Friday, November 28, 2008

ABOVE at NYC's Hilton Times Square is a bit above...

Yesterday we took Samuel along with a friend to see Mary Poppins on Broadway, and knowing it was the day after Thanksgiving I looked hard for a quiet place that kids would also enjoy for lunch. I chose ABOVE on the 21st floor of the HILTON at TIMES SQUARE (234 West 42nd St.) just two doors away from the theater and discovered a hidden gem.

ABOVE is indeed hotel dining as it is in the 21st floor lobby and while it is a quiet spot with a nice bar as well. The views through the huge windows to the north show the NY Times Building amongst other historical ones and the new builds on the west side of Times Square (although you can't see Times Square itself).

There are simple tables, marble floors and good service, and it was a quiet oasis from the jammed streets below. Samuel and Juliana gobbled up the "chicken fingers" which were actually three large lightly seasoned breasts pounded thin an d baked to perfection. The kids ate every bite of chicken and some for the tasty fries as well.

Will enjoyed a FALL HARVEST PIZZA with thin crust, Kabocha Squash, Chunky Berkshire Bacon, Caramelized Onion, Sage and Fontina Cheese that was huge, filling and tasty.

My MONTE CRISTRO ABOVE deserves an award for Chef Donald Drnek. First of all it was so huge at $15.00 that I was able to share the entire dish with its tasty SWEET POTATO FRIES with our friend Aunty Lauren who dropped by for dessert (but ate half my plate!). The sandwich was chock full of moist TURKEY BREAST, HONEY ROAST HAM, melted GRUYERE CHEESE and was stuffed into a BEER BATTERED deep fried wrap (think GIANT egg roll made with beer). On the side was a tasty GRAIN MUSTARD AIOLI making this dish a sandwich winner for all times.

The coffee was good and we all walked out stuffed at a most reasonable price with some great photos of the skyline too!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Philly's AMADA is amazing

You may recall that a month ago I wrote about TINTO in downtown Philly. Last night after the opera, I took a number of clients to it's sister restaurant in town (located on the east side near the river), AMADA ( and it was just as impressive. We were six people and what a treat to be escorted to the rear private room which was oh so quiet (very good for singers) and held two large marble slab tables that could easily fit 8 or more. Another small group sat at the next table later and we even serenaded the twins with an operatic "Happy Birthday."

We all marveled and the menu while we sipped the tasty WHITE SANGRIA that was so refreshing and finally decided on a number of items which we all gladly shared and tasted. Not a single one was less than amazing. A bottle of TINTO TORO "Temple" 2004 from Bodega Rejadorada was a smooth wonderful warm tasty red that two of us polished off with glee.

If I must complain about anything it would be the extremely small print of the wine list and the lack of spoons to serve and share items with. AS before, we did have to ask for bread to mop up the superb sauces, but it dome come.

As we waited for the tapas to arrive a creamy rich TUNA CAPER Spread came with FLATBREAD. The many tapas were actually served at perfect intervals so that we were never overwhelmed with too many dishes on the table:
ARAGONES-a light cheese served with White Sangria Honey & Golden Raisins
QUESO de CABRA-a rich creamy yet not intense goat cheese served with a sauce of Balsamic & Strawberries
The requisite SPANISH OLIVES which were tiny and tasty, like olives, not salty at all
GARBANZOS con ESPINACAS was a light tomato based sauce with chick peas and sauteed spinach (I find the veggie options to be superb)
SETAS SALTEADAS-Hen of the Woods Mushrooms sauteed with Thyme and White wine
COCAS: PATO con DATILES- We had to try one of the Cocas or flatbreads which really were small pizzas. The combination of DUCK CONFIT, JAMON
SERRANO, CABRALES Blue Cheese and Date Glaze was spectacular

Some of the more traditional items were:
GAMBAS al AJILLO (shrimp in garlic) were sizzling hot and tasty SCALLOPS a la PLANCHA were huge slices grilled to perfection CHICKEN SKEWERS a la PLANCHA were moist and seasoned beautifully CROQUETAS de JAMON were filled with rich cheese and ham and fried but not greasy PIQUILLOS RELLENOS were small mild red peppers stuffed with creamy CRABMEAT

the ALBONDIGAS here were LAMB MEATBALLS in thick sauce with Peas and Shaved Manchego making them truly the best I have ever had

Two novel and modern tapas that were the highlight of the meal were: MADRE e MIJO (literally "mother and son") and consisted of a chicken breast over fingerling potatoes with a Fried Egg on top with Mojama or Dried tuna loin and Truffles for added flavor. It is called mother and son since the chicken represents the mother, the egg is the son. OOPS!

