Monday, February 20, 2017

Olney MD's SARDI's FUSION falls a bit short this time (2-19-17)

After having such a good time at Sardi's Fusion in Olney we decided to return there last night after Sweeney Todd starring our friend E. Faye Butler as Mrs. Lovett (which you should not miss at Olney Theatre!).
We arrived at 530pm as the show was over early and the place was pretty empty, but filled up within the hour. The menu had not changed, but the service was lacking and while our charming server tried, it seemed that everything we wanted was sold out!
We started with their super Pisco Sours and a Margarita and those were hits as were the yummy plantain chips with three salsa; you can easily fill up on these. Last time we loved the starters and had some issues with the mains. This time they were out of most of the ceviches, (not good for a Peruvian place!) all the avocado and it also seemed truffle oil for the truffle fries which we ordered as well. Often the items came lacking certain and major ingredients and after checking my review from last time, I noticed none of us got salads, but now they offer a choice of two sides....
Empanadas here area  hit, so gorgeously flaky we had to make jokes about the meat pies from the show! After trying three different starters that were all gone I chose the Pulpo Anticudo or Grilled Marble Potatoes with Micro Greens and Grilled Octopus with White Truffle Vinaigrette(missing), Beech Mushrooms (missing) and Black Olive Aioli. It was a tasty dish and there were so many greens it was like a salad side! Will (also after several failing choices) opted for the Shrimp Tacos and Samuel went for the Spicy Lamb Tacos, which he loved, but said they were not spicy at all.
We asked for a bottle of Oyster Bay Chardonnay which took forever to come and it was a good choice as most of us had fish, but the wine list has dwindled to about 10 wines and maybe Sangria is a better choice?
Will had the Lima Burger (also with avocado, bacon, onion, fried egg, provolone and lomo saltido sauce on a brioche bun which he said was quite tasty as they do proffer  1/2pound of angus! Our friend, Faye tried the Grouper a la Chorrillana which I had last time and it was quite good, seared with aji amarillo mashed potatoes, smoked bacon and a tamarind sauce. Samuel chose the Brochetta de Pollo with onions and peppers on the skewers as well as pita and tzatziki sauce which was so huge he can finish the second half tonight! The sides were good, but we did miss the truffle fires, although the spicy jalapeno dip for the plantains works superbly. The grilled veggie side was very nice as well as the string beans.
My Langostinos main course was grilled with Andean Pesto (a mere slash across the plate and more would have been great) with Rocoto Garlic Butter but the Grilled Mussels were nowhere to be seen.
Our server apologized multiple times, but we had plenty to eat and most of it was good; it just seemed the kitchen was really a mess.
Next time we might have to try a different spot when we return to Olney?
Oh-fotos on FB as always!

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Toronto's BYBLOS will blow your mind (2-5-17)

