Monday, February 27, 2006

Bucks Camping & Fishing (Phyllis's husband reviews)

While Phyllis is in NYC, I went out to celebrate with friends as one of them had just finished her Bar exams (fingers crossed). We decided on Bucks Camping and Fishing (yes I know it's an odd name), which is chef Carole Greenwood's place. When my friend Maria first mentioned it, I quite honestly balked at the idea because you cannot make reservations!! I have a policy of not waiting more that 10 minutes to get into ANY restaurant. I just don't have the patience for it and life is way too short. Anyway, we were also celebrating Shannon's birthday early, so Maria called a week before hand and mentioned that it was our
friends 30th birthday and was there any way that they could hold a table for us. They agreed, YAHOO ! When we arrived at the restaurant a rather boyish looking, slightly patronizing host greeted us and informed us that our names were NOT on "the list". Maria explained to him that she had called a week beforehand and that she was told that a table would be held for us. Snooty boy let out a large sigh and said "just a minute" and walked away. Upon his return he informed us that we were "lucky" because they did have a table free after all.

The interior of the restaurant was fascinating. It had a warm feel to it, with lot's of wooden beams. There were all types of fishing regalia all over the place, but there was also a huge air of camp (the kitschy kind not the sleeping outside in the dark kind) about the place with all sorts of colored sheer drapes hanging from the beams to divide up sections of the restaurant.

After we sat down our server came over and I was thrilled to see it was our old server from I Matti (many moons ago) Nooradin; he must be one of the best servers in town. We decided to order a bottle (Nooradin's recommendation) of 2004 FALANGHINA DEI CAMPI. Nooradin explained that it was like a Pinot Grigio, which put me off at first because all I could think of was grassy, grassy, grassy. Well, I was wrong. It was fresh, crispy and had a lovely citrus bite. We ordered our appetizers. Shannon had FRESH MOZZERELLA WITH ROASTED BEETS AND "WORLD FAMOUS PESTO", which she said was delicious. I sampled a little and I have to say that the beets were amazing. So soft and juicy. Maria ordered CHILLED LOBSTER COCKTAIL WITH GINGER LIME COCKTAIL SAUCE. the lobster claws already had some of the sauce on them which was yummy (the extra wasn't even needed). In fact Maria said that it was the best lobster cocktail that she had ever had. Her one complaint (and I totally agreed) was that they need four claws not two because there was very little meat. I had the CHOPPED CHICKEN LIVERS ON TOAST AND LEVI HOMEMADE PICKLES. The chopped chicken livers was actually pate. I am not a big fan of pate, as a lot of the time it just tastes like something that's been dead for a long time and is starting to taste moldy (I think that describes it clear enough for you), but not this pate. It had such a nice fresh taste to it. The two pickles were about as big as my thumb nail, but they were scrumptious. A little crunchy with a smoky undertone. Oh, by the way, don't waste your time with the bread that they bring to the table because it's about as exciting as watching a snail race.

Nooradin recommended a $38 bottle of Rioja for our main courses. Ok, dummy here forgot to write down what it was, but it went very well with our main course choices and if you are REALLY champing at the bit to know what it was (which I am guessing you are not), just let Phyllis know and I will find out. As far as the food is concerned, Maria and Shannon ordered the WOOD GRILLED DRY AGED PRIME SERLOIN STEAK WITH HAND CUT FRIES. Shannon's steak was perfect, but Maria's cut was VERY fatty and chewy. The seasoning on the meat was very nice (I tried a little bit myself). As far as the "hand cut fries" were concerned each of them got about eight fries. Is the person cutting the fries a one handed goat ????? Are they soooooo special that they can only spare a few ?? They asked for an extra portion of fries and they received it when we had all finished our dinner. It was a sweet little bowl with 9 or 10 almost black fries in it. We told the person who brought it to take it away. I ordered BUCKS BIG WOOD GRILLED LOBSTER WITH SMOKEY MUSHROOM AND RED WINE PAN SAUCE. I am a lazy eater when it comes to shells and bones and I explained this to Noordin. It was quite a pricey entree, so I wanted to make sure it would be easy to get out of the shell and I wouldn't have to WORK at it. He explained that it would just fall out. it didn't. In fact Noordin ended up helping me out by removing the meat from the shell. There was VERY little meat (where are these lobsters from?) I was quite disgusted with the amount of lobster meat (maybe nine or ten bites). I also had ordered a side of fries to go with my lobster, which arrived with the entrees. I was overwhelmed to see an eleventh fry in the bowl (an emotional moment). The sauce that went with the lobster was chunky and delicious. No complaints there.

