Thursday, October 25, 2007

always lovin' LA MICHE

Last night we returned to LA MICHE ( in Bethesda after a way too long absence and still find the traditional French cuisine to be even better. We started the evening with Cava Sparkling (forgot the brand) and went right to red wine with a BOURGOGNE Hautes Cotes de Nuits Pinot Noir from Henri & Gilles Remoriquet in Nuit Saint Georges which was light bodied, but just right on a starting to get chilly fall evening.

Everyone had the same appetizer which was a fabulous combination plate consisting of: Green Lip Mussel and Crab Beignets (fritter) with caviar tartar sauce and Quail with Goji Berries in red wine served over thin slices of Yellow & Green Zucchini.

There were so many flavors and I opted to start with the seafood fritter and move to the quail as the sauce was richer and the berries intense. They both went well with the wine and we were all quite happy.

The entrees were varied and went from SALMON IMPERIAL to a superb ALASKAN HALIBUT with ARTICHOKE, CRAB & CAPER Lemon Butter Sauce to Frenched RACK of LAMB with Ratatouille, French Beans & Potatoes. I opted for the decadent VEAL RIB CHOP with OYSTER CREAM SAUCE which came with Roasted Potatoes and perfectly cooked French Green Beans. The meat was tender and tasty, but it was the sauce that was so novel and wonderful. There were a half dozen oysters or more in the rich sauce itself to boot!

With dinner a SANCERRE "La Crele" 2005 from Thomas & Fils was available for the fish folk, while us meat eaters went for the wonderful and bigger COTES du RHONE VILLAGES 2004 Rasteau from Tardieu-Laurent.

Desserts were varied as well and most gobbled up the CHOCOLATE GANACHE CAKE or a Chocolate ECLAIR, while I indulged in a superb light GRAND MARNIER SOUFFLE. There were also two dessert wines to satisfy the wide variety of desserts. A lighter, yet sweet DOMAINE de la MALETIE 2002 MONTBAZILLAC, while many of us preferred the sweeter heavier OLIVARES 2003 DULCE MONASTRELL.

After a round of port we all headed home sure that we won't keep away from La Miche as long next time! I'm hoping to attend their next wine dinner which is scheduled for December 5.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

NATSUMI is neat in NYC

I first went to NATSUMI ( near Times Square at 226 West 50th Street back in the spring right when it opened and was very impressed with the "Italian" infused Asian cuisine. I returned last night with a client and five others and we had a smashingly fabulous time.

While munching the wonderful edamame I tried two different sakes and preferred the house brand BIZEN MABOROSHI Junmai Gingo ($11/glass) which is sooo smooth and elegant, and the floral and less smooth ONIKOROSHI WAKATAKE was nice as well but not as satiusfying for my palate.

As the guests arrived I ordered a BUTTERFLY GREEN TEA RAVIOLI Appetizer which was stuffed wtih LOBSTER & SHITAKE in a Lobster Biqsue Sauce. It was yummy, but not easy to get into the chopsticks! I also tasted the excellent FRIED CALAMARI that was accompanied by a super light dipping sauce (soy based with spice). The dumplings came in so many forms I know not what I had, but they were all superb. A house NATSUMI Veronese White from Fruili was a refreshing choce of wine for these dishes as well.

The entrees were very varied around the table and I thought the least exciting was the Seafood Tempura Platter as the sauce was not that great. BUT, my NATSUMI ROLL was spectacular. Made from TUNA, Spicy Tuna, Avocado, Green APPLE for a bite, BASIL and topped with Gold Leaf for beauty. The server suggested I use the soy sauce combined with the house aged BALSAMIC rather than soy alone or with wasabi. It was brilliant. Everything at the table got raves from our group as I departed for the airport, alas with no dessert, but remembering the FRIED CHEESECAKE I had earlier this year and knowing I will be back soon!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

stil going to GUANTANAMERA in NYCity

I was happy to find a new theater district place at Gelsi on Friday, but yesterday and today I am returning to old favorites. Last night it was GUANTANAMERA (which will open a new sister restaurant soon in Spanish Harlem on the very upper east side) and I was as pleased as I always am.

Located in a narrow spot on the west side of 8th Avenue between 55th and 56th Streets, you could easily miss this spot, but once inside, you know you are in a Cuban dining spot, as the lights are low, the music is beating and everyone is having a good time. On a Saturday this starts with lunch, continues throw post-matinee and pre-evening theater and goes way into the night once the live band starts later in the evening!

