Saturday, September 30, 2006

munching in Minnesota-St. Paul's W.A. FROST & CO.

Not that many of you would find yourselves in downtown St. Paul, but if you do, and have time for a wonderful meal, head a mile west of downtown to the beautiful Cathedral Hill neighborhood and dine at the 30+ year old W.A. FROST & CO. (

The Victorian style rooms offer not too comfy chairs, but old worn marble tables, dark tin cielings, huge Oriental rugs, fringed lamps, exposed brick walls and all sorts of paintings (I was seated under a sheepdog with his herd). The servers are helpful and friendly, and I listened to their suggestions--a great idea. I started with an amazing AHI TUNA "Steak Tartar" with homemade Potato Chip, toasted brioche Garlic-Mustard Sauce and a truly magnificent HORSERADISH PANNA COTTA. This would be great with good GEFILTE FISH! A glass of Hopler 2004 Gruner Veltliner was a perfect balance to the acidity. Incidentally, this may be Minnesota's most impressive wine list, with 40 wines by the glass, 50+ half bottles and close to 1000 full bottle choices on over 16 pages!

My server saw me writing and sent me a little bowl of the HARVEST PUMPKIN SOUP with NUTMEG Creme Fraiche and Spiced Pecan whcih was rich and creamy and went superbly with the G.V.

I moved onto a red DIEVOLE "Rinascimento" 2003 Sangiovese blend from Chianti that was perfect for almost any meat, but excellent with my ROASTED BREAST of WILD ACRES FARM DUCK (from Minn.) with Duck-Apple Sausage, Chestnut Foie Gras Austum Squash Ragout and Apple Radicchio Risotto over Apple Cider Sauce. It sounds intense and it was huge and wondrous, but a great combination of flavors. The apple in the risotto was not too cooked and had a little crunch which mimicked the crunch of the chestnuts in the ragout. The sausage was perhaps one of the best I have ever had.

Dessert was less of a success with a COMPOSITION of AUTUMN APPLES including a mediocre jelly-like Tarte Tatin, a fun bowl of 5 little Lady Apples in Caramel Sauce and a yummy Apple Fritter with Honey and Whipped Cream Dollops that I left behind and wnet right for the caramel sauce form the lady apples. The coffee was an amazing press pot of FINCA DOS MARIAS Guatemalan Estate Organic--credit that choice to Samuel. I had TWO pots, as I was headed to the opera.

I must also note they have an amazing cheese list with over 15 choices! I might just have to come back!

Monday, September 25, 2006

an IRON CHEF evening with White House IRON Chef WALTER SCHEIB

Earlier this week we had the pleasure of attending a Reenactment of the IRON CHEF Television show (so to speak) that resulted in past White House Chef WALTER SCHEIB championship. The event was held at the CITY CLUB and was a fun night for all, starting with those wonderful renditions that Chef Scheib is just so GREAT at.

He related the story of how the IRON CHEF AMERICA folks tried to get him to do the show, which he called "Professional Wrestling for Cooks!" Even his children told him it would be so cool. He kept telling them "no way" until public relations got the best of him and he gave in. Off went Chef to Kitchen Stadium, and the show appeared on the Food Network back in July with a victory over Iron Chef Cat Cora. The pre-show preparation and run throughs here in DC took about two to three weeks to get in the swing and to be ready for the final showdown. The team knew that the "secret ingredient" would be either venison, bacon or Dungeness Crab; it was ultimately the latter.

Our evening began with a superb CREMANT ALSACE from Rene Barth that was dry and sparkling and a great way to get us all in a festive mood with some dumplings, mushroom & meat puffs and phyllo with cheese. The actual show ran on a TV, but all we wanted to do was schmooze with the chefs. This was a bit one sided, as Cat Cora could not come, but we still had great fun enjoying the five courses prepared by the excellent team of Chef Scheib.

Sitting down at the table we enjoyed a PINOT GRIGIO 2004 from ROCCA BERNARDA that was so acidic (in a good way) that I was convinced it was a Sauvignon Blanc. It's acidity was perfect with the CHILLED MEDLEY of FRESH STEAMED DUNGENESS CRAB with AVOCADO, TOMATO & LIME. We also had the opportunity to see the special plates and serving utensils that the team had prepared in advance to enhance the presentation. Of course, as only a handful of these exist, and were created at great cost, the
almost 1000 of us had to do with regular china!

The next wine also came from RENE BARTH and was an excellent Alsatian GRAND CRU "Marckrain" 2004 GEWURTZTRAMINER. It was perfect with the best course of the evening: SWEET POTATO SOUP with THAI CURRY and COCONUT MILK, SAUTEED BOK-CHOY Cabbage & THAI GLAZED CRAB LUMPS. The creamy soup was heavenly and the crunchy bok-choy a foil to all the textures within. We stayed with the same wine for the SMOKED DUNGENESS CRAB CAKE over TROPICAL FRUIT FRICASSE with CHIPOTLE CHILI and CORN COULIS as this Gewurtz was so excellent with the mild spices in the food. My only complaint was that the Dungeness Crab is now out of season and in the crabcake it did not show its flavor and taste as well as it could have. I yearned for good ole hometown Chesapeake Crabs here.

