Sunday, March 29, 2009

more Hershey treats at the HERSHEY GRILL(PA) eye on Isaac's deli

On our last night in Hershey we crossed town to our sister hotel the Hershey Lodge, which is much larger and loaded with hundreds of convention/meetings/youth folk making for much more noise than our quieter oasis atop the hills of chocolate-town.

The Lodge has many dining option with the HERSHEY GRILL at the top level and while it is simple, the food is delicious. There is a small rock garden with fish pond and bonsai-style Japanese trees which Samuel loved, especially the duck that had taken up residence. The restaurant is an outmoded 70's style with lots of booths with geometric patterned fabric, but the service (as it is everywhere in Hershey) is super-friendly and pretty-much efficient.

The only problem we really had was with our bottle of EL COTO BLNACO WHITE RIOJA 2007 that came at just below room temperature. Our server, Glenda, explained the cooler is not that cool; I suggested they get a new one and they said it was new! OOPS. After putting the wine in one of those pretty useless silver canisters, we ultimately did get a bucket with ice and water that did the trick (after we had finished 40% of the bottle). The wine was delish with big green apple nose and taste and was superb with my spicy appetizer of POP ROCK SHRIMP, Herb Seasoned, Lightly Fried with a Sweet & SPICY CURRY SAUCE. This dish was barely breaded and HUGE and presented adorably on the plate with a chinese food carton turned on its side, the field greens rolling out of it, chopsticks and the shrimp surround them. It was quite spicy and adventurous for the mostly tame when it comes to spice Hershey folks. Will had a superb appetizer of CAJUN SHRIMP PIROGIES in a Blackened MUSHROOM BROTH with RAPINI. This was a very mild, yet tasty dish with the mostly potato and some not spicy at all shrimp filling in the yummy pillows floating in a tasty broth (a spoon might have been helpful if you wanted to drink the broth).

Meanwhile Samuel opted for the very cheeesy PIZZA portion for kids which was large enough for him to take home half after he had finished the side of vegetables: snow peas, carrots and broccoli-rabe (which he now adores). Of course, the drink du jour: CHOCOLATE MILK! There were nice warm rolls with a superb PESTO DIP which was great on the fries later on!

Our red wine was a medium-bodied SAGELANDS CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2005 ('03 on the menu) from Washington State that had big cherry, vanilla and caramel notes with a (yes, believe it or not) COCOA finish., though not sweet of course.

It was divine with my COCOA-CHILI Rubbed CHICKEN with Roasted BEETS, Roasted Potatoes and French FETA cheese. The dish was not spicy nor sweet, and was seasoned to perfection. The portion was, as expected, huge, as were the sides and the cheese was just right with the beets (or the chicken for that matter).

Will opted for the FILET MIGNON with Garlic Green Peppercorn Butter, Steak Frites and Broccoli-Rabe. It was a decent steak, but I am not a big fan of steak with melted butter, even if spicy (it's that old Ruth's Chris gimmick).

Sam gobbled up some mediocre RASPBERRY SORBET and we headed home to finish off the red wine with some chocolate in our suite.

A note that the sandwiches at ISAAC's DELI on West Chocolate Avenue are a great option for lunch if in Hershey (The cheddar wrap with Almond/Cranberry/Chicken Salad is a winner).

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Hershey Hotel's CIRCULAR DINING Room will surprise you

Last night here at the Hershey Hotel, we hired a sitter for Samuel (he loved her) and headed downstairs to the grand old CIRCULAR DINING Room. This is probably the only restaurant between Philly and Chicago that requires jackets, but the setting is so nice, it makes for a bit more class. The room is largely circular with a huge domed ceiling painted with sky and surrounding trellis of flowering vines. The 1930's antique stained glass windows still remain surrounding huge windows overlooking the formal gardens and its 5 neo-classical American temple like structures. Much of the hotel features busy-patterned carpets, but at least in the Circular Dining Room the chair fabric kind of matches on the huge comfy leather bottoms chairs. The tables are large and well spaced allowing for intimate dining as well. There was an indescribable gait by the maitre d' as he led us to the table. One of those episodes seemingly from a film where he goes "walk this way" and you just can't help laughing and trying to walk behind him to the table. We noticed other folks giggling as they were seated as well. Our server, YVONNE was a gem, and after dinner as we were readying to leave she insisted we take a huge box of tasty chocolate-chip cookies and yummy oatmeal-raisin cookies(which I am now munching with my morning coffee) for Samuel (and us) to enjoy today.

First to the table came three butters: PUMPKIN-TRUFFLE, Plain and yes, CHOCOLATE. The bread selection as some of the tastiest: Rosemary- Garlic Biscuits (best with the Pumpkin-Truffle), live, Sourdough and richly intense CHOCOLATE CHUNK & CHERRY. The maitre d' admitted to being a chocoholic and loving the chocolate butter on the latter; but you could not even taste it. Yvonne suggested it on the sourdough which really well.

An amuse of CRAB SALAD with Strawberry Puree and White Chocolate Shavings was simple and the shavings minimal so not to make it too sweet.

The sommelier suggested the white wine special of the month and the WITHER HILLS 2006 SAUVIGNON BLANC from Marlborough, NZ was a grapefruity, gooseberry treat that did cut some of the richness is my appetizer(see below).

