Caruso’s Grocery North Bethesda assessment: The Italian American present’s subsequent cease


4 of us are straining to listen to our server sing the praises of the brand new Caruso’s Grocery in North Bethesda. Amid the bustle of a maroon-colored eating room plastered with attics’ price of outdated pictures, plates and candles, we solely handle to catch “All our pastas are constituted of scratch” and “That is most likely the very best Italian American restaurant you’ll strive.”

In North Bethesda? The DMV? The East Coast? The nation? The specifics of the boast are unclear. What’s sure is that just about every little thing that follows tonight makes us glad to be within the same-named spinoff of chef Matt Adler’s beloved tribute to Italian American cooking within the District.

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The brand new place, opened like the unique in collaboration with the Virginia-based Neighborhood Restaurant Group, shares its handle with Owen’s Strange within the Pike & Rose growth, an NRG idea that struggled through the pandemic. When the corporate’s founder, Michael Babin, pitched Adler on transferring a Caruso’s Grocery into the expansive eating room at Owen’s Strange, the chef agreed, given the neighborhood’s demographics (residents who might stroll there) and the fact that plenty of his clients have been coming in from Maryland.

Keep in mind the $10 drinks, up to date classics, that drove plenty of us to drink on the first Caruso’s? They’re two bucks extra right here (hi there, inflation!) however simply as lip-smacking. A margarita goes “Mediterranean” with the assistance of blood orange tequila and pomegranate, and the limoncellotini will get its raise from housemade limoncello and a contemporary basil leaf.

Recall the garlic bread, a conversation-starter consisting of a loaf of semolina bread, cut up like a giant sandwich, unfold with garlic butter and herbs and baked so the surface crisped? The pleasure comes with a sauce boat of 4 melted cheeses, completed with pizza seasoning, for dipping. Heady stuff nonetheless. Similar for the fried calamari, fistfuls of seafood which might be lighter than typical (due to a soak in membership soda) and that sport a scrumptious semolina crust seasoned with paprika and garlic. Adler buys calamari solely from Rhode Island, which he judges essentially the most constant and flavorful. Plus, he says, “it fries up crispy.” True that, and cross the plate. Any dinner is best when it begins with the bountiful antipasti for 2 that simply stretches to feed extra. The pink of the peppers and the white of the mozzarella catch your consideration because the platter is positioned on the desk; the sting of the previous and the creaminess of the latter, plus artichokes wearing the home chianti dressing, channel the first colours of the Italian flag.

It seems the North Bethesda menu is just about a carbon copy of the record within the District. With good motive. Adler and Babin, who named the place after a retailer in Baton Rouge opened by Babin’s Sicilian great-great-grandfather in 1920, traveled to Philadelphia and New York for inspiration earlier than launching their first Caruso’s. The pandemic gave them time to refine and rehearse the restaurant earlier than crowds flocked to it. The identical was not true of the spinoff, slammed the second its doorways opened. If you happen to, like me, visited in December and left feeling as should you simply watched a automotive wreck, not less than from a service perspective, I encourage you to provide the place a second likelihood to make a superb impression.

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The pastas style like a high chef and a few warmhearted nonna spent the day cooking collectively. Sprinkled with peas and bits of prosciutto, penne alla vodka fits the season, however I hope hotter climate doesn’t see the departure of Caruso’s Alfredo, a tweaked traditional that depends on whipped truffle butter for its richness, mushrooms for heft and pasta within the twisty form of a phone twine (keep in mind these?), the higher to catch the sauce. Sounds wealthy, however govt chef Drew Allen, who beforehand cooked at Blue Duck Tavern in Washington, says the addition of pasta water to the sauce helps skinny it.

Essentially the most stunning pasta is the lately launched gnocchi draped with pesto cream. The dumplings, made with ricotta, are the scale of erasers and really soften on the tongue; the pale inexperienced sauce, flavored with contemporary basil, sautéed garlic and lemon zest, manages to be each wealthy and shiny. Adler says it’s the pasta he’s more likely to ship out to “buddies, regulars and VIPS.”

Your goal is to change into the chef’s good friend, common or VIP.

Rooster parmesan is the restaurant’s No. 1 vendor — and one of many high examples within the area. Plenty of time and a spotlight are lavished on the seemingly easy entree. There’s the pounding of the hen breast so it’s no thicker than a plate, and tender. There’s the breading — toasted breadcrumbs, garlic and pizza spice that’s “scrumptious by itself,” says Allen, who likes so as to add it to soups. Lastly, there’s the melty mozzarella and sauce wrought from 7/11 model canned tomatoes, garlic, onion and olive oil. Consuming the development, the Italian Individuals in my posse get sentimental. Nobody’s ranking their household’s hen parm second, however … possibly?

Skinny slices of eggplant wrapped round herbed ricotta are, just like the antipasti platter, a vegetarian consolation, and should you’re inclined to fish, trout sharpened with capers and splashed with sunshine — butter, lemon and wine — is the best way to go.

Caruso’s wine record is transient, however in line with the Italian American theme — chianti comes swaddled in straw — and priced to please, with bottles together with lambrusco and tremendous Tuscans averaging $47. All 14 alternatives can be found by the glass and half-bottle.

The tiramisu is a tall wedge of the anticipated flavors, and in addition denser than anticipated. The higher dessert is mint chip (or chocolate) gelato in a sundae organized with whipped cream, chocolate sauce and crunchy bits that develop into all-American Oreos. Now you see the sundae, now you don’t.

I’ll admit, I miss the intimacy of the restaurant in Washington. “Jogs my memory of Olive Backyard,” a member of my posse grumbled throughout that unlucky maiden journey in winter, when the roar of the group bounced between the 2 eating rooms and made dialog unattainable. However between the dim lights, vaulted ceiling and improved hospitality, the North Bethesda setting grows on me with every go to.

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Anyway, the second Caruso’s has just a few benefits over the primary: a close-by parking storage and lunch three days every week. (A salad, pasta of your selection and cannoli go for $25.) One dish is a superior model of what I recall within the District. I’m considering now of the tender, all-pork meatballs sprinkled with parmesan cheese and pink pepper flakes and served in a tangy tomato sauce.

What’s extra, because it shares its kitchen with Owen’s Strange, there’s the choice of ordering off the bar’s menu. Whereas Allen says he prefers that clients get meals linked to the place they’re seated, “generally you simply desire a burger. And Owen’s is an efficient one.”

Good of him to increase the invitation. Burgers are simple to supply, although. Polished Italian American cooking? Rooster parm is simply the tip of the iceberg on the newest, however hopefully not the final, Caruso’s Grocery.

11820 Commerce St., North Bethesda. 301-245-1226. Open for takeout, (restricted) supply, indoor and out of doors eating for lunch midday to 2 p.m. Friday via Sunday and for dinner 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday. Costs: Dinner appetizers $10.75 to $16.75, pastas and primary programs $21.25 to $29.50. Sound test: 77 decibels/Should converse with raised voice. Accessibility: Two units of doorways result in the doorway; ADA-compliant restrooms. Pandemic protocols: Masks for workers are non-compulsory, however staff are vaccinated.

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