Sweet treats in DC

One of my favorite guilty pleasures is dessert, especially ice cream and doughnuts. Case in point, when I visited one of my best friends and fellow blogger Leigh Anne of A Genuine Delight in New York City, our first stop after dropping my bags was Doughnut Plant. And I’ll never turn down a peek at the dessert menu. So it’s no surprise that after six months in D.C., I’ve already discovered a few favorites that I return to again and again (in moderation of course). Bonus, most of these are locally grown businesses I’m glad to support. 

Astro Doughnuts and Fried Chicken

Chocolate espresso doughnut, BLT chicken sandwich

Chocolate espresso doughnut, BLT chicken sandwich

Astro Doughnuts is probably my favorite find in the District and it’s at the top of my list when people come to visit. The menu features a changing lineup of seasonal doughnuts alongside a few standbys that are always on the menu like vanilla glazed, crème brûlée and PB&J. You can never go wrong with the vanilla but some of my recent seasonal favorites include chocolate espresso and lemon hibiscus. I go to the downtown D.C. location where all the flavors are yeasted doughnuts, but I’m told their Falls Church location offers a few of the flavors as cake doughnuts instead. 

However one of my favorite aspects of Astro is that you can get fried chicken with your doughnuts! All of the Astro chicken sandwiches come on a split un-glazed doughnut. The airy yeast doughnut balances out the crisp fried exterior so well. It’s a match made in foodie heaven. The breakfast sandwich is delicious with a honey-butter drizzle, but I think my top choice would have to be the BLT chicken sandwich. It’s got so many of my favorite foods — bacon, fried chicken and doughnut — in one compact meal. Pro tip, it’s not always listed on the board but you can usually get a side of tater tots (especially if you beat the lunch crowd)!

Buttercream Bakeshop

Passion fruit-filled flakie

Passion fruit-filled flakie

Buttercream has been open for two weeks and I’ve already been three times. Each time, I tried something new be it a brownie, shortie or the latest visit when they finally had some of their filled flakies available. Flakies are Buttercream’s croissant-style pastry and they are formed more in the shape of a muffin, which means you get more of those buttery laminated layers in each bite. Let me tell you the passion fruit flakie was worth the wait, the juxtaposition of the delicate buttery pastry with the sweet tart cream filling was . The flavors took me straight back to Hawaii bite after bite. I ordered the espresso chocolate chip shortie in part because I’ve never perfect the art of baking shortbread, and it immediately reminded me why I shouldn’t try and just find a bakery like Buttercream that’s got it down. The cookie had a prominent espresso flavor that I loved and perfectly walked that fine line between dense and tender.

Dolcezza Gelato

Blood orange and stracciatella

Blood orange and stracciatella

There’s just something about a good gelato or ice cream on a leisurely afternoon, especially now that we’re getting into summer. My favorite in the District so far is Dolcezza, which serves fruit-based sorbettos and super-rich gelato. I’ve always enjoyed the dense, creamy texture just a little more than traditional ice cream, probably because it just seems more decadent.  Like the other sweet treats I’ve discussed so far, they source ingredients locally and change flavors seasonally. As with any gelato shop, my go-to flavor will always be stracciatella with its delicate bits of chocolate woven in. Dolcezza makes a great peanut butter stracciatella as well, if you’re feeling like a more indulgent treat. And for sorbettos, I particularly love the blood orange and champagne mango when they’re available.

Milk Bar

I couldn’t write a list of sweet goods in DC without including this NY transplant. I wrote about some of my favorites on their menu here, but really if you’ve never been before you have to try the cereal milk soft serve. It lives up to it’s name and tastes exactly like that sweet leftover milk at the bottom of your cereal bowl that we’ve all been known to sip. Order it with the crunchy cereal bits on top and you almost forget you’re eating dessert. The cookies are a convenient treat that come individually packaged, making them easy to pick up and save for later, be it a snack while sightseeing or a mid-afternoon work treat. 