My friend and I enjoyed a yummy pitcher of the RED SANGRIA while he had a bowl of CHICKEN SOUP laden with chunks of chicken, vegetables and AVOCADO. My ENSALATA la PALMA REAL is still a treat with field greens, piles of avocado and artichoke hearts and shaved parmesan. At $9.00 it is one of the best salad deals in NY City.

For entrees we had the VEGETARIAN PAELLA which was another huge dish laden with all kinds of fresh sauteed veggies and my ROPA VIEJA (the first time having it here) was beautifully served in a small basket made from crisp plantains, but filled to overflowing (there had to be almost a 1/2 pound of hangar steak), shredded and sauteed with great seasonings and not overdone at all. The rice was perfect and I smothered it with the bowl of BLACK BEANS that comes on the side of most dishes here, I often order the great steak with chimichurri sauce and now I find that both of these beef dishes (though so dissimilar) are great treats!

The cappunccino was great and we could not eat a bite more before I headed to see a wonderful revival of the comedy The Ritz with a super cast nearby!

Friday, October 19, 2007

between Hells' Kitchen & Chelsea there's OSTERIA GELSI

Last night before I took in the new Broadway musical Young Frankenstein, I wandered several blocks south and west of the theater district to OSTERIA GELSI at 507 9th Ave (at 38th Street; which features the cuisine of the Puglia region. There were many choices on the menu, but I could not resist the specials my server mentioned.

The menu did NOT indicate that 1/2 portions of pasta were available, so I asked--and they were ( a shame they don't advertise this). The wine list also only lists bottles and the 8 or 9 wines that are available by the glass are reeled off by varietal (Pinot Grigio, Chard, etc) so that you have no clue as to their quality and price. Another BIG failure. I ordered a glass of a Sicilian Chardonnay which I believe was called Catarata, but I haven't a clue, and sadly could'nt glean any more information, although it was nice. A tiny amuse of tomato bruschetta came and then I had the PUMPKIN GNOCCHI that were a revelation. Prepared in a butter sauce with a TOMATO Confit, Mushrooms, teensy weensy fried onions and fried sage leaves that were superb, it was a masterful combination and quite filling at the 1.2 size for $10.00.

The TUNA Special followed cooked in a Light Tomato/White Wine Sauce with roasted Whole Garlic Cloves, Capers, Olives, Caperberries and magnificently assembled on top of Roasted Potatoes & Sauteed Green Beans. Sadly, by the time the place was filling up and what had started as two ladies at the bar and had grown to seven ladies at the bar, became a table of seven very loud ladies next to me.

I was too full for dessert, but ordered coffee and got four wonderful hazelnut biscotti with it that was just perfect. They were not hard (I hate them that way), but slightly chewy and so yummy when dipped in the coffee.

I decided the ladies weren't that bad, paid and left quite full, but not overwhelmed too much to hate the show (which was funny and will probably be a big hit!).

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Puerto Rican report from Phyllis' husband in Chicago

Last week Sam and I made our bi-annual trip up to the Windy City to visit friends, Joe and Victor and their four year old Joel. On Saturday afternoon we decided to go look for a nice place to eat for lunch with the boys. At our first stop called "Feed" we were told that even though it was noon we were not able to order lunch for another half an hour. Only breakfast was being served at that time. We decided that we were not in the mood for pancakes and hash so we left and made our way back to the car. After about a ten minute drive we stopped in an area that is primarily Puerto Rican. There were HUGE wrought iron Puerto Rican flags over the roadways. After a little walking around we walked into this small very unpretentious little cafe/diner. My friend Joe and I were the only non Latino folks there. The place was called LATIN AMERICAN RESTAURANT & LOUNGE (2743 W Division St, Chicago, IL 60622. 1-773-235-7290). They have a web site (, but it is down right now.

This place was so mismatched it was adorable. There were a number of different types of chairs and a large selection of mismatched plates to use at a buffet table. In the back of the place there were two big computer game machines, which Sam and Joel were fascinated with. Both of them had large half naked women on them (could this be what the boys found fascinating?). Anyway, we spotted that they had a buffet which looked very nice so we decided to partake. On the buffet were the following,

Yellow Rice and Gandules Beans
Brown Rice and Calamari
Plain White Rice
Herb Baked Chicken
Red Beans with Pumpkin Pieces
Chicken Noodle Soup
Macaroni with Chicken
Fried Plantains
Roasted Pulled Pork
Puerto Rican Tamales
Goat Stew
Green Salad

Everything was freshly cooked and it seemed to be removed and replaced on a regular basis. ALL of the meat was juicy and tasty. Sam particularly liked the fried plantains. My personal favorite was the pulled pork which was so flavorful it erupted in your mouth. I had never had Gandules beans before which were yummy in the yellow rice (not one single dried out grain). The Puerto Rican Tamales were like little silver foil wrapped gifts from the gods. The wonderful aroma oozed out as we opened them up and they tasted just as good as they smelled.

