Tuesday, October 21, 2014

James Beard Foundation TASTE AMERICA takes the tour to DC and the Mandarin Oriental (10-17-14)

Last Friday evening I headed over to SW DC and the ballroom at the Mandarin Oriental where The James Beard Foundation brought Taste America, it's fundraiser on wheels, so to speak.
We had a 90 minute cocktail party with the best food of the night prepared by awesome local chefs, followed by a four course sit down dinner with paired wines.
I made my way down the cocktail area first trying the fun sparkling rose from Lucien Albrecht which went so well with many of the options at each chef's table. I then moved on to a wonderful Jordan 2011 Chardonnay (there was also a Provenance 2011 Sauvignon Blanc). The reds were even better with a divine Newton Claret 2011 and an awesome Grgich Hills 2007 Merlot. Lots of love went into these choices. Bacardi had sponsored the beverages and there were three quite sweet mixed drinks using their rum which I avoided.
I first came upon Marjorie Meeks-Bradley of Ripple (where we had just eaten a couple of weeks before) & Roofer's Union who was assembling CARROT CAVATELLI with Lobster & Chanterelles that was so good I went back for seconds and thirds!
Next to her was one of Washington's newest faces, Chef Ed Scarpone of DBGB Kitchen, Daniel Boulud's first DC spot which is apparently so hot, reservations for months ahead are virtually impossible. He was serving a Truffled BOUDIN BLANC with Pomme Puree, Apples & Pork Jus, which was nice, but my least favorite item of the five chefs present. I guess I won't have to worry about getting a table there, as I would choose the others first!
Chef Jeffrey Buben of Vidalia was there and the only James Beard winner of these five as well. It was obvious as he had a luscious creamy and divine Low Country SHE CRAB Soup (really bisque) with the most adorable and tasty Old Bay Marshmallows (although the menu said it was a Deviled Crab Benne Seed Cracker--nope!).  Fourth was Chef Katsuya Fukushima of Daikaya, who I think is one of the most fun chefs in a DC kitchen. We had such a ball at his place a while ago that it made me want to return to his big smile and great demeanor. He had a wonderful dish of Buttered BREAD(really black bread toasted) with Fire Kissed UNI, Aged Ponzu and Jalapeno. He was torching the uni just a tad and delicately layering it on each piece of tiny bread with the ponzu and jalapeno slice (the menu said it was a Japanese Hot Pepper, but it was not). I must have had six or seven of these awesomely tasty tidbits. Finally was Chef Anthony Chittum of Iron Gate, where we also went for the first time last month. He prepared Melted CABBAGE Tortelloni, Surryano Ham & Red Onion Marmalade. which was super with the little piece of Virginia made crisped ham (a la Serrano) and the tasty pasta and sauce. I am glad I had multiples of all but one dish(the boudin), as the dinner was much less impressive than these superb creations.
There was a silent and live auction and I went home with two fun silent packages for dining out as well; I could not resist buying dinner with Chef Marjorie at Ripple!
I had a fun group at my table and we all talked about all the great dishes as the wine was poured. Our wine server had two bottles of the first wine, a Trimbach Rielsing from Alsace, but one was 2010 and one was 2011. I asked him to pour both (he did not realize they were different vintages) and immediately fell in love with the 2010 as it was much fuller than the fruity 2011. James Beard Winner CHARLES PHAN of The Slanted Door in San Francisco was flown in for the event and presented us with Banh Boc Lot PORK & SHRIMP TAPIOCA DUMPLINGS in Banana Leaves which was quite nice, but nothing more special than a really good dumpling (and while plural, there was just one on each plate). The wine was perfect with it and I would have had more, but the meal moved along steadily to the second course cooked by DC's own VIKRAM SUNDERAM where his work at Ripple has won him his James Beard Award (well, no surprise there!). His Baked BLACK COD was Marinated with Honey, Chili, Dill, Star Anise, Cream & Cheese and was the winning dish at the table for sure. The anise was barely evident (which made me happy) and the cheese was a crispy piece of Parmesan atop the dish like a little hat. Seguinot-Bordet Chablis was the paired Chardonnay and another superb wine.
For the main course Chef Phan was brought back with a Braised DUCK LEG, Shitake Mushrooms, Bamboo Shoots & Chinese Dates which again was okay, but not a bowlover, especially since the duck was slightly dry (always a problem with hundreds of people at a large event). The wine was an amazing Grenache/Syrah Gigondas from Gonnet in the Rhone. I kept drinking this for the remainder of the night as I did not really take to the 2007 McKinley Springs Late Harvest Chenin Blanc from Horse Haven Hills in Washington State that was served with dessert. Chef Didier Pouzier of the Mandarin Oriental in DC was allowed to prepare dessert on his own turf and gave us a refreshing Coconut Tapioca, Cucumber Meringue, Fresh Pineapple & Coconut Sorbet that sent us home feeling quite good as it was not heavy or overpowering at all after some of the very rich dishes that preceded.