Visiting Southern California

An overcast run along the Santa Monica boardwalk

I have often considered myself a California girl. I wasn't born there, but Southern California is a place I visited frequently growing up, before my family called it home. And after attending high school in south Orange County, I moved to Westwood to attend my dream school and my parents' alma mater, UCLA. Going to school in a big city gave me ample opportunity to explore, including dining at restaurants across the culinary spectrum. Los Angeles serves up everything from the neighborhood doughnut shop to hole-in-the-wall bar to the critically acclaimed restaurants of top chefs. And because of the diversity of the city itself, you can take a culinary tour of the world without ever leaving the the Southland. In fact, it was during my senior year at UCLA that the idea for Chasing Crumbs was born out of these experiences and my love of writing.

In the past month I returned to my beloved Southern California twice, first to spend time with my grandmother and parents in Newport Beach and then again to visit some of my closest friends in Santa Monica. And as is often the case, I discovered some new gems that I am excited to share.

Two-scoop upside-down cone, Salt & Straw

Salt & Straw
Ever since I heard Salt & Straw was expanding to L.A., it moved to the top of my list for an upcoming visit. The vaunted Portland ice cream shop is known for out-the-door lines and collaborating with local farmers, chefs and artisans on flavors that range from the traditional to what some might call bizarre. Take the menu at the the new Larchmont shop, which includes California-inspired avocado and strawberry sherbet, tomato water and ojai olive oil sherbet and black olive brittle and goat cheese ice cream.

So, when I met my friend Brittany for the afternoon, I told her that the only thing I planned was an ice cream trip. Luckily she's accustomed to and flexible enough to follow along with all my foodie whims. True to form, there was a line out the door at the L.A. Salt & Straw, but it took us little time at all to reach the counter to sample some flavors before ordering double scoops.

I could've walked away with far more than two scoops because every other flavor screamed "try me." When I return, not if, I think I'll be ordering the sampler, which allows you to get smaller scoops of four flavors. My first scoop was the seasonal California peaches with lemon crumble, basically my favorite dessert turned into ice cream. Fresh peaches were caramelized with brown sugar to create a thick jam running through the vanilla ice cream studded with lemon cobbler. For my second, I wanted something that would be a good pairing and opted for the sea salt with caramel ribbons. The ice cream uses a house-made burnt caramel and salt from Mark Bitterman's Portland salt shop. It's one of Salt & Straw's signature flavors and I can see why it's their most popular. It's definitely my favorite of all the salted caramel ice creams I've tried.

Sidecar Doughnuts
Sidecar is not your ordinary doughnut shop in Costa Mesa. I first tried a bite of their wonderful treats in the cinnamon apple donuts ice cream at Salt & Straw and couldn't resist a detour to try sidecar doughnuts from the source. Sidecar specializes in doughnuts made with fresh ingredients and fried in small batches. I opted to try two of the monthly doughnuts. Huckleberries are a favorite of mine (it's probably my northwest roots), so I had to try the huckleberry cake doughnut. It wasn't too heavy, and studded with plenty of sweet whole berries. Malasadas are a treat that are hard to find, so when I spotted a malasada with apple jam, I had to give it a try. It was airy with just the right amount of filling, and a light dusting of sugar on top. All in all, it made for a perfect afternoon treat.

Seasonal blackberry and bourbon cocktail, SideDoor 

SideDoor is nestled inside one of my favorite restaurants, Five Crowns in Newport Beach, known for great prime rib and charming inn setting. The bar at Five Crowns was long styled like a traditional English pub, but in 2009 the bar was reopened as an English-style gastropub with it's own entrance and menu.The menu focuses on seasonal ingredients, small plates, cheese and charcuterie and artisanal cocktails. However, you'll still find some signature Five Crowns dishes re-envisioned on the SideDoor menu.

I went with my Mom, Nana and I went to SideDoor on a Monday evening and it was packed. Lively conversation flowed through the relaxed atmosphere of the pub. We opted to get a few items to share among the three of us. I enjoyed the smoked bacon and addition of egg in the wedge salad. We watched as the chef at the charcuterie stand assembled our french onion press. As it sounds, it was essentially eating french onion soup in sandwich form, and it was delicious. The onions burst with flavor and balanced perfectly with the sourness of the fresh bread. And of course, one couldn't ignore prime rib, so we ordered the prime rib chili cheese fries, a popular choice at tables around us as well. The chili was rich with generous amounts of prime rib and the fries perfectly crispy underneath. After all that food, I still couldn't turn down dessert. The espresso creme anglaise that accompanied their doughnuts was perfection, in fact I took home the leftover sauce to add to my coffee because I didn't want to waste one drop of it.

