Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Eve in Naples, FL at CHOPS CITY GRILL

Last night this Phyllis got to see a different Phyllis and her husband Michael, as we are visiting them here in Naples for a couple of days. They chose CHOPS CITY GRILL ( in Bonita Springs, just to the north as they had no set menu on New Year's which can sometimes be a drag.

Chops City Grill has nice simple decor and nothing to really wow you visually. When we arrived at 9:15pm it was packed, but by 11pm when we left, we were the only folks at a table in our section; Florida does go to bed early!

They offered us a complimentary bottle of LOUIS PERDRIER CHAMPAGNE which was nice and we chatted away as we perused the huge menus. Phyllis and Michael split a tasty DOUBLE WEDGE SALAD of Iceberg and Boston with Point Reyes Blue Cheese, Applewood Smoked Bacon, Watercress & Radicchio in a mild blue cheese dressing. The warm sourdough was tasty and melted in my mouth and the butter oddly comes sitting in pool of olive oil.

Will opted for the SHORT STACK (which was not really a stack) of JUMBO LUMP CRAB CAKES with Lobster and King Crab in a sauce of Sun-Dried Tomato, Roasted Garlic and Champagne; an exciting and tasty preparation with huge chunks of all the shellfish.

My ROASTED OYSTERS "Chopafella" came in Garlic & Voda Cream and each of the three tasty mollusks were topped with a huge chunk of KING CRAB, ANDOUILLE SAUSAGE (to add a bite), SPINACH & melted SMOKED GOUDA; it was a divine dish.

We moved on to tasty ARCADIAN "Fiddlestix" PINOT NOIR 2003 from the SANTA RITA HILLS which was bold and fruit forward and really worked with the tasty entrees. We all ordered the 6 ounce (smallest size) FILLET which were dry aged on premises. They can be ordered in several different ways (Will and I went for the PEPPERCORN CRUSTED) and with difference sauces from a rich thick BEARNAISE to a masterful BLACKBERRY CABERNET (which our server ingeniously recommended to pair with the peppercorn versions).

The steaks were beautifully presented atop a piece of grilled EGGPLANT and topped with tasty crisp ONION RINGS. Unlike our steak houses back home, here in Florida a side dish is included. We tasted the CREAMED SPINACH with CRISPY ONIONS which was nice, but not up to the level of the creamed spinach we get at those fancy big steakhouses. On the other hand the SEA SALT BAKED POTATO with Applewood Smoked Bacon Bits and Chives with Sour Cream was an inspiration.

It was indeed a wonderful New Year's Eve with dear friends, good food, good wine and many prayers for what has to be a much better 2009! HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Tonight--we all dine at SEA SALT, a recently opened top rated place in downtown Naples owned by our other set of dear friends living here Ingrid & Fabrizio Aielli, who moved here from Washington where they used to own TEATRO GOLDONI!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Clearwater's CAFE PONTE takes a high place

Our last night in the Tampa Bay region we chose a fancier place and left Samuel with a sitter. CAFE PONTE ( gets high Zagat ratings as well as an often number one spot in the local zines for fine dining. We arrived to be seated next to a family with two young children, and they were well behaved, I just guess that in this area, anything goes (shorts, kids, jeans, tank tops, etc) even in the "finest" of spots. This did not mar the fine food we had, so maybe next time we will bring Samuel.

The large dining room has cozy booths and tables and is spread out, with little decor of note. The curved open kitchen is easily seen and the bar is oddly placed right next to that. There is a glass enclosed free-standing wine cellar in the middle.

The chef proprietor is Christopher Ponte, but the menu lists his chef de cuisine as Anthony Bonanno, but we didn't really know who was in charge.

We started with a SCHRAMBERG BRUT ROSE North Coast, California which was dry, bubbly and had an intense strawberry taste; a fun treat on the day before New Year's Eve. An amazing amuse of MUSHROOM SOUP came loaded with Wild Mushrooms, Truffle Cream, a dash of Sherry and Mushroom Dust; a rich creamy concoction that would warm anyone on a chilly (58 degrees) Florida evening. The bread had garlic clove centered buns and superb focaccia; these came with humus with a candied walnut and "European" Butter.

