Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Georgetown's LA CHAUMIERE is surer than ever (5-17-11)

Last night a number of us from work were treated to dinner in Georgetown at the quaint and adorable LA CHAUMIERE ( at 2813 M Street, NW) by our lovely and charming Fairmont/Raffles/Swissotel rep. We all had superb food, wine and chat as well, making for a rare fine dining experience in Georgetown these days.
I actually know how hard dining is in the are, so I arrived 20 minutes early to seek a space without a meter (the $2/hr rates in now insane!) and almost 1/8 of the space where parking is free along 29th Street were empty! How rare is that? making my experience in the normally noisy, crowded and overpriced Georgetown a dream to start.

I ordered a bottle of slightly citrus-y DORUHIN 2009 SAINT VERAN which was perfectly refreshing and went perfectly with the BAKED OYSTERS "CHAUMIERE" that many of us ordered. They are plump Long Island Creek oysters baked with a hint of ginger and topped with spinach and crumbled hazelnuts. It's much lighter than a "Rockefeller" type with cheese and bacon and is a really wonderful starter that isn't quite as rich as some of the usual French dishes can be. Of course those that chose pate and foie gras were quite happy as well!
La Chaumiere has a large and varied menu and is known for it's nightly specials (in the winter on Thursday the cassoulet is a must!) so there is something for everyone. A Dover sole was simple and cooked perfectly while the RIS DE VEAU (sweetbreads) came in a huge portion (most dishes do here, although they are quite reasonably priced compared to the neighborhood) and were cooked divinely and cut like butter (say it with that Streisand accent!). While I did not taste the duck, it too seemed to be a hit.
The majority of the table went with my lead as we have just entered the SOFT SHELL CRAB season and here they are pan sauteed with fine herbs, shallots and a tasty lemon butter. The early ones this season were huge and the again the portion quite large with some simple veggies and mashed potatoes topped with two towering latticed potato crisps. I was in heaven!

We were full but some had sorbet or Creme Brulee and some agreed to share a small cheese plate. It is, of course, all French and quite a good selection:
creamy Camembert, a firm Petit Basque, a creamy/yet crumbly goat (called Valenque?) and a rich divine Saint Andre. They came with a tasty apple compote and walnuts.
Our server Ramon handled the 7 of us quite well, although I did have to get up and pour the wine once.

It was a delightful evening and although I had lunched earlier this year there, I really had forgotten how superb the food is.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Top Chefs toque it out for us-CARLA HALL & ROCK HARPER

Over the years we have always enjoyed Top Chef and some of the other food shows, but they are really great when you know the contestants! DC has sent many of its star and non-star chefs to the Food Network or other and they have returned triumphant.
Chef "Rock" Rahman Harper (ex of B. Smith's) was the first winner of Hells' Kitchen and our dear Carla Hall has gotten to the finals of Top Chef twice now!
Over the weekend, the two joined forces for a charity dinner and we had one of the best nights ever.
Their food and our (those of us attending) wines made for a spectacular event starting with Moet et Chandon White Star Champagne and moving to Pol Roget 1990 Champagne "Cuvee Sir Winston Churchill." Lobster tails and shrimp on skewers all poached to perfection with Kumamoto Oysters graced the seafood snack table and there was a Charcuterie heaven with Torchon of Foie Gras (with pear compote), Duck Rilettes, Prosciutto, Dried meats, gherkins, pickled onions and all kinds of tasty condiments.
We knew what was coming so we had to be careful.
CHANTERELLE SOUP with BLACK TRUFFLES, chervil and chive started us and it paired ingeniously with a minerally intense MONTAGNY 1er Cru 2004 "Le Vieux Chateau"
ASPARAGUS SALAD was taken to new heights by pan roasting them along with diced Golden BEETS, Baby Arugula and SHITAKES with Tarragon-Dill Vinaigrette and a Goat Cheese Boursin on the side. ELK COVE RIESLING 2008 was again a perfect combo.

HEIRLOOM TOMATO SORBET was a perfect palate cleanser with fried basil leaf and a dash of aged balsamic and fruited olive oil. This, the bread and pastries came from the Stratford University's executive pastry chef Charleen Huebner who really did an amazing job as well.

PATX & HALL DUTTON RANCH Chardonnay is creamy and rich and was a dream with large browned SCALLOPS served with Deviled QUAIL EGG. BACON, Field greens with Truffle Vinaigrette and Sweet White Corn Grits in what Chef Rock termed an "ode to country breakfast." It was just that and the adorable little egg along with the grits heightened this dish to 3-star level(that's out of 3 stars!).

