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!