Sunday, December 20, 2009

TIMO takes top place in Sunny Isles (North Miami Beach), FL. (12-20-09)

If you check out your Miami Zagat Guide IL MULINO gets rates 25 for
service and food and higher marks for decor than TIMO, but if you walk
across the street from Il Mulino at the Acqualina you will find a same
rates food location at TIMO ( at 17624 Collins
Ave for less than 1/2 the price. The service rating is 2 points lower,
but then, we did not need three people hovering over our table all
evening for an extra $40 per person! This small beach neighborhood of
high rises at the north end of Miami Beach (north of Bar Harbour and
south of Hollywood and Hallandale) does not offer lots of dining
choices, so TIMO is a real find mixing Italian with American cuisine
under the guidance of Chef Tim Andreola, who has been there for over
1/2 a dozen years after leaving the post of Executive Chef at Mark's
South Beach (he was previously at Chef Allen's; these two spots are
well known uber-dining spots in Miami!). The dining room is small and
a bit noisy, but cozy and never felt crowded. There is an exposed
brick at the rear and the wood-fired oven for pizza in it. The right
third of the room is a bar area.
Our server, Nicholas was friendly, informative and helpful, and
managed most of needs quickly (the place was HEAVING!) once we settled
in. The five of us started with a bottle of Rousanne that was corked
and quickly switched to a yummy GODELLA from Rafael Palacios "As
Sortes" from Val do Bibei 2007 in the Valdeorras region of Spain. I
also noticed the Negroamaro we had the night before for $90 was $54 on
Timo's menu!
The tasty flatbreads, simple focaccia with olive oil and more arrived
and we dug in as we ordered.
It was hard to choose from the not so huge menu, which is a credit to
the selections themselves. Our starters were MUSHROOM SOUP with
Truffled Ricotta & Marsala which I did not taste, but Will and I spli
two delightful varied treats:
SHAVED PORTUGUESE OCTOPUS with Orange, Fennel & Green Olives was a
light salad-like dish with the thinnest slices of octopus, tasty
shredded fennel (and you know I am picky about the fennel) and a nice
light dressing. Marylanders will be thrilled with the crab treatment
as it is JUMBO LUMB BLUE CRAB baked as a cake in an Large ARTICHOKE
Heart in a simple but tasty Lemon-Brown Butter. The portion was easy
to split and large and novel to us from the DC crab region.
We moved on to a wonderful sipping red between courses that was not
too big and just right for the moment:
ROSSO di MONTALCINO from Friggiali 2004 has a great nose and is smooth
in the mouth and makes no demand for food. Our second red was a superb
choice recommended by Nicholas and great for the price as well:
BARBERA d'ASTI 2006 "Serraboella" from Cigiliati in Piemonte is a new
hit with me having great earthy tones and unlike the Sangiovese (and
indeed most Baberas) asked for food.
Our food was a great accompaniment to this wine or vice versa, and we
had a true variety of dishes:
PAPPARDELLE came with a 1-1/4 lb. of MAINE LOBSTER as a "Bolognese"
without the red meat of course. It was a superb preparation and here
the pasta was al dente to perfection, something Il Mulino seems to
think is not the objective (perhaps most American prefer the pasta
overcooked and are catered to that way). My RAVIOLI "alla Genovese"
were four (also perfectly al dente) HUGE ravioli stuffed with a meat
ragu of Sweetbreads, Sausage, Parmesan and topped with Crispy Sage.
The seasoning of the filling was simply perfect. Even those who shy
away from sweetbreads at our table were impressed with the meat
Pizza here gets super high ratings with thin tasty crusts and Will's
BLACK & WHITE came with Ricotta, Mozzarella, Provolone and Shaved
Black Truffles enhanced by Truffle Oil. Will added thinly sliced
pieces of tasty Prosciutto to this perfect pizza making it even
PORK TENDERLOIN was delish and came with an amazing GREEN APPLE & BLUE
CHEESE RISOTTO that was to die for, and the RED WINE BRAISED LAMB
SHANK with Wild Mushrooms and Truffled French Lentils was a masterful
dish down to the little marrow scooped out of the end of the bone!
Not one of us disliked a bite of anything!
Desserts were okay, with the sorbets being big hits with flavors of
Apple Strudel with Calvados & Caramel Sauce. Will's Warm Liquid Center
Chocolate Cake with Caramelized Banana Ice Cream and Dulce di Leche
seemed to be the most popular at our table (you know I'm not a
chocoholic) and my Macadamia Brittle & Gelato with Caramlized Banana,
Pineapple and Toasted Coconut offered up a huge tasty tuile but a bit
too much gelato in a porion that two or three could have eaten. A
glass of CHATEAU TIRECUL La Graviere 2003 MONBAZILLAC was sweet and
thick and sent me home ever so happy.
A meal with friends is always great, but finding a new destination
that we all loved makes it an even better treat.

Our reports will now only be from ports where we enjoy special lunches
during our 18-day Panama Cruise Canal which starts today! See you at

IL MULINO (Sunny Isles, FL) costs molto moola, but manages to make it impress

Those of you back in DC know what happened yesterday weather-wise, so
we were truly blessed and grateful that we made it here to Florida to
begin our vacation.
We WERE scheduled to fly down to Ft. Lauderdale today to join our
cruise ship, the STATENDAM tomorrow, for an 18-day Panama Canal Cruise
ending in San Diego, When we woke Friday morning, we knew we were in
for TRAVEL TROUBLE, so I quickly rebooked us for ANYTHING I could find
to get us here as early as possible to beat the storm (which in the
end, dumped over 13 inches of snow on DC!). Nothing was available
Friday, so we settled for 10am Saturday, which ultimately got canceled
and I managed to get us onto an 830am. It was not easy and I was up
all Friday night, except for about 2 hours of solid sleep, checking
and rechecking the flights on my travel computer at home.
Needless to say when our family awoke at 5am Saturday to head out to
National Airport, I was beyond exhausted. We explained to Samuel that
it might be a long and difficult day, and to please try and be
understanding of ay delays and difficulties. It started at home when I
spent almost an hour on hold with taxi companies, so we eventually got
in our 4wheel drive and drove to the airport (add on $264 parking for
this trip!). We were shocked that one of the few flights still
scheduled out after 6-7 inches of snow was ours. We had rebooked in
coach (even though we paid for First class) and a super amazingly nice
guy at the gate put us back in First 5 seconds before boarding due to
the large number of no-shows; no surprise there.
After 2 hours delay on the plane getting fuel, baggage loaded, decided
twice and runways plowed, we were one of the last planes to leave DC
before they shut down National. We land less than two hours late and
in shock that we even made it as visibility was so bad all I saw out
the window for 10 minutes after takeoff was SNOW and clouds (we could
not even see the Potomac just yards away from the runway!). Applause
erupted from all of us on board; boy, were we lucky!
So that all said, when we arrived at the beautiful ACQUALINA RESORT
here in Sunny Isles Beach on the Atlantic just north of Miami Beach
and south of Hollywood & Lauderdale, we really did not want to go
anywhere for dinner other than in the hotel. The only option was IL
MULINO, a branch of the notorious and long-lived Italian tradition in
Greenwitch Village that had made its way as far as Tokyo and Vegas as
well as DC and here. I knew IL MULINO was pricey, but decided to give
it try. I must agree that Tom Sietsema's notes on the DC location are
correct when he says to enjoy all the complimentary antipasti they
bring to the table and the breads, order an appetizer and skip the
main courses because they do cost so much.
SPICY marinated ZUCCHINI was one of the superb antipasti along with
Italian Salami and Bruschetta with Mussels. The breads were Garlic
(which Samuel decided he did not like), plain breads and a tasty
crunchy slightly spicy "focaccia" which was more like flat crostini.
The wines tend to all be priced over $50, so we started with a 2004
CHIANTI CLASSICO Riserva from NOZZOLE that was smooth and tasty and
went on to a slightly spicy and great with food NEGROAMARO "Masseria
Maime" 2002 from TOMARESCA in Puglia for a slightly overpriced $90.
I must give IL Mulino credit for superb service. There were captains,
waiters, busboys and more always in attendance, friendly and
There is no children's menu, but they will prepare a 1/2 order of
pasta, so Samuel went right for the SPAGHETTI BOLOGNESE (at $18+ for a
1/2 portion!!) and he finished off with a superb LEMON Sorbet
gorgeously presented in a frozen hollowed lemon.
We decided to split some of the pastas and our friends Michael &
Robert, whom I have known for over twenty years (Michael was the first
person Samuel met when he came to the USA and Michael met us at the
Miami Airport during our layover from Guatemala!), and we were drawn
to the specials (recited tableside without prices).
Michael & I opted to split of a HALF PORTION FETTUCINE with STONE CRAB
which was a super tasty and spicy dish due to a generous amount of Red
Chilis. A huge claw came on the side of each. It was delish, but The
claws are stil nothing to compare with our Maryland Crabs. Shock
arrived when bill arrived and the 1/2 portion price rang in at $27,50
(that's $55 for a full portion of fettucine with 4 crab claws!).
Will enjoyed the less expensive 1/2 portion of PORCINI RAVIOLI with
Black Truffles and Robert had a tasty CAPRESE with superb mozzarella
and tomato. Oddly, I tasted two of the huge fresh basil leaves on each
of the bites I took and one was flavorful, the other intensely bitter!
Veal seemed to be the popular choice for main courses and that makes
sense in an Italian restaurant where the Veal dishes outnumber all the
others. Will went for SALTIMBOCCA with sage and prosciutto, Michael
went simple with Picatta (lemon) and I went spicy with VITELLO alla
ZINGARA (gypsy-style) with mildly spicy white wine sauce, wild
mushrooms, tomato and capers. The portions WERE huge and more
reasonably priced than some dishes in the $28-zone. Robert chose the
special whole BRANZINO presented tableside and then filleted to
perfection. It was also huge, but at $55 should have been an aquarium
full of fish! Oddly, the fish was superb, but needed a bit more tan
the plain lemon offered to season.
The highlight of the main course was the side dish of PEAS with ONIONS
We thought dessert would be nice and it got confusing with everything
being recited tableside. I heard something about berries with Grand
Marnier flambeed and when it came it was just Orange slice with Kiwi,
so they sent over a complimentary bowl of fresh berries with sabayon.
Poached Pear in White Wine with more Sabayon was a huge dessert, but
the Coconut Sorbet paled next to Samuel's lemon version.
Complimentary glasses of GREEN APPLE infused GRAPPA were like a super-
tart apply limoncello with even a bigger alcohol punch and ended a fun
and tasty meal that delivered a $500 bill (without tip) for the 4
adults and one child ($150 of which was wine) that still was steep,
but not insane.
Since breakfast here at the ACQUALINA is also at IL MULINO and the
plates all were priced at $20 or more, we headed across the street to
Denny's this morning where our bill totaled less than $30 and I know
after that I won't eat a meal until dinner....
From cloudy, windy and quite cool Florida.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Chicago's MOTO - mighty mouthwatering and maybe too much (12-5-09)

In the past I have enjoyed the "chemical" aspects of some modern
chefs, yet I fear none compares to the likes of Chef HOMARU CANTU who
calls home MOTO (945 West Fulton in a
neighborhood just to the west of the loop that is basically deserted
in the evening and can be a bit scary. Again, I had the opera at
730pm, so I sat down at 5pm for what I thought would be a choice of a
10 or 20 course meal. They have eliminated this option and now only
serve a 15-course meal ($150) and this comes with an option of 6 wines
for $45 or 11 for $85. I took the former knowing I had to head to the
I did manage to finish most of the meal, but 2-1/4 hours is not really
enough, and that was my own first mistake. It was another cold night
and MOTO does not offer much warmth with large cold gray granite
tables, similar colored walls with some wood panels and each table
having only 2 water glasses on it when you are seated. Some of the men
have earplugs a la Secret Service, which I thought was funny. The
chairs are comfy velvety and in the front (choose the back if its cold
out as a draft comes in with vengeance as the door is opened) there
are huge high private booths. The music seemed to go from loud
mindless to soft to Middle Eastern to everything and really should
have been toned down a bit.

