Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Tantalizing tasting of wines and "tapas" is delicious at DINO's (1-30-12)

Each year DINO's offers up a number of charity auction items through the generosity of proprietor Dean Gold. Back in 2010, we purchased this tasting of wines with small plates and invited some friends; needless to say we had a fabulous time. They liked it so much, they purchased the item at last November's Signature Chefs benefiting March of Dimes. While this is offered at auctions, you can always contact DINO's and arrange for an event like this privately at any time!
We sat down and immediately started to gobble up the tasty bread as our friendly and attentive server, Jimmy, brought out the first "round" of drinks.
ROYAL RUMBLE SAZERAC is made with a fig-infused liquor called Balcones Rumble along with St. George Absinthe, peach bitters and cinnamon syrup. It's an intense herb-filled experience and oddly, the absinthe's licorice flavor did not bother me (I don't like licorice).
It was served with a drink called OLD MAN and the C (a play on cranberry) concocted from house cranberry & grapefruit infused Plymouth Gin, Pritchard's cranberry Rum, grapefruit juice, house cranberry syrup, fresh ginger, grapefruit and orange bitters. It was a refreshing drink that was fairly sweet and gone quickly; a pleasing aperitif on it's own.
The first two "plates" that arrived soon after were soups: WILD MUSHROOM was divine and made from Hedgehog, Black Trumpet, Yellowfoot Chanterelles and some local green garlic. It had a slight spice punch from soup grape powder! We all raved. The LENTIL SOUP with Cotechino & Very Strong Gorgonzola was not that strong and also quite tasty. It's earthiness worked well with the Royal Rumble as well.

The next round moved onto two slightly sparkling wines:
CALATRONI "Unico Rose" a Pinot Grigio based sparker that was quite fruity.
These light wines worked well with the several dishes that we also gobbled up:
House Spiced ALMONDS
WILD BOAR PATE with Ginger Mostarda and divine Pickled Red Onions
FEGATINI (duck liver spread)
DUCK CRACKLINGS which were huge fitter-like deep fried duck pieces (I managed to get what I thought was a neck, but it turned out to be a duck "tuchus" -that's bum for those who don't understand Yiddish!)
BRUSSELS SPROUTS with PORK BELLY & Old Balsamico was a super preparation as well
but it was the
PUNTARELLA that blew everyone away. A simple "salad," if you will, made from Asparagus Chicory (bulblike greens) with great flavor and an ANCHOVY Dressing.

The next group of wines were both young and oh so different garnering many remarks after Dean's extensive and informative explanation:
MARCARINI d'ALBA 2010 from Piemonte is a very light Nebbiolo that is ready to drink now and
BEGALI "Ripasso" 2009 VALPOLICELLA is a bit heftier and went superbly with the
CANELLONI TWO WAYS--a beef made from Pot Roast and a Wild Mushroom from Hanshimeji, Beach, Trumpet, King Oyster, Shitake & Cremini tubers. The earthiness of the mushrooms really paired with the Nebbiolo.

The final plates for the program were Two Goat cheeses:
Bottera Capra Cremosa with black truffles--YES!!!
and Carr Valley Billy Blue, a crumbly salty lighter blue from Wisconsin
The wines were PORTO del VENTO an earthy red by ISHAC made from Nero d'Avola and
St. Paul's "Gries" 2009 from Alto Adige made from Lagrein grapes.

Some folks still wanted dessert, so an array of various choices followed (I did not taste or keep track), but indulged in two more cheeses!
Capriole "Julianna" goat from Indiana which was nice and LIVELY RUN Goat Dairy "Cayuga Blue" from NY that I adored. Some pickled ginger on the side was an interesting touch, but not my favorite thing with these cheese. there were more of those fab spiced almonds though!

We left knowing that DINO's is always a place to go for fun, great food, amazing wines and more!

Monday, January 30, 2012

don't pass on POSTE! (1-28-12)

