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!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

back in DC LUPO VERDI is vivacious (1-7-17)

After our amazing trip to Ecuador, we joined a bevy of friends on Staurday night prior to the theater at LUPO VERDE ( at 14th & T Sts, NW. The small restaurant has a bar and some seating downstairs and we headed upstairs where the dining scene is a bit quieter and relaxed. While waiting for everyone to gather I tried a Persephone or Mezcal, Prickly Pear Juice, Cinque Apertivo, Apple and Lemon Juice  with Honey & Rosemarymixture that was not sweet and most refreshing. The Peppino was Gin, Limoncello & Lemon Juice with Prosecco & Bitters that got raves as well.
It was bitter cold so we stuck with red wine and started with a Tenuta Fessina Mascalese 2014 ERSE Cappuccio that was medium bodied and a great start. Our server, Mohi, recommended the second red, a 2014 Hauner "Hiera" Acitana a blend of Alicante, Nocero and Nero d'Avola from Sta Marina Salina in Sicily that was such a big hit, we had another bottle.
Food was superb across the board with excellent salads, Fried Artichokes, an awesome Chestnut Soup to start with Fennel Sausage, Mushrooms and Rapini for starters.
The main courses here vary from fish to pasta to pizza to meat and we had some of all (see FB page for fotos):
The whole Dorado special was filleted and brought tableside in the simplest of presentations. The Sandra Zappa Pizza (it that Frank's sister?) came with tomato, mozzarella, spicy sausage and chilis. The Tortellini Speical offered up filled pasta with swiss chard, ricotta and meat in a truffle sauce which was decadent and indeed all the pastas were a success: Fettuccine al ragu di coniglio was a rabbit ragu with roasted baby carrots, thyme and white wine, while the Fusilli Campani was a Neapolitan Ragu (Chef Matteo Venini explained that Neopolitans do a different mix of beef and pork) with Pinenuts and Pecorino.

Desserts were very good as well with Tiramisu '13 (not sure what the 13 is), Crostata alla pere-a roasted Pear tart with vinall sauce, cranberry puree and meringue.
I went my usual cheese course way and was thrilled with the selections here:
LA TUR a soft runny cow/goat/sheep from Piemonte
CACIOCAVALLO SILANO a sheep/goat from Calabria and the
intense MUFFATO ALLE ERBE a superb blue cow from Veneto.
The plate was very nice with apples, grapes, onions and fruity/nutty bread.

We all left full and were happy the show we were attending was short and light-hearted, knowing that we will come back to Lupo Verde!

Friday, January 06, 2017

Guayaquil, Ecaudor's Caracol Azul is more about seafood than snails (1-4-17)

Our last night in Ecuador brought us to a different city as we were connecting back to the United States the next day thru the city of Guayaquil. Sam was a bit exhausted and asked if he could stay in the hotel and order a pizza, so just Will and I headed downtown to Caracol Azul.  A 15 minute taxi ride cost only $4 but was hair raising through the insane traffic and maniacal drivers which we had not experienced anywhere else during our two weeks in Ecuador.
Once again on our arrival 7 p.m. the restaurant was empty, although by 8 p.m. some other tables have been occupied, but not more than a dozen or so folks total. Luckily they had a menu in English and Will and I both decided to order different  octopus starters only to find out they were clean out of pulpo. I settled on what turned out to be an amazing the Peruvian mixed ceviche which had sea bass (corvino), shrimp and a bit of octopus as well. On the side were the traditional lupin corn, sweet potato and the fried corn kernels. We had already been brought fried plantains and bread with a mild tomato salsa as well as the amazing aji salsa I have come to love (I have 4 bottles in my luggage), so a little of that on the ceviche made it a true winner. Will ordered a crab and avocado salad which was gorgeous and came with a small crab claw perched atop, and while it was good it needed a little kick from salsa or something. 
A superb bottle of Trapiche Roble Chardonnay 2016 from Argentina was ideal with everything. 
For main courses we both shows sea bass but with different presentations.  Will's with smothered with a rich Gorgonzola cheese sauce and scattered with a couple of artichokes, well mine had a just is rich three cheese sauce with several shrimp on top; they were both excellent.
Will decided to order the coconut flan which was truly amazing and we split that for dessert headed back to hotel and went right to bed as we had a 510 a.m. wake up call for our flight home.