The menu is delivered in the form of a sheet of GARLIC BREAD with
Garlic Butter, Balsamic and a Roasted Garlic Clove in the bottom of
the bowl. The bread has all 15 courses printed on it (the bottom says
"our menus are baked fresh daily") and gets you off to a funny start
as the waiter says, "Did you enjoy your menu this evening?" A glass of
very bubbly and very yeasty J. LaSalle Premier Cru IMPERIAL PREFERENCE
Brut from Chigny Les Roses was a treat. All the wine is served in
Riedel, and everything is tasted by the sommelier or server as each
bottle is opened.
The server announces breakfast nest as SCRAMBLED EGGS & MUFFIN which I
adored. it was a scrambled eggs looking GAZPACHO of tomato, cucumber,
lemon and onion on one side and a "muffin" of Garlic Meringue with
Vegan Corn Butter on top. On the side was a "tater tot" which was
really a crunchy tempura style shrimp.
The key here is to fool the diner.
The 2nd wine was a Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc from J. SABON 2008 "Clos
du Mont Olivet" that I adored which was very soft with lots of fruit
and more minerality as it warmed up. GRUYERE & ONIONS was next which
was a bowl with a spoon of Caramelized Onions and a swath of Gruyere
Puree on top which Onion Soup was poured and a large shrimp toast like
standing Onion Chip. The soup needed to be hotter, but the dish was
quite nice.
LOADED FRIES was one of my favorites all evening and was really potato
puree with bacon, jalapeno, Wisconsin cheddar and sour cream on top of
which were some tiny fried shoestring potatoes. The server took the
votive candle that had been placed on the table with my menu and
drizzled the wax (really made of fat) over the dish. While it was
really just glorified mashed potatoes, it was the concept that was
Luis Plato, PREMIERA ESCOLHA 2000 from Beiras in Portugal was a new
red for me made from the Baga grape that was oh so smooth. I would buy
this vintage if available now!
SEARED BUFFALO HOT WINGS had a packet on the side which was explained
an edible paper with the spice from a hot wings dish that I could bite
as much of as I liked to add or remove spice. The dish itself was a
CAPON LEG CONFIT with slice of breast of capon over the top in a sauce
of CAMBRAZOLA (Camembert and Gorgonzola) Cheese with Celery Root Puree
and PEQUIN CHILI for spice. It was rich and divine and a big hit with
me. I laughed as I read the patent on the spice paper and munched it a
little with some of the capon.
CO2 PINEAPPLE & JERK was the least exciting dish all night with a ring
of Carbonated Pineapple in the bottom of a narrow bowl (making it very
hard to cut) and a small plastic testtube like thingie filled with a
liquified jerk chicken with ginger and cardamom. The broth was
interesting and seemed to be ebst poured over the pineapple, and oddly
the red wine went very well with this.
The next wine was a SOTER NORTH VALLEY Pinot Noir 2007 from the
Willamette Valley in Oregon that was also very smooth with a nice
lasting finish for a young Pinot.
My top favorite dish was next for presentation as well as taste-CUBAN
Cigar was a smoked pork in red pepper and habanero coulis wrapped in
collard green complete with edible Cohiba Cigar wrapping. It was
served on a small metal ashtray and in the tray was a black & white
crushed sesame powder with soffrito that made the cigar look like it
had burned down a bit. I picked up the "cigar" and dipped it in the
ash and have to admit, it was the first and only cigar that has
entered my mouth and I LOVED IT.
RUEBEN Lasagna was made with corned beef in between slices of
Sauerkraut "pasta" with caraway, Swiss cheese melted on top and a dill
pollen chip (like a pickle flavor) on the side.
SHABUccino was a slice of prime rib (almost tartare) with Edamame,
truffled potato and a compressed white truffle powder cube (looking
like a sugar cube) and a mushroom beef broth. A small pitcher of white
foam on the side completed the "cappuccino" effect. I missed one
"fermented" ingredient somewhere, but the dish seemed to be a bit flat
for me.
The next red wine was a TRUCHARD Napa ZIN 2005 from a winemaker I
have personally known and loved for years. This was the perfect wine
with the MEXICAN CANNOLI, another attempt at fooling us into believing
this was dessert. The filling was chili braised duck leg wrapped in a
crunchy corn tortilla and served on a mole sauce with roasted pumpkin
seeds, sour cream and a fairly mild crushed jalapeno powder. By this
time I was getting tired of the repeated powders, even though they
were tasty. The crunchy "cannoli" was lots of fun and truly delicious
though, as was the sauce.
RAINBOW SPRINKLES was another hard to guess ahead dish. Compromised of
Lentils, a Foie Gras Mousse Cupcake and pistachio crunch topping on
the cupcake, a slice of seared Foie Gras and a Blackberry-Sherry
Vinegar Gastrique it was really two separate items served on a wild
two tier dish that is simply impossible to explain. The cupcake was
difficult to eat as it was mousse in a cupcake wrapper (that I was
warned is NOT edible). I should have just picked up the wrapper and
eaten it rather than attempt with the fork. The foie gras itself was
ANTS on a LOG, another truly odd choice of names was two small
chocolate-looking ants (about 1 inch long each) made from frozen
raisin puree (like sorbet) sitting on a pale greenish log which itself
was frozen grape and celery sorbet. It was meant to be a palate
cleanser and was quite refreshing, but a bit too large of a portion.
The three desserts all arrived together and were listed on the menu
What came was actually four items all beautifully arranged and
The Pumpkin Pie was a small cake with liquid caramel center, graham
cracker and pistachio powder.
The forms were really a mousse with Chai Tea Ice Cream, Orange Cream
and Malted Milk Powder. The Split was the most adorable of the
desserts and looked like a mini-cheeseburger. Almond Peanut Butter
Macaroon made up the bun and inside was a burger looking Chocolate &
Banana concoction with Maraschino Cherry "ketchup" and a piece of real
lettuce for crunch. It was quite tasty and again a great "trick."
The extra surprise dessert was their version of SMORES, which I was
told to eat in one bite. It was a Chocolate mini-bomb with dehydrated
Marshmallow and a small wick protruding which the server lit and let
burn down to the chocolate. Of course, it did not explode, well, not
at least until I put the whole thing in my mouth and the liquid center
erupted in my mouth for what had to be one of the most fun grand
finales to dinner. A glass of Sutton Cellars VINO GENEROSO PAGAN
VINEYARD, Russian River Valley 2006 Fortified Zinfandel was a bit too
strong (port like) for the flavorful desserts. I think a Monsanto
might have been more appropriate.
Would I go back to MOTO? Probably not, but not because it was not a
wonderful dining experience; the reason would be there are so many
wonderful places to eat in Chicago, I would prefer to try them first,
then maybe return to Moto.
ALAN back home

Monday, December 07, 2009

make it MASA14 for miraculous small plates

MASA14 ( opened several months ago and I am still not
sure what the name signifies (I forgot to ask). But under the
ownership of Chef Kaz Okochi (Kaz Shushi Bar) and Richard Sandoval
(Zengo), this joint venture with Chef Antonio Burrell(prev of
Viridian,Gabriel, Commonwealth Gastropub, Bis & Vidalia) in the
kitchen is already a huge success. The basis of the cuisine is the
fusion of the two chef's backgrounds--Asian & Latin.
Despite the fact that the signage at 1825 14th St, NW is not easily
seen, the place was heaving at 730pm on Monday. As you enter there is
a 65+ foor bar extending the length of the right side to the open
kitchen at the rear. A small barrier does not keep the bar noise from
the tables on the left, so try and get one of the slightly quieter
"booth" areas if you can. The exposed brick and uncarpeted floors
don't help much with the noise either.
The four of us settled in for a fabulous evening of food and wine that
was indeed a treat we look forward to returning to. Speaking of wines,
the wine list is quite good, but very low end. There are 29 whites and
13 reds under $30 each, with few mid-range and then some real pricey
ones. We started with a $26 DOMAINE ANTUGNAC '08 from the Vallee
d'Aude which our server Chris said was near the Spanish border. It was
a yummy Chardonnay that delivered fruit and not oak.
There is also an extensive sake and tequila list for those interested.
Chris (who told us he "was not single, but cheap!")suggested we order
2 or 3 small plates each and gave us some guidance which we tended to
SERRANO HAM FLATBREAD with Goat Cheese, Cantaloupe, Arugula, Truffle
and Lime sounded better than it tasted. The flatbreads are rectangular
with puffy edges, so the 2 end slices tend to be more doughy and less
HIJIKI SEAWEED-JICAMA Salad was totally refreshing with Seame/Chayote/
Daikon Sprouts and a superb palate cleanser before or after the meal.
CRISPY CRAB WONTON ROLLS with CreamCheese/Corn/Mushroom/ Shiso Truffle
and Spicy Ponzu are nice and cruncy and very rich. This is perhaps the
one dish I enjoyed but would not order again as the Cream Cheese is a
bit too rich for me.
CRUNCHY SHRIMP with Chipotle Aioli/Sesame/Scallion & Masago(roe)
is a must on anyone's list of choices. These are some of the tastiest
shrimp around!
GRILLED BABY OCTOPUS with Chimichurri and Pickled Vegetables was the
one dish that packed a spice punch as the Chimichurri on the many
little tender eight-tentacled heads was more chili-based than garlic.
We all loved this as well.
We switched to red wine and went at first with a light Andre Brunel
COTES du RHONE 2006 (listed on the menu as Syrah) made from 75%
Grenache/15%Cinsault and only 10% Syrah.
We have known Chef Kaz and Chef Antonio for years, and we had the
pleasure of getting two "off the menu" dishes that you may see if the
menu changes soon as they were both superb:
TUNA TERANDITO with Oranges,Crab.Cactus Pear & Celery Yuzu in a
Persimmon Puree was simply divine with the small scoop of Wasabi Ice
Cream and Toasted Coconut for a tinge of sweetness.
ACHIOTE Marinated SABLEFISH gave this flaky dream fish the perfect
treatment with Corn/Peppers/Olive/Macadamia Nuts in a Cilantro Broth
with Cumin/Onion & Cherry Vinegar. It sounds like a lot, but in my
mouth it was simply dreamy and delish.

