Monday, December 16, 2013

Bertrand at Mister A's is only okay in San Diego(12-15-13)

As we prepare to board a ship for a 30-day South Pacific cruise we chose a well-known haunt here in San Diego for the one night we had here. Bertrand at Mister A's ( sits atop an office building with wonderful views over the city and the Pacific. The service is pretty good, although I had to pour our wine once; which is not something you expect at a fine dining, linen, crystal and silverware type place.
Samuel declared the Strawberry Lemonade better than the one had that afternoon at our hotel and we liked the Frank Family Vineyard(Napa) 2010 Chardonnay which had hints of citrus and oak. They seem to have lots of French wine here, but we were in California.
An amuse of butternut squash soup was nice and we all liked it; this puree thick soup seemed to appear on many plates throughout the evening :-))

Will's Seared Grade A Ahi Tuna with Avocado and fresh Hawaiian palm was nice; I always keep telling him my tartare is better.
My Maine Lobster Strudel with Cognac Lobster Sauce and Forest Mushrooms was the hit dish of the night. Not too rich, just right, loaded with lobster and super tasty.
Samuel had the Oven Roasted Baby Rack of Lamb with Rosemary scented red and yellow peppers, very blasé potato puffs and a fab side of their famous Truffled Fries with Parmesan. The meat was superb and that squash puree was there again.
It was also on my plate of Maine sautéed Scallops with Caviar beurre blanc and very gooey olive and lime risotto and crispy broccolini. The scallops were fishy and overall the dish only impressed on the garlicky broccolini.
A glass of Trinitas Estate Chardonnay was nice with this and Will had the Tantara Cuvee Bertrand Pinot Noir from Santa Barbara with his Duck Breast accompanied by Turnips and Turnip Puree(the highlight) and a dry confit.
We were full and tired so skipped dessert and headed back to our hotel to crash early.
Time changes always mess me up.
It will be a while until we report again as we are at sea, but I may squeeze in a dinner or lunch report from Hawaii or Tahiti on the way.
Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Raoul's rates high in NYC's Greenwich Village (12-7-13)

I was joined by my niece and nephew in NY for dinner last night and we tried a new find for us all, yet a NY standard well known.
RAOUL's (180 Prince St, NY) is on a quiet street in Greenwich Village which was a welcome sight having just been in the hectic mid-town of holiday shoppers and tourists. The place was quiet when we arrived at 5:30pm, but heaving when we left just over 2 hours later.
Raoul's reeks of French bistro with a bar up front, tine ceilings and walls(!!) and comfy booths. Our server Javier was helpful and excellent and adorable as well!
I asked about the Steak Tartare and he said it was the best; he was near to correct, if not spot on. It was tasty with mustard in the mix, a small raw quail egg still in its shell (cracked open at the top to pour it out) on top and a small tasty frisee on the side with Sherry Vinaigrette. The same vinaigrette adorned the Mesclun Salad my nephew had. My niece had the extremely hot but superb Soupe de Courge avec Hommard or Butternut Squash Soup with chunks of Lobster.
My nephew tried a tart and slightly sweet Cranberry, Blood Orange, Vodka and Black Pepper cocktail that was yummy, but then we all enjoyed a superb Santenaay 1er Cru "Beauregard" from Domaine Roger Belland 2010 that was drinking smoothly and full of flavor. It went with everything!
The bread was delish as well with yummy but simple butter.
Main courses were FUSILLI with Organic Tomato Sauce, Shitake Mushrooms and Chevre which my nephew said was delish. Noix de St. Jacques avec Puree de Camemberge was a divine Scallop dish with Maitake Mushrooms, Kale Chips and Cranberry Puree.
My ONGLET GRILLE was a simple medium rare(rare in the center) grilled hangar steak served with Carrot Puree, Spinach & Shoots. Perfectly cooked and seasoned, it was one of the best around in a long time.
For dessert my nephew had the Banana Coconut Bread Pudding with Banana Crème Fraiche which was nice and my niece and I split the yummy Sticky Fig Cake with Salted Toffee Sauce, Figs and Vanilla Ice Cream.
We were just about to finish up and the manager offered us free drinks if we went to the bar; they needed the table really bad! What luck for us and what a wonderful evening had by all!

NYC's Seasonal is a superb stop for top Austrian fare with a modern take (12-6-13)

I ran up to NYC for several days and managed to squeeze in some great dining. I first returned to the Austrian restaurant and winebar SEASONAL ( located behind my hotel at 132 W. 58th Street. I loved it the last time, and it's still a great midtown dining spot.

I surveyed the menu and decided on the small Seasonal Tasting menu for $68 (accompanying wines were an extra $60). The place is small, narrow and long and there can be a draft near the front, so ask to sit near the rear. There is a long bar on one side of the middle section. It's cozy and warm with subdued lighting, nice music and I got the best service from Katarina all evening who hailed from the Czech Republic.

The amuse of Baby Octopus with Tomato Gel (in the shape of a cherry tomato) & CHive Oil was excellent as were the rustic breads which came with two cream-cheese based spreads:Paprika-Chive & Pumpkin Seed Oil. I could not resist.

First came the Kurbiscremesuppe a thick Butternut Squash Soup with Pumpkin Seeds and a small pouch or purse of Sour Cream that I thought at first was a ravioli, but it was a chemical-type gel pouch which opened and gave the soup a special treat.

A Liegenfelder Gruner Veltliner 2012 from Burgenland had notes of Pink Lady Apples & Honeydew melon. My only complaint was that with such wonderful Austrian wines, the crystal is not so great (I did get Riedel with the dessert wine!)

The last time I was at Seasonal I had the Pochiertes Ei which I was so happy to find on the tasting menu. It's crispy seasoned Pumpernickel bread shredded on the base with chunks of Lobster, Hen of the Woods Mushrooms, a soft poached egg and a Mushroom Foam. This dish deserves an award and while it is very rich I kind of liked the also rich Unplugged Chardonnay 2012 from Hannes Reeh which came with it.

Schweinebauch was a crispy meaty and nearly fatless Pork Belly with Cumin Glaze, Cauliflower Puree, Pickled Cauliflower and Pork Skin Chips(which I could have eaten all night--think meaty phyllo dough consistency with tons of flavor). The Hellinger Pinot Noir 2011 opened up after a bit and I enjoyed it more after about 20 minutes in the glass. The dish even came on a gorgeous black plate with concentric elliptical circles.


Ente was a breast and confit of Long Island Duck with Black Trumpet Mushrooms and Mousse, Orange Sauce and Rutabaga Puree. I was in love and the 2012 Andau Zweigelt was a spicy on the tongue treat which had hints of white pepper. The duck breast was slightly salted on the skin for flavor and micro greens adorned the plate.


Dessert was a triple hit with Topfenpalatschinken of Quark(cheese) filled crepes, figs and Vanilla Ice Cream served on finely ground Cookie Crumbs with a Caramel Sauce. YUM. The Heinz Eifel Eiswein from Rheinhessen in Germany was not too unctuous and just the right pairing for the rich dish. It was slightly tart with kumquat and apricot flavors.

Powdered horn cookies, chocolate dipped cookies and a chocolate biscuit arrived which I enjoyed with some tea.

What a superb meal it was!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Delicious DINO's in DC a fond farewell (11-24-13) -head there soon....

We heard several weeks ago that one of our favorite plces in DC was going to close so we booked DINO's ( for the three of us last night and by the time we ordered, the place was jammed.
Everyone has heard that friend and owner Dean Gold will be closing his doors in early January and last night, with the chill in the air of winter, the place was jammed with many
long-time diners trying to fit in another last supper. The place got so busy, the service did fall behind just a tad every now and then, but we had a great meal for sure.
Samuel enjoyed a White Peach Lemonade and Will had a yummy Strawberry Balsamico drink, these two were far superior to the Organic Grapefruit Refresher which was overly sweet and the Spicy Ginger Ale, which Samuel had some sparkling water added to as it was bit syrupy. These were indeed the only bad food/drink issues.
I started with a glass of Palama "Arcangelo" Negroamara 2011 from Puglia which was superb with our starters (Will & I shared everything):
Black Truffle Braised Matsutake Mushrooms with Savoy Cabbage, Young Ginger, Sesame Oil & Lime which indeed sound very Asian, but is an Italian twist for sure and not soy-based or salty at all. The huge mushrooms were earthy, the cabbage the perfect foil and the truffle just perfected the dish.
Santa Monica Farmer's Market Fried Baby Artichokes Roman Jewish Style are served with Dino's Silk Road Spice Rub, Lemon and Hawaiian Black Sea Salt that makes the dish just salty enough in each bite with a large grain of salt.
My second wine was a divine Sao Polo "Rubio" Sangiovese Toscano Rosso 2011 which was silky but with ever so slight tannins that matched our pasta courses to perfection.
We indulged in the RISOTTO BIANCO with TARTUFO BIANCO or the oh so well known White Truffle Risotto which Dean generously shaved with the precious funghus. DIVINE, and the season ends soon, so don't wait for this treat. Next came FUSILLI SICILIANA with local Romesco, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Anchovy, Caper, Rosemary, Garlic, lemon and olio. It was not puttanesca, but just shy of that with lots of flavor and little bite.
I am going to try and copy this sauce at home soon as I did some anchovy cooking last week and it really imbues huge taste into a sauce!  
Samuel enjoyed the FETTUCINE Pomodoro e Pesto with Fresh Heirloom Tomato Essence, a touch of cream, Roasted Garlic and Pesto Swirl that disappeared very fast.
I moved on to my final wine which was Sanguinetti "Nessun Dorma" (how can I ignore a wine named after such a great opera aria?) 2011 which is a smooth rich journey made from Sangiovese, Syrah and Merlot.
We split our main course of Grilled Truck Patch PORK CHOP with Tree & Leaf Tuscan Black Kale, Next Step Celery, Ginger and OJ (yes, orange juice!). It was a divine farm blend of celery and kale that made this dish over the top and from the local farmers that Dean has found and made so special in all his recipes.
Sam ate his intense CHOCOLATE TORTA of Valrhona Chocolate Ganache, Walnut Crumble and Vanilla Whipped Cream but was upset it was a hot molten chocolate (well, he should have asked!).
Will and I enjoyed three cheeses:
Capra Cremosa Tartufo -truffled goat
Castelmango-a raw sheep/cow that is crumbly and slightly blue
Erborinato Percorino Blu-sheep/cow raw blue that has an edge but not too intense.
These came with dried fruits/bread and tasty nuts.
For dessert we split a superb ASIAN PEAR & FIG CRUMBLE made from Heyer's Asian pears, Dates and Spiced Crumble and adorned with the most super Black Pepper Gelato.
We left full after hugs and goodbyes, but hope that Dean and his wife Kay are back in business ere long.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

New York's DB MODERNE does luncheon beautifully (11-7-13)

