Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Dupont Italian Kitchen (DC) does Italian cuisine decent

Last night we took Samuel and joined some friends for a true neighborhood meal at the DUPONT ITALIAN KITCHEN (1637 17th St, NW - where we had not been for at least 3 or 4 years.

It was a pleasant surprise as we quaffed a decent quality BELLERUCHE Cotes du Rhone Red 2006 from M Chapoutier for under $30/bottle which is a wine that can go with pasta/meat and fish as well. Samuel had the requisite SPAGHETTI with MEATBALL and Tomato Sauce as he quaffed a Ginger Ale and munched the soft bread dipped in lightly seasoned olive oil.

The soups are tasty and we tried the MINESTRONE and the slightly spicy and flavorful GAZPACHO.

Main courses were all appreciated and extremely reasonably priced in the low to mid teens from PENNE with CHICKEN to GRILLED SALMON with Capers & Lemon Sauce (which turned out to be a creamy, but tasty lemon sauce), GRILLED TUNA with TOMATO SALSA and my excellent VEAL SCALOPPINI with Prosciutto and Mushroom Brown Sauce over Pasta. The sauce was not too rich and the prosiutto was a bit peppery making for a nice blend of flavor and seasoning. The server was willing to quickly switch pasta for vegetables at no cost making the dining experience easier for the non-carb folks.

We were all too full for dessert, so we headed home happy to know the food quality can be good when the dishes don't cost $20 or $30 or more!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Adams Morgan's BLACK SQUIRREL Bar has brass

Our old buddy Gene who had been one of the owners and chefs years back at SAVEUR in Upper Georgetown opened THE BALCK SQUIRREL in Adams Morgan last year (2427 18th Street NW - and while it is more of a bar than a dining destination, the food is quite good. The tables are all bar type with high chairs or stools, so it's not for the elderly or handicapped, especially since the bar is a up a flight of steps. The decor is eclectic with everything from lots of squirrel photos and drawings to posters of Farah Fawcett; the music is 80's softer disco, at least it was Sunday from 6-8pm.

Beer is the specialty here and the beer menu is indeed astounding; the wine menu gets little thought and I was wishing I could get something better that an FAT BASTARD Rose 2006, but I was barking up the wrong tree (at the squirrel, I guess!). The food is well prepared and portions are huge with prices quite reasonable. Samuel ordered the kid's portion of FISH & CHIPS (while there is not children's menu, the staff is most friendly and accommodating) whic was moist tilapia in BLACK SQUIRREL's AMBER BOCK BEER Batter and served with a remoulade that packs a huge kick. Beware the generous dipping portion as you might be tempted to go for a BIG dip and end up with a bit too much spice; I loved it though. Gene added some battered carrots which were divine, but Samuel was interested only in the tasty fish and spiced fries, which he declared needed no ketchup (he got a small taste of the remoulade and asked us to remove it from his plate!).

Will and I both started with the creamy rich CHILLED BEET SOUP which had pickled veggies (I think it was cabbage?) which added a crunch and flavor; it was perfect in the 90+ degree heat we had yesterday! Will's diet led him to the BALSAMIC POACHED BEET SALAD with Thyme Garlic Vinaigrette and subbed some Grilled Chicken for the Bacon Toast & Goat Cheese. My Prince Edward Island MUSSELS in AMBER BOCK CURRY CREAM with Thyme, Bacon and Garlic were divine and enough for two folks to split! They were accompanied by a cup of traditional BOARDWALK FRIES which were slightly spicy, very yummy and did indeed have a little crunch
vs. that Boardwalk Fries limpness as well. Samuel helped me devour the cup, again with not a single tad of ketchup!

We went home very full, knowing that while Black Squirrel may not be a family spot and is indeed more of a bar, the food we saw going by from the burgers, to mac&cheese and more all looked so tempting that we must go back again!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

ESCA offers excellent eating near Times Sq NY

Last night I popped up to NY for a quick visit and decided to try ESCA, the Italian seafood bistro at 402 W 43rd St. (very close to Times Square - Almost 9 years old, this not too exciting design-wise spot is the creation of Dave Pasternack, Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich. While I am not a "name" chef fan, these guys have created and maintained a gem for sure.