Sunday night after a 5-1/2 hour opera marathon of Gotterdammerung, I had the pleasure of taking friends and clients to BYBLOS (byblostoronto.com) just a few blocks from my hotel and the Four Seasons Centre (where the Canadian Opera performs). We arrived around 8pm and all of us looked at the menu and I declared jokingly, one of each. We actually entered through a doorway, wind reflector (they have these inside many places in Canada to keep out the drafts), descended several step to a bar and small room, but were quickly escorted up a flight to an elegant almost casbah-like upper floor where we were able to relax is a very quiet and cozy atmosphere.
We perused the drink menu and I ordered up The Fox: Tequila Tromba Blanco, Fino Sherry, Watermelon, Coriander, Line & Cucumber which was a tart treat that I loved. Our server, Maggie, tried to help us with choices from the very varied and large menu, explaining that everything was for sharing; we were game and kind of shouted out of choices randomly and all agreed!
Duck Kibbeh(confit) was first with Dried Fig(many pictures on FB!!)  and a thick Date Molasses sauce and Tahini drizzle to cut the slight sweetness that we all oohed and aahed (sp?)  over. Steak Tartare was gorgeous with a hint of mint and Middle Eastern spices with chilis as well as a gob of Labneh on top, which was indeed a big signature to many of the dishes. It was so great to have homemade Labneh since we haven't had it since Israel last August where I gobbled it down on bread with za'atar each morning. This was exceptional, but created a small problem for one of the lactose-intolerant guests. Barbari bread comes with many of the dishes and it is like a thick cigar shaped bread cut up and doused with olive oil and seeds and spices that we could not resist.
I was thrilled with the wine list and many options for Canadian wine and chose a Pearl Morisette Cuvee d'Une Nuit Chardonnay from Niagara which everyone declared a revelation with its minerality and lack of oak (it gets a hint of French oak) again resembling the super Chards of France or even Oregon. YUM. The red was even better as I love British Columbia's Burrowing Owl but had never had their Malbec 2012 from the Osoyoos region (I never even heard of it!). This was a huge full bodied red but with just enough tannins to stand up to some of the big meat we ordered.
Roasted Beets arrived with Pistachio, Caraway and a ton of that awesome Labneh, but I think the most mouthful was in the Pide, a flatbread here with intense Black Truffle, Buffalo Mozzarella, Hallumi Cheese, and Tartufata(truffled) Creme Fraiche that disappeared in seconds.
One of our starters, the Crispy Baby Artichokes arrived after even the main courses, but was superb with Preserved Lemon that was almost overwhelming (I needed more Chardonnay), and of course more Labneh!
The main courses were even more amazing with Spanish Octopus with Fingerling Potatoes, Biber Chili Vinaigrette & Preserved Lemon bursting with flavor that we really wanted more!
We chose two vegetable sides both of which were superb and spiced to perfection: Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Halloumi, Tahini & Yogurt, but it was the Seared Cauliflower in Duck Fat with Tahini Sauce, Sesame, Coriander that got me so excited.
We chose two meat dishes both of which were superb:
Wagyu Striploin came perfectly rare with five large slices in Cauliflower Hommus,  Amlou Dressing(Moroccan dip made from toasted almonds, argan oil, and honey) & Veal Jus that was as tender and scrumptious as could be.
Slow Braised(12 hours) Ontario Lamb Shoulder with Pickles, multiple sauces (garlic, spicy, and more) and House "Lavash" which was like a wonton wrapper to put the lamb, pickles and sauce in. The portion was huge and could have fed all of us for just one main course, so there was takeaway left for sure! The meat fell off the bone and was so scrumptious it was hard not to have several little wraps, but there was more.
At first, we decided that rice was too much to add, but then I saw the Rice made with Persian Kale, Saffron, Aleppo Pepper and topped with Crispy Lentils, Black Beans, Labneh & Persian Lime. You have never had rice until you eat this memorable dish which comes in a huge cast iron pan with top and is truly a revelation and so aromatic as you pull off the pan cover!
Dessert seemed an indulgence so the four of us settled on two choices based on Maggie's suggestions:
Crispy Qatayef(dumplings) with Ashta Cream, Turkish Delight, Honey Syrup, Sumac & Strawberry was my favorite of the two with small sugary dumpling-like treats filled with Turkish delight (almost in liquid form).
Turkish Coffee Bombe was a Coffee Cardamom Mousse covered in Chocolate with Cherry Confit, Hazelnut Dacquoise and Borek(phyllo-like crumbles).
I desperately wanted a glass of Icewine, but alas they were out and settled for a yummy glass of Hidden Bench (Ontario) Late Harvest Gewurtztraminer and we all stumbled back down the stairs to head home.
This trip certainly gave me so many new amazing Toronto dining options on top of all the others I have enjoyed!

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Toronto's RICHMOND STATION is a rare spot which deserves raves!! (2-4-17)

Last night I was invited to RICHMOND STATION (1 Richmond St. West www.richmondstation.ca) just a couple of blocs from the hotel and was surprised when we arrived that only a sign outside indicating RESTAURANT showed the location! We entered into a small space with a bar and numerous tables opposite which I thought was the whole place, but were then escorted up a short flight of steps to an expansive upper level with one large room facing the open kitchen as well as one smaller private dining space. It was nice to be further away from the door (cold air!) and bar (more noise) in this more intimate space where we were served by Mark as well as the manager Steve, who suggested that the chef just cook for us as we could not decided on what to eat. The menu is not huge, but it is very varied and we enjoyed every single item that came out for what ended up being almost 4 hours!