I always have fun when I go to the James Beard House in NY and attend their events here in DC. I anxiously await the next one!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Come into NYC's KINGSIDE for some swell cuisine (10-11-14)

I've run up to NYC for a quick two nights of opera, musicals and the Tucker Gala and since I'm staying at the one-year old VICEROY hotel in midtown, I decided to try the restaurant in house called KINGSIDE (120 W 57th Street near 6th Ave). guess Saturday night in mid-town isn't the busiest time for Kingside.
My server, Stacy, said it might pick up later, but that weekdays are busier.

I settled into my cozy brown leather booth and was a bit dismayed by the loud music. The décor here is quite nice with B&W tile floors and white tile walls. There are cool chalkboards on the walls with quite wonderful drawings of various vegetables (very Audubon-ish) which Stacy explained are redone periodically. The lighting is deco-ish and muted and there are lots of votives on the tables.

The bread is sesame seeded and warm and comes with a timbale of tomato jam which tasted like pasta sauce panna cotta, an interesting flavor sure. The white bean puree was a winner for sure.
The menu is simple with some crudos, small plates, large plates and salads. I did not want a lot so I started with the amazing Shaved Kale with Goat Cheese, Olives, Toasted Almonds and a superb Lemon Vinaigrette. I had a very nice "quarto" (small carafe) of Tenuta Rapitala "Campo Reale" 2013 Nero d'Avola from Sicily which worked with the lemon.
Next I went a whole different route based on Stacy's suggestion. The Crispy Baby Artichokes are cooked to perfection and come with juicy lemon slices. All it needed was some fresh pepper which was on the table. Two silly deep fried slices of zucchini were not welcome with the crispy tangy veggies.
The Lobster Toast is a treat with four small squares of toasted brioche topped with lobster salad with mustard seed, fennel and almost no binder; think aioli gone very light. YUM.
A super cappuccino finished my meal, but I was not done for the night.
I returned at midnight where Stacy was tending bar and had a post-opera snack of a 1/2 dozen Chesapeake Oysters with a boring cocktail sauce, but superb jalapeno mignonette and a novel marinated beef mignonette. A small plate of Shaker Blue cheese was a treat which came with yummy port-roasted grapes.
Owen Roe(Yakima Valley, Wash) Rosa Mystica Cab Franc  was an awesome wine choice as well. Now, I was ready for bed.


Friday, October 03, 2014

RIPPLE will tingle your palate and send your foodie senses soaring (10-1-14)