Our other choices were
CRUNCHY WOK FRIED OKRA with Spicy Soy Ponzu Dip which is another have
to have dish. It tastes NOTHING like the slimy okra we know; deep
fried here to a crisp it was another big hit at the table.
PORK BELLY CARNITAS comes with Kabocha Squash/Adobo BBQ and Blood
Orange and is another delight along with the
PULLED BEEF TOSTADA which is a room temperature meat in a crunchy
tostada with Cilantro/Peanut/Bean Sprouts/Cotija Cheese and Guacamole.
The slightly peanuty sauce made this very Tex-Mex dish into a fusion
Asian wonder.
KOBE BEEF BRISKET with Oaxaca Cheese Potato in an Achiote Citrus Sauce
was another sublime experience.
We moved to a bigger red wine from "Peter Lehman MOZZA, the Surveys"
Old Vines from Australia that was 51%Shiraz/25%Mourvedre and 24%
Grenache. We all loved this full bodied and again reasonably priced
wine especially with the brisket/tostada and carnitas!
If I have to complain about one thing at Masa 14, it would be the
cleanliness of the rest rooms. I think the after work bar crowd men (I
doubt the women's room was as messy) can be so incredibly uncaring for
health and cleanliness!
The desserts we chose were varied with the
MANGO PANNA COTTA with Coconut Foam, Sake Blackberries and Coconut
Tuile placing in last place, mostly because we did not like the funny
MEXICAN CHOCOLATE TART with whipped cream, cocoa nib and Ancho
Anglaise was ok, but the
big winner was the truly brilliant
GREEN TEA CREME BRULEE with a crunchy Ginger Sugar Crust and a Yuzu
Linzer Torte that was delish, but could have used a bit more fruit
filling. This is the perfect dish to end a meal with, and virtually
our whole meal was indeed brilliant.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Do the DUCK RUEBEN at South Water Kitchen in Chicago

On Saturday before the matinee of the awfule pre-Broadway run of the
new musical THE ADDAM's FAMILY (starring Nathan Lane and many other
big B'way names--but having terrible music), I met a dear friend and
client for lunch and schmoozing at the Hotel Monaco in the Loop. SOUTH
WATER KITCHEN (225 N. Wabash) has been a great mainstay of downtown
dining and I have always enjoyed my previous stays at this hotel, but
had not dined there in some time. I had the DUCK RUEBEN which save for
the duck was as traditional as it can get: tasty, sauerkraty and Swiss
cheesy...a divine sandwich. My friend hails from Omaha and mentioned
that a relative of hers named Rueben was actually the creator of the
sandwich. How unlikely is that?

Friday, December 04, 2009

In Chicago take yourself to TABLE FIFTY-TWO for a touch of southern treats

Chicago's TABLE FIFTY-TWO ( was just a couple
of blocks from my hotel and I decided to check out the home base of
Chef ART SMITH who opened there before coming to DC (Art & Soul) under
the auspices of the famed Oprah WInfrey. While not a big Oprah fan, I
have to admit Chef Smith knows how to lavish and smother on the
Southern hospitality in his truly original Southern cooking.

The downstairs level has a tin ceiling and a cozy bistro feel with a
granite counter seating 5 facing the large open wood-fired oven; this
is where I sat and warmed up quickly from the 15 degree windchills
outside. There were only 12 tables downstairs, but I understand the
townhouse has an upper level as well, which was hosting a private
party. I had to go to the opera at 730pm, so my reservation was for
5pm. Within 15 minutes of my arrival the place was nearly full.
An amuse of DEVILED EGG with something tiny and crunchy on top was
delish as I ordered a glass of MELON de BOURGOGNE 2007 from C.
Branger. I used to get a West Coast Melon years ago, but the varietal
has seemed to disappear from wine lists and stores altogether. It had
almost no nose but was bone dry with a real terroir of slight
minerality. My server Steve was most helpful in guiding me, but be
forewarned, the portions here are HUGE. At first a huge homemade hot
from the cast iron mini-pan BISCUIT was served to me. It had a goat
cheese melt-in-your-mouth center with some dried cranberries and a
parmesan crust. These are easily the size of 3 or 4 small biscuits,
but it was impossible to resist. The Melon was perfect with my starter
of "Back to the Table" (the name of Chef Smith's cookbook) JUMBO LUMP
CRABCAKE (he uses Maryland crabs!) with Blood Oranges, Pickled Daikon
Slaw and Toasted Hazelnuts. No question this can compete with the best
crabcakes back home!
The "oven" chef Kevin began to chat with me as he had caught up making
pizza crusts (in advance for the dinner rush) as well as biscuits and
he oven cooked sides of Mac & Cheese and Cornbread. It was fun to
watch him prepare everything and get his opinions as well.
My main course was the MAPLE SUGAR SHORT RIBS (slow cooked 6 hours)
with Potato Puree, Caramelized Pearl Onions and a Red Wine Reduction.
It was divine and even better with a MAS DES DAMES 2005 Syrah from the
Cotes Rouges in Languedoc. The wines by the glass do seem to get quite
generous pours at the table, and Steve even offered to let me taste a
couple before I chose!
Everyone had told me to save room for dessert, and of course, I was
full so only managed three bits of the gigantic and celebrated
HUMMINGBIRD CAKE. This cake is like 5 layers of carrot/spice cake with
cream cheese frosting, pineapple and served with Vanilla Gelato. While
it was nice, I don't think it deserves all the raves--I should have
simply skipped dessert as I so often do.
TABLE FIFTY-TWO is a great place on a cold Chicago night if you are
very hungry, but book ahead, it's always jammed.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Georgetown's LOS CUATES is a cheap, casual and a deal (12-3-09)--delish DOLC

Last night we attempted to head to BIBIANA, the new hot Italian spot
near the convention center, but the traffic (apparently for the Xmas
tree lighting) was so horrendous, that after 30 minutes to go ONE
BLOCK on K Street, we gave up and turned around. As we headed towards
home we came across Q Street and turned right on Wisconsin Ave, to be
reminded the old Wild Ginger had turned into a little Mexican joint,
and what a find this is in expensive Georgetown. Los CUATES
( at 1564 Wisconsin is about as low as
prices go these days without being fast food. Most of the platters are
in the low teens and the appetizers are all about $4-6. Samuel had the
TAQUITOS MONTERREY which were soft round tacos rolled like a roll and
stuffed with shredded beef. These come, as most plates do, with a tray
of sour cream, pico de gallo (mild) and guacamole.
Everyone starts off with a basket of crispy thin chips and medium
salsa with huge tomato chunks. We munched down on these as we sipped
our CUATES LIME with Grand Marnier Margaritas. These were smooth and
tasty, but this is where the prices go up. A pitcher is $40, but worth
every cent as we got 4 full glasses each, or a total of 8 margaritas
for this (about $5 each!).
The place is basic with ceramic tiles and some basic decoration, not
much to write about. The biggest problem is that the tables near the
big glass windows at the front can be chilly on a cold night.
I chose a Combinacion platter with CHILE RELLENO & CHICKEN TAMAL.
These come with the trio of toppings and rice and refried beans as
well. It was a huge platter for like $11 and the tamale was one of the
best I have had with a thick tasty cornmeal wrap around tasty shredded
chicken. The chile could have been spicier, but was more like a sliced
open pepper and then laid out with melted cheese a la pizza style.
Will ordered anothe combinacion that came with these two plus a BEEF
ENCHILADA which as huge as well and also quite good.
The service is friendly and the place was full when we left around
We headed next door to DOLCEZZA Gelato ( where
Sam had the kiddie LIME scoop and will the LEMON. I went whole hog for
the small size with two flavors: a perfect combo of DULCE di LECHE and
BANANA SPLIT (which actually has the dulce di leche in it). DIVINE.
What started out as a 55 minute ride (that usually takes 10-15) and an
awful evening, ended pretty well.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

BEN's CHILI BOWL-bravo on the chili, but....

As if we needed a big filling meal on the day before Thanksgiving, it
was still fun to head to the 50+year old BEN'S CHILI BOWL
( which is more than an institution here in DC,
but one I have NEVER BEEN TO!
We call that a shanda in Yiddish.
Anyway, Will and I headed in before the theater next door tonight and
I stood in line for about 10 minutes while he grabbed a table; the
place was heaving. Will said he did not like the chaos and crowds, but
they didn't bother me much as it all moved fairly smoothly. I ordered
up some CHILI DOGS, which should always be avoided in favor of the far
superior and truly amazing CHILI HALF SMOKES, superb spicy versions of
the sausage covered with the yummy chili in a bun with onions and
mustard. The COLE SLAW has an oddly sweet taste to it; Will called it
vanilla and he seemed to nail it-maybe they use vanilla sugar?
AVOID THE FRIES...they sit way too long under the lights and come out
lukewarm. If you feel you need a side of fries, then get them with
CHILI so at least they have something heating them up and giving them
I think the HALF SMOKES are worth the trip, but can't say I'd make it
more than a periodical thing before the theater nearby for a fast food
HAPPY THANKSGIVING and always remember

Monday, November 16, 2009

SIROC soothes the palate, but was not too serene

Chef Martin Lackovic opened SIROC ( where
Gerard's used to be at 915 15th St, NW and from the look of the crowd
last night, must be doing well. When we arrived just before 8pm the
small intimate dining room was heaving and folks walking in were being
turned away (on a MONDAY!). We had to wait a while for our table, but
the manager quickly made up for it by offering up a round of superb
drinks; the Cosmos were just right and not sweet at all-a true martini-
style preparation.
The dining room is not remarkable at all, and sadly when the place is
full (there was one table of over 14 people) it can be quite noisy. We
ended up moving to a smaller 4-top further away from the large group
just to be able to hear each other. Luckily once the noise level
subsided, everything else went virtually perfectly, despite the fact
that the chef had taken a night off! That's always a good sign.
An amuse of CRABCAKE over AVOCADO Salad and a slice of Pancetta was
topped with Caviar and laced with Balsamic--it was probably closer to
two or three bites, but nobody seemed to mind!

A bottle of FALANGHINA Cantina del Taburno 2008 from Campania was a
great choice with our starters, the least exciting of which was the
BABY OCTOPUS SALAMI with Oven Dried Cherry Tomatoes, Roasted Garlic,
Red Potato and Arrugola (that was their spelling) Pesto. The dish
needed pepper and even more as it was indeed a bit on the bland side.
I was shocked as this is a dish that hails from Chef Lackovic's many
years with Roberto Donna at I Matti and Galileo, but it seems to have
lost its punch here. The BEEF ROLL with Portobello, Caramelized Red
Onion, Soft Polenta and Gorgonzola Cream was on the other hand loaded
with flavor, as was the Pan Seared SHRIMP with Roasted Peppers,
Garlic, Anchovy, Olive Oil & Fried Capers. My VEAL SWEETBREADS were a
divine dish with CREAM BRAISED LEEKS, Potato, Lemon, Marsala Demi-
Glace and Pancetta. It was a huge portion and easily the most exciting
of the dishes.

We moved on to a superb DOLCETTO d'ALBA Rocche Costamagna "MURRAE"
2006 recommended by our server Paulina; she felt it was light enough
for all the pastas we chose, and she was right, even though this was
one of the biggest bodied Dolcetto's I have ever had! The pastas were
all superb and we were happy that we chose to split 1/2 portions so we
could taste as many as possible; this is a highlight of any meal at
Siroc and should not be missed:
The heaviest was the HAND ROLLED POTATO GNOCCHI with Cauliflower
Sauce, White Truffle Essence, Toasted Pine Nuts and Parma Prosciutto;
a full portion of this would be way too much, but it was divine
nonetheless. Hand Cut SPINACH FETTUCCINE with Crushed Tomato, Shrimp,
Pancetta and Roasted Artichokes is a flavorful and tasty option for
those looking for a lighter pasta, while the RAVIOLI are filled with
ROASTED BUTTERNUT SQUASH, Amaretti, and served in SAGE BUTTER with
Smoked Duck and Parmesan. This is one of those great fall dishes that
always satisfies. The top pasta was the CAPPELACCI (similar to
ravioli, but ever so thin and light) filled with LOBSTER & Roasted
Corn win Sweet Pepper Beurre Blanc with Baby Cilantro. There was a
lemony intensity to the dish that I adored and this is truly one of
the best new pastas I have seen around town in ages!

