Tuesday, November 27, 2012

WA JEAL is a deal for Sichuan on NYC's Upper East Side (11-24-12)

Heading out of NY to come home we were on the Upper East Side and the

best rated ethnic place we could find for Saturday lunch was WA JEAL

Sichuan Chili House (www.wajealrestaurant.com) at 1588 2nd Ave (82nd

St) which was a cute and simple and very reasonable spot.

Samuel insisted on the Pan Seared PORK DUMPLINGS which were very good.

The Veggie SPRING ROLLS were nice, but a bit greasy. We split two

entrees and they were both superb:

CRISPY WHITE MEAT CHICKEN with Citrus Lemon Sauce is a dead ringer for

Chinese-style chicken fingers in a sweet and sour style lemon sauce;

Sam loved them.

The STIR FRIED PORK with SPICY CAPSICUM and LEEKS was not that spicy

and has perfect heat that lasted a short while. The sauce was super

and it was comprised of both pork slices and bacon slices.

We went back to DC very happy with our choice after a wonderful

Thanksgiving weekend with the family and enjoying the big city!

superb SPIGOLO on NYC's Upper East Side(11-23-12)

It's not often I wander to Manhattan's Upper East Side, but the day

after Thanksgiving we were staying in the area and decided to try

SPIGOLO, which came on the recommendation of the Manager at

Mas(farmhouse) in NY where I had eaten several weeks before.

Spigolo (www.spigolonyc.com) is at 1561 Second Ave (at 81st St) and is

a teeny spot with about 10 tables holding no more than two dozen or so

folks. We arrived at 645pm and it was pretty empty, but by 730pm there

was not an empty seat. The room is simple with exposed brick and floor

to ceiling glass walls on the avenue and 81st St.

Sitting by the door, hence, can be a bit drafty!

Tasty olives, oil and bread arrived, but it was the whole wheat herb

encrusted bread sticks that had us hooked.

A bottle of Montepulicano Barba Vignafranca 2007 from Abruzzo which

was a medium red and oh so perfect for a chilly evening.

Samuel enjoyed the requisite Shirley Temple and ordered the GARGANELLI

with sweet Fennel Sausage Ragu and Parmigiano that he raved about and

gobbled up.

Will started with Grilled Octopus, Preserved Lemons, Frisee and Giant

Corona Beans and it was just right, but I adored my Homemade VENISON

SAUSAGE with Wild Black Trumpet Mushrooms, Parsnips, Hazelnuts and Vin

Cotto that was tasty and warm - just what Jack Frost ordered.

We split a PAPPARDELLE with Duck Confit, Lemon, Fennel & Parmesan that

was some of the ebst pasta I have had in NY in a while, and moved on

to a NEBBIOLO Langhe "Perbacco" 2009 from Vietti in Piemonte which was

youngish, but superb with the food.

Will moved to Roasted VENISON LOIN with Butternut Squash Spaetzle,

Baby Brussels Sprouts in a Dried Cherry Port Sauce that was divine as

was my Fazio Farm DUCK BREAST with Butternut Squash Puree, Broccoli

Rabe in a Natural Sauce.

I do have to say that while everything was cooked to our liking, our

sever never asked how we wanted it done.

Dessert--well, it was the day after Thanksgiving, so we all indulged.

Samuel gobbled up and raved over the Warm CHOCOLATE TORTE with Dark

Chocolate Ganache, Amaretto Cream & Praline. Will said the STICKY

TOFFEE PUDDING was delish, but not Yorkshire style. It came with

Fernet Branca Butterscotch sauce, Brandied Spiked Raisins and Vanilla

Gelato, which I think was a clue to its Italian version.

My RICOTTA CHEESECAKE was mercifully light with Mascarpone, Honey

Gastrique and Citrus Compote.

There is so much to discover on the UES (Upper East Side), I may have

to revisit.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

NYC does have a bummer of a BRGR (11-23-12)

On arrival in NYC for a quick visit, we all stopped at BRGR (1026 3rd Ave @61st - www.brgr.us) which has several locations where they

boast of grass-fed beef's virtues (as opposed to corn fed). Samuel had the plain single burger with ketchup, Will (not being hungry) had a yummy

Strawberry Milkshake (which with tax rings in at over $6) and I went for the RainForest Burger with Gruyere, Avocado, Herb Mayo, Lettuce & Tomato.

