Monday, October 10, 2016

PROOF is perfect for a celebration or lovely evening in the Loire (10-8-16)

For Will's birthday this year we invited some of our dearest friends & clients who have supported many of the charity events we are involved in every year to a special birthday dinner that I purchased at last year's March of Dimes Signature Chefs.
The dinner was supposed to have been cooked by DC Chef Haidar Karoum, but he departed Proof earlier this year, where a new team has taken over and is real proof that Proof is perfect.
Chef Austin Fausett offers up superb cuisine and manager Brent Kroll, who comes from a true wine background poured amazing bottles that wowed us over and over.
We arrived and started with Veuve Fourney Verus Blanc de Blanc, which was a bit gaseous for my tastes, but definitely cleansed the palate when the amuse of Rappahannock Rover Oyster arrived with Cantaloupe Sorbet.
Flatbread was tasty with a superb labneh/mint/jalapeno spread that reminded us of our recent trip to Israel.
The wines, for the most part, were from the Loire region and we started with an awesome 2013 Sancerre called Ammonites from Matthias et Emile Roblin that was brilliantly paired with Baked Pipe Dream Crottin (from Lancaster, PA) with Sour Cherry Reduction, Mizuna & Radish. It sounds simple, but the dish was a true reflection of the way this restaurant is moving into wonderful territory with pairings and presentation.
Foie Gras Torchon was next and came Honey-Poached with Elderflower, Apricot, Sicilian pistachios (another hinting of our upcoming trip there next July!) and a small piece of fried and lightly salted flatbread. Now I am a traditionalist and adore my Sauternes with foie gras, but the pairing here was Le Bel Ouvrage 2012 Savennieres from Damien Laureau that was so aromatic you could smell the stone fruits and taste them as well. Here, the wine actually became sweet in the mouth after a bite of the foie gras and apricot flavors, akin to a viscous Trokenbeerenauslese, abounded. The foie gras itself was simply decadent and divine.
Halibut is always a great fish and here it was cooked in a beurre rouge and encrusted (Halibut en Persillade) with a parsley, garlic crust and served with zucchini, micro sorrel and a red wine gastrique. My notes indicate two red wines, so I am indeed confused! Chateau Peuch-Haut Grenache/Syrah blend ansd Saint-Drezery 2013 Le Prestige from Languedoc. I must take better notes.
We roamed far from the Loire to Bordeaux for our next wine a 1995 Chateau Leoville Barton from St. Julien that was drinking so well and had massive earthy (if not funky) overtones that was superb with the Pekin Duck with Summer Squash, bruleed figs, pomme rosti and shoyi, sauce made from raw unfiltered soy. The table was graced with a platter of roasted rosemary and cinnamon which made us feel enveloped by the flavors and aromas.
Our palate cleanser was an Angostura Biiters & Ginger Sorbet that I loved served with Scarpona Moscati d'Asti; it really did completely cleanse the palate.
Le Mont 2015 Moelleux Vouvray was a wonderful and sweet dessert wine that had acidity as well to match the Apricot & Beach Marmalade Beignets with Apricot Gastrique and Vouvray Ice Cream made from the same wine; now a paring like that takes advance planning and much effort.
Our entire team was amazing from our gracious and helpful server Christian to the team in the kitchen who welcomed as if we were at home!
Indeed White Chocolate Truffles with dehydrated raspberry powder and sesame arrived to send us home on a super sweet note as well as bags of granola for our breakfast on Sunday morning so we would remember the night before extra fondly.
Bravi to Proof having come back to life and a Happy Birthday to my hubby, Will!