We moved onto a bigger MARQUES de MURRIETA 2004 Rioja Reserva from
Ygay Winery in Spain that was a great pairing with the heavier main
courses as well, even the fish (which for some reason I failed to
write the dish down) held up to this. The VEAL CHEEKS were braised in
RED WINE with PARMESAN POLENTA, Carrots and Pearl Onions...a super
winter dish for a chilly night. The HOMEMADE SAUSAGES is another meaty
treat with three to a plate: WILD BOAR with Currants & Marsala,
CHICKEN with Chanterelles & Truffle and VEAL with Parmesan and Sage.
These are served atop a yummy plate of BRAISED CANNELINI Beans with
Tomato & Zucchine. I had to take part of mine home to allow for

Desserts fared from okay to yummy and we all had varying opinions even
on the same dish. Warm ALMOND CAKE with Blueberry Topping & Cinnamon
Zabaglione was a bit on the dry side, but worked fine when the
different elements were eaten in one bite. The HAZELNUT CHOCOLATE
MOUSSE with Raspberry Ice Cream seemed to be the biggest hit, and the
BOSC PEAR poached in RED WINE with Ginger, Mascarpone Ice Cream and
Ginger Cream was quite tasty to me, but some of the others thought it
unexciting. So unless you are a dessert fiend, stick to the pastas and
main courses and appetizers and more of those will definitely send you
home satisfied, as we were after a yummy glass of Limoncello!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

back to BAR BOULUD (NYC-Lincoln Center)

Last night on our way to the opera (Esther at NYC Opera) I decided to
take my mother and ex-brother-in-lax (a great client and still dear
friend) to BAR BOULUD located directly across from Lincoln Center as I
thought it was convenient (my Mom can't walk much), varied, tasty,
innovative and just plain good.
On a cold and rainy night it's always nice to sit down to this large
peppery warm and soft GOUGERES that come to every table. Add a bottle
of MONTIRIUS 2004 "Les Clos" VACQUEYRAS, which is drinking so smoothly
now after 5 years with soft tannins and a bit of spice, and the meals
starts off with a big hit.

TARTARE de BOEUF PARISIEN here is a beautiful disc of Black Angus Top
Sirloin with a dribble of light cream and small egg yolk (Quail) with
waffled Gaufrettes and several pieces of baby Romaine with a drizzle
of dressing and capers. The preparation here is a milder one and I had
to ask for pepper, which was just the right touch. The PATE GRANDE
MERE is a beautiful piece (as are all the homemade pates here) made
from Liver, Pork & Cognac.

Main courses were all a success from the NANTUCKET BAY SCALLOPS with
Celery Root Puree, Celery, Orange and a Basil-Lemon Sauce with Black
Truffles. These were the small sweetish bay scallops and the dish won
high marks. COQ AU VIN is as traditional as it gets, but here with a
tasty and at times crunchy chicken skin for flavor and texture. My
BOUDIN BLANC was a superb large Truffles White Sausage with Mashed
Potato and Cooked Apple Slices that satisfied me just to a tee.

For dessert the BERMUDE was a light choice of CRANBERRY& SECKEL Pear
(Poached) on a Frangipane Tart with Pear Yogurt Sorbet. The cheeses
here are stars and we tried a number of them:
A simple firm yet tasty MOSES SLEEPER from Wisconsin
what was termed on the menu as "stinky" was the GRES DES VOSGES which
was not all that stinky but a soft delight with great flavor.
SAINT NECTAIRE was earthy and mild and the stars of the evening on the
plates were:
a superb sheep BREBIS ROUSSE d'ARGENTAL softened to perfection
a salty blue PERSILLE de MALZIEU
and a divine oozing all over goat PICO-PICADINE

Kudos to our charming server Tomas, who insisted we try to speak
French with him and the entire staff for just being so nice with our
awful traffic delay on arrival!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Dive into DOVETAIL on NYC's Upper West Side

You all know I had to the opera a lot in NYC and am always looking for
a pre- or post-performance spot that has quality dining on the Upper
West Side. DOVETAIL ( opened at Columbus and 77th
less than two years ago and has already garnered much praise for its
setting, food and chef/owner, JOHN FRASER.
In a few words: I WAS IMPRESSED.
Set in an elegant bi-level townhouse (downstairs seems to be for
private or larger parties, but is also quieter) that has a bar
upstairs at the front and an enclosed wine "cellar" system as you
ascend the steps to the dining area.
Dark wooden tables and chairs are comfy as was the semi-booth I sat in
with cushions if you need them. The table is simple with a votive and
small white round vase with colorful baby marigolds.

While I would have loved to try the 6-course $95 tasting,I only had
just under 2 hours to be at the Met about 12 blocks south.
A trio of amuses arrived and I dove in to the creamy spiced
HORSERADISH PANNA COTTA with House Cured SALMON first. It was a divine
small mouthful bursting with flavor. SHRIMP "Summer" Roll was a small
tasty sushi-looking piece of rice paper roll with shrimp and the
POACHED QUINCE with BUTTERNUT Squash was also quite delish. The Panna
Cotta won the prize, if I had to choose one of the three yummy bites.

I was immediately drawn to the LAMB'S TONGUES, MUFFALATTA PRESSE,
Olives and Capers which my server, Gabrielle (who was a bit austere,
but always confident and helpful) said was one of the signature dishes
that had remained since opening. I jumped at her description of the
"deconstructed" dish, but I would prefer to use the word
"reconstructed." Here the muffalatta are two small breaded and deep
fried LAMB's TONGUES as tender as they can be. The presse would be the
insides of the delectable Southern "sandwich" here recreated as a
roulade, pate, or presse with Provolone, Mortadella, Black Forest Ham,
Capicola and more. On the side was a sauce of olives and capers very
much like a remoulade or aioli in texture to add flavor to the presse
and the breaded lamb. The entire concept was sheer genius and divine
from the first to the last bite.
Kremstal in Austria was a great dry pairing, although Gabrielle wanted
to steer me towards sherry (I am not a big sherry nut). The bread was
mini-loaf of warm melt in you mouth WHITE CHEDDAR CORNBREAD with a
crusty top with yummy salt on top as well. While the room is carpeted
and quilted, I did notice that the music was just slightly loud at

I asked Gabrielle for some input and chose an entree from the tasting
menu (they had a similar dish on the main menu, but she thought the
other version was better): HALIBUT CONFIT with CRAB RAVIOLI, MUSHROOM
Duxelles and Red Wine Sauce. I asked why the term "confit," which
really is not proper, as this was a perfectly poached fleshy Halibut
square that was nothing like a confit. No matter, the divine fish was
even tastier with a small bit of the duxelles and the accompanying
Black Tuscan Kale with Gooseberries. Gabrielle suggested a superb ruby
toned Pinot Noir as the sauce was also Pinot based. It was a brilliant
yummy BOURGOGNE PASSETOUTGRAIN from Jean-Luc Joillot 2007 that was not
too fruit forward (like Oregon) but very balanced with great lines. I
perused the wine list and the prices here are NY high, although there
is a section titled "wines under $75" that include 13 whites and 17
reds. WOW-$75!
The two small mezzalune crab ravioli were superb and loaded with crab,
but also each one had a fingernail size piece of shell. One of the
maitre d's noticed me fidgeting to get the shell out of my mouth and
place it gentleman-like on the butter plate and he whisked the plate
away only to return with apologies from the chef and (as I discovered
the second piece of shell) an announcement that the dish would be
complimentary. I told him this was not necessary, but did not argue
the point.
Gabrielle had told me to save room for the desserts of Pastry Chef
Vera Tong and I was not disappointed. While I perused the list a demi-
tasse of HOT SPICED CIDER was delivered and I felt warm and toasty as
FOIE GRAS ICE CREAM. This was a small, but divine and perfectly
created cigar shaped mousseline half-coated with a thin skin of
chocolate and the tasty prunes on the side with some tiny rosettes of
peanut butter as well. The ice cream was AMAZING and before I could
praise, a second complimentary dessert arrived: HOT BANANA BRIOCHE
BREAD PUDDING with Maple Syrup, Rum Vanilla Ice Cream, Bacon Brittle
(a graham based thick lattice) and a Brulee Crust on the pudding. It
was another divine inspiration. The coffee came with hot milk and
three small mignardises that were nice but not at the level of the
desserts: PEAR PATE-A-FRUITS (where was David Guas?), a dry SWEET
POTATO WHOOPIE PIE which was a cookie sandwich with a marshmallow
filling and a CHOCOLATE TRUFFLE (I forgot the flavors-sorry).
I knew that I would be a bit hungry when I reached my Mom's house at
11pm, so I asked for the CHEESE platter to go and was so glad 4+ hours
later when I opened the well-packaged presentation:
Two breads (plain and nut) three accompaniments (Blueberry Compote,
Caramelized Shallots and Sweet Caramelized Onions with something
fruity) were a treat as well along with the 3 tasty cheeses:
MANCHESTER "Consider" from Bardwell Farm
GREEN HILL Sweet Grass Dairy and
EWE's BLUE from Old Chatham Sheepherding in upstate NY.
The blue was a slightly crumby mild and tasty version and I am not
sure which of the other two cheeses were which. I was told the
Manchester and Green Hill came from Georgia and Vermont (but I don't
know which was from where) and one was a mild nutty tasty semi-hard
cheese in triangles and the other an intense overripe Camembert style
runny "I love this" cheese.
I'll be back at DOVETAIL for a tasting at some point for sure!

Monday, November 09, 2009

It's all in the cuisine at Houston's IBIZA Food & Wine Bar

My last night in Houston was supposed to be at Voice again, but as I
mentioned they are closed on Sundays. I asked the Chef at Voice where
I should take a VIP soprano after she has just sung 4+ hour of Wagner
and he instantly recommended IBIZA Food & Wine Bar
( just 5 minutes south of downtown
Houston. It was a brilliant suggestion and the two of us had the most
spectacular evening. The chef, CHARLES CLARK, came over to make sure
everything was okay a couple of times (he had apparently been told by
the chef from Voice that we were coming!). Everything all evening was
indeed superb.
I started with a Margarita which was okay, Christine had a pineapple
infused vodka martini that was divine and not overly pineapply. We
moved on to an exciting SANCERRE from LUCIEN CROCHET 2007 "La Croix du
Roy" that had some mineral taste and lots of flavor as well.It worked
well with the spices of some of the dishes we chose as well.
There are lots of "small plates" to choose from and we opted for 4,
thinking they were small tapas plates. WRONG. These are big portions,
about the size (or a bit larger) than an appetizer.
I could not resist the Fried SOFT SHELL CRAB in SEMOLINA Batter & Fins
Herbes Butter with CAPERBERRIES. Christine had not had a soft shell
since her youth and had avoided them; she marveled at the flavor,
crunchiness and size of these as well (they were from the Gulf and
hence still in season in Texas).
KERBEY FINGERS FRENCH FRIES are Parmesan Encrusted and then sprinkled
with TRUFFLE OIL. An aioli is on the side, but this isn't even needed
as the fries are simply the best without anything!
ROASTED BEETS are served with PISTACHIOS and FRENCH FETA cheese for
one of the lighter dishes that still bursts with flavor...and...
Whole Grilled SHRIMP come with CRABMEAT CORNBREAD & Tasso Ham Cream in
a dish that could be a main course with these four monster size prawns
over the "stuffing" and with a rich and spicy cream sauce.
We were quite full but really wanted to try one main course and asked
our server Paige, who was a doll, what she recommended. It was a no
brainer when she suggested the VEAL TENDERLOIN with CHANTERELLES in
TRUFFLE Pan Sauce. We had both spotted this dish and said, "ok" with
no thoughts. The portions were split before they came to the table and
served with a full plate's accouterments of veggies. The dish usually
comes with potatoes, but Paige said side substitutions are welcome, so
we went for the "small plate" option of CREMINI MUSHROOM RISOTTO with
Gran Padano Cheese and White Truffle Oil...another dreamy dish, but it
was the chanterelles and veal that were sublime and ethereal. A half
bottle of Oregon's DOMAINE SERENE "Evenstad Reserve" PINOT NOIR was a
perfect pairing, and I must also say the wine markup here in tiny,
perhaps the lowest I have ever seen in years!
We could not even think of dessert, so we waddled out and headed back
to the hotel knowing that Houston's downtown dining scene just keeps
getting better and better!

