Monday, April 30, 2007

Les DAMES d'ESCOFFIER do it deliciously

Last night was the Twelfth Annual Epicurean Food & Wine Auction and Gala Dinner which is held every other year under the auspices of the DC Chapter of LES DAMES d'ESCOFFIER INTERNATIONAL, a charity vested in supporting and aiding women in the food and wine and related industries. This event is always a treat since much of the food is prepared by the top female chefs in the area, and last night's delicious do at the National Museum of Women in the Arts (how appropriate is that!) was no different.

If you like food events (and who DOESN'T?) then this is one to get on the mailing list for, especially with the great silent and live auction items as well.

The evening started with a reception serving MARQUIS PHILIPS 2005 HOLLY's BLEND from Australia which is always a nice refreshing choice, but I opted for the deep enjoyable BLACK WING SHIRAZ 2005 from South Australia, which may not be an oyster wine, but went quite well with most of the hor's d'oevres:

Freshly Shucked KUMOMOTO OYSTERS with Sea Bean Vinaigrette served by JAMIE LEEDS of HANK's OYSTER BAR were a light and fun start and the vinaigrette was amazing since it had seaweed but was mild and did overpower the delicate bivalves.

Antipasti of MARINATED ROAST SHRIMP, PROSCIUTTO di PARMA and Mini- Breadsticks were served with a superb CAULIFLOWER-OLIVE mixture as well from RUTH GRESSER of PIZZA PARADISO

Washington's most famous female chef RIS LACOSTE (who will be opening a new spot in DC hopefully within the year) offered up creamy tasty SALMON RILLETTES with Cornichons and SALMON ROE

The passed items included the most spectacular MAINE LOBSTER & ASPARAGUS CRISPS from LISA diSTEFANO of SODEXHO Corporate Services and yummy MINI LAMB BURGERS a la MICHEL RICHARD from CARLA HALL & LYNN FOSTER of ALCHEMY CATERERS.

I missed Janis McLean's (Morrison-Clark Inn) Nettle Gelee and while I liked the GRISSINI with BEEF CARPACCIO and SHALLOT TEMOULADE from NORA POUILLON of Restaurant NORA and ASIA NORA they did make the breadsticks a bit soggy after sitting on the plate for a while! Her AVOCADO NORI ROLLS with WASABI-GREEN ONION Sauce were nice. After about 90 minutes of munching and schmoozing with many friends, we moved downstairs to the museum's beautiful and elegant grand foyer for dinner prepared by DESIGN CUISINE. A magnificent CRAYFISH, SHRIMP & LOBSTER ARTICHOKE-SEAFOOD STACK with Dill Vinaigrette (very mild) and Julienne of SNOW PEAS got us started and really filled me up. The KENNEDY POINT 2005 SAUVIGNON BLANC from Marlborough in New Zealand was full of grapefruit and citrus and an ingenious pairing as well.

The entree was a ROAST RACK of LAMB with ELDERBERRY WINE MARINADE, Fiddlehead Ferns, Hazelnuts & Shallots served with a POTATO-BLACK TRUFFLE TIMBALE and Green & White Asparagus. WHile the white asparagus were not my beloved Marchfeldspargl from Europe, they were quite excellent. The meat was superb, the sauce excellent and I was quite impressed with the job that the folks from Design Cuisine did, not to mention the quality service staff. A DOMAINE GRAND VENEUR 2005 COTES du RHONE VILLAGES "Les Champauvins" started off a bit tight, but opened up wonderfully after about 30 minutes or so.

We were back upstairs after dinner for one of the most impressive dessert buffets ever. Jointly prepared by LAURE ALLEMAN-WEBER (of The Swiss Bakery, who did both my 40th & 50th birthday cakes!), LISA SCRUGGS (of BUZZ BAKERY) and KATE JANSEN of WILLOW Restaurant the trays kept going on forever and while I won't lilst everything we did have many tastes:

The QUARK & BLACKBERRY Torte was like a Panna Cotta and filled with a gorgeous blackberry-grappa compote! MILK CHOCOLATE RASPBERRY BITTERSWEET CHOCOLATE MOUSSE PYRAMID was beatiful to behold and tasted even better. TIRAMISU, Passion Fruit Pates de Fruit & Red Currant Pates de Fruit and more rounded out the selections from Ms. Alleman-Webb.

"KATE's COOKIES" featured the most impressive HAZELNUT SHORTBREAD with MILK CHOCOLATE GANACHE, HAZELNUT MERINGUE KISSES and to die for CARAMEL SFOGLIATELLI which are small thimbles of puff pastry with a rich caramel filling.

Ms. Scruggs had the miniature tartlettes division with Key Lime, Berry and Chocolate Ganache.

There were impressive cheese platters from AMERICAN FARMSTEAD CHEESES including a sharp crunchy PLEASANT RIDGE RESERVE from Uplands Dairy in Wisconsin, wonderful goats from Vermont Butter & Cheese Company and many more! The evening was rounded out with JONSEY OLD TAWNEY PORT and coffee from SANTA LUCIA ESTATE!

