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Day 148: Presidential Delights at Praline

Praline Bakery & Bistro

Imagine you have been invited to the White House for dinner.  This first class meal, presented to you with full pomp and circumstance of course, begins with mouth-watering Escargot in a delicate parsley butter followed by Salad Lyonnaise with bacon, perfectly poached egg and crunchy croutons.  The main course, cooked to perfection, is a Seared Paillard of Salmon served over ratatouille and topped with warm balsamic glaze.  Your mouth explodes with delight at the flavor sensations.  And for dessert, oh yes the most amazing dessert of your life, you are offered your choice of Hazelnut Chocolate Dacquoise (dacquoise made with toasted hazelnuts and filled with a thin layer of chocolate mousse and hazelnut cream) or Pear Pithivier (a puff pastry filled with Poire Williams-flavored almond cream and poached pears) and a cup of rich, full-bodied coffee.  Even though you’re at the White House, you really MUST wear your stretchy pants.

But you’re in luck!  You don’t need an invitation to the White House to enjoy this sensational meal and you CAN wear stretchy pants.  It is awaiting you now at 4611 Sangamore Road in Bethesda.  In a quiet spot in The Shops at Sumner PlacePraline Bakery & Bistro offers what may be the closest thing you will find to food perfection in Bethesda in a wonderful array of gourmet meals and sweet delights.

Co-owners Susan Limb and Patrick Musel, I am told, met at work – at the White House!  As chefs on the White House staff, they were experts at their craft.  After leaving their posts, Patrick and Susan, opened Praline Bakery & Bistro in 2006 after many years of planning and preparing.  Their 2-story bistro offers an outdoor terrace, a cozy small dining room and a larger dining area.  They have a full catering menu available as well.  Their menus are posted on-line. But I warn you, you won’t leave empty-handed.

My treats today!

I went in today to gather some information for the blog.  I decided NOT to bring in my wallet as I have been eating my way through this blog far too often.  This time I would not be defeated!

I sheepishly stepped inside and was quickly greeted by two smiling ladies behind the pastry counter.  I could hardly make eye contact as we spoke.  I was drawn like a magnet to the display of sweets presented before me like an edible art gallery.  I inquired as to whether I could photograph this delectable display for the blog.  Unfortunately, pictures inside were not allowed.  So what was I to do?  I caved.  I HAD to buy some goodies and take them home to photograph them.  I ran to my car for my wallet and was back buying sweets like they were never going to offer them again.  I bought chocolate croissants (several!), peanut butter cookies, chocolate chip cookies and, my absolute favorite, lemon drop cookies.  I mean really, what was I to do?  The photos MUST be had, right?

Already the cookies have been devoured this evening and only two delicate croissants await us for the morning which will be thoroughly enjoyed with a warm cup of coffee.   I plan to return to Praline again soon to sample more delights and enjoy a meal fit for the President.  It’s a just blog thing, of course.      ~Amy

Day 139: Cafe X-Press

Cafe X-Press

The other day Amy and I were scrambling between appointments and needed to get a lunch in a hurry.  We stopped in to Cafe X-Press located at 8000 Norfolk Avenue in the Woodmont Triangle area.  Since 1994 Cafe X-Press has proudly offered a menu of fine foods “made in the New York Delicatessen style.” They prepare the food fresh daily and offer specialty sandwiches, home-style soups, and fresh salad platters.  The service here is fast and the food is tasty.

The specials on the lunch menu include the “BETHESDA” made with smoked turkey & roast beef with Muenster cheese, creamy cole slaw and Russian dressing on a sub roll as well as the “WOODMONT”  with turkey breast with grilled onions, melted Muenster cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and Russian dressing on a sub roll.  They have about a half-dozen sandwiches with Russian dressing –must be a New York thing. They also do grilled Paninis, burgers, wraps, and even some vegetarian options.  All subs and sandwiches are served on your choice of Kaiser, white, whole wheat, pumpernickel, rye or sourdough bread with lettuce, tomatoes, mayonnaise, onions, pickle & hot peppers upon request. On our recent visit I had the CHEVY CHASE, a delicious sub made chicken breast with bacon, grilled onions, melted Muenster, lettuce, tomatoes and mayonnaise on a sub roll.  Amy tried the Italian Cold Cut sub made with ham, Cappacola, salami, and provolone cheese. She really enjoyed it and it was ready in less than 5 minutes flat.

