Thursday, July 31, 2008

supping in Santa Fe (NM) - at bat for AMAYA

I arrived here yesterday for one of my regular opera treks to one of my favorite places and started with AMAYA located in my hotel (The HOTEL SANTA FE at 1501 Paseo de la Peralta with two dear clients from Washington and we all had a most satisfactory meal.

The dining room might be a bit dark with heavy woods, carpets, large chairs and laden tables, so we opted to sit in the quiet outdoor courtyard where is was a dry 78 degrees and simply gorgeous. The service is friendly, attentive and while note a "super-starred" destination, is well worth the visit.

A bottle of light bodied CYCLES Gladiator Pinot Noir 2006 from California's Central Coast was simple, yet fine for us as we had a long opera coming. Similarly, I opted for the CITRUS SPINACH SALAD with Cherry Tomatoes and COTIJA Vinaigrette (I believe this is a mild local pepper). It was well prepared and dressed salad and of very good size. The CHILI ANCHO GLAZED semi-boneless QUAIL with Peach Infused Risotto got a rave as well.

It was a tough decision with so many great entree choices. The APPLE GINGER Sauteed ATLANTIC SALMON with Purple Potato Truffle Hash, Carrots, Edamame and Saffron White Wine Emulsion was nice, but I try to avoid Atlantic salmon when heading west as we have so much back home near the Atlantic. The LEMON THYME SEA BASS with Tomato Artichoke Couscous, Baby Spinach and Sweet Corn Reduction had a beautiful crunchy skin that I could have eaten piles of, and the dish was a perfect combination of ingredients with the firm fish.

I went for the ELK TENDERLOIN with COFFEE CITRUS Marinade, Grilled Blue Corn Polenta Cake, Native American Succotash all in a delicious Sun Dried BLUEBERRY PORT WINE SAUCE that was the perfect foil to two huge rare elk tenderloins that just melted in my mouth. I loved every part of this dish, but ate every
single bite!

For dessert we sampled the nice sorbets:Mixed Berry, Mango, Raspberry and the tasty PICURIS Sun-Dried APRICOT PIE with Cinnamon CREME ANGLAISE, a lighter (but still large) option that can easily be split.

When we mentioned that the double espressos seemed a bit small, a second round came out gratis...keeping us awake for the opera and finishing off a nice meal with friends.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

fabulous food at FARRAH OLIVIA by Morou with bravura Broadway and Opera

Opera & Broadway are back in DC, well, Alexandria, VA at least and can be found the last Tuesday of each month (check with Karen at 703-778-2233 for exact schedule) at FARRAH OLIVIA by MOROU. The superb food is a four course meal for only $60.00 per person and has hours of Broadway and Opera music sung by soprano DIANE ABEL and tenor JOSEPH HAUGHTON with Darrell Partin at the keyboard. You enjoy super food with Rossini, Puccini, Donizetti and more interspersed with West Side Story, Gypsy and Les Miz! Don't MIZ it! We'll be back again.

Last night we ordered a bottle of Rose to start which was out of stock and settled for the CUVEE Marie Justine 2006 LOIRE VALLEY Rose of Cabernet France (Chinon) that was only $20 and nice and dry and great with the starters as there was spice and acidity. First comes the excellent bread and its four accompaniments: BOK CHOY PESTO, CINNAMON FENNEL BUTTER, HORSERADISH-COTTAGE CHEESE and TOMATO PESTO, the last of which wins my award for flavor, although they were all tasty and unique.

There was an amuse of BLACK BEAN FRITTER in a Tomato base SHRIMP SAUCE that was crisp and tasty and whetted our appetites for the fabulous array of food to follow.

Will opted for the lighter HEIRLOOM TOMATO "Caprese" made from slices of huge yellow and red tomatoes with WATERMELON cubes and AGED MOZZARELLA. I adored the PAINTED GAZPACHO, which will be a new summer favorite. This version is presented in the bowl as a yin-yang symbol of green (Cucumber) and red (Tomato) with two small cubes of CURRIED EGGPLANT for flavor and design. Gorgeous to look at, and even better to devour.

