Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Grace Bay Club awes at ANACAONA Restaurant (Turks& Caicos-8-18-14)

Back on Grace Bay where the main hotels are located we settled into our gorgeous oceanview one bedroom villa suite with butler for the remainder of our stay!
It's the best here, with gorgeous beaches at our feet and the service beyond the best. We had dinner in the hotel's top restaurant with some of the staff and it was one of the best meals we had on the entire trip.
It started with fun drinks at the Infiniti Bar overlooking the ocean and lots of fun noshes including a tasty Conch Quiche and simple yummy mayo/curry dip with fried plaintains....
As we sat down virtually on the edge of the sand at the bay's edge we enjoyed Pinghin Pinot Grigio and Napa 2012 The Prisoner by the glass which were excellent house wines. Our sever Florence was overjoyed to do anything and never stopped smiling; this is why we love this island so much!
Herbed Butter and Portuguese Salted butter arrived with a Pesto Parmesan Baguette and Sundried Tomato Rolls; they were all superb.
Will started with a divine Chilled Avocado Soup with Bay Scallops, Peppers and Sour Cream and I adored my Mahi-Mahi Carpaccio with Cahacha Lime Dressing and some Jalapeno to boot for spice.
Samuel went directly to the Hangar Steak which was gone in minutes and I settled in with a monstrous piece of South Caicos Red Snapper Filet with Roasted Millet, Oven Tomato Garlic Chutney Relish and some tasty carrots and asparagus. The fish was firm and cooked perfectly and the skin crunchy on every bite.
Will decided on the Malaysian Seafood Pot with Hard Boiled Egg, Rock Scallops, Wild Prawns, MahiMahi, Egg Noodles and Thai Chili which he said was excellent.
Desserts were just as fine making this the best across the board meal we had  from KeyLime Pie with Raspberry Sorbet, Mix Berries & Vanilla Tulle for Will, the Chocolate Gourmandise for Sam which was a cake with shaved banana and chocolate salted vanilla ice cream. My Yuzu Ice Cream with Chiquita Caramel Banana and Peanut Butter Foam & Powder was a chemical dream creation that had so many flavors and feels I just couldn't stop, despite its huge size.
A glass of Zapaca 20+aged Guatemalan rum was the perfect finisher with gourmandizes of chocolate brownies an cheesecakes arriving in case we wanted more.

Sadly, this fall Anacaona will be renamed, rebranded and rebuilt as a totally new concept, but I have no fear that whatever it is, the folks at Grace Bay Club will have a winner of a dining spot-tops on the island!

Monday, August 18, 2014

superb return to The Restaurant at Amanyara in the terrific Turks & Caicos (8-17-14)

Our last night here was bittersweet as we have truly fallen in love with Amanyara, its staff and the magnificent secluded setting.
We returned to The Restaurant for dinner as it was the only choice, however we were still quite full from our beachfront feast at Da Conch Shack.
We sat down at 730pm and our server Putu (from Indonesia) was a true gem satisfying our every need and helping us to decide what to eat so we did not overindulge. 
A simple amuse of tuna "nicoise" had a small chunk of tartare, mayo, green bean and soy which we all enjoyed, even Samuel.
Sam wanted to try the Avocado Green Mango Maki   which was the perfect light starter as it had six pieces so we could easily share. Sam noted how nice the chopsticks were and Putu even offered to send him home with a set! He went on to have the same dish Will ordered the first night, the Roti Green Beef Curry, which was far superior to the one Will had just two days earlier. Samuel asked for the dish to have medium heat, and it did; there was also more meat and veggies and the overall dish was just better.
Will had the Pan Fried Black Grouper with Black Rice, Asian veggies and a yummy dashi-ponzi broth. The local fish was superb and the presentation and flavors were excellent.  My dish was easily the hit of the night -Kaeng Luang was a Yellow Curry (which I asked for medium to strong and it came just that way) loaded with guess what, tons of that local South Caicos Lobster, Hearts of Palm, Chayote, Lotus Root and more crunchy Asian veggies. A dish of Jasmine rice did come this time for both the curry dishes and I was thrilled so I could mop up most of the superb sauce which easily made The Thai chef in residence shine last night!
A bottle of Coeur de Clementine, Cotes de Provence 2013 Rose was light and perfect for the dishes and made our evening perfect.
We couldn't even think of dessert, but stopped at The Bar for our final visit with Aldwyn, the bartender so Sam could have his final iced tea with guava juice, Will could have another Basil Dazil and I could enjoy Aldwyn's perfect Margarita.
Today we are back off to the Eastern side of Provo and civilization!