Poor Nooradin was rather upset because he could see that we were not really happy and he wanted us to be having an amazing time. He called the owner (James) over and we proceeded to explain to him why we were not having a great dining experience. All I can say about James is that he is a GEM !!!! He knew exactly what to do to make us happy. FREE DESSERT !!!! We became so engrossed with talking to James that I completely forgot to write down the desserts. They only had three on the menu and we were given all three. We were also given a bottle of dessert wine, which I believe was called SOLIN CASORZO made with the MALVASIA grape. It was a dark red color and it was fizzy and cold and finger lickin' good. James more than made up for the problems that we had encountered. He also took my lobster and Maria's steak off the bill. Because of this kindness I would definitely go back and give Bucks another try. There are ways of dealing with customers that are not happy and James knew exactly what to do. A number of years ago I went to a rather posh restaurant in Dupont Circle with an old friend of mine. He ordered the mussels for an appetizer, but upon chewing down on one he bit down on a piece of metal that could have ripped his mouth
open (it was the metal that they use to tie up the bags of mussels). We asked for the manager and when she came over and saw what had happened she just said "things happen" and walked away. I have never and will never set foot in that place again.

Anyway, Maria, Shannon and I ended leaving Buck's Camping and Fishing feeling somewhat happy with our experience and ready to get back to normality.

Hope you have enjoyed my very frank review.

Sunday, February 26, 2006


I rarely have the opportunity to head below 14th Street in Manhattan, unless I'm destined for the James Beard House (or some exquisite place like NOBU or Danube), so it was a treat for me to spend Friday night at a hotel on the lower west side in the "Meatpacking" District just below Chealsea. I wandered across the street for an early supper at PASTIS (Little West 12th Street & Ninth Ave) and while the din of the happy hour crowd was a bit too high, I got a banquette in the rear and settled in for some fine bistro food. It was crowded, the tables are small and the feel is indeed very French with a yellowed tin cieling, bistro white brick walls and the bar loaded with RICARD bottles.

I started with the best STEAK TARTARE I have ever had in New York. It was peppery with loads of fresh onion, a small quality baby greens salad and a lot of love. The ALSACE BLEND SEPT GRAINS 2002 BARMES-BEUCHER white blend I chose was a perfect foil to the pepper in the dish. After I ordered my entree I was livid when I saw the magnificent burger and frites at the next table, and then the crunchy fish and chips another table down. My LINGUINI with COCKLES and GARLIC was tasty and nice with juicy clams, but I just felt that I had missed something else better. I tried the ILES FLOTTANTES for dessert and it was beautifully served with spun sugar on top and sliced blanched almonds. A real treat after the PINA COLADA version I had not been fond of the night before.

The next day I wanted to try something different and quick for lunch and headed up to the highly rated F&B Gudtfood at 269 W 23rd Street In Chelsea. Regarded as one of the top places for hot dogs, I was very disappointed. My CHAMPION DOG was a veal and pork bratwurst served with German sauerkraut and mustard. The wurst was nice, but nothing special,only the kraut and mustard excelled. The fries were good, but long and skinny and nothing compared to a true Belgian frite. Oh, the lemonade was good.

Well, so much for a quick trip to NY, and enjoy!

Phyllis on the road again

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

going good at GRAPESEED

Last night we returned to GRAPESEED(4865 Cordell Ave, Bethesda, another spot we haven't been for about a year or so. Things are doing fine there, with more wines than ever on the menu and by the glass and taste! The menu has changed somewhat and the four of us were game to try almost everything!

