Sunday, December 21, 2014

Singapore's BLUE GINGER more Peranakan in paradise (12-21-14)

Our last evening in Singapore before the cruise today (we will return here at the end of the cruise) took us to another Peranakan cuisine hideaway that has the highest ratings in town for this rare cuisine found only on the Malay Peninsula. The BLUE GINGER ( is an assuming spot that belies its
hidden talents. We arrived and came through the door to see a crowded small room with only locals. After we checked in the hostess told us to head through a door and up the steps. Our joke to ourselves was, "oh, they stick the tourists upstairs." WRONG! On the second floor was another room, a bit less crowded and not one Westerner in sight. We were taken to a nice table looking out over the street, but seconds later asked to move to an alcove to make room for a larger group. No problem. I marveled at the paper napkins on the tables, as linens are only found at the rare fine dining establishments or fancy hotels. Only one of the employees, clearly the manager or such, spoke decent English, but the bi-lingual menu helped us to try and make some decisions.
We ordered a bottle of wine from the very short list and again agreed on the Sauvignon Blanc, this time Black Cottage from New Zealand, as this usually works well with the intense local spices.
A note on the menu said that $2,50 (1.65$US) is charged per person for rice, pickles and Sambal Belachan, that spicy chili-shrimp paste that we are in love with.
In the end they only charged the adults, which was fine. The pickles are yummy with spice and a bit sweet and sour, as well as a hint of peanut (a la Thai). They were crunchy and made up of carrots, cabbage and much more that we couldn't decipher.
Sam ordered the Crispy Chicken Bites (think nuggets) with Asian chilli dipping sauce, and devoured them quickly but without the sauce. I tasted and decalred the sauce divine. Will ordered KUEH PIE TEE or shredded bamboo shoots and turnips in a pie tee cup with a mini-shrimp garnish. It was a tasty simple dish with four little pastry-like cups that you popped into your mouth and got lots of different flavors. I went for the OTAK OTAK or Fish Cake as I do love the Thai version. Well, these are completely different as they are made with turmeric, galangal, chilli, candlenuts and that lovable shrimp paste then cooked in lime leaves a la tamales. They even have the same consistency but tons more flavor and of course are fish-based.

Main courses included Sam's simple SATAY BABI or fried pork satay which really were slices rather than skewers. Will chose the AYAM PANGGANG 'BLUE GINGER' which was made with dark chicken meat, coconut milk and spices. Each is served family style and the server comes with a huge rice basket which is served to each person in massive portions on your plate which you then add the various dishes o along with condiments. I could not decide between two Tiger Prawn dishes and the guy who spoke English said the UDANG NONYA was spicier and drier rather than the UDANG MASAK ASSAM GULAI which had a tamarind gravy. I chose the NONYA with preserved bean paste, fresh garlic, chilli and spring onions. These Tiger Prawns are not huge but the portion of five with heads and tails on dressed in chili paste filled me up fast. The spice was just right and I had to suck the superb sauce off each head.

A trip to the WC gave us the non air conditioned section with no paper towels, but it was clean, as almost everything is in Singapore.
Dessert for me was Soursop over Shaved Ice which was divinely refreshing. I had this fruit recently in the Turks & Caicos and adore it now. Will chose the GULA MELAKA which is chilled sago (think barley bubbles) with honey sea coconut. I was too full to taste, but he said it was also quite refreshing and light.

Off to bed and wishing we could just eat more of the great food.
At least the hotel breakfast here at the Fullerton Bay Hotel offers many superb local dishes from chicken curry to sweet pork buns, spring rolls, wontons, dumplings and more which change each day. We avoided the congee, but loved the variety of Eastern & Western delights!

Slinging around in Singapore; yummy hawker food and so much more...(12/20&21/14)

Our two days in Singapore have been spent with our guide Phil who really knows local food well. The first day he pulled his car right up to a storefront and we sat ourselves on small stools at a table by the road for DUCK/RICE. Now every Eastern Asian meal has rice, so many of the meals are called simply duck/rice, fish/rice or the most famous chicken/rice; each vendor of course has his or her own recipe.
This was the most delicious one in town for sure and came with pickled cabbage (like sauerkraut), tofu, and the most yummy cooked peanuts with slices of duck breast all over a mound of rice in a rich duck sauce. It was divine and all for $4.50 Singapore per portion (that's about $3.35US each monster-sized place) which is amazing. Of course, chili-prawn paste and garlic-lime sauce were on the side; I could use these every day. The drinks we chose were A&W root beer for Sam and a superb aloe-vera tea-like drink loaded with chunks of aloe fruit at the bottom, which were sweet and reminded me of lychee.

