Monday, February 12, 2018

DC's SFOGLINA sure fits the bill for family fun and more (2-11-18)

These days it seems that any restaurant Fabio Trabocchi opens is a surefire hit and it's no different with SFOGLINA located in the Van Ness neighborhood up the block from UDC. It's a fine addition to an area that never really had many finer dining options. While I use the term fine dining, I am referring to the food as Sfoglina (http://www.sfoglinadc.com) has the most casual of feels. We were pleasantly seated at the extreme rear in a comfy fabric booth which went from floor to ceiling (quieter as well than the central area open to the bar and kitchen) and the first thing we noticed was the "antique" feel of the plates and silver; one dish arrived at the next table in one of those 1970's Corelle/Corning cornflower saucepans! 
The menu is very simple with about 7 starters, 7 pastas, 2 mains and a couple of sides with a special here or there. The best deal is easily the option of three pasta choices for $68 (each is $24, so you save $4.00!). 
Will and I ordered a bottle (the wine list is much bigger then the whole menu) of Zenato Ripassa 2013 Valpolicella Ripasso which was a dream (as any Zenato tends to be) and drank well with our very varied choices. Sam and his friend tried the three mocktail options: Eve's Temptation of Cranberry, Sparkling Apple Cider, Lemon & Soda Water; Pompelmo Frizzante of Grapefruit, Agave Syrup, Lime Juice & Soda Water and the one Samuel declared the winner was the Spiced Melograno of Pomegranate, Cinnamon Syrup, Lemon & Club Soda (and I had to agree...the cinnamon was barely noticeable).
While the bread and olive oil were good, we liked it better for mopping up the awesome sauces.
Samuel started with the Arugula & Bibb Lettuce Salad, Ricotta Salata & Autumn Apples which was quite huge indeed. His friend had the Grilled Spicy Calamari which was cooked perfectly and served with a kicky Romesco Sauce for dipping.
Will and I split two starters: Fisherman Style Octopus Bagna Cauda had two large tentacles cooked to perfection and just slightly crunchy on the outside with a super sauce, while the Buffalo Milk Mozzarella came with a Tuscan Tonnato Sauce. Tonnato is almost always served with cold thinly sliced veal and the sauce's tuna taste is often muted by the meat, but here the tuna flavor was evident and the sauce a perfect compliment to the cheese; who knew?
Our server Maurico was a gem and we had others checking on us all the time to insure that everything was going well, and it did indeed. Just as at his other super fine dining establishments, the service here is top notch.
Samuel chose the Marche Bianchetti White Truffle Pappardelle with Parmigiano Reggiano which was quite divine and the rest of us split three pastas, each better than the next:
Basil Infused Tortellini are filled with rich Goat Cheese and served in a tomato based sauce with Brussels Sprouts
Squid Ink & Paprika Cannelloni Curls are more akin to mezzalune (ravioli) and are filled with Baccala (cod) and served with Lobster & Peperoncino in a to-die-for sauce.
Most decadent was the Spaghetti Chitarra served with Pancetta, Escarole and served Carbonara Style with a soft egg on top to break and enhance the rich creamy sauce.
As I said, these sauces needed major wiping up with the bread!
Desserts were a Tiramisu Panna Cotta with Zabaglione and Cocoa Nib Dentelle (a bit too crunchy for me, but novel, and Will loved it, as I prefer my panna cotta smooth) and Apple Hazelnut Coffee Cake with Vanilla Chantilly & Cider Sauce which I declared the winner.
Will's glass of Huckleberry-Cello was cloyingly sweet, but my 2010 Colosi Zibibbo Passito di Pantarella was a wonderful glass of the Sicilian sweet wine that is from the Marsala area.
There were some families, some couples, but in general a lot of small groups of folks just enjoying the good food, wine, service and atmosphere....

Monday, February 05, 2018

Restaurant Week really does go on at DINO's in DC (2-4-18)

