Tuesday, October 27, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 26, 2009

ENOLOGY's first wine dinner is uneven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 25, 2009

superb review-SIBLING RIVALRY (Boston by Kinkead)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boston brunch really nice at NORTH STREET GRILLE

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 24, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boston's BRASSERIE JO just right for lunch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 19, 2009

still lovin' LIA's in Chevy Chase, MD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 08, 2009

the British Birthday at Colmbia Hts COMMONWEALTH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Chef Catalani on Capitol Hill triumphs with TOSCANA Cafe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Arlington's BANGKOK 54 tops for Thai

Last night friends of ours invited us along with Samuel for a superb feast at BANGKOK 54 (www.bangkok54restaurant.com at 2919 Columbia Pike, Arlington, VA) which was indeed a treat. Easily the best Thai in Arlington, and perhaps the DC area, (although Zagat does give several better ratings), we enjoyed every bite. The decor is pleasant, traditional and comfortable; the service attentive and helpful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 01, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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