Today our lunch was at the Maxwell Hawker's Stalls which is a covered hawkers' center with what must have been hundreds of storefronts in four rows or so of an indoor market. Many were closed as it was Sunday, but the selection was still amazing. Samuel migrated immediately to the steamed and fried dumpling stand and Phil and I headed to the CHICKEN/RICE, but you must choose from almost a dozen of these. Phil explained the long line was for a place that Gordon Ramsey and Anthony Bourdain had both declared the best in town, but that the chef there had since left and opened his own stall 3 doors down (where many news articles graced the stand declaring 'CHICKEN WARS' in Singapore between the two vendors) that's where we headed. There are sauces and clear chicken broth as well with each dish and while it was nice, it was not an historic dining moment. The egg & oyster omelet was good, although Will did not like its slightly slimy consistency. The hit dish was Hokkein Noodles with shrimp & calamari. A fried banana was had for dessert and then we headed to the smoothie stand where dragonfruit/passionfruit smoothies were in store for Sam & I and Will chose the drangonfruit/yoghurt smoothie as it proclaimed to help with weight loss and memory recall!
It was a yummy two days in Singapore for sure....and we shall return here after our cruise for more tasty local tidbits.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Singapore's CLIFFORD PIER proves perfect for Peranakan Cuisine (12-20-14)

While staying here in Singapore for a couple of days before our cruise we are having the opportunity to taste many types of amazing Asian cuisine. Our first night, we were exhausted from the long flights, so we dined in our hotel at the Clifford Pier which is a huge 1933 pier over the water on Marina Bay which has been lovingly restored to great colonial grandeur with modern décor. The huge arched steel ceiling is awesome as are the massive chandeliers. The chairs are lushly upholstered in silver and there are banquettes curved with tons of pillows that give "casbah" feel. Sam settled into his corner of the banquette and quickly drifted off to sleep missing dinner completely!
We loved the fact that the sparkling water was our favorite, Badoit from France. A bottle of Yalumbia "The Y Series" 2013 Viognier was extremely rich and a wonderful match to our rich and spicy seafood dishes.
At first the service was slow; we had to turn around multiple times to get someone to bring a wine list and take our order, despite the fact that the room was swarming with servers with earpieces, looking very Asian CIA.
First came a starter of UNI GLASS NOODLE, a true modern take on Pernakan (the mélange of Malay/Singapore and other local cultures) noodle dish served cold with Sea Urchin, Salted Egg, Salmon Roe, a tiny black fish roe (smaller than most caviars) in a truffle sauce with shaved truffles. Decadent, yes, but awesome flavors that exploded in your mouth.
We shared two very traditional Pernakan main courses. I ordered the CHAR KWAY TEON, fried mixed noodles (there were several different sizes), prawns, squid, Chinese sausage, chives, egg in a sweet chilli soy sauce. There is also pork in the dish and it is traditionally fried in lard for extra flavor. This one was excitement in the mouth and my favorite dish of the night. Will loved his dish more which was LAKSA, a soup of prawn, rice, vermicelli, quail eggs, fried bean curd puffs, and bean sprouts in a spicy coconut broth.
A side of KANGKONG BELACHAN (not related to King Kong:-)), but a stir fried green veggie akin to a bok choy/string bean/spinach cross but called Morning Glory here in a spicy chilli sauce with dried shrimp Belachan. The belachan is the shrimp chilli paste used here for everything which I adore and the dried shrimp are like bacon bits in it.
Speaking of dried...there were fish toasts on the table when we sat with four sauces(no one ever told us what they were), and one sported dried softened peanuts and small dried anchovy like fish which was yummy as could be.
Will ordered the Feh Tariq Ice cream which was like a coffee/honey flavor and served with gooey yummy Honey Comb Crunch....even though Samuel had just woken up, his braces could never have gotten through this delicious treat.
We rolled back to our room to head to sleep, looking forward to another day of new food discoveries.


Tuesday, December 09, 2014

BENOIT in NYC is the bistro for brunch (12-7-14)