The walls are unadorned except for light scones and cubby holes filled with upright wine bottles (I guess they don't mind storing all the wine incorrectly!). As I sat down I noticed a small party in the corner window table headed by none other than Tony Bennett, who seemed to be a regular and enjoying himself quite alot.

I sat down and perused the menu with a glass of CINQUE TERRE Bianco "Marea" (blend of Bosco(grapes, not the chocolate sauce),Vermentino and Albarola) 2007 from Bisson in Liguria which had mineral intensity, a lasting finish and piles of flavor. A piece of BRUSCHETTA came with CANNELONI BEANS & MACKEREL that was divine as were the soft small black fleshy olives resting in oil (which I later used for the focaccia).

I finally decided on the $75 tasting menu which was a bargain to boot when you consider how much I got, The only problem is that they allow no substitutions (and the whole table must order it if you are a group), and I really wanted the grouper instead of the swordfish....ESCA is famous for its CRUDO or raw fish selections and they all sounded divine. the first course of the tasting is one chosen by the chef and I was happy to get the HALIBUT BELLY in Extra Virgin
Sunflower Oil; rich, tasty and fleshy fish that would compete with sushi any day. They offer an upgrade as well for something like $25 extra if you want more crudo...I chose not, knowing how much was to follow.

BURRATA on CROSTINI with GRILLED SPRING RAMPS with ANCHOVY VINAIGRETTE was almost perfect. The bread was slightly burnt and was really anegative for the excellent cheese. I always feel buratta does not need bread...indeed, the ramps were an amazing pairing and the anchovy flavor not too intense for just the perfect dish (if it did not have the corstini!).

The wine prices by the glass are in the $12-24 range which seemed pricey to me, but then I discovered that each is really a carafe of almost two full glasses, making it a steal in NYC! My second wine was a CIAFRE ILLUMINATO from Abruzzo 2006 (a blend of Trebbiano, Passerina and Riesling). The "sommelier" (she was a person who served the food and wine, and took the wine orders) said the Riesling was minimal and the wine was an almost pale straw yellow with lots of flavors as well. The wine was divine with the GAMBERONI, Three medium-size head-on Santa Barbara SPOT PRAWNS with a Prosecco Vinaigrette. The prawns were halved and the meat came out easily and was quite sweet and tasty. The wine was also superb with the FUSILLU with MUSSELS & CLAMS in a Sauce of PEAS & GARLIC CHIVE, with lots of peppery aftertaste to boot, which the wine worked brilliantly to equalize.

As I mentioned my main fish was SPADA alla SICILIANI or swordfish with Beans and Broccoli-Rabe, Olive and oil in a thick stew-like sauce. The meat was grilled to perfection and served on top. The big fish deserved a red, so I had a VALPOLICELLA RIPASSO "Semonte Alto" 2005 from Venturini in the Veneto region (all the wines are Italian if I recall). which was another great choice for the fish and heavy dish.

I mentioned to my server that I am not a chocoholic, so when the dessert (chef's choice) came I had to admit I was a bit miffed with the albeit three large scoops of sorbet (kiwi, coconut-lemon and pineapple-passion fruit) with large waffle tuilles. The best part was the biscotti, cookies and brownies that came after. I would have appreciated a real idea of what the chef can do with pastry or dessert though.

I know that when I have to be near Times Square, Esca is worth the 5 block detour!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

DC's ROSA MEXICANA, ok, but not perfectly rosy

Last night we had an early dinner after a show with Samuel and headed across the street to ROSA MEXICANA ( on F St, NW at 7th St.) and had a pretty enjoyable meal. Our server FRANKIE was a gem from the start. Will asked if the ZARAPE DE PATO appetizer which had three chiles (meaning spicy) next to it was indeed very spicy. Frankie came back with a couple of small tortillas in a basket and some of the sauce, a YELLO PEPPER HABANERA CREAM which indeed was spicy, but not intense or lasting at all. I think that Rosa's THREE chile marking might get lowered abit for those enjoying spice and flavor! The ZARAPE which Will did order was a Layered Duck Tortilla Pie with PULLED DUCK and the same, tasty and yummy. We actually started with some of the traditional Margaritas, Will choosing the Tradicional made with silver tequila, lime and agave nectar and I opted for the Unica with 1800 Reposada Tequila and Grand Marnier. Both were delicioso, but I fear they add more and more ice each time I return and the drink has shrunk to only several ounces for $7.50-$10 (and up for the higher brands!).

