Saturday, February 24, 2007

Walter the WHITE HOUSE CHEF (a new book)

Just about 8 weeks ago CHEF WALTER SCHEIB's new book "WHITE HOUSE CHEF" was published and has been widely and warmly received by the book community as well as the food community. I had the opportunity to finish the book on my recent trans-continental flights and thoroughly enjoyed the anecdotes from hilarious to honestly tearful.

I had the pleasure of meeting Chef Walter about a year and a half ago at an event where he recreated a White House menu and both his cooking and repartee were most enjoyable. Subsequently, I have enjoyed his re-enactment of the Iron Chef Competition which he won (the book ends before this event) as well as having him join the team of superstar DC chefs who cooked for my 50th birthday benefit last year.

I looked forward to this book having heard Walter speak and converse about his 11 years in the White House under Presidents Clinton & Bush and enjoyed much of what he had to say. This is not a tell-all book (which my memoirs will HAVE to be!), but an ejoyable story about his life in the White House and how he dealt with the day to day experiences and people he worked with. The book offers many recipes as well, although you all know I prefer to eat out!

Finally, it offers a different perspective of Washington that is completely non-political yet also giving us a feeling of what DOES go on with politics in the White House. 1194 to 2005 were important years, and Chef Walter writes about the highlights (New Year's Eve 2000) as well as the most arduous times (9-11) in a way that everyone can relate.

Congratulations to Walter on such a beautifully written book, and many thanks for his being the "top" chef in the country as well as to many wonderful events here in town!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

LA's PROVIDENCE perseveres and is still perfection the 2nd time 'round

Last night was my final night here in LA and I decided to return to PROVIDENCE on Melrose (about halfway between downtown and Beverly Hills) where I fist was totally impressed last September. Now about 1-1/2 years old, Chef Michael Cimarusti has settled in and things always seem to run so smoothly at this truly wonderful gastronomic temple.

As I sat down, even my server remembered me from the last time (well, I was there for FIVE hours) and the general warmth and friendliness of the staff makes Providence a special place, not stuffy or elitist at all! I decided on a bottle of TABLAS CREEEK 2004 WHITE GRENACHE from Paso Robles, California simply because one does not see this Rhone varietal on its own very much and the sommelieuse was very positive about the wine and how it works so well with the many different seafoods on the menu (and seafood is the leaning at Providence). The tart acidic wine had some citrus notes reminiscent of Sauvignon Blanc, but a completely different flavor in the mouth that was indeed so perfect with the intense fish flavors to come.

As I mentioned before the "Market Menu" is the way to go here with a choice of either five courses for $75, or nine for $95. I went for the whole deal, while my dinner guest chose the shorter version. Indeed, this worked out perfectly as the paced the courses ideally and when I had an extra course we often shared it it, or at least I was able to offer a taste. You won't fill up on the simple rolls here. They are nice, but nothing to write about. Save yourself, because soon the Amuses begin to arrive. Rather than three in a row like last time, we received two side by side last night: MEXICAN SHRIMP in WHITE SOY and LEMON GELEE and a SHOOTER of ENGLISH PEA SOUP with SMOKED MAPLE SYRUP FOAM It was hard to decide which was better--a tie for sure.

The main menu started with KANPACHI SASHIMI with White SOY GELEE Strip, Cucumber, Shiso Leaf & YUZU LIME Sauce. I asked the server exactly what "Kanpachi" was and she said it's another name for Yellowtail or confusing is that? But, it was superb and the gelee strip was a wonderful fun way to add some flavor to the tender fish.

Next came UN I SABAYON Custard with TRUFFLE, VERMOUTH, SANTA BARBARA SEA URCHIN served in an eggshell and clearly a signature dish NOT TO BE MISSED, reminiscent of the custard served for years at the french Laundry but heightened by the addition of several mouthfuls of the tasty sea urchin.

