Monday, April 30, 2012

Falls Church's OPEN KITCHEN is way more than OK (4-26-12)

Each year we try to dine out on the night designated by FOOD & FRIENDS as "Dining Out for Life," where the restaurants donate a percentage of their proceeds directly to Food & Friends. This is generally 25%, which is a nice chunk for chairty, but can be more. Samuel had a class in Arlington, so I searched for an new place nearby with a fun and interesting menu and chose OPEN KITHCEN ( located in a small mall just at the intersection of Leesburg Pike (7115 Leesburg Pike) and I-66, so it's a quick sprint if you are near I-66 (it took us under 15 minutes to get home). We were greeted by the owner, manager/sommelier and even the chef, Kenneth Hughes, who came to our table several time to check if everything was okay. As I said, it was much more than okay! There is indeed an open kitchen with a long bar at which you can sit and chat with the cooks; a TV perched in the corner (volume off) runs the Food Network! The tables are raised with bar stools, so not for the elderly or such, but the covered adjoining section has regular low tables, if not a view of the open kitchen. Samuel was thinking of a steak-frites until we spotted the $7 children's menu and he chose CHICKEN TENDERS with a side of Parmesan Fries and unlimited Sprite (each main comes with the side and soda or lemonade refills). The tenders were gorgeous, sauteed and seasoned and not breaded and layered with the gorgeous steak style baked "fries" in a presentation that would get any child or adult excited about the food. We ordered a bottle of Mittelbach Zweigelt Rose from Austria that was perfect with the 1.2 dozen Choptank (Chesapeake) Oysters we had. These came with a light red mignonette sauce that I adored, as oysters should never be smothered with anything...well not when raw! Will & I then shared one of the most novel and divine sappetizers of LOBSTER BREAD PUDDING with Sweet Corn Puree, Snow Pea Tendrils & Chive Coulis--this is one NOT TO BE MISSED! We switched to a superb medium to full bodied MURIETTA's WELL SPUR RED BLEND 2009 from Livermore in California. Ben, who handles the wine, was happy to pour tastes of the many wines offered by the glass, and was a great help in pairing as well. Will had chosen the Crispy Oven Roasted DUCK Leg CONFIT with Petite Green Lentil Bacon Stew, Crisp Prosciutto, Tomato & Spring Arugula Salad. Since we split dishes, I had a good part of this and can say it's superb. The star of the evening's entrees was the CREEKSTONE FARMS STEAK FRITES which plates a 16 ounce ribeye with Rainbow Chard Saute, Parmesan Oven Fries, Rogue Oregon Blue Butter & Red Wine Demi-Glace. You all know, I don't usually go for steaks, but this was magnificent cut of beef perfectly cooked and the rogue blue cheese butter is mild enough to give accent but not overtake; the red wine demi-glace is a divine addition that makes the dish. OH, and those oven roasted Parmesan Fries which have freshly melted parmesan drizzled on them are indeed SUBLIME! Our server Carlos gave us the dessert option and while Samuel gobbled up a bowl of lemon and raspberry sorbets (he preferred the latter), we shared the CHERRY WHITE CHOCOLATE BREAD PUDDING ala Mode with Moorenko vanilla ice cream. This was our second decadent and ecstasy-inducing bread pudding of the evening. We left full and happy and glad that we put some bucks in the Food & Friends' coffer just by eating out. I must say I am tempted to return to the ASPARAGUS WINE DINNER they are having on May 21 (anyone care to join me at $89 plus tax and tip includes hor's d'oevres and a seated 3 course dinner with 4 wines!), although I must note Will & I start a strict (but breakable) diet today and these reports may be fewer and simpler for a while.... Enjoy! ALAN

Monday, April 23, 2012

Mangalistsa Mayhem-a conucopia of pork at James Beard House with three super chefs(4-21-12)

