Tuesday, August 29, 2006

bravo to Chef BURRELL for his victory at VIRIDIAN

While VIRIDIAN opened quietly last year in the quickly changing 14th Street corridor (1515 14th St, NW - www.viridianrestaurant.com), I am sure it has taken new turns for the better this year under the guidance of Chef ANTONIO BURRELL, previously of Bis, Gabriel and Vidalia. The large spacious high-ceiling dining is quite beautiful and yet simple. The gorgeous decor is pale with wood accents, stone floors and extremely comfortable chairs. The artwork includes a monstrous self-portrait of Chuck Close in the entry, but more beautiful B&W charcoals of waves that actually look like photos until closer inspection. Above the bar is a subtle and almost boring video display of blue waves, clouds and infinity, that barely changes.

Speaking of the bar, the one thing I must complain about at Viridian is the noise level. The architect (is he a friend of Tony Chi over at the Blue Duck Tavern where the stone creates unbearable noise levels) sadly did not consider us diners, and we had to constantly raise our voices to hear ourselves, despite the fact that the dining room was relatively quiet. The noise from the crowded bar just seems to float all around the room; so ask for a perhaps quieter table towards the rear corner, unless you want to be seen or look out at the passers-by on through the large windows up front.

We all started with the "V" Pimm's Cup which could easily win an award as one of the best summer drinks in town: Campari, House made strawberry-ginger lemonade, strawberries and cucumbers make this the perfect thirst quencher full of shredded fruit and just right for deciding what to order from the menu, as the choice is not easy.

Our first dish was a revelation, and is not on the menu at this time (but maybe you can request it?): VIRGINIA OYSTER SALAD topped with AMERICAN STURGEON CAVIAR in a BERGAMONTE PRESERVED LEMON in PICKLED GINGER & CUCUMBER SOUP with Creme Fraiche. OK, move over gazpacho....cause this easily beats anything in that field. The small oyster salad sat in the hollowed out preserved lemon rind that packed a citrus punch, but the soup itself was also a chilled treat that is welcome on any hot summer day--so many flavors, yet so exciting. We also ordered a bottle of ANDREW RICH COLUMBIA VALLEY ROUSSANNE 2004 from Washington State at $20-something, because on Tuesdays much of the excellent wine list is offered at HALF-PRICE! It was the perfect wine for our seafood starters as well:

CHILLED WATERMELON SOUP with Grapefruit, Cilantro and Yogurt Lime Sorbet was refreshing, yet filling.

The yummy STEAMED MUSSLES with SHALLOTS, Parsley, Lemon & Tomato Water had a nice chili punch giving them some spice and my only complaint is that the mussels were so small, I do prefer them a bit plumper.

The starter winner was the SEA SCALLOPS with American Caviar, Yellow Tomato & Potato-Leek Hash, just about as American a dish as you can imagine, yet nobody would dare pin down Chef Burrell in the American catergory. His background and training covers so many styles, which he uses to such an advantage!

I can't fail to mention the excellent CHIVE FOCACCIA that comes with two spreads: a simple, yet superb WHITE BEAN PUREE and a sweet, but tasty CARAMELIZED ONION with MUSTARD SEED. Who would even want butter or olive oil when these tasty toppings arrive, but we had to restrain from asking for more....

The entrees were all winning choices from a victorious vegetarian PARISIAN GNOCCHI (made from flour, butter and cheese--with no potato) with CHANTERELLES, SWEET CORN, GREEN ONION & TRUFFLES to my ARTIC CHAR (on the menu it was listed as Red Trout,but had been switched due to supply) with GAZPACHO, BLUE CRAB & OLIVES. The light tomato broth worked well with the big rich flaky fish.

The winner was easily the SEARED BARRAMUNDI with LOBSTER, BEET RISOTTO & Beet-Ginger Reduction. Not only is the fish wonderful, but the
preparation was sublime.

A small treat of CASSOULET of SOUTHERN BEANS (with bacon, tomato, black eye peas & lima beans) came with a Rack of Lamb Chop & Confit with a slash of dried Balsamic on the side of the plate(this reminded me of a very thin fruit roll-up) which was one of the best lamb chops ever. We enjoyed this with our 1/2 price red, a very cherry MCKENZIE-MUELLER Los Carneros Reserve Pinot Noir 2001 which is a steal at $30-something!

Desserts are prepared by Pastry Chef Eileen Ratnofsky and are worth notice. The Sorbets are varied from Champagne to Passion Fruit, but don't skip the LEMON & LIME BARS with Coconut Macaroons and STRAWBERRIES stuffed with Champagne Sorbet. This is a brilliant dish with two rectangular fruit bars of green and yellow, the lime being somewhat like a mini-key lime pie. The strawberries are refreshing and the macaroons are heavenly; a new favorite dessert for many!

We look forward to returning to Viridian soon and tasting lots more!

Friday, August 25, 2006

Conquering cuisine at KAZ Sushi Bistro

Last week's gluttonous outings ending on a wonderful high note, but also with the perfect place for a summer tasting menu at KAZ SUSHI Bistro (www.kazsushi.com), winner of this year's RAMMY (Restaurant Award) for informal dining. The four of us were surprised to see a full house on a Friday night in the dog days of August, but I guess everyone else felt the same as we did. In the heat, if you have to eat, go for the filling, yet fun food, and keep it a bit lighter. Our 8 course tasting (you can do either $60 or $75) was superb and at no point did we feel stuffed, but we went home happily full and thrilled.

While everyone else opted for Sapporo beers, I did the $9.50 sake tasting which included the lightest Masumi, the medium Onikoroshi (which I decided is my favorite), and the heavier more mineral Yatsushika.

Our first course came and was one of Chef KAZ's signature dishes, the excellent SEA TROUT NAPOLEON, an amazing tartar of trout layered on crunchy chips--easily one of my favorites. Second was a superb SASHIMI GAZPACHO with tuna, salmon and flounder floating underneath the tasty cold refreshing tomato soup.

Our summer theme of "lighter" kept up with the SCALLOP CEVICHE with TAPIOCA which had an intense acidity from the lemon juice and onions, but was nonetheless totally tasty, with perfect quality slivers or pale opaque scallops.

At this point, I wanted to order more of the Onikoroshi Saki, but opted to choose a small bottle of HORIN from Kyoto, as it was listed next to the Onikoroshi on the menu as similarly fragrant and delicate. I enjoyed this strong (15.5% alcohol) sake, but still must say that I have found a friend in the Onikoroshi!

Course #4 was the CONCH ESCARGOT, a new dish for me and served on a small skewer with a garlic sauce (a la Bourguinnone). It was very tasty and some of the conch was delicate and tender, but some was also a bit chewy. This got us into a discussion of conch, squid and cuttlefish and how CAN chefs really determine if it is truly tender without chewing it first? Any ideas?

Our least favorite course of the day was the GRILLED DUCK BREAST with JAPANESE EGGPLANT and Garlic Miso. This had NOTHING to do with the quality or preparation of the dish which was infallible, it was simply our slight anti-eggplant feeling (ok, vegetarians, don't hate me!). If you like eggplant, this dish is for you, and the duck was superb with a yummy sauce, not an ounce of fat and cooked perfectly.