Will and I split a CREEKSIDE SPECKLED BABY ROMAINE Salad with WHITE ANCHOVIES, Roasted Garlic Dressing and a Parmesan Tuille in Garlic Puree. The lettuce was superb, but sadly way overdressed with nowhere to go. The Garlic Puree tasted a bit like Hummus but with tons of Garlic. Everything was highlighted by a white balsamic reduction that was a bit sweet and syrupy running across the plate at an angle. Will had the SPRNG PEA FARRO( a thick barley-like grain) with Pea Tendrils, Mascarpone Cheese and Organic Baby Mushrooms which was much like a risotto and absolutely divine. On Yvonne's suggestion, I tried the WHITE CHOCOLATE Glazed Scallops with Almonds, Brown Butter and Nasturtium. IT was not really sweet if you avoid the couple of gobs of white chocolate on the plate. The glaze was tasty (a bit citrusy) and the two scallops were huge and delish, and it was all decorated with several edible flowers (that were actually yummy with the white chocolate--it reversed the bitter taste that these flowers usually have).

The wine worked to perfection to equalize the slight sweetness of the dish. I am glad I had it once, but would not want it regularly. Our second wine was a COTES du RHONE "Belleruche" 2006 from M. CHAPOUTIER that the sommelier let breathe for some time which made it much better. We told him what we had chosen for entrees and it was not easy to find a wine that goes with pork and lobster; but he did. The LANCASTER COUNTRY PORK TENDERLOIN was rolled and filled with "Keswick Farms" WALLABY CHEESE and ARUGULA and served with yummy POTATO & PRETZEL GNOCCHI and Cipollini Onions. I opted for the special of POACHED LOBSTER TAIL & claw with Purple PERUVIAN POTATOES, Brown Butter Braised Brussel Sprouts all in a Sherry Cream Sauce. The lobster was divinely cooked to perfection and the sauce as well, the potatoes tasty and crunchy and the sprouts superb. The chef, TODD RUIZ (actually the sous chef, but apparently in charge in the absence of chef Ken Gladysz) actually served the meals and answered some of our questions. Indeed, we had nothing but praise for the food and overall experience.

Will chose the CHOCOLATE MACADAMIA MOUSSE CAKE with Caramel Ice Cream and Banana Rum Coulis which was quite delish, but I needed something that was the antithesis of sweet; yes, CHEESE. The cheese plate was a picture perfect presentation with a POACHED FIG and WHITE CHOCOLATE VINAIGRETTE, breadsticks, flatbreads and several cheeses:

The winner was the HUMBOLDT FOG GOAT that everyone always loves. NANCY's CAMEMBERT was simply not ripe enough for me and kind of boring BAVARIAN SWISS from Hendrek Farms was more like a hard pecorino or parmesan than a Swiss, but a nice strong flavor and taste.

We took our cookies and headed back to the room to relieve the babysitter having decided that Hershey does indeed have fine dining and it is good quality to boot!

Hershey (Penn.) Pantry, the meal with its own zip code

While here in Hershey, PA (the USA chocolate capital), we opted to head to the hottest breakfast spot in town, THE HERSHEY PANTRY ( It's an adorable little 20+ table spot with a marble bar/counter with stools and we had been told the CHOCOLATE CHIP PANCAKES are the best. They are such a secret (not) that they are not even on the menu!

WE had no clue of the portion size and ordered Samuel the small 2 BUTTERMILK PANCAKE portion. I went for the three size and Will had a nice poached egg with ham and toast.

I ate about 1/4 of mine and Sam even less as each fluffy tasty loaded with Hershey's chocolate chips pancake was practically 8-9 inches across.Our waitress admitted that most of the dishes HAVE THEIR OWN ZIP CODE!

Especially the CINNAMON ROLL we saw at the next table. Sadly, the waste upset us so much as Sam and I could have easily shared a small portion.

Voted 17 years in a row the best breakfast in central Pennsylvania, it's no surprise, but I only wish I knew the portion size before it arrived.

ALAN--beginning to suffer from over-chocolatization after only 24 hours here in Hershey.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Harrisburg, PA's BRICCO gets a bravo from us all

When we knew we were headed to Hershey, PA. for three days with Samuel for part of his Spring Break, I decided we might need to get away from all the chocolate from time to time. On our first evening we drove 15 minutes west to Harrisburg with Samuel to dine at BRICCO ( right in the heart of downtown. First, a warning that if you decide to go here, do NOT USE A GPS system to guide you. It seems that they are all WRONG! The address 31 S. Third Street will send you to a nearby suburb called Steelton which is as seedy as it gets and we were driving around in circles for 15 minutes totally lost while our silly GPS kept insisting we had arrived!

The decor at BRICCO is medium to dark browns with a modern classical feel. It is large with several dining rooms and a huge bar as well. It was getting late for Samuel (past 630pm) so we ordered up the SAGE PAPPARDELLE with a plain Tomato Sauce and several large shavings of Parmesan for him. He gave it two thumbs up, gobbled it down, and for the first time ever in a restaurant asked for another portion, which he ate every last bite of as well.