Farm to Table in Phoenix

Since moving to Phoenix three years ago, I've watched a culinary scene continue to expand and I continue to find new favorites. Great food combined with a great atmosphere will keep me coming back to a restaurant again and again. I am especially drawn to farm to table or seasonal concepts and locally-owned establishments. Today I share my current Phoenix favorites, three restaurants that feature locally-sourced ingredients and a warm, inviting ambiance that makes you feel instantly at home and all uniquely repurpose old buildings.

Smoked Chicken and Andouille Gumbo, Southern Rail

Southern Rail
Chef Justin Beckett was a 2012 nominee for Food & Wine Magazines's Best New Chef after opening Beckett's Table in 2010. Beckett's Table is unique in its combination of sophisticated comfort food, local ingredients and humble atmosphere. When Beckett opened his second restaurant, Southern Rail, earlier this year, I knew it would quickly become one of my favorite restaurants in Phoenix. Southern Rail is grounded in the same approach as Beckett's Table while emphasizing the flavors of the American South.

I first visited Southern Rail, which revives the space once home to the iconic Beef Eater restaurant, the weekend it opened and quite possibly wanted to try everything on the menu, which features a variety of small plates, entrees and hearty side dishes. On that first visit, the gumbo and heaping plate of beignets really stood out and showed Beckett's attention to traditional recipes. When I returned with my Mom she was equally impressed with the atmosphere and creative twist on southern classics. The cider-brined pork loin was moist, flavorful and by the time I finished it looked as though I might have licked my plate clean.

Next up I am excited to try Southern Rail's weekend brunch. I think my sister would adore the fried green tomato benedict, the hoe cakes and SR bread pudding frunch toast sound delightfully decadent and who could pass up a good dutch pancake. If the sticky buns are anything like their pull-apart brioche, someone will have to stop me from eating them all. And I am hoping to get a seat at their dinner with guest chef Sean Brock, of Husk in Charleston and Nashville.

Bruschetta, Postino

Postino at first glance is the neighborhood wine bar and cafe, but spend a little time at each Valley location and you come to learn that it is so much more. Each location is housed in a building of historical significance to the surrounding community, and the communal dining rooms are a welcome gathering place. Known for unique wines, amazing bruschetta, cozy patios and a mix of vintage and edgy decor, Postino has its niche and does it exceedingly well. With the opening of a fourth location in Tempe this week, I don't even have to drive very far to enjoy the best bruschetta in town!

The menu may be limited -- mostly sandwiches, salads and their signature bruschetta -- but it's all fresh and excellent for pairing with their changing selection of wine and craft beer. it's one has made them one of the most popular places in town. Try to get a table on a Monday or Tuesday and you'll find yourself waiting for upwards of an hour. It's worth the wait for their killer deal -- after 8 p.m., you can enjoy a bottle of wine and a bruschetta board for just $20.

Liberty Market
Liberty Market operates in what was quite literally once the neighborhood market. Today it is a neighborhood bistro in Gilbert serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. The servings are generous and the conversation flows easily in their open dining room. Chef David Traina and his wife Kiersten, run the day-to-day and never cease to have a smile on their faces. They share a passion for food with the other co-owners Phoenix restaurateur Joe Johnston and his wife Cindy, whose touch can be seen in the unassuming decor and friendly atmosphere.

My favorite chilaquiles in the Valley so far are Liberty Market's take on the traditional Mexican dish, with their green chile pork. With both a tomatillo sauce and red pequin pepper sauce, there's just the right level of spicy to not overpower the flavors of the pork. At dinner, Liberty Market serves such diverse offerings as the aforementioned green chile pork, wood-fired pizzas, baby-back ribs, loaded salads and burgers. I recommend the grilled chicken pasta, which is finished with chopped bacon, smoked mozzarella, and fresh vegetables in a parmesan cream sauce. From what I could see at the tables around me, I don't think you can go wrong with anything on the menu. And be on the lookout for specials, I had the most delicious Italian pistachio cake (not a regular on their dessert menu) to finish my meal on one recent visit.