Austin’s Ristorante Il Forte Shares Homemade Flavors of Tuscany

By Fatin Kwasny, Founder & Austin Ambassador

When Cesar Navari and his wife Renata decided to open Ristorante Il Forte in downtown Austin, they brought a taste of their small coastal town of Forte Dei Marmi, Italy with them to share with the Long Horn Nation. Walk into their authentic northern Italian eatery on 8th street between Brazos and Congress Ave., and you’ll find the restaurant decorated with beautiful Italian-marble tables, paying homage to both their new home and the old-world Italian tradition they share. As MezzeCulture cultural hosts the Navari's hosts a group of travel enthusiasts for a monthly event series, A Northern Italy Homemade Pasta Tour.  
 

Spaghetti Carbonara is made with farm fresh eggs, culatello, prosciutto, and pecorino romano cheese with fresh Italian parsley.

Spaghetti Carbonara is made with farm fresh eggs, culatello, prosciutto, and pecorino romano cheese with fresh Italian parsley.


The Navari’s use their own Tuscan family recipes to create a range of specialties that patrons have come to love. From panini to pastas and a selection of wonderfully traditional antipasti and insalate, to small plates and salads, as well as a range of meat-rich dishes and sauces that accompany house-made ravioli and pastas. Of course, no generous Italian meal would be complete without an offering of several decedent Italian desserts, and that’s just what Il Forte does to delight guests with selections such as a custard-based Mascarpone Mousse and homemade Tiramisu that is Renata's specialty. 
 

A Dinner Tour Through Italian Pasta
5.00

In this monthly event series, our guests will embark on an exclusive introduction to Italian pasta with Cesar, owner of Il Forte Ristorante. Ticket includes entry to the tour, and (1) glass of red or white house wine, or (1) bottled beer. 

 


When it comes to their family recipes from Tuscany, the team at Il Forte proudly shares the classic taste of their regional Italian fare from the small town of Forte Dei Marmi on the western coast of Italy in the Province of Lucca, about an hour and a half from Florence. “When someone goes to [dine] at a restaurant in Italy, you’ll find small restaurants are run by the family and they take pride in everything they do, from the wine to the dishes to the experience,” Navari shared. These sentiments are what lay behind his and Renata’s own enthusiasm to share an authentic and warm experience that’s as quintessentially Italian with their own guests. 
 

.Guests exploring Italian culture through the Northern Italy Homemade Pasta Tour event series hosted by Il Forte

.Guests exploring Italian culture through the Northern Italy Homemade Pasta Tour event series hosted by Il Forte


At the downtown eatery some dishes are a surprise to diners more familiar with popular Italian-American cuisine, but after stepping out of their comfort zones and giving these traditional Italian dishes and ingredients a try, they absolutely love them—the intense flavor of a meat-based ragù simmered like a familiar Bolognese sauce but a bit longer, for example, has become a favorite after being recently added to the menu.  
 

Fettuccine with mushroom ragù

Fettuccine with mushroom ragù


Step into the restaurant and you’ll feel a kind of joy as you walk into family-owned Italian hospitality that you're drawn to  become a part of.  From a large photo of Forte Dei Marmi that decorates the wall above the entryway, to the marbled tables celebrating the locally beloved University of Texas Long Horns, and the warm scents of a large pizza oven baking favorites, the Navari’s and their Austin patrons always feel at home at Ristorante Il Forte. 

Austin Business Owners Share Favorite Dishes from Abroad

By Fatin Kwasny, Founder & Austin ambassador

Must-try dishes from Colombia, Cuba, Jordan, and Peru

Like in many multicultural cities, we believe there's more for Austin’s travel enthusiasts to learn about international dishes just by stepping into their backyard than by reading a second-hand account in a book, blog or television program about a country first. That’s why this article series will be based on the advice of local Austinites whose cultural influences have not simply intrigued them but shaped them, with the essence of a culture becoming their very livelihood.

It’s because advice about international food that comes from the heart of someone that shares for a living forms an experience you can trust, and that’s bound to feed more than your senses. A peer or friend’s opinion, or even a review on where the best international dishes are in Austin might be a place to start, but read on for the thoughts of true connoisseurs who’ve been influenced abroad and are now local Austin business owners.

As Americans with strong international backgrounds, their favorites are based on the cultures they grew up with or that their businesses represent, sharing a slice of countries that enthusiasts can explore locally. Our hope is that getting to know cultures through food favorites of local businesses will guide you to stumble upon something new that you didn’t know you’d love.

Read on as four Austin business owners share their favorites, including why they enjoy the food, and where they remember it best prepared abroad.

From Colombia: Ajiaco con Pollo

Astrid is a local artist that owns Astrid’s Colombian Jewelry, a handmade shop in Austin featuring beautiful accessories from bracelets to earrings and necklaces made from natural materials like nuts and fruits, like in her native Colombia. Her favorite dish is a soup called Ajiaco con Pollo, from her state of Cundinamarca. Ajiaco is made with chicken, green peas and carrots, and different kinds of potatoes, including yellow or Andes potatoes, whichever can be found locally in Austin.

Ajiaco Con Pollo / Source: Sabores de Mi Tierra Facebook

Ajiaco Con Pollo / Source: Sabores de Mi Tierra Facebook

The soup is made with guascas, a plant from the daisy family used for seasoning, which can be found in the Altiplano Cundiboyacense in the eastern Colombian Andes Mountains. “Colombia has a [rich] variety of food depending on where you are located… and everything is pretty yummy,” Astrid shared. She’s enjoyed this dish in her home state, and for the travel enthusiast recommends the small Colombian town of Machetá in the state of Cundinamarca because of it’s good food, but also amazing views, friendly people and outstanding landscapes.

From Cuba: Sandwich Cubano

When we asked Iska, the owner of south Austin’s genuine Cuban eatery Guantanamera, what his favorite Cuban dish was, he said it was most definitely the Sandwich Cubano—the quintessential Cuban Sandwich because it’s so simple and delicious. “The ingredients inside a Cuban sandwich are simple: ham, roasted pork, Swiss cheese, pickles, mustard, and every Cuban sandwich needs Cuban bread,” he shared. He also explained that although comparable to French or Italian bread, Cuban bread has a different baking method and ingredient list which makes the difference.

Sandwich Cubano / Source: Guantanamera Facebook

Sandwich Cubano / Source: Guantanamera Facebook

A native of Cuba, he recalled having the best Cuban sandwich in the city of Bayamo. He said that there the sandwich he had was made with pork, lechon in Spanish, roasted with firewood from the local hills. When considered, it’s understandable why the version of the sandwich served at Guantanamera—coupled with a thoughtful ambiance and signature drinks like a crisp mojito—the restaurant maintains an esteemed level of authenticity to get you as close to Cuba as you can get in Austin.

