Sunday, October 29, 2006

X/O in Chicago has exes and OHS!

Last night was fine dining night here in Chicago with our friends and we headed to X/O just north of downtown (3441 N. Halstead and while we had a most enjoyable time, there were a couple of flaws that did not make our evening as perfect as we had wanted. Our server was most helpful in explaining the menu with its basic choice of three courses plus dessert (all a la carte) as we ordered a bottle of MARCEL DEISS "Bergheim" PINOT GRIS 1998 from Alsace. While Will thought it a bit sweet, this wonderful terroir-driven wine is full of tasty fruit and pairs perfectly with some of the very spicy dishes (also would be great with foie gras; see later remarks).

The smallish wooden tables have a plastic mesh insert that manages to catch all the crumbs and pieces of food which is dumb, but our server explained they are redoing them all very soon. The wooden chairs are reasonably comfortable and the room has a nice ambiance if a bit too heavy on the volume for the music. While no amuses came, there was plenty of excellent focaccia with a choice from the superb PESTO CHERRY TOMATO, Rosemary, Parsley, SeaSalt & Grapes, and Fennel with Golden Raisins. Luckily, we were only offered once chance to pick two or we would have really filled up on this treat.

Our first courses were all truly excellent. The Pinot Gris was sheer perfection with my SPICY ROCK SHRIMP & RICE NOODLE SALAD with Chili Lime Vinaigrette, Seaweed Salad, Green Onions, Carrots and Toasted Pinenuts, with the accent on SPICY! Another treat was the tender GRILLED OCTOPUS SALAD marinated in Lemon, Garlic, Olive Oil, Oregano and served simply chilled and tasty.

We moved on to an almost wimpy bodied Oregon Pinot Noir from MAYSARA "Jamsheed Vineyard" 2004 which is a wine that offers little forward fruit or excitement. For our final red we asked for a bit of punch and got it with a superb BODEGAS ESTEFANA "Tilenus" CRIANZA 2001 from Bierzo that really warmed our insides and was truly satisfying.

The middle course featured a HOUSEMADE RAVIOLI stuffed with BRAISED RABBIT, Ricotta & Swiss Chard in a TRUFFLE Jus topped with Gremolata and Pine Nuts, the spicy plump PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND MUSSELS Steamed with Lemon Grass, Garlic, Ginger, Shallots, White Wine, Diced Tomato & Cilantro. Again, some spice entered into my yummy GARDEN FRESH (and they were) WAX & FRENCH BEANS Stir-Fried with Thai Chilies, Peanuts & Water Chestnuts. Oddly enough, the menu featured FOIE GRAS, which has been banned in the city of Chicago. Our server explained that the management of X/O has decided to ignore the ban, and has NOT been fined at all at this point. Bravo to Chef Aaron Bischoff and his staff!

The downpoint of the night was when the entrees arrived at lukewarm to cold temperatures. Will sent back his delicious GRILLED PORK TENDERLOIN with Red Thai Coconut Curry, Pineapple & Green Onions as it was literally below room temperature. A replacement arrived soon, and we were NOT even charged for the dish; this was welcome treatment, but did no improve the other three dishes that came lukewarm to tepid, even though they were all delicious:

CAJUN-STYLE Organic Free Range CHICKEN BREAST ROULADE with Crawfish Rice Stuffing and Braised Collard Greens (braised in Ham Hocks), Tomato Roux & Lobster Veloute was a southern style treat. An excellent tender GRILLED 10 oz. NY STRIP STEAK with Blue Cheese Potato Gratin & Rosemary-Horseradish Veal Sauce was definitely tops, and the blue cheese mild enough to not be imposing. Roasted RACK of LAMB with Fresh Herb-Lemon Felafel Cake & Cabernet-Currant reduction does not do too well when chilly, but was another wonderful preparation, despite the slightly dry felafel cake.

We opted to all four share one dessert- CHOCOLATE ORGASM which was easily sharable with its delicious COCONUT CHOCOLATE TRUFFLES, slightly dry Chocolate Madeleines Cookies, White Chocolate Panna Cotta, Chocolate Ice Cream in Crunch and the tastiest BEIGNETS in Chocolate Sauce.

Would I return to X/O? Probably, yes, but I would demand the dishes come warm. The excellent service and perfect spacing of the evening's dishes made for a truly enjoyable time with good friends!

Saturday, October 28, 2006

for value Vietnamese in Chicago try TANK

Yesterday after visiting a local Halloween fair here in Chicago with Samuel and his friend Joel, we all were a bit chilled from the brisk winds, so we decided to take ourselves to TANK (in Vietnamese it called Pho Xe Tang, at 4953-55 North Halstead) several miles north of downtown where our friends live.

