Monday, March 31, 2008

find FAMOSO and you're in for a find

I had wanted to try FAMOSO ( since it opened over a year ago, but could not get myself there. I finally purchased a dinner as an auction item for a charity, so I HAD to go. Last night we dined there and it was, for the most part, an impressive evening, if you can find the restaurant.

Famoso is at 5471 Wisconsin Ave in Chevy Chase, just outside the DC line, but the entrance and signage is on the rear of the building where there is complimentary parking in the lot at the :Collection at Chevy Chase" shops.

We settled in and had some yummy flatbread and bread with olive oil and sundried tomato as we sipped Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc 2007 and celebrated a couple of birthdays as well. We ordered off the four course tasting menu and the regular menu and it was quite varied with many options.

I started with VITELLO TONNATO that magnificent dish of cold veal with creamy tuna sauce, here served with a nice Radicchio, Endive & Arugula Salad. The BURRATA here is served in a Tomato with Green Beans, but is not at the high quality level of Dino's in Washington. The pastas were varied and all got rave reviews from LINGINI con VONGOLE & Garlic to the superb STROZZAPRETI alla ROMAGNOLA con Foglione di Spinaci with the "strangled" pasta having an excellent sausage ragout with spinach and prosicutto. My RAVIOLI di CINGHIALE were filled with tasty Wild Boar and served in a rich and tasty Butter Sage Sauce with a hint of Goat Cheese.

By this time we had moved on to GRECO di TUFO Loggia delle Serre 2006 from Terredora di Paolo and a SOAVE CLASSICO 2005 from Pieropan, not to mention a San Lorenzo 2005 MONTEPULCIANO d'ABRUZZO which was great with my boar. One should note that on Monday's at Famoso the ENTIRE wine list is HALF PRICE.

Entrees were a bit less stellar, but still quite tasty with ranging from a huge seafood platter to BRANZINO (sea bass) con CARCIOFI, OLIVE, Patate e Pomodorini baked and served with artichokes, olives, potato and cherry tomatoes. My COSTATA de MANZO was a 10 ounce ROAST CAB (I did not really know the meaning of this term) PRIME RIB with Grilled Veggie Potato Cake (called "lay" on the menu) in a Veal Demi-Glace. The dish somehow did not seem very Italian, but was one of the better entrees indeed.

The menus had some odd English usage which we giggled at, especially at the bottom where it noted "Menu presented by Ex Chef Romina Lugaresi," which we laughingly took to mean the chef had departed, as opposed to being EXecutive Chef!

Our final two wines were big wonderful red, first a ROSSI di MONTALCINO La GERLA 2003 followed by a huge 2005 Le VOLTE from Ornellaia which had an even bigger nose.

Our dessert wine was a superb CHATEAU LIOT 2003 Sauternes which went well with all the desserts, mine being a PUFF PASTRY with MASCARPONE, STRAWBERRY and WILD BERRY, a glorified rich berry Napoleon so to say.

Big hits were the Hot Molten CHOCOLATE CAKE and the WARM APPLE STRUDEL with Vanilla Gelato. Needless to say, nobody went home hungry. Kudos to the excellent staff under manager Giorgio who seemed to have everything served at just the right time!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The WILLARD ROOM wins big in my book

While the Willard Room at the Willard Intercontinental (1401 Pennsylvania Ave, NW), one of Washington's most historic venues for dining, may not be winning awards or the top ratings, it sure gets the best scores in my book.

It's been over a year and a half since our last visit to this sophisticated and oh so vastly improved destination, that it might just become our favorite "special" place to go in town.

Only a week ago super 3 Michelin starred chef Antoine Westermann singed on with the Willard Room to oversee the menu and its superb executive chef Nicolas Legret; he is now overseeing both the grand dining room in the Willard Room as well as the newly opened Cafe du Parc facing the front (without outside tables on the park in season) which will have to be another visit we must make soon (the menu is pure French bistro at its best).

