Saturday, April 12, 2014

Cozumel, Mexico's CASA MISSION will get you all cooked up (4-11-14)

Yesterday our ship ported in Cozumel with about 19,000 other tourists coming off the various cruise ships in port. We have never been fond of these mega-ports such as St. Thomas and now Cozumel with the capability to have a half dozen ships in town on any given day. We had chosen what turned out to be an awful shore excursion, but we were so grateful for what came afterwards. Friends of ours from DC had noticed in my last posting from Galveston that we were headed here. They quickly emailed and invited us to lunch and to spend the afternoon by the pool and sea at their mother's home as she lives in Cozumel full time now. We met at CASA MISSION which is east of the town center and consists of a large old hacienda converted into a beautiful oasis in the middle of town.
We sat on the porch surrounded by flowers and plants and a cool breeze wafted by as we sipped what had to be the most powerful Margarita I had ever had; it was simply fabulous. It was noontime, but Mexicans still eat breakfast so while you could choose from Fish Tacos (made with fresh Dorado), Enchiladas and more, there were also several local breakfast dishes. There was cut fresh bread (no chips here) with a wonderful smoky salsa made from arbol chilis. This was also excellent on all the dishes as was the more powerful salsa made with habaneros, but it was not intense or overpowering as the ones back home are.
I had the Chilaquilis which come with red or green chili and are simply taco chips with shredded chicken, salsa, and a superb side of refried beans all topped with queso fresco, that wonderful white freshly made cheese found all over Mexico.
I gobbled my dish up as everyone else at the table did and even managed to finish off a half of one of Samuel's cheese quesadillas as he could not eat all three. The food was fabulous, the atmosphere perfection and all of the agony from the morning's excursion disappeared. Our afternoon with our friends was perfect and we returned to the ship having a new view of Cozumel; it can be great if you escape the thousands of tourists and the omnipresent pier shopping!
We must also thank our friends' mother, Jean, who is a warm, generous and kind person, and truly a good "soul." It was so special to meet her. Indeed I am already reading her book entitled "Saying 'I Do' In Paradise" on our last day at sea and am thoroughly enjoying it.
We head back to DC tomorrow and will be busy observing Passover this week, so to all those who celebrate, we wish you a wonderful holiday.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

RUDY & PACO in Galveston gives you super seafood Nicaraguan style in Texas (4-5-14)

We only had one night in Galveston, Texas before boarding our short spring break cruise and I chose RUDY & PACO's (www.rudyandpaco.com) in the old part of downtown, which was a great choice for all of us.
The restaurant is elegant, but a bit too dark for me; I had to ask our friendly server, Leann, for her flashlight numerous times in order to read the menu! The tables are close and it can get a bit noisy, but it was never bothersome (like some trendy loud place back North with blaring music!).
Paco himself came around to greet folks and make everyone feel welcome and before we even had our napkins in our laps a plate of
crispy fried plantain chips arrived with two salsa. The red called Paco Pico is their version of pico de gallo, and the green was a cilantro-based chimichurri. Both were superb and mild as well with just a slight kick as much of the seasoning here indeed was.
A bottle of Provenance Sauvignon Blanc 2012 from Rutherford in Napa Valley was a perfect pairing for my starter a huge portion of Ceviche Corinto which was Gulf Red Snapper at its best. The local fish is truly tasty and the purple and white slaw at the bottom was a nice change from wet lettuce. Will ordered a creamy tasty Sopa Poblano which also had a slight spice kick. The kitchen here knows how to treat spices and food well with just the right amount.
Crunchy crusted Sourdough bread came hot to the table with a creamy soft salty butter; even Samuel could not resist this.
He gobbled up his Pollo Managua which was the Nicaraguan version of my chicken with lemon-butter sauce and capers, but here the breast was crispy with a yummy lemon-caper-butter. On the side of each dish was superb spinach with mushrooms and sun dried-tomatoes and a large portion of scalloped potatoes; Sam wanted neither of these, but we could not resist them.

