Tuesday, December 13, 2011

mid-Westchester worth it--The BEEHIVE in Armonk, NY (12-10-11)

Last night our dear cousin, Bob (and we only have two first cousins),
invited us out for dinner for a break from what has become a long
vigil here with my mother....
The BEEHIVE is a glorified dinner style place (www.beehive-
restaurant.com) about 10 minutes from White Plains in upper
Westchester Country (30 Old Rte 22-Armonk, NY) and was a treat for all
of us. The place is noisy and the wooden chairs are not too comfy, but
it's a fun place with decent service and quite good food.
All the main courses come with soup or salad (where have you seen that
in the NY area recently) and I was amazed to see the gooey topped
aromatic onion soup topped with some fried onions. Alas, I went the
GREEK SALAD route and it was loaded with feta and very tasty. The menu
said, ask for anchovies if you like and I got a boatload of them on
top, all filleted nicely and not overly salty either.
A bottle of Sauvignon Blanc from CRAGGY RANGE in New Zealand will set
you back about$42 and it's one of the pricier wines, so budget wines
that you would find at most shops are available here.
When the main courses arrive my cousin advised that they are meant to
be split and taken home. The entree Greek Salad cane come with
anything and was the size of a condo with a crabcake and grilled
chicken. The Chicken ala Parmigiana, Tomato Basil, Fresh Mozzarella
and Capellini was loaded with cheese over two huge breasts and the
duckling which I did taste was truly moist and tasty. My cousin Bob
had a superb Blackened Mahi Mahi Tostada, Corn Tortilla, Black Beans,
Guajillo Salsa, Feta Crumbles in a spicy sauce. He said it was the
spiciest dish he had ever had there and I thought it was spectacular.
My main course was the excellent Pan Seared Branzini, “The Greek
Seabass”, Garlic Spinach, Wild Rice Pilaf, Lemon Caper Brown Butter
and arrived with three large fillets in a lemon, butter and caper
sauce (Samuel would have adored that) and a huge (had to be close to 2
cups) white and wild rice pilaf that was as good as everything else.
The spinach was sauteed whole leaf and simply superb.
The BEEHIVE has everything from sandwiches and wraps to steak/frites
and specials galore. Thee is something for everyone and a kid's menu
as well. You can't go wrong here and we loved it all. We had no
starters, so to speak, other than the soups and salads that are
included, and nobody could even think of having dessert. We all took
home leftovers and thanked Bobby for being such a great host and
caring cousin as well.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

bravos to BLACKSALT and the lovely lady chefs of DC! (11-27-11)

Many of you know that we are supporters of numerous food charities
here in DC and over the years we have had the pleasure of befriending
many chefs and folks in the food industry. After months of trying to
plan a dinner out, we were able to finally mosey down to BLACKSALT
(www.blacksaltrestaurant.com) on nearby MacArthur Blvd for dinner with
two stellar DC chefs (Tracy O'Grady of Willow and Amy Brandwien of
Casa Nonna) and their wonderful spouses (Tracy's hubby Brian is also a
very talented chef to boot!).
We started the evening at home with some bubbly and a magnificent
smooth fruit-forward bottle of 1998 TORI MAR White Star Vineyard PINOT
NOIR from Oregon that had been resting calmly in our cellar for over a
We had chosen Blacksalt for its proximity, but I should also note that
Blacksalt is rated #19 of Zagat's most popular as well as being in the
top 30 for food with a "26" rating!
We started with a bottle of RUDI PICHLER 2010 GRUNVBER VELTLINER from
Wachau in Austria and loved it so much, we had a second. It was divine
with a selection of oysters (Dragon Creek & Chincoteague from
Virginia, Moonstone from Rhode Isalnd, Kumamoto from California and
Little Creek and Island Creek from Washington State).
We were treated to a wondrous "amuse" (it was much bigger) of Toasted
Brioche with Ruby BEETS, Organic Smoked Salmon and Citrus Chive Salad
to start that got the palate very excited.
We all agreed to choose and share a cold and hot starter and a main
course; yes, overindulgent.
Pacific SHIMA-AJU SHASHIMI with Organic Radish, Ginger-Tamari Sauce,
Chilies & Scallions was the only item all evening that was good, but
did not WOW me.
TEXAS SHRIMP Cocktail has a sauce that packs a punch if you seek
Blacksalt OYSTERS ROCKEFELLER come with bacon, spinach & chive aioli
and are superb and mouthwatering.
Marinated WHITE ANCHOVIES with Fried EGGPLANT & Salsa Verde is a great
lighter choice and one of the tastiest starters as well.
Fried IPSWICH CLAMS come with a punchy MADRAS AIOLI (there is enough
aioli left to take home for a sandwich the next day!)

We moved on to a yummy WILAMETTE VALLEY PINOT GRIS from Elk Grove and
we tried to avoid the excellent bread which came with a plate of yummy
seasoned dipping oil-vinegar sauce.

PEI Blue Shell MUSSELS come in several flavors but the Spanish version
with CHORIZO, ROMESCU & Marjoram is a sure hit if yous eek a hot
starter ior double it for a main course.
Wood Grilled BABY OCTOPUS comes with House Made Fennel Sausage, Cherry
Tomato, Arugula & Balsamic and is a superb salad/starter that comes
warm as well.
They were out of the sardines, so we opted for the Atlantic Day Boat
SCALLOPS with Potato GNOCCHI, Maiitake Mushrooms, Pistachios and
Pancetta Vinaigrette which is a wonderful combination of flavors and
much heartier as well with the scallops cooked so perfectly they just
melt in your mouth.
New England CLAM CHOWDER here is another super-filling option with
house smoked bacon, Ipswich Clams and Littleneck Clams as well.
Two hot starter specials on Sunday were NOT TO BE MISSED:
Rhode Island Speckled SEA TROUT made flavorful with local APPLES,
Arugula, Prosciutto and Almond Brown Butter was top notch, but the
Wood Grilled Caribbean MAHI MAHI with Crispy PANCETTA, Leeks &
Truffled Cauliflower Puree was sheer bliss.

We moved onto a Louis Latour 2009 SANTENAY suggested by sommelier Jim
and it was a perfect choice: medium bodied but not too intense for
most of the fish dishes. Two people chose the
Pineland Farms' RIBEYE STEAK with Forest Mushrooms, Green Chard,
Maytag Bleu Cheese & Rosemary Jus which was a good tasty steak and
could have used a bigger red wine, but then four of us went the fish
Atlantic Bigeye TUNA with Caramelized PORK BELLY, Pickled Carrot
Salad, Squash & Ginger Soy Broth was another great combination of
flavors with the belly accenting the big tasty fish.
Flavorful Maryland ROCKFISH (I buy this often at the Blacksalt Fish
Market to cook at home!) was accompanied by Bacon Braised Collard
Greens, CHANTERELLES and White Sweet Potatoes. While I adore the fish,
it was the chanterelles that got me to order this and what a treat!
Wood Roasted North Atlantic SWORDFISH is another great fish here and
comes with yummy Grilled EGGPLANT, English PEAS, Olives and a Pine Nut-
Anchovy Butter (I will have to remember that combo the next time I
grill swordfish).

We got the VIP treatment as we knew we would NOT order more than like
one dessert and Pastry Chef Susan Wallace sent out a trio of tastes
along with a glass of Selig New Zealand Ice Wine from Jim.
The CHOCOLATE CHAMBORD TRUFFLE CAKE with Raspberry Compote & Whipped
Cream is for big chocoholic lovers and was a bit too dense and intense
for me after such a huge meal. The KEY LIME PIE with Blueberry
Compote, Whipped Cream and Sesame Seed Tuile was a hit, but the winner
for all of I think was the BUTTERSCOTCH POT de CREME which comes with
a tiny Dewars Vanilla Milikshake, Almond Brittle and Milk Chocolate,
Butter Shortbread. You can't with this dessert (unless you don't like

This dinner was long in the planning, long in the event and probably
won't happen again for a long time, but we promised to try for a
reunion next year! Where to go next?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

PETE's New Haven Style APizza can be a pain (11-22-11) even if tasty

Last night in our unending series of pizza wars we visited PETE's NEW HAVEN STYLE APIZZA. Go to www.petesapizza.com for an explanation of the name, because it sure beats me. We visited the Pete's on Wisconsin Ave, NW (4940) in Friendship Heights and there are now others in Columbia Heights and Clarendon (Arlington, VA). It seems that Tuesday is "buy one get one free nights" from their website, so on arrival the place was heaving and NOISY. There was a not a table and Pete's system for ordering and seating is as faulty as it gets. You wait in a long line and then get a number. If you are lucky enough, you will find an empty table to sit at with your number during the approximately 30 minute wait for your order to be made.
We opted to take our pies home. A plain for Samuel was indeed plain and ours was the Artichoke Hearts, Olives and Sauteed Wild Mushrooms. There were some nice flavors here for sure, but the pie still begged for Hot Pepper Flakes. Don't these American pizza places know how to use oregano, basil, sage and rosemary in their sauces?
I have to give Pete's credit for making their pies large and better priced than Comet Ping Pong. You will recall the small pies there were all in the teens and barely served one person as they shrank so much and were thick on the dough. Pete's pizza rings in at a 18 inches for $18.95/plain giving you 12 good size slices and easily enough for two people to totally fill up on. The Specialty pies are about $25 each and have four toppings on average, still a much better deal than two pies at Comet.
We could not possibly bear to eat at Pete's as the screaming kids, babies and just the din of the noise gave us all three headaches while we waited. We were so happy to get back out in to the damp cool yucky wet evening and head home to open a bottle of red Rhone with our Apizzas...or is it apizze?
Whatever....HAPPY THANKSGIVING to all and may this season bring much cheer, good food, family love and fine friends to your side.

Monday, November 14, 2011

COMET PING PONG doesn't bounce too well in my book (11-13-11)

Several months ago we bought a GROUPON for COMET PINK PING (http://www.cometpingpong.com/) located on Connecticut Ave at Nebraska, NW here in DC. We had heard the pizza here was fab and thought it worth a visit. We finally went last night and arrived there just before 6pm to see a literal zoo of people inside and out. We were told the wait was 30-45 minutes and given a beeper.
It wasn't too bad, although Samuel (and we) hate waiting. We headed to the CVS and bookstores nearby and returned after just over 30 minutes to wait another 15 minutes for our table.
Once seated in the what I call gloomy interior I could not feel the ambiance was anything worth remembering. It's very noisy, though not unbearable, and loaded with families. The walls are what I call filthy-looking with totally raw decor. The concrete and lack of absorption don't help the noise factor. A huge sculpture of red and black oil rig/high chairs (no better way to describe these!) are hung upside down from the ceiling and a vespa hangs upside down at the rear near the crowded bar.
We ordered Sam a Dry Meyer Lemon Soda which he loved and his plain Tomato Pie was just his pace. The pies, according to our server Sarah who was most personable, are supposed to be 9-10 inches or so and the trays they come on are indeed that big, but they shrink up big time to below 7-1/2 inches. They are still large enough for one person, but the crust is quite thick around the edges with all the filling poured in the center...nothing light and delicate here..you fill up on crust for sure!
Will and I split an order of the delicious TOASTED CAULIFLOWER and ordered a carafe of GRENACHE/SYRAH Cabardos, Chateau Jouclary 2008 upon Sarah's recommendation. I asked for a bottle and she corrected me saying all wine comes by the glass/ half-carafe or carafe. She opened the bottle nearby on the bar and poured it into the carafe, which seems to make little sense other than to let it breathe and add a more rustic feel to the lack of ambiance. The wine was perfect with the food having a hint of spice with nice body from the old vines.
Will and I ordered two pizzas to split.....
STEEL WILLS comes with SPINACH, RICOTTA, GARLIC, PARMESAN and KALAMATA Olives and had very little taste. We missed the garlic and the only flavor came from the 4 or so olives on the pizza. I sprinkled the red pepper flakes on lightly at first and it made almost no difference; after a generous shake, there was a hint of flavor, but this veggie option lacks everything a pizza could be in taste. We created our second pizza using the add-ons which run $1-4 per add-on. The anchovies were $1(that's a deal) and the SMOKED MUSHROOMS were $2 for our combo make-up. This pizza had more flavor thanks to the anchovies, but one was very poorly filleted and I got two bones in one bite!
So, was the $40 groupon worth the 45 minute wait? NO WAY, and we won't be bouncing back to Comet Ping Pong soon, especially when TWO AMY's is closer. Next week, PETE's New Haven Pizza in a small series of pizza reviews!