The CHEF SALAD with GOLDEN & RED BEETS, ASPARAGUS TIPS, GRLLED VIDALIA ONION, CRAB MEAT & ORANGE CEVICHE DRESSING was paired with a delicious ST VERAN 2004 VIELLES VIGNES from Domaine Bernard-Gousse. The dessert was interesting as Chef Scheib explained, most competitors DON'T DO IT. He did, and went North African style with a SAFFRON & POMEGRANATE BASTILLA with TOASTED ALMONDS in PHYLLO DOUGH. Of course, the dish had crab in it, which some folks thought did not work; I loved it, considering the ingredient was really used and made a quite tasty dessert. The MONARCHIA "Demeter" 2004 TOKAJI Late Harvest Furmint was a special treat and gave the dessert a sweeter hint as well.

What a fun event, and may the competitors win!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

pretty nice at NAGE

Nage opened quietly on Scott Circle ( as a sister to its first incarnation in Rehoboth Beach, and we finally made it there last week after promising to go for ages. It is an unassuming bistro setup in red with booths, a bar in the back with a thankfully quiet flat screen tv. NAGE offers a wonderful three course option nightly and I decided to try that and was quite happy. At $35 it's one of the best deals around every day!

We ordered a delicious bottle of DOMAINE du VIEUX LAZARET Chateauneuf du Pape BLANC 2004 which tells you that the wine list is inventive and novel. There are many wines by the glass as well. Our friendly server Matthew delivered up some yummy homemade BACON BREAD and and olive tapenade that we quickly filled up on.

My appetizer was a huge portion of two 4x4 DUCK CONFIT RAVIOLIs with Mushrooms & Sun Dried Cherry Demi-Glace; it was sublime, and easily could fill you up. I left some of the pasta edging on Matthew's suggestion fearing I would not eat a bite of my entree. Will opted for the LOBSTER CORN DOG which had a magnificent GREEN MANGO & JICAMA SLAW with Tomato Lobster Roe. The thick tempura-style dough was a bit gummy, but the huge chunks of lobster within were moist and tasty. Will kept in the seafood family ordering the CRISPY SOFTSHELL CRABS (will these treats be the last of the season, we always wonder?) with a superb LOBSTER CHILE RELLENO and Roasted Corn Salsa. A glass of HARDY CHARDONNAY 2004 was decent and very reasonably priced at $6, since you can rarely get a glass of wine for $5-6 these days!

My DUCK BREAST with PUMPKINSEED POLENTA in Madeira Reduction was superb. The meat had virtually no fat and was tender as could be, the sauce supreme and the polenta was a chunky texture giving the dish some variety. I had a glass of the GOUGENHEIM MERLOT 2004 from Mendoza Aregntina whcih had an earthy finish that was quite nice, but perhaps a Pinot Noir would have been best.

Will and I split the dessert from my three course menu: BRANDY PAOCHED PEAR with CANDIED WALNUTS, BRANDY SPICE CAKE and Sweetened Ricotta-Goat Cheese Filling. It was quite filling indeed, and was easily enough for two people especially after that huge meal. A glass of nice FERRARI CARRANO ELDORADO Black Muscat sent us home.

If Nage is in your neighborhood, give it a try. If not, it may be worth the visit.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Pouring it on at PATINA in LA

I had been to Joachim Spiltal's gourmet star, PATINA (, several times before in its old location in West LA (where Providence now reigns), but this was my first visit to the new location which opened a couple of years ago in the magnificent new Walt Disney Hall designed by Frank Gehry in downtown LA. The magnificent aluminum/steel building slopes down to give way to the intimate Patina space as well as a front patio to dine outside. The colors and shapes outside are reflected inside with dark wavy wooden walls, putty carpets and leather chairs (and even the same color outfits for the servers!). I guess putty is "in" in LA! The slightly wavy ceiling is real cool with orange peachy backlighting coming through slats in the waves. There are stainless accents, crisp white linens and gorgeous orchids on every table. Cozy semi-circular banquettes on one wall make for cozy dining for two, three or four while viewing the crowd. Most of the crowd last night had come from the matinee of LA TRAVIATA which happily is being made into a DVD (starring my client Renee Fleming and her wonderful Alfredo, Rolando Villazon, who I pray will become a client!). Alas, Annette Benning, hubby Warren Beatty and their kids (who were at the opera and backstage afterwards) decided to dine elsewhere. Enough of the glitterati as the food starred last night.

I asked the sommelier about an Austrian varietal on the menu, SCHAFLERHOF 2001 ROTSIPFLER, which I had never heard of before and he instantly brought me a taste of the wine. Rotsipfler is usually used for blending he told me and it has an odd sweet nose but a herbaceous taste (think somewhat like viognier, but weirder). I opted to drink something else, as this wine did not suit my taste at all. I went for a magnificent 2002 Domaine Michel NIELLON CHASSAGNE MONTRACHET that was creamy and smooth, not fruit forward in the least, but a subtle chardonnay of excellence with the terroir easily found in the slight mineral taste.

