Sunday, April 18, 2010

LA's ASANEBO is a sure bet for sushi & more...(4-18-10)

On my last evening in LA, headed just 15 mins (traffic permitting)
from downtown to Studio City's ASANEBO, a small out-of-the-way not
well known Japanese spot that was jammed by the time we left at 9pm!
Asanebo gets consistently high ratings (11941 Ventura Blvd, Studio
City, CA tel 818-760-3348) for its food from Chef Shige Fujimoto, but
the prices are much lower than the Japanese gastronomic temples that
can cost hundreds per person.
Upon arrival, every guest gets a group shout of something like "hello"
from the staff making everyone feel welcome. I was meeting a high
school friend of mine and her son who live nearby; they got the shout
While waiting I ordered a glass of ASANEBO House Sake (from Fukuoka)
that was super smooth and poured to excess not only to overflow the
glass, but the small plate below. I am not sure where this tradition
comes from, but the Bible says it great with, "my cup runneth over..."
Later I switched to the other Dai-Ginjo sake on the menu by the glass-
MATSU no MIDORI (from Kyoto) that was a bit more tart and actually
went better with the spice in some of my dishes.
My friend's son had the SALMON entree served with mashed potatoes
which are NOT easy to eat with chopsticks! She had the Grilled CHILEAN
SEA BASS with Butter Lettuce.
I started with several small plates:
SEARED TORO with Fried GARLIC and a greens with a Garlic Cream to dip
was a superb sashimi dish of the most gorgeous tuna around.
YELLOWTAIL SASHIMI was served up two ways-one with Sesame Miso Serrano
Peppers and the other with Spicy Yuzu Soy Sauce. Neither was very
spicy, both were tasty and again the finest quality fish around.
My entree was the GRILLED BLACK COD with Miso which was also cooked
perfectly; even the crunchy skin was divine.
While my friends munched on a decent Creme Brulee and a rich Chocolate
Cake (almost molten) with Ice Cream, I ordered one last small plate of
WILD AJI Sashimi (Spanish Mackerel) that is a more intense fishy fish,
yet served with a superb Scallion Soy that tempered the fish to
I did not want dessert, so I ordered the Fried Japanese Mountain
Potato with Green Tea Salt which was tasty skin-on fries with a super
tasty not too salty salt that we all gobbled up. I enjoyed a glass of
URAI Sake which finished off this superb and excellent meal from a
superb staff in and out of the kitchen, as well as a real wonderful LA

Saturday, April 17, 2010

dinner at DRAGO CENTRAL in LA (4-17-10)

DRAGO CENTRO at 525 S. Flower Street in next to the Bonaventure Hotel
is only a year old and is the offshoot of the superstar chef Celstino
Drago's Santa Monica location. It is huge, tall, loud and busy; not
ideal for taking opera singers.
After the 5-1/2 conclusion to the Ring (Gotterdammerung) I took my two
clients who were in the lead roles of Gunther and Guntrune (the
Gibichung siblings that aide to bring about Siegfried's fall and
ultimately the "twilight of the gods".
We settled in and I sipped a TAROCO made from vodka, cointreau,
tangelo, cucumber and lemon juice. YUM!
We ordered up a bottle of ARGIOLAS from Pedera "Isola deii Nuraghi"
made from the Monica grapes in Sardinia, which we sipped while we
Amuses arrived and we dug in (quite hungry after so long a show) to
the rich tasty COLD PEA SOUP shooter.
Our starters were simple with salad variations mine being the POLIPO
or Octopus with Blood Orange & Mixed Greens. A Roasted LOBSTER Bisque
was rich but not a prize winner.
We all split two pastas and these were rich sauced heavy meaty dishes
that were just divine (like the gods that had just been destroyed:-)):
Papardelle al FAGIANO with Roasted Pheasant and Morels
GARGANELLI with Pork Sausage, Parmesan & Fennel Seeds.
Julie our most pleasant server suggested a LA SPINETTA-PIN 2005 which
was a blend of Nebbiolo and Barbera from Piemonte which was simply
silky and delish. It was the first time I ever recalled this varietal
combo and it works quite well.

The main courses were I POLLO -chicken with Parmesan crust, farro and
mixed veggies which was neatly packed up for take-away for my guests
who could not finish. They then got a coat check to pick up the
package on the way out so as not to have to keep it at or under the
table and then forget it! A brilliant idea.
I had IL MAIALE a rich sauced braised PORK CHEEK with a Turnip cooked
sous-vide that was too hard and boring and yummy spinach and the
hugest blackberries I had ever seen.

