Saturday, June 29, 2013

RAY's the STEAKS still raises the bar abit on steaks(6-27-13) in Arlington, VA

After we ate that amazing meal at Daikaya, we headed to RAY's the STEAKS the next night, DESPITE the diets (
A while ago, Ray's moved from its humble first abode on Wilson Blvd. into a classy new pad about a 1/2 mile up the street actually on Calrendon
Blvd, but the address is 2300 Wilson Blvd. It's now classy with tall backed white leather chairs and excellent service. They even take reservations,
although they could not find mine (it seems the guy who took it spelled my name so awfully, nobody could make it out). It wasn't a problem, as people
are no longer lining up and trying to get in. There is still a more casual walk-in spot next door with a smaller, but impressive menu called Retro Rays.
We headed here as we were meeting a friend who chose the spot, and it was not a bad choice as long as we watched ourselves.
Spiced cashews arrive with bread (we did not touch it at all), and we munched the cashews as we ordered a bottle of very tasty BALL BUSTER SHIRAZ/CAB/MERLOT 2010 from Tait Wines
in Australia's Barossa Valley. I was looking at wines in the $50 range and our server Eric said that both he and many guests liked this $30-something wine, and he was on the spot.
Our friend raved about the CRAB BISQUE, but I refused a taste--THE DIET! Will and I instead SPLIT an appetizer of what was called DEVILISHLY GOOD EGGS and boy were they.
They actually had less mayo and fat than regular deviled eggs as these were stuffed with STEAK TARTARE and drizzled with Béarnaise Sauce....need I say more? The tartare was
superb and the fact that we split the order made us both feel better.
When one goes out for steaks the options are huge, bigger and monstrous. Will downsized with the 6 ounce (the regular is 9 ounces) FILET which he chose to have BLACKENED
with Cajun Spices, Spicy Diablo (Chipotle) Glaze, Garlic and a light weight, but spicy PIRANA Sauce. Our friend had the Classic NY STRIP which comes in 16 or 20 ounce sizes.
I decided to be adventurous and go for the 45 day DRY AGED T-BONE which gives me both the filet and strip for comparison, and plenty to take home after for a big steak salad tonight!
It was very tasty and I used only a smidgen of the pink peppercorn herbed butter that so make steaks come swimming in. Just right.
Here all main courses come served with CREAMED SPINACH & MASHED POTATOES Family Style. The potatoes were okay and the spinach was less rich than in many other steak joints we have been
to, which was truly appreciated. Sometimes it is smothered in cream cheese, which I find oh so overindulgent and excessive.
When we asked for our doggie bags, the bus boy even filled up the sides so we had more to take home for later! How nice.
Our friend insisted on ordering the DARK CHOCOLATE MOUSSE for dessert and we said we would have no more than a teeny spoonful. We kept our promise as it was so rich and smothered
with whipped cream, which nobody really needed. As we headed out the door with our doggie bags, our server Eric came running up the street as I had left my credit card behind; now that's good service.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

DAIKAYA IZAKAYA is indeed the "in" place for DC dining and delicious dishes (6-26-13)