Sunday, November 08, 2009

BARNABY's for breakfast in Houston

While I am not a big breakfast person, when we travel and try to meet
friends, sometimes that's the only option. If you are in Houston, try
out one of the several BARNABY's ( for breakfast,
lunch or dinner. We went to the location on West Gray just minutes
from downtown which is truly adorable with angel-winged doggies on the
ceiling (one was a Jewish Hasid with payot--sidecurls-- and a tallit--
prayer shawl)! The decor is cute, but nothing here is fancy, not even
the prices. Every breakfast item is about $5-8 and the portions are
hearty enough to keep you going all day. Buttermilk pancakes are the
size of a huge plate and come with four on the plate! I went for the
GREEN EGGS which is a huge scramble of SPINACH & ARTICHOKE eggs with
Jack Cheese. On the side is a tasty CHICKEN APPLE SAUSAGE and a huge
portion of yummy roasted potatoes.
Years ago we used to go across the street to the West Gray Cafe, which
apparently now has become greasy and gross according to internet
reviews and the opinions of some local Barnaby's was a
nice find.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Houston's VOICE is a loud and clear winner!

Last year when in Houston I had a luncheon at the ICON Hotel and was totally blown away by the cuisine of Chef Michael KRAMER at its in-hotel restaurant VOICE. I was lucky enough to stay at the beautiful hotel this past weekend and enjoy a spectacular dinner with two friends there on Saturday night before the opera.
It is a warm cozy place with well spaced tables off the lobby and high
backed comfy chairs, elegant china, crystal and linens. The service
(our server was Chris) is also top notch, but then it always seems so
friendly and good in Texas!

We started with a bottle of a white wine I have never tried from San
Marino (that tiny principality within Italy) called RONCALE di SAN
MARINO 2006. The wine had a wondrous aroma and great taste, something
akin to a Viognier, but less perfumey. It was great with our seafood
and starters.

The bread was nice and came with a garlic spread, an olive tapenade
and butter.

I had the OCTOPUS a la PLANCHA with Spanish Chorizo, Leek, Marcona
Almonds, in a Saffron Tomato Sauce that was really a thick sauce on
the plate for dipping (and with a hint of curry spice). It was a great
presentation as well as one of the tastiest octopi ever.

It was a tough decision but my guests went on the lighter side with
the GRAPEFRUIT Salad (instead of the Butterscotch Bean Ravioli) and
the MUSHROOM SOUP "CAPPUCCINO" which was not one of those frothy
concoctions. It was a rich Cremini Mushroom Soup with Truffle Foam and
Porcini Powder which not only got raves from my guest, but also from
someone else I know who had the same dish later that night!

The main courses were just as impressive with Day Boat SCALLOPS,
Zucchini Ribbons, Wax Beans, Baby Turnip in Dijon Sauce being a real
hit and the WILD ALASKAN HALIBUT with Bok Choy, Long Beans, Japanese
Eggplant and Lemongrass Broth giving the superb fish a delightful
Asian treatment. My SLOW ROASTED DUCK was brined for two days and
served with Pistachio Bread "Stuffing" and Parsnips in a Pomegranate
Sauce that was out of this world. All the portions were quite large,
my duck being an entire breast of about 13 slices! A glass of BELLE
VALLEE PINOT NOIR 2007 from the Willamette Valley in Oregon was a
great pairing.

Dessert was a tough decision, so we did a wide variety with the guys
having the heavier dishes: WARM CHOCOLATE CAKE with Sea Salt Caramel
Ice Cream & Chocolate Sauce and the BUTTERSCOTCH CHEESECAKE with
Gingerbread Crust, Almond Ice Cream and Honey-Cognac Sauce were both
treats. I opted for the cheeses which came tieh grapes, pistachios and
a honey-date paste:
OSSAU-IRATY was a sheep semi-hard from the Pays Basque
OLD KENTUCKY TOMME was raw goat which was nice but paled next to WHITE
BUCK GOAT from Westfield, Wisconsin that just oozed character with a
softish runny edge around the inside of the rind.
PECORINO TOSCANO Stagionato was nice and nutty
and the SHROPSHIRE BLUE was not too intense.

Again, I can't wait to return to VOICE, and was so upset they are
closed on Sunday, as I wanted to go back the next night again!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

RESTAURANT 3 is just dandy for me (Arlington, VA)

It was a busy weekend and a busier start of week as we had made plans to go out with our Rabbi and her 4+ year old son, Benjamin. I chose RESTAURANT 3 in Clarendon ( as we had plans to eat there earlier in the year and they had called me to cancel. I was quite upset and the manager, RIA, said she would make it up to me when we decided to come in. She did. We had a top notch meal with great service, a warm welcome, and a huge discount plus the wines by the bottle are 1/2 price on Tuesday!

Benjamin chose the MAC N CHEESE which comes with French Fries; how's that for a carbed up meal? This was no ordinary Mac N Cheese though. It is made with Linguini and Smoked Cheddar and really is a tasty treat. Samuel went for the chicken fingers and fries (surprise!) and both of the boys had a scoop of chocolate and strawberry ice cream each for dessert. They did just fine as we savored our dishes more leisurely.

Will started with the LETTUCE WRAPS which you filled with Slow Roasted Shredded Duck and then spread a yummy BOUBON MOLASSES Sauce on....I could easily retire Hoisin for this delight!

The Rabbi and I split two starters with mine being the TUNA LOLLIPOPS which was a great presentation of gorgeous sashimi tuna chunks on bamboo sticks with Roasted Sesame Seeds over a Seaweed Salad and Soy BBQ Sauce with Wasabi Cream that you could either combine or dip singly with the pops. YUM!

She opted for the BLEI CHEESE CHIPS -homemade thick puffy potato chips with POINT REYES Blue cheese melted, but asked for them to please leave the bacon off. They were the best chips ever and way too decadent to be allowed to try exist, but I will go back for them again!

We had a BELLINHAM CHENIN BLANC 2008 from South Africa that was quite delightful, and moved on to a superb PETER FRANUS Brandlin Vineyard 2005 Napa ZINFANDEL from Mount Veeder that was to die for. Huge flavor, but not too much spice and a monster finish; I am grateful to Ria for recommending we try this!

The main courses were all excellent with the Rabbi choosing the TUNA SALAD with Sesame Crusted Tuna (it was quite like the lollipops), Seaweed, but here a Soy Lime Vinaigrette. Will went for the HANGER STEAK and Roasted Potatoes, Mushroom & Artichoke Ragout and a Demi-Glaze that was a great way to enjoy a medium priced steak for nowhere near what the steak joints charge! My SMOTHERED TROUT was Pan Fried with a super crispy skin and topped with Mussels (sorry, Rabbi), two HUGE Shrimp (sorrier) and a divine Tomato Sauce. All this came over very filling ASIAGO CHEESE GRITS that I managed to almost finish. We tried what was called PECAN PIE for dessert but it was not really pie. It was more of a chocolate graham cracker triangle with a filling of pecan inside that came out way too dry. No worry, next time I return, I will simply order more starters and mains and avoid the desserts or try something else. The deals are great here and the warm soothing decor makes it a great place on a chilly rainy night like it was!

Monday, October 26, 2009

ENOLOGY's first wine dinner is uneven

Back in DC, we joined some friends Monday evening at ENOLOGY Wine Bar ( just up from the Cathedral, where we have always enjoyed the wine, charcuterie and cheeses in previous visits. This was their first wine dinner and sadly many things went wrong to create the most uneven evening we have had in a while.

The guest winemaker was SPENCER GRAHAM of ELIZABETH SPENCER Wines in Napa and I was excited about tasting many new wines, but the event was so heavily booked, the glasses were filled with barely 3 ounces for each wine with each course. We arrived to a crowded room and got a taste of an unexciting Butternut Squash Bruschetta that suffered from too much bread and not enough topping. The 2007 Mendocino SAUVIGNON BLANC was yummy and when they opened a 2008 I was shocked that it was the same wine as it was so much more grassy in the nose and citrus in the mouth.

We sat down with three fairly unfriendly strangers at two 4-tops pushed together so that two people had to sit at the table-seams making it quite crowded and almost impossible to get up. The entire room was like this and the event was clearly overbooked, especially for a first time attempt. If they had cut back on 20-30% of the guests, there would have been plenty of room (and WINE!). The first glass of CHENIN BLANC 2008 from Mendocino was poured and I fell in love with the dry vanilla toned wine with some latent spice, but we waited for almost 20 minutes before any food came and we had all finished our wine. The SCALLOP B.L.T. arrived with a huge scallop on Applewood Smoked Bacon, Truffle Aioli and sat on a small Brioche. The woman serving attempted to serve one dish over my head as there was no way to access the far side of the table. The scallop fell down my back and on my suede jacket! Need I say more. It was retrieved and the damage was minimal; I found the bacon when I got up later!

The Wine Director Adam came over after I begged them to call him; he was helping to plate in the kitchen for sure. He did apologize and we managed to get two more glasses of Chenin Blanc out of it. Our friend, Maria had also began to worry as she had told her mother/babysitter that she would be home by 830pm since the event began at 630pm and when she called earlier that day, they said it would be over by 8pm (which would have been impossible). It was now 740pm!

The ROCKFISH a la NAGE was an excellent piece of local rockfish with CRAB, Potato & Fennel that was simply swimming in a dreamy broth. The 2007 SONOMA COAST CHARDONNAY was also delightful, but when we started to get the rpice points on the wines, we realized the high 20's and 30's and 40's were quite steep.

The third course was a DUCK DUO which declared on the menu "Breast, Leg Confit-Apple Latkes, Chile Applesauce." I could not find the confit and we finally guessed there were some small pieces in the pancake which was quite good, but the breast was as dry, overcooked and unexciting, as could be with nary a spoon of sauce anywhere. The SONOMA COAST PINOT NOIR 2007 was another great wine, but again we knew it was not in the average shopping range.

The 4th plate was a superb rare to medium rare VENISON LOIN with Polenta, Mushrooms & Pomegranate Reduction served with the 2007 MENDOCINO GRENACHE, a huge earthy wine with lots of boldness, perfect for the dish.

We asked them to rush out our dessert to Maria could get home to nurse her infant and we were not impressed with the FUJI TART TATIN, a simple puff pastry with some apple and a scoop of DOLCEZZA Vanilla Gelato. A ROSENBLUM Lodi 2008 Late Harvest Viognier was served (I guess that Elizabeth Spencer does not make dessert wines) and we ran out the door.

We love Enology, but they need to rethink this approach if they want folks to return to these dinners in the future.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

superb review-SIBLING RIVALRY (Boston by Kinkead)

Our final meal in Boston was also with Samuel and we chose to go to SIBLING RIVALRY which is due to Will's connection here in DC with Chef Bob KINKEAD. Chef Bob and his brother Chef DAVID opened Sibling Rivalry in the adorable South End neighborhood just south of downtown ( and have gleaned quite high ratings across the board. Like Kinkead's, it is an elegant but not too formal dining spot. The lighting is subdued, the presentations and plates are elegant, and the food is quality in every bite.

