Saturday, March 31, 2007

CHEF GEOFF comes and goes

Saturday evening after attending a thrilling performance of the live spectacle GO DIEGO GO with our kids we decided to head across the street from the Warner Theater and sup at CHEF GEOFF's a Washington standard in the theater district (or what we have of it) for many years. We have been before and always were pleased, but with 6 adults and 3 three and a half year olds, it was a true test for the restaurant.

I first found it odd that our server could not take the kids' food order and our drink order at the same time. The bar is one way, and the kitchen the other, he explained. So it took some time to get things coordinated. Once the kids were settled with their orders, which to me tasted quite sad, we could continue with ours. Sam ordered the "create your own pizza" which offers toppings of mozzarella, tomato, parmesan, cheese and "green stuff" which frankly doesnt sound
very appetizing. The "create your own penne pasta" has the same options and that's the entire children's menu, which actually surprised me. Sam's pizza with mozzarella and tomato was about the blandest I ever tasted (even the crust), but at least he ate 1/2 of it.

I must give credit for the excellent ($7) Cosmopolitans which are perfectly mixed and then served from a shaker at the table. BUT, WHY does the server remove the shaker with the rest of the drink? Do they reuse this? I doubt out, and frankly I would like to finish off what I paid for, especially since the martini glasses are not that big!

WEST CAPE HOWE 2005 Unoaked Chardonnay has an intense citrus flavor and makes a nice wine for appetizers. It is one of the few wines in the low to mid-$30 range on the menu, which again, surprised me. When we are out with so many people, we like to avoid high priced wines as it is often unfair to those who don't drink as much.

The CRAB FRITTERS with GREEN TARTAR SAUCE which my server steered me to were superb. Crunchy, crab filled and while I am not a tartar sauce nut, the green, slightly spicy version was a big improvement over any I have ever had. The SHRIMP & CALAMARI FRITTO MISTO with SAMBAL AOILI actually came with 3 dips and was quite a huge portion. After Sam's recent love affair with Calamari, we thought he would be anxious to try it again. WRONG! So much for toddler's eating habits. One of the oddest appetizers was the FRENCH ONION SOUP, which was a deconstructed version of the traditional, with a nice soup being served with a huge cold slice of crouton and some cold shredded cheese on it on the side. Sorry, folks, but this doesn't even come close to bad bistro. "FRENCH" Onion Soup is not French without that completely gooey cover piping hot and just melted all over the soaking, yet crisp, crouton underneath.

The entrees fared much better in all categories. The excellent OLD VINE RED Petit Syrah-Zinfandel Bin #41 from Marietta is a find and bargain in the $30-range and pairs superbly with the excellent burgers.We opted for the DC CHEDDAR BACON Burger with CHIPOTLE MAYO. The Mayo was nice and spicy and gret with the fries and the burger was juicy and tasty...a true gem.

Sadly, the long afternoon and difficult start to the dinner made us cut short our visit before dessert as the kids got pretty antsy....

HAPPY PASSOVER--don't eat as much as I do!

Monday, March 26, 2007

mostly hurray for HANK's OYSTER BAR

It took us way too long to finally make our way to HANK's OYSTER BAR (Q & 17th Sts, NW but we made it to Jamie Leed's den of fried seafood last night and it was, for the most part, a treat. The noise level is a bit too high for my tastes, so much so that we had to ask the server to repeat things thrice at times. There is nothing to absorb the noise and perhaps that's what some folks like about a neighborhood spot, but I still like my reasonably quiet dining spots.

There were fun touches, such as the little goldfish on the table (the crackers, that is), nice linen napkins and excellent service. The wine list is mostly in the $30-something range and we started with an excellent HUBER GRUNER VELTLINER 2005 which aches of citrus and works great with the raw bar items. The selection of raw oysters is great and we chose all Washington State: OTTER COVE, GOLD CREEK (we skipped Dabob Bay), and adored the CALM COVE with its plumpness and the tiny QUILCENE with its salty briny flavor.

Next came a yummy cone of POPCORN SHRIMP and CALAMARI with a to-die- for dipping remoulade.

