Thursday, November 30, 2006

Calm, yet cool cuisine at COPIA's JULIA's KITCHEN (Napa)

On my way back from Napa Valley to San Francisco, I spent much of the morning at the now 5-year old COPIA which is a gorgeous "living museum" dedicated to wine and food. While there I took in a wonderful short seminar on "Women in Wine" and saw several wonderful exhibits. Once can't skip the "museum shop" called CornuCOPIA, where I bought Samuel the most adorable dinosaur knife and spoon set (he's big into dinosaurs right now, as you may have guessed from his Halloween pictures).

After my museum visit I decided to take in lunch in the museum's fine dining restaurant (they also have a market-style-cafeteria outlet) and was very glad to have dined at JULIA's KITCHEN now under the guidance of the Patina group (watch this site for another review of Patina in LA this coming weekend) and superchef JOACHIM SPLITAL. At Copia's JULIA's KITCHEN the operation is under the guidance of Executive Chef JEFF MOSHER and Pastry Chef NICOLE PLUE who seem to have all things under total control from their open stainless steel kitchen that was feet away from my table, making the experience even more fun since I was alone. The gorgeous reddish-pink walls look like an overripe persimmon and the warm muted colors of the carpets make for a most calming effect. Opposite the kitchen and dining room are floor to ceiling glass walls overlooking the gardens where much of the ingredients used in the kitchen come from.

The glassware is Reidel (even for the water) and the bread comes from a bakery in Berkeley and featured green olive and black bread with raisins. Already, Julia's Kitchen was a step ahead of the Auberge in these small but important factors. An amuse of Crostini with Brandade of Cod, Apple Balsamic Vinegar and Chervil was a yummy tease. I ordered a glass of Pinot Noir to find out they were out of it, but the server said the CAMBRIA Pinot Noir which replaced that was even better--it was.

I opted for two starters and began with the GARDEN HERB CRUSTED AHI TUNA SALAD with Butter Lettuce, Roasted COPIA Peppers, Brioche Croutons and Julia's Sauce Ravigotte. Julia Child would have been proud of her sauce and the superb huge six rare slices of tuna and the crunchy tangy crust. Next came a LIBERTY DUCK CONFIT with FUYU PERSIMMONS, COPIA Pomegranate and Pomegranate Vinaigrette with Frisee. It was a superb salad as well and had a huge portion of delicious confit, but the stars here were the vegetables and fruits, a credit to the chef, kitchen and gardens outside.

I desperately wanted to try the LEMON TART with HUCKLEBERRY FLOATING ISLANDS but was full from two starters and had a long afternoon and evening ahead at the opera in the city, so I declined and headed on my way very satisfied and knowing I will return to JULIA's KITCHEN again.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

a night in NAPA - the artful AUBERGE du SOLEIL

It's been five years since my last visit to the NAPA VALLEY, where I used to gravitate to almost every year for a decade or more. This is a quick trip; in yesterday, off to San Francisco later today, so I thought long before deciding where to dine.

I chose to stay at the luxurious AUBERGE du SOLEIL ( with its gorgeous spacious suites overlooking the Napa Valley as I had always wanted to come here. The Restaurant at "Auberge" as it is more commonly known has had a long and illustrious history. Once considered the top dining spot in the valley and even all of California in days before the French Laundry even existed, it had some down years but has come back in the ratings to the top of the list. I somehow can't agree, however, that this is a top dining spot, while it was still mostly enjoyable.

The dining rooms sports the same subtle burnt orange colors used throughout the resort with modern artwork (another singnature) and a gigantic kiva-like fireplace. It was fun to watch the twinkling lights in the valley and turn to be mesmerized by the dancing embers in the fireplace. I opted to try Chef ROBERT CURRY's $120 Tasting Menu with the accompanying wines for an extra $80. I could have ordered a bottle of wine or even two half bottles for the same price (there are some surprisingly medium range priced wines on the extensive and exciting wine list), but felt the pairings would work best.

A glass of Sparkling 2003 SCHRAMSBERG BLANC de NOIRS from the North Coast was a bit too gassy for me with intense green apple flavor and a peachy finish. It needed to be a bit colder, but it was a refreshing aperitif. The amuse was a VENISON CARPACCIO with Julienne Hearts of Palm, Shaved Parmesan & Huckleberry Jus which was pretty good, but not exciting. The bread was a standard very SOURdough served warm with a nice crunchy crust.