Our only issue on Sunday night was our clearly novice server Doug. He just did not seem to understand us to clearly.

We started with an aromatic and perfumy FEUDO PRINCIPI di BUTERA from INSOLIA in Sicily which was a great pairing with the seafood dishes. I ordered the STEAMED PEI MUSSELS with SPICY THAI CHILI-Ginger-Coconut Milk Curry, Cilantro & Lime and they were tasty, meaty and the sauce divine. The menu is divied into sibling's dishes; this was Bob. Will chose another Bob dish and told Doug her would have the Tartar. When the dish arrived it was actually the "David" tartar of PRISTINE TUNA with Warm Sushi Rice, Soy Glaze, Pickled Ginger & Spicy Aioli. I looked at the dish (a busboy actually delivered it) and took a bite and said TUNA! We called Doug over and it seems there are TWO TARTARs on the menu and he did not ask us to clarify. We said it would be a waste to trash the dish, but would he still bring the ANCHO CHILI STEAK TARTARE with Cheese Pupusa, Pickled Cabbage, Green Salsa & Avocado which was a wonderfully slightly spicy tartar, although the pupusa was uneventful. Needless to say we were not charged for the extra starter.

Samuel had opted for an appetizer portion of HAND ROLLED PAPPARDELLE with Fresh Oregon CHANTERELLES & PORK SAUSAGE in a divine sauce of Tomato, Thyme and a touch of cream. Sam gobbled up the noodles and refused to even taste the chanerelles. We managed to get some of the meat in him, and then he asked for more pasta. So we asked Doug to bring another plate of pasta minus the chanterelles and sausage. Out came a plate of plain noodles. Sam did not mind, and we were not charged, so it was chalked up to another miscommunication. Oddly, I asked Samuel if he wanted some ketchup and he responded, "yuck!" which is never a word he uses with regard to ketchup! Anyway, Doug must have missed that as well as he appeared within seconds with the condiment.

A treat arrived for us in the form of an extra plate of PUMPKIN RAVIOLI with AMARETTI Cookie & Toasted Pumpkin Seeds. It was a rich fall dish that would fill anyone up; I can't believe we had more coming! At this point our butter plates were removed, making it hard to share tastes, but we managed. We never did find out why?? The breads by the way are the Kinkead regular Irish soda cracker and large plain round buns as well.

I am one to ask the server if he knows the wines, and Doug said yes, for sure. When I asked about the KREYDENWEISS "Perrieres" from the Rhone Valley 2005 he gave me a blank look and I pointed to the bottle on the menu. Will reminded me not to be condescending, but I looked at the dated wine list and it was from July, meaning that these whites (about 20 total) had been on the list for some time! He brought the bottle back to the table and I said it was a nice Rhone blend (as I suspected, but the German name threw me; the winemaker is Marc Kreydenwiess) of 60% Carignane and 20% each Grenache & Syrah from Costieres de Nimes. It was a delightful biodynamic single vineyard wine that should get more attention and only requires some clarity on the menu as well.

I moved to Chef David for my superb main course of SEARED JUMBO CAPE (Cod) SCALLOPS, Anaheim CHILI RELLENO, Black Beans, Tomatillo Relish & Salsa Fresca. This scallop dish could easily stand up to the red wine and was a monstrous portion as well with four huge scallops and a gigantic stuffed chili that I simply could not finish. Don't you hate it when you cant get a doggie bag while traveling? Will chose the CRISPY PRESSED DUCK which was just that and again a huge 1/2 duck portion with Whipped SWEET POTATOES, Cipollini Onions & Sour Cherries. Both dishes were truly excellent.

We opted to split one dessert and chose the STONE FRUIT CRISP made from nectarine, Peach & Plum with Oat & Nut Crumb topping with Dried Cherry Ice Cream. It was a perfect and not to large dish.

I must also add that while prices are not sky high here, they have a three-course special for $39.00 which can be made by choosing a number of select dishes. My dinner of Mussels, Scallops and dessert made up this special and for $39 I can't imagine a better deal!

As if it were not enough, another complimentary dish arrived in the guise of the BUTTERSCOTCH POT de CREME, which is what Will really wanted to have for dessert anyway, but we decided to skip. I let him eat most of that as I am not a big butterscotch nut; the ginger cookies with it were great.

Samuel chose PASSIONFRUIT & CONCORD GRAPE Sorbets and decoured them both in no time flat but skipped the chocolate chip cookie!

Sibling Rivalry has some funny photos and articles in the hall as well. I caught one where the two argued about every way to prepare each dish, even down to a hamburger! No matter the rivalry, the results are delicious.

Boston brunch really nice at NORTH STREET GRILLE

We met Will's cousins for brunch on Sunday morning again in the North End and were pretty thrilled about our choice when we saw the menu. The NORTH STREET GRILLE (at the quiet far end of the street--229 North Street-tel 617-720-2010) is a tiny spot with no more than 7+ tables fitting about 30 folks, so reserve ahead if you want avoid the lines outside, and they were there (though not too long).

The decor is uneventful and the worst part of our meal was when I took Samuel to the unisex single toilet and he said it smelled like camel. I could not figure out the awful scent and told our server. When I returned again later on my own, I lifted to seat to spot something left by a diner who had obviously not been too well. The staff did immediately clean it up, but it was sad that nobody checked it out the first time around!

Anyway, now that I have ruined your appetite. The kids split CHOCOLATE PANCAKES which were indeed loaded with chips. Why is it that chocolate chip pancakes always seem to have globs of chips in the center (they need to spread them out!)? French Toast was another hot item for the kids, and while the North Street Grille does not have children's portions, two or three kids can easily split an adult portion, or an adult can easily share with a child. Extra plates are offered freely.

Will went for the CALIFORNIA OMELET of Boursin cheese, Chives, Avocado and Tomato and I decided on the divine NORTH END OMELET, a tasty egg dish cooked perfectly with LOBSTER, Parmesan Cheese, Chives and Truffle Oil. I am not a big brunch or omelet person and this was one of the best I have ever had. Each egg dish comes with a gorgeous side of HOME FRIES which were also some of the best I have ever had. Lots of folks like their home fries softish and smothered with onions. I, on the other hand, am a crispy potato nut and these small cubes were cooked to just crunchy and salted to perfection. I not only ate mine, but devoured part of one of the kid's portion!

The coffee is excellent and an order of juice may be pricey, but comes in a huge tall glass; no skimping here at all!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Taranta offers up Peruvian-Italian fusion for lots of fun in Boston

That same night we left Samuel with a babysitter in the hotel and headed to Boston's North End just blocks away, the heart of New England's Italian kitchens. While TARANTA has been open for years under the guidance of Chef Jose Duarte (, it is only in the past several years that the cuisine has fused with that of Duarte's native Peru and oh so much for the better.

We were very discouraged at first as we entered the noisy three level crowded house, but managed to get a well separated table on the second floor, just around the corner from the appetizer kitchen (entrees and bar are on the first floor). The unexciting decor is mostly exposed brick with a hanging item here or there and some mirrors; you come here for the food for sure, not the decor or ambience.

I was impressed to note that the menu is made of recycled coffee paper and all the wines are organic and biodynamic, as is the food. This place is indeed a sustainable vision of what restaurants (and we) can be. The water is purified in-house and goes for $7 a bottle (a bit high--I think, of which $1 is donated to sustainable recycling.

Everything is indeed recycled here if it can be and they even have a compost!

We started with a bottle of VERMENTINO 2008 from ARGIOLAS "Costamolino" in Sardinia which was great with our quite spicy food. Chef Duarte uses many native chilies and does not skimp on them. The starter of CAUSA de CANGREJO was a cold crab, yellow Peruvian potatoes, egg, avocado, Botija Olives (Peruvian), Aji Amarillo (yellow Peruvian chili pepper) and RICOTO (a very spicy red pepper). It was a divine mixture and the red and yellow sauces were surrounding the cylinder or crab so that you could use more or less if you liked the spice. Our second starter was the COCCIO di PESCE e LEGUMI which was a stew of Baby Octopus, Cuttlefish, Calms, Chickpeas all in a divine spicy Tomato Sauce. I mentioned to our server Sarah, who after we settled in was a gem, that the "spicy" tomato sauce was less "spicy" than the pepper sauces on the not listed as "spicy" crab dish! She said I had a point.

We moved on to a yummy red CARMENERE Blend 2004 from San Lorenzo Estate "Chono" in Maipo, Chile which was actually 41% Syrah/44% Carmenere/15% Cab) and was a dream drink with our main courses. GNOCCHI di YUCA al RAGU VERDE STILE Secco Peruviano was a Casava Root Gnocchi, slow braised lamb with fermented corn liquor called "Chica de Jora" and cilantro resulting in the "verde" or greenish color of the ragu of lamb which also had an amazing lingering pepper flavor at the back of the mouth after each bite that was not "spicy" but just impressive.

COSTOLETTA di MAIALE con Canna di Zucchero e Rocoto used the spicy red Rocoto Pepper again but here with a Brined (huge) double cut Pork Chop with a sugar cane-Rocoto glaze that was oh so tasty. On the side was a YUCCA PIATELLA (cake) and a saute of Giant Peruvian CORN with Spinach & Caramelized Onion.

Sarah said the desserts were no made in house, but if we had to try one, the GUAVANOLI's would be choice. The perfect Italian-Peruvian fusion of Cannoli with Guava. It was served with Pistachio brittle and the whole thing was very untasty, so Will ordered a Limoncello and I had the house made PERUVIAN PISCO SOUR which in my mind was a pairing of Peruvian-Italian that worked better!

But what a fun night once we settled in and began to enjoy all the exciting tastes and flavors of this novel cuisine.

Boston's BRASSERIE JO just right for lunch

I have always been a fan of the Chicago BRASSERIE JO Alsatian bistro from Chef Jean Joho, but this was my first time at the Boston location in the Colonnade Hotel near the Prudential Center (

We met a friend for brunch with Samuel, and while the brunch menu is not a big as the lunch or dinner choices, it is quite nice.

I convinced Samuel to try to "French pizza" which is really an Alsatian TARTE FLAMBEE, a superb flatbread with bacon, tomato, and egg. He immediately made a fuss about the white stuff (egg white) and I told him it was cheese. He ultimately ate 1/2 of the tarte and I have to say that while he ultimately DID eat, it was a major pressure job to get him to do so this time around.

I had a glass of LUICIEN ALBRECHT PINOT GRIS 2008 Cuvee Romanus which is always refreshing at midday, even in the wet Boston rain. It was just right with my STEAK TARTARE, a huge portion of superb quality meat with a small salad of tomato (not too ripe) and watercress. It was on the spicy side, which is how I like it, making the wine just the right foil.

I must also rave about the small plate of horseradish coated carrots that came to table...these were so good we asked for extras. Even Will (the Brit who dislikes horseradish) raved about them; alas Samuel would not taste a bite.

Our host had the ONION SOUP which was traditional with gobs of cheese and crouton.

Will's portion of SMOKED CHICKEN CREPE with GOAT CHEESE & Salad was indeed a huge crepe filled with creamy tasty chicken and salad (yes, in the crepe!).

It was an auspicious start to a weekend of pretty great food experiences in my alma mater state, Massachusetts.

Monday, October 19, 2009

still lovin' LIA's in Chevy Chase, MD

We returned to LIA's ( just off Wisconsin Ave in Chevy Chase (across the MD line) and had another almost perfect meal. We went with our friends Lee & Kevin and their son Joshua, who grew up with Samuel in the same orphanage, so they go way back. The kids wreaked minimal havoc and enjoyed their PIZZA STRAIGHT UP with tomato, mozzarella and extra virgin olive oil.