Samuel ordered from the Young Amigo Menu and was thrilled with his CORN CRUSTED CHICKEN FINGERS & SWEET POTATO FRIES. He did not touch the fresh buttered corn off the cob, but gobbled down all three of the huge pieces of chicken and most of the fries. This came with a scoop of MANGO SORBET which was gone just as quickly. A great deal with a soda for $7.50!

My appetizer was a superb SOPA DE TORTILLA made with Pasilla Chiles, Grilled Chicken, Avocado, Cheese, Crema and Crisp Tortilla Strips. A perfect dish as the rain started and the temperature dropped.

Will's main course of BEEF ENCHILADA with MOLE de XICO had a tasty sauce made from Raisins, Plantains, Hazelnuts, Pine Nuts and Mulata, Ancho and Pasilla Chiles. Sides of superb Refried Bans (sprinkled with soft white cheese) and Tasty Rice would fill anyone up. We had also ordered the appetizer of ENSALADA de VEGETALES a la PARILLA hoping that Samuel might indulge in some of the grilled Zucchini, Hearts of Palm, Artichoke, Avocado, Corn or Chile Rubbed Red Bliss Potatoes in a tasty Roasted Tomato Oregano Vinaigrette over field greens, but he was not we ate a bit and took the rest home. The dish also had 3 chiles, which is a total mis-labeling!

A superb MALBEC TERRAZAS de los ANDES 2007 from Mendoza has a slight earthiness which worked well with the spices. Indeed Rosa Mexicana gets kudos for the reasonable wine prices from $22-30$ listing eight reds and eight whites!!

The disappointment of the night was my TABLONES, highly recommended by Frankie; a huge 18 ounce portion of grilled boneless BEEF SHORT RIBS in MESTIZA SAUCE (Tomatillo/Tomato & Chipotle) with RAJAS or slow cooked Mexican peppers with onions. The meat came out very very VERY dry and I had to ask for extra sauce, but could only eat about 1/2 of the portion as it was just so overcooked.

Too full for dessert we headed home knowing that if the kitchen had only cooked those ribs a bit less on the grill after braising them for so long, the dish would have been sublime. I thought that someone might have removed them from the bill...but no luck.

I have always enjoyed Rosa Mexicana, but I think she will get a break for the time being.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

so sue me cause I love SUSHI A GO GO in NYC

Saturday evening I was headed to a late curtain at the Metropolitan Opera and wanted a lighter meal and had that old, "I don't eat leaven stuff on Passover dilemma." I thought sushi--without rice--and headed across the street (yes, again) from Lincoln Center to SUSHI A GO GO. I consulted with my friendly server who said COLUMBUS SASHIMI...three pieces each tune, yellowtail, salmon and whitefish. Brilliant. I started with my regular SEAWEED SALAD made from Kukiwakami, but this time there was a tad too much of the dressing and the last bites were a bit overdressed. Nonetheless, I adore this simple, light, vegetarian dish and it always makes me happy. The Sashimi plate yielded up superb tasty fleshy whitefish, salmon and tuna. Only the yellowtail seemed odd as it came in such small almost dicey pieces.

I met the nicest family from Italy next to me and she told me about her uncle's restaurants in the northeast region near Trieste---one day maybe.

I sipped the excellent GREEN TEA and decided to finish with one more appetizer dish: NEGAMAKI of BEEF with ASPARAGUS, which is under the salad listing, but is quite a huge dish. There is a yummy huge pile of fresh field greens in the center surrounded by 8 pieces of large or smaller paired asparagus pieces, each about an inch and half long which are in turn wrapped in seared, but fully cooked beef. It was a tasty dish wish a yummy sauce having a sweet and sour essence, but lighter, like a soy-ginger dressing.

I went to the opera full, but my pocket wasn't emptied too much as the prices are quite reasonable for this generally overpriced block! And the opera was superb as well!

Friday, April 10, 2009

goin' to GUANTANAMERA (NYC) where the cuisine and scene are cooking

Last night I returned to Guantanamera a 939 8th Ave (56th St) - where I have always had a god and reasonably priced meal when near Lincoln Center or the theater district. Since it was Passover, I kept the meal grainless and had my 2 favorite dishes there.