My first course was TUNA SASHIMI, Sevruga Caviar, Poached Quail Egg and Sauteed Escarole. This dish was an odd combination of flavors as the Warm Escarole tasted as if it was pickled (although the server said it was not) making for a combination of many flavors depending on what you combined on your fork. I wisely kept the caviar away from the escarole.

A DAY BOAT SCALLOP with Verjus Poached Quince, BEETS, CANDIED WALNUTS & Horseradish Nage was also fun, and I normally don't care for these "foamy" dishes. The light horseradish foam was fun and especially tasty with the thick beet puree. A superb creamy 2004 MARTIN SCHAETZAL PINOT BLANC Reserve from Alsace was a brilliant pairing.

The rare and tasty PAN SEARED FOIE GRAS with HUCKLEBERRIES, Pain Perdu & Almonds was easily the highlight of the meal and the excellent (and also rare and expensive) 2004 DAGUENEAU et PAUTRAT "Les Jardins de Babylone" Jurancon from France was a real treat from the rare Petit & Gros Manseng grapes.

My server suggested we have a glass of Oregon Pinot next to the California as I had said I prefer the former. He offered up a glass of one of my favorites: DOMAINE SERENE 2003 "Evenstad Reserve" from Oregon which was completely wimpy as the bottle had been open for over a day. He ultimately replaced the glass with one from a new bottle, but I had to give in an d say the RENTERIA 2003 "River Ranch" Pinot Noir from Russian River Valley was still much better, bigger and fruitier. I have to also mention here that the medium quality glassware used by Auberge is really in bad need of upgrading.

It went superbly with the APPLE GLAZED PAINE FARM SQUAB, Braised Celery, Radish, Chestnuts & Medjool Dates. The dish was also superb and I adore chestnuts, but sadly one small piece of the sqaub was a bit too dry.

The VENISON TOURNEDOS wrapped in Pancetta with Sweet Potato Napoleon, Chestnuts & Red Wine Cranberry Jus which sadly came way past the rare to medium-rare I requested. I was so full, it didn't matter and instead thoroughly enjoyed the swirls of sweet potato with tall pieces of crunchy (baked or fried) root veggies standing at attention in their midst. The 2001 CLARK-CLAUDON Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon was a bit too tight for my taste, as so many cabs can be.

A spicy yet cool PUMPKIN GELEE with Fromage Blanc Sorbet was an enjoyable if jiggly palate cleanser.

Pastry Chef Paul Lemieux has reserached his chocolate well for the FRANCOIS PRALUS "TRINIDAD" Three Presentations. A NAPOLEON with CHOCOLATE CREAM had three ultra-thin layers (one was a bit plasticky) with dollops of chocolate in between that was none too exciting. The WARM CAKE with VANILLA FOAM was a small fondant like treat that was quite tasty, but the PAVLOVA (meringue) with CHOCOLATE SORBET took the prize as the sorbet was so intensely chocolately that it made it the one of the best I have ever had. Oddly, the beautiful rectangular presentation plate had curved edges on all four sides that resulted in the fork and spoon falling into the plate and food no matter WHERE one placed them! A Banyuls like 1990 Mas AMIEL from Maury in France was a perfect pairing as well with the intense chocolate, as anything too sweet would have been overly cloying.

I skipped the two chocolate mignardies and thoroughly enjoyed the mini APPLE FINANCIER and a refreshing STRAWBERRY-GUAVA Gelee before heading to my room where I lit a fire and realxed before heading to bed. Oddly, I awoke quite early because the temperatures dropped below freezing and my heat cut off dropping to the low 60's in my suite! So, I will now head out to warm up in the hot tub and workout room! I need that anyway!

More wine tasting today.

Friday, November 24, 2006

do dine at DISTRICT in the Theater District (NYC)

Located in the Muse Hotel at 103 W. 46th Street, just yards from Times Square, DISTRICT is the Kimpton Hotel chain's newest New York feather in their long list of restaurant plumage. A long cozy room with comfy velour and leather banquettes lots of amber, warm woods, steel and rope renders still a warm autumn feel, which was just right for the day after Thanksgiving. Each evening the prix fix pre-theater option of three courses for $42 is pretty much a no-brainer. The portions are large, filling and while perhaps not excellent, at the level of VERY good.