We lingered, snacked and schmoozed making a full four hours of the spectacular evening!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

final musings on Vienna (Figlmuller,Palmenhaus,Zum Schwarzen Kameel)

My last day was an odd hodgepodge of several meals starting with lunch at the 100+ year old FIGLMULLER which is known for its WIENER SCHNITZEL that is bigger than the plate. Pounded fine and thin, it was nice but I wanted something more in the breading. The accompanying side of POTATO SALAD made with Styrian Pumpkin Oil and a salad of Field Greens was quite the item I found superb.

Before the opera I had my final plate of MARCHFELDSPARGL at the PALMENHAUS Restaurant ( located inside the Orangerie on the grounds of the Hofburg (Royal Palace). They were perfectly cooked, grilled and then layered with HOLLANDAISE with some boiled potatoes which I skipped. Sadly, we were running to the opera and after waiting almost 40 minutes had to beg for our dishes and the check at the same time. While this can be a problem, the setting alone is worth a return try.

After the opera I headed to where I was told I could get some good cheese. ZUM SCHWARZEN KAMEEL (The Black Camel)( has also been in the historic center for hundreds of years. Even the maitre d' sports a 19th century suit with long coat as well as beard, sideburns and moustache to rival that of the Emperor Franz Josef! The setting is old world with dark inlaid wood patterned walls, art nouveau chandeliers and a gorgeous frieze of while leaves on a gold leaf background. There are many antique oriental carpets and you feel as if you have been removed back over 100 years into the Austrian Empire.
An odd amuse came of a ham slice with shredded fresh horseradish on top, and then I had a small portion of Adriatic ROUGET (snapper family)with some Fennel & Orange Salad and three sauce of yellow, white and green (it looked like some nation's flag). The waiter suggested a perfect glass of PRAGER Riesling Federspiel. The cheese came and was a treat of Austrian goat, French goat with ash, two local cheeses (one hard and one soft with pumpkin seeds) and two French masterpieces, a Normandy Moulin de Carel Camembert and the ever-glorious Epoisses. Accompanying were raisins that had been soaked in wine and were wonderful with the lighter cheeses. The red wine was a Cuvee (I think he said "Unique") from Mittelberg region made from Syrah & Blaufrankisch and was soft and smooth, but big enough for the cheese. A fine finish to my stay in Austria!

dispelling rumors on Vienna and the COFFEE and COFFEHOUSES

I have heard that some of my remarks such as "I made it back to my hotel safely" sound like the streets of Vienna may not be SAFE. Absolutely NOT!

Indeed, I don't think you would feel or be safer anywhere else in Europe! The Austrians are some of the friendliest and most helpful people on earth. I merely meant that I got home okay because I had so much to eat and drink, I thought I might just fall asleep somewhere!

I also failed to mention one small but IMPRESSIVE thing about Vienna and Austria; THE COFFEE. I adore MELANGE, the Austrian version of Cappuccino which I had tried to have at least once or twice daily. One morning the temperature was a gorgeous 65degrees by 11am and I ventured across the street from the IMPERIAL Hotel to the Cafe SCHWARTZENBURG on the Ring. I sat in the warm sun and savored my creamy melange as folks passed by and I pretended to be a local. I also had a delicious plate of Apricot Pancakes a true local delight of homemade crepes filled with the Austrian apricot marmalade (not sour, but sweet) found everywhere. These MARIELLNMARMELADE PALITSCHENKEN were sublime. I will miss Austria and Vienna very much, this was my fourth visit to the city since I first went in the 70's! I have been to Austria numerous other times to various cities such as Salzburg & Bregenz, and am always thrilled to go back again. hopefully it will be VERY soon.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Morwald makes the difference (Vienna)

Sunday night after the opera was my last "gourmet" meal in Vienna and I chose Morwald im Ambassador, a beautiful 2nd floor dining room in the Ambassador Hotel where Chef Toni Morwald has given his name, but is nowhere near the kitchen to be seen. The helm has been recently assumed by Italian Marco Pedrelli and he seems to be managing quite well in the wake of one of Austria's premier chefs. As I proceeded down the street after the magnificent performance of "La Fille du Regiment" who did I hear none other than the soprano voice of Renee Fleming calling my name. I was early for dinner, so we spent a 1/4 hour catching up before I proceeded on to dinner. I was in a small balconied dining room with only 6 tables, was made of steel and glass that hung over the Baroque Neuermarkt and adorable fountain (too bad for the "M" arches symbol sign on a pole below). The simple granite floor (not good when you move your chair), white tables and linens, yellow leather chairs and no-smoking environment was most warm. The crystal, silver and china did not compare to the previous nights, but it IS the food one eats.