The second course was DIVER SCALLOP for Will which on the menu is listed with "BACON POWDER/MELON SEED MILK" which our educated server Jason explained each element of (he always did this when requested). The brown sauce was made from cream, half and half, roasted melon seed milk (which is akin to pumpkin seeds) and believe it or not peanut butter!! It was heavenly and the crushed white bacon powder and bacon crumbles adorned either side of the bowl.

My SHOCKED ESCOLAR was a dream sashimi dish with about 8 or more slices of the just barely seared fish served with SOY PEARLS (which has become a signature of Chef Morou) looking like caviar, PICKLED PEAR (think ginger on sushi platter) Slices and slash of strong Cream WASABI. I loved every bite.

We took Jason's suggestion on the red, which also was out of stock, and chose a LOLONIS 2005 "ORPHEUS" Petite Sirah from Heritage Vineyards in Redwood Valley, California that was heavenly. It had strong alcohol and lots of fruit, but was not overpowering at all. It was ideal with the LEMONGRASS CURED DUCK BREAST (which we both had). Another huge portion of a dozen or so slices served with GINGERED BRUSSEL SPROUTS and DATES and a RHUBARD-RASPBERRY Sauce that looked like ketchup, but was simply brilliant with the duck; each and every element and taste came through just as Chef Morou does this when he puts each and every ingredient in!

Surprise to us when we heard pastry Chef RITA GARRUBA (ex of Butterfield 9 and more) has come on board with some amazing desserts. We marveled at her COCONUT PANNA COTTA with Rum Pineapple, Cilantro Syrup and Tapioca Pearls and a small plate of yummy mignardises arrived as we settled our bill and went home full and oh so happy from the gorgeous music and glorious food!

Off to Santa Fe tomorrow for many more reports!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

super soft shells and more at A LA LUCIA in Alexandria

Last night we took in a fabulous new musical (world premiere production of ROOMS at Metro Stage) in Alexandria and popped over to A LA LUCIA where we haven't been for some time (joined by our dear friends Mel & Juan).

As we looked at the menu, we all knew it was a seafood night (and the 9pm hour and heat made us feel this way as well) and ordered up a bottle of FALANGHINA 2007 from TERREDORA di PAOLO in Campania. All three wines were had were superb, crisp and tasty, but this was a memory for us all to our trip to Italy just a year before. The second white was a FALERNO del MASSIO 2005 from VILLA MATILDE from the same region, but our 3rd was a citrusy CHARDONNAY 2005 from I SISTRI in Tuscany that was perfect with the seafood.

Appetizers included a HUGE platter of tasty MUSSELS in SPICY WHITE SAUCE, LENTIL SOUP (which I prefer a bit thicker), GRILLED OCTOPUS with ARUGULA which came with grape tomatoes and two adorable whole baby octopi that again were tender and tasty and grilled to perfection.

POACHED ATRICHOKES were served with Capers, Black Olives and ANCHOVIES in a mild and savory White Wine Sauce making this a lighter, but most exciting dish.

Will and I could not resist the three perfect SOFT SHELL CRABS Sauteed with ALMONDS, WHITE WINE and served with Broccoli di Rabe. This dish reminded me of my first Soft Shell Crabs Amandine which my Mom always ordered at A La Fourchette in Manhattan back in the 60's and 70's (alas, now long closed!).

The WHOLE BAKED BRANZINO with Herbs, Lemon Butter Sauce and Fennel Salad was a revelation in tasty, fleshy, meaty fish preparation that melted in your mouth with each bite.

Desserts included CHOCOLATE CAKE, TIRAMISU, BERRIES with ZABAGLIONE and Sour Cherry and Grapefruit Campari (talk about sour combos) Sorbets that were actually a great combo! Nobody was upset with their choice and we all went home very full, very happy and very sad to leave!

Monday, July 28, 2008

MORTON's steaks for Samuel

In the heat of the summer, I sure am keeping you folks reading.