The appetizers were at all levels from a magnificent GRIDDLED CRABCAKE to a very unexciting SEAFOOD CEVICHE consisting of shrimp, calamari and scallop in LIME & JALAPENO. I asked why it tasted funny and our server said that the shrimp and calamari is steamed first, which I have never heard of. Even so, it was spicy, but unexciting.

The entrees fares much better with an amazing LOBSTER ROLL stuffed with chunks and chunks of shellfish and a nice mild simple mayo-based sauce (I would have preferred that remoulade!!) served with nice OLD BAY FRIES. The FRIED OYSTER DINNER is a highlight with plump BLUE POINT (MD) oysters in a tasty coating served again with the fries and a yummy COLE SLAW (not creamy, but not too vinegary either). They come with tartar sauce, but I opted for more of the remoulade and was even happier. Our second wine was a HERON CHARDONNAY 2005 from California that is basic and buttery and again works well with the shellfish.

Dessert is not an option at Hank's as they say the kitchen is too small, but instead a generous bowl of German (dark, but not bitter at all) Chocolate chunks comes out which is a great treat and makes everyone happy before they head home quite full.

I do have to add I thought it odd that the check came with a "Lockheed Martin" pen to fill out the charge slips? Oh well. I would gladly return to Hanks, avoid the ceviche and next time try some of the yummy sounding fish entrees as well!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

reasonable RED GINGER in Georgetown

Last night we grabbed a quick meal on our way home from the theater at RED GINGER (1564 Wisconsin Ave, NW @ Q Street) in Georgetown where we had not been for many years since its takeover by new owners. The basics remain the same with orangey tones and a comfy setting (that can suffer from drafts if it's cold out when the front door gets opened) and the Caribbean-leaning menu, although we understand the chef/owner is from Gambia.

The wine list is short and simple and works well; we opted for a nice full-bodied VALDELANA CRIANZA Tempranillo from JUDIT in Rioja 2002 for about $35, which works pretty well with many of the spicy dishes. Oddly, the wine tasted spicy at first, but the fruit opened up as we ate spicy food!

Speaking of spicy, don't miss the superb appetizer of JAMAICAN JERK CHICKEN LOLLIPOPS which are two chicken legs smothered in yummy jerk seasoning and sauce and placed on top of a superb warm FRIED CABBAGE HASH which includes dice golden potatoes, vidalia onions and scallions. The FRIED GREEN TOMATOES are decent and come with a fruit avocado, corn, tomato salsa salad on the side and an Old Bay Rouille drizzled on top.

Don't skip the yummy brioche-like rolls that come with an amazing tapenade of white beans, artichoke and olive that is simply to die for!

Entrees fare from good to superb with the WALNUT CRUSTED DUCK BREAST coming out juicy (with BLOOD ORANGE CHIPOTLE Sauce) and tasty, but the tasty crunchy skin/crust seemed to lack walnuts. The accompanying QUINOA PUMPKIN Salad seemed to have some pieces of grit in it, which really turned me off. We fared much better with the MOJO CHICKEN CURRY which is actually 1/2 a roasted Game Hen in a tasty currry served with DATE-SPIKED RICE, Peas & Spinach Salad. Again, the side dish totally lacked the dates, and the peas were replaced with beans. Chalk it up to a Sunday night at 930pm with almost nobody there, but the chef was a bit upset when he heard one of his staff missed some ingredients!

Otherwise, the prices are low (especially for G'town) and the service extremely friendly. A thought for those who like Caribbean style food and it is not ALL spicy!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

goin' great at GRAPESEED in Bethesda

It's been about a year since we dined at one of our favorite spots, tops in Bethesda for food AND WINE, GRAPESEED ( After reading last week's food section in the Washington Post featuring Chef Jeff Heineman and dealing with the difficulty of serving good and varied wines in Montgomery County, it was a revelation to how Grapeseed has succeeded in this difficult situation and still offers superb quality wines at great prices (and HUNDREDS of them, many by the glass!).

