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!