We shared I BOMBOLINI, doughnuts with apples, amaretto, caramel and
ricotta in brown butter sauce, but were too full to finish.
DRAGO was pretty good, but only if you really like crowds and noise.

enjoy LA breakfast/lunch or whatever on THE FARM of Beverly Hills that is (4-17-10)

Yesterday I was treated to a yummy brunch at THE FARM of BEVERLY HILLS
which now has 3 locations in LA:
439 N. Beverly Blvd, Beverly Hills
189 The Grove Drive, The Grove, Los Angeles
and the newly opened 800 W. Olympic Blvd, downtown in the middle of
the new LA Live center adjacent to the Staples Center & Convention
We were at the latter and LA LIVE offers dozens and dozens of dining
options, but THE FARM was full and I loved my BLTA Sandwich with
Bacon, Lettuce TOmato and Avocado on homemade white farm bread. The
coffee was superb and my hoists both had the Crepe Egg Wrap kind of
thingie which they said was divine. I would easliy go back for
breakfast/lunch or snack!

Friday, April 16, 2010

LA's ORTOLAN is outstanding (4-16-10)

Upon arrival in LA last night I headed straight to ORTOLAN (8338 W.
3rd St - on the line between Beverly Hills
and West Hollywood (just blocks from the Beverly Center) and settled
in to my comfy chair at a spacious well-spaced table in a gorgeous
room with over a dozen drippy cut crystal chandeliers. I may have been
3 hours behind, but I was ready for a dining experience. The beautiful
antique wooden floors add to the ambience and do not make the sound
level high at all! The walls are heavily curtained and there are 6+
foot high secluded booths for those LA folks who don't want to be
seen. On the other hand, there is a large table in the front window
for those who want to be seen and watch the passersby. Each place has
a gray 12" square slate plate for the table setting and Schott Crystal
adorns each place.
I started chatting with Samantha, the sommelieuse, who actually spent
much time working in DC and knew lots of folks we know! She has been
at Ortolan for less than a year, but knows the ropes and the wines.
Her boss chef/owner Christophe EME actually came out shortly into the
meal to greet everyone. It is a great credit to him and his 5-year old
elegant establishment!
I avoided the champagne trolley (over $20 a glass for those) and
headed right to the shorter tasting menu of $85 ($50 extra with
pairings, rather than the 13-course menu for $145; $75 for wine). It
was a perfect choice and almost everything was at a level of superb
The amuses was a small tray with two large test tubes of soup with
emulsion and a straw in each: one was carrot with thyme, the other
asparagus with truffle. A medium size bowl of Eggplant Caviar Tapenade
with Aioli was superb, and you know I am not an eggplant fan. This is
meant to be shared; I gobbled up the WHOLE BOWL.
A glass of Gerard METZ 2005 Pinot Blanc from Alsace arrived and
Samantha was pouring most generously; I did not worry. The first
course was TOMATO COULIS with CELERY RAVIOLI and Yogurt Sorbet. Fresh
herbs (rosemary/lavender) adorned the plate and were infused to each
mouthful as well. I adore the fact that Chef Eme uses these herbs in
almost every dish. This was basically a tart and glorified gazpacho
that I could have every hot summer night. There was a dash of herb oil
in the deep red soup and the amazing celery-made ravioli was stuffed
with tomato tartare for a slight chunkiness. The yogurt was slightly
sweet and added a wonderful creaminess to several bites. The wine was
a brilliant pairing to this tart treat.

SCALLOP was sliced and seared and laid atop ENGLISH PEA Soup and
LENTIL GNOCCHI in a large brandy snifter-like glass; a frothy herb
emulsion floated on top. I love peas and these were my first fresh
ones of the season, so I was quite happy. The wine was a simple
grapefruit-intense WHITEHAVEN SAUVIGNON BLANC 2008 from Marlborough in
New Zealand.

LOBSTER MOUSSE was in a cylinder surrounded by Spaghetti and served
with magnificent MORELS, White ASPARAGUS and a White Asparagus Cream.
Herbs Caviar on the side looked like black lentils, but were a
gelatinous, tapioca-like chemically induced treat that were herb-
intense. A Guy BOCARD 2004 MERSUALT Vieilles Vignes was a subtle

My first red was a tasty huge New Zealand PINOT NOIR from WILD ROCK
2008 "Cupid's Arrow" from Central Otago. This is as good as New
Zealand Pinot gets and was superb with my HERBS CRUSTed steamed COD
with Cauliflower Mousse (more like a cream sauce) and Roasted
Hazelnuts. I adored the tasty crust with chunky salt and herbs as
well as the paper-thin layer of Mushroom-Basil (duxelles like)
underneath making for a contrast with the light fish. Celery Tapioca
Pearls were on the side; another fun treat that Chef Eme seems to like
so much.