We celebrated our anniversaries on Wednesday evening at RIPPLE in Cleveland Park and had a superb time. I say anniversaries, as we have Oct 3 for our more recent (2010) legal wedding and Oct 1 for our first commitment ceremony which was 20 years ago! The menu is not too large and Devon, our terrific server, was most helpful in helping us negotiate the different choices. The wine list is amazing and we headed right to the Georges Vernay "Les Terrasses de L'Empire" 2008 Viognier, Condrieu from a winery we have visited and adored for ages. The Condrieu grape (a specific Viognier grown in the Rhone Valley in a very small steep region on the river) offered a creamy luscious and almost orgasmic flavor that we shall remember for a long time.
The dining room is long and narrow and there is a bar and lounge area in a similar long and narrow area where you walk in. The tables are wood with banquettes and decent comfy chairs opposite. There are several "pewter"-looking old-looking chandeliers and lots of cute artwork. We were seated towards the rear where there was one very large table with a very loud crowd, but they quieted down after a while. We arrived at 730pm, and by 8pm, the place was full and a bit too noisy for our tastes, but not awful. At one point a lady at a nearby table got so loud and screechy, I asked Will to re-relate the story of his ancestor who was murdered at a pub for being too loud! I was considering this option for a while until she left!
Our shared starter of HAMACHI CRUDO arrived with Edamame Puree, Crispy Ginger and Yuzu aigre-doux(sweet/sour) which was superb due to that crunchy ginger and the sweet/sour combo. It was also divine with the Condrieu.
We went on to separate starters and Will had the STUFFED BONE MARROW which is easily one of the not-to-be-missed dishes in DC. It is a huge bone filled with tasty marrow, house bacon, chimichurri and a slash of apple butter on the plate to temper the dish's intensity. The marrow and bacon are inherently salty, so I am not sure why there was a small pile of sea salt on the corner of the plate! I ordered the MATSUTAKE MUSHROOMS with DUCK EGG, Chanterelle Puree & Fontina Focaccia, and when a small plate of extremely tasty wild mushrooms arrived, I asked where my egg and focaccia were. I apparently was served the side order of Wild Mushrooms, which was great, Will and I split this and polished it off while I awaited my appetizer. Devon explained it was brand new on the menu and the kitchen had made a small error. It appeared in 4 minutes and was another superb dish that impressed me with its wonderful layered flavors and I loved the multi-colored radish slices and pickled onion.
We moved onto a divine red which the manager Caroline helped us pick. We had just been to Shea Wine Cellars in Oregon for a private tasting with Peter Shea and were wowed by their single block vineyards so we had the BLOCK 23 Yamhill-Carlton Pinot Noir 2009 which is just drinking gorgeously after 5 years in the bottle. We tasted the more recent 2011 vintages at the winery, so we shall wait several years to drink the wine we purchased! Will loved the clove flavors in the wine; I just adored the whole damn thing!
On a trek to the men's room I adored the gigantic spoon, knife and fork decorating the wall and I was thrilled to return to find our neighboring screechy cantatrice (that's Italian for singer, but she really sqauked)
Will's main was HOUSEMADE SPAGHETTI with olive-oil poached Tuna Belly, Tilefish Cheek & Manila clams, a hearty dish for sure despite the seafood; any pasta lover would be impressed. My SEARED DUCK BREAST came rare and juicy with Roasted Beets, Baby Turnips, Celery & Watercress Puree that was the most awesome pairing with the Block 23! We were both very happy with our choices and by now, the dining room had quieted down so we could enjoy quiet conversation.
Chef Marjorie Meek-Bradley arrived to greet us and we gushed raves as everything was indeed sensational. She has become probably the most famous up and coming female chef in DC and has really made a name for herself. She will be one of the challengers in the DC Central Kitchen Food Fight next month!
We had seen the cheese tray near the entrance and had our hearts set, so we chose several to share:
RONCAL-Spanish sheep from Navarre that was sharp and tangy;I called it Manchego-go-home
MONACACY ASH-a 90days aged goat from Boyds, MD> with vegetable ash rind that I always love for it's tanginess and goat creaminess
BABY HAZEN BLUE from Greensboro, VT that is also a creamy blue but so mild I felt I was not having blue
FELSA YAHR-a superb creamy  nutty sheep, cave-aged washed rind from Howard, PA
HARBISON-cow wrapped in bark from Harbison, VT that was the winner with an almost triple crème feel
 These came with tasty Clover Honey and Apple Butter as well as spiced flatbread which we promptly took a taste of and packed up to go so we could enjoy more.
Our dessert choices were PANNA COTTA for Will-Poached Pear, Almond-Oat Crumble, Ginger Coulis and Honey Jelly and my CHOCOLATE HAZELNUT BAR with Dulce de Leche, Cherries, Buttermilk Sherbert that we shared and both enjoyed a lot; latter being a superb dense choco lover's dream and the panna cotta a lighter yet tasty option.
A glass of Smith Woodhouse 200 Colheita Port was nice with the chocolate bars!
We headed home having had a very happy anniversary meal.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Don't miss DC's KAPNOS for creative cooking in a genuine Greek style (8-30-14)