Chef Legret has been in DC for some time now and while starting in France and making his way through Le Crillon and Le Grand Vefour in Paris was most recently at Le Bec Fin in Philly. He is more than ably assisted by Maitre d' Xavier and sommelier Christina Abbruzzetti whose DC history goes way back. I don't need to go on about how beautiful the dining room is as it is one of the top four Zagat rated destinations in DC for "decor" and its food and service ratings are pretty high as well. It's a shame the hotel's PR can't get this magnificent and grand spot into the Rammy nominations and out there where it needs to be seen and EATEN!

If you go, indulge yourself, and ask to have Chef Legret cook for you; you will not be disappointed as here is what we had:

HENRIOT Champagne Rose Brut N/V started us off with a beautiful and oh so simple presentation of an amuse of PARMESAN TUILLE in a tall flute weighted by grains at the base. The tuille was as butter as ever and Samuel would have loved the little plate of pitted olives as that's his new favorite snack. The fresh breads were just as tasty and come from a bakery in Alexandria (I forgot the name) with the olive winning my top star.

It is always a treat to have rare and tasty wines and our first two were just that.

DOMAINE WIENBACH 2006 GEWURTZTRAMINER Cuvee Theo made by Catherine Faller, the doyenne of Alsatian quality wines (whom I have had the pleasure of meeting and drinking extensively with in her parlor in Alsace). This slightly peppery smooth and creamy wine had a sweet nose but was bone dry with huge mineral content (so important to these Alsatian wines) and was beyond amazing with the SEARED HUDSON VALLEY FOIE GRAS with Poppyseed Crust over Crisp Apple and Sherry Vinegar with a Julienne of Radish. This was a new take on a dish that sometimes can get overdone these days (alas, indeed many superstar chefs have decided to eliminate foie gras from their menus). This proves that Chef Legret can innovate the dish and make it new again with something like poppyseed and a touch of vinegar.

Our second blow your mind wine was CHATEAU PAPE CLEMENT 2004 Graves made from Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, and while I am not a big semillon fan this wine with its perfumey nose had a "sour melon" taste according to will BUT was a beyond brilliant pairing by Ms. Abbruzzetti with the also blow your mind ROCKFISH TARTARE with Mousseline of Cod & Almond, Lemon Jus and micro greens. I have never had raw rockfish before to my knowledge, and it is a brilliant choice for fish, so American, yet coming from French chef--tasty, moist and even better with the wine and its creamy mousse on the side.

ROUSETTE de SAVOIE 2005 "Cepage Altesse" from Domaine Jean Vullien has a slight spiciness to it from the heretofore unknown by me Crepy and Seysselle varietals. Again a perfect pairing with FROGS LEGS in Lemon & Chervil Sauce and ONION RAVIOLI which was where the wine was so great.

Our wonderful server TERRANT never gave up explaining every detail and making sure we were happy; how could we not be? At one point we discussed the hotel's attempts at going green as the water they serve is "RESTORE" so that there is much recycling as possible (the toilets don't flush, but they clean) and efforts to make the hotel better for our environment are succeeding.

Back to the food---PAN SEARED SCALLOPS in WHITE Wine and LIME Sauce were next and we loved the lime accent (especially since this something not very French, yet Chef Legret has adopted so much in his new American home. The wine was a MISSION HILL 2002 CHARDONNAY from the OKANAGAN Valley in British Columbia. Aged in American oak this is another one of those rare wines that's always fun to find.

POACHED MAINE LOBSTER with Golden Raisins, Onion Marmelade, Cumin, Tumeric and Lobster Sauce was an intense preparation of the shellfish bringing out so much flavor and excitement. Served with an equally impressive 2004 MERSAULT from Francois Mikulski aged in old oak that helped the shellfish shine even more. The minerality of this wine was a perfect foil to the dish's ingredients. To quote Ms. Abbruzzetti, "it blows my panties off!"

