Friday, July 5, 2013

Masa 14 & Pitango Gelato

It's the long Independence Day weekend, and as a foreigner I cannot help but be amazed by the effort everyone seems to be putting into the festivities: You see it in the small details, like red, white and blue outfits or accessories, and in storefront decorations and bbq parties on the front lawn of your apartment building. Last night you could see it in the willingness of so many families and couples to stand in long lines to be checked by the police, just so they could fight for a spot on the grass at the Iwo Jima memorial in order to see the fireworks hours (!) later. 

Ms KitKat insisted on July 4th in DC being "better than christmas". I believe that, no matter whether you are American or not, if you are a Christian, christmas is the greatest day of the year. Period. But it is difficult not to get excited about the celebrations, be it small family get-togethers or the concert at the Capitol followed by firework-watching with thousands of visitors on the Mall. The city has been completely taken over by tourists. I helped three couples with directions yesterday, and there were many more who looked lost. Lost and thrilled. 

I am no fan of squeezing into the metro with hordes of sweaty, exhausted people; so my July 4th was a rather relaxed one, which - of course - involved lots of food. It marked my first trip to U Street / 14th Street and my first brunch at Masa 14. If you are a little familiar with the culinary scene here in DC you know that it is one of the most popular brunches in the city, not only because of the fabulous price of $35 for bottomless mimosas and Latin-Asian small plates, but also because it has a great, laid back atmosphere, quick and attentive service, and a food selection that will satisfy most tastes. 

It is managed by Richard Sandoval, a Mexican chef known for restaurants in New York, Las Vegas and Dubai, and his collaboration with luxury hotels around the world. Zengo and El Centro are the two other Richard Sandoval restaurants in DC. They will be joined by a new steakhouse, Toro Toro, in the fall.

While I highly recommend Masa 14, I will only go into detail about their pan dulce, the one sweet dish on the brunch menu. They also offer desserts like salted caramel chocolate flan, banana cake, or buttermilk panna cotta, but these are not included in the brunch price and it doesn't really make sense to spend extra money if you can easily fill your tummy with delicious food that is included. We actually ordered the pan dulce twice; one portion for Ms Froyo (a new Brownie Points-companion) and one for myself. It was that good. French toast with roasted pineapple syrup and a thick, sweet cream that slowly melts on top. It had an interesting hint of spice as well that balanced out the sweetness of the cream.

Afterwards we were slightly tipsy and needed fresh air, so we took the longer way back home. Walking down 14th street and then right towards Dupont Circle meant we just happened to pass by a Pitango Gelato. And considering that my sweet tooth had not yet been fully satisfied, we were lured in for a second dessert.

This is gelato to rave about! I think the picture below says it all: I have never experienced such a thick, creamy consistency in something frozen. The flavors range from passion fruit and tangerine, to cardamom and matcha green tea, to orange dark chocolate and gianduja. And they truly deliver on those names. At the same time, flavors are very subtle and "clean", which makes the gelato taste more natural than others I have tried in the past. Everyone working behind the counter seemed instantly likeable (yes, likeable in a way that you wanted to be friends with them) and they gave us small samples to help us take our pick. 

You can choose two flavors to be combined in a small cup ($4.99), so Ms Froyo and I shared some pistachio and sicilian almond. One word: Bliss. It might have been a really good combination, but each of these flavors would have been perfectly able to hold their own. I also sampled the black sesame, which tasted slightly more intense and unusual. But again, it was true to name and would  probably be a great fit with either one of the more "neutral" flavors like crema or vanilla, or maybe some lemon sorbet.  

According to their website, "Pitango’s gelato and sorbets are free of artificial ingredients, colorings, flavorings and chemicals, and we also limit fat and sugar content". Typically, gelato is made with only five to eight percent milk fat, compared to a minimum of ten percent in ice cream. It also contains less air due to a different churning process. So this delight is basically guilt free! It comes at a premium price, but a small cup is all you need to fall in love.

Pitango Gelato's five stores are located in Penn Quarter, Capitol Hill, Reston, Fells Point and - the one we went to - Logan Circle. There are quite a few other gelato places in the DC area, most of which I definitely want to try this summer. But I can only imagine that it will be difficult for them to beat Pitango Gelato in terms of quality.

Brownie Points for the pan dulce at Masa 14: 2 out of 3
Masa 14 on Urbanspoon

Brownie Points for the gelato at Pitango Gelato: 3 out of 3
Pitango Gelato on Urbanspoon

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