The appetizers were both of the highest quality with my Serrano Ham wrapped PAN SEARED SEA SCALLOPS with Fresh Melon Salad over a Vanilla Bean Sauce only marred by the silly dish that caused my utensils to keep sliding into the sauce! Can't chefs understand that some of these pretty designer plates are just USELESS! Will's appetizer was a larger than entree size ASIAN CALAMARI with Fresh Spinach, Asian veggies (sprouts), toasted PEANUTS, CARAMEL SOY GLAZE (with peanut sauce) and Cilantro Aioli. It had a nice spicy bite and was as tender as could be...and did I say HUGE, so I helped him finish it.

We moved on to a tasty CLOUDY BAY CHARDONNAY 2004 from Marlborough in New Zealand that has no oak and works well with just about any dish. I had the DAY BOAT CATCH which was BLACK GROUPER soy-marinated with SUGAR SNAP Peas in a Spicy (which was not that spicy) TOMATO-GINGER Broth and Pea Shoots. It was yummy, but the fish was just slightly overcooked. Will fares much better with the YUKON POTATO Crusted CHILEAN SEA BASS (after the manager steered him away from the tempura fried Yellowtail Snapper) with Braised LEEKS and Sugar Snap Peas in a RED WINE SAUCE! It was divine and tasty!

We split the tasty RASPBERRY CREME BRULEE which was a VERVEINE TEA infused brulee with several raspberries on top...superbly crunchy top and creamy custard. I had a great cup of AFRICAN AUTUMN tea (my throat has been a bit sore) from HARVEY & SONS made from South African ROOIBOS. It was a tasty red tea with huge cranberry flavors. CAFE PONTE proved that fine dining is indeed fine in Clearwater.

Monday, December 29, 2008

FRENCHY's is a fun group in Clearwater Beach, FL

Both of our lunches here were pretty good experiences as we chose FRENCHY's a small local chain of five places on or near the beach. On Monday we lunched at FRENCHY's SALTWATER CAFE ( and Samuel enjoyed a kid's hamburger, his newfound love, while Will chose the SOFT SHELL CRAB SANDWICH, which he said was just ok.

Frenchy's is famous as the award winner of the GROUPER SANDWICH and my CAJUN STYLE was superb as the fish is grilled perfectly with some nice spice and a remoulade sauce on a tasty bun. Our sides of coleslaw were nice, but oddly came with pineapple mixed and hence a bizarre sweetness to the slightly creamy version.

Tuesday we chose the original FRENCHY's CAFE and Samuel adored the fish tacos which came (at an amazing special spice that day of $1.50 each) in a soft tortilla and a yummy salsa. I had one as well along with my excellent SEAFOOD GUMBO, a superb thick gumbo loaded with small shrimp and tasty fish chunks and lots of yummy okra. Will said the GROUPER REUBEN was overwhelmed by the 1000 Island dressing, but still good.

The price is right, the atmosphere very "Key West" and local with friendly service and a good meal. Check out Frenchy's if you are in Clearwater Beach!

CESARE at the beach gets a bitty bravo (Clearwater Beach, FL)

Our first night of several in Florida this winter was spent on the gulf coast east of Tampa in Clearwater Beach. Our hotel concierge recommended CESARE ( down the street as "the best Italian" on the beach. Of course, after long thought, the remaining Italian places here tend to be pizza parlors!

The decor is nothing special, but like most of the folks here, the service is efficient and very friendly.

Samuel was in a spaghetti and meatball mood and after half a huge child portion, called it quits without even dessert.

Our server Chad (he hated his name) recommended an excellent Sicilian Syrah, but sadly I lost my notes and also the exact name! DAMN! It was jammy, earthy and a treat. Will felt like ordering a plate of bruschetta, which I never do, but I said I would split it. The 4 pieces alternated from soggy to brittle bread and it was a shame as the topping was full of fresh tomato and tasty. There was also an heavily herbed oil for the bread which Sam and we all loved adored. SACATINI was a pasta type I had never heard of before, and these small purses of pasta with melted cheese inside were superb with pancetta and mushrooms in a light cream VODKA Sauce with peas. Will and I split the dish which was perfect for splitting and a truly delish dish. We both had Veal for the entrees and it was a winning meat choice. Will went for the SALTIMBOCCA rolled with prosciutto and cheese and nicely done, but my huge VEAL CHOP in a Brandy-Cream Sauce was divine. As is wont in Florida everything comes with huge sides and here it was potatoes and zucchini. After all this we were so full we headed right back to the hotel and three of us crashed after the long trip down and a long day.