Last night I returned to James Beard House in NYC ( where three chefs were in the way overcrowded kitchen cooking up a storm: Michael Clampffer-Chef & VP of Mosefubnd Mangalista (organic pork producers in NJ) Joe Macchia-AvroKO Restaurant Group NYC Lee Ann Wong-Chef/TV personality As we arrived and gathered on the outdoor terrace SPRING CHERRYBOMBs were served to us. These drinks are made from Maker's Mark Bourbon, Alchemical Cherry Infused Vodka, Perrier and dashes of Grenadine and Vinegar Sugar. It was a refreshing and not too sweet drink, but not something I would order again. The hor's d'oevres were varied from Liverwurst with Black Pepper Cream Cheese on mini Poppy Seed Bagels which was the least exciting to Speck & Eggs with Asparagus on Garlic Toasts with soft just scrambled eggs just melting in our mouths. Pork Cheek-Ramp Raviolini with Smoked Ricotta and Toasted Bread Crumbs was another treat with a slightly spicy tomato sauce in each spoonful Spring Peas & Prosciutto were yummy and sevred like bruschetta (to much bread in all of these, though!) and the Mangalitsa Lard-Fried Doughnuts with Lardo were gobbled up by so many, but a bit too sweet for me as a before-dinner treat. These superb donut "balls" each had a piece of warm melted lardo on top which mimicked icing and was indeed fun. I switched to the white wine served before hand and tasted the Slovenian Malvasija which I have to admit was just weird. The staff explained how the Mangalitsa pigs are raised and hence are basically "lighter" in actual weight of the meat we eat. They get only organic feed and NO corn. It's an interesting process and indeed, we were not stuffed by the meal below which in writing sounds UNREAL. Michael's Cured Meat Plate with Spring Fruit Mostarda had another small piece of Lardo which I could have skipped, but I would not have missed the blow your tastebud sausages and the delicious light airy and almost lacelike Prosciutto. The wines came from a winery near Buffalo in the Lake Erie Appellation of Upstate NY and they, too, were odd choices. They guy from the winery had to leave early, so we had no clue what we were drinking save for the labels! Our first wine-XERO White Sensory. It was also odd that the wines were al non-vintage. The second wine was Quincy Cellars Chardonnay which I thought was awful, but once the food came, I have to admit, it paired quite well with the Marinated MACKEREL in Sauerkraut Broth, Braised Bacon, Pickled Mustard Seeds and Carrots. This dish was loaded with flavor and my only mistake was to chow down on one large piece of bacon (I thought it was mackerel) rather than cutting it in two. Next came what most folks agreed was the highlight: PORK SHOULDER LASAGNA with Charred Spring Onions, Pickled Chanterelles and Sottocenere Cheese. The lasagna was rich and divine, and the truffles melted cheese on top was a special treat. The spring onions were a shining star of the entire meal and the pickled chanterelles were really strongly pickled and cut the richness of the dish. SENSORY Cellars Vexation was a red wine that went quite nicely; while thin (think weak Pinot) it had some punch and we all wanted more. There was none. The Herb-Marinated NECK ROAST with Fava Beans, Turnips, Strawberries and Toasted Fregola Sarda(lentil?) was one of the best pork dishes I have ever had. The meat was sublime from the neck side of the shoulder and spiced on the edge to a perfect crust. Quincy Cellars Cabernet was nice. Spring Fruits came wit a Pork Fat Sabayon that was slightly sweet and also a big point of discussion. Sticky-Bacon-Toffee Pudding with Whipped Cream would have pleased any toffee lover. I asked for one to take home with my morning coffee, but that was a waste of time. We returned to the mixed drinks with dessert and got a "Mr Nibs" Alchema Chocolate Vodka with Hella Bitters that was indeed chocolaty and bitter and a nice sipper, but again, no prize winner for me. It was a fun night with some nice new faces and great food....

best brunch and maybe more on NYC's west side at Cafe FORANT (4-21-12)