The wine list offered many wines by the glass and we were immediately drawn to the Ontario options and started with a bottle of Rosehill Run Chardonnay 2012 from Prince Edward County about 2 hours to the east where the wine business has been steadily growing over the last decade! The Cuvee Richmond Station is bottled for the restaurant has a crisp mineral taste and is mostly steel barrel fermented that really hints back to the true French chardonnays and has nothing to do with those oaky, vanilla-intense California ones of the same varietal.

Soon enough we each received a small plate with a pairing (see photos on FB) of a New Brunswick Village Bay Oyster on one side and a Beef Tartare on top of a deep fried triangle of Pommes Kennedy topped with a Bloody Mary clamato gel. The tartare was amazing even if the potato triangle was still just a bit oily from the frying. I can't recall ever having a New Brunswick oyster (and I know I have had many from both coasts of Canada which I love), but this mollusk was indeed a plump morsel.

Next came two house specialties that blew us away (everything from here on was served family style):

Pate en Croute made from Rabbit & Pork with a pork stock gelee and Leek Mostarda which was truly a brilliant construction in beauty and even more amazing in the mouth.

Duck Liver Pate(whipped) with Apple Mostarda on Brioche which was as rich as could be, but truly an explosion of flavors in the mouth

On the side was a small salad of Arugula and Mushrooms with Pickled Shallots.



Steve said that we needed to have the Charcuterie plate as everything is made in house and indeed the restaurant practices whole animal butchery so that nothing is wasted; a truly admirable goal for any establishment. After the Duck Pate and Pate en Croute, how could we disagree! He then brought over a glass of Coat-Albret Brut(hence no sweetness) Hard Cider from Normandie that was an amazing pairing with all the varied meat options on the platter:

Culatello-a prosciutto like creation of inside pork round

Venison Piemontese-easily the best venison charcuterie I have ever had made even richer with red wine!

Bresaola

Pork/Rabbit/Lamb Terrine made with Medjool Dates (need I say more?)

Grilled Lamb Sausage

Grilled Summer Beef & Pork Sausage

and finally House Cured Lardo whipped to perfection with black pepper, Maldon Sea Salt & Rosemary.

Different mustards adorned the platter (the FB photo shows this amazing work of art in the butchery department!)



Now everything was amazing but the venison stood out for it's novelty and the terrine was truly terrific, but it was the unsuspecting Lardo that we all went loco for.

Spread on a piece of bread it came off as an amazingly seasoned tasty whipped "butter" with gusto that we simply could not resist!!

Steve joked that it was the perfect spread for your breakfast toast!



We continued with one of my favorite Canadian winemakers who has almost become a cult up here and indeed Richmond Station does not advertise they have the wines on the menu, but keep them for special guests! The Norman Hardie 2014 Prince Edward County Pinot Noir is a dreamy pinot that equals any from Oregon or France with guts. Next year if we return to Toronto outside of the bleak wintertime, I am surely going to try and plan a trip to Prince Edward County!



Our next course was the Pan Roasted (deliciously crispy skinned) Euro Bass served atop a Brassica Caesar Salad made of greens with Brussels sprouts, white anchovy & Caesar dressing. While the fish itself was delicious, the salad needed a bit more oomph and all I could have asked for would have been some of those amazing anchovies from Italy, we just could not seem to find them!



Three main courses arrived and we decided to tackle them each one by one:

Rabbit Two Ways offered up a Leg & Croquette with Celeriac Puree, House Cured Smoked Bacon and was the specific dish I had asked for and was rewarded with a real winner as each bite had a different flavor and texture and really showed off the kitchen's amazing technique for variety.

Fleishnacko is a rolled pasta stuffed with pork and I can only describe as "pate en pasta"stuffed with pork cooked sous-vide and paired with Grilled Pork Loin in Mushroom Gravy, Pork Stock, Cippolini Onions.

The Venison Tenderloin shined cooked just past rare and served with potatoes, root veggies in a mushroom & red wine jus that was out of this world; the meat melted in our mouths!