I started with s Stryian Sauvignon Blanc 2006 from Thomas Strohmaier which was quite nice and would work well with much of my meal. It sported a big finish, quiet citrus and a bit of acidity with lots of crispness. An amuse arrived of PARFAIT of STURGEON on one side and DUCK CONSOMME with DUCK WONTON on the other, although the handsome dark waiter insisted it was Consomme on one side and Wonton on the other. It was a small language barrier, and I hope he did not feel bad. He even tried to pour the screwtop wine with the cap on at one point! As he returned a huge pot of bamboo fell as a woman carried in her Yorkie and knocked it over; we all jumped! The meal began: SMOKED CHAR was served with TURNIP, CABBAGE, GREEN PEA MOUSSE & Green Tea Lemon Jelly. I believe that the Austrian Char may be a new friend of mine. Next came a magnificent LOBSTER & ASPARAGUS dish combining both Green and MARCHFELD White Asparagus slightly cooked and cut think a la carpaccio and the Lobster served in a Potato Straw Nest with some fabulous field greens (some looked like whole evergreen trees!). SAUTEED GREEN ASPARAGUS were served in a rich thick sauce with fresh MORELS & BEEF MARROW so good I had to use the bread to get every last drop of sauce. I did however notice that nobody every folded or replaced my napkin when I stepped away to the WC. Not a big deal, but a nice touch if done.

FILLET of ST PIERRE or John Dory came with GRATINATED RATATOUILLE CRUST over Tomato RISOTTO. The fish was delish and came from the Biscay Bay off France and had a light but exciting Green Pea Sauce. I switched to an amazing crazy legs red called OPUS EXIMIUM Cuvee No. 15 2002 from Gesellmann n the Burgenland. A blend of Pinot Noir (locally called Sankt Laurent), Zweigelt & Blaufrankisch it was a great treat and hits the list of top Austrian reds for me. It was perfect with the ORGANIC FILLET of VEAL served en croute with CARROT-SPONGE CAKE, WILD GARLIC MOUSSE and YOUNG SPINACH. The meat came from nearby Lower Austria (Waldfirtel) and may be the best I have ever had. At this point I noticed an older couple at the fountain below both in wheelchairs. The held hands and seemed to be line-dancing in their chairs; it was very touching.

A cheese plate came with some nice options but a bit too chilled and they were all French (I really wanted Austrian) or Spanish. Since I could not choose dessert, my waiter graciously offered a small selection:
HAZELNUT in Caramel Pastry
A yummy WILD BLUEBERRY item and more....sorry I was tired and can't read my notes again.

I did make it back to my hotel safely (well, it was only 5 minutes) and off to bed for another day of food and opera.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Petz's PALAIS COBURG Restaurant is the coolest cuisine (Vienna)

Last night was my second gourmet outing in Vienna and another amazing treat. RESTAURANT PALAIS COBURG is a very exclusive hotel (called RESIDENZ Palais Coburg) in a grand 19th century palace built over the excavations of the ancient Vienna city walls. Since the palace is up on a small hill the lobby below has been rebuilt in the sleekest and coolest of modern modes. The excavations can be seen underneath and host periodic concerts (including the Vienna Boys Choir) in what I was told is an acoustically perfect setting. The 35 suites have tip-top security (you can't use the elevators at all without a key) and I couldn't get past the front door without three people verifying I had a reservation. I later discovered the American ambassador was hosting a huge bash in the Palace (at OUR expense, of course), which made the hugest of rackets on the street below when I left the hotel at just before midnight!

After being escorted to the restaurant by a very unfriendly woman (again, you can't go in the elevator alone) I was warmly greeted by much of the staff and my coat was taken (no coat check receipt again) and led to my table in the warm off-white arched setting. The crisp linens had kniferests with beautiful silverware, bronzed plates with gold leaf rims, Riedel crystal with the PC emblem on the base making a most elegant dining space. The tables were well spaced and indeed, the rooms were quite quiet and allowed NO SMOKING. YAY! My superb server Simon, who I later found out worked in Atlanta for many years and knew some of the chefs I have befriended over the years! He brought me a glass of excellent ALZINGER 2003 Gruner Veltliner Smaragd (Loibenburg) that was one of the richest I have had in a while (perhaps only the Schloss Gobelsburg, which I had tasted earlier in the day was bigger, but not necessarily better). My table faced outside looking a the grand stone staircase of the original palace giving me an even grander feeling.

The events of the day had their ups and downs since I had hauled myself about 45 minutes outside Vienna to Lower Austria and the wine town of Gumpoldskirchen. Almost everything was closed, and the winery I was supposed to visit was shut tight. I had a quick lunch at KRUG (the top bistro in town) of superb MATJES HERRING, the always magnificent white marinated MARCHFELD ASAPARAGUS, and a DEVILED EGG with CRAYFISH. Disappointed with no wine tasting, I headed back to Vienna and right to my favorite wine store, VINOTEK ST STEPHAN where they were tasting about 20 white Austrian wines from 2006 that had all just been released. It was lots of fun, and gave me several ideas on what to bring home this week with me as well.