Our wonderful sipping wine was a QUIVIRA Fig Tree Vineyard 2003 Sauvignon Blanc which was citrus and melon loaded and just right to start off the evening. Of course, who can resist that fabulous garlic, red pepper, olive oil dipping combo, which was great with the wine as well.

Our second wine was a DOMAINE DES TROIS PLANTIERS 1998 Chateauneuf du Pape that was decent, but nothing more than nice. I had hoped the 1998 vintage would exhibit a bit more, but it was just nice.

Our first round of shared appetizers included the STUFFED PIQUILLO PEPPER with Goat Cheese which is a super dish, but it was served lukewarm. The CORNMEAL FRIED OYSTERS with Bacon Beurre Blanc were superb. Crispy plump oysters in a superb, yet simple sauce; the little bacon bits actually were perfect with the Chateauneuf du Pape! My favorite was the HAWAIIAN STYLE AHI POKE, simply a sushi-grade slightly seared on the edge ahi tuna with Wakane Seaweed Salad, Grilled Pineapple and Ponzu. Our second round included the excellent FOIE GRAS with FORBIDDEN RICE, Port Demi-Broth. This was a new idea serving the large chunk of foie gras over a risotto-like rice that actually looked like lentils due to the port coloring. YUMMY!

Finally, came the CLASSIC MAINE STYLE LOBSTER STEW with Blueberry Muffin, a wonderfully creamy and intense (though slightly lighter than bisque) soup that was just perfect with huge chunks of lobster as well. All it needed was a shot of sherry!

Our interlude wine was an ACACIA 2004 PINOT NOIR that was just right between the courses. We then went on to a magnificent huge and intense HENDRY BLOCK 28 2001 ZINFANDEL that just kept getting better with every sip.

The entrees were also impressive and included the CREOLE STYLE CATFISH with Dirty Rice, Shrimp Remoulade and Creole Sauce. The fish was firm and not slimy at all (as catfish can sometimes be). The top dish was easily the SPICE CRUSTED DAYBOAT SCALLOPS with Sunchoke Puree, Shitake Salad and Cilantro Salt. You just can't go wrong with those huge crusted scallops that melt in your mouth. the SEARED RARE TUNA with Potato & Ricotta Croquette, Paprika-Tomato Sauce was sadly, NOT rare, and had to go back. The second plate came out just right, with a beautiful rare center. On the other hand, my ROASTED DUCK BREAST with
Israeli Couscous, Pistachios, Pickled Carrots, Sweet & Sour Onions and Sour Cherry Sauce came extremely rare. I do like my duck rare, but quacking is a bit out of the equation. The preparation was excellent, and the sauce superb. I loved the small onions that were soured so wonderfully.

On a good note, the ladies sitting next to us were SO nice, but the rumor they heard that TRU, one of the top restaurants in Chicago, had closed, was thankfully UNTRUE!

We opted to skip dessert and head to our friend's home for a taste of GIFFORD's Ice Cream, which is new to me. It's totally rich and decadent, but what's even better is their Swiss Chocolate Sauce that is a milk chocolate ice cream sauce--OUT OF THIS WORLD!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

February at FIREFLY

Last night we returned to FIREFLY after over a year (located at the MADERA Hotel on New Hampshire Ave at Dupont Circle). Little has changed in the wonderful "woodsy" decor; I still adore the wall of white birch trees and the subtle lighting, although we did need to ask to have the lights turned up so we could read our menu! On a cold night, you might want to avoid sitting at the front tables next to the large window/doors onto the patio. Double glazing is a suggestion for the draft can chill your feet.

That all aside, our superb server Christopher gave us many ideas and helped us through our choices quite well. Will started with the CRISP OYSTERS in CHIPOTLE TARTAR SAUCE which is a wonderful, spicy and tasty dish for you fried shellfish lovers. He opted for a single glass of white with this: VERAMONTE 2005 Sauvignon Blanc from Chile, which is fresh and crisp, but a bit grassy for my palate (although it paired well with the spices in the sauce).