PROSICUTTO-wrapped MONKFISH arrived next with Braised Cippolini and Fresh Peas (you Carla loves those peas!) with a divinely refreshing CUCUMBER RISOTTO. We all marveled at the genius of the risotto and this dish being a bit more intense was paired with our first red a NOVY (owned by Siduri) 2001 Page-Nord (Napa) Vineyard SYRAH which was made in volume of 244 cases only!

It's truly DC spring when SOFT SHELL CRABS arrive and our yummy tempura-style ones were in rice flour with tapioca over a succotash-style corn and red pepper salsa. The wine here was FRITZ RUXTON Vineyard Chardonnay 2006 from Russian River Valley, perhaps a bit too light for the salsa, but nice nonetheless.

Poached DUCK BREAST came beautifully sliced with a DUCK CONFIT DISC topped with DUCK CRACKILING that we all oohed and aahed over. A PEAR ONION JAM for the breast was plated with a SHALLOT QUINOA that was again light and refreshing. The BELLE PENTE 2007 PINOT NOIR from Oregon's YAMHILL Valley was another perfection in pairing.

The last meat course was WAGYU FILET with GREEN TOMATO JAM, adorable tasty POMMES FRITES in a cute paper cone with Demi-Glace paired with a superbly drinking 1990 SILVER OAK CABERNET.

Dessert was simple in perfection with a STRAWBERRY/RHUBARD TART with Lime flavored MERINGUE, and a compote of Strawberry, Rhubarb & Basil. 1977 TAYLOR-FLADGATE Vintage POrt arrived with Chocolate Truffles (we took these home) as we rolled out of what had to be one of the greatest chef pairings ever!

Monday, May 09, 2011

I sure would return again to AGAINN-Dc's newest gastropub (5-7-11)

Saturday night Will and I headed to dinner at AGAIN ( at 1099 NY Ave, NW (entrance on 11 St, NW) which is a great place for a drink, bite or full meal. There is outdoor seating for nice days and inside is dominated by a large bar with lots of sports on the TV screens (which at one point was showing a commercial for green tea moisturizer and lots of dry skin--not too appetizing for a restaurant!). The decor is simple and bare with lots of wood tables, booths and chairs which are comfy, but not cushioned. The hard floors do make for some noise, but the levels are not unbearable, although it was only about 75% full on Saturday night.
AGAINN is Gaelic meaning "with us," "at us," or "are you going?" and they are careful to pronounce it with the very guttural "g" which sounds nothing like our word "again."
We perused the menu which is not huge and has many options. We started with a selection of a dozen oysters split between Blue Point and Malpeque, the former being huge and juicy, and the latter a bit more tasty...gobbled up and gone in seconds. Our white wine was a Loire Sauvignon Blanc "Cheverny" 2009 from Domaine du Salvard showing some mineral tones, but having a great french Sauvignon flavor of light citrus; perfect with the bivalves.
Our server Scott was super friendly and helpful with the menu and specials and another server, Siobhan helped as well and always had a smile. We did sadly have to pour the wine ourselves at least twice.
Will's starter was the Warm ASAPARGUS with Smoked Hen Egg (aren't all chicken eggs from hens?) and Guanciale Dressing. It was a large plate of huge spears and the dressing had chunks of tasty seared pork cheeks (guanciale). My CORNED BEEF TOUNGUE came with Arugula over Confit POTATOES with a tasty green sauce (a bit spicier than the traditional British, but superb). If I had not had the oysters, I would have loved several more slices of the tasty bovine which was lean and yummy.
We switched to a superb red DOMAINE SAINTE-EUGENIE La Reserve 2008 (Corbieres) and I am going to search this one out as it was velvety, medium to full bodied and a hit with us from the first sip.
Will went English with the SHEPHERD's PIE made with Shenandoah Valley VA. lamb), Scallions, mashed potatoes and they even honored his request to melt some fresh cheddar on top. It was perfectly made and truly superb in every bite. I tried the special SLOW BRAISED VEAL BREAST which was Cider Glazed and served with mustard SPAETZLE, Scallions and Green Garlic. the breast came out with a BBQ-style glazed crunchy skin and was as juicy as could be, not a dry bite (save for the skin). The spaetzle were an added treat and I have to say it was one of the best veal preparations I have had in a while.
We decided to split a dessert and chose the BANOFFEE PIE. We have both visited the home of Banoffee Pie in England, but Scott warned us this was a deconstructed version and served in a Mason jar. Banana, Caramelized Milk was over a Graham Biscuit with Chocolate Ganache and topped with Whipped Cream and the entire dish was indeed well "de" constructed. I normally don't care for whipped cream, but this was really good.
We went home full and happy knowing we would return AGAINN and AGAINN.