Sunday, August 17, 2014

don't you dare miss DA CONCH SHACK if you go to the Turks & Caicos, it's da best! (8-17-14)

Hot off the presses we left our cocoon of a resort and drove about 15 minutes to the north shore and the area of Blue Hills where DA CONCH SHACK rules.
Upon arrival we were greeted by warm smiles and a "have a seat where you like" at the tables set up in an open area on the beach between two small shacks (really houses), one is the kitchen, the other the Rum Bar where 14 different types of aged and prime rums are offered--don't miss the awesome Guatemalan Zacapa; it's he smoothest ever.
We met the manager Karel Rodney, who hails from Jamaica, but makes this home and has brought some of his island spice over as well. There's Jerk Chicken and Sam had the Jerk Chicken Tacos which he said burst with flavor.
Will & I started with the Infamous Rum Punch and I new I had to have another, but beware-they are potent and oh so pretty with layered colors of yellow, black and orange. They also have something called a Conch Knocker Shot which has to be on the list for our next visit!
Will had the Conch Salad to start which is a simple ceviche that always packs a punch and here it was declared the best. I had the Cracked Conch which is lightly battered ands and  fried and served with a Russian dressing of sorts which is even better if you add the Peppajay Hot Sauce made locally with scotch bonnet pepper and guava.
I learned from the menu as well that the conch is over 600 million years old and one of the highest viable proteins found in nature (37grams in the salad alone).
Other tidbits learned from the menu include the fact that natives think the pistol gives them virility, and they are also high in Omega-3.

For his main course, Will had the CONCH Combo with more cracked Conch, the best conch fritters we had all week and two sides (all entrees come with 2 sides, so this is a big meal!). We both chose the rice and peas and the Johnny Fries, which are French fries seasoned awesomely with local salt and smothered with a black bean and local pepper gravy. This was the icing on the cake for us, although Samuel insisted on having his without the gravy :-((
My main was the Cracked Lobster which they said, like the, conch, is fished locally (you will recall this is the third day of Lobster season, and thusly my fourth meal including these succulent treats). The two tails were just lightly battered and fried to perfection; the best lobster so far.
The secret to this little hideaway is the great food, the superb beachfront atmosphere, the excellent friendly service and the fact that it's a nice change from the many fine dining spots we tend to hit. Da Conch Shack is only 15 minutes from our secluded resort or about the same or perhaps 20 minutes from the main Grace Bay resorts. On Wednesday evenings there is live music if you want to party as well.
After we were satiated beyond belief, we looked at the vendors on the beach and purchased some gorgeous conch shells as well as t-shirts and hot if you are lucky you will hear me play the shell on your next visit to our home, and maybe I'll even use the hot sauce so you can have a taste of the Turks & Caicos, which is something we will always cherish.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

AMANYARA is awesome and The Restaurant is a revelation (Providenciales, Turks & Caicos)(8-15-14)

We arrived yesterday at the far reaches of the west coast of Provo down a several mile dirt road which is about 20-30 minutes from the airport (we got stuck behind a construction truck). Here lies AMANYARA, the luxury resort from the Asian team that has brought us so many exquisite Aman Resorts around the world; a small nest of some 40 villas and pavilions on the beach and small ponds nearby where you seem to never see another guest. Okay--it's a small world as just after we arrived and headed to the Bar for what is called "tea" we met a couple who knew my brother-in-law's sister-in-law (yes, always one degree of separation!).