Quito's OCTAVA de CORPUS offers up culilnary delights (12-30-16)

Our last night in Quito before leaving for the Galapagos status booked at the esoteric and interesting Octava de Corpus.

 Will was not feeling too well so Samuel and I ventured to Old Town Quito alone and discovered a huge home hidden behind a beautiful doorway on a colonial street.
The owner greeted us and escorted us upstairs through Christmas knick knacks and many beautiful keepsakes and tchochkies.
The dining room had about 8 tables of varying size ball with gilded plates and beautiful crystal. There was a huge Christmas tree in the center of the room and everywhere you knew it was a holiday here. The menu was huge and daunting, but Sam and  I looked through it and finally he decided to start with a tomato stuffed with chicken and then continue with a superb steak. I started with three amazingly huge and delicious langoustines cooked in a rich brandy sauce, and then had a simple chicken dish stuffed with cheese and ham.
We asked the gentleman if there was a wine list and he chuckled and took us 3 flights downstairs to several huge rooms laid out with thousands of bottles some well over 30 or 40 years old and costing thousands of dollars were from France Spain and South America. We settles on a Bonarda from Argentina and even Sam had a glass and a half with his meal. 
Nobody else ever arrived the entire evening and we almost felt horrible that the place was not doing much business, but perhaps it was due to the fact that it was the night before new years eve and people just don't go out for dinner.
We were too full for dessert and rolled ourselves into the taxi outside as a bevy of drag queens descended on us asking for money which is a tradition here on New Years Eve, but I guess they were starting early.
How awesome it was to have this experience dining in someone's magnificent private home in the colonial city of Quito.

Friday, December 30, 2016

La Purisima in Quito cooks up Ecuadorian cuisine that dates back centuries (12-28-16)

First of all, best wishes to all for a Feliz Ano Nuevo, a most healthy & Happy New year!
Another night in Quito brought us to the old town restaurant La Purisima in the colonial Teatro Bolivar. It has less than a dozen tables and is very simple and the tables are wood. but what's worse is the chairs are very hard wood. Glass walls look out onto the pedestrian mall and give you a chance to see everything that's going on outside.
My stomach was in bad shape but I'm still going to report on what everybody else had.
Will ordered a Paico Sour, which is a Ecuadorian version of the Pisco Sour with a different type of liquor but sweeter,  so I'll avoid those. The one appetizer of goat stew empanadas which both Sam and  Will wanted to order was unfortunately not available.
There were not a lot of other items that seemed exciting and many of them were seafood so Sam wouldn't have those, so the guys just decided to order mean courses when we saw how large they were as well. 
Adorable warm black and white corn tortillas arrived with spicy tomate de arbol salsa (that awesome tree tomato I have come to adore) sauce and I managed to eat one of them and they were delicious, of course without the hot sauce.
Will chose the oven roasted Pork Brisket  which was cook for 6 hours in Ecuadorian spices and beer and came with garlic and ginger fried rice which he declared to be an absolute winner.
Samuel chose what was called a sirloin tenderloin in Creole sauce which was a scallion and tomato sauce which he loved,  but unfortunately it arrived extremely rare and had to be sent back for a recook. It returned cooked to a perfect temperature and everybody was happy except for me because I couldn't eat anything. Each main course said that it came with a "salad to share," which in reality was a vegetable and that night it was a sauteed squash with spices, which will like very much but Samuel would not try even though he adores squash especially with spices. Will also declared the Club beer local to Ecuador an excellent choice.
Since they were no appetizers it seems logical to choose dessert and are very sweet waiter offered up his suggestion and both of my co dinner guests chose the Good Thursday Black Tart which apparently is an Ecuadorian delicacy with a recipe going back 400 years and made from some 25 ingredients. Will described it as a combination of fruit cake, Rum Baba and dulce di leche.
I'm glad I got out and got some fresh air as we walked to the restaurant, a mere 8 or 9 minutes from our hotel, but I was sorry not to be enjoying all these wonderful new tastes with my family.