An amuse of TUNA TARTARE with Cherry Tomatoes and Olive Tapenade was nice, but the action started with my tasting menu. MAINE SCALLOP CARPACCIO with YUZU SORBET was simple slices of the raw seafood and a dollop of the lemony sorbet which was perfect with each bit. Some greens underneath gave color, but I also liked the dried yuzu lemon dust around the plate. Next came a luscious (not creamy) LOBSTER & CHANTERELLES RAGOUT Gratineed with a Sabayon of Black Truffles and shavings of the same. These were less intense summer truffles and while the nose of truffle was there, the taste was mild; the sabayon was more foamy than creamy giving less weight to the dish and making it less filling--there was much to follow. TRUITE DE MER "a la Plancha" with MANILA CLAMS, Yukon Potato Cubes, Leek Emulsion and Sauteed Leeks was perhaps the best trout I have ever had; it came from the TASMANIAN SEA! This gets an A++ in my book. I was asked if I would like a palate cleanser before the meat, and obviously said yes. A grapefruit sorbet came, and I was so sad to turn it back due to my cholesterol drugs. A substitute of Vanilla Bean PANNA COTTA came out with MANGO SORBET, Pineapple and Pomegranate came out as fast as could be; it was a divine cleanser and treat.

About this point I met the charming manager Christian who spoke with me extensively. I found out that the only other Relais et Chateaux dining spot in LA, L'Orangerie, will be closing soon, leaving only PATINA. Lucky them! Sylvester, the sommelier, then came by to advise the couple across from me thought I looked so attractive and was having so much fun, that they offered me a glass of wine. He chose a superb MONTEBRUNA BARBERA d'ASTI "Braida" 2004 that was still young with a slight bite, smooth and tasty--think sexy. It was great with my meat, but I still had Montrachet left which was fine with the CRISPY SWEETBREADS, LENTILS de PUY "bottle poached", baby carrots and parsnips.

My meat was a magnificent MILLBROOK FARMS VENISON SADDLE with Polenta & Cranberry Strudel, a light Chocolate Sauce (think light mole) and Venison Jus. The meat was sublime, but I wasn't crazy about the polenta strudel, it needed something, but I was full-so no matter. I took the time to stroll over to the gracious couple and chat a bit. Oddly enough, she was an aspiring opera singer!

For dessert, I opted out of the Chocolate Symphony and choose the perfect ALMOND NOUGAT GLACE, Caramelized Banana "Encroute" with Almond Puree and Banana Ice Cream. It was a great combination of mini-desserts all assembled beautifully. I loved the crusted banana!

Sylvester brought over a complimentary glass of COTEAUX DU LAYON CHAUMES 1er CRU from Chateau Pierre Bise in the Loire that ended my meal and stay in LA perfectly.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

soaring and sighing at SONA in LA

Back in May Chef David Myers came to DC for a private dinner benefit that I attended (and reviewed here) which impressed me greatly, so I decided to make his restaurant SONA ( a definite stop during my next visit to LA. I did this last night with clients of mine that had performed that afternoon in the LA Opera's Don Carlo. We make amazing time, and arrived at Sona almost 45 minutes early; the warm and gracious staff said it was no problem as they set our table and seated us. The decor is basic putty walls with a muted feeling. At 645pm the small square dining room was reasonable quiet, but sadly by the time we left three hours later, the noise level was so high we found ourselves a bit strained on the vocal chords (a big no-no for singers!).

We quickly decided on the 6-course tasting (there was also a 9-course option and ala carte) with several instructions as these tasting menus are "blind," meaning each dish is announced as it is served. I was surprised to find Chef Myers was in NY this weekend (he cooked at James Beard House the other night) and began to fret a bit, but all seemed in order and we commenced. A glass of AUDOIN DE DAMPIERRE "Ambassadeurs" 1er Cru Champagne quenched our palates as we toasted and the amuse arrived: PICKLED PAPAYA SALAD with SMOKED EEL on one side and CUCUMBER GELEE with CREVETTES and Herb Creme Fraiche on the other. They were both quite tasty and got us excited about what would come next. I had a glass of 2002 CHASSAGNE MONTRACHET from SAUZET that the excellent sommelier proffered from his special selections (wines he opens to pair with the tastings, I assume, but we opted not to choose those). It was a wonderful chardonnay that went very well with my first couple of courses:

HAMACHI with PICKLED YUZU KOZO (a spicy citrusy cabbage like item) on Sushi Sweet Rice which was not to my liking at all. I tasted the Yuzu Kozo alone at first to get a feel for it and it was way too spicy and bitter as well. It almost wrecked my palate as the white wine was poured and I tried to taste it! The rice under the superb hamachi was falling apart; I think the sushi chef in the kitchen needs to rethink this dish's elements and construction as it was quite messy and needed a spoon or fork to even try to get the rice up.

GRILLED HAMACHI with SPICE MANGO Espuma, Grilled Corn & Bok Choy came next which was a big improvement on the ingredients and assemblage, but I stillwas not wildly impressed.

My hosts ordered a bottle of CHATEAU PICHON LONGUEVILLE 1998 COMTESSE de LALANDE as one of them was from Bordeaux and they generally prefer big reds. Upon tasting it, they realized it was a bit young, but it eventually did open up about an hour later (just when I started drinking red!) and was extremely full bodied, but still not a revelation.