Anyway, Chef Heineman is now offering varied and exciting tasting menus every Friday & Saturday, but with advance reservations (specifically for this menu) only. The price is an amazing $55 for an amuse and five other courses. The excellent and almost MANDATORY (but you can opt out) paired wines are $35 extra!
We had a ball and even got to meet Chef's mom who sat at the next table! As we sat we sipped on POMEGRANATE BELLINIS made with Prosecco, peach and a splash of Pomegranate and wolfed down the super bread which is served with "THAT" TAPENADE, simply quality olive oil, lots of garlic and tomato.

Our first amuse was a CREAM of PARSNIP & PEAR SOUP with Chives and a dollop of FROMAGE BLANC that was creamy, rich, warm and tasty on another cold night. A CHEHALEM PINOT GRIS RESERVE 2005 from Oregon was a brilliant pairing (I should not that we did get an extra amuse and some one extra wine that was not on the set menu). A second superb SEARED DIVER SCALLOP from George's Bank (Nova Scotia) was served with a novel reduced BLACK BEAN BROTH.

Our real "first" course was excellent fresh WHITE & GREEN ASPARAGUS wrapped with HOMEMADE PROSCIUTTO (from a 2005 Berkshire Hog)in PHYLLO and served with Pickled Kumquats and a dollop of LAURA CHENEL Goat Cheese drizzled with Balsamic reduction. This was a revelation in itself, but got even better when served with a BECKMAN SAUVIGNON BLANC Estate 2005 from Santa Ynez, California that exhibited huge terroir with floral overtones and mineral tastes at the tip of the tongue. I GOTTA get this wine!

The CALAMARI was beautifully and again simply sauteed and served with a LEMONy MIZUNA SALAD with MARCONA ALMONDS & Calamata Olives. We smelled this coming and it was just simple cooking with genius at its best. The smooth LEROY NEGOCIANTS a AUXEY-MERSAULT 1997 from Burgundy was an aged wine, but still tasted delightful and is another novel find in an often repetitive den of wine choices these days!

A flaky GOLDEN TILEFISH was topped with SPICY CUCUMBER and served with Ruby GRAPEFRUIT (although mine came with Tangelo & Meyer Lemon segments due to the cholesterol drug). One of our favorite wines, GYPSY DANCER PINOT GRIS "Christine Lorraine Vineyard" from Oregon was served in its newest vintage, 2006, which is oddly sweeter than those past. It is funny how a wine changes from year to year SO much! It actually did pair well almost like a fruity Riesling would.

The main or meat course was a delicious tender FLAT IRON STEAK with YUCCA & a magnificent well-spiced CHIMICHURI Sauce. I would have preferred a heavier wine(think Zin) to fight the spice, but the LUCIEN et ANDRE BRUNEL "Les Cailloux" CHEATEAUNEUF du PAPE 2004 was a true treat no matter what.

Will opted to switch off the tasting menu for dessert when he saw the TRES LECHES at the next table and it was a great tasting treat. Souffle-like in a ramekin, warm and creamy it was a great take on the traditional Latin treat.

We had the Peanut CHURROS, Cinnamon Ice Cream, & Mexican Chocolate all with a dash of Cayenne for Spice that was another dessert revelation. If this is ever on the menu at Grapeseed--GRAB IT! An accompanying Reynella Old Cave Tawny Port from Australia was a real treat before we headed home totally satisfied with a great meal for a great price with great friends and a great staff at GRAPESEED!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Dino does DC dining right

We returned to DINO ( in Cleveland Park the other day, but this time without Samuel, who adores the pasta there. Instead, we opted for a testing menu chosen by the chef and wines paired by wine-genius/owner Dean Gold. It was a memorable evening and we now know that DINO can be right for simple or fancy family dining, intimate meals, upscale food, or just about anything Italian you desire! And those wines are amazing as well.

We started with a BISOL "Cartizze" di Valdobbiadne or Prosecco that has a slight sweetness in the taste which went quite well with the fun fried Piatti Piccoli (or small plates) of FORMAGGI FUSO-Fried Bosina (Ribola) Cheese with Anchovy, Panko & Parsley Oil PIO TOSINI 400 GIORNI PROSCIUTTO di PARMA Crudo-an amazing prosciutto that anyone would want to die for and the unreal CROQUETTE di PATATE which were gorgeously fried potato croquettes with wondrous chunks of braised prosciutto, cheese and breadcrumbs inside!

