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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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.