Later on we headed to The Restaurant, which is the only dining spot here (except the Beach Restaurant which is open only one or two nights a week--we will dine there tonight most likely). Indeed, if you choose to head off property, save for Da Conch Shack (where we'll try lunch tomorrow) on a beach 20 minutes away on the other side of the island, your only options are indeed all over 30 minutes away...down that long, curvy and steep dirt road (not worth risking if you have a couple of beers or some wine!).

Much of the staff here hails from the Philippines and our server Emma was a gem, as are all the locals as well, who are some of the nicest folks I have ever met in the entire Caribbean! The Executive Chef hails from Switzerland, but he is off on vacation (sound familiar), so executive sous chef Patricio from Spain is in charge. We met him and he explained many of the dishes helping us to decide. We ordered a bottle of Matanzas Creek 2010 Sauvignon Blanc from Sonoma which has always been a favorite over the years. I have to say, it took a while for the sticker shock to fade, as the wine prices here are more than double the other side of the island (the $70 bottle we had on Monday was $140 here, which means it costs about $20-25 on the shelf at home!); the average starter was $20-25 and average main course was $40-55....enough said.

An amuse of small shrimp cocktail with mayo sauce and tomato was nice and refreshing, but I was not wowed.

Sam started with the Chicken Dumpling Soup loaded with mushrooms (which he left), bok choy, bamboo shoots and fried dumplings, as opposed to the softer wonton type. As I progress you will notice the Asian leaning of many of the dishes due to the origins of Aman and they even have a Vietnamese chef to oversee these dishes in the kitchen.

My starter was the most "chemical" I have seen here on the island and was deconstructed Cured Wild Caught Alaskan Salmon with Stone Fruits and an Idiazabal (Spanish cheese) cream. There was also a brittle, which I never did find out what it was, but it was yummy. The fish had a soft texture and almost melted as it had been cured sous-vide; an odd choice of cooking/smoking I have to say.

Will went Asian with the Tom Yung Goong-a sour shrimp soup which he said was lame as it had only four medium size shrimp. I have to agree that the portions needs to be a bit bigger when they are charging $25.

We moved on to a superb Nickel and Nickel 2012 Napa Chardonnay made with Truchard grapes and we have always adored the Truchard family and their wines. At $190 it was not a steal, but one of the least expensive chardonnays on the menu! Imagine that!

Will stayed Asian for his main with the Roti Jim Geng Kiaw Warn Neva-a yummy beef curry with roti, but he asked for it medium to spicy and it arrived he sent it back for a complete replacement, which was far superior. He felt the only thing the dish lacked was a bowl of rice, which would have made it go much further and be great for the sauce as well.

Samuel chose the Baby Chicken with Bok Choy and Sesame and enjoyed that fairly well, but the hit of the night was my Butter Poached South Caicos Lobster with roasted veggies and potatoes. You should understand that each year the lobster season starts here each year on a set date, and that was yesterday. WHAT LUCK! This was indeed the best Caribbean lobster ever, and divine with the wine.

There was a live musician sitting across the elegant pools that dissect the area where you dine and he was very good on his electric-like sax. There was a beautiful breeze and we indeed felt o so comfortable, which has not been the norm on most nights. My silk shirt did not melt!

The one thing that sorely needs fixing is the lighting on the path to the elegant rest room where it seems they clean up after each person leaves (are they watching us on closed circuit tv?) because there is never a dirty cloth in the bin or even a stray dirty Kleenex in the trash!

After dinner we headed to The Bar, where we are already friends with the bartender, Aldwin, who makes Sam the most awesome iced tea with guava juice as sweetener. I had a yummy cosmo-ish martini and Will had vodka-based drink loaded with basil juice and lemon which he adored, and so he should have for $20 a pop! Well, you only live once, and boy are loving living here like this.