MOLLEJAS con GUISANTES were CRISPY SWEETBREADS served in a light sauce with FAVA BEANS, ENGLISH PEAS and JAMON IBERICO, a small pile of CHESTNUT PAPARDELLE at the center.

Grilled Asparagus and Grilled Mushrooms filled out the dishes and the six of us managed to down everything save for some olives! But no room for dessert!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Iron Chef MORIMOTO makes Philly food fantastic /cheese conquers at PANORAMA

Am in Philadelphia for the weekend and last night I finally got to MORIMOTO ( where the Iron Chef himself actually rarely rules the court. Indeed, I was told that one of his TV show assistants now runs the open kitchen and the boss' visits are down to monthly stops. I believe this Philly hotspot was Chef Morimoto's first US venture, and on a Saturday night it was heaving; indeed the noise level was DAUNTING, so I was glad I was alone as conversation might have made me hoarse!

I started with a carafe of FUKUMITSUYA Morimoto, his own labeled Junmai Daiginjo Sake which has huge overtones of melon and a super rich flavor and texture. It was superb with all the raw fish that came out in may over-the-top tasting or Omakase These are available starting at $80, but I could not resist the $120 option which guaranteed upgrades to toro, lobster and kobe!

The long wide room has a wavy blond wood ceiling which made me fell like I was in the belly of a friendly whale. The walls are undulating off-white with 3-D sculpture like protrusions. Each white glass table is separated by low clear glass partitions which change color from red to blue to purple throughout the night. Along the right wall a one-step raised section has tables for two all along it (best for viewing the room) with the most wonderfully comfortable white leather chairs with black trim. The center section of the room is divided into tables for 4 or 6 (a quiet private dining room is available downstairs for larger groups) and the left wall again has tables for two stretching down its length to the kitchen at the rear. Sadly, the design and the loud music make this a place to go to see and eat, not hear your dining partners.

My server Alix was a gem, and so was Rachel the manager who helped with the wine (although she had never heard the female term "sommeileuse" before); there is no snotty pretense here; they just want to make you happy.

I started with a Timbale of TORO TARTARE loaded with CRISPY SHALLOTS which made every bite a fun crunch. It sat in a small pool of soy sauce and a YAMAMOMO or miniature Japanese Mountain Peach sat on the side (it was quite tasty and sweet). This was the first of many "melt in my mouth" dishes, each worth the upgrade price.

The only course that did not impress (save desserts) was the KUMAMOTO OYSTER dish which offered up three of the tasty sea gems each with a different sauce: Japanese Salsa, Citrus Ceviche with Yuzu and the most tasty Thai Fish Sauce with a mild Jalapeno(is that an oxymoron?) sitting on top. They do get presentation points for the yummy lime slice and a pretty orchid on the side.

The carpaccio was AMADAI, a seared TILEFISH with MITSUBA LEAF (Japanese parsley), YUZU SOY and HOT OIL, Ginger & Chive. This WHITEFISH was superb and the second of those "melt in my mouth" dishes that filled the evening.

SASHIMI SALAD is a nice change from all the raw fish with few greens. Here there are MIXED MICRO GREENS topped with slices of HAMACHI (more melt in my mouth) and served with a tangy YUZU VINAIGRETTE. An adorable balsamic green glazed the bottom of the plate that faced me :-)

At this point I began to think about the US fine dining experience at length. We have some truly amazing (what I would call) 3 star spots in every major city and more. In Europe, there is the Michelin 3 Star spots which generally (perhaps save for some spots like Gordon Ramsey in London) are quiet relaxing palaces of gastronomy where we can enjoy the food and the company. When the food was presented at Morimoto, I constantly found myself needing to ask what the dish was, as it was quite hard to hear (and some of the presenter's accents were heavy as well). I missed that 3 star syndrome when I dine here.