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

RedEye Grill in NYC is close to Carnegie and a good choice, but pricey(11-8-11)

Last night I met some friends before a concert at Carnegie Hall and they chose the Red Eye Grill (http://www.redeyegrill.com/) at 890 7th Avenue at 56th Street. They also recently opened at National harbor here in Maryland!
I was eating light and enjoyed the dozen oysters very much. They run $3.50 each which is why I say the prices are high here. There were Blue Soleil from Nova Scotia, Blue Island from Long Island, Kumamoto and one more I forget from the west coast as well. they come with one of the best shallot vinaigrettes I have had and the requisite cocktail sauce with a dollop of horseradish that I can never bring myself to use on a tasty oyster, but love to slather on the warm rolls!
I also had the LOBSTER MAKI Roll which at $16.00 is five small pieces with not a ton of lobster. Pricey again!
My friends loved their Crabcakes, Shrimp Cocktails and Caesar Salads, and I tasted their yummy side of BRUSSELS SPROUTS with lemon butter.
So, if you seek quality seafood, albeit at high prices, and don't want to stray more than across the street from Carnegie Hall...Red Eye fills the bill.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

DISTRICT COMMONS for delightful new cuisine (11-5-11)

Yesterday we headed to the newest dining spot in Foggy Bottom, which is a real close hop from the Kennedy Center (pre or post theater!). DISTRICT COMMONS is Passion Foods newest entry, and you know that means good food when it comes from the team that created DC Coast, Acadiana, Ceiba and more...
DISTRICT COMMONS (www.districcommonsdc.com) at 2200 Pennsylvania Avenue faces out onto Washington Circle with floor to ceiling windows which are loads of fun for crowd watching. There are lacquered blond/dark wood tables along the windows (booths) and also some quiet hidden ones in the rear if you seek solitude. A huge bar near the entrance and open kitchen make this a fun spot that was not too noisy on a 7pm on Saturday (when we left). It was nice and quiet at 5pm when we arrived after the matinee.
The kids menu is varied , but Samuel felt simple with the Pasta, Butter and Parmesan.
We all ADORED to soft buttery HOT PRETZEL BAGUETTE which is $2.00 and comes with a tasty Beer Mustard Butter (but you don't need it!).
A bottle of 2009 DARCIE KENT "Black Jack Vineyard" Gruner Veltliner is a creamy, yet apply-tart white that goes with many dishes. The wine list is excellent and varied and the punch line here is that they serve "99 bottles of beer on the wall...."
Our server Ping guided us away from the White Bean Soup with Cheddar Cheese Beignets (next time) to the spectacular SEAFOOD CHOWDER chock full of fish, scallops and more and served with a tiny bag of Hidden Ranch Crackers. It has a splash of cayenne for flavor and will warm anyone on a chilly night. The oysters here are varied and tasty as well.

Our main courses were a Roasted VEGETABLE POT PIE with Butternut Squash, Parsnip, Celery Root and Porcini Mushroom Gravy that would make any vegetarian happy with a crust that a pastry chef could win awards for. The Brick PRESSED CHICKEN is a tasty juicy delight and comes with Mashed Potatoes, Rainbow Chard, Preserved Lemon and Parsley Jus. YUM YUM. My North Carolina Mountain TROUT was a perfectly cooked fish with Broccolini, Pine Nuts and a Citrus Burnt Butter that was delish. I just needed a tad more sauce to really enjoy the fish.

We had to take a friend back to the Kennedy Center to perform and Will asked for the bill, but our charming and all-smiles server Ping, said that a treat was coming. Three desserts arrived and we were dumbstruck:
CHERRY MASH is an American treat with Cherry Ice Cream, Chocolate Sauce , Whipped Cream and Peanuts
BOSTON CREAM PIE is a modern take with discs of sponge cake with chocolate sauce and cream
but the winner is the FUNNEL CAKE, a dish that I have always detested at the beach and fairs for its messy sugary gloppy taste. This FUNNEL CAKE was light, airy tasty with a Butterscotch Sauce and some whipped cream resembling a beignet more than anything else....DELICIOUS! Even Samuel agreed.

Before we left a plate came laden with Coconut Macaroons, Shortbread Cookies, Blood Orange pate de Fruit, Fig Newtons and Everything Bars.....a pastry chef somewhere was having a ball, and so did we.

We can't wait to return to District Commons because I saw the pork chop and the duck main courses arrive at the next table. Next time.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Graffit goes GASTROARTE and NY's upper west side goes sublime (10-29-11)

This past summer one of my fave spots on NY's upper west side, Grafitt changes its name to Gastroarte Restaurant (http://gastroartenyc.com/) located at Broadway and 69th Street. This unassuming spot (down several steps just two doors off Broadway) has become a great spot for Spanish dining in the US (Jose Andres eat your heart out!). Chef Jesus Nunez does wonders with his gorgeous creations making you eat way more than you could ever wish for and enjoying every single bite.
You may recall that the tapas menu is only served at the bar and high tables in the front section; this time I headed into the dining room where the dishes impress just as easily. There is a $40 three course prix fixe if you order before 6:30pm (yes, even on Saturday) and this has to be one of the best deals anywhere as you can order anything off the regular menu!
I started with BRAISED BEEF TONGUE with Roasted Scallion & Carrots. The dishes are described so simply but what comes is an array of ingredients that is almost too beautiful to touch. The tender tongue sat in a divine sauce with huge swirls and dots of veggie puree of all different colors made from beets, carrots, scallions and more. The colors were divine and there were also braised scallions and purple, white and orange carrots in the dish.
Did I mention the steaming hot mini-loaf of ciabbata-like bread that arrived after I ordered with some of the best virgin olive oil to dip in as well; it left a hint of smokey pepper in the back of my mouth when I sucked the oil off the bread--what flavor!
The decor is rustic and warm, even in the awful snowstorm that NY was having that day. Brick walls with toreador paintings and gilded mirrors. The banquette is not my favorite place to sit as the person opposite must sit a formed red plastic chair that did not look too comfy. Be sure to go for a table with regular upholstered chairs.
My server, Amalia, from Romania, remembered me from last time and was a gem. She guided me perfectly and I will always trust her choices here. When I asked if the sommelier/manager Nacho was in she said he now just bought the wines and no longer worked as a manager. No matter, Amalia knew the wines well and sent over a glass of PRIMA TINTO de TORO which was smokey with slight tannins and a smooth dark chocolate taste that was perfect with my tongue. For the main course we moved to a bigger CAMINS 2008 Granacha-Carinena from Priorat that was like spiced berries and has to be the best storm wine around with big food. I had the LAMB CHEEKS with Lentils, Spiced Idiazabal Cheese (in little balls that melted over the dish, Brioche and Asparagus. the dish had a rich thick sauce as well as a pumpkin puree and the brioche were in small rectangles (think British toast soldiers) that stood up in the sauce. The asparagus were sliced very thin for decoration and the overall dish looked great but tasted even better. I can't wait to go back again for more!

I also love the music here which combines mild easy jazzy English with exciting yet soft Spanish singers.
Amalia guided me right to the BUTTERNUT SQUASH & DULCE di LECHE dessert which is one of the best ever.
The squash was in different size discs and formats from gelees to marmalades and one like a pate and the best were the discs with caramelized sugar (think veggie disc with creme brulee topping). This all sat on a huge bed of Dulce di Leche "mousse" which was thick and caramelly and the perfect end to a magnificent dinner. Amalia offered a glass of semi-sweet sparkling cava as an after dinner drink and I left oh so happy...and what a deal!

Monday, October 31, 2011

back to BAR BOULUD (NYC-10-28-11)

While at Lincoln Center this weekend I visited two of my fave spots
and the first was BAR BOULUD
I sat down and was quickly served those fab steaming cheese GOUGERES
which melted in my mouth.
I chose the prix fixe $45 which is a good deal, but was not thrilled
with my dessert choice.
I started with the TERRINE de PORC of Berkshire Pork with Figs (I
could not really taste the figs) and Esplette Peppers served with
their fab mustard, cornichons, a pickled onion and a dab of frisee.
It's a superb pate, although the portion is not huge. Next time I will
head for the Fish Soup!
The dish came with toasted French bread, but there is always the super
fresh version on the table with top-notch salted butter!
My main course was a superb dish -DAURADE-Sauteed SEA BREAM over Stone
Ground (creamy) Polenta with Wilted Spinach. The fish was served
crispy skin up and was excellent and it came with what the menu called
"funnel tomato confit." I adored these little grape tomatoes, but
discovered they were confit of tomato in fennel!
A glass of Domaine Triennes Viognier 2009 "Sainte Fleur" was not
perfumey and while floral had a tart acidity of honeydew with a hint
of smoke...perfect for the fish!
The dud dessert was COUPE FIGUES et PRUNES or a small round glass with
Honey Chilled Mousse over a cookie and Dried Fruit Cobbler of Fig &
My fab server Katie ended up not charging me for the wine, perhaps
because I panned the dessert!


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

rapturous regional cuisine (Piemonte) at Casa Nonna (10-23-11)

This is the third month in a row we have headed to Casa Nonna near Dupont Circle (www.casanonna.com) and we are all still raving about the food and the deals.
Last month the Sunday family dinner region was Sicily. This month (Oct 30 remains) they have moved north to Piemonte, and at $28 per person for 4 courses, this is a deal you can't afford to miss.
Our ever so pleasant server Ryan took Samuel's order for a plain pizza with a drizzle of Pesto (if possible, and of course it was) which he gobbled up along with his Shirley Temple and the excellent seasoned/cheese filled bread squares.
There were some special wines for the Piemonte menu and we adored the 2009 "Osel" Ruche di Castagnole which had a slight perfume in the nose (Will said akin to a red Rhone), yet this yummy rare red is a full bodied treat and was nice on a chilly autumn evening. We moved on to the Nebbiolo d'Alba 2008 from Damilano on manager Adam's recommendation and it was also a superb choice. It is so nice to have wines for $30-50 that are truly impressive.
The dinner began with Antipasti of
Zuppa di Cavolfiore-a rich (not cream) CAULIFLOWER SOUP with roasted cauliflower, crouton and chive that is the perfect fall treat (perhaps only Chestnut Soup is my more favorite!).
TRIPPA alla PARMIGIANA would turn any TRIPE-fearer into a lover. The meat was braised in tomato sauce and covered with melted Parmesan that just gooey oozed all over the ramekin.
FRITTATA Alla Herbe was a simple rustic herb frtittata that was the least impressive of the three, but still very tasty.

The PRIMI were both top notch pasta dishes:
SPAGHETTU al Ragu di FUNGHI e ACCIGUE was tossed in a ragu of garlic, anchovy and tasty wild mushrooms--all so wonderfully evocative of the season
PAPPARDELLE all'AGLIATA was a huge wide egg yolk pasta in ribbons the size I have never seen before drenched in a super rich WALNUT PESTO with grated Parmesan

The SECONDI arrived and we were already quite full!
BRANZINO al PIEDMONTESE was seared Branzino with a yummy sweet and sour Sultana RAISIN Sauce
BEEF "CARBONNADE" was called "Coal Worker's Stew"....we called it Rosemary's Stew as the Beef, Potato and Onion Braised in Red Wine had lots of tasty rosemary (I have got to use that more as it's in my garden and I always forget!)
The side dishes (yes all this!!) were
CIPOLLINI AGRODOLCE-Braised Sweet & Sour Cipollini Onion
& POLENTA CONCIA-a simple yet excellent creamy polenta with butter and Parmesan

Dessert was thankfully just one plate of CRESPELLE al GIANDUJA, a slightly thicker than French-style crepe with a warm Gianduja Chocolate filling, Poached Pear, Caramel Sauce and Lemon Gelato (although it said Vanilla) - a yummy finish to a hugely satisfying and fun meal and evening!

