Friday, June 29, 2007


Last night we returned to NEW HEIGHTS where I have been going for over 20 years and always enjoying myself thoroughly. Owner UMBI SINGH has recently sold his 2nd venue, Butterfield9, and moved "back home where he belongs"(someone should have sung him a variation of "Hello Dolly") to the beautiful 2nd story location on Calvert Street ( with gorgeous decor by his sister (who owns SANSAR in Bethesda) and great views over RockCreek Park's greenery.

It was even more special last night as Karen Shannon, who used to own Petito's which was around the corner) returned to the neighborhood as well to present OPERA & BROADWAY nights. The menu was a $60 plus tax and tip fixed price with over 2 hours of fantastic music performed by elegant and versatile soprano DIANE ABEL and the young up and coming tenor JOSEPH HAUGHTON. I am so happy that these nights will be repeated again in JULY and we are hoping to attend on AUGUST 22nd! CALL New Heights at 202-234-4110 to reserve now! It's well worth it!

We ordered an extra course off the ala carte menu as we so desperately wanted to try Chef JOHN WABECK's superb SAUTEED SOFT SHELL CRABS with Cucumber, Fingerling Potato Salad, Cilantro and Vindaloo Oil. This is a pure presentation of the shellfish with no batter, just sauteed to perfection and served atop the wonderful smokey infused oil with hints of curry floating about.

The actual fixed menu started with a cool welcome tasty and tart GAZPACHO. We chose a bottle of ELIZABETH SPENCER 2005 PINOT NOIR from the SONOMA COAST that was new and quite satisfying with slight hints of acidity and lots of fruit. Of course, one always forgets that Gazpacho does not work too well with I tried to refrain for this course. Will's BLACK BEAN "RILLETTES" is served in a flip-top Mason jar with Guacamole and Chipotle Crema making it quite a rich mixture. It is an excellent variation on the Black Bean Pate that started at New Heights 21 years ago and has been going all this long on the menu. I loved the LAMB CARPACCIO with Yellow Tomatoes and Cilantro Mint "Chutney" which was actually a Jalapeno infused cream (the mint was barely tasted) that packed a punch.

The entrees were no less impressive with Will going for the GRILLED NY STRIP STEACH with Potato Puree and Mushroom-Horseradish Crust while I enjoyed the MAPLE LEAF FARMS DUCK BREAST with Baby Bok Choy, Preserved Shitakes and Duck Sauce. A bottle of STAGS LEAP 2004 PETITE SIRAH got us through the entrees and kept us going during the remainder of the excellent performance as well. The wine is a treat and a great rare bargain these days as so few US Petite Sirahs are around!

The FRESH BERRIES were perfect for me for dessert and the CREME BRULE was indeed one of the best around!

A wonderful performance in the kitchen, on our plates and by the able singers!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

more raves for RASIKA and the perfect pre-theater dinner

Last night we returned to RASIKA ( in the Penn Quarter for a pre-theater dinner before seeing "Hamlet." We were concerned about filling up too much on a hot night before the 3+ hour show, but Rasika has the perfect pre-theater menu for $28.00 TOTAL not including tax and tip which is probably one of the best deals in town! and at the winner of this year's RAMMY (Restaurant Award) for Best NEW RESTAURANT!

There are 4 choices in the appetizer and entree category and 3 for dessert, so while this menu is a good deal, it might get boring after several visits, unless it is changed periodically. Will & I started with the MALAI CHICKEN TIKKA which comes with a green sauce of Coriander & Goat cheese along with the delicious moist grilled chicken pieces and the CALAMARI with CHILI & GARLIC, which packed a super punch, but not lingering, and was beautifully presented on a banana leaf and silver/bronze dish. We shared these two which were large enough portions to boot. While Will sipped the Indian beer, I enjoyed a crisp refreshing glass of HOFER 2005 GRUNER VELTLINER.

For the entree we both had the LAMB KESAIR KORMA which were moist tender and huge chunks (quite a large amount as well) of meat swimming in the wonderful yellow korma of coconut, saffron, cashew, mace and cardamom. A bed of rice made the most of the sauce which we mopped up with the wonderful NAAN and not as good ONION KULCHA (the onions were oddly raw). To boot, these breads are INCLUDED in the pre-theater, which are a la carte for the regular dinner! I tasted the moist TANDOORI SALMON (also on the fixed price) and the excellent TANDOORI GROUPER (a la carte) which were the same preparation using the same sauce from our chicken appetizer that was also great.