From Jordan: Maamoul (also known as Kombe)

Ali, the owner of food truck Austin’s Habibi tucked below a towering skyscraper downtown, turned his childhood passion and family legacy into a local eatery. He serves the type of fresh, healthy and flavorful food that the eastern Mediterranean is known for, from Greece to the Middle East. While he features a number of savory dishes for locals to try, he also recalls his favorite dessert—a small, shortbread cookie called Kombe, in Turkey, but also known as Maa’moul in Jordan, where he had the best version of the treat because of its tasty and plentiful when served.

Maa’moul or Kombe / Source: Cardamom Rose Bakery Facebook

Maa’moul or Kombe / Source: Cardamom Rose Bakery Facebook

A native of the eastern Mediterranean, he especially enjoys Greece, a reason for the Greek influence in the dishes he serves. When he came to Austin, he decided to open the same type of eateries he grew with abroad while working with his father. Offering a taste of home, he also seems to remind us that no meal is ever complete without dessert. Curious cultural enthusiasts should stay tuned as Austin’s Habibi will be opening a brick-and-mortar restaurant soon.



From Peru: Lomo Saltado

Miguel owns and runs the downtown Austin food truck Llama’s Peruvian Creole. Although his favorite Peruvian dish varies, he’s a big fan of Lomo Saltado, which his eatery also serves up. The dish is “a beef tenderloin stir-fry over steak fries and garlic rice to soak it all up,” he shared. In the version served at Llama’s, Miguel includes homemade sauces on the side, such as Rocoto, Huancaina, and Anticuchera.

Lomo Saltado / Source: Llama’s Peruvian Creole

Lomo Saltado / Source: Llama’s Peruvian Creole

“I’ve tried Lomo Saltado all over Perú. Besides finding quality beef perfectly cooked and smoky, the Huacatay sauces I encounter in Perú are uniquely delicious,” he shared. In his book, Perú always wins when it comes to ingredients because there’s nothing like a well-prepared dish served in the coastal South American country. He invites curious cultural enthusiasts to stop by Llama’s on September 4th for a free sample during its first annual Lomo Saltado Day.

Chef Julio-Cesar Florez Shares Taste of Peru in Austin Pop-up Dinner

By Fatin Kwasny, Founder & Austin ambassador

When you’ve gathered together a group of Austin’s international culture and travel enthusiasts to discover Peruvian cuisine, on the day of the country’s independence and at a table in a Spanish restaurant, it’s going to be nothing short of an extraordinary juxtaposition—and celebration.

Last week, MezzeCulture teamed up with Austin-based Executive Chef Julio-Cesar Florez, for a ticketed 4-course introduction to Peruvian cuisine, and how it’s been inspired by Spanish culture. During the exclusive meal guided by Chef Julio, sixteen MezzeCulture guests greeted one another across a communal table and then listened intently to a story as each plate was described, during a unique two-and-a-half-hour Peruvian experience.

For a bit of a history lesson, it was in 1542 that the Spanish extended their rule over the Inca Empire and the Viceroyalty of Peru was established, of course only after a long campaign that took many years before the Incas, the mightiest empire in the Americas, could be subdued. Peru gained it independence from the Spanish in 1821.

It’s now been over 500 years since the Spanish first occupied Peru, and with it left numerous cultural influences from architecture to food. Over the centuries, Peruvian culture has also been shaped by its indigenous populations, including pre-Incan and Incan cultures, as well as influences from Japanese, African, and Italian cultures. We learned from Chef Julio that all of these influences were taken and mixed to form a modern-day creole, or criolla, culture in Peru.

For our diners, the dinner was an opportunity for Austinites to discover in their backyard why Peru is the gastronomic capital of the Americas and has been the number one culinary destination in the world for the past 5 years.

The menu was more than about eating good food, but rather and more importantly it was to learn about Peruvian culture through the food. The menu was culturally inspired by Chef Julio’s own experiences as a kid growing up in Lima, Peru’s capital city. “Lima was the viceroyalty of the Spanish empire in the 1500’s and it was referred to as ‘the city of kings,’ and each dish on the menu has direct Spanish influences whether it’s from ingredient or preparation,” he shared with us.

Many times, the cuisine is a person’s first venture into a country’s culture. For all but one guest, who at one time had even hiked to the top of Peru’s acclaimed Incan citadel Machu Picchu, this pop-up dinner was the first time our diners had ever experienced Peruvian culture through food. It was clear from first seating that everyone was excited to try each dish—and some were surprised by some really new flavors. Austin doesn’t have a lot of places to experience Peruvian culture through its food, so the dinner was the perfect opportunity for curious palettes.

Over the course of the dinner, guests were also treated to a Pisco Sour and Chilanco de Pisco, the most popular cocktails in Peru. While pisco is considered a South American classic, especially in Peru, the Pisco Sour was actually invented in the early 1920’s by an American bartender in Lima named Victor Vaughen Morris. Over the next few years it underwent some changes before settling into the modern Peruvian recipe we know today.

The first course served was Cebiche Criollo, a fresh seafood dish made from Hamachi, a type of fish, octopus and fried calamari, with choclo, cancha, and aji limo leche de tigre. “I wanted [this dish] to represent the bounty of seafood the Pacific Ocean provides Peru,” the chef shared. One of the main reasons Peruvian food is so amazing is because of the importance of using very fresh and high quality ingredients. The Spanish octopus and Japanese Hamachi were both delicious and tender, well prepared and presented in this Peruvian dish.

Chupe de Camarones was the second course, a contemporary presentation of the chef’s favorite childhood dish, this was a chowder of gulf shrimp, potatoes, queso fresco, aji panca, and fried egg. As the chef explained, the dish originated in the Peruvian city of Arequipa which is known for having exceptional langoustines, little prawns. We also learned that there are many kinds of Chupe, or chowders, served in Peru but this is the most popular version of the dish we learned. “My mom used to make this when I was kid. [In fact,] I’d even ask her to make this for me on my birthday,” Chef Julio shared.

Next the team served up a dish called Aji de Gallina, a plate layered with pulled chicken, aji amarillo, potatoes, pecans, and an alfonso olive. The dish literally means, “chicken braised in aji peppers,” in Spanish. Chef Julio explained that it was was during his studies of Spanish cuisine that he also discovered an interesting fact about sauces like those used in this dish.

