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.