MAINE LOBSTER is served with YELLOW BEETS, AMERICAN CAVIAR and TARRAGON and was nice but probably the simplest of all the dishes. Far more inventive was the NANCY's HAND HARVESTED MAINE DIVER SCALLOPS over PUREE of BIG ISLAND (Hawaii) HEARTS of PALM, SPINACH, CRISPY BACON and PISTACHIOS with Balsamic Reduction. This dish was a huge hit for both of us, and got four thumbs up!

NEW ZEALAND JOHN DORY had a PUREE of FLOWERING BROCCOLI, CARROT/VADOUVAN (a French lemon, garlic curry) BUTTER and DARK SHERRY. The fish was perfect, slightly flaky, tender, tasty and moist. For the second fish course I had recalled not being crazy about the WILD TROLL CAUGHT KING SALMON last fall, which last night was served with BUTTERNUT SQUASH, SHIMEJI MUSHROOMS, ROMANESCO & BLACK TRUFFLE ESSENCE. My guest said the dish was perfect and amazing, and it had an adorable stand up salmon skin which was fried like a potato chip--a cool addition. For me, the server allowed me virtually any substitution so I quickly chose the MONKFISH with ARTICHOKES BRAISED in WHITE WINE with PEARL ONIONS, CORIANDER, BLACK OLIVE and Five Spices. It was a wonderful choice as nI had not had monkfish in ages, and forgot HOW MUCH I ADORE this firm, lobster-like fish that is so flavorful.

The cheese course is always a treat at Providence and mine was easily enough for both of us. Three large chunks were served with QUINCE JELLY, CANDIED WALNUTS, Bread and FIGS. The BERKSWELL SHEEP from the UK is a tart intense hard cheese that must be one of my new faves, the CARONE Goat from France also a nice lighter firm goat and finally the intense LADELLE de CLAIRON triple creme for those in need of more cream, cholesterol or just richness. All were delish!

KALAMANSI SODA is made from the Asian fruit I have never heard of and served with Vanilla & Mango in a small glass foaming like a root beer float, but tasting like a rich creamsicle; truly the most decadent of palate cleansers.

Finally, dessert was a CHOCOLATE CREMEAUX which is a rich chocolate mousse-like center with MARSHMALLOW on GRAHAM with LEMON CURD, which is their version of a s'more and truly impresses giving many different flavors in one dessert.

Before going home we always get those move over Reeses' PEANUT BUTTER CUPS which came along with an intense yummy BERRY GELEE and other tasty treats.

I don't have plans to return to LA soon, but I sure hope it's not too long before providence allows me to dine at PROVIDENCE again!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

CIUDAD has cool Latin cuisine (downtown LA)

Last night I returned to one of may favorite downtown LA dining spots after a two-year hiatus. CIUDAD is a wonderful Latin fusion spot (445 S. Figueroa) which oozes flavor as well as class and style. The white decor is accented with wall and ceiling paintings reminiscent of Miro or Calder with opaque square light fixtures of fabric. Only the wooden chairs need to go!

They offer an all-tapas menu on Sunday and a Tuesday paella night if you are around then. The wonderful flatbread is ancho chili dusted and comes with olive tapenade and humus to start...DON'T FILL UP, but you can't resist!

I started with the superb and huge PERUVIAN CEVICHE of mahi-mahi with lime, ginger, ahi amarillo chili and roasted pepper salsa with long curled fried plantains all supporting this with a slice of avocado. A glass of VIONTA ALABARINO (Riax Baixas 2004) was crisp with floral notes and works well with the spice, although a Riesling would be nice (and red zins are needed for the meat dishes!).

The GRILLED ARCTIC CHAR with TAMARIND GLAZE sounds lighter than the big meat dishes, but is also a huge portion served over CUMIN Scented CABBAGE with a MASHED YUCA and those yellow-orange Ahi Amarillo chiles on top to add spice. The fish is topped with an Onion Habanero Orange Salsa that was also great, although I did not care for the several anise seeds on top.

While the nice Latin music is playing, one should probably stick with Flan or Tres Leches, but I needed a lighter dessert and chose the NECTARINE BLUEBERRY CRUMBLE with Crema Ice Cream. When I told my excellent server that the nectarines were not ripe she immediately took the charge off the bill.