When I hear that Top Chef star Chef Mike Isabella was opening a Greek restaurant in DC, I have to say I was wary. I was at Kapnos (www.kapnosdc.com) in the spring for a James Beard event and was impressed, but that night the chefs were from all over the USA. Last night four of us returned for an awesome tasting menu that never ceased to impress us at every bite. We were seated just before 7pm and the dining room was not yet full on a Saturday night, but then it is a holiday weekend. Well, by  the time we got into our first course, every table was full and they seemed to be turning people away or giving them the option of outdoor (80degree+) seating! The dining room can tend to noisy, but we had a quieter table near the street window and could see the open kitchen with its spits of roasted chickens, whole suckling pig on rotisserie and leg of lamb. The chandeliers are fun here as they are made of recycled wine bottles or wine glasses.
We ordered some cocktails and loved our choices. Our excellent server Yari (pronounced Jarri) suggested the "Blame It on the Rain" with Absolut elyx, burnt cinnamon, lemon, grilled fresno pepper & Domaine de Canton for Will as he said he didn't want anything too sweet; it was ideal. I mentioned that I liked spice and she said to have the fairly spicy "Angry Elf" with Altos Reposado Tequila, Serrano infused Yellow Chartreuse (you don't taste chartreuse at all, but the chilis are super), lemon & Benedictine. Sparkling and still house filtered water is served at no charge; this should be mandatory at every newly opened restaurant!
We mentioned to Yari that we liked lots of small plates and many tastes included in our tasting menu, and we had clearly chosen the right place. After finishing our drinks and telling her our "allergies" or dislikes, we were served a glass of House Keg Lemonade made with licorice, mastiha liqueur, watermelon, lemon and tarragon. Luckily the licorice was extremely mild and the stuff was so light and fun with a shaved radish in it for garnish that it disappeared fast! Our first plates arrived from the "SPREADS" section of the menu:
Warm stone baked flatbread that is almost a foot diameter and folded on a small tray are seasoned superbly with sea salt to dip in the many spreads that arrived.
FAVOSALATA was yellow lentils, scallions and black garlic
MELITZANOSALATA is smoked eggplant, roasted peppers, walnuts and feta - think Baba Ghanoush on crack.
REVITHOSALATA is chickpea hummus with tahini and sultan chutney 
TZATAKI here is the traditional yogurt, cucumber and dill with citrus and garnished with caviar
We always ask for and adore TARAMOSALATA which is carp roe, caviar, and here made with cauliflower---it was a huge hit as they all were.
Tops was the TYROKAFTERI of feta, smoked manouri cheese and grains of paradise(whatever that is) garnished with jalapenos for a nice kick.
All of these can be ordered separately or in a "pikilia" or large stone (very heavy) tray with three sections and your choice of three for $22.00....don't skip them.
We had moved on to our first wine which was a sparkling Cote-Mas Brut Rose, Cremant de Limoux made from Pinot Noir & Chenin Blanc--an odd combo for a sparkler, but perfect with the various and strong flavors in the spreads.
Next came Assyrtiko Hatzidakis 2012 from Santorini, which Yari called Sauvignon Blanc. I was not aware that Assytriko was S.B., or even related, and I have had it many times, but it does have a strong citrus flavor for sure. It paired with our next set of COLD MEZZE & GARDEN MEZZE which were as varied as could be:
SPANAKOPITA is made here with the traditional spinach & feta but adds leeks for extra flavor
DOLMADES were rich, lemony and full of flavor
Farm House Vegetable Salad was tomato, cucumber, eggplant and feta in a red wine vinaigrette--nice but basic
ROKKA SALAD was awesome with peach marmalade, grilled plums and grilled halloumi cheese
SMOKY BEETS of red and yellow had the mandatory yogurt but came with green peppercorns, citrus segments and the wildest meringue croutons
WATERMELON SALAD was so refreshing with manouri cheese sorbet (this was a prize in itself), urfa (a spice) and pickled watermelon rind. Who would have thought that manouri (a got and cow cheese), or any cheese, would make an amazing sorbet?
The FAVA was yellow lentils with corn, spinach and pearl onions served hot, but it was the
GREEK FRIES that wowed us more made with chickpeas, peppercorns and mizithra. These potato pancake-like cylinders had a kick from the peppercorns and the mizithra cheese was grated over them a la parmesan. To me it was a potato/chickpea kishka without the meat!
Our one OCEAN MEZZE was a perfectly cooked PAN ROASTED SEA BASS with Artichoke, Pastirma & Baby Carrots. The pastirma is indeed a pastrami that is smoked with orange zest, but to us it had a curry flavor and tasted like a pastrami potato chip as it was so thin and crispy. WHAT FUN! The dish was topped with a savory relish that turned out to be stone fruit compote. Who woullda knew?
We moved on to a superb house red KAPNOS RESERVE Kit-Yianni 2001 from Naoussa in Greece made from Syrah/Merlot & Xinomavro that really was silky, smooth and a bit spicy. I could drink this wine anytime here with any dish!
Our two WOOD ROASTED MEZZE were the
SUCKLING PIG with orzo, dill and orange that also has broccoli, pork rinds and scallions with a crispy skin and oh so juicy meat loaded with flavor.
The MARINATED LAMB was very crispy and crunchy as well with and ancient grain salad (I failed to asked how old the grain was!), but not as flavorful as the pig, though very nice.
I have one major complaint alone about Kapnos and it is the flatware. The knives are contemporary style with curved handles that cause them to constantly slide off the small mezze plates used throughout the meal. I counted losing the knife in my lap at least five times! I know the staff told me they pass on the constant complaints, but someone needs to tell management to buy new knives!
A trio of desserts arrived as we knew we were reaching our limits:
CHOCOLATE MOUSSE was a rectangular bar which and creamy with a scoop of creamy cherry gelato atop.(Did I really hear Yari say the gelato was made with merlot and syrah? Well, I could have eaten a bottle.)
LOUKAMIDES were pistachio and fried with lots of dipping honey that was abit too cloying and sweet, but we all adored
the PANNA COTTA with Blood Orange and Pistachio crumble. I mourned the fact that Chef Mike Isabella had lost Top Chef Duels earlier this week probably for his panna cotta which did not set well; it's a shame he didn't serve this one!
A glass of excellent ANTHEMIS 2008 Sweet Moscato from UWC Samos sent us on our way after a wonderful evening with friends!
We also now know that we have to return to Kapnos to try all the other items that we didn't get to taste on the menu!