One of the highlights of the meal was our requested dish of SOFTSHELL CRAB with Wasabi/Ginger Sauce with perfectly tempura fried crabs served in a tasty, pungent, but not too spicy sauce.

The next to last course in the tastings is always a selection of sushi and Chef Kaz outdid himself with some new and traditional choices:
Tai Japanese Snapper with Ponzu--a wondrous new sushi fish for me Tuna with Roasted Almond--with almonds mixed into the rice
Yellowtail with Basil-Soy Foam
Scallops-which were simple yet perfect silver dollar slices of the shellfish
Blue Crab and Seared Salmon Belly with Soy-Lemon

Dessert was a most refreshing ASIAN COCONUT PANNA COTTA with Tequila-Strawberry Sauce and Blackberries, Blueberries and Strawberries, served in a deep giant martini glass the fruit had time to soak up the excellent sauce and the custard was just as good. A glass of chilled plum wine sent us home very happy, but not overstuffed, just right...knowing that we can always enjoy a tasting even in the heat of the summer!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

positing on the Park Hyatt's BLUE DUCK TAVERN

The Park Hyatt Washington (24th & M Sts, NW) has undergone an extensive renovation over the past year and reopened a couple of months ago with some severe new designs by decorator Tony Chi. While the hotel rooms are spacious and uncluttered, they are comfortable and relaxing. The BLUE DUCK TAVERN (Tel:(202) 419 6755) which opened in the space previously belonging to Melrose is under the guidance of Melrose's star chef BRIAN McBRIDE who has brought an entirely new concept of cuisine to town. Sadly, the biggest problem with the BLUE DUCK is its design by Mr. Chi: dark stone floors, wooden tables, chairs and pillars all add to lots of noise and a din that is almost insufferable. I often felt myself having to talk louder than ever (and you all know I don't need to turn up the volume) just to be heard at our table for three. While the open kitchen is beautiful and a sight to be seen, it creates even more noise.

We also had a small problem trying to clarify the price for valet parking. Outside the sign simply says $7.00, yet when we called and inquired at the hotel, we were told $7.00 per hour for up to two hours, then $15 thereafter (which I assumed was a $15.00 maximum, but was later told only for the third hour. How confusing is this? And we never really got the final answer.

After parking on the street, I entered through the hotel lobby and made my way down to hall to the Blue Duck Tavern only to find a huge wall and closed door where the entrance to the restaurant used to be. I went up the steps to the bar/lounge area and weaved my way through the tables there passing through a doorway and finding myself in the pastry/dessert prep room. It was empty save for all the yummy desserts on the table, and I should have grabbed some right then and there, but I proceeded through to the restaurant to find myself in the middle of the kitchen and tables, but could not find a maitre d' or host stand anywhere. After standing there aimlessly for about two minutes, a gentleman approached (he was at the front door to the restaurant and could not be seen from the dining area or kitchen where I was) and asked me if I needed help. Perhaps the Blue Duck Tavern, unlike Melrose, wants to completely separate itself from the hotel, and I should have only come in the other door?

Anyway, we were quickly seated at the prime table facing the kitchen and perused the large and exciting menus and wine list. Yummy bread came with four slices of watermelon as some type of palate cleanser, I guess. I would have preferred a nice amuse giving me a taste of what's to come.

We first chose a CROZES HERMITAGES BLANC "Aux Betises" from Domaine de la Bruyeres 2004. This Rhone white comes from Beaumont Monteux, but the label gave us no hint of what percentage of Rousanne, Marsanne, Viognier, etc. was in the wine. At first it was a big fruit forward blast with pineapple and melon (say, honeydew or cranshaw), but once swirled in the mouth the wine exhibited a wonderful minerally effect that really showed its terroir. We ordered a small plate of dried meats that was not on the menu (we saw it at the next table) and enjoyed the Bresaola, extremely peppery Sopressata and tasty Prosciutto.

Everything at The Blue Duck Tavern is served in small copper serving dishes "family style" so that folks can share (or not). Personally, since I'm a big sharer and taster, I like this idea, but something has got to be done about the stupid small tongs they use. At one point the fish fell all apart and ended up on the table instead of my plate. When I suggested they use a spoon the server seemed a bit imposed upon, but at least I got one.

Our starters consisted of SAUTEED SARDINES with Preserved Lemon & California Olives. The fish were the biggest fattest sardines I have ever seen in my life (about 2 inches across at their width!), but they were tasty, boneless and sauteed to perfection with the lemon in shavings and the olives in a kind of confit under the fish. LIMA BEANS, CHANTERELLES and PISTACHIO NUTS was from the long list of side dishes and was another superb preparation full of taste, although I did get a bite of sand in one of those amazing chanterelles. CRISPY SOFTSHELL CRAB with SHALLOT Mayonnaise was another winner, as we moved on to our second wine. We ordered a Washington State Chardonnay, only to be told they were out of it, so switched to CHEHALEM's INOX Chardonnay 2004 which we always adore as it is an homage to pure chardonnay; the wine gets no oak and is fermented only in stainless steel tanks bringing out all of the fruits from the grapes. Indeed, I felt this vintage had a
lemony flavor, which was PERFECT along with the last bite of sardines with lemon!

We asked for a space between courses, and our server handles it perfectly. Everything came just as we were ready: BDT (Blue Duck Tavern) Fries are thick chunky fries cooked in duck fat and served crispy standing up. We asked if they are served with any condiments such as aioli and we got a remoulade(ketchup and mustard were also offered after we asked, but not delivered with the dish) used for another dish which was okay, but a garlic aioli would have been ideal. Needless to say the fries were so wonderful, we ordered a second side!

ROASTED DUCK Marinated in Molasses (I should add that each dish on the menu mentions the place of origin as the restaurant justifiably prides itself on the farms it uses--the duck was from Snake River Farm, Idaho) was an excellent duck with several large slices of breast (if a bit fatty, I just cut it off) and two huge delicious confit legs that were the highlight of my meal. The HOUSEMADE BRATWURST Braised in Beer & White Wine with Braised Sauerkraut was another wondrous creation, but the ALASKAN IVORY SALMON was the dud of the evening. When the dish was described as "Alaskan Ivory Salmon with Braised Beets, Apple, Bacon & Small Onions," I inquired if this was Alaskan white salmon (as I had never heard of ivory) and was told "yes." Indeed, if you google up "ivory salmon" you won't find much, so WHY use a term that is incorrect? Can anyone verify if "ivory salmon" is accepted instead of "white?" No matter, the fish was EXTREMELY fishy and not that tasty and when we asked where the beets were, our server apologized saying she made a mistake and should have said cabbage. We actually ordered the dish based on the beets, apple and bacon, and the latter two were barely in evidence as well.

We had a superb HERMITAGE ROUGE "Marquise de la Tourette" 2000 from Delas Freres in the Rhone which we have actually visited. It was earthy, yet smooth and full of fruit, with just the right amount of Viognier for softening.