I would normally not post twice about the same meal, but this year we took Samuel along to MORTON's of Georgetown last night for their summer special. Each year, I get a couple of coupons in the mail for this deal which is a real steal at $99 per couple (excluding alcohol): That ubiquitous loaf of ONION BREAD which was nary as fresh as the one we had last year at the Connecticut Ave, NW location of Morton's. Choice of Salad (we went with CEASAR which is a superbly dressed salad, but the croutons are a bore)

The entree consisting of your choice of SURF along with TURF: We BOTH opted for the CRABCAKES which indeed were LUMPY and tasty and had oh so little filler, served with a slightly tangy lemony sauce that I loved instead of the traditionally awful tartare sauce! The TURF was a good size FILET MIGNON perfectly cooked and easily big enough to give a chunk of to Samuel without cutting myself short.

Samuel loves most meats and fish (not shellfish at all!) and it took a lot of coaxing to get the first bite of steak into his mouth. Once it was in, he said "yummy" several times.

The TWO sides of GRILLED JUMBO ASPARAGUS with Balsamic Glaze (which Samuel chose and enjoyed very much) and the FRENCH FRIES...which we knew we would ALL love--and they were excellent.

The BEARNAISE Sauce for the filets was nice.

I started with a fun THYME LEMON DROP, a yummy concoction of Absolut Citron, Limoncello, Simple Syrup, Lemon Juice and Thyme which was quite tasty and quite large in a big martini glass. Will had a glass of bone dry tart ALBARINO from Martin Codex 2006 (Rias Baixas, Spain).

Our bottle of wine was an excellent recommendation by the manager of "THE ZIN" 2005 from COSENTINO in Lodi, California which had a caramelly essence (very similar to the Tofanelli Vineyard zins) and lots of body and was brilliant with the filets.

The $99 deal also comes with a choice of dessert, we both had the huge piece of pretty good KEY LIME PIE (way overloaded with whipped cream, which I just pushed off to the side!).

Samuel had a scoop of Raspberry Sorbet and we all had a great deal!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

luscious LIMA makes for a savory summer stop

It's rare we go out on Saturday, and even rarer we take Samuel, but we have never been to LIMA ( downtown and figured that this "in" Latin spot would not be too crowded if we went early. We were spot on, and since LIMA is a big nightclub scene, it really had just started to fill up as we left around 8pm. How perfect was that timing?

At the door we were surprised to see our opera and zarzuela singer friend PABLO who I had forgotten works there. He is such a sweet guy that he brought a superb BLACKBERRY and STRAWBERRY SMOOTHIE upstairs for Samuel several minutes after we sat down.

The upstairs dining room (street level is the bar and kitchen, downstairs is the disco) is chic and trendy with lots of glass (modern oil lamps at each table instead of candles), gray and steel. The banquettes are more comfortable than the hardish leathery wooden chairs. Modern-style Schott crystal stemware adds to the sleekness. Indeed, if I have to say ONE bad thing about Lima, it's that the sleek stainless steel men's restroom is lacking a toilet seat which was broken! Other than that, it was a treat of an experience from the excellent food to the brilliant service proffered by our waiter Fausto. He explained that "lima" refers to "lime" in many Spanish dialects, so virtually every dish seems to touch on this at some level. Even the yummy butter has hints of lime and salt! Samuel gobbled up the small warm rolls and we all wanted more, just for the lime butter!

He enjoyed the SALTED COD FRITTERS with their tasty and not too spicy TOMATO SAUCE (even though its called "spicy tomato sauce," but he passed on the superb huge BEEF EMPANADAS saying they were too spicy (they weren't!). Made with raisins and olives the meat was tasty and moist and the pastry perfect with an indeed spicy CHIMICHURRI dip. Our first two requests for wine were sold out, so we settled for a BLACK CHOOK VMR (Viognier,Marsanne,Rousanne blend) from South Australia that was big enough to fight the lime and spice in some of the dishes.

Choosing the ceviches (available as ceviche or as tiradito(no lime--aka sashimi) was very hard, but Fausto suggested the superb TUNA GINGER which was made with green onion, white soy, lemon, sesame seed and tobico (I guess this is the Spanish spelling for "tobiko"). Will wanted to try the WHITE CEVICHE (incidentally they can be ordered as all fish or fish with shellfish--scallop and shrimp) so we went for this pretty dish with COCONUT, Pineapple, Lime, Habaneros and Cilantro. It sounded better than it tasted simply because it was too laden with raw white onions and needed a bit more oomph or flavor
leaning towards the savory and away from the coconut. I look forward to going back again and trying the many other options.