Back at RESTAURANT COBURG I noticed Chef CHRISTIAN PETZ checking out his guests and perusing the room to make sure everything was right. Indeed, everything was perfect. It took some time to decide between the several menus and I opted for the 6-course set menu but asked that the accompanying wine be more Austrian-centric. TOMAS, the sommelier (whose USA stint had him at the Grand Hotel on Mackinaw Island!-remember the film "Somewhere in Time"), came over and I mentioned the Bayer Pinot Noir from the night before being so amazing, and he said he would work hard to improve upon that (indeed, I found that Bayer wine in the store yesterday--but alas, only a magnum for 60Euros--way to big to haul home these days). Bread came in the form of a rustic, French roll and dark grain with a beautiful butter display. The latter paled next to Steirereck's 4 butter selection the previous night as did the bread, but I concentrated on the food. Amuse #1 was a slice of MARINATED SALMON TROUT served over a crunchy CANNELONI filled with HORSERADISH CREAM with BEETS & Scallions. The dish had two small piles of huge salt crystals on each on the fish giving it an added punch. Tomas offered a nice 2005 Styrian WELCHRIESLING from GROSS, but it was the next wine that blew me away in so many ways: 2005 SAUVIGNON BLANC "Lafoa" from CORNELL in Sudtirol (South Tyrol) is actually from the Italian region we know as Alto Adige. It is no wonder the Austrians resent losing this area in WWI to Italy as this huge terrior-driven wine (in a goregous Kilmt-esque bottle) exhibits a monster nose of perfume, huge white legs and as Tomas explained is the ultimate asparagus wine. It was accompanied by magnificent FRESHWATER LOWER AUSTRIAN CHAR on NETTLE PUREE with HAM OIL & those ever-glorious huge white marinated MARCHFELDSPARGL. The stalk was draped with three pieces of the just past rare fish at equal spaces and sat on the dark green nettle puree. This dish and the wine combination as well, had me convinced that if the rest of the meal continued at this level, I could easily have a new favorite restaurant in town!

The next course was poorly titled on the menu as CONSOMME of VEAL with ROLLED PANCAKE and featured the richest of dark veal stocks with a large rolled pancake filled with veal tail and dumpling (locally called Fritate). Tomas poured an equally rich OLOROSO SHERRY aged 20 years from SANDEMAN's called ROYAL CORREGIDOR.

RAY with BITTER VEGETABLES and PAK-CHOI was the title of the next dish, and again the presentation and food itself far surpassed the name itself. The tasty sauteed fish also featured artichokes, a small ALMOND RAVIOLI and a large homemade potato chip resting on top. The accompanying 2004 RIESLING SCHARZHOFBERGER KABINETT from Egon Muller in the German Mosel had a slight sweetness, but worked well with the Asian ingredients of the dish.

The FOIE GRAS this time was French and roasted with RHUBARB & Marinated Lemon with a small fried farm cheese-filled dumpling called TOPFEN on the side. The low residual sugar 2005 GELBER TRAMINER Nobel Reserve from Bertold Salomon in the Austrian Kamptal (we had their Australian Shiraz the night before) was a perfect foil to the rich foie gras; its acidity was just right to fight the dish's sweet side.

The main meat course was sheer perfection: STUFFED CUTLET of PIGEON with BAKED MEDLARS and CELERY had two gorgeous pieces of fowl stuffed with spinach and foie gras served on braised celery and a brown sauce. The medlars (also called lowquats) are Japanese apricot-like fruit that are related to both apples and roses!! and were also stuffed with spinach and foie gras and then lightly battered and flash fried for a very thin crisp crust. Need I say more. Tomas outdid himself with a 2003 POCKL PINOT NOIR from Burgenland that easily qualified as the biggest Austrian red I have ever had.

Dessert was a MOUSSE of PRALUS CHOCOLATE with Chili KUMQUATS and LIME. It was served with chocolate sorbet in a gorgeous presentation. Again Tomas worked hard to impress me with a FORTICUS Graf Hardegg 2000 red dessert wine (akin to port consistency) made from Zwiegelt and Blauberger grapes. It was perfect with the intense chocolates and what would follow thereafter. Simon approached with a large trolley laden with hundreds of chocolates. When I asked what happened to the cheese tray, he said it is available on request, but that Chef Petz prefers to amaze people with his homemade sweet trolley instead. It was hard to choose, but I ended up with MILK CHOCOLATE GLAZED PECANS, a FRIED CHOCOLATE BALL, Dried Orange slices, a COCONUT TRUFFLE, a long piece of WHITE CHOCOLATE & VANILLA known locally as CAT's TONGUE, and finally Simons' number one choice, the too-die-for CRUNCHY HAZELNUT CREAM MILK CHOCOLATE one.

I don't think I have to tell you that I can't wait to return to COBURG, but you should also know they have a bistrot open daily (reservations as well so you can get up the elevator!).