Friday, May 06, 2011

U Street's ULAH BISTRO - boisterous but not unsuccessful (5-5-11)

Last night we happened upon ULAH Bistro ( at 1214 U Street, NW and managed to snag a rear corner (quieter than most) table in the jammed restaurant/bar. It's a noisy happy hour scene at the bar which stretches the length of the cramped room with hard wooden chairs and banquettes, but I have to give credit to the food as it is most tasty.
Our server May had some trouble getting me a taste of one of the wines served by the glass, and then when we opted for the bottle of Cuvee Marine, Haut Marin 2010 from Cotes de Gascogne, she had to place it in a large chiller for 5 minutes before it was cold enough to serve. This was odd, as the wine list is not huge and I could not understand why they don't have space to chill the whites. It was a refreshing crisp white with some floral tones and would go well with anything including some of the spicier dishes (Ulah having some Cajun roots, I assume).
Pizza is a big item here and they are large ones for individual portions. Samuel finished off half of his Margharita with chunks of tomato and fresh basil and loved it along with his Shirley Temple.
I started with a huge (understatement) bowl of the STEAMED MUSSELS in Garlic & White Wine which come covered with four pieces of cooked pizza dough slices turned downward to keep the mussels warm. This works and is great for mopping as the bread is softish and doughy and reminded me of pizza-slice shaped pita. Will's AHI TUNA TARTARE with Asian Seaweed, Orange Sesame Dressing & Wasabi was fairly mild, and while tasty, fairly unexciting.
He went on to a "design your own" pizza which are $10 and the toppings are $1.00 each. At $13.00 he loved his Artichoke, Mushroom & Bacon Pizza. I went for the CAJUN FRIED CHICKEN SANDWICH which was a huge sandwich on Mini-Challa with a tasty Mango Salsa. The meat was juicy and tender and crunchy on the edges of each breast piece and the spipces were nicely blackened and flavorful. This came (as many sandwiches do) with their metal container paper coned FRENCH FRIES, which were good, but no revelation. I had to ask for the AIOLI that is supposed to come with it; it was chunky with garlic and quite intense; not bad, just different.
Oddly, our main courses were served before I had finished my mussels and nobody seemed to think this was odd.
With lines at the door waiting for tables, I guess their theory is to move you in and out as fast as they can.
The noise levels are not awful, but this is not a quiet spot; the outdoor area might be better on a warmer evening.
We were so full we couldn't even fathom the thought of dessert.
It was fun to walk around the newly revived U Street Corridor, as we don't often meander streets when we head out for dinner. It was bustling and parking spaces were indeed at a premium, but on a warm night, it's definitely an "in" spot these days!

Sunday, May 01, 2011

it's still all about EVE in Alexandria and it's even better than ever at RESTAURANT EVE (4-30-11)

Last night we returned to what is clearly one of the best places for
fine dining for miles around. Chef Cathal Armstrong and his superb
staff make dining in Eve a truly fabulous experience. The BISTRO
section of EVE (as opposed to the even more-multi-course Tasting Room)
is warm ,pleasant, relatively quiet and calm and exudes fine dining to
a tee. On Saturdays there is now only a 3-course tasting menu in the
bistro for $65 and it is a perfect meal as well. The four of us had
one of the best meals we have ever had in DC and nary a thing went
wrong; okay, I had to pour some red wine once during the evening when
the empty glasses went unnoticed.
We sat down to a bottle of FERRATON Pere et Fils "La Matiniere" 2008
CROZES HERMITAGE and it is a superb white Rhone for the price and goes
with everything.
Our starters were varied and all mouth tingling and exciting:
My TARTARE of Pine Ridge Farm BEEF came with Housemade Rye and was a
divine dish with a pepperiness that I always look for in tartare.
Diced BIGEYE TUNE with Hefeweisen-Orange Broth Spring Flowers and
Coriander is another dish chock full of flavors and taste, while the
CRISPY GOAT PATE with madras Curry Vinaigrette is a novelty in that
the goat is rare amongst pate makers I know and this was prepared in a
disc of meat that is coated and fried to a crisp but not greasy at