ENSALATA PALMA REAL, a salad of mixed greens, artichoke hearts and avocado with a tasty vinaigrette, and CHURRASCO con CHIMICHURRI Sauce which is simply one of NY's best hangar steaks grilled and served with the tastiest of sauces. It now comes with rice and beans which was quickly whisked away whn I said I could not eat that on Passover and replaced with fried plantians--YUMMY!

The wine was a warm medium bodied FEBRE MALBEC from Argentina, the home country of owner Mario Zarate who has turned Guantanamera into a destination.

The bar was full at 530pm and the restaurant the same by 7pm. Everyone was happy and I look forward to returning again and again.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

take the voyage to VOLT in Frederick, MD and you'll flip!

We had the pleasure of meeting Chef BRYAN VOLTAGGIO when he first returned to the Washington are several years back to open Charlie Palmer Steak. If you read my reviews then, they were always raves as he continued to garner awards and was only in his 20's!

He recently returned to his hometown Frederick, MD and opened VOLT ( which has truly electrocuted the food world of Frederick. Located in a beautiful historic district mansion with a large number of dining areas and options, I can't imagine anyone making the trip there and not coming home with the opinion that VOLT is definitely one of the premier dining spots of the Washington area. It would definitely win my award for FINE DINING!

The dining rooms are reasonably comfy with nice chairs of white leather and dark wood, the music a bit loudish odd (some thumpy noise bothered me at the start) at times, but never awful or blaring so that the conversation is disturbed.The waiters sport lace dark reddish brown sneakers (Keds?) and the upper echelon staff (captains, etc) are in suits and shoes. The walls are white, there is some artwork on some walls (I couldn't' see any from my seat), but what mattered here more than anything was the sublime heavenly quality of the food. As I mentioned there are numerous options and be sure to make your choice clear when you reserve your table as NOT all the rooms serve all the menus. The regular menu is an up to 4 course dinner with all items a la carte. There are tasting menus of 5 and 7 courses as well as a vegetarian option (served only at the kitchen tables I believe) and finally TABLE 21 where four folks are served a 21-course tasting; I can't wait to go back for this!

Three of us went for the 7-course($89) with paired wines ($45more), which is an amazing deal for seven LARGE courses, plus extras and the reasonable 2 1/2-3 ounce pours of 7 wines. The fourth person chose the 5-course eliminating the cheese and sweetbread courses from our 7-course which ran $69 and an extra $35 for 5 wines.

Yummy breadsticks with salt and caraway are brought immediately and the water is all complimentary with a choice of still or sparkling all filtered and gas-infused in house. This is one of the greenest ways to avoid those awful plastic and glass bottles wasted as the water is served in glass re-usable carafes and you can refill at the table to your heart's content. BRAVO for this.

We ordered a bottle of DOMAINE FERRATON Semorens 2007 Cotes du Rhone white which was superb and an amazing deal at under $30! Our bread came and we were already impressed: French soft rolls, Buttermilk chive biscuits, Rosemary Bacon Brioche and House Whole Grain were served hot with sea salted butter from the Vermont Butter & Cheese Co,

I have always believed that an amuse is a good sign of what is to come. Well, our three amuse were amazing, not just amusing: CHILLED RUTABAGA Soup with Lemon Oil & SALMON ROE which exploded in my mouth made me want a couple more of the tasty eggs MEDJOOL DATE was filled with CURRIED YOGURT and sprinkled with FENNEL POLLEN (I asked if people who have outdoor allergies need to avoid this pollen?) BEET MACAROON was filled with FOIE GRAS MOUSSE and sprinkled with Orange Powder. This was a crunchy fun and not heavy teeny taste that was just right.

The sommelier Neil knows his wine, but had one or two odd pairing choices with the tasting that we were not crazy about. The Ferraton was a perfect starter because it goes with so many different things. Next came a LOOSEN, Dr. L RIESLING 2007 from Germany which has a teensy amount of residual sugar, which Will never likes, so Neil quickly subbed a glass of Latour Ardeche 2006 for him. The first course was a TASTING OF TUSCARORA (Penna.) FARMS BEETS with Balsamic Six (6% acidity with a huge fruity taste), GOAT CHEESE (from Cherry Glen MD), Garden Tarragon, Mizuna & Peppercress. This may sound simple but the dish had a dehydrated beet meringue that was wild and the gout cheese was whipped into a light and frothy mousse with the beets having to be some of the best ever tasted on earth!