Washington's Winter Restaurant Week may have ended for many places over a week ago, but Dino's in Shaw does seem to make it last forever with a $35 menu that is running now thru February 8th.
What's even better is you get the standard 3-course meal for $35 with appetizer, main course, dessert or cheese and they add on an extra starter if Deviled Egg and White Polenta Square with Roasted Mushrooms and Parmeggiano Reggiano as a hefty amuse and a post meal shot of Limoncello!!
We arrived just as the Super Bowl started, so the places was very quiet with only about 1/2 a dozen tables occupied by the time we left! Service from Omar and the team was superb and we had a truly amazing meal as well. Will started with a Raspberry Beret of infused raspberry gin, simple syrup, luxardo, velvet falernum and lemon which a  hint too sweet for my tastes, so I returned to my Mexigroni of Mexcal, Casmpari, Cinzano and Rhubarb Syrup that really was a treat on this chilly wet night. On Sunday(as well as many other nights) there are wine deals to be had and anything over $60 is 1/2 priced, so we reveled in the $79(down to $39.50) bottle of Le Casematte 2014 full bodied Sicilian blend of Nerello Mescalese, Nero d'Avola, Nerello Cappuccio and Nocera from Faro that reminded us of the wonderful wines we had last summer in Sicily (oddly the wine is misspelled on the menu as Casemente!).
Starters included the "Tuscan Bacon" & Spiced Asian Pear which is a spice rubbed pork belly that is braised and then crisped to super crunchiness with the grilled Asian pera and balsamic. Octopus Cooked under a Paper Bag is a novel name for the tasty braised, grilled then marinated cephalopod which is served in citrus with tasty Borlotti & Corona beans for a truly filling and huge starter indeed. I had never had the Ceviche here which has a true Italian flair and (see FB fotos) has the bay scallops, Mexican shrimp on one side, a large slab of salmon in the center and the spicy chiles and onions opposite so you can mix it to your spice level preference. The dish has a kick and it is truly huge as well! Stracchino is a fried cheese sandwich with anchovy first dipped in egg, then fried and served with a spicy tomato sauce, while the Greens and Fresh Mozzarella Bruschetta is served with the toppings underneath the grilled olive bread so it does not get soggy!
We were getting full even before the mains arrived, so there were three doggie bags to go when we left for sure! Winter Squash with Sage and Balsamic Risotto was Sam's veggie choice of kabocha squash, herbs, butter, veggie stock, preserved lemon and 24 month old parmesan that was rich and satisfying again on the cold dreary night. Will's Sausage Alla Calabrese was spicy greens with spicy chili sauce over rigatoni and my amazing Overnight Brisket was super tender pull apart local dry aged Angus beef that melted in your mouth and was accompanied by a very rich four cheese polenta....I guess that will appear for dinner at home this week as well.
Desserts were a Crema di Cioccolato that Will liked, but Sam passed on save for the whipped cream topping; I think he prefers molten chocolate to the pudding type.
Cheeses here are always a treat and Will & I shared four:
Note d'Giusto pecorino tartufato with truffle
Abbondanza "pecorino more selvatiche" raw sheep with wild blueberry and myrtle
Abbondanza "merlino" and
Toma, a rustic cow.
they were all delish and followed by a shot of tasty Limoncello sent us home very full and very warm.
Kudos to the whole Dino's team who always make our visits there like a Sunday family dinner!

Monday, January 29, 2018

DC's District Commons restaurant week gets raves, save for dessert....(1-17-18)

The three of us headed to District Commons for dinner before the Kennedy Center and Will & I chose the $35 3-course restaurant week menu, which is always(almost) a good deal.
Sam always likes to order the delicious Pretzel bread with beer mustard butter that has been a hit since the place opened, and who are we to say no.
The wine list here is huge and well-rounded and we loved the American Albarino 2015 from Tangent in Edna Valley. To start Will stuck to his diet and had the huge Mixed Green Salad with Deviled Eggs, Praline Bacon and Mustard Vinaigrette while I adored the Mussels with a spicy Chipotle Cream and Sausage as well as two huge hunks of bread to mop up the awesome sauce (FB fotos); our server John thought it should be on the regular manu and I agreed! Samuel ordered off the Restaurant Week menu and started with the Arugula Salad with Pimento Cheese Fritters which were extremely rich, although the salad itself was super tasty and worked well if you chose to mix a small bite of fritter with the arugula.
For his main course, Sam chose the Charred Broccoli Flatbread with Butternut Squash Bechamel, Shaved Manchego, hazelnuts & Honey. Will liked his Blackened Swordfish with salad, and when he realized it was the same salad as his starter, John offered to switch it for any side, but he liked it enough to keep it. My Pan Seared Scallops with lobster Grits, Pancetta, almond cream fraiche and crispy spinach was a bit rich, but superb.
Desserts were a letdown with the Peanut Butter Sundae being a scoop of vanilla ice cream with a dash of PB Fudge sauce and tons of whipped cream(which was not in the description and I rarely like) and toasted peanuts. the Boston Cream Pie with salted caramel was even less impressive as we know the full-sized dessert is quite good...we blamed it on the restaurant week portion. Luckily the friandises still came and impressed us wildly with Peanut butter cookies, fruit gelees, a minty brownie fudge and more.
We did leave full and happy with those!