I started with the red; our bottle was a magnificent SCOTT PAUL 2003 "Cuvee Martha Pirrie" PINOT NOIR from the Willamette Valley in Oregon. This big fruit forward wine was a naturally made and unfiltered wine that was dark, smooth and went down like silk! A perfect pairing with my CURED CUK BREAST with Arugula, Dried Cranberries and Candied Pecans, a wonderful filling salad that would make any rare duck breast lover happy (and I am one of those!).

Our entrees were not quite as exciting, with Will opting for the MUSHROOM CASSOULET with Oregon Black Truffles that was nicely prepared, very filling, but not hugely exciting. The sauce was tomato-ey and it was loaded with all kinds of wonderful wild mushrooms, but just seemed to be missing something.

My ROASTED CHICEKN with OYSTER MUSHROOMS, Bacon, Pearl Onions and Turnips was much better in a wonderful brown sauce that was so tasty and again the wonderful mushrooms were perfection. A highlight of the meal was the side of TRUFFLED PARMESAN FRITES with their own TRUFFLED KETCHUP that we just could not get enough of. The excellent fries were dusted with a coating that was simply irresistible!

For dessert we had a wonderful cheese plate which we shared. The manager was a bit off on his suggestion of the order in which to eat the cheeses, but Christopher corrected that:

GRAYSON, a semi-soft British cheese was a new treat, then the VERMONT CHEDDAR was the least exciting with a magnificent SAN JOAQUIN CHEDDAR that was crunchy and crumbly and oh so intensely delish. The BAILEY HAZEN Goat from Humboldt County, Calif was creamy and pungent. CONSTANT BLISS from California was another new cheese that we will remember well-an aged cow that had a nice intensity. Finally the JASPER HILL BLUE was very yummy, but neither of us are blue folks.
Will had a glass of BAIRRADA QUINTA DO ENCINTRO 2001 Portuguese wine that was just right with these strong and flavorful cheeses.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Delicious DINO and satisfied SAMUEL

DINO opened last year across from the Uptown Theater (3435 Connecticut Ave, NW Tel 202-686-2966, and we finally made it there last Saturday night WITH Samuel. It's been some time since we braved brining out 2 -2/3 year old out to dinner, but Dino's child-friendly atmosphere seemed to make him very happy. He loved the crayons, and adored his simple penne pasta with his own plate of pasta sauce and cheese that he could add as he pleased. We were there for two hours and he never seemed to get antsy with the friendly staff always helping out and making our visit such a success.

Top this off with some great food, a spectacular wine list (we need to return to try the Barbarescos!) offering bottles, 6 ounce glasses and 3 ounce tastes chosen by owner Dean Gold along with some superb cheeses from Italy, and you a great night out!

We started with a glass of PRA SOAVE (Garganega) 2004 and a GROTTA del SOLE (Falanghina) 2004 that were fresh and light. The Soave was drier, while the Grotta has a perfumey aroma that I really enjoyed. We ordered several different appetizers including 3 of the CROSTINI: FUNGHI e PROSCIUTTO (Mushroom & Prosciutto), a superb BACCALA al MANECATO (whipped dried cod) and the yummy SALSA ASIAGO (Asiago cheese with oil). The huge SARDINE IN SAOR was pan-fried whole and marinated in onions, and while delicious, was a job to debone with Sam hovering nearby.

Top honors to the CARCIOFI, simple grilled and marinated artichoke hearts, but even moreso, the superb POLIPO ALLA GRIGLIA, grilled baby octopus braised with red wine and served warm in a lemon chick-pea vinaigrette. I switched to a taste of the BARBERA d"ALBA 2004 from Hillberg which was a medium weight Barbera and actually worked wonderfully with the octopus.