We started with ROASTED CAULIFLOWER SOUP with SMOKED COD & CAPER RELISH that was perfect because it was not too creamy and rich and used the cod and caper flavors to perfectly embellish the soup. A large portion called SMALL HEADS of LETTUCE with WHITE ANCHOVY CAESAR offered up a delicious portion of baby greens and tangy dressing.

The wine list is not too large at can be a bit daunting when you see several hundred dollar Haut-Brions on the list of say twenty to thirty bottles. We chose a superb ROSENBLUM CABERNET FRANCE 2003 "Kenefick" Vineyard that was superbly strong and spicy at 15.5% alcohol, easily akin to a fine zin. The wine was also served in elegant Schott crystal for even better taste.

The entrees were all huge portions of HERB ROPASTED CHICKEN with WILD ORZO & Bacon Braised Collard Greens; APPLE CIDER BRAISED VEAL (this has a slight surcharge on the prix fixe) with creamy (cheezy rich) POLENTA, Savoy Cabbage and Red Currants and my OLD FASHIONED LAZY DUCK came with long tasty SPAEZTLE and Baby Carrot Saute. The only real thing we did not like was the SO intense richness of the polenta that overpowered everything.

Desserts are perfect sized and tasty from a modern take on a CHOCOLATE CUP CAKE to the excellent CARAMELIZED BREAD PUDDING with Cider Braised Apple & Fromage Blanc Ice Cream. This was a perfectly arranged dish of a rectangular piece of pudding with an extremely chewy caramel topping and the adorable apple on one side and the ice cream on the other.

We headed off to a wonderful performance of COMPANY (although we did not care for the modern staging) with a super cast and are happy to know the theatre district has a new dining destination in DISTRICT.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

another operatic adventure-ALMA de CUBA in Philly

As I sit on the Amtrak Acela train back to Washington in FIRST CLASS, I am totally bombed that they can't find a glass of red wine on board. They have offered everything from the sweetest yuck to a white wine I'm not in the mood for (they don't even have sparkling water!). The First Class attendant even tried to pawn a glass of red wine from the cafe, but they won't hear the likes of it. What is the point of spending the extra money (and I'm in this business!)? I used to enjoy a Grand Marnier on this late train home, but that's another item they dropped; and who can bide Bailey's?!!- AS I WRITE THIS lo an behold, after complaining to the conductor, someone at Customer Service forced them to give me a 1/2 bottle of HAHN 2005 Cabernet Central Coast (yuck, cheap, but decent) I drop my complaint heretofore.

At least tonight's dinner was a huge success. I was joined by two dear clients after their performance in Rossini's La Cenerentola (Cinderella) here (well, back there) in Philly for a totally fabulous dinner at ALMA de CUBA (at 1623 Walnut St. in downtown Philadelphia). Upon arrival we could not decide what to order for our appetizers because there were so many wonderful selections, and then our server gave us the exciting specials. WHAT TO CHOOSE? We finally agreed to order and share three ceviche dishes:

The CALAMARI & CONCH Special with Pomegranate-Orange Sauce and Roasted Sweet Potatoes was actually the least exciting, while my RAINBOW CEVICHE had loads of tuna, salmon and fluke in lime juice with jalapeno and Roasted Sweet Potatoes as well. This was a more Asian style preparation than the others, but totally delicious (and huge). The FIRE & ICE Ceviche was FLUKE in preserved lemon & sage with Crispy Lemon Rings and a Hot Garlic Oil poured over it by the server. I can't recall having fluke before (and I must have) but it makes a great ceviche.

We ate these with CARMEN (how appropriate for opera singers) Sauvignon Blanc 2005 from the Rapel Valley in Chile that was crispy, citrusy and refreshing--perfect for all the dishes.

The small white Cuban sweet rolls came to the table warm and were irresistible with their cilantro/garlic oil that we poured over them. Luckily, these were cleared with the appetizers or we would never have eaten our entrees!