Saturday, October 08, 2016

DC's DBGB gets definite bravos for gourmet bangers and more (10-7-16)

Chef Daniel Boulud opened DBGB over two years ago in DC and at first nobody could get in; it was in instant hit. So I was surprised to see they had room just 2 days prior for a Friday night/holiday weekend during IMF when everything in DC seemed to be booked. I had tasted some of Chef Ed Scarpone's treats at various foodie events, but had sadly never made it in; bad me.
Four of us headed over and we had a glorious time dining outside in gorgeous weather overlooking the fun plaza at City Center DC, which has quickly become on of the hottest dining and shopping destinations around town.
The menu is not huge, but there were so many wonderful things to choose and tit was hard to decide. We asked our server Luis, who was helpful with guidance. I started with a Baby Why Can't We Elope, which was a bit sweeter that I had hoped, so I didn't fall in love with the vodka drink made with yuzu and cantaloupe. The salty flatbread and sourdough bread was perfect with the most wonderful salted butter as well.
After we ordered, we were in shock when multiple plates arrived "from the chef."First came two of the Tarte Flambee, that amazing Alsatian flatbread of fromage blanc, onion and bacon, that was truly irresistible. We must have failed to order any veggies, so Chef Ed sent us three spectacular veggie starters that would have blown the tastebuds away of any vegetarian!

Roasted Delicata squash was probably my favorite with brown butter, sage, pomegranate, lemon crème fraîche, pumpkin seed and yogurt.

SWEET AND SOUR EGGPLANT was a major hit with honey baked eggplant, sherry vinegar, sumac yogurt, mint, chickpea socca

And while we liked the CHARRED YOUNG LEEKS with crispy fried egg, dijonnaise, smoked soy vinaigrette, it suffered from being quite salty and intense on the palate.

We prayed that no more would come, as we had ordered enough to start and then our starters came after a nice long rest.
Grilled Kale Salad with brussels sprouts & sweet potato, a gorgeous Roasted Corn Salad with cojita cheese, pickled shallot, cilantro, scallion and garlic aioli and two of had the
superb Octopus a la Plancha with bonito, pickled ginger and tonkatsu sauce.
Our host was a friend and winemaker from Oregon so we opened a delicious bottle of his 2013 Native Flora Jaguar Pinot Noir and it is always a treat to drink any of his wines, but the chef, sommelier and staff were truly impressed with its delicacy, finesse and quality. I must also give them credit for using fine Riedel for all the wines they serve. I actually had a glass of Lamy-Pillot St. Aubin 1er Cru 2006 "Les Charmois" that was  tasty, if a bit funky due to its age, but a fine pairing with my appetizer size Hand-Cut Steak Tartare with pickled Veggies and Egg Dressing. The tartare was very traditional and superb with lots of intensity from the meat making that truly shine. (I am so glad I changed my order to the appetizer size!).
Sausages are stars here so there were Thai with Lemongrass, pork, red curry, green papaya, peanut, quail egg and basil fried rice which is really a meal in itself and apparently the top seller. Nobody can deny, though, that the Boudin Blanc is a star with Truffled Pork, Apples and Pommes Mousseline; it's like butter (to quote Barbra) was all we could think.
Our server Luis always had a smile, and was always helpful, but he also seemed to be so personable with everyone he was helping, and the outdoor seating area was indeed full.
Sommelier Andrew has chosen some nice wines for the menu and we need to head to back to try them as well as so many other dishes that were truly mouth-watering.
Bravo to the entire team at DBGB which has settled in to be a great DC bistro. It's so nice to welcome Daniel Boulud back to DC after almost 3 decades!

Friday, October 07, 2016

James Beard Foundation Celebrity Chef Tour encamps with over a dozen chefs at Del Campo in DC (10-5-16)