J.M. Sohler 2013 Pinot Gris from Alsace was a treat as well!



The though of dessert scared us so we suggested just one to share and the Coconut Tart (very deconstructed-sorry no photo) with London Fog Cheese Cake, Earl Grey Ice Cream and Seabuckthorne puree was loads of fun and a glass of Tawse Niagara Ontarioa Riesling Ice Wine was simply the icing on the cake (or tart if you prefer!)



I am sure I have to come back again next year and revisit Richmond Station for sure as this was indeed one of Toronto's best dining experiences ever!!

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Toronto's MOMOFUKU has a Winterlicious wonderland (2-3-17)

Each time I return to Toronto in late January or early February, I forget that their "restaurant week" runs for two whole weeks and is called Winterlicious.
After the Magic Flute last night, the Sarastro and I headed across the street for their $28 ($21US!!) 3 course menu which is a steal for sure. There are 3 or 4 choices for each course and I was upset the Inari (steak tartare) was all gone by our arrival just before 11pm but the food was yummy nonetheless.
I love ramen and should have chosen the Smoked Chicken Ramen with toasted miso, menma, scallion and egg that Matt chose. It was hot and delicious. My Spicy Clam Noodle was more noodles and lots of tasty clams with only a hint of super spicy miso broth with chili and scallion. I loved the dish, but in the 18degree temps, yearned for more hot soup!
Last year I had the superb Toronto made sake called Izumi (Nigori)"Nigorizake" which I love and paired superbly with all the spice.
Since Inari was gone I opted for the Lamb Bun (each dish is locally sourced as well and indicated here:Jim Giggie, Ontario) with spicy mayo, iceberg lettuce and pickled bean sprouts. It was mildly spicy, but the bun, lettuce and super sprouts negated that and I have to say it was a superb and filling dish but not too large. The Prork Bun (Kunan Farm, Ontario) with hoisin cucumber and scallion looked yummy as well, but Matt said it was slightly fatty.
I moved on to a tasty glass of Kew Vineyards 2013 Gamay from Beamsville Bench in Ontario reminding me even more of the delicious variety of wines up here...have to go shopping today!
Dessert for both of us was Spiced Chocolate Mousse with Sichuan spices and honeycomb which came in a small mason jar and was a rich fudgy intense chocolate paste more than mousee, yet quite tasty with the spices and that crunch was just right.
Off to bed after a long day as more is to come all weekend!


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Wednesday, February 01, 2017

DC Restaurant Week commences with a crescendo at DEL CAMPO (1-30-17)