As I mentioned just over a week ago, POSTE Moderne Brasserie in the Hotel Monaco in the Penn Quarter was a real treat on Restaurant Week. We had such a good time we returned Saturday night with Samuel and friends after we all took in a matinee of the exhilarating Broadway musical, "Two Gentlemen of Verona" at the Shakespeare Theater.
We ordered a bottle of wine from the bar as we waited for our table (the show was over earlier than we expected) and they were out of the Chinon we chose and brought a better one for the same price. The Cabernet Franc based wine CHINON 'Les Petites Roches" '08 comes from Charles Joguet and is a nice sipping wine with not a lot of body or intensity. At the table, we moved on to a Spanish Granacha 2009 from Ribera del Jiloca called "Xiloca" which was light yet loaded with jam and pepper notes; it was so good, we had two bottles!
Samuel ordered the rib eye with truffle frites and loved it and gobbled down those buttered salted Parker House rolls as well.
Will and I enjoyed a 1/2 dozen tasty Old Salt Oysters with a superb vinaigrette while our friends tasted the Cheese plate.
Starters were a gooey (Comte) cheesy FRENCH ONION SOUP, BEET Mache with Orange Vinaigrette, Pecans and Goat Cheese and my excellent STEAK TARTARE with gaufrettes potato chips (Sam liked these too), black Garlic Aioli and a raw Quail egg atop. It only needed a dash of ground pepper.
Main courses were the tasty TROUT MARGEURY made with fresh N. Carolina trout, shrimp and served in a lemon oyster sauce. The VEAL BLANQUETTE didn't get raves, but I thought it tasted good with braised breast, crispy sweetbreads, creamy Anson Mills polenta, chanterelles, pearl onions and carrot salad. The sauce was heavy, but the chanterelles were a big hit.
My BANGERS were made with Coriander and Orange Roasted Morteau Sausage with a Pomme Puree, Spinach and a Sauce Charcuterie; everyone loved this tasty dish-perfect for a cold winter night (oh--it was in the 50's!).
Our most pleasant server Helene proffered the last wine choice to John (a manager?) who recommended the SAMSARA SYRAH from SANTA RITA Hills 2007 "Ampelos Vineyard" that was heavenly. Again we got a break as the Syrah we were looking at was sold out as well...this can be a good thing! The wine was a big velvety treat.

We knew that our friend Chef Dennis would be away, but the kitchen was in the excellent hands of his next in charge- Chef John- whom we had met years ago at the Morrison Grill in Alexandria and kept the great food coming then as well. He sent out a perfectly balanced small plate of MONOCACY ASH Cheese with sliced HoneyCrisp Apples and Apple Butter that was light and impressive.

Desserts were few as we were full:
CHOCOLATE SALTED CARAMEL TORTE with Coffee Ice Cream is intense, but the salt and caramel really take on the rich dark chocolate. FIGGY PUDDING with Steamed Walnuts, Guinness Ice Cram and Eggnog Sauce seemed to be enjoyed as well.

Don't ever pass on POSTE....it's worth a trip!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

rounding out Restaurant week with a major meal at MASA 14 (1-15-12)

After attending a wonderful performance at the Source Theater with Samuel (a super zarzuela by the In Series) we headed next door to MASA 14 for the last day of the official restaurant week (www.masa14.com) where the special menu of $35.12 includes FOUR courses or tapas.
There were three adults and we ordered up a bottle of MALBEC Valle Perdido 2008 from Patagonia in Argentina which went nice with some of the intense spice in the dishes. Our second wine was a 2209 Mendocino Zinfandel from ARTEZIN which also easily works with the spicy foods here. Samuel enjoyed his two portions of plain flatbread (aka pizza) and we chose 4 courses each with a couple of extra plates (indicated as "extra").
TOM KHA GAI is a coconut milk broth with huge chunks of white meat chicken adobo and Masa dumplings which will warm you up on a cold night for sure. Our server Amy said the Hot & Sour soup is even better, but quite spicy.
MASA CHICKEN SALAD is pulled chicken, cabbage, carrots, piloncillo vinaigrette and crispy noodles. The portions are large for sure, but this is one of the lighter starters.
Second course options chosen included the Country HAM FLATBREAD with Goat Cheese, Cantaloupe, Arugula, Truffle and Lime. The elements combined were a play on prosciutto and melon and the only flaw here is that the flatbread is quite thick and therefore too much. It might fill you up, but crispy is the way to go with flatbread, not thick. The aroma of the truffle was great and I simply gobbled up the toppings leaving much of the bread.
WILD MUSHROOM Flatbread was like the other flatbread but with Oaxaca cheese, red pepper, avocado and lots of earthy tasty mushrooms.
SHRIMP & PORK FRIED RICE is another tasty dish marrying Kim Chee, Chile Guajillo, Carrots, Corn, Scallion, Bean Sprouts and Cilantro in a tru fusion of Asian and Latino cuisine.