Each year we get a couple of visits to DC for the James Beard Foundation Celebrity Chef Tour, but Wednesday night's tour brought more chefs(15?) than ever to Del Campo where host Chef Victor Albisu put on a show worthy or foodie royalty.
We arrived to a superb apricot brandy and Afrohead rum and Pineapple vanilla drink  called "Let Love Rule" which was not too sweet, but I switched to the yummy Etude "Grace Benoist Ranch" Pinot Noir 2014 from Carneros and it's been years since I have enjoyed this superb wine. There were craft beers as well.
Passed appetizers abounded and I desperately tried to refrain knowing full well what was in store in the five courses to come. Chefs Mike Isabella & George Pagonis, both Top Chef-testants, offered up Haloumi-filled Loukoumades with Truffle Honey and a mouth-watering Taramasalata on chickpea blini with caviar. Another Top Chef Alum who opened Requin recently in Fairfax, Chef Jennifer Carroll served Deviled Lamb Rillettes with macerated cherries (think chutney) and pickled mustard seed on a homemade potato gaufrette. Just in case we wanted to fill up there were awesome Wagyu Beef Empanadas with Salsa from Chef Victor Albisu.
We had a great table headed by Celebrity Chef Tour head honcho Jeff Black who always gathers some of the best foodies around for these events. The dinner as served family style for the most part, which was indeed a relief, so I did not feel ike I was wasting food, and hopefully what was left on the platters was used back in the kitchen by the staff (or I would have asked for a 5-gallon doggie bag).
First came DIM SUM in the form of Spicy Laab Shumai with ground pork, yellow curry paste, chilis and Northern Thai herbs from Chef Erik Bruner-Yang of Maketto (DC); Kimcheese Mandu with Berkshire Pork Shoulder, butter kimchi and sharp cheddar stuffed dumpling from Chef Danny Lee of Mandu (DC). Samuel would have been in heaven with these two dumpling options alone; but there was much more. Chef Tim Ma of the recently opened Kyirisan in DC plated huge XO Bone Marrow with Cilantro & Preserved Lemon over a Scallion Pancake which was perfect to absorb the slight amount of grease from the bone (photos are on FB as always). The winner of the Dim Sim offerings, however, was Chef Scott Drewno's (The Source By Wolfgang Puck) Hot & Sour Pumpkin Soup with Roasted Short Rib, Brisket & Bone Marrow Dumplings. The soup packed a punch and the dumpling was as good as they get. There was a declicious Las Perdices Pinot Grigio 2015 from Mendoza, Argentina, but it was the smooth and dry Gekkeikan "Suzaku" Junmai Ginjo-shu Sake from Kyoto, Japan that had me in heaven as it simply cleansed the aplate so brilliantly after each spicy mouthful.
Credit goes to our server Janelle and her team, not only for making sure glasses were full, but that everyone at our table of some 17 people got every dish. While the entire meal and cocktail hour lasted almost 5-1/2 hours, the pacing was superb and if it were any faster, we would have all burst.

Two chefs and longtime friends, Chef Tarver King (The Restaurant at Patowmack Farm in Lottesville, VA) and Chef Justin Severino (Cure & Morcilla in Pittsburgh, PA), offered up what they described as "seafood inspired charcuterie," where was indeed the most intriguing course of the meal as well as the most novel. With almost every place offered charcuterie plates these days, their innovation went to the next level. Chef Justin described it as "the culinary version of The Shining," which I may not get, but we could not figure out which part was which and had to get a personal detailed explanation, which I attempted to show on my FB photos. The least exciting dish was the Crab Croquelon (deep fried puff) simply because the heavy Salmon Nduja sauce(?) was too overpowering. If chicharones married shrimp toast you would have their Salt Cod Crackers with Saffrin Mustard and Swordfish Finnocchiona. The winner here, by far, was the Scallop Mortadella on Uni Bottarga Cookie that unfortunately begged us all to have seconds (and maybe thirds) to rave reviews. The Sohm & Kracher Gruner Veltliner 2011 from Neiderosterreich in Austria was a huge winner as well with intense green apple flavor that paired marvelously. I tried to find out if winemaker Gerard Kracher is related to the late Alois Kracher whose winery we know so well.

Two DC chefs, Haidar Karoum & Kyle Bailey (Engine) paired for the next course which was thankfully only one plate of spectacular Roasted Pork Belly & Charred Heart with Blake Rice Chao & Pickled Green Tomato. The belly was crisp and meaty and the heart sliced thin and just full of flavor. Beans and scallions topped the dish and the pairing was a Chateau Raspail Gigondas 2012 from the Rhone that was fine WITH the food, but a bit too young for me as I tasted it on its own. SO kudos to Sommelier Brett Stevenson for keeping me from sipping too much between courses, but pairing everything so well!