So--next time at CIUDAD I go for more meat and always enjoy the spice! They also have a free shuttle to the theaters several blocks away!

Friday, February 16, 2007

say YES to YORK STREET Restaurant in Dallas

I'm here in Dallas for a quick visit (off to LA today) and after some in-depth research I chose the intimate 13 table YORK STREET Restaurant (actually located at 6047 Lewis Street) about 5 minutes from downtown. This is not an easy place to find and my guests got lost thrice! The sign is etched on the smoked glass window and is quite small, and the dining room itself is just larger than our living room at home! But once there, we settled in for a fine meal which starts with a warm wet towel to clean your hands followed by a bowl of olives and one of walnuts and a small glass of dry sherry for each person. This was very nice and welcoming touch from the extremely friendly staff.

I chose a LYNMAR 2004 PINOT NOIR from Russian River that was full bodied and nice, although perhaps just several degrees too cold from the cellar, especially since the out door Texas temps were in the 20's and record lows were expected.

I started with the SOFT SCRAMBLED DUCK which was toast points with scrambled duck eggs, serrano ham cracklin's and goat butter--it was spectacular. The soft eggs had about six 2 inch squares of the crunchy ham which was a great touch, and a true southern feel. The MOSCATO BRAISED VEAL CHEECKS with WILD MUSHROOM ORZO & Marrow Jus were tender and tasty and filled my cold body up just right. Here, the accent is on the food and not so much on presentation, which is even truer with the desserts. They are simple and very tasty, mine being a LEMON PUDDING CAKE with LEMON GLAZE, which was not that cakey actually. My guests raved about the fresh Rhode Island oysters and the superb snapper as we moved on to a wonderful BIG bodied ANDREW WILL CHAPOUX VINEYARD 2003 from Columbia Valley Washington which is a blend of Cab, Cab Franc, Petit Verdot and Merlot...superb! It kept us warm into the bitter cold night! The only complaint is that the small venue is indeed so small they don't have an espresso machine and therefore don't offer cappuccino or espresso.

I also love the way that other quests who order wine by the glass actually have the bottle shown to them before the pour is made at the table. The prices are quite reasonable and this is a find in Dallas, but always reserve as it is SO SMALL!

Saturday, February 10, 2007

ARTE CAFE--not too far away (from Lincoln Center in NYC)

Last night I had some spare time between operas while in NY and decided to venture several blocks further away from Lincoln Center to ARTE CAFE at 108 West 73rd Street (at Columbus Ave; tel 212-501-7014 It was worth the 10 minute walk even in the bitter cold as ARTE CAFE is a warm wood paneled secret with exposed brick walls and lots of black and white photos of (famous?) people. At first I was worried with the underwhelming bread and olive oil, but my worries disappeared when my appetizer of PULPO arrived. The most tender pieces of Portuguese OCTOPUS sauteed along with CHIVES, FAVA BEANS, CHERRY TOMATOES and small diced NEW POTATOES. It was simply delicious, although there were two pieces of hard as a rock crostini under the dish which I skipped completely (I guess they have a bread problem). My glass of SANTA STEFANO MONTEPULICANO d'ABREZZO was a medium bodied red and perfect with the rich seafood as well as my super-rich entree: STROZZAPRETI con SUGO di CINGHIALE. I have not had Strozzapreti since I visited Urbino in Italy many years ago (where I believe they originated). The word literally means "priest stranglers" although the heavy pasta is shaped like the hats of priests in Italy many centuries ago--long flat boards all curved up on the sides. They were superbly made and the Wild Board Meat was slow cooked with huge chunks of Porcini Mishrooms in a Chianti Sauce...superb, and a steal at under $15!

Indeed, all the prices here are quite low. No wonder the place was jammed by 630pm, and with all sorts of people from young couples on dates to families with kids aged 5 to 25!