We chose a number of HOT SMALL DISHES which are quite large appetizer portions (like the empanadas and cod) and were thrilled with the soft moist tasty TAMALES with Chicken, Watercress and two dipping sauces of PICO de GALLO and CREME FRAICHE. Indeed, these might just be the best tamales I have ever had, as I so often find them to be a boring option.

The GRILLED BABY OCTOPUS was tender and tasty and came with Grape Tomatoes, Garlic Olives and Cilantro.

We wanted to split one entree and could not decide, so Fausto steered us to the CUBAN CHICKEN saying that Chef Raynold Mendizabal indeed hails from Cuba. This superb moist traditional dish was a 1/2 chicken roasted and served with yummy LIME BRAISED RED ONIONS, Steamed aged Basmati Rice and Chimichurri Sauce (lighter and less spicier here) with the Black Beans on the side, which we promptly poured over the rice for a brilliant mixture.

Samuel was not too full for dessert so he got a huge platter of three homemade sorbets: LIME which was excellent and MANGO & RASPBERRY which were creamier and smooth and also superb. When I asked him which was best, he hinted at the lime, but proceeded to say "all three."

We were too full for dessert, but Chef Raynold had come over to say hello and invited us to the kitchen for a short tour. Samuel seemed enthralled and we tasted some superb BLUE SPANISH CHEESE (next time we must have the cheeses and the charcuterie as well!) with some figs. Chef offered a chocolate covered fig to Samuel, and we gave in as he licked the chocolate off the tasty fruit and passed the rest to me; and we thought our son loved almost ALL fruit!

On the way out we bumped into the dining room manager Ciroc, who had been a fixture at Galileo for dozens of years, and it was nice to see he has found a new home, one that we shall surely return to again very soon.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Superb SPICED PEAR at the classy CHANLER in Newport, RI

On Saturday afternoon while in Newport, I visited the The CHANLER at Cliff Walk to check out this mansion turned hotel and it's a gorgeous gem. I was first impressed by the CNN & ESPN running screens above the urinals in the men's room, which was great since we don't get much news on the ship!

I then relaxed indoors at THE SPICED PEAR, the Chanler's elegant, yet casual dining spot, as it was 90degrees outside and I needed the cool air after my 40 minute walk across town.

I was impressed that the wine list for a hotel offers (although small) 2 ounce pours as well as 5 ounce pours on all glasses, including a Krug Champagne (5 ounce only) for $60.

As I sat there overlooking Easton's beach and the hundreds of bathers below, I was happy to cool off with a taste of PARES BALTA "Ros de Pacs" Organic Rose from Penedes (Spain) at $5.00 (perhaps a bit pricey) which cooled me off fast. With this came BLUE POINT CONNECTICUT local OYSTERS with a Fresh Horseradish Kettel One Vodka Cocktail Sauce that was to die for. I am not a big fan of sauces on raw oysters, so I ate them with just a tad of lemon and then spooned the yummy tangy cocktail sauce into my mouth between bits of the tasty mollusks.

For my entree I chose the MAINE WHOLE LOBSTER ROLL which is exactly that: a round bun (hamburger style) each half containing a half tail and whole claw!! with Applewood Smoked Bacon (crisp and thick), tomato, Bibb lettuce and a Citrus Creme Fraiche. The roll had a layer of light mustard sauce at the bottom under the tomato which added a bit of tang, but was not mentioned in the menu?? This came with a nice small leaf lettuce salad (but I had a choice of that, chips or fries). A glass of THEVENET St. Veran 2006 "Clos de l'Ermitage" Vieilles Vignes was a perfect wine for the lobster, even at $16 a glass (5 ounce).

I skipped desert and hurried to meet Will to visit more mansions in Newport, but sadly not to dine in them!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Provincetown, Mass's The LOBSTER POT has alas turned a bit lousy

While in port yesterday we lunched at the LOBSTER POT ( right at Harborside on Commercial Street. It's always been a popular spot, but alas, I haven't been there to eat in almost 20 years!