At over $11 with tax, it is a filling burger ad these come wrapped in brown paper, which is where you see the sin. The grease was unreal and totally

turned me off, although the burger was okay overall; no winner for sure.

I had to use the men's room and there was a flood near the door, due to an overflowing sink somewhere else, so I almost slipped; not good.

Samuel's Dr. Pepper from the self-vending system was warm and no ice came out, so they had to fix that as well.

Overall, a bummer of a burger experience.


Monday, November 19, 2012

Fall's Church, VA's Pizzeria ORSO is indeed the perfect pizza and much more (11-18-12)

Last week at the annual Karen Cathey CrabCake competition sponsored by the AIWF, we had the pleasure of meeting Chef Will Artley of Pizzeria ORSO in Falls Church, who had one of the best cakes in the bunch!

ORSO opened quietly and has been getting local crowds in is homey quiet street just off the main drag in downtown Falls Church (400 South Maple Ave-www.pizzeriaorso.com).

The decor is simple with super accents on the opaque white blown glass chandeliers that are Chilouly-like but wonderfully squid-like! The open kitchen is highlighted by a huge wood-fired pizza oven called "Sophie" and she, with the aid of Chef Artley and his team, make indeed what we all decided were the best pizzas in the region!

When we arrived for Sunday lunch before a show nearby with Samuel, our server Edloe told us that it was "happy hour" and that the Colli Senesi "La Marronaia" Chianti that normally sells for $7/glass was marked down to $5. It was perfect for the pizza, but they also offer a happy hour price on white if you want. There are deals here regularly, so be sure to check the website; beware that they are closed on Mondays.

Several appetizers appeared and we were blown away by each and every one full of the intense flavors that we got to know from Chef Artley's crabcakes just two weeks before.

Seared SCALLOP with CousCous and Tomato Jam is a gorgeous presentation and does the mollusk great justice, but my tummy yearns for the Grilled OCTOPUS with White Beans and Artichokes. The tender tentacles are salted but when combined with the sauce it blends perfection in taste and seasoning.

If you like mussels head for the $8 (yes just $8!!!) starter of PEI MUSSELS in a divine rich Smoked Blue Cheese Broth. This neat change on the traditional will wow and fill you at the same time, and I guarantee those two huge slabs of perfectly frilled bread atop the dish will be savored with the amazing sauce.

Seeking a novel but tasty salad? Don't miss the PEAR & GORGONZOLA Salad with baby greens, candied pecans and a divine mustard vinaigrette.

Well, after all that. don't miss those pizzas. Samuel, as he is wont to do, went for the Bambino Pizza which is virtually an adult size full plate, six-piece portion and you can see each fresh ingredient down to the slabs of superb mozzarella which at $7 is a bargain. The regular pizzas start in the $12 zone and unquestionably include the freshest ingredients around. Will's CAPRICCIOSA came with piles of artichoke hearts, crimini mushrooms, ham, olives and basil while my CRUDO had a huge super-thin slice of prosciutto covering each piece of the pizza (so 6 huge slices in all) as well as Arugula, and shaved fresh Grana. Each bite was like a garden salad with that superb Parman prosciutto!

I have to say that Orso also has many salads, pastas and main courses so this is a place we will definitely head back to for a full sampling sometime soon!

Monday, November 12, 2012

NYC's MAS is indeed more than you could wish for (11-11-12)

After catching a Broadway show (Scandalous) and running up to Lincoln Center for the Richard Tucker Gala, I chose to forego the black tie, usually lots of fun, but not good food dinner and head back to Soho (actually Noho) where I was staying for a wonderful dinner at MAS (farmhouse) on teeny quiet Downing Street (www.masfarmhouse.com). Mas has been around for almost a decade, but I have not been in this neighborhood for years. My grandparents used to live in the building directly across the street which fronts on Houston Street, but that was way before dining in this area became chic.
The space is small and cozy, but also cozy in the sense that the tables are less than 6 inches apart. Luckily I had some nice folks next to me who were very chatty until they left partway through my sojourn. I arrives at 920pm and stayed for 3 hours of sublime dining as I could not choose so Alphorns, my server, said, let chef take over and it's just $125 (instead of the 4 course menu for $78). Glasses of wine here tend to be pricey, at around $15-20 each, so the accompanying wine deal (not on the menu, you must ask) is the way to go for 6 or 7 wines at an additional $75.