Sorry, I lost my's driving me nuts as we also had a nice NEBBIOLO d'ALBA for the second bottle as well.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

RAY's HELL BURGER in Arlington--amazing accoutrements...

We have tried Ray's the Steaks in Arlington once and want to go back, but this was our first trip to it's new neighbor and younger brother at 1713 Wilson Blvd, RAY'S HELL BURGER. The place seems unmarked and it is as basic as it gets with several "B" (or worse) movie posters, small tables, wooden chairs, paper towels and signs asking you not to "save" tables until you have ordered.

After heading to the rear area you can pick up a menu which a choice of ONE ITEM: a Premium Aged 10 ounce burger, hand trimmed and freshly ground served with lettuce and tomato on a toasted (seeded) brioche bun with an orange smile at $6.95. Then there are the toppings:
Four choices of styles:
Au Poivre
or Diablo (Chipotle Marinade)

the choice of temperatures:
Recommended -warm red center
or Cooked Throughout

the toppings with a charge:
Seared Foie Gras with Truffle Oil which tops the prices at $10
Roasted Bone Marrow with Persillade for $3
and Black Forest Ham, Guacamole or Applewood Smoked Bacon for $1.50 each

The choices of cheese are American, Swiss, Vermont White Cheddar, Smoked Mozzarella, Muenster, Pepper Jack or Fontina at $1.00 each
Aged Danish Bleu, Gruyere, Imported Double Cream Brie or Dutch Mustard Seed Gouda at $1.50 each
Chimay a la Biere for $3.00
Roque Creamery Smokey Bleu, Queen Anne Stilton, Cave Aged Amish Cheddar at $4.50 each
and Epoisse de Bourgogne at $5.00 (I would have had this, but felt the price was a bit outrageous...)

NO CHARGE for the following:
Grilled Red Onions
Sauteed Peppers
Roasted Garlic
Raw Red Onion
Charred Jalapenos
Bread & Butter Pickle Chips
Dill Pickle Chips
RAY's HECK SAUCE (described as tangy and special, but not spicy)
Piranha Sauce (fiery, spicy, green sauce)

There are lots of varied chips and some potato options as well...we skipped these as the burgers are HUGE. Samuel joined us and finished off 1/2 his plain burger which was really excellent.

Of the four adults (our friends' one month old chose not to have a burger as he was asleep!), the burgers did seem to all come a bit past medium rare as requested, which was truly the only problem.

There are 10 pre-designed burgers as well and two folks tried the SOUL BURGER NUMBER ONE with the Applewood Bacon, Swiss Cheese, Mushrooms and Grilled Red Onions. I created my own from the superb BLACKENED BURGER which had just a slight bit of spicy Cajun seasoning and did not overwhelm at all combined with those to die for MUSHROOMS, the VERMONT CHEDDAR and the HECK SAUCE....I loved it.

Ray's Hell Burger is fun, and we all enjoyed ourselves immensely for a very reasonable price and the toppings are what makes the burger here on top of excellent beef. If they can get the temperature'll be a star!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

TALLULA takes some top honors (Arlington VA)

Last night we returned to TALLULA after over a year and a half to find an entire new staff from the top down. Chef ANDREW MARKERT has taken over in the kitchen and has retained the basic menu setup with lots of new and fun turns.

There are still the small bites which really are a bunch of amuses available for about $3-4 each. We tried the creamy STEAK TARTARE with Cornichons & Worcestershire on Crostini which was yummy and just right for two bites (the creamy mayo texture with mustard made it quite rich). The SHORT RIB CROQUET (which we sadly found out leaves the menu today for the winter) was a dreamy crunchy treat full of tasty meat, garlic and parmesan on a bed of RED WINE AIOLI which I promptly mopped up.

We ordered a plummy yummy bottle of BOARDING PASS SHIRAZ 2006 from Barossa Valley Australia which is an adorable bottle having a label like a boarding pass (the three letter "airport code" is "AUS" for Australia) and on the rear a kind of pre-departure flight attendant demo cartoon showing them sniffing, swirling and tasting a wine.