Tank was jammed, mostly with Asians, and they all were devouring these bowls of soup with noodles, which looked awfully good to us chilly folks. While the kids munched on STIRFRIED EGG NOODLES (available crispy or soft) with CHICKEN & MIXED VEGETABLES (Sam loved the noodles and chicken, while Joel claimed it to be a bit spicy, which it indeed was), we all ordered the giant bowls (Pho) with various ingredients. I opted for the VIETNAMESE BEEF NOODLE SOUP with SLICED BEEF, WELL DONE BRISKET and SOFT TENDON. The guys at the next table warned me that the ingredients were for the adventurous, so I chose carefully. Indeed, the soups come from one huge pot and when they ladled mine into my bowl in the kitchen some of the BIBLE TRIPE also made its way in. The tripe was almost cabbage-like with little bumps on it resembling a very soft squid. The soft tendons were a beef cartilige that was slightly chewy, about the consistency of a soft gummy bear and was quite tasty. The meats and noodles were excellent and the broth warming to our cold insides. A plate of BEAN SPROUTS, Cilantro, Basil, Jalapeno Slices and Lime Wedge accompanies each PHO bowl for seasoning and made for quite an amazing and filling meal at $6.95!

If you do get to TANK, be sure to save room for a wonderful FRUIT SMOOTHIE. Samuel, Will and I shared the STRAWBERRY,BANANA, COCONUT (you can mix any of a dozen or so fruits) which came with slices of mango and strawberry on top and was also quite large and filling. More on dining with kids in Chicago later...

Friday, October 27, 2006

BRASSERIE JO is the place to go in Chicago

Last night I had to dine early before those silly 730pm opera curtains, so I chose BRASSERIE JO ( 59 W Hubbard), the Alsatian bistro of Chef Jean Joho, who reigns over EVEREST, where I dined earlier this year in Chicago. It was just a block or two from our hotel, so I was happy and hungry when I showed up as the weather was turning chilly to boot.

The wonderfully cheery staff set me up at a streetview table in the very tall room with its hints of Art deco decor. I enjoyed the plate of carrot sticks in an intensely mustardy slaw-like sauce, and realized that I was back in the real Alsatian cuisine I so adored several years ago. My server, Andy, brought over the list of specials and I was hooked in two seconds on the TARTE FLAMBEE ALSACIEN (literally a thin crust Alsatian-style pizza) with DUCK CONFIT, ROASTED PUMPKIN, MUSTARD AIOLI, Onions and Herbs. I sipped a yummy glass of GUSTAVE LORENZ 2004 Pinot Gris Reserve from Alsace of course! The tarte arrived and I was in heaven, but was afraid I could not eat an entire entree because it was huge (they are prices at $7-9!!).

Restaurant Manager David Johnston came over to welcome me and proffered TWO small plates of SAUCISSONS en CROUTE with tasty sausage in a brioche croute over a yummy mustard sauce and lentils. By now I was drinking KLIPFEL RIESLING 2004 which was very dry and indeed tart with apples with lots of fruit at the back of the tongue. It worked wonderfully with all the mustard flavors, as they are so tart as well.

After long consultation with Andy I chose the STEAK TARTARE with POMMES FRITES. The 6 ounces of gorgeous meat came with an intense spicy and mustard flavor (Alsace, again) on plate resting on a bed of ice to keep the meat cool. The frites were thin and crispy, not a soggy one in the bunch. I enjoyed this with a glass of KALI HEART 2004 PINOT NOIR from MONTEREY Valley, California that exhibited a bit of spice to work in harmony with the tartare!

Dessert was tough, so I passed by the Pumpkin Creme Brulee, Poires Belle Helene, World Renowned Profiteroles with Chocolate Sauce (which appeared to be almost 8 inches tall at the next table served with a 1/2 quart of sauce!) and the Iles Flottants, and took instead a CUPPA JO, literally, as the coffee comes in cups marked "Brasserie Jo."

I will, however, get the chance to report on more and to have dessert, as I have convinced everyone here with us in Chicago to go back again tomorrow night!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

all about BAR PILAR (the up & coming 14th St corridor)

Last night after we took in a cabaret by the IN SERIES at the SOURCE THEATRE we decided to stop next door for a bite to eat at the new BAR PILAR (1833 14th St, NW - and were pleasantly surprised ad the congeniality of this bar with tapas run by the folks who own Cafe Saint-Ex just at the corner.

