Monday, June 30, 2008

and the winner is...TOWN HALL is tops for neighborhood noshing

As you all know each year now ever since I started this Phyllis-teen roup I have graciously announced the winners of the RAMMY's (Washington DC Restaurant Awards) before anyone else has ever done so on the internet. And while our namesake Phyllis Richman won the Duke Ziebert Award this year, I haven't a clue who the rest of the winners are because I never got an invitation to the RAMMY's event this year!

I am so sorry to not be able to report this important information to you, but c'est la vie.

Instead, last night we returned to TOWN HALL in Upper Georgetown ( which has proven to be the winner of our award for best neighborhood spot. The ambiance is great as we reported earlier this year, the service friendly and the food portions are huge and quality-driven. Watch out for the crisp pita chips that come with an OLIVE/ARTICHOKE/PESTO Tapenade when you sit down. Fill up on these and you'll be full by the time your entree comes!

Samuel joined us last night and gobbled up his Frenhc Fries that came with the tasty Hamburger. These burgers are ont he menu for about $10 for adults and are 8 ounce HEREFORD BEEF Pattys on a poppy seed kaiser roll and come with a wide variety of toppings at NO EXTRA CHARGE (how nice not be to nickel and dimed for cheese or mushrooms!).

We all started with a bottle of VINA SALAMANCA 2005 Viura/Verdejo from Castilla y Leon. I have always enjoyed the crispness of Verdejo in the summertime, but don't recall ever drinking Viura before; it was a nice blend resulting in a crisp instense lemon flavor. My PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND MUSSELS in RED CURRY with Coconut Broth and Ciabbata Crostini was a mussel dish dream come true. The wine was crisp and lemony enought to fight the spice and it was (as I mentioned before) a large portion with three huge crostini soaking their tips in the broth. I could not resist dunking the crunchy pieces in the yummy sauce. CREAM of POTATO SOUP was another filling hit at the table and the ANDOUILLE SAUSAGE & MANCHEGO CHEESE QUESADILLA with Roasted Peppers and Tomato. I dont' recall how many HUGE triangles of quesadilla there were, but we all tasted and there were still several to take home after Will age several himself! This is an entree portion size and a tasty one at that!

We moved on to a LIBERTY SCHOOL Chardonnay 2006 from California's Central Coast which was tasty, but nothing to rave about with our entrees, which seemed to grown in size as we devoured them! The burgers come with a choice of sides and if you aren't into fries or veggies or a salad, you must try the GOAT MAC & CHEESE, it's divine. My SEA SCALLOPS with Virginia HAM, ASPARAGUS, TOMATO and ORZO in PINOT GRIGIO CREAM Sauce is almost risotto-like in texture, but made from orzo. A creamy rich dish loaded with tasty scallops is a good option if you are not in a burger, steak or pork mood. The menu is quite large, though, and offers up many options, so we will have to return again soon as we were way too full to even think of dessert.

We may have missed the RAMMY's, but we all found a winner in TOWN HALL!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

a lovely luncheon at KINKEAD's back in DC

Yesterday I was treated to lunch by two business friends visiting from Austria. I suggested Kinkead's as one always gets great seafood and since Austria is landlocked, American cuisine, let alone in the seafood style, is something one doesn't find there. We oredered a bottle of crisp refreshing and flavorful 2006 WHITEHALL LANE SAUVIGNON BLANC from Napa which was a great relief in the 90+ degree heat.

I could not resist ordering the appetizer of CRISP CORNMEAL SOFT SHELL CRABS with Housemade PANCETTA, SUNDREID TOMATOES and Lemon Basil Sauce as an entree. After my crabby experience with the soft shell in San Francisco, this was a revelation, with two crispy, if small, crabs perfectly battered and fried and full of flavor. The pancetta added a bite and the sauce was sublime. A pile of crispy fine onion rings were just perfect!

The ladies both went for the signature LOBSTER ROLL which is always a pleaser!

For dessert, I tried a selection of three cheeses which came beautifully arranged with apricot, apple and strawberry as well as berry marmalade that we never did get the specifics on! The cheeses were varied and superb: QUICKE's CHEDDAR from the UK was a tasty piquant cheddar that was very firm, JASPER HILL CONSTANT BLISS from Vermont was a soft cheese with a bit of earthiness and the ALNGRES from France was oozing flavor and taste.

The ladies split the signature (it was a day for signatures) TARTE TATIN with Ice Cream that one can never go wrong with!

It was a wonderful meal and such an improvement since my last lunch in San Francisco on Monday!