Friday, August 29, 2014

You ought to eat at IRON GATE, it's really great (back in DC-8-24-14)

Last Sunday night, Will & I headed to Iron Gate where Chef Anthony Chittum reigns and we were quite wowed, not only by the décor and renovations, but by the excellent service and the food, of course (www.irongaterestaurantdc.com).
Hidden on a quiet side lane off N St, NW & Connecticut Ave, NW the front has a long zinc bar with what seem like church pews. There is a large open courtyard where the a la carte/bar menu is also served in nice weather and then the inner sanctum is in the rear, where only tasting menus are available.The room has an open kitchen on one side, with backlit jarred pickles giving an eerie feel! It is a simple menu but loaded with options from the number of courses to the choice in each category. There are 4 and 6-course menus at $60 and $80 ($40 & $50 extra for wine pairings) as well as a Chef's Tasting for $110 ($90 extra for pairings). Chef Chittum was ill the night we were there, so we thought we would start simple; I'm so glad we chose the 6-course option, because more on a summer's night might have been too much!
We were offered our choice of in-house filtered water--AT NO COST; it needs to be this way in most places, really!
The menu is divided as follows
Everyone gets the TASTE which is a selection of starters bursting with flavors and lots of fun. These may include what we had:
Marinated Olives with tasty lemon rind for flavor
Potato & Dill Fritters with a House-Made Yogurt-Olive Salad
Corn & Black-Eyed Peas with Tomato & Feta
Octopus Salas with Celery & Thai Chilis
Risotto Balls on Pesto
Taramasalata with Syros(an island in Greece) Fennel crackers that we fell in love with (both the crackers and the tarama)
Jimmy Nardeto Roasted Peppers with EVOO
Housemade pickles consisting of Okra, Radish & Carrots
A divine STEAK TARTARE with shaved Parmesan which had some tiny croutons embedded within for a cool crunch
These dishes depend on which menu you order and how many people there are, but I am sure you can mention something if you prefer it!
The paired wine was a super dry 2013 ZINOS "AURELIA" N/V Sparkling Rose from Epirus, Greece that worked amazingly with every one of these flavors.
We all chose the GOAT CHEESE RAVIOLINI from the two Garden choices and came with Roasted Baby Beets, Poppy Seeds and Walnuts 2 Ways. It was a superb dish, but slightly salty. The wine fixed that as it was a 2013 Cantina del Taburno Falanghina from Campania. Our guest was leaning veggie and she chose the other Garden dish for her next course-GRILLED HALLOUMI CHEESE "Puttanesca" with petite Herbs and Croutons. The "Puttanesca" was slightly spicy with olives, capers and tomato, but vegetarian as it had no anchovies. This was served with a 2012 De Angelis Piedrosso, Lacryma Chirsti also from Campania which was an awesome red that worked well with the cheese and spice.
Our second course was from the Water category in the form of a CRISPY SOFTSHELL CRAB tempura-style with Shell Beans, Hothouse Tomatoes(Green Zebra), Anchovy and an great dipping aioli. It was perfect and perfectly paired with a 2012 Sella & Mosca "Terre Bianche" (Torbato grape) from Sardegna. I forgot to mention the champagne came in Schott crystal, while the rest of the wine is served in "The One" which is quite nice, although not Riedel :-((.
While we moved on to the Pasture, our guest chose the other WATER choice of GRILLED RARE AHI TUNA "Salad" with Baby Fennel, Local Cherries & Torn Mint which was another superb dish with lots of layered rare tuna and a pairing with 2013 Wine Art Estate, Malagousia from Macedonia that was intensely citrus.
Will and I decided to choose one of each of the PASTURE choices and my excellent and just -past rare PENNSYLVANIA LAMB DUO was a rack chop and kefta kabob with Summer Squash, Almond Slivers and House Yogurt paired with a 2008 (yes 2008!) Moratis Paros Reserve from Macedonia that I could have kept drinking for days. Will's OUR BERKSHIRE COTECHINO was a pork patty with Grilled Foraged Mushrooms, Sherry Vinegar and "Dippy" Egg or fried egg atop that was also yummy save for the mushrooms being grilled a bit to much to slight dryness. His wine was a 2011 Tascante "Ghaia Nera" (Nerola Mascolese) from Sicily.
Pairings had worked superbly to this point and we did return to some of the wines we liked more. Our guest also raved about the Iced tea! On the 6-course menu every gets the CHEESE course of CAROMONT RED COW with Spring Radish, Lemon & Honey. The Virginia cheese is a nice apple cider washed cow, but not super exciting. The breakfast radishes were sliced super thin and went well with it, but the "funky" 2012 Denavolo "Catavela" from Emiglia-Romana that our wonderful server Mark explained was an oxidated "orange" wine, was something none of us could stomach. He quickly whisked away the 3 glasses and we happily received more of the awesome reds!
Dessert or SWEET is two choices and I went for the BITTERSWEET CHOCOLATE TORTE with Eggplant (yes, eggplant) 2 Ways, Plums and Almond Tuile which was a great creation of spiced chocolate torte with plum sorbet, poached plums, yummy almond tuile that was really almond brittle and the awesome eggplant which was bruleed and fried (the 2 ways); AMAAZING. This paired with Kourtaki Mavrodaphne port-like wine from Patras in the Peloponnese in Greece.
The others adored their BABA AU RHUM with Roasted Peaches & Mascarpone Ice Cream served with 2010 UWC(Union Winemaking Coop) Muscat of Samos "Nectar" from the Aegean Islands of Greece; need I say more.....??
Dinner did not end here as Lukamades (orange honey blossom fried dough) arrived along with Amaretti cookies with cherries imbedded. Mark knew we had a bad taste from the funky orange wine, so he offered us a make-up, which we did not need, with an amazing TREJE 2009 Bisceglia Agliatico (Merlot/Syrah blend) which gets 2 years aging in oak. I think this was offered as the red substitute with the cheese, but can't remember.....at least I got the wine right, and everything else.
Even to Toto soft close toilets are welcome in the rest rooms!
Iron Gate is a welcome change in that it offers many tastes in a very satisfying setting with a small American twist entering into the Greco-Italian vein. Bravo Chef Anthony!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Provo, Turks & Caicos - a report on some lovely lunches (Aug 12-19)-Greenbean Cafe/The Gansevoort's Stelle Beach Bar/Market Cafe/Las Brisas/Daniel's Cafe