After dinner I was able to see two of the huge suites in the hotel as well as the spa, pool, sauna and facilities as well as the 60,000+ bottle wine cellar that was installed among the city walls' remains below the palace! There are several cellars including one featuring only CHATEAU d'YQUEM from every vintage going back over 100 years! A champagne cellar, a French cellar and then the rest where I saw a bottle of Kracher almost as big as me! What a great treat being ushered through these catacomb-like halls before making my way back to the Imperial Hotel and bed.

Friday, April 20, 2007

STEIRECK still soars with its (alas just one) star (Vienna, Austria)

Last night, my first night here in Vienna, I returned to STEIRERECK, long my favorite restaurant in the country (I was there 7 and 14 years ago), which recently gave up its small adorable house just outside the city center to move to a huge beautiful Beaux Arts Pavilion in the middle of the Stadtpark where they can accommodate many more folks. Rumors were that the food was not the same, and while the style may have been modernized, there is no question in my mind, that STEIRERECK still reigns supreme amongst the gastronomic temples of Vienna.

Outside on can look into the basement windows and observe the goings on in the kitchens below that occupy an entire level with the dining room above it. The them here seems to be leaves, and outside there are gold leaf leaves abounding leading you into the reception area where my coat was taken without so much as a receipt or coat check number (another sign of the level of service). After meeting my guest, who is here conducting the opera, we proceeded to sit in the spacious comfortable glass walled room overlooking the park. While the tables are quite well spaced, I must again make my regular complaint about the smoking rules (that have been enforced in so many other European countries) being way too lax in Austria. Folks smoked cigarettes and cigars to no end really making a stink of the room (my suit still stinks a bit this morning!), and often destroying the excellent flavors of the amazing food. How can a chef allow his food to be served in this situation?

The room has a domed ceiling with stucco leaves applied and again several gold leaf leaves placed throughout. We sipped a glass of BRUNDLMAYR 2002 Sekt (Austrian dry sparkling) as we tasted our first amuse...a simple SUGAR PEA slit open and filled with CHEESE and several pieces of PUFFED WILD RICE, that was tasty, but did worry me (it seemed to lack invention). A larger plate arrives with a QUAIL EGG with WASABI MAYO in a long spoon, a simple ASPARAGUS WRAPPED in a SEAWEED like leaf, a small HAM SLICE rolled with tad of fruit gelee on top, and the most delectable flash fried pillow puff of potato that was empty inside. We were in good hands!

The tables have elegant white muslin cloths and are set with Riedel crystal, Christofle silver and Ginori tableware, but never more than one setting at a time. The breads come by and the choices are perhaps the most amazing I have ever seen. Many choices were offered but we had to try the special Homemade BLOOD SAUSAGE BREAD which could be a meal in itself. Huge warm chunks of bread filled with chunks of tasty sausage were so good we had to resist asking for more (we didn't!). I especially liked the PUMPKIN SEED bread as well, but there had to be at least 10 different types from plain BLACK RYE to CIABATTA with either GARLIC or OLIVES as well.

The basic tasting menu is available in 5 or 6 courses (88 or 98 euros respectively) as well as accompanying wines. While we sat down to dinner at 7pm, we did not leave our gastronomic adventure until about 5 hours later!

The final amuse was a huge teardrop shaped dish that stood about 5 inches high off the table and offered a delicious WHITEFISH with one of my favorite things in Austria (and Europe) at this season --the FELDSPARGEL or local WHITE ASPARAGUS that has just come into season; this was atop a tasty beet-like sauce that was purple, but not beet, and we never did quite find out what it was.

Each course of the tasting menu is preceded by the waiter placing a small card (slightly larger than a business card) in front of you on the table with all the ingredients of the upcoming dish. Ours were in English, but I assume they come in various languages. First came SLIGHTLY JELLIED ALGA SALAD with MUSSELS, PANNONIAN SAFFRON and SWEETBREADS. The actual card listed Cooked and Marinated "Laitue de mer" & Wakame alga (green & brown alga) with Girardeau Oysters, Cockles, Mussel-saffron jelly(which was so mild it was more like a dressing), Grapeseed Oil & Lemon marinated Field Beans, Spring Herbs and all this topped with sauteed SWEETBREAD wrapped in a small Pillow akin to spring roll wrapping. The wines were all perfectly poured just before each dish was delivered so we could taste it first alone and then enjoy it paired with each dish. In most cases the wines amazed us, often moreso when the food arrived. 2005 ROTGIPFLER "Brindlbach" from BIEGLER in Gumpoldskirchen (just outside of Vienna where I am headed today to visit several wineries!). had a hugely sweet nose, but was as dry as could be and made me want to search for this wine today!