The intermezzo was a shot glass of APPLE MINT SODA and then a glass of MOET et CHANDON BRUT ROSE appeared which paired perfectly with the LOBSTER "EPICE" a half roasted lobster with eight spice blend, YUZU Creme Fraiche and garnished with a White Asparagus, Carrot and Broccoli. This dish is more akin to Indian spice blends and was indeed, quite spicy and oh so tasty. The rich whipped creme fraiche was just to cut the spice and I really did not use it save for a taste or two. The presentation of separated claw and tail was easy to eat and came out of the shell except for the smaller section of the claw, and Alix ran back with a mini-pick which did the job.

A super soft and tasty PINOTAGE from WILDEKRANS 2006 in Walker Bay, South Africa paired superbly with the (yes, melt in my mouth) SEARED KOBE BEEF in Basil Oil & Soy with small small slices of earthy TRUMPET MUSHROOMS.

One might have thought the meat was the last course, but SUSHI came next with five sashimi pieces of divine (melt again) CHU-TORO, SUZUKI (striped bass), KISU (Japanese whitefish), AOYAGI (a fun slightly chewy Orange clam) and AJI (Jackfish) which save for the toro was my new favorite fish. Rachel proffered an aromatic sake of pineapple, mango and actually celery nose that was fruit forward-JUNMAI GINJO "YUKI NO BOSHA" or "Cabin in the Sky," that was simply perfect with the sushi.

Dessert was the failure of the evening as I received a MARJOLAINE F. POINTE (stole from the famous Rhone Valley chef Ferdinand Pointe, where I have eaten) which was basically an almond dacquoise with green tea butter cream and did nothing for me. I moved on to a YUZU MERINGUE TART which was a tasty shortbread with marshmallow cream, but the crushed mango on the side was not ripe (and I was shocked to see I was charged $10 extra for a second dessert!). The best part of dessert was the Sparkling BUBBLY BAMBOO, a fruity bubbly called HOU HOU SHUU which was like champagne and raspberry cream soda!

I walked back to my hotel, PENN'S VIEW and sat at the bar for something I needed: Cheese. This wonderful hotel ( has a typical and very busy Italian restaurant called PANORAMA with a great bar serving over 100 wines by the glass. I ordered Flight #812, the Northern Italian Nights which was a way too young BARDOLINO 2007 "Le Fontaine" from Corte Gordoni; a 2005 BARBERA d'ASTI Superiore from L:a GIRIBALDINA "Val Sarmassa"; 204 BONARDA :Oltrepo Pavese-Carlino" from Castello di Luzzano was a true treat as was the 2005 VALPOLICELLA RIPASSO from Giuseppe Lonard. The 2000 AMARONE "Aurum" from Tenuta Valleselle was nice, but no revelation.

The Spanish cheese tray was superb:
A wonderfully lemony CANA de OUEJA Sheep from Murcia
one year aged MAHON RISERVA
LEONORA - a creamy yet bold goat
LA PERAL- always a mild blue cow from ASTURIAS

I went to bed very happy.

ALAN--still in Philly for more today

Monday, November 17, 2008

I would say DO for DISH in DC

The Kennedy Center area here in DC does not have tons of dining spots that you can rush to the theater from, so when one has a 7pm curtain and you wish to take out a very special client before that curtain (and go with Samuel) at 5pm...there are even fewer choices. We returned to DISH in the River Inn last night (924 25th St, NW) after not having been for quite some time and while the decor is the same, the food seems to be a step up these days.

The wine list is still small, but we had two warm your insides on a cold evening reds that were just fine. VALLE ESCONDIDO Malbec 2007 from GOUGUENHEIM in Mendoza and CALVET-THUNEVIN "Cuvee Constance" 2005 from Cotes Catalan in the south of France.

Our food was warming as well and ranged from MAC 'n' CHEESE to CHICKEN & VEGETABLE SPRING ROLLS with Thai Dipping Sauce (crispy and tasty, but no revelation) to the gorgeous warm melting SMOKED SALMON & CREAMY HORSERADISH TIMBALE with Herb & Horseradish Oil, which was not overly spicy in any way--just right.

Samuel adored is BBQ'D PORK TAQUITOS and actually tasted and liked, but left, the Salsa (and ignored the Sour Cream) which was followed by a quickly devoured scoop of Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream.