The Cafe opens at 7:00 a.m daily and at 8:00 a.m. on Saturday and serves breakfast including egg sandwiches, bagels, omelette and breakfast specials like the “LUMBERJACK” made with three farm-fresh scrambled eggs, home fries and buttered toast with sausage, bacon or ham.  Yum.  No time to stop in?  Try the catering option for breakfast, lunch or just a great snack during your office meeting.  Gotta meet the staff early?  Try ordering some specialty coffee and combining it with their “Sweet Beginnings” breakfast catering option that includes an assortment of freshly baked muffins, pastries, Danish’s and croissants.  For catering, call 301.913.9330, Monday – Saturday.  You can even call after 5:00 p.m. at  703.309.4282. They deliver to a limited service area in MD, VA, and DC. ~Brian

Day 127: Old Italy in Bethesda

La Panetteria - Little Old Italy in Bethesda

My mouth is still watering after a wonderful dinner this evening to celebrate Mother’s Day with 13 other family members at La Panetteria located at 4921 Cordell Ave.  Now I have had a LOT of Italian food in many cities and restaurants throughout my life, but I must confess that La Panetteria is one that truly left an impression on my palette!  Rich, robust, aromatic and surprising, the food is hearty and flavorful and offers what you would expect to find at a table in old Italy.  The name La Panetteria means “bakery” in Italian so as you might guess, the bread is fresh-baked daily and was warm and flavorful.

This evening I ordered Spaghetti al Pomodoro (good ole’ spaghetti and meatballs), but this was particularly tasty!  The pasta at La Panetteria is homemade and I could tell with the first bite that this was no ordinary bowl of noodles.  Perfectly al dente and full of flavor, I ended up eating far more than I should have because I just couldn’t help myself!  The tomato sauce was terrific – robust and fresh and it actually tasted like tomatoes as opposed to the high fructose, processed stuff we encounter so often at other places and of course from the “jarred” varieties at the store.  I meant to take a picture of my plate but I dove right in and forgot!  You’ll just have to go see it for yourself.

Brian shocked me by ordering Cozze Posillipo – that’s mussels in a tomato sauce over homemade linguine.  Of course, he HAD to share because I left him no other option.  As usual, he joined the “clean plate club” – my Mom would be proud of him.  🙂  Of course, I helped him accomplish that and found the mussels to be perfectly plump and coupled with a wonderful red sauce.  It’s actually making my mouth water right now writing about it and I wonder how that can be since I am still so full!  I guess one never tires of really good food.

Although the main courses were very nice, I found some of the accompaniments to be surprisingly fabulous such as the dressing that came with the dinner salad (I don’t even know what kind of dressing it was but I presume it was “House Italian”) and the delicate, “OMG-delicious” angel hair pasta with olive oil & “garlic-out-the-wazzu” that came with my sister-in-law’s grilled salmon.  It was so incredible, I nearly ate it all and it wasn’t even my meal!  And last, as a cheese lover, I always appreciate a huge boat of grated parmesan cheese with any Italian dinner and I was not disappointed tonight.  I sprinkled away to my heart’s delight! 

My favorite area of the restaurant

So in a nutshell, I liked the place!  We expect to go back and we will eat heartily – again – as we did tonight with our table of 14 people.  The atmosphere seemed lively at La Panetteria (although it’s possible it was just our wild table) and the decor was very quaint “old Italy.”  I particularly liked the part of the restaurant that looks like an outdoor patio with stringed lights and hanging plants overhead.  The facility can accommodate semi-private parties (up to 70 people!) which is perfect for parties and rehersal dinners and also offers a bountiful catering menu with free delivery to Bethesda and Chevy Chase for orders of $100 or more.   They offer valet parking plus there’s a garage just across the street, so it’s typically very convenient.

While the restaurant’s facade is rather quaint and humble from the street, it is pretty expansive inside and certainly a delightful environment whether you are out for a romantic dinner for two or a party of 14, like us.  It is cozy, casual and a place to go to enjoy great Italian cuisine and very good service.  I understand that the restaurant has had its ups and downs in our town where hundreds of places compete for the palettes of fickle Bethesdians and DC visitors regularly.  But I can see why this lovely little slice of Italy has survived for over 25 years through tough economic times and serious new competition.  It’s just plain good.  Try it for yourself.  Wear loose pants and be prepared for a food baby to come home with you!     ~Amy

Day 69: Bread the Way Grandma Used to Make It

I love bread – bread of all kinds – wheat, french, sourdough, gingerbread, garlic bread, cinnamon bread and focaccia.  But no matter the type, the best breads are those that are homemade!  Fluffy, fresh and warm, homemade breads evoke images of Grandma’s house and the comforts of the old days.  But where today can you enjoy that kind of experience without having to bomb your own kitchen with flour while baking a loaf?