The Fourth Course (I called it 10th), was shared by Host Chef Victor Albisu, Chef Amy Brandwien of Centrolina and Chefs Gabrielle & Greg Denton of Ox & SuperBite who flew in from Portland Oregon for the event! The couple prepared the monstrous portions of Coal Roasted Ribeye with White Bean & Chanterelle Gratin which would have wowed any steak and potatoes lover on a level not known before. Chef Amy had the most delicate, yet tasty Salsiccia Siciliana (Sicilian sausage) that just made me want to head to Sicily right now rather than waiting for our upcoming visit next July! Chef Victor had lovely Grilled Lamb Sweetbreads that were so tender but here with a Calamari Escabeche and spectacular squid ink sauce.
I am not a beer person, but the paring offered Samuel Adams Oktoberfest which I skipped, but we loved the Le Dix de Los Vascos Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 from Colchaga Valley Chile.

Dessert was in three separate courses in reality:
Chef Amy Brandwein served a variation of a cheese course with Napoleon of Labne, Gaglioppo Poached Pears and Michel Richard's Pistachio Crocante in an homage to the recently deceased uber chef of DC. The dish was superb and paired with a divine slightly sweet Felsina, Vin Santo del Chianti Classico 2004 from Berardegna, Italy. Next came a small chocolate gourmandise with gold leaf that I think was meant to come at the very end and then the best dessert I have had in ages was Chef Amanda Cook-Pilkerton's (Centrolina) Apple Pie Baba with rum whipped cream, candied walnuts and Cranberry which had the most perfect baba cake ever that was so fresh, light and easily so enjoyable even after this marathon meal!
BRAVI to all the chefs and those of us that attended!

Saturday, October 01, 2016

Riviera Maya's Banytan Tree at Mayakoba has a super sell with SAFFRON (9-29-16)

On the last night, I invited some hoteliers to join me at my hotel's signature restaurant Saffron which sits overlooking the river in a very zen setting that only adds to the ambiance.
We had some hor's d'oevres and cocktails at the managers cocktail party which was outside so on arrival we  asked to sit indoors. They looked at us like we were nuts since the temps were in the 80's and the humidity was close to 90%!
Nobody had asked me if I wanted indoors or outdoors when I reserved, but within seconds we were at a prime riverside table inside and our server Abraham was explaining the menu. We could not decide if we should take the set tasting or order a la carte, so within seconds, the Thai chef himself, Renu Homsombat , came out and began to recite the menu; we were convinced.
A simple amuse of Shrimp, Lemongrass, mushroom, cilantro and mint was an amazing blend with nothing overpowering believe it or not.
We ordered two Mexican wines which I adore (and brought home as well the next day since we cannot buy these here). Santo Tomas 2014 Viognier from Ensenda which had a very clean but aromatic flavor on the palate and worked nicely with some of the spicy starters. The red was , of  course, Adobe Guadalupe Gabriel 2012 which has to be the best red wine in the country. Oddly, two of my guests were married in Acapulco a couple of decades ago and the Santo Tomas was their white wine at their reception!
Lemongrass flatbread with kaffir lime flavor and rice crackers arrived which to be dipped in 3 different sauces: Cherry Tomato & Chicken; Coconut, Shrimp and Chicken; and Tomatillo, Serrano and Eggplant which reminded me of a hot pepper jelly spread. We did not want to fill up as we knew much more was to come, but the flavors were bold and bursting with seasoning.
Starters were superbly batter fried  and tender Calamari with two dips of Black Squid Ink and one of chili paste; I loved them all.
Spring rolls came fried and cold with rice paper wrap again with two dips Tamarind & Fish Sauce  for the cold rolls and Chili Sauce for the hot fried rolls.
Satay is often a disappointment if it comes dry but our chicken and beef skewers were moist as could be and here served with Peanut Sauce with Coconut or a cool Cucumber Syrup.
The dipping choices were truly hard to choose....we tried every possible combination. I had one skewer where the meat would simply not slide off and after losing a small piece of beef across the floor, I burst out, "I'm trying to get it off!!!" which got plenty of laughs.
The Seafood Salad of calamari, shrimp, mussels and scallop was like a ceviche salad with a sauce including mango, cilantro, basil and a hint of mint with a very spicy Thai fish sauce that we all loved (except one person who can't eat fish!). It was decorated with gorgeous purple edible Thai Butterfly Flowers.
Photos are always on FB!
The next course was a (thankfully) small bowl of Thom Ka Gai made from chicken and while intense on the lemongrass and ginger, it was also very rich in coconut.
At this time I noticed the soft music and truly elegant feel to the setting which truly relaxed us.
Main courses arrived after a while as we needed a rest and my favorite was the Placam Rod Fish with a fabulous sauce.
Juicy Grilled Shrimp were in a bbq-like sauce of Sesame Shallot and Tamarind, while the Vegetable Dish of Mushrooms, Fried Garlic, Peas, Broccoli, Cauliflower in Oyster Sauce were all Wok-Stir Fried to perfection. Another favorite dish was the Penang Curry of Beef with Coconut Milk, Basil and Peanut giving this Malaysian dish a very Thai turn that wowed us.
Abraham returned with a huge platter and four gigantic bowls of rice which required two people to serve. we could choose from Saffron rice, jasmine rice, brown rice and Pandam which is a Thai Coconut rice with a hint of Peppermint.
We had no clue that dessert was included but it arrived after some while in the form of superb Creme Brulee, Bananas in Fried Crispy Dough and Fresh Fruit, sadly most of which went untouched.
The service here was impeccable and indeed the only complaint I had was that the larger spoons that are in the sauce dishes have a tendency to fall out when you pass the plates with them; smaller dainty demi-tasse like spoons would be super.
I love Mexican food, but this Thai meal using local ingredients was a true treat and change that was most welcome.
Indeed, I shall miss the many friends in my business that I got to see this week as well as the Banyan Tree and my gorgeous Spa Villa (check out the video on FB).