We suddenly had a yen for the CRAB EMPANADA SPECIAL which provided the three of us one large OPEN FLAME ROASTED Empanada over a White Asparagus & Cucumber Salad with a Tomato Chutney---it was supreme. Our red wine was a simple yet smokey TERRA NOBLE 2004 CARMENERE GRAN RESERVA from Chile that our charming server Amelia recommended. It was perfect with our meat entrees: BEEF TENDERLOIN CHURRASCO Style with Asparagus Spicy Crab Dressing and Ancho Chili Chimichurri--this was superb, and my excellent VACA FRITA "Fried Cow" of twice cooked crispy skirt steak with onions, Cuban oregano, the traditional black beans with rice and a tomato escabeche.

I must also note that while one of the entrees got screwed up, the manager immediately brought a special "amuse" of a bacon stuffed date so that one of us would not be without food. Indeed, I was quite amazed to note that the menu lists ALL the employees from servers to managers to dishwashers so that everyone on premises gets credit and we know who they are.

Dessert was difficult to refuse, so we decided to choose two: CHOCOLATE TRES LECHES with Caramel Espuma, Vanilla Poached Oranges and Salted Caramel Ice cream (need I say more) was the easy hit, but my choco-intense CHOCOLATE CIGAR with Almond Cake in CHOCOLATE MOUSSE dusted in chocolate with DULCE de LECHE Ice Cream was clearly too intense for moi. Three bites and I divided the rest. It was a gorgeous presentation looking just like a Cuban cigar and even with the little ALMA de CUBA Cigar wrapper!

Indeed, it was such a fun and tasty evening, that I look forward to returning to the yummy food of Philly soon!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Roberto DONNA wins Capital Food Fight/great FOODIE event & fundraiser

Last night I attended the CAPITAL FOOD FIGHT for the first time which benefits the DC CENTRAL KITCHEN. It as a super event marred only by the extreme loudness of the sound system during the actual "food fight" portions of the evening. The individual food stations were FAAAAAABULOUS and included chefs from all over the region and represented about FIFTY restaurants!

Imagine one room with NO LINES at tables where the likes of

Greggory Hill of DAVID GREGGORY
Vikram Garg of INDEBLEU
Jeff Buben of VIDALIA/BIS
Tracy O'Grady & Kate Jansen of WILLOW
Baront Seaver of CAFE SAINT-EX/Bar Pilar
Rahman Harper of B. SMITH'S
Michael Harr of BUTTERFIELD9

not to mentions those from Argia's, 100 King, 1789, Cafe Atlantico, Chipotle, Farrah Olivia, Galieo/Bebo Trattoria, Kinkead's, Lebanese Taverna, Firefly, Agraria, Charlie Palmer Steak, Taberna del Alabardero, Maestro, Mie N Yu, Les Halles, Rock Creek, Olives, Zengo, Nage, Notte Biache/Dish, The Ritz-Carlton, Wegmans, Tosca and Santa Lucia Estate Coffee and some of the yummiest pastries and desserts from the staff at the REAGAN BLDG itself.

There was good wine, wine tastings, sake tastings, sushi bars, cake tables and oh so much more. Everything from smoked salmon to foie gras to oyster shooters and melon shooters.

There were live and silent auction items so of which went for many thousands of $$, and a very generous couple even announced a $1million donation to the Central Kitchen; now ain't that a boost?!

Other than the food, the MAIN EVENT on stage was the actual competition which is kind of a mini Iron Chef competition, where teams of chefs compete in 10minute segments for the main title.

Battle #1 had BOB KINKEAD(Kinkead's) & SANTI ZABALETI(Taberna) edging out VIKRAM GARG (Indebleu) and JOHN WABECK (Firefly) as the celebrity judges jokingly made fun of the competititors.

Battle #2 was TIM ELLIOT(Mie N Yu) & JAMIE LEES(Hanks) losing to ROBERTO DONNA (Galileo/Bebo) & ANTHONY CHITTUM (Notte Bianche/Dish).

Battle #3 had the first two winning teams head to head and it was quite close with the DONNA/CHITTUM team going into the finals against last year's winner RIS LACOSTE & KEN ORINGER. The winner was ROBERTO DONNA, but in the hubub and noise, I somehow missed where Anthony Chittum seemed to drop out--maybe there was a faceoff at some point.

No matter, lots of money was raised, lots of food and drink consumed, and everyone seemed VERY happy, even the losing chefs!

Can't wait for next year!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Chef Jeff Black of Blacksalt/Black's and more cooks privately for Food&Friends

Each year we try to attend one of the CELEBRITY CHEF DINNER SERIES evenings held in the kitchen at FOOD & FRIENDS amazing facility located in NE Washington. These wonderful dinners are held several times each year and are limited to guests who make major donations to Food & Friends ( , which is, of course, one of our favorite charities.

