Monday, April 25, 2011

DINO's does PASSOVER near perfect (4-24-11)

Each year a couple of places in town offer Passover "Style" menus, and while none of these are truly kosher, DINO's gets it pretty good( Just across from the Uptown theater, with indoor and outdoor seating, Chef/Owner Dean Gold melds Jewish and Italian cooking wonderfully for some truly great dishes.
While this special is now over, the $55 per person ($25 for kids) is literally a full seder meal with everything served family style so you don't have to choose between the items as well (although you can ask for more of something and less of another, etc).
Venetian, Egyptian and Ella's (Ashkenazi style) Harosets clearly show the difference between the tasty date inclusive of the first two and the traditional Ella's (Dean's mom) which sadly falls flat in comparison. Plenty of Aviv Matza is served and it tastes even better according to Samuel with olive oil and the coarse sea salt on the bowl at each table. I tasted the White Horseradish and deemed it the best ever. It was so fresh, it had to be with a great vinegary lemony taste. It was GOLD's! It was divine on the superb tasting JACK's FISH MARKET GEFILTE FISH which Dean prepares by hand each year from a recipe he got in Chicago. The SPRING SALAD has Zach's "bitter" and spicy greens from Virginia with lemon and old balsamico dressing that is superb on this tasty salad. We started to take down the dressing recipe, then gave up as it seemed just too much work!
Dean's "Better than Ella's" CHOPPED CHICKEN LIVER was a big hit with me, but the rest of the table was not wolfing it down, maybe it's cultural or an adult thing (we were three adults and two boys).
next came a peppery CHICKEN SOUP loaded with greens and Dean's "Better than Ella's" Duck Schmaltz MATZO BALLS. The balls disappeared as fast you could say "dayenu" and I really though the kids were going to ask for more. While the adults liked the soup as well, the peppery taste was a bit too much for the kids....more for us.
The main courses were
MANZO al VINO ROSSO-a slow cooked brisket with red wine, which was good, tender, but some pieces were a bit dryish
POLLO alla CACCIATORE-a traditional as it gets Chicken braised in tomato, wine and mushrooms
and the most delicious
HALIBUT AL MOSAICA-a wild Alaskan Halibut cooked perfectly with tomato, garlic, parsley, spices in the traditional Jewish tradition of Livorno.
There were sides too:
a tasty MATZO FARFEL which did not suffer from gumminess at all,
yummy al dente TZIMMES, which also often suffers from such overcooking it is mush.

Dean said he offered kosher wines one year and nobody wanted them. We gave in and ordered a bottle of "LE PUPILE" Traminer/Sauvignon Blanc 2009 from MAREMMA "Poggio Argentato" that we all loved as it was crispy and dry but full of flavor. Our red was a divine Occhipiniti NERO d'AVOLA "Siccagno" 2007 from Sicily that Dean described and lush and spicy like Sophia Loren. It was indeed just that.
It's asparagus season and the boys got some gorgeous fresh ones and Dino's even has WILD ASPARAGUS on their menus now!

There are also Passover desserts:
A TORETA di RE-dense, gooey almond cake with barberries
TORTA di CIOCOLATO-a flourless chocolate cake
and of course I always go for the cheese.
Last night I chose
GUFFANTI ROBIOLA Invecchiato in Foglia di Castagne- a cow cheese from Cuneo wrapped in chestnut leaves
GUFFANTI ERBORINATO di PECORA from Val Pusteria- ahoney drizzled sheep that is blue and peppery and intense and I ADORED despite its amazing intensity

Our friends had never been to Dino's before and could not wait to return AFTER Passover for the real menu of pasta and more...and us too!

Monday, April 18, 2011

M Street Bar & Grill makes M Street pretty good (4-16-11)