The DIVER SCALLPS with CAULIFLOWER, PARMESAN "vol au vent" and Spicy Garlic was a tasty dish (although one scallop was slightly too firm for my tastes). The RABBIT PAPPARDELLE had monstrously wide ribbon pasta with Jasmine Tea, Pistachio Foam, Chives and Candied Pearl Onions. The onions were not really "candied" or caramelized" and were actually quite crunchy. This was tasty, but I do prefer them cooked a bit more (or I often taste them later!). The rabbit and pasta was divine, but I still don't get this foam thing as it has so little taste, but looked nice.

Our entrees were a monstrous portion of LAMB STEW with CHESTNUT RISOTTO, BACON, Cider Reduction and Fried Parsnips which was rich, yummy, filling and a total wintertime treat. The DUCK TWOFOLD offered up tender breast and rich confit with three types of BEETS (golden, purple and red), FIGS, Earl Grey (do you sense the chef likes tea) and CINNAMON TOAST. The confit on the toast was dreamy as it was not too sweet or sugary (just cinnamon-y) and it was really hard to find the tea taste, but it was hidden there somewhere, as I got a hint every now and then.

For dessert we split a superb RED WINE PEAR TART with PISTACHIO Ice Cream and Peanut Brittle that was more like a crumble or brown betty tart and was just right and not too big as well.

TALLULA has always been a great place, especially with the near-in Arlington restaurant scene not having a huge variety. Despite the present economy, the place was full when we left at 8pm as was EAT BAR next door, so they must be doing something right!

Monday, December 15, 2008

New York's NEO SUSHI is sublime (if pricey)

I was on the Upper West Side on Monday night for a charity benefit concert and stopped in at NEO SUSHI on the southeast corner of Broadway and 83rd Street ( It was quiet at 530pm and a welcome respite from the starting to get chilly temps (it was 63 degrees during the day!) and drizzle. A pot of GREEN TEA warmed me up and I proceeded to watch the three sushi chefs at the bar prepare meals for three lone clients.

The place is simple with wooden floors, chairs and even wooden banquettes (albeit with a cushion back) in the front section. If you don't want to sit at the U- almost L-shaped sushi bar with its cushioned bar stools and don't want the not too comfy window seats in the wood banquettes up front (although when alone, the tall windows give nice street views of passers-by and you CAN see the sushi chefs very well), then opt for the cozier cushioned booths in the rear.

Hot towels come before the meal and after, so NEO is already placing itself in a class above most international business class flights that are now down to one towel!

I started with a SUPER WHITE TUNA ROLL, an appetizer special that had a lightly seared White Tuna stuffed with SPINACH & MONKFISH LIVER (done in a pate style and looking much like a ying-yang symbol in the center of each roll) on a bed of three thick purees of beet, carrot and scallion (purple,orange and green) the latter of which was the most tasty. It was an ingenious combination and made me realize that NEO would not be your run of the mill sushi place. They incidentally have a full menu of non-sushi items as well.

I was adventurous and asked for the SASHIMI OMAKASE platter of 8 pieces priced at $46, which when it boils down to $6/piece while magnificent, seemed a bit too high. I watched the chef blow torch one piece and "decorate" each piece and lots of care went into the dish, so maybe the price was not so bad. The truth is that each piece was indeed SUBLIME:
Seared OH TORO
the most tender SHU TORO
AHI TUNA with TOFU Sauce
SALMON TORO -which I had never had before and is simply luscious
OCEAN TROUT on EEL SAUCE(which was thick and rich) and SUNDRIED TOMATO
RED SNAPPER with VINEGAR JELLY-another superbly tasting new treat

I was so intrigued by the quality, I asked my server what smaller item she might recommend in addition and she suggested one of the 12 or so "house" rolls.