A choice of three breads came with creamy butter; I chose the multigrain (the others were French roll and whole wheat) which had a salted crust like a pretzel that was superb. The sparkling water is Hildon from the UK which I always like and you don't see too often this side of the pond.

My first glass was a Marc Hebrart Rose Champagne which was crisp with lots of fine bubbles; I wanted a swizzle stick to reduce the gas, which made me think of my late mother, who used to carry one in her purse oh so many years ago. (I must diverge and say that the main reason for this trip to NYC was for the unveiling of my Mom's tombstone earlier the same morning; this was a fitting salute --indeed the entire day was!).
Amuse #1 was a Citrus marinated Lump Crab with Orange Creme Fraiche that was simple and pure giving our Maryland Crab great honor.
Amuse #2 was a Butternut Squash with Goat Cheese and Basil Pollen that was quite divine as well
I was told that the chef wanted to send out some extra courses (surprise!) and first came the Yellowfin TUNA a l'Occidentale, a signature dish of Mas (my neighbors clapped with joy as they had this earlier). The tuna is quickly seared and raw at the middle in a brown butter with citrus soy balsamic vinaigrette and covered with celestial Crispy Shallots.
This was served with a crispy yet slightly mineral 2010 Gerard Duplessis Chablis.

I was then informed that the tasting menu had begun and was served a plate of two perfectly filleted Grilled Portuguese Sardines with Candied Chestnuts, Chestnut Foam, Butternut Squash Confit and Mizuna. The preparation was perfection and all it made me do was want to hurry to Portugal and Spain, but that will have to wait until our trip there next August!
A Montlouis Surlow 2008 Clos Anherl Chenin Blanc was the ideal pairing, and I have to say, while not a big fan of Chenin Blanc, this was one of the best I have ever had.

St. Aubin 1er Cru was next "Les Perrieres" 2008 from Prudhon which had great minerality and was unreal with the SHRIMP & Spaghetti Squash, Marcona Almonds, Mache & Baby Cress, Horseradish Dressing (there was a gastrique, or what I forget) and some parmesan. This was one of my favorite dishes because of the flavors and the horsereadish giving just a light bite.

Terrebrune 2011 Rose from Bandol was served with another gem: Soy dusted MONKFISH with Butter Carrot Puree, Bok Choy & Chanterelles. Need I say more?

We moved to the St. Aubin Pinot Noir 2009 "Le Ban" from Catherine & Dominique Derain, and I thought it wimpy. It was paired with SWEETBREADS cooked just right, Baby Beets, Brussels Sprouts & Bacon.
The wine could not stand up to the rich organs nor the bacon, but the dish was divine.

Gigondas 2007 from Domaine de Gour de Chaute was much better and I noticed as course #5 came that a couple was seated in the far corner at 11:15pm; now that's late dining for a Sunday! Long Island DUCKLING rendered in its own fat came with Mustard Greens, Sunchoke Puree and Roasted Sunchokes. The meat was superb and I adore sunchokes as they are so in season now (at every farmer's market).

At one point during the meal a dish came and was placed down by someone other than Alphonso and the word "fennel puree" was said. Alphonso had specifically asked me my dislikes, and immediately whisked the dish away. I didn't even get to taste it. The folks at the next table said they would have eaten it :-)).
Anyway, Alphonso announced there would be extras to make up for that, not that I needed more.
A 2011 Braucol from Gaillac (a region I never heard of before) was poured and it was a big red made from Mourvedre and Grenache that was paired with Roasted Rack of Lamb, more Sunchoke Puree and Braised Cider Cabbage, which was one of the few things I did not care for all night--the cabbage that is. The lamb was again cooked just past rare and excellent.

Green apple sorbet with Seckel Pear and Milled Cider Granita was one of the most refreshing palate cleansers on record.

J. Lassalle Blanc de Blanc Champagne was poured and dessert was announced. QUINCE Confit & Quince Mascarpone Semifreddo (on a hazelnut financier crust). When cheese courses come with quince paste, I usually avoid it. This preparation was perfect (Alphonso had asked me if I wanted fruity or chocolate-y dessert) and light yet the decadent rich semifreddo was bliss.