Third course choices were an "extra" of SALT & PEPPER CALAMARI which is made with a light 3-pepper flour, ginger, thai basil in a sweet and spicy chili sauce. The dish is superb and the calamari fried to perfection with no gummy coating at all. Do watch out for the lone Thai Chilis on the plate. I popped one into my mouth and regretted it.
PORK BELLY STEAMED BUNS are also large tasty buns with a mound of achiote pork, hoisin, pineapple, red Fresno chili, lime, cilantro and pickled onion. These orders come with two each, so we ordered one "extra" so we could each have our own. It was a nice dish, but won no awards.
The hit dish of the evening was the MOLE DUSTED TENDERLOIN MEDALLIONS which came two huge slices to a tapas plate over Mustard Potato with an Edamame/Pomegranate Chimichurri. The meat was just past rare as requested and as buttery as could be and the sauce was divine.

For dessert we had many choices but there was no agreement to choose THREE different ones. There were two BANANA CAKE with Dulce di Leche Ice Cream & Tequila Bananas Foster Sauce which was quite good save for the chewy slice of banana that was baked(?, fried?) and tasted like shoeleather.
SALTED CARAMEL Chocolate FLAN was nice in that it was really a Homemade S'mores with Spicy Peanuts and a Blood Orange Reduction.
Next time we need to try the Mango Panna Cotta or the Mexican Opera Cake (just for its name)!

Hope your Restaurant Week was as tasty as ours!

POSTE passes Restaurant Week with passion and flying colors (1-12-12)

This past week was Restaurant Week here in DC, but don't fret if you missed it, many establishments have extended it another week, and some through the end of the month (check your local dining spots!).
We headed to POSTE at the Monaco Hotel down in the Penn District, where we have not been in about 6 years!
Chef Dennis MARRON who hails from the Kimpton Hotel restaurants in Alexandria where he did such an excellent job has taken over at the helm and tweaked the menu and while the Restaurant Week menu is short and simple, it won't disappoint.
The bread came and we tried the yummy butter-glazed and salted Parker House rolls, but skipped the sourdough for now, which turned out to be a wise move as we were in for a roller coaster ride of ravishing cuisine.
We told our server Megan we wanted to add-on with some oysters, but alas they had run out. They sent out two starters which are enough to make more than a meal! The CHICKEN LIVER PARFAIT comes in a ceramic pot with lid and a yummy MADEIRA GLAZE. On the side are pickled onions, ramps and gherkins and slices of Grilled Challa--DIVINE! PORK RILLETES are just as magnificent and come with the best Whole Grain MUSTARD I have ever tasted anywhere on earth! Will had some of each and I responded after completing the two plates, "I can't believe I ate the whole thing!"
We started with a bottle of MONTAGNY 1er CRU from J.M. Boillot 2009 which is a good upper-mid range choice. Our second wine was a superb red NEBBIOLO d'ALBA 2009 from DAMILANO that we have had before and is always a good mid-range choice for so many foods.
The 3-course Restaurant week menu was $35.12 and included the following:
Starters were the SPLIT PEA SOUP which was perfect on this bitter cold night and was loaded with chunks of tasty ham and some croutons as well. Mine was the CRISPY TETE de COCHON with Sauce Gribache which has to be a signature dish here. It comes in a deep fried patty over frisee and an array of beautiful mini-veggies and is not to be missed.
We both opted for the BEEF BOURGUINON main course which was a huge platter of tasty beef, more veggies, mushrooms, potatoes, carrots, bacon and a superb rich sauce with a slash of Dijon mustard on the side of the plate for a bite.. We could not finish the huge portion and took 1/2 home which incidentally reheated PERFECTLY in the microwave thanks to Megan having it wrapped in Saran and then placed in a container. It kept all the tasty sauce intact and created a sou-vide microwave reheat that was ingenious.
We could not resist ordering a side of the superb TRUFFLE FRITES (not on the Rest Week menu)which was , by this point, overindulgence. But who knew? They come in an adorable flour pot with a paper cone inserted.
Dessert was the Winchester Apple Tarte Tatin with Vanilla Ice Cream which was really more of a pancake with tasty tart apples, but we really wanted that flaky pastry rather than a mini-pancake.
We left way over-indulged, knowing that we will be back to POSTE again soon for the a la carte experience!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

District Commons does come through again (1-8-12)