I am writing about last night's dinner for two reasons. First of all, it was, perhaps, the best one we have ever had in many years of attending these great events. Second, I would urge you to make a LARGE donation to Food & Friends so you too can support a most worthy cause and also get the chance to attend. This year the series includes Neal Langermann of Clyde's of Chevy Chase, Craig Hartman of the Morrison-Clark Inn, Vikram Garg of IndeBleu and last night's team headed by Chef JEFF BLACK including Chef MALLORY BUFORD of Black's Bar & Kitchen, Chef de Cuisine JOSEPH ZUMPANO of BLACKSALT and Pastry Chef JANELLE (we sadly missed her last name).

It was a memorable evening commencing with a reception (and tours of the facility for those who desired) of SAINT-GERMAIN Sparkling Brut with superb huge SALMON CAKES, CHICKEN FOIE GRAS in Pastry Puff with Plum Sauce (that was more like a mini chicken wurst), GOAT CHEESE over Pastry Straw with Beet-Pistachio Sauce and finally the most delicious TORCHON of FOIE GRAS over FIG on Brioche Round. It was very hard to resist gobbling up all the superb delicacies, but we managed to arrest our arms from grabbing everything in sight as we were escorted into the main prep area at the huge facility for our sit down dinner.

We started with a superb TUNA TARTARE that was enhanced magnificently with TRUFFLE CAULIFLOWER CREAM, HAZELNUTS, Extra Virgin Olive Oil & Flatbread. The tuna was heaven with the intensely truffly cream, and was paired with atop quality MOMOKAWA JUNAMI GINJO DIAMOND Sake that was perfectly dry.

Next came OYSTER STEW with Yukon Gold Potatoes, Leeks, FIne Herbs, Caviar & Vermouth Cream that was extremely tasty, so much so that folks yearned for bread to mop up the bottom of the bowl. No need to, there was MUCH MORE coming. The soup was paired with an excellently fruity YALUMBA 2005 VIOGNIER from Australia.

SEARED BUTTERFISH (also called white tuna or escolar) was a very rich and intense fish served with QUINOA & WILD MUSHROOM FONDUE in a medium size portion that was more than enough. I am sure this type of dish can be easily found at one of the Black restaurants, but our portions and tasting style menu was just brilliant, as was our table company, too. The MAISON NICOLAS CHARDONNAY 2005 from France was nice, but nothing to write home about.

BRAISED BEEF SHORT RIBS with White Bean Puree, Local Organic Greens & Baby Carrots proved that Chef Black and his team excel at meat as well as fish, and a superb LA SLINA DOLCETTO d'OVADA 2004 was an excellent choice of wine as well.

The desserts were top notch and each of us received a plate with a PUMPKIN FLAN (almost like a creme brulee, but with Pumpkin Seeds on top for crunch), a small round SPICED CAKE about 2 inches in diameter and a moist POACHED PEAR. I am sure that each diner found one or two, if not three items here that were satisfying. Some jellies and chocolate drops came, but I resisted and sipped the PIERRE HUET Demi-Sec POIREE CIDRE BOUCHE which was a light French sparkling cider that was like drinking fizzy water, it just was so cooling and satisfying.

There are still more dinners in the series in January & February, but I'm not sure if they are full. I am confidant a large contribution to such a worthy cause will get you in!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Unassuming AZUCAR is cool & Cuban at its best (NYC)

Tonight's dinner at AZUCAR ( right after a pretty boring play on Broadway was the perfect way to meet a friend for dinner halfway between Times Square & Lincoln Center. I have written about Azucar before, but tonight was the best meal I have ever had there. The glass of NIETO SENETINO Chardonnay Reserve from Argentina that I started with was the only thing that was a bit too acidic for my taste; I should have had the superb WHITE SANGRIA!

The fresh CEVICHE MIXTO had huge marinated rings of calamari, bay scallops, shrimp, fish and a pickled pimento on top for flavor. All the tapas are so good it is hard to decide, but always include the CHORIZO SALEADO con MARIQUITAS which are richly sauteed sausage slices with fried plantains. At this point we ordered a bottle of the always yummy FELIPE RUTINI 2004 MALBEC from Argentina. At $38, this is a NY City bargain for wine and shouldn't be overlooked when the mediocre wines offered are just $30-32!