A small plate came with a Caramel & Milk Chocolate Tart that was salted (yum) and a Mint Marshmallow that even I who am not a mint nut found refreshing.

I walked the six or so blocks back to my hotel oh so happy that I had found MAS and luckily had not indulged in too mas!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Wes Morton makes miracles with heart at ART & SOUL (11-9-12)

I had tried to get to Art & Soul on Capitol Hill

(www.artandsouldc.com) for ages and something always happened

(traffic, weather, emergency or such). Bumping into Chef Wes Morton at

last weeks fabulous Karen Cathey Annual Crabcake Competition forced my

decision and I made it there last night for a stupendous meal and

wonderful quiet evening out on my own!

Art & Soul is the brainchild of Chef Art Smith, who while he owns the

restaurant, has moved on to many other ventures and lots of TV

appearances (notably on several of the TopChef runs). He hired Chef

Wes Mortin who hails from Louisiana and brings just as much heart,

art, soul and love to the kitchen.

Located in the Liaison Hotel on New Jersey Ave, NW there is a buzz as

the hotel lobby is open to the bar and restaurant. The bar was a bit

too noisy for me, but I got one of the fabulous off-white snakeskin

covered booths that are set into the rear wall and offer lots of quiet

and privacy for one, two or three people.

House filtered water was poured and two types of break (a nut/fruit

slice and Parker House roll) arrived with soft butter. My server

Michael was a gem and helped me with all my choices from wine to


I started with a glass of White Hall Viognier 2011 from Virginia and

asked him what was the best starter. he said that most people like the

Shrimp & Grits. Well, I would too, but I told him I was not "most

people" and like trying new dishes. "Would he suggest the Boudin Blanc

or the Soft Scotch Egg?" He said the latter was amazing and would be

perfect with the Viognier. He was spot on and the dish came with soft

halved eggs sitting in Spicy Sausage "bowls" that were crisp on the

bottom over a bed of Frisee with Grain Mustard. The greens were

delightful, the mustard just the right touch, the egg yolks just soft

as I adore them and a splattering of pickled red onion were divine.

I asked Michael about the Alain Normand Macon La Roche-Vineuse 2011

Chardonnay and he said "oaky." I was not familiar with the wine and he

proffered a taste; it was intensely oaky for a French chard and he

suggested the Albarino 2010 Zarate Balado from Rias Biaxas which was

loaded with citrus and minerality. It paired beautifully with the

SALMON HOECAKE which is really a large corn blini with a superb house

cured salmon "salad" bound with dill creme friache with more pickled

onion, caperberries. fresh tarragon and flat leaf parsley. This is

almost like a full salmon salad sandwich and could easily be a lunch

dish; boy, had I overordered, but I wanted to. I loved the salty

caperberries and enjoyed each bite with a different piece of either

caperberry, tarragon, parsley or onion for varied fun.

I moved on to a huge long legged currant intense with coffee hints

2006 MERLOT from DEYO Castillo de Monjardin. I know Spain is not

famous for Merlot and this didn't even taste like one, but what a

brilliant wine.

My main course was the Air Chilled PEKIN DUCK which was a perfectly

roasted (and I might add huge) breast with Dirty Duck Rice, Duck Fat

Turnips, Turnip Greens and a decadent Madeira Jus. Chef Morton knows

the meaning of crispiness as he exhibited in the Scotch Egg Sausage,

but here the duck skin was divine and the fate almost all rendered out

during the cooking, the way I do it at home. It was one of the best

duck courses I have had in ages.

I was surprised that the kitchen sent out two complimentary sides, but

not at all surprised that they knew me and chose the two I would have

selected. The Mac and Cheese had that Chef Morton crunchy crust and

creamy rich inside that was oh so classic yet tasty. The BRUSSELS

SPROUTS came also crisped on the outside and cooked just right with

large pieces of crispy bacon and super seasoning for taste. This again

showed that "crispy" fancy I am in love with.

I asked Michael after a long rest which dessert he would choose and he

immediately hit on my first choice, FRIED FIG PIE. Little did I know I

would receive three crispy sweet fried empanadas with powdered sugar

filled with fig, almond cream and a side of burnt honey ice cream on a

bed of port reduction. I tried to finish, but could not; I got thru 2

and a half.

Next time I plan to head to ART & SOUL, I will make sure I don't get