My final report will cover the multitude of places we stopped for lunch while staying in Providenciales and other islands during our recent journey.
Samuel would want me to mention GREENBEAN CAFE first located at the Turtle Cove Marina about 5-10 minutes from Grace Bay at it's very west end.
It was the first place we went, and he repeatedly asked to go back. When we mentioned this place to islanders they seemed to frown, but then said they had tried pizza and burgers here, and we have
loved the WRAPS.
The Panini were also good, especially MUSHROOM, but if you wish to cut those carbs go for a Sundried Tomato, Spinach or Whole Wheat Wrap and get either the JERK CHICKEN WRAP or the Southwest SPICY CHICKEN WRAP.
These are huge wraps for $12 each and can easily be split if you are not that hungry. They are loaded with chicken, veggies and yummy seasonings. There is free wifi as well and the place is open for breakfast thru mid-afternoon.
After our initial visit, Samuel kept begging to go back, which we did the next week, but he still could not be satisfied with a second visit; he begged for more, but time did not allow a third visit!
One day we headed to the LEEWARD Marina at the east end of the island (also no more than 5-10 minutes from any point in Grace Bay) where the newly reopened BLUE MARINA Hotel sits near the hub of watersports (diving, fishing, snorkeling and more) making it the ideal location for those seeking just a bit more than a pool and beach. While there are some dining spots in the hotel, just across the parking lot is the MARKET CAFE, which has nice outdoor seating on the canal with views of the huge villas nearby. There are many items you can get here, but we loved the various burgers. There are many food items to buy as well since it is a full-scale supermarket.
One day while doing a site visit we were treated to a superb lunch at the GANSEVOORT Resort. Stelle is their fine dining establishment open for dinner only, but we sat outside just above the beach at the Stelle Beach bar and enjoyed a crisp refreshing cold glass of Perle de Rose 2012 Cotes de Provence Rose as we enjoyed the very pretty people walking by. Samuel (who is on a wrap trip) enjoyed the Chicken Wrap with Sundried Tomato, peppers & his favorite condiment, Pesto!
I loved the refreshing GAZPACHO with Goat Cheese Bruschetta and then went on the awesome CONCH FRITTERS which came with a mixed Green Lettuce Salad and Louisiana Sauce for dipping. Will had a superb fresh CONCH Salad with Lime Juice, Red Onion, Peppers, Croiander, Cumin and enough Jalapeno to make it just the right heat. Our server, Kim, was a treat and made everything we wanted happen, as she called herself, Kim-possible!
Heading to the South & West you might wish to spend a day boating on the CHALK SOUND, a remote part of the island about 10 minutes south of the airport where the water is milky white and the view from LAS BRISAS Restaurant at Neptune Villas (www.neptunevillastci.com) is quite different from the long sandy beaches elsewhere. As you know from my recent postings, Friday August 15 was the beginning of the local lobster season. So, while Samuel settled in with a superb Veggie Wrap, which came loaded with vegetables of all kinds and served hot, Will and I ordered the same with LOBSTER ADDED for an additional $5.00. It was our first taste of local South Caicos Lobster, which is apparently HAND CAUGHT. The cost was nothing for the large amount and large chunks we got in our tasty warm wraps! Las Brisas was worth the drive!
Our final lunch outing was part of an entire day tour to the more remote and fascinating islands of North Caicos & MIddle Caicos. North Caicos is accessed by air, private boat or a 25 minute ferry from the Leeward side of Provo. Cars can be rented here if arranged, but we chose to hire a guide and driver for the entire day and boy were we glad. The trip organized through a local tour operator was amazing. Our guide, Luke, picked us up and whisked us all over both islands (population of North Caicos is like 1500, and Middle rings in at like 300!). The highlight of the morning was a stop at the private home of Mrs. Susan Butterfield who welcomed us into her home for very strong tea (made from ginger, lemongrass, herbs and lord knows what else) with lemon cake. She told us her life story (she looked 90, but was only about 70!) and then offered us a huge soursop fruit cut right from her tree outside. It was awesome, sweet and sour and juicy and fun! We later headed south to Middle Caicos and the hamlet of Conch Bar which probably has about 150 habitants! Right on a cliff above the ocean is Daniel's Café where there are not too many items on the menu aside from Fried Fish and Fried Conch. They come in individual orders or platters, so we went in for the Conch Platters as Samuel munched the rolls and had a coke as he would have none of the options. The side salad was simple with lettuce, tomato and onion and the dipping sauce was Thousand Island, but homemade. This, of course, is then spiced up with local hot sauce, Louisiana hot sauce or other depending on the choices. I went for a scotch bonnet based hot sauce that was not too spicy from Trinidad! The conch was tender and battered nicely and fried perfectly. There was a side of rice and peas (those little beans that these islands always call peas) and there was a jar of "pickles" on the table which I opened and tasted some carrots, okra and other pickles from. There were awesomely spicy and then I noticed the little cut up scotch bonnet peppers in the jar that lent their intense heat to these little treats. Luckily the Ginger Beer was strong and there was plenty of rice and roll to cut the heat.
That was our last lunch out on the island as breakfast was included at our last hotel, so we often just ate no lunch as we slept late a lot!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Turks&Caicos Coco Bistro can do it all(8-20-14)