"MONETE" di RICOTTA or ricotta "coins" with roasted tomato, spinach, parsley oil and chunks of chicken were served with a truly delicious ALTO ADIGE GEWURTZTRAMINER from ABBAZIA di NOVACELLA 2004 from the Valle Isarco in the far north near Austria. Was a dry wine with an intense lasting spice flavor in the mouth that was perfect for the warm weather (we WERE having!).

An INAMA "Classico du Lot" SOAVE 2003 from Veneto had intense fruit with nice linger hints of oak and paired to perfection with the GNOCCHI con ARAGOSTA e GAMBRETTI--magnificent gnocchi with lobster & rock shrimp in a lobster cream sauce with lovage. It could have been called LOBSTER with Gnocchi as each dish must have had a whole tail in it!

There were two entrees of MAIALE ARROSTO-slow roasted Niman Ranch Pork Ribs with Soffrito & Sweet Potato Puree which were smoky and intense and paired amazingly with a to die for (despite its youth) TOMASSO BUSSOLA "AMARONE BG" della Valpolicella 2002 Classico with 16% alcohol but the smoothest feeling in the mouth and no harshness on the tongue whatsoever. YUM! Also with the entree was an ALL NATURAL RACK of LAMB with Potatoes HERBS & Olio.

A trip to DINO is incomplete without CHEESE, and Dean is rightfully very proud of his "cart" which brought us: CORA ROBIOLA "CIABOT" from Cuneo- a Brie like cow & sheep cheese that is aged in straw and extremely rich (but not runny). MONTE TRENTINI VEZZENA-a raw cow from Trentino that was strong but not biting GUFFANTI PARMIGIANO REGGIANO 1999-a cave aged parmesan made from the cow's "winter" milk in Nov 1999 that has a crunchy feel (Sam seems to love this in cheese) and a taste to die for. The Amarone lasted through the cheese and was the perfect pairing again and the platter was decorated with fruity homemade MOSTARDO, fruit bread, candied walnuts and blackberries!

A GRAPPA UVAVIVA POLI Pinot Noir filled my glass and was smooth and not too intense, while some folks opted for the MARCHESI de GRESY MOSCATO that was fresh and yeasty. These accompanied a selection of desserts including TIRAMISU, CHOCOLATE CAKE and CROSTATA RASPBERRY ICE CREAM if I recall correctly.

This was a truly terrific meal and we mean to return to DINO VERY SOON!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Back to BEBO with the babes (well, kids)

Last night was another night out with Samuel and his friend Joshua and Joshua's two daddies. We all had a pretty great time at BEBO TRATTORIA, Roberto Donna's hopping new bistro in Crystal City. Our previous visit to BEBO was for a spectacular tasting menu with wines, and we never really looked at the menu, so we were shocked to see that the prices were so low. The appetizers are all less than $10, entrees in the mid-teens and wines start in the low $20's with some excellent option all under $30-40!

As it was Sunday, Chef Donna was not in residence, but the kitchen had everything under control, and each dish was quite tip-top. The only failure seemed to be with some of the serving and bus staff not understanding our requests from time to time (a language problem I fear) when we needed an extra bowl or plate for the kids to split something. At one point the ice cream we wanted them to share almost melted completely before we got a second bowl! I also wish that there was a bit more room between the table and walkway as each time a waiter went behind me I got bumped.

We started by ordering Shirley Temples for the boys which they loved, and they were served in nice tall glasses rather than those short ones which are gone in 4 sips! Our wine choice was a ALIANTO ECORINO from Cantina CALLE MORO in Abruzzo, Italy. I chose this as we are headed to Abruzzo in August and thought it might be fun to try some new regional wines. The fruit-filled white was akin to a Verdicchio and would go great with fried food (think calamari) and seafood. We LOVED it. It was a perfect foil for all the wonderful starters especially the Soft Polenta on Firefly Creamery Soft Cheese with Grilled Home-Cured Pancetta, the amazing CARNE CRUDA all ALBESE--a raw veal carpaccio served with celery, sliced mushrooms, parmesan cheese and olive-oil with lemon. My VITELLO TONATO was an amazing Veal Tongue with a spectacular BAGNETTO ROSSI sauce of spicy tomato and a dash of mustard with adorable gherkins and just heavenly! The FEGATINI or Chicken Livers on Polenta (also under $10!!) was a huge rich portion that could easily have been an entree!