While in NYC last week I took some dear clients to lunch and decided on DB Moderne (55 W 44th St - where Chef Daniel Boulud expanded his empire years ago to include this relaxed yet classy dining spot. It is the perfect place for a big or small lunch and one can enjoy the relaxed scene for an hour or even two or more as we did.
There are a la carte menus and a Menu du Marche prix fixe of $32 for two courses or $40 for three, which is a deal these days for this spot. We were treated to a glass of Pere Gimonnet Selection Belles Annees 1er Cru Champagne which was indeed nice (priced at $26/glass!) and then we went on to one of my favorite winemakers YVES CUILLERON from the Rhone Valley and his Saint-Pery "Les Potiers" 2011 a truly amazing wine that we adored so much we had a second bottle!
Tuna Tartare and chives was a nice amuse, but nothing that would bowl you over. The entrees and main courses however were truly spectacular starting with the ESCARGOTS Fricassee "Olivier Muller" named for the first executive chef of DB Moderne and still served as a special from time to time. The Escargots were sautéed to perfection in a divine sauce of parsley with hazelnuts and adorned with spaetzle making this quite a rich and heavy dish. The parsley sauce was rich and gutsy and several "Chicken Oysters" as they are called adorned the dish for extra spice. These were small oyster-size pieces of chicken breast seasoned and then breaded. I think they were baked and not fried, but whatever, they were amazing! The simple db Market Salad with cardoons, citrus and barigoule vinaigrette and ButterNut Squash Soup were also welcomed.
Some of us thought of the Original DB BURGER made with sirloin, braised short ribs, foie gras and black truffle on parmesan bun with frites, but we resisted and chose the superb and meaty MAINE LOBSTER SALAD with Fried Artichokes, Grapefruit and Mascarpone. The COQ AU VIN was dressed with Bacon, Pearl Onions & Potato Confit. I opted for the DAURADE, a gorgeous piece of Dorado with Coco Beans, Celery and Oxtail Vinaigrette.
When it came time for dessert we were quite full and chose to share one Asiette de Fromage amongst the five of us:
The cheeses came with  both Walnut Raisin and Whole Wheat breads as well as Organic Honey from NY, Pear Pate a fruit, Apple Butter and Pecans.
The Fromage de Brebis was HUDSON FLOWER from Old Chatham, NY - sheep farm we have always loved -it had a very herby flavor and was superb
FOURME d'AMBERT from Auvergne, France is a mild sweetish blue that is rich and creamy and divine
St. NECTAIRE also from Auvergne has always been a special favorite of mine-but in the USA it comes pasturized and looses some of its ooziness
VELLA DRY JACK from Sonoma is a caramelly pecorino style cheese that our son would have adored
TOMME de CHVRE AYDIUS was the lone goat herby from the Pyrenees and just simply perfect.
This was indeed a worthy cheese plate and sent us home quite delighted especially after a plate of yummy homemade Madeleines arrived which we gobbled up.
I must mention that since this is indeed a busy business neighborhood when I sat down alone at just before noon waiting for my guests there was a woman at the next table with a Bluetooth earpiece on speaking on her mobile phone so loudly that I thought she would never shut up. Luckily the call ended about 10 minutes later just as my guests arrived! This is so rude.
Luckily I did not need to ask our superb servers to quiet her down!

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Jet over to JOANNE's when near NYC's Lincoln Center(11-6-13)

Last night we found a new spot that opened a couple of blocks from Lincoln Center about a year and a half ago; how did I miss
JOANNE's BISTRO ( at 70 West 68th St)?
It's simple with wooden tables and floors (was that a garden out back in the dark-I couldn't tell), a small bar up front, fresh flowers and great prices. Wednesday is Pappardelle night so any pasta dish can be changed to home made pappardelle for a total of $18 (which means that the pasta dishes are all under $18 usually). I chose the Penne with Broccoli-Rabe & Hot(u can also get sweet) Italian sausage and upgraded to Pappardelle. The sauce was a simple white wine and spice sauce and it was just right. My guest had the Salmon with a pumpkin sauce that she raved about. The 2012 bottle of Arboreto Montepulciano d'Abruzzo was about $35 and is also a steal. It's a great place also for cappuccino as they make a frothy cup which is great. The only problem is that the rear room is a bit isolated and you may have to raise your hand a while to get some help as they are often running to the front where the kitchen entry is. I look forward to returning again to this simple and reasonably priced place. By the way, I saw the ribeye at the next table and it must have weighed well over a pound!

Monday, November 04, 2013

Baltimore's CINGHIALE is a good choice (11-3-13)

Last night we were in Baltimore for dinner and chose CINGHIALE( for numerous reasons:
1)It's a product of Cindy Wolf & Tony Foreman of Charleston, Petit Louis,Pazo and more
2)They offer complimentary valet parking in the very busy Fell's Point area
3)The food is Italian, but top class, and we knew Sam could always get a pasta
4)It was only 6 minutes from the opera house where had seen a matinee of TOSCA!
We arrived at 6:15pm and the place was deserted. We were told that Sundays in football season are indeed dead!
It did fill up a bit through the evening, but we never complained as it was quiet and calm and the service was very good.
Paprika-Pumpkin Focaccia and Sourdough arrived with EVOO and Sam was happy with that. He quickly ordered the
CASUNSEI which are ravioli stuffed with sausage here served in Sage/Butter Sauce with Fresh Parmesan. It was gone quite fast. We tasted and they were excellent.
You can order a la carte or choose the small or larger prix fixe and we went for the $62 per person  which includes one each from salumi or antipasti, small portion primi, secondi & dolci.
It was a very good deal. We ordered a bottle of 2010 Barbera d'Alba Pelisseru "Piani" recommended by our server, Nicole, and it was a great choice as a lighter red with our starters:
Will chose the simple CARNE CRUDA of Veal Tenderloin with Robiola & Quail Egg which was gorgeous tartare but needed fresh pepper (which was not offered, we asked). I like my tartare with a bite and this was a bit lame. My Butternut SQUASH SOUP with Sweet Potato, Snails and Matsutake Mushrooms was divine, even Samuel raved about the soup (not the snails!). It was perfect for that first cold autumn day which yesterday was.
Our dream of a server Nicole brought out a complimentary plate for us of the dreamy rich Torchione of FOIE GRAS with a dash of sea salt, Local Poached Pear, Win Santo and Mustard Seed on chopped Quince which was a novel condiment, but it worked. EVOO soaked crostini were on the side.
Next came the 1/2 pasta portions which for Will was a superb Straw Smoked Potato GNOCCHI with Venison Goulash. My CHESTNUT TAGLIATELLE with Matsutake & Parmesan was less exciting. I was expecting a Chestnut Sauce and not a chestnut-flavored pasta, which really had little exceptional nut flavor to it. It was a decent pasta, for sure, but not what I was wanting.

We moved on to a divine VILL e PRATA 2004 Brunello di Montalcino that was earthy and opened up after a while (we had it decanted early on which was a good move) that was an amazing $87 on the menu for this fabulous vintage and just ready to drink now wine.
By the time our mains arrived, the wine was divine:
Will had a superb Grilled MAGRET of DUCK with Chestnut Puree, Chanterelles, Bosc Pears, Cider Reduction & Mustard (which Sam loved), and I adored my huge portion of Grilled Pennsylvania VENISON with Braised Red Cabbage, Huckleberries, Matsutake Mushrooms (yes, again) and Juniper Reduction. It was so huge I took home two of the five (or was it six) medallions! Despite the fact that Sam loves my bambi(venison) Bolognese at home, he doesn't seem to care for the loin!
Will & I decided on the cheese for dessert as we saw the trolley when we arrived. We chose 5 and they were all on the harder and not too exciting side:
Spresseta di Capra (rich tangy goat from Piemonte)
Fiore Sardo (nutty sheep from Sardinia)
Tallegio (which could have been riper-cow from Lombardy)
Mastorazio (aged pecorino from Campania) which Sam loved as it's similar to Parmesan
and the rich strong Gorgonzola Piccante aged 200 days (from Lombardy)

These came with some crostini, but needed something else to make the plate a bit more interesting.

We had a good meal and went home full for sure. Cinghiale is good choice though despite the few small flaws. Next time we will be more careful in our choices and skip the cheese for the dolci instead!

Monday, October 28, 2013

29 SOUTH EATS where the eatin' is fine and the brunch is bountiful in Fernandina Beach, FL (10-26 & 27-13)

Our final dinner on Amelia Island was not our last meal as we returned the next day to host long-time clients for a wonderful brunch as well. We chose 29 SOUTH EAST ( also located in downtown Fernandina Beach at 29 South 3rd Street. Our dinner server was Ian, a very camp full of zest and oh so tall guy that in thought he would hit his head on the ceiling!
He made many suggestions and we should have listened to his word as gospel. We chose one starter, the LOBSTER CORN DOG that came with a very tasty Vodka Spiked Horseradish Ketchup (like my vodka-spiked horseradish cocktail sauce!) but sported a battered deep fried lobster tail on a stick that was just too greasy and mess to eat. Ian did suggest the fantastic FRIED GREEN TOMATO Short Stack which came stuffed with Goat Cheese, topped with Red Pepper Jam and drizzled with Balsamic. No grease on these fried babies. His other suggestion was the spot on GRILLED ROMAINE with Maytag Blue Crumbles, In House Cured Bacon, Toasted Walnuts and a Champagne-Dijon Vinaigrette. Our first wine was a 2012 Broadbent Gruner Veltliner which was nice, especially with the tomatoes. We also asked why everyone else was getting rolls and we didn't; you have to ask. I guess it's like water during a drought. They were tasty salted soft warm buns as well!
Samuel ordered what must be the biggest dish ever for him: 10 ounce NY STRIP with pecorino/garlic/rosemary fries and Lardon Jus. It was huge but superb. I am not a steak guy, but the meat was tender, cooked well, the sauce divine and the fries some of the best ever.
We moved on to a Chauteuneuf du Paper from Mont Redon 2010 that was creamy and divine, especially with my fish special-
Hawaiian Snapper (Onaga) with Garden(out back) Papaya Bourbon Butter, Habanero Coconut Lime Milk (not sweet), Asapargus and Fingerling Potatoes. This is one of the top ten pieces of fish ever, the skin was crispy tasty and the meat flaky and superb; the sauce was perfection. SHRIMP & GRITS was another huge portion and a hit to boot with FRIED SHRIMP (Ian said they were a garnish) not necessary on top of the ones in the dish (they, too were a bit greasy). Mill Ground Grits had yummy local shrimp, sherry and Andouille Sausage Pan Gravy with Grape Tomatoes. YUM YUM...
We wanted dessert (Glazed Doughnut Bread Pudding with Butterscotch Drizzle sounded divine) but I reminded everyone we had the Club for sweets and drinks waiting back at the hotel, so Will & I settled on a small LOCAL Cheese plate with all the cheeses from SWEET GRASS DAIRY just across the border in Georgia. Fontina came with Watermelon Rind Chutney, Black Truffle Brie came with truffles and Micro Greens and the divine rich Asher Blue came with blackberries and honey. Crusty toasted bread was perfect for the cheeses if you wanted it, but it was a great way to end our final dinner in Florida.
Brunch the next morning was just as good, although Samuel was so full he just looked at his pancakes after one or two bites. Will liked his FISH TACOS with Chipotle Sauce & Napa Slaw and our guests enjoyed their breakfast fare as well. The hit dish, however was the PULL PORK EGGS BENEDICT which our charming server Yolanda brought and I almost fainted. Two huge poached to perfection eggs on Buttermilks Biscuits with Creole Mustard Hollandaise had what had to be nearly half a pound of PULLED PORK in the middle with a tasty peppery marmalade (was it orange and red pepper jelly?--I forgot to ask!).
It was good that our flight was midday and we didn't eat again until reaching home later last night!
Happy Hallowe'en to all and don't eat too much candy! We still have Salted Caramels!

