Sunday, November 6, 2016

Fresh Kitchen, Robert Irvine, and the Pentagon

October 26, 2016

A couple of weeks ago my son and I went to the Pentagon to meet my husband to take care of some paperwork. Whenever we come to visit, especially since it's always quite the feat to get there, we do lunch in the area. Where to go this time?

Well for months my husband has been talking about the opening of Robert Irvine's restaurant, Fresh Kitchen, at the Pentagon.  I finally opened in recent weeks so we decided to try it out, especially since I thought it would be great blogging material to share!

Before arriving I did a bit of research and found this article.

To begin with, we've watched Robert Irvine cook on Food Network for years. We've watched him compete against Iron Chefs and compete to become an Iron Chef. We have watched his television show Restaurant Impossible. Through that we've already watched two specials he's done for the military.   Now he's at the Pentagon with a special goal in mind. He wants the military to get healthy food that is cooked to order. Irvine claims he has hired the best chefs to not only accomplish these goals, but to also make the food taste delicious.  Irvine's vision reflects his the experience he gleaned from the ten years he spent as a sailor and chef for the British navy. His goal is to move away from the traditional canned, frozen and salted meals (even though my husband insists those MREs are pretty special). Irvine's plan even includes a means to accomplish all of this without increasing the budget. Additionally some of the earnings from the restaurant will go towards "veterans' advocacy groups across the country."

So off we went and...WOW!  I wanted so badly to take photos with my cell phone, but I didn't dare because it's rather frowned upon by the Pentagon I was too scared to ask! But wow! The place is stunning! It's mostly modern (a style which I'm not keen on) but even I enjoyed it, probably because it had warmth. Lots of military pictures with Robert adorned the walls. Everyone was cheerful. (I rarely ever experience that in a restaurant on the east coast.) The staff was cheerfully humming along. (I rarely experience that in a restaurant anywhere.) This place had energy. I am a rather low key kind of gal but this place was getting me excited!

We had a 20-30 minute wait for the dining room, so we popped over to the quick take out side. Upon entering there is one of those display cases full of huge pastries and cookies! Fun! There was Robert Irvine frozen pizza and quick grab and go items like salads and sandwiches. Apparently there is a soup bar but what grabbed my attention was the salad bar because I am a salad lover....but I am also highly picky about my salads. This salad bar was one of the best I've ever seen! There was a staff behind glass by a team of employees who fill your salad bowl with a range of fresh looking ingredients. They had the obligatory bowl full of romaine lettuce with stems (why???????) which everyone in Virginia offers. Yet they also had a bowlful of baby greens. My favorite! There were lots of yummy looking fresh options to choose from to add to the salad. I told my husband if we ever need to do quick take-out I would choose the salad bar and a pastry.

After perusing the grab and go side, we met up with someone whom my husband used to work with years ago when my kids (now in college) were toddlers.  We all remembered each other because his family and ours had some interactions with each other way back then. This guy even said if you stand in the halls of the Pentagon long enough, you are bound to find someone you know from the past. While talking our name was called and it was time to sit down.

Latasha was our waitress. She was wonderful! We've watched enough Restaurant Impossible to know exactly what Robert is looking for so we were critiquing everyone and everything (in a friendly light-hearted excited and exuberant way). Everyone passed with flying colors! Latasha properly, politely and enthusiastically gave us the menu and clearly enunciated the specials of the day and anything else we needed to know. Perfect! (We even told her Robert would be proud! She's a keeper!) And I have to say, she is one of the best waitresses we've ever had.

Hmmm...time to peruse the menu. What to choose? It is a bit pricey, but honestly, everything in Virginia and particularly the DC area is expensive. I hoped we would get our money's worth. I'm from Texas and we moved here 7 years ago. Sadly eating has not always been tasty or pleasant. Nor has it been inexpensive. So aggravating. I don't think most cooks in Virginia know about salt and other seasonings. That really surprises me, coming from Texas. Historically cooks in England went nuts when spices were brought back to Europe from the Crusades. A whole new world of flavor opened to them. Today we have such easy access to salt and seasonings...yet they are rarely used in Virginia. Just because Robert Irvine is reputedly an excellent cook, didn't guarantee that local Virginia chefs would know how to execute flavor. Would they?