I was intrigued by a Sicilian wine (the menu is Italian-centric) made from the Cataratto grape and the wine guy brought over a taste of Anthila Donnafugatta which is made from 100% Cataratto, an intense flowery nose and taste indeed. We decided to try the CASALJ RABITALLARI Cataratto (70%)-Chardonnay(30%) blend from Tenuta Rapitala which was quite a nice wine, but even better with the food we chose. CALAMARI SALAD with Chilies, Lemon, Garlic & Basil was a nicely marinated and light dish needing just a bit more on the chilies for some flavor, as it was really more lemon than spice. There was also nice plain and sundried tomato bread with oil for dipping which Samuel has really taken a liking to.

MARINATED WHITE ANCHOVIES came with a large salad of CARAMELIZED FENNEL on Red ENDIVE with Lobster Oil and was another lower-calorie light, very filling and super tasty dish. Will had the BRAZILIAN PACU "RIBS" which are the bones of this what must be huge fish SMOKED, then BBQ'd with a Quince BBQ sauce and served with a Fennel Slaw. Super- tasty "ribs" are a novelty and yummy treat, but can be bony.

We switched to a MARCHESI du BAROLO 2006 Barbera d'Alba "Ruvei" which was light enough to go with my TIGER FISH (also from Brazil) pan-seared and served with WILD MUSHROOM RISOTTO and Black Truffle shavings. It was a bit like sea bass but richer and creamier and fleshier and with a superbly crunchy skin that I gobbled up. Will opted for the SAGE PAPPARDELLE that Samuel so loved, but with the menu's sauce of BRAISED DUCK, RED WINE and PANCETTA Ragout; it was indeed superb.

We loved everything and everything was perfect except when one appetizer got delayed and our server Heather was quite apologetic. We did have to pour our own wine from time to time, but otherwise it was great.

We decided to take a cheese order home as it was getting late and enjoyed it back in Hershey with some red wine:
ROBIOLA BOSINA a creamy tasty Italian from cow and sheep
POINT REYES BLUE-a Calif. treat that is not too blue TUMBLEWEED raw cow from Five Spoke Creamery here in Pennsylvania was nice, but no awards
SPEZIATO AL TARTUFO Cow is another truffle infused cheese from Italy that's also nice but no award
GRAND OLD MAN PECORINO a nice way to end with an intense cheese

These all came with a tasty GRAPE MUST (like a fruit strip), Pear Mostardo, Crostini and a small Honeycomb which Heather said to try with the blue cheese--it was perfect.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

CITRONELLE still superb

It has been some years since we dined at Citronelle and while the restaurant is now only open for dinner Tues-Sat, it still retains its air of haute cuisine and delivers on all counts.

michel Richard could not be seen (well, he was not there) from our prime table next to the kitchen window, but his Executive Chef David Deshaies is obviously doing everything right in his absence. The staff from manager Jean-Jacques all the way down do their jobs with flair and class making for an even finer dining experience. We started with a bottle of CHASSAGNE MONTRACHET "Pot Bois" Domaine Lamy Pillot which the menu listed as 2005, but had switched to the
newer (and less desirable?) 2006. It was a yummy chard with lots of mineral and only the slightest touch of new oak; what a treat.

We missed sommelier Mark Slater who just departed after what must be more than a decade to Rays the Steaks (good luck!).

The TRIO of AMUSES was indeed amusing and superb:
Poached Grilled EGG with BASIL Olive Oil
GNOCCHI of Spinach in a splash of divine cream sauce

We chose to order ala carte rather than the tasting menu and had the NANTUCKET BAY SCALLOPS with Calamari, Corn (popcorn and corn straw and corn sauce) which was fun and just delicious. Will declared his starter as the BEST ON EARTH: LOBSTER "BEGULA" Pasta is actually a pearl pasta dyed with Squid Ink to look like Beluga Caviar and served atop HUGE CHUNKS of LOBSTER in a Caviar-like tin with the stamp of Michel Richard on the top. Not only is the presentation cute, the taste is simply DIVINE, and an amazing pairing with the Montrachet!

Next came a treat of PEA SOUP with PANCETTA, and a QUAIL EGG on top enclosed in straw-like potato wrap. I don't know how they cooked the potato and the egg inside it or which came first (it's like the chicken and the egg joke!), but it was superb.

We had moved on to a huge McLaren Vale Shiraz from MITOLO VINEYARDS in Australia -G.A.M. 2005 that had everything anyone could want in a Shiraz and went beyond perfectly with the PRIME SHORT RIBS braised 72 hours (sous bis--remember that's what made Carla Hall lose TOP CHEF!) in an unreally delicious RAISIN-PEPPERCORN Sauce with Zucchini, Carrots, Rutabaga and a Pot of Fingerling Potato Cassoulet (which was ok).

The VEAL THREE WAYS had shortbreads, cheek and shank and was another Winner of a dish. Warning: the short ribs must be ordered for two or more people and
actually can serve three or more (we took home an entire portion!).

The pre-dessert was the only unremarkable thing all night: ORANGE MOUSSE with Black Cherry Sauce and Pistachio

The desserts, as always, were a highlight. Chef Richard began as a pastry chef and has not lost the interest. The TATIN-LIKE APPLE was Caramelized with Ice Cream, the BLUE CHEESE CAKE with DULCE de LECHE SAUCE and my CREME BRULEE with Petals, FRESH FRUIT, PASSION FRUIT SAUCE and Mixed Berries were all simply divine.

As if this were not enough a plate of Mignardises included Chocolate & Pear, a yummy CRUNCHY RASPBERRY and Chocolate Dusted Crunchy GRAPES with Truffle Coating.