Last month we purchased a meal for 4 at an auction for the M Street
Bar & Grill in the St. Greogory Hotel (at the corner of New Hampshire
Ave & 21 St, NW) ( and had quite a
surprisingly good meal there. Chef Edgar Melendez does well with a
basic hotel menu but ups the ante a notch or two with quality food for
a very good price to boot. You can eat any main course in the $20's
here and the wiens are the same or a bit more if you choose. We liked
the Penfold's Rawson's Retreat Merlot '08 as well as the Paul Dolan
2006 Zinfandel made from a blend of Mendocino(63%) and Amador
County(37%) grapes.
A nice crunchy amuse of two large plump coconut crusted shrimp arrived
and we gobbled them up quickly.
The starters were CHICKEN & TORILLA SOUP with Pico de Gallo and the
House made EMPANADAS with Guacomole and jalapenos. Neither was very
spicy (again, this is a hotel) and the one issue we had was that the
food was not piping hot; it was about lukewarm to low hot.
The main courses were impressive dishes of PAN SEARED SALMON with
MUSHROOM DUXELLES, Chorizo Mac & Cheese Spatzle, Garlic Cream Sauce
and Crispy Leeks. The salmon had a tasty crust as well and wowed us
all. The Mac & Cheese Spaetzle also came as a side dish and it has to
be one of the best versions of MAC & CHEESE anywhere!
The NY Steak is a Grilled 10oz Angus Steak with Garlic Mashed
Potatoes, Grilled Asparagus and finished with Sauce Mornay- a true
delight. If you want the steak sliced and spicy go for the M Street
Steak Inferno
Pan Seared Center Cut Sirloin Steak, over Bacon- Potato Hash, Wilted
Topped with Cognac Cream Sauce and can be served “au poivre” which
makes for a superb tasty dish and a great juicy steak.
Desserts were SEASONAL BERRY CREPES with Creme Anglaise (which turned
out to be whipped cream) and a tasty (we were told) BANANA FRITTERS a
la Mode with Caramel Sauce.
All in all the service was quite good; we had to pour our wine once or
twice, and the food quality and reasonable.
I can't say that it is a revelation, but it is a good pacle to dine
for sure!


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Rosslyn's CHINA GARDEN is a steal and a deal and good, too! (4-10-11)

We decided to make it an Asian weekend taking out our house guest who was starring in the UrbanArias Festival at the Artisphere in Rosslyn (Arlington, VA). We headed right across the street to CHINA GARDEN RESTAURANT ( at 1100 Wilson Blvd on the mezzanine level (validated parking available)
and we were totally taken by the meal and the deal.
We had ordered take out before from China Garden ages ago and it was great, but the last time we did takeout, it was not too good, Perhaps it was the items we chose, perhaps they had a bad night.
We headed up the escalator and saw a huge group of Chinese folk in the main room and it looked like a private party; it was. We were worried they might be closed, but they were taking regular diners in the not too elegant back function room. We heard the goings on for this "Chinese New Year party" in the main room including some truly awful singing, lots of speeches in Chinese and other entertainment; it was indeed, entertaining.
We ordered a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc and were told that it was sold out. The server suggested the Chardonnay, but that was only available by the split (Vendange, like they serve on planes) which was totally unacceptable. I asked which whites they had in full bottles and only the Pinot Grigio was still in stock, so we asked for the Merlot.
She tried to give us Cabernet and then said the Merlot (Glass Mountain or such) was $5 more--so $25.00 We were okay with that and it was indeed just about decent, not much more.
The starters we opted for were the FRIED WONTONS, which were crispy and nice, but needed a bit more filling.
The SPRING ROLLS were also crispy (although so hot, I burnt the roof of my mouth) and stuffed full of yummy stuff. We wanted STEAMED VEGETABLE DUMPLINGS, but were told these were also gone, so we switched to tasty CHICKEN DUMPLINGS instead which also came with a thicker than soy dipping sauce that was just perfect.
We did listen to our server and BOY were we glad we did as the three main courses were all top notch dishes, filling with lots of meat and really everyone just perfect.
SINGAPORE CHOW FOON is a noodle dish with curry (she said spicy, but it was very mild) loaded with shrimp, chicken, Chinese veggies and more; we all loved this.
We looked at a Lamb special, but we were steered to the SPICED LAMB with GINGER & SOY which was tender and perfectly seasoned. The hit dish of the evening was the CRISPY TEA SMOKED DUCK with STEAMED BUNS which came with a sauce that was akin to Hoisin and not sweet or plummy (as the Peking Duck sauce is). The duck was perfectly cooked and crispy skin made it a treat. We loaded the simple puffy buns with duck, scallions and sauce and gobbled up the "sandwiches."
As we finished we received the requisite fortune cookies but also a complimentary RED BEAN PUDDING which was like a cross between a pudding and a panna cotta yet made with beans, giving it an odd flavor with a bit of a pasty texture. It was interesting for sure, but I wouldn't order it again.
We really loved everything and would run back to China garden since it's only 5 minutes away!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

T.H.A.I. in Shirlington is a treat-sometimes (4-9-11)