On top of this all you can have the most wonderful (and way too filling) dessert of CARROT PUDDING with Cinnamon Sabayon which is a huge disk of shredded cooked and sweetened carrots falling somewhere between a pudding and cake with golden raisins and cashews in a light sauce just for flavor. Our only complaint was that this really did fill us up and we all joked about how we would fall asleep so fast at the play! "To sleep or not to sleep? that is the question." For the most part, the play was good, and we managed to stay awake for the important parts, but knowing we would return to RASIKA again soon.

Incidentally our server was great and I also love the elongated flatware and impressive dishes!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Kinkead's always comes through for us

We returned to Kinkeads ( here in DC for the first time in over a year and had forgotten how much we love the place. There are many new faces on the staff and in the kitchen, and we truly fell in love with our server Stephanie, who is a dream! That aside, we had, as always, a spectacular meal with only two small shortcomings. The new scallop entree should have FOUR scallops not three in our humble opinion, and the coffee cake in my dessert was really dry and forgettable.

The four of us sat down to a wonderful bottle of KARL LAGLER GRUNER VELTLINER Federspeil "Burgberg" 2005 that was slightly fizzy, creamy and very citrusy; an amazing aperitif on a hot Sunday afternoon. It also works quite well with the many different spices in the appetizers which were all a HUGE success. The YUCATAN Style TUNA SOUP with Tomatillos, Chilies, Lime, Sour Cream and Tortilla Strips now has two huge chunks of rare tuna in the middle of the soup making it even more filling than before (and was always a great dish!), the CHILLED GORGONZOLA SALAD with APRICOTS, Baby Arugula, Frisee, Spiced Walnuts, Pancetta & Port Vinaigrette got raves and our top notch CORNMEAL CRUSTED SOFT SHELL CRABS with Shrimp, Tasso Ham, Lemon, Garlic & Crab Ragout were some of the best ever. They also had a grilled artichoke heart, potato and string beans all with a slightly spicy sauce that was heavenly.

We had moved on to a terrific MONTAGNY 1er CRU "Les Coeres" 2004 from Staphane Aladame in the Cotes Chalonnaises that was a perfect chardonnay with little oak from the Burgundy region. It was also perfect in between courses before we moved on to our last red a super Burgundy Pinot Noir PERNAND-VERGELESSES 1er CRU "En Caradeux" 2003 from Follin-Arbellet which was wonderfully light (to work with the scallops and other dishes) and full-fruited, but not the least bit

Entrees were also all of the best quality with the SEARED NANTCUKET SEA SCALLOPS, Favas, Ricotta Gnocchi, Chanterelle Mushroom Ragout-dried tomato, pancetta, basil lemon broth only missing that one fourth scallop needed to fill out the plate.

The BRIK DOUGH WRAPPED ALASKAN HALIBUT Stuffed with Mushroom Duxelle, Creamed Spinach, Mushroom Agnolottis, Chanterelles, Baby Beans and Porcini Cream Sauce is a lesson in fish perfection while the GRILLED ROCKFISH, Zucchini Parmesan, Dried Cherry Tomato Relish with Lemon Rosemary Emulsion was a revelation of fish combined with the sour cherry tomatoes which tasted almost like a sour cherry relish! My HAWAIIAN RARE TUNA had two towers of the perfect meat with
MACADAMIA NUT CRUST a heap of TUNA "poke" (tartare), TARO PANCAKE, HEARTS of PALM and two options of dips: CHILI WATER (which was intense at first, but the heat was so fleeting, I kept dipping) and SOY GINGER.

I have to say I love the booths at Kinkead's, but our table last night was oddly opposite a two-top for a couple which was facing us. It's hard not to stare at lovey-dovey couples when you are right next to them, but they seemed into each other and their food!

A movement in the kitchen of pastry chefs may be the cause for the problem with the coffee cake on my COFFEE & CAKE (also called COFFEE Sampler on a different menu) which sported a way too dry SOUR CREAM & WLANUT Coffee Cake, a superb lighter-than-Sacher-torte MOCHA OPERA CAKE, a tasty demi-tasse of COFFEE JELLY & ESPRESSO CREAM and a scoop of BAILEY's IRISH Ice Cream. The CARROT PECAN ROULADE with Rum Raisin Ice Cream and Butterscotch Sauce is ALWAYS a hit and two of us opted for the yummy HAZELNUT CAKE with Crunchy Waffle Layer, Chocolate & Hazelnut Mousse, Coffee Sauce and Praline Ice Cream.