I loved the Salmon Toro so much I wanted to include this and chose an item called the TWISTED NEO ROLL which came attractively laid out with 8 pieces on a plate in an X-formation with ginger topped by and orchid leaf at the cross. At $20, it was extremely filling and reasonable, and consisted of WASABI (mild) MARINATED LOBSTER and CUCUMBER wrapped in SALMON TORO & AVOCADO over a FRESH MANGO SAUCE. It was the creamiest, yummiest sushi I have ever had in NYC and again the presentation should win an award as the roll had this "twisted" kind of double-helix look of alternating orange(salmon) and avocado (green) on the outside with a sliver of tasty salmon skin alternating as well.

I left full and looking forward to returning to NEO again to try the many other items they have!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

5 NAPKIN BURGER-Hell's kitchen hosts the best burger in NY

Before my matinee on Broadway today I stepped a bit westward to 5 NAPKIN BURGER ( at 9th Ave & 45th Street where I was treated to the BEST BURGER I HAVE HAD IN AEONS!

First of all the place is crowded, noisy and a treat with white tile walls and lots of glass to the street side. The ceiling seems to have cleaners tracks (which I realy think are meat packing plant tracks) with meat hooks, bare light bulbs and at this time of the year stray Xmas ornaments.

I am glad for the linen napkin(if they were paper, you WOULD need 5 napkins!) as this 5NAPKIN House burger is an amazing and oozy juicy treat of 10 ounces of ground chuck coated with melted COMTE cheese, CARAMELIZED ONIONS and ROSEMARY AIOLI on a fresh soft white roll. It was best akin to a burger in onion soup--but without the liquid (save the juice). You could smell the cheese and onion like a bowl of French onion soup when it was placed in front of you and all you could do was DEVOUR THE ENTIRE THING! The fries were nice, but no revelation; thin, crispy and salty. At $13.75 (with fries) you might balk, but
this burger was worth EVERY SINGLE cent and I thin I have a new theater-district spot to eat lunch!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

NYC's east side gem is JOJO and Jean-Georges is at his roots

I have never been a big fan of superstar chef Jean-Georges, but lately I have been impressed by the places where he sets a theme and keeps his hands off. JOJO has been at 160 E 64th Street on Manhattan's East Side for years and has been bringing in the crowds nonstop. I discovered last night why.

This cozy small downstairs and upstairs brownstone just seconds from the haute couture shopping (which in this awful economy was a booming madhouse yesterday!) had a full house by 6pm. I booked 530pm so I could catch a crosstown bus and make a Lincoln Center concert at 8pm (and it went quite smoothly).

There is gold leaf molding, heavy drapes to keep the cold out (and nice double doors too), small intimate, if crowded, dining rooms and I would say about 5 two-tops and 2 four-tops in each room, making for not a huge turnover. Wines are offered up at 2.5 oz. tastes or 5 oz. glasses and I started with a POUILLY FUISSE 2006 from JJ VINCENT that had huge mineral tastes but went wonderfully well with my SHRIMP DUSTED IN ORANGE POWDER. This was really a huge Salad of ARUGULA with ARTICHOKE HEARTS and 4 tasty dusted shrimp. A pepper mill made it perfect and while the warm baguettes that arrived earlier were now dry and flaky, I thought that the bread did need some work unless you eat it right away.

This unpretentious but warm spot reminded me of my younger years in the late 60's and early 70's in NY, when my parents sometimes asked me to join them to dine (often before or after theater) at A LA FOURCHETTE on the West Side or MARIO's Villa D'este or Villa Borghese on the East Side; how I miss those wonderful times. Obviously JOJO attracts a regular crowd as so many of the folks around me were welcomed by so many of the staff on a first name basis and even with, "oh my, you have ordered something different tonight!"

My entree was a superb Peppercorn crusted VENISON MEDALLIONS with reconstituted PEARS (really confit), POMEGRANATE Seeds, Fingerling Potatoes and Savoy Cabbage. Sauces here are not the stars, the meat and food itself is, which is why I say it is so traditional and clearly not newfangled cookery. A glass of COTES DUE RGHONE 2006 LA FRAMBOISERIE was the perfect foil to the meat and all its ingredients.

Dessert was again truly traditional and simple and called RASPBERRY CRISP with Raspberry Cream, but was a Napoleon style concoction of piles of raspberries with some delicious fruity cream and wafers layered all on coulis; a gem of a fruit dessert and not too heavy at all.

