Monday, May 27, 2013

last night at LIA's in Bethesda was luscious (5-26-13)

The three of us headed to LIA's in Bethesda last night to use a "coupon" we had purchased at a charity event for a multi-course dinner and we had a superb dining experience at this wonderful local spot. You may recall it is under the auspices of the Chef Geoff group (, but here the kitchen is run by famed local Italian chef Cesare Lanfranconi, who was off for the day. Heading up the kitchen staff was Chef Liz Clifford, Executive Sous Chef, who indeed know how to run the show well.
We sat down to a special plate of SWEET CORN SOUP with a tasty MINI-CRAB CAKE and basil puree that was silky, luscious and divine. The "VA" Syrah Rose from Vina Aljibes 20011 in Castilla y Leon, Spain was the perfect dry wine for a just getting warm day (well, it's about time!). The crusty bread (which Samuel loved and I only tasted) arrived with olive oil for dipping.
We started with a plate of excellent WHITE ANCHOVY FILETS with Arugula and Olive Oil that were cured to perfection and I can only look forward to more as the summer goes on. YAY-BOQUERONES, and we hope to have them even fresher in Portugal and Spain in August!
Samuel ordered the SPAGHETTI & MEATBALLS in the adult portion with Basil, Marinara, Ricotta and Grana Padana grated all over the top (of course, he asked for extra part way through) and managed to finish about 75% of the huge portion.
Our server Toby suggested the excellent HEIRLOOM TOMATO SALAD with Lime-Cilantro Vinaigrette (didn't she mention there was a crabcake with that?, but maybe we got it instead in that superb soup!) which was as fresh as it can get with the spring veggies in full bloom. The BEET & BLOOD ORANGE Salad with Goat Cheese croutons & Pickled Shallot Vinaigrette was another example of how easy it is to enjoy this season. Only the crouton itself (a plain white crunchy cube) was dispensable, while we slathered the goat cheese on the beets!

Our appetizer (that was the course, after the salads and soup!) courses were the special of the evening, a Polenta crusted SOFT SHELL CRAB on Spring SUCCOTASH of Corn, Cherry Tomatoes, Onion, Asparagus in a Morel Mushroom Sauce. The succotash and sauce were super, and again showed that veggies here are the rule; sadly the crab itself while good and crunchy lacked flavor.
The other starter was a huge winner and could easily be eaten as a main course:
PORK BELLY PUPUSAS are huge flat "tortilla" style pupusas stuffed with tasty pulled-pork style filling with a tasty (not spicy) TOMATILLO SAUCE on the side for dipping and another veggie king for LIA's the CABBAGE SLAW on the side.
We had these with two glasses of LIOCO NOCO 2011 North Coast, California NO OAK CHARDONNAY that had very little flavor or excitement.

The manager, Dawn, who was a pleasure to talk to about the wine (we should have asked her for a glass recommendation on the chardonnay--too late) suggested a spectacular PETITE SIRAH 2009 from Fleur, also on California's North Coast. While listed in the "big opulent wine" section, this superb wine has a subtle silkiness that makes it a great wine to drink alone or enjoy with heavier or even lighter foods.
We enjoyed it with our pasta course. Toby had suggested the WILD MUSHROOM RAVIOLI with Cherry Tomato, Arugula and Truffle Pecorino that was a heavenly dish, clearly from the ingenuity of Chef Cesare's Italian roots.
We were getting full and chose to take most of the also excellent BLACK PEPPER PAPPARDELLE home which won me over for not the tasty Basil Chicken, but the crunchy RAPINI and Rose Sauce. I can't wait to eat this later in the week, although, my diet will hate me! It was yet another example of how the great seasonal veggies are making their arrival.

Will and I split an entrée portion of excellent fresh and flavorful Pan Seared SCALLOPS with ENGLISH PEAS (more fresh veggies), Leeks, Truffle Pea Puree and Popcorn Shoots. These were early sweet corn shoots on top of this (or perhaps another dish) and Samuel was not interested in trying them, but after a bit of coaxing he did, and insisted on having the rest of the bunch! Again, another star of a dish with beautiful blending of all the great ingredients.