be sure to catch CATCH in Playa del Carmen, MX (9-29-16)

Catch is a branch of the famous New York restaurant and now there are three or four around the world but here it is a twist on local Mexican cuisine. I started with a Seedless Suzy which is Absolut Elyx vodka with lime basil and watermelon.. so refreshing in the heat especially since we were eating outside with a gorgeous view of the twinkling ,lights of town and indeed all the way across the gulf to Cozumel. What was nice about this place is that by the time we sat down the sun had set and a very very strong breeze was keeping us nice and cool. Our amazing waitress Sandra who had virtually no accent and explained that she was from San Luis Potosi, which I could not ,insisted that we try all her favorite dishes so we did. First to arrive were the MRC roll which stands for Manhattan Refrigeration Center which is where Catch is located in New York; this role came with shrimp tuna and a ponzu brown butter crunch which blew us away. Of course gorgeous pictures can be seen on Facebook. Paired with this was another starter of Sashimi tuna, Hamachi, ponzu, American caviar and truffle soy sauce. Eat Your Heart Out Japanese sashimi.
We moved on to a wonderful local white wine called Rancho Mogorcito which was from the Guadalupe Valley and was a blend of sauvignon blanc and Chardonnay 2015 and was superb with all of the dishes we had this evening. Next came Wagyu short rib tacos in the most gorgeously crispy corn tortillas which stayed crispy for quite a while. They were served with guacamole mango and Serrano and a huitlacoche aioli. By the way the water was Mexican sparkling called Hethe which is superb.
Paired with this was a sea bass lettuce wrap with bourbon miso sauce shitake mushrooms and that wonderful crispy kataifi, which we had so.often in Israel, which was on top to give extra crunch.
Next served was a very rich mushroom spaghetti with truffle cream sugar snap peas a bit of tomato and Parmesan which we could not finish as we were nearing our limits.
Our final course was a beautiful vegetable dish of grilled cauliflower with capers which was paired with a tropical red snapper topped with roasted turnips Chaya squash yuca wasabi cream and more as well as the kataifi  on top. 
Unfortunately Sandra insisted that we have the parmesan truffle fries which were very very truffly and I ate about 4 or 5 and we left the rest because we were just so stuffed and had to head home very full after an amazingly fabulous dinner with wonderful company a great View and a super server.