He shared with us that, “[while] going over the use of bead and nuts as a thickener of sauces, I realized the direct connection that Aji de Gallina, an emblematic Peruvian dish, had with Spanish tradition. I imagined Spanish immigrants in Peru cooking using their own techniques but with Peruvian ingredients, [essentially] coming up with different concoctions that [would lead] to the creation of Peru’s most popular dishes…”

He also explained that we could see the natural progression of the depth of Spanish influences on Peruvian cuisine when we looked at other modern-day Peruvian recipes like Romesco, Salmorejo, and Ajo Blanco, which are essentially all Spanish dishes thickened with bread and nuts.

While bread and nuts are commonly used as thickening agents in the Peruvian sauces, we learned about other similar techniques when making sauces like Huancaina, thickened with bread or crackers, or Ocopa, which uses animal crackers and peanuts rather than bread, as well as a sauce called Uchucuta, which includes a variation that is sometimes thickened using peanuts.

Lastly, our Peruvian explorers enjoyed a decadent dessert called Suspiro de Limeña made with manjar blanco, or vanilla custard, and a port meringue. While the introduction of ingredients like milk, nuts and honey date back to the times of the Spanish Empire, as the story goes the name for this dessert was given by poet Jose Galvez when it was invented by his wife a couple hundred years ago. In Spanish, the name literally translates to “A lady’s sigh” because, like the sound the dessert is sweet and light Galvez is credited to have said. Today, it is known as one of the most loved Peruvian desserts.

Within just a couple hours over dinner, Chef Julio took us on a culinary journey through coastal Peru. The end of dinner left us with more than full bellies—we received our first impressions of how a capital city like Lima and country not only won its independence, but also embraced the influences left behind to shape the distinct flavors and culinary style that make up the charming seaside nation it is today.

Prelog’s European Kitchen & Bar Creates Authentic Moments in Austin

By Fatin Kwasny, Founder & Austin ambassador

Chef Florian Prelog and his wife Romana believe the best version of ourselves come out in places where we can relax—at their restaurant, it’s in the freedom of things like charting the pace of your meals, lingering over coffee and truly savoring the experience that European cultures value. When the couple came from Austria to open their upscale restaurant in downtown Austin last Spring, they paired the best in European food and drink with its relaxed way of life—for dining that reaches beyond our bellies and into our spirit. From the murals of European landmarks inside, to open-air patio dining reminiscent of Europe’s busiest squares, guests can truly sink into the artful cuisine and experience at Prelog’s, beautifully perched alongside a serine view of Austin’s Shoal creek.

It’s a place that reminds us of why we travel to explore Europe’s best experiences—offering a place to eat, rejuvenate and unwind, and all the while in our own backyard. In fact, everything about this European getaway in downtown Austin is about savoring the moment without needing a reason to. “There is a European style to hospitality that we strive to translate across the food, décor, kitchen, location and especially our team, that’s a reflection of our culture,” said Romana. “It was important to create a presence that truly carried an authentic European vibe, along with the passion and promise we want guests to come away with in our restaurant,” she explained.

From the eclectic menu and careful preparation to even the pace, Prelog’s maintains a European authenticity while appealing to Austin’s overall vibe. “Taste is like a heartbeat, and we wanted to create an unexpected experience beyond satisfying the desire for good food,” explained Chef Florian as he describe how they wanted the perception, or taste, of European cuisine to resonate in the whole experience guests come away with. Several of the servers have come from as far as Italy, Spain and Germany, contributing to the experience of feeling transported to regional Europe.

Largely inspired by his training in classic French technique, Chef Florian’s cuisine features a revolving menu, today displaying traditional and eclectic takes on Austrian, German, Italian, Spanish, and French food culture.  “In our ingredients and preparation, we try to add an element of surprise layered on top of each classic taste of the European cultures we represent,” he told us. “For example, in Spain, you’d expect good pork, in Italy great cheese and olive oil, and in Switzerland amazing chocolate, and so forth from other countries, so we try to give a taste so that our guests feel like they could be sitting there or in Belgium, or Croatia,” he continued.

His team treats the preparation of customary dishes like true artists, wielding dishes as their canvases and food as their colorful palettes. Whether its their Austrian rollad served with red cabbage or a dish of pork prepared the Spanish way, French-style croquettes and vegetables in herb-butter or classic ingredients like Italian prosciutto, you’ll be presented an artful masterpiece while being encouraged to sit back and savor it.

In a city known for its live music and constant motion, guests can truly take the time to slow their pace at Prelog’s. From peaceful conversations, to courteous servers who don’t simply assume everyone’s in a hurry, you’re encouraged to enjoy your picks and then give your own cue for the check, which is customary in Europe. Whether you opt for a candle-lit table near the open kitchen, a family outing in its beautiful kid- and pet-friendly patio lounge, or for a coffee break with a friend, lunch or dinner, you’ll be treated to handcrafted meal or beverage at your leisure.

“In Austria, family and hospitality is very important, and so we want our guests to know us and to feel like a part of our family through the love and good vibes that we hope comes across,” Chef Florian shared of their desire for guests who dine with them, as they take each experience to heart. It’s that type of genuine concern that carries through from the products they use to the dedication in giving them a great culinary experience. In fact, family is so important that the whole Prelog’s family came from Austria to celebrate the opening of the restaurant last March.

Like you’d enjoy in Europe, Prelog’s patio is the perfect place for downtown Austin’s urban community to enjoy a coffee, have a meeting, or hang out—slow down, let loose, and have an iced coffee or cappuccino, and socialize.  “It’s a mentality in Europe that you can jump in anywhere for an espresso, quick coffee or a glass of wine to socialize a bit, and then go,” shared Romana. “It’s different than the experience at Starbucks which has people lined up, the coffee culture here is about sitting to enjoy it, even for a few minutes, because that down time to yourself is important.”

That knowledge and appreciation of good food started from a very young age for Chef Florian. The family name used for the restaurant goes back many years to a legacy of grocers. His grandparents started what became the first grocery store line and an iconic brand in Graz, Austria, where he and Romana are both from. A passion for cooking and great dishes and restaurants was instilled in him from his mother, and his older brother, Chris, largely influenced his decision to pursue the hospitality industry.  At age 15, the young cook knew he wanted to become a chef. After graduation from hospitality school, he went on to work in the cruise industry for a few years and soak up all he could learn about the industry. That’s where different cultures from around the world started to shape his impressions of food.