We decided to split two half orders of pasta, the BIGOI in SALSA was a whole-wheat pasta with anchovy, capers, garlic and herbs and was not too intense, but very tasty. The PAPPARDELLE al CINGHIALE with its spicy wild boar sauce was heavenly. By now we had switched to big reds, Will enjoying a SANTA LUCIA "Vigna di Melograno" 2003 from Uva di Troia and I sipping my smooth BRIGALDARA Valpolicella 2003 from Carvina.

Sam kept sipping his water through his straw as he snarfed down several scoops of sorbet. We opted to split a cheese plate first, which was $12 for three samples ($18 for five) and while a but pricey, it was tasty. The ALTA LANGA "Brunet" Goat was a creamy and rich robiola, the GUFFANTI UBRIACO AMARONE which is aged in Amarone grape pressings was the least exciting and the GUFFANTI BITTO hard cheese had a nutty flavor and crunchy texture that was a great palate cleanser. Sam grabbed the fresh blackberries off the cheese plate along with the grapes (he is a fruit fiend) and avoided the delicious Apricot-fig
mostarda which I spread on the bread!

Following this we split a PANINI al NUTELLA e MASCARPONE which was literally a dessert made like a grilled cheese sandwich, but instead, the light panini was stuffed with melted chocolate and mascarpone and served with a hazelnut gelato; a not to miss dessert!

The restaurant is located on two levels with the noisier bar and seating area downstairs. We were upstairs in a quiet corner booth at 530pm, and the place didn't begin to fill up until around 7pm; when we left it was jammed, so reservations are suggested. The decor is rustic rusty, but warm colors with modern paintings on the wall by Dean's mother. While DINO's may be good for the family, it is also good for fine dining and wine; we can't wait to go back for more!

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Pre-theater perfection at CAFE SAINT-EX; help save the SOURCE THEATRE

Last night we attended a spectacularly funny performance of the BOSTON MARRIAGE given by the Actors Theatre of Washington at the SOURCE THEATRE on 14th & S Streets, NW. Sadly, this may be the final production in the almost 30 years of this theater space's existance, as last week Source announced it was selling the building to a company that plans to open a billiards parlor. There is a billiard parlor already around the corner, and frankly, this fabulous, intimate black box theater space is really needed in DC. Hopefully you will contact your councilmen and mayor if you reside in DC and join the crusade to stop the sale and keep Source as an integral part of the Washington Theater community. This will also save the present home of the Actors Theatre, the In Series and the League of Washington Theaters! Just send your name, address, fone and email to SOURCE ARTS CENTER COLLABORATIVE, 1835 14th St, NW, Washington DC 20009 if you can volunteer your help!

Before this wonderful performance we enjoyed a spectacular three course dinner next door at CAFE SAINT-EX (corner of 14th & T Sts, NW) where the pre-theater three course dinner costs a mere $26.00!! We ordered a fruity, yet medium bodied red 2003 BROUILLY Cru de Beaujolais from Jacky Piret that worked well with both fish and pasta (it would be fine with most anything on the menu save the steak). Will started with the WARM BEET SALAD with GOAT CHEESE CROUTON, Parsley-Lemon Vinaigrette and I had to have those magnificent MUSSELS with WHITE WINE, CHORIZO and SPICES. If I had to find one thing to complain about at Cafe Saint-Ex, it would be the fact that the mussels only come with two pieces of grilled bread and not three or four. I always have to ask for extra,
which is readily provided! One MUST mop up every last drip of this spectacular dish.

We split our entrees of PAPARDELLE PASTA with BRAISED PORT & ROOT VEGETABLES which was made from delicious homemade pasta and needed only a sprinkle of pepper for flavor. The WOOD GRILLED WALU with SMOKY LENTILS and SHRIMP BUTTER is another revelation in itself. The succulent, yet meaty white fish is similar to tuna, but not as firm, and the preparation was perfect and oh so moist it melted in your mouth.