We saved Coco Bistro (www.cocobistro.tc) for our last night as it seemed to get all the raves for the top food and best place to dine from virtually every source.
It was a 5 minute walk from out hotel right inland from Grace Bay, so there are no views, but the place offers a wooden decking with lots of overhanging palms.
We were first seated near the front and ordered our water and wine, a bottle of William Fevre Chablis 2012 from our server Wisner, when the kids at the next table started to whine and have multiple fits. We noticed lots of children here, so asked to be moved to a table away from most of them. The manager, Steven, was oh so gracious and moved us to the extreme rear in a small alcove with only two tables and we felt very romantic, even with Sam there. There was another table just through the palm trees with a huge group of folks from either New York or Jersey and we heard every loud word they said, especially the lady who kept saying, "I TRIED." They left minutes after Steven returned to open the wine, which has been rebranded and now comes in a tacky foil wrapper, but it's still a great Chablis.
We had already gobbled up the pesto rolls (yup, pesto inside the rolls) at the first table, so we proceeded to order from our now new server, Frankie.
Samuel ordered the Caesar Salad with Crisp Bacon, croutons, anchovies (on the side, and they were canned!) & fresh shaved Parmesan in a "Spicy Dressing (no wimps please)" according to the menu. Well, the dressing was by no means spicy, and we all laughed and remarked on this to Steve and Frankie; they said that many people returned the dish, so that was why they had a warning.
Will ordered the Spicy Lobster Soft Tacos with Fresh Guacamole and Sour Cream, Pineapple Tomato Salsa, and again while delish, they were by no means spicy.
My Avocado & Lobster Spring Rolls with Thai Mango Salad & Sweet Dipping Sauce were fantastic and loaded with chunks of sweet lobster to boot, my farewell to this tasty friend we met while here in the Turks & Caicos, which I shall surely miss.
In a very poor attempt on food bravery Samuel ordered the Homemade Ravioli of Conch & Flame Grilled Sweet Peppers with Piquant Rose Sauce. When it arrived he looked at the very large ravioli and almost fainted. He took a taste and would venture no more. While he had tried the dish, I was itching to taste it, but we decided against our better judgement and called Frankie over and explained. They said they would gladly replace the dish and shortly his Chicken Breast with Shrimp in Curry Sauce, Rice and a huge crunchy papadam arrived. That was not problem, although he wouldn't try the shrimp.
Will and I had asked for a longer break and ordered a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc 2013 called Graywacke from Marlborough, New Zealand. It was a great wine and while slightly citrusy it was perfect with both our varied main courses which we split. Steven explained it was made by the same guy who used to make wine Cloudy Bay!
Penne Pasta with Caicos Lobster (oh yes, we had to have more one last time), Shrimp, Bay Scallops & Arugula in a very rich White Wine Tomato Cream Sauce laced with Fresh Homegrown Basil and Asiago Cheese Shavings could have served two people. The dish was superb and the fresh basil was indeed superb as an accent as was the cheese. All the seafood was so fresh and tasty to boot. Luckily, we were splitting our entrees and mine was much lighter in size, but very intense in depth. Blackened local Mahi came with a tasty Red Thai Curry Sauce & Jasmine Rice. On the side was a wonderful Mango Chutney and welcome Buttered Broccoli, as veggies are not too common it seems.
I have to also mention that the bathroom has air conditioning, which is not too common! Also, at one point during dinner, there were some rain showers. The staff provided umbrellas, which we saw popping up in other areas around us, but due to the heavy palm tree leave overhangs above us, barely a drop touched us. I just can't imagine what happens at all these outdoor spots when it rains much harder. Right before we came to the islands, Tropical Depression Bertha passed through with two solid days of rain, and now that we have left another depression has hit (well, it is hurricane season) and is threatening three to four days of rain and thunderstorms!
We decided we had to have dessert on our last night and I made the mistake of trying the Fried Banana Fritters, which was a huge portions, really enough for two or three!
The fritters were drizzled with Caramel Sauce and had the most delicious scoop of Vanilla Ice Cream, which was a treat compared to the heaviness of the battered treats. Will chose wisely with Homemade Ice Cream, and it was the best we had all trip. His Vanilla was the same as mine, and the Banoffee Ice Cream was a true creamy treat.