Monday, October 17, 2011

don't fall into the RIVERS when near the Kennedy Center (10-15-11)

After a performance at the Kennedy Center there are few places to head
late at night within walking distance for a bit to eat, and fewer with
worthwhile cuisine. For years across the street in the Watergate was a
mediocre, though reasonably price joint which recently was renovated
and reopened as RIVERS (http://riversdc.com). The name evoking the
Potomac just feet away.
I headed over there at 10:30pm on Saturday with some clients who had
just sung in the Concert Hall and the place was heaving. We would not
have gotten a table if we did not have an opera and Broadway star in
tow for sure. The staff was very courteous and asked to wait while
they made room, and it was indeed a very nice (and not noisy setting).
We perused the wine list which was quite short for a "fine dining
spot" and asked our server what year the various Cabernets were; he
had no clue. We ordered a delicious Freemark Abbey and he told us it
was 2008, but the bottle was the far superior 2007 when it arrived.
My $15 appetizer CHARCUTERIE Plate was as lame as it gets in the new
and wonderful world of charcuterie. There were two small squares
(about 1" square each) of some type of tasteless fish pate, a similar
sized piece of smooth tasty duck pate, a single piece of dried bland
bresaola and a small dollop of blue cheese. Two slices of oven-toasted
bread (room temp) accompanied this.
One of my guests ordered the $38 filet to find out they were all gone
and then chose the salmon which looked quite dry. His wife seemed to
enjoy the Caesar Salad but was repeatedly told there was gluten in
anything else she wanted. She opted for the steamed MUSSELS and ended
up getting sick that night. Need I say more. Our server was completely
lost with the gluten questions and insisted that certain dishes had
none when we tried to explain what gluten was to him.
Our Broadway person also enjoyed the Caesar and I tasted her FRIED
CALAMARI with Citrus Honey Dipping sauce which was pretty decent,
though it would win no prizes.
All told we left having had a great time chatting and hobnobbing with
the cast from Les Miz that closed the place with us around 1am...but I
really wish there was another option we could go to in this city
without driving after a KenCen performance!
PS- the name Rivers also alludes to a name of a river associated with
each main course. hence the Indian veggie dish is linked to the
Ganges...the filet to the Seine....the salmon (who knows)....a truly
lame attempt at what appeared to be a very overpriced menu for people
who are basically forced to head here after theater.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

DINO's does double duty with March of Dimes auction item--a super fun night (10-9-11)

We still have seats left at our table for this years' March of Dimes SIGNATURE CHEFS on November 16th. The reason you should come is right here in this review.
Last year we purchased a wine tasting with hors d'oeuvres at DINO's where Chef DEAN GOLD is in charge and is also one of the most generous restaurateurs in town. We headed there on Sunday and were totally amazed at every dish and glass we had to savor in a very long evening.
We ordered a bottle of VIGNETI MASSA '09, a Piemontese wine made from Timorasso grapes that served as a super sipping aperitif. This home grown wine is really different and offers some really nice flavors on the palate, akin to a Viognier, but not quite.
There are lots of other reasons to go to DINO (www.dino-dc.com) other than the fab food. Sundays and Mondays wines are 33-50% off and the kids menu will blow your mind. Samuel and his friend Joshua got a three course meal for $8.00 each. The price of the meal is the same as the child's age(up to 11). Samuel gobbled up his meatball starter while Joshua wolfed down the lean and tasty prosciutto. I tasted a small bite and this was some of the best PROSCIUTTO I have had in years--anywhere. They went on to have main courses of "pizza" which was really a bruschetta style bread with tomato sauce and mozzarella. Their desserts were Chocolate Sundaes made with Chocolate Gelato and not a bite was left in their bowls.

We started with two drinks-a BELLINI FRESCO made with Trevisol Prosecco and house made White Peach Liqueur (not only do they have great wines here, but the in-house drinks and home made liqueurs are fab!). This came with a BLUE in GREEN NEGRONI which was made with Blueberry Green Tea, Negroni (Cocchi Americano-a moscato-based vermouth akin to Lillet) and Dimmi (Apricot blossom) Liqueur. It packed a punch and went great with the two fish hors' d'oeuvres:
"FISH & CHIPS" -Pan fried Pollock with Crushed Gold Potatoes & Scallions served with a Lime Anchovy Aioli - while not a true British Fish & Chips, it might very well be the Italian version gone tasty and wild.

I must note that each set of pairings had a title and the above was Per Entree--a couple of fruits.
Obviously, Dean knows us well and we all giggled out the wazoo at these "titles."

Next came "A Pig from Head to Toe" featuring
TROTTER TOTS -porky potato croquettes
& TESTA (a magnificent aromatic and earthy pate of head cheese with arugula and chick pea salad
The wines went red to match the intensity of the food:
SESTI "Monteleccio" Rosso Toscano '08 from Montalcino was the softer version and the spicier was the
UCCELLIERRA 2008 Rosso di Montalcino (great with the Testa).

"Will nibbles on two balls" was next and I won't comment any further except that there was
VEAL MEATBALLS in Lemony Marsala Sauce
Duck Schmaltz Matzoh Ball Soup
Dean does matzo balls and the soup as good as any bubbie around...so try it out.
The wines were a nicely intense DAL MAZO "Tai Rosso" 2009 from Veneto made from Grenache, something you don't see too often in Italy and
CRIVELLI Ruche 2008 a superb Piemontese wine.

"Duck, Duck Goose" was last with
BACI (scallop wrapped with duck liver and dates in pancetta)--WOW!
& DUCK NECK (house pate stuffed in a Duck Neck)

We gobbled up everything in sight as we drank DECONCILIUS "Donnaluna" 2008 from Campania made from Aglianico and HILBERG 2008 Barbera d'Alba.

I must mention that we all gobbled up the unbelievably crusty bread with the oil, salt and pepper at the table and kept asking for more for the sauces. Our server Gregory was a (very handsome) gem and put up with all our needs in seconds and really had fun with us as well.

The event did not include dessert...be we persevered on and ordered one of each of the cheeses as they are all divine:
Guffanti Vera Paglietina--tangy yum yum
Guffanti Robiola Nostrana
Guffanti Sciumdin -one of my favorites
Guffanti Castelmagno
Ithatca "Erboro Bianco"
Gruffanti Provolone "Mandarone"-another gem
Gruffanti Blue di Lanzo
these came with candied walnuts, pickled ginger and of course crostini

Desserts chosen and devoured were
Torte di Cioccolato--a choco-walnut torte with spiced crumble crust
Torta di Mela- Apple "pancake" with Cinnamon gelato
Cappuccinno du Nutella-Nutella and Mascarpone -- bourbon soaked cherries, whipped cream and cocoa

We managed to polish off a bottle of SMITH WOODHOUSE 10 yr old TAWNY port to boot and it's amazing we all got home and did not burst.
Some auction items are okay, some are great. This was one of the best ever!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

PS 7's always a trip to the heavens (Washington, DC -10-6-11)

Our anniversary was last week and we took a trip downtown to PS 7's
(www.ps7restaurant.com) where Chef Peter Smith runs a wonderful
kitchen that always pleases our palates.
We arrived to a hopping spot as they had a special Italian dinner
night saluting Peter's grandmother and her recipes; we had the choice
of the wonderful Italian menu and wines as well as the regular menu.
What a treat!

As you enter PS7's you are likely to encounter uber-bartender/
sommellieuse Gina Chersevani, a truly bubbly (no pun intended) person
who exudes cheer. She and Chef had flutes of Gruet Sparkling sent to
our table for the celebration and we went on to order some special
The MEXICAN SWITCHBLADE is Partida Silver Tequila with Cilantro,
Coriander & Lime, while the CHILE FLIP is Stoli Pomegranate with
Leomon & Kashmiri Chiles. It has a soft foamy cappuccino-like top for
We moved on to G.D. VAJRA Langhe Rosso 2009 on Gina's recommendation
which is made from Dolcetto, Barbera and Nebbiolo. Gina described this
Piemontese treat as "bitchy in the middle with a smooth edge..." and
it was just that.
Will started with the BASIL SNAILS with Mushroom Hash, Parmesan Puff
and Herb Salad (atop the hash) which was a dream starter dish. My BANH
MINI was filled with superbly tasty Roasted Pork Belly, Cucumber
Jalapeno Relish and Hoisin Sauce with Picked Carrot and Radish. The
only fallback on this dish is that the tasty bread is too much and you
can't taste the ingredients as much as you should.
Speaking of bread, this night offered up Italian bread as well as the
regular PS 7's treats of heavenly biscuits, mini rolls and lavash. Oh,
and the water is now house filtered VIVREAU system (sparkling or
flat)....and there are lots of GLUTEN FREE options on the main menu
for those in need.

Our next course was the LINGUINI CARBONARA from Nana's menu with
Pancetta & Black Pepper. I love Carbonara (but avoid it as a WAY over-
indulgence), and have to admit the best was in Rome 5 years ago; this
was a divine preparation and probably as good as it gets outside of
We moved on to an amazing 2005 LeCoste BRUNELLO di MONTALCINO with our
main course that opened up quickly enough (I would love to come back
to it in several years!).
Will gobbled up his VEAL LOIN with Chick Pea Mofongo, Radish Cucumber,
Herb Oil, & Veal Braise. My perfectly Seared DUCK BREAST came with
tasty farro "dirty rice," snap peas, spiced plum jus, watercress and
pine nuts was another wonderful creation that I could not leave one
bite of remaining.

Our server Adam was a gem as well and the service here is always
gracious, courteous and helpful. We chose our desserts
SQUITCH SQUASH-a butternut squash pie with figs, butterscotch pudding
and creme fraiche ice cream that was superb. My LEMON ICE BOX was
Blueberry Jam on Biscuit Crackers with LIMONCELLO Gelee, Lemon Custard
and a foam with tiny sugar crusted fresh blueberries.
We went home happy, but Will left the Italian breakfast treats they
delivered to our table to take home!
Reason for divorce...nah! We'll just have to go back for more.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

SALT & PEPPER sprinkles on perfect neighborhood cooking (9-27-11)

Last night we headed down to our neighborhood dining area in the
Palisades on MacArthur Blvd to SALT & PEPPER which moved into the spot
previously occupied by Battery Kemble Tavern. Owners/Chefs Lindsey &
Nate Auchter have done a beautiful job redecorating with wavy wooden
fllors, booths with windows opening on a side hallway (Samuel loved
running around and sticking his head in) and a nice (and not noisy)
neighborhood feel with a touch of class and great soft, but upbeat,
music as well. Be sure to take a break and head down the side hallway
to see the unisex bathroom with both a Ken & Barbie doll on the door.
If you want to watch the goings on in the kitchen, there is a full
glass wall at the rear of the dining room onto the kitchen.

We had met the owners/chefs recently at the AIWF CrabCake Competition
now named in memory of our dear friend Karen Cathey, and Lindsey &
Nate got us all excited about the new spot just 4 minutes from out
house. They met us and were oh so gracious; you do feel at home here.
Lindsey knows tons about wines, but we saw the drink menu and could
not resist the martinis. Samuel had a Shirley Temple, Will went for
the Spaaaah Martini made with Veev Acai Liquor, Square One Cucumber
Vodka, Fresh Squeezed Lemonade and Sparkling wine which is refreshing
and tasty, but I adored the spice and slight sweetness of the Salt &
Pepper Martini made with Black Peppercorn Tito's Handmade Vodka, Red
Cherry Puree, Main Root Lemon-Lime Soda and Pomegranate Grenadine. The
drinks are huge and pack a punch; no skimping here!

Samuel ordered the kids portion (1/2 size of adult) of Buttermilk-
Brined FRIED CHICKEN (Tennessee) which comes with Braised Greens and
mac & cheese (Sam substituted fries as he is not a mac & cheese
child). The chicken was fried to perfection and oh so tasty and the
white meat was juicy as could be.

We chose two starters to share:
LOBSTER POPPERS with Essential Sauce which were very tasty morsels of
Maine Lobster (incidentally, almost every item on the menu gives its
state of origin for the main ingredient) with a to die for dipping
sauce like a remoulade with a slight punch from Guajillo Peppers.
PUMPKIN RICE FRITTERS (Pennsylvania) are NOT to be missed huge round
balls deep fried to perfection, salted nicely and then served with a
creamy chive and lemon dipping sauce.