Spring Mill Bread Co in Bethesda

Spring Mill Bread Company is your answer.  Not only is their bread fresh and tasty but they take special care to ensure that all their products are made “from scratch” using all natural ingredients.  You won’t find any bleached flour, preservatives, chemicals or high fructose corn syrup here.  Spring Mill Bread Company truly offers the highest quality, freshest ingredients possible.  They obtain their organic wheat from a farm in Montana and then stone mill their own flour which promotes the best possible flavors in the bread.  It’s 100% whole grain bread and nothing less – it tastes great (you really can’t imagine how yummy it is) and it’s good for you too.

Recently, I had decided to go on a “diet” before a trip to Hawaii.  My diet plan was simple – no processed foods or unnatural, artificial stuff shall cross my lips – especially HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP – for one month.  I was so upset to discover the vast array of food items I used to eat that contained high fructose corn syrup and other artificial ingredients, including many foods that I previously thought were healthy!  It was shocking, disappointing and honestly a little scary.  I wish I had known about Spring Mill Bread then.

The other day, Brian and I decided to pop in and sample some goodies.  We tried the Pesto Asiago bread this week and were simply amazed at its flavor and light texture!  Even our picky teenagers enjoyed it.  We also noticed that they had samples of homemade brownies on the counter.  Now seriously, I am a brownie connoisseur and Brian is a self-professed chocoholic so we are never passing up a free brownie sample.  After savoring the sweet, creamy brownie in our mouths, we had to add a couple of big hunks to go with the bread order.  These were absolutely the BEST brownies I have ever experienced.  My mouth is watering right now thinking about them!  Even their selection of sweets is all natural too.  For example, they don’t use margarine or trans fats in their icings, just all natural butter cream.

The Fresh Selections of the Day!

As much as I enjoyed the food, I have enjoyed getting to know the story about the owners of the company – a local married couple with a passion for bread who decided to quit their highbrow careers and take a risk together.  Katherine, who had a childhood passion for baking, and Steve, her husband and self-named “Dough Boy,” started the company in 1993 much to the surprise of their family and friends.  They decided to dedicate themselves to building their dream of owning a bakery using only the finest and freshest ingredients – like Grandma used to make.

You can learn a great deal about Spring Mill Bread Co. on their website.  They offer catering services that include sandwich ingredients that are just as natural and preservative-free as their breads and sweets.  You can find their daily bread schedule on their website too so that you can plan your next visit to coincide with the availability of your favorite flavors on the shelves that day.

I am very happy to have discovered Spring Mill Bread Company right here in Bethesda located at 4961 Elm Street.  I dare you to visit Spring Mill Bread Company just once.  I bet you can’t do it!  You will want to come back again and again and again.  I’ll see you there.  I will be the one buying the big melt-in-your-mouth brownies along with my bread!    ~Amy

Day 16: Have a Passion for Food? Check out Balducci's!

A Deli that even the kids appreciate!

If you ask Sherry, chef at Balducci’s Food Lover’s Market in Bethesda, what she loves most about Balducci’s, she will tell you it’s the sandwiches.  And oh, I can see why!  With creative, gourmet sandwich creations like nothing you can find anywhere else, it’s the perfect place to go to tickle your taste buds with something new.

Sherry at Balducci's

Balducci’s has 6 locations but only one in Maryland -thankfully located in Bethesda at 10323 Old Georgetown Rd.  We have featured several markets since starting this blog (see a food lover’s theme yet?!) but Balducci’s is truly in a class of its own.

On Facebook, Balducci’s decribes their store as “the premiere destination for gourmet food, specializing in prepared foods, meats, cheeses, custom catering & gift baskets.”  It is an amazing experience to just walk through the store.  Don’t go there when you’re hungry!  Balducci’s can be dangerous.  The “gourmet” label comes with one little down-side – it’s not for the budget shopper.  What the store does offer is a unique array of tastes, flavors, varieties and combinations that would be tough to find even after visits to dozens of “other” markets.

Sausage heaven!

Balducci's Bethesda

According to their web site, Balducci’s started as a produce stand run by “Pop” Balducci.  He had a passion for food which their stores embody to this day.  Catering is one of their specialties and they have chefs on staff to meet any event’s needs.  With unique selections of wines, caviar, smoked salmon from a boutique smokehouse in Maine and gift baskets for the most refined pallet, it is the perfect spot to find a special gift for any occasion.  They do offer a Rewards Program – $10 reward after every $250 you spend.  Sign up on their web site.  Probably not a bad idea if you expect to visit often.  Let me warn you…one visit to Balducci’s and you can’t help but get hooked on this delightful experience…the Tiffany’s of grocery markets.   ~Amy