One of their specialties has always been the BAKED STUFFED LOBSTER which is stuffed with a mixture of shrimp, scallop, crab, Ritz crackers, celery and sauteed onion and served with a sad tiny baked red potato and a delicious small salad which has a superb choice of dressings. Upon the suggestion of my co-worker and friend, Bob G., who was vacationing in town and joined us for lunch, I mixed the CREAMY GARLIC with the SESAME to make a super and not too rich combo! He is right, they should bottle it! Sadly the stuffing in the lobster was bland and the meat itself was fine, but nothing to compare with the day before in Maine.

The New England Clam Chowder was a bit too gummy for me and seemed to have only two or three small bits of clam; again, not a touch to the West Street Cafe in Bar Harbor.

Three of the guys went for the LOBSTER ROLLS which were huge and much bigger than we had in Canada, but NOWHERE near as tasty and a bit too heavy on the mayo.

The 1/2 litre of Casa Garcia VINHO VERDE from Portugal at $15 was a great deal (and the 5 of us polished off three 1/2 litres) and a treat in the 90 degree heat.

I think Bob's choice of the SEAFOOD COBB SALAD was really the best choice at the table, although the boys liked their Grilled Cheese and Hot Dog!

I'd search elsewhere in Provincetown for better lobsters and finer food and leave the Lobster Pot for the salads!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

lusciuos lobsters at the wondrous WEST STREET CAFE in beautiful Bar Harbor, Maine

Our day in Bar Harbor, Maine started off pretty horribly with disaster after disaster in our travel plans, but after a wonderful 3 hour tour of Acadia National Park we were back in town and opted to lunch at the West Street Cafe (76 West Street - and were thrilled with our choice as the lobsters were huge, superb, juicy and fun; some of the best ever.

Two of us chose the DOWNEASTER Special for $25 which included a 1-1/2+ pound lobster, New England Clam Chowder, Fries, Slaw and BLUBERRY PIE to die for with Vanilla Ice Cream. This was a great, no, AMAZING DEAL. One of us chose the Special for $31 which brought the HUGE LOBSTER on a bed of MUSSELS instead of the bowl of chowder. The ultimate decadence was the TWIN TAILS option for $39 which included two full tails along with their four claws and sides.

We all marveled at the superb quality of the lobster and wished it was this good back home, not to mention this fresh.

The boys split a pizza and were in heaven as we rolled out after also finishing a bottle of Chateau Ste. Michelle 2006 Chardonnay from Washington that worked perfectly with lobster, lobster, lobster and lobster.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Lunching in the Canadian Maritimes (St John, NB and Halifax, NS)

I know you are all itching to hear about the varied cuisine of the Canadian Maritime Provinces, which actually can be quite good. Sadly, on this cruise we are now on, we only have the opportunity for two lunches on land in Canada.

Yesterday, we chose TACO PICA (96 Germain St) in St. John, New Brunswick, an unassuming simple Guatemalan-Mexican place which our friend Lee was dying to eat at with our Guatemalan boys, calling it the northnmost Guatemalan restaurant on earth (probably).

The boys did fine sharing a CHICKEN QUESADILLA sans salsa as we started on an appetizer of GUACAMOLE NACHOS which were very good chips with awful melted cheese on them, a superb spicy salsa on the side and a bowl of yummy guac.

The drinks were large, refreshing and way too full of ice, but nice (Sangria & Mojitos).

The entrees were all quite large and tasty ranging from TACO AL PASTOR- pork, onion, coriander, lettuce and that hot salsa again which Will traded for the milder style.

BEEF PEPIAN was more "Guatemalan" in that it was a traditional stew of shredded beef with rice and tortilla.

I hit the jackpot with the tastiest and HOTTEST dish of all SHELLFISH in GREEN SAUCE which was a very spicy tomatillo base sauce over rice, tortilla and superb local scallops, fleshy fish, small shrimp and sadly a 1/2 dozen plus way-overcooked mussels that seemed to be empty (so much for being near Prince Edward Island and its famous mussels). We skipped dessert in favor of the local ice cream later in the day which was delish and headed out to sea.