Next came the GRILLED FOIE GRAS with Preserved Sweet-Sour Radish. This interesting combination had Austrian(a note states it is not French!) goose liver seasoned with coriander, mace, cayenne, ginger, cinnamon and salt served over WHITE RADISH sliced thin and marinated in vinegar, port wine, rowan berry marrow and then preserved. Additional tiny rowan berries (never heard of these before) decorated the dish which was delicately dressed with a topping of CANDY FLOSS (what we call cotton candy, but this was not too sweet and dissolved quickly over the warm dish). You know I adore Austrian sweet wines and one of my favorites was served in the from of ERNST TRIMBAUER's 2005 CHARDONNAY-WELSCHRIESLING Beerenauslese; nothing goes better with foie gras!

At this point I decided to visit the rest rooms downstairs which is an experience in itself. The colors are bright, shocking and primary with a 5 foot tall urinal that curves around you while you stand; I was scared at first when the auto-spray went on from three different directions to spritz and clean as I started. A large green and orange hat shaped electronic gizmo is near the sink and one places ones hands inside so soap comes out. As this occurs and you move your hands toward the huge yellow sing water sprays up from the opposite side in a fountain landing right onto your hands. I've seen lots of bathrooms, but this wines the prize for fun and ingenuity, if a bit scary!

It was hard to believe that the food could get better but the SLIGHTLY SMOKED ALP SALMON (cold smoked from Peter Brauchel of Styria) was served with CALF's HEART-Innards and CONDIMENT SMOKE as well as Marjoram and Grilled Sweet Corn-Powder. This was perhaps one of the tastiest salmons I have ever had just slightly coldly smoked it tasted like it had just come out of an Alpine stream! The fish alternated with the meat which was more akin to braised cheek and the smoke gave an aroma that along with the RIESLING 2001 "Durnsteiner Loibenberg" from ALZINGER in Unter Loiben made a perfect pairing again.

The most amazing wine of the night (well, one of them) was the 2001 IN SIGNO TAURO Pinot Noir from Heribert BAYER in Neckenmarkt. This wine was a huge fruit forward Pinot that easily competes with the best of French or US versions. I must find it! It came with the LAMB's RIDGE & WAIST from the POGUSCH (Region) with KOHLRABI & TURKISH HONEY. The dish was really two items, the tasty loin was slowly grilled and served over thin slices of a bit too vinegary (for me) kohlrabi which was preserved with thyme, rosemary & savory then sourly marinated win white wine vinegar and grape core oil. An exquisite CRISPY KOHLRABI BISQUIT with Pumpernickel was more like a croquette and the Slightly Grilled LAMB's RIDGE has a ridge of Turkish Honey (that delectable white taffy with almonds) on top; this was the best and most interesting preparation within this dish.

The cheese trolley is no less impressive than anything else here; we asked for all Austrian and received a tasty GOAT with HERBS LEROSE-a firm cow cheese with a slight bite, Styrian SHEEP Cheese that oozed and was wondrous, BACHSTEINER, 2 MONKS from Upper Austria that is a cow and goat combo, and the always exciting KRACHER BLUE...mild blue infused with Kracher dessert wine.

The wine was the only non-Austrian wine in the tasting, but came from an Austrian family that makes wine in Australia. It was a deep intense SHIRAZ 2003 "Finnis River" from SALOMON ESTATE in the south.

Dessert was entitled COCONUT & COFFEE and featured a COCO-MOCHA SLICE (A Gianduja Cream slice about 7 inches long and narrow) with COFFEE SOUFFLE on the side as well as COCO Sorbet and a Waffle with Muscovado-sugar. An imprint of chocolate lips adorned the edge of the plate. The wine was a "COLLECTOR" Blend RAMOS PINTO Port (oops another non-Austrian wine).

We finished off sharing a glass of ORDONEZ 2004 which is the Spanish dessert wine made by genius Austrian winemaker Alois KRACHER (of the blue cheese above).

A walk back to the hotel in the warm evening air (the weather here is HEAVENLY) and a good night's sleep has me ready for wine tasting today and another gastronomic treat tonight!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

It's AUSTRIAN in the AIR (my flight to Vienna)

I have to write about AUSTRIAN AIRLINES new transatlantic concept of a chef on board. Their service is exquisite and my dinner last night was superb. We were served Le BORGATE PROSECCO to start and then a small amuse of smoked salmon came as we got the good stuff in the air--DUVAL-LEROY FLEUR de CHAMPAGNE of my favorite brands these days of bubbly.

First came PRAWNS "Louis Armstrong" consisting of three huge juicy chilled shrimp over a tasty remoulade with a small salad on the side. It went nicely with the 2006 WELCHRIESLING STEIRISCHE KLASSIK from Polz Erich & Walter Polz which had tons of fruit flavors but was a as dry as could be. The wine went even better with what had to be the BEST SOUP ever served in the air..a CREAM OF PUMPKIN with toasted pumpkin seeds and a drizzle of tasty pumpkin oil.