That’s why the menu at Prelog’s changes frequently, to spur further creativity and enhance the element of surprise. “If the menu stays the same, it’s as if it becomes dead rather than serving as a source of inspiration for guests,” Chef Florian shared. “We use the classics as a baseline to inspire other new dishes, so that when I go to the market and see that tomatoes or the fish is fresh and add it to the menu, the change becomes a part of the pulse that everything here is constantly made fresh and in-house,” he explained.

Before opening his own restaurant in Austin, he worked with well-known chefs from Austria and across western Europe to Scotland, before finishing national military service in Austria, meeting his wife Romana while they both helped to open a fine dining restaurant in Austria, and then returning to the cruise industry together. It was then that their dream for opening their own restaurant began to form. Today, Prelog’s European Kitchen & Bar stands as an impression of those experiences, rooted in the legacy of a good meal, prepared with great care, and ready to delight everyone in Austin with a desire to sit back, relax and soak it all in.

Harpet Macaw Gives DC a Chocolatey Taste of Brazil

By Kacy Kish, Washington DC ambassador

 Harper Macaw is a new artisanal chocolate factory in DC. Their grand opening was this past December, and my husband and I just happened to show up in time for their first ever tour of the space. But first, free hot chocolate.

Made from pure chocolate, not powder, this little shot of hot chocolate was decadent and heavenly. From the first sip, I knew we wouldn’t regret the drive out to the factory.

I have to say, for a store’s opening day, they had everything worked out incredibly well.
A tour costs $5 and includes a chocolate tasting at the end. We paid in advance and were told to help ourselves to more free chocolate samples on the beautiful wall of chocolate.

I passed on this, but Tom obliged, reporting back that they were all very good. I started to get even more excited to learn more about this new venture.

One of the things that caught my eye when reading about Harper Macaw was that they source all of their cocoa beans from Brazil and that every product they sell protects and restores deforested or vulnerable rainforest in Northeast Brazil.

As a DC resident who recently spent five months living in Brazil, I was instantly drawn to Harper Macaw’s mission and our visit only made me respect their initiative more.

Run by a husband and wife team, Sarah and Colin Hartman, Harper Macaw is hoping to change the artisanal chocolate scene for the better. Sarah, a chocolate maker from Sao Paulo, seems to be well poised for success.

Colin, a U.S. Marine Veteran, explained during our tour that compared to the coffee and craft beer industries, little is really known about chocolate making on a craft level. The big companies keep the majority of their recipes and information to themselves, so startups have to be innovative to make it work.

Our tour started in the storage room, where giant bags of cocoa beans wait to become delicious bars of chocolate. Harper Macaw works closely with its cocoa bean farmers to ensure they practice sustainable farming, which helps to maintain tree cover and increases biodiversity in the rainforests. These practices help both the wildlife in the surrounding regions as well as to raise the level of income potential for the farmers.

Here, the beans are cleaned, classified and roasted before going through a machine called a winnower, which cracks the beans and separates the chocolate nibs, which are then used to create the final product.

Next, the chocolate is put into a conche machine which creates a chocolate liquor prior to the refinement process. We were offered a taste of the liquor, which looked a lot like cake batter but didn’t quite taste like it. It was gritty and slightly bitter, but you could definitely start to taste the familiar flavor of chocolate.

Next, the chocolate is tempered to bind the crystals from the cocoa butter and the sugar so that the chocolate dries in the right chemical structure. The chocolate is then poured into molds and once dry, wrapped in recyclable paper instead of foil. Besides being environmentally friendly, this keeps the chocolate from absorbing any outside flavors.

I’ve definitely dumbed the process down here. While I’m pretty much an expert chocolate eater, I’m far from knowledgeable in chocolate making. I highly recommend visiting the factory and taking a tour for more in-depth information.

The tour concludes with a tasting of all four of Harper Macaw’s chocolate varieties. Sarah joined us to teach us how to properly taste chocolate and give us more information about her products. We were pretty excited about this part.

When tasting chocolate, you should first rub the chocolate between your fingers to get it to melt slightly which will release the flavors and aromas of the cocoa beans. Don’t mind my super cute food-safe hair net, or the guilty look on my face, I was just massaging my chocolate as instructed.

 

Once you place the chocolate in your mouth, take a few bites but then allow it to melt completely in your mouth instead of continuing to chew it. This will allow you to experience all of the flavors of the chocolate, of which there are many more than I realized.

I’m usually not a huge fan of dark chocolate, but I may now be converted. We started with Harper Macaw’s 52% milk chocolate, which is decadent like a good milk chocolate should be while still offering a lot of complexity. The varieties got darker as we progressed from 67% to 74% to 77%. Each version had different flavor profiles, with a lot of different nutty and fruity flavors I wouldn’t usually associate with chocolate. I think my favorite was the 74%, but it’s hard to choose.

Chocolate bars cost $8 each at the factory and $9 online and offsite (the bars are also sold at Glen’s Garden Market). They also sell chocolate nibs, fresh-baked goods and hot chocolate at the factory.

Whether you need a few stocking stuffers or gifts for your coworkers, I highly recommend checking out Harper Macaw Chocolate Factory and supporting a new local DC business along with forest conservation efforts in Brazil.

Also, a chocolate tour and tasting would make for an excellent first date, or second, or thousandth in our case. Tom was actually really impressed with me for finding such a fun way to do our Christmas shopping. The fact that we got to drink beer next door at DC Brau afterward didn’t hurt either.

For the address and detailed information to plan your visit, click here.

About the Author

Kacy runs the DC blog, Bad Sentences, and is also a cultural ambassador contributor for MezzeCulture in the Washington DC area, who lives and writes in Washington D.C., and enjoys travel and discovering international food and wine locally.

That First Slurp of Ramen at Yona, DC's Japanese Hotspot

By Kacy Kish, Washington DC ambassador

When I first moved from Oklahoma to the DC area, I lived in Arlington’s questionably named neighborhood of Ballston. The area was convenient to my job in Tyson’s Corner, and was filled with people my age overpaying on rent and going out to the copious sports bars in the area (one of those people turned out to be my darling husband).

But that was really all there was to do – drink cheap beer and eat wings at the half-dozen sports bars lining the streets. Not that I don’t enjoy doing those things, I very much do (and it was all I could afford at the time), but sometimes a person needs a little variety.

Eventually, Tom and I decided to move into the district, and in a silly twist of fate, the week after we signed our lease I landed a new job in, wouldn’t ya know, Ballston. For the past three plus years we’ve lived in DC and commuted back into Virginia. Now, Tom and I both work in Ballston and this little neighborhood where we met and fell in love has grown up right along with us.