Monday, June 23, 2008

San Francisco's SCALA Bistro gets no bravos

On my last day in San Francisco I decided to have a big lunch at SCALA's BISTRO (, a spot of much renown in the famous Sit Francis Drake Hotel just off Union Square. It was a big disappointment in almost every bite.

I did enjoy my two glasses of wine. First a CLINE ROSE MOURVERDRE and then a Feudi di San Grigori FALANGHINA from Sannio, and while they went well with my two courses, the food itself needed much work. As soon as my server said the special panini of the day was SOFT SHELL CRAB, I jumped. The two large triangles of bread each hald a 1/2 crab and were laden with tomato, marinated red pepper, watercress and aioli, making the crab virtually undetectable; and when it was tasted, it was mushy. This came with a huge pile of their superb FRENCH FRIES, but as soon as I saw the plate I asked my server why she did not mention this as I had ordered the appetizer of MOULES/FRITES in Cracked Black Pepper Aioli for second! She went, "oops" and offered to bring a salad with the mussels, which seemed fine for me.

The mussels were smallish and unexciting, and the sauce was a wine/garlic generic type that I did not even want to wipe up with bread. Where was the black pepper aioli?

The salad of beautiful greens and cucumber was way overdressed and soggy. I barely managed to finish half of it.

Sadly this gorgeous bistro with its faux silver ceilings and wooden accents is running on the fumes of its past fame. Perhaps now that Kimpton has taken over the hotel they can get the management to improve the dining quality as the staff and locale are great.

ALAN now back in DC!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

San Francisco's PAUL K is cool for Mid-Eastern modernized

Last night I took out some of my opera clients for dinner after a performance of Das RHEINGOLD at the San Francisco Opera. I chose a highly rated but casual spot about 4 blocks from the opera house and made a great new discovery for us all. PAUL K (www, is about as unassuming as it gets and while it is very casual in design it still has charm and some great food going for it.

We started with a novel and tasty T-VINE Rose "Psychedelic Chicken" 2006 from Napa that comes in a wildly designed bottle wit very little info on the wine itself (such as what grape it is), but we adored the dry fruity treat which went great with our varied appetizers.

A great way to try lots of things is to take the meat or veggie MEZZE sampler. The former has 3 POMEGRANATE Braised Atkins LAMB RIBLETS with a superb GARLIC YOGURT Sauce, CUMIN & CARAWAY Crusted LAMB KOFTE with Almond Sauce and Chili Harissa as well as two dips: a SMOKY BABA GHANOUSH that was intense and smooth (with little eggplant aftertaste, so I loved it) and a wondrous POMEGRANATE DIP (made with a red pepper base, the consistency of hummus). Piles of Olives, a chunk of feta and several marinated artichoke hearts all served with pita filled out the huge tray. The only bad thing on the plate was the acidic Harissa which we simply avoided, and the super-garlicky yogurt sauce seemed to go better with the kofte, those sausage-like torpedo shaped kebabs that we all loved.

GOAT CHEESE & LEEK RAVIOLI with Portobellos, Pistachios and Brown Butter was a nice small plate starter and the BABY ARUGULA, BEETS, AVOCADO Salad with Humboldt Fog Goat Cheese (always a San Fran treat!) with Tarragon Vinaigrette was a huge and fresh portion that could fill anyone up.

We ordered a bottle of FIDDLEHEAD CELALARS Pinot Noir "SEVEN TWENTY EIGHT" from the Santa Rita Hills 2004 which is a huge fruit filled blow your mind wine that we all simply oohed and ahhed over.

The entrees were all huge portions from the EGGPLANT NAPOLEON which was a stuffed eggplant with sauce and chick peas that nobody could finish to the CRISP SKIN CHAR with Farro (a heavy bulghar-like grain), English Peas, Smoked Bacon and a tasty Preserved Lemon Aioli. The fish was firm, frsh and oh so good. My SYRIAN SPICED DUCK BREAST with Portobello Mushrooms, Yukon Gold Potatoes, Ragu of Duck Confit with Pomegranate Molasses Sauce was another revelation an yes, huge as well.

The ladies split a sundae and I adored the SORBET TRIO of creamy PASSION FRUIT, RASPBERY and BLACKBERRY as I rolled off to my hotel and to bed!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

I found a NICHE in St. Louis that I shall always return to

For many years our neighbor and friend Jamie Craft and her husband Bob have been telling me of their son Gerard's huge success as a chef throughout the country. Several years ago Gerard Craft settled down in St. Louis and opened NICHE ( just south of downtown at 1831 Sidney St not far from the Anheiser-Busch brewery. At first glance Niche seems to only have less than 20 tables, but there is a hidden huge dining room at the rear and last night every table
was full shortly after my arrival at 6pm. The dining room is cozy and if I have to find one complaint about anything at all it would be the brown paper covering the crisp white linen tablecloths. They give a bistro feel (and I guess avoid more linen usage) and while this may be a bistro, I declare it to be the finest dining in town, probably the state, and for hundreds of miles around.

