Monday, December 18, 2006

an eventful and totally enjoyable evening with EVE (the Restaurant)

Last night we journeyed down to Alexandria for a totally memorable evening in the Tasting Room of RESTAURANT EVE ( with some dear friends, and it was simply one of the best dining experiences around. Even the restaurant glittierati at a table nearby (Chef Robert Wiedmaier and his charming wife Polly along with Washington's photographer to the chefs, Les DePas) all agreed that Chef CATHAL ARMSTRONG and Eve are worthy of the maximum number of stars in anyone's book.

One of the reasons I felt this way was due to the special "Old World Charm" that is exuded throughout the dining room and indeed amongst all the staff. There is something special here that is often lacking in some of the other gastronomic temples of Washington; it has nothing to do with friendliness, charm or even quality, just a sense of "old world charm" that can't be described in words.

As we were seated I love the way a plate of three amuses arrives even before we ordered; this is great when you are hungry and have already started to drink. A QUAIL EGG on Brioche was topped with OSSETRA Caviar, a tasty RILLETTES of TASMANIAN TROUT and a yummy COD FRITTER on AIOLI.

Our first wine was a memorable DOMAINE de la BECASSONNE Rhone (Vaucluse) 2005 that was termed "oily" by star General Manager & Sommelier TODD THRASHER. It was big, mineral and had almost no fruit save for a hint of perhaps grapefruit; its acidity paired wonderfully with the amuses as well as later rich cream sauces.

The menu comes in either a 5course $95 or 9-course $125 tasting, the former offering a choice of 4 or 5 options in each course. We pondered our choices for the 5 course menu as we sipped on a wonderful warm VELOUTE OF POTATO & LEEK that will be even more welcome with the cooler weather today.

For the first course (entitled CREATION) The HOG HEAD BURGER wins for presentation, but perhaps is not everyone's choice for a burger. The rich, creamy VELOUTE of TOG JERUSALEM ARTICHOKES with Burgundy BLACK TRUFFLES was almost "meaty" in flavor and very filling. The very CRISP MUSCOVY DUCK LEG CONFIT with Butternut SQUASH PANNA COTTA & Walnuts was spectacular, and I loved my simple yet tasty thinly sliced LAMB's TONGUE with BEET ESCABESCHE, Aged Pipe Dreams GOAT Chese & "Per Mi Figlio" Olive Oil.

At this point (think duck, burger & tongue) we had already started on our first superb red (some of us returned to the white later on), a magnificent MONGEARD-MUGNERET SAUVIGNY LES BAUNES 1er CRU 2002 "Les Narbantons."

OCEAN course came next with my amazing QUENELLE of FLUKE with Dill Veloute smothered in OSETRA CAVIAR arriving (as many of the wonderful dishes did) in a small iron-clad mini-pot which was adorable. I was glad I had some white wine left for this dish as well. A lot of thought goes into each presentation as well as each ingredient, another great credit to Chef ARMSTRONG & the staff headed by Evan last night in the Tasting Room. Other "Ocean" choices were the excellent BUTTER POACHED LOBSTER. LOBSTER FRITTER and Braised Endive in Brown Butter Hollandaise and the HOUSMADE GNOCCHI with BABY LEECK & ITALIAN BLACK TRUFFLES which had the added treat of fresh shaved Black PERIGORD Truffles tableside.

We moved on to a huge, yet young J PALACIOS Petalos 2005 MENCIA from Bierzo, Spain that was so dark and thick, yet had the softest of tannins with very berry intensity; this could be the big wine of this winter, folks, despite its youth.

EARTH & SKY featured the POLYFACE FARM BEEF TENDERLOIN "TOURNEDOS ROSSINI, a perfect match for the wine, as was the earthy and richly intense ROASTED WILD MUSHROOMS "VOL AU VENT" with the puff pastry coming from the chef's mother's recipe and the filled with Oregon chanterelles and local HoneyCaps & Hen of the Woods. My STUFFED GUINEA HEN Breast with Braised Celery Root, Baby Leeks and Italian Winter Truffles was also simply superb.

The fourth course was "AGE" and here Chef Armstrong marries cheese like few other places anywhere:
BRIE de MEAUX was intense and shared the plate with a small WARM PINEAPPLE PUDDING, a magnificently brilliant foil of a combination.
BLUE de GEX was light and mixed into a BABY CELERY CUSTARD appearing like a rich cheesy panna cotta, and the GARROTXA with Heirloom
TANGERINE BEETS & 100yr Old Balsamic was simply magnificent.

A wonderful cleanser of BABY CELERY & PINK LADY APPLE SORBET came atop thin slices of Pink Lady Apples before our final course entitled "EDEN." Chocoholics will adore the oozing WARM CHOCOLATE GANACHE CAKE with Dried Macerated CHERRIES and KOBEB (a Japanese peppercorn that tastes like juniper) ICE CREAM, while fruit lovers can embrace the Lavender HONEY BRAISED DATES in PHYLLO with COCONUT PANNA COTTA. I must admit, however, that I fell in love with my Yeasted WARM BELGIAN WAFFLE with HUCKLEBERRIES and Creme Fraiche MEYER LEMON ICE CREAM, Meyer Lemon Curd & Confit.

A selection of dessert wines abounded from a 2001 Domaine Mas Blanc Banyuls (perfect for chocolate, but not my favorite) to a SHIRAZ GRENACHE JULIAN JAMES "Talijancich" Red Solero from Australia that is deep, red, rich and sweet to a wonderfully viscous and sweet fruity KEN FORRESTER 2001 South African Noble Late Harvest Chenin Blanc. We sipped these with our after-dinner treats of Cranberry Orange Gelee, Cocoa Nib Brittle, Bay Leaf Ganache Chocolates and the most simply wonderful Lemon-Poppyseed Cookies.

A special not must be said that, while the food sounds (and indeed, is) rich and it appears we must have been stuffed, kudos go to Chef Armstrong for creating a dinner that leaves you perfectly full wishing no more, and never feeling overdone; the portions are truly the best sized one could desire.

To quote our dear friend LaVerne who joined us last night, "We were fabulous, as always....."