BURGERS (Texas) here are a main item and made from all natural
humanely raised Wagyu beef. Don't miss these HUGE juicy burgers that
Will declared better than Ray's in Arlington (and you don't have to
wait in line!).
He had the Morning/Noon/Nigh which comes with Cheddar, Bacon, Fried
Egg, Lettuce, Tomato and Onion (which he removed and replaced with
Sauteed Portobello chunks!). My "regular" burger was treated to the
add-ons of ROGUE SMOKEY BLUE cheese and fresh Spinach. It was one of
the best burgers anywhere. The buns are brioche-like dough and I asked
if the pastry chef was responsible; she was not, but they were great,
We ordered a bottle of CABERNET (you know how rarely we do that) on
Lindsey's suggestion from Napa made by Kathryn HALL 2007. It opened up
after about 5 minutes offering coffee and blackberry notes and was
indeed just right with the burgers.
Samuel called the Hand Cut Fries that come with the burgers
"unstoppable" once he started trying them with the divine ESSENTIAL
Sauce (described above).

Dessert is a main attraction at SALT & PEPPER...Samuel wolfed down the
WARM BROWNIE SANDAUE with Vanilla Ice Cream, Whipped Cream and we
adored the Chocolate Covered Salted Walnuts. The PUMPKIN CHEESECAKE is
not heavy like so many and has an airy, but filling feel with Maple
Sauce, Cinnamon Creme Anglaise, Whipped Cream and Candied Pecans. We
were all in heaven and very full, but they need to package those nuts,
not to mention the Essential Sauce!
SALT & PEPPER shakes it up JUST RIGHT!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

TABERNA del ALABARDERO takes you out to a luscious lunch (9-25-11)

Today we were invited to the buffet brunch at DC's most famous Spanish dining spot TABERNA del ALABARDERO (http://www.alabardero.com) and upon arrival were surprised to see that they
had not resumed the brunch menu (it was suspended for the summer until next Sunday). As our friends had a gift certificate it was a bit of an embarrassment and in the end the manager graciously accepted the certificate for a full three course lunch for us all and even included the beverages! WOW! What a nice belated birthday treat (thanks guys!).
Olives and manchego came to the table with superb crusty warm bread that was irresistible. The red and white SANGRIAS are both nice and I guess it really depends what you are eating which one to choose.
I started with the Salmorejo de Cordobes con Mousse de Salmon, Bacon y Sardinas Marinadas - blissful Chilled TOMATO SOUP with a large mold of SMOKED SALMON MOUSSE surrounded by a slice of BACON and topped with a marinated SARDINE. It was simple yet wonderful for a fall clammy day (the humidity refuses to leave this city!) and the start of a large meal at midday. ENSALADA de PULPO was an Arugula Based Salad with slices of OCTOPUS with "texturized Olive Oil" which was really more like a cubed jelly and crystal (an unmolded gel) of Gazpacho; a modern yet not over the top take on a traditional dish. The TEMPURA VEGETABLES came with Mussels and served with Violet Potato Vinaigrette.

Three of us chose the Millioja de Ventresca de Atun con Txangurro sobre Purrusalda Ahumaday Crujente de Pan - a beautiful TUNA BELLY NAPOLEAN assembled with just past rare white tuna around Basque Style Crab Meat (a light red sauce) over Smoked Potatoes and Leeks. A slice of toasted bread was on the side, julienne veggies and micro greens; we all adored it. The Lubina or ROCKFISH was braised over Mussel Emulsion with Caramelised Onion and Sauteed Seafood also got very high marks.

The coffee came and was superb and desserts followed:
Lemon Sponge Cake with Mascarpone Ice Cream and Cream of Rose & Lychees
Caramelised Rice Pudding with Orange Sorbet
and the Tarte de MANAZANAS more of a pastry dough purse filled with apples which were a bit overcooked and served with flavorless Dulce de Leche Ice Cream (so skip this one).
My FLAN ROTO de Coco was a modern creation in a martini glass with a kind of breaded coconut flan at the bottom covered by Mascarpone Cream and a scoop of Pineapple Sorbet; I actually liked it, but I never would have called it flan--maybe flan parfait!

No matter, I had a great birthday lunch, albeit 4+ months after the fact, and we all were quite surprised at the way the staff handled our "issue" and really made it a great day, great lunch and with great service to add.

Monday, September 19, 2011

CASA NONNA's Sunday dinner SICILIA ABBONDAZA does it amply!(9-18-11)

We had been to Casa Nonna (www.casanonna.com) during Restaurant Week with Samuel and at that time we found out about their SUNDAY DINNERS at $28/per person. This is a deal that beats Restaurant Week by millions of miles, so we headed back in last night for the SICILY dinners which are being featured every Sunday in September (each month is a different region--we can't wait to find out what's next!).
We settled into our comfy booth as I admired the decor on the shelves that separates the dining sections: Lurasia bottled water, pasta in glass jars and biscotti tins; all set up so beautifully. Executive Chef Amy Brandwein, fresh from her win at the AIWF CRABCAKE Competition was off on Sunday, so Chef Nairobi was in charge and she handled the whole place with sheer perfection; everyone seemed to be having a good time.
We were greeted with a smile as Manager Stephanie recognized us from several weeks ago. Our server, Okelo, had a huge smile on and seemed just the epitome of kindness.

Samuel was again his slightly difficult self and wanted pizza, but we insisted on pasta (we were sure he would order the wonderful Chitarra from our last visit that he adored so much). He ended up choosing the SPAGHETTI alla POMODORO, but we convinced him to try some PANCETTA on top which he adored.

We chose the Sicilian $28 tasting which is 4 courses served family style and enough to fill up anyone's empty stomach. We were treated to some extra starters as well, which you can surely consider if ordering a la carte:
POLPO is a perfectly grilled OCTOPUS served as a salad with Sun dried tomatoes, potato, lemon and celery and is simply yet seasoned ideally.
SPIEDINI allo SPECK is for those who wish to indulge in the grilled (melted) fontina cheese wrapped in slices of speck (Italian ham) that is crunchy from the grilling. Sage leaves come with these and you must eat them with the skewered delights for even more flavor.

We ordered a bottle of the special Sicilian white for the evening L'ISOLA DEI PROFUMI BIANCO 2009 at $33 and what a deal; so good, we had a 2nd bottle.
The Sicilian menu included the following:
CAPONATA al MELANZANE which is described as a sweet & sour eggplant (even better with the sweet caramelized onions) on crostini. We chose, as we did last time, to save much of this to take home as we knew how much would follow...we are just about ready to head down now and enjoy some with a wonderful wine at home!
CAZILLI FRITTI are Fried garlic and POTATO CROQUETTES which are again an indulgence and delightful. We tried to get Sam to try one (there were 3), but he would have none of these delight Sicilian "tater tots."
POLPETTINE di TONNO are Fried Tuna and Pecorino in Tomato Sauce....I forgot to ask Chef Nairobi, but I could have sworn these were meat sausages and not tuna, even though the seasoning and taste was fabulous.

The three Antipasti were followed by TWO (yes two) PRIMI Pastas....
PENNE ALLA NORMA (of course this has great operatic importance to me) which was a Penne Rigate with a tasty Tomato Basil Sauce topped with ingeniously Fried Slices of Eggplant and thin shavings of Ricotta Salata. At first I thought the eggplant was a slice of meat, like prosciutto, it was like a fake chemical treat you see these days at some of the "chemical" spots around, but it was real homey Italian all the way.
Samuel tasted this and begged for 2nds and 3rds as he adored the eggplant and the ricotta as well.
PAPPARDELLE al RAGU BIANCO was novel for me in that the huge ribbons of Fresh Egg Yolk pasta were served in a beef ragu made with WHITE wine. It was a bit peppery and a total treat.

The Secondi (mains) were no less exciting:
FILETTO di NASELLO all'AGLIO e PEPERONCINO was a perfectly sauteed HAKE Filet with Garlic, Lemon and Hot Peppers. The chef here at Casa Nonna are not afraid of spice and we love that. When the fabulous cheese-stuffed pizza-like bread came, Samuel declared it a bit too spicy, but we still gobbled it all up!
Perhaps the spice is also part of the Sicilian heritage, but we did like it.
FARSU MAGRU SICILIANA is a work of art as the braised BEEF is made into a roulade and stuffed with Hard Boiled Egg, Ground Veal and Caciocavallo (cheese).

There are (just in case the above is not enough) two sides with each dinner:
BROCCOLIL di RAPE and here the BROCCOLI RAAB is served with Garlic, Anchovy, Lemon and some Hot Peppers as well
FINOCCHIO a SFINCONE is a casserole of BRAISED FENNEL in Tomato Sauce topped with Breadcrumbs and Caciocavallo all melted to look like a mini-lasagna (but with no pasta). It was a bit of an indulgence and I liked this more than Will did.

Dessert was a simple CANNOLI SICILIANI with the small homemade thin pastry shell filled with orange-scented RICOTTA over Chocolate Sauce with Pistachios. Sam liked the sauce, but he missed the pastry which was the best part of the dish. A glass of orange -cello (as opposed to LIMON) was nice and I thought would pair with the orange in the dessert, but it doesn't have the same essence as the limoncello. Will opted for grapefruit-cello which indeed did have the punch of the limon!

We headed home fuller than ever and knowing (at Samuel's bequest) that we return for a Sunday tasting soon!

White Plains NY offers up big burgers at Ron Black's (9-17-11)

If you find yourself in White Plains, NY (the county seat for
Westchester, just 30 mins from Manhattan) seeking good pub grub head
to Ron Black's (http://ronblacks.com/) as we did the other day.
I had the Brunch menu BREAKFAST BURGER which comes on a bagel, but our
server suggested I switch to the bun as it's easier to manage (he was
right). The burger comes with a choice of cheese, mushrooms, fried
onions, avocado, chili OR jalapenos and an EGG on top for $10. I did
not spot the "OR" and thought all this stuff was a great deal. I
settled for the CHEDDAR and a fried egg and it was HUGE. The big
burger was juicy and tasty and the egg and cheddar yummy. There was a
side as well INCLUDED of either fries, salad, sweet potato fries or
something else. The SWEET POTATO FRIES were fabulous and so were the
(albeit small) BLOODY MARYs.
My brother was wowed by the extensive beer on tap menu as well as the
bottles; avoid the wine as there are about 8-10 types and all dreck
for the most part!
This is a nice place to grab a sandwich or bite and it was quite quiet
on Saturday at noon as well as the sport's crowd had note yet invaded.
I'd surely go back when in White Plains, but don't trek there!

Monday, September 05, 2011

Dupont Circle's DARLINGTON HOUSE is a darling spot to sup(9-3-11)

I had heard of DARLINGTON HOUSE right north of Dupont Circle (http://www.darlingtonhousedc.com) ages ago when it opened, I had even met the Chef Fabio Beggiato and promised we would visit. It took a long while for us to get there, but it was worth the trip last Saturday, when we took Samuel for a family dinner over the Labor Day weekend. I am usually not a fan of dining out on Saturday, but this holiday weekend things are always so quiet, it can often be quite nice. we arrived a 6pm and the dining room up one flight was pretty quiet. It was quite full by the time we left.
Darlington House occupies a beautiful town house on 20th Street just above Q street facing Connecticut Avenue where the old Childe Harold pub used to be. Downstairs (and on the street) is a rustic and quite noisy "cantina" and we could feel the noise and vibrations coming through the floor, but they were not too bothersome. The dining room has old wooden floors and a modern, old world feel and is comfy, classy and bright with huge windows overlooking the park opposite. We were seated in the table at the window which was very nice. The staff is attentive and knows the food well, but they need to get the huge wine list updated as we chose two items that were out of stock.
We ending up choosing the SANCERRE 2009 La Crele from Thomas et Fils which was one of the very nice lower end wines; the list gets into the high hundreds! The bread came and while it was plain, there was nice olive oil and balsamic for dipping. Samuel ordered the FETTUCCINE alla BOLOGNESE which I could have sworn was a veal-base rather than beef and was truly delicious.
It was hard to choose, so we took the advice of our helpful and handsome server Jhonathan (from Columbia) who insisted I start with the VITELLO TONATO. He was right on. The veal was sliced thin with a superb and not too rich sauce with grapefruit segments that gave it a special punch (I know, I am not supposed to eat grapefruit, but I indulged once for the first time in years!). Will had the unamazing CAPRESE salad, but it was nothing special.
We then split a SPAGHETTI CHITARRA which I was so excited about after having the similar sauce the week before at Cafe Nonna. This excellent preparation was with sauteed jumbo LUMP CRAB, black OLIVES and cherry TOMATOES and was nice, but even with the crab, the flavor punch was not there as in Cafe Nonna!
We moved on to a bottle of TORRE MIGLIORI, a Montepulicano d'Abruzzo from Cerulli Spinozzi which Jhonathan offered to us at the price of a lower-priced wine we ordered but was out of stock. We adored this light red with our main courses, especially at the $5+ savings!
Will had the BRANZINO special, grilled with Garlic and Lemon-Zest Risotto, a perfect dish balancing the flavors and really starring the superb fish. My SCALLOPINI alla SALTIMBOCA was three huge flattened pieces of veal with prosciutto, superb sage and Polenta and Broccoli-rabe on the side. The meat was superb and tender and the sauce divine, but there was so much, I had to ask for a doggie bag; only the polenta was unexciting.
We decided to split an order of TIRAMISU which looked like it had taken a bath in cocoa powder, which Samuel declared as "not my type" of dessert, but it was quite tasty nonetheless.
The prices here are high, but the food quality is quite good, especially with the meat and fish dishes. I think we would return, but again, there are so many great Italian places, Darlington House will have to wait its turn behind so many others we love.