We moved on to red for our entrees and ordered a 2001 Chianti Riserva which was sadly out of stock, so we opted for the DIANELLA FUCINI 2005 Chianti which was nice but needed a bit more body for me. The entrees were also impressive except perhaps for the CANELLONI alla NAPOLETANA with ricotta stuffing and pork sausage ragu (a shock considering that Chef Donna's pastas are always the best around!). The VEAL SCALLPONI was very tasty and my CONIGLIO FRITO was a sublime dish of battered and deep fried loin of rabbit with accompanying fried artichoke hearts and spring onion with a yummy Orange Mayo dipping sauce. The top dish was easily the mildly spicy and invigorating LAMB STEAK, another huge portion as well!

The kids were happy with their kids meals of FARFALLE with TOMATO SAUCE and five tons of Freshly Grated Parmesan at the table for Sam and Joshua's DITALINI with CHEESE SAUCE. Ditalini are hollow bead-like mini pasta (there word mean little thimble) that were just adorable We also ordered a plate of the CHICKEN FINGERS MILANESE with TOMATO SAUCE which had no breading and were pure moist chicken breast with a tasty coating that we all loved.

Desserts are always a treat (I wonder who is the pastry chef these days as the bread is always terrific too--but I miss Galileo's super breadsticks!) from CANNOLI to the kids creamy HAZELNUT & VANILLA GELATO. A rich FONDUTA di NUTELLA con BISCOTTI e FRUTTA offered up a richer than fondue dipping sauce of chocolate/hazelnut with lots of dipping options and my PEARS POACHED in RED WINE with Cinnamon ZABAGLIONE was also fab, especially for the thickness of the tasty red-wine sauce.

The kids had finished eating and played under the large table together while we finished up and we were really proud of their excellent behavior. What's next??

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Brendan Cox copes well at CIRCLE BISTRO

We had a busy weekend dining out and returned for a wonderful tasting menu at CIRCLE BISTRO (1 Washington Circle) which is part of the triumvirate of restaurants closest to the Kennedy Center including Dish and Notti Bianche.

Things have been in a tizzy since Dish & Notti's chef Anthony Chittum and his pastry chef wife Heather announced their departure (which took place last month) and Chef Brendan Cox over at Circle Bistro has had to oversee both Circle Bistro & Notti, while Dish has changed its menu and gone more casual and simpler forsaking the possibility of fine dining there. Chef Brendan seems to be managing fine, and the Saturday night crowd was not a pre-theater crowd at Circle Bistro and seemed to all be quite happy as were.

Our meal started with a glass of ZARDETTO PROSECCO whose fruit matched the CHERRY COMPOTE on the DUCK LIVER MOUSSE on Crostini! One of the highlights of the meal was the excellent PARSNIP SOUP with DUCK CONFIT that was a creamy white rich bisque with green parsnip oil floating beautifully across the top almost like a little lake. The 2005 SANCERRE "Moulin de Vrilleres" from Christian Lauveryjat in the Loire was a bit boring, slightly grassy and "paled" next to the soup, but did work much better with the ensuing SEARED SCALLOP with FENNEL COMPOTE & Blood Orange. Oddly, we were asked at this point if we wanted more bread and while it was yummy, we said, "no" and the busfolks immediately cleared the remaining bread and our breadplates. I HATE THIS!

Highlight number two and a superb creation was the SWEET POTATO ANGNELOTTI with LOBSTER in Butter-Chive Sauce that was simply dreamy and paired perfectly with a KALI HART 2005 Monterey Chardonnay with very little oak and a lots of forward fruit(including a hint of grapefruit). This wonderful wine comes from the makers of Talbott, who always excel in Chard and Pinot!