Fernandina Beach Florida's ESPANA is everything for everyone (10-25-13)

For our second dinner we headed up to the top of Amelia Island and the small historic downtown area of Fernandina Beach. There are many options here and we asked lots of folks on the island before choosing ESPANA ( at 22 So. 4th Street. It's an unassuming place run by a wonderful couple run the place (Marina in front, Chef Roberto in the kitchen, but with visits to the tables out front for sure!) featuring Iberian cuisine and tapas.
We ordered a bottle of VIONTA Albarino 2010 from Rias Baixas which was crispy and tasty with our many tapas selections to start. A plate of creamy dressing drizzled with olive oil arrived to dip the bread in and Samuel said he wanted this at home for our bread! It was addictive.
Samuel was game to try many of the tapas but the big hit with him was the CALAMARI FRITOS which came with a marinara dipping sauce. His other favorite was the PICADINHO or pork tenderloin in small pieces cooked in a rich wine, spice and brown sauce that was actually just as good for dipping the calamari in. The calamari incidentally was perfectly battered and fried and dry as could be with not the slightest hint of grease!
BOQUERONES came in true tapas style layered on large piece of bread with olives and pimentos; they were divine, but Samuel was not crazy about these tasty anchovies. Finally, ALMEJAS BORRACHAS called "Drunken Clams" were quite large cherrystones in garlic, onion and white wine. They were nice, but nothing special.
Our second wine was a diveine creamy AVANTHIA 2011 Godello which was superb with the PAELLA VALENCIANA we ordered. Our server, Mandy, was wise and told us to order a portion for ONE person as it is huge; she was right. Clams, Shrimp, Mussels, Chicken & Andouille Sausage abound and on the side was a tasty Housemade Hot Sauce of Poblano & Jalapeno that was perfect on the rice dish. Samuel gobbled up his entire portion of POLLO CON LIMON y AJO....a simple chicken breast with lemon & garlic but lovingly cooked, juicy and seasoned to perfection.
Will wanted to try the TRES LECHES for dessert. He liked it, and I was not as crazy about it, so we headed back to the Club Level of the Ritz-Carlton where desserts are served with after dinner drinks every night and had more...OMG!
Special thanks to Chase and the entire staff there who made our evenings a joy after dinner!

if in Amelia Island, Florida the Ritz-Carlton's SALT is indeed superb (10-24-13)

We took a weekend jaunt down to Jacksonville and stayed at the Ritz-Carlton on Amelia Island which is a tranquil and relaxing place for a great getaway. Our first night we decided to dine at SALT, one of only two 5-Diamond restaurants in Florida. Chef Rick Laughlin oversees this wonderful classy club-like setting right facing the dunes and overlooking the Atlantic where indeed SALT is king. Even the lamps are Himalayan Pink Salt hollows with bulbs inside! If you go, be sure to opt for the $85 tasting menu of four (plus) courses (it's $130 and worth it with the wine pairings). The glass chargers on the table are a bit creepy as they are gold with large red "bloody-looking" spots, but very modern and cool as was all the china and tableware.
Samuel decided on the Petite Filet with Fries and was off to a racing start when our servers (Celia & Brandon) brought out the choice of salts. There are about 40-something offerings and the breads are Gruyere Cheese, Calamata Olive and lo-salt Soudough(best for salt tasting) all served with hand-churned unsalted butter from Normandie! Many of the salts are infused such as Black Fermented Garlic (from Italy), Citrus (with Adriatic sea salt), and many more each using only natural organic ingredients. There is Himalayan Pink, Hawaiian Red & Black, and even a Black Pepper Salt using New Zealand sea salt. The smoked Applewood salt uses smoked woods from Yakima Valley. Partway through the meal, Iljia, the maître d', brought out yet another new salt which was made with Ghost Peppers (supposedly the hottest on earth) which was fun as well (I thought it wasn't that hot, but Will did).
The amuse of Carrot & Ginger Soup with Parmesan Crisps was delish and a Trimbach 2009 Pinot Gris Reserve from Alsace arrived that we adored with this and our first course as well. Celia knew we drank fast and ate slow, and was always there for an extra pour as well! The TUNA CARPACCIO was a flattened layer of tartare with a crispy rolled (eggroll shape) wonton filled with Avocado & Tasmanian Crab Salad, Cucumber Relish, Black Salt, a hard boiled Quail egg and edible Egyptian flowers garnished the plate. We knew this meal was going to be fantastic. The flowers come from the chef's garden at the hotel though, not Egypt!
All the fish on the menu is top quality local or flown in from the likes of Alaska or as I said even Tasmania. The meat is all organic as well, so we were ready to be impressed, and we were. The BLACK GROUPER was a superb firm meaty Pan-Seared fish from the Gulf with Carrot Puree, Blood Orange Maramalde, Turnips, Chanterelles & Spinach as well as Micro Kohlrabi. The Gary Farrell Chardonnay 2010 from California's Russian River was a superb lightly oaked wine; I've had it years ago but left it due to the over-oaking of the late 1900's!
Spiced Rubbed BISON Tenderloin with English Peas, Fava Beans, Butternut Squash Puree and Crisp Salsify chips also had Roasted Purple Brussels Sprouts (these were small olive sized!) and Pickled Purple Cauliflower with Micro Arugula. An amazing DUCKHORN "Decoy" 2010 from Sonoma paired with this superbly.
Dessert was a Grand Marnier Souffle with Orange Rosemary Ice Cream and Grand Marnier Anglaise for one of us and an Eggnog Souffle with Cinnamon Ice Cream & Rum Anglaise for the other. We switched halfway and agreed the Grand Marnier was better. Andrew Quady "Electra" Moscato 2010 was the paired wine and this is not one of our favorites  so Celia quickly found some icewine for us.
Salted caramels were divine and arrived with Blackberry Ganache Macaroons (yum) and Mango Truffles.
The meal had one small bad moment when one of the servers was making a French presspot coffee at the table behind us and it exploded on Will. The manager immediately came over and offered to have everything dry cleaned the next day at the hotel's expense, which Will did. They also brought over a bag with several salt samples to take home and a pile of salted caramels. The incident was forgotten and our dinner a success.

Monday, October 21, 2013

back in DC all is going superbly at CEIBA (10-19-13)

We don't get downtown for pre-theater dinner much as we don't often go to Ford's, National or Warner's theaters, however last night we joined friends prior to s superb performance of "The Laramie Project" at Ford's Theatre which is not to be missed. That said, before the show (or after) you should head over to dinner at CEIBA ( where you can get a steal of a deal and a super supper.  Every day except Sunday between 530pm-630pm they offer a 3-course $35 dinner and the food is still spectacular after so many years.
We ordered drinks first and the martinis and margaritas are top notch, although my Margarita came with a tons of salt glopped on the rim. Our super server, Joe, said he would get me another, but I simply wiped a small mouth space and enjoyed the drink taking just a bit of salt every now and then. If this is the only thing that goes wrong at any dinner, it's a great meal, and everything went swimmingly (we ate lots of seafood!) well from here on in. We all ordered the $35 special and as I said, it's a steal. You can choose from 4 starters:
YUCATAN SHRIMP CEVICHE which is really a shrimp cocktail with Pico de Gallo, Avocado & Crisp Torn Tortillas.
If you want real ceviche, choose the fabulous PERUVIAN CEVICHE which is loads of fresh fish cubed with lime, red onion, cilantro, popcorn and aji picante. The CUBAN BLACK BEAN SOUP with ham & cheese croquette and latin crema got huge raves from the Cuban at our table!
There is also a salad option.
You can choose any main course from the menu but three of them have a $4 surcharge and it's well worth it for the tasty
seared JUMBO LUMP CRABCAKES with Smoked Bacon Fufu mash, Caramelized Brussels Sprouts and Aji Cumin Broth or the amazing
EL VIEJO SAN JUAN LOBSTER which is out of shell atop mofongo and Creole Sauce!! Three of us chose the superb dish.
I forgot to mention that flatbread comes with Red Pepper Puree and we also got treated to some extras which were amazing from Chef Matthew Britt:
CRAB & ROCK SHRIMP NACHOS with pickled jalapenos and the amazing Grilled OCTOPUS with Gazpacho Vinaigrette, Queso Fresco & Black Olive Aioli (a regular starter on the main menu) that was so tender we thought we were back in Spain!
Our first wine was a super Sauvignon Blanc Terrunyo from Concha y Toro "Block 28" in Chile that is intensely citrus and was perfect with the ceviches! The second wine was a Muga 2011 from Rioja in Spain made from Viura and Malvasia that was mineral  and a bit of earth and lots of fun with the shellfish for sure.
Dessert choices are Flan with Honey-Tequila Oranges and Brazil Nut Biscotti, Chocolate & Banana Mousse Cake or my choice of the three sorbets: Pineapple/Lime, Coconut and Strawberry/Prickly Pear all very  refreshing and a great end to a wonderful meal for $39.00!!!! The post-dinner platter has Mexican fudge/Passion Fruit Pate/Dulce de Leche Shortbreads and then the meal isn't over until the Caramel Popcorn arrives.
We weren't finished either. we had so much fun we went back for drinks after the show! And valet parking is $7.00 here!
I must add that on Thursday-Saturdays there is a fab Tasting Menu offered for $55 (or $75 with wine pairings). Each month the region changes and next month is the Caribbean. Sounds like a call for a return visit!
Kudos to the entire team at Ceiba who made us feel at home!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

LUKE for lunch in New Orleans is obvious; the Roosevelt FOUNTAIN LOUNGE breakfast feast (10-14-13)