We continued with an unexciting FILLET with Mashed Potatoes, a tasty PORK CHOP and my PAN SEARED ROCKFISH with SHITAKE & MASHED POTATO RISOTTO (which was really NOT risotto, but was creamy, rich and full of flavor) with HERB CREAM.

For dessert we each gobbled up our own CHERRY & PEACH COBBLER with Vanilla Ice Cream and manged to drop my client at the Opera House just 10 minutes prior to curtain, Mission accomplished with good food too.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Atlanta cuisine-catch it at CANOE

I am only here in Atlanta for one night and had a hard time finding a place to dine in the NE burbs near the new Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center. The streets are lined with strip malls and a dearth of Italian, Chinese and Mexican chain restaurants, so I was thrilled when my crystal Zagat and the Cobb Center website yielded up a neighborhood just 5 minutes away called "the Vinings." This are has numerous quaint spots and CANOE ( is probably the largest sitting on the river with a glass wall facing reeds, wooden gardens and flocks of geese and ducks.

My booth was on a raised step up just inside the glass wall and all the tables in this section are quiet and even romantic as the sun sets. Once dark my attention turned the other way to a large room of exposed brick with an open kitchen on the far side hooded by a huge copper canopy.

The service is southern hospitality at its best with lots of smiles and friendliness, and my server Christine was always checking up on me to make sure I was happy...and I was...VERY HAPPY.

Chef CARVEL GRANT GOULD is self-trained and worked her way through the ranks at the spot and other local dining establishments and has put together local and varied ingredients to create a true new Georgian cuisine. Her pasty chef Thomas Numprasong assists with superb desserts and soft sourdough, tasty wheat, poppy seed and sunflower breads and an I can't get enough of this sage-chili oil flatbread!

The menu has a bout a dozen choices for the first two courses and it was a hard decision but I headed right for the DUCK STUFFED GEORGIA QUAIL over Grilled Endive, Braised Cherries and Roasted Georgia Peanuts. The superb breaded coating has a "southern-fried" feel with each quail half boned and stuffed with duck, confit and foie gras....a divine dish and combo with the tasty endive, cherries and more crunch from the peanuts.

Christine really tried to sell me on the ALASKA King CRAB special appetizer, but I had to drift to the quail as it was truly a "local" dish and so creative; I was happy. BUT, I was even happier when Christine (having noticed my indecision in choices) brought over a small portion of the fresh flown in that day from the Aleutian Islands' Dutch Harbor RED KING CRAB. It seems that Chef Gould made friends with the crab fishers some time ago and this is the only place they will same day ship to anywhere in the lower 48 (I guess even 49) states, making it the only non-frozen Alaska crab around these here parts. She prepares the soft shelled chunks over an emulsion and piece of Butter (Bibb) Lettuce and tops it with an Extra Virgin Olive Oil Sorbet which is simply to die for. Christine even brought over a small taste of the BODEGAS MUGA "Blanco," a Viura from Rioja in Spain that is very reminiscent of Sauvignon Blanc. Her tip just jumped 7%!

My entree was a PANKO DUSTED SKATE WING Fillet with MEYER-LEMON and BABY SHRIMP RISOTTO, Haricots Verts and RIESLING BUTTER SAUCE. It was all simply divine from the tasty light fish that is so underrated to each bite of risotto with the tiny shrimp and strong lemon flavor to the crunchy tasty green beans. A glass of TELMO RODRIGUEZ "Gaba do Xil" Godello (a crisp white) from Galicia was a perfect pairing as well, and the Spanish Godello is quick becoming one of my newest favorite options for dry white wine.

Dessert was a MEYER LEMON SHORTBREAD with Toasted MERINGUE with TANGERINE. The small shortbread looks like a cookie canoe and the lemon curd sits in this with 10 tiny peaks of meringue on top. It is light, refreshing and was just what I needed, surrounded by citrus slices and a small pillow of ever-so-light chiffon whipped cream. The cappuccino was frothy and superb and a small plate of cookies was a highlight with a fudgy chocolate biscotti-looking cookie bar, a shortbread cookie and the I will never forget crunchy OATMEAL RAISIN cookie oozing WHITE CHOCOLATE!

I could easily go back to Canoe, as such detail and attention are not only shown with each dish, but with each patron.