It went quite nicely with the very simply prepared SEARED FOIE GRAS on ASIAN PEAR PUREE with a slash of Muscavato (?) and an ASIAN PEAR HONEY CAKE with a dollop of Rice Dream Ice Cream. This dish was superb, although nobody seemed able to explain Moscavato which seemed to be a spicy version of a molasses like balsamic (I assume made from muscat grapes or moscato wine?). Needless to say, the perfectly seared foie gras with the mild pear puree was just perfect and the little cake made me think of how nice it would be if I could re-create this for Rosh Hashana next week, as honey cake is a traditional dish for the New Year!

The meat courses were easily the highlight of the meal, and the Bordeaux was becoming more elegant as we ate these. LIBERTY FARMS DUCK BREAST with Creamy Grits, Spinach & Bacon Sherry Vinaigrette was just past rare and wonderfully tender. Now I was reveling in the excellent preparations and superb meats. Sometimes, we did not all get the exact same dishes, so we had the opportunity to taste each others. While I had a magnificent HANGAR STEAK with JICAMA-CILANTRO Salad, MOLE & CAPELETTI Pasta, the other got a truly gorgeous VENISON with Fried OKRA & CHANTERELLES. I really wanted full portions of both....

Desserts were of varied success with my MACARON (French cookie), PINEAPPLE PASTILLA, Lime Sorbet and Braised Cherries easily outdoing the concoction served to the others with the oddest tasting JAPANESE MUSTARD SORBET. This reminded me, indeed, of the Chinese mustard one uses on a spring roll; spicy, yet in sorbet form.

Next the others got CHOCOLATE NAPOLEON with Ganache, STRAWBERRY FIGS and Orange Blossom Ice Cream, while my CHOCOLATE GUIMAUVE(marshmallow) came with WILD MACERATED STRAWBERRIES and Tarragon Sorbet. They were both heavenly.

The mignardises were fun and consisted of FLEUR de SEL CARAMEL, super buttery COCONUT MACAROONS, MARCONA ALMOND BUTTERSCOTCH Brownie (about 1/4 inch square--and more cookie like), GRAPEFRUIT pate de fruit (which I could not have because of my cholesterol medicine) and KOROVA Sable cookies.

For the most part, SONA was enjoyable, although I think I would steer away from the Japanese inspired dishes and sushis and aim for the meats.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Perfection at PROVIDENCE

I arrived in Los Angeles yesterday for three nights of what I hope will be fine dining and two afternoons of opera (how convenient to get two matinees in a row so I can dine out afterwards!). One of may favorite places in LA has always been PATINA. The longtime LA fave closed its doors several years ago and recently reopened in the new Walt Disney Concert Hall downtown (where I will head tomorrow for dinner). Its vacated premises on West Melrose has been taken over by the newly praised PROVIDENCE ( where Chef MICHAEL CIMARUSTI rules having left the Water Grill downtown after a 6-year tenure there as executive chef. Since opening the awards have been flowing and, and I can easily understand why. The food is innovative and heavenly, the staff is truly the best I have seen anywhere in a long time. The dining room has been redone and is a bit on the odd side with simple putty colors and high backed leather banquettes around the room. The walls have flowing shell-like decorations scattered around almost in blotches indicating that seafood is the forte here. The votive candles on the table even have dozens of red coral colored beads on wires giving a reef-like feel to this table decor. I also loved the way the coarse salt was served in a small white cellar with a small mini-trowel to scoop it out. If I had to complain about anything, it would be the fact that Angelinos adore their a/c. When I arrived at 630pm, the room was pretty empty and quite chilly; it did warm up by my departure FIVE HOURS LATER.

I could not resist ordering the "Market Menu" billed as a nine plus course tasting menu for $95, but also available for $75 in a reduced five-course version. There was one course of Pork Belly which I asked to substitute and my excellent captain immediately said no problem. Each area had a very attentive captain and at least three or four servers plus busboys under him; it all worked so smoothly. I opted to choose my own wines and the sommelier suggested two different half bottles of white which worked perfectly with each of the first several courses and many amuses. A PASCAL JOLIVET POUILLY FUME 2004 from the Loire was a dry crisp Sauvignon Blanc with only a slight hint of oak from the fume, an E. GUIGAL 2004 CONDRIEU was a wonderfully aromatic Viognier that was smooth and creamy on the palate.

The first amuse was a KUMAMOTO OYSTER MARGARITA or Shooter what was made with tequila, sake and a creamy cold lime foam on top. The explosion of lime reminded me so much of the chemical magic we experienced at the FAT DUCK last year in the UK. Chef Cimarusti did this every now and then, but overall, the chemical influence was only periodic, yet always fun and welcome. Amuse #2 was a SANTA BARBARA SPOT PRAWN TARTARE with an accompanying Shrimp Tail Tempura. The tempura was just one small bite (unless you like to eat the actual tail) and was intensely salty, but the tartare was sublime.

Amuse #3 was a dollop of DUNGENESS CRAB with a Rice Cracker with Chili Threads. Opposite was another chemical-type play in the form of a TOFU MARSHMALLOW with Crushed Wasabi Crust and a dab of Paprika Jelly. The marshmallow was fun and innovative and worked so well with the crab as well, but I chose NOT to combine them. I noticed that other folks not on the Market Menu received only ONE amuse which was a pairing of the marshmallow with a chilled melon soup shooter with the lime foam. I adored what I had, but look forward to returning again just to enjoy the amusing amuses!