The entree was a FILET of BEEF with GRILLED VEGETABLES and BAKED POTATO. The latter was not microwaved and served in foil to prove it with a little dab or sour cream. The filet was just past medium rare (pretty amazing for a plane) and had a little gob of tasty herb butter on top. The 2005 ZANTHO ZWEIGELT from Peck &Umathum was really great, but not big enough for the filet, so I switched to an unexciting 2003 TOSCANA from Villa Antinori.

Dessert was a wonderful local AUSTRIAN APRICOT CREPE (Wachauer Marillenpalatschinken) served with Warm Chocolate Sauce and a small glass of mild yet tasty GRAPPI di CHARDONNAY got me to sleep just as the showing of the move (The Queen) ended.

I can't wait to see what they serve on the way back, but tonight I'm off to 1 Michelin starred STIERERECK, my favorite restaurant in Austria!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Alexandria's BIRCHMERE

Last night I was invited to a cabaret performance by opera soprano, Patricia Racette, at the BIRCHMERE in northern Alexandria, which is a venue for many performers from all over and is somewhat akin to dinner theater in its arrangement (although the servers do NOT perform). I am writing about this as we were mightily impressed by the quality of the food and the friendliness of the service (despite the fact that they were serving HUNDREDS of people multiple food options quite quickly). We shared an order of CHICKEN TENDERS that was HUGE and the meat was top quality breast, juicy and tender with a truly wonderful crispy batter and a yummy Honey-Dijon slightly peppery dipping sauce. These came in a basket loaded with some of the best potato chips around. It was hard to decide what to order as we saw many of the dishes all around us arriving, so I chose the tasty BBQ BRISKET which also came with a pile of chips and cole slaw on the side and was smothered in slightly spicy bbq sauce with sauteed onions therein. The CATFISH
PO'BOY was at least a 9 inch long piece of wonderfully battered and fried (these guys KNOW how to batter and fry!) CATSFISH and had no sliminess or slipperiness as catfish often can. It was in a huge roll with a nice remoulade on the side.

The only unexciting thing was the CHEESECAKE for dessert which came quite frozen to our table.

PS-the performance was spectacular as well!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

CENTRAL by Michel Richard -a busy and bustling bistro

Well after yesterday's huge Chinese lunch I thought I wouldn't at another bite, but I did. I joined a dear friend I haven't seen in a while and we opted for the new hopping bistro CENTRAL by Michel Richard (of Citronelle fame) at 1001 Pennsylvania Ave, NW. My first thought upon entering was NOISE. The levels are high, and we actually sometimes had trouble hearing each other across the intimate table for two. It is a pretty destination with blond tables and tall and long windows looking out to 11th Street as well as a huge tilted mirror so those facing it can see the whole bar (which is heaving as well).

We perused the menu and due to the wet and cold and dreary evening decided on a LONGVIEW 2005 Yakka (named for the local grass) SHIRAZ "Single Vineyard" from the Adelaide Hills in Australia that had a huge fruity and spicy nose and was similar on the palate with lots of plummy overtones..YUM YUM!

We split appetizers and entrees and started with the DUCK RILETTES and FAUX GRAS which is a mini-tureen of creamy rich chicken liver pate that could easily pass for duck and this simply decadent. It comes with two slices or crispy bread, just perfect for this--although we did wonder why no regular bread arrived at the table by this time. There was a small almost negligible spoonful of superb rilettes; I wished for more, and a small bowl of intensely pickled onions and tasty gherkins. The CRABCAKE with LEEK TARTAR SAUCE is a crunchy on the outside cake full of chunks of meat and superbly prepared on a monstrous bed of leek tartar sauce which is rich and tasty, served with flash fried carrot frizzles on top.

While our waiter steered us to his favorite seafood appetizer, his favorite seafood entree was less enjoyable. The TIGER PRAWNS with SNOW PEAS came five huge shrimp with heads on over a bed of deliciously cooked snow peas, and while well seasoned and lemony, seemed a bit of an unexciting version of a traditional Asian dish. teh 72HOUR SHORT RIBS with CENTRAL STEAK SAUCE are a hit and come sliced off the bone and as tender and tasty as could be. Sadly the accompanying mashed potatoes while creamy and delicious had wimpy shoestring fries piled on top that were lukewarm. A small salad of greens was on the side and was most welcome, but the vinaigrette really was too vinegary!

Needless to say we were too full to contemplate dessert. I would like to return to CENTRAL to try many more of the dishes, but it won't be on a busy Saturday night for sure!

ok so I agree with Bush on one thing-PEKING GOURMET in Falls Church

It took years of people badgering me to try PEKING GOURMET INN at Bailey's Crossroads (6029 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA) and we finally made it yesterday as our dearest friends Mel & Juan invited us a most special celebration there for Juan's mother's 93rd birthday! The event was special and the food was exquisite. Simply put, this has to be the best Chinese food around for miles, even if there are photos of both Bushes staring down on you while you eat in the private dining areas! Top this off with some wonderful wines on the wine list (how often so many traditional Chinese restaurants neglect the wine list) such as the SIMI 2004 Russian River Reserve CHARDONNAY or the amazing full bodied FOLEY PINOT NOIR 2004 Rancho Santa Rosa from the Santa Rita Hills in California.