Needless to say we went home VERY FULL.

Monday, March 23, 2009

DC's Cafe SAINT-EX still excelling

It's been a while since our last visit to CAFE SAINT-EX( 1847 14th St NW), that funky just north or Dupont, south of U Street, cafe/bar made famous by Chef Barton Seaver (moved on to Hook and....). Now in charge is Chef William Klein and he is doing a smashing job. Add to this that they have a $32 three course prix-fixe (any appetizer,main and dessert) which is available until 7pm and goes up to $36 at 7pm and you have a fine place to dine. We took Samuel and arrived around 6pm and the place was pretty quiet and empty. By 715pm it was full and brimming, but not too noisy.

We ordered Sam the appetizer of POTATO GNOCCHI with Caramelized Onions, Spicy Pecans and Sweet Potato Mousse which was overdose for him. He ate a couple of the superb gnocchi, then decided he did not like it. I think it was the rich mousse underlying which really made the dish overly sweet and not to a child's liking. Will and I finished it off telling Sam that he would have to eat some of our fish, or no dessert.

Will had the ROASTED BEET SALAD with Watercress, Feta and Grapefruit Two Ways (Candied and segmented) which was quite a large salad. I opted for the PEI MUSSELS (having loved them before) with FENNEL, SAFFRON and STAN's ITALIAN SAUSAGE (no idea who Stan is?). This is another winning Mussel dish (very different from the older spicy recipe) with a mash of fennel in the soup that makes it so drinkable as well and four huge slices of toasted bread to dip. Sam did not care for the broth but gobbled up Stan's sausage and some bread. We drank a superb bottle of BERTHET-RAYNE COTES du RHONES BLANC 2006 as Sam gobbled down (we helped too) a paper cone of some of the best FRENCH FRIES in town. These were coarsely salted and needed not a drop of ketchup (even Sam agreed)!

The char-grilled NORTH CAROLINA TUNA came with a SPINACH & GRUEYE RISOTTO and a Roasted Rep Pepper ALmond Puree. The fish was superb as was the suace and risotto, and Samuel helped me eat it as well, earning dessert, but saying he was full!

Will had the COSTA RICAN MAHI-MAHI with Bacon BRUSSELS SPROUTS and Goat Cheese Stuffed Dates. He thought his fish was not too exciting, but I loved it.

I have to mention the downstairs bathroom with corrugated steel walls covered with stickers (Samuel loves stickers) from travel the world over; we even found places we had been although some of the stickers seemed to be at least 1/2 a century old or more!

Will had a superb STICKY TOFFEE PUDDING (only saying the center was not as soft and runny as it could be) with Candied Pecans and Vanilla Ice Cream and I opted for the excellent and refreshing TANGERINE CREME BRULEE with Cardamom Shortbread Cookies (Sam helped eat these). Sadly a glass of EDMEADES 2004 Late Harvest ZInfandel had little sweetness and indeed seemed NOT to be late harvest...but we shared it and headed home from a yummy neighborhood meal.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

more bravos for NYC's BAR BOULUD across from Lincoln Center

Last night in between operas at the Met I traipsed across the street from Lincoln Center to return to BAR BOULUD at 1900 Broadway which I wrote about after its opening just over a year ago. It is a gem of a bistro and when I go here, I eat small plates or appetizers rather than heading to the larger main courses. It allows for fun and variety and last night my server Jenna steered me right at every juncture. I started with two specials: PURPLE ANZINO ARTICHOKES and PECORINO Salad with Arugola. THe salad had soft slices of tasty cheese on the bottom, piles of greens with a lemony vinaigrette and lots of shaved thin slices of the baby purple chokes. A perfect salad and what a change from the awful frisee (that's on many other items on the menu).

I ordered a flight of 3 2 ounce reds: KINGSTON FARMS PINOT NOIR 2007 from Casablanca Valley in the north of Chile. This is a great fruit forward tasty Pinot that has body and goes with so may foods; a true find.

ARGIANO ROSSO di MONTALCINO 2006 was very earthy and craved for food. It was perfect with my second item: STUFFED PORTUGUESE SARDINES with Roasted Peppers, Braised Spinach and a small side salad of Chorizo, Arugola, Marinated Red and Yellow Peppers and White Beans. The fish came coiled up with the tail stuffed through the mouth; it was adorable. The two sardines were literally stuffed to the gills and oh so tasty and not salty at all. My third wine was an amazing 1996 CHATEAU d'ISSAN (Bordeaux) "Blason d'Issan" that was as smooth as a Margaux gets and I adored drinking this alone between courses. I HAVE TO FIND IT NOW!

I forgot to mention the tasty peppery GOUGERES that come after you order and the wonderful French bread served with top quality butter pats sprinkled with coarse salt.

I described the decor last time, but if you are three or more folks try to get a booth as the chairs at the tables are not tres confortable. And while the music can get loud, it's not awful as some places can be. Obviously being across from Lincoln Center the place tends to empty at 730pm before all the curtains! A little treat was sent out from the chef next and was indeed a treat: CRISPY PORK BELLY with homemade MUSTARD. There was one piece of hard cartilage at the top of once piece..which I mistook for meat, but luckily did not swallow. The meat was amazing and the mustard a treat as well. OH SO CRISPY and tasty and what a nice surprise.