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Arequipa Peru's CHICHA cooks up a Peruvian feast (12-30-17)

We had only one night in Arequipa and had heard many good things about the top restaurant in town called Chicha which is famous from one of the top chefs in Lima who has opened Chicha branches in several major cities.
 On arrival we were taken past a large open courtyard with an open kitchen,  but led on to a beautiful vaulted stone room with tile floors, nice linens and leather and wooden chairs,  Definitely a Colonial feel with some local woollen art mounted on the walls.
 The drink menu is huge and will chose the Cholopolotan,  a way too sweet drink made with Pisco, Cointreau, Passion fruit, sweet lime and cranberry.  Samuel hit the jackpot with a Pisco Punch made with pineapple syrup and lemon that was not sweet at all and I went with the standard excellent Pisco Sour.  The water here was San Pelligrino but at about 7 dollars for a 1/2 liter bottle!!  Bread arrived and there were 3 options from an Andean bread as well as quinoa grissini and the delicious chica morada(purple corn) bread with raisins and nuts.  There was a nice butter made from rocoto chili(which is in virtually every dish here) and parsley. 
 Samuel started with a dish called Ocopa, Salerillo  Potatoes with egg and fried cheese that he adored.
 Will and I decided to combine 3 of the ceviche dishes which included sea urchin, classic sea bass and then the local river shrimp.  Of course they all had lime, onion, sweet potatoes, rocoto, crunchy corn and Peruvian corn and an amazing leche de tigre sauce and was just spectacular.
 We decided to share a dish called Escribano, made of potatoes,  rocoto, tomato and Chicagre with olive oil,  It was a delicious dish and can be explained as a potato salad gone spicy Peruvian style.
 The portions were huge and we began to worry as we had each ordered a main course and probably could have shared them.  Will and I were enjoying a bottle of Tacama Blanco de Blancos,  the same delicious white blend that we had had the night before.  Will had ordered a glass of red wine but unfortunately our server Edson who was excellent was completely overwhelmed by a group of loud and obnoxious Russians wearing stilettos and God knows what at the next table; it never arrived.
 I ended up pouring the rest of the white wine myself and we had to ask 3 or 4 times for 1 or 2 of the non alcoholic drinks that Sam had ordered which he declared wonderful.
 For his main course Sam ordered Torrejitas,  which were  8 huge deep fried vegetable fritters with Ariquepean sauces of rocoto chile, ocopo and huacatey (the famous local black mint which really doesn't taste minty at all).  We knew we had way over ordered.
 Will chose the pork adobo made with cumin oregano onion garlic and chicha(corn beer). The portion was huge and some of the meat a bit fatty but otherwise it was a hit.
 I chose one of the most famous local dishes called Chupa,  a huge thick rich river shrimp soup made with potatoes, fava beans, cabbage, huacatay, corn and milk with shredded spinach on top... It was one of the best soups I've ever had but was so huge I could barely finish half.
Key words to remember here "ORDER LESS!
While the desserts sounded fantastic there was no way on Earth any of us could eat another bite so we gathered our stuff together and walked the 15 minutes back to our hotel and hit the sack before we head back to Lima for New Year's Eve.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Colca Lodge in Colca (Canyon)Valley(near Chivay,Peru) comes up with creative cuisine (12-29-17)

We headed northwest from Titicaca yesterday morning on a long journey to the Colca Valley and ended the day for our overnight at the not so luxurious Colca Lodge. The lodge is famous for it's hot springs, and I welcomed the hot tub fed directly by the springs on our secluded private terrace overlooking the valley with its pre-Incan agricultural terraces. So the fact that the shower had natural rain coming in through a leak and lots of squeaky doors was made up for by the location, springs and restaurant.
The bread and whole wheat grissini that came with garlic butter were okay, but nothing compared to what we had on our journey so far. We also learned from the English menu translation(very good) that the local herb huacatey is called "black mint" in English, although it is not very minty.
We had Passion Sours to start which were Pisco Sours with passionfruit added and while a hint sweet at first, got more sour from the lime as you drank more!
Samuel started with the Taboule de quinua which was a gorgeous tabbouleh/quinoa salad with peas, carrots, corn, pepper and avocado with a fig and peach compote(which he skipped). As always there are FB fotos available.
Will had the Tartare de Trucha nuestro estilo which was a huge portion of trout tartare with quinoa, apple, avocado and curry sauce with toasted Andean bread(rolls). I tired the Causa de Trucha ahumada and while the causa is a famous national potato dish, here there were three (room temp) mashed potato towers with avocado, quail egg, smoked trout, aji amarillo sauce with capers and sprouts that was a wonderful take on the traditional causa.
Will and I enjoyed a 1/2 bottle of Tabernero Peruvian Blanco de Blanco which was a blend of Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc that was super with our trout dishes. We ordered a bottle of Intipalka 2015 Syrah for our main courses since a bottle often costs less than 2 glasses or 3 here...we shall enjoy the rest of this plummy wine with a hint of tannins tonight before bed. I have to say I was impressed by the Spiegelau crystal, although we did have Riedel at the MAP Café in Cusco.
Samuel had Le pizzeta caprese of mozzarella, candied tomatoes, olive oil and basil which was gone before I could even get a taste, and while he said it was good, it was not as good as the other pizzas he has had.
Will loved his Aji de Gallina,con cremoso queso Andino, which was a take on the local chicken dish with aji amarillo sauce here with cheese and pecans. I loved my Risotto de quinoa con lomitos de res en aromas de saltado y pisco which was a beautiful quinoa risotto with sautéed sirloin tips marinated in lomo saltado sauce with pisco.
There was no room for dessert, but we did miss our Badoit from back in Cusco as here the local San Mateo sparkling is VERY gassy.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Titilaka on Lake Titicaca in Peru is a truly terrific and memorbale experience for travel and dining (12-27/28-17)