Turks and Caicos-Provo Fish Fry is loads of fun (8-14-14)

We moved our dining plans around so we could attend the weekly FISH FRY held at a small beachfront park called Bight Children's Park on Grace Bay every Thursday starting at 530pm.
We arrived just after 6pm and the street sidewalks were already starting to fill up with cars as there is no place else to park since the parking lot is full of vendors.
The quasi-reggae band was playing and people were dancing. The crowd was made up of tourists and locals alike of all ages and really had a friendly homespun feeling.
The lot was filled with craft vendors and over a dozen food vendors as well, making it difficult to choose where and what to eat.  We first spotted Coco Vibes TCI (which stands for Turks & Caicos) where for $5 you got a fresh coconut with a straw. For an extra $5 you got to sip off half the milk and then get topped off with local
Coconut-flavored rum! Impossible to resist and oh so yummy. They sell mixed drinks everywhere, some wine and of course, lots of beer.
Our first food dish had to be the CONCH Ceviche Salad which was full of hot chilis making the dish have a great punch. It disappeared fast and Sam decided he wanted to try the Beef Curry Spring Rolls which were three huge rolls deep fried and filled with a ground beef curry and had a yummy dipping sauce as well.
Next we had to try CONCH FRITTERS and ordered a small size which had about a dozen larger than golf ball sized fritters, which were tasty with their dipping sauce, but heavier on the dough than the conch. Next time, we shall look closely at the product before buying. The same vendor did offer the best CRACKED CONCH we have ever had (okay, this was our first time). It was huge pieces of the meat sliced up and grilled then stewed in foil along with tons of tasty veggies like peas, corn, okra, carrots, cauliflower and more. The meat was grilled perfectly, but then softened by the stewing and the whole dish needed not a bit of any extra sauce, which there were plenty of local hot sauces all around.
Some folks we met offered us tastes of their excellent fried plantains and we offered them from our huge lot of fritters, but no takers! As I said, it's a very friendly atmosphere. We were stuffed by this time and the sun had set so we took a look at the craft vendors and decided to head out as we were hot and tired from a long day (the temperature here hovers just above 90 every day and it is quite humid, thought the breezes are strong). On the way out, Will had to line up for the ice cream vendor, which had the second longest line in the whole place (the longest line was at one food vendor, that must have been awesome as people were waiting over 45 minutes for the food from them). He desperately wanted the custard with the Cadbury chocolate flake (its a candy bar) and felt it was worth the wait. Surprise, they had no flakes, despite the signs on the truck, just a cone with custard and some crumbled up chocolate flakes that was really lame.
I skipped it and we headed home....having had a great time as we saw the yellow costumes Junkandoo band arrive and parade through the crowd for their performance.... 

COYABA in Provo, Turks & Caicos proves itself proud, save for the pasta (8-13-14)

Our third night in Provo (that's short for the island of Providenciales) took us to COYABA at the Caribbean Paradise Inn on Grace Bay, just about 7 minutes from our hotel. Indeed everything on Grace Bay, the main 7 miles of amazingly gorgeous white soft sand beach, is less than 10 minutes from anywhere else on the bay.
In charge here is Chef Paul Newman (yes, that's his name), but we never did catch sign of the star. Coyaba is Arawak for "heavenly" and the place is quite nice, but definitely not heavenly. It's part indoors, part terrace with lots of fans and simple décor and palm leaf overhead fans. As we sat a small jar of veggies and pita crisps arrived with a coconut mayo dip sitting in the bottom of the jar, so you got just a taste of the dip with each piece; no winners here.
A nice amuse of gazpacho arrived; refreshing, but no prizes.
We explained to Jeremy that we like to take time dining and that worked well. We ordered a bottle of La Spinetta Toscana Vermentino 2011 and another server brought us a bottle of chilled red wine, which we refused as incorrect. When we got the right wine, it was loaded with citrus flavors and superb with the first starter that Will & I split, BAY SCALLOPS Ceviche served on real scallop shells with Seaweed Salad, Sirachi Marie Rose, Tobiko and Crisp Ginger. Slightly spicy, it was a refreshing, light dish loaded with flavors; it was one of the many hits of the night. We next split the CONCH BOLOGNESE which was penne with chili flakes, conch and parmeggiano reggiano; it was flavorful, but needed a massive infusion of conch as the pieces were so small and so few.

