The Best Thing I Ate This Week: Oxtail Pho, Lasagna Verde

Washingtonian’s food team shares their favorite dishes from their past seven days of dining.

The bitter-greens salad with crispy guanciale and a poached egg was a close second to the lasagne verde in a standout Osteria Morini meal. Photograph by Jeff Elkins

This week, two of our critics independently picked the same dish as their favorite. Read on to find out what they loved about it.

Todd Kliman

Pho at Pho 88

I’ve spent the past two weeks trying to get over a bad intestinal bug, which has meant, per doctor’s orders, lots of liquids.

The way that works out, for a food critic who spends nearly every lunch and dinner in a restaurant, is a lot of soup, in this case a lot of pho.

This is one of the first places I think about when I think about the dish also known as the Vietnamese Penicillin. The meat and noodles are pretty much the same at every good place; it’s the quality of the add-ins and the broth that separates the great from the good.

(I nearly always think of my friend Lonnie when I eat pho, because she loves the stuff but still, after all these many years, doesn’t get what it’s supposed to be. Her standard order is: “double meat.”)

The oxtail-based broth the night I was in was great, as usual, with a fat-beaded richness that most of the competition never manages to achieve. The spicing (ginger, star anise, cinnamon) was insistent but subtle. And the mound of gorgeous fresh basil—a burst of summer in the midst of a stretch of 20-degree days—was not just enough for me to take home and whip up a batch of pesto; its abundance and freshness, arriving unadvertised and unhyped, put to shame all those restaurants that routinely brag about the provenance of every last little fillip on the plate.

Ann Limpert and Anna Spiegel

Lasagna verde at Osteria Morini

Ann: Lasagna holds a special place in my heart. I’ve always loved it, but when I was a kid, it was never something we had at home. (No wonder—as I’ve since discovered, making it can be a half-day event.) In fact, the only exposure I had to the stuff was at my Catholic high school, when once a year, the nuns would open the convent doors and have our whole class over for a fidgety dinner that revolved around cafeteria-size trays of Stouffer’s.

Now, whenever I see it on a menu, I can’t resist ordering it (like pizza and Peruvian chicken, even bad lasagna is edible enough). And I’m so glad I did one night at Osteria Morini, which takes its inspiration from Emilia-Romagna, where the dish was born. The straight-from-the-oven crock that arrived bore a lasagna that was hearty but not over-the-top—the bechamel was velvety and perfect and, as important, judiciously applied, and the firm noodles were spread with a traditional ragu. My favorite touch: a showering of crispy bread crumbs that gave a little crunch to every bite.

Anna: A group of friends and I tried Rose’s Luxury on a recent Monday night around 6:30, only to find a two-plus-hour wait for a table (blame the holidays, a six-person party, and/or the hype). Instead of gnawing our fingers, we hopped into a cab for the short trip to Osteria Morini near Navy Yard, and had one of the better all-around meals I’ve recently experienced.

Even though Morini arrived on the scene with plenty of clout—chef/owner Michael White is a Michelin-starred toque, and the Soho flagship receives raves—the DC branch still boasts the feel of a hidden gem. As they say in real estate: location, location. The Capitol Riverfront is preparing for a boom in residents, retail, and restaurants, but has yet to hit the buzz level of a neighborhood like the 14th Street corridor (not to mention the seasonal absence of thousands of Nationals fans at the nearby stadium). Count all of this as a good thing when it comes to getting a table at Morini, especially in winter months when the weather begs for a hearty bowl of pasta. We started with heaping plates of meats and cheeses, tender mortadella meatballs, and a salad of bitter greens rich with caramelized onions, guanciale, and a poached egg (if you haven’t already guessed, the fare runs hearty). Pastas—curly gramigna with a creamy sausage sauce, truffled ricotta ravioli—are standout, but the winner of the evening was the lasagna verde layered with bechamel sauce and a robust beef, pork, and veal ragu. It proved a perfect anecdote to the frigid night, and we managed to polish it off, despite our less-than-light meal. It’s one of the many reasons to hit this restaurant before hour-long waits ensue, not to mention summer heat.

See also: Previous Best Things I Ate

Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Petworth.

Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.