Bay Bistro where you literally dine on the bay gets bravos-Turks&Caicos(8-19-14)

Bay Bistro is down the beach a mile or so from the center of Grace Bay in an unassuming resort but sits right on the edge of the sand, so we were able to enjoy the sunset as we arrived and ordered a bottle of Minuty 2013 Rose from France which Will declared to smell like pot (yup, marijuana), but my innocent self called it a dry crisp refreshing rose with an earthy aroma.
Bread arrived in the form of yummy warm cheese rolls with a pesto dip that was what I would call rough as the leaves were still not completely pulverized, but we all loved it, especially Sam the pesto man!
The menu here is similar to many other places in that it specializes in local fish with some imported meats and such, but the recipes do have a novel twist.
Will started with the Princess Conch (which was odd, as we had been told that only the Queen conch was worth eating!)& Mushroom Crepe with roasted red pepper pesto and cream sauce. It was extremely rich and heavy, but delicious.
I chose the Coffee-rubbed Yellowfin Tina sliced thin and served barely seared and oh so perfectly rare in an Asian marinade with Garnish Salad (wasabi dressing) and pickled ginger. It is the perfect starter after spending the entire day touring the remote island cays(as we did) in the intense heat.
Samuel ordered the Veggie Spring Rolls on Baby Arugula with Oven Dried Tomatoes and then decided to go on to the simple Kiddie Menu Angel Hair Pasta with Tomato Sauce & Cheese.
For our entrees Will and I both chose the excellent Blackened Lobster with Mango Chutney, light Curry Sauce, roasted potatoes and sauteed vegetables. This was a winner of a dish with two HUGE tails for a price less than all the other lobster dishes we had  in 6 days of lobster season! It suffered only slightly from the fact that the meat was just slightly overcooked, but in no means dry or well done!
We did have an issue with our server Jamesly as he seemed to disappear every time we needed more wine, so I did most of the pouring. We also asked him and two other folks each for a wine list to order some more, but it seemed to never come. We finally just ordered a glass of the house red, Louis Philipe Edwards Chilean Pinot Noir, that we figured was light enough for the lobster, but would stand up to the spice, which while not intense, was formidable. It actually tasted more like a Malbec, but worked quite well.
We asked Jamesly if he had ever been to North & Middle Caicos (more on them later) where we spent the day and the islands are so very pure and pristine, and he said even though he was from Provo (Providenciales), he would not be interested in going there. We were quite surprised, but I guess it's like a New Yorker who has never been to Albany!
We were all full and headed home for a quiet night and an early to bed!