menu and a kid’s menu. Rustico’s Ballston location now features a beer garden. The rise of cider continues, and the drink is available at The Happy Tart starting this weekend. Market Salamander got a makeover, now with sushi and ancient grain bowls. But first: Japanese barbecue.
It’s too bad the old-school French La Bergerie will not reincarnate as an updated restaurant and inn. I never did make it to Portner Brewhouse. I will miss the multiple rounds of bread service (with Kerrygold butter!) and the de-crumbing of the table between courses at the now-defunct Restaurant Eve. It’s the details, you know?
Thanks to the many writers (Rina Rapuano, Lani Furbank, Whitney Pipkin, Jessica Strelitz, Nevin Martell and Holley Simmons) who filled in for me while I was gone, and a special thanks to my coworkers and editor, Lynn.
As for this summer, besides figuring out how to live life as a mother of a toddler and an infant and also perform my duties as a restaurant critic, I’m on the hunt for a local maker of booza, this stretchy, Middle Eastern-style of ice cream. Send tips!