Brunch today was a revelation, but I do warn that CAFE FORANT is a find and might have a wait for tables. A gorgeous sunny day in the city had no problem with quiet calm curbside seats, but on a bad weather day, there are only 6 tables inside at 449 W. 51st St ( My friends insisted I taste the yummy Lavender Lemonade (it does have lavender color and taste, but it's also a hint to the lesbian owners :-)). I loved the coffee, which our cute as a button server insisted was an espresso blend (it was smooth and not bitter) that can't be recreated at home! My dish was CREPE with CHICKEN & ASPARAGUS and it was perfect, but the side salad of light baby greens with vinaigrette also shined. The star of the plates were the crusty crunchy sauteed potatoes. The other dish at the table was a decadent EGGS BENEDICT CRABCAKES..... The Bread Pudding was also divine, while I eyes the cherry scones (I should have bought one for breakfast the next morning). Who knows, maybe I'll head right back to Cafe Forant!

NYC's BOULUDSUD -Boulud is popping up all over (4-20-12)

I arrived in NY and headed to the less than one year old BOULUD SUD just across from Lincoln Center (( at 20 W 64th St, next door to Bar Boulud and Epicerie Boulud! They offer a $55 prix-fixe 3 course pre-theater menu and at about 7pm go ala's a god move as at 6pm the place was full with pre-opera patrons like me. It's a big open room with huge bar in the front and lots of blond wood, light tones and a very relaxed feel. The tables are too close (well, it's NYC) and I hated the women across who never shut up on her cell fone! She was tall, with huge hoop earring, 5inch platforms and clearly needed to be HEARD! The kitchen is kind of open on one side, although you really can't see much. The staff is friendly and helpful and my server Maurine (from the Congo via France) was a gem. She said the $3 supplement for the OCTOPUS a LA PLANCHA was worth it and it was. It comes with an amazing MARCONA Almond Puree (think hummus from almonds), wilted Arugula and Jerez Vinegar. Maurine suggested a very refreshing ARGYROS Estate "Atlantis" '11 from Santorini in Greece which was the perfect pairing with the vinegar that was at the bottom of the dish. Have you noticed a there, BOULUD SUD, refers to the south of Europe and all the dishes are Mediterranean, from south Europe or North Africa! Bread was pita (ok), soft flatbread (Perfect) and Foccaccia with a Red Pepper Puree as well as Oil with Herbs. I wanted fish, but the scallops and branzino entrees were both fennel intense so I went to the KOFTE Spiced LAMB with Crushed Chickpeas, Baby Gem Lettuce (several tiny leaves wilted under the dish), Garlic Cumin Yogurt. It came medium rare as requested and was one of the best tasting lamb dishes I have had in years. A slight crust of spice and the puree with little pieces of eggplant as well. Maurine suggested a DOMAINE MAUME 2009 Burgundy which she said was bigger because it came from Gevry Chambertin (she knew it well) and proffered a taste before pouring a glass. She also let me taste the the way, she comped all the wine at the end anyway--Boy, did she get a huge tip. The dining room was now full and quite noisy. I ordered my BLANC MANGER PICKLY PEAR with Almond Croquant and Coriander Pineapple Sorbet which was as refreshing and light as could be--think light Israeli trifle with sorbet.....I know it's hard. The prickly pear was perfect and the cream was light as well. The coffee cups are too small, but there are refills. I saw cheese next to me and decided to return after the four hours later, I reappeared and sat down again for some more wine and cheese and was the perfect late night treat.

ESTADIO's tapas are a treat (4-14-12)