Monday, August 29, 2011

AGORA offers delicious Turkish/Greek delicacies in Dupont Circle(DC) (8-28-11)

Last night, Will had a dinner date with a friend, so Samuel and I
headed to AGORA (17th Street NW & Q St -www.agoradc.net) which opened
just over a year ago in the same place where the late Boss Sheperd's
was located (and another not long-lived French bistro in-between as
well). I think AGORA will have staying power for several reasons.
There is a great patio which was jammed, but you may recall Samuel
detests sitting outside due to his fear of bugs!
We headed inside which was quite empty at 6pm, but filled up by the
time we left. The walls are cool dark brick and there is a long bar on
the right with a huge flat screen TV above it (the Nats game was on),
and the tables might be a bit too close in some places, but otherwise
it's comfy and tasteful.
Hot billowing pita came out with an oil dip with chopped olives in it,
which they called tapenade. It was yummy and Samuel gobbled up the
bread and oil, but the olives were hard to get out and many ended up
on the table; a small spoon might have been nice.
We ordered a bowl of tasty HTIPITI, a roasted red pepper tapenade with
feta cheese that was nice. Samuel liked the peppers, but would not
touch the feta, which I thought was the thing that made the dish much
The wine list here is quite large and there are some steeply priced
options, but the by the glass section has 22 choices and they come in
glass, 1/4 bottle and 1/2 bottle as well. I tried a wonderful dry
Turkish Rose CAL KARSI made from Syrah 2009 from Kavaklidere "Egeo."
As there were both Greek and Turkish items on the menu and wine list,
I asked our server if the owners were Turkish or Greek, and despite
the Greek name "Agora," it turned out they are Turkish, so I chose the
Turkish wines! My second wine was a SULTANA ANGORA 2009 from the same
winery in Denizil, Turkey and was also quite delicious.
I started with the Wild Caught OCTOPUS with Capers, Red Onion,
Parsley, Diced Tomato, Olive Oil and Sherry Wine Vinegar. It had a
great intense lemony flavor as well, as many of the dishes do here.
The meat was tender and the dish was quite large; the dishes here are
more tapas style and prices around $7-15 depending on the ingredients.
It's a great fish/salad starter that rivals any other octopus salad
Samuel chose the MANTI-a big mistake. It was Meat filled mini-raviolis
topped with Garlic Yogurt and a Red Pepper Sauce with some dried mint.
He eats little yogurt (and always sweet kiddie stuff at that) so even
though he loves garlic, he didn't want any of that! It covered about
1.3 of the mini raviolis which he did eat, but it was impossible to
get him to even try the red pepper sauce which was truly a tasty
tapenade that he would have loved (he adores tapenades!). I finally
finished his dish and insisted he try again (or no Coke)...and he did
eat up 90% of the KOFTE which are small burger-like lamb and beef
patties beautifully seasoned over a garlic pita with sumac onions and
grilled tomato. The bread was a bit lame, and he didn't want the
veggies...but we did fine.
I had the Grilled Filet of Boneless BRANZINO over Olive Bread with
Grilled Lemon. Again the bread was worthless and a bit crusty, but the
fish was superb, especially once I squeezed that tasty grilled lemon
with seasoning all over.
I wanted something like dessert and our server had gone so well with
the Branzino, I took her other idea and had the appetizer of HELLIM
Cheese. This cheese is a full fat Famagusta (Cyprus) goat cheese which
is pan seared and comes out more like a firm cheese stick. It is
served with thyme, toasted almonds and a sweet fig jam that makes the
dish a perfect dessert. I had a nice glass of VERDECA which she
suggested and again it was a nice dry choice (albeit from Italy!).
Overall, we enjoyed the food and while the pita is amazing, it seems
the only real bad thing is the bread that comes UNDER some of the

Monday, August 22, 2011

CASA NONNA -perfect pasta and pizza and more (8-21-11)

Last night we took Samuel for an early Restaurant Week Dinner at CASA NONNA (1250 Connecticut Ave, NW-www.casanonna.com) which has been open for less than a year now, but has to have become one of the best mid-range priced places for Italian food in town. Add to this that the FOUR-course Restaurant Week Special of $35.11 is available through the end of August and you have even more reasons to head to this roomy, yet cozy spot a block from Dupont Circle.
Samuel did not want more than a Shirley Temple and a Pizza Margherita, but gobbled up plate after plate (along with us) of the best "focaccia" around. It is really a soft pizza-dough like flatbread that is stuffed (here and there) with a ricotta-like cheese called Stracchino that stretches and has wonderful earthy flavor, unlike Ricotta. The bread is topped with salt, pepper flakes, rosemary, sage and other spices making it a meal in itself.
For Restaurant Week (all of August) everyone starts with the ANTIPASTO sampler of the best Eggplant CAPONATA this side of Sicily; it is loaded with tasty eggplant and lots of caramelized onions that have sweetened the dish. Also on the plate are crunchy crostini to spread the caponata on as well as RICOTTA with Truffle Oil and slices of Prosciutto that are simply as light as air and oh so tasty.
Our server Zoe always had a smile and was a big help. She led us to the ORVIETO PALAZZONE "Terre Vineate" from Umbria 2010 that worked well with all our choices. We then moved on to a quartino (small carafe available in many wines that also come by the glass) of Masciarelli TREBBIANO 2010 from Abruzzo right next door to Umbria, but with a bit more perfume in the mouth.
The special $35.11 menu offers a choice of three pastas, main courses and desserts (as well as the yummy antipasti) and while it is limited...the choices are wide and superb. Will and I had the exact same items (yes, boring) and adored EVERY bite.
The SPAGHETTI alla CHITATA was a revelation using whole wheat pasta and adding little bits of cauliflower along with the garlic, enough hot peppers to fill the mouth with flavor (even Samuel gave it a hands up) and pecorino cheese. We could not stop talking about how great this dish was.
For the main course we chose the MERLUZOO al Forno, a tummy wood roasted COD with sweet and sour pepperonata topped with Arugula, another great creation and not a huge portion after all the other yummy food.
Dessert was the PANNA COTTA with fresh figs, Vin Cotto and Fleur de Sel ( a dash less of the salt would have made it perfect), which added a nice favor alternating between the wine, salt and figs!
Samuel ordered a selection of sorbets and got three monstrous scoops of Mixed Berry, Kiwi and Lemon loving every bite but declared at the end the best part was the accompanying cookie!
Bomboloni fried doughnuts arrived and were tasty as well, but I was feeling full so we gladly had some Limoncello (some of the best and strongest homemade around) and headed home full.
Looking forward to CASA NONNA again real soon, especially since I never had a Nonna that cooked like this!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Restaurant Week in DC-Lyon Hall -some love and a little hate (8-20-11)

Last night we headed to Arlington (3100 Washington Blvd-wwwlyonhallarlington.com) where the owners of Liberty Tavern have opened up a "French-style" bistro not far from their first spot. We had the choice of sitting inside or out and the outside metal chairs had no cushions and looked very uncomfortable, so we opted for inside, where a group of people watching a baseball game at the bar occasionally let out a loud cheer or a huge group sigh. The noise was not too bad, but combined with music that was a bit too loud and very un-French, I would have preferred a little less din. The decor is simple with a big long bar and a couple of TV's; large glass windows overlook the street. I have to mention the restrooms which have men's and women's entrances side by side. Upon entering and leaving the wash basins are two long troughs in each facing each other with the wall between removed. If you are not careful, you might think this a mirror and get quite a scare when you come face to face with a stranger. The rest of the bathrooms are private, it's just an odd and novel setup.

Alexis our server was friendly and helpful and said almost everything was being offered for the $35.11 three course deal. The menu is varied and it was hard to choose. We both opted for the STEAK TARTARE starter which is a large portion with lots of large capers, a little onion, a beautiful just past raw egg laid on top and a superb side of potato-chip waffle gaufrettes. Little dabs of mustard were around the plate, making this one of the tastiest I have had in some time. We had a bottle of nice Domaine LOCUS AMENO "Reserve du Soleil" 2010 Rose (Syrah/Grenache/Cinsualt) that was dry and tart and worked with most food as well (they serve it by the glass too). The wine list is nice, but the beer list will blow you away!
The soft Black German Grain bread has coffee in it and has a great taste as does the Sourdough. All the breads, pastries, sausages, charcuterie and even some cheeses are made in house. Alexis told us the staff works 24 hours. Impressive.
Will's main course was a dud as the CRAB & LOBSTER BURGER had little seafood taste and was topped with a harissa aioli that was not on the menu. He had to smother some plain mayo on to lower the heat. He used the ketchup on the fries, which were abundant and tasty, but not fabulous.
My PORK SCHNITZEL was two huge flat pieces breaded to perfection and laid over a wonderful Lingonberry Sauce with a Lemon-Mustard Potato Salad. Some frisee with ham slices were piled on top for decoration and flavor and this dish was quite a delight.
For dessert Will had the CREME BRULEE which comes out of a ramekin on a cookie (too much) but with a side of FRIED FRUIT BEIGNETS that are divine as well as Blackberry Compote with huge blackberries.
My choice of sorbets.ice cream was wide and all house made with fresh blueberries/strawberries and those huge blackberries all around. The APRICOT-EARL GREY was my favorite with the RED PEACH SORBET a close tie. The HONEY PRALINE was nice as well.
We enjoyed our meal and said we will come back for sausages, cocotte and more, but avoid that burger please!

ALEX & IKA redux does it right in Cooperatown, NY (8-15-11)

As ALEX and IKA's has always been my top choice in this area, we returned again on our final evening in town with several clients. On Monday, it was much quieter, the server (from Randy) was much better and the food just seemed to have an overall better impression that we got on Saturday night (I always say that dining out on a Saturday can reek disaster). Since we had no opera that night I was able to indulge in their signature drink the SWEDISH MARTINI, a huge martini glass filled to the brim with Svedka Vodka, Aquavit, Lingonberry Saft and Lime. The lingonberry liqueur sits at the bottom and needs a little stir up, but looks so pretty as the purple swirls into the clear vodka; the drink is divine. Our guest said we must try the FINGERLING POTATO FRIES which are skin- on potatoes cooked to perfection with a rich Chipotle Aioli Dip. Two orders of these disappeared fast, though Samuel would have none of them wanting only his standard fries and burger. While I enjoyed the Star Anise Duck main course on Saturday, the ROAST DUCK ANTIPASTO SALAD was an even better choice and just as big with tasty Garlic Mushrooms, Green Lentils, Marinated Artichokes, Sweet & Spicy Peppers, Roasted Tomatoes and a Creamy Sesame Dressing (there is a choice of dressings and they all come on the side so you can regulate the amount). This dish had everything anyone could want and was indeed one of the biggest appetizers around town. We ordered a bottle of Cloud Nine 2008 Oregon Pinot Noir which did not have lots of body, so we moved on to a 2008 RIDGE Lytton Springs Zinfandel which is 74% Zin, 21% Petit Sirah and 5% Carignan and is a dreamy intense red good for the tasty steak or even the grilled wild salmon our guests enjoyed. Will went for the RACK of LAMB with Saffron Porcini Risotto, Roasted Tomatoes (these are a big item here and are fab as well), Balsamic Glaze with White Truffle Oil & Pine Nuts. I opted for a second starter and loved the BABY LAMS & CHORIZO with Sweet & Spicy Peppers, Rosemary, Thyme and Chardonnay. This simple dish offered up a pile of tin succulent Manila clams wit small pieces of chorizo for flavor in a tasty broth. No room for dessert, but this meal convinced us we need to come back next season and just avoid Saturday night!