I finished my Bordeaux and went on to a glass of tasty PAUL JABOULET "Les Terassess" CORNAS 2004 from the Rhone that is another great wine for so many of these bistro dishes.

My next course was the GARBURE de CANARD, a Gascon Duck-style soup that had Winter Root Veggies (Cabbage, Beans) and some shreds of tasty Duck Confit. This is a great winter soup and it was below 40 in NYC last night, so a good and filling choice. The soup is not thick or huge, so even a white wine would work with it, although any nice red will do.

The last appetizer I chose was again Jenna's idea: TORTE DE CANARD was a brilliant pate en croute of duck, foie gras and figs with the flakiest of crusts multi-layered to perfection, homemade mustard, cornichons and pickled baby pearl onions; another gem of charcuterie that I would never find elsewhere. The wine was perfection with this to boot (thanks Jenna).

I opted for some cheeses to finish (despite the fact that Boulud's LA DIVA RENEE dessert was on the menu and I was headed to hear Renee Fleming (for whom it is named) sing)-- and chose three: Old and Hard 12 month old CABOT CLOTHBOUND CHEDDAR was intense, nutty and flavorful GRES de VOSGES (under the STINKY heading) was a semi-soft earthy and slightly smelly cheese which was great with the nutty bread, but not at the level of the L'AMI DU CHAMBERTIN an Epoisses-like runny living unpasturized gem served in a bowl that I adored

Kudos to Chef Damian Samsonetti and even Baker Mark Fiorentino and the entire friendly, generous and accommodating staff. It was a great meal.

Friday, March 20, 2009

NYC's CONVIVIO comes to James Beard House

I always enjoy going to James Beard House for a meal and had the opportunity to lunch there on Friday where Chef CRAIG WALLEN of NYC's Italian gem CONVIVIO ( was in residence. He made some quite good impressions, especially in the pasta department, and I had the pleasure of dining with some wonderful new friends including Tony Award winner Billy Crudup!

Upon arrival we were treated to a yummy 2007 Tunuta di Serra Marrocco IL GRILLO del BARONE which is a crisp tasty Sicilian white that is perfect with all the different passed treats we had: FEGATINI-Rustic Chicken Liver on Crostini smothered with Caramelized Marsala Onions (my fave) SAFFRON ARANCINI those delectable deep-fried risotto balls Stracciatella with Burrata, Tomato & Basil which had some yummy runny Buratta on a slice of way too crunchy crostini that really stole the show from the superb cheese

We sat down to VILLA DORA LACRYMA CHRISTI del VESUVIO Vigna del Vulcano 2004 that not one of us could guess the varietal for. One of the guys at our table who is a food chemical aroma consultant said it was very "barny" and all I could think of was the big purple guy (so much for having a 5-year old!). He was actually correct as the wine was so strong in the nose, but actually perfect with the SARDINIAN SAFFRON GNOCCHETTI with Crab & Sea Urchin an intensely flavorful pasta with shreds of crab and the essence (bot not the meat) of the urchin.

Our second pasta was FUSILLI with Neapolitan Pork Shoulder RAGU and CACIOCAVALLO FONDUTA. I had to ask the chef later on what "caciocavallo" meant as I know the roots "cacio" from hunt and "cavallo" is horse. Well, he said it really means the horse's balls. OOPS! No matter, it was another superb pasta dish and served with a bit too light red (or was it rose?) for me VIO GIOBATTA U BASTIO ROSSESE di ALBEGNA 2007. That was the problem with this wine, none of us knew if it was rose or red, and it had characters of both but lacked much integrity to be defined.

The red wine was a superb LA CIPRIANA SAN MARTINO BOLGHERO ROSSOS SUPERIORE 1999 and was served with a nice SCOTTADITO di AGNELLO - Grilled Lamb Chops with Salsa Verde, Escarole and Beans, and while quite tasty, I thought my Rack of Lamb at home was a better dish.

The dessert was a Tartaletta of PISTACHIO BRULEE with Orange Sorbet and Candied Pistachios (I couldn't find any of these) which was yummy, yummy, yummy and served with an uneventful BERA MOSCATO d'ASTI 2007.

It was a great meal overall and a most rewarding afternoon.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

POSH SUPPER CLUB presents superb cuisine and more

We had the pleasure of meeting Chef Christopher Willis at a charity benefit last year and thoroughly enjoyed tasting some of his food that evening. We were so enticed we immediately made plans to head to his restaurant POSH SUPPER CLUB ( at 730 11th St, NW, previously Ortanique). Sadly, our plans were thwarted twice in a row and it took us almost 3/4 of a year to make it there.

We should not have delayed. AND NEITHER SHOULD YOU. Don't be fooled by the term "supper club" although you will often find different types of entertainment here; the star is the food! You should know it is one of the few places in town with a dress code, though not apparently enforced. The folks sitting next to us did not have the "required jackets" for sure.