Since I'm headed out of town this weekend, we decided to do our one night this week at DEL CAMPO (777 I St, NW) and at the last minute Will had to cancel, so a friend joined Sam & I.
It was a most pleasant and relaxing evening and when we arrived at 630pm the place was rather quiet; by 8pm it was pretty full, but still not noisy--a sign of fine dining for sure in my mind.
I ordered a superb Pisco Sour (fotos as always on FB) which had me reminiscing about Ecuador and Samuel had his requisite Coke. He also decided that the $30 three-course Restaurant Week menu with its 3 choices in each section was not for him. He started with the Wagyu Sirloin Empanadas and Salsa Criolla which were a sure hit as I have enjoyed them here so many times before. We started with the Corvina Ceviche with Rocoto, Leche de Tigre, Sweet Potato & Cancha Corn which had to be one of the best ceviches I have ever had. Corvina was used a lot for our ceviche and main courses in Ecuador and was superb; here it was taken to new heights with kicky slices of fresno chilies, that amazing leche de tigre and a sweet potato puree, but the excitement came in the small crunchy (think somewhere between rice krispies and corn nuts) of the cancha corn.
A magnificent bottle of Santa Carolina VSC 2009 from Colchaga Valley in Chile was recommended by our strikingly handsome server Reyez, who our friend Rick immediately recognized from another restaurant he used to work in!
The red blend of 60% Petit Verdot/15% Cabernet Sauvignon/10% Carmenere/13%Malbec/2% Mourvedre made for an amazing full bodied and intense wine that was a big win with us!
Puffy steaming hot pockets of bread called Chappas (from Argentina) arrived with EVOO(from Chile) and sea salt(from England) that we wolfed down and begged for more :-))......
Of course the wine went superbly with my main course of Grilled Creekstone Farm Short Ribs with Jalapeno Potato Puree & Bone Marrow. Chef Victor Albisu is known for his grilled meats and bone marrow needs to be foremost amongst them! The dish comes with a super chimichurri like salsa. Samuel had the Gnocchi a la Parisienne which were made with fall mushrooms, burnt broccoli pesto, parmesan and black truffles; who wouldn't like that? Rick had the Salt Baked Salmon with white beans, escarole and bagna cauda that may have sounded light for the big red wine, but this fish dish was a filing and delicious dish for such a cold winter evening as it was.
We were wonderfully surprised when Chefs Victor and Faiz Ally sent out two extra dishes which I immediately praised as two of the top dishes in the house and mandatory for any visit: Fried Yucca with rich creamy Aji Amarillo dipping sauce that would sent anyone to seventh heaven 9and I have to admit, I devoured most of them) as well as the gorgeous rare Wagyu Bavette Sirloin..with another Bone Marrow treat so Rick could have his own bone! It also came with a superb Chorizo Sausage! Some of the sirloin went home and even Will got to enjoy that when he got home from his meeting (where they only served him some teeny dessert or such right at dinnertime!).
the Restaurant week menu offers two desserts so Rick & I chose one each:
Tres Leches Twinkies with Passion Fruit Sorbet were an indulgence for me and quite rich, but so delicious.
The Grilled Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Ice Cream & Dulce de Leche was perhaps a tad lighter, but just as decadent and superb.
Del Campo sure delivers on restaurant week and they even have a $60 menu with upgraded choices such as that Wagyu Bavette Sirloin & Lobster & Crab Fried Rice amongst others if you wish to splurge.
No matter what week it is Del Campo offers you a huge varied menu and is sure to deliver!

Monday, January 30, 2017

a delicious dinner at DINO's GROTTO for a special birthday (1-28-17)

Our dear friends invited us to DINO's GROTTO in Shaw Saturday night and boy what a treat it was for the dozen or so of us all.
Tavernello Prosecco was poured on arrival and we settled in to a variety of starters that everyone gobbled up:
Vadouvin Deviled Eggs which I have written about so many times and are indeed the best around.
Frito Misto di Mare of rock shrimp, bay scallops, calamari and hake
Sweet Potato Croquettes were a special made with pear, ginger, parmigiano, chive, panko and egg and served with a drizzle of Tuscan sweet and sour sauce--we couldn't help feel this was an homage to the Lunar New Year.
Of course Sam had his Meatballs of Veal/Pork/Ricotta/Panko/Egg in a spicy tomato sauce.
Our first wine was a superb Etna Bianca DOC by Vulka 2015 which was followed by an amazing second wine from Sicily: Calabretta "Vigne Vecchie" 2006 from Nerello Mascalese.
Pasta is a requirement and we all adored the Canneloni di Vittelone or rich cannelloni stuffed with Randall Lineback Veal, Leeks, Shallots, Onion, Chive & white wine in a Fonduta with 24 month aged Parmigiano Reggiano.
The Duck Bolognese Lasagne was also masterful with its amazing Silk Road Spices also lending another Asian flair.
Sam decided more pasta was needed and his main course of Pappardelle with Wild Boar was gone fast while many of us decided to share or keep ight with sides:
Brussels Sprouts with Caramelized Onion, Walnuts & Aged Balsamico are a winner for us anytime, but raves were going on for the Grilled Eggplant Parmigiana.
Wild Boar Chops were superb which were grilled and served with a Tuscan Mole(red wine/much garlic/dried fruit) and some more of those Sweet Potato Croquettes.
At this point our host opened up a couple of bottles of Jefferson 1998 Meritage which we had purchased on a trip almost 15 years ago together to wine country in Charlottesville! It was smooth, silky and delicious and most importantly
brought back wonderful memories.
It was a crazy and fun night full of good food and friends and Andrew, the uber mixologist/bartender even showed up much later with "Pussy Power"s for us all which it needs to be explained is a blackberry, lime and gin drink that goes down like lemonade...oh well, really limeade. YUMMY and HAPPY BIRTHDAY! Happy Lunar New Year too!