The SHITAKE VELOUTE with PINENUT SABAYON and Crisp SHITAKES in CHILI OIL was a divine and rich soup served with a BRUNO FRANCO NEBBIOLO d'ALBA 2005 from Piemonte which we all agreed was a bit too red and intense for this very divine creamy soup. Will actually preferred his with the Latour wine he had remaining!

SEARED YELLOWFIN TUNA with PARSNIP, BLACK FORBIDDEN RICE, Braised BABY BOK CHOY, Fermented Black Garlic Vinaigrette and COCONUT Air (foam) with MADRAD CURRY was another divine creation. These portions by the way were not small. The fish was probably about 6-7 bites, the veloute an entire bowl. We had to start pacing ourselves so we could manage the rest of the meal. Nobody seemed to know why the rice got its name, but it is a small black grain that is quite risotto-like and truly flavorful. Every element in this dish was perfectly combined. We actually felt that here it was indeed a combination of the ingredients that worked so well. I often like to taste the separate elements and then combine them randomly; here it had to be all together. Neil chose a brilliant THISTLE PINOT BLANC 2007 from Dundee Hills Oregon which we all loved with the dish...perfection indeed.

SWEETBREADS were tempura fried with flavors of PICATA, MEYER LEMON, KALAMATA Olive and a Veal Reduction with Golden Raisins and Caper & Parsley Powders. Here it was fun to try the sweetbreads with a taste from each of the "sauces" making for many different tastes indeed. The wine is a new find that I will get immediately, as I could drink it forever. PUNTO FINAL MALBEC RESERVA 2006 from Mendoza in Argentina (from 50 year old vines, Neil tells us) is so smooth, you could drink it for days.

A large piece of superbly-tender 48 HOUR BRAISED WAGYU SHORT RIBs came over a Puree of YUKON GOLD POTATOES with a Garlic Transparency (like a 1 inch square of that Listerine papery thing you toss in your mouth to freshen your breath), Roasted Pepper, Sundried Grapes and Beef Reduction. Again, a dish with many options to taste different combinations and a wine that I will also purchase ASAP-CHARLES SMITH 2007 The VELVET DEVIL MERLOT from Columbia Valley Oregon is a medium bodied Merlot that is soooo smooth and perfect with a delicate meat like this.

One of use did not eat red meat and had a delish ROASTED CHICKEN with Chicken Mousse cooked sous-vide with Russian Banana Fingerling Potatoes and Ruby Chard.

The cheese course was POINT REYES BLUE, Celery Variations and Beet-Port Glaze which was actually a Beet-Port Sorbet and Puree. A salty crisp was on the side and it was a wonderful new take on the same old cheese option. As you know, I don't care for beer, and Neil served a WILD GOOSE SNOW GOOSE from Frederick which Will loved alone, but he did not care for with the cheese. The rest of us switched to a superb ROBERTSON 2008 Late Harvest GEWURTZTRAMINER from South Africa that was light sweet and just right with this excellent blue cheese and the accompanying beet variations.

The first dessert on the tasting was the TEXTURES of CHOCOLATE with mint consisting of PRALINE FROZEN CUSTARD, Chocolate GANACHE, Chocolate CARAMEL, Cocoa and some other items I missed. Having been overdone by Hershey PA, Will and I switched and had the lighter MACOUN APPLE SORBET & VANILLA BEAN ICE CREAM with BUTTER CANDIED GRANNY SMITH APPLES, CINNAMON DOUGHNUTS and was all top notch and the accompanying TALIJANCICH, White SOLERO SHERRY aged 10 years from Swan Valley Australia was a novel sweet treat (made from Pedro Ximenes, Muscadel and Verdeho).

A not so interesting LAVENDER POWDER COCONUT Sorbet and pudding with vanilla simple syrup came next, but I think e were verging on way too full anyway. The mignardises were tasty POMEGRANATE Pate aux fruits, ALMOND MACAROON with Chocolate Ganache and Lavender Madeleines....all yumyum.

We got Blueberry Coffee Cakes to take home for the next morning knowing that despite the 50+ minute drive from our home, we would be back to VOLT for another JOLT real soon!