Will and I moved on, after a long rest, to a yummy bottle of Belle Glos "Clark & Telephone" 2012 Pinot Noir from Santa Maria Valley in Santa Barbara, CA. We loved it and it was superb with the two main courses we shared:
Filete de Pargo was a grilled version of the same Gulf Red Snapper from the ceviche topped with jumbo Gulf lump crabmeat, avocado and paco pico (the pico de gallo on the plantain plate). It was excellent and the fish superb. We switched and I also loved the special of Golden Tilefish, Parmesan crust and more of that yummy crabmeat with a white wine, basil butter sauce, pancetta and capers. It was almost too much in the dish, but somehow it all came together beautifully. The only issue was that we forgot this is TEXAS and the portions are all Texas size or amazingly HUGE. Will and I could not eat dessert so same chose the Chocolate Sabroso which was a molten chocolate ganache cake surrounded by mounds of whipped cream and vanilla ice cream drizzled with chocolate sauce. We tasted and it was very good.

We can now board our ship for the week-long cruise to Belize, Cozumel & Roatan knowing that we have had some of the best Gulf of Mexico fish around!



Monday, March 31, 2014

Chef Roberto DONNA does it oh-so-deliciously at AL DENTE in DC (3-30-14)

At last year's March of Dimes we purchased a set of dinners to share with our dear friends Mel & Juan. The first of these occurred last night at AL DENTE where Chef Roberto Donna has re-created
his old tasting venue, LABORATORIO in a more casual setting now called Roberto's 8. While we did this on a Sunday, anyone can attend AL DENTE's tasting evenings (of 12+ courses for $85 each!) and sit facing the kitchen at a counter while you watch all the food being prepared just feet away. These are done most Tuesdays-Thursdays (info at http://aldentedc.com/media/docs/Robertos8.pdf).
Our dinner is a mere sampling of the wonders you might encounter, and I guarantee you that we shall return again soon for this tasting extravaganza!
A glass of CLARA C Fiori Rose Prosecco came first and we sipped as the various amuses appeared.
BURRATA came with a  cherry tomato and Ligurian EVOO, but the treat here was the crystallized BASIL that gave the dish a slight sweet crunch. When I aksed Chef how this was made, he basically said, it is a very long process! There was wonderful focaccia to mop of the oil as well as all the other sauces that were all spectacular.
We switched to a superb white TREBBIANO Spolentino 2008 from Novelli in Umbria that would be great on any warm day and was superb with amuse #2: Poached ASPARAGUS and Nuts atop Whipped Olive Oil.
This oil was like whipped cream and buttery, yet something so fresh as well.
Braised PULPO (Octopus) was super tender and served with greens over Homemade HUMMUS and a bit of Balsamic. I love Hummus, but this was an Italian and wonderful take on the middle-Eastern treat.
Next came FIOR di ZUCCHINI, gorgeous deep fried zucchini flowers stuffed with an Herb RICOTTA over a Beet Puree with Dehydrated Tomato on top. This was one of my favorite dishes and is indeed a herald of spring, even though it had just stop SNOWING outside (at least it will be 65 degrees today!). The ricotta had a hint of lemon and the flowers had been deep fried to a crispy crunch in beer batter!
 
My favorite wine of the night was the Percchenino 2012 San Luigi Dogliani DOLCETTO which was as smooth as silk and simply divine with the POTATO GNOCCHI that came with delightful chunks of perfectly seared  FOIE GRAS (In Marsala Wine) over Caramleized Onions with Parmeggiano Reggiano. New places may pop up in DC or elsewhere where pasta is on the menu, but there is no question that the best pastas
and risottos have always emerged from the kitchen of Chef Donna.
Our just as impressive second pasta was a DUCK RAVIOLI (the raviolis were elongated and rectangular for a change) with Rosemary, Porcini Mushrooms, Duck Jus and of course, Parmeggiano Reggiano!
 