My main meal started with BLUEFIN TUNA TARTARE from Nova Scotia with HEIRLOOM TOMATO, Fresh Yuzu, Matsutake Mushrooms, Tomato Tartare and Yellow Heirloom Tomato Sorbet. I think just these ingredients are enough to make anyone happy, and a truly wonderful start, especially on a hot evening (although it was a gorgeous 78 degrees in LA when I arrived at Providence). next came SANTA BARBARA SEA URHCIN with Champagne SABAYON served in an eggshell with Slivers of Summer Truffle and Brioche Croutons. It was an intensely rich and filling dish, so I was glad it was just about 5 small spoonfuls of urchin and the creamy sabayon.

NEW BEDFORD SEA SCALLOP with Applewood Smoked Bacon, Tomato Compote, Solera-Aged Sherry Vinegar and Burdock Root came next. I think this was my first experience with the crunchier than but akin to salsify root which was fun as well. The scallop was flawless.

CHATHAM (Mass) COD was a firm fish with an excellent crunchy skin served with CRANBERRY BEANS, CUTTLEFISH, CHORIZO & ARTICHOKE with Olives and a spicy PAPRIKA Jam. This dish worked amazingly well when combining all of the elements together. At this point I switched to a magnificent light, yet filling red from SLOVENIA. Yes, Slovenia--MOVIA 2001 Pinot Nero (their version of Pinot Noir) was a find that I doubt I will ever see again (unless I head to Eastern Europe), a perfect pairing with both of the intense fish dishes and the cheeses as well.

I switched back to the Condrieu though for my SWEETBREADS with Smoked CIPPOLLINI Onion with a COCOA NIB-PEDRO JIMENEZ REDUCTION and Watercress. The sherry and cocoa was wonderful with the crunchy sweetbread, but I had to send it back since the inside was completely raw. A complete remade replacement dish came out quite soon, making me quite happy and not upsetting me in the least. Indeed, at any hint of a problem anywhere in the room, the servers rectified it immediately and perfectly.

The only dish of the evening that did not impress me magnificently was the WILD TROLL-CAUGHT QUEEN CHARLOTTE ISALND (British Columbia) SALMON with Carrots, Chanterelles, Smoked Cipollini Onions and Cocoa. The salmon itself was excellent and tasty, just the combination of ingredients here was so much less exciting than everything that came before.

The cheese course was another revelation with three totally new cheeses for me:
JULIANA from Capriol Farms in Kentucky was a hard goat cheese with a rosemary crust
NEILS YARD BURKESWELL was a magnificent medium body sheep & QUERCY de LUNGO was a creamy rich French Goat that I have to find!
These were accompanied by excellent spiced walnuts, figs, guava jelly and fruit bread.

Another variation a la Fat Duck came in the CONCORD GRAPE SORBET and STREUSEL with PEANUT POWDER on Toast, the pre-dessert themed on Peanut Butter and Jelly that was another fun treat. The WARM PEACH GELEE is a nipple-shaped treat topped with BLACK CHERRY CHAMBORD (Liqueur) Foam and paired with YOGURT SORBERT, ALMOND & CINNAMON Curd with Saffron. It was a perfect end to a truly miraculous meal. Of course, the mignardises came in the form of LYCHEE Gelee, PEANUT BUTTER CUPS (move over Reeses) and FIVE SPICE TOFFEE.

I could not believe I was there for FIVE HOURS, but every minute was heaven. I must also thank my dear friend DANIEL who lives in LA and was supposed to join me, but got called away at the last minute, He arranged to have the entire meal as a belated 50th birthday present. WHAT A GREAT TREAT!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

a very Happy 1st Anniversary at WILLOW is wonderful

Last night WILLOW ( Restaurant in Arlington celebrated its first anniversary with a special tasting and wine dinner featuring the wines of Long Vineyards of California. Bob Long was in attendance and graciously visited each table multiple times explaining all the wonderful wines, but it was Chef/Owners Tracy O'Grady (and her husband Brian Wolken) & Kate Jansen who won us all over last night with their magnificent cuisine:

Passed Hor's d'oevres:
Bacon, Goat Cheese & Braised Leek Flatbread
Fried Balls with Fontina & Prosciutto
Tempura Veggies with Spicy Ginger Dipping Sauce
Napa Valley White, Long Vineyards Estate "Patricia" 2004

Seated dinner:
Rhode Island Style Little Neck Clam and Fresh Herb Broth
(same wine)

Butter-Poached Maine Lobster, Fennel Raviolini, Chanterelle Mushrooms & Speck Ham
Chardonnay, Long Estate, Napa 2002

Smoked Duck Breast with barley, Herb Risotto & Oven-dried Tomatoes
Sangiovese, Long Vineyards Sonoma 2004 (Seghesio Vineyard)

Mushroom Crusted Rack of Lamb with Artichoke & Parmesan Cheese
Tart-Foie Gras& Lamb Emulsion
Cabernet Sauvignon, Long Vineyards Estate, Napa 2001
Cabernet Sauvignon, Long Vineyards, Napa 2002

Individual Peach Pie with Macerated Blackberries & Creme Fraiche Ice Cream
(Late Harvest) Riesling, Long Estate, Napa 1997

A trip to WILLOW would not be complete without one of Kate Jansen's flatbreads, so it was fun to start of the evening with this delicious one and the "Patricia" white was a 2/3 Riesling, 1/3 Chardonnay blend that is quite rare in California, but its intense apple flavors and dryness made for a very pleasing match, especially with the excellent broth loaded with little clams and potatoes and a yummy slice of crunchy baked bread to dip in.