Monday, January 16, 2017

DC's FIOLA MARE amasses a mean feast for brunch in Georgetown (1-15-17)

I am not a big brunch person as a large midday meal often tires me out, but yesterday was an exception with the holiday and weekend and we had won the certificate at Samuel's school auction, so off we headed to Georgetown and FIOLA MARE on the Potomac River in Georgetown Harbor. On arrival we were warmly greeting and taken to one of the much quieter rear dining rooms, so while we had no river view the place was full and we had a very relaxes and quiet experience. Within a couple of minutes our server returned with apologies of taking too long (3 minutes?) and would be back shortly with complimentary prosecco; off to an excellent start and it just kept getting better.
The dining room was clean with crisp white linens in a most elegant setting with fabric ceiling and we could easily see through to the open kitchen in the next larger dining area.
Fiola Mare has an a la carte menu, but that seems silly when the $45 brunch includes a cocktail, three courses and a basket of awesome warm pastries such as croissants, pain au chocolat, apple turnovers, cinnamon rolls and cheese Danish!
We ordered and spent the next several minutes trying to guess the origins of our super server. We were all wrong! Milad was from Lebanon, and we subsequently promised to ask for him on every return visit. he even offered to replace our drinks (if only barely touched) should they become too warm, as brunch cocktails (you have 3 choices between Mimosas, Bellinis and Sangria) are meant to be served and drunk cold!
Our friend started with the Monkfish Tripe "alla Romana" with San Marzano Tomatoes, Calabrese Chile and grilled bread which was beautiful (all dishes can be seen on FB) while Will chose the Burrata of Buffalo Mozzarella with Smoked Beet Tartare, Celery Root, Capers & Green Apple Garlic Emulsion. I really wanted the signature Insalata of Frutti di mare (prawns, scallops, calamari, pomegranate, persimmons and marcona almonds) but we were told up front they were plum out of this, so I switched to the Butternut Squash Vellutata which was a rich bowl of creamy indulgent sup with "Carbonara" Espuma and Winter Black Truffles. The carbonara foam was graced with bacon bits making it a tasty crunchy addition. The Bellinis are superb and not too sweet and then I tried the Bellagio of vodka, cocchi rosa, Elderflower shrub & prosecco which comes with pomegranate seeds filling the bottom of the flute. The drink was superb and again not too sweet and the acidity was nice with my rich main course. I also loved the seeds at the bottom afterwards which by then had soaked up the alcohol nicely.
My main course was even more indulgent than the starter with "carbonara" as I chose the Rigatoni alla Carbonara with Guanciale as its crunchy protein (instead of regular bacon), black pepper, Pecorino Romano and a sunny side up Duck egg covering the rich dish like a little yellow and white cap. I can't remember a better Carbonara since I was in Rome 8+ years ago. Will had the Tortelli of Butternut Squash with Sage Brown Butter, Parmegiano Reggiano and tons of shaved Black Truffles! Since Fiola Mare does specialize in seafood, our guest chose the superb Spaghetti Gragnano alla Granseola which came with Alaskan King Crab, San Marzano tomatoes, parsley and Controne Chiles. We were all very happy pasta campers. If you lean towards breakfast options (we went at 130pm) for brunch there are also Lemon Ricotta pancakes, poached eggs with rosemary hollandaise & prosciutto and so much more.
Dessert is included in the deal but again we were warned the Warm pear tart was sold out, so I had the yummy warm Bombolini (Sardinian Ricotta Doughnuts) with Chocolate Sauce which came 6 to the order and I insisted on sharing while the others had a super Marchesi or Creamy rich terrine of Tuscan Amedei Chocolate with basil and Sicilian Salted Pistachios. Once again Milad excelled and offered us each a glass of complimentary Bracchetto d'Acqui, a sweet red sparkling dessert wine which cut the rich chocolate perfectly. Excellent Cappuccinos followed and we left knowing that Fiole Mare will see us back again soon! BRAVI TUTTI!