Our second red wine of the evening was a much bigger Super Tuscan 2009 AL PASSO from Tolaini which went beautifully with both huge meat courses:
Crispy BABY PIG SHOULDER with Roasted Fingerling Potatoes, Pickled Shallots and Orange Reduction. This meat just melted in your mouth and being a pickle fiend, I was totally amazed that anyone would even think to pickle a shallot. Why not, we do garlic all the time?!
More melt-in-your-mouth meat arrived in the form of Braised LAMB SHOULDER with Fried BRUSSELS SPROUTS that were crispy and crunchy for texture and another wonderful treat for the tongue.
 
We were nearing our limits and happy to see the Moscasto d'Asti from Falchetto (del Fant) arrive in small glasses to cleanse our palates for dessert which was a superb trio perfectly sized:
FRITTOLE are fried ricotta-filled balls (like bombolini) with Sour Cherries (although I could not taste the cherries, everyone else did) next to a Vanilla Nut Gelato and a BOUGIA or fried dough like funnelcake drizzled with honey. All three sat royally atop a swatch of dark chocolate that we had to wipe up every last bit of.
 
Now you know why we will be back at AL DENTE and seated at Roberto's 8 (there are eight seats only for these evenings) as well!
 
 

Friday, March 28, 2014

be sure to take in TOKI UNDERGROUND for really top Taiwanese Ramen (3-27-14)

We are lucky to have friends in the restaurant business, because neither of us like to wait in line. When we found out a friend could get us in to TOKI UNDERGROUND
(1234 H St, NE, Washington), we grabbed the chance, and were happy as when we left the place people were waiting over 20 minutes for seats. It was not easy to find TOKI UNDERGROUND (http://tokiunderground.com) as it is only marked with their Chinese symbol on the small door. You ascend a narrow stairway to the upper floor where high chairs faces all the walls and the bar and open kitchen.
There can't be more than 40 seats and while the music level is not high, three people probably could not converse well as you are all lined up facing forward. Indeed, obtaining seating for more than two could probably
be an even longer wait.
But it is worth the wait, as you will find the best ramen in town for sure.
Our super friendly and helpful server, Sam, explained that Taiwanese ramen is thicker and richer in its broth, and wow what a treat and taste it has.
Will ordered up a Sorachi Ace Draft Beer while I savored a fabulous small bottle of DASSAI Otter Fest 50 Dunmai Daiginjo Sake with honey overtones and a smoothness that is like the rice it is made from!
Our starters were delicious SEAFOOD DUMPLINGS (there are also pork, beef or veggie) and we chose steamed as opposed to fried (gotta keep that slim look!). They are cooked to order and are full of flavor with only a little soy dashed on top. The GALBI WAGYI BEEF Lettuce Wraps are as tender as they should be with a hint of spice, but not a lot and a light hoisin-like sauce. I took some of the Kalbi off the PICKLES PLATE we ordered to give it a kick. The pickles packed a punch and really had lots of flavor.
We started to discuss the décor which is stickers or pop-art on peeling wallpaper and more (ok, nobody can describe this for sure) and above is a shelf running around the walls with Pokeman-like Asian rabbit-eared dolls (I have no clue what they are....) which are indeed oh-so-cute and seem to be the Toki mascot. Indeed, I am unsure why the name "underground" as it is one flight up. No matter.
If you like to dine slowly, this is not the place to come. They want your seats cleared and I think we finished in about 75 minutes total from arrival time....we should have told Sam to hold our ramen when we ordered,
but it didn't occur to me.
The bowls arrived and Will had the TOKI CLASSIC of pulled pork, greens, egg & pickled ginger. He ordered and add-on of Pressure-cooked pork Cheek in a 5-Spice Marinade. There are many add-ons and they are indeed worth the thought as the huge bowls of heavy tasty broth and noodles do not have a lot of meat. At $12 this makes sense, so a side or two is a good idea. I had the KIMCHI RAMEN with kimchi infusion, pulled pork, greens, egg, kimchi, pickled ginger and an add-on or Berkshire PORK BELLY. I had more meat than Will did and my soup really had an edge and super-spiciness that we both loved (we switched halfway).
The eggs come cold to the table soft boiled in shell in a small bowl. Sam instructed us to crack it open and let it slide (like a poached egg) into the broth and then heat up for a bit. It's great. If I go back, I will do a Nitamago (extra egg) add-on for sure for $1.50! We savored the broths and yummy noodles for a long time and then realized we were way over-stuffed. YUM!
No way could we order the only dessert choice of Chocolate Chip Cookies (Red Miso Buttercream, Trickling Springs Milk), but we loved the small chewy Walnut Candies that came with the check. The labels were in Chinese (except for the words "chewy walnut candy") so I assume they are not easy to buy in the USA!
Next time we will have to try the Red Miso Ramen or maybe the Taipei Curry Chicken. Sam said the Fried Chicken BAO starter is great, but we were glad we didn't do that high starch-hi carb dish as it truly would have filled us up! Next time.
 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