The menu is simple and posted on the chalk board and features umpteen tapas dishes ranging from $4-7. There are so many different options and each portion is perhaps slightly larger than an appetizer size (especially the fish and meat dishes). I tried the excellent rich smooth WHITE SEET POTATO SOUP with HERBED GOAT CHEESE and opted to add the raw oyster for an extra $1.00! A tasty warm BEET SALAD came with LEMON & CILANTRO and was very filling. Other dishes at the table included the TUNA with TURNIP HASH which was a very delicious addition to the superb fish, but Chef Barton Seaver excels with his WALLA with JALAPENO CRUST, which is not spicy at all, but quite rich and truly an excellent fish.

The wine list is varied and inventive and we opted for a MOVIA 2003 SAUVIGNON BLANC from Slovenia that was a tasty slightly citrusy, but also very full bodied wine. You may recall I had some Movia wines in LA recently, and this is a winery and wine region to keep your eyes on! If Cafe Saint-Ex is full, or you have a yen for tapas, try BAR PILAR and you will be very happy when you leave as we were!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

ACADIANA has it all

Last week, a large group of us sashayed down to ACADIANA ( across from the new Convention Center which has now been open for just over a year. This was not our first visit, but in one year, Acadiana has improved from great to excellent, and we all enjoyed virtually ever bite and sip and moment. We started the evening with "J" Sparkling Brut from Sonoma and some came those wondrous warm Southern biscuits accompanied by Jalapeno Jelly & Cream Cheese Mix that just melts as you spread it on the hot bread- a heavenly start.

Our first white was a clean, tasty COTES du RHONE BLANC Chasse du Pape 2003 that worked well with our two amuses: A Lagniappe or CRABMEAT SARDOU with creamed spinach on the bottom, a huge lump of crabmeat and an intense-lemony cream hollandaise on top that matched the citrus of the wine to a tee. A DEEP FRIED OYSTER on CRAWFISH MAQUE CHOUX with CHoux Pea Caviar came next and the oyster was fried to perfection with the creamed corn, tomato, red onion mixture below and a smattering of the American Bowfish Caviar on top for a bit of flavor.

It is extremely hard to choose dishes at Acadiana, so I opted for the TRIO OF SOUPS allowing me to taste all three on the menu. The SMOKED CHICKEN & ANDOUILLE SAUSAGE was the spiciest, the ROASTED SWEET CORN & BLUE CRAB SOUP was the creamiest, but the CLASSIC TURTLE with Dry Sherry was the tops with a slight spiciness and tons of intense flavor. Around the table we heard raves about the FRIED GREEN TOMATOES, signature TRIO of DEVILED EGGS, CHARBROILED OYSTERS, FOIE GRAS with Mayhaw Jelly that was so simple and perfect it was masterful, and the DUO of "PIES" featuring Natchitoches Meat Pie with Black Pepper Buttermilk Dipping Sauce and the LOUISIANA CRAWFISH PIES. This latter dish is so huge with three humongous fried pies that one must ask for a doggie bag or share them.

We brought some wines from home and opened a magnum of MARKHAM 1994 MERLOT from NAPA that was still drinking smoothly, but the magnum of MINER CLUB M ZINFANDEL 2001 from Napa was a treat with a slight pepper taste and tons of just smooooooth at 14% alcohol, it was amazing.

The entrees arrived after much camaraderie and schmoozing, and again, I don't recall anyone having a single complaint. Many of us chose the excellent PAN CRISPED ROASTED DUCK recommended by our excellent server Chuck. It sat on a bed of DIRTY RICE & COLLARD GREENS with Bacon in a Cane Syrup Pepper Jelly Glaze that was perfect and not spicy at all. Each portion was a half a duck and we had lots of doggie bags (Sam adored the leftovers!). The signature CRAWFISH ETOUFEE and award winning (USA Today top 25 dishes) New Orleans BARBEQUE STYLE SHRIMP were also hits. I always adore the "GRILLADES & GRITS" which are veal medallions on Creamy Japaleno Grits with Wild Mushroom Pan Gravy. The crabcakes and filets also disappeared from all the plates. We ordered several side dishes to share, but I think many of us ignored the JAMBALAYA RISOTTO, JALAPENO CHEESE GRITS and CREOLE CREAMED SPINACH.

Desserts again became a difficult choice as Pastry Chef DAVID GUAS menu was presented. I went wild over the PEANUT BUTTER CREME BRULEE, tasted the superb WARM BITTERSWEET CHOCOLATE BREAD PUDDING and the BOURBON PECAN & CHOCOLATE CHIP Tart. The BEIGNETS were vastly improved over our previous visit, even the sorbet was superb. We sipped (we brought it) a decent DOMAINE CASTERA 2000 Cuvee Privelege Jurancon from France that actually had 14% alcohol as well, but was quite mild in the sweetness factor, and then munched of those superb mignardises from Chef Guas that always come at the end of any meal at Acadiana or its sister restaurants DC Coast, Ten Penh or Ceiba. They included STRAWBERRY TAFFY, HEAVENLY HASH, Pate a FRUIT and the mandatory PRALINES (Sam loved these as well the next day!). If you can't get to Louisiana, it's nice to know that its food is well done here in DC at Acadiana!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

an evening at EXTRA VIRGIN in Shirlington (10/15/06)