Simply put, Niche is NOT about the decor, it is about the FOOD, and I dined terrifically and adored every bite and sip. As I mentioned yesterday, prices here are much lower than on the coasts or big cities. Chef Gerard has a superb tasting menu for $65 which can be paired with wines for an additional $35 and this is they way to go. The food is not overwhelming, and the portions are sheer perfection.

First came a refreshing citrusy NINO FRANCO RUSTICO PROSECCO which had a hint of sweetness or honey and the first course followed--PARSNIP CONSOMME with Pearls of Bacon, Grapefruit and Brown Butter Foam. This dish hints of the (I hate to use the term) "chemical" concoctions many chefs dream up today and it really works to boot. The small teeny gelatinous pearls are not pasta but an amazing tasty creation that sit in the yummy broth with a small foam on top. It is a light dish and a great starter showing the genius of what's to come.

BEET RAVIOLI sat in Chilled CUCUMBER (with dill) SOUP with Shredded Golden Beets and Radish sprouts atop. I call this "borscht at its best!" The soup was superb with a slight creaminess (I assume it was yogurt or a light sour cream added) and the ravioli added a bit a weight. The radish sprouts were tasty and I was told from a local farm (where all the produce comes from) which obviously did not produce the highly bitter radish greens I had the previous night on my beet salad! An okay and apple-y ROMBAUER 2006 Chardonnay from Napa was an interesting pairing which seemed to go ok; I love their chard anyway, anytime, anywhere!

The next course moved into the heavier domain with a FRIED BRANDADE, Arugula & Ramps topped with a sunnyside up FRIED EGG and a sauce of LEMON BUTTER. The lemon butter was rich and perfect on the crisply fried cod browned on top and bottom to perfection. After several bites without the egg, I broke the yolk and allowed it to run all over and give the dish a completely different taste and feel. It was like having two different courses at once! The ST. INOCENT "Freedom Hill" 2006 PINOT BLANC from Oregon had the oddest fizziness on the tongue which was not bad in any way, but the wine itself was the least impressive wine I have ever had from St. Innocent, whose Pinot Noirs I adore; it just lacked any real taste for me.

The next course blew my mind and took me back t the "comfort food modernized" style of the Fat Duck in Britain: "REUBEN" with RYE GNOCCHI, Pickled Mustard Seeds and Horseradish Jus was how it is described on the menu. The meat is specifically not given, but it was a magnificent CORNED PIG's TONGUE. I have always adored beef tongue, but didn't even think pig's tongue could work---well it does, and magnificently. It is tiny, tender and tasty and the dish really did have that "reuben" feel. An M. CHAPOUTIER 2006 COTES du RHONE was an unbelievable pairing, (a) because I love Rhone wines and (b) because the blending worked perfectly with the mustard and pickled tastes as well as the rich gnocchi.

CARROT-LIME SORBET was the creamy palate cleanser and bursting with flavor to boot.

I have never been a big fan of BEAUX FRERES PINOT NOIR from Oregon, but the 2006 vintage seems to have turned more to the traditional Oregon and French Burgundy styles that other Pinot makers have used for years in the region. Maybe the Beaux Freres folks got a new winemaker, but whatever the case the wine is now a treat and it was perfect with the very light Grass Farms Rack of Lamb (two perfectly cooked double ribs) with RHUBARB PUREE, ROASTED FRENCH HORN (or King Trumpet) MUSHROOMS and an unreal HUMMUS & WHITE CHOCOLATE mixture that had sweetness, but was not cloying in the least, with an intense GARLIC FOAM on the side. Lots of love and thought went into this dish and the combinations as well.

After my mealy panna cotta the night before I was thrilled to have a dessert that I could not leave a bite of the COCNUT KULFI made with Goat Cheese Essence, a PASSION FRUIT GLAZED PINEAPPLE Sauce and GRANOLA for crunch. The kulfi was thick and rich and cold and yummy, almost the consistency of hard butter; it was impossible to resist. NOBLE ONE BOTRYTIS SEMILLON 2005 lent a sweetness, but I preferred the wine and the dessert separately, simply making meal linger on and on.

I have not mentioned the perfect attention I received from my server TRAVIS, the entire staff and Chef GERARD himself, who was in the dining room all night supervising each plate as it came out and explaining most of the dishes to most of the diners. He obviously has a superb staff IN the kitchen and has no fears of their capability if he is NOT on the line!