The two-tiered space has a fun fish tank behind the host stand separating the large dining space with mezzanine seating balconied above. The decor is modern and snazzy with lots of metal sculptures lit from the bottom which reminded me of the Air Force monument over in Arlington near the Pentagon. The menus have metal jackets as well (a bit of a weighty problem). On the wall is a huge video screen with silent music videos (jazz) playing, which bothered me when the live entertainment began as it was just a visual distraction form the musicians as well as the food and the company. The tables have leather covers (which can be a bit tricky as they are not that even when replacing your glass). These are indeed the ONLY problems at Posh and are SO MINOR they must now be forgotten. The noise levels are decent (although one or two songs got a bit loud) and the lighting is superb despite the overall low levels throughout thanks to excellent pinpoint lights at each table.

The wine lists are varied and we had two great ones from low end to very high: STEELE 2006 Steele Cuvee Chardonnay from California is always a good bargain and goes so well with the many excellent seafood dishes. The VALL LACH 2001 PRIORAT was a huge red dream come true after it breathed for about 10-15 minutes (we opened it at the start of dinner and by the main course it was simply deep magenta bliss).

Our server KATSHA was excellent, and everyone else from the manager Theo to the rest of the staff want to make everyone happy. We could tell from chatting with neighbors that this is a big REPEAT crowd. You may know that Posh is owned by BET magnate Robert Johnson, who just happened to be there the other night and apparently dines there often; I would too! It is a spot that anyone would WANT to be seen in to begin with and then there is the food.......

Once you have ordered and settled in a basket of CHEESE BREAD comes to the table which Will instantly declared as the best bread he has ever had. Butter, Parmesan, and evenly spread spice make this a difficult to resist treat. We had three baskets delivered for the 4 of us and then had to say NO MORE!

The Grilled AVOCADO & LOBSTER SALAD (is huge like all portions here) comes with diced Maine Lobster, jicama, tomato, onion, cucumber, yellow pepper and cilantro with a CUSABI (that's cucumber-wasabi) Ranch Dressing. It is slightly spicy, but really mild. Chef Willis has an amazing way of spreading the spice thin..and even on the spicier Jerk-type dishes there is never a bolt of spice in any one bite or is all even to perfection (see note on cornbread later). It is a simpler appetizer and truly a deluxe salad.

LOBSTER CRAB MARTINI is a dense treat served in a stemless huge martini glass resting in a box of ice. There are huge chunks of Lobster & Jumbo Crab with Cilantro, Avocado and cherry tomato with Sweet Cabbage shredded on top. Here again is that mild yet spread perfectly spiciness in the creamy dressing, somewhat akin to Thousand Island in taste and consistency, but definitely at a higher level. FRESH BRANZINI comes atop a Shitake Mushroom Slice with a JERK-DRIED MOREL sitting atop on a bed of Grain Mustard Beurre Blanc. The superb fish is a treat, the morel is a novelty again with that even spice and yummy almost fruity taste and the sauce is divine.

JUMBO LUMP CRAB CAKES are a signature here as an appetizer or main course and may very well make the TOP OF THE LIST in TOWN in a taste test! They are fried and served with Old Bay Mustard that is tasty but not overpowering and a creamy tasty Mango-Jicama Slaw.

By now the singer, William Crue had begun to croon along with his sax player and we were all swinging to the light jazzy music. Some nights there are big bands, some nights karaoke and some nights lighter fare like Mr. Crue, who would beat any IDOL contestant in my mind. By the time we left, a number of folks had taken to the dance floor enjoying his melting tunes.

Main courses from Chef Willis were all totally impressive from the GRILLED PORK CHOP stuffed with Candied SHALLOT in a RUM CURRANT SAUCE comes with GARLIC MASH and a side of Creamed SPINACH that was to die for. GRILLED SALMON has a Roasted Corn "salsa" with Wild Rice Pilaf and Sauteed Spinach all in a Tropical Juice Beurre Blanc. Will's GRILLED HANGAR STEAK (if you liked the now defunct Les Halles, come right in here) was Molasses Rubbed and he substituted the TRUFFLE FRIES (WOW!) for the Garlic Mash; sauteed Mushrooms on the side and a Rosemary-Mustard Demi Glace.

My SEARED JAMAICAN JERK ROCKFISH is layered with thin slices of MANGO on a bed of ROASTED ASPARAGUS and topped with SWEET POTATO FRISEE. The sauce was a slightly creamy rich one with the jerk spice thoroughly spread through again. I thought this was truly one of the best fish dishes I have had in ages.

Another entree we noticed around was the CHICKEN & WAFFLES; we need to go back for this! There are also many side options and for $5.00 don't miss the CORNBREAD which comes out in a cast-iron skillet with a little potholder and sizzles on the edges as it continues to cook. This is a dessert-like sweet moist cornbread (much like spoonbread) and comes with a scoop of JALAPENO BUTTER melting on top. The jalapenos are diced small, but here you can seek out the spice or not, depending on your taste. Will declared this the other best bread he ever had!

I am sure most of the desserts are great, but we tasted only one as we were so full. The COCONUT CAKE is fried golden on the outside and served with Powdered Sugar and Whipped Cream. It is a bit of an indulgence, so coconutty, rich and creamy and then FRIED. My heartrate and cholesterol jumped to excess; but it was good.

POSH is a place to go for fun, entertainment and FOOD..don't forget that and we wont wait 9 months to go back for sure!