Desserts are always a treat here and we tried all new ones this visit: HONEY GOAT CHEESECAKE on ALMOND GRAHAM COOKIE with Creme Anglaise and Fresh Fruit was really a creamy scoop of rich smooth goat cheesecake on the cookie in a presentation that would end any meal beautifully. My APPLE CRISP a la Mode with CANDIED GINGER and Maker's Mark Ice Cream was also a treat, with an intense spicy ginger bite, yet modified by the rich creamy ice cream.

It seems one can't go wrong at Cafe Saint-Ex, but I pray you will all assist to keep Source Theatre alive, so we can go to Cafe Saint-Ex before and after the theater there for many years to come!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

a James Beard Snowstorm Dinner or love the Lenox Room's BENJAMIN ZWICKER

Saturday night while in New York City, we braved the oncoming snowstorm(there was about 2 inches of the 26 that fell on the ground when we got back) and headed from my parent's into the city to attend a truly wondrous International Wine Lover's Dinner at the renowned James Beard House. Chef JASON ZWICKER of the LEXNOC ROOM Restaurant on the Upper East Side was in residence and we met and chatted with him in the kitchen on our arrival as we sipped ALBET I NOYA Cava N/V which was truly the best Cava I have ever had! It went perfectly with all four passed hor's d'oevres:

YELLOWFIN TUNA TARTAR, Wasabi on Wasabi Rice Crisps were probably my favorite. The chef showed me that the rice crackers actually are Japanese made and sold in Asian markets. That's something I'll look for!

SALMON GRAVLAX, TRANSMONTANUS CAVIAR and Breakfast Radishes were arranged in such a manner to look like miniature pizzas, while the TAMARIND GLAZED CHICKEN WINGS with Crushed Peanut & Sesame looked like little French Poodle legs, all trimmed so beautifully. I really wanted more of these, but had to make due with seconds on the BURGUNDY BRAISED OXTAIL with Mushrooms and Pearl Onions.

We sat down with a wonderful group of six others (including one woman from Washington; another coincidence). The only problem we had with our dinner was the speed with which it was served. We really wanted to linger and enjoy, but due to the speed of the blizzard, we took just over three hours instead of the typical four for the entire evening.

Our fist wine was a DOMAINE LA BEGUDE LIMOUX CHARDONNAY 2004, an organically made wine fairly light and yet quite tasty. It was served with a superb ROASTED BEET & ENDIVE SALAD with FOURME d'AMBERT Cheese and ARMAGNAC VINAIGRETTE.

The second wine was less viable with the food. The FALSET MARCA ETIM BLANCO 2004 made from White Garnacha (Grenache) and a bit acidic for me did not work with the magnificent FOIE GRAS & CHICKEN LIVER PARFAIT, CRANBERRY MOSTARDA and Toasted Country Bread. This really was a very rich torchon of foie gras in the creamy pate style with the cranberry almost like a chutney mixture for flavor. SUPERB!

SEARED WILD STRIPED BASS CONFIT, Fennel, Preserved Meyer Lemons and Lobster Reduction was a light, yet complex fish dish of just the right intensity at this point. I was very glad we switched to red wines (it was getting much colder and snowier outside our window) and I loved the MONTARIBALDI DOLCETTO NICOLINI 2003 from a wonderful small estate that makes a great wine.

The ROASTED RACK of BERKSHIRE PORK with BRAISED RED CABBAGE, CHESTNUTS and MUSTARD JUS was heavenly (I had not had chestnuts in soooo long), marred only by the MAS de la DAME COTEAUX d'AIX en PROVENCE Cuvee GOURMANDE 2003. The wine was way to tannic and young for me. The Grenache and Carignane Rhone blend is nice, but it either was way too young, or will possible never mature well. Being from the 2003 vintage, one never knows. Instead, we returned to more of the Dolcetto which was graciously poured and we graciously drank more, a perfect wine for the pork.

BRAEBURN APPLE & WALNUT STRUDEL with CARAMEL ICE CREAM and APPLE CRISP was our yummy dessert, and the CHATEAU RICHARD SAUSSIGNAC 1998 was perfection with it. The wine is a Sauternes-style noble rot made from the Muscadelle grape with lots of sugar and acidity. It would have been perfect with the Foie Gras parfait as well!

