Saturday, May 26, 2007

fah-fah on FIREBIRD in Manhattan

One thinks hard and seriously when trying to fine dine before the theater at Times Square, and since Will doesn't get to NYC as much as I do, I thought FIREBIRD at 365 West 46th Street on the famed Restaurant Row would be different, fun and hopefully innovative. I knew it was pricey, but we went in for sticker shock when the unexciting $49 pre-theatre prix fixe seemed a bit boring. So for an average of $15-20 per appetizer and $30-40+ per entree (desserts are $10, but always be aware of those supplements that haunt this menu; $8 for Bananas Foster!) we decided to brave the Russian cuisine and sit amongst the nostalgic Tsarist crystal (with double headed eagle emblems), photographs of the royal family ( we were next to Pavlova) and cozy banquettes for our pre-theater dinner last night.

The piano player seemed fine at first, but got worse at the evening progressed (he was displaced with lots of Tchaikovsky during his breaks) and the four types of bread seemed nice, but were cold parkerhouse rolls re-invented.

I started with an amazingly excellent TELYACHI GLANDI or a huge portion of CRISP SWEETBREADS with Wild Mushrooms in a Rich MADEIRA REDUCTION served atop an open Puff Pastry (termed "en croute"). This could have been an entree with a veggie on the side! Will chose the MANTI or minced lamb dumplings served in a mushroom consomme, that was lighter and less tasty, but not bad. A NEBBIOLO d'ALBA 2004 for PODERI DOLLA was a good buy in the high-$40's as most wines seemed to have a 4-5 times markup! I went into wine sticker shock, especially when a glass of wine was $13 for wine that normally costs $6-7 a bottle! This wine had nice light tannins, medium body and a nice slightly spicy flavor in the mouth with a hint of licorice. It was perfect with our entree of UKRANSKY BORSHCH or Ukranian style hot borscht, a beet and cabbage soup with Smoked Duck (1 slice), Pork, Beef Brisket, Sour Cream, Beets and "Others" which I guess was cabbage and mushrooms. This portion for $34 was filling after the appetizers, but quite small in the end.

Will enjoyed the WARM CHOCOLATE CAKE with Almond Ice Cream (I gave it a "C") and the coffee was quite nice, but only at $4.75 a cup (not including tax and tip!).

We asked the server why other folks got an amuse and we didn't and he went into apology mode. We only asked this since a woman sitting opposite us had decided to clear her amuse plate and place it on a tray near us. We started to observe her and her companion and it was the best part of the evening (even better than TARZAN the Musical!). She stabbed her bread with a fork and ate food from across the table and I am so sorry I left my videocam at home, as you would have all loved this--as would have UTUBE!

Anyway, our server came with HOUSE VODKA of iced honey vodka with 12 spice which was really great. This other couple saw us drinking it and ordered it as well!

The bathrooms of dark red marble with old Russian stock certificates was cute, but hardly worth the price.

So--don't even have a drink at FIREBIRD unless its this yummy house spiced vodka..and be ready to pay about $20 a glass with tax and tip!

EAT WELL and try to SAVE!

Friday, May 25, 2007

don't pass on EL PARAISO in DC - ANGELO's PIZZA is perfect in NYC

Last night we attended a pre-theater buffet at EL PARAISO RESTAURANT at 1916 14th St (at T St.) and were quite surprised at the high quality of the Salvadoran-Mexican cuisine. The PUPUSAS are the BEST in town (don't skip the marinated cabbage) and the buffet options of RICE & BEANS, FRIED PLANTAINS and a super-mix of chicken & beef fajitas was moist and tasty. We can't wait to go back and order off the menu!

Today we came to NYC with Samuel and his first meal in the Big Apple was a ANGELO's PIZZA at 1043 2nd Ave at 55th St. We sat outdoors and enjoyed the sights going by and while it took a while to get our order in, it came quickly and the server apologized that they were understaffed.

We all split a perfect pizza with PEPPERONI &SUN DRIED TOMATOES (Sam had the plain side) and he loved the pizza as well as the fresh basil leaves adorning it. The crust was some of the best I have ever had. The FRIED CALAMARI was nice, but the sauce wimpy, and Will thought the pieces were too large (I didn;'t mind them with a splash of lemon). Speaking of lemon, Samuel loved his (I thought way too sweet) lemonade while we quaffed a great 2005 ALLEGRINI VALPOLICELLA Classico that was just right with pizza and had a slight spice as well.