Shirlington (in Arlington) is a great little neighborhood, except when it is jammed on Saturday night. We had theater tickets at the beautiful Signature Theatre complex and headed over to T.H.A.I. in Shirlington (nobody could explain the periods in the name) beforehand.
It seemed to take a while to get noticed, but once we did, all went well. We quaffed a $20-something perfectly ideal for spice or not VIOGNIER from MONT PELLIER 2008 in California that they also serve by the glass.
Appetizers range from a special COCONUT FRIED SHRIMP that is more of a fried shrimp ball than the whole battered shrimp with a nice sweet chili dip to Pan Seared SQUASH POTSTICKERS which sounded so great but were bland in their butternut squash and sweet potato filling and the scallion spicy ginger-soy dip was not spicy at all to the uber SUMMER ROLL, a simple soft rice roll with shrimp and pork loin, veggies and a killer Sweet Peanut-Chili Dip that packed a punch.
Chicken Coconut Soup was nice, but needed a bit more spice or lemongrass as well.
The four of us smartly settled on three main courses:
PENANG PERFECT is a chicken in coconut curry with peanut sauce, basil and kaffir lime leaves and needs lots of rice as it is quite rich, but yummy.
The special Pan Asian SEA BASS with steamed veggies and Jasmine Rice was simply nice
and the CRYING TIGER was a slightly overcooked to medium (and hence dry) flank steak with a great sauce...just ask for it medium rare!
Will saw the BANANA SPLIT BRULEE and I knew it would be a basic sundae with banana, Coconut Ice Cream, Thai Coffee Ice Cream, Strawberry Sorbet, peanuts and Caramel & Chocolate Sauces...what a mess in my mind.
The FLAMBE THAI BANANA is much better and flambeed tableside in Grand Marnier for a show and served with orange peel, toasted coconut, sesame seeds and Chocolate Ice Cream.
If you are in Shirlington, THAI is a decent choice, but anywhere else in Arlington, Falls Church or the area, I think better Thai exists.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

NYC's AMBER ambles and survives (4-2-11)

Amber has several locations in NYC and Saturday night I hit the one on
the Upper West Side at 221 Columbus Ave (@70th St.- in between two wonderful opera performances at
the Met.
On entry I noticed my cellfone was low and I asked at the hostess
stand if they could find an outlet to charge it...they were kind and
offered to watch the phone at the stand and charge it there. I then
hit the nice clean bathrooms and then settled in to see a woman and
her two boys (aged 2 & 4) at the next table chowing down on sushi. I
remarked that perhaps they could come and give our Samuel a lesson on
eating sushi as they were so good at using the kid-friendly chopsticks
(and Sam refuses to touch sushi). There is dining on the glass
enclosed sidewalk section or the more darkened rear dining room
depending on your mood as well.
As soon as I sat two servers came by to ask if I wanted a drink, but I
had not even opened my menu. I decided on what was called a "personal
bottle" of saki. These actually are 250-350ml size bottles and I was
surprised at the low prices all below $20. I chose a smooth medium dry
yet with huge flavors in the mouth Junmai called Hitori Musumi, a
great choice with all my 3 courses.
As I awaited my first course the woman with the two boys was clearly
upset over her quite expensive Omikase platter which she said was
basic sushi and sashimi (it kind of was, but it was very pretty);
nobody seemed to care she was upset. At this point her boys stopped
munching sushi and started to just mess around. One played with wasabi
with his fingers and cried when he rubbed his eyes and then ran around
the restaurant for an hour. OK, maybe I prefer Samuel's behavior when
we dine out to this and he can skip the sushi for now!
My first plate was a MIXED FIELD GREENS with SASHIMI (tuna, salmon and
whitefish) and a Lemongrass White Soy Dressing. The greens were simple
and it needed more dressing especially for the fairly bland sashimi
(now I felt for the lady with the Omikase). It sat in a kind of thin
bowl of rice paper which was stabilized with a glob of wasabi
underneath. I did not know this and broke apart the "bowl" and munched
and then hit a ton of wasabi with some greens!
KUMAMOTO Oysters come in a dozen and are larger here than normal with
a Citrus Dressing and Golden Tobiko Garnish. When they arrived I
noticed that there was no tobiko and so I asked my server who came
back to tell me that a "tobiko Garnish" is pulverized into the citrus
dressing--ok what kind of crap is that? I must, however, say the
oysters were superb and the slightly soy-tasting citrus dressing was
just a dab on each oyster and just right.
PAD THAI with CHICKEN is a super dish here and at $12 or $13 is a
steal for a west side dinner garnished with peanuts, tofu, bean
sprouts and even nicer leafy greens than the salad and a lime wedge.
It was the perfect main course on a not so warm April evening....
I left thinking I might come back and avoid the sushi dishes and stick
with the Asian cooked ones.