Thursday, March 05, 2009

CORK WINE BAR (DC) comes and wavers

As you know yesterday was the benfit evening for Food and Friends called DINING OUT FOR LIFE. We first tried to get into the new hot spot on 14th Street, POSTO, sister bistro to Tosca downtown, but it was jammed by 545pm since they had graciously decided to donate 100% of proceeds to F&F. Since we had a 730pm curtain on the block we headed to CORK WINE BAR ( at 1720 14th St NW and found the place relatively empty and quiet at 6pm--BOY were we wrong!

We were seated not far from the front door in a large cozy front room with a huge "wine" bar taking up almost all the room save from some tables at the front, a host stand next to the door and a line of tables up the narrow right wall to the right of the bar. I noticed that each time the door opened a huge draft descended on us, and this could so easily be alleviated by having a second doorway constructed as the entry has a narrow outside vestibule!

We were qute excited by the menu of small cols and warm plates, cheeses and charcuterie and ask our server for his suggestions. He then headed to a table up front where he seemed to linger for about 4-5 minutes chatting and we finally had to hail another woman over to take our order as we needed to get to our show. The wine list is long, varied, exciting and reasonable, by the glass or by the bottle. We chose (on her excellent recommendation) a subtle deep red Tempranillo from Ribera del Duero 2005 VINA SASTRE CRIANZA which we adored and went so perfectly with everything we tried.

Sadly, almost all the dishes came at one time with some getting cold and most of them so large they could not fit them all on the table. If a restaurant wants to serve tapas style with small tables, they need to rethink their plate sizes! By this time the bar was heaving and people were stepping into my back constantly. AT one point, well known DC Gay activisit and previous director of Whitman-Walker, Cornelius Baker dashed by and slammed his backpack into my aching back! This was obviously not done on purpose, but the space is so narrow and uncomfortable, I could not help thinking why they did recommend we take a table in the rear when we arrived as the place was virtually empty! We did not know there was rear seating as well.

We did enjoy most of the dishes, but the AVOCADO, PISTACHIO, Toasted Pistacio Oil, Sea Salt on Grilled Bread (read: Bruschetta) could have used a tad more avocado (the slices were tasty and slim, but chincy). A delicious choice is the creamy rich ROSEMARY CHICKEN LIVER BRUSCHETTA with its superb SHALLOT MARMALADE and a useless three bite "herb" salad, which is really just mache.

Our server, York V (as indicated on the charge receipt), recommended the FRENCH FRIES with parsley, garlic and housemade ketchup, which were no great shakes...indeed, while the fried may have come out warmish, they were cold by the time we got to them. Oddly enough, the ketchup was like an ice cube and had no taste until it later came to room temperature and was indeed superb. By this time, the fries were truly cold.

The two hit dishes were the veggies. SAUTEED WILD MUSHROOMS with MADEIRA and Marjoram was a superb buttery concoction and the excellent ROASTED BRUSSELS SPROUTS with Pancetta in BROWN BUTTER and Thyme were a treat, although we found no more than three or four tiny specs of pancetta. Another hit was the DUCK CONFIT with SAVOY CABBAGE SLAW, Roasted Baby Beets and Beet Vinaigrette, a dish that is not too hard to split, but harder than others and worth every bite.

We had some time left and decided to try three varied cheeses and hit the jackpot here with all three that came with raisin bread and a variety of candied/spiced nuts that were superb. MIDNIGHT MOON was a hard goat from Holland that had a spicy bite, CANA DE OVEJA a superb and slightly creamy in the center sheep from Spain and the heavenly COWGIRL CREAMERY RED HAWK (cow) from California that is a rich triple creme style yet tangy treat.

We left feeling that the crowds and lack of good service would not bring us back again, especially with so many new spots like this opening all over like ENOLOGY near the Cathedral where we have had great wine and need to go back for more!

Monday, March 02, 2009

INDEBLEU inspiring new cuisine conquers

We had not been to INDEBLEU ( at 707 G Street, NW in the Penn Quarter in some time, and changes are rampant there. The entire dining room has been redone as has the upstairs bar, and more changes are being made as I write. The biggest change however is the welcome addition of Chef MICHAEL HARTER who has kept the basic Indian modern style, but ramped up the dishes to a new level that outshines many of the standards they had for years (in the past it sometimes did get a bit too much of the same thing).

Right now they are extending RESTAURANT WEEK with a spectacular menu of choices for $29.09 at dinner!!! This is such a steal, we ordered many ala carte items and paid only pennies extra to enjoy more. Seven of us went the other night and it was not only a truly special and festive occasion, but it was a dining revelation for us ALL!

We started with a bottle of HUBER GRUNER VELTLINER 2007 which was an intense apple experience in the nose and mouth and a fun aperitif, especially with the spicy flatbread.

Our first course in this long and enjoyable evening (we were there for over 3 hours!) was a TORCHON of FOIR GRAS brined in SAUTERNE with Cocoa nib, orange segment and espalette chili with pistachio crumbs (a larger appetizer version of this is on the menu for $15, not in the Restaurant Week menu, but ask and they might let you pay a surcharge!). It was a divine rich and yes, chocolaty dish and excellently paired with a BERGSTROM 2006 Dr. BERGSTROM RIESLING from
Oregon that had just a slight sweetness, but lots of acidity to "fight" with the sweetness of the dish and make a perfect match.