Afterwards (which I guess was part of the deal we were handed a plate with three coconut puddings with maraschino cherries on top. I am not usually a pudding type of guy, but these were something else. Creamy with a coconut taste that just melted in your mouth. We gave the boys the maraschino cherries as a bit of extra dessert. Sorry we did not partake in wines and such, as it just wasn't that type of place; the diet coke was lovely. I was so impressed with the food at this place that I just had to meet the chef. Out came this sweet and quiet, young Puerto Rican lady who proudly told me what all of the different dishes were in her broken English (shame on me for not learning Spanish at this point). I told her how thrilled we were and that I was going to let everyone know on an e-mail list just how wonderful her food was. She smiled and said "gracias, senor" and returned to the kitchen. I hope that she didn't think I was a bit of a whacko as I do get quite excited when I have great food.

When our bill arrived we were shocked to see that the buffet was ONLY $5.99 per adult and $3.99 per child. This is for UNLIMITED food. WHAT A DEAL!!!! If any of you are ever in Chicago on a weekend and fancy a real treat for a great price, check out Latin American Restaurant & Lounge. This is Phyllis's husband handing you back to Phyllis.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

you gotta love LIBERTY TAVERN (Arlington, VA)

Sunday night we headed out to dinner with Samuel, his friend Joshua, and Joshua's daddies for a wonderful and filling evening at the new LIBERTY TAVERN in Clarendon ( which we will definitely return to again very soon.

The menu from Chef Liam LaCivita offers a mix of Italian, New England (his roots) and more, and it is very hard to decide WHAT to have:pizza, pasta, fish, meat or other! We started with a bottle of KURT ANGERER "KIES" Gruner Veltliner 2005 from Austria full of grapefruit and very refreshing. The wine list is pretty decent and has many good selections in the $30-50 range. We later changed to a FEDUO MACCARI "Re Noto" NERO d'AVOLA 2005 from Sicily which was a medium bodied red with cherry jam overtones. Our final and best wine was a KILIKANOON "Killerman's Ridge" Shiraz 2004 from Clare Valley which the menu described as blackberry with charcoal and very voluptuous, and while we agreed, there was also a strong tobacco essence.

Samuel wolfed down his plain pizza, an amazing $8 or $9 deal with eight HUGE slices (1/2 went home for eating later in the week!). Joshua liked the MAC & CHEESE which came with several side options and he chose fresh fruit which consisted of blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, apple and more--quite impressive for a kid's menu! The bread is made in house and is yummy, especially the brioche style

The portions are LARGE from the monstrous FRITTO MISTO appetizer of calamari, clam strips, haddock and fennel all nicely fried with a very rich thick creamy aioli, but just too much. The salads are gorgeous and one of us tried the APPLE ENDIVE which is made with impressive Great Hill Blue Cheese, spicy pecans, tarragon buttermilk dressing and sauteed bacon bits.

Pastas are good too (but they were out of the gnocchi) with BAKED GARGANELLI coming in a smoked tomato cream sauce with pancetta and bufala ricotta "Bella Vitano."

Pizzas are a big hit here and we all loved the AUTUMN PIZZA of wild mushroom, potato, pancetta, rosemary and robiola cheese as well as the ADAM's LINGUICA with crushed tomato, mozzarella, oregano and the now almost famous housemade Linguica sausage (so who is Adam?).

I opted for the "Sunday Dinner" which is a three course fixed price special for an amazing $25 that changes weekly.This week it featured a small (the only small thing on the menu, I think) appetizer of beautifully sauteed MUSSELS with SHALLOTS, WHITE WINE & CHILES.

Luckily it was not too large, because the entree was a monstrous dish entitled NEW ENGLAND "BOLLITO MISTO" which needed more explanation on the menu. It will go on the fall menu this week, we later learned from Chef Liam, and is a dish NOT TO MISS. The fajita style hot plate comes with VEAL CHEEK, VEAL BREAST, COTTOCCHINO (sp?) Sausage and Hangar Steak as well as nice autumn vegetables: Carrots, Turnips, Potatoes.