Hopefully the new scallop dish will grow soon and the coffee cake will get an extra douse of sour cream in the mixing, cause we know we are always headed back to Kinkead's!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

a quick musing on MIE N YU

We have always enjoyed MIE N YU in Georgetown, and Samuel always has had fun there as well. We all love the decor with a Middle Eastern cushy feel almost like a seraglio. Indeed, our evening ended the other day with Samuel being MESMERIZED by a belly dancer who came to our table to dance for quite a while!

Samuel had a good time playing with a new friend, the 7-year old daughter of a friend of mine who joined us with her husband and 2 girls. The evening turned sour when he tipped over one of the big candles and got hot wax in his hair; these really are not the safest things to decorate with. Sam was not as happy with the food this time as he would not touch the LACQUERED DUCK SPRING Roll which is a Mandarin Pancake (think burrito) wrap with lots of meat and a very spicy sauce luckily far removed from the plate's center. He did enjoy some of the delish BANANA HUMMOUS which is a huge portion and we even asked for more fried plantains. As always, he adored his tropical fruit sorbets! Our server, John was most accommodating, but we sometimes had to search him out as the place was quite busy.

John also told me the $65 THAI NAA RAAWN 6-course tasting was very spicy, and I later joked that he must think ketchup is spicy. He said anything with vinegar is spicy; so I need to gauge next time. Indeed the first course was the spiciest of the tasting and one of the best, but nothing was intense after that. The VEAL & CRUNCHY THAI BASIL came in a Coriander & Scallion Pancake with a Thai Red Finger Chili & Kaffir Lime Dipping Sauce that packed a nice punch. We had already finished our first wine, a creamy WIMMER CZERNY 2005 GRUNER VELTLINER, as our friends were not familiar with the varietal (I think they may
have found a new wine!). The spicy food went great with our second wine an Oregon PINOT GRIS from ELK COVE that had a very sweet nose, but was dry and worked so well with the foods. The NORTHERN CORN FRITTER had interesting Pickled Chilis and Shallots but was an uneventful dish, while the ROASTED SQUID SATAY was special because of the Chopped Peanut & Chili Relish that was different but still many of the lime & coriander ingredients were repeated a bit too much. The
highlight was the SOFT SHELL CRAB with Red & Green Curry, Stir Fried Pineapple and Grape Tomatoes. We had moved on to a magnificent ELK GROVE 2005 PINOT NOIR "La Boheme" that is a lesson in how to make wine--BIG fruit, rich and smooth...a wine I forgot was so fabulous. The largest course of the tasting was the DUCK VERMICELLI which had the most chewy fried rice vermicelli on top of a huge beautiful panko crusted Duck, Shrimp, Black Mushroom, Crab & Sweet Chili Sauce mixture.

Sadly the meal ended with a PAPAYA SOUP that was marred by two gummy Sweet Coconut Rice Balls that could have been left out, or replaced with something much more exciting.

Will felt the spice was lacking in his PULLED DUCK & LOBSTER SHUMAI appetizer and freaked with the shrimp heads and lobster shells in the tasty SHRIMP & LOBSTER IMPERIAL with Fermented Black Beans, Sherry, Ginger & Pork Fried Rice. Our friends seemed to like their dishes, but I can't help feeling that some of the spice was missing, although we had a great time just being in the casba-like setting with friends.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Luscious LACROIX & gorgeous gelato at CAPOGIRO (Philadelphia)

The weekend took us to Philadelphia to celebrate Samuel's 4th birthday at Sesame Place with some of his friends. We had a great time in the fun waterpark, but I strongly suggest if you head there, to bring a bag lunch. The food is AWFUL; even worse than that!

Over the weekend we stopped in at CAPOGIRO, Gelato Artisans ( located at both 117 So. 20th Street (Rittenhouse Square) and 119 So. 13th Street (near City Hall) and this has to be one of the NOT-TO-MISS places around these days. We begged them to think about opening in DC! While the kids enjoyed the simpler MEXICAN CHOCOLATE and SWEET MILK called FIOR di LATTE(almost vanilla), Sam was adventurous with the STRAWBERRY TARRAGON. DULCE di LECHE was pretty good, while THAI COCONUT MILK was dreamy. The highlight however was my CUCUMBER VODKA Sorbetto that was truly amazing, creamy, tasty and heavenly!