Chatting with manager Jamie Unwin, we were able to reminisce about our dear late friend Jean-Louis Palladin, whose first (and sadly failed) NY restaurant he opened so many years ago. The memories, the food and the real French tradition made JOJO a true gem and treat.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The St. Regis' ADOUR displays Ducasse amazing talent

Last night four of us spent several hours at the new ADOUR in the St. Regis Washington Hotel where superstar chef Alain Ducasse has positioned chef Julien Jouhannaud in the kitchen and they are indeed turning out some pretty delicious meals.

I have to admit that I miss the voluptuous elegant Empire furniture and setting, all that remains is the gorgeous emblazoned dark wood beam ceiling. There are white leather chairs, crisp linens, well-spaced tables and around the wall tall curved banquettes of brown and black that make quite a cozy setting for two, although we had two of the white chairs at ours still giving us lots of privacy. The St. Regis bar is separated from the restaurant by a glassed-in wine cellar which runs the width of the dining room. In its previous incarnation, Lespinasse may have been a bit stuffy, but Adour is less so; a bit formal, but also casual with excellent friendly staff as well; our server KYUNG had worked there some 12 years I believe!

I expected the wine list to be severely inflated, but sommelier Ramon Narvaez (who came from Marcel's) has been very careful and still allowed many lower-priced wines that are good deals to find their way to the extensive list. We first chose a MARCEL DEISS 2003 Pinot Gris "BEBLENHEIM" and since Ramon was out, the assistant wine steward mentioned that he needed to chill the bottle. I tasted the wine and it was room temperature, so I asked what temperature the cellar is kept at. He told me 55 or so, but that it blew a fuse earlier that day! OOPS! He quickly rectified this by offering us a complimentary bottle of ALAIN DUCASSE house champagne from Lanson which was very nice and very cold (while the Pinot Gris chilled). I should mention that the house sparkling water is BADOIT, my favorite on earth (even at $8)!

Our friends arrived and we all quickly decided on the 5-course $95 tasting menu, which is really the best way to sample what the chef has to order as well as taste multiple items at a reasonable cost. It is indeed quite a filling meal as well.

First came some Emmental GOUGERES which had coarse salt on them and BOY, were they salty, but yummy. Next came an amuse of PUMPKIN VELOUTE with Ricotta Cheese RAVIOLI and Creme Fraiche which was quite excellent. We tasted the Marcel Deiss again and it was sublime with (as Deiss does) an amazing terroir and a slight hint of sweetness, like a German Riesling, yet creamy and divine with loads of minerals from the "Beblenheim mountain" where the vineyard sits. It was the more than perfect accompanying wine for the first course DUCK FOIE GRAS CONFIT with Pineapple Chutney and Dried Pineapple Wheel. This was indeed a rich thick creamy torchon and I felt the use of "confit" on the menu as opposed to torchon or pate made me expect a warm dish. No matter it was sublime and came with yummy brioche and French bread toasts. One of us asked to substitute the HAMACHI with green apple and was also brought a glass of wine to pair with it as well!

We knew gnocchi and fish were coming, but really felt like red wine, so Rigaa, who also assists Ramon, recommended a NUIT SAINT GEORGES 2004 "Les Fleurieres" from Jean-Jacques Confuron which is also offered by the glass. It was a traditional Burgundy Pinot Noir with some depth, but not too intense and again a perfect pairing with the two courses to follow:

RICOTTA GNOCCHI with Sauteed Lettuce, CRISPY PROSCIUTTO & CHANTERELLES Mushrooms & Sauce. The gnocchi were light and almost floated above the sauce, and the large piece of crispy prosciutto was fun and added a dash to the simpler tastes of the dish.

BAKED HALIBUT with CHESTNUTS, Button Mushrooms, Mizzuna came in an ARBOIS WINE Sauce and again I was reminded how much I adore this fish. I asked where it came from at this time of the year, since we usually see it from Alaska in the summer and discovered it hails from the North Atlantic.