Our first red was the yummy LUCIEN MUZARD 2008 Santenay "Champs
Claude" Vielles Vignes which had a wonderfully intense earthiness
rather than tons of the usual Pinot Noir fruit. Had I known we were to
receive a special extra dish, I might have chosen white to go with the
richly divine and tantalizing Butter Poached MAINE LOBSTER with WHITE

We liked the wine so much, we had a second bottle with our main
Filet of Chesapeake RICKFISH with Maine LOBSTER, Virginia ASAPARAGUS,
Bacon & Sauce Soubise was a lighter main course, but superb
nonetheless. BASQUE STYLE SEAFOOD STEW is similar to bouilliabase but
missed that aioli crouton I always adore! It was tasty and the fennel
was mild (the French version often is so intensely anise-flavored I
can't eat it at all) making for a perfect seafood melange.
Roasted BELLY of KUROBUTA PORK with Pickled RAMPS, Salt & Vinegar Pork
Rinds and Poached Morels was a huge portion of free of fat and
perfecly cooked, altough I must admit I have never been a huge fan of
and Braised MUSTARD GREENS was one of my favorite plates of all times.
Simply cooked glands were gorgeous at every bite and the
accompaniments were varied and fun making each taste a bit different
as well. The pierogies were potato filled and creamy pasta pillows and
the kielbasa added a bite here and there. I even adored the greens.
A side dish of SUNCHOKES with Caramelized Onions is one to go for if
you feel like extra veggies. They are tender and tasty and the onions
cooked just so sweet.

As we relaxed and finished our second bottle of Pinot, Chrissy our
sommelieuse suggested we all do the cheese course as we wanted to
taste so many of the wonderful cheeses. She split 3 cheeses to each
plate and then we passed them around the table four times after
dividing each cheese in 4 smaller portions. In all, we were able to
taste 12 cheeses and it was a treat. they were accompanied by a fruit/
nut bread and regular bread--oh I forgot to mention the warm bread
that arrived at the beginning had us begging for more (even the
butter, I am sure it's Irish, is the best)--and a compote of apricot &
Plate 1-
Mileen's Washed Rind (Cork Ireland)
Gubbeen, a hard cow also from Cork
& Cashel Blue (Tipperary)) made up the Irish plate.
I was not thrilled with the Gubben, but the Cashel was divine.

Plate 2-
Pleasant Ridge Reserve from Uplands Cheese in Dodgeville, WI is an
intense mushroomy cheddar-like cheese that comes from jersey cows that
feed on wildflowers
La Mancha-a manchego-style sharp sheep is from Locust Grove Farm in
Knoxville, TENN
& Point Reyes Blue is from that town in California and is one of the
punchiest blues around.

Plate 3-
Petit Frere is another wash rind earthy cow from Crave Bros in
Waterloo, WI
Mountaineer from Meadow Creek Dairy in Galax, VA was my least favorite
& Julianna is a goat wrapped in herbs de provence from Capriole in
Greenville, IN
whcih got high marks from everyone and could have been the all time

Plate 4-was the overall top plate combo for me
Durrus from west Cork, Ireland was a superb cheese I had never had
Old Kentucky Tomme-also from Capriole was a gorgeous goat as well
& Demi-Sec frpom Pipe Dreams in Greencastle, Pa is another great goat
with great intensity

When they came back I had pocketed the menu and said it was all so
good, I ate the menu.
These were enjoyed with a bottle of PESQUERA 2007 TINTO, a Tempranillo
from Ribera del Duero that worked perfectly with the cheeses across
the board.

Desserts were calling and we chose two to split, but first GM/
Sommelier Todd Thrasher delivered some specialty drinks that he has
become quite famous for. Will gulped down his GIN & TONIC and the
other was (bad notes) St. PATRICK's (something) and Kevin decalred it
an Irish sensation.
The desserts were a tasty, but not too thrilling LEMON-PISTACHIO ICE
all loved. Before we could blink, two extra dessert arrived in the
form of the "Birthday Cake...just because." a mini-pink cake with
icing that would delight for any celebration, but the clear winner was
the CHOCOLATE & PEANUT BUTTER Mousse Layer Cake with Peanut brittle
and Candied Peanuts. Now remember, that Will detests peanut butter in
any form or phase, and decalred this dessert a winner in his book. We
may yet have a convert!

Whatever the case, we all have been converted to follow the cooking
genius of Chef Cathal Armstrong and promise not to wonder so long
aimlessly again without returning to EVE!