I finished with an excellent SALAD of BEETS, Greens, Goat Cheese & Walnuts in a tasty vinaigrette. Will opted for the basic TIRAMUSA and Sam hit the jackpot with the STRAWBERRY GELATO which he slurped up from the bowl after he finished (need I say more?). The portions here are huge and they even have family portions on everything from pastas (they looked great) to salads which is great for a family, group or take-home!

We heade back to the hotel where Sam crashed fast and we follow soon....

Sunday, May 20, 2007

dining is still delicious at DINO's

While we had a wonderful evening at BECK on Saturday, the birthday celebration continued on Sunday when my sister, brother, sister-in-law and nephew joined Will, Samuel & I for a wonderful family dinner at DINO ( which has become on of Sam's favorite spots due to the penne pasta, sauce and loads of parmesan on his made-to-order children's portion. On Sundays and Monday there is the added incentive of 33% those wines priced over $50, and as I have said before the wines collected by owner Dean Gold over the years are truly excellent.

While Sam enjoyed his pasta we started with an excellent bottle of BUCCI "Villa Bucci" 2001 Verdicchio from the Marche region of Italy that is an oaked wine, a rarity for this grape, and a tasty bet to boot.

The appetizers were varied around the table with the fresh flown in from Italy BURRATA being a big hit with its buffala mozzarella wrapped around ricotta with an olive tapenade, olio and tomato basil sauces surrounding; a true and rare treat for cheese lovers (oh boy would this be great with some heirloom tomatoes in the summer!). The BARBABIETOLE or Beet Salad is not your average beet salad in that it has small diced veggies and includes cucumber and tomato. While less pure that an only sliced beet salad it is delish and is topped with three yummy mini FRIED GOAT CHEESE FRITTERS, For extra taste you can add pancetta for $1.00!

Dino has many entree options, but we all seemed to be in PASTA-MODE so i went for the new dish on the menu: CONCHIGLIE AI GRANCHI which is saffron shell pasta, crab, ramps, herbs and olio; a superb combination and reasonably light for the summer as well. Others opted for the heavier and tasty PAPPARDELLE with WILD BOAR Ragu or the FUSILI al Ragu d'AGNELLO, a lamb ragu with pork and veal over the homemade pasta. YUM!

It was not hard for me to go with a bigger red wine when Dean suggested a HILBERG NEBBIOLO 2003 that had a monstrous nose and was intensely earthy on the tongue, but not tannic or super strong--we fell in love immediately!

Desserts varied from Sam's COOKIES & CREAM GELATO to my SOGNO di LIMONCELLO a combo of LEMON CUSTARD with BISQUIT and homemade RASPBERRY Sorbetto, not one of us went home unhappy!

A quiet week in store, but more from NYC this weekend!

Saturday, May 19, 2007

bravo to BRASSERIE BECK on my birthday

BRASSERIE BECK opened quietly only one month ago, but is already busy and booming (1101 K St, NW). Literally, the younger brother of Marcel's, one of Washington's fine dining establishments, Chef ROBERT WIEDMAIER has gone casual (as so many folks are doing this day) but with lots of class and fine food. BECK, named for their younger son, who is also Samuel's age (maybe one day we will open Chez Samuel!), is, for me, a clear winner of the recently opened CENTRALE in that it has a much larger menu, huge and reasonable wine list, monstrous beer menu (it is a BELGIAN Bistro), and while noisy, is not at the "I can't hear you " noise levels, even on a Saturday night.

Upon entering you may head to the large marble bar and hig tables to the right where you can watch either the flat screen TV or the closed circuit TV of the kitchen plating area! There is also an amazing coffee station nearby with two huge chrome espresso machines that impressed me to no end! The raw bar selections are displayed near the entrance as well with each oyster labeled so you can decide which you would like (I took one of each). There are huge Andy Thornton railroad station like clocks and high ceilings giving a feel quite reminiscent of the Quai d'Orsay Museum in Paris (which, of course, was a rail
station prior to its present incarnation). The floors are stone, which does not lower the noise levels, and sadly amplified the several accidents that occurred during our stay. Two heavy trays were dropped and we all jumped; when a glass fell off a nearby table it shattered ALL OVER making a truly godawful mess and requiring several staff to get on the their knees for some time to be sure all the slivers were cleaned up.

Get past this and you will have a wonderful time, since the service (our server Jamie--who called himself by his last name Russo, as there are three Jamies there!) was excellent and super-attentive, and the food are divine.

At the bar I started with the selection of 6 oysters from the West Coast: Penn Cove, Otter Cove, Sunset Beach, Wildcat Cove, Stellar Bar & Hollow Creek--all excellent and HUGE and plump. A glass of ELEMENTAL CELLARS (Oregon) 2002 "Deux Vert Vineyards" MELON was a perfect foil for the shellfish with its crisp fruit and dryness.