OLIVE OIL POACHED STEELHEAD SALMON was cooked to perfection and served with BEETS and a SHALLOT COULIS. We think the mild accompanying radish-like veggie was jicama, but never did find out. The wine switched to red: BENTON LANE 2005 Oregon PINOT NOIR is a perfect wine for this intense fish and also worked excellently with the wonderful DUCK BREAST with BRUSSELS SPROUTS & Sweet Potato-Apple Puree.

Dessert was a bit of a mixed bag with a yummy BANANA BREAD PUDDING with Caramel Ice Cream which had an adorable bird's nest like spun sugar webbing with candied cashews, but a not too exciting BITTERSWEET
CHOCOLATE Tart with Orange Ice Cream and Candied Blood Orange (these were great). The accompanying FONSECA RUBY PORT was underwhelming.

So, if you go to Circle Bistro...enjoy, but avoid the chocolate tart and port and you should have a pretty amazing time.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

make it MIMI's at Dupont Circle--Sam sups on calamari!

Last night was the annual DINING OUT FOR LIFE to benefit FOOD & FRIENDS here in DC, and we chose MIMI's AMERICAN BISTRO at 2120 P St, NW just near Dupont Circle since they were donating 50% to the charity! We also decided to take Samuel with us as Mimi's is very casual and also has fun entertainment/cabaret by the waiters and a pianist. The pianist starts at 7PM and the singers about 30 minutes later, so we managed to catch about 30 minutes of both! Sam loved it wiggling to the music in our booth and even being serenaded by one of the performers!

On the way in we were shocked to see that 21P next door had "lost its license" and closed about a month ago! Hopefully, Dupont will have a new addition in this wonderful space.

Anyway, our wonderful friendly and Last night was the annual DINING OUT FOR LIFE to benefit FOOD & FRIENDS here in DC, and we chose MIMI's AMERICAN BISTRO at 2120 P St, NW just near Dupont Circle since they were donating 50% to the charity! We also decided to take Samuel with us as Mimi's is very casual and also has fun entertainment/cabaret by the waiters and a pianist. The pianist starts at 7PM and the singers about 30 minutes later, so we managed to catch about 30 minutes of both! Sam loved it wiggling to the music in our booth and even being serenaded by one of the performers!

On the way in we were shocked to see that 21P next door had "lost its license" and closed about a month ago! Hopefully, Dupont will have a new addition in this wonderful space.

Anyway, our wonderful friendly and knowlegable server, Abbey, got Samuel some pineapple juice and rolls fast and we decided on a bottle of the always decent LABOURE-ROI 2005 Chardonnay than can be found just about anywhere and is a nice oaky inexpensive French chard from the south. I did mention to Abbey that the specialty drink menu was cool, but lacked prices. She agreed and said she old management, but they don't seem to want to list the prices which run from $9 on up! While Mimi's has been around for years and the food has always been quite good, the decor is starting to tire and they need a spruce up, which Abbey said will be coming soon. Sadly, the place is always quite chilly on cold nights, so wear a warm sweater in winter!

We ordered three of the Middle Eastern appetizers (mezze): MERGUEZ which is a Grilled Lamb Sausage served with Harissa Olive Salad & Greens over warm pita, which we each took a piece of and rolled like a wrap to make a superb and quite filling sandwich! Excellent STUFFED GRAPE LEAVES and CALAMARI served battered and fried with a SPICY TOMATO COULIS. When Samuel saw this he immediately wanted some (perhaps due to the fact that it looked like rings of french fries?) and devoured numerous pieces of the tender squid without end (although he chose the ketchup, rather than the excellent coulis). After it was gone we told him it was like octopus and fish, but different which didn't seem to phase him AT ALL. WOW, a major coup considering he had tasted and loved canned beets just one night earlier! He went on to enjoy a huge plate of CHICKEN FINGERS & FRIES which while enjoyable I felt suffered from the fries being a bit wimpy (they needed to be fried just a bit longer) and the fingers were on the dry side(nothing a dunk in ketchup won't cure!), although the slightly spicy breading was superb. We moved on to a bottle of MARTIN REY 2004 Angeline ZINFANDEL from DRY CREEK (Sonoma) which was quite mild, tasty, big bodied and had a super nice finish with almost no spice. It was superb with our entrees. Will had the MIMI's SIGNATURE BURGER with AVOCADO & MOZZARELLA and those same FRIES (a bit better on his plate). This is a HUGE burger and can easily make MORE than a meal. I opted for the yummy MEATLOAF with GARLIC MASHED POTATOES, Spinach and Mushrooms and Mushroom Sauce. It was also huge, and I took home almost half. I do have to admit the portions are amazing consider the prices hover in the teens ($11 for a burger, $13 for the meatloaf!) and you get entertained as well!