Saturday, February 03, 2007

RESTAURANT VERO is very rightly the neighboorhood place in Arlington

It seems that chefs are moving across the river and new restaurants are sprouting up like flies, even in the little strip malls along Lee Highway. RESTAURANT VERO (5723 Lee is the child of owners Joy Reinhardt and partner Veronica Kunkel with Joy's twin brother, Jay, in charge of the kitchen. There is clearly love here and despite the cold outside, the warmth pervaded in the dark putty-colored walls, comfy chairs and crisp linens. It seems that all the servers are super nice and positive as well; Annie was a gem and suggested everything that was perfect.

We started with a bottle of SIERRA GRANDE Sauvignon Blanc 2006 from Chile's Central Valley which is described as "racy citrus" in the menu and is perfectly apt. We surveyed the menu for some time and then decided to order four appetizer, two split salad, and entrees so we could taste as much as possible.

We had read Walter Nicholls Post Magazine review and he warned of the extreme spices used in the kitchen. I assume Mr. Nicholls has a wimpy palate, as we specifically asked if the spices had been toned down since the review and the staff adamantly said "no."

The GRILLED POLENTA with DUCK RAGU was a huge hit which "seared" Mr. Nicholls tongue delighted ours! The special of SPINACH & MUSHROOM STUFFED CALAMARI Braised in TOMATO BASIL SAUCE with Endive, Watercress & Daikon Salad was also a gem with tender whole squid stuffed to perfection.

BLACKENED SEA SCALLOPS were not too spicy at all (shame, Mr. Nicholls) and the MUSHROOM RAVIOLI in WHITE WINE & CREAM SAUCE was simply heavenly.

By this time we had moved on to a TULOCAY "Nord Family Vineyard" NAPA Pinot Noir 2002 that was recommended by owner/manager/sommelieuse Veronica and we loved the vanilla tones and not too intense fruit flavor with our salads: WARM GOAT CHEESE & CRANBERRY which was great and the amazing CARAMELIZED PEAR SALAD with warm pears and crumbled GORGONZOLA (not too much or too strong), Candied Walnuts and Apple Cider Vinaigrette; don't miss it!

If I have to make one complaint about Vero it might be that the staff is so enthusiastic, they often rush to clear plates before we finished, or before the entire table of four was done; although we loved it when the adorable bus boy kept coming by to ask if we were finished.

The entrees were all superb: GRILLED SNAKE RIVER FARMS RIBEYE with CHANTERELLE MUSHROOM CREAM SAUCE, Grilled Asparagus and Parmesan Potatoes seemed only to be low on the Parmeson, BRAISED KUROBATA PROK SHANK (also from Snake River Farms) is a Berkshire Heritage Prrk Shank with CREAMY BACON GRITS and SAUTEED CHARD, a true warm up in the winter. My TUSCAN MARINATED PORK RIBS are a completely different version of the traditional ribs marinated in OLIVE OIL, LEMON JUICE, GARLIC, HERBS, OLIVES and served with POTATO-LEEK-RED PEPPER Gratin. The BEEF TENDERLOIN MEDALLION & CRAB STUFFED BAKED SHRIMP with Asparagus and Potato Gratin are an indulgent surf & turf that will satisfy any apetite.

The wine list and wines by the glass are wonderful, and we even tasted an IBY HOCHACKER BLAUFRANKISCH 2004 from Austria that is not too big and would go with everything, but decided on a glorious BUCKLIN OLD HILL RANCH 2003 Sonoma Zinfandel that packed a 15.8% alcohol level but was not "in your face" and was terrific with all the meats.

Pastry Chef AMY HARPER does justice to the FROMAGE BLANC GATEAU with TART CHERRIES and Morello Sauce and thr APPLE CINNAMON CRISP with VANILLA ICE CREAM. The ASSORTED TRUFFLE plate melted in your mouth, but pricey for ones not homemade. Another hit was the VANILLA BEAN CREME BRULEE with Homemade Ginger Snaps.

It was a satisfying night and a new found favorite and with THREE BOTTLES of wine and all that food the bill was $151 per couple including TAX, but not tip--that's AMAZING!