Our last meals in New Orleans were our hotel breakfast in the FOUNTAIN LOUNGE ( of the Waldorf-Astoria Roosevelt Hotel and lunch at yes, another John Besh bastion, LUKE (
I must mention our breakfasts because they were truly amazing. The fruits, the eggs, even the Smoked Salmon, which I opted to serve myself on a buttered biscuit rather than a bagel and cream cheese, were all huge portions and priced accordingly. Luckily for us breakfast in included (all my clients get this benefit at thousands of hotels worldwide!); if not, the bill would have been over $75 daily for the 3 of us! The amazing EGGS BENEDICT with local Jumbo Lump BLULE CRAB also came with Canadian Bacon and divine homemade Hollandaise, but the highlights were the LOUISIANA SHRIMP & GRITS with a sunnyside egg on top of the superbly spiced crustaceans, Stone Ground Cheese Grits and Tasso Cream. If you are looking for something even more local try the CRAWFISH & BOUDIN Eggs Benedict, the cholesterol alone will overload your monthly allowance.
That said our final meal was at LUKE, a French bistro style informal spot in the Business District sporting an old style pressed tin ceiling and even older looking ceiling fans and tile floors. The service here, as in other places, is superb and Kevin was on his toes to make us happy. Samuel opted for the Burger and Fries with Garlic Aioli, but we were a tad more adventurous, starting with a 1/2 dozen Gulf Oysters. There are east and west coast ones here as well, but when in Rome.... At $9.00 these were salty, yet plump bivalves and not the big fat ones we used to get here years ago that were almost mealy. A Blanche de Bruxelles beer for Will and a tasty carafe of BRUNN Gruner Veltliner for me quaffed our thirsts.
Will chose the CROQUE MADAME (A Croque Monsier with Grilled Chisesi Ham & Emmantaler Cheese topped with a Fried Organic Egg) which arrived at room temperature. Within minutes a new plate arrived with an ADDITIONAL cone of those tasty fries, so now we had three orders of frites!
I opted for the Assiette de CHARCUTERIE as Kevin said they really make it special here, and he was spot on.
The accoutrements alone consisted of Stone Ground Fig Mustard, House-made Bread & Butter Pickles, Pepper Jelly,  Pickled Watermelon Rinds and Fennel Marmalade.  The meats included Rosetta Sausage, Pate de Campagne, Badischer Presskopf - hog's head cheese, Rillettes of Local Pork with Muscadet Jelly on top and the most creamy divine Pate of Louisiana Rabbit & Chicken Livers with Truffles!!! Lots of toasted baguettes were served, but I tried not to use so much so I could enjoy the quite large platter; remember, they have this size thing there.
We were all quite full, so when Kevin asked about dessert, we cringed. No matter, he whisked out a complimentary plate of Steamed Chocolate with Vanilla Ice Cream, Dark Chocolate Rice Crunch wafer (think decadent rice crispy) and Caramel Sauce, which we each tasted but alas could not finish. It was a great ending to a superb weekend of fun and food.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Its time for a R'evolution in New Orleans (10-13-13)

Our final dinner in New Orleans was at the recently opened R'evolution in the Royal Sonesta Hotel ( in the heart of the French Quarter. This is a joint venture from a truly odd couple of chefs with local chef John Folse joining Chicago-based Rick Tramanto (Tru) in a gorgeous Creole mansion-style setting that is truly elegant.  The room we were in had Louisiana plantations painted on the walls with deep cushy red booths and much larger tables than anyone could want with good spaces for privacy. This was very welcome after the tight arrangement at August the night before. In the next room was an open kitchen and lots of white tiles, so you can eat here several times in many different settings. When you sit down, you know who is in charge as the Ginori-copy plates have the two chefs name's emblazoned on them. Our servers were Maegan and Ronan and they were very helpful as the menu is large and varied.
The Amuse arrived in the form of a White Bean and Mussel Salad, which Sam would have none of, but we gobbled up. The sparkling water here is Hildon from the UK. Unsalted and salted butters aarived with Lavosh, Buttermilk biscuits, Seeded rolls and Crystalettes (a small individual baguette) which were all tasty.
We started with a bottle of Bodegas Lopez de Heredia "Vina Gravonia" Crianza from Rioja which is Vivra(a grape I never heard of) and Granatxa Blanca.It was perfect with the two starters we shared:
BLACK TRUFFLE BEEF TARTARE with Pickled Vegetables(turnip, jalapeno, carrot, red pepper) and Grilled Bread and while Samuel tasted it, he was not thrilled; we adored it. Going more local the other dish was Crabmeat-Stuffed Louisiana Frogs Legs Nicoise with Fennel & Saffron which is a dish that will win anyone over to this superb chicken-like protein. The legs have only one small bone in them and were stuffed with crab and a bit of mascarpone cheese as binder (it was not sweet) and then battered and deep fried like giant lollipops. They were sublime.
Sam ordered the Braised Boneless SHORT RIBS with Rutabaga Citrus Puree in Red Wine Sauce and indeed his plated was empty after dinner save fore the puree (he never likes purees--even mashed potatoes). His side of fries came with Chipotle Ketchup & Lemon Aioli dips. he plates were monstrous servings and I struggled through my 1/2 North Carolina MUSCOVY Rotisserie DUCK with Field Pea Foie Gras Rice (that was the reason I ordered this) served inside a Crispy Onion Ring, Pea Tendrils and Chanterelles (yes again!). This was a superb lacquered duck with crunchy skin and moist insides; it had everything going for it. Will ordered the
Pan Seared PORK CHOP with House-made Italian Sausage, Cannelini Beans, Escarole Salad & Horseradish; yes, for the English guy who dislikes horseradish. It was a BIG (underscore) hit as again the dish was monstrous.
Our wine was a 2008 Condoda de Haza from Ribera del Duero that was opened and decanted for about 45 minutes at the beginning so it had really opened up and had huge legs and everything else a red wine could wish for; and a brilliant pairing for both big meat dishes.
I forgot to mention that while the menus are printed, the wine list comes on an I-pad, and I can be technically challenged with these things; Sam helped me. The electrical dessert menus arrived and there were may items but we settled on the White Chocolate BREAD PUDDING CREME BRULEE for the table to share which came with Lemon scented Apricots and Salted Bourbon Caramel Sauce. The apricots and the sauce were divine, but this dessert was nowhere near a bread pudding or a brulee. I explained this to our servers (we didn't eat most of it) and we were not charged, but as this occurred I noticed a cheese trolley. Why was this option not on the electrical menu. It was completely left off and they said that the electric menus don't get updated. How stupid is that!
A manager came over to apologize and I really didn't want cheese by then, but it's a shame this was not well done.
Just as we thought we were done Maegan brought the FUN BOX, a huge chest which had multiple compartments and platters which she opened and distributed. These had Salted Caramel taffy, Pecan Brownies, Pecan Chili Brittle, Blackberry AlmondTea Cake (like a Linzertorte), Limoncello Cookie, Milk Chocolate Truffles (Sam dived for that and the brownie), and a Toasted Coconut Macaroon with Dark Chocolate (for me!), They were all indeed lots of fun and a great way to end the meal, although there might be a fight over some of the items as there are not two or three of each at every table!
Save for the dessert, we were happy to join the R'evolution.


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

AUGUST- a truly august gastronomic temple in New Orleans (10-12-13)

Saturday night we chose AUGUST, where Chef John Besh came to great fame just over 13 years ago, which was the time of our last trip to New Orleans. Sadly, it was so popular back then we couldn't get in. This trip, it was a bit easier, and we were warmly welcomed into the small front dining room with exposed brick and five gorgeous miniature crystal chandeliers.
Robert and Anne Marie were our helpful and very courteous team of servers, and while this is a John Besh establishment, I should note that it is Chef Todd Pulsinelli who runs the kitchen here. The menu offered many items and a couple of tasting menus as well, but we wanted items from both the regular and tasting menus. Samuel was getting very excited about tasting many new items (for more brownie points), and almost had a meltdown when we didn't decide on the super multi-six course tasting.
Robert told us not to worry that he would get us any item off any menu and it was not an issue. We knew we were in good hands.
I never did get the sommelier's name, but I told him I was quite interested in the 2010
Mas Igneus "Barranc-Dels Closos" from Priorat as we recently visited Spain and wanted to try as many new Spanish wines as possible. This blend of Macabeu, Garnatxa Banca, PX, & Muscat has earthiness and flavor and was a novel treat. I knew it would be great with our first courses (we decided to order different items for each course and split them), but first came the amuses!
An eggshell appeared filled with Roasted Garlic Custard, Sweet Corn Mousse and Butter Crumble which Samuel tried but did not care for. I gobbled his up before Will could even think of it.
Amuse #2 was FOIE GRAS layered with Muscadine Grape Jelly and Baum Kuchen Sponge Cake. Guess what? I got to eat most of Samuel's one bite treasure as well, even though he did taste to his credit.
Our first courses were LEMONFISH CRU with Avocado, Black Garlic & Thai Chili. My first bite of this wonderful and quite "thick" local fish was superb, but on the second, I got a mouthful of those Thai chilis, and it was indeed quite a spicy mouthful. I managed to find a slice of the flash-seared sushi-grade fish for Sam and he actually liked it; maybe sushi is on the horizon? Indeed the wine's minerality worked well here as it did with the CRABMEAT, JELLYFISH & SHRIMP Salad with Croustillant of Rice with fine herbs and Fish Sauce. We were told the dish also had cuttlefish and octopus for a truly superb local preparation that Samuel was brave enough to try but really winced at!
Our next courses in our journey were housemade POTATO GNOCCHI with Blue CRAB & BLACK TRUFFLE. I truly thought this delicious dish would be a big hit with Sam considering his newfound love for truffles this summer, but alas crab is not his thing.
On the other hand, Fresh CROWDER PEA (from Covey Rise Farm) TORTELLI with Purple Plums(yes), Chanterelles and Baby Turnips was a hit across the table, especially due to the tiny tad of mascarpone filling in each pasta purse.
We moved on to wine #2, a minerally-intense SAINT VERAN 2010 from Maison Verget "Cote Rotie," which is confusing as Cote Rotie usually defines Rhone wines. No matter-we loved it and moved on to our three main courses.
Samuel had long awaited the "market priced" Specialty Cuts of Two Run Farms Grass Fed Beef with Matsutake Mushrooms, Roasted Sunchoke, Amber Cup Squash and Rapini. The meat arrived and nobody seemed to know what the two cuts were. We  were finally told it was a strip steak and Sam was struggling through the intensely gristly meat, not to mention the issue with grass-fed beef, which we(he) had tried in Spain. This was an awful cut and they tookh it back with no charge in seconds-sign of a great fine dining establishment and good service.
Our main courses were far superior with my Pass Mandchac SOFT SHELL CRAB Amandine with crushed Marcona Almonds, Brown Butter Custard and Summer Bean Salad. Y'all know I adore softshells and I have had some decent Gulf ones indeed, but this truly was the largest and one of the best ever.
On the other shared plate was an equally superb creation: Breaded (Brioche) "TROUT Pontchartrain" with Shrimp, Blue Crab and (yup) local Chanterelles. The trout comes from the lake just north of town and is truly a treasure, but the dish is a winner that has apparently been on the menu for over 13 years since the opening, and it took us that long to taste it!
We had ordered each course carefully under the guidance of our servers and amazingly had room for dessert!
Samuel had the NAPOLEON of NOUGATINE with Valrhona Chocolate Bavarois and Salted Toffee Ice Cream. Only the latter was left which we quickly devoured.
Will's Meyer LEMON SOUFFLE TART with Lemon Curd & Ginger Snap Ice Cream was another tasty hit.
I went the way of the cheese with a selection  of truly amazing SOUTHERN cheeses:
The dullard if I may say, because we in DC  are spoiled, was the Galax GRAYSON from Virginia, only because we have such quality Grayson back home. This was good, but not great.
GREEN HILL comes from Sweet Grass Dairy in Georgia and needs attention as does the delightful MIDNIGHT MOON Goat from Arcata, Georgia, but the hit was
BAYSIDE BLUE from Sweet Home Farm Alabama (sounds like a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song!). This cow and sheep blue would just blow anyone away!
The plate comes with salty(very) lavosh wit sesame seeds and accoutrements of
Pear Marmalade, Blueberry Marmalade, Toasted Pecans and Toasted Pumpkin Seeds. How southern is that?
While Samuel's beef was a bummer, we really did enjoy August immensely!

