Is Floataway Cafe an Italian restaurant?
Not precisely. The kitchen prepares “fresh seasonal cuisine created with country French, Mediterranean and Italian influences” according to its website.
But it always seems to me that this 15-year-old restaurant succeeds with the kinds of benchmark Italian dishes where more orthodox Italian restaurants fail. Wood-oven pizzas with market toppings. Handmade pastas. Piccolo frito. This seasonal insalata caprese (at left).
For the past eight months or so, the chef at Floataway has been Todd Immel. He was the longtime charcuterie master at sister establishment Star Provisions, and before that a local chef of some renown, who first made his name at Oscar’s in College Park.
I honestly don’t see a lot of Immel’s personality on the menu, beyond some interesting pasta dishes. Many longtime favorites remain, though I imagine there was a little squawking when then rosemary-skewered chicken livers came off the menu.
But that’s Floataway: it will always reflect the California-Italian (by way of the American South) sensibility of owner Anne Quatrano. The simple, non-cheffy food is what guests love here.
The crunchy, orb-like crab fritter with its yielding ultimate-crabcake center now gets a base of slick, marinated zucchini with a few threads of pickled red onion.
A dusting of smoked paprika adds the barest piquancy to a smooth, sweet corn soup with crème fraîche. How nice to taste a spice so fresh you can sprinkle it on the food.
I didn’t find that this pasta added up to more than the sum of its parts, but what tasty parts. I can’t wait to try more of Immel’s terrific dried pasta.
This is the kind of entree that makes any glass of red wine taste better. The duck was cooked to an expressively gamey medium rare. Though the tender meat came at the expense of the skin, which I found too flabby to enjoy. I’d call the business underneath more of a tangy eggplant stir-fry rather than a true caponata. The vegetable’s chewy flesh didn’t have that stewy softness and developed flavor I look for in caponata.
I can never leave without a bite of this soft-serve ice milk topped with (left to right) granola, cocoa nibs and candied lemon zest, and olive oil with sea salt. The richness is all in the mouth, not in the way it feels in your stomach.
- by John Kessler for the Food & More blog