As you know I'm not a fennel fan, but the raviolini were mild enough, and the speck ham (if cut up and mixed with them) added a saltiness that made the dish quite tasty. The Long Chardonnay is one of the best around and is really their winning wine aged for 3+ years before release and given new oak which subsides over this long aging (and is so unapparent like many Calif. chards)and makes the wine perfect at release or for years to come. Interestingly, the flavor changes with different foods, as the wine is so smooth and tasty, but with the salty speck, the lobster and each different bite of the raviolini, we could pick out new flavors in the wine as well. That makes this a real star of a course, a wine, a dish and a pairing!

Similarly, the herbiness of the risotto was intense, but when paired with the duck and tomatoes of the next course the mixture was superb and ingenious. The Sangiovese opened up quickly but at 14.5% alcohol still was intense, showing big cherry, strawberry and even rhubarb notes.

The lamb was the star of the meal, simply ONE OF THE BEST EVER. The tart was intense with cheese, truffle and so rich I could only eat one half, but again the two Cabs kept changing as we ate different things. The 2002 was a bit more tannic and perhaps will do better in a year or so, but with the intense tart it really worked well. The older '01 was so smooth and yummy you could drink it all alone and be quite happy, but with the lamb it was a revelation.

The dessert was another Kate Jansen treat, as they so often are that really SHOULD be on the menu. The only problem all night was the sad lilliputian wine glasses used for dessert that did not allow anyone to smell or enjoy the wine, which was served a bit too warm for my tastes. Caramels and Poppyseed Butter cookies were served as we waddled our way home happy to wish a very HAPPY ANNIVERSARY and such a wonderful success to WILLOW.

Smoked Duck Breast with barley, Herb Risotto & Oven-dried Tomatoes
Sangiovese, Long Vineyards Sonoma 2004 (Seghesio Vineyard)

Mushroom Crusted Rack of Lamb with Artichoke & Parmesan Cheese
Tart-Foie Gras& Lamb Emulsion
Cabernet Sauvignon, Long Vineyards Estate, Napa 2001
Cabernet Sauvignon, Long Vineyards, Napa 2002

Individual Peach Pie with Macerated Blackberries & Creme Fraiche Ice Cream
(Late Harvest) Riesling, Long Estate, Napa 1997

Sunday, September 10, 2006

return to TALLULA and the dish on DISH

It's been a busy weekend with my parents visitng and we decided to take them (and my nephew) on Saturday night to TALLULA in Arlington ( as we had such a wonderful time two months ago, and it was very convenient to their hotel in Rosslyn as well. I, admittedly incorrectly, also thought that staying out of DC, we could perhaps have a quieter dining experience. As you know, we try to avoid weekend dining in DC and our ONLY complaint about Tallula on Saturday was the fact that we could barely hear each other over the heaving crowds and high noise levels.

The beautiful tin ceilings don't help the situation, and I think the next time we head back to this wonderful spot, it WILL be a weekday! I think the fact that Tallula is such a dining destination, and the only one for some distance around in the Pershing neighborhood, easily explains the crowds. We arrived at 7pm, and it was relatively quiet as we settled into the comfy circular booth overlooking the dining room, but by 8pm, there was not an empty seat, and we could not easily hear each other in muted conversation.

Last time we went I got several inquiries about the name, which comes from the Native American term for "running water," not the famous Hollywood icon! That explains that, and now onto the WONDEFUL meal.

We had a wonderful server, Derrick, who was quite attentive, although, we could not help feeling they needed one more employee in the room, by the time we were ready to leave, as it was so busy. We started with a bottle of green apple intense STEININGER "STEVN HOLL" 2005 Gruner Veltliner (Austria) that was a perfect aperitif. As the fall, comes, the G.V. loses its excitement since it really is a warm weather wine for me. A small cast iron pot of hot house-cured olives came accompanied by brioche toast and a chunk for foie gras for us to share. The olives were amazing; whoever thought to serve them warm and what a great idea?

You may remember that Tallula has a wide selection of small mini-tapas under the category of "Amuse Yourself." I returned to one of my favorites from last time, the superb STEAK TARTARE with Dijon Mustard, Capers in a Parmesan Tuile. It is one of the larger "amuse" and a great deal at $2-3. Each of us chose one or two of these and we also went on to a superb second wine from Uruguay: BODEGAS CARRAU 2005 Castel Pujol "sur Lie" SAUVIGNON BLANC from Cerro Chapeu was a real treat with those citrusy Sauvignon Blanc undertones but a slight oakiness from the "sur lies" that made it tasty and a real novelty as well.