So....what to try? As we looked at our menus my husband commented that it was exactly what Robert pushes on his Restaurant Impossible shows. It was not a book. It was one page, laminated. Breakfast at the top half, lunch in the bottom half. They don't have a dinner service (because most everyone goes home in the afternoon and this is not open campus.)

I'm a picky eater, so with a tiny bit of hesitation, yet quite a bit of hope, I ordered the Sesame Shrimp Chop Chop salad. I am prediabetic so I like low carbs, especially salads. However there were not any carbs in this salad so I knew my blood sugar would crash if that is all I ate. Therefore I decided to also get a dessert. That's quite a jump but there weren't any bread options. Besides, this day was a treat, eating at the restaurant of a famed chef. That deserved dessert. I chose a lower carb dessert, one I've never had before...Citrus Vanilla Panna Cotta. That would nicely fulfill my carb allowance for lunch.

My son decided to have the Angus Burger and share the Mama's Mixing Bowl (dessert) with his dad. Done deal.

My husband, Mr. Adventurous, asked me if he should be cautious. Where was this coming from? He has never been cautious at a restaurant. I told him to be bold, so he chose the Chicken Cacciatore Pizza.

While waiting, our drinks arrived. My husband and I ordered tea, which was delicious. My son ordered an Arnold Palmer, which is half tea and half lemonade. He works at Chick-fil-A and serves lots of it. How I wish I could have taken a photo of his Arnold Palmer! It was so colorful and fun! It arrived with the bottom half of the drink being lemonade and the top half was tea! Clever!

Wow! Well, at least you can see my  Sesame Shrimp Chop Chop salad at the link. I think I got more than the photo shows. I don't like celery, but I ate it because it was soooooo thinly sliced! Need to remember that tip. The shrimp was fresh!!!!! (I've returned icky shrimp more than once at other restaurants because they want me to pay $13 for something that came out of a $3 frozen box...tiny shrimp shaped like squares. Eh. And overcooked.) This shrimp though was fresh, plump, and perfectly cooked. Everything was fresh. The dressing wasn't canned (a huge pet peave). It was fresh! It was delicious!

My son enjoyed his Angus Burger. Only thing is he asked for no pink but it came pink. He did say it was nice and juicy, however he said he'd have liked more toppings.

My husband enjoyed his pizza and gave us bites. The Chicken Cacciatore pizza is topped with eggplant caponata and ricotta salata. It was delicious though I don't think I'd want to eat that for an entire  meal. I'm not a huge eggplant or ricotta fan, but they did taste good on this pizza. My son liked it too. 

Then it was time for dessert. I've never had panna cotta before. It was good, light, and fresh. That's why I got it. I wanted a healthy meal, a few carbs but not too many, and light food. After all I had a long drive home in heavy traffic. It was not decadent, which for this occasion was a good thing. As much as I prefer decadent desserts, the panna cotta was right for me. It was topped with fresh berries...which were truely fresh! I would order this entire  meal again!

The guys got the decadent dessert...Mama's Mixing Bowl. I took a taste. Yep. That was decadent! A moist brownie, crispy on the edges, 3 scoops of homemade vanilla ice cream and crushed oreos were the main feature. There were brandied cherries on a spoon. Salted caramel came in a small pitcher, that my son poured all over the dessert. They enjoyed it a lot!

The manager came around to check on us and we told him how much we enjoyed everything, how much we have watched Robert Irvine on tv, how much the place holds up to his ideals...and that Latasha was great!

Apparently Robert has a cookbook full of some of these healthy recipes (that is where my Sesame Shrimp Chop Chop link came from, check it for the recipe). The book is also full of exercise tips, which I know is another passion of Robert's.

I drove home that day along the George Washington Parkway, looking at a beautiful blue Potomac, under a beautiful blue sky, with the flame of autumn leaves beginning to burn against the setting of river and sky. And...I wasn't too full! For once I actually wanted a small meal for dinner that night, which I know is healthier than doing without as I usually do when we eat out for lunch. Yes, I would order that meal again! I've read that Robert wants to take this concept to other military establishments. It will be interesting to see what unfolds.  

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