Samuel had already ordered the FLOURLESS CHOCOLATE CAKE with Pistachio Ice Cream for dessert and gobbled up all the cake as we split the hot out of the fryer RICOTTA DONUTS with luscious LIMONCELLO CURD (bravo again, Chef Cesare).
We were full, but our holiday weekend splurge was indeed special!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Baltimore's BLACK OLIVE has only one bump and some best bites (5-19-13)

For my birthday after attending the Baltimore Lyric Opera yesterday, I
chose BLACK OLIVE in Fells' Point ( which serves
up some fine Greek food in a very nice setting to boot. It is classy
and a bit pricey, but we all had a great time.
Will and I started with a glass of Domaine Sigalsa Assyrtiko White
2011 which was, as most Greek wines, crisp and refreshing and SUPERB
with both our shared starters of TARAMASALATA and GRILLED OCTOPUS
SALAD with red onions and capers. The tarama was rich, creamy and
divine, truly a gift for the Greek gods at least. The bread was a
wheat crusty type of bread, not your traditional pita, and was tasty
as well. An herb oil with sesame seeds was also a big hit, especially
with Samuel.

Samuel had the RACK OF LAMB and they had the nerve to charge $5 to
substitute cous-cous (which comes with many dishes) for the
cauliflower! No matter, he devoured two and a 1/2 of the tasty moist
meaty chops seasoned perfectly.
Will and I had a bottle of tasty red after he rejected the first taste
of 2011 Teselepas Aghiorghitiko Nemea as too perfumey. The 2007
Manosakis Nostos from Crete did arrive chilled, which I really did not
like. The blend of Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache and Rousanne is a Rhone-
style but with a Greek intensity.
Will and I split two main dishes. The hit was the RACK of LAMB and
GRILLED SHRIMP COMBO which came with 4 gorgeous chops and three huge
tastily seasoned moist shrimp. The Grilled Cauliflower was also
excellent with a dash of olive oil and seasonings that were just
Sadly, the dud was the LAMB KLEFTIKO, pieces of gristly, overcooked
lamb in a parchment with a superb sauce of lemon, Kefalograviera
cheese and herbs. It is a shame the loving care for the rack missed
this dish totally when it came to destroying most of the meat into dry
chewy cubes. The couscous (which it came with) was wonderful with the
lemony-cheesy sauce!

It was my birthday, so an orange slice topped with a scoop of vanilla
ice cream arrived with a candle in it surrounded by blueberries, apple
slices and other fruit. It was a cute touch, but I skipped the ice
cream as I am still trying to diet. Instead, Will and I sought to try
a scoop of the BAKLAVA ICE CREAM, the menu saying it was conceived and
created here. Well, it tasted more like cinnamon (which Will does not
like) ice cream with some cookie pieces for crunch. Samuel loved his
REINE DE SABA, but at first he wanted nothing as he chose to look
at only the names and not the descriptions. Upon reading he discovered
it was a Flourless Belgian Chocolate Cake with roasted Hazelnuts and
Chocolate Ganache. He gobbled up the cake, but oddly left the sweet

It was extra nice that at the end of our main course, the owner, a
sweet older Greek guy, came over to check if all was okay. We did not
have the heart to tell him about the lamb in the one dish. I would go
back if I happen to be in the neighborhood, but would not drive to
Baltimore to eat there, although he did tempt us with his recipe for
soft shell crabs, which he said he had run out of that night! TOO BAD!