Desserts were a major treat with PEACH ICE CREAM, a yummy crunchy PEACH & BLUEBERRY FRUIT CRUMBLE, but I think the APPLE PIE was the winner. It was a huge individual round pie that was just scrumptious, and even a bit better with a little dab of the Peach Ice Cream! Several chocolate bonbon-like squares were brought out as we finished up, and I'm not really sure what they were, but they were a bit gummy and rubbery and really should be avoided.

So, would I go back? Yes, but on an off night when it's quieter and I would be very careful of the fish entrees as they don't seem to excel as the meats and side dishes do. And who can resist dessert, and the wines are superb and well priced, although more attention to Oregon Pinot Noirs would be nice in an establishment that prides itself on the excellence of the American (farm) product.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

bravo to BUTTERFIELD9 -Restaurant Week extended

Last night we were invited to dinner at BUTTERFIELD9 (www.butterfield9.com) and were surprised to see that they have extended the 3course Restaurant Week $30.06 menu through this week. Apparently, MANY restaurants in the DC area are doing this, so if you plan on dining out in the next several days, check websites, ask around, and you may find more discounts available!

We started the evening at the cozy bar with some "Champagne Cocktails" made from Italian Prosecco and fresh fruit soaked in a sugar and cognac syrup and I had the B9 Martini which was a delicious and not cloyingly sweet combination of Stoli Peach Vodka, Peach Schnapps and Champagne.

We were seated upstairs for the first time ever, and my only complaint is that the room is a bit low, and the a/c vents are right above you, so it did get quite chilly. Otherwise, we had a wonderful evening and excellent food, despite the fact that Chef Michael Harr was out on vacation. The CHASSAGNE MONTRACHET 1er Cru "Morgeot" 2003 from Bernard Morey was a perfect example of the superb French chardonnay with intense mineral flavors and only the slightest hint of oak. This varied greatly from the FLOWERS ANDREON-GALE Cuvee 2003 from Napa which followed and had huge vanilla and oak flavors full of butter with an intense nose of apricot (if I were blindfolded, I would have guessed it was a dessert wine before tasting it!). These were perfect with the SEARED SCALLOPS, Red Onion Preserve, Cauliflower Puree, Garlic & Parsley Salad that three of us chose. The flat Italian Parsley was a bit bitter and could have easily been left out, the garlic was thin-sliced and flash-fried making it wonderfully crunchy and the Onion Preserve was heavenly. The CREAM of SWEET CORN SOUP with Conch & Saffron was also superb.

Our choice for wine was out (ZD Pinot Noir) so a substitute of ARCHERY SUMMIT 2003 RED HILLS ESTATE from Oregon was a blissful surprise. It went well with everything from the GRILLED RAINBOW TROUT with Creamed Spinach, Sage, Maple Glazed Bacon and Crispy Shallots to the FLAT IRON STEAK with Pommes Puree, Glazed Root Vegetables, Beef Jus and Grilled Shrimp. The trout had so many wonderful additions that exploded in the mouth such as the shallots and bacon, making it a great combination. I chose the superb ROASTED PORK TENDERLOIN with Caramelized Peach, Charred Red Onions & Country Cheese Grits. It was quite a large portions (indeed, the entree sizes were extremely generous for a Restaurant Week Menu), and perfectly cooked as requested; a delicious and tender piece of meat.

Desserts were a choice of Sorbets (nobody chose this), TAHITIAN VANILLA CREME BRULEE with Ginger Cookie that I thought ranked quite high on the Creme Brulee Quality Meter, and CHOCOLATE ALMOND CHEESECAKE with Morello Cherry Sauce & Marcona Almonds which was nice, but a bit too rich for me. An excellent 1/2 bottle of CASTA DIVA 2004 from Bodegas Gutierrez de la Vega accompanied perfectly. We haven't had this yummy Alicante Muscat in some time, and it's really a wonderful wine, lying between a light Muscat and a heavier dessert icewine or viscous wine, so it pairs well with the dishes and satisfies the sweet tooth as well.

Small glasses of port came as we waddled home, knowing we have two more dinners out this week!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

return to Restaurant Week-I'm at INDEBLEU

As always, we do try to enjoy a Restaurant Week discount dinner of three courses at $30.06, so last night we chose our one spot this week which was INDEBLEU at 707 G St, NW (www.bleu.com).

Generally speaking, Restaurant Week can be a good deal, but the service can be sketchy. We told our server we wanted to dine casually, and for the most part, she got everything right. Although our drink order was delayed over 20 minutes and the first bottle of wine came BEFORE the drinks. Ultimately, everything was ironed out by the sommelier as he held our food so that we didn't end up having entrees within seconds of our appetizer, or the wrong wine with the wrong course. Thanks to him!

On arrival, I was immediately sticker-shocked by the new $15 valet parking fee. I can't think of another place in town with this price, and in the future, we shall have to plan to arrive at 630PM to take advantage of the post-rush hour street parking! $15 will surely be better spent on wine!

Indebleu was literally heaving, with some kind of paparazzi party downstairs at the bar (I had to decline the photo op when we went from our car through the red carpeted entryway (were we at the Oscars?)). The dining room as always been a quieter oasis then downstairs, but last night it was busy, and the music (although, pleasant) seemed to be cranked up a bit and faster. All I can say that this felt like an urge to move faster and get more tables served; perhaps I was wrong. Luckily, we slowed down and in the end had a most pleasant experience.

We all ordered the $30.06 three course and we all started with the magnificent BRAISED VEAL SHANK SOMOSAs with CAULIFLOWER PUREE and HOT & SWEET MANGO CHUTNEY. The little puffy pillows were made of perfect pastry and the filling was delish, not to mention both the puree and chutney, which we all mopped up with the superb Naan. The drinks, as always, are fun from the Blackberry Mojito to the Lycheetini (made with
lychee flavored vodka) and the "Holy Basil" a blend of champagne & basil sirop de gomme, which is like a sllightly herbed champagne cocktail.

Our first wine was a refreshing VINA ALJIBES ROSADO(Rose) Tierra de Casillas 2005 made from Syrah and having the slightest ever fizz. Will called it "effervescent rose petals with a hint of raspberry." Our second and final wine was a MORGAN "Metallico" Chardonnay 2005 from Monterey in California, which really hints back to the French Burgundy Chardonnays with lots of minerals and only the slightest hint of oak. It was a nice change, and I always forget what good wines Morgan makes.

Our entrees did not fare as well across the board. The OVEN ROASTED CHICKEN BREAST MASALA with Potatoes Lyonnaise & Corn Cilantro Relish was okay, the PAN SEARED MONKFISH on FENNEL-TOMATO SALAD & Mussel "Rasam" got a "boring" from two friends; indeed the fish seemed more steamed than seared. The winner was my SLOW POACHED SALMON in Olive Oil with "poha" Pressed Rice Salad in Limoncello-Butter Reduction which was a wonderful piece of fish, perfectly cooked and a superb sauce as well.