An interlude of CALAMANZI LIME Sorbet with VODKA was the perfect refresher as we went on to two red wines: MUSAR Cuvee Rouge 2004 from Gaston Huchar in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon was a bit spicy, but still a lighter wine made from Cabernet, Cinsault, Grenache, Obaideh and Merwah (2 more newbies for me), though
we both preferred the MENDEL MALBEC 2004 from Lujan de Cujo in Mendoza, Argentine for its fullness. This went much better with the MUSCOVY DUCK a l'ORANGE with Citrus Marmelade, Root Vegetables, English Peas, Broad Beans and a dash of amazing SEL a la TRUFFE de St. JEAN--a large grain salt infused with truffles that we could smell from across the room as it was opened!

As you know with us, cheese is a must, so we took a small plate of SELLES SUR CHER, ASSOIRATY, VALENCE Goat and PURPLE HAZE Goat as well all served with a MADEIRA from The Rare Wine Co., a 19% alcohol N.Y. Malmsey Special Reserve that was yumyum tasty.

We asked for a light dessert and got just that--a complex small square (about 1-1/2 in on each side) of South American SPICE CAKE with Milk Chocolate Layer and TONKA BEAN Ice Cream, Gold Leaf, Cassis Gelee and Raspberry Gelee. The several bites were just a perfect conclusion to a miraculous meal and served with an amber raisiny VIN SANTO FELSINA from Berardegna which is easily the best Vin Santo I have had in I can't remember how long!

Keep your eyes open for us at the Willard Room and sooner at Cafe du Parc!

Monday, March 24, 2008

musing on MORTON's mighty portions

Since Will and Samuel took off for several days in Massachusetts visiting cousins, I decided to have a night out with a dear friend. Most of you know I would NEVER choose Morton's (, but I had a coupon for $99 for TWO PEOPLE which included salad/surf & turf/ and dessert which was pretty amazing. We actually had an amazing time, and could not come close to finishing everything. So if I have to make one complaint, it's that the portions ARE TOO BIG.

The Morton's in Downtown DC is at 1050 Connecticut Ave on the mezzanine level and has a nice view out the windows of the local shopping area at Farragut Metro; the decor is basic with comfy chairs, lots of photos, beautiful flowers and wine displays. Oddly there was a pile of potatoes on one counter which had clearly been there a bit too long; was this art? Our table faced the small open counter steak kitchen where three chefs busied themselves with all the meat.

Kudos to this Morton's staff for their friendliness and efforts. When I was searching for a medium bodied wine and asked some questions of the manager Dave, he suggested a MARTINELLI not on the menu. He returned with a 2005 "Bella Vigna" Russian River Pinor Noir that at 14.7% alcohol was a huge Pinot, full of body that could easily stand up to a filet.

The huge loaf of warm onion bread came and we dug in smothering it with the delicious butter; clearly not a low cholesterol meal here. Our meal began with a choice of the Morton or Caesar Salad and we both took the latter, a huge plate of Romaine beautifully dressed and tasty with hints of anchovy in the dressing (but no whole fish); only the croutons were a disappointment, small and chintzy, so we ate the bread instead!

Next came a PETITE FILET with Bearnaise Sauce and the option of three "turf" combos. I chose the BROILED SEA SCALLOPS wrapped in BACON with Apricot Chutney which were yummy and moist, although you need to keep the chutney to just a dollop or it's too sweet. Rick chose the SHRIMP ALEXANDER served in a Beurre Blanc Sauce which was rich and creamy and had three huge shrimp as well. These were all yummy and the filets were perfect (even if at over 8 ounces each!). I especially liked the way the steaks were cooked just right but with a crunchy crispy outside edge.

We were each given a choice of a side dish (which can feed three people anyway!) so I went for the LYONAISE Potatoes loaded with sauteed onions and bacon bits (tasty) and Rick went for the perfectly SAUTEED MUSHROOMS.