Sam enjoyed his creamy MANGO SORBET which was not sweet at all and quite tasty (we were told it comes from Larry's nearby), and the two of us could not resist splitting the superb BANANA WHITE CHOCOLATE BREAD PUDDING which came out warm and fluffy on a bed of white chocolate sauce with an excellent creamy scoop of COCONUT ICE CREAM. This is a great dessert if you are in the mood for only dessert in the area, and again you get the entertainment, too! I do hope with the renovation they can manage a better sound system for the performers. Next comes, CIRCLE BISTRO!

BLACKSALT bravos in our neighborhood--Dining Out reminder March 8

Last night five of us joined together in what must now be our "neighborhood" favorite, BLACKSALT ( Now open several years, perhaps I shouldn't tell you how wonderful Chef Jeff Black's seafood spot is, because it is virtually impossible to get a weekend reservation unless you book a month or two out (which we did!).

We started with a sadly boring HIEDLER 2005 "Loss" GRUNER VELTLINER. With the 60+ degree heatwave we had yesterday, I was feeling so summerlike, I thought the GruVe would be appropriate. The wine though had little aroma and died quickly on the palate. We moved quickly to a WEINGUT BRUNDLMAYER 2005 GruVe also from Kamptal in Austria that was much more satisfying and also a dream with our mussel appetizers, a must at Blacksalt. We actually started with some of the superb CONCH FRITTERS which are extremely tasty and tender and come with a spicy CHIPOTLE REMOULADE.

I split a yummy CHIOGGIA BEET SALAD with Spiced Pecans, Amish Cheddar & Tupelo Honey-Cider Vinaigrette which was beautifully prepared and served.

The MUSSELS are prepared many different ways, but the top choice at our table seemed to be the THAI STYLE with Coconut Kaffir Lime Broth, Red Bird Chile & Opal Basil. NOt too spicy yet creamy and tasty, this dish is a hit. My SPANISH version was the spicy one and I LOVED them with CHORIZO, Romesco Sauce & Marjoram so much that I used numerous pieces of the tasty bread to mop up the sauce.

We moved to an interesting SERENITY Unoaked CHARDONNAY 2005 from Santa Barbara that was also superb and drank nicely while we awaited our entrees and schmoozed with our friends. Our final wine with the entrees was an amazing (as it always is) FIDDLEHEAD CELLARS 2002 Pinot Noir "OLDSVILLE Reserve" from Oregon that was huge and tasty..loaded with fruit and a monster finish as well.

The fish dishes at Blacksalt are, for the most part, quite intense and can easily stand up to wines like this. The LINE CAUGHT ROCKFISH with Truffled Polenta, Braised Leeks and Cremini Mushroom Jus was quite popular, and I was thrilled with my WOODGRILLED CUTTLEFISH with Cuttlefish Ink Pasta, Piquillo Peppers & Saffron Butter. This was actually an appetizer that I had deliciously doubled into an entree. The squidlike fish was so tender and just slightly charred at the edge for extra taste.

Our excellent server Moses (I forgot to mention how super Jason was the night before at David Greggory) knew we were up for dessert and quickly convinced us to try several. The TRIO of CREME BRULEEs included Milk Chocolate, Hazelnut & Coffee and had no complaints. The BUTTERSCOTCH Pot de Creme had Milk Chocolate, Almond Brittle and Scotched Milkshake and Butter Shortbread and would make anyone looking for several desserts happy with just the one. I went for and was thrilled with the CHOCOLATE PEANUT BUTTER CRUNCH CAKE with Caramelized Bananas & Peanut Brittle!

Back home we opened a bottle of 1994 Muscat de Beaumes de Venise that was just an added treat to a wonderful evening of food, wine and friends.