Friday, May 17, 2013

take me to ANCORA again and again (Kinkead's reborn) 5-16-13

Last night the three of us headed to Chef Bob Kinkead's new hotspot just across from the Kennedy Center.(
ANCORA is Italian for "again" and this is indeed a place you can return to again and again with a huge varied menu of starters, pastas, fish and meats.
There is something for everyone and an Italian-centric wine list with many reasonable choices under $40 as well.
Ancora moved into the Watergate two months ago where the late Rivers was, and what a welcome departure that was. I ate there once, and attended a reception
once and the food was overpriced and awful, for the most part. While the present incarnation of ANCORA is considered a "pop-up," the place will close
at the end of the year for a complete gutting and reopening in early 2014 if all goes well. It should be MAGNIFICENT.
Next door, where Cuppa Cuppa closed just days ago, Chef Kinkead will open a pizza, sandwich, and more outlet that is sure to be jammed with
Kennedy Center attendees looking for a quick bite before or after a show!
We saw many of the old faces from Kinkead's, so that was a warm welcome to begin with, especially, since Will worked there for so many years.
We sat down to a crisp refreshing bottle of San Quirico VERNACCIA di SAN GIMIGNANO 2011 that was superb with our starter of
MOLECHE e GAMBERETTI, a gorgeous chick pea flour crusted Soft Shell CRAB (first of the season) with Shrimp, Capers, Lemon,
Cherry Tomatoes, Parsley and Cauliflower. The preparation was perfect, the crabs superb and even Samuel adored the tasty lemon sauce.
Samuel had the RIGATONI alla MATRICIANA which came with plump tomatoes in the sauce (which he did not like-but were fresh and tasty), pancetta, onion,
olives and pecorino. A good douse of parmeggiano and he was in heaven. It was a medium size portion as the pastas are meant as a separate course, so he asked for
another plate, but switched to the rich and divine SPAGHETTI all CARBONARA di Fabriano which was made with pancetta, sausage, egg and parmesan.
For the main course, Will had the PESCE SPADA, plain grilled SWORDFISH with yummy Fried Zucchini and Marinated Fresh Cherry Tomatoes. My CONIGLIO BRASATO
was RABBIT prepared two ways with a leg on one said braised with Fava beans and peas and the Loin on the other layered with Cherignola Olive slices. A tasty huge bulb of
spring onion was also braised on the side.
It's hard to resist desserts at Kinkead's, so the same goes here, Will had ANCORA's PANNA COTTA which is a honey vanilla flavor smothered with Strawberries and Rhubarb
and a Shortbread cookie.
I went for the cheese which was served with apple slices, grapes and two slices of nutty (pistachio?) dark chocolate which reminded me of a Dolce Torinese I made decades ago.
There were three crisp slices of grilled bread. I choose the hard tasty PECORINO SENESI TARFTUFO (with a hint of truffle), the yummy GORGOZOLA DOLCE, which was quite mild and the
divine LA TUR (Caselficio dell atta Langa) which can make any gooey cheese lover happy.
It was a great time and we can't wait to return!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Ellerbe Fine Foods is one of the finest in Ft. Worth (5-12-13)

Last night I took a friend to dinner at Ellerbe Fine Foods
( just south of downtown where I first went
three ago just after it opened. It took me a while to get back, but I
am so glad I did as this simple restaurant is concerned about food,
ingredients, quality and service above all else.
We started with a bottle of La Poussie Sancerre 2010 which has much
more citrus than most Sancerres and went wonderfully with the salad we
shared, Roasted BEETS and Market SPINACH Salad with Creamy Buttermilk
Dressing, Texas Citrus Powder, Chevre and Spiced Texas Pecans. On my
first visit here I remember having one of the best Heirloom Tomato
salads anywhere and this salad was just as amazing with all its fresh
and local ingredients.
My gust then had the SPRING CARROT SOUP with a dollop of Housemade
Crème Fraiche and Sumac on top. It was a superb soup and brilliantly
paired with the TEUTONIC GEWURTZTRAMINER 2012 "Crow Valley Vineyard"
from Oregon.  My House Cured GRAVLAX and DEVILED EGG was another
brilliant fresh treat with B&G Garden Asparagus, Mixed Lettuce, Dijon
Verjus Vinaigrette, Crispy Capers, Radish & Dill. I can't get enough
of these wonderful local treats.
The excellent baguettes are flown in fresh daily from LA's La Brea
Bakery and served with Plugra Butter and Red Hawaiian Sea Salt. We
moved on to a full bodied fruit forward yummy Pinot Noir from Oregon's
STOLLER Vineyard 2010 Dundee Hills which makes some of the best pinot
grapes sold to many other famous Oregon winemakers!
I had the superb rabbit last time and my guest raved about the Sherry
Braised RABBIT PAPPARDELLE again with B&G Garden Asparagus, Roasted
Mushroom, Cox Farm Green Garlic, Cream and Brown Butter Breadcrumbs. I
had a taste and agreed wholeheartedly. My Grilled DUCK BREAST was
cooked to perfection and crispy crunchy to boot with hedonistic Waco
MASCARAPONE GRITS and a Brandy Rhubarb Reduction.