Have you searched for a place to eat when you are on a diet and after the meal regretted going out to eat?
As you may recall, we have been dieting recently and wanted to try one of DC's newest hot spots.
The neighborhood from Penn Quarter to Chinatown and now NoMa, is filling up with dining spots
and DIAKAYA is right in the center at 705 Sixth St, NW ( and is really two completely
separate dining experiences. Downstairs is the Ramen restaurant and upstairs is the IZAKAYA or Japanese
tavern where Chef Katsuya Fukushima reigns and creates delightful treats tapas-style to truly excite your taste buds.
We were worried about the high noise levels on arrival at 7:30pm, but the tables near us emptied out soon after and the din died
down. We were seated at the front of the restaurant facing the street (and the back of the Verizon Center) which is much quieter
than the center of the room or the rear closer to the bar. Upon being seated we were thrilled when our server Holly showed up and we remembered
her lovingly from our last and only visit to Bandolero in Georgetown (where the food was superb, but the noise levels beyond unbearable).
Holly was the perfect server at Bandolero guiding us through the huge menu and helping us to choose. Here at Daikaya, she really showed her
knowledge of Asian food, drink and ingredients. It made our dining experience one of the best we have had in DC in a long time.
Menus are presented staples in the pages of Japanese magazines which is oh so whimsical. My mag was a fashion type/catalog type which I really could not decipher
as so little was in English. Will's was all about tattoos!
Will started with a RICKEY-SAN Cockatial made from Hendricks Gin, Matcha Green Tea Soda, Yuzu and Lime which he liked a lot.
I decided to stick with sake and when I told Holly I was a big fan of Junmai Daiginjo, she suggested KAMOTSURU TOKUSEI GOLD, a Daiginjo  which comes in a small 180ml
bottle ($34), about 6 ounces, with a fleck of gold flake at the bottom--more whimsy. It is high in alcohol at 16.4% as sake is wont to be and full of earthy flavors with a hint
of watermelon. It is indeed a great sipping sake as an aperitif or with many of the dishes on the menu. After this we moved on to a large bottle of Unfiltered Sake (Nigori)
from KAMOIZUMU "Summer Snow", Ginjo named for its opaque unfiltered frosty white snow color. Holly told us that the Nigori water is considered the best in Japan, but what we loved about this sake was its
dark chocolate aftertaste. It is not sweet at all, nor rich, just a hint of chocolate, which worked especially well with some of our spicier dishes (think Riesling or red Zin). At $46 for 500ml (2/3 the size of a wine bottle) and 18.1% alcohol this would be our limit, and is the perfect larger sake bottle for a meal here.
I must add here that while we had an alcohol bill of about $100, our total food bill for 12 small shared plates was UNDER that amount, meaning we each ate for under $50.00!
The Izakaya menu is divided in sections and we proceeded pretty much in that order with two Cold Dishes to start:
House FERMENTED JAPANESE VEGETABLES can be ordered for $2.00 each or a small combo (which we had for $5) Napa Cabbage was the lest exciting of these,
yet the two pickled daikons were superb. Housemade NUKAZAUKE is a style of pickling that gives one flavor, while TAKUAN has a carrot-looking daikon fermented
in another style.
CUCUMBER SALAD is another pleaser, especially for the dieter or vegetarian, made with RAYU (a Japanese chili oil made from ramps) Vinaigrette, Crispy Garlic, Ground Sesame Seed and Chili threads.
I am not sure how these threads are made, but boy are they yummy giving just the right amount of medium spice to the dish where the cucumber is served sliced but arranged as a whole for a very
Yen feel.
UNIQUE Dishes are next on the menu and yes these were. FRIED GARLIC with KIMCHEE-MISO Sauce and Pickled Garlic has a similar taste and consistency to roasted garlic and is served with toothpicks
to pick up each clove and dip it into the tasty sauce which is not very kimchee spicy at all. It is another vegetarian treat that rings in with low calories as well.
WASABI OCTOPUS is one of the best treatments of the seafood and it is served raw cut into tiny pieces with Granny Smith Apple, Celery, California Arbequina Olive Oil and Wasabi Sprouts.
Again spice here is treated with great respect and the fish comes through winning.
GRILLED Dishes will also attract dieters as we adored the GRILLED AVOCADO with Housemade Ponzu, Fresh Wasabi and Nori Salt. Holly suggested we try the avocado alone first to appreciate the grilled style and it was a treat (new ideas for home grilling for sure!). We then added a bit of the (yes, not very spicy) wasabi and a dash of the nori salt, which is really a sea salt with flecks of seaweed. YUM!
JAPANESE EGGPLANT could win any non-eggplant person (we are two) over easily. It is served with a sesame-lamb sauce, Greek yogurt and mint and reeks of the Mediterranean.
While not for vegetarians, the small amount of lamb with the yogurt and fresh mint leaf make the most perfect and refreshing combination.
FRIED Dishes are less attractive to us dieters, but as we both adore Brussels Sprouts we could not skip the
PORK & BRUSSELS SPROUTS Skewer "Okonomiyake-style" with Kewpie mayo, Okonomiyaki sauce, Bonito Flakes and Aonori.
Aonori is a seaweed and Wikipedia describes Okonomiyaki is a Japanese savoury pancake containing a variety of ingredients. The name is derived from the word okonomi, meaning "what you like" or "what you want", and yaki meaning "grilled" or "cooked". Holly says they are often fried and made with cabbage. This was the winning dish of the night and at $6.00 for two large skewers, one of the best deals around town.
The pork and sprouts are alternated on the skewer giving the perfect flavor balance and the pork is a slightly fatty belly cut that just melts with each morsel.
The next group is BRAISED, SIMMERED & STEAMED DISHES from which we chose CHAWANMUSHI-a steamed egg and dashi custard with braised SHITAKE, Parmesan and ENOKI MUSHROOMS and is probably (other than the pork belly) the richest dish we had all evening, but a superb treat marrying the traditional Japanese custard with the Parmesan flavor and superb fresh mushroom morsels.
As soon as anyone mentions TONGUE, my face lights up and I know I have to order it. On the other hand, Will frowns and pouts, but he gave in to a special dish Holly spoke of which seemed like it had been a French/Asian afterthought, rather than a Japanese treat: BEEF TONGUE CURRY in a Vol Au Vent with Peas & Carrots brought the adorable pastry pot filled with delicate pieces of meat (cut up so that
Will not only loved it, but said he could eat it this way again!) and fresh peas (they are truly in peak season now) and carrots in a mild curry sauce. Even the pastry shell was perfectly made and delightfully flaky.
We still felt we could try a couple more plates and returned to the Unique Dishes for the "HAMBAGU" a Japanese-style WAGYU BEEF HAMBURGER Steak, which was nice, but our least favorite
dish of the evening, perhaps because it was indeed just a very flavorful burger. We went on to the next section on the menu of RICE & NOODLE DISHES for the
COD ROE SPAGHETTI with American Caviar, Nori, Chervil & Cream Sauce which is a small and not too rich portion, so that the cream sauce would not add a lot of fat to our already large dinner.
It was a superb noodle dish making us want to return for the ramen downstairs very soon.
We tried one dessert: PURIN with CARAMEL ICE, Orange, Purin Espuma & Burnt Orange Zest. The simple custard dish was slightly frozen and perfectly refreshing as a palate cleanser after our superb meal.
Holly was approaching our table with Chef Fukushima who is an enchanting fellow with a wonderful background from all over the world, and I, for one, would go anywhere he is cooking, as this was indeed
a great dining experience from top to bottom and in every aspect. Thanks to Chef, Holly and the wonderful staff for making it so great.
On a final note, after dieting for almost two whole months, when I weighed myself yesterday, I was at the lowest I have been in about 5 years (my goal is to drop to 150lbs. where I was when I turned 50).
Upon hitting the scale this morning, I had not gained AN OUNCE! WOW, that says even more about this meal!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Roberta Donna is doing it at AL DENTE deliciously (6-23-13)