Desserts were the same all around and this time no complaints for the MILK CHOCOLATE MOUSSE with Caramelized Banana, Caramel Ice Cream (tuille) and Curry Dust. Rich, yes, but the ice cream did cut the mousse's sweetness as did the banana.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

You need New Mexican Cuisine :Michael's & Orlando's in TAOS

Today was our final day in New Mexico, and since both meals were with Samuel, we decided to head to the favorite local amily-friendly spots serving local food.

Lunch at MICHAEL's KITCHEN (www.michaelskitchen.com) was a real treat. I had a CHALUPITA which is a tortilla covered with chicken chunks, lettuce, beans, guacamole, salsa and sour cream. It sounds simple, but the fresh spicy red salsa was amazing and made the dish simply perfect. Will raved about his STUFFED SOPAPILLAS with meat, cheese and green chili, while Samuel did eat most of his Child Taco Meal. Don't miss the Sopapillas served both with honey and homemade honey butter; they serve extras for free if you ask. We even hit the bakery for pastries to munch in the car on the way to the airport tomorrow!

Dinner was just up the road at ORLANDO's where we had lunch 3 years ago. The food is not as good as Michael's, but it is a friendly, family run operation with outdoor seating and a guitarist. We went indoors thinking it might rain, but it didn't.

Sam ate all his Beer Battered Fries, but struggled through the Cheese Quesadilla until we bribed him with a snack of jelly beans from the little vending machine!

Will & I ordered a bottle of SANTE FE VINEYARDS Tinto de Sol Red wine which at first tastes sweet (think two buck chuck), but actually works with the spicy New Mexican dishes. His SLOPPY BRO was a huge burger covered with cheese, green chili and accompanied by those yummy Beer Batter Fries. I went a bit lighter with a simple, yet excellent, burger with Caribe Chili which comes hot on the side and is a medium salsa like chili with an intense smokey flavor. It was even great for dipping the fries.

Will and I tried the KIKA FROZEN Avocado Pie which is made from Avocado & Lime on Graham Cracker Crust. It's a novelty and fun, but not something I'd order regularly. Samuel adored his jelly beans and we headed back here to El Monte Sagrado to pack and get to sleep early for the long trip home tomorrow.

Monday, August 14, 2006

a taste of TAOS: de la Tierra at El Monte Sagrado

We arrived in Taos yesterday for two nights and really had to eat at our hotel El Monte Sagrado, the only super luxury hotel north of Santa Fe in New Mexico. We were here for a quick day visit three years ago when they were just opening, and knew the restaurant (de la Tierra) was going to be a star.

We were right and wrong.

The dining room is intimate in that the black marble tables are few, and far apart. The room is huge with its sky high ceilings and skylights and massive iron chandelier. The black suede and fringed chairs are so huge I needed a pillow (they got a goose down one from a hotel room!), and I felt the light levels could have used increasing so I could read the menu and wine list a bit better.

We warned our waiter that we wished to dine slowly, and there were only three tables occupied, so it should not have been a problem. The manager/sommelier Chris came by and suggested the Babcock Eleven Oaks Sauvignon Blanc from Santa Barbara. It took quite some time to appear, and when poured by the waiter, we realized, was corked. After 5-7 minutes Chris returned all apologetic saying that was the last bottle and suggested bthe Iron Horse T Bar T Sauvignon Blanc; we were game. After what seemed a lifetime, he returned to say that there was no more. I noticed these were both 2001 vintage which was quite old for Sauvignon Blanc, especially in a restaurant. Chris then offered a Domaine Caillot 1999 Grand Vin de Bourgone which I got excited about; but after another 10 minutes, it came, was opened, and was corked as well. Finally, he gave us a more expensive DOMAINE du MAISON BLANCHE CHABLIS 1er Cru 2000 Mont de Milieu which was minerally and yummy and NOT CORKED. This was so bizarre as I can remember only having one corked wine in the past dozen or so years when dining out!

I decided to start with the Chef TAPAS Selection: a creamy yummy, SPICY CHILLED CUCUMBER Soup, a dry and sad DUCK CONFIT on Napa Cabbage, and a winderful FLANK STEAK with Rosemary Plum Chutney. Will chose the EL MONTE CAESAR, billed as a traditional Caesar with Red Chili Croutons, White Anchovies and Poblano Pepper Pesto. It was decent, but seemed to be missing the exciting bite expected from the chili and poblano. As our courses were cleared, we reminded the server to please give us 15-20 minutes, and he said he would fire up the entrees only on our cue. 10 minutes later the entrees arrived, before we had even ordered our red wine. We sent them back and ordered a bottle of BERNARDUS 1996 Marinus from Carmel. I asked Chris what the grape blend was, and he had no idea at all, but the wine was superb, and again, we were amazed that such an older vintage was available at a reasonable cost.

The entrees were much better with Will's CHINESE BBQ DUCK BREAST, Sauteed Shrimp and Cabbage Slaw coming in second behind my TAOS TWO STEP on BEEF: Tenderloin and Braised Short Ribs with Caramelized Onion, Potato Hash and Grilled Asparagus--it was an excellent dish and made so perfect by the demi-glace sauce.

We remembered the desserts from 3 years ago and both chose the TEQUILA LIME PIE with White Chocolate Ancho Chile Crust and Prickly Pear Syrup---this is a dessert worth traveling for. I only wish they had some dessert wines by the glass.

I must also mention the restrooms which sport "billion" year old walls made of limestone with fish fossils embedded therein behind the totally automatic sinks and modern flow basins. The entire resort is actually run largely on solar power and the water is all recycled and managed as a micro-bio-climate. It's cool.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Return to RISTRA, good, but less rousing than '03

Our final night in Santa Fe was my client dinner which we had with three wonderful opera singers all performing at the Santa Fe Opera this season. Three years ago during our last visit, we had this "client" dinner at RISTRA (Agua Fria Rd)and we were all totally impressed. This time, the service was excellent, but the food was not at the same level for all three courses.

The appetizers were, sadly, the letdown course. Will attempted the RED GAZPACHO with Croutons which came nowhere near the amazing Gazpacho we had the previous night at AQUA SANTA (just a block away). My LOBSTER TAILL with POTATO GNOCCHI & Basil in Almond Sauce was a wonderful preparation and concept, but the tail was not of the quality it should have been for a $17.50 appetizer; a bit too stringy and overcooked, so that 1/4 of it stuck to the shell.

Our first wine was a 2003 POUILLY FUME VIEILLES VIGNES from Regis Minet, which I believe we also had 3 years ago (check those Google group archives if you have time) and was adored by all, but could not compare to the amazing TALBOTT "Sleepy Hollow" CHARDONNAY 2000. It is rare to get a six year old chard, and even rarer to get one of this high quality, since I consider Talbott one of the best in California; what a treat for us all. Our red was the J.L. Chave 2001 ST JOSEPH "Offertus which again was adored by all; a truly wonderful medium to full bodied Rhone wine that always excels.