At the table we enjoyed some wines I had brought from home. It's odd that someone out there (you know who you are) mentioned to me last week that the wine list at BECK was not too big. Boy, were they wrong! Not only is it HUGE, but it is exciting and inventive and many selections are way under $40-50! Anyway, we opened a superb MARCEL DEISS Alsace Grand Cru 1999 Altenberg de Bergheim which has huge limestone mineral hints and big fruit(esp.apricot) to boot; a
wonderful aperitif.

It took us a long time to decide what to order, so we started by choosing one of the STEAMED MUSSLES (White Wine, Parsley, & Garlic) for the table to share. The mussles can also be ordered with FENNEL & CHORIZO or APPLE & CURRY. They were HUGE & PLUMP like I had never seen before (almost like they had had hormone injections!) and the accompanying Belgian FRITES were superb, although they are still not as good as the chunkier version at Marcel's! Only the trio of
mayonnaise dips was unexciting consisting of a mild garlic, a pinkish "Rosanna" with a bit of ketchup, and the best, a curry infused. Our second wine at the table was the sister to the one I had at the bar, a French MELON 2005 "Sur Lie" from Domaine de la Quilla, a Muscadet Sevre et Marne that was nice, but couldn't touch the Oregon version!

We decided to share some more starters and chose the easy to share and excellent CHARCUTERIE PLATE (if a bit pricey) which comes with house pate, paperthin cut Prosciutto, Speck (yum) and a wonderful French saucisson; a small ramekin of LAMB RILLETTES is covered with sauteed red & yellow peppers. On the side are gherkins, sweet pickled onions and an odd relish or marmalade that had a soft nut consistency like sweetmeat. The BRANDADE of COD was a real treat, a creamy thick spread that comes hot in a large bowl, and while it is eaten with a spoon or smothered on bread, it is pretty easy to pass and share.

A harder to share choice, but one of the best dishes was the rich PEA SOUP with VEAL CHEEK MEATBALLS; four mini-balls were perched on top of a mound of mashed potatoes in the center of a gorgeous green soup that was some of the best pea soup ever (and the balls had an excellent slight spice to them as well!).

Finally, the dud starter was the SHRIMP CROQUETTES that everyone insisted smelled of ammonia, so we sent them back after each of us had a taste (they were eventually refunded on the check, although the first check did not have the credit--our server was very sorry!). By this time we had ordered a wonderful GAMAY BEAUJOLAIS "Brouilly" 2005 from CHATEAU de THIVIN where I had actually visited winemaker Claude Geoffrey several years ago and fell in love with his simple and tasty wines.

Entrees were superb across the board, with two folks opting for repeats on the MUSSELS, and the like of a wonderful CHOUCROUTE en Croute which is a variation on the traditional Alsatian sausage and sauerkraut dish cooked in puff pastry. LAMB SHANK with White Beans was the Belgian take on Osso Buco I guess and another huge portion and the RABBIT LOIN with KRIEK BEER was cooked in a manner that reminded me of barbeque and was as tasty as could be. I opted for the DUCK CONGOLESE ALMONDINE which was also a large portion (they ALL were) of rare breast with raisins, almonds and couscous. We opened a beautiful
SATGLINAO 1995 SANGIOVESE from Staglin Vineyards of Napa that was just at its peak and the last one of its kind from my cellar.

Before dessert we opened the third bottle we brought which was a KRACHER 1995 TROCKENBEERENAUSLESE No. 12 Grand Cuvee that has aged so amazingly it now has that typical super-viscous apricot rich flavor, but a hint of pepper on the tongue. It is amazing what 10 years does to these complex but tasty dessert wines I adore!

We choose three desserts to share and the least exciting was the BELGIAN BREAD PUDDING which was made with Chocolate and Cherries macerated in beer. The Caramel Cheese Cake was nice, but the hit and star was easily the PEAR TARTE TATIN with Honey Cinnamon Ice Cream. I did miss a birthday candle (they did know it was a big day for me--my thirtieth PLUS 21!).

but no biggie, I had a great meal with some great friends!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

NATSUMI at Times Square in NY is now a new favorite

After a matinee today I took in an early dinner at NATSUMI ( in the Theater District at 226 West 50th which has been open only two months and boasts a Japanese-Italian fusion cuisine. Although the menu is sushi-laden, I opted for the more intriguing fusion dishes and I think i may have found a new favorite in NY!

The calm dining room fronts the street with tall glass door/windows that were open today and there are no more than 30 seats with a sushi bar for 6. The slate and pebble floor mixes with blond woods and the blonde leather and darker wood chairs and banquettes match the tables. The staff is warm, welcoming and helpful to boot.