Today we hit the jackpot with local seafood here in Halifax, Nova Scotia at SALTY's ( downtown on the waterfront. A super-friendly spot (as so much of Canada tends to be) we sat right on the water and ordered up a bottle of GRAND PRE (Nova Scotia) Vineyards 2007 L'ACADIE BLANC. We did not know the grapes, but it sure was a tasty Sauvignon Blanc-like makeup; bright, crisp, acidic and citrusy. The Alex Keith's Light Ales also got high marks, made locally right here in Halifax at a beautiful old brewery.

The kids ate Grilled Cheese and Chicken Fingers accompanied by some of the tastiest fries ever with a kid's dish. The four adults wolfed down the most superb LOBSTER ROLLS with lemon mayo and salads with Raspberry Vinaigrette. Excellent lobster, juicy and meaty right from the ocean nearby was a real treat.

After lunch we headed to COW's next door which has just been rated one of the top ten ice cream spots in THE WORLD! Rich, creamy ice cream in waffle cones just baked on the spot were great with flavors of COFFEE TOFFEE CRUNCH, MOO CRUNCH, WOWIE COWIE and one we chose to skip, MOO YORK CHEESECAKE :-)

Tomorrow, LOBSTERS in Bar Harbor, Maine!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

another take on LA TASCA and miss Matchbox

Yesterday before the theater, we headed over to the Penn Quarter here in DC to meet up with some friends for dinner. A huge accident on Key Bridge blocked everything around for miles, so we called them up to say we were running about 20 mins late.

We were supposed to meet at Matchbox which has recently doubled in size and takes no reservations. Our friends said the table wait was over 20 minutes and they would not even take the party's name until we were all there. While I understand this procedure, it sure can dampen one's planes to make the performance!

We were supposed to meet at Matchbox at 615pm, and we were four blocks away at about 635pm and when we called them up again, the wait was way over 20 minutes, so we all met at LA TASCA ( which was full (as almost everything in the neighborhood was), but had no wait at all.

It was half price Sangria pitcher night (they run some kind of special each night) so we ordered up pitcher number one of the sparkly CAVA SANGRIA made with Cava, grape juice and blueberries (on top of the traditional ingredients).

Our tapas were the CALAMARES ANDALUZA which were okay with a standard garlic mayo, LANGOSTINOS a la PLANCHA which were medium size head-on shrimp (hardly the jumbo described on the menu for over $11 for four!)which were also just okay. We fared much better with the SALMON a la PLANCHA sobre PISTO MANCHEGO which was a nice large piece of salmon in a tasty tomato-vegetable ragout and the ATUN a la PLANCHA con PIQUILLOS y SALSA VERDE, a similar preparation for tuna with sweet peppers and garlic, which was just a bit overcooked for my palate.

BROCHETA de POLLO couldn't be simpler with chicken, red peppers and spices cooked to a juicy perfection. The always yummy ESPINACAS SALTEADAS is sauteed spinach with garlic, pine nuts and raisins seemed to have less garlic than usual, but was still my fave. The big surprise hit was the BERENJENAS GRATINADAS, fresh eggplant baked with cheese, tomato and herbs...a superb concoction with firm tasty eggplant and no sloppy slime that I often associate with this veggie.

Our second pitcher of the SANGRIA BLANCO (white wine with peaches) disappeared and we tried the third, a CADILLAC RED SANGRIA (they use Cadillac to indicate premium level of wine) made with Sangre di Toro Red Wine which was my least favorite of the three, but still refreshing.

We ordered the PAELLA de CARNE made with moist chicken, tasty sausage, asparagus, peas, green beans and superbly moist orange-tinged rice from the tomato stock. This is one of La Tasca's fortes and totally over-filled us all as we rolled down the street to the theater!

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Arlington's VAPIANO has varied results

Last weekend we headed over to Arlington with Samuel's friend, Joshua and his two daddies after we saw the wonderful production of the LION KING at the Kennedy Center. We were all hyped up for BIG BUN's highly rated burgers only to find them closed for the entire holiday weekend! So we looked around the neighborhood and spotted VAPIANO ( 4401 Wilson Blvd, opposite Ballston Commons) and decided to give it a try.

