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!