Rosewood Mayakoba's Casa del Lago on the Riviera Maya in Mexico is a marvel (9-26-16)

My first night here on the Riviera Maya about 30 minutes south of the Cancun Airport have me moving out of my Resort at the Banyan tree for dinner in the nearby Rosewood mayakoba at their top Restaurant Casa Del Lago where we ate some 7 or so years ago when we visited this complex right after it first opened.
We had a delicious meal then and the restaurant is still a superior dining destination in the area.
The setting is quiet and serene and we headed right indoors for the a/c as the heat and humidity here have been oppressive; a spicy margarita arrived fast and cooled me off.
The gentlemen has Taittinger Champagne!
A delicious mushroom dip appeared with oil and vinegar for dipping our bread but this was nothing compared to the amazing grilled octopus salad which had huge pieces of tender octopus deliciously spiced with Mexican spice levels and potatoes from Lima in the Yucatan as well as cherry tomatoes and arugula. Be sure to check my Facebook page for photos. One of my guests decided to go light with a salad but the other chose the excellent Fish Tiradito
 I was thrilled to be able to order one of my favorite Mexican wines Adobe Guadalupe 2013 Gabriel which is truly one of the finest wines in Mexico and since the peso seems to be dropping every day it was now down to some 60 something dollars a bottle which is amazing for this wine that has essences of chocolate and coffee and intense blending of red varietals.

For our main courses we had the rack of lamb with cashews and spinach which was a deliciously gorgeous dish to look at, as was the Pasta Bolgnese , but my Risotto of funghi and huitlacoche with epazote and Cactus was absolutely amazing; rich and creamy and it had a little bit of crunch on top from some bread crumbs.
It had been a long day traveling from Washington and then having the Opening Ceremonies for my convention here for the international luxury travel mart and we did not even start dinner till close to 9 o'clock so our dessert with skipped they brought us some beautiful cookies and we headed home.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Hail to Helen's in Rockville, MD(9-21-16)

For over two decades we have used the same amazing caterer in our home and every event that Helen Wasserman has done was and always is perfect.
Many years ago she had a restaurant here in DC, but recently decided to go that route again in Rockville across from the ruins of White Flint Mall at 11120 Rockville Pike(
We were not sure where this was and were surprised to find an adorable house with a huge outdoor seating section that is a covered patio hiding just off the Pike.
The interior is bright and cherry a clean crisp feel of light grays with white tables and some gorgeous artwork, including a painting of the boss herself.
She has surrounded herself with some of her longtime staff, such as Kevin, her manager and some new folks as well, such as Oscar, our server, who was always there for every request and need
and never lost his charming smile. As soon as we sat down he brought out a delicious bowl of Cauliflower Hummus with crisp toasted Pita points. We ordered a bottle of Murphy-Goode Sauvignon Blanc from California which I had not had in years and we gobbled up the warm pita and begged for more.  Speaking of wine I have to say that it seems to me the wine is barely marked up, maybe $10/bottle, making some of these wines great deals.
Samuel ordered the Guacamole which was fresh and had little crunchy onions in it as well as the tasty herbed pita, but he only let me have a teeny taste. I adored my Salmon Spring Rolls with thin crispy (and not greasy) rolls stuffed with salmon, veggies and a superb Apricot dipping sauce. Will went for the Lobster Dumpling, also a good choice, but heavier for sure, with tasty lobster mixed with some ground chicken, spinach and jicama with a white wine, ginger and saffron sauce.
Over the many years we have used Helen the only (and it's positive not really a complaint) complaint we have had is that sometimes there is way too much left over and we have to freeze it (and often forget about it). We just pulled some of the mini-burgers from the freezer last week which had been rescued after Samuel's huge Bar Mitzvah party in June! The main courses show her generosity again, so it is wise to choose between a starter or dessert and maybe even share those.
Samuel had the huge Sirloin Burger with fries and spicy sauce, our friends chose the Delmonico Steak with chevre toast points, merlot sauce and caramelized sweet onions, corn souffle and mango cole slaw as well as the Grilled Chicken Scallopine which was a huge bowl of chicken with haricots verts and shallots and an entire second bowl of linguini with local tomato sauce; way too much for one person.
Will had the Crab Linguine with tomato, tarragon and parmesan which again was quite large and my Shrimp & Grits could have fed two with Helen's homemade BBQ sauce and a huge plate of tasty cheese infused grits with what had to me than 1/2 a dozen large shrimp! The dish was complemented with grilled onion, asparagus and a ton of tasty heirloom tomatoes.
We asked Kevin about the red wine and he suggested the Cigar Box Pinot Noir 2915 Old Vine which the menu lists as from Argentina, but is from Central Valley of Chile and while Pinot and smooth has a smokey aftertaste that we all loved.
The one dessert our friends split was the warm apple crisp with vanilla ice cream that disappeared fast.
Next time I want to try the Chocolate Beignets with Decadent Chocolate Sauce if I can make room.
What is great about Helen's is that ist is a quiet place for couples or even for families as we had a 2-year old in tow and nobody seemed to mind as he only yelped out once when I took a photo of him!
The appetizers run from $10 to a maximum of $13 and the mains start at $21 (burger is $16) for my awesome shrimp and don't top $27!
Its not too far from Dc and took us under 30 minutes in rush hour from our home! Well worth the mini-trek!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