In the past year, dozens of new and exciting restaurants have opened in the area – several of them owned by DC celebrity chef, Mike Isabella. The first was Kapnos Taverna, an offshoot of the successful DC Greek restaurant of the same name, followed by Pepita, a Mexican concept specializing in cocktails.

This week, a third Isabella concept hit the scene, with Chef Jonah Kim formerly of Pabu in Baltimore at the helm. Suddenly, Ballston is hip!

Yona opened on Monday, November 30th 2015, after much anticipation, serving up hot ramen and other Japanese dishes.

Source: Badsentences.com

Source: Badsentences.com

I went all paparazzi with this photo. On the right is George Pagonis, Kapnos executive chef and Top Chef Season 12 competitor. On the right is Jonah Kim himself.

We visited on opening day, being that I was actually in the office (I work from home three or more days a week) and it was raining and gross and a bowl of ramen sounded incredible. As you can see, the dining room is rather small making for a cozy dining experience. Most seating is communal. Tom and I were seated next to each other, instead of across from each other.

Source: Badsentences.com

Source: Badsentences.com

I like the idea of the open seating, but would have preferred if we’d sat across from each other so we didn’t feel like we were constantly eavesdropping on the guys sitting across from us. Tom arrived before me and ordered a Japanese white cream soda while he pondered the small but somewhat mystifying menu. 

They offer a variety of these sodas (melon, grape and the white cream I believe) along with American sodas and several teas. I opted for water, since salty foods like ramen can sometimes give me a migraine if I don’t stay properly hydrated.

A caveat of going to a restaurant on the day it opens is that you know there will be at least a few kinks in the service. While our servers were all very polite and attentive, we received very little information about the menu items. This was a bit of a problem since I recognized only about 20% of the ingredients on the menu.

Source: Badsentences.com

Source: Badsentences.com

I asked what the difference was between the first ramen choice, Miso Porky, and the second, Tonkotsu ramen, and was told that the first one had pork while the second one did not. Perhaps not the most helpful, but I’ll give it a pass on opening day.

Tom went with the porky version, which definitely had a strong essence of miso that I found very enjoyable. It also had the slightest bit of spice from the kimchi topping. I went with the non-pork version, which oddly enough still had one piece of pork in it. I assume this was a mistake, but maybe bonus pork is a thing? 

The tonkotsu broth was very smoky, with ginger being the predominant flavor. It was good, but a touch too salty. We both thought the eggs and noodles were cooked to perfection, but wished there had been some heat to the dishes (spice-wise, the temperature was on point). We noticed after ordering that you can add a spice bomb at an extra cost, but we had already started eating and didn’t want to wait to order it and for it to come out. Next time, I’ll definitely add spice to kick things up a notch.

Source: Badsentences.com

Source: Badsentences.com

And will there be a next time? Absolutely. I won’t lie, this is not the best ramen that I’ve had in the DC area (Daikayastill has my heart) but I love that it’s right down the street from my office on days when I need a warm bowl of noodles.

The communal seating offered us a peek at some of the small plates, which I definitely want to sample in the future – the uni wafflesdry-fried wings and crispy Brussels sprouts in particular.

Yona is open for lunch through this week and will begin dinner service on Friday December 4th. Reservations can be made here. After all those celebrity chef name drops, I’d be remiss if I didn’t add that the new season of Top Chef premieres tonight with THREE DC chefs competing for the title. I’m a sucker for this show, especially when there are local chefs to root for. Tell me I’m not the only one still watching?

About the Author

This post originally appeared on Kacy’s website and blog. Read the post here, titled First Slirp at Yona in Ballston. Kacy runs the DC blog, Bad Sentences, and is also a cultural ambassador contributor for MezzeCulture in the Washington DC area, who lives and writes in Washington D.C., and enjoys travel and discovering international food and wine locally.

Why You'll Find Filipino Food at Bad Saint in Washingon DC Real Good

By Kacy Kish, Washington DC ambassador

Before the Winter Storm Jonas descended upon us, Tom and I made sure we had an epic meal to keep us satisfied during the snowy days ahead. Feeling adventurous, we opted for Bad Saint, a hot new Filipino restaurant in Columbia Heights (also on my list of DC goalsfor the year).

The real impetus for the meal was the fact that I had a haircut that evening, and I’m a firm believer that one should never waste a good blowout. While my tresses were being tended, Tom went over to Bad Saint to put our name in. Yes, this is another restaurant that doesn’t take reservations, makes patrons wait in line and often several additional hours for a table and is still one of the most sought-after meals in the city. Masochistic it may be, but we Washingtonians will do anything to say “Oh yeah, I’ve been there.” Obviously, I’m no exception. Know thyself.

Luckily, there are several places to distract yourself nearby while you wait. Room 11 and Maple are both great for drinks or hey, you could even get your shopping fix at the nearby Target. Just be sure you can get back to the restaurant within ten minutes or so. Wait patiently, and soon your phone will beep with the delightful news that it’s time to eat.

Source: Badsentences.com

Source: Badsentences.com

The place is small, wee, cozy, teeny-tiny. There are only two real tables and all other seating is counter-top. We were seated in a row of six stools facing a mirror, with a handy beverage ledge to save space for food. The mirror gave me ample opportunity to check out my sassy blowout, but I typically don’t enjoy staring at myself when I eat. Personal preference I suppose.

Bad Saint has a small drink menu, with a selection of cocktails, a few wines and several beers. We opted for canned brews – a blood orange gose (loving goses right now) for me and an IPA for Tom. I was pleasantly surprised to see that they offered free sparkling water in addition to flat.

The menu is broken down into vegetarian, seafood and meat options. We ordered mostly vegetarian with one seafood dish, starting with the Ginisang Gulay consisting of romanesco, bok choy and baby squash in a savory sauce. I loved the slightly charred taste of the vegetables, which were tender but not mushy. The romanesco was a fun addition, as it’s a food I’m not sure I’ve ever eaten before. The dish was served with a bowl of rice, but I found I enjoyed it more on its own.

Next up, a big bowl of  Pangit Bihon Guisado with rice noodles, wood ear mushrooms and lemon oil. (No, this meal was not low carb. Yes, it was worth it)

Now, because I’ve never had Filipino food I can’t really speak to the authenticity here, but this dish definitely made me an instant fan of the cuisine. The flavors were so vibrant, packing a big punch from the lemon oil. A fairly straight-forward noodle dish elevated by complex textures and flavors, this will satisfy both picky and adventurous appetites.