it's not totally home on the RANGE in Chevy Chase, but it is a respectable restaurant (3-23-14)

Bryan Voltaggio opened Range (www.voltrange.com) some time ago and it took us a while to get there. Located on the second floor at Chevy Chase Pavillion, I have to admit the mall setting to be
a bit odd. One has to pass The Cheesecake Factory and maybe even Maggiano's amongst others like Starbuck's, but the setting atop the atrium is quite nice. While dining you can sit at the what seems to be forever counter facing the kitchen or watch a mesmerizing video of what seems to be the interior of a fish tank occupying the whole opposite wall on the escalator bank!
It's large, but cozy, and last night we welcomed those hot kitchen fires opposite us as it was indeed very cold again here in DC. I ordered up a LOT LIZARD made from tequila, Campari, lime and a light pineapple syrup. It was bitter like Campari and not sweet, so I liked it. My only issue with this $13 cocktail is the amount of ice in the short glass. My hand was frozen, so our sweet server Matt brought me a huge teacup of hot water to warm my hand; now that's service. Will had a taller drink with his URBAN CONFORMIST made from Vodka, Earl Gray Tea, lemon and yes, oak(?). Samuel said his Mango Soda (also housemade) was watery.
I do like the fact that they don't charge for housemade filtered water, and we liked the sparkling a lot as it was very mild.
 
I started with the HAMACHI CRUDO which comes with candied Hazelnuts, Beets and sits on a slice of Blood Orange. There is balsamic and green peppercorn oil which all add to a wonderful burst of flavor. A glass of WILD SOUTH 2013 New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc works well here or with any of the raw bar options due to its intense citrus flavor matching the blood orange. Will had the Deviled Mortadella & EGGS with Hen Egg Mousse & Cured Fish Roe which was another wonderful burst of flavor, but quite pricey for the 4 egg halves. He had a glass of Vocoret CHABLIS 2011.
Samuel was getting hungry and did not seem to care for any of the starters, so we gave in and ordered the BREAD BASKET (they do not offer bread complimentary) which included Sourdough, Ciabatta, Raisin Oatmeal, CornBread& Cheddar Biscuits to name a few. There were many choices of spreads on the side and they were all yummy, especially the Jalapeno Jelly and the Olive Tapenade. What was called bacon Marmalade was really just bacon bits and the Maple Butter was also nice, but not a big hit. Least exciting was the too sweet Smoked Cream Cheese with Grape Jam.
 
We all split one of the best salads around in the KALE CAESAR made with lacinato kale, Romaine hearts and parmesan. The kick from anchovy was evident and the entire dish was a hit with all of us.
We ordered a bottle of superb 2006 Domaine Albert Boillot VOLNAY "Letits Poisots" which was silky and strong with earthy hints. I joked the sommelier staff about not knowing what "poisots" was as we could determine the meaning with our translator apps. One of the guys actually went and found out that it was a family name, hence no translation! Good work!
 