In my previous visit, I had the amazing bread pudding, so my guest
choose  with Whisky Sauce and Pralined Texas Pecans that I assume is
the signature dessert to remain on the menu forever. I had the equally
tasty STRAWBERRY & RHUBARB Orange Blossom Anglaise with Brown Sugar
Whipped and Molasses Crisp.

We just had to have some cheese and the three small portions were
enough for us, but we really wanted a bit more of the superb Brushy
Creek Idaho Blue and the "Eden"- a Waco Triple Crème with Sorghum Leaf
and Vegetable Ash was also excellent Only the Manchego was a bore. A
nice small glass of 20 Year old Tawny Port was in order. The cheeses
came with Grilled Honey Bread and some peach and Pear Preserves.

Some small delicious DULCE di LECHE Cookies sent us on our way
home...very full, and me feeling very guilty after my month plus of

LANNY's Alta Cocina Mexicana in Ft. Worth is modern cooking magnificently (5-10-13)

Upon arrival at the intimate, elegant and quiet LANNY's run now for 7
years by Chef Lanny P. Lancarte II ( just west
of downtown I was overwhelmed by the many choices and simply could not
decide. Since I was pre-opera, I only had 90 minutes and a tasting
menu (which was divine) was out of the question. I settled into one of
the cozy dining areas (there is also a very nice patio) with beige
linen-covered tables and brown leather chairs.
I asked many questions of the several servers who assisted me and
finally decided on several tapas choices rather than an appetizer and
main course.

I started with the Baby LOLLA ROSA Salad, Roasted Heirloom BABY BEETS,
Red QUINOA, Tangerines and Paprika GOAT CHEESE. It was a superb salad
and also had some candied walnuts. The red quinoa is very small and
tended to stick to the plate, but I used the goat cheese to collect
the tiny grains. It was the perfect start to a great meal.
A glass of Jerome Gueneau "Le Clos Chartier" Sancerre 2011 from the
Loire was the perfect wine for the light vinaigrette. The wines are
served in C&S brand crystal that looks a lot like Riedel Vinum Extreme
modern glassware. Mini cheese bread loaves arrived steaming hot with a
divine Chimmichuri sauce that was loaded with cilantro and vinegar. I
also received (prior to the salad) a tiny tasty amuse of Medjool Date
with Goat Cheese in Spanish Chorizo. I loved the way it was served on
a very small fork tine with no stem, but instead an inverted "V" so
that the tines were facing up and you simply placed the mini-fork in
your mouth et voila.

I could not resist my second choice, and the Seared FOIE GRAS CHILE
RELLENO with Apaloosa Bean Puree was indeed the best thing I had last
night, not to mention one of the best foie gras dishes ever. Seared
perfectly with a beautiful hatch mark on top and settled into the
belly of a seared chile that was split open on the grill, the dish had
a slight spiciness that really worked brilliantly!

It was hard to choose my next choices and I leaned towards my server's
suggestions for the CHORIZO wrapped SCALLOPS with Ruby Red Grapefruit,
Pickled Fennel and Haricots Verts. The dish had some melted parmesan
on top that was almost a bit too much, but the scallops were superb
and overall the flavors worked. I switched to a glass of sparkling
AIMERY CREMANT de LIMOUX Sieur d'Arques from Champagne, a dry tasty
brut rose.

My last dish was the least exciting, even though it sounded divine:
LOBSTER RAVOILI in Foie Gras Butter with Napa Cabbage also came with
raisins, chives and slivered almonds. The pasta was nice, but after
all the superb flavors and spices, the dish was a bit unexciting.

I did enjoy a cappuccino and it came with a mini-Vahlrona chocolate
brownie for a nice touch.
Off to the opera...