New Orleans' DOMENICA does it all and at double the size (10-11-13)

If we had any hopes of trying to watch our weight on this holiday weekend trip to New Orleans, that would have been stupid.
Our first night we thought we might be a bit tired, so we decided to eat in our hotel, the Waldorf Astoria Roosevelt, where New Orleans uber chef John Besh has teamed up with Israeli Alon Shaya to create, of all things, an Italian bistro, DOMENICA ( The space is quite noisy with wooden floors, wooden tables and lots of hanging crystals with bulbs.
I didn't feel that a lot of love went into the design, but we loved our corner table with a full plate glass wall window view of the gorgeous onion domed church across the street where we were able to witness a local wedding replete with min-band, handkerchiefs waving and the bride and groom with tasseled white and black umbrellas respectively!
In charge was Chef Phillip Mariano, who indeed was Italian and did his heritage's cuisine great honor. We were sent glasses of Prosecco which we enjoyed with the AFFETTATI MISTI, a chef's selection of salumi and formaggi along with warm marinated olives, pepper jelly, pickled raisins, spiced peaches, cherry-kiwi mostardo and almond panneforte. Our meats were COPPA, a cured pork shoulder, BRESAOLA, air dried beef, LANZA, which I never found out what it was and the most divine creamy rich DUCK LIVER PATE with moscato jelly in a jar that seemed to never end. The cheeses were a creamy LATUR and a new blue to me called BERDA CAPRA. An accompanying basket of savory beignets were amazing and great to spread the various pate, cheese or just anything we wanted in any combo on. Samuel, in an attempt to win points for prizes, started to taste new things. First came the raisins, peaches and even the mild creamy blue cheese, which all went over quite well; the pate was less of a success. He ordered the MARGHERITA Pizza and that was pretty good as well we have to admit.
I also need to mention the bread, peppery olive oil and the wonderful sparkling water which is Mountain Valley from Arkansas!
We moved on to a bottle of GRECO DI TUFO 2010 from Cantine di Manzo in Campania that our charming and helpful server, Angel, recommended. She guided us very well through the large paper place meat menu and we really were able to taste many dishes without overloading. That said, it seems all the dishes in New Orleans seem to be giant-sized! The OCTOPUS CARPACCIO Antipasti for $14 with fennel, citrus and olive oil could have been a meal. Shaved as thin as could be these medallions were superb, and again Samuel went for a taste (not a winner). The CHANTERELLE MUSHROOMS (they seem to be ubiquitous at this time of the year) were treated with great respect as they were served with smoked marrow butter that exuded such flavor on toasted ciabatta slices.
The decor doesn't offer much here with wood floors and tables making it quite noisy. The light bulbs have crystals hanging around them. We were blessed with a table at the corner against the tall street windows overlooking the gorgeous onion-domed church across the street. The police arrived to block the street and then a band, and then a wedding emerged replete with waving handkerchiefs and white and black tasseled umbrellas for the bride and grooms--totally local New Orleans style.
We moved on to a bottle of YARDEN "Odem Vineyard" 2010 Chardonnay from Israel, which we figured had to be good at a restaurant where the chef/owner was Israeli, but it became apparent that it was cloyingly intense like an old okay Napa Chard. It wasn't  awful, but not what we wanted. It did do better with our two half pasta orders which were intense themselves:
GARGANELLI with Maine LOBSTER, tomato, burrata and bread crumbs was nice, but the SQUID INK TAGLIOLINI with tons of Blue CRAB and herbs was the big hit.
We all looked at each other after 3 hours of this meal and declined dessert, but Angel brought out some BRUTOS, soft gooey chocolate espresso cookies that we could not refuse. What a superb start to our long weekend away.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Arlington's WILLOW is always wonderful (10-8-13)

Last night for Will's birthday we decided on a quiet family dinner at one of our favorite spots in the area, WILLOW ( where two of the best chefs in town truly reign. Tracy O'Grady and Kate Jansen, however, both had the evening off and left their more than capable staff to treat us like royalty. With the government shut, and it being Tuesday, the place was indeed very quiet save for a corporate event in the back dining room which was quieter than DC on a Sunday morning at 4am!
We settled in with some superb Virginia sparkling Blanc de Chardonnay from Thibaut-Jannisson in Monticello which really shows how great Virginia wines can be! Samuel enjoyed a Rob Roy! We moved on to a SEGHESIO ARNEIS 2012 from Russian River, Sonoma which really has a gorgeous bouquet, yet earthiness and flavor not very much like its Italian kin. Many treats arrived and we adored the now world famous GOUGERES which come with a BLACK TRUFFLE BUTTER dipping sauce. I devoured at least 3-1/2 of these tasty treats. While Samuel enjoyed a small portion of the MARGARITA FLATBREAD with Large Cut PEPPERONI devouring every bite filled with tasty Garlic Tomato Sauce, Parmesan, Pecorino, Fontina, Basil & Scallions. The pepperoni is cut in a rectangle so that each bite of the flatbread has some meat on it to boot. We adored the CLAMS CASINO FLATBREAD with Little Neck Clams, Applewood Smoked Bacon, Leeks, Parmesan, Roasted Fennel, Preserved Lemon, Toasted Paprika Bread Crumbs and Chives. Next time we must try the LADY FROM BRUSSELS FLATBREAD if it's still on the menu (with Applewood Smoked Bacon, Creamy Brussels Sprouts, House Smoked Goat's Cheese, Aged Sherry Vinegar & Fried Brussels Sprouts "crisps").
More starters came in the form of MUSSELS a LA NORMANDY again with Applewood Smoked Bacon, Shallots, Brussels Sprouts, Local Apples, Calvados, Thyme & Cream--a divine concoction for sure. DAY BOAT SCALLOP & Late Summer RATATIUILLE GRATIN was also rich and divine with Basil Bread Crumbs on the ratatouille which was tasty and crispy as were the scallops.
BEEF TENDERLOIN TIPS "Weck" Style were explained by our server John as a variation on the Cumiweck Sandwich coming from Buffalo, NY (Chef O'Grady's hometown). These tender pan-seared beef chunks came with Caramelized ONION RAVIOLI, Roasted Carrots, Toasted Caraway, Sea Salt and Horseradish Beef Sauce which come from the original sandwich which I had never heard of. The bun is missing (and who needed more carbs after all those gougeres?!) but the dish is oh so tasty and novel.
We moved on to a wine we used to drink decades ago, but have not had in years: CLOS PEGASE "Mitsuko's Vineyard" 2011 from Napa's Carneros region is a BIG Chardonnay which has lost all that oak they used to have back in the '90's and now really is a perfect seafood chardonnay.
While Samuel gobbled up his WILLOW FRIED CHICKEN: Marinated in Buttermilk, Lemon & Thyme but would not even consider tasting the yummy Summer Corn & Lima Bean Ragout or the Sweet Corn Pudding. Well, at least he had a big salad for lunch!
Herb & Walnut Crusted Norwegian SALMON Filet is a great dish for salmon lovers with Tarragon Pesto Roasted Salmon with Roasted Fennel & Stewed Winter Greens, Smoked Shitakes, Lemon, Sweet Garlic & Gigante Beans in a Rich Vegetable Broth.
Pan Seared DAY BOAT SCALLOPS come with enticing and rich Smoked DUCK CONFIT Spiked French GREEN LENTILS, Baby Spinach, Rissole of Cauliflower with a Beet, Orange & Aged Vinegar Emulsion while
BUTTER POACHED LOBSTER TAIL & LOBSTER RAVIOLI is an amazing expansion of what used to be an appetizer (I think). I ordered this as Samuel said he would try it, but when it arrived there was no way he was going to try lobster. Oh well, more for me. There was a huge pastry square, flaky and rich, filled with Creamy Fennel Gratin and topped with a cooked just right Lobster Tail. On the other side of the plate was Savory, Asparagus and those divine raviolis with a Sherry Lobster Sauce. OMG!  I think the garnish was tasty fresh Thai Basil?
Will received a Willow wine glass filled with take home cookies and macaroon but had to order his STICKY TOFFEE PUDDING with Caramel Sauce and Moorenko Vanilla Ice Cream. YUM. Samuel gorged his little face with the huge CHOCOLATE FLOURLESS BOURBON CAKE with Dark Chocolate Sauce & more of that Moorenko Ice Cream, while I partook of the monstrous sized LOCAL APPLE CRISP with more Moorenko and House Made Caramel.
We rolled ourselves out the door and home, of course, after we sang Happy Birthday to Daddy and he blew out the lone candle in his dessert. I guess the diet's over for now as we will report many meals from New Orleans soon!