Main courses were all hits from Samuel's 16 ounce Ribeye with Shallot & Herb Pesto (he ate 80% of it) to Will's Halibut & Pork Belly where the fish was tasty and crispy and so was the belly. It came with Cheddar Buckwheat polenta, glazed turnips and carrots. My LAMB Tasting was three types of lamb:tender soft breast, stuffed shoulder that was also divine and leg sliced, but two of the four slices were tougher than the others? On the side were Smoked Carrots, Harrisa and Cucumber Coconut Yogurt sauces for the meats. The two biggest hits of the main course were the side dishes. Samuel begged for CHICKPEA Fries which in the end he did not like, but we devoured promptly with their Harissa & Garlic Aioli Sauces. Will & I could not praise enough the Fried Brussels Sprouts with Fish Sauce & Lime.
 
Dessert was out of the question for us, but Samuel saw they had a chocolate list. It seems there is a take away kitchen next to the restaurant so he went down to investigate. He decided the truffles were to frilly and ended up with two CHOCOLATE FUDGE CRINKLES which were chewy divine cookies that we all loved. Matt brought a couple of the truffles over and while they were good, at $3.00 a pop, we were glad we did not indulge!
So in a nutshell, the prices are high, but some of the dishes are very worthy and don't skip the sides here! The wine list is huge, varied and has everything from $18 to practically $18,000.00!! We loved our Volnay for seventy-something!
 

Friday, March 14, 2014

bravos for les deux chefs de BASTILLE cooking up a storm at Food & Friends (3-13-14)--SAVE THE DATE for foodies!

Every year we attend a wonderful private dinner in the kitchens of one of our favorite charities, FOOD & FRIENDS. This year there were two chefs, the husband and wife team of Michelle & Chistophe Poteaux
who make their home at the brilliant BASTILLE (www.bastillerestaurant.com) in Alexandria. I often fill up on the yummy hor's d'oevres served as we gather in the lobby and at last year's event I behaved and tried one of each. This was IMPOSSIBLE last night with the most amazing creamy rich and divine torchon of FOIE GRAS served on small brioche rounds with a Fig Jam; I think I had four! There were GAUFRETTES (those lacy home made potato chips) with SCALLOP TARTARE and CREME FRAICHE that were light, airy and so easy to eat a ton of! Only the ESCARGOTS which were cooked perfectly and skewered were a disappointment as the Garlic Aioli to dip them in was so cold it took away from the warmth of the tasty little creatures.
We moved upstairs to the kitchen, where every dish was sublime, and this year even the wines were superbly paired.
First came DAURADE en ESCABECHE which was a Marinated Mediterranean SEA BREAM filet just barely seared with pea Shoots, Pickled Fennel, Artichoke Hearts, Carrots, Shallots and Piquillo Peppers. All the ingredients made for wonderful flavors as we all gobbled up this wonderful oh-so-French version of fish filet ceviche. The Kurt Angerer Gruner Veltliner Eichenstaude 2011 was indeed the perfect foil with apple and melon overtones.
Next was MAGRET de CANARD a L'ORANGE and this dish has always been a favorite of mine since childhood when I always ordered it like my Dad in a now long gone French restaurant in NYC called A la Fourchette. After dinner the chefs explained that at one point in their 8 years existence they took it off the menu, but there were so many complaints that it quickly returned after only a several month vacation!
The Hudson Valley Moullard Duck Breast was as tender as could be with just crispy skin in a rich Grand Marnier Orange Sauce with Glazed Baby Carrots and Rutabagas with a beautiful crispy fried super-thin slice of Blood Orange (thin Blood Orange Chip!). The perfect pairing with duck is often Pinot Noir and the Domaine des Moirots Bourgogne 2011 from Christophe Denizot was ideal; a wine that you can drink anytime with almost anything.
The third course was a perfectly cooked PLAT de COTES BRAISES en DAUBE for which the chefs used a Grass-fed Angus BEEF SHORT RIBS in a rich Provencal-style spiced RED WINE SAUCE. The meat, they later explained, was cooked for something like a dozen hours and partnered with Potato gnocchi that we all raved about. I haven't seen as fine a wine at one of these events as the MINER TEMPRANILLO 2011 which we have at home as well as we adore this Napa winery. Bravos to whoever supplies all the wines.
 