A wonderful evening with many new friends, new foods and new wines!

musings on muching at MARCEL's

Our at least once a year visit (we try to do it more, but...) to MARCEL's on Pennsylvania Ave here in DC was another success last night. The tasting dinner was superb, despite the fact that chef-owner Robert Wiedmaier was not on site. Add to this the excellent service and superb staff, and the new warm and cozier decor, and you have fine dining at its best. We all look forward to their new venture, BECK, to be located over on 11th St, NW next year. Indeed, I like the new warm red carpeting; what was Mr. Cam thinking years ago when he put in those expensive tiles? It lends to a quieter, more intimate feeling. We loved our little alcove table with a tiny pass-through-like window to the kitchen. We were told the likes of Oprah, Robert diNiro and Quincy Jones occupied this spot recently! I was less impressed having my posterior touch the same spot as Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleeza.

Anyway, our Perrier Jouet BRUT N/V was a welcome toast as we were celebrating a belated birthday. A perfect pairing with the simple AHI TUNA TARTARE Amuse with Chili Vinaigrette.

Our favorite course had to be the GIANT FIVER SCALLOP with YELLOW WAX BEAN RISOTTO (really more of beans in creamy sauce) topped with Fried Parsley and Crispy Potato. It was a bit peppery and so went quite well with the BIBLIA CHORA 2005 from Pangeon, Greece. This 50/50 blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Assyrtico has an oddly acidic nose, but the taste it totally grapefruit with grass, much from the Sauvignon (a great foil to spice).

A beautifully presented FILET OF DOVER SOLE in BEURRE BALNC BLACK OLIVE SAUCE with Potato Crisp and Spinach was excellent. It was prepared in a scoop of fish almost like a timbale, but not processed. Served with a remarkable CHASSEUR RUSSIAN RIVER CHARDONNAY 2001 made by the folks from Sonoma-Cutrer. I had never heard of this intense wine (14.3% alcohol) yet it lacks that intense butter taste of the typical Russian River Chardonnays; this was more like margarine ; another brilliant pairing, needless to say.

Our first meat was SQUAB BREAST & LEG CONFIT with CELERY ROOT, PAN SEARED FOIE GRAS, Black Trumpet Mushrooms, Cippolini Onion in a Black TRUFFLE RED WINE SAUCE with Fried Leeks. Again, a gorgeous presentation and preparation and while a huge portion, it was all easily gobbled down. A MADIRAN CHATEAU de PERRON TANNAC 2001 Malbec was served with it, which was my preferred red of the evening. The ensuing CHATEAU TERREY-GROS-CAILLOUX Cru Bourgeous 2000 from St. Julien was a bit too tannic for my blood. Again, time will tell. It was served with MEDALLION of VENISON in CABERNET SAUCE with "HODGE-PODGE" Puree. The meat was perfect and rare in the center; just right. We did, though, as two night earlier, return to the Malbec from the earlier course.

A 2003 :"LES CAILLOUX" Chateauneuf du Pape came next and was far superior and ideal with the Cheese course of HUMBOLDT FOG, Marmalade of Red Grapes and Frisee with Chili Vinaigrette. I recall when Marcel's first opened how we hied there for the cheese. Washington is now a better place, just for that reason alone!

Dessert was CHOCOLATE SOUFFLE with RASPBERRY SAUCE and Vanilla Ice Cream and a LILLYPILLY NOBLE ROT dessert wine to go along. It was a four plus hour meal and I was one happy gourmand!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

a cozy return to 15RIA

Over a year ago, 15ria (at the Doubletree at 1515 Rhode Island Ave, NW) lost its chef Jamie Leeds so she could open Hank's Oyster Bar. We haven't been to 15ria in years, and we were reminded last night what a warm and cozy spot it is, especially at this time of the year! The fireplace next to us was warm as could be, the sofas with pillows and comfy high back chairs make for an even cozier experience; you don't even feel like there is another table nearby! While the service is not stellar, it is competent and more than friendly. We engaged both our server from Panama and our busboy from Nepal in vivid conversations
about their homelands.