The entrees fared much better and we all seemed VERY happy with our choices from POBLANO RELLENO to GRILLED SPICED DUCK BREAST with Cauliflower Gratin, Swiss Chard & Apricot Sauce-Pasilla Sauce which was perfection. The STUFFED FREE RANGE CHICKEN BREAST Bwith manchego, Mascarpone Orzo, Green Patty Pan & Harissa Sauce as well as the ALASKAN HALIBUT with Parsnip Puree, Asparagus and Madeira Sauce also seemed to all come in winning first prizes. We WERE happy.

We could not decide on desserts so we shared two: The CHOCOLATE FONDANT was a real dud, looking like a giant turd under a piece of crust--need I say more? The BANANA HAZELNUT NAPOLEON with White Chocolate Mousse and Hot Fudge Sauce fared much better for all our taste buds as we went home from our final night in Santa Fe.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Amazing AQUA SANTA (one of Santa Fe's newest)

Last night was the 50th Anniversary Gala of the Santa Fe Opera, so we celebrated as well by trying a new place in town that had been getting rave reviews, even in the NY Times! AQUA SANTA (451 W. Alameda, tel 505-982-6297) boasts BRIAN KNOX as the Provencal-style chef who has been in town for many years and gained a reputation as the chef at Escalera years ago. After disappearing for a while, then running a gourmet deli-type shop he has come back to where he is supreme in the kitchen.

The small location just west of ntownhas a larger outdoor setting with a patio and draped roof with gauzy fabric and bamboo; inside you can look right into the open kitchen (but it can get warm). We were blown away by the hot huge loaves of bread we saw coming out of the oven, and were later told that the Sourdough Starter came from Bandol, France and made its way to world-famous Chef Alice Watersof Chez Panisse, and then ultimately to Aqua Santa through one of the chefs there. It was amazing bread!

It was tought to decide since we wanted to have everything, but needed to be awake for the gala concert, so Will & I both ordered the HEIRLOOM TOMATO GAZPACHO with Creme Fraiche and Orange. It was a perfect cool refreshing chunky soup, and the tomatoes were supreme, although they had some Japanese cucumbers as well and a sprinkling of pistachios on top for a crunch.

We ordered a bottle of JEAN DEYDIER Chateauneuf du Pape 2001 "Les Clefs d'Or" which was a fruity syrah-based wine with lots of plum and acidity in the fruit, but a big finish in the back of the mouth and a hint of coffee. I would have enjoyed a larger glass, but they seem only to use one type of glass for all wines which is a shame. On the label reverse, the importer had one of my favorite quotes from Thomas Jefferson: "Good wine is a necessity of life for me."

I ordered the small AQUA SANTA CAESAR which was perfect size and allowed Will a taste as well (at an amazing $4.50). It was very traditional, but what made it so wonderful was that each leaf of romaine was evenly and perfectly dressed, not overdosed at all, and the entire plate was beautifully covered with feathery grated Parmesan.

For entrees Will chose a superb BRAISED SHEPHERD's (name of the organic farm) LAMB with Olives and Summer Squash which was akin to ossu buco, but without the bones. My ORGANIC FRENCH CHICKEN BREAST with Brian's Apricots and Pine Nuts was excellent and accompanied by the most interesting RHUBARB GREENS with red stems that I first thought was red spinach or some kin to kale.

The desserts were the only part of the meal not up to the level of everything else. The ANGEL FOOD CAKE with STRAWBERRY COMPOTE was a bit dry and the CHERRY CLAFOUTIS with CREME FRAICHE was nice, but will win no prizes when compared with the desserts of the previous night.

As we end our stay and head to TAOS tomorrow for two more nights, we still have one night remaining here in town for my big client dinner at RISTRA, another always favorite!

Friday, August 11, 2006

GERONIMO, here we come....(Santa Fe)..and more...

Geronimo on Canyon Road consistently gets the top ratings for food, quality and service in Santa Fe, and I must agree, we always have a fine dining experience there. Last night was no exception, for the most part.

The bread was hot out the oven and tasty fresh, but I was surprised to find that no amuse bouche was offered at all. We ordered a superb bottle of DOMAINE SERENE 2002 Cote Sud Vineyard Chardonnay made from Dijon Clones (Willamette Valley, Oregon) and a gorgeous straw yellow in color with an intense minerality and a hint of French oak. It was perfect with our starters: my SPICY MARYLAND BLUE CRAB CAKES with Pan Braised Leeks in White Wine Chive Butter Sauce. These were spicy versions of our back home favorites that did well with those yummy New Mexican chilis. Will had the less exciting MAINE LOBSTER and CABBAGE ROLLS with Avocado Endive Salad and Lemongrass Vinaigrette. Here Chef Eric diStefano seemed to miss the mark a bit. The rice paper wrapped rolls were not too exciting, and at times seemed to be short on lobster. We actually had to send it back halfway through for a replacement as a hair appeared on the plate under the rolls! Our server apologized profusely and brought out another entire portion (which had more lobster than the first as well).

Will opted for the yummy CORN TEMPURA FRIED MARYLAND SOFTSHELL CRABS with Chilled Bucatini Pasta Salad and Roasted Garlic, Cornichon and Walnut Remoulade. The pasta was boring, but the crabs were superb--as good as back home! My PEPPERY ELK TENDERLOIN with Applewood Smoked Bacin. Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Snap Peas and Brandy Sauce was heavenly, and the meat was as tender as could be (unlike the stringy raw chop at Casa Sena last week). Even the peas and potatoes were superb; this is one of Santa Fe's star dishes. I had a glass of intense ROSENBLUM 2003 SYRAH "Abba Vineyard" that worked perfectly with the meat as well.

Desserts as well are a huge success at Geronimo with Will's TOFFEE CHEESECAKE with Pecan Linzer Crust and Caramel Ice Cream and my PASSION FRUIT SEMIFREDDO with White Chocolate Mousse, Orange Cake and Pineapple Compote. The latter was beautifully layered from cake to mousse to semifreddo on top and was a light and luscious treat. We shared a glass of COSENTINO 2002 Late Harvest Viognier which had a yummy smokey acidity when swirled around the mouth before we headed off to The TEMPEST at the opera.

We had breakfast yesterday at our hotel LA POSADA and it's always a huge treat (breakfast in this city is always HUGE). Samuel had a fruit and yogurt platter with all kinds of melons, papaya, pineapple, kiwi, berries, etc and honey which he enjoyed drizzling over the fruit. I had the BEEF HASH with Poached Eggs and of course, spicy chilis, while Will went for the Frittata. The breads again come from Sage Bakery and get fresh homemade jams: strawberry, peach and rhubarb--YUM YUM.

Lunch yesterday was really more for Samuel than us, so we headed to ROOFTOP PIZZERIA on the Plaza (60 E San Francisco, www.rooftooppizza.com) which is a new place atop a small shopping mall and a true retreat from the hustle of downtown. The outdoor tables have a view of the city and mountains and are perfected shaded with canopies. The child's pizza is huge and the regular ones (which we did not have) looked excellent. Even the lemonade was great.