Dessert was a wonderful blessing as we approached our limits: GATEAU d'AMANDES was a simple yet tasty ALMOND CAKE with the most amazing SAFFRON YOGURT SHERBET that was as yellow as can be from the Saffron and exuded the spices essence. An APRICOT PUREE covered the bottom of the plat so you could have the cake with the apricot or the saffron sorbet. A small piece of Almond Brittle decorated the plate for crunch.
 
It was noted at the table that every dish was beautifully plated and presented as well. A lot of love went into this dinner and it showed. So now we  ALL have to head down to Alexandria and BASTILLE!
 
On a side note I am sorry that we have another commitment and can not make Food & Friend's CHEFS BEST (May 13) this year, but if you wish to join us for another FAB foodie event, be sure to put Wednesday NOVEMBER 12 on your calendar for March of Dimes SIGNATURE CHEFS event!


Monday, February 17, 2014

Sur La Place puts mouth-watering mussels on your plate in the Palisades (2-16-14)

I have written about our wonderful little neighborhood spot SUR LA PLACE (www.surlaplaceindc.com) before, but have not been in ages. Last night we joined friends and took our sons with us as they always love the place as well.  It's a cozy spot (although the drafts near the front can be an issue on a cold night when the door opens) with quaint reddish Keith Haring-style wall drawings, nice art and tin ceiling.
While Sur La Place specializes in Belgian Beers and Mussels, the menu is varied and we've never had a bad dish here. Will & Sam go there often when I'm away overnight, and our server, Tula, recognized them as soon as we arrived. Later, she remembered how much they loved the Brussels Sprouts which are superbly seasoned with onions and bacon (and maybe beer?) and sent our a complimentary side dish of them!
Will ordered his KWAK beer which comes in an hourglass-shaped glass supported in a handled wooden stand. It's quite a sight and highly carbonated and higher in alcohol than most beers. I tasted it, and liked it a bit, but stuck to the VIOGNIER Las Perdices 2012 from Mendoza in Argentina, which is a great wine with most of the mussel dishes for sure. Our friend, Kevin, tried the SAXO Blond Belgian beer which is $12.00 a bottle(WOW!) and I have to say not at all to my liking.
The boys ordered STEAK FRITES which Sam gobbled up faster than anyone else at the table could have eaten! He said he liked the Black Peppercorn Sauce on the side much better than the Béarnaise!
Starters included my always favorite and delicious HEARTS of PALM SALAD with baby Spinach, White & Green Asparagus, a thinly sliced Crispy Apple atop and a Citrus Vinaigrette. It is most refreshing and definitely on anyone's diet. AVOCADO COCKTAIL is more like a SEAFOOD Cocktail with avocado! It is loads of Baby Shrimp with bits of Lobster in a huge wide brim glass with Shallots, mixed green and a tasty Brandied Tomato Dressing, which is like a light version of that thick red cocktail sauce used so often with shrimp. Another dish that got high marks was the SMOKED SALMON WRAP which is salmon itself as the wrap around Asparagus and Haricots Verts. These are all pretty good lo-cal dishes as well if you need that! Kevin also said that his starter (ordered as a main course) of the Grilled DUCK PATE with Orange zest on wilted Spinach with a brandied Cherry Sauce was delightful.
 
While there are many choices for main courses, once comes here for the MUSSELS and we tried three different ones, each with its own superb flavors:
BEBERT is mild with celery, onion, herbs, leeks beer and horseradish and smoked salmon for a punch of flavor and contrast.
If you seek spice head for the RED DEVIL with celery, onions, herbs, tomato, garlic, horseradish, harissa for that punch of spice and beer. I loved my JAMAICAN ISLE which also has celery, onions and herbs but is touched with a dash of Coconut Cream (there is no sweetness or thickness to the dish, just flavor), as well as Curry & Beer. Of course the kilo pots come with a healthy cone of frites which I prefer to dip in the mussel pot sauce rather than the ketchup or mayo that comes as well.
 
Well after a kilo of mussels, a steak or whatever, dessert is often too much, so we all headed home very full and very happy. How great that this is 3 minutes away!