The Blue Mingo in Cooperstown comes up cooking (8-14-11)

Tonight we headed back to the Blue Mingo Grill after many years (www.bluemingogrill.com) located on the lake just about 4 miles north of town. The Blue Mingo has a funky feel and is a bit laid back with chalkboard menus, but the ambiance on a nice evening can't be beat. We had dodged the storms around us all day and managed to get through dinner as well...perhaps the rains will avoid us. Samuel perused the Kid's menu and went for the Bowtie pasta in marinara sauce will Daddy and Papa ordered Cooperstown Cosmos made with Absolut Peach, Pomegranate Juice, Triple Sec and Lime. YUM! We did have to wait a while for the blackboard to be brought over and it was a tough decision with so many wonderful choices. Will and I split two appetizers which were both super: ASIAN POTSTICKERS made with chicken in a lemongrass spicy soy broth were divine as were the PORK SPRING ROLLS with a sweet and sour dipping sauce and a light mustard glaze. A bottle of yummy LABOURE-ROI POUILLY FUISSE 2009 Vallon d'Or was super with my main course of Braised HADDOCK, Cilantro Pesto over Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Zucchini which was , yes, another monster size portion of fish yet superbly cooked and with yummy flavors. Will chose the PAD THAI with SHRIMP as our server recommended it and the new chef was Thai! It came as spicy as you requested and Will's was perfectly medium to hot, which was why the chardonnay may not have matched it so well. We wondered why the bread served hot and tasty was fruit bread which really does not work with these foods., especially for mopping. Some friends joined us for desserts and we experienced the KEY LIME mousse-like parfait, Cuban Pudding more like breaded chocolate pudding, a superb Vanilla Creme Brulee and I had the (you guessed)cheese platter of local cheeses including apricots, apples, sausages, coconut crumble, almonds, honeycomb, fig jam, bread (not the fruit bread) and cheese of course: Dutch Girl Summer Goat Aged Raw Goat Beekman Boy Goat-Cow and Mountview Monterey Jack all of which were quite nice but none of which were spectacular (I am so jaded even a month after returning from Europe!). We had a great time and good food and saw many friends in the restaurant adding to our pleasure as we continued our stay and saw more opera here at Glimmerglass.

ALEX & IKA is in its own place for Cooperatown, NY cuisine(8-13-11)

After having taken Samuel to Carmen at the opera and before I had another evening performance we zipped 20 minutes down the road to downtown Cooperstown where one now finds ALEX & IKA, the super Swedish couple that set up house in Cherry Valley years ago, but have now moved to Main Street (just near Doubleday Field) (www.alexandika.com). The move offered them a town center spot with much more space and a clientele that easily fills the place up. The fun drinks are expanded and now include a Lukas Monster MARGARITA of Cuervo Gold, Cointreau Lime and Orange Juice as well as the BEACH BUNNY of Passion Fruit, Pineapples, Appleton Rum with Peach & Coconut Liqueur. The wine list offers some pricey items as well as plenty of good choices in the $30-ish range. We chose a yummy 2007 COTES du RHONE from OGIER with lots of spice and a bit of pepper (althought the menu said is was 2005 Cave des Papes) which paired nicely with some of the spicy dishes. Speaking of spicy I started with the Sake Seared WILD SHRIMP with Sesame Noodle Arugula Cucumber Salad, Chopped Peanuts, Sweet Tamari and Ginger Oil. It had a punch that faded fast and the shrimp were succulent and overall the dish was nice and satisfying. The MOZZARELLA Salad might do with a rename as the menu says it is Roasted Tomatoes, Pinenuts, Capers, Balsamic Glaze and wild oregano, but fails to mention all of this is on a huge (really huge) bed of greens. The Fried Pork Dumplings needed something to dip in and a soy-like sauce arrived (perhaps it had been omitted). The main courses were all excellent with only the meat on the PERSIAN BEEF KORMA being a bit overcooked with creamy almond curry, basmati rice and baby string beans. Samuel's burger was spot on perfect and he gobbled up the fries (yes, again). The SESAME CRUSTED WILD SALMON with Sesame Noodle Arugula Cucumber Salad, Pickled Ginger, Toasted Cashews & Sweet Tamari got raves and the CHAR GRILLED RACK OF LAMB with Saffron Porcini Risotto, Artichokes, Roast Tomatoes, Balsamic Glaze, White Truffle Oil & Toasted Pine Nuts completely disappeared from our friend's plate without a trace of anything having been there. My STAR ANISE roast DUCK (I asked how strong the anise was before ordering) was superb and again a bit spicy with Thai Coconut Curry (not sweet or rich), Carrot Ginger Kimchee, Toasted Peanuts and Basmati Rice. It was a leg and thigh almost confit style and was oddly served with chopsticks...I had no clue how to eat a whole 1/4 duck with chopsticks and it was quite saucy, so I did ask for a fork and knife. Oddly after my starter, our server asked if I wanted to keep my knife and fork and I said a clean set would be nice. Will and I split the superb MAPLE CREME BRULEE with a super crunchy top and rich custard and we knew we could come back for more as we return here for dinner with more clients on Monday after the show Annie Get Your Gun!

Cooperstown's (NY) Lake Front Restaurant is super for seafood (8-12-11)

We arrived here Friday for a long weekend and well know there are only several (if that) quality dining spots around town. There are plenty of burger joints, steak and fried seafood places and fast food joints, but each time we return here we seek dining spots. I asked the guy at the Chamber of Commerce desk and we stopped by the newly renovated Lake Front Hotel (Lake Front Restaurant at 10 Fair Street in downtown) to check out their expanded and redesigned restaurant that sits at the southern end of Otesaga Lake with several tables right at the window overlooking the scenery. We made the reservation and returned a couple of hours later for dinner and were quite surprised that the specials were a big shift on the standards, although here they were not all fried, breaded or such. We ordered two tall blue glasses of BLAK & BLUE LEMONADE which was a not too alcoholic combo of Stoli Blakberri, Stoli Blueberry, Lemonade and Lime..we felt the vodka was missing! Samuel chose a wonderful appetizer of Grilled SALMON with Lemon Butter over Spinach (which he skipped) and a side order of fried. It was almost a main course side (servings are HUGE here) and worked perfectly. Will chose the Mediterranean Grilled CALAMARI Salad with capers, shallots, red peppers, garlic and fresh herbs over a (huge) bed of greens with fire roasted tomato vinaigrette. It was a tasty salad, but my Sherry Mustard Steamed MUSSELS were the winner here in a tasty broth with yummy slabs of garlic bread (which Samuel adored). The Broiled SEAFOOD PLATTER contained backed stuffed shrimp stuffed with crabmeat, broiled scallops and broiled haddock, which Will declared as superb. Every main course comes with a small salad as well as choice of potato (baked with butter and sour cream if you like, fries) or rice and a small side of tasty vegetables. It's the typical old style dining yo often find up here. My Horseradish Crusted ESCOLAR with Lemon Dijon Cream was a wonderful dish and a perfect piece of fish. We had asked our charming server Michele for a bottle of the Xplorador Sauvignon Blanc from Chile but the bar guy misunderstood her and he delivered two glasses of the BOHEMIAN HIGHWAY California Sauvignon Blanc along with the full bottle saying that the extra glasses were on the house. Who could argue with that? The California was listed on the menu as citrus and grapefruit while the Chilean as more oaky...the reality was the reverse, but they were both very nice. We were so full as they began to clear tables from one side of the room just after 9pm. It seemed a band would play at 930pm, so we made our escape without dessert but having been quite filled up on the tasty seafood.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

fun and filling food at FIORELLA Pizzeria e Caffe in National Harbor(8-6-11)

Each year we head to our dear friends' condo at National Harbor (Ft.
Washington, MD) and this year we were treated to one of the newest
dining spots in the complex,
FIORELLA PIZZERIA E CAFFE (www.fiorellapizzeria.com) is part of the
wonderful chain in New York City that consists of Fiorello's across
from Lincoln Center, Trattoria dell'Arte across from Carnegie Hall and
the Red Eye Grill also in the same area. I have tried them all and for
the most part, the food is quite good (although the prices at RedEye
can astound). RedEye is also open now at National Harbor as well!
We started with the superb antipasto of salumi with Prosciutto di
Parma, Soppressata, Olives and Prosciutto Cotto as well as the regular
antipasto combo of eggplant grilled wonderfully, zucchini, olives,
roasted peppers and a to die for Burrata.
The pizzas followed and this is a treat as the ingredients are novel,
the crusts are paper thin and it all works perfectly:
The Specialty CALAMARI FRITTI was loaded with fresh sliced plum
tomatoes, but is a "white" pizza in that it has no tomato sauce base.
There are spicy peppers and tons of crispy fried calamari (not a tad
of grease in sight here!).
The MEATBALL pizza was as impressive with tasty meat, commodore sauce,
pecorino romano, mozzarella and lots of love.
I do not know our server's name, but she was a gem, as was the entire
staff (well, we were a party of about 15).
The FIORELLA LASAGNA needs another name as it only resembles lasagna
in construction. This home made pasta comes out like a folded crepe on
the edges filled high with homemade Fennel Sausage, Beef & Pork
Meatballs, Tomato Sauce, mozzarella and pecorino romano. Need I say
more? It was a dieter's nightmare, and we all immediately gave up our
diets for the night!
We are so looking forward to returning to FIORELLA and the great food,
pastas and pizzas!

Saturday, August 06, 2011

you might love LINCOLN (the new restaurant in DC, that is) 8-4-11

Thursday night we joined friends at LINCOLN (www.lincolnrestaurant-dc.com) which opened recently just near Thomas Circle on Vermont Ave, NW. Upon arrival we entered and could not hear a word the hostess asked us as the noise levels were beyond unreal. I yelled "Is there any place we can sit where we can hear each other without yelling?" and she motioned outside. Luckily, it was not a 100+ degree day in DC and the heat and humidity had abated and there was a nice breeze. The rattan-like chairs are extremely uncomfortable (I have no clue what inside is like) and when we sat the small plates were covered with debris that had fallen (from the trees, buildings nearby or whatever), so we asked for clean plates and one black napkin as our friend had a black dress on.
We never did figure out why there was a partially rotten green apple on the table.
We ordered a bottle of VAN DUZER Pinot Noir ROSE 2010 from Oregon which our server Ramon said was a great choice, and it was. We liked it so much, we had a second bottle.
Ramon explained the "small plate" setup at Lincoln and we decided to experiment widely and for the most part, we were quite happy with the food. We had heard that Lincoln originally did not serve bread when they opened but had caved to requests. We saw bread and dips on the menu, but asked if we could just get some bread (and we did say for free). They kept saying the black napkin was coming (including one manager) and the bread was in the oven. The napkin finally arrived after the food and the bread much later(we theatrically dubbed this episode, Waiting for the Dough"), all quite stale and definitely not having been in any oven for quite some time.
Will decided to try the dozen oysters and he did not ask what type they were. He was disappointed when they were all Blue Point, which Ramon insisted were West Coast. I know better, trying to explain the name Blue Point comes from Long Island, and gave up the argument fast when he insisted that their east coast oyster (not on the plate today) was a West Coast varietal (I forgot which).
The "appetizer" plate of DUCK SAUSAGE ROLL with seasonal mustard was fabulous and tasty, but is as big as any of the "main" plates and has five large slices that would easily fill a person with one more dish, even though Ramon said 4 plates per person is average.
The GRILLED ASPARAGUS with Poached EGG & Aritchoke Vinaigrette was so good the first time around that Will ordered a second plate which he said the egg was overcooked on.
Citrus Marinated Poached RED BEETS with Pickled Gooseberries and Horseradish Creme Fraiche is a divine veggie choice as was the superb Roasted Heirloom EGGPLANT with Goat Cheese, Rosemary & Burnt Honey.
The BAKED CANA de CABRA Goat was rich but tempered by the superb Grilled PEACHES, Olives and Shaved Bread (that was weird--we joked that we didn't really want to eat bread with a beard and was glad it had been shaved!).
An Organic KALE Salad with Hazelnuts, Fried Cranberries and parmesan lemon Vinaigrette did not sound so great, but Ramon explained there was no bitterness to the raw kale and it was a big hit on the menu, so we went for it, and it was quite good, but a bit boring. The kale reminded me of shredded parsley.
We moved on to a superb light Pinot Noir 2009 from FOREFRONT in Santa Barbara that Ramon recommended, but at one point one glass got spilled and broken on the sidewalk (it was really unclear how it happened, but we felt it was someone bussing the table that hit it) and nobody made an effort to offer a complimentary glass to replace it.
Will's Poached ARCTIC CHAR with Broccoli, Prosciutto and Golden Raisins only got an ok (so Will, who had chosen not to share with the three of us, was mostly disappointed with his meal), but the Crispy Soft Shell CRAB with Corn Salsa & Whipped Avocado-Lime Ceviche was really quite tasty but there was no "ceviche" just an avocado puree?
We were quite full and chose one dessert to share. The STRAWBERRY RHUBARD Crisp with Pistachio Streusel and Vanilla Ice Cream, it was agreed, was the best thing to hit the table all night.
I doubt we will ever have reason to return to Lincoln, especially since there is no way on earth I would eat inside in that awful high decibel din....but then you might.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

revisiting WILLOW (Arlington, VA) gets even more raves (7-30-11)