Today we had breakfast with three dear friends also visiting town for the Santa Fe Opera's 50th Anniversary this weekend (tonight is the big gala) at The COWGIRL Hall of Fame Grill which offered a small, if sad, playground in the rear which kept Samuel busy. He sadly refused even a taste of the delicious BLUEBERRY PANCAKES, and just ate all the bacon. My BREAKFAST BURRITO was the best ever loaded with Bacon, potatoes, scrambled eggs and of course, a healthy helping of green chili sauce. It was sop huge I could not finish it, but everyone seemed to be enjoying everything except Will said the homefries were boring and not hot enough, although he loved the Cowgirl Eggs Benedict with Smoked Ham. The coffee and lattes get raves, and the staff was great always there when we needed them, despite the fact that we were the only table in the outside rear playground section.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

PASQUALE can be perfect (Santa Fe)

Yesterday Will and Samuel joined me and we decided Samuel's first Southwest meal would be at CAFE PASQUAL, always fun and always spicy. Sam was a bit antsy, but we all perservered and he managed to eat much of the chicken from his CHICKEN & CHEESE QUESADILLA with Garlic Fries (he adored those). I think he was tired from the time change, but he still enjoyed and also liked the superb COCONUT ICE CREAM with a bit of Fudge Sauce we all shared for dessert. My only complaint is that they don't offer a children's menu and the $16 for his plate was a bit pricey, and he only needed 1/3 of it!

I was excited that they offered an PINOT NOIR ROSE 2005 from ELK COVE in Oregon which was so refreshing and perfect in the heat. A CHILLED GREEN CHILE AVOCADO SOUP was very rich and creamy and had a slight bite from the chiles, and the NIMAN RANCH FILET MIGNON TARTARE with Garlic Fries was excellent save for a couple of sinewy bites. This can be a problem when all the food is organic, and Pasquale's went that route last year. A DOMAINE de la JANASSE Cotes du Rhone 2004 went wonderfully with the tartare.

Will opted for the huge PLATO SUPREMO with Chile Relleno, Chicken Mole Enchilada, Tamale and Beef Taco---way too much for one person. I adored my GRILLED WILD COHO SALMON with THAI LEMONGRASS SAUCE, Spicy Papaya Salad and Banana Sticky Rice Cake. It was not very spicy and the fish was supreme with a slightly creamy lemongrass sauce. A glass of JOSEPH DORUHIN 2005 ST VERAN was a perfect for this.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

O'KEEFFE CAFE is a keeper in Santa Fe

Tonight's dinner was at the O'KEEFFE CAFE in the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in downtown Santa Fe (www.okeeffecafe.com) and it was a very rewarding experience, save for the fruit flies (they loved my Pinot Noir!). The indoor area has adobe painted walls with O'keeffe photos and prints, wooden floors, crisp white linens and red leather booths and matching chairs (an homage to Georgia?)

The food leans towards Southwestern, but not with too many hot spices. Chef Carmen Rodriguez actually could put some more chilis in for my tastes. The super wheat bread (again from Sage Bakery) was served with oil mixed with aged balsamic and garlic, and a tiny amuse of seared tuna with ginger cilantro aioli was a nice small bite.

I opted to try the two flights of whites and reds that were offered as "comparisons of the same grapes from different regions." First came 3-3ounce tastes of SAUVIGNON BLANC. The 2005 Honig from Napa was the least exciting and was mildly grassy; it served as my aperitif. The 2004 PETIT BOURGEOUS from H Bourgeous in the Loire was the biggest with lots of minerals, a fuller taste and a perfect wine for food. I drank this with my COCONUT TEMPURA SHRIMP with Amor y Pasion Dipping Sauce. The shrimp were crisp outside and moist in, but the sauce was a bit too sweet for me..this was where the chilis would have done well. I drank the 2005 KIM CRAWFORD Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough in New Zealand in between courses as it was so refreshing with its intense grapefruit taste (this would have been a disaster with the sweet passion fruit dip).

For my entree the PINOT NOIR tasting offered 2-3 ounce tastes each of 2005 ST. CLAIR also from Marlborough (NZ) and 2004 CHATEAU ST JEAN in Sonoma. The latter had a smaller nose, but a huge taste in the mouth with aftertastes of coffee. The former had a huge nose, b ut was a bit wimpy in the mouth, but fruity.

My special entree of SPICE ROASTED QUAIL (2 whole birds, boned) and Spicy ELK SAUSAGE with Tomato Basil Risotto and Wilted Spinach was a huge and tasty portion. The meats needed no sauce as they were so tasty and well seasoned.

As I finished my entree a couple sat down next to me, in a virtually empty restaurant and the woman proceeded to lambast the chipped glass (that was cleared away anyway since she didn't order red wine). She proceeded to complain about the lipstick on her white wine glass; I loved the wonderful Riedel stemware! Oh well.

I had to order dessert, even though it was huge and I only finished half of my yummy STRAWBERRY CHEESECAKE which was supposed to have White Chocolate Sauce (but came with Dark) and Strawberry Coulis. The cake was set on a graham circle as was a more Italianate dry cheesecake with lumps of creamy cheesecake embedded within making it less rich than expected, a big plus.

The espresso was superb, and I spoke extensively to my server Ben from Oregon about his state's wines and look forward to bumping into him in NYC where he will move soon. What a nice experience.

a tale of two Santa Fe lunches(The Blue Heron & Bobcat Bite)

Yesterday my friend Charles, who moved to Santa Fe this past year, invited me to see The INN at SUNRISE SPRINGS (www.sunrisesprings.com) where he now works and to join him for lunch at their restaurant, THE BLUE HERON(242 Los Pinos Rd tel. 505-428-3600). I was quite impressed with the lunch and dinner menus, and while the location is a bit far from town (about 15 mins), it is well worth the trip out past the Santa Fe Airport to this secluded and serene spot. You can even get a day pass to the hot tubs/pool and facilities (or use the spa) if you really want to relax. The lemonade is cold and has a hint of ginger. The chef actually must adore ginger as the COCONUT CURRY Soup with Shrimp and Ginger has a nice infusion as well. While the soup is hot, it really was refreshing on a hot afternoon sitting outside (in the shade of the many trees) over the ponds and springs all around, with gurgling water everywhere. My entree was a superb TANDOORI CHICKEN WRAP, but I almost chose the Duck Salad. Whatever one decides on, I am sure it makes for a hearty, yet not overdose, of lunch in one of the calmest settings for miles.