Friday, October 04, 2013

STRATFORD UNIVERSITY CULINARY SCHOOL cooks it up superbly with Chef James Kirby at the helm creating(10-3-13)

Last night as part of a charity auction event we took a pile of folks down to Woodbridge, Virginia for a novel event. As some of the folks keep kosher, we asked Chef James Kirby (a teacher at the Woodbridge University's Cooking School), previously of Blue Duck Tavern and The Inn at Little Washington, if he could do up a meatless, kosher meal. Well, the wonderful team of students out did themselves and we brought along wines from our cellar that made this a fun and novel event for sure.
It was good to see some old faces from previous dinners we have purchased from the Stratford University, and it is very rewarding to see them progress over the years in their studies and future careers.
The evening started with a BARLEY MUSHROOM RISOTTO which was graced with gorgeous sautéed CHANTERELLES, some crunch puffed rice and sprigs of Chervil. I don't think a single grain of rice was left on anyone's plate! GRUET New Mexico Brut Blanc de Noir was an amazing choice for pairing. The school's sommelier asked me to pair a Blanc de Noir and not Blanc de Blanc and this was sheer genius.
SOUS-VIDE ALBACORE TUNA and WHITE BEANS was a novel take on the Tuscan traditional dish and even had little Micro Baby Arugula on top to adorn the dish "Tuscan style." Some folks are not sushi eaters, but this tuna was indeed cooked, if for a long time and a temperature of just over 100degrees F. It was superb and flavored with Maldon Sea Salt Flakes which we use at home as well for amazing flavor. There were some sliced olives for extra flavor as well as divine Pickled Red Onion slices. The croutons on the dish were large and crunchy and scented of olive oil. The joke around many of the tables was that they resembled Pork Cracklin's! NO WAY!
Again the sommelier recommended a GRECO DI TUFO and I chose Terredora diPaolo 2012 "Loggia della Serra, a brilliant if aromatic choice that was just right.
BOUILLE a BAISSE was they way the menu described the next course and this was indeed a very novel twist on the traditional French dish here made with a gorgeous piece of HAKE (which did occasionally sport a small bone) atop a creamy but not too rich BRANDADE.
There were baby onions, carrots, potatoes and micro basil adorning the light broth and amazingly flavored dish. It was a dish that anyone at my regular farmer's market would have gulped down as it had everything oh so fresh going for it. I chose a 2009 CHEHALEM "3 Vineyard" Pinot Noir from Oregon's Willamette Valley as this is a winery very special to us and indeed three years ago at our most recent Jewish and official DC wedding, it was the winery of choice for the party! A nice nod to our Third Anniversary, not to mention the 20th since our first commitment ceremony!
Dessert was a rich creamy TRIO of POT DE CREMES: Chocolate, Orange and Coconut, each of which had a dark, white or milk chocolate leaf on it. YUMMY. We chose two dessert wines that could not have been more different. An intense 2003 ROYAL Vintage Port that was just starting to drink beautifully. We had learned while in Porto this summer the REAL way to drink vintage port is with an ever so slight chill. I had it refrigerated for 20 minutes only which worked wonders, then a quick double decanting removed all the sediment and allowed the port to be served (After the bottle was rinsed) from its original bottle. The dark purple color and flavor were amazing. For those who wanted sweet and syrupy we offered up Osborne PEDRO XIMENES 1827 Sweet Sherry which was really superb loaded with honey flavors and earthiness as well.  
The crew at Stratford University Culinary School really met this challenge head on led by a superb team of teachers/chefs. What a fun evening and all truly kosher!


Monday, September 02, 2013

Washington's MINTWOOD PLACE makes a perfect place for brilliant bistro dining but better (9-1-13)

Right in the middle of Adam's Morgan at Columbia Road (near 18th Street, NW) Chef Cedric Maupillier ( has name his brilliant bistro after the small side street behind the bright cheery location on the main drag. While the name may confuse, nothing else here will be amiss; our Restaurant Week experience last night (which can often be a recipe for disaster) was a most satisfying one.


The dining room is large and airy which can get a bit loud when full, but luckily there is no music that is bothersome. There are window booths with lots of pillows to recline on if you want to people watch outside and cozy leather booths as well. The light tone butcher block tables make for a rustic feel as well.


The only thing that went wrong was when I ordered the Robert Egger Cocktail (tequila, aperol, lime, agave nectar) our server said it could be made less sweet. It was a cloying cocktail and I had to send it back. Will fared much better with the Garden Preservation usually made from Green Hat Gin (he asked for Grey Goose instead), Cucumber, Basil, Lemon and Soda. The wines were novel and exciting with a very menu. We missed our Spanish wines, so we started with VINYA SELVA De MAR BLANCA from Mas Estela with a blend of white grapes, but mostly white Grenache, from the Costa Brava 2010. It was a perfect acidic and dry refresher with our varied starters. The menu offered some extras and we could not resist ESCARGOT HUSHPUPPIES. These are crispy little nuggets and come perfectly fried with a divine dipping remoulade which we were told contained tarragon, chili and even pernod (that French licorice liqueur we so detest, but it was not apparent). Samuel even tired one, but hit a dead end when he found the dark little fella inside! Instead he gobbled up the delicious crispy bread which came with soft quality butter. He said he missed the olive oil from Spain!

Our charming server Yanigni (she is from Provence and explained her name with a little story) said that the set menu had some amazing option and boy was she right. While Will started with the CUCUMBER & WATERCRESS GAZPACHO with CRAB and AVOCADO which is about as refreshing one can get on a 90+ degree evening. Speaking of temperature, were the folks eating outside in the humid heat insane? I felt sorry for the servers who had to deal with that!

My Wood Grilled Confit of CALVE's HEART and BABY COLLARD GREEN SALAD may go down as one of the best salads in history, not to mention one of the best offal preparations. The small pieces of meat were cubed and had a stewed feel to the confit. The meat was tender and soft and came apart with each bite. The dressing was superb and the greens were the perfect foil to the meat's intensity. At the bottom was a runny poached egg, a great surprise when I found it and I quickly mixed it in for maximum flavor. Small pieces of grilled cauliflower and other delights all won me over instantly.


Samuel ordered from the kid's menu as he spotted BUCATINI BOLOGNESE and this $10 kid's menu dish was a huge bowl of pasta laden with the rich meat/tomato sauce which he loved. A Pomegranate Lemonade was okay, but quite pricey for the non-alcoholic and small size which he said was a bit too sweet.


We asked the sommelier about a red Spanish wine and ended up trying CELLER ESCODA's SANAHUJA, Coll de Sabate 2006 from Conca de Barbera which was a Cabernet Franc blend (not something you get from Spain often) loaded with earth notes, green peppercorn and tons of fruit, so little acidity or tannin. What a treat. It was hard to pair a wine as Will ordered the Wood Grilled SWORDFISH with Puy Lentils and Crudite which was a big enough dish to stand up to the red for sure. It was perfectly cooked and a real winner. I went for the PORCHETTA of SUCKLING PIG, CHARCUTERIE SAUCE and a choice of sides which Yanigni insisted had to be the PUY LENTILS; she was right. The lentils were different from Will's as they were heavier in a thickened sauce. While not our St Pau beans from Spain, there were superb, but my portion was so large I had to take 1/2 home along with the remainder of the juicy pork roulade which was crusted with very crunchy cracklin' skin; Will thought he was going to loose a tooth biting one piece! Lots of love went into this dish which apparently appears only on Sundays, due to the intense preparation.


Since dessert is included in the 3 course unrealistically low Restaurant Week price, we indulged. Will chose the light small portion of KEY LIME PIE which he liked for its intensity. Samuel had the BROWNIE SUNDAE, which disappeared quite fast and I adored my Warm PEACH CROUSTADE with Nougat Glace. The pastry shell was a gorgeous mille feuille butter style but flatter and filled with sweet cooked peaches, clearly the freshest around now and then the foil was the nougat filled glace, lighter than ice cream or gelato, but heavier than sorbet. IDEAL to finish a heavy meal.


We know that when a restaurant can pull off Restaurant Week this well, it must be amazing ALL THE TIME! 




Wednesday, August 28, 2013

BOHEMIC, the best bistro in Barcelona, if not the best food in the.......(8-24-13)