Samuel gobbled up his Halpern's 12 ounce center cut Prime NY Striploin Steak but did not like the delicious tomato provencale. The grilled asparagus on the side were a big hit however as were the tobacco onions (thin onion slices lightly battered, seasoned and fried) atop the steak. Samuel also praised the mild pick-a-peppa sauce on the side as well as the White Truffle Fries.

We opted for a lighter red wine in the Castello Banfi 2012 Rossi di Montalcino (on the menu it said 2010, but they had run out) as our fish dishes were both pretty flavorful:
Tandoori Oven Roasted Fillet of Scottish Salmon with Jasmine Rice, Pappadam and a West Indian style Coconut Curry made with roasted corn and papaya relish was a super dish, although Will ordered it rare to medium rare and it came dry and well done. He sent it back, and of course, the fish returned extremely rare, but delicious nonetheless. I chose the  fish special which was Hibiscus Lemon Crusted local Snapper with Mung Bean Risotto and Lemon Butter. It arrived with a little dough ball of lemon to squeeze n the fish that was ever so clever and cute and some fried linguine atop for a crunch which was novel. The fish was sublime and the sauce excellent, but the mung bean risotto was really just a bean side and should not be glorified as risotto.

After a refreshing cup of lime granite we decided to order dessert and Jeremy offered us a complimentary drink for the salmon booboo and for spilling about two drops of the red wine when he first poured it. This was service, and a nice change from the useless face we got the night before at Parallel 23 when we said the dessert was awful! Will and I chose to order a Dessert Martini from their huge dessert drink list and went for a tasty one with Vanilla Stoli, Limoncello, Grand Marnier & Lemon juice. YUM! First a pre-dessert of coconut chocolate arrived and then we dug in:
Samuel chose the Chocolate Fondant which was gone as quickly as it arrived; he declared it superior to the previous night by far. Will liked his Caribbean Key Lime Pie with Mango & Raspberry Coulis and my dessert was the winner-Banana Caramel Xango which was a Banana Caramel Cheesecake wrapped in a sweet tortilla then deep fried and rolled in cinnamon sugar. DECADENT is the only way to describe it.

We had found another winner save for the pasta!

Night #2 in the Turks & Caicos-Parallel 23 at the Regent Palms doesn't pass muster (8-12-14)

We decided to head about a mile down the beach to the Regent Palms hotel where Chef Lauren Callighan oversees PARALLEL 23, however as it is summer low season here, she is back home in Newfoundland for the summer!
On arrival we hit it off with the hostess Carol, but she seemed to disappear later when we started to have some issues. The dining room is indoors and outdoors and in the elegant indoor section there is a huge open kitchen which makes the room feel as if it is over 100 degrees in the 88 degree evening heat and humidity.
We sat just outside and ultimately had to ask for a big fan to be brought around as we were sweating to death by the first course!
The table was set with crisp white linens and large green glass square plates with iron-like lattice trivets laid on them. The refreshing amuse of Scallop Ceviche with tomato and parsley was presented on these, but then they were whisked away. The bread was focaccia and baguettes with salt, pepper and butter in a three-way tray.
We had three different servers which was confusing at time, but Delcean, Shevon and Jeffrey did a decent job except for the several times we had to wave them down to pour more wine.
We started with the CAICOS CONCH Platter of Conch Nems which was an eggroll of conch, lemongrass, ginger and fried green onion in a rice paper wrap with citrus ponzu, a delicious ceviche with grapefruit, lychee, a dash of mayo, jalapeno and lotus root chip and finally a Malaysian curried pumpkin soup with toasted coconut and a fried Conch Fritter sitting in it. The soup was tasty but not as good as the conch chowder the night before.
Our wine was a Feudo Arancio Grillo from Stemmari 2012 "Terre Siciliane" which was nice, but after we tasted the intense flavors of the foods, we could have ordered a red.
Samuel went simple with a kids menu Penne...Boring.
My main was a superb Seared rare Ahi Tuna with fresh herbed crust, and olive oil mashed potatoes with citrus-rosemary vinaigrette. Will loved his Olive crusted Mahi-Mahi which was herb marinated with black olives, capers and a sundried tomato crust and not exciting roasted new potatoes with a Puttanesca sauce.
These fishes were local and excellent and much lighter on the sauces than the night before which was welcome as well.
We chose three desserts and Will raved about his Sticky Toffee Pudding wcich was made with warm date pudding and filled with toffee sauce and a house made salted caramel ice cream. Sam did well with the Chocolate Mousse made with flourless chocolate bisquit and a candied citrus compote and rosemary infused chocolate sauce.
I detested my cloyingly sweet Lemon Merringue (that's how it was spelled on the menu--I felt like I was in a Chinese restaurant!) Pie. The creamy lemon curd was way oversweetened and the lemon tartness was gone. The fresh raspberry sauce and fresh raspberries with lemon sorbet were all I could eat. I mentioned this to the servers and they seemed to not care at all. So we paid the bill and left, happy with most of the meal, dripping wet from the intense heat, but not happy about my end to the meal at all.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