Believe it or not the $99 for two included dessert and we both chose the (yes it was huge) slice of KEY LIME PIE smothered with whipped cream. I took a small bite and brought the rest home for Will to enjoy as I know how much he loves Key Lime Pie. It was delish, but I was way too full.

So, find a deal like this, or share each plate and Morton's might work for you.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Supping with Samuel in Bethesa-Persimmon & Grapeseed

We have been trying to take Samuel to more innovative dining spots and he seems to be doing fairly well...although PASTA is still his favorite.

We tried two Bethesda finer dining sports this weekend starting with PERSIMMON ( where we have not been in years and joined our friends who have four kids aged 1-1/2 to 7 (a challenge in itself, let alone dining out).

The folks at Persimmon had told us they had items for children, but one must remember the key word here is "children's menu" or be specific. Upon arrival the options were limited, a burger or plain pasta with butter. Luckily our kids liked the pasta, but is was nothing to even write about. The eldest went right for the FILET on the menu with Mashed Potatoes, Spinach (which she would not touch; a shame) and the most tasty thin onion rings piled high. It was an adult and huge portion, but quite good as well. The adults started with a HENDRY 2006 UNOAKED Chardonnay which was a treat of true fruit and great wine. Will enjoyed the DUCK CONFIT with Flageolet Beans, my SMOKED TROUT SPRING ROLLS with Hoisin BBQ Spicy Peanut Sauce were fabulous, but the special of ASIAN BEEF TARTARE with Wasabi Cream needed more spice in the cream and more seasoning in the beef itself as it was quite bland.

All the entrees were hits from the BLACK SESAME CRUSTED TUNA with Daikon, Carrots, Sugar Snap Peas, Wakane Seaweed and Tamarind Drizzle to the Pan Seared ROCKFISH with LEMON GNOCCHI (these were fab), Spinach, Exotic (I find this an odd choice of words) Mushrooms, Roasted Tomato & Eggplant Coulis (luckily all the additions to the fish did not overwhelm the star itself as the Rockfish was superb moist and flaky), PORK LOIN CHOP Stuffed with Prosciutto, Fontina & Sage with French Green Lentils and Caramelized Pearl Onions (a bit heavier, but still yummy) to my superb MAGRET of DUCK with Sweet Potatoes, Duck CONFIT HASH, Celery Root Galette and Foie Gras Reduction which was another heavy and rich dish, but one I can easily rave over.

Our red wine was the manager's recommendation of a 2004 PALACIOS REMONDO "LA MONESA," a Tempranillo-Garnacha blend from Rioja Baja in Spain which went great with everything as it was medium bodied and full of flavor, but with no tannins at all.

The kids enjoyed CHOCOLATE ICE CREAM and an unexciting BREAD PUDDING but what was the busboy thinking when he brought an extra WARM BOWL to split up the ice cream between the kids?

After this we were full, the kids were full and I think all nine of us went home exhausted!

Last night we returned to the newly refurbished GRAPESEED ( in Bethesda, where we have always had a great time, and it was no different, even with Chef Jeff Heineman in absentia. The new Grapeseed is twice the size with the same (but newer) bar on the left, open kitchen at the rear and lots of tables, but the right side has a pricate dining are in the wine room, and another behind it with glass enclosed walls separating off a series of cozy intimate booths running the length of the opposite wall. Raves go to our server Christy who handles Samuel's every request and need and was as cheery, friendly and helpful as could be. We started with a bottle of DOMAINE LES BRUYERES CROZES HERMITAGES BLANC 2004 which was a revelation, so rich and creamy like a fine aged Rhone white or top level California Chard! Samuel got his dish (they don't have a children's menu here either, but they will make a larger number of options and what we did was pick an appetizer of FONTINA STUFFED MEATBALLS of Beef, Pork & Veal with Rosemary, Tomato Sauce, Polenta and ask to have it served on Pasta (excellent Fettuccine) and Sam rolled his eyes in excitement and adored every bite. He was even happier when Christy brought over a bowl of fresh grated Parmesan!