It is somewhat like a stew, but with a thicker and lesser amount of sauce. The dish was supposed to come with Salsa Verde and Apple Mostarda for dipping a la Bollito Misto style, but somehow it got left behind. It didn't really matter as the meat was so tasty it needed NOTHING. I could not finish the dish and look forward to the leftovers tonight with the sauces which they gave me to take home!

The "Sunday Dinner" came with a gorgeous dessert from taste to presentation of HONEY & VANILLA PANNA COTTA with Caramelized Figs. The two timbales of custard were at opposite ends of a long narrow dish joined by a bridge atop them of simple thin baked pastry like a long cookie. It was all superb and so amazing for only $25 TOTAL!

The boys spotted the RED VELVET Cake earlier at the next table and we gave in allowing them each to have a bite while we munched on the rest/ It is a devil's food cake with Cream Cheese and Meringue Frosting, definitely for cake-aholics.

One of the funnier events of the evening was when I was telling the story of Samuel's night out the week before and how he got the waiter's attention when we wanted ground pepper by yelling, "EXCUSE ME." Well, in my repetition of the story, the maitre d' spotted me and ran over to see what I needed as I waved my hand in the air calling, "EXCUSE ME!" We laughed hysterically as we told the story to him! At least Liberty Tavern has jovial, helpful and attentive service worth going back for!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

finally FISH & CHIPS that can't be beat at EAMONN's

Earlier this year, Cathal Armstong, his wife Meshelle and their brilliant team from Restaurant Eve (he is DC winner for Chef of the Year) opened another venue and now have a total of four in Alexandria. EAMONN's, a DUBLIN CHIPPER is located at 728 King Street (just a block off Washington - and is aptly named for their son. This is NOT your average fast food place, and we were thrilled to finally make it there last night to celebrate Will's birthday (who is at heart a true fish & chips lover from the north of England, where some argue it all started).

There are several wooden tables and benches and an order counter where each order is freshly prepared and fried. Last night, Michael was in charge and he did a fine job (as did the kitchen staff) taking our group's large and confusing order. We had almost everything on the menu and it is a varied one at that from Fried Prawns to Fried Chicken Nuggets (move over McDonald's) which are huge chunks of juicy meat battered and fried to perfection. There are fried burgers too! But one comes here for the traditional FRIED COD (the eatery's motto, emblazoned on the door is "thanks be to cod" which can be ordered in two sizes (get the large) and then smothered with either vinegar or a number of dipping options, which are great on the huge tasty FRENCH FRIES that are simply to die for.

There was a special fish last night and I went for the fresh DEEP FRIED GROUPER which was moist and excellent and very flavorful. While our Brit in residence preferred the simple malt vinegar, I moved from bite to bite with varied sauces as well as the vinegar. There was traditional TARTAR, HOT CHILI (with cilantro and lime), FRONCH (or French Dijon Mustard with mayo), CHESAPEAKE (Mayo and Old Bay Seasoning), a fabulous CURRY sauce which is slightly spicy and slightly sweet and totally reminiscent of those Indian spots in the UK we have visited. It was the two sauces named for women(and I know not why) that grabbed my attention: MARIE ROSE which is ketchup (hence the rose, I guess), mayo, lemon and tabasco for a slight spiciness and the KITTY O'SHEA made from mayo with olives and sundried tomatoes. Imagine dipping each fry in a different one of these and it's like a multi-course tasting menu!

There are exciting and traditional side dishes as well: Chunky COLESLAW is vinegar based and refreshing, the BAKED BEANS are actually imported from Ireland, and also reminiscent of those we have had in the UK. You see, even Heinz Baked Beans taste different in the UK as the ingredients vary over there! These are all very traditional, unsweetened and tasty beans that one seems to find so rarely here in the USA anymore. Finally, the most exciting side to find here in the US is MUSHY PEAS, which is exactly what is sounds like, but tastes a million times better and just doesn't seem to be easily replicated this side of the pond.

There are, of course, beers and two wines available and our beer drinkers seemed happy while the rest of us drank ken Forrester Chenin Blanc from South Africa (an excellent choice with the fried food). There is also a Pinot Noir if you are in a red mood. Non-alcoholic drinkers will find many options including the oh-so-rare Ribena blackcurrant juice.