Please remember that this coming Thursday, March 8 is DINING our for LIFE to benefit FOOD & FRIENDS and that many of our area restaurants will donate portions or all of their proceeds to Food & Friends. Please support this important charity and event. You can find us along with Samuel at MIMI's on P Street at Dupont Circle!

Thursday, March 01, 2007

David GREGGORY going good

Thursday night we returned to DAVID GREGGORY (2030 M St, NW) after a long absence from the realm of one of our favorite chefs, GREGGORY HILL.

It was a special occasion where six of us joined to celebrate a birthday as well as a our friendship. It was a memorable night not only for that friendship, but also for the fabulous food. We started off with a glass of bubbly BAILLY LAPIERRE Rose Brut 2003 Cremant de Bourgogne and some tasty Malpeque Oysters on the half shell (from Prince Edward Islands) with a superb mignonette (chervil and other greens made it quite yummy). The meal was entitled "BIDDING SIX" as we all wanted to buy this item at a charity auction last fall, but agreed to each buy one major item and share it amongst all of us! The first wine was one of my favorites, KEN WRIGHT CELLARS 2005 PINOT BLANC from the Willamette Valley in Oregon which at first had a floral nose with a creamy start on the palate ending in a grapefruit-like acidity. However, once we tasted the accompanying dish of SEARED SEA SCALLOP & LUMP CRAB with Tasso Ham, Micro Greens and Brown Butter, the nature of the wine completely changed. Perhaps this was due to the small amount of vinaigrette on the micro greens; I'm not sure, but it was a whole other experience indeed and the wine seemed to change "in marriage" to the food, which was simply superb.

SEARED ROCKFISH FILET with MUSHROOM RAGOUT, CELERY ROOT-POTATO Mash, Pernod Cream, Roasted Red Pepper Puree and Potato Crisps was a wonderful dish, and so atypical of Chef Hill. Indeed, in looking at the menu, we felt he had almost been reborn as a new chef with so many new changes in cuisine. The DuNah CHARDONNAY from DeDee's Vineyard 2003, Sonoma Coast was a huge oaked chard reminiscent of the big oakey ones of the 90's and again paired perfectly with the excellent rich fish.

CORIANDER CRUSTED DUCK BREAST and LEG with SMOKY SPINACH, POACHED BABY CARROTS, Red Wine Cherry Glaze and Foie Gras was a revelation. The Confit was melded into the spinach for extra flavor making the spinach and carrots two of the most amazing vegetable dishes around. We later discovered that the carrots were cooked in duck fat--NO WONDER! The cherries were Ranier, making the dish even more special, and I never say "no" to duck! The two WILLIAMS SELYEM Pinot Noirs were another lesson in pairing. The first a 2003 BUCHER Vineyard from Russian River exhibited a huge berry nose and flavor with a slight bite at the end of the long finish. The younger 2004 Russian River (not vineyard specific) was more earthy in the nose and on the tongue. It, however, opened up within minutes and ended up mellowing with what our hostess described as "incredible character."

BRAISED VEEL CHEEKS with CARAMELIZED ONION-POTATO Gratin, Vegetable Melange & Glace and ONION RINGS to die for was one of the best preparations of this dish ever. A GLAYMOND 2003 "Krause's Berg" ZINFANDEL with 15.4% alcohol from Barossa Valley Australia was as over the top as the dish and made us all ask for doggie bags for leftovers.

Dessert was BACON & BLEU in PHYLLO with Spiced Pecans, White Chocolate and Apricot Puree. While the blue cheese was mild, the dish was so rich, I could only take a bite or so. A couple of extra BREAD PUDDINGS with RANIER CHERRIES & Creme Anglaise were delivered for those of us that don't appreciate blue cheese, and again, while delicious, I managed only one bite. The WHITE FRONTIGNAC 2004 from HOBBS in South Australia was a completely new varietal for me and the wine was a light, medium bodied, not too sweet dessert wine which again paired just right with all the richness in front of us.

We must thank PHILLIP SWENSON, the adorable son of our friends Jim & Karin, whose Foundation Fundraiser allowed us to have this special evening; many toasts were indeed for him and for the best of luck in his endeavor to overcome autism.