After taking in a show with Samuel last weekend we headed down the street to ESTADIO ( 1520 14th St, NW, where we had tried to get in before, but could not get past the crowds overflowing out the door. It seems that If you go before 630pm or so you CAN reserve at ESTADIO and we did so at 530pm as it was after a 3pm matinee. It worked out perfectly as the place was empty when we arrived. We had a table by the street window with huge leather chairs and the big wooden tables give a "Spanish" feel. Some of the tables towards the rear are high with bar stools, so if you have issues with that--PLAN AHEAD. Also, please note that the single sex restrooms are clean and nice, but be sure to lock the door behind you (the guy before me did NOT)! Will started with the Cherry, Tequila, Shishito Pepper, Lime Slushee and I tried the White Tequila, Apple, Rosemary Sangria. These were both refreshing but come in small glasses and carry larger price tags then their value. Our server Charlie explained the menu and we ordered away. Samuel was to enjoy the HANGAR STEAK which comes with PATATAS a la Riojana and a Valdeon Sauce(Blue cheese-Sam would not eat the two pieces of steak that touched the sauce!) and he wanted just plain fries, so we ordered the side of PATATAS BRAVAS for him which are superd fried Fingerlings with a very spicy tomato aioli--so he asked for another plate which came PLAIN...boy, he is getting touchy these days. The steak was medium rare and superb...he did gobble that up. We decided to try two glasses of white before ordering a bottle of red and the small tumbler glasses say 4.5 ounce pours, but seem smaller. A GODELLO 2010 from Avanthia in Valdeorras was refreshing while the VIURA 2002 (yes that old) Lopez de Heredita from Gravonia in Rioja was full of flavor for its age. We ordered a bottle of La RIOJA ALTA 2001 Vina Ardanza Reserva Especial,but they were out of that and offered a superb SENORIO de P. PECINA 2001 RESERVA from Rioja that had some spice--perfect for all our dishes: SCALLOPS with Roasted Caulfilower and Salbitxada which came seared perfectly and was a divine combo. GRILLED OCOTPUS with Potato-Caper Salad, Pimenton, Garbanzo & Red Pepper Puree treats this fish fine as well. Crispy BRUSSELS SPROUTS come caramelizes with Onions, Pine Nuts & Currants and makes a perfect veggie tapas-side dish. FOIE GRAS SCRAMBLED EGGS with Black Truffle Butter sound better than they are and are way to pricey. It is a large portion, but the foie gras and truffles don't really shine on this "bruschetta" style dish or Montadito. We should have skipped the superb, but way too rich (and we were getting full) though yummy Crispy VEAL SWEETBREADS with Filet(String) Beans, Bacon & Asian Greens. Will ordered a MANCHEGO CHEESECAKE to go with Quince Pistachio and it reminded of a Creme Brulee Cheesecake..... All said--we did have a god time and as we left, the place was full and the line was forming. Perfect meal, perfect timing.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

DINO's Passover Feast - a perfect find (4-9-12)

Every year we try to head over to our friend Dean Gold's place DINO ( in Cleveland Park (DC) for his truly superb PASSOVER FEAST. Now don't believe that DINO's serves kosher food; it does not-this is a PASSOVER-style meal, and one of the best around if you are not strict about kosher food and just do not wish to eat leaven on Passover.
The meal is served family style and costs $59 for adults and $24 for kids. A flight of 4 pours (3 oz. each) can be added for $24 per person, which of course, we always do as well. I only wish that DINO's could offer an array of Kosher for Passover wines as well, some are truly a find!
The flight is made up of
La Giaretta "Volpare" Valpolicella 2010
Mazzolina "Terrazze" Pinot Nero from Oltrapo Pavese 2010
San Polo "Rubio" Sangiovese 2009 from Montalcino
Collemattoni Brunello di Montalcino 2205 from Tuscany
They are a great tour of wines, but we needed a bit more and went for the spicy full-bodied Mantane 2010 Primitivo from Puglia that is a wonderful wine on the palate with all foods except maybe light fish dishes in cream!
The meal itself includes Matza, the best White Horseradish around (it has an intense lemony flavor that I love) and two types of Haroset-an Ashkenazi-style and a very sweet Sephardi "ball" made from date, fig and poppy seed that begs to be combined with the horseradish.
Dean's "Better than Ella's" (his mom) Chopped Chicken Liver was a looser style made from organic liver this year with much more flavor, due to marsala instead of Madeira wine. If you haven't had homemade Gefilte Fish, you must try "Jack's Fish Market" served here with some carrots and a dash of red Hawaiian sea salt. A guy sitting next to us was so intrigued he ordered it as his starter and raved as we did!
Spring Salads include a Beet, Fennel & Onion Salad with loads of flavor, Spiced Carrots with a great spice, but not overwhelming and a superb simple Spicy Greens Salad with delish vinaigrette.