Our final wine of the evening was a 2006 CHATEAUNEUF du PAPE from Domaine LAFOND "Roc-Epine" which was a bit young and tight when we first tasted it. Rigaa proceeded to decant the wine into a clear wine-bottle shaped decanter with an odd looking breathing device (apparently both created for the Ducasse kingdom) and believe it or not, the wine opened up quite fast and within 2-3 minutes and a big swirl in our Schott crystal glass it was perfect with the ROASTED PENNSYLVANIA RACK of LAMB with EGGPLANT CAVIAR, APRICOT CONFIT and Creamy QUINOA. The highlight of this dish was the beyond superb QUINOA that blew my tastebuds away! The lamb was rare and tender and tasty, the eggplant divine (and I don't usually like eggplant) and the apricots were simply cooked a bit to tenderness (so why confit?), but a nice touch.

Dessert on the tasting menu was GIANDUJA "Sable" of Milk Chocolate with orange Zest and Marmalade Sauce, but two of substituted the GALA APPLE SOUFFLE with Granny Smith Compote, Calvados Lady Fingers and Vanilla Ice Cream that was perfectly prepared. Fruit filled souffles, are NOT easy, and this was light, fluffy and tasty with the fruit floating within and not weighing down the egg custard at all.

Additional macaroons of Raspberry or Gianduja came to the table as well as a plate of chocolates(milk, passion fruit and Adour dark), just in case you needed more!

I can safely say that we all adored every bite at ADOUR!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

CommonWealth Gastropub-odd name, a gourmet-ish take on British cuisine

Chef Jamie Leeds has expanded her Hank's Oyster Bar locations and even opened a new British pub/restaurant in the way up and still coming Columbia Heights neighborhood (CommonWealth Gastropub ( at 14th and Irving, NW under the eye of Chef Antonio Burrell (Viridian, Bis, Gabriel). This is a pretty amazing accomplishment in today's economy, and while the "pub" was not super busy last night, it was doing fairly well. Luckily, this created a lower noise level than I was expecting, and that's always a blessing.

The ambience is a bit dark, and I needed to ask for a flashlight to read the menu as the lone flickering candle on the table was pretty useless. I was given a torch (that's British for flashlight) and it was sorely in need of fresh batteries, but I persevered and managed to order a bottle of 2004 BODEGAS Las 800 Granacha Blend from Priorat that was full-bodied, tasty and has some wonderful smokiness along with lingering tart cherries that worked so well with all the heavier food and sauces. There are dark wood tables, leather banquettes, wooden chairs and a nice outdoor patio when the weather is warm. The decor is somewhere between the UK and the USA pub-style, but comfy and warm.

Samuel chose the DOG in a PUFF with CHIPS which is a sausage-type hot dog partially wrapped in puff pastry (which he instantly discarded-even though it was superb). The "chips" were of the thick steak-like American variety and were steaming inside and very tasty. They managed to stay flavorful even way into the meal, and were perfectly fried and crisp on the outside (but not greasy in the least). Each table gets an amazing tray of pickled veggies(beets, carrots, cauliflower) and corn relish that we HAD to refill and then get extra for a doggie bag; it's THAT GREAT! The bread is less exciting, so stick to the veggies.

I started with the SMOKED TROUT ROLLMOPS, a superb chilled filet rolled around and served on a superb creamy POTATO SALAD. It is a large and filling portion loaded with flavor, and perfect on a warm or hot evening, although I loved them last night when it was 50degrees out! Will went for the totally traditional British items and got a gastro-variation of things he grew up with: SCOTCH EGGS are tasty little quiche-like cups with a hard-boiled egg center usually served alone, but here enhanced with a choice of three sauces: HONEY MUSTARD--a bit sweet, but nice SPICY AIOLI-which was creamy and rich mayo and not spicy at all (Will liked this the best) and a GREEN SAUCE of herbs (cilantro, etc) that was a perfect foil to the egg and made the best combination in my mind.

His entree was the CUMBERLAND BANGERS & MASH with ONION GRAVY which was actually one large sausage on a bed of creamy yummy to-die-for mashed potatoes in a superb sauce (which again is a gastro-turn, as Will is used to having them with baked beans back home).

I could not decide between the Flank Steak and the special of Grass-Fed BEEF MEATLOAF with Sauteed GREEN BEANS, MASHED POTATOES and SHERRIED MUSHROOM GRAVY, but our server Jonathan (who will commented has excellent teeth) said that the while his favorite is the steak, the specials are not always available, and I can always come back for the steak. He was right. The meat and sauce were divine as were the creamy potatoes. The beans were cooked perfectly and the portion was monstrous. There were some cayenne peppers in the meat, but also an Eastern spice I could not pin down (nobody in the kitchen could help and Chef Burrell was out; Chef Leeds was there but way too busy with another group).