Friday, May 10, 2013

I have fallen into GRACE and am lovin' it in Ft Worth, TX (5-9-13)

I returned to Ft. Worth for a long weekend of opera, and one can't
come to Texas without thinking of food.
Last night, the director of the opera company suggested GRACE
( which I have walked by many times over the
last four years since it opened, but have never stepped inside. Well,
I'll head back to GRACE again for sure as the food is truly
spectacular, and the quiet elegant dining room truly a place to relazx
and enjoy.
I was thinking of the Grace Margarita, but then spotted the EL DIABLO
on the drink menu. I was expecting a spicier cocktail made from Sombra
Mezcal, Saint Germain Deviation, Lemon Fresca, Agave and topped with a
Habanero Pepper, which I quickly removed. It had a slight sweetness,
but not too much and the drinks here that are on the rocks, are
actually on the rock, as they come with one huge 2 inch square ice
cube. It apparently does not melt as fast.

I have been dieting for over a month and tried to be good last night
and started with the CRUDO of ALBACORE TUNA with spring vegetable
piperade, garlic aioli and Meyer lemon that was a large portion of
tasty tuna in a terrific tasty "sauce of veggies" that did not
overpower the excellent sushi-grade fish. Many of us at the table had
this superb dish.
A glass of Lange Twins Viognier from Clarksburg, California was an
interesting tasting Viognier that had a slight Sauvignon Blanc flavor.
I thought it was much better with the tuna than alone.

For my main course I tried the Meyer Ranch All Natural 8 ounce BEEF
FILET and it was superb with a slightly salted crust and came just as
I liked, a bit rare in the center. There are many toppings and sauce
options here that could destroy a fab piece of beef like this, so I
asked our server what he thought of the COGNAC PEPPERCORN MARROW, and
this superb, if rich sauce, married the steak perfectly, much better
than any rich Béarnaise or other sauce would. A gorgeous head of
roasted Garlic was on the dish as well and I used this to spice up my
side of BABY SPINACH with Cured Meat, which was also excellent and a
nice change from that rich Creamed Spinach so many steakhouses offer.
An AL PASSO 2008 Sangiovese from TOLAINI was superb with the meats as
well as with the Berkshire Baby Back Ribs with Cilantro, Sesame &
A superb start to a wonderful weekend of opera, food and friends....

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Alexandria's LAPORTA's is lacking, yet has potential (5-5-13)

Sunday night we had an early concert in Alexandria, Virginia, so we headed to Laporta's ( just west of Old Town on Duke Street and discovered a little area we had never really noticed before. The free parking lot is a nice touch and when we entered we were told that a special Cinco de Mayo combo was scheduled to entertain in about an hour, which was another plus.
The first banquette table we sat at was freezing, due to the a/c vents overhead. I guess even though it was 60 degrees outside, they were worried that it would get warm once the place filled up, and it did just as we left, but we were the lone diners at 5pm!
We moved tables and ordered a nice bottle of LODALI Barbaresco 2009 (no vintages were indicated on the menu) which did warm us up a bit. Samuel had his requisite Coke and ordered the Chicken Fingers and fries as he did not seem interested in most of the pasta or meat dishes.
Superb warm onion rolls and other bread arrived, but our pleasant server Robin never told us what they were. Samuel downed a gulp of the onion roll and promptly grabbed a plain one!
Will and I decided to split the appetizer of GRILLED PORTABELLE MUSHROOM with Asparagus, Goat Cheese, Roasted Poblano Puree and Greens. It was very tasted but masked with melted Parmesan that was unnecessary with the goat cheese. At $14.50 it seemed a bit pricey, but maybe I am not aware of the higher prices in this area.
The main course that both Will & I chose was a superb Seared PORK SCHNITZEL with Parmesan, Garlic, Lemon, Butter and a delicious White Wine Sauce with a puddle of Pesto that I didn't even notice until much later on as the portion was so large and covered it. Samuel tasted this and regretted that he had not chosen this excellent dish as well. Again at $26.50, I felt I could have been at a much higher quality restaurant. To boot, the plain tables, chairs and decor are indeed not real exciting (although the maître d' said a renovation was coming soon),
A superb pianist began to play Chopin, so we hung around until the Latin combo started and then left after two numbers which were okay. The place was filling up, so maybe the regulars know something we don't, or just like the entertainment, as while the food is not bad, it is a bit on the high priced end, as are the wines!