I had looked at the wine list and noticed another dessert wine I wanted to try and Travis immediately brought me a generous taste of the MT. HORROCKS CORDON CUT 2006 Riesling that was also a nice wine and a perfect way to end my glorious meal.

I may not have plans to return to St. Louis in the near future, but perhaps I will have to arrange an overnight layover just to return to NICHE; it IS WORTH the trip!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Father's Day is Fair at KEMBLE PARK TAVERN in the 'hood

Last night Samuel took his two daddies out for dinner at a new spot which is part of the Clyde's conglomerate. KEMBLE PARK TAVERN ( on MacArthur Blvd. in the Palisades is reasonably priced and decent food with nice decor to boot. The inside has big cushy leather armchairs at tables for two and intimate booths as well. We opted to sit outside as the weather was so nice, as most folks did.

The wine list offers up 9 whites and 5 reds at $27 or less per bottle and also by the glass, many more wines range just higher in the 30's, with some pricey options even higher. We chose a PENFOLD's MERLOT 2007 "Rawson's Retreat" which at $27 these days from SE Australia just an't be beaten. Samuel enjoyed the requisite Sprite and ordered the great deal of a Children's meal for $6.95 which included Fries, Peas & Carrots and English-style Fish Sticks which were nothing like the regular processed ones usually sevred up. This was fresh battered and fried; sadly Samuel prefers the packaged type! He enjoyed the bag of Animal Crackers included for dessert as well. The dry breads (corn and regular) were nothing to rave about although the very soft frothy whipped butter with large salt grains was nice (but has been sitting out way too long).

The best dish of the evening was our appetizer of FILET MIGNON TARTARE served in a mason jar with crostini and made with olives, capers and sprinkled with tasty wasabi sprouts. The other appetizer of SHORT RIB SLIDERS was also pretty tasty with three small sandwiches filled with the tasty meat, sweet onions all caramelized and a dill pickle with some Vermont cheddar on top. They were quite filling as well.

The entrees fared a bit less enjoyable with the STEAK FRITES having a nice cut of wood grilled meat seasoned with grey salt (although Will had some gristle in his 1/2) with a side of gravy and super yummy TRUFFLE FRIES (the thick steak cut) dribbled with Asiago cheese. Indeed, the sides were the hit as my TEA RUBBED BABY BACK RIBS were okay, but very messy and not worth raving about and the star on the plate was the GRUYERE GRITS, creamy, rich and decadent and mixed with some pork shreds for extra flavor. The barbeque slaw in a thimble container was just okay.

As we were finishing a swarm of mosquitoes attacked and Samuel got a bad bit on his wrist that blew up to about 1 inch long. We smothered it with ice and he moved seats to be away from the sidewalk where they seemed to be coming from, but it was too late. We were all a bit distraught, simply asked for the check and headed home. Nobody was crying, but we really were not thrilled either.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Daddy Jack's is just seafood in Ft. Worth

This year's trip to the Ft. Worth Opera festival offered me only one chance to dine out with one of my client's after the closing of the wonderful new opera ANGELS in AMERICA. She chose DADDY JACK's at 353 Throckmorton St in downtown and it was a good simple style choice from the checkered tablecloths to the adorable large mural over the bar with a cowboy riding a giant lobster! It was almost 100 degrees outside and the inside was comfortable and even more so with the dozens of high ceiling fans.

I dared to try the New England Crabcake appetizer which is a large cake for the price with filling (though not alot) and slightly soft rather than firm. A pool of remoulade is on one side and cocktail sauce on the other (which was really unnecessary). A glass of KENDALL JACKSON Grand Reserve Chardonnay (or anything cold in this heat) was welcome and worked great with all the seafood.

My CHILI CRUSTED HALIBUT in RED PEPPER CREAM SAUCE was slightly spicy, firm tasty fish and perfectly prepared, although delivered as I still had three bites of crabcake left! The server did offer to keep it warm, but I said it was okay (I told my guest that all they needed to do was put it on the sidewalk for 2 minutes!). The fish was not really "crusted" but seasoned which was fine and the sauce was not too creamy which was also good. The carrots and string beans on the side were superb as was the baked potato with sour cream. Welcome to Texas where plates and servings are huge and often well-priced!

I tasted my guest's mini CRAB CLAWS in Garlic butter which were nice but not meaty as I like them (and they never really are!). We could not eat a bite more, but really enjoyed the simplicity of the meal and the fact that we were not totally bloated as we headed to yet another opera!