Dinner on Saturday for the two of us was at LACROIX at the Rittenhouse where Chef Matthew Levin has taken over from the legendary and now retired Chef Lacroix. He has done a superb job and introduced many international styles of food as well as methods of preparation that joggle the mind and challenge the palate.

We opted for the tasting menu which can be done in 3,4, or 5 courses PLUS dessert for $69,$78 or $85 respectively. There are many categories to choose from and we were even allowed a substitution from the ala carte menu; a truly brilliant experience that was really VERY reasonably priced.

The dining room on the hotel's second floor in unmemorable with its tile and carpet floor, large pillars lit through holes in the ceiling and cushy green velvet chairs and booths. The crisp yellow linens at the large spacious tables and nice stemware, china and crystal and excellent service all add to the experience. The view facing one way is over Rittenhouse Square and the other (Will asked me to change seats halfway through dinner) is of a boring apartment building next door; but one goes here for the view on the PLATE not through the windows!

While the uneventful bread scared us, a seared HAMACHI Amuse with STRAWBERRY, JICAMA and BASIL got our palates tingling while we sipped a very citrusy CHATEAUNEUF du PAPE BLANC from Domaine du Pere Caboche (Jean-Pierre Buisson) 2005. Normally the Chateauneuf Blancs are creamier, but this vintage really was similar to a Sauvignon Blanc and delicious as well.

My first course came from the "RAW" category and was one of the most exciting things ever to hit a plate: SMOKED BLACK COD FISH, Edamame Puree, RED RICE BEER FOAM and POP ROCKS. The beautiful sashimi sliced fish was seared on the edge and had a tiny crust of the pop rocks making each bite give a tingling sensation that lasted for quite some time. The pop rocks here had a slight sweetness, but the overall effect was also salty from the Red Rice Beer. I can only describe it as Crunchy Rice Crispies going snap, crackle, pop IN your mouth AFTER you swallow!

Will chose from the VEGETABLE category for his first item: WILD EUROPEAN ASPARAGUS, SLOW COOKED QUAIL EGG, BLACK TRUFFLE ICE CREAM. It was like a gelee block with the asparagus beautifully assembled at attention and a dish he was thrilled with.

For the 2nd course I chose from the same category with the TASTING of FARMHOUSE BEETS:Salt-Roasted, GOLDEN with LEMONGRASS, RAW, GINGER ALE & Black Walnuts with Vanilla. This was indeed an odd dish, but fun. The Purple Beets were roasted in a cylinder, while the baby golden ones were halved with the lemongrass cream under them. A carpaccio- style of rose colored beets with salt was a highlight and the ginger ale beet shooter was on oddity. It actually didn't work the first time around and the beets gelled in the bottom, so they quickly brought me a replacement, AND offered a spoon to scoop out the bottom of the first one as well.

Will moved to the SHELLFISH category and had a MAINE SCALLOP RAVIOLI with CHANTERELLES, ASPARAGUS & SQUID INK. It was a nice dish, but the least exciting all night. The ravioli were small adorable (and I think had a small filling of scallop) on the side and the squid ink was more like a paint splash on the plate and basically not a sauce.

The ala carte item we next shared was the CRISP SOFT SHELL CRAB with BUTTERERD PEAS and JASMINE. There were two preparations each of a 1/2 crab, one simply sauteed, the other superbly battered with Oatmeal and fried to perfection.

At this time we moved on to our red wine selected by the wonderful sommelier Eric Simonis (from Alsace) who chose a MERCUREY 1er CRU "Les Champs Martin" 2000 from Domaine Menand Pere et Fils that at $79 was a great bargain, but started out quite light (with a huge nose), but quickly opened up to a huge mouth-filling Burgundy. Will had a small glass of Domaine de Monbazillac la Maletie 2002 Dordogne with his SEARED HUDSON VALLEY FOIE GRAS (from the Poultry/
Game category) with SOUR CHERRIES, PORT and SZECHUAN Pepper "Cookies" that really were slightly peppered shortbreads(yum). A wonderful combination of new ideas and I opted from the Fish category for a superb BLACK GROUPER with ASPARAGUS, Orange Sauce Maltise (think Hollandaise) and Crispy Bacon.