Today, I made the pilgrimage to BOBCAT BITE (505-983-5319) located 4 miles southeast of the I-25 and Old Pecos Rd intersection on the Old Las Vegas Hwy (Historic Route 66). Bobcat is open from 11am-750pm only Wed-Saturday, so plan ahead. While we arrived at 1115am, there was already one name of the waitlist as there are so few tables. We waited about 20 minutes for a table, and by then the list was about 10 names long! (Hint: arrive before 1115am or after 2pm for lunch). While you might look at the menu at Bobcat Bite, there is really only one choice in my mind: The HAMBURGER with GREEN CHILI which is a 10 ounce Fresh Ground Choice Whole Boneless Chuck burger cooked to order and served on a simple, but fresh, bun with lettuce, tomato, potato chips (unless you order home fries) and topped with mild-hot green chilis. It is unquestionably the best burger ever, anywhere, and not just because of the chili, but because of the quality of the meat and the love that goes into the making of each one!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

KASASOBA, Just the best Japanese in New Mexico

Kasasoba must be a distortion of the Spanish Casa (house) of Soba (Japanese noodles), but who cares cause the food is spectacular. Located just west of downtown (544 Agua Fria-tel 505-984-1969) Santa Fe and open for both lunch and dinner, this is a must on anyone's visit to Santa Fe. While they bill it as Traditional Japanese Cuisine, the Southwestern influence is easily spotted in many dishes.

The dining room has only twelve tables (there is also outdoor seating) so reserve ahead, and the decor is minimalist, with rice paper shades on the window and rice paper covers on the fixtures.The walls feature Spanish, Asian and Polish movie posters of those Japanese horror and cartoon features (Godzilla and Speed Racer).

I started with a refreshing KANI-SU: Fresh Dungeness Crab with Vinegared Japanese Cucumbers and Wakame. This is a great summer dish since it is so refreshing, and the huge crab claw chunks were meaty and moist as well.

I ordered a flight of three sakes for my dishes which were WAKATKE Daiginjo "Onikoroshi: which was silky, but slightly sweet, OTOKOYANA "Utamaro" Junmai a medium sake with a strong banana flavor, but dry, and finally the excellent extra dry and super smooth HARUSHIKA CHO "Karakuchi."

Next came GOMA-AE: Blanched Spinach with Sesame Dressing which was a new one for me. The spinach was cooked so that it melted in your mouth without even chewing, and the sesame was so rich and intense that I could have swear that peanuts were added, but I was wrong. This is the perfect dish for anyone with nut allergies that wants to know what peanuts taste like!

My "entree" (and everything is billed as a small plate) was EBI-KIMU: Mexican White Shrimp Strifry wtih Kimchi. A huge bowl of seven moist and juicy shrimp surrounded by Kimchi made with local chilis was amazing. This must be ordered with the BEST RICE I HAVE EVER HAD, which is served with Plum Flakes and Sea Salt! Kimchi is a spicy dish and should bear a warning, but it was superb, and not too fiery.

I had to order sushi and chose the LOBSTER FUTOMAKI with Avocado and Yuba which featured giant chunks of lobster in each huge piece of sushi wrapped with the yellowish wrapper (I guess that makes it Futomaki?).

A pot of superb herbal green tea finished me off as I headed to The Magic Flute, hoping for some wild monster in the opening scene just like those in the movie posters on the wall.

I must also mention that Tommy Lee Jones sat across from me and when someone brought him a drawing he was most gracious and kind; a really nice gentleman it seemed to me!

Monday, August 07, 2006

The COMPOUND makes a comeback in SANTA FE

Tonight's luscious dinner was up the famous gallery lined Canyon Road in Santa Fe, back to THE COMPOUND www.compoundrestaurant.com) where I have not been for over a dozen years. The Compound was THE spot to dine when I first started going to Santa Fe in the 80's, but it declined a bit several years back. Chef MARK KIFFIN is now in charge and has garnered many awards including a JAMES BEARD regional chef!

Our wine was a superb bottle of ELK COVE Pinot Noir "La Boheme" Vineyard 2004 from Oregon. I was afraid the wine would be too young, but this vintage is ready to drink NOW and is full fruit and yummy. One must mention the excellent olive bread (and sourdough) from Sage Bakery in town as well.

My appetizer was a wonderful CRAB REMOULADE ECLAIR with Butter Lettuce, Tomato and Spicy Mustard-Caper Dressing. This was a large eclair (not sweet) filled with piles of crab salad on beautiful heirloom yellow and red tomatoes with several dollops of the sauce for spice. It was sublime.

Everyone else ordered the excellent fleshy and tasty ALASKAN HALIBUT in Lemon-Fennel Broth, but I opted for the VEAL SHORT LOIN SCALLOPINI with Chanterelles and Baked Oregon Cheddar Orzo in Buttered Veal Reduction. The meat melted in my mouth and was so wonderfully tasty as well as the accompanying mushrooms and the orzo. Course two--just as sublime as the first.

We had told lur server we needed to get to the opera, but we just couldn't seem to find him after our plates were cleared (incidentally, they cleared the plates while one of us was still eating-a BIG NO NO). I tried to motion to several folks for dessert menus, and finally reached in back of me and grabbed them off the table next to us. We still had to bug someone to get our order placed, so by this point the 20% tip had dropped to 15%. The PEACH SPICE CAKE with Peach Ice Cream, Peach Caramel Sauce and Ginger Snap finally did get ordered and we all shared it. A luscious cake and ice cream and sauce as well, but the "ginger snap" was really a gummy tuille" that we discarded. Final course, also sublime, minus the little cookie. Service gets a "C" though, but I think I'll still return to the COMPOUND again next trip.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Horseman's Haven is home to the breakfast burrito, chilis and more

And you all thought you wouldn't hear about food from me until tomorrow. This morning I joined three of my clients from the Wash Nat'l Opera who were headed back East just as I arrived. It was the perfect time to meet, and their virgin visit to Horseman's Haven. I luckily visited the Haven many years ago when it was a real trucker dive joint, and I fell in love with their breakfast, a meal I usually hate. On my last visit 3 years ago, I was heartbroken to hear they had closed up shop, but were expected to reopen soon. Well, they did, behind a gas station headed out of town in much larger lodgings with more room, and fewer lines (4534 Cerrillos Rd, Santa Fe -tel. 505-896-0476; www.horsemanshaven.com), and the food is JUST AS GOOD. The coffee is delish, but its the chilis that make the meal. The breakfast burritos are probably the best it won, but I opted for TWO SCRAMBLED EGGS topped with CHORIZO, GREEN CHILI, CHEESE and served with HOME FRIES and BEANS. The huge platter was impossible to finish, but that won't keep me from going back again. Luckily the Haven is open DAILY from 8am to 8pm (Sundays to 2pm) and they are famous for their chili burgers as well. Hmmmm, will I return, or try elsewhere? Well, to solve this mystery, keep reading this week, as I wind my way through Santa Fe. Tonight I will be at a friend's for dinner, so next report is THE COMPOUND, where I dine on Monday night with three friends from back East before I head to my first opera here this season, Carmen. ALAN (who will also head to the beltmaker in town tomorrow to have extra holes put in those wonderful Southwestern belts I bought here years ago!)

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Casa Sena's serene setting in SANTA FE(NM) with so-so Southwestern cuisine

I arrived here in New Mexico at 4:30pm yesterday, quickly got my luggage and car and headed on the hour drive north to Santa Fe where I quickly settled in to my mediocre, yet inexpensive hotel room (I move to the suite in the fancy hotel on Thursday when Will & Samuel join me!).