take me to the TURKS & CAICOS and bring me to the BEACH HOUSE Restaurant (8-11-14)

We arrived here yesterday for an extended stay and will have the opportunity to offer you many (what we hope to be) wonderful and informative dining reviews.

Our first hotel to stay at is The BEACH HOUSE, so we decided to stay "at home" on our first night and dine in the open courtyard ( located on the island of Providenciales (or Provo) where we will be for 10 days.

The setting was relaxing and despite numerous large groups dining around us, the noise never was imposing. When you arrive here you know you are not in the Caribbean that you might be more familiar with. It's not elitist and pricey and hilly like St. Barths, nor crowded and obnoxious like so many other islands. It is laid back, flat, sunny and refreshing, with warm friendly natives who always smile and are happy to serve you right away. This is not the island of manana or "don't worry, be happy).

At any rate our server Jacques explained that his family had moved here from Haiti several generations ago, hence his French name and he had an infectious smile that never stopped. He brought out some crostini with olive tapenade and cherry tomato halves and then we decided on a bottle of French wine (because he was Haitian!) and adored the creamy full bodied Saint Veran 2011 Chateau Fuisse that was big enough to handle some of the spice in our starters.

Crunchy bread and French bread arrived with balsamic and olive oil to dip in.

I did note that as the sun set, the lighting got so bad I could barely read the menu. Many folks seemed to use their smart phones to read the menu!

Ultimately, the lights turned up and we could see what we were eating and ordering!

A refreshing amuse of tomato gazpacho arrived and we were off, although Samuel did not like that at all.

Instead he started with the Roasted PUMPKIN SOUP with Garlic Parmesan Crouton, Truffle Essence, Pesto Oil, a dash of sour cream and chili paste and gobbled it up so fast; we were just getting started on ours.

Will & I split two appetizers, a MIXTO CEBICHE with Grouper, Scallops, Shrimp, Conch, Coconut Milk, Cilantro & Lime. Will complained that there was more "other stuff" than fish and indeed there were large white beans, sweet potato and crunchy puffed rice, which I liked. It had a punch from the chilis and was very refreshing, but wins no awards. The award winner was the X-Rated CONCH mad up of four items:

Conch Salad which was the least exciting

Conch Fritters on a remoulade with greens which were awesome

Curried Conch on Stir Fried Rice which came in a small basket like steamer making it hard to get the rice from the bottom where it was stuck in the weave of the basket (it must have been made from palm leaves or such). The curry was not strong and very different from those we know at home from Asia.

The winner for me was the Conch Chowder, although the entire dish was excellent.

We moved on to a bottle of Chablis "Les Venerables" 2010 La Chablisienne which was perfect with both main courses we split as they were both very rich.

Samuel chose the Sliders from the kids menu which were two mini-burgers with melted cheese (Will swore it was Velveeta) and some steak fries. He did not care for the dish so only the fries and one half of a slider were consumed. The meat indeed was a bit past medium, way overcooked for our tastes.