another doozy of a dinner from Chef Donna at AL DENTE (9-16-16)

It has been too long since we visited Al Dente just around the corner and last night we returned for a tasting menu which we had purchased at a charity event, making it a double treat.
Getting ready for our next summer trip to Italy and Sicily, we ordered a Grillo 2013 "Aquilae" from Viticulroti Associati Canicatti which had us thinking about where we will go for wine tastings; so many choices.
Our red was a superb Cannonau di Sardegna(Sardinia) Fiori DOC Pala 2014 which our server Nick recommended and he hit is just right by explaining the wine has the mouth of a Pinot Noir, but with a spicy finish; we loved it.
Our amuse was a Prosciutto wrapped Roasted Date with gooey Gorgonzola Cheese running all over--YUM! The Grillo was ideal with the richness of this small bite(s).
It's mid-September and Soft Shell Crabs are heading our of season so we may have had our last one yesterday which was superbly tempura fried with an awesome Celery Root Slaw, Fried Lemon and remoulade for dipping. I will miss these little guys until next May! Photos are always on FB!!
A perfectly Grilled & Seared Sea Scallop was topped with frisee & mache and served on a slash of Salsa Verde that had us finishing off our white and moving on to the red.
Our first pasta was Rigatoni with Pancetta in a Cream Sauce topped with Fried Leeks which was rich but superb and who doesn't love those leeks!
The second pasta was so simple yet so complex it was brilliant: Ravioli stuffed with Burrata in a Red Pepper Puree with Paprika and Pesto.
Third was Gnocchi with a spicy Sausage Ragu and by now it was impossible to have a favorite as all three of these pastas were truly some of the best you can find anywhere.
We begged to move on to our main course as we were getting full and it was a perfectly sized Braised LAmb Rib with Eggplant Puree again in a superbly spiced Red Wine sauce with more of the delectable fried leeks.
It was nice to have Chef Roberto braving the spices, here they seemed almost Middle-Eastern or North African, and really creating dishes with a whole different flavor than the Italian we are so used to.
The best dessert here is unquestionably the Fig Tart with Vanilla Gelato and an entire tart arrived which we took pieces of and packed the rest away for another day at home so we could remember this superb meal and quiet evening out in the 'hood.
Well, that was until we got home to Samuel and his 4 friends who were sleeping over!
Back to the diet after tonight's wedding.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

BRINE brings out the best in Virginia's Mosaic Disctict(Fairfax)(9-3-16)