Course 5 came from the MEAT section and was a perfectly size dish for each of us. I must say that at no point did we feel overdone or stuffed; every portion was just right. I had the GASPOR FARM PIGLET with FAVA BEANS, Blis Maple and Smoked Steelhead Roe that was another wonderful and seemingly simple dish, while will had more excitement on his plate with the ETHIOPIAN Style BABY GOAT with Aromatic Air which consisted of a mini double rib chop, a medallion and a stew. It was a tasting within a tasting and came with a TAMARIND-AGED GOAT CHEESE SOUFFLE.

We could not resist the delicious cheese cart and we still had red wine left--so we ordered (one plate to split) and they offered many extras!
WABASH CANNONBALL (from Washington State) which Will described as "tasting like a homeless person"
AZEITAU (spelling)
MAHAJIERO de PIMENTO from the Canary Islands which reminded me of the Spanish Garroxta with a bit more pepper
UPLAND PLEASANT RIDGE Cheddar (from Connecticut) and it was mind-boggling to boot!

Dessert was no less confusing with so many tastes and things on each plate I hope I can get them all: The GIANDUJA BISCUIT COULANT was a Toasted Meringue, Banana Chip Praline and Curried Banana Ice Cream and the "TRIP TO THE BEACH" was Fudge Marquise, Citrus-Coconut "Creamsicle" with Macadamia "Sand" with Pink Peppercorns. This was an ingenious idea and a brilliant display --and tasted great to boot. A glass of superb BANYULS "Les Close de Paulilees 2005" for me and MUSCAT de BAUMES de VENISE for Will sent us home to our hotel very happy and looking forward to visiting LACROIX again!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

swing in to SANGAM Indian Cuisine 5 mins from DC

Last Thursday was Samuel's birthday and we opted to go with our friends and their 4-year old to SANGAM located in the Comfort Inn (free garage parking!) at 1211 N. Glebe Rd (at the corner of Washington Blvd) in Arlington (, right at the I-66 Glebe Rd exit just minutes from DC.

After perusing the menu over a MANGO LASSI which the kids adored (and we did, too), we opted to order several items and share. We WAY OVERORDERED. The appetizers are all huge portions and cost $3.50 to $5.00 so are an amazing bargain. We loved the PANEER PAKORA which are cottage cheese fritters and there CHICKEN PAKORA, also a fritter, both of which can be dipped into either of the two sauces provided.

Less exciting was the SHAMI KABOB made of ground beef and lentils and pan-fried as patties (similar top the mid-Eastern kefta kabob) but a bit on the dry side and oddly served with raw onions and green peppers (neither of which I like in their raw state!). Best was the piping hot huge VEGETABLE SAMOSA with potatoes, peas and spices in a pastry puff shell.

We had a pretty good and reasonably priced bottle of ST. SUPERY SAUVIGNON BLANC from Napa which works very well with the spices. We moved to a very nice medium bodied 2005 LOUIS BERNARD COTES du RHONE which again held up to the spices in the food. Our entrees were a SANGAM FEAST (made for two at an amazing $31) which includes TANDOORI CHICKEN, CHIKEN TIKKA (barbecued pieces), SEEKH KABOB, LAMB ROGANJOSH (cooked in a rich almond sauce like a stew), CHICKEN SAAG (curried with chopped spinach), NAVRATNA KORMA(vegetable curry in almond sauce), CREAMED LENTILS, RAITA (yogurt, cucumber, tomato, herbs), PALAU RICE and NAAN (flatbread). This oculd easily have fed three and we ordered two platters of this!! AND in my stupidity also a plate of SHRIMP KADAI (curried with vegetables) and SAAG PANEER (an always yummy spinach & cottage cheese combo).

The kids managed several bites of CHICKEN TIKKA MASALA which in kids version came with Indian spice-dusted fries and broccoli (Samuel would have none of that!). They seemed to like their KASMIRI NAAN which is made with dried fruits (especially cherries) and nuts, and I am always a fan of ONION KULCHA (that superb fluffy bread with chopped cooked onions).

Needless to say it was too much and we were stuffed. We had brought along a CHOCOLATE Birthday CAKE with MARSHMALLOW Icing that Samuel and I had baked at home (from my mother's recipe that goes back some 50 years!) which we all managed to enjoy a bit of before heading home.

SANGAM is nothing spectacular to look at, although the underlit dry ice lamps are cute. There are nice linens and the service is not wondrous (we poured our own wine, and had to pack our leftovers into the plastic containers as well), but the food is quite good and real deal!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

URBANA:oops on the appetizers, but.....