We quaffed a GODELLA T.R. "Gaba do Zil" 2006 from Valdeorras which was most tasty and had the most interesting combination of flavors that I just can't describe. Monday is a great deal day at LIA's since all wine by the bottle is 1/2 price. The Godello coming in at $24.50! The meal deal is even better if you arrive before 630pm since you get three courses for $19.95!

We decided to "add-on" to the deals and order an ANTIPASTO PLATTER which we chose 6 items for. Each of the items is $5 or so and comes in 1-1/2 ounce portions which is a bit chincy and not anywhere near the amounts at say PROOF.

We choose WHITE ANCHOVIES which were nice, CAPPICOLA which was a bit chewy, GORGONZOLA Stuffed OLIVES (another ripoff for like 9 olives), marinated ARTICHOKE HEARTS (and even bigger ripoff for like 7 pieces) and two cheeses-RUSTICO de LIMON and Cypress Grove's MIDNIGHT MOON, neither of which was impressive nor a decent portion.

Our first red was a yummy MONTEPULCIANO d'ABRUZZO 2006 from MASCIARELLI that at $21.50 (1/2 price) was another bargain of the evening. Since our very sweet waiter Jon spilled part of one glass it also resulted in free glasses of MOSCATO for us all at dessert!

Our starters were all large portions and tasty ones as well:
FATTOUSH SALAD with feat, olive and flatbread

You may recall I am not a fennel fan, but this was a tasty salad and the bresaola gave just the right touch. It is supposed to come with grapefruit which would have added a nice acidity, but I had to decline and that wonderful fruit reverses the effects of cholesterol drugs!

Our third wine was indeed the wine surprise and super deal of the evening: RIPASSO di VALPOLICELLO CESARI "Casa Mara" 2006 from Verona had a huge raisin nose, but a deep red body; so Amarone in the nose, but big red in the mouth.

The kids enjoyed Strawberry and Passion Fruit Sorbets while we ate our main courses:
MUSSELS in Tomato-Herb broth with Gorgonzola Bread
BUTTERNUT SQUASH RISOTTO with Taleggio, Pomegranate and Pumpkin Oil was a bit too heavy and not as al dente as I like my risotto.
CHICKEN SAUSAGE PIZZA with Rapini & Garlic Confit & Moza(apparently an herb garnish I never spotted) is a nice pizza if you are leaning that way, but I adored the CHICKEN LEMONCELLO with olives, capers,arugula, roasted garlic POLENTA and in a portion that was more than 1/2 a chicken with plenty to take home!

Desserts were varied from a decent TIRAMUSA and CANOLI to a divine ESPRESSO y ZEPPOLE which was an Espresso semifreddo accompanied by five or so tasty small cinnamon doughnuts! Everyone agreed, this is the way to go!

Not everything was perfect, but for the price YOU CAN'T find better deals these days!

Thursday, October 08, 2009

the British Birthday at Colmbia Hts COMMONWEALTH

For Will's birthday, he choose the British COMMONWEALTH GASTROPUB ( in DC and we did have a great family evening. Right off the bat, Samuel ordered the same dish he had on our last visit-DOG in a PUFF with CHIPS. We, of course, ate the yummy puff pastry as Sam dunked his hot dog and thick seasoned chips in ketchup. We quaffed a bottle of RIOJA VEGA (Crianza) 2006 which was billed on the menu as Tempranillo, but was a blend of 50% Tenpranillo/25%Granacha and 25%Mazuelo. Our very handsome and accommodating server, Huck, recommended the wine and said it had a nice spicy flavor, which was perfect with our starters:

CRISPY LEMON FRIED OLIVES which are lightly breaded and you can pop into your mouth forever.
PORK PIES with GREEN Sauce for dipping which Will would call "pasties" in the UK or you might call empanadas here, esp with the Latin-leaning green sauce which was just right.
The PORK BELLY SLIDERS are served on Challa Bread (there has to be something very unkosher about that!) and Cucumber. They are a bit bready which is always an issue with sliders these days, although the belly was nice and tasty.

Our second wine was a lease spicy and milder KERMIT LYNCH Rouge 2007 billed as Grenache on the menu, but a Cotes du Rhone blend. It was nice with our less intensely flavored main courses. Will had the SHEPHERD's PIE made with Braised Beef, Squash, Potato and Bella Vitano Cheese and raved on about this (altho we poo-pooed the veggie tofu version available--I guess one should taste it).

My CHICKEN N DUMPLINGS was a 1/2 Beer Braised chicken with yummy Bella Vitano and Ricotta Dumplings and Squash as well. The sauce was divine and slightly creamy.

Will tried the STICKY TOFFEE PUDDING but asked for it with Vanilla Ice Cream instead of the non-British whipped cream and liked it much better this time. I opted for the cheeses which were BIJOU Goat from Vermont, GRAYSON & APPALACHIA both from Virginia served with a Date Compote and HomeMade Beer Mustard which I spread on the toasted thin seasoned bread crisps.

Samuel had the BITTERSWEET CHOCOLATE PUDDING which is billed a 70% Cacao /"American Style" which indeed it was, just like the kind we ate as kids in the 60's. Sam adored it but was bouncing off the walls all the way home and then some.

Next time--good food, good party, less chocolate for Sam!

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Chef Catalani on Capitol Hill triumphs with TOSCANA Cafe

Last night our friend Bill asked us to join him on the Hill just blocks from his house at a new secret that opened there only months ago. Chef Daniele Catalani (ex of Galileo) started up a take-out and small spot at 601 2nd St, NE ( and has a hit with only 9 tables upstairs that hold no more than 22 or so people. Toscana Cafe was jammed (I don't know if you can reserve, but you might call ahead before you take the trek-202-525-2693) last night, and it truly exemplifies the neighborhood. This is not fine dining at simple tables that are a bit crowded, but it is great local Italian cuisine which is what we need these days. Add to this prices that just can't be beat (we paid $193 for 3 people with tax for all the food and 2 bottles of wine PLUS 2 extra glasses) and portions that scream left-overs and you have a sure hit.

We started with a crisp mineral-intense VERMENTINO di SARDEGNA Costamolino 2008 from Argiolas which was only one of the many wines under $30. The glass prices did seem a bit high (the glass is generally 1/3 of the bottle price), so come planning to order a bottle, especially if your party drinks at least 3 glasses total! The menu is simple and varied with 2 salads, 11 starters, 7 pastas and 4 secondi (main courses) as well as desserts, which we never got to since we were so full.

My antipasto was the SALUMI plate which was simply described as Prosciutto, Mortadella, Cacciatorino, Spek and MORE. This is an understatement. There were figs, artichokes, tons of olives, pepperoncini and at least 10 slices of various meats all for $9.00! The PORK FENNEL SAUSAGE antipasto has three huge sausages with Canneliini Beans in a Tomato Sauce with Sage and is a tasty and also quite filling treat. The Octopus (listed on the menu as "polipo" as opposed to "polpo"--maybe I'm wrong?) was also a tasty warm option as well.

Secondi were huge portions as well from the PAPPARDELLE served with Roasted LAMB Ragu having perfectly al dente pasta and a divine rich sauce to the SALTIMBOCCA di VITELLO having lean slices of veal with crispy Prosciutto, Sage, Fontina Cheese, Porcini Mushrooms and a Potato Puree on the side.

My RISOTTO of the day was with OSSO BUCO and the risotto was a tasty dish, but the star was the huge shank replete with marrow and meat that fell off at the touch.

A CHIANTI CLASSICO 2007 Berardegna from FELSINA was recommended by our server Grace, and she made a good choice as the wine was big enough to go with our very intensely flavorful dishes. The glasses of wine were BORGOFORTE SuperTuscan 2007 Villa Pillo which was nowhere near as big as the Chianti.

The service is decent, but it is hard for the staff to keep running up from the kitchen to the tiny upstairs. There are two servers, so usually one is nearby, and our requests for utensils, bread or whatever, were always handled quickly.

TOSCANA CAFE is Capitol Hill's new secret; see you there soon.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Arlington's BANGKOK 54 tops for Thai

Last night friends of ours invited us along with Samuel for a superb feast at BANGKOK 54 ( at 2919 Columbia Pike, Arlington, VA) which was indeed a treat. Easily the best Thai in Arlington, and perhaps the DC area, (although Zagat does give several better ratings), we enjoyed every bite. The decor is pleasant, traditional and comfortable; the service attentive and helpful.

We started with SPRING ROLLS to which they added chicken to the veggie version on the menu for Samuel. We tried the HOUSE SPECIAL DUCK ROLLS which are more like pancake wraps of tasty lean duck with duck sauce and veggies with a hot mustard/sweet and sour swirl to dip in on the side.

If you like spice try the dishes marked with little peppers. SPICY ROASTED DUCK SALAD has crispy coated pieces of duck in a lettuce salad with ginger and pieces of pineapple and has some mild heat. The GREEN PAPAYA SALAD is much hotter and comes with minced shrimp, tomato, peanut and needs something cool (like water!) to wash the heat (which fades fast) away.

Will opted for the SINGHA Thai beer and I had the SHIRAKABE GURA TOKUBETSU JYUNMAI Sake which was nicely chilled and a great deal at like $16 for a small bottle.

There were so many dishes it was hard to choose, so we let our server guide us to the PANANG CURRY. We chose the chicken which comes in a rich creamy coconut and peanut curry with broccoli. It comes with white rice, which I think works best with the rich curry, but you also get whole grain rice if you like. Speaking of rice, Samuel asked for the SIMPLE FRIED RICE with CHICKEN which he gobbled up. It is a very tasty fried rice with soy, scallions and egg.

STIR-FRIED SPICY EGGPLANT can also come "not spicy" if you like and while I am not an eggplant lover this dish is a great veggie option with chili, bell peppers, sweet basil and a yummy black bean sauce. This dish comes under the "HOT WOK" category listing many dishes that can be ordered vegetarian or with chicken, pork, beef, shrimp or seafood.

FLANK STEAK is cooked nicely and comes with mushrooms and the grain rice as well, but our favorite dish was unquestionably the huge FRESH JUMBO SOFT SHELL CRABS tempura fried and served with a tasty CHILI-BASIL sauce. These were indeed very JUMBO and I was thrilled to get one last taste of them before their season closes!

FRESH MANGO and STICKY RICE is a pleasant dessert if you are still hungry; I tasted one small spoon, but was oh so full from all the yummy tastes!

I asked the owners why "54" and they said it was a nice number that adds up to 9. So much for why the name is 54! Who cares, I give it a very high number rating too!

Thursday, October 01, 2009

A superb celebration at SPEZIE (& right in the center of DC!)

Thursday night was the 15th Anniversary of our commitment ceremony and Will and I chose to celebrate at SPEZIE ( at 1736 L St, NW) where our friend Cesare Lanfranconi is in charge. Well, Cesare was in absentia as he had hurt his back, but the staff, as always, did a great job, and we were thrilled to be with our friend Karen, who has truly been the hostess with the mostess around town for so long, and our server Luciano, who hails not only from all the Galileo's of the past but back to Tiberio!

It was a great night to reminisce and eat and drink, starting with a glass of prosecco and the most divine Portobello Arrosto con Polpetta di polpa di granchio e burra alla erbe. This is truly the perfect Italian-take on our local crab cake, but here on a portobello mushroom with a yummy herb butter sauce. The entire creation is indeed a new revelation in the crab department. The winning touch to this dish was the simple microgreens on the side.