Only 8 days after our recent visit to WILLOW (www.wiilowva.com) we
decided to return along with Samuel for a family dinner. This was his
first time out with the family since our big 2 Michelin meal in
London. He did not show the same interest in food and I felt he no
longer wanted to try things. So the attempt to get the Mushroom
Flatbread went sour and he ended up with the Margerita FLATBREAD,
delicious, yet simple and a huge plain chocolate brownie for dessert
(although he did not care for the crunch topping which he promptly

We wanted another bottle of the same tasty Viognier from Veritas but
were told by our server Yves that it was all sold out, so we tried the
GLEN MANOR Virginia 2009 Sauvignon Blanc which was grassy intense.
When I mentioned this to Yves, he said he does not drink white wine.
We also had to keep seeking him out to pour the wine; this was not so
Will started with the Warm SHRIMP SALAD and Crispy QUINOA Cakes,
Melange Spring Peas, Endive, Petite Greens, Feta & Lemon Dressing-a
perfect summer starter and my Sherry & Tomato STEAMED MUSSELS with
Speck Ham, Sweet garlic, Fennel Raviolini and Basil was a perfect
combo- although I must admit the mussels the week before at Food Wine
& Co were a bit better in quality-here the ingredients and extras
(raviolini & speck) made for a much more different flavor.
We were treated to a fab small bowl of chunky GAZPACHO (had the chef
read Will's recent comment about loving chunky Gazpacho--NO!) loaded
with tasty fresh chunks of cucumber! How superbly refreshing as an
We switched to a wonderful ST INNOCENT "Freedom Hill" Chardonnay 2009
from Oregon that was ideal with our main courses:
Will had the best salmon I have tasted in years-Roasted NORWEGIAN
SALMON with Butter Poached Lobster Agnolotti, English Pea Risotto,
Potato Gnocchi, Lima Beans with a Savory & Lobster Sauce. It was
My Sauteed ALASKAN HALIBUT with Warm Barley Salad, Gigante beans,
Broccoli, Sunflower Seeds, Basil & Lemon, Smoked Tomato Raita, Dill
Sauce and Two amazing fried Olives was another piece of heaven. Fish
is treated like a goddess here.
For dessert Will tried the KEY LIME TART with Moorenko Blackberry Ice
Cream and Blackberry Sauce and I reveled in the gorgeously presented
(on a large marble slab) cheese plate of LATUR, MIDNIGHT MOON GOAT,
BEEMSTER Aged GOUDA (which Sam gobbled up as well) and a tasty yet
mild DUNBARTON Wisconsin Blue.
We grabbed some cupcakes (Red Velvet) to take home at the just
beginning to be created bakery for dining guests and the next evening
I was amazed at these tasty morsels as I am not an icing person. It
was more egg white than butter cream gloppy and I gobbled the whole
thing down in seconds.
A truly wonderful time was had by the three of us, and we are so
thankful to everyone at WILLOW!


Monday, July 25, 2011

Bethesda Restaurant week is better at FOOD WINE & CO (7-24-11)

While officially Bethesda Restaurant week ended last night FOOD WINE & CO (www.foodwineandco.com) at 7272 Wisconsin Ave, NW has extended it through the end of July! The $30 three course menu is quite large with many options for mains from pizza to pasta to sandwiches as well as the standard meats and fish courses.
On arrival we were happy to see complimentary (validated) parking in the garage below and a welcome greeting at the door.
As I jotted about the decor (butcher block tables/lots of comfy booths/high ceilings and windows--adding a bit to the noise factor--but not awful), I told our server Shannon not to worry as I just had a food blog. She said she knew and had googled me up already and read some of my comments! WOW, that shocked me.
We started with a bottle of crisp SANCERRE Reserve Durand 2010 (the wine list is quite huge and diverse and reasonable). After asking, the tasty French bread arrived.
We decided to add on to the menu with a dozen oysters which were all superb East Coast plump and tasty with Blue Point(NY) and Rappahannock and Old Salts(VA) sharing the plate. Next came Will's divine (but a bit smallish on the portion size) TOMATO-WATERMELON GAZPACHO with Ricotta, Cucumber and Olive Oil. It was tasty and tangy (but smooth; Will likes it chunky) and nobody can have enough gazpacho in this heat!
My FRIED ARTICHOKES with Sauce Gribiche (a lemony remoulade with pieces of boiled eggwhites) was much larger and quite filling. They delicate hearts are ever so lightly battered and for this reason are crisp and delightful, not greasy or overbattered at all.
Will went the pizza route with a superb ROASTED MUSHROOM, TRUFFLE OIL, PANCETTA and Mozzarella and I took Shannon's suggestion for the RED CURRY MUSSELS with Toasted Coconut, Lime and Cilantro. This huge portion of plump mollusks is not sweet at all, indeed it has quite a spicy punch and one of the best sauces around town I have had. We switched to an Austrian ZWIEGELT from SATTLER 2007 in Burgenland that was perfect with the spice in the mussels and the pizza as well.

Thinking of the menu we decided this was a great place for kids, although on a Sunday evening it was completely devoid of any children!
We chose our desserts based on Shannon's suggestion. Will went with her #1 choice-PANNA COTTA with Strawberry, Guava, Basil, Kaffir Lime Marshmallow and he got the better. The BLACKBERRY CROSTATA with Lemon Syrup, Candied Ginger and Oatmeal Creme came to the table hot, but the crostata pastry itself was a bit dry and badly needed the sauce and cream to moisten it a bit. Otherwise it was a nice dish, I just left some of the pastry.

We enjoyed our meal deal and know that FOOD WINE & CO is a great place to go....

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Southwest's STATION 4 is a new stop in DC (7-23-11)

Samuel and I attended a matinee of Oklahoma (not to be missed) at Arena Stage yesterday and had the pleasure of dining out with both female leads afterwards. As they were between shows, they suggested a new spot just a block away at 1101 4th St, SW in what used to be the Waterside Mall and has now been redeveloped.
STATION 4 (www.station4dc.com) is a beautiful, classy, chic and yes, trendy spot with a varied menu, nice drink list (vodka from Maryland!) and an exciting wine list too.
The manager, Antonio, kept checking to see if everything was okay and the staff is quite attentive (for some, they might be a bit over attentive). As soon as Samuel saw the pizza choices, there was no hoping he would go for the Duck Confit Spring Roll, so I agreed to the MARGHERITA which came with fresh basil and beautiful confit cherry tomatoes (that means peeled and cooked to perfection). He was happy with his Shirley Temple and we ordered (well, the ladies did not drink) a bottle of Feudi di San Gregorio RUBRATO AGLIANICO 2007 which was a perfect red for a hot (am I understating-BLOODY HOT) day as we had ordered heavier meat courses. It had some nice body but was not overpowering or overly tannic. My friend ordered the SPICY PEPPERONI PIZZA and the wine was perfect with this as well as my BEEF SHORT RIB PAPPARDELLE with comes with Caramelized Shallots, Sweet Peas and a Black Truffle Essence. The toasted baguette on the side is a bit redundant with all that pasta! Speaking of bread, they serve tasty crunchy breadsticks which have olive tapenade baked onto them for extra yummy flavor. One of our guests also adored the Pappardelle and the other the CORVINA FISH Special which came with a divine green sauce that made this fish such a big hit we suggested it get on the daily menu! The veggie sides are nice too with tender buttery ASAPARAGUS and BRUSSELS SPROUTS with bacon served in a mini-cast iron pot.
The portions are large, so we were happy not to have an appetizer and were too full for dessert!
If you are headed to Arena, this is a great spot before or after as they are even open until midnight or later (now that's a treat in this neighborhood), but consider the short drive from almost anywhere in DC worth the trip!

We always want what's at (and wont for) WILLOW(Arlington,VA)-7/22/11

We were at the opening of WILLOW (www.willowva.com) almost six years
ago celebrating the wedding of Chef Tracy O'Grady to Chef Brian
Wolken. We were so excited when they joined forced with Chef Kate
Jansen, and now they can boast one of the most successful and truly
best fine dining spots in Virginia.
When I say fine, I must note, that last Friday (in the 100+ heat)
folks were in shorts and loose dresses, and the formality is really
not what counts here. The decor is always nice, but the highlight is
the excellent service and the food. Parking is $2.50 in the lot below
(where can you get that these days?--I actually noticed one valet sign
in DC last week that said $10 prior to 10pm, and $20 after 10pm!!).

I have to admit that we had planned a light dinner before heading to
Wolf Trap (yes, crazy us in the heat), but it turned into a gourmet
treat as Tracy wanted to thank us and congratulate us on our recent
marriage. We were overwhelmed and yes, every bite was indeed
scrumptious; perhaps even moreso.

We ordered a bottle of the VERITAS VIOGNIER 2010 from Monticello,
Virginia which our server Russell said was super creamy and perfect
with our main course choices. We had both ordered the Soft Shell
Crabs, but I run ahead and digress...
The rolls and biscuits were nice, but it was the plate of CHEESE
GOUGERES piping hot with Black Truffle Butter Sauce that had us in
heaven. The sauce is not buttery as it sounds, but more of a mushroom
dipping sauce for a hint of earthy flavor.
I started with the TOMATO, ALMOND and BASIL GAZPACHO with Avocado
Mousse and Fried Yucca. It was the perfect choice for the hottest day
of the year as was Will's magnificent "tower: of Local HEIRLOOM TOMATO
Salad with Creamy Basil Mascarpone Mousse, Balsamic & 20 Year Old
Sherry Vinaigrette. I was worried when I read "mascarpone" but this is
not a rich creamy dressing, just infused with a slight bit of mousse
for body.

You really won't want to miss one of the most amazing dishes in DC,
Gratin, Savory & Sherry Lobster Sauce. You all know I am not a fennel
fan, but this may be one of my favorite dishes around town FOREVER!
The pastry (Chef Kate) was amazing as was the ravioli and it was
decorated with limas, corn shoots and two gastrique-like slivers of
sauce. WOW!

The Crispy TEMPURA FRIED SOFT SHELL CRAB with Corn Pancake, English
Peas, Fresh & Roasted Corn, Snap Peas, (Watermelon) Radish and Corn
Shoots was a to-die for version of my favorite summer food. Even the
tastiest ASPARAGUS were on the side (not on the menu). The sauce was
light and flavorful, and while I do always prefer my softshells
sauteed, this is one of the best fried versions ever. The watermelon
radish ( a truly gorgeous veggie) is julienned and cooked so that it
is SOOOOOOOOO sweet. Russell was also right on with the wine as it
paired perfectly with both the lobster and the crab. A creamy treat
that Virginia wines don't always boast.
Will chose the PASSION FRUIT CHEESECAKE with Berries and Passion Fruit
Sauce for dessert and I went for the COOKIES & ICE CREAM plate, simply
because the desserts here (thanks to Chef Kate) are truly some of the
best in town. While the cheesecake was divine, I was happy with the
"lighter" (I am laughing as I write this) choice. A huge cup of
Blackberry Ice Cream came with Blackberry Sauce and there were
miniature cookies that would have delighted anyone:
Presidential Sweets are chocolate chip dusted with powdered sugar (a
bit sweet for me)
Bitter Chocolate Cookies really should just be called dark as they are
not bitter at all
Oatmeal sports dried cherries and small chocolate covered Rice
Krispies, which are superb
Don't miss the amazing macaroons (that put the ones we had in Belgium
and London recently to shame)
There is a simple sugar cookie too, but my fave is the NUTTER BUTTER,
a peanut butter cookie sandwich with creamy rich PB in the middle.
An insider note is that these treats, the cupcakes and more will soon
be available at a small "secret" bakery stand at Willow!! I dare you
to resist.