I asked for a long break and then came the SHORT RIBS with Winter
Vegetables, Pommes Souffle that were little crispy hollow potato
pillows and Herbs Salad. The wine was a Chateau PETIT BOCO 2005 from
Saint Estephe which was fine with the intense meat, but did not work
so well on its own. I also noticed at this point the background music
was all wonderful French cabaret-style that never was too loud or

The pre-dessert and my substitute dessert (I did not want the
Chocolate Ganache) arrived together. The former was a small dab of
Apple Jelly topped with LAVENDER Ice Cream and Lemon Foam and the main
dessert was STRAWBERRY CAVIAR with Vanilla PANNA COTTA and Honey. The
strawberry gelatinous pearls were served in a real caviar tin for
added fun and they covered the superb panna cotta. A ROZES Reserve
Port came with this,which I had only a couple of sips of as it was
quite heavy and intense, and I was tired (the time was not yet 10pm;
but my body said 1am!).
I know that a future trip to LA will have to include ORTOLAN!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

NEST is nice in your neighborhood -Bethesda, MD (4-14-10)

Two families took five children ( we were a total of 10) to NEST
( at 4921 Bethesda Ave, just behind the Giant
and across from EuroMotorcars. It is a small almost hidden spot with
good food and great for families with an extensive kid's menu (about 7
choices-chicken fingers and fries for Samuel).
Our server Ashley was a gem and always managed to get everything we
needed and on time as well. When I inquired about a wine, she quickly
brought a taste over of a different one made from the same varietal,
which led me to order a bottle of the CATARATTO-INZOLA white blend,
PRINCIPE de CORLEONE 2007 from Sicily (related to The Godfather?)
which was crisp, refreshing and a great pair with the starters we
EDAMAME come steamed with a Ginger-Chile Dipping Sauce for flavor
which is nice, but not spicy.
CRISPY CALAMARI and ARTICHOKES is a great combo dish and has a
slightly spicy SALSA VERDE for dipping which was also fun.
I felt like a salad and asked if the Caesar had anchovies; Ashley
said, "no problem, on request!" My salad was dressed perfectly with a
creamy but not overdone dressing and there were at least eight
anchovies! The only thing that was not superb were the bland croutons.
Indeed, this was the only unexciting item that we all ordered; so
pretty good rating in my mind.
Our red was a superb LINDSEY's CUVEE "Truth" 2006 from Sonoma which
was a tasty blend of Cabernet Sauvignon/Cab Franc/Syrah & Malbec. It
was smooth, tasty and just perfect with our burgers.
The burgers were on the special menu and listed as the "Nest Healthy
Option" as they were perfectly cooked BISON burgers smothered with
CABERNET Onions, a layer of ARUGULA and melted Sharp Wisconsin
Cheddar. The side was TEMPURA ZUCCHINI "Fries" with Mustard Seed
Aioli. This is hardly low calorie, but was indeed delicious! Another
option for sides are the ITALIAN Fries, regular potato fries seasoned
to a tee (no ketchup here).
The kids loved the Ice Cream BOMBEs for dessert and we all headed home
very happy and full.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Passover-style at ROSA MEXICANA misses the mark (4-4-10)

I have been to the wonderful "Passover style" menu meals at ROSA
MEXICANA in NYC, but this was my first time trying it here in DC
across from the Verizon Center (or whatever they keep changing the
name to!).
We should have skipped it this year; for all the decent food, the
service was on the verge of awful nearing disaster. Our bill kept
getting reduced by the manager to the point where we paid less than
1/2 and indeed, we did say we would try and return another time to
give them a last chance.
The GUACAMOLE made tableside does work great with matza, but we had to
ask for matza like ten times and they brought 2 pieces with the
HAROSET TROPICAL we ordered which was a decent Haroset but gets no
raves. We asked for more matza and after 20minutes got 2 more pieces.
This was only the start.
Actually, it started as we tried to find parking on Easter Sunday/
Cherry Blossom/Spring Break day...our first mistake. We ordered a
bottle of BARON HERZOG Chardonnay to calm us down, but that took
almost 1/2 an hour to arrive and then we had only two glasses for 4
adults. We asked for more glasses, which took another 15 minutes. they
said they were running short and would comp the wine. When we ordered
our bottle of red (Baron Herzog Coastal Cab), we rinsed our glasses at
the table with water and used those, as we were told they had none
Samuel ordered the Salmon in a half portion, but we asked for it
without the spicy beets and it came covered with that had
to go back. It did arrive and Samuel loved it. I ordered the same main
course SALMON con SALPICON de REMOLACHAS with sweet potato spicy
pancakes and spicy roasted beets.
It was delish and huge.
We started with the Crema de POLLO con Chile Guajillo, a simple cream
of chicken soup with veggies and small cubes of chicken that were so
dry I was in shock. They were out of the Gefilte Fish made from Red
Snapper, but luckily not the main course of MIXIOTE de BARBACOA Res, a
braised wrapped brisket that was served with dried fruit. Sadly,
Will's had a hair in the Spinach Potato Kugel!The non-Passover PATO en
Salsa was probably the best bet at the table. They were out of Mango
sorbet, so Sam settled for Blueberry which tasted and looked like no
berry at all and the Passover PISTACHIO Meringue cookie was decent
sandwiched with Strawberry Ice Cream in a Red Berry Coulis.
The server Luis just seemed to be having his worst day, and Gillian
the manager tried hard to keep lowering the check and saying how sorry
she was.
We left knowing that ROSA can be good and we will give them another
chance, on a quieter night.