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Vapiano’s – A Review on Italian Cuisine in Chinatown

Some of my favorite cuisines are those made at Italian restaurants.  I love the wood fired or brick oven pizzas, buttery cream sauces that melt in your mouth like pieces of heaven, and fresh bread served with extra virgin olive oil and spices for dipping.  They also seem to have an atmosphere that just screams, classy while still feeling home-like.  Some have magnificent sculptures, live foliage hanging from ceilings, flowers decorating tables, waiters and waitresses dressed up to the nines, and provide a very pleasant atmosphere that leaves one feeling content visually, aromatically, as well as literally.  For this post, I will give some insight on an Italian restaurant that Tim and I went to this past October for a friend’s birthday called Vapiano.

Vapiano is a franchise with multiple locations.  The one we went to was located in Washington, DC  in Chinatown.  When we walked in the door, we were greeted by a hostess that handed each of us a card.  Apparently, each individual person gets this card that  is used to swipe what you are getting to eat as you retrieve your selections from the various stations set up around the perimeter of the restaurant.  Not being familiar with this type of set-up, we were intrigued to see how this would work, especially for the party of 30 people that we were a part of.

Since happy hour was to end within the next 30 minutes, you can guess our first stop.  It was the bar.  Tim got a beer, and I got a glass of red wine, the house red.  We got those for a decent price for the DC area ($3-$4 a drink).  We then chose to go to the pasta station, this was where we saw why they gave us two cards.  At first, we felt there really wasn’t a need for two cards.  As a result, we used the one card at the bar, and put the other in our pocket to hand back in later.  We even attempted to hand the card back in, but the hostesses knew better.  They insisted we each take a card, and now it was finally making sense.  Luckily, for Tim and I we both did want pasta for dinner.  However, if I wanted to try the pizza and he wanted pasta, we would have been in two different stations.  By giving both people cards, we can both get our meals at the same time without worrying about waiting in line for one person, then waiting in line for the second person or having to hand off the card.  This would take twice as long.  I think there may have been a bright light when I finally understood this and began to welcome the separate card concept.

In the pasta line, we had our choices of wheat pastas or regular pastas, and then an entree that you ordered by name (i.e. ravioli con carne).  I ordered the carbonara – came with a light cream sauce, parmesan, egg, and bacon, using whole wheat pasta.  Tim ordered the scampi e spinaci.  It was very neat to walk up to the counter; grab a napkin, tray, silverware; order your meal; and watch them cook it.  The only issue I found was it was very hard to hear.  You have to tell the chef what it is you want, and the background noise is so loud.  There are multiple chefs at the counter for multiples lines, for multiple stations, and each is trying to communicate with the person they are cooking for.   Actually, you may want to multiply all of that by 2 because most of the chefs are cooking for two people at once.  Then, you add in the clanging of pans, sizzling of meats, pan frying of vegetables….needless to say, I think you get my point that it is busy, and hard to hear.

Despite the noise, the chefs were very friendly and eager to make you what you ordered.  The gentleman cooking for Tim and I seemed as if he was having a wonderful time.  It is just unfortunate, that due to all of the noise and business, I asked to omit the egg from my meal and he still put it in.  Also, I found out that there was onion in my meal, which the menu didn’t state that.  The worse part, was the fact that I had wheat pasta – takes longer to cook than regular pasta.  So, when Tim’s pasta was one, and since he was cooking our meals at the same time, it was assumed my pasta was done when it was all but 1/3 cooked.  I was a little disappointed with my meal. I think it could have been great, I didn’t care too much about the egg or onions, but uncooked pasta is hard to crunch your way through.  Tim’s food was perfectly cooked, the shrimp was juicy, well cleaned, and had great flavor.  He didn’t have any surprise ingredients, and his pasta was perfectly al dente.

In addition to the pasta, they gave us warm, thick slices of Italian bread.  They gave two slices with every entree.  They were at least 1-2 inches thick, crispy on the outside, soft but not too soft- the integrity of the bread bounced back when poked- on the inside with a perfect blend of nooks and crannies from air holes within the bread, and a nice faint buttery flavor.  The tables came equipped with olive oil for dipping, and even fresh herbs on the tables that could be added to the entrees or to the bread if one desired.  The live herbs on the tables were not only great as fresh ingredients for one’s meal, but also made a very pretty centerpiece for the more rustic wooden plank tables.  There were also sections set up as conversation areas with cushioned seats, side tables, and candles that I’m sure offered a more intimate experience than our table setup.

Once we finished our main entrees, we headed over to the dessert table.  I got the most decadent chocolate cake I have ever tasted, Death by Chocolate was its name.  At first, I debated on if I wanted to get it because the sizes they were serving were fairly small.  It really was a sliver of cake.  In the end, it ended up not being small enough.  Not because I didn’t like, the cake was wonderful and if I ate anymore, it would have been living up to its name.  It was a very dense cake full of exceptional chocolate flavor while maintaining a smooth texture. I would highly recommend this chocolate dessert along with a nice red wine.  Tim got the tiramisu della casa, a coffee flavored mascarpone dessert.  He did like his dessert as well, but felt it wasn’t anything to write home about.  You should get the chocolate cake 😉

Although there was a pasta taboo that occurred with my dish and it was fairly noisy, the Vapiano does offer a neat ambiance and a different Italian experience with stations, serving one’s self, cards for keeping track of orders, exceptionally great chocolate cake and breads, fresh herbs on the tables, and pretty good happy hour selection with reduced prices.