Our two nights and days at the Relais et Chateaux Titilaka were an experience we shall remember for many many years to come so fondly.  Located approximately an hour south of the major city in the region, Puna,  The 14 room lodge is located on a small isolated peninsula jutting out into Lake Titicaca with surrounding native Aymara villages,  that still retain an amazing amount of native culture that we were able to discover.
 The views from the rooms are amazing with huge glass windows overlooking the lake and the food is absolutely some of the best we have had here in Peru.  For my first lunch I had a truly amazing local quinoa and fava bean soup that was out of this world followed by local grilled trout from the lake.
 Dinner was even more impressive starting with a Alpaca Carpaccio with balsamic reduction, rustic pesto sauce, quinoa and arugula salad with dehydrated gooseberries and Brazil nuts.  At first I tasted the dehydrated gooseberry sauce and thought the dish too sweet,  But then mixing in the arugula and other ingredients in one byte made it one of the most delicious carpaccios ever.  
 Will started with the Green Asparagus with Andean pink salt butter, parmesan shavings and poached egg which he declared lovely.
 Samuel chose the Southern Peruvian salad with whole corn, grains, fava beans, local cheese, red onion and black olives.
 He and I then split the Quinoa and avocado salad,  Which both he and Will had actually had at lunch time and declared amazing.
 Wines are complimentary here as is all the alcohol and all the tea, all the coffee and all the amazing meals that are given constantly all day long, so I enjoyed a Peruvian Blanc de Blanc blend from Tacama of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier, while Will had a Mapu Reserva Chard from Argentina.
 He and Samuel were feeling very full and both ordered pizzas for their main course, Samuel of course went for the plain Margherita while Will loved the asparagus bacon and quail egg.
 For my main course I went heavy with Lomo Saltado,  a delicious tender beef tenderloin strip with onion, tomatoes and chiles, fried yellow potatoes and traditional rice.  The rice was plain enough to avoid, the potatoes were delicious and the meat was melt in your mouth fabulous especially with the Tacama Seleccion Especial of Petite Verdot and Cabernet which we had already had several times on the trip.
 For dessert, the boys skipped and I had a simple mango sorbet with a lemongrass sauce around it and a simple coconut crisp cookie in the middle.
 It was light and refreshing and the lemongrass sauce reminded me of a kind of slightly spicy fruity creme anglaise.
 Off to bed for early wake up calls as we had an 8 hour excursion to visit isolated islands on the Lake the next day.
 There are some Facebook pictures and they also include our fabulous lunch on the island of Taquile,  about an hour away by boat from the hotel but as if civilization had not reached it in a couple of 100 years.  The folks here have solar panels to heat their water and give them a bit of electricity but it's a simple way of farming life and we had a lot of great fun learning about their traditions.
 Back at the hotel of course there was a grand dinner....
 Our second dinner was even better than all the other meals where I started with a trout ceviche which they serve on the side what is called a chilcano,  which is basically a trout shooter with spicy vinegar salsa. The ceviche itself was loaded with roasted purple corn  and again that amazing trout from Titicaca.  A side note is that today all of the trout served from the Lake is Canadian trout which was imported decades ago and is eating up all of the local fish, so it's one of the few fish that is allowed to be taken from the Lake.
 Samuel started with the rustic Mozzarella and tomato salad with basil and black olives which he said had the saltiest vinagrette he's ever had although he seemed to like it.  Will had the Quinoa and fava bean Andean chowder which I had the day before which just has to be one of the best dishes they make here.
 For main courses will chose a simple Burger with bacon and egg although the fries were cold and Samuel had than gnocchi with rustic pesto sauce.
 My Duck Magret with Andean gooseberries, yellow chili sauce, potato gratin and green beans was truly a spectacular dish and the best duck I've had in the country.
 Samuel disappeared while we'll had a brilliant Quinoa Creme Caramel and I had a chocolate souffle that while it came out more on the less cooked side I truly loved.
 It's sad to know that we're leaving early tomorrow morning as we have truly enjoyed the 2 days here at Titilaka and Lake Titicaca... it's an amazing experience;off to Colca Canyon next.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Cusco Peru's MAP CAFE has it all mapped out magnificently (12-25-17)