While we were lucky enough to get a small miniature PINK BIRTHDAY CAKE sent over by our friends at Eve (it is a standard on the menu at Eve), we were all able to divvy it up so everyone got a bite. Speaking of dessert, should you still be hungry, there are a variety of candies available, but you really must go for the FRIED MARS BAR, a delicacy that will guarantee to boost your cholesterol and blood pressure to unseen amounts, but leave you truly in fried chocolate heaven. You can opt between the The FRIED SNICKERS BAR which is saltier from the peanuts, the FRIED MARS BAR or even a FRIED MILKY WAY; all are superb (be careful not to burn your mouth!).

As we left, we were all in agreement, but Will furthered the motion that EAMONN's is the best fish & chips this side of the pond!

Sunday, October 07, 2007

new, but not great at NICOLA's (downtown DC)

The Embassy Suites Hotel located at 1250 22nd Street, NW has always had an Italian bistro or restaurant (previously Panevino) which has never gathered much attention. We recently heard that it has been replaced with TRATTORIA NICOLA'S ( which actually has its entrance on 23rd Street (between M & N Streets). The decor has been beefed up and is most cozy and comfortable with several different levels including a bar with three tv's. (the happy hour and appetizer 1/2 price specials are ONLY at the bar!).

We got a nice booth with Samuel (he is easier to control in a booth) and he started drinking his Shirley Temple and began to bounce off the walls because of the sugar! We ordered a special priced bottle of QUERCETO Chianto Classico 2004 which was nice and modestly robust, but definitely not worth the regular $75 tag (it was marked down to $40).

We got Sam his order of FETTUCINE with MARINARA Sauce and he was most happy when it came and got tons of fresh parmesan grated onto it by our attentive server Hatem. We asked Hatem to put some of the cheese in the olive oil on the table and he quickly returned with some fresh pepper to make a delish dipping oil.

Will ordered the ZUCCHINI FRITTI which came with two sauces, a plain and unexciting marinara and a tasty thick garlic aioli. These were actually delish on their own and even Sam enjoyed tasting it. I was disappointed to find out they were out of the carpaccio, so opted for the CALAMARI FRITTI with the two same sauces. I thought the fresh pepper would be nice on the fritti and started looking for Hatem, and as Sam saw him pass nearby, he yelled out, "EXUSE ME!" and Hatem was there within seconds. It seems that our little boy is becoming a real mensch in the dining out category; maybe he can win a new Rammy for best dining out toddler!

Both of these appetizers were yummy and HUGE, and Sam enjoyed tasting so much that he asked, :Who would like a taste of my pasta?" to which we answered no thank you, but he was insistent! So we did.

Will chose the entree pizza (which was 8 BIG slices for $19) called PIZZA POLLO al PESTO with chicken, pesto, pine nuts, purple onion and goat cheese. It had so much on it that Sam refused to try it, being the simple plain pizza guy that he is. It was so big, we will all be eating leftovers today for lunch; let's see if Samuel eats it then. My SCALLOPPINI di VITELLO al LIMONE was a tender cut of three veal medallions in a tasty piquant lemon sauce with a nice helping of very soft polenta on the side and a serving of broccoli that was so plain it screamed for something.

We decided to head home as the maraschino juice in the Shirley Temple was wearing off and we thought any dessert might aggravate the situation, so we all headed home where Sam gobbled up some jiggly blueberry jello with fresh raspberries.

While we had a very nice time at NICOLA's, I can't say it is excellent, simply good fare and the prices are a bit higher than some other fine spots such as Ristorante Pesto (Woodley Park) that are what i call true local Italian bistros. Of course, these days, Bebo in Crystal City and Alla Lucia in Alexandria offer finer quality food, but in town, this is a nice option.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Help support FOOD & FRIENDS and get pies to eat!!

As you know we are big supporters of FOOD & FRIENDS here in Washington and this year they are offering a wonderful charitable opportunity to ORDER PIES online and also help support their charity! You can buy the pies for yourself, your friends, your clients or even donate them to a FOOD & FRIENDS client in need of food. Below is the information on how to do it!

This season, you can help provide Thanksgiving meals to hundreds of people facing one of life's most difficult challenges by participating in Food & Friends' new Slice of Life event. By taking home a pie for yourself or sending one to a Food & Friends client, you will help to make the holiday season brighter for one of your neighbors living with HIV/AIDS, cancer or another life-challenging ilness. Choose from Apple, Pumpkin, or Signature Chocolate Torte, all baked by local favorite Bread & Chocolate. To order yours today, please visit

Also, for those of you who like to join us, please save the date for the 2008 FOOD & FRIENDS CHEF's BEST event which will be MONDAY, JUNE 16, 2008.