We were headed to a 730pm curtain at the Kennedy Center with Samuel and these days the options close to the Center are limited, and even more so with kids. That awful place across the street (Rivers) is simply awful, so I recommend a 10 minute or less stroll over to Washington Circle and dining at DISTRICT COMMONS (http://districtcommonsdc.com/district.html) brought to you by those wonderful folks at Passion Food (DC Coast/Acadiana/Ceiba and more...) at 2200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW. If you feel really casual head to Burger Tap and Shake next door!
We sat down at 5:30pm and were out by 7pm and had a 3-course dinner served perfectly and in a timely manner by our adorable server Marielle. Samuel chose the Burger with Fries and these are kids portions (all priced a la carte for $6 and $3 respectively) which would fill anyone up. He raved about both.
The wine list is quite extensive and wonderful and it was very hard to choose. Melissa brought us a taste of the MILLBROOK (NY) HCR, a blend of Merlot, Cab Franc, Zin and Cab Sauvignon which is $36 and was quite good, but then the bartender suggested we taste the ST FRANCIS RED SPLASH from Sonoma 2007 (a blend of Cab, Cab Franc, Merlot, Syrah and Zin) which we adored. This runs $32 and is a real deal.
Will opted for the SEAFOOD CHOWDER which I loved last time. Creamy and rich and with those little homemade oyster cracker puffs, its just perfect on a chilly eve. I had the amazing "Second Date" CAESAR SALAD which has a superb, light, lemony dressing, white anchovies filleted to perfection and shaved Parmesan; a perfect salad indeed.
We went heavy for the main course (I think everything is big here anyway) since I saw the duck at the next table last time. The ROASTED DUCK Low & Slow comes with Wild Rice Sweet Potato Hash and a Sorghum Chili Glaze. The meat is juicy and tender and the crunchy skin is irresistible. The portion must include almost an entire duck! Will had the excellent PORK RACK CHOP (yes, he is no longer a vegetarian) "Blue Ribbon" with Benton Ham, Mozzarella and Eggplant Chow Chow & Johnnycake. It comes all assembled in a tower and is as gorgeous to eat as it is to look at.

Last time we had a selection of desserts and the BOSTON CREAM PIE with Salted Caramel Sauce won, so Will ordered this brilliant re-construction of a deconstructed dish made from angel food-type cake, cream, chocolate sauce and salted caramel. Try the wonderful cookies as well; homemade Fig Newtowns, Coconut Macaroons to die for, Blueberry Pate a Fruit and yummy MAGIC Candy Bars of Chocolate, cookie, crisp and toasted coconut!
You won't go home hungry and you will enjoy it all!

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Pilar passes, but no awards in Aventura, FL (1-1-12)

Our last night in Florida took us to nearby Aventura and the
unassuming PILAR (www.pilarrestaurant.com) where the hit items on the
menu were the one's that Samuel opted for. Pilar is located in a strip
mall and I think the decor is reflected inside. It is as simple as can
be with wooden tables and chairs, some nice modern oil paintings and
lots of photos of the chef fishing (his favorite pastime).
As we entered the hostess seemed to be in a daze as she walked away.
She returned after almost crashing into a water and seemed to not
notice us at all at the podium. She said follow me to his table, then
said, "no, this table," then , "no, here" and proceeded to crash into
a couple more waiters! She seated us with menus, but forgot the wine
The unexciting plain and raisin breads arrived and we ordered a nice
bottle of WAIRU River Sauvignon Blanc 2010 from New Zealand; Sam
enjoyed his Sprite (or 7-Up). A superb PESTO FLATBREAD came with
Cashew Nut Pesto and Pecorino Cheese was crispy and full of flavor. We
gobbled it all up so fast!
Sam moved on to an excellent RIGATONI with Grilled CHICKEN in a light
cream PESTO Sauce, which was anything but light. The decadent rich
sauce was divine and Samuel devoured nearly the entire huge portion
giving it an AA++.
Roasted BEET Salad with greens, orange vinaigrette and a fried goat
cheese crouton was bland and unexciting save for the cheese; I never
ate such flavorless beets. The Yellowfin TUNA TARTARE was much tastier
with marinated Cucumber, Toasted Sesame Oil and Sweet Soy Sriracha
giving the dish a nice punch. Puffy Fried salty wonton crisps were
great for scooping up the tasty tartare.
When we ordered we asked our server to please give us a good pause
between our courses, but to bring Samuel's pasta right after the
flatbread. When he seemed unclear, we repeated the request and
explained that Sam was very hungry. He lifted our appetizer plates
away and set down the main courses within seconds; so much for our
The Blackened MAHI-MAHI in Brown Butter with Roasted Sweet Plantains,
Marinated Avocado & Hearts of Palm was okay, The avocado and hearts of
palm were in a salsa form giving the dish some flavor which it sorely
The Yellowtail SNAPPER came with dozens of long thin Grilled Asparagus
in a Roasted Red Pepper Vinaigrette that was also nice, but won no
By this time we had moved on to a nice Chardonnay MACON-LUGNY "Les
Charmes" 2009 from Burgundy, but again still were underwhelmed by the
entire meal save for the flatbread, rigatoni and the tartare.
Hopefully we will fare well on the cruise starting today!