Our last dinner in Cusco was right across the street from our hotel at the elegant and very beautiful MAP Cafe located in the  awesome Museum of Precolumbian Art(hence MAP), which Will and I had visited earlier that day.  The museum is in a beautiful colonial home and the 12 or so tables are inside a glass enclosure in the courtyard with some more tables outside,  although it was way too cold to dine outside last night, with temps in the 50's as is normal in the Andean altitudes over 12000feet.
 Our server Claudio offered us a complimentary drink called it a Raymi, which is Quecha for "party"  and was elegantly served in a mini stemless martini glass sitting in a glass of ice.  It was a combination of pisco, lime, gooseberry liqueur and aperol, which we all adored.  We weren't sure that it was included and we have to admit that the 165 soles price(just a tad over $50 each),  was an unbelievable deal for the 3 huge courses and this drink. The sparkling water was Badoit again,  so it must be very popular in the finer restaurants here, and is always a welcome treat, as it's our favorite.
 The unexciting amuse was sweet potato with parsley and sweet pepper and salt that didn't have a lot of taste,  but luckily everything improved from here on.  The breads arrived and were an amazing hit with Sam as there were quinoa grissini, purple corn rolls, pumpkin brioche and flatbread,  All served with an olive oil and balsamic blend seasoned with the local huacatey herb.
We ordered a bottle of Intipalka por Santiago Queirolo Reserve 2015,  which was a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah that we again fell in love with.  I loved the adorable little plate for the sommelier to put the cork in front of me on.
Samuel's Sara Lawa  Was a rich cream corn soup with thyme, cheese, broad beans, mushrooms and a poached egg on the bottom and the huacatey herb on top, which he raved about; the soup was poured into the bowl tableside so we could see all the ingredients beautifully arranged.. Will chose the Andean Tortellini in Brodo, which were filled with guinea pig  and served in a chicken broth with Andean mushrooms, confit chicken breast, pickled oyster mushrooms,  fava beans and crispy cuy (yup, guinea pig) rinds.
I went lighter with the Tiradito of Paiche(Amazon fish) with a mild sauce of jungle citrus fruits, camu camu and cocona with plantains and crispy uncusha(one of these was yuca and the other sweet potato).  We were all impressed with all 3 starters and knew that it had to get even better from here.
 We welcomed the long rest and then the palate cleanser which was a tangerine sorbet.
Samuel chose the Quinoa Cannelloni with Truffle, tomato pesto, arugula, and goat cheese filled with a fontina fonduta "poised over a bed of organic sauteed  vegetables, chard stems and baby fennel bulb."  Sadly the dish was so rich in truffles that it almost tasted sweet, it's what I might called overly French saucing. It also lacked the poise stated in the menu.
 Will and I chose the Andean Arroz con Pato,  which was a delicious crispy confit duck leg served with a rice and quinoa risotto with coriander pesto, corn and Peruvian chili sauce(mild). It was indeed perfect.
 Dessert was included so we indulged and Sam having a deconstructed caramelized lemon pie of soft lemon cream, a cookie, burnt meringue and Maras salted caramel ice cream..yum.
Lucuma kisses was on my plate  which was actually a large chocolate shell covering liquid creamy foamy and powdery lucuma in different textures with coffee flavored chocolate sorbet from Quillabamba on the side.  The sorbet didn't win any prizes but boy was the chocolate shell with all of its different flavors and textures inside a big hit with me.
Will chose Tumbao of Tumbo,  A Passion fruit curd  with meringue spheres, kinicha crumble, moringa ganache, strawberry syrup and yogurt ice cream; another hit for three stars.
 The service here was excellent and everything save for Sam's main course was truly impressive and except for that we really had a wonderful last night here in Cusco.
We spent the last night on the newest luxury train in Peru, the Andean Explorer under the Belmond flag(Orient-Express) and have now arrived at Lake Titicaca where we spend two nights at the amazing Titilika Relais et Chateau!