Tag Archives: best coffee in dc

Cafe Hounding: Caffe / Illy – Washington, D.C.

Caffe: Marriott Renaissance M Street Hotel
1143 New Hampshire Ave NW
Washington, DC 20037
(202) 775-0800
http://www.yelp.com/map/illy-cafe-washington
http://www.marriottmodules.com/restaurant/hotels/hotel-information/travel/wasrw-renaissance-m-street-hotel/caffe_an_italian_coffee_house/

Caffe is the name of the coffee concept boutique coffee shop located within the Marriott Renaissance Hotel in the West End of NW Washington, D.C.  This was the first of several shops opened in the last three years that exclusively sell Illy coffee and their designer products (namely their fancy hand painted espresso cups/plates and pods). Although not my first choice for espresso in most cases, every time I’ve had a cup of Illy at this M Street location, I have been thoroughly pleased. The dark, complex and caramel-like finish of the typical Illy espresso is a proven winner.  The true to form syrupy crema that commonly accompanies a well made Italian espresso consistently shines through here and, based on third-hand accounts, their cappuccinos are also well-made.

This is definitely not a place to sit down and work, eat a meal or chat for too long with friends.  Keeping in the typical Italian espresso bar tradition, there is only a standing counter along the windows of this petite shop where one is able to down their drink and continue on.  Not too linger friendly here.  Not to worry, just a quick walk through the into the adjoined restaurant (also part of the Marriott Renaissance Hotel) and you can begin an entirely separate dining experience.

In short, although this is not a place for much more than a quick coffee on the go – it is a quality coffee drinking experience and is worth a stop if you’re in the area and desire a quality made coffee drink.  The iced latte I had here in Summer 2010 was probably the best I’ve ever had.  Try getting a simlilar experience across the street at Starbucks — simply unheard of.

I like the cup (seen above) so much that I asked to purchase it.  I was pleased to find out that they happily sell the cup/plate/spoon sets used for a little under $10.

Here are some additional links that discuss the place:

WaPo
Yelp
Examiner
UrbanSpoon


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Cafe Hounding: Azi’s Cafe – Washington, D.C.

1336 Ninth St. NW
Washington, D.C.
20001-4208
http://aziscafe.com/index.html

http://maps.google.com/maps/place?client=safari&rls=en&oe=UTF-8&um=1&ie=UTF-8&q=washington+dc+nw+1336+9+st&fb=1&gl=us&hnear=Washington+D.C.,+DC&cid=12196182154941226661

Azi’s Café is a wonderful place to grab a coffee and a meal in one of DC’s most diverse and dynamic neighborhoods – albeit not very commercial.  The charming owner, Azeb Desta (nicknamed Azi), hails from coffee’s disputed birthplace in the Horn of Africa.  Before opening Azi’s in 2005 she worked for eleven years in food and beverage with Ritz-Carlton hotels.

Her location at the corner of 9th and O streets is smack in the middle of a rapidly changing area of the Shaw area of DC, where an improving standard of living and an aversion to the normal “Starbucks” options appear to partially drive traffic to Azi’s Cafe. Perhaps more important, Azeb and her staff are some of the warmest and most dedicated employees in the business and their service clearly helps with customer loyalty. Furthermore, for the time being, there is very little direct competition in the immediate area.

The menu of light food fare boasts decent pastry, soup, salad and panini (the roasted turkey breast, tomato, cheddar, and garlic spread goes for $6.50) options.  Personally, I often find myself succumbing to the flavorful biscotti displayed in large glass containers in front of the cashier – it perfectly compliments a warm frothy cappuccino on a cold day.

Generally, the coffee is above average for Washington and I’ve grown fond of their cappuccinos.  They use Illy coffee and have a stand of retail Illy for sale proudly exhibited in their front window.

Having sampled an Illy espresso across town at the Illy shop at the Renaissance M Street Hotel, I was excited to see how Azi’s compared.  The coffee itself was definitely up to par, bold and complex from start to finish.  The cup they used in my case was a designer Illy cup – of my choosing – that was plenty warm from sitting atop the French-made UNIC machine. The quantity of crema was less than sufficient, though, and I would have to wager the guess that the machine could be the problem. I’ll undoubtedly try another espresso here before making a final judgment on the quality of their coffee and ability to make drinks.  It also appears that they keep a pretty steady line of customers asking for both specialty drinks and regular cups of coffee during this time of year.

I’ve never visited this locale without a pleasant and eclectic mix of music weaving through the small locale.  The southern wall is littered with a few electric sockets for those who tote laptops and have a use for their free wi-fi. Others may choose between a few tables in the middle of the shop and a couple two-seater tables squeezed in between columns with plenty of natural light on the northside of the shop (sorry, no electric plugs on this side of the shop).

Whether for a hot bowl of soup, a freshly made salad, a steamy latte or a shot of espresso – Azi’s is quickly becoming an institution in the Shaw neighborhood and – with over five years of business in this locale – Azeb Desta seems satisfied that things are going in the right direction.  Although, she thinks that the last five years have gone by quickly, and that both the neighborhood and the clientele have changed equally quickly.  Azi’s Café is one of very few businesses thriving in this section of NW and it will be interesting to see how much/little she changes in the next five years in order to maintain a successful enterprise.

Café Hound will undoubtedly continue to frequent her shop and wishes her the best in growing her business.

Cafe Hounding: Northside Social – Arlington, VA

3211 Wilson Blvd.
Arlington, VA 22201
(703) 465-0145
http://www.northsidesocialarlington.com

It is official, I have found the best place for a completely comfortable, unpretentious, superb culinary experience and it is right down the street from my current residence in Arlington, Virginia.

To start, the shop is a spacious old building with high ceilings, plenty of natural light on all four sides, and three separate spaces with three totally different vibes under one roof (and that isn’t even mentioning the all too rare plentiful quantity of open air seating spaces located outside all with access to their free wifi). The inside also serves as an art gallery for local artists and has tons of bar stools and counter space by the windows in addition to about a half dozen couches located throughout. Also, the kitchen is WIDE open- another uber positive sign that food is done right here.

And to think, all this before discussing the menu, the fantastic staff, the Counter Culture coffee, the splendid teas, and their homemade ICE CREAMS! According to one of the owners, who co-owns Liberty Tavern and another locale in the immediate area with his brother, the place has been open for about four months and is doing REALLY well. Well, I think it can do even better AND serve as my new favorite hangout in the area for many months to come. Below are some pictures and additional comments about the place.

My only gripe is that it was a bit difficult to bite into my grilled chicken sandwich; which was spectacularly tasty. Susana didn’t think the bread slices accompanying her salad were crunchy enough. The pastries looked wonderful and were unique – their pastry chef is top notch. The soft ice cream was outstanding – passion fruit was one of the flavors of the day. The latte art on the cappuccino was decent and the drink was made well. The espresso was made well but the single-origin Michicha from Ethiopia was not ideal as it is a sun-dried coffee that is too gnarly for my preferences as a pure espresso drink – much better as a shot in a latte. In earnest, though, I probably would have preferred a shot of a wet washed Kenya AA or a full bodied blend like the Ano Novo 2010.

So, although I can say this place is probably the best complete dining experience that I have ever had at a wine and coffee bar, it is still improving and that should scare the competition (of which there really isn’t any at this time).

Lift a glass to Northside Social in Arlington, Virginia, for they may have just hit the sweet spot for this area’s upper middle class late 20s to early 40s demographic.