Our next dish was to me the most exotic, the Ginisang Ampalaya with bitter melon, farm egg and preserved black bean.

This was my first time trying bitter melon, which I didn’t know anything about other than a few references from Top Chef. It was definitely bitter, but in a palatable way and balanced nicely with the other flavors of the dish. It felt like the fanciest egg scramble in the world and was my favorite dish of the night.

Lastly, we had the Ukoy, freshwater shrimp fritters with sweet potato and cilantro.

This tangle of fried sweet potatoes and shrimps (head on) was quite the surprise when it hit our table. It was a risky order for me, because I’m far from the world’s biggest shrimp fan. But I was assured by the staff that I would like it anyway. And I did, although maybe not quite as much as the other dishes. The thin strips of sweet potato were delicious paired with the spicy dipping sauce, and even the shrimp were pretty good (probably excellent if you like shrimp). My mother would likely faint if she witnessed me eating shrimp with eyeballs (I was a picky child), but it just goes to show that palates do evolve over time.

By this point, we were quite satisfied and even had a doggie bag of leftover veggies and noodles to take home, but I needed to know what Filipino dessert was like. You know, for research.

The bilo bilo, a purple rice porridge of sorts with coconut flavors and lots of crunch was one of the most unique desserts I’ve ever had. It was warm, rich and comforting. I’d actually love to have this for breakfast every morning.

I was very impressed with Bad Saint. Every dish exploded with flavors and opened up a whole new cuisine with which I can’t wait to become more familiar. Although the wait can be long and arduous, the price point is excellent. We left with a reasonable bill, full stomachs and leftovers enough to stretch two additional meals. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – DC needs more places where you can eat well without spending your entire paycheck on a meal, and Bad Saint offers just that.

Next up, I need to try Purple Patch to further develop my taste for Filipino food and I’ll definitely be back to Bad Saint to try the rest of the dishes on the menu.

About the Author

This post originally appeared on Kacy’s website and blog. Read the post here, titled Bad Saint, Real Good. Kacy is also a cultural ambassador contributor for MezzeCulture in the Washington DC area, who lives and writes in Washington D.C., and enjoys travel and discovering international food and wine locally.

Austin’s Eatery Numero 28 Knows Italian Happiness through Food

By Fatin Kwasny, Founder & Austin ambassador

Stretching along the western Sicilian coast of the Mediterranean Sea, the ancient salt flats are reminders of Phoenician salt-making practices, explained Bernardo Nolfo, proprietor of Austin’s Numero 28 Pizzeria & Vineria. He was speaking of the distinct 2,700-year-old heritage etched in the history of Trapani, a coastal fishing village and his mother’s hometown. It’s this kind of attention to culture and character that you’ll find mirrored in the authentic Osteria he opened last November in Austin’s Second Street District, an eatery steeped in true, authentic Italian tradition.

Like salt, fresh, simple ingredients have stood the test of time in Italian regions like western Sicily, and in much the same way are attributed to the old world charm and authentic flavors guests find at Numero 28. “At an Osteria, you’ll find genuine, original flavors delivered simply across 15 or 20 dishes, but with same attentive service that you would expect at the finest places offering more,” Nolfo said. “Our approach is to deliver the kind of Italian quality characteristic of eateries in small towns, whether set in Sicily or larger regions like Bari or Florence,” he explained. The warm and pleasant atmosphere of Numero 28 is apparent the moment you walk through it’s inviting front patio and into its doors.

For Nolfo, who was born to a Sicilian mother and southern Italian father, the cuisines of Italy carry their own regional specialties, but the quality of preparation comes down to demeanor not just intention. “When someone cooks with love, with joy, and is attentive to preparation you can taste it in the food,” he explained, remembering his own childhood meals. “When my mother’s food was rushed, I tasted it and I would say, ‘mom, what’s wrong today?’,” he laughed.

Characteristic of Italian culture, when you’ve been invited to someone’s home for pizza it means they’re going to roll out fresh dough, and use fresh mozzarella and tomatoes, which is the same attentive quality guests will find at Numero 28. “To successfully work in hospitality, to serve good food, you have to enjoy delighting your guests,” he explained, “Attention to the quality of your ingredients in making even the simplest things is half of the secret to making people happy.”

From the row of seats found under brightly colored umbrellas in a gorgeous patio, to the complements of Italian décor and Mediterranean music playing inside, it’s no doubt that guests to Numero 28 are treated to attentive, authentic Italian dining that brings smiles—one that the local Italian community in Austin comes often to enjoy, a kind of compliment that doesn’t even speak for the delicious food.

“It’s the places that you know use fresh ingredients daily, that are known to be essential for good cooking, that’s where you’ll find the locals in Italy and Sicily go and eat,” Bernardo explained. Specializing in regional southern Italian and Sicilian dishes, as well as southern Italian-style pizza, the eatery uses a mix of flours and lets its dough rest for at least 36 hours to create its light consistency—the same delicate recipe used in the panino used for its Italian sandwiches. Even something as simple as espresso is served with care—servers are instructed to deliver only a couple at a time because the crema loses its consistency if it sits out too long.

Beginning his restaurant journey in New York City, Nolfo opened his first restaurant in his mid-20s before selling it, and soon after traveling to open Italian restaurants from Miami and Beirut for the Bice Group, a fine dining group from Milan. Over a decade of travel, his favorite part of it all was creating warm gathering places, an affability that eventually led him to want to open something meaningful on his own.

In November 2014, as both a veteran and connoisseur of fine Italian food culture, he and his business partner opened Numero 28 in Austin—a ‘cousin,’ as he described, of a family-owned establishment born in New York City. After having worked with so many people around the world over the years, Bernardo prefers to refer to the establishment of Numero 28 in Austin as a team effort, a family.

Having recently celebrated the first anniversary of Numero 28 in Austin, he smiles when he says, “Everyone here, from Marco to Rudy, Marchino, and Andres, for example, we’re a big family.” Open 7 days a week, walk in one day for lunch or dinner, and you’ll know it’s all true because happiness is at the heart of this little Italian Osteria that will know its way to yours.

The Vibe of DC's Bistro du Soleil Carries Scents of Morocco

By Elaine, Washington DC ambassador

Morocco is a vibrant, colorful country. Each of its cities is painted a different color. From blue to white to red, the streets, homes, stores, and sidewalks all look as if a bucket of paint was dumped onto them. The shops are full of bustling crowds, fresh foods, and the aromatic spices tease your nostrils. You hear shopkeepers constantly haggling with their neighbors and the thousands of Western tourists in the marketplace. I remember trying to buy a bowl. I kept pushing the shopkeeper to lower his price, enjoying the game and knowing that the bowl was mass-produced. After a little while, he told me to just take it, saying that I am a good haggler. I don’t think most give up that easily.