I chose the HEIRLOOM TOMATO SALD with Buffalo Mozzarella, Picholines Olives and Fresh Basil which was quite large, refreshing and had both yellow and red heirlooms that were superb. Some had the excellent, as always, WILD MUSHROOM STRUDEL, a not to miss item that I doubt will ever leave the menu. Entrees varied from the CRAB CAKE appetizer that I had two months ago and rated one of the best in town, to the GRILLED BROOK TROUT with Heirloom Tomato & Sorrel Salad, Anchovy Butter and Crispy Yukon Gold Potatoes, a wonderful choice if you seek fish or less fat. I opted for the DUO of NIMAN RANCH Pork, as I have yearned for this dish since my first visit in the spring of '05. It has a Braised Pork Chop and Belly with Broccoli & Cheddar Cheese with the most MAGNIFICENT Whole Grain Mustard Jus that made the dish. Then chop was superb, but the belly, as it always is, was quite fatty, so I only had a bite or two of the crunchy portion.

My nephew is a vegetarian and Tallula has MANY options for him from the Strudel to three pasta dishes (one starter and two entrees), and many other dishes that can easily go veggie. I think he was quite happy as he also munched on my yummy Broccoli & Cheddar. We had a superb Oregon Pinot Noir from the same vineyard as the previous week's excellent Pinot Gris at Mie N Yu--the GYPSY DANCER 2004 "EMILY's RESERVE" was sheer smooth perfection in Pinot, a wine I shall seek out immediately.

Desserts from Pastry Chef Amy Foster are quite tasty with a creamy and tart KEY LIME PIE with SWEET CREAM & Raspberry Coulis, a tasty BANANA CREAM PIE with Caramel & Chocolate Sauces (they were out of the Mixed Berry Crisp) and some quite good Peach & Strawberry Sorbets. We went home quite happy and satisfied with every bite, but not the noise level.

Yesterday I took a pile of opera stars to a quick dinner at DISH, one of the best bets near the Kennedy Center (in the River INN at 924 25th St, NW). Chef Anthony Chittum was not there, but he has completely revamped the menu and offers a simple selection as well as a very nice tasting (which we did not have the time to partake of due to three airline flights!) menu.

In a nutshell, I was WOWED by the SPICED CORN CHOWDER with Blue CRAB, Diced Avocado and Jalapeno--it was superb. My MUSCOVY DUCK BREAST was a large portion served over "Dirty" Wild Rice with Roasted Black Mission Figs and Foie Gras Sauce..another super choice. Everyone seemed very happy with the food, although a taste of the Lemon Pound Cake left me a bit dry in the mouth. DISH is really (along with sister NOTTE BIANCCHI around the corner) one of the few excellent possibilities less than 3 blocks from the KenCen!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

come to KOMI for the cuisine!

I actually wrote this entire review the other day and then deleted it by mistake! Don't you HATE THAT?

KOMI (1509 !7th St, NW, tel. 202-332-9200) reopened last year as a smaller more intimate experience than originally intended, and Chef JOHNNY MONIS clearly made the right move, as he won RISING CHEF of the YEAR at this year's Restaurant Awards back in June. This was my first visit, and I had to twist Will's arm, as he had been to Komi in its first incarnation and thought it a bit crowded and noisy. It is now much quieter with sparser table locations and a calm ambiance; beige-yellow walls and minimal decor make the food the center of attention (although I could have done without the woven mats on the table--it's odd how they are only on the tables for two, while all the other have beautiful white linens). Indeed, the brightest item in the place was a huge vase of gorgeous sunflowers on the center serving table.

Our server offered us tastes of the Greek white wines since we did not know them and we opted for the DOMAINE GEROVASSILIOU MALAGOUSIA 2004 from Macedonia which had a sweet nose (but was not sweet) and lots of delicious fruit on the palate especially white peach. It was perfect with the food.

The menu offers 4 first courses at $10 each, 6 Macaronia (pasta) at $14 each and 5 entrees at $27 each (some have $5 supplements) and a tasting option which includes one of each plus cheese and dessert for $67 (wines can be paired for $40 more). We decided to go ala carte and Will chose the Selection of MEZZETHAKIA consisting of crostini with tzatziki and taramasalata which was a creamier nouvelle version of the traditional dish (while not my favorite version it was nice, but not as good as our friend Maria makes), fried cheese and house cured olives. I fared better with the PAN FRIED SARDINES with CHICKEA & CUTTLEFISH which had four huge superb (if fishy) sardines and the most glorious chickpea and cuttlefish salad on the side. We had received an amuse at the start of OVEN ROASTED DATES Stuffed with MASCARPONE and drizzled with Olive Oil & Sea Salt, but they were so hot we had them at this point, and they were a perfect palate cleanser for both our starters. YUM YUM!

The pastas were superb with Will opting for the RISOTTO with SEA URCHIN and a LOBSTER STOCK & Peas which was scrumptiously creamy and with little pieces of sea urchin on top that were yummy. My BOULETTAS with CRAB, HOT PEPPER & CHERRY TOMATO were gnocchi-like pasta perhaps closer to matza balls in weight and the peppers packed a mini punch in every third or so bite...perfecto!