We were treated to an amazing (and huge) amuse of CRAB STUFFED SHRIMP on CHORIZO disk over a WHOLEGRAIN MUSTARD CREME FRAICHE which was faaaabulous.

The only slight disappointment of the entire meal was Will's starter called, GREEN, EGG & HAM (which Samuel got a kick out of) which was a slow poached organic egg in a martini glass over Pea Sauce and sprinkled with Crispy Speck. It just needed a little salt or something.

My FRIED CHICKEN LIVERS were amazing, crispy on the outside and served on small crispy bread slices with POBLANO & BELL PEPPER JELLY giving them a dash of flavor and slight spice (they could have even stood up to more). It was a huge portion and only cost $6.00! We switched to a tasty 2006 McLAREN VALE, Australia SHIRAZ from YANGARRA that went perfectly with Will's BRAISED LAMB SHANK with Rice, Beans, Arugola Salad and Gremolata, while I was thrilled with my PAN ROASTED CHICKEN (who EVER orders chicken?) with CHESTNUT & SAGE STUFFING in Sherry Vinegar Sauce. There was 1/2 of a huge chicken and I could only get through the huge juicy moist breast (and took the rest home for later!) and the stuffing was to die for.

Sam polished off three scoops of creamy tasty MANGO SORBET, Will took in three scoops of BUTTERSCOTCH ICE CREAM and I headed for the cheeses: BUCHERON Goat which was okay, but tasted unexciting and a bit harder than I like goat cheese. LA LEYENDA, a firm Spanish Sheep that was superb, and even Samuel liked it, and a tasty ROGUE CREAMERY SMOKY BLEU (smoked over hazelnuts) that was not too powerful or invasive; just right for me.

We went home very full, very happy and very thrilled that Grapeseed can accommodate Samuel and its new "space" makes it so varied you have several dining options (well, as far as where to sit).

Saturday, March 08, 2008

bravos for BAR BOULOUD at Lincoln Center (NYC)

Lincoln Center got a new dining addition a couple of months ago which comes in at the highest range for "casual" but is really worth the splurge. BA BOULUD (1900 Broadway 212-595-0303) is directly across the street from Lincoln Center and part of the Daniel Boulud expanding empire of bistros and cafes and dining destinations from NY to Florida (

The long narrow space has a curved ceiling that is white with not the greatest lighting, but decent ambience, although the tables in the rear are a bit too close (one waiter served a steak-frites at the next table and had his rear in my face at one point)., The bar is 1/2 the length on one side with booths on the other side. An adorable round tasting table is at the rear. The booths extend the entire length of the right side and have two wine coolers in the backs of each one between each pair (an ingenious idea and use of space). The wood is blond and the wall is adorned with photos of wine stains (all given a vintage and vineyard).

Speaking of wine, I started with a glass of DOMAINE MARDON, 2006 QUINCY V.V. from the Loire, a tart but tasty Sauvignon Blanc (but I have no clue what the V.V. stands for, and neither did my server). One of the big attractions here is the charcuterie prepared by ChefCharcutier Sylvain Gasdon; I was mightily impresed with my terrine choice: COMPOTE de VEAU "en blanquette" which was shredded slow- braised veal short rib with carrots and leeks. A Button Mushroom
Remoulade, tasty mustard, cornichons, pickled onions and small frisee salad accompanied this delectable creation.

I moved on to the SOUPE de MOULES which was a dreamy Butternut Squash and MUSSEL BISQUE with toasted shallots, Curry Chantilly, chock full of mussels and diced squash that's was rich and creamy and perfect on this cold and wet March evening.

Incidentally, I arrived at 5pm and the place was empty, by 630pm it was jammed and heaving.

My second wine was a DOMAINE PELAQUIE Cotes du Rhones Villages 2006 "Laudun" that was dark amber, full of body, and wonderfully wood aged like a great vintage French white; what a treat at $10/glass.