As is wont, we saved the best for last and for a good reason. Four and a half years ago, I had the best lunch of my life at BOHEMIC (
and I have recommended the spot to dozens and dozens of folks who have all come back RAVING. You can go back to my first rave at the blog and see why, but this review is all about last week.
This time I was so excited to take my husband and son back to my favorite dining spot in Spain, so I started e-mailing the chef/owner Francesc almost a year ago.
He told me that he was unsure of his August vacation schedule and to contact him back again in late spring. In April, I was e-mailing him again, explaining that we were only in
Barcelona for four nights and that we had to leave on Sunday morning August 25th (and be at the airport at 530AM!). He emailed me back and said that while he had previously planned to reopen
on Monday, but that he would indeed reopen on Saturday for us. Phew!
We arrived at 828pm and the door was locked, but that is because they open at 830pm. Francesc's mom, whom I had met on my first visit, saw us from inside and unlocked the door and in her cigarette-toned
voice said "ALAN!" and gave me a kiss on both cheeks, and did likewise to Sam & Will. We were home.
We sat down and after a bit, Francesc came out and introduced his cousin, Torrenz, who would be his server; this has always been a family operation. I asked him if his father was still helping and he said that he was upstairs taking care of his newborn nephew (or was it niece). In four plus years, Francesc has really improved his English, so now we knew exactly what we were eating, although I never had an issue
with that cause everything was fabulous. I asked Francesc why he signed his e-mails "Mandu" and he explained that often the locals use their mother's maiden names as nicknames. I never did find out his mom's name, but Torrenz is also a nickname as well.
Couples came in, but the place never did fill up (there are still only 8 tables seating no more than 20 people), although there were a number of additional seats outside which we did not notice were full.
My first visit was in January, and at lunch the place was jammed. Torrenz proffered two glasses of CANALS Y CANALS CAVA which was dry but fruit forward and a great start. Samuel had his several last Cokes in Spain for this trip and we settled in for a culinary journey which was accompanied by soft, jazzy or popish music that never interfered.
POTATOES arrived, but not just POTATOES. This recipe is so cherished that Mandu refuses even to give some of the ingredients other than what we can figure out. These were nubby pieces of French fries with TWO SAUCES, one brown and spicy and the other white and slightly creamy. We guessed that the dark was Sun-Dried Tomato and Chili, but Mandu would not even blink. It is a secret he will never reveal.
Samuel saw the sauces and immediately refused to try the dish; this despite our oohing and aahing with culinary orgasms over each forkful. He finally gave in and tried to catch up as he had missed the top layer!
When Mandu asked if we wanted another plate we respectfully declined as we knew there were going to be multiple "orgasms" to follow.
We had enjoyed Pa' TOMAT so much on this trip that we thought we had seen every version in Catalunya. WRONG!
Mandu makes his with crunch and a huge tomato infusion bursting with flavor. he then adds FOIE GRAS MOUSSE, CUCUMBER CREAM, CATALAN CHEESE, DRIED TUNA, Micro greens and even small edible flowers. This is a TOMATO BREAD that will go down in history! Even Samuel, who has loved the bread everywhere, but is not a fan of foie gras, said is was truly amazing. His eyes rolled in his head, and I think he would have eaten a horse head if Mandu brought it out next!
Next came ROAST BEEF with MUSTARD ICE CREAM. This was again a local dish with a modern turn that we saw the earlier in the week as a tartare with mustard ice cream. Here the beef was rare and sliced thin and rolled with Mustard Seeds, Caviar, Garlic, Roasted Scallions and tiny little jelled pearls of Jugos Iberico, as we were told, or Iberian juices....whatever that is. If this is deli food, I can eat it forever.
We switched from the Cava to VALL DOLINA XAREL-LO 2012. We knew this would be our last XAREL-LO before leaving its homeland, so I just keep thinking more and more about how much I was going to miss the food; and more and more of how I needed to get back on my diet as soon as I got home! It was sublime with more citrus that usual and ideal with what came next.
I had enjoyed the Bottafega Negra or BLACK SAUSAGE the previous day for lunch in a terrine with octopus. Even Will who does not care for this said it was great. Here, Mandu has recreated breakfast; SAUSAGE & EGGS gone CATALAN is what I call it. The black sausage has a slow low cooked egg on top which oozes as it is burst at the table. A sprinkling of crunchy sweet mullet makes the texture complete with chewy, oozy and crunchy. You won't find anything for breakfast (or any meal) like this anywhere on earth!
The 5th "course" or tapas was something Samuel would not touch (I guess I was wrong about the horse head--he didn't want the Bottafega Negra either).....
Head-on SHRIMP GRILLED tableside which had been seasoned and salted perfectly. It was a fun show for sure which even Samuel liked (we got it on video). These were paired with SHRIMP TAILS poached in ELDERFLOWER. Pairing the head and tail together made an amazing contrast and a perfect blend of two different aspects of the little guys.
I had praised Mandu on my first visit for the amazing CLAMS & PEAS, and especially for the visual drama and presentation of that dish. This night he brought us CLAM from GALICIA (we are going to miss them as well) in a SMOKED BBQ SUACE with a FENNEL & DILL EMULSION. The crustaceans were smoked just past raw so they were not chewy, yet still very tasty and the sauce was sublime.
We moved to an excellent red wine from 2006 called S'ALQUERIA which is a blend of Carignan, Llebre (Tempranillo), Grenache Noir (Granatxa Negra) and Macabeo Blanco. I guess this is the Spanish version of the Rhone blend, but it's much bigger. I doubt anyone could tell this big red blend has any white grape varietals in it. It was served slightly chilled which was really great as it was a warm night and we welcomed the 58degree cellar temp of the wine.
CHICKEN CANNELONI was a hit around the table, even if Samuel did not know at first that it had a FOIE GRAS and CHEESE SAUCE! OMG! This dish would make any pasta chef jealous.
CALAMARI arrived with PEAS, CORIANDER FLOWERS, EARS of JUDAS MUSHROOMS, in a SQUID INK SAUCE. The peas were actually formed into a slice of a disc with more fresh local peas scattered around. If I were a pea, I would die to be in this dish! Samuel said it was one of the best pasta dishes he had.
The last truly savory dish was a LAMB and POTATO dish with a sauce that did not overwhelm us, but was not bad at all. Sine we had such an amazing meal, I can't recall why I didn't like the sauce.
Our cheese course was a revelation. It came hot and consisted of CARROT & VANILLA CAKE with MELTED MIMOLETTE Cheese, which is an intensely strong French cheese that we do get here from time to time. The combination was amazing and it will stay in my mouth forever; I just hope I can get the real thing again without waiting 4-1/2 years.
Torrenz and Mandu's mom who had been so sweet and helpful all night brought over DOLC MATARO 2010 from Alella nicknamed "De Puta Madre." If you know what puta means you can guess that this is not a nice nickname. The wine is made from Verdelho Dolce and reminds me of the Italian Vin Santo (so much for the "mama prostitute" name, compared to the saintly wine of Italy). It was excellent with
the CREME CATALAN (aka flan--but of course, here flan is a whole new story). Main with Fried Pain Perdu, Pineapple and Sugared the dish has WHITE CHOCOLATE/LIME/FENNEL Ice Cream (yes, that's what I wrote), ALMOND CAKE, Pollen Cru (for crunch), lime and Brandy Glaze. I may have misconstrued some of the ingredients at this late time of night, or missed something in the translation, but the Ice Cream is spot on. Will's eyes rolled in his head and we declared this to be the best flan in existence, even if it really isn't flan.
Sam did not want flan, so Mandu asked if we knew CANT BO, a local Catalan cartoon, to which we replied no. Well, I guess he is something like Count Chocula, and  Mandu presented Sam with a plate of
Coke-coated Vanilla Ice Cream with a "BLOOD"-stained Strawberry Sauce which he gobbled up. It was fun for him and fun for us as well.
We took some photos with everyone and began to choke up as we left not knowing when we would be back to our favorite place in all of Spain, perhaps even the whole world.....
I couldn't stop and Will yanked me out the door knowing we had to be up at 415am; it was already past 11PM, but time did not matter on this most special of evenings.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

SAUC has sublime cuisine, if the service isn't superb, it's still a Michelin star spot at the Ohla Hotel in Barcelona (8-23-13)

We returned to the OHLA Hotel that evening and started off in Bar Ohla where our friend said the drinks were amazing. They were. But at 15Euros($20) a plop, they better be,
especially in a  city where you can have three courses for the same price!
I loved my SAVORY MARGARITA with Ocho Blanco Tequila, Jalapeno, Cactus Nectar, Lemon and a Smoked Salt Rim.
I was about to taste Will's PICNIC in JALISCO when Samuel sadly spilled his whole beautiful CHILL OUT all over the place. The little tables were so wobbly it was silly.
It took 10 minutes, but their drinks were replaced and I tasted Will's made from Tequila Reposado, Lemon Juice, Cointreau, Passion Fruit marmalade and was accompanied by a formal presentation of a sugared half of Passion Fruit which was caramelized by a small torch was a stellar presentation. Samuel's CHILL OUT was all red fruits with apple, pineapple, lemon, soda and vanilla syrup. No alcohol brought the price down to 9,50Eruos($12.65), but they could have given more juice and less ice!
We moved upstairs to SAUC and its warm subdues dining room with only 12 tables. There was one captain and two waiters and sometimes they were around the corner in the long L-shaped room; this created an issue if we needed something, which is not good for a Michelin-starred establishment, and they were only at half occupancy.
Will & I ordered the TAST Menu at 78Euros with 3 apps, 4 mains, cheese and 2 desserts--what a deal; we asked for accompanying wines which were very reasonable at about 25 euros extra for the entire meal!
Samuel ordered the FRISIAN BEED TENDERLOIN with Provencal Herbs and Roasted Veggies. It came with a spicy avocado and red pepper purees, but he thought the meat tasted very odd. I have to admit that Frisian Beef is quite a different taste from the other cows we know. We explained and the captain graciously ordered to replace it. so he ordered a gorgeous burger which came from the Tapas Bar downstairs we had eaten at two days prior. They charged us only for the burger. A+ there.
As we sipped the last of our drinks we were offered Green Italian Olives (I had learned that Italians use Spanish olives for much of their oil, so this seemed an anomaly) on toothpicks propped into a small stone.
Alongside these were black olive gels which were spectacular.
Pa Tomat that omnipresent Catalan favorite, tomato bread arrived, but here with an emulsion of coconut, curry and crunchy ham pieces.
Our first appetizer was PARMESAN CURD with HERRING Caviar, Galician CLAMS and what I thought was melon, but was actually a chemically altered kind of cucumber.
Our first wine was a bright "Agaliu" from the south of Barcelona in Costers del Segre made from Macabeu by L'Olivera which was great with these intensely flavorful dishes with lots of acidity as well.
It lasted through the second starter of Creamy Duck FOIE GRAS Pate on ONION BISCUIT, Lemon and small jellied dots of Moscatelle Wine. It was another superb dish and we began to repeatedly revel over each bite.
We ran out of wine and finally got our server's attention and they poured a new white TRASCAMPANAS VERDELHO which lasted thru the third appetizer:
Pompadour of CRAB in foam of Tupinamba (Artichoke)
Our first main course was paired with TAYAIMGUT Sauvignon Blanc from Saint Joan de Midiona and had that green apple, citrus feel and was ideal with the SMOKED EEL TARTAR, Green Apple and Herring Caviar. The Green Apple was in the form of a sorbet and the whole dish just went smokey in my mouth and head to the extreme; we loved it.
CANNELLONI of Roasted DUCK with Emulsion of FOIE GRAS, Pear and Pine Nuts and truffles needed a RED wine, but they kept pouring the Sauvignon Blanc. We were later told this was due to the next course being fish and I said, one can always change wine colors and go back, even though in olden days this was taboo.
Roasted TURBOT came with a Potato &Bacon Terrine that was crispy delish and a Roasted Beet Puree. We moved to an A COROA Godello from the Valdeorras region. The fish was supreme, but we were ready for red wine and the big climax.
Spit-roasted BABY GOAT with Salsify, Root Veggies, Marrow Sauce & Gremolata was indeed BIG, but thankfully the portions were not large and it was paired with a wine we had requested as the hotel's Sales Manager's father owns the winery: QUMRAN 2011 is a Tempranillo from Roble in Ribiera del Duero where red wines rule. It was a delightfully big wine, but needed a bigger glass than the same white wine glasses we had all evening.
Catalan farmhouse cheeses were next and were a treat as we hadn't had really local ones much:
Serrat del Tormo was sheep
Serrat del Triade was cow
Cleda was a sheep with a distinctive mint flavor
and Artelac a gorgeous creamy goat that was quite aged as well.
Orange maremlade and Quince paste appeared with small coiled rolls
Samuel ordered the (SURPRISE!) CHOCOLATE FONDANT and declared it excellent
while we enjoyed a Red Wine and Peach Sorbet with Mascarpone Shredded Wheat in a Bird's Nest shape with Peach Infusion that was oh so refreshing.
The "TEXTURED FRUIT" Dessert came next with Strawberry, Lychee, Mint, Melon, Mango, Pirouettes, HardBoiled Egg, White Coconut Meringue and when described sounded weird, but was indeed an inventive creation. Capcanes Pansal del Calas 2010 D.O.Montsant was a wonderful dessert wine from Granatxa and Samso, a grape we had also discovered we loved again at the Abadal winery that morning.
Macaroons with Coconut Cream, White Chocolate with Maracuja, Chocolate BonBons with Hazelnuts, Carquimolis-biscuits of almond, pistachio and nuts(think nutty biscotti with toffee) sent us home MORE than full.
Don't you just love Barcelona!!

get a good gourmet meal in GIRONA at CAL ROS, but cancel the croquettas (8-23-13)

We took a day excursion to GIRONA stopping at the ABADAL Winery on the way for an wonderful tour and great tasting. Now I just need to find their wines here in the USA!
Our lunch was at GIRONA's top place in the old town, CAL ROS ( which is just blocks from the cathedral on the Cort Reial 9.
It's a nice place for sure and while the prices are a bit high for rural Spain, we did not want to eat a lot and stuck to the appetizers, which turned out to be huge portions!
Samuel ordered his traditional CROQUETAS de JAMON, but I must agree with him that they were overloaded with Béchamel and way too creamy. Luckily, we had ordered a large plate of JAMON IBERICO on Tomato bread for the entire table to share and Samuel was quite happy with that.
Will had BURRATA CHEESE with Tomato and smoked SARDINES which was indeed excellent,
I had a glass of the house red, SINOLS NEGRE '12 from Empordalia that is made from Grenache and Carignane and was divine with my divine dish,
BOTTIFARA NEGRA, the Black Sausage of Catalan. This was made served with pine nuts and mustard greens in a beautiful Terrine layered with OCTOPUS.
I was a bit worried about the combination but it was indeed heavenly.
We knew a big dinner was ahead, so just café corto for after and off to touring....