Will and I chose the hand-picked Blue CRAB & Local SNAPPER RAVIOLI which were served in an oh so rich Yuzu-Fever Grass Reduction and according to the menu, crispy root vegetables. The vegetables were actually fried carrots on top that were like fried onions and tasted wonderful and gave the dish a nice crunchy topping. In the sauce was cauliflower and greens, but these were not crispy as they were in the rich cream sauce. The dish was very filling, but some of the ravioli could have used a bit more filling.

The Pan Fried local GROUPER was amazing in a fennel foam with capers  and also a rich cream sauce with a vegetable gratin that was like a vegetable latke but seemed to have no cheese (gratin?) and lacked seasoning. We mentioned this to Jacques and he was grateful and said it would be passed on to the chef who was fairly new and from Chile and was reworking the menu for the fall grand re-opening  prior to the winter season.

The desserts all sounded very nice but Sam had his heart set on the MOLTEN Chocolate Cake with Griotine Cherries, Pomelo Confit, Cocoa Nibs and Vanilla Ice Cream which the three of us split; it was a big winner and we all agreed a very well prepared gooey melting delight. The perfect end to our first night here.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

PENN COMMONS offers a plum of an experience in DC's Penn Quarter(opened yesterday!)(8-2-14)

Saturday night we were invited to the mock service at Washington's newest hot dining spot. The owners of DC Coast/Ceiba/Acadiana/Fuego/PassionFish/District Commons and more opened PENN COMMONS yesterday next door to the Verizon Center at 700  6th St, NW and I am confident it will be one of DC's busiest spots starting now!
The restaurant is down several steps and is one large room with a bar at the center. Sadly the stone floor and unfinished ceilings do make for a noisy setting. We really did not need the TV's over the bar on as well as the music (although I did catch the Yankees beat the Red Sox!). Our booth was cozy and comfortable and the clouded and clear glass surrounding us allowed glimpses of the street.
Our server, Melaku, always had a smile and was there at every moment to satisfy our requests. The Passion Food team has always gotten great help and it shows here as well. He took our drink order and brought out a loaf of the Hot Pretzel Baguette with Beer Mustard Butter that is requisite at District Commons (there are similarities in the menu, but this is no clone!).
I had a Pony Express with Smirnoff Vodka, Stirring's Ginger Liqueur, Ginger Ale, Lime Juice & Lime which was refreshing and cool. Will ordered the Penn Collins and asked if it was sweet. Melaku thought it was, but he said the bartender told him it was not. When it came, it was cloying and of course within seconds, Will had a martini instead.
Starters are varied and Will ordered the PULLED PORK HAND Pies which are two empanadas with Carolina (mustard-base) sauce full of juicy meat and really filling. I had the divine and cool GOLDEN TOMATO GAZPACHO with Crab and Cucumber Relish. It was most refreshing on a hot evening. Samuel decided to do the DAILY "PICK 3" which allows you to choose three items from a group of about 8 which are then presented in 3 adorable mason jars on a wooden board.
His least favorite was the House Made Pimento Cheese as he generally does not like soft cheeses or spreads, but bravo for him for experimenting. The Char Roasted EGGPLANT with Pesto & Toasted Pine Nuts was like a BabaGhanoosh on crack and we all loved the flavors, but Sam fell in love with the Hand Cut STEAK TARTARE with Siracha Aioli. The aioli was mild and a bit more spice would have been nice, but he was very generous and shared this delicacy which he declared to be his new favorite.
Our white wine was a Pearmund Viognier 20111 Vincroft Vineyard from Virginia which was great with all these different flavors and tastes. We moved on to a Matchbook 2010 Tempranillo from Dunnigan Halls which had some spice and guts and went brilliantly with our two spicy mains: Korean Grilled Rack of "PORK CHOP" with Quick Kimchi, Crispy Rice and Spicy KBBQ Sauce which was a dream dish as was the Crispy Tempura SOFT SHELL CRABS with Green papaya Salad, Cashews and a spicy Chili-Lime Dressing. Sam went simpler with the Grilled Creekstone Farms Skirt Steak with French Fries and a Whiskey Peppercorn Sauce, which we slathered all over the crispy perfectly cooked meat with a small Obligatory Green Salad.
The wine list here is nice with just under 50 choices and many by the glass, but you can really go for the beers which include over 80 beers/stouts/ales/etc including ones with names like
Hebrew David Slingshot Hoppy Rye
Shipyard Monkey Fist
Flying Dog/Raging Bitch
If you need help, ask for Travis the beer expert.
For dessert we chose the Mini Oatmeal Cookie Pies with Blueberry Lemon Mousse as well as a
Warm Fudge Cake(very rich) with Passion Fruit Ice Cream
Both were yummy and we went home happy and fulfilled knowing that there is a wonderful new spot in the Penn Quarter that indeed is NOT common.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