Last night we celebrated Will's new US citizenship with a dinner out at URBANA in the PALOMAR Hotel (2121 P Street, NW) just a block from Dupont Circle. Our expectations were high and in some ways they WERE met, but the overall experience left us with a doubt whether we would return. So many happy years were spent in the same spot under the guise of Gabriel (at the Radisson Barcelo) when chef Greggory Hill was in charge and even thereafter for a while, and while the renovation and new owners have breathed a truly new life and atmosphere into URBANA, something is missing.

After being seated we ordered a bottle of Moet et Chandon Brut Rose to celebrate the occasion only to be told that there was a new sommelier who had drastically changed the wine list and this was no longer available. It was replaced with a very nice ROGER POULLON et FILS Brut Rose for the same price. I asked if the sommelier was available to discuss the new wines as they were not on the list, and he had just left for the evening (at 730pm!). The staff was apologetic, but they need to get it together on the wine side.

As far as decor goes, the place is gorgeous. Warm wood floors and tables of woods of varying colors and comfy chairs and banquettes fill the room. Gray marble pillars and a matching bar and pizza bar are centerpieces. The pizza bar has a silver-leaf covered pizza oven in the wall with a cool log implanted wall above it. At the entrance opposite the bar a full backlit wall of wine bottles is also neat. I could have done without the bronze woven runners that crisscross the table as they fall into your lap and are too long. A wall on the street side has sleek dark green ceramic bricks with mirrors and red lights in the pillars.

The breads are fresh and yummy and come with a mildly spicy zucchini puree that is superb..we got seconds!

I was thinking of the CRISPY SARDINES appetizer which comes with Caramelized MELON & WHITE BALSAMIC HONEY GINGER GLAZE. I was warned that it was very small (at $9) so we decided to order one for the four of us and split the two sardines. Frankly, it was a puny portion and really should have three fish for this price or a buck more! It was, however, quite delish and the fish were nary too salty as well. Sharing this amounted to a nice amuse, which we were quite happy with.

Our white wine was a superb PIANE di MAGGIO Trebbiano d'Abruzzo 2005 which was quite reasonably priced (I must give them credit for that!) at under $30 and creamy and fruity at the same time. It was perfect with the URBANA GARLIC MUSSELS made with Herbes de Provence, tomato and White Wine. Sadly the small plate of 16 mussels was nowhere near the level of those at Beck or Mannequin Pis that we enjoyed in May! They needed more spice and garlic for sure. The GOAT CHEESE CROQUETTE comes with greens and green beans and pears in a large salad and was one of the better dishes (our very nice server, Stephen, had to explain that it was really a large deep fried goat cheese croquette on top of a superb and LARGE salad. Will's SPRING PEA AGNOLOTTI came with Chorizo, English peas (an homage to his origins!) and lobster. Only FOUR agnolotti were on the poorly designed narrow and long plate. Each forkful he took pushed something off the shallow elongated plate; a real mess despite a tasty dish. I assume the $14 price tag was for the lobster, so couldn't they throw on some more pasta?

We noticed a gorgeous pizza at the next table and decided that we SHOULD return and try the pizza and enjoy the wine on the next visit as that seemed a better choice. Speaking of wine, we moved to a red TASCA d'ALMEITA Nero d'Avola "Lamuri" 2004 from Sicily that Stephen suggested and it was delish at under $40 and worked superbly with all our meat dishes as well. These are wines we must remember when we are in Italy (both regions of Abruzzi & Sicily this summer!). The ELYSIAN FILED LAMB CHOP with Golden Raisin Polenta & Grain Mustard Jus was a hearty dish, but the Thomas Keller owned organic lamb suffered from much too much fat. The BRAISED PORK SHOULDER was a hit with Polenta, Picholine Olives & Mushrooms and the portion was HUGE despite its fairly low price! The surprise was the OSSO BUCO which must be shared by two (and theoretically is big enough for three people) which is a huge almost foot-long shank covered with more than a pound of yummy tender meat(with some tasty crunchy edges to boot!) in an amazing rich reduction. It comes with super green beans, fried shallots, sauteed chard and Olive Oil Mashed Potatoes. When we mentioned the potatoes were cold, they immediately brought another batch. We could not fail the excellent service at Urbana, everyone was courteous, kind and there were no problems with them, just the small disappointments of the kitchen. The DUCK FAT FRIES side order is nice, but does not compare with those of Blue Duck over at the Park Hyatt (although these are half the price!).