We both ordered one of the best entrees ever at Azucar: CHURRASCO CON CHIMICHURRI with POTATO SALAD. The Grilled Skirt steak was a tender long strip and must have been at least 10 ounces; on the side was a small bowl of the most flavorful thickish chimichurri sauce ever. I am so glad it was not one of those wimpy thin sauces one often gets. The huge portion of delicious potato salad was the perfect foil to the sometimes spice/garlic in the sauce, and the Malbec went down right after so smoothly, we were both in heaven.

It's a shame the opera afterwards and the play beforehand were not as enjoyable!

Friday, November 10, 2006

bravo for BOULEY - a truly French treat hidden in NYC

Tonight I visited one of NY City's gastronomic temples and BOULEY ( RESTAURANT in the depths of Soho (where is seems so many top NY restaurants are located) deserves all the praise it gets. TO begin with upon entering one is greeted by the aroma of apples all arranged in the entryway, this followed by candled and many more scents, all appealing to the tummy and getting me very ready to eat. Should you decide to dine at Bouley and wish to be more European and less NY, ask for the room to the right with its low white arced ceilings, sparsely distanced tables and a real taste of French elegance. Our corner table had many pillows and throws on the banquette and was so secluded we felt as if nobody else was there; the service however, was pretty much spotless, so they knew we were there! if you CRAVE New York City, action and a bit of noise, go to the right for the red arched larger room, but you wont catch me there.

I must first state that my flight to NY was late and upon landing I called Bouley to advise we might be about 30 minutes late. My fears that they would say "don't bother coming" were unfound when the courteous maitre d' Kate said "no problem" We arrived at 630pm (exactly 30 mins late) and were ushered to what I consider one of the best tables in the house; our dinner was never rushed! Also, they allowed two of us to order ala carte while I chose the tasting menu. This can often be a problem at many fine dining establishments, but they handled it to perfection (glutton that I am!).

At first we were served two types of bread, but as soon as we gobbled down the precious pain, a tray was proffered with 8 or more breads sliced to order: Black Olive, Pistachio Garlic, Fig & more. Wouldn't you know that the chef's amuse or canape was a GRAPEFRUIT CAPPUCINO with segments of grapefruit and my cholesterol drug specifically denies me this fruit. A replacement of SWEET CORN & BLACK TRUFFLE in a light Pastry PIROUETTE appeared before I could even be upset.

My guests chose a delicious CHATEAU DURFORT-VIVERS 2000 Margaux from Bordeax that needed air, while opted for the paired wines which began with a TEMENT SAUVIGNON BLANC 2005 from Styria in Austria which is another new and fabulous find in the white wine department. It paired brilliantly with my PHYLLO CRUSTED FLORIDA SHRIMP, CAPE COD BABY SQUID, SCUBA DIVED SEA SCALLOP, SWEET MARYLAND CRABMEAT in Ocean Herbal Broth (almost light pesto like). It was very French in its conception, but very American in its ingredients.

Both my guests opted for the novel ORGANIC CONNECTICUT FARM EGG Steamed with BLACK TRUFFLE, Serrano Ham, Parmesan Reggiano & 25 Year Old Balsamic Vinegar.

I moved on to a terrine-like "RETURN from CHIANG MAI" -Chilled MAINE LOBSTER, MANGO, Fresh ARTICHOKE & Serrano Ham, Passion Fruit, Fresh Coconut & Tamarind Dressing that was like an exotic ketchup. It was a wild combination, but a truly delicious flavor all mixed together or tasted separately. The 2004 ALBERT MANN GEWURTZTRAMINER was a bit sweet at first, but turned more peppery as time passed.

Entrees were all a hit from the ORGANIC CONNECTICUT FARM RAISED PIG with Cippolini Onion & Green Tomato Chutney which had the crunchiest pigskin crust one could ever wish for and the perfectly cooked ORGANIC PENNSYLVANIA RACK of LAMB with Roasted Baby Eggplant, baby Leeks and puree of Langres Cheese (that was apparently mistaken for mashed potatoes). My ORGANIC BREAST of LONG ISLAND DUCK with Orange Glaxed Belgian Endive, Quince Puree & Duck Jus was cooked just past rare and every bite was heaven. The mashed fingerling potatoes that accompanied each dish were a bit too creamy for me, but my guest insisted she LOVED THEM CREAMY! My JEAN LUC COLOMBO 2003 CROZES HERMITAGES "Les Fees Brunes" was the only disappointment all night. A nice Rhone blend, but very bland, and not worthy of the duck at all.