I would recommend anyone trying out this restaurant to keep these few things in mind:  1) it will be loud.  Maybe during the day it isn’t as bad, but my experience was 8pm on a Saturday night and it was loud.  2) Get reservations ahead of time if you have a large party.  3) This is not the ideal restaurant for a romantic date.  4) The card concept is a pretty neat idea, although it could lead to trouble.  You really don’t know the total card balance every time you swipe another item onto your card, only the total from that swipe.  You could really be owing a fortune before leaving the restaurant if you aren’t carefully watching how many you times you swipe your card.


Healthy Baked Vegetables

Personally, I am more of a sweets girl than a vegetable fiend, but every once in a while I get this silly notion that I am going to eat healthier.  Especially around the first of the year, I get on this kick that “I am going to look like a super model by summer” and start working out more, along with every other person who wrote this on their New Years Resolution, and I will do this by eating more fruits and vegetables.




Fruits aren’t usually a problem for me, but unless I am forcing myself to drink my V8 with more meals than breakfast, I am not getting my daily required servings of vegetables.  I’d grab a roll, a piece of chocolate cake, a cookie, or a milkshake first.   Who wants a vegetable when you can have a decadent piece of chocolate? It has antioxidants, right? Better yet, if  it’s chocolate ice cream, it also has calcium.  Yeah, well, I have finally given into the battle won by my waistline, when the world according to Tiffany (chocolate ice cream is healthy) was creeping my scale to new heights and my dreams of looking like Cindy Crawford or Niki Taylor by summer were dreams of 6 months too late.

It was time for operation veggies.  In an effort to getting myself back on track, I found a very simple way of cooking vegetables that was low in calorie, very simple to do, and I actually like them!  They taste great!


All you need are:

Vegetables of choice (I chose some yellow and orange carrots, broccoli, snap peas, and green beans)

Cooking spray (I like to use the store brand, butter flavored cooking spray.  It has zero calories.)

Baking sheet (I used two of them because I had a lot of vegetables I wanted to bake, but how many you need, really depends on how  many vegetables you want.)

Seasoning  (I don’t normally add anything because I like the vegetables baked with the butter flavored cooking spray, but you may prefer to add some salt, pepper, maybe some rosemary, fresh basil, garlic…)

Parmesan Cheese (Sometimes I like to sprinkle a couple of teaspoons on top when I make a bowl of baked vegetables.  It adds some nice flavor.)

Green Vegetables

Broccoli, Snap Peas, Green Beans

First, you set the oven to 400 degrees.  Second, you clean and prepare your vegetables in slices or dices of your choosing.  I tend to cut the florets from the broccoli, leave the beans and snap peas whole, and peel and slice carrots into 1 inch chunks. In the picture below, you will see that I used the small bags of baby carrots this time.  In that case, I did not need to peel or cut up the carrots.  However, it did take longer because I didn’t.  I would recommend cutting them up a little bit more so they cook quicker.

Green Beans, Carrots

Green Beans, Carrots


Third (optional step), place the vegetables in a bowl and toss them with the spices of your choosing.  You may want to add a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil to every 2 cups of vegetables to help blend and adhere the dry spices to your vegetables.  Fourth, you lay out your vegetables on your greased baking sheets, I just spray the pans with cooking spray, then lightly spray the tops of the vegetables with cooking spray as well (you can skip spraying with cooking spray on top if you added the extra virgin olive oil in step three).  Fifth, when the oven is ready, place the baking sheets in the oven for 20 minutes.  At the 10 minute mark, you may want to mix the vegetables around on the pan a little bit, then put them back in the oven for the remaining 10 minutes.


Oven mixed veggies

Off to the oven





Make sure the vegetables are a single layer on the baking sheets to ensure even cooking.

Frozen vegetables take less time to bake than fresh vegetables.  Some fresh vegetables, such as carrots, take closer to 30 minutes to bake.

The smaller the vegetable and the thinner the vegetable, the quicker the vegetable will cook.


When I make my vegetables this way, I tend to make a ton of them because they make a great snack for later as well.  If I was to add Parmesan cheese, I would add it to the vegetables just before eating and after they have been baked.  I hope you enjoy this quick and healthy recipe.  Bon Appetit!

food veggie pic

Healthy Baked Vegetables





How to make big muffins

Have you ever baked muffins using your traditional 12 cup muffin pan, pulled one out when it was nice and hot, and placed a pad of butter on it to only have the first muffin gone in a few bites?  Then, you go back for a second one, thinking you needed just a little more, and before you know it, you feel like you ate too many and think “If the muffin was just a little bit bigger, I wouldn’t have just eaten all of these.”

Muffin Comparison

Well, now you can make the large muffins you see at Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, or your local bakery in your own kitchen.  The best thing is you don’t even have to buy a special baking pan to make them. In fact, you probably already have these in your kitchen, or something similar that would work.  A simple trick that I learned when I was younger, from my Dad, was to use custard cups.  Yes, custard cups.

You simply make your regular muffin recipe, nothing fancy, and place them into greased custard cups.  I tend to grease mine using a butter flavored cooking spray.  I think it does a nice job of making them non-stick as well as adding a nice buttery flavor and not adding calories.

Custard Cup

Using the custard cup as your baking vessel, usually yields half the amount of muffins as your regular recipe.  For example, if your recipe normally produces 24 muffins, you will get 12 large muffins.  So, if you really wanted 24 large muffins, you will need to double your recipe.

The baking temperature should be the same for your recipe as it normally is, but it will take a little longer to cook. I leave them at the same temperature because I like mine to have a little crisp on the edges of the tops and have a nice golden brown colo Muffins r. I usually bake the muffins 15-20 minutes and I check on them.  When you insert a cake tester or toothpick in the center and it comes out clean, then you know they are done.     Enjoy your big muffins!


Another tip:  I like to place my custard cups on a cookie sheet when I place them in the oven.  It makes it easier to put them in and take them out.