DINO's Grotto in Shaw is open for business and better than before (7-27-14)

Our friend Dean Gold who owned Dino's in Cleveland Park may have closed this winter, but he reopened with a bang at DINO's GROTTO in Shaw at 1914 Ninth Street, just below U St and it's even better than before.
We went with several friends and Samuel on Sunday night and everyone had a superb time with excellent service from Hope and the wonderful hospitality from the owners that everyone always experiences.
Downstairs is THE GROTTO or bar, and up a half flight of steps is a large airy dining room with composite/linoleum like tables, brick walls, Venetian watercolors and a beautiful encased quilt on the wall towards the rear.
It's simple, not too noisy, even when full, and very cozy.
Samuel was feeling uninspired and ordered the Garlic & Oil Spaghetti and really did not want to taste anything else. He did ask for some tomato sauce to put on the spaghetti, but I have to say I think our son is reverting into a bore when it comes to dining out!
We started with a Vignetti Massa herbaceous "Timorasso" 2010 from Piemonte which we loved wit all the varied starters we passed around:
CARCIOFI alla GIUDIA which were awesome deep fried baby artichokes with silk road spices, lemon & black salt.
SQUASH BLOSSOMS in season (yay) which are griddled with herbed ricotta, house summer tomato essence with a bit of a spicy kick
I had ordered PICKLED RAMPS & LOCAL GREEN BEANS along with my main coarse but am so happy that Hope brought them with the appetizers since they packed a real pickle punch and would have overwhelmed my entrée.
Will tried the half portion of CHECCA-a local heirloom tomato, fresh mozzarella, abundant garlic, black pepper, basil occhipinti, olio on spaghetti.
And I went the route of Charcuterie which was oh so rewarding with a plate of
PICKLED LAMB TOUNGUE (Border Springs) with Anchovy Salsa Verde which was tender and tasty
"CORNED BEEF" -19 day spice-brined beef (Shenandoah Valley Co-op) with horseradish, caper & mascarpone cream -your grandma never made it like this!
SHROOMS & PORK with Hazelnut, ginger mostarda that was also divine.
There are other meat and cheese options making this antipasto of protein a big plus on my menu choices every time.
By this time we had switched to a ZIDARICH "Teran" or Terrano grape KASRTS 2009 from Fruili near Slovenia which does indeed have that limestone characteristic from the karst topography, even though the wine is fairly light in depth.
For the main course we could not resist the SOFT SHELL CRABS which were grilled with summer tomato sauce and served with roasted new potatoes coated with yummy herbs. It made me glad to be back in DC as we have missed these treats so much.
For dessert Will went choco crazy for the TORTA AL CIOCCOLATO with walnut crumble, Valrhona chocolate ganache and whipped cream which he instantly asked to be switched for vanilla gelato!
I adored my less indulgent PEACH PARFAIT which had fresh baked spiced peaches with house granola and a dash of whipped mascarpone to hold it all together almost like a breakfast parfait. YUM!

It took us several months since Dino's Grotto opened in Shaw, but it won't take that long for us to go back!