Upon entering the manager asked if we knew the "routine" which he quickly explained as he handed each adult a "credit card" valued up to $100 to purchase our food with. He explained that we pay upon departure and present the card for each purchase. There are no waiters or servers and you can sit a regular tables, high tables or in the lounge area near the front bar. The place is pretty and simple enough, but it is a bit confusing and daunting at first.

I would never recommend this type of dining if you want SERVICE or if you have children with no patience. We stuck the kids with one parent at the table to play while we attempted to navigate the lines marked PIZZA/PASTA/ANTIPASTO, etc. This is the first problem in that you must get each item in a different line and if the lines are long food can get cold and those waiting at the table (little tots especially) can get impatient.

I headed right for the antipasto counter and asked for the VITELLO TONNATO since there was no line there at all. I was handed a bleeper/ buzzer thingie (like the kind you get waiting for a table at the Outback Steakhouse) and proceeded to the bar to get four glasses and a bottle of CUSUMANO NERO d'AVOLA, a medium to full bodied red which was a bargain at $25. When I got back to the table and poured the others were beginning to return with a salad or whatever here. The pasta line was still quite long as the others waited there.

My buzzer buzzed and I retreived a large platter of sliced cold veal that was quite dry, but nicely sauced with the tuna cream sauce, capers and arugula. The overall whole was pretty good, and only for $9.00.

The kids started devouring their pasta BOLOGNESE which came after about 15 minutes in line for the daddies. This can be ordered in the reasonable size for kids at $4.45 or the regular adult $8.95, but this is NOT advertised!

You also can choose which TYPE of pasta you like from a photo chart displaying about 8 regular and 2 whole wheat styles.

I ordered a PAPPARDELLE with SALSICCIA CALABRESE which amounted to thinner and shoter than normal pappardelle (I think it's really a different type of pasta) with sliced salami-like sausage piled over WHITE BEANS and SUN DRIED TOMATOES with a superb sauce in a monster bowl all for $10.95. The chef at the counter asked if I liked extra garlic or chilies while preparing, so you can actually have input while you stand there which is very nice.

The pizza was decent, but gets no raves from me and the salads are tasty and huge.

A second bottle of ALTOS LAS HORMIGAS MALBEC from Argentina was an even bigger wine and went even better with my garlic-laden and chili infused pasta.

The menu has 5 simple pasta preparations called "Traditional," 4 "classic" and 11 "premium" all priced between $8-11.

We skipped desserts and headed home quite full and reasonably happy, but felt it's not a great place if the lines are long and one has hungry kids.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

AGRARIA is amazing and needs attention

Several months ago I joined an internet group called the TASTINGS JOURNAL, which I can not rave enough about. Their website is and feel free to check it out.

Every several weeks they send a set men out available at a specific restaurant for a limited time. Often, we don't have the time at the last minute to try these wonderful "tasting" options, but this week we MADE time and took Samuel along with us to AGRARIA on the riverfront in Georgetown. It was fun to take Samuel down the staircase at Washington Harbour with its huge sprouting fountains on Tuesday evening last, as it got him excited about eating out again. We decided (after the buggy incident several weeks ago) to sit inside but next to the floor to ceiling windows facing the multiple fountains and the river with its bustling boats beyond. At 6pm, it was bustling inside and out, with many folks hitting the various post-work bars in the complex for happy hour or dinner. Inside, Agragria ( has muted colors with lots of woods, cool lighting and slate accents (which even goes into the restrooms which are quite nice). The menu is based on sustainable agriculture and it shows, much care and thought has gone into the ingredients and the dishes, and I am thrilled we finally made it here to enjoy the wonderful cuisine.

We got Samuel started off with an entree (partial size portion was delivered upon request; there is no children's menu here) of GRILLED CHICKEN in lemon thyme marinade with Roasted Fingerling Potatoes and Grilled Asparagus. At first, all he wanted was the standard "kid's dish" but we explained that if he wanted to eat out with us, there would not always be fish sticks or pasta. He was given a choice of several items and reluctantly agreed to the chicken. Once it came, he was ecstatic, as we were. We all tasted the juicy lemony meat which made me want to go home and cook lemon chicken the next night (I didn't). Even though the potatoes were roasted and not french fries, he adored them as well as the slim grilled asparagus. He ate most of the plate and finished it off (or did we) the next night at home!