Elaine in Morocco in 2011 | Source: Travelaine.com

Elaine in Morocco in 2011 | Source: Travelaine.com

The food was to die for. From sweet and savory couscous to flavorful mint tea, and saffron in just about every dish, my meals were never dull. I was reminded of my past excursion last week thanks to Jessica, the Dining Traveler, who planned an evening at Bistro du Soleil, a Moroccan restaurant right on King Street in Alexandria.

Sitting on couches with giant pillows set around decorative wooden tables, we were able to watch the restaurant’s atmosphere from intimate booths cut into the walls. These cubicles lined the restaurant, creating a lounge-y feel with the dim lighting and lively colors.

Source: Travelaine.com

We sipped on the Marrakesh Orange, a citrusy, refreshing cocktail that Chef Samir Labriny makes by hand for each customer. "If you Google Marrakesh orange, you will find pictures of orange trees. Not my drink, my own spin on a Moroccan cocktail," Chef Labriny told us. He is proud of his heritage. From enthusiastically describing how to care for phyllo dough and to correctly season a Tangine, Chef Labriny hopes to introduce Morocco’s treasures to everyone.

Source: Travelaine.com

His passion is evident in each bite of the generous helpings of Mediterranean goodness. The meal included a mezze (assortment) of Hummus trio, Baba Ghanouj, Grape Leaves, and assorted cheeses from the Sun Countries. 

Source: Travelaine.com

Next on the menu was phyllo dough stuffed with saffron chicken, caramelized onion, eggs and almonds, topped with sugar and cinnamon.

Source: Travelaine.com

Afterwards was lemon chicken served with fresh olives (lemon sauce was to die for) 

Source: Travelaine.com

Finally, we were treated to a Tagine of slow roasted lamb with honey and almonds.

Source: Travelaine.com

Of course, for dessert we each had a piece of baklava which was served with fresh mint tea, as tea is customary in Morocco. The couscous was also served, but we had to save it for delicious leftovers. Where else can you find Moroccan food in the U.S.?

About the Author

This post originally appeared on Elaine’s website and blog. Read the post here, titled Moroccan Cuisine in Alexandria. Elaine is also a cultural ambassador contributor for MezzeCulture in the Washington DC area, and whose own studies, and experiences growing up and living abroad have given her a unique perspective on discovering and interacting with different cultures.

 

 

DC's Jaleo Carries the Charm of Spain Through Tapas and Sobremesa

By Elaine, Washington DC ambassador

 

My favorite way to share a meal is with a large table of friends, sharing ever-flowing plates of hot tapas and pitchers of rich, red sangria, stories and laughter flooding the atmosphere.

This was what I experienced while in Madrid, Spain last year, when a friend took me outside of the city to a small, dimly lit tapas bar to join 20+ of her friends in celebration of a birthday. Their tradition, which I hope to steal one day, is for the group to purchase a birthday gift for the guest of honor and he/she takes the entire tab. We ate for at least 4 hours, experiencing sobremesa, the Spanish term for sitting around a table post-meal and relaxing through conversation.

Source: Travelaine.com

While I haven’t visited Spain yet this year, I was able to virtually travel there with the fun, adventurous #DCTravelBlogger group this weekend at Jaleo in Crystal City. We indulged in multiple tapas and pitchers of sangria, sharing conversations on travel and personal stories as Head Chef Domenick Torlucci demonstrated how to make a few dishes. I arrived halfway through a demonstration of preparing Aceitunas ‘Ferran Adrià’, or liquid olives, which tasted like an olive soaked in olive oil with a hint of mustard which tasted citrus-y once swallowed.

Source: Travelaine.com

The meal continued with, my all-time guilty pleasure, jamón ibérico – paired, of course, withpicos to munch on with the sangria. Following that were Camarones De Cádiz Con Huevo Frito, fried baby shrimp with a sunny-side-up egg on top that we cracked open and mixed. Delicious.

My favorite dish was the Pan de cristal con salmon anumado y huevo duro, smoked salmon on top of crusty bread with a hardboiled egg, goat cheese, and capers in-between.

The chef also introduced us to asparagus cooked to perfection, drenched in a nutty sauce; a combination I’ve never thought of before. The Presa ibérico de bellote, or grilled boneless shoulder from an ibérico pig, was perfectly tender and juicy, the pairings exquisite.

Source: Travelaine.com

The final entrée was, of course, paella, brought out in the usual group-sized pan and served hot.

We ended with Torrijas Con Plátano Caramelizado Y Espuma De Ron (try saying that five times fast), which was like a melt-in-your-mouth caramel French toast with a creamy, addicting rum-flavored whipped cream and candied bananas on top.

Source: Travelaine.com

While this wasn’t the same celebration I experienced in Madrid, it definitely tasted and felt authentic. I highly recommend trying out Jaleo to get a taste of the culture in Spain.

About the Author

This post originally appeared on Elaine’s website and blog. Read the post here, titled A Taste of Spain at Jaleo. Elaine is also a cultural ambassador contributor for MezzeCulture in the Washington DC area, and whose own studies, and experiences growing up and living abroad have given her a unique perspective on discovering and interacting with different cultures.

Austin Chicken Lollypop's Harmonious Scents of Cosmopolitan Bombay

By Fatin Kwasny, Founder & Austin ambassador

If you were walking through the streets of Bombay, also known as Mumbai, the capital city of the Indian state of Maharashtra, you’ll encounter a symphony of spices, vegetables, and meats with scents so harmonious that the air is as melodic as India’s contagious music. Our senses were transported to the popular food carts and restaurants of Bombay when we stopped at Austin’s only Indo-Chinese eatery, Chicken Lollypop. The hidden gem, tucked inside a Braker Lane food mart just east of Interstate 35 was opened by owner and Chef Immie Shaikh a little over a year ago.

It was only after spending a year perfecting the recipe for his popular flagship appetizer, the Chicken Lollypop, that Immie felt fit to introduce the city to its first taste of famous Indian Chinese food. Tender and smoky, the Chicken Lollypop is shallow-fried together with its aromatic marinade, a signature Shezwan sauce reminiscent of Bombay. “In India, and Bombay especially, Indo-Chinese cuisine is very popular” he explained. A native of the cosmopolitan Indian state, it was during his studies in Bombay that his ambition for establishing good food in generous portions took root before setting out for the United States to settle in Austin.