La Gloria in Quito, Ecuador offers up Peruvian-Ecuadorian cuisine in a calm setting (12-27-16)

Our second night was also in the new city and took us to an empty La Gloria when we arrived at 7pm. They had two menus in English, but we soon discovered they had to be printed ages before as most the items were not on the Spanish menu, but between Sam's Spanish and my food knowledge we got thru it. The excellent Pisco sours helped. I headed to the small wine room as they let you choose your bottle from small cabinets marked with the prices, like a store, rather than from a menu. I chose a Santa Carolina Sauvignon Blanc Riserva 2016 from Argentina that was excellent with all our seafood.
Will started with a Peruvian Ceviche of fish with sweet potato and those yummy huge corn kernels. I had an amazing Shredded Hearts of Palm, Smoked Salmon & Goat Cheese salad dotted with awesome local tomate de arbol or tree tomatos with a passion-fruit vinaigrette which was huge(check it out on FB) as were all the salads. Samuel had a Caprese salad with two monster mounds of fior de latte mozzarella that looked like two giant white boobies(we head to the Galapagos soon).
Sam's main course was a nice penne with prosciutto and parmesan, while Will had a gorgeous Corvina (sea bass) over a lentil cake (called tacu-tacu), caramelized onions and basil.
My Loin of Tuna was covered with black and white sesame and in a Thai reduction with mandarin and lime.
There was no way we could eat dessert, so we headed back to the old city and our gorgeous hotel and bed.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Quito's ZAZU zooms to the top in modern Ecuadorian cuisine (12-26-16)

Our first dinner in Quito was at the famous Relais & Chateaux restaurant called Zazu located in the new part of the city so it was about a 20-minute taxi right away which is a steal at $6. We entered into the huge restaurant with many different rooms and we were taken immediately to our table which was located next to a huge group of Americans from New York that we had just met at the hotel 30 minutes earlier. Unfortunately they generated way too much noise for the next several hours and the restaurant was generally noisy the entire time and the music behind all the noise didn't help.  We were given some menus in Spanish and one in English and some bread was put down with some butter and the plates that were very beautiful were whisked away but then nobody came to the table for quite some time and we had no clue what was going on.
They seem to be severely overtaxed and very limited with staff and everyone was running around like crazy as huge groups entered into the restaurant to be seated.
Ultimately our server arrived and things quieted down at least as far as the service was concerned.  We ordered our food and wine and settled down for what turned out to be a truly memorable meal.