Oh, yes, the reason we came was for the Tastings Journal Menu which is a STEAL at $45.00 and includes FOUR COURSES plus a glass of wine with the entree!! These are four standard size portions of two appetizers, an entree and a dessert. Needless to say, since everything was simply perfect, we went home quite full. The only thing worth skipping at Agraria is the dry bread (don't be teased because it comes warm), although Samuel seemed to like it.

The options for the entire menu and our choices follow (incidentally, if you join Tastings Journal right now, this menu is still available through tomorrow):
House Salad-Mesculun Greens with Roasted Red Peppers, Pickled Red Onions, Cucumbers, Nicoise Olives & Marinated Feta Cheese

I had the MELON SALD of CANTALOUPE & HONEYDEW (both perfectly ripe) with Arugula, Spiced Hazelnuts, House Cured Duck Prosciutto and Lavender Vanilla Vinaigrette. The light drizzle of dressing was sublime, but I did have to ask our most considerate and attentive server, Dorlyn, where the prosciutto was; it came almost instantly on a separate plate.

Will chose the TOMATO MOZARELLA SALAD with Peeled GRAPE TOMATOES and CILIEGINE Mozzarella tossed with EVOO garnished with mint and crispy porsicutto, a delish and light starter but there was more to come.

The SECOND course options included:
WILD MAINE MUSSELS in White Wine Lemon House Made Broth
SUMMER VEGETABLE BRUSCHETTA of hand pulled artichoke hearts, asparagus, sugar snap peas warmed with EVOO and served on grilled sourdough bread compress

We both could not resist the PAN SEARED CRAB CAKE served atop LEMON PUREE and topped with an amazing TOMATO JAM & Mache Salad. This brilliant and novel approach to our city's age old dish might just make it one of the top winners in a new crabcake competition in DC! Creamy, yet not made with filler, the tomato and lemon on either side contrast and also blend to make a real treat.

The menu entrees included the chicken, but on ROTISSERIE rather than grilled, a VEGETARIAN POLENTA and the two dishes we choose:
Will went with the HAMACHI - Grilled young YELLOWTAIL served atop Wilted BABY BOK CHOY, EDAMAME, thin sliced daikon radish, julienne carrots in a ginger miso broth. It was Asian all the way, and a great summer lighter dish for those not interested in meat. With it Will received a glass of SHOO FLY WHITE BLEND (Dorlyn said it was Pinot Gris & Chardonnay).

I went literally for the whole hog: HERITAGE PORK brined center-cut loin, grilled and served "low-country" style with Red Beans & Rice, Tasso Ham and CRAWFISH GUMBO SAUCE. It was as lightly spicy, tasty, moist dish that would have filled two mouths. I received a glass of LADYBUG Red Cuvee VII Old Vines from Redwood Valley that was a blend of Zinfandel, Merlot, Cabernet, and Carmeniere that was just right with the pork dish, although anything bigger would have been fine as well.

We both enjoyed a bottle of 2006 MOON MOUNTAIN SAUVIGNON BLANC from Sonoma with our first courses that is a perfect wine on a hot summer night and goes with so many dishes as well. It's a good buy at under $40 when so many wines have an awful markup these days (I'm sure this is still over 100%!).

Desserts are as impressive as everything else at AGRARIA as Samuel gobbled up three scoops of housemade sorbet: Blackberry, Mango & White Peach. He enjoyed making it into rainbow swirl in the dish as Will gobbled up the KEY LIME PIE with Graham Crust and Brown Sugar Meringue. My MIXED BERRY CHEESECAKE was another revelation. Not desne, too rich or heavy, it had a slight fluff to it, but still lots of flavor and was surrounded by berries with a luxurious bath of black, red and blue berry sauce that we all adored (especially Sam). Think of fluffy cheesecake sitting in a berry soup and you have this excellent dessert that I could eat regularly, if my cholesterol were not so high!

AGRARIA is worth keeping in your sights and on your table!