At last year's March of Dimes (save the date this year, it's November 2) Signature Chefs event we purchased a dinner for 4 at Virginia's Brine ( where the folks from Rapahannock Oysters haved teamed up with Chef John Critchley (previously of Urbana and Bourbon Steak) to create a casual, yet exciting venue offering something novel and delicious.
The large open dining are faces a bar and open kitchen as was not too noisy (it was quiet for a holiday weekend) and the wooden accents keep the feel warm, but the wooden chairs are deadly after an hour or so and the steel twined legs can tear your pants or dress should it get entangled as the double-helix metal legs can be sharp in places. That indeed is the only bad thing I can say about Brine.
The staff is friendly and warm and we got a great greeting from manager Cara, who helped Chef John throughout the night along with other servers including Paul, as we had settled in for a multi-course tasting menu with paired drinks.
Barboursville Brut started us off and I can't think of a better choice when in Virginia on a beautiful evening; the sunset was so gorgeous we had to run out to take photos (see FB).
Our first course was a simple salad of Golden & Candy Cane Beets with Marinated Honeysuckle Cheddar Cheese and a dressing of beet juice, agave and lemon that was less of a vinaigrette and more of a sauce that I just could not resist. The cheese was rich and intense and creamy and dish was a true fresh taste of local ingenuity. The theme of brining had already started with the marinated cheese; what a great idea!
Every meal at Brine should feature oysters and we haven't had any since August isn't an "R" month, but it's now September! Riptide from Cape Cod, Whalebacks from Maine and Rapahannocks from Virginia were served and I can't imagine 3 totally different types of mollusk offering such different flavors as well. While these come with cocktail sauce and amazingly inhouse made Barrel Aged Bourbon hot sauce(use that on the bread), a small dash of the mignonette is the way to experience the oysters' flavors.
In-house baked Parker House rolls arrived hot from the oven with sea salt on top and we tried to refrain, but it was hard. Soon the Sashim-grade tuna arrived with a habanero-Red Pepper Sauce with Thai Basil, Mustard Seed and Najiki that was sweet and smoky and not too spicy in the least. Paired with an amazing High West Rendezvous Bourbon Cocktail with Lemon, Sugar, Allspice Dram and Egg White Foam it was brilliant.
Golden Tilefish is so rare in these parts and a welcome change here with Carolina Gold Rice in a Moroccan broth with Olives, Garlic Scape and Chermoula.
Broken Dreams Chardonnay 2013 from Napa is new to me and has a yummy hint of vanilla but little oak overtone that can be so Napa.
I think my favorite dish all night was the amazing Organic Kelp Pasta literally made from Plankton and served with Chili Threads, Middleneck Clams, Guanciale, and Preserved Lemon in a rich sauce that blew me away. Our friend Kevin called it "brain food" which was perfect.
The sea Scallop that arrived next was huge and came on a bed of salsify(check that out on FB) puree with chanterelles, caviar and marinated Finger Mushrooms. It was a sublime dish and as we were filling up, the one huge scallop was indeed enough.
I loved the STRUB 2013 Riesling that Cara brought next as it was to be paired with the briniest (save for the oysters) dish all night, BBQ Autumn Olive Farm Berkshire Pork which had been brined 30 days and smoked and served over Beemster Cheese Spoonbread (gluten free!) with Braised red Dandelion, Sherry & Bacon which had a vinegar essence but was clearly the essence of brining and Brine. Will does not like semi-dry Riesling (even though it was a brilliant pairing), so Cara preferred some Linden Rose 2014 which everyone loves.
Dessert was a perfectly light single and oh so adorable Profiterole with Sea Salt, Caramel gelato and Butterscotch Sauce served with a double espresso to send us home. Calvados was also offered, but I refrained so as not to mix too much!
It was a totally fun experience, a great meal and a super place to go as it was indeed only about 25 minutes from our house on a no traffic night with free parking in a huge garage next door. What could be better?
Many thanks to the entire team for making us feel so welcome at Brine, where I know we shall return to be pickled once again!