I was kind of surprised that no amuse arrived as this is considered the most elegant restaurant in the entire country but that was not a problem is everything that followed was truly delicious. Our first wine was a Catena Zapata Chardonnay 2015 from Mendoza that arrived at the table virtually frozen and we had to warm it up and then we tasted the wonderful acidity and gooseberries. We also ordered a red: the Montes Alpha M 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot and petit verdot blend from Santa Cruz Chile which had nice tannins, intense plum flavor and really a huge body and amazing legs.
 Samuel chose to order a la carte and started with the Wagyu beef tartar fillet with capers and blue cheese foam (really a softish medium local blue cheese). He loved the beef but he's not a fan of blue cheese and tried to get it as far away from the meet as possible. He opened up one of the small brioche rolls and a raw quail egg came out onto his meat exploding with flavor which he eventually decided was ok.
His main course was a shiitake crusted filet mignon with Parmesan quinoa cakes which he loved except he shoved aside each and every one of the mushrooms.
Will chose the five course tasting menu which started with a wonderful dish called Andean grains and vegetables consisting of those large lupin beans which are more like large corn kernels with hearts of palm, tiny crispy quinoa and a slightly spicy yellow pepper sauce with cilantro. As a reminder most of these dishes can be seen on my Facebook page. 
His next course was  octopus with corn puree, chimichurri and native potatoes which was a 4 out of 5 star dish and the only downside on his 5 course menu.
His third course we're suckling pig taquitos which she said were okay but a bit lukewarm; they were pork confit  with guacamole and gruyere cheese and were topped with a Chipotle aioli.
His main course with a seafood tamale made from prawn, squid, mussels, clams and a spicy seafood sauce with maize.
His dessert with simply called chocolate and had three different kinds of chocolates in different forms: ganache cuite 78%, babarois 40% and mousse 62%.
I have to say I think I fared much better with the seven course menu and should mention that it only costs $50 for the five-course menu and $70 for the seven-course menu.
 My first course was a Ceviche of black clam with lemon and a craft beer foam on top with a little teeny plantain fried on the side to clear your palate afterwards.  AWESOME.
Next came the same Andean grains and vegetable course which I was in heaven over and gave more than 5 stars.
My down course was the stone crab without a cutter green apple pesto and a crab salad with 6 pieces of caviar.
Cazuela was a huge single prawn with banana and peanut "salprieta" with maize and shrimp-plantain pot-au-feu, which was a homerun.
This was followed by a dish that most people probably would think is really disgusting, but I was very excited to try as it is considered a delicacy in the north of the Andes in Ecuador. The empanada was filled with guinea pig confit, maize and aji chicha reduction of corn.
Be sure to take a look at this amazingly presented dish on FB with a gorgeous crispy tortilla with the confit and the reduction on top that was simply fabulous and everyone at the table tasted it and agreed.
 My main course was a pork cheek with barley, potato llapingacho and jus with organic salad.
 The meat was gorgeous and crispy skinned, perfectly cooked and a 5star dish well-deserved.
 Dessert for both Samuel and me was an amazing presentation of Helado de Paila,  a traditional local ice cream made a table side here with blackberries and strawberries and of course liquid nitrogen to create the ice cream with hazelnut crumble and meringue.
There is a video of this on Facebook which you can't miss.
Chef Oscar Camacho came out to greet us and we were thrilled to tell him that almost everything was amazing and he welcomed our commentson the dishes that were not such big hits. Kudos to.our server Elvis even though we had some language difficulties it was a truly memorable experience.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Arlington's BUSBOYS & POETS might be better if you get to know it (12-9-16)

For years we have been unable to get a table at the Shirlington BUSBOYS & POETS as they do not take reservations and are always jammed when we head over to the thetare. Last night, we had not planned to be there for dinner, but arrived at 630pm and the place was virtually full with one empty table which we grabbed (I say we as I had Samuel and a school friend of his in tow).
Our super friendly and helpful server Jakobe arrived and announced that lots of the drinks were on happy hour specials, but all of them sounded so sweet, and since I am not a beer lover, I chose a glass of the Sycamore Lane Chardonnay (also on discount) which was quite nice, especially for $5!
We ordered the Mezze plate and Lamb Sliders to share as a starter and these were also on happy hour discount; what a deal! Three huge lamb sliders were tasty, although I left half my bun (sliders always have too much bread). The Mezze (see FB) was beautifully presented with pita triangle on each option:Baba Ghanoush, Tabbouleh & Hummus. They were all tasty and while Sam would have none of it his friend discovered Tabbouleh and fell in love.
Both of the teens ordered a plain Tomato & Mozzarella Pizza which was okay, but I don't think pizza is their forte here. I chose the Turkey Burger in my effort to shed some pounds and it was a huge one, but super tasty made with shallots and mushrooms and a yummy chipotle mayo. I could have lived without the adorable sweet pickle pinned to the top of the bun with a toothpick, and indeed I disposed of the bottom half of the bun to allow only 1/2 the carbs and more of the flavor of the mayo. I had several sides to choose from and ordered the yummy tabbouleh, but had not realized it also came with the mezze; well, it was healthy and tasty. Another glass of $5 Sycamore Lane wine was Cabernet and not as good as it sister Chard.
I would love to go back and try more things, but who knows if we shall ever be able to manage that again as you simply can't PLAN to go there without a reservation; Catch 22!