We all enjoyed the first dessert of CHILLED CONCORD GRAPE SOUP with APPLE CIDER & GINGER GELEE with Fromage Blanc Sorbet (Sam would have loved this one) and mine came with a not too sweet KAMOIZUMI Konekome-Shu Sake.

We all tasted some of Linda's cheeses except for the strong Gorgonzola. The Valence goat was boring, the Epoisse not at the level we had four night's earlier in DC, but the CHAOURCE was superb, the FLIXIR, a Swiss sheep very nutty and the LIVAROT superb.

My dessert was a CARAMEL CHIBOUST with Italian Plums, Crunchy Almond Dacquoise, Rum Toffee and Prune-Armagnac Ice Cream was superb, despite its overdose sound. The simple chiboust was a souffle like fruit pastry and truly a treat as I don't recall ever having one before. A Banyuls Ame de Pierre from Cazalet was a perfect foil to the prune and plum and fruit, and some little mignardises came as relaxed and enjoyed each other's company.

On our departure, Linda was given a tea cake to take home (only the women get this!), which she later gave to me to give my Mom!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Chefs (11) cook up a storm at Swenson Benefit/Wiedmaier(of Marcel's) WOWS us!

Last night was one of the most exciting evening that Washington can offer up for foodies. The benefit arranged for the PHILLIP NATHANIEL SWENSON Foundation was chock full of chefs cooking at burners for each individual table, and we were lucky enough to be seated at the table where Chef ROBERT WIEDMAIER of Marcel's presided.

Host Sue Palka of local Fox News roamed the room with a mike to chat with diners and each chef so we all knew what was going on at each table. We drooled as we listened to all the menus, but we were thrilled with our menu as well. All of the generous chefs (listed below) not only cooked and served, but then auctioned themselves off to make thousands of extra dollars for the fund which keeps Phillip's education and treatment for autism continuing. On a personal note, it was even more satisfying since our son SAMUEL often has playdates with Phillip and we, as friends, can see his development and improvement. Just last week, he constructed his first sentence, "Mommy, I need you!" which had us all in tears. In the future the Foundation will have additional events and I can't urge you all enough to support this important cause.

Back to dinner which started with an amuse of CHESTNUT SOUP with Shallots & Foie Gras & Black Truffle Essence. We all sucked strongly on the straws in the shot glasses of superb creamy rich soup-my favorite kind on earth!

The fish course was a beautiful pink PAN SEARED ALASKAN KING SALMON on a GRUYERE Cheese POTATO CAKE with a POACHED QUAIL EGG & CAVIAR carefully poised on top all sitting in a SABAYON Sauce. It was simply delicious and paired to perfection with a CHATEAU GRAVILLE LACOSTE 2004 Graves from Bordeaux.

The meal continued as we eagerly watch Chef Robert sear the meat and as smoke bellowed from the pans (I was actually worried about the fire alarms!) and he prepared the ROASTED LOIN of VENISON with CONFIT of BRUSSEL SPROUTS in a SHALLOT CABERNET SAUCE. The rare meat was tender, the sauce to die for, the fried leeks on top a treat and the confit with caramelized shallots as well was perhaps one of the best veggies around! Paired with a superb 2003 GIGONDAS from Domaine Le Roucas de St. Pierre, there was not a soul at our table that was not in heaven.

A Trio of Cheeses finished off our meal at the table (Pipe Dreams Goat Cheese with Roasted Beets & Squash Syrup, Le Bois Blond with Caramelized Pears, and Epoisse with Sauteed Squash) and this was one of the most fun cheese creations to boot as we watched the intricate assembly of each plate.

After the auction we proceeded to the dessert room (where we had started the evening with wine/champagne and tons of hor's d'oevres as well) where we were shocked to see dozens of cakes and pastries at the buffet. I tasted one or two, but resisted for the most part!

Thanks to all the chefs and attendees as well!