We spoke to the sommelieuse at length about the red wines and were seeking a Pinot Noir to pair with both entrees, but ended up with a ROCCHE COSTAMAGNA ROCCARDO 2002 from Piedmont which is 100% Nebbiolo and worked perfectly-she knew her wines well. It was great with Will's WHITE TUNA with SPECK & FARRO (grain), Spinach & Pine Nuts, a quite filling dish indeed. My STUFFED RABBIT with STINGING NETTLES, PROSCIUTTO & PARMAGIANI with Creamy Polenta and Baby Carrots was one of the most beautiful presentations ever with each slice of white loin split with the green nettles and wrapped in prosciutto. The dozen or so slices were arranged over the polenta giving a chess-board feel that was almost too beautiful to disturb!

We were totally full, but could not neglect dessert (then you would have begged me to go back!) Will had the SORBETS of GREEK YOGURT(a real novel treat), BLACKBERRY & PEACH that were some of the best he ever had ANYWHERE. I had the WARM STONE FRUIT (yellow and white nectarines) with ALMOND CAKE and ALMOND GELATO which was quite tasty as well, even if I could not finish.

We went home vowing to return to KOMI and rising chef Monis again soon!

Friday, September 01, 2006

Barney says, "I love you, you love me..." but I say I love MIE N YU

This holiday weekend started out awful for us all as we lost power at 3PM on Friday. We had originally decided to venture into Georgetown tonight (Saturday) thinking that the crowds would be minimal, so we had made a reservation to take SAMUEL to MIE N YU ( thinking he would enjoy the Silk Road decor with Buddhas, tents, cages and booths with pillows and fabrics. In a scurry yesterday evening, we canceled our small dinner party at home and changed our reservation to one night earlier. We braved the remnants of Hurricane Ernesto and drove the couple of miles into Georgetown to get a parking place right in from of the M Street multi-tiered MIE N YU.

Well, it was the smartest thing we did, since SAMUEL adored the roomy pillowed booth in which he could frolic, yet still make no noise jumping around (we liked this!). The getaway from the lack of electricity brought our spirits up as we started with a bottle of SEIFRIED 2004 New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc from the Nelson region (I had never heard of this before). It was a citrusy and pungent wine with lots of acid and flavor, but it was a bit weak against some of the intense food spices (we should have gone with a Riesling). We ordered Samuel one of the "starters to share" which was BANANA PESTO HUMMUS with papadam, fried plantains and tons of tasty hummus for him to shmear on the bread. He ate THREE huge pieces and we still had plenty left to take home after tasting it ourselves.

An amuse came in a large porcelain spoon of WAKABE (Seaweed) and Crab that was superb. Not realizing how large these $10-12 starters are we ordered the VIETNAMESE LETTUCE WRAPS with shredded veal, stir-fry vegetables and sweet & spicy dipping sauce, where the emphasis is on SPICY. It was a revelation, a gorgeous dish if a bit messy trying to wrap the orange, yellow and green peppers and onion along with the yummy veal in the huge Romaine leaves! I had to ask for a fresh napkin after running to the washroom to clean my hands because they were so sticky.

Speaking of the washroom, this is a must visit room at MIE N YU since it consists of a large room with numerous basins (think of the washbasin lineup outside a mosque) and many private stalls located off either side of the beautifully decorated room. Indeed, MIE N YU may be eclectic, but it is one of the more intriguing places to see and be seen in town (so there, Cafe Milano!).

Our breads arrived with many choices being offered along with three toppings: butter, olive oil with 25-year old balsamic and the yummiest EDAMAME-WASABI PUREE. We tried not to fill up and ordered our second bottle of wine, this time a GYPSY DANCER ESTATE Pinot Gris "Christine Lorraine Vineyard" 2003 from Oregon. I had never heard of this vineyard, but I will easily remember it as the maker of the best Pinot Gris ever. The wine was very different from the metallic/acidic norm in that it was extremely creamy with a hint of French oak since it is turned on the lees repeatedly, or so our excellent sommelier SAID told us.

Our entrees were also superb with Will opting for the MISA MARINATED HALIBUT seared with Coconut Milk, Spinach, Black Sticky Rice and Carrot-Ginger Sauce. All of the ingredients were wonderfully mixed with none too powerful (the coconut was not sweet or creamy and the ginger just right), and I loved the sticky rice. My THAI RED SNAPPER with Thai Citrus Basil Sauce, Wasabi Mashed Potatoes, Snow Pea Sesame Stir Fry was also wonderful, although it could have stood up to a bit more spice in the sauce and more wasabi in the potatoes.

The big disappointment of the night was the sad sorbet, Will and Sam shared a huge portion of Lemon & Lime, both of which were more akin to shaved ice with flavoring rather than a creamy fruity sorbet. My ASIAN PEAR STRUDEL with POMEGRANATE CREME ANGLAISE, on the other hand, was scrumptious with two small strudel illows sitting on the yummy sauce.

After a glass of VEUVE CLIQUOT demi-sec, we left the world of the Casbah, re-entered the soaking real world (we had truly forgotten the storm!) and headed home praying the power would be on when we arrived. Luckily, it was.

Thanks for your prayers and have a great holiday weekend!