The menu retains much of the homestyle cooking that Chef Leeds began, but new chef TRIY WALKER has tweaked here and there with his own creations. There is still a nightly special that comes with a choice of two side dishes. Last night it was BRAISED SHORT RIBS, which we were told had run out just after we ordered them! Then miraculously, they were available after we requested a substitute.

As we were celebrating a friend's birthday, we ordered a bottle of IRON HORSE BRUT ROSE 1999 to toast the day. Oddly, the wine was poured and no taste was offered. It was, however, quite excellent and toasty; perfect for a celebration. Fresh breads were brought along with butter and homemade hummus and several pickled vegetables. We loved these so much, our server brought a huge bowl of the cucumbers, zucchini, carrots and tomatoes that had been deliciously quick pickled overnight.

I started with the JUMBO LUMP CRABCAKE (available as an appetizer or entree) with TANGY CABBAGE SLAW. While the crabcake was superb and full of lumpy fleshy shellfish, it needed a good dose of pepper for some excitement; the slaw was yummy too, but NOT tangy. I often feel this is a problem in some hotel restaurants, where chefs have to tone done their seasonings to keep the hotel guests happy. The POPCORN SHRIMP and CALAMARI with Remoulade was a treat, and here the sauce packed a yummy bite, making it perfect for the fried tidbits. There is a choice of either a duo sampling or single serving of soups, and our birthday girl chose the superb CRANBERRY BEAN & BACON SOUP which was excellent for the cold weather and full of bursting flavors.

We moved onto red wine and chose a ROSENBLUM ZINFANDELVINTNER's CUVEE XXVIII which packs a 14.6% alcohol content but has a very warm fruity blend with a hint of that Zinfandel spiciness. We were surprised not to find a vintage on the bottle and later discovered that it is a blend of 2002, 2003 and 2004 grapes for this particular XXVIII cuvee; a good $30-something buy for dining out!

Will chose the tasty ONION RINGS and MUSHROOM RISOTTO sides with his BRAISED SHORT RIBS that were a bit thin on the meatiness, but tasty nonetheless. The BUTTERNUT SQUASH RISOTTO with Candied Pecans, Hazen Blue Cheese and Cremini Mushrooms was yummy as well, and the blue cheese flavor was not intense at all. The hit of the evening was easily my VENISON ROSSINI MEDALLIONS (in demi-glace) with Caramelized Parsnips and Creamed Winter Vegetables. When Chef Walker came out, we asked why he named the dish "Rossini," knowing full well that Tournedos "Rossini" named for the Italian composer is a filet with foie gras and truffles (Rossini's favorite dish when he lived in Paris!). He said it was his little version and while the foie gras and truffles were absent, the
demi-glace was the traditional one used here as well. The sauce was rich and superb, the parsnips amazing and the vegetables simply excellent. I was even happier, when the chef returned with a piece of foie gras to adorn my plate! This combined with one of the most tender venisons ever made it just PERFECT!

We tried a variety of desserts including the yummy FRIED BREAD PUSSING with Vanilla Ice Cream that was so huge we requested a doggie bag for half of it! My GRANDMOTHER's SWEET POTATO TART with Lemon Creme Anglaise was also quite nice, though I could not muster the strength to finish, being so full. A fun choice is the DESSERT FLIGHT for $8.00 which includes 3 small selections: APPLE COBBLER, the MINT CREME BRULEE (I really don't like mint) and the rich tasty MOLTEN CHOCOLATE CAKE. Try a glass of DELOACH Late Harvest GEWURTZTRAMINER or the LILLYPILLY NOBLE BLEND if you want a boost of sweetness with or after your
dessert, they are both superb and pair with anything (save maybe the mint).

It was truly a warm and cozy evening for us all; 15RIA really knows how to make a harsh winter melt away.