Jeff Buben (Vidalia/Bistro Bis)
Katsuya Fukushima (Cafe Atlantico)
Todd Gray (Equinox/Market Salamander)
Greggory Hill (David Greggory)
Ris Lacoste (keep your eyes open in 2007 for her new location)
Enzo Livia (Spezie/Ill Pizzico)
Matt Morrison(The Grill-Ritz Carlton, Pentagon City)
Kaz Okochi (Kaz Sushi Bistro)
Bryan Voltaggio (Charlie Palmer Steak)
Santi Zabaleta (Taberna del Alabardero)
Jim Swenson (The National Press Club)

Saturday, November 04, 2006

EQUINOX is unequaled

Last night we returned to EQUINOX (818 Conn Ave, NW after a way too long absence and were happy to see some gorgeous new warm decor of a patchwork goldish faux finishing and new metallic artwork as well that complements the room beautifully. Of course, one does not usually dine out for the decor and Chef TOOD GRAY has adjusted the menu to a wide variety of foods and choices and dining options from ala carte to tastings making for a great time for all.

We started with a short glass of bubbly and a gorgeous presentation of three amuses on a glass sectioned plate: A delicious plump Kushi (West Coast) Oyster with Apple Mignonette, A shot of CREAM OF TURNIP Soup with Toasted Almonds and a creamy Fried PARMESAN RISOTTO Ball in Aioli. Our first bottle of wine was a OLIVIER LEFLAIVE CHABLIS 2004 "Les Deux Rives," and while I'm not usually a big fan of Chablis, our server recommended this excellent wine as an aperitif which seemed to go with just everything. It was super with the BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP with Sausage, a seasonal treat, with the SEARED HUDSON VALLEY FOIE GRAS with Red Swiss Chard, Toasted Pine Nuts and Apple Cider Gastrique (if a bit on the rare side), the always excellent salads-here a SALAD or OVALI & ROYAL TRUMPET MUSHROOMS, Mache, Italian Hazelnuts and Black Truffle Dressing. The ingredients just don't get more farm fresh and ingenious than this, even in the salad country of California!

My SAFFRON TAGLIATELLE with BRAISED CUTTLEFISH, Red Wine & Spring Onion was a tribute of how well Chef Gray does pasta (he has always excelled indeed, having worked so long at Galileo!).

A second between course amuse of Cold RARE TUNA, QUAIL EGG and Mayo was a nice treat, but I missed much of the description. We moved on to an excellent Zin blend with the always wonderful PARADUXX 2003 from DUCKHORN Vineyards, which was big yet smooth enough for the delicacies of our entrees.

One of the pricey items on the menu is the GNOCCHI of JERUSALEM ARTICHOKES with WHITE TRUFFLES from ALBA, Traditional Fonduta, Baby Spinach & Truffle Jus. The chef himself comes out to shave the fresh extravagant truffles over the dish, and while it was superb, it has been so long since I enjoyed white truffles, I could not help feeling that their flavor is perhaps a bit less intense this season? Or am I getting older and jaded, and remember those bargain White Truffle Dinners of years past at Galileo!

The entrees were superstars with us all from the GRILLED TENDERLOIN of VEAL with CRISPY SWEETBREADS, Potato Rosti, Braised Local Cabbage & Porcini Mushroom Cream; rich, tasty and everything one could ask for a chilly autumn evening. The superb PAN SEARED BREAST of WILD SCOTTISH PHEASANT with Creamed Chestnut Puree, Braised Leeks & Banyuls Reduction was no less impressive, and also just right for the season; I could eat it again tonight!

We rested before dessert and decided to share two delicious and not overdose items from Pastry Chef MEGAN SEWARD: WARM APPLE-CURRANT SPRING ROLL with Rice Pudding & Chestnut Frozen Yogurt with Caramel & Lemon-Poppy Gastrique was a terrific combination of new tastes and ideas, and the more seasonal traditional PUMPKIN CREME BRULEE with Pirouette Cookie, Cardamom Cream & Gingerbread Croutons, still a change on the standard and a perfectly constructed brulee to boot.

It was hard not to enjoy a small glass of BRACHETTO Sparkling sweet red with the yummy mignardises of COCOA NIB ESPRESSO BISCOTTI, White CHOCOLATE STRAWBERRY ALMOND Truffles and Tasty RASPBERRY GELEES. It was a truly happy return to a truly wonderful restaurant.