Samuel loves going to Willow and we promised Chef Tracy that we would
return soon with him as he adores their flatbreads and oh so much
more; so we need to go back REAL SOON!


Monday, July 11, 2011

the last London lunch- GastroPub grub with Tapas at the Norolk Arms (7-7-11)

As I readied to return to the US, we met Will's family near King's Cross Station at one of London's most adorable new "gastro" pubs specializing in tapas. The Norfolk Arms is a pubby as it gets, but the food her has gone gastro (http://www.norfolkarms.co.uk). It was very hard to decide what to choose as we had a huge breakfast, but there were SO many choices. Samuel, alas, after the previous night's Michelin outing wanted only CHIPS or CRISPS. He barely touched the superbly seasoned PATATAS ALINADAS, although he did eat much of a plate of MANCHEGO Cheese drizzled with olive oil. The plates here run from about 2-9 pounds and the servings are much larger than we get at home.
There were superbly cream TARAMOSALATA served with tasty fresh pitta (they spell it with two "t"s in the UK and pronounce it with a short "i" like pit-uh) and tasty BABAGANOUSH. The ARTICHOKE HEARTS were cooked just right, seasoned just right and had a small tang too. The BOQUERONES were perfectly boned and marinated anchovies-almost a dozen of them!
At 3.50 (that's $5.65US today) the Scotch eggs are one of the best deals as they serve THREE monstrous egg halves coated and breaded and drizzled with whole grain mustard. YUM-the perfect English dish to say cheerio to the UK with.
They have a large beer menu and many wines as well. I had a glass of EL MURO BLANCO Macabeo which was most refreshing as the temperatures dropped and the rain plummeted. It was our first really cold and wet day on the entire trip. Little did I know that in 11 hours I would be in 95 degree DC!
Welcome home!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

London's The LEDBURY is as luscious as ever-Samuel's first Michelin meal!(7-6-11)

After my two previous visits to The Ledbury (www.theledbury.com) near
Notting Hill Gate and Portobello Road back in 2009 (when it had only
one Michelin star) and again last summer (just after it earned it's
second star), I had to return and this time was so happy that Will
would be in London with me to experience what I feel is the best food
in the UK, and indeed some of the best cooking in the world. We
thought about hiring a sitter for Samuel in the hotel, but the rates
that hotels charge is highway robbery, especially if it runs after
11pm, so we decided to bring Samuel with us as it would be cheaper. I
contacted the restaurant in advance and chef BRETT GRAHAM, whop said
he would be thrilled to "adjust" and create a children's tasting menu
for Samuel.

While the adult tasting menu is now priced at 95 pounds (just over
$150 at today's exchange) and is a steal at a two-star establishment,
Samuel was charged about 49 pounds, which was indeed, less than the
babysitter! We opted for the included wines bringing the total to
145pounds. A 12.5% service charge/gratuity is added but is optional,
and the staff here deserves much more anyway. So the adult bill per
person with wines and fees ends up at about $260 each (no including
the cheese course). I doubt anywhere else in the UK or Europe you
could eat (including wines) over 8 courses for this price. I have
always admired the staff, chef and indeed everyone at The Ledbury for
making each diner feel comfortable; there is no snootiness at all like
some other haute cuisine spots.

We started with Bereche et Fils Champagne which Ian, the sommelier
poured generously into the Riedel stemware. He took over from the last
sommelier (the adorable Johann) just after my visit last year. It
seems there is a major turnover in much of the staff here each year,
but Stephen the manager is still in charge and handles every need with
great panache.
Samuel was treated to a totally new drink when we asked for the
sommelier's version of a Shirley Temple (hew new favorite drink on the
cruise). A blue drink came made from some fizzy soda like Sprite mixed
with Elderflower juice; he was in heaven. The Amuse was a FOIE GRAS
Parfait topped with Gooseberry Puree in a small crunchy cone-like
holder. While we loved the "melt-in-your-mouth" feel and the crunch,
Samuel did take a small bite and left the rest. We began to worry that
this experiment was going to go sour.

Amuse number 2 (Samuel refused this one totally, but in a very adult
manner) was a medium-cooked QUAIL EGG topped with KATAFI (shredded
Turkish) pastry with Pea Puree, Bacon Bits and Cornflowers. I saw new
elements creeping into the chef's repertoire and was very excited
about what would come as this dish was a huge hit; even Will had
already begun to marvel.

The Ledbury is not a big place; I counted the tables and they don't
number more than 20. Most tables have two people, although there were
singles (a very nice man next to us from Florida), quads and one or
two larger groups. It is not noisy and the tables are comfortably
spaced. The decor is the same and you can tell after 3 times that the
goal here is to DINE and not be wowed by ostentatious chandeliers or

The first bread arrived in a loaf and was a spelt-sourdough which was
simple tasty and great for mopping things up later. In the past there
were many breads with lots of flavors and I worried that they had
dropped these, but within seconds two of the traditional's came - the
Bacon & Onion Rolls that look like Cinnamon Rolls, but are much
better, and small tower-like Crystallized Malt Muffins which Sam kept
asking for more of. I was suprised he did not like the Bacon & Onion
as he adores bacon so much.

The first course of the menu was a SALAD of HERITAGE (Heirloom)
TOMATOES with Dried Olives and Herbs for all three of us. One small
cherry tomato had its skin peeled back and somehow crunchified and
Chef's signature jelly pearls were in evidence as well. Samuel thought
it was salmon caviar, which he discovered in Norway on the cruise, but
was a bit upset it was not very salty. We all gobbled up the
magnificent tomatoes which were decorated with wildflowers as well.
All our plates had a FOIE GRAS pastry (akin to a Pepperidge Farm
pirouette cookie) and Samuel ate his without a blink. Ours was stuffed
with Goat Cheese making for a creamy divine and crunchy mix. The wine
was a 2009 KERNER from Manni Nossing in Alto Adige, Italy. Ian talked
about the Kerner and was surprised we had it in Belgium blended with
Chardonnay. It was a perfect pairing as he complained it is so hard to
pair wines with salads with vinaigrette; indeed each wine was the
ideal companion to the food.

FLAME GRILLED MACKEREL with Avocado, Celtic Mustard & Shiso was very
similar to last year's menu but no less enjoyable. It was decorated
with corn shoots, corn flowers and crispy onions and accompanied by
Pickled Cucumber disc as well as a small cylindric parcel of thin-
sheer cucumber wrapped around a tartare of mackerel. I saved this for
last and savored it well as it was the new part of the dish for me.
The wine was a 2009 RIESLING Spatlese Trocken QmP from OREA called
"AR." I am often not a German Riesling fan, but this Saar Valley wine
was afull of fruit and totally dry; a delight with the intense

The next course was for all of us and Samuel savored the CRISP GUINEA
FOWL but did not care for the "Risotto" of New Potatoes, Morels and
Summer Truffle. Despite his discovery of mushrooms the previous week,
he would not taste the morel either, so I quickly grabbed it off his
plate before he could change his mind. Of course we loved the entire
dish and the Domaine Olivier Pithon 2009 Vin de Pays des Cotes
Catalanes, Cuvee Lais (it is the name of the winemaker's Jersey plough
cow). Samuel was rewarded for devouring his second big course with
another specialty drink-this time a lemon-lime fizz (think Pimm's fizz
without the alcohol).
All the drinking (oh, I forgot the fabulous Speyside Glenlivet
Sparkling water) makes needs for trips downstairs to the loo, which is
simple, but elegant (AND always clean). Catherine should note that our
napkins were folded beautifully immediately after we left the table
(and yes, they were laid in our laps on arrival!).

Number 4 was a poached WILD SALMON with Watercress Puree, Cauliflower
with Romanescu sauce and Potted Shrimp butter. The shrimp were the
gray ones we had so many of in Belgium and had come to love their
sweetness. the dish itself offered up a just past rare piece of fish
that again melted in your mouth. It was fun to use the mild puree or
the slightly spicy sauce alternately. 2008 A.A. Badenhorst Family
Wines from South Africa was a blend of Chenin Blanc/Grenache Blanc/
Rousanne/Viognier/Verdelho and Chardonnay that would win ANYONE over
(I already have an inquiry in to see if it's available in the USA).
Samuel had a simple bowtie pasta course with broccoli (we had told the
chef he eats these) and smothered it with freshly grated parmesan; it
was gone in minutes.

Next came the PORK JOWL roasted with Spices, a carrot puree and
chicory reduction. The hit here was the crunchy skin atop the lean
meat paired sensationally with a 2006 NEBBIOLO d'ALBA "Valmaggiore"
from Luciano Sandrone in Piemonte, Italy (I am also trying to get this
one in the USA), a true 3star wine in the line up.

We asked for a nice rest (the entire meal took well over 4 hours) and
Samuel did so as well reading his new book from the Science Museum
called WOW EARTH. We had decided not to allow the DS, phones or
electronics at the table, and this new book was just the right thing
to keep his mind going and get him involved in the conversation and
showing us things.

The second meat course for us was LOIN & SHOULDER of LAMB with an
AUBERGINE Glazed with Black Sugar and Garlic & Miso. A spinach-spice
puree was on the side of the Crispy shoulder piece as well, as we
marveled at the amazing eggplant portion; I was in love with eggplant
and now must have it this way all the time! Our wine was a 2008 Vin de
Pays du Var "Les Aureliens" from Domaine de Triennes in Provence. The
cabernet/syrah blend was again an amazing touch to the tastes of the
plate which were so multi-leveled.
Samuel enjoyed a plate of BEEF SHORT RIBS with Crispy Potatoes and
shoots. We were so proud of him trying so many things, even if he
didn't finish them.

The cheese trolley arrived and we both knew this was going to be
special. We each chose five accompanied by biscuits, flatbread and
Will had the MONTGOMERY's 12 month CHEDDAR that was a bit dry, a
Corsican BRIN d'AMOUR, Poitiers CHAHICHOU (sp?) a hard cheese that
just needed something, a magnificent BANON Provence goat wrapped in
Chestnut leaves and the PERSIL de MARE Goat blue that was also a star.
My plate had a Valencay goat FOUILLIEU(sp?) de CHEVRE, L'AMI de
CHAMBERTIN, a gorgeous English WIGMORE (akin to camembert) and
STINKING BISHOP from Gloucester that everyone at the table could smell
and I adored as I chased it across the plate. Stephen (like the chef
is from Australia-Melbourne) was a great help in picking the cheeses
as there are so many. Samuel enjoyed a small plate of 5 year old
GOUDA, as he adores the intense hard cheese and those little crunchies
inside. He was a big fan of the Oude Brugge, a similar cheese made in
Bruges. Stephen asked us if we wished for port or wine or what and I
opted for a BLANDY's Malmsey 15 year old Madeira while will had
another glass of the AA Badenhorst white wine which we so adored.
Samuel was now up to his third cocktail concoction and was in awe of
his Virgin Vanilla Mojito.

The pre-dessert was EWE's MILK YOGURT with Strawberry Sorbet and
Strawberries and then the adults moved on to the Warm MANGO TART with
Elderflower Wine Ice Cream accompanied by a glass of 2005 CHATEAU
LAFAURIE-PEYRAGUEY 1er Cru Classe, SAUTERNES which was nice but a bit
high in acidity due to its youth. I have some of the 2003 vintage in
our cellar and plan not to touch it until it is at least 10-15 years
Samuel has taken to the chocolate brownie desserts lately and he was
presented with a Fudgey CHOCOLATE CAKE with BANANA Ice Cream. As kids
are wont to, Samuel goes in and out of food phases. He stopped eating
bananas about two years ago, but said the ice cream was different. I
won't argue.

We added all of Sam's courses and they came to 7...ours something like
11. Stephen packed up our mignardises (fruit jellies, chocolates and
cookies) which we enjoyed the next day as a reminder of what will go
down in history as one of our greatest meals as a family.