We were virgins to the Fiano grape with a FIANO di AVELLINO from Terradora di Paolo 2006 in Campania which was very rich, yet totally crisp as well. A great white for the crab and the pastas that followed. Stefano, the manager and sommelier hails from Sicily (we talked lots about that too) and he really introduced us to two star wines.

Our pastas were a split portion of FETTUCINE al SUGO di CONIGLIO al Verminto, Carciofi e maggiorama--a superb Vermentino (white wine) braised farm rabbit ragu with artichoke, parmeggiana and marjoram. The other half of the plate was perhaps the winning star with a TRENETTE al PESTO alla GENOVESE, which doesn't get much simpler, but was a divine linguine with a Genovese basil pesto, green beans, potato cubes and aged pecorino that all combined just made one of the best pasta dishes around.

We moved to our red wine, a GRAVELLO LIBRNADI from Val DiNeto in Calabria 2004 which is a blend of Gaglioppo and Cabernet, the first obviously being the new varietal to us. It opened up after a bit and we enjoyed every last drop.

The main courses were a Roasted FENNEL Dusted PORK CHOP with Cannellini Beans, Acorn Squash, Rosemary Mash, Balsamic and Braised Cipolline Onions that was not too fennelly at all and was a perfectly cooked chop to boot not to mention everything else. Will savored the CARE d'AGNELO Arrosto con Carciofi, fave e pancetta brasati ala menta, salsa alle olive liguri which was a divine Rack of Lamb (huge as well) roasted with Artichokes, Fava Beans, Pancetta and a bit of mint with a Ligurian Olive Sauce.

We were full, but the staff insisted we have a celebration dessert, which was a light and delightful PEACH & BLUEBERRY COBBLER with Vanilla Ice Cream. A creamy way to end a wonderful anniversary dinner.

Monday, September 21, 2009

make it MARVIN's for me, best French bistro around

Last night we headed to MARVIN's ( at 2007 14th Street (at U St), NW in an area that has truly had a major renaissance foodwise in the last decade. This wonderful Belgian style bistro is just that with wooden chairs, a pub-ish feel and a very relaxed atmosphere, dedicated to Marvin Gaye's two years in "exile" in Ostend, Belgium. There is some jazz music, but the star here is the food and it was impressive, and very reasonably priced as well.

We started with a bottle of refreshing Mas de la Dame "Rose du Mas: 2008 a very dry rose from Les Baux de Provence that goes with almost everything (save the steak, which Will ordered a glass of house red for!).

The food is Belgian bistro with that American twist with some delectable starters such as LIVER & ONIONS which is a monstrous slab of Hudson Valley FOIE GRAS with Sweet VIDALIA Onions, Pear and BANYULS Vinegar. At $17.00 this might be an indulgence, but it's size makes it worth every cent and every bite. If you feel the need for duck, you can also have the less pricy DUCK CONFIT, a filling leg and thigh with PICKLED BEETS, CHEVRE cheese and a small MACHE Salad with a tasty yet light vinaigrette. The SEARED SEA SCALLOPS are three large nicely browned on the edge scallops on a bed of superb BRAISED LEEKS with Beurre Rouge.

We were all impressed at this point, and we kept telling our server Lenore (we did really want the cute blond guy in the shorts, but Lenore was perfect in all her suggestions!) when she asked how everything was, that it was indeed, FABULOUS. Chef James Claudio must be very proud of the plates that come out here.

Our main courses were just as superb starting with the Southern-influenced Free Range COUNTRY FRIED CHICKEN Breast & WAFFLES which comes over a bed of COLLARD GREENS with traditional rich gravy and for those in need of sweet indulgence, Maple Syrup on the side. The STEAK FRITES is a hit here with a very low priced yet wonderfully tasty Cowgirl (which I did not know means off the bone!) 18 ounce RIBEYE with Petite Salade, SAUCE BORDELAISE & ROSEMARY Caper Sauce. A divine and yes huge (at 18 ounces of all meat with no bone, so there was leftovers for sure) steak with some of the best frites in DC!

I opted for the very Belgian MOULES FRITES which can be had in several sauces here. My choice was the COCONUT CURRY when Lenore said it was indeed not a sweet sauce, but a mildly spicy one and she hit this one on the nose. There were scattered jalapeno slices for a bite if you chose to devour them and the plump mussels bathes in a rich sauce that did require massive mopping up at the end with the traditional tasty French bread. The FRITES were truly the stars here and they come served with three sauces: a nice ketchup and two divinely thick mayonnaise sauces--one Wasabi and one Curry, both of which I could not resist.

MARVIN is a spot to consider on its own or when you are anywhere near the U Street Corridor...we will be back very soon!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

certainly SEI should be seen and more...

SEI opened earlier this year next to the Shakespeare Lansburgh Theater at 444 7th St, NW ( in the Penn Quarter and has already garnered much acclaim (2-1/2 stars from the Post). It will soon have a different type of competition next door when the British uber-Asian chain Wagamama opens its first DC location!

SEI calls itself "modern Asian cuisine," and that is about as accurate as it gets. There are many highs and some lows here, so do listen up, and you may wish to access the Post review (dated April 5, 2009) and I intend to refer to it as well (I just adore to bash Mr. Sietsema!).

I must first give the critic praise as he is totally correct about the brilliant and exciting cocktail menu at Sei. I felt the APPLE BLOSSOM (Gala Apple infused Vodka, Sparkling Cider, Lime Juice, Apple Cider) was a bit too sweet and the MISCHIEF (Yazi Ginger Vodka, Triple Sec, Lime Juice, Simple Syrup) was a bit too sour, but my LIQUID WASABI was a dream come true. Mr Sietsema called this "a little pain followed by a lot of pleasure," and I must totally disagree. The drink is just right, and too hot at all. It has NO wasabi and is made from unfiltered Sake, Lime Juice, Habanero & Ginger Infused Simple Syrup and delighted me to no end. Everyone agreed it was the winning drink of the table.

The wine list is not too big, but has some nice surprises and we opted for a MERLEIN "Chupacabra" from Paso Robles 2006 which is a Cabernet/Petit Verdot/Syrah blend that does match well with some of the spicier dishes, but also goes down smooth with the milder ones.

We ordered the EDAMAME starter which is pretty much about the same as everywhere else; I was looking for something modern or novel here. The WASABI GUACAMOLE however does excite and uses the lighter Wonton Chips for crunchiness and lightness.

We sat back and enjoyed the almost all white decor with gold accents, the elegant sushi bar with a huge window or orchids behind it and more. The noise levels were high, but not unbearable, as we arrived at after 9pm (we had just come from seeing the superb PHEDRE starring Helen Mirren!) and the place was starting to wind down.

We decided to order a number of starters and one main each: FISH & CHIPS ROLL was a wonderful sushi concoction made from Flounder, Malt Vinegar with crunchy Potato Crisps sprinkled atop and a light Wasabi Tartar underneath. These delectible bites did not need wasabi, although a dash of soy (and maybe a slice of ginger) added to the great taste. This dish made me want to come back and try more sushi, but sadly we had already ordered too much!

The BLACK PEPPER CHICKEN WINGS with Teriyaki Glace pack a huge spice punch and come with wet towels to clean up with (a nice touch). The spice dies only after several minutes, so do be forewarned; but I adored the intense flavor.

WAGU TARTARE with Naan and Panko Crusted QUAIL EGG was a nice starter size tartare of excellent lean beef and the egg was just the right touch. There are about 8 slices of the puffy naan (each about 1-1/4 inch diameter) which is a bit much unless you just put a tad of tartare on each piece--no way--I would not want the bread to overpower the wondrous meat; but you can always eat the little rounds separately.

The SEAWEED SALAD is a gorgeous one as is the plain green salad, both large and satisfying.

SAKE CURED COD with EDAMAME Puree and Oyster Mushroom was the hit main course with silky smooth fish in a yummy sauce that was tasty, but not too rich. Deyaku SALMON was also getting high marks. Sadly, my choice was the dud of the evening and I blame it all on Mr. Sietsema. The TOFU "Steak" comes with WASABI MASCARPONE, Tamarin Soy, Crunchy Lotus Chips and Shitakes and looks divine but needs something else flavorwise. The wasabi is minimal and while Mr. Sietsema said he also ordered it "for its joke value. The laugh was on me, however." I have to say that the laugh was ON ME, as I thought the dish way too bland, as I often do tofu, unless, as Will remarked, it is made by our Rabbi, who prepares it brilliantly!

Desserts had highs and lows as well with a nice ORANGE Miso BREAD PUDDING with Caramel Soy Ice Cream, a divinely rich and yummy (my choice, yay) ROASTED TEA CREME BRULEE with fresh berries and an awful dry and bland CHOCOLATE FONDANT with Sake Sorbet and Green Tea Anglaise. I also have to say that while the menu states "fresh berries" with my huge portion of delightful creme brulee, there were indeed only two 1/8" slices of a strawberry on the side! They could not even use a whole strawberry or much for the "plural" berrieS.

All in all, we had a great fun time and most of the food was super. I would definitely return for another Liquid Wasabi cocktail or some of the sakes with some sushi and some of the other starters for sure. Just avoid the tofu and fondant.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

the PROOF is in the palate and more at PROOF in DC

After our first visit to PROOF several months ago in the Penn Quarter (, I was so impressed, I wanted to return again soon. The opportunity arose when two business associates popped into DC this week and we were looking for a place to dine that was not too heavy, but still lots of fun.

We settled in after a glass of PROSECCO for the CHEF's CHARCUTERIE BOARD and at $20-something, this is still a great deal for 3-4 people. There were slices of the Prosciutto San Danielle (which I liked better this time), Jamon Serrano, Speck, Bresaola, Saucisson de Paris, Rosette de Lyon, Artisanal Salamis, Cacciatore, Sopressata, Finocchiana, Coppa, a Duck & Red Pepper Terrine and of course, gherkins. We enjoyed this with a superb bottle of WESTREY 2004 RESERVE Pinot Noir from the Willametter Valley in Oregon that was intense in fruit and flavor, but worked with the meats quite well.

I had gotten the "out-of-town" ladies all excited about our soft-shell crabs, only to find out they were out that night. AWWWW! I hope we get one more chance at them somewhere this season!

Don't forget the super flatbread and the yogurt dip that comes with it!!

We went on to several starters to share:
HEN of the WOODS MUSHROOM QUICHE with French Beans and Radish is a tasty quiche, but not great revelation...although I loved the beans.
Thyme & Brown Butter Basted VEAL SWEETBREADS with Roasted Corn, Fingerling Potatoes, Sweet Pepper & Basil is a true hit of a standout dish and quite a large portion (as were all the starters).
Grilled OCTOPUS Salad with Potato-Chickpea Salad, Smoked Paprika and Roasted Red Peppers is another divine dish, as was the Side veggie order of CRISPY CAULIFLOWER with Lemon-Tahini Sauce which I remembered so well from my first visit.

A creamy metallic and totally intense 2005 JM BOILLOT PULIGNY MONTRACHET is a true find at under $100 and a rare treat as well. There was a little room for dessert so we shared the CHOCOLATE MOUSSE PROFITEROLES with Chocolate Sorbet which I did not taste, but got raves and the WARM SUMMER BERRY SHORTCAKE which I adored (you know I'm a fruit fan).

It was a great hit of a night and kudos go to the entire great staff, but especially to sommelier Sebastian who rounded up two surprisingly superb wines and the manager, Michael, who hails way back from Teatro Goldoni when it first opened.

The proof is in the product, the pate and the palate!