We were pretty full and decided to split two desserts which were quite good. The Assorted GRANITAS are an unexciting LIMONCELLO, a pretty good PEAR and a super RASPBERRY CHAMPAGNE. These come with some broiled fruits which is a nice addition. The PEACH PANNA COTTA is another light option and comes with lemon cookie, perfectly ripe and super-sweet little balls of CANTALOUPE and PEACH PUREE.

A bottle of superb not-too-sweet MACULAN TORCOLANO Veneto(another area we hit this summer!) 2003 dessert wine got us home feeing good,but we found it odd that the dessert wines listed on the menu had no bottle prices and we had to ask for it before ordering.

So, as I said, next time it's pizza and wine at Urbana.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Beacon Bar & Grill goes awry

The Beacon Bar & Grill opened a while ago and we had an awful experince the first time, but since they hired a new chef and I met him recently, we decided to give it another go. I think we will call it quits for now (or maybe try only the brunch next time) at this large hotel bar and restaurant at the corner of Rhode Island Ave & 17th Streets.

We took Samuel for an early dinner on Saturday and the place was deserted, except for some bar fliesm at 530pm. It was still deserted when we left an hour later. For the most part Samuel was happy with his standard PENNE with TOMATO SAUCE accompanied by yummy French Fries, if they were a bit too salty. He also loved the undulating colored lights up the stairs behind the bar, if that's worth anything. I wanted the Crispy Duck Ravioli for a starter, but was told they were out of it, so opted for the one big hit of the meal, the EAST COAST SHRIMP TOAST which was basically a bruschetta-like toast with three tasty shrimp, mushrooms, sauteed spinach and a yummy light cream sauce on top. Will asked for the CRISPY CALAMARI and the BBG Burger as a main course and when they brought my shrimp they brought his burger, forgetting the appetizer! It took a couple of minutes to straighten this out, but we were quite confident that when the burger returned later it was the same one with quite lukewarm fries.

I enjoyed a glass of ALICE WHITE 2004 Australian Chardonnay with my shrimp, which took almost 10 minutes to get from the not-at-all-busy bartender 10 feet away, and switched to an awful TYRELL's 2003 LOST BLOCK Pinot Noir from Australia that clearly suffered from being open too long and not being stored properly. There was only alcohol and no fruit at all in the wine!

When Will finally got his Calamari it was quite good as was the tasty "Chesapeake" remoulade, but it was not really was nicely breaded and yummy, but not "crispy" which nobody minded, but that was the description on the menu.

Will's burger was mediocre and the fries nowhere near as good as Samuel's and my BLACKENED CHICKEN TORTILLA SALAD with Romaine, Pico de Gallo, Corn Salsa and Cilantro was nice but nothing to rave about. Sam enjoyed a huge scoop of RASPBERRY SORBET and we asked for the bill. It was all wrong, as we were charged for Sam's fries and drink which are supposed to be part of the Kid's meal. Someone from the staff apologized that our server, Anna, was in training, we paid, left and decided that Beacon is not blooming.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

RISCKY's for BARBECUE is better in Ft Worth

On Sunday we took Samuel to see the uneventful longhorn cattle "run" where they walk nonchalantly down the sleepy Sunday street of the Ft Worth Cattle Stockyards. Seeing all that beef made us hungry, so we took several folk's suggestions and popped into the very casual RISCKY's at 140 E. Exchange St. for a BBQ BRISKET SANDWICH. Sam was pretty happy with his chicken fingers and fries which I thought were sublime, but the SLICED BRISKET BBQ SANDWICH was a true treat. I can't wait to return for the $9.95 all you can eat ribs special next time in town!

Of course, I'll have to diet for a week before I can take these monster size portions ag'in.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

SAINT-EMILION is a scent of a France in Texas (Ft Worth)

Last night's dinner before the world premiere of the opera FRAU MARGOT (which was fabulous) was just west of downtown Fort Worth at SAINT-EMILION (3617 W 7th St) billed as a country French restaurant. The decor is truly French provincial, but with an partially open kitchen framed by a glass wall and many gleaming copper pots. The menu is large and varied and offers 2, 3 or 4 course options for a reasonable price (all under $40). The wine list is varied and reasonable with huge French leanings and some quite pricey Burgundies as well.