Last night we finally got back in the swing on things and made it to EXTRA VIRGIN ( in Shirlington (Arlington, VA) where we had wanted to go for some time and it was well worth the short journey, especially since we had theater tickets around the corner! AFter taking the server's white wine recommendation and finding it was sold out (I guess he forgot to check before offering), we made a second choice which was also sold out! Finally a bottle of WHITEHAVEN 2005 SAUVIGNON BLANC from Marlborough in New Zealand was available. This zesty, full of grapefruit wine is a great refresher and paris well with many of the starters as well. The GRILLED PORTOBELLO with Pesto Sauce is a large sauteed mushroom and a sizeable arugula salad and was extremely tasty and flavorful. The FIRE ROASTED SHRIMP are wrapped in PANCETTA, Wood Oven Roasted and served over an Arugola Salad with a Lemon Dressing as well (despite the fact that the menu reads Spinach; I guess it's a result of the e-coli thing!). This was a very large portion of FOUR HUGE shrimp and was a real tasty treat to boot.

I also must not fail to mention the excellent fresh bread which can be eaten with the olive oil on the table mixed with fresh parmesan and fresh cracked pepper served tableside. I could have filled up on this alone! We moved to an excellent red (first choice available) from Sardinia, CANTINA SANTADI Carignano Suleis, Grotta Rossa 2002 that had a bit of acidity typical to Carignane, but was superb with all the dishes we ordered.

The huge SAUTEED SALMON FILET Special was served with small Shrimp over a bed of Lentils making for a filling autumn entree, the TAGLIERINI alla BOLOGNESE is made with a rich meat sauce of veal, beef and pork that was also quite filling. My VEAL RAVIOLI with Fresh Sage was served in a Rich Veal Glace with Sage Butter Sauce that also could not resist mopping up. The only fault was the fact that the VEAL SALTIMBOCCA came out at about room temperature. We didn't have time to have it heated as we were running to the theater, but when four folks are dining together, the kitchen needs to be more cognizant of preparing each course in unison so they all arrive hot at the table.

After some yummy coffee we skipped dessert and ran off to our show. When Signature Theater moves across the street from EXTRA VIRGIN in January, I am sure we will return again!

Saturday, October 07, 2006

An Anniversary Celebration-Chef Jason Tepper of LA MICHE makes it great

I know you folks have not drooled for a while as we've been so busy with all the Jewish holidays (eating, then fasting) and running around with the beginning of the theater season as well. A week ago we celebrated our anniversary at the home of our dearest friends Mel & Juan who also celebrate their 31st Anniversary this month! We purchased together (at a charity event last year) the opportunity for Chef JASON TEPPER of LA MICHE in Bethesda to cook a meal in our home along with the excellent wine pairings of Ricky Bellman from PAUL's LIQUORS. It was a truly memorable evening and the food was simply superb! We all gathered and sipped PASCAL DOUQUET PREMIER CRU ROSE CHAMPAGNE and munched on FOIE GRAS CANAPES, SHRIMP CANAPES and the most exquisite BABY NEW ZEALAND LAMBSICLES!

At the elegantly set table we first sipped VIN d'ALSACE CUVEE EMILE RESERVE PINOT GRIS along with a truly excellent creamy PUMPKIN LOBSTER BISQUE each served in a miniature pumpkin that was simply adorable. It was one of the best Lobster Bisques I have had in years!

The fish was an ALASKAN HALIBUT with ARTICHOKES, CRABMEAT, CAPER LEMON BUTTER SAUCE and was served with two superb wines: an EDMOND ALPHONSE MELLOT SANCERRE that I thought was perfect with the fish, and a bigger REX HILLS DUNDEE HILLS PINOT NOIR from Oregon that we tended to enjoy between courses and again with the meat entree.

The meat entree was a tour de force VEAL CHOP stuffed with SWISS CHARD, MISSION FIGS, FETA CHEESE & PINE NUTS. Need I say more? This dish is a variation of one on the menu at La Miche, so you too can enjoy these dishes in house in Bethesda! It was served with a SAINT AUBIN PREMIER CRU, but many of us opted to drink the excellent Pinot Noir and then continue with the Saint Aubin afterwards.

Dessert was PEACH MELBA CAKE with VANILLA ICE CREAM served with a yummy TWO HANDS BRILLIANT DISQUISE MOSCATO......we went home very full and must thank everyone involved for a superb evening of true friendship and great dining!