I started with a perfect aperitif of ONIKOROSHI Wakatake Dai-Ginju Sake with a floral nose but wonderfully earthy in the mouth. First came my SEAFOOD SPRING ROOL with POMEGRANATE PESTO SAUCE and hints of mustard. Four huge halves of crispy rolls stuffed with whitefish, salmon, tempura-fried and regular onions gave a bursting mouthful of flavors. I moved on to a glass of simple MARCHESE FUMANELLI SOAVE 2004 which went perfectly with one of the dishes described as "newstyle carpaccio": a TUNA with PEPEROCINO Vinaigrette came with eight top grade sashimi slices of tuna topped with some peppers and a cube of amber gelee in the bed of vinaigrette that was like SUSHI goes ROMA since the peppery vinaigrette was reminiscent of wasabi and soy.

I listened to my server and was thrilled with the NATSUMI MIXED GRILL a monster plate (for $20) of 6 shrimp and a chicken breast all cooked in a magnificent SPICY GARLIC SAUCE and served with Rice as well as Sesame seeds, broccoli, gorgeous tasty purple eggplant (and I don't usually care for eggplant), Baby bok choy, carrots and a huge disk of sweet potato. This was a FEAST; a dish that goes on and on! I tried to east slowly to enjoy it all and watched the passersby. While the view was not like my recent trip to Vienna it was fun to see the huge WRESTLEMANIA poster reflected (with Donald Trump on it) reflected against the WICKED poster for the show across the street. I saw a woman in hot pants and boots (do they still wear that>?) and many other wonderful sights...but I digress. My wine was a tasty COLLEPINO Super Tuscan2004 from Castello Banfi that was medium bodied and had a warmth that followed each sip and went well with the spice from then dish.

I ate slowly and decided on my server's advice for dessert which easily wins one of the top desserts on EARTH: TEMPURA CHEESE CAKE which is cubed NY Cheese cake in coconut flakes on a berry coulis, a truly rich and amazing dish that must NOT be avoided. I had a glass of LYCHEE INFUSED SAKE and and headed to the airport where I sadly await my very delayed flight.

Friday, May 11, 2007

INDUS VALLEY is intriguing Indian on NY's Upper West Side

I've been in NY for a quick weekend and searched for a new spot to dine and may have found a star. INDUS VALLEY is not centrally located, unless you happen to be on the Upper West Side. At 2636 Broadway (at the corner of 100th Street), it's bit out of the way for Lincoln Center, but worth the quick subway detour several stops, since the Indian cuisine is superb, if the service a bit lackluster.

I was greeting by a hostess in sari and jeweled glittery slippers (who never stopped chewing gum all evening) and the male wait staff are all well dressed and courteous. I only felt they were not were not very interested in me, what I chose or ate, or much else for that matter; there was sense of aloofness I somehow felt. The traditional chutneys arrived with some crunchy flatbread (I forget the name) and I opted not to fill up on the wonderful breads one can order at Indian restaurants. I started with the ALU CHAT (chat is a mixture of dry mango powder, rock salt, dry ginger, pepper, crushed pomegranate seeds, mint leaves, Bishop's leaves, caraway seeds, nutmeg, cloves and asafoetida). My version was BOILED DICED POTAOTOES and CHICK PEAS with a Tangy Chat Masala, Fresh Lime Juice, Mint, Tamarind and Fresh Coriander. It was the perfect opening salad on a warm evening after a rush in from the airport. I cooled down since the dish was not hot, but the spice was superb; not intense or lingering at first (more mango chutney-like indeed), then it stays with you the more you eat. I LOVED IT. A glass of house PINOT GRIGIO was the perfect foil for the mild spices and fruit.

My entree was the COCHIN SHRIMP CURRY which was also not spicy but a creamy Yogurt & Lime Curry in Onion-Based gravy with Black Peppers, Garlic, Curry leaves, Mustard seeds and fresh coriander. There were six medium size shrimp over a bed of fragrant Jasmine Rice that actually beautifully presented in two separate serving dishes. At first I though that six shrimp seemed too few, but I quickly realized how wrong I was as I filled up on the rich orange sauce they bathed in.