He’s always loved to cook and incorporates one key Indo-Chinese restaurant difference—incorporating fresh ingredients and investing several hours in preparation time to make his dishes a model of the cuisine. “The food carts in Bombay serve the best Indo-Chinese food because it’s fresh,” he said, comparing the popular alternative to restaurants which tend to buy ingredients in bulk. Immie’s recipe for his chicken lollypop alone calls for 16 hours in a four-process marinade before it’s ready to be cooked and served, a noble effort that won’t be found anywhere else.

“The green chutney is house-made and prepared from scratch early every morning before we open, and the vegetables are all chopped to order,” he said of the difference in his staple ingredients. From poplar naan wraps that start at $4.99 to fried rice and plated entrees, the menu features more than a dozen sizzling chicken, shrimp and vegetarian Indo-Chinese dishes that range from savory to spicy. Created with a perfect balance of protein, carbohydrates and vegetables, the restaurant’s signature naan wraps were designed to satisfy his many lunch patrons through the work day.

“The naan wraps were invented in-house and are most definitive of Indo-Chinese culture,” Immie explained. “In India they eat a lot of spicy food and the mixture of spices are found in a lot of dishes, along with the chicken and naan bread.” Customers can expect the flavors of chutney, garlic, julienne carrots and fresh green beans in the all-in-one taste of Bombay that he is proud to deliver. His chicken Manchurian and Chili chicken fried rice dishes are also popular creations.

“For many a restaurant is a business, but here I wanted to have a small kitchen to be able to focus on the quality of the food and my guests,” he said of the restaurants hospitality, which has brought with it long standing relationships and a loyal following of Austinites hungry for the unique, fresh and satisfying cuisine. Four tables sit inside the eatery’s kitchen to serve dine-in guests together with its to-go patrons, who can hear the simmering and clanking sounds of each dish being freshly prepared.

He explained that when Chinese immigrants traveled to India and started to cook their native foods, the ingredients became married with Indian spices and flavors along with the influences of Indian chefs, and that’s where the diversity of Indian-Chinese or Indo-Chinese cuisine started in the country.

“In Bombay the cuisine is the best and that’s part of its popularity with tourists because the food culture is completely different there given its infrastructure and diversity,” he said, speaking of the city’s culture of inclusion. From Hindus to Muslims and Christians, everyone supports and celebrates with one another across their cultural experiences in Bombay, from disasters to festivals and cooking, culminating in a culture that’s surely as warm and generous as the food and hospitality you’ll find at Austin’s Chicken Lollypop.

 

Bitchin’ Baklava Bakery's Soul of Egypt in the Heart of San Francisco

By Fatin Kwasny, Founder & San Francisco ambassador

If you’ve ever returned stateside to find yourself perusing the goods of every local bakery for Egyptian baklava, San Francisco’s Bitchin’ Baklava has your fix for the warm and flaky taste of golden goodness you thought you left thousands of miles away. Located in a brightly colored storefront in the Outer Richmond neighborhood on Balboa Street, Chef Sausan Al-Masri continues the celebration of Egyptian life, food and culture through her line of authentic baklava for international foodies in the bay area.

Family-owned and operated, the shop’s Chef Sausan cares that “every piece looks undeniably homemade, just as if it had come out of an Egyptian mother’s oven.” Known for its aroma of just-baked ingredients, the shop’s baklava is layered with crunchy rows of phyllo dough, a bouquet of spices, butter, and nuts that conjure up scents from the streets of Cairo, she says. “With every crunchy sound it’s easy to picture oneself sitting at one of Egypt’s sidewalk cafes or corner bakeries while savoring every bite,” she continued. Surely, every passersby is likely infectiously treated to the sounds of ‘mmm, mmmm’ from every unapologetic and content bite.

In the 1980’s Chef Sausan started Bitchin’ Baklava after learning to make the pastry from her Middle Eastern friend, and introduced it commercially only after perfecting it for her local restaurant customers, where it was picked up by Marin County’s Whole Foods Market soon after. Although, “after a few years, I stopped distribution to take care of some personal affairs but kept it on the menu [for bulk orders],” she said. In 2012, after the encouragement of close friends and persuasion from loyal customers, Chef Sausan started an online shop for the unique offerings of Bitchin’ Baklava (www.bitchinbaklava.com).

Rightly invoking the senses through an authentic slice of Egypt, Bitchin’ Baklava comes out fresh from the ovens of its sister shop, Al-Masri Egyptian Restaurant as it ordered, not through a major processing and distribution plant like some other American baklava makers. Chef Sausan credits the bakery’s recipe of “fresh ingredients using made-from-scratch syrups, Grade A butter, and careful attention to flavor and appearance,” for its authentic taste.

While baklava (or baklawa) is a common treat throughout the Mediterranean, what makes Bitchin’ Baklava different and unique is inherent in the culture of Egypt itself—a result that is influenced by the cultures of the entire Middle East. Online, Chef Sausan wanted her baklava to carry on that uniqueness—her Egyptian baklava is available with different and innovative fillers such as dried or candied fruits, exotic nuts, chocolate chips, and other alluring and unusual ingredients including bacon and mincemeat.

While many have probably tried baklava at least once, “Before Bitchin’ Baklava, much of the available baklava offered looked and tasted moderately the same,” she explained, “Bitchin’ Baklava strives to change all of that through the traditionally crunchy and crispy baklava experience, but with enough sweetness and flavor in each unique bite to want more.”

She credits the unique qualities of her signature products to be distinguished by features that have gotten the attention of locals—such as her use of turbonado sugar sprinkles and innovative nut ingredients in addition to the classic walnut and pistachio. From nuts including almonds, macadamia, Brazilian, filberts, cashews, and peanuts, to candied flavors such as ginger and dried fruits, as well as seeds including sunflowers, pumpkin, sesame, and much more she is innovating through every bite.

“Not a single baklava was left on the tray…” one review said of the party platters, while another found the shop through Google and left a review noting it’s intrigue with the shop’s name.

When asked about the name, Chef Sausan said “I wanted [it] to stand out and be remembered, so I had to think of a unique and catchy name.” She explained. “I went through several possibilities, like ‘Benevolent BaklavaBeautiful BaklavaBountiful Baklava,’ but those names didn’t have that certain ‘remember me’ ring, but then, driving through the park one day the word Bitchin’ popped into my mind.”  She raced home and said she was relieved and elated to find that no one had claimed the domain name, and so Bitchin’ Baklava was born.