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Restaurateur Michael Schlow was driving through Upper Northwest thinking about what he wanted to eat. That’s usually how he decides what kind of restaurant to open, but this time he was itching to figure out how to reinvent the brunch menu at Casolare, his Glover Park Italian restaurant. So he gathered his team and posed a question.
“What if we took two of our most favorite places and combined them for a Saturday and Sunday brunch?” Schlow asked. “What if Rome’s Jewish Quarter met the Lower East Side? That seems like a natural thing for Casolare.”
“Natural” is generous, but what Executive Pastry Chef Alex Levin, Chef Matt Adler, who oversees Schlow’s Italian restaurants, and Casolare’s newly appointed Executive Chef Patrick Curran have whipped up for the weekend is joyful. Especially in a D.C. that recently lost DGS Delicatessen and On Rye.
“Between me, Alex, and Matt, everyone has ties to Jewish faith, New York City, and Rome,” Schlow says. “When we got together to talk about this, the consensus was this is something that will resonate with the neighborhood. It’s not a Jewish deli though—the menu is an amalgamation of our favorite things from those two places.”
That’s why you’ll find latkes and lox ($11) next to a white “Roman Pizza” with zucchini, onion, and a grab bag of cheeses ($17) on the menu. Adler says they tried a similar pizza while he was in Rome. “I fell in love with it, it was so good,” he says. “Clean and delicious.” Rome’s Jewish Quarter only spans about four blocks but it is full of Jewish bakeries and time-tested restaurants serving kosher Italian cuisine like pastas and fried artichokes.
A meal should start with “Alex’s Basket of Goodies” for the table. It’s filled with his ricotta bomboloni, raspberry Linzer cookies, and hazelnut chocolate crunch rugelach ($12). The rugelach require a lot of muscle: Nutella is spread on cold flakey dough made with cream cheese and butter. The dough is then sprinkled with chocolate pearls and rolled into its signature shape.
Levin’s bagels are the stars of the meal. He worked on the recipe for three years. “The three most important thing about bagels are the high gluten flour, boiling it in a malt solution, and baking it at a very high temperature,” he says. The type of water used does not matter. Levin and his colleague Brad Pravlik believe it’s a myth that you can’t make good bagels without New York City tap water. “I believed it until I started experimenting,” Levin says.
The bagels are served toasted with vegetables and cream cheese, with smoked salmon, or with smoked whitefish salad. Casolare is using Ivy City Smokehouse salmon and making the whitefish salad in house.
For a playful take on corned beef hash with the trimmings of eggs Benedict, try the pastrami and jalapeño hash with poached eggs and Hollandaise sauce. Curran’s dish includes fried potatoes, peppers, onions, cubes of pastrami, jalapeño slices, and a rich liquid leftover from the pastrami cooking process.
Other highlights include spaghetti carbonara ($17), Nonna’s chicken soup ($8), Challah French toast ($15), and a pastrami reuben ($15). The menu will debut May 5.
“It’s a very happy marriage,” Schlow says. “If you want to talk about two oddball fusion cuisines, this might be it.”
Casolare, 2505 Wisconsin Ave. NW; (202) 625-5400; casolaredc.com