LA TERRAZA at the Hotel CLARIS makes a truly tasty treat in Barcelona (8-22-13)

Dinner that evening was at LA TERRAZA in our lovely Hotel Claris(!en/restaurants/la-terraza-del-Claris) where you have an outdoor setting (it is partially covered) overlooking the roofs of Barcelona which can't be beat on a beautiful summer evening (temps in the 70's). The hotel manager has been a business associate of mine for many years, so when we arrived at the table, Maria Rosa had sent a complimentary bottle of JUVE I CAMPS Millesimee 2009 CAVA which is made from Chardonnay. The Cava grapes usually used don't include Chardonnay, so this was a nice and welcome change. Badoit isn't available here so we opted to skip the Vichy Catalan or Perrier and went for the still Viladrau, which is just perfect and has no saltiness at all like it's fizzy sister.The manager Jon was most helpful and guided us as the menu here is a la carte (not tapas) with a wide variety.
As we were about to order we smelled cigarettes from a table nearby, but Jon Assured us they guy was leaving, we were relieved as outdoor dining in Spain allows smoking and can be a real bummer when you are trying to smell, taste and eat a meal.
An amuse arrived of CODFISH CREAM with TOMATO. It looked like a yogurt cup with the red fruit at the bottom, but this was oh so much more. The Bacalao cream was rich and creamy and the tomato "confit" at the bottom was bursting with flavor to counter the creamy richness. The breads were tasty black olive, sunflower and ciabatta.
Will ordered the spectacular SEA BASS CEVICHE (Ceviche de Lubina) which was the best ceviche of sea bass I have ever tasted and sprinkled with gorgeous fresh local shoots. My WAGYU CARPACCIO with Mustard Sauce and Parmesan was sprinkled with Pine Nuts, Sea Salt & Greens as well. The meat was the most tender ever in a carpaccio and the flavor burst in my mouth.
We moved on to a bottle of TOBELOS 2008 TEMPRANILLO that Jon suggested and fell in love with its jammy at the end in the mouth flavor. It was a truly perfect pairing with my GUINEA FOWL with Asparagus & Preserved Tomato which came peeled and cooked but bursting with flavor, just like the tomato in the amuse. It's so nice to have tomatoes that taste like they should. Will opted for the CHIPIRONES, which is a smaller SQUID than Calamari and arrived with those oh so fabulous ST PAU BEANS we had for lunch the day prior. I think that's why he ordered the dish!
Samuel chose the VEAL TENDERLOIN cooked with Sage which was supposed to have Gnocchi, but Jon offered Samuel fries instead and that was a no-brainier.
At some point a couple arrived at a far away table, but the guy's cigar smoke magically seemed to waft right up to our table. Luckily the breeze was strong and it was not too bad. One day, I hope that all this smoke will stop and people who dine can enjoy their food outdoors as well.
A pre-dessert arrived in the form of a small CHOCOLATE MOUSSE with whipped cream and Gianduja nibs. Jon suggested P.A.R. a vinho naranja or orange wine from Bodega Igleasias in Condado Heulva. Will did not care for this orange flavored treat, but it was very Grand Marnier/Cointreau in style and I liked it, but not a ton. It is a bit cloying after a lot.
For dessert we all shared the WHITE CHOCOLATE MOUISSE with PASSION FRUIT which was a cookie-bottomed mousse with a fruit puree as well as fresh passion fruit and berries on the side with an almond tuille. YUMMY!
We rolled down the two flights to our room and to bed. These late dinners (830pm is when restaurants often open) were starting to take their toll.......

Barcelona's Hotel NERI Restaurant offers a refind setting, modern Catalan cuisine and superb service all in style (8-22-13)

Our next day in Barcelona we were invited to the intimate Relais et Chateaux Hotel NERI ( located in the old Gothic Quarter just blocks from the Cathedral. The hotel
could easily be missed (I have been by it twice before without noticing) as it is two old buildings modestly marked and clearly met to blend in with its surroundings. Inside, it's a different story with
modern décor and real flair. The dining room offers outdoor terrace eating on a small almost private square in the rear of the hotel on San Felipe Neri Square (Placa Sant Felip Neri in Catalan). Inside is a cozy, cushy setting elegant for fine dining or even our luscious lunch. The General Manager dined with us, but I saw everyone getting excellent service from the well trained staff. Our server, Moncie (short for the very common
Catalan name, Montserrat) was a gem and when we first mentioned that we disliked the local sparkling Vichy Catalan water, she immediately produced bottles of Badoit, our favorite; we were already happy.
Will went to the local beers and I tried the DESIG Xarel-lo which has some oak and would work for any meal on a hot day. Breads(sunflower and honey-roasted) arrived with a small tray with Arbequina Olive Oil, Himalayan Pink Salt. If you dipped the bread in the oil and then a touch of salt, the sulfur reaction made it taste like "a Spanish fried egg" according to our host; it was amazing. Tapas of olives with marinated anchovies arrived, which of course, Sam skipped as he enjoyed the bread, and we were off to a brilliant start,
Another "amuse" arrived in the form of a shot glass filled with a taste of a drink the hotel has coined as "Bloody Sherry." Just think Bloody Mary with sherry instead of vodka, and it's an Andalusian version of the traditional treat.
I should preface the fact that the NERI has a set price for this lunch of 22Euros ($29) which is beyond belief as it includes all the above, a monstrous plate of THREE starters, choice of main course and dessert.
A larger 37Euro menu is available should you wish to dine for hours!
The "starter" plate arrived and we were truly impressed; it was enough for a lunch at home easily. CUCUMBER & YOGURT SOUP was a green version of gazpacho that was cool and refreshing and the Salad was far from simple mixed with tuna and a hard boiled quail egg, but it was the VEAL TARTAR that blew us away. Sam was none too interested in these options so he begged for a pasta with tomato sauce.
The 22Euro menu offers a choice of Lamb with wheat risotto, vegetables and rosemary, which we did not have, or the CODFISH with SEAWEED BROTH which was tasty, flavorful and light, yet elevated by leeks and a local delicacy, SEA CUCUMBER (thing bigger than clam, but chewy a bit). Our host insisted we try two of the items that are served on this menu with a surcharge, but are on the 37Euro menu as well. The SCALLOPS with FOIE GRAS and SEAFOOD SOUP was divine. Just a small bit of the foie under a scallop in a broth bursting with flavor made this dish irresistible. However, the hit dish of the day which even Sam declared fabulous was the RABBIT RIBS with SHERRY, TRUFFLE and POTATO. Small delicate ribs with meat (think chicken wings) were a bit messy, but a bowl with a small dehydrated towel sponge appeared and Moncie ceremoniously poured a dab of hot water on it as it expanded into a full towelette to wipe off our messy dainty fingers. (Where was this the night before after the messy lobster paella?).
At this time I had moved on to a wonderful medium bodied FULANITO Tempranillo from Ribera del Duero. I also learned that locally they call Tempranillo Tinta Finca; how confusing is that?
Dessert was a PASSION FRUIT MOUSSE with mint and Iced MOSCOBADO sugar, which really is best described as a layered mousse cake with a top film of gelled mint and a Moscobado(sweet grape) snow cone on the side. It was as refreshing as could be, even for me who is not a mint maven.
More came with coffee in the form of CARQUINYOLI, local almond biscuits, chocolate truffles, anise sticks (avoided these), small chocolates like M&M's with almond and hazelnut and just to fill you up that last extra bit for the road, Moscobado ShortCake, which was a thick chocolate-looking cake actually closer to a dark sweet grape honey cake.
Again I remind you that while we had two extra courses, this menu without the scallop or rabbit is 22 Euros, which are respectively a surcharge or 5 or 7Euros only!
Who wouldn't love this and in such a fine setting with such superb service.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Barcelona's CON MAJO can make food, but can't satisfy with service (8-21-13)

For our first dinner in Barcelona, we chose a well known seaside spot as their menu is very child-friendly and it is such a charming spot, everyone seems to love it there....except us. CAN MAJO (kahn mah-zho) ( has fabulous outdoor seating on the beach overlooking the Mediterranean with lots of fun street activity nearby. We had a small band, various entertainers (looking for tips), lots of rose-sellers, and even what seemed to be a non-ending big band dance-in right nearby, which was loads of fun to watch.
We ordered a selection of starters as we enjoyed a crisp MESTRES COQUET BRUT NATURE Cava, which of course, is the only sparkling wine one drinks in this region and fits so wonderfully with all the seafood.
Our server, Antonio recommended this and we were very happy. We also told him at the start, that unlike many tourists, we prefer to dine leisurely and will let him know when to fire up our main courses. Galician Style OCTOPUS arrived with the slices on top of potato slices sprinkled with paprika and a spice oil. One of the best pulpo dishes so far....will there be more?
Andalusian style DEEP FRIED ARTICHOKES were such a hit with Sam that I seemed to miss my last two slices as we enjoyed the Steamed GALICIAN COCKELS. Here they are called BIGAROS, and are larger than the ones we have had on the English seaside, which resemble snails more; these were like teeny weeny clams and just sprinkled with lemon they needed no other flavoring to mar the superb taste.
We asked Antonio to recommend a big white and he suggested a brilliant XAREL-LO 2011 from Finca Viladellops (the same as I had at lunch), but this was XARELLO XXX which is made from three reserve vineyards and gets 16months in oak. It was like a crisp white chardonnay wine with a hint of oak, but local and better.
At this time Antonio arrived to clear the plates and we said we wanted about 20 minutes between courses....well, he said that the food would arrive in 10 minutes and since we ordered a paella, it could not be kept warm. We were okay, but it appeared in less than a minute and I almost blew my top. The large pot with the CALDERO do BOGAVANTE a paella-bouillabaisse dish made with tones of lobster was a big problem for Will as the lobster was in shell and not easy to extract. Furthermore, there were tons of small shell bits in the fabulous rice/soup mixture which was a real pain.
Will went to the loo and mentioned our issue about the break to the manager who told him her should have told the waiter when we arrived; when he said he did, the manager shrugged him off.
At this same time, Antonio returned and I asked for "mas vino por favor," and he promptly turned on his heel and walked away. I had to get up to reach the bottle and interestingly enough, Antonio never returned all night.
The couple at the next table had ordered simple fish filets and got lemon water to wash their hands. We who had struggled with the messy shells, got nothing more than our one napkin. What gives?
We didn't want dessert as we were so upset, but gave in as Samuel wanted the (guess what) FONDANT au CHOCOLAT and we tried the TRES FLANS of Chocolate, Vanilla and Strawberry (which was actually just vanilla with a bit of strawberry puree). No hit here.
I do have to laugh at the translation of TARTE TATIN on the menu to "Cake Apple to French Style."
But all laugh aside, avoid Can Majo unless you really don't mind awful service. We left nothing for Antonio and gave the guy who served dessert only several Euros!