Just a small note that this is my final review of our area this month before we head to Ecuador in 12 days for winter vacation!

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

DC's TABERNA del ALABARDERO offers awesome and awful in one meal (12-5-16)

I searched through my over 1000 postings on my blog (www.phyllistines.blogspot) where there is (by the way) a great search engine for those of you looking for dining spots (just type in the city or country name!), and found I had not posted on Taberna Del Alabardero ( in a decade. I know for a fact that Will & I visited there some 3 or 4 years ago and had an unmemorable paella, so we hesitated to return for some time. We had purchased two tasting dinners for two people at various auctions, so it was time to redeem them last night with some friends. When making the reservations last month, I realized that the manager, PR person, chef and virtually the entire team there had been replaced in the last year, which gave me some worry as we knew not a soul on arrival.
I had to explain that we had two certificates for two each but ultimately they figured it out and we ordered a superb bottle of Vina Otano Barrel Fermented 2014 white blend of Viura & Tempranillo Blanco that was a bit too cold on arrival and needed some caressing in the glass to bring up to a non-super-chilled temp. The flavors came out when our first course of Gazpacho Andaluz arrived in a martini glass. It was creamy and rich and full of flavors, but perhaps I would have preferred something warmer on what was easily one of the coldest nights so far this season. Next came an superb (FB foto) Shrimp Carpaccio with Avocado & Black Pepper Dressing, which was superb, but needed a lot more fresh black pepper on it which did arrive to satisfy our taste buds. The shrimp was cut thin in a large square and the a scoop of avocado crema was at the center; excellent once the pepper came.
We switched to red quickly and chose an amazing bottle of 2005 La Rioja Alta 904 Gran Reserva, a blend of Tempranillo & Graciano, with the aid of super-sommelier Jorge, who declared it one of his favorites on the list. It drank beautifully on its own, smooth and silky and full of flavors, but not overpowering, and paired deliciously with the Grilled Red Snapper with grapefruit Veloute and Pickled Vegetables. Some thought the pickled string beans an odd accompaniment, but I loved the flavor burst and crunch.
Our final wine was an even bigger red suggested by Jorge and he hit the jackpot with a 2002 Paixar made of the Mencia varietal from the Bierzo region to the northwest of the country's center. The table had various taste notes including prunes, treacle and raisins, and its hugeness required some food. Alas the main course of Cochinillo or Roast Suckling Pig cooked for 12 hours and served confit with Sweet Potato Puree was a huge disappointment in that it was not only fatty, but some parts were truly inedible. It tasted like a crunchy pork wrapped in a fatty lardon, so it had some good parts, but overall we skipped the fatty parts. The staff noticed we were unhappy and offered to bring something else, but we had eaten enough and settled for dessert. Originally they said we would all get Rice Pudding, but I suggested we each be allowed to choose, due to the previous course; no problem. Will stayed with the rice pudding and it was unexciting. Crema Catalana was a rich creme brulee with intense rich custard and the crunchiest of brulees. Cheesecake was a revelation made with a blue intense goat cheese and manchego that brought cheesecake to a new level.
Delicious cookies arrived(FB foto) of a crunchy chocolate rice crispy on shortbread and were thoroughly enjoyed along with glasses of complimentary NOE Vinum Optimum Rare Signature Pedro Ximenez 30 years aged sweet sherry that was very welcome after the cochinilla incident.
We left full, but hoping that the one bad course had not happened. It was an enjoyable evening for sure and save for the one bad course, totally delicious as well.