We moved on to the Dean's "Better than Ella's" Matzo Ball Chicken Soup and these were indeed excellent (although, I love my fluffy ones at home!). Samuel loved the Matza ball, as he always does and we gobbled ours up in the slightly salty soup that was absorbed by the ball.
The main course is made up of East Coast Mahi-Mahi al Mosaica with a Livorno-style Jewish tradition sauce of Tomato, Garlic, Parsley & Spice. We adore this sauce and await it every year. The Chicken this year was PEtti di Pollo-Breast with Lemon, Mushrooms and Marsala. Dean substituted capers for the mushrooms on Samuel's plate (he has lost his love of mushrooms he had in belgium last summer!) and both dishes were superb, but the mushrooms were indeed the star. The Agnello con aglio verde needed a bit more of the sauce made from Red Wine, Olive Oil and Green Garlic as the Lamb Brisket on the bone was a bit dryish.
All these came with a huge plate of Matzoh Farfel, Sauteed Kales & Sweet Potato Tzimmes (the firm tasty with raisin kind, not the mushy one you grew up with your grandma who had no clue about overcooking!). All were superb and after all this THERE IS STILL Passover-style dessert of a choice of CHOCOLATE WALNUT TORTA (intense chocolate with a crust of nuts) or the STRAWBERRY CAKE with SABA which was kind of like a matza-cake served warm with strawberry sauce....think of warm matza-strawberry shortcake without the cream!
It's always fun to have this meal each year and not have to cook at home as well!
Bravo Dino!

Friday, April 06, 2012

Roberto Donna returns and LA FORCHETTA gains fame (4-5-12)

On our last splurge before the Passover regime, we headed around the corner to the newly opened LA FORCHETTA (, located on New Mexico Ave, NW where Balducci's used to be (next to Chef Geoff). The clean open space is bright and airy with a huge pizza oven at the center where you can watch the team toss the dough in the air. Chef ROBERTO DONNA has taken over the kitchen here and since they only opened this week, I can say it looks like a promising venture for sure.
You should be warned that reservations are taken (starting in mid-April) until 630pm only. We had told the staff we would be 6 people at 7pm, but the place was heaving when we arrived. Leave it to manager Karen, who comes from Galileo III, who easily rearranged the outdoor tables inside to accommodate us with speed.
We sat down to a table with tasty bread that goes beautifully with the various "spread" starters such as Olives, Caponata, Gardiniera Piemontese (a pickled vegetable mix with basil and herbs), Ricotta Crostata and an interesting Prosciutto Spread made with pistachio and balsamic.
A LUIGI BAUDANA 2010 Chardonnay from Piemonte (Chef Donna's home region) is an excellent white for this season and goes very well with so many of the starters such as tasty SALTED COD "Matecato" as well as with the salads(Spinach,Pear & Walnut looked particularly tasty). My PORK BELLY was a large piece of meat (and yes, it has alot of fat, but you could easily separate what you did not want to eat and plenty of crispy meat remained) came with sauteed apples.
Samuel hankered down with the Tagliatelle alla Bolognese that is always a treat, and asked for extra fresh Parmesan grated at the table.
The decor, like the theme her, is simple with slate-like floors, yet the black crystal chandeliers add a nice touch of fine dining as do Chef Donna's main courses. The COD with OLIVES was special and quite tasty, while the whole BRANZINO seemed to have a bit too many bones, although the taste was reported as perfect.
Pizza is a hit here with large tasty pies such as the QUATTRO STAGIONE with the four "seasons" of artichoke, mushroom, ham and olive each occupying a 1/4 of the pie.
We moved on to a superb BARBERA d'ASTI ROCCHE COSTAMAGNA 2009 "Annunziata" that was full bodied enough to work with the meats in the pasta and pizza, but also pair with the fish as well.
My AGNELLOTTI "Gobbi" all'ASTIGIANA was a perfectly made pasta filled with roasted veal and pork in a divine butter-sage-parmesan sauce. Yes, Chef Donna is back and so is his pasta! YAY!