You all know what a fan I am of Chef Roberto Donna, as I have known him for well over two decades and been to so many of his restaurants
over the years with such great pleasure each time. A year ago he opened around the corner from our home at what was then called La Forchetta, which
has been re-christened AL DENTE ( and it is one of our hottest neighborhood spots these days with a variety of relaxed dining options from pizza
to pasta to fine Italian cuisine.
On arrival, there is always a warm welcome from longtime manager Karen who has been with Roberto for ages as well. She always smiles and always
makes sure everything runs smoothly.
Sunday night, five of us settled into our table and tried a "limited availability" VIOGNIER 2011 "Maggie's" from Virginia's Delaplane Cellars and it was oh so
fabulous. Virginia wines are being featured alongside the Italian selections, as well as others, and it's quite an impressive selection. We did switch to an Italian
BARBERA "Tasmorcan" 2011 from Ellio Perrone and this was a budget wine with quite an intensity for a Barbera. Be sure to check with your server. We had lots of fish dishes and wanted a lighter red, this was nice, but quite big as I said.
Our server Maja was very sweet and gave us plenty of time and handled everything with finesse. When my starter of MARINATED ARTICHOKES, Preserved ITALIAN TUNA, Castelvetrano Olives, Hard Boiled Eggs, Imported ANCHOVIES and Frisee arrived with no anchovies, she immediately delivered a plate of them. The dish is excellent and bursts with flavor from the tiny red peppers that are no bigger than your pinky nail!
Other starters were the Fried CALAMARI with Three sauces off Garlic Saffron, Green (Pesto) and Hot Spicy Tomato which is indeed HOT & SPICY. The batter is perfect and not a shred of greasiness
comes near the dish. BABY SPINACH SALAD with Pancetta, Pears, Walnut & Ricotta is a huge portion easily meant for more than one person. The ASAPARGUS Salad with hard Boiled Egg Dressing and the GRILLED ASPARAGUS with Garlic and Olive Oil are both lighter fare bursting with flavor.
The only real problem we had during the evening was when the bus boy cleared the table of these plates he lifted my fork and knife and proceeded to pile the plates together while the fork dripped dressing (it missed my lap by about 1/2 inch!).
Super warm pita-like focaccia and bread come to the table with Olive Oil as well and we were all very good about resisting these.....
Main courses varied with FARRO Whole Grain FETTUCCINE with Sweet Basil, Locally Grown Cherry Tomatoes, Garlic and Olive Oil being a superbly made pasta but needing a bit more punch in the seasoning.
This was indeed solved with some fresh Parmesan. PAPPARDELLE with Wild BOAR Ragu Braised and vegetables is always a big hit and a long time Chef Donna favorite; a bit more sauce would have been ideal.
BAKED FILET of GROUPER with Fennel, Potatoes, Orange Basil and Green Olives was a hit as was the super yummy side dish of BAKED EGGPLANT PARMIGIANA with Tomato, Basil & Mozzarella oozing over the top.
As is wont, my dish was the big winner and I can't get enough of SOFT SHELL CRABS which here are battered and sautéed and served over fresh SPINACH in a Lemon & Almond Sauce rife with slivered almonds. This reminded me of my first soft shells when I was a teen in the now long gone A LA FOURCHETTE in NYC (odd that Al Dente was previously "La Forchetta," the same name in Italian), which
got me hooked on the dish my mother loved best all summer.
Some Limoncello finished off a wonderful evening with friends and we made a promise to return soon with Samuel when he gets back from camp!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Little RICKY's in DC's Brooklyn neighborhood is cute, Cuban and cool (6-15-13)