I started with a glass of ANGLIM VIOGNIER from Paso Robles (Calif) which was quite nice and will opted for the DOMAINE CHANDON Chardonnay from Napa which he later had seconds of.

For a starter the TENDERLOIN TARTARE has a spicy Texas punch and it is the leanest of tartares around. It was odd that it came with a mini-salad of greens since all the meals come with a small salad anyway. Indeed, the SALADE de MON GRANDE PERE is yummy Boston lettuce with walnuts, lardons and vinaigrette--just perfect.

The excellent French bread comes with creamy butter and Fleur de sel salt, but the butter plates lack knives, which seemed odd since we did not want to use the same knife to dip into the big butter churn!

For entrees Will and I immediately drifted to the FRIED SOFT SHELL CRABS (can you believe we have NOT seen them on the menu back home in DC yet!?) with a TARRAGON BEURRE BLANC which came with an odd, but tasty VEGETABLE LASAGNA (carrots, zucchini, eggplant) and two asparagus. We were glad the portion was not monstrous, but the two crabs were indeed quite large and most tasty and meat. I had a glass of the French KIMMERIDGIEN CHARDONNAY (Burgundy) from Jean Marc
Brocard that was perfect with the crabs as it was drier and more mineral in content than the oaky creamy Domaine Chandon from California Will opted for.

Dessert was Will's GRAND MARNIER CHEESECAKE which was okay, but no raves, while my TUILE filled with CREAM CHEESE and BLACKBERRIES flambeed in RASPBERRY LIQUEUR was a wonderful treat as the berries were slightly warm and the cheese not too sweet (and I didn't have to finish it all anyway). Lots of coffee and off to the opera....

Friday, June 01, 2007

raising the steaks at REATA (Ft Worth, TX)-avoid Angelo's

We are all here for a weekend with friends and opera at the new Ft. Worth Opera Festival and last night headed around the corner from the Bass Performing Arts Center (a gorgeous hall) for dinner before Madama Butterfly. Our top choice was one of the best downtown spots for years, REATA ( named for the ranch from the movie Giant. We were greeted by many friendly smiles and ushered up to the 4th (top) floor where a busy bar (catch the guy with the red outfit, matching cowboy boots and hat!) was hosting a hot happy hour. We headed inside the glass domed dining area with views of downtown (and low noise levels!) to be greeted by our darling server Audrey and soon after by public relations manager, Kitty, who wanted to be sure we were happy!

It was hard to choose, but Will went for the spicy, yummy, exciting (he said it was the best ever) TORTILLA SOUP with Chicken & Avocado. It was called a "cup" but came in a huge bowl. Welcome to Texas, where we learned the portions are always monstrous. I opted for the SMOKED QUAIL with JALAPENO CHEDDAR GRITS & Molasses BBQ Sauce. The meat was deliciously smokey and tasty and the grits cheesy and gooey and the whole thin was quite filling. We had a bottle of L'AVENTURE Stephan Vineyard ZINFANDEL 2001 forom Paso Robles that was quite spicy and huge (15.8% alcohol).

The 4th floor has hide covered chairs and simple wood tables, but the other dining rooms are amazingly decorated (they can accommodate like 600 seated!). The first floor has a glass enclosed and soundproof private area in the center for those who WANT to be seen, and several other more private spaces. Don't miss the display of cool chaps which include Hoss Cartwright's from Bonanza; do miss the dummy of James Dean.

Our entrees were the same; the house specialty of PAN SEARED PEPPER CRUSTED TENDERLOIN (10 ounces each--but they looked at least a pound!) with RED PEPPER MASHED POTAOES, superb Green Beans and a Port Wine Sauce. At $31, it might be pricey, but well worth it. The slightly sweet port sauce was an amazing foil to the spice on the crust and when combined made for a mouthwatering steak dish that was a highlight to our day, especially after the mediocre BBQ RIBS we had at ANGELO's here in town for lunch (supposedly the best in the area!). Needless to say the Zin was excellent with the filets.

Dessert was NY FRIED CHEESECAKE in a Phyllo triangle with Creme Anglaise & Caramel. It was delish, and filling and too much (and not as good as the Cheesecake Spring Roll I had in NY just three weeks earlier!). The coffee was great and came with requisite sugars in a red(well, pink), white and blue display (with a hint of yellow)--WELCOME TO TEXAS.

Tonight we dine again and hopefully will eat less so we can enjoy the world premiere at the opera more!