Desserts were nice, but not the stars here with COPPA PRIMAVERA having Chocolate & Coconut Ice Cream with Strawberrys and Savoirdi Cookie with Meringue and Cream. My COPPA RINFRESCANTI was less intense with Lemon and Apricot Sorbets over poached Apricots, almond cream & pizzetti wafer. Zuppa Inglese was a nice variation as well.

We look forward to returning to La Forchetta as it is truly close and a treat as well. Welcome back Chef Donna!

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

MALA TANG gets my tastebuds goin (Arlington, VA -4-1-12)

Sunday evening we were supposed to meet some friends in Arlington for dinner, but a family emergency precluded their meeting us. We had just returned from Baltimore and had nothing in the house, so we decided to keep our plans and went with Samuel to MALA TANG ( in Arlington at 3434 Washington Blvd near Clarendon. The place offer complimentary (up to 2 hrs) underground parking and it is quite central and a beautiful setting as well with lacquer tables, great service and a super friendly staff that will be happy to explain the individual hot pot concept.
We started with a plate of tasty complimentary pickled veggies (carrots, cabbage and more) that Will & I gobbled up with our SPICY CUCUMBER SAKE MARTINIs, a super drink to start with a spicy crystalized pepper rim on the glass. Sam loved his Shirley Temple.
We started with an order of SPICY COLD NOODLES which even Samuel liked and were some of the best around.
The ZHONG DUMPLINGS (soft, but I think they are steamed and then finished somehow else come 8 to an order which is HUGE with pork, chili oil, green onion & garlic. They need no dipping sauce as they are divine alone. Samuel devoured most of these and insisted on another order as his main course. We also tried the tasty STEAMED PORK BUNS which are really just steamed dumplings.
We thought Sam might enjoy the lightly chili dusted Deep FRIED TOFU and while he did not, we loved them.
We were getting full but decided to order TWO hot pots to share as they can come with either mild or spicy (Mala)broths (the broth can be chicken or vegetarian as well). The hot pots can be ordered a la carte or better yet with a veggie combo and that's a real deal. Our Veggie Combo #1 included the ZHONG GUO or Chinese veggies and these were Lotus Root, Wooden Ear Mushrooms and Napa Cabbage, but I guess they ran out of Lotus and substituted Enoki Mushrooms. We chose the WINE MARINATED BEEF as the protein (you can have a choice of dozens of proteins including many fish items as well as vegetables). The raw beef is marinated in wine tableside and has a bit more taste this way as well. Don't cook the protein more than 30 seconds in the boiling pot as it cooks real fast (the veggies need 2-3 minutes). After cooking you can dip and this is one of the most fun things about Mala Tang, the "dip sauce bar." There are various ingredients on the bar from the expected soy sauce and vinegar to thick beefs sauces, oyster sauces and plum sauces as well as chilis, cilantro, scallions, garlic and more. It is a ton of fun. Samuel realized he could play and created a superb Garlic/soy/scallion mix!
We also ordered an ala carte hot pot of SQUID alone and this was a wonderful treat.
We chose to have one of each of the hot pot broths--Mala and Mild and I would suggest you stick with Mala as it's not too spicy and gives the food more flavor.
A wonderful bottle of MASSIMA MALBEC 2009 works well with the spicy food.
At one point we could not find our server and discovered she had gone to make some amazing complimentary smoothies made of CUCUMBER that was the perfect refreshing foil when the spice get real hot from some of my dipping sauces!
We chose not to order dessert and enjoyed some orange slices and fortune cookies in the true Chinese tradition, but Mala Tang is not your everyday Chinese take-out joint for sure! It's a fun and novel experience that many kids will enjoy as well.