Hollywood, Florida's AIZIA is closer than the continent and puts n a big show (12-30-11)

Hi foodies,
You will first notice that emails from this Phyllis-teen Google group
will know show they come from
"Alan S for foodie finesse," so you can be sure what you are opening
on your handhelds, etc.
Second, thank you all for your well wishes over the last month and
what has been an agonizing and difficult time for me and indeed our
entire family.
My mom passed away 10 days ago and we completed our "shiva" (week of
mourning) just in time to leave on our planned vacation; we are
grateful for that as we really need this break.
That said, we arrived yesterday at the Diplomat Hotel in Hollywood,
Florida, where we last stayed as a family some 47 years ago. It's
changed tons, and not for the better. To big and too impersonal, and
the motel-style Diplomat West where stayed across the street is now
the Diplomat Landing facing the Intra-Coastal Waterway with a huge
parking lot and some restaurants. One of them is the Asian-fusion
AIZIA (at 3555 South Ocean Drive) which turns into the hotel's night
club after dinner. Click on the website (http://
www.aiziahollywood.com) to get a feel where they are going; it's all
about presentation, and so it is with the food as well.
The prices are indeed hotel prices, so don't expect a bargain,
although the children's meal was $7.00 and the best deal on the menu
for three huge pieces of moist chicken breast battered and fried
crisply and called "fingers." This came with a HUGE bowl of very tasty
fries that never lost their flavor or got soggy through the entire
meal. Samuel really wanted dumplings (which they didn't have) and
settled with starter of DUCK SPRING ROLLS which were two smallish
rolls on a monstrous plate laden with patterns of Mandarin soy mustard
sauce and Hoisin sauce, that were both excessively sweet. He adored
the rolls alone and gobbled them up.

Our server Alejandro suggested the TORO TATARE appetizer which rings
in at $26 for the high level sushi tuna and gets and A+ for
presentation, but is way over-priced when it comes to flavor. The
block of tartare comes atop a huge block of Himalayan rock salt and is
topped with tasty caviar (sevruga at best). On the side are the
yummiest SHITAKE CHIPS which are akin to shrimp chips in a Chinese
restaurant but loaded with flavor, texture and earthiness. Three small
bowls of creme fraiche, chopped chives and chopped cucumber are
garnishes and there is a nice pile of tasty fresh grated wasabi root.
A small plastic tube is filled with soy ginger sauce which can be
dabbed on, and while tasty, was difficult to maneuver.
The OCTOPUS CEVICHE gets even higher points for presentation and is a
tender combo of the meat with some greens, red onions and superb lime
dressing all set in a huge curved out ice cube which is lit by an
internal blue light giving a heavenly aura to the whole shebang.
A bottle of SEPP MOSER 2006 Gruner Veltliner may be a bit old, but had
lots of flavor and hinted of old vines and was a good pairing with the
food. The stemless glasses get no points; Alejandro explained it cuts
breakage, especially here on the beach where he says everyone in the
sky-high apartment condos have terraces and use stemless (I'll ask my
designer friend Michael tonight at dinner!).
I opted for the Pan Seared OPA Special which was a superb fish, but
needed a bit more of the not too exciting Hunan Ginger Sauce (where
was the ginger?). It came with tasty Jasmine Rice and 3 asparagus.
Will won the main course prize with the CRISPY WHOLE SNAPPER. Unlike
these yummy dishes back home at Kinkead's & DC Coast, here the snapper
is filleted and the fish is placed in the entire frame of the crispy
fish, making it a no brainer when it comes to devouring the dish; the
head and tail are intact, though Alejandro said we had the option of a
no-head platter. It is cooked with Thai Basil, a hint of mint (I could
not taste it), Lime & Fish Jus (in a cup on the side to dip in which
we actually used on the Opa and Rice to give those more flavor),
Cilantro, Lemongrass and the requisite Jasmine Rice. The fish was
delish and we all lef quite full.
Being a holiday period and a big hotel, the place had numerous
families, and they do get a plus for the kid's offerings (although you
must ask for them; they don't advertise it) both Asian and American
options. The venue is clearly disco at night with a huge open floor
area at the center and huge bar to the side. The black marble tables
are all at one end and the upper levels (it's tiered) have rd silky
fabric booths and some are curtained with an Asian feel.
I would not make a detour to go to AIZIA, but if in Hollywood, it is a
good option at the hotel, which leaves even more to e desired (but I
will vent that at my client site).