Our enormous meal started with SPRING ROLLS which I quickly dunked in a super mix of duck sauce and hot mustard and Samuel devoured plain (he doesn't seem to care much for sauces unless it is ketchup!). and tasty STEAMED CHINESE LEEK DUMPLINGS which were amazing and even better in the homemade SWEET GARLIC SAUCE served on the lazy susan! We though the entree had arrived when THREE HUGE PEKING DUCKS were carved tableside with such flair and then served with their super- crispy skin in the traditional pancakes with hoisin sauce and home grown Chinese sweet spring onions. I have never tasted better Peking Duck anywhere in my life, including Hong Kong! We filled up on these; I think I had three pancakes and I know Samuel loved munching the duck meat alone as well.

The shock came with more platters arriving in the form of JEO-YEN SHRIMP an amazing presentation of huge battered and fried shrimp served with a scallion and spice dusting that blew my mind. The spice was so subtle, and the staff would not reveal the secret ingredients! LAMB CHOPS PEKING STYLE were lightly crusted with tasty seasonings as well, but it was the SEAFOOD with HOMEMADE PAN-FRIED NOODLES that amazed. Loaded with chunks of all seafood types and served atop a huge platter of thick homemade noodles that were cut tableside, I had never tasted such a treat noodle-wise in a Chinese restaurant before. Sam adored the SNOW PEAS with WATER CHESTNUTS (well, he skipped the latter, even though we told him it was like potato!) and garbled down a dozen or more in the tasty sauce. There was a GOURMET CHINESE EGGPLANT (I'm not an eggplant person) that everyone raved over, superb FOUR SEASON STRING BEANS with garlic, onion and soy sauce with a slight spiciness and the traditional YANG CHOW FRIED RICE loaded with
pork, shrimp, peas and everything else you could wish for. I can't wait to return to PEKING GOURMET INN and try more of these wonderful dishes I have sadly been missing for years!

Sunday, April 08, 2007

a top notch bistro steak tartare at CAFE UN DEUX TROIS (NYC)

My last stop on the weekend was at brunch in the Times Square Theater district and it was oddly quite quiet and deserted for a Sunday at 1PM (I guess it was the combined Easter, Passover,school break holiday?). I arrived early at CAFE UN DEUX TROIS, a traditional as it gets French Bistro located at 123 West 44th Street and sat at the bar with my new wireless attachment for my laptop and ordered a BLOODY MARY. It was a decent one, if a bit small, but needed a bit of spice. I noticed the maitre d' sipping several different tomato juice concoctions at the end of the deserted bar and asked the bartender if they were modifying the Bloody Marys. The maitre d' said that since it was Easter, the bartender was a replacement and that this one usually works weekdays and has a better knowledge of martinis, rather than brunch drinks; and he doesn't drink tomato juice, so he can't taste test the Bloody Marys. I mentioned that mine was nice, but needed more of a kick and was treated to three or four more tastes of different mixtures before joining my guest who had arrived. Incidentally, I preferred the one with a dash more tabasco and the addition of celery salt!

I could not resist ordering the STEAK TARTARE with Fries which was a wonderful and slightly peppery tartare that I just wolfed down. The fries were okay, but win no prizes for sure. Cafe Un Deux Trois is an adorable spot, with friendly service and offers a wide variety on the menu for those headed to or from the remember it in your NY travels.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

ROSA MEXICANA rises to religion--or Passover paradise in NYC

I just wanted to tell all of you how surprised I was last night when I joined some friends before the opera for dinner at ROSA MEXICANA here in NYC across the street from Lincoln Center. We have always enjoyed the food there, and since I try not to eat bread, pastas, etc during Passover, I fully expected to be eating their excellent RARE SPICY TUNY SALAD. I was wrong. We were treated to a full Passover "style" menu with about 4 entrees and I was thrilled.

I started with some guacamole (always a treat) and a tasty (if too small and full of too much ice) margarita. The CEVICHE de ATUN con CAMARONES was a spicy concoction in citrus that was superb. Piles of raw tuna and several huge shrimp made it a huge portion, something that Rosa Mexicana is known for.

For my entree I was thoroughly amazed by the tender superb LANGUA de RES a la VERACRUZANA, four thick tender chunks of veal tongue in the traditional sauce of olives and peppers and served with MATZO-POTATO CHIVE FRITTERS. It could not have been more perfect and accompanied by a glass of SNOWQUALMIE SYRAH from Washington State, I was simply in heaven. Other folks had the huge Passover half chicken (enough for TWO people) and there was even a Jalapeno Maztah Ball Soup!

Alas, the portion was too huge for me to even think about dessert, and yes they even had a Passover "style" dessert to boot! WHAT A PASSOVER TREAT!