I must also add that the water is served in the most adorable of bronze metal cups and the decor is typical Upper West Side with a small bar, tables of various sizes and an enclosed glass patio which is much lighter out front and offers street and passersby views. I was indeed too full to try dessert but the superb Indian coffee was a treat as I headed to the opera.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

make it the mussels at MANNEQUIN PIS (Olney, MD)

Dearest Foodies,

I am remiss and a week behind in this important posting on THE bistro in the burbs, so please accept my apologies and enjoy reading. We had been to MANNEQUIN PIS before, but it is now even better and a great place to dine pre-theater if you are headed to Olney, Maryland...or just for the 30 minute jaunt from downtown. Located at 18064 Georgia Ave( this Belgian Bistro is a real treat for so far out of town, but don't go for the decor or the raunchy art on the walls, go for the food! You won't adore the drop ceiling, the not so comfy wicker and wood chairs or the small tables, but you will go home full and happy.

I started with the soup special a CHILLED PEA and LOBSTER which had an entire claw and a half a dapple of sour cream and some caviar to boot. A bargain at under $10, rich and creamy and filling. Will went for the ESCARGOTS en CROUTE which he liked and opted for a Belgian beer or two. He chose URTHEL and DUVEL both of which he liked (the latter having a quick yeast finish). I started with a superb Rose 2005 from Domaine du Aint-Antoine (from the Pays du Gard) which was perfect with the soup and went on to a RENE MURE PINOT GRIS 2004 which is their house wine and is ideal with the mussels.

We split an order of WILD BOAR & CRANBERRY SAUSAGE (they have an entire sausage menu) which we chose to come with the Sour Crout. It was not huge, but a nice in-between course amuse of sorts.

MUSSELS were on the menu for our main course although they have many other items. All the mussels come in gigantic cast iron kilo pots. I chose the mussel special of the day prepared with HORSERADISH, CREAM, GARLIC, HERBS & WHITE WINE. It was perfect, with the horseradish intensity only really being in the bottom of the pot when you mopped up the sauce. Will chose the "Bruxelles" (each type has a name) which features CELERY, ONION, HERBS, BACON, GOAT CHEESE & BEER. If we had to complain about anything, it would be that there were too many onions in both dish, which we simply avoided by not eating them or putting them in the shell repository (the upside down top of each steamer!).

Dessert could probably be avoided, although the French press coffee is very nice. We tried the CAFE GLACEE (spelled Glasse on the menu) which is basically an icy coffee parfait, but it did come with some nice mini chocolate chip to the theater!

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Baltimore's ABACROMBIE is allright for pre-opera

Saturday evening Will and I popped up to Baltimore to catch the opera and ate at ABACROMBIE (58 W BIddle at Cathedral) just opposite Meyerhoff Hall and a block from the Lyric Opera. It sure is convenient, and is the current incarnation of the age old Society Hill Restaurant from umpteen years ago. The restaurant is downstairs and the front rooms are cozy if a bit dark. The rear is an atrium with a pretty dirty glass ceiling skylight at street level. The tables area bit close and it makes it easy to hear other don't dine here for intimacy any day when there is pre-theater!

An unexciting prix fixe menu is available (soup, dessert and an entree of chicken or salmon) so went a la carte. A refreshing bottle of HIRSCH 2003 HEILGENSTEIN Gruner Veltliner KAMPTAL reminded me of my recent trip to Austria. The vintage was great for Austria and it still drinks amazingly well with huge honeydew and apple flavors. An amuse came of cold CRAB SPRING ROLL with Orange Sauce (it was described as Lobster Roll for another nearby table?!) which should have been warm I think. The PAN SEARED SCALLOPS with GOAT CHEESE & BLACK PEPPER GRITS and a RED CURRANT COMPOTE which we both started with were superb: 3 huge scallops on a bed of yummy (not spicy) grits and that delicious compote for some bursts of tart fruit flavor.

The bread seemed to be rationed at first as we only got one piece each until almost the entree. The foccacia was quite tasty, but my first piece was a bit too crunchy from warming. The PAN RAOSTED HALIBUT with PARSNIP PUREE, Asparagus, BRAISED ARTICHOKES & TOMATO in a Fennel Broth was extremely fresh and flaky and moist; I only got 1/4 of an artichoke heart and 1/10th of a tomato diced! The PROSCIUTTO ROASTED PROK TENDERLOIN was gorgeous. Normally served with Blue Cheese Gateaux, they gladly replaced that with Lyonnaise(pronounced Lion-ays by our server!) Potatoes. Pork Belly WILTED ARUGOLA & Apple Gastric completed the plate.

The French press coffee was quite good and I loved my BASIL PANNA COTTA with STRAWBERRY GELEE and Pink Peppercorn Tuille. There was a green basil sauce and a strawberry sauce on either side making for nice touches and different flavors in each bite. Will had the decent APPLE TART with Vanilla Ice Cream and Caramel Cinnamon Sauce and we headed off to the opera!