Before you could say "unpack," I was headed downtown for dinner at the always highly rated and well regarded CASA SENA. I haven't been to Santa Fe for three years (perhaps the longest break ever since I started coming here in the 80's), and it's been even longer since I dined at La CASA SENA (www.lacasasena.com) and it was a wonderful feeling to enter the courtyard of the adobe buildings with their adorable blue trim. The slate patio (it was a gorgeous night for outdoor dining--75 degrees and DRY) has many white clothed tables and truly uncomfortable wrought iron chairs in need of new cushions, but the twinkly lights in the trees with the giant umbrellas covering the tables (in case of a sprinkle), along with the 10-foot around giant cottonwood tree in the courtyard made me feel so at ease. As I ordered the tasting menu and sipped a glass of GRUET BRUT ROSE N/V from New Mexico (which actually tastes more dry rose wine-like than most French rose champagnes) the sky above turned all those wonderful sunset colors that New Mexico is famous for.

The Chef's Tasting menu at Casa Sena is a new offering from Chef Patrick Gharrity and at $60 for the food (an extra $28 for the wines, the Gruet was extra) it seemed like a pretty good option.

I started with FRESH APRICOT-GOAT CHEESE SQUASH BLOSSOMS with Ancho Chile Maple Syrup. This was a scrumptious and rich dish and could also have been served after dinner as a salad type course. The barely 3 ounce pour of MULLER-CATOIR RIESLING, Spatlese "Haardter Burgengarten" 2001 was from Pfaltz, and had a semi-sweetness to it that many Germany Rieslings do. A hint of apricot made it pair brilliantly with the dish and the interaction actually created a wonderful acidity in the wine. I couldn't help feeling how wonderful those apricot after tones would be if this were a late harvest wine!

Next came a refreshing GRILLED CRENSHAW MELON & ROMAINE HEARTS SALAD with Guava Vinaigrette, Cotija Cheese which can best be explained as a Southwestern fruity Ceasar. The slightly tight CURRAN, Grenache Blacn 2005 Santa Ynez (Calif) actually worked much better with the food!

A PASSION FRUIT HABANERA GRANITA with mint and edible pansy came next. To call it a palate cleanser is almost defeatist, as the habanero is so intense. A bit of the wonderful bread with the sundried-tomato butter did calm my taste buds.

I asked my server for a pause and to also be sure the meat was between rare and medium rare, and about 15 minutes later my GRILLED ELK RIB CHOP with Fresh Porcini Mushrooms, Wild Rice, White Fig-Veal Jus came to the table virtually raw. I could hear the poor animal making whatever sound an elk makes. So I drank my SILVER OAK Cabernet 2002 Alexander Valley as I waited for the dish to return. I had to ask a couple of times for a refill on the Cab when my elk returned, and finally got another 2 ounces or so. The meat was decent, but nothing exciting, and it was here that I began to feel that the meal was not what I really wanted.

Dessert confirmed my thoughts, so I had TWO GREAT courses and two mediocre ones. The APRICOT-BASIL TARTLETTE with Morello Cherry Sauce was fruity and tasty as I do like fruit desserts, but there was not enough cherry sauce to cover the intense basil flavor that virtually covered up most of the apricot taste. An AGROS MUSCAT de RIO 2002 from Greece was a wonderful finish to my meal. It is thicker than a traditional moscato from Italy and very herbaceous with a wonderful sweet taste that left me going home feeling sweet (if not fully thrilled) and ready for my upcoming week and a half in New Mexico.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

going great at GALILEO

I'm not sure what's up with the Italian restaurants in DC this past week, but for the second time out in less than a week we had a/c problems and had to dine in 85+ degree temps. That aside, we had a near perfect meal at Galileo last night celebrating the 50th birthday of one of our dearest friends.

We started with a toast of NICOLAS FEUILLATTE ROSE CHAMPAGNE N/V which did quench our thirst and cool us off. We then moved on to an excellent refreshing CHARDONNAY from CASCINA ORSOLINA "Frustanera" 2003. Its warm amber color had hints of apple and melon but a completely dry and delightful finish. A perfect pairing for our seafood appetizers, but I couldn't help but notice that the variety and numbers of white wines on the list has drastically shrunk from our past visits.

LE CAPESANTE con PACETTA SALTATE-Sauteed Scallops wrapped in Pancetta with a Ragu pf Asparagus, Zucchini, Chicheria Beans and Cherry Tomato with Garlic Sauce, and the totally AMAZING LE MOLECCHE con Rapini, MAIALE a Salsa Al Senape-SOFT SHELL CRAB dusted with Polenta served with Cured and Slowly Poached Pork Belly, Sauteed Rapini and Mustard Sauce. The huge dusted crabs were fun and crunchy and meaty and the small cube of pork belly was a nice contrast, but it was the creamy but mild mustard sauce (we had to ask for extra) that made this dish a supreme hit!

For our pasta course (we split two orders) we moved to red: BARBARESCO TETTI di NEIVE SCARPA 1989 was full and smooth with lots of fruit and hint of anise; this big wine worked well with our strong pastas, but drank perfectly in between courses as well.

GLI CAVATALLI di RICOTTA con Rapini, Cozze Vongole e Salsa all'Aragosta were beautiful homemade Ricotta Cavatelli which are like elongated gnocchi that are quite filling. The Lobster Tomato Sauce was a bit spicy and just right with the excellent clams, mussels and rapini. LE RAVIOLI di VITELLO con Salsa al Burro e Salvia were pillow raviolis filled with Veal and vegetables served in a delicious butter-sage sauce.

Our big wine was another 1989 BRICCO BRUNATE BAROLO from Bruno Ceretto that was simply one of the most elegant and tasty wines we have had in ages! This wine can be drunk with anything, and it worked wonderfully with the strong fish as well as the rabbit: IL PESCHE SPADA SICILIANO was a braised SWORDFISH on Traditional Sicilian Vegetable Sauce of Onions, Green Olives, Celery, Capers, Tomato, Raisins and Pine Nuts with a touch of Red Wine Vinegar & Sugar --need I say more.

My CONGLIO ai TRE MODO was a brilliant concept with RABBIT THREE WAYS being a Roasted Loin wrapped in Pancetta, a Sauteed Rack and the most exquisite MILANESE layered with Prosciutto and Gruyere Cheese then Sauteed Crispy and served with Braised Cipollini Onions & Rosemary Sauce. While it was all superb the latter was a creamy concoction that would make Milan very proud, not to mention Chef Amy Brandwein!

The only part of the evening that did not live up to this excellent cuisine were the desserts. The Gelati were offered and ordered, but then served without the one scoop of chocolate requested (we were finally told they were out of chocolate). My MOUSSE di FRTUTTA di PASSION was a decent but unexciting passion fruit mousse on a citrus shortbread cookie. The best summer dessert still remains to be the PINEAPPLE CARPACCIO that is tart and refreshing and everything a fruit lover could want.

Kudos to our excellent waiter Alexei and the entire staff that kept the enjoyable and long meal perfectly paced. A glass of LIMONCELLO sent us home very full, very happy and alas, still very hot!