We were invited to join our dear friends (one of whom is Cuban) at
Little Ricky's the other night and boy did we have fun (http:// Located near Catholic University in the
Brooklyn neighborhood, this is an up and coming area that oozes cute
and neighborhood. Little Ricky's refers to Ricky Riccardo and has old
50's and 60's photos and some of the menu items refer to Lucy, Ricky,
Fred & Ethel, but that's about where it ends. It's an eclectic
combination of décor with modern art for sale as well in a simple room
with a staff made up of folks from everywhere. Our server, Adiil, from
Morocco, oozed charm as he called us darling, sweetheart and honey! As
I said, it was all fun.
We started with various drinks and I enjoyed a huge MOSCOW MULE made
with Ginger Beer, Vodka & Lime, all for $5.00. The drinks are
reasonably priced and the CUBA FRESCA- a red Sangria made with fresh
blue berries and raspberries comes by the glass or pitcher. Even the
wines here are good with a TINTONEGRO Malbec 2011 from Mendoza having
a huge smoky flavor that goes so well with the red meats.

We shared lots of starters from the huge CEVICHE de MARISCOS with
Plantain Chips. It is chock full of fish, mango and a slash of mayo
for sauce to the SPINACH EMPANADAS which come with two tasty salsas.
CROQUETAS de JAMON also come with the same sauces and are loaded with
rich béchamel in a fried shell, but don't taste of the ham too much.
SOUTH TO CUBA is probably the best deal and biggest hit with a stack
SAUCE; it's a great salad and appetizer combo. I loved the spear of
pickled carrots and peppers that come with some of the dishes as well.
All the main courses come with RICE & BEANS and Fresh Peas as well in
this season. We chose a number of different ones and Samuel was
thrilled with his very tasty HandMade 8 ounce Ground Chuck Burger
which comes with Corn Salsa and Seasoned Fries (instead of the rice &
beans). Will went for the CUBAN POLLO Enceballado, a fried battered
chicken breast. The GAMBAS al AJILLO are large Tiger Shrimp sautéed in
garlic & white wine, but the dish is very heavy on the butter side.
MASA de PUERCO FRITAS as slow roasted pork morsels flash-fried at the
end; be sure to temper these with a spray of fresh lime juice and
don't be afraid to ask for extra limes-they come with a big smile.
The ROPA VIEJO was nice, but a bit chewy for me, though the tomato,
garlic and wine sauce was superb. My PICADILLO was one of the best
with tender beef in and olive and wine sauce.
If you seek dessert and love TRES LECHES, try it here, but I had only
one bite as I was way past full and my diet had been wrecked beyond
recognition. OOPS!
For sure, Little Ricky's deserves more visits, even if just for a
quickie burger!