Will and I split the STICKY TOFFEE PUDDING which was a superbly created cake-like pudding with a caramelly sticky toffee sauce. Only the dollop of whipped cream was unwelcome as way too American. In the UK, the pudding would have sat in a pool of overdose cream custard as well! Besides, I never care for whipped cream.

We had a great time and look forward to returning to a little spot of the UK here in DC!

Sunday, December 07, 2008


Yesterday I took Samuel to the Gay Men's Chorus holiday/concert production with his Uncle Rick and he enjoyed it (though not much as much as The Wizard of Oz the day before...or Mary Poppins the week before).

Afterwards, we met up with Daddy and decide to try the "Tastings Journal" Menu special being offered this week. I have told you before than anyone can sign up for the Tastings Journals email specials at local restaurants. This week is ODEON CAFE ( at Dupont Circle offering a multi-course menu with two glasses of wine all for $45 plus tax and tip.

I have not been to Odeon in almost 20 years since I lived a block away, and I could not believe it has been there for 28 years now! It is a decent neighborhood Italian spot and has much going for it. A simple wine list (if limited) with most prices under $40/bottle, a variety of pastas and pizzas (Samuel adored his PIZZA topped with FRENCH FRIES (how's that for cholesterol indulgence?!) and some quite nice and tasty entrees.

The service is decent, but nothing to rave about; we had to repeatedly ask for napkins and flatware, and the ambience is fairly quiet and attempted upscale; although the Bocelli musak is a bit grating after and hour. My biggest complaint was that they did not bring fresh flatware for each of the courses, although they did bring new glasses when we switched wines!

We started with a bottle of RUFFINO RESERVA DUCALE 2004 Chianti Classico which warmed us up on that oh so coldest night of the year so far!
The salads were tasty with nice tart dressings: ARUGULA with GOAT CHEESE in BALSAMIC Vinaigrette and MESLCUN mix with HONEY MUSTARD Dressing, Walnut and Apples

The second course of FRESH CALAMARI sauteed with SPINACH, GARLIC, Fresh Lemon and Olive Oil was enhanced by squeezing the fresh lemon provided as were the MUSHROOM CAPS stuffed with CRABMEAT in Garlic Butter Sauce, but these were merely nice appetizers from the standard fare with little thought to invention.

We switched to a 2005 BOLLA VALPOLICELLA which was advertised on the menu as from MASI. I know that MASI wines cost much more than $40-50, and was doubtful, but since I believe they own the Bolla label, it was not worth arguing about. The wine was not as big as I had wanted, but adequate.

The third course was a choice of soup and there was CREAM of BROCCOLI with Garlic and Parsley or the quite tasty LOBSTER BISQUE with some nice (if small) pieces of shellfish marred only by a small chunk of congealed soup.

The entree included a glass of house Chianti or Pinot Grigio, both quite on the wimpy side and we all chose different entrees: The GRILLED Fresh SALMON FILET served over Angel Hair Pasta with Cherry Tomatoes, Basil and Olive Oil needed something as it was a bit bland, and came over thin spaghetti, not angel hair pasta. My POLLO VALDOSTANA was two huge rolled chicken breasts stuffed with Spinach and Ricotta Cheese in a tasty tangy yummy LEMON CAPER Sauce. I opted to take one breast home as the portion was so large (along with half of Samuel's pizza, which we shall all dine on tonight). I think the taste award was for Will's Braised LAMB SHANK with Veggies, Red Wine Reduction and Rosemary Roasted Potatoes. The dessert came with a glass of unexciting "champagne" which I am positive was prosecco, but Samuel discovered WARM CHOCOLATE SOUFFLE which was a scrumptious molten lava flow inside a firm cake round topped with Vanilla Ice Cream. Tiramusu went over well with Will, and we all headed home quite full.

I can say that Odeon is a great spot to grab a bite in the neighborhood, pasta or simple dish, but that the multi-course tasting is not their forte, although we definitely got our dollar's worth!