My entree was actually an appetizer portion of ST JACQUES au CHOU with two huge Grilled Maine Scallops, Orleans Mustard, Winter Slaw and a Red Cabbage Marmelade. It was just right after the other two dishes and I was glad I did not choose an entree, although there were many tempting ones!

With this I had a glass of Grands Vignes du Roy 2006 Chateauneuf dePape, that cost twice as much as the white Rhone, and while very tasty, did not have the same amount of character or intensity. It was a tough call between dessert and cheese, but I quickly went with the latter choosing three types which were simply described on the menu:
Earthy-Abbaye de Citeaux
Old & Hard-22 month aged Mimolette

I also got an extra treat of Sheep Ossaue-Vielle which was very tasty, which I asked my server AnnaLisa for a little taste of and she managed to squeeze it out of the kitchen!

The breads were nice, but the cheese was star.

I forgot to mention the amazing (and large) warm cheese Gougeres (like popovers) that arrived just after I sat down and melted in my mouth to perfection. These all come from Chef Boulanger Mark Fiorento, and the Executive Chef here is Damian Samsonetti.

I look forward to returning to Bar Boulud as it is a wonderful spot before or after anything at Lincoln Center!

Friday, March 07, 2008

make your way to OUEST on New York's Upper West Side

Ever since it opened some 6+ years ago, I had heard raves about Ouest 2315 Broadway at West 84th Street), but it was always a bit too far north to head to before the theater. Yesterday, I had plenty of time before my 8pm curtain at the opera, so I booked a table for 5pm (an easy time to get in, since the place was more than jammed when I left at 720pm) and was glad I ventured three subway stops north of Lincoln Center (it actually took me less than 12 minutes to get down to the Met after dinner!).

The small narrow entryway is misleading with its cute neighborhood bar and small curved booths, but I was led past this, down several steps into a rear room which opens up beautifully with more curved booths, tables and even a mezzanine balcony on either side all overlooking a small open kitchen. My rear corner table was larger than most of the 2-tops and was a great place to see everything. As I waited for my guest (opera diva) I spoke with Richard, the knowledgeable sommelier about a ZWEIGELT on the wine list. He said there were no "wimpy" wines on the menu (which a Zweigelt can sometimes be), so I went for the HG Katharina & Heimut GANGL 2003 from Luss in Austria. IT was a revelation, full of body, lots of fruit, especially plum, all very reminiscent of a big Pinot Noir. Even moreso, it went superbly with everything we ordered for the both of us!

Skinny warm mini-baguettes arrived, making me feel like in France (they were so wonderfully crispy on the outside and fresh inside) with a small ramekin of yummy hummus; we dipped away.

It was hard to decide, but our wonderful server Deborah led us to great selections (she insisted there was nothing bad on the menu; I think she was right). My guest had the ENDIVE & ROQUEFORT Salad with Creamy Mustard Vinaigrette which was a hugely piled high plate (she took home half of it!) of tasty and not bitter at all endive. My HOUSE SMOKED STURGEON came wrapped around a huge POACHED EGG, LARDONS sprinkled around, and topped with FRISEE to form a small wide tower. The fish was some of the best I have ever had, and the entire dish was simply perfect.ion.

My PAN ROASTED SQUAB with DUCK LIVER RISOTTO, Crisp ARTICHOKES and Parmesan was no less impressive with a splash of huckle(?)berry sauce on the side for taste. The artichokes were flash fried and crunchy for texture and the squab cooked just to medium rare (closer to rare as I adore) so that it was not chewy but moist and tasty.

The BACON WRAPPED PORK TENDERLOIN and SPARE RIBS were gorgeous with a fabulous barbecue-like sauce that stuck to the ribs, served with Sauteed ESCAROLE and CORN CAKES, another great achievement for the busy team in the kitchen.

We were full and could not brave dessert, but knowing that 10-15 minutes away is Lincoln Center, made me braver to venture north to places like Ouest before the opera!