The most popular appetizer choice was the LUMP CRAB FRITTERS with Curried Cognac Remoulade which were quite tasty. The MAINE MUSSELS were in a very Spicy Provencal Red Curry with Lime, Cilantro and Garlic Crouton and also a tasty treat. We had moved on to a QUPE Marsanne/Rousanne 2007 from Santa Ynez Valley in California which is quite nice, but frankly lacks the great integrity of a true Rhone white. It did go nicely with my DIVER SCALLOP "PORCUPINES" which were
huge scallops in LEMONGRASS & CURRY CAULIFLOWER Puree with Black Pepper Raisin Coulis. You could really have two dishes here with each sauce, or combine them for a third flavor. The scallops were topped with a "prickly straw basket" which had been deep fried (gosh I think it was onions) and made for a fun presentation to look like porcupines.

The AHI TARTAR came with Sweet Pepper Mousse, Jalapeno Raita and a Papadom which was another tasty treat and hit.

Next came the soup of the day, ROASTED CHESTNUT with SHALLOTS, Smoked Bacon, Curried Peanuts made from a mushroom stock so that it was creamy, yet had the chestnut essence. We all were in ecstasy over this brilliant creation (also on the Rest. Week menu) and the only thing we were not crazy about was the yummy LUSTAU P.X. (Pedro Ximenes) Sherry San Emilio Solera Reserve that it was paired with as it was a bit too sweet and slightly stole the show from the unreal soup!

We switched to red were thrilled with a CHIANTI CLASSICO 2001 Pieve di Spaltenna as we needed a big tasty Sangiovese; almost everyone seemed to order the delicious DRY RUBBED STEAK "Au Poivre" which had a Turkish Spice Rub, Green Chili Sauce and "Home Fries." Other choices were all superb such as the SHRIMP & COCONUT RISOTTO with peppers, onions, ginger & basmati rice cooked in coconut milke with ROCK SHRIMP Stirfry and a Mango Lime Beurre

I still think the hit of the main courses was my FRIED CHICKEN which was the moistest buttermilk jerk brined breast with "Bajan" Corn Pudding, Baby Bok Choy and Pineapple Hot Sauce. This was NOT a sweet tasty, but a superbly tasty one with many wonderful and intense flavors that combined for a blissful breast.

Chef Hartzer has introduced new desserts (an odd named Spaghetti & Meat Balls which is saffron cardamom ice cream and gulab jamun) but we opted for the CHOCOLATE COVERED "BANANA" a banana mousse with chocolate ganache and chocolate ice cream which any chocoholic would have adored. APPLE BEIGNETS were with BRIE ICE CREAM (this deserves an award by itself) and Candied Pineapple and many folks went for the SOME MORE, another chocoholic treat this with Molten Chocolate Cake, Marshmallow Ice Cream and Candied Banana. I went light with the MANGO A TROIS which was a Mango Mousse, Marshmallow, "Tini" and BERRY SALAD. The tini actually being a schnapps and vodka MANGO tini. YUM YUM!

After all this we popped the cork on a yummy RONCO di MIELE 2003 Dessert wine from TENUTA SANTA ANA in Italy that was the perfect way for us to finish what was truly a perfect meal for all of us!

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Ardeo's awesome brunch bowls me over

Most of you know we don't do brunch too often, but we had a certificate which came as part of an auction item we purchased last year, so off we headed with a friend and her daughter (almost age 4) to ARDEO ( in Cleveland Park for brunch today.

We had not been to ARDEO in some time and it has been redecorated and has a new chef and things are doing great. The brunch package is $25 and includes a choice of any appetizer and main course from the menu as well as pretty decent unlimited Mimosas, champagne or o.j. (they use J. Roget sparkling.

We ordered Sam up the burger which was a huge and yummy juicy one to boot (he ate about 2/3 of the meat) and called CHAR BROILED NATURAL BEEF BURGER on the menu and comes with SPICY TOMATO RELISH (yum), SMOKED BACON, Cheddar Cheese (a slice of barely melted and looks processed on top of the burger; quality needs improvement here) and Hand Cut Fries. I find the term "natural" so odd as nobody seemed to
know what it meant. It was not "organic," but our pleasant and helpful server Katherin suggested it meant "free-range." the though of its opposite "unnatural" as a choice was daunting. The fries were spiced nicely a bit and it was a bit hit.

His 4-year old date had the scrambled eggs and was not too thrilled, but they were simply a special kids order...this place really caters to its menu and not kids.
There were yummy chocolate scones, corn bread and muffins as well.

The appetizers were also huge and tasty: SMOKED TROUT and POTATO SALAD with Chopped Egg, Fine Herbs and Capers was more like a potato and fish pate and needed only some tasty crostini to spread the yummy spread on. ROASTED BEETS came with GOAT CHEESE MOUSE, Orange Scented Marshmallows (an odd choice), Sicilian Candied Pistachios and was again a big hit. My STEAMED MUSSELS in Cider Vinegar with Shaved Fennel & Thyme was again a monstrous portion with a superb creamy broth that I had to drink up (they give you a spoon) full of huge plump tasty mollusks.

The main courses were just as good and leave you so full dessert is not an option. There are many choices and we had the SPICY FENNEL SAUSAGE FRITTATA as well as the GRANDANINA PASTA which is a Sardinian COUSCOUS cooked Risotto-style with "foraged mushrooms and roasted squash." The mushrooms were all tasty wild variants, some quite large and shapely and the dish was quite rich and yes, VERY filling.

Home now, I think I need a nap...