On Sunday I had a good amount of spare time for brunch prior to a 4 hour opera performance and really wanted to fuel up. I chose BENOIT ( located at 60 W 55th Street, just off 6th Avenue and very central to everything.
I arrived early at 1145am and the dining room was quiet, when I left at 130pm, it was jammed with a line waiting for tables, so always reserve.
BENOIT is the baby of French uber-Michelin starred chef Alain Ducasse, but this is basic French bistro at its best, nothing over the top, not even the prices.
The room has a beautiful faux ceiling of blue skies with clouds and lots of B&W period French photos from the mid-20th century and earlier. There are those large bistro posters and lots of French staff, so you feel truly in a classy French bistro with lots of blonde wood tones, crisp linens and red velvet.
My server was French-born with a truly wonderful accent to boot and the pumped music is simple French chansons of all types, but never loud.
The menu is simple with starters, soups & salad, fish, meats and breakfast type brunch items, which I usually avoid, although the little girl next to me ordered the French toast and it looked awesome piled high with marinated fresh fruits.
I was greeted with a small plate of piping hot crispy cheese gougeres which were so welcome on one of the coldest days of the year so far.
The bread came slightly warmed in a cloth basket to keep it warm and was sliced baguette as well as brown country. The butter was nice, but it was not the quality of good French butter.
Due to that cold I started with the French ONION SOUP which arrived steaming and covered with a gooey stringy browned Gruyere that was the best I have ever tasted outside of France. The soup was scalding hot and again I welcomed this on the bitter cold day as I warmed up so fast. I had asked my server to hold off bringing my main course and he was spot on with his timing. The magnificent plate of Hand Chopped PRIME BEEF TARTARE with a Watercress Salad on the side. The meat was speckled with salty capers and used mustard and pepper well for spice. Small baguette crisps sliced thin and crispy were on the side for crunch and shmearing. The Dijonnaise vinaigrette on the salad had the requisite mustard and reminded me oh so much of my time in cooking school in Dijon, France decades ago. The glass of GIVRY 1er Cru 2010 (not 2007 as listed on the wine list) "Clos Saint Pierre" from Thenard was ideal with the tartare and I was in no mood for a chilled wine with the bitter wind outside.
I looked around at the many varied dishes and the portions were large (even the side and main salads), as mine was, and everyone seemed to be VERY happy with their choices from burgers, to charcuterie to omelets. Only the brunch drinks (at $12+ each) seemed to come in small chintzy glasses....stick to wine.
I ordered some coffee and was way too full for dessert, but then the manager brought over two slices of marble pound cake that was the most buttery I have ever tasted. He said that the pastry chef makes him a loaf to eat for breakfast each week.
I was thrilled he offered me a taste of this  simple yet divine creation.
We return to NYC as a family in March, and I think Benoit beckons for dinner or another brunch!

Thursday, December 04, 2014

multiple bravos for BRABO venerable Virginia wine dinner (12-3-14)

Last night I skipped down to Alexandria where we had an awesome meal at BRABO ( about a year ago. I am so glad I got the email about their Virginia wine dinner as this was indeed a special event and I was thrilled I signed up. On arrival we were ushered into the intimate lobby of the Lorien Hotel (where Brabo is located) as they had set us up for about 35 people or so in a private dining area there.
We were served THIBAUT-JANISSON "Xtra Brut" Blanc de Chardonnay which I had tasted before, but forgot how impressed I was with this awesome sparkling wine which is probably the best in the entire state. Winemaker & Co-Owner Claude Thibaut was circling around the room and we had the chance to chat with him about this terrific wine.
Soon we were ushered into the dining room and I was seated next to Jason Tesauro who is the Chief Sommelier & National Brand Director for one of my favorite wineries, Barboursville. Jason was a replacement at the last minute for the venerable Luca Paschina, who has been making spectacular wines for decades in Virginia, and in Italy prior to that. We've know Luca for a long time, and while I was sorry he was not there, I found Jason to be so lively and ebullient that I was thrilled to meet and sit with him. We drank more of the Xtra Brut as the amuse bouche of SMOKED TROUT PANNA COTTA, Verjus Mirroire & Trout Roe arrived. While this treasure was indeed amuse size, I could have eaten a dozen; I just wanted more, but I knew many courses were to follow and I restrained. The creamy panna cotta had many folks thinking this was going to be sweet, but I was not fooled, and the flavor burst from the cream and roe was divine.
The first course was a RABBIT BALLONTINE, Roasted KURI SQUASH, Asian PEAR & Pepitas which wowed everyone. The encased rabbit fillet was tender and delicate and the wine was so restrained it was an ideal pairing. Jason introduced the Barboursville Vineyard "Reserve" Vermentino 2013  and joked that the room was denser with sommeliers then a Vegas dining spot. Indeed, since Brabo is owned by Chef Robert Wiedmaier, his chief sommelier, Ramon, from Marcel's in DC was heading up the staff who meticulously cared for all our wine needs. The bright white wine was dry yet full of tropical flavors in the first pour, which did get lost in the colder temperature refill (but I warmed it up quickly with my hands and was very happy again).
The second course was a Stuffed VIRGINIA QUAIL Breast, CHANTERELLE Mushrooms, Grilled PEARL ONIONS & BACON JUS. Simply said, I chewed every bit of meat off the tiny leg and left not a dribble of sauce on my plate. We joked about asking for bread to insure there was no sauce left, but then remembered more was coming and wanted to avoid those filling carbs! Rachel Martin of Boxwood Estate Winery in Middleburg introduced her "TOPIARY" 2011 as a blend of 68% Cab Franc and 32% Merlot which was a ready to drink now red that I could enjoy with our without food. She explained that the blending percentages vary by year and that while Boxwood is known for reds, they will be unveiling their first white very soon. I was not familiar with Boxwood, other than by name, and am so happy we have another fantastic winery to visit so close to DC.
Third was a FOIE GRAS GATEAUX with Sauce Bordelaise which was Hudson Valley Foie gras enrobed in Chicken Mousseline. Need I say more? The wine was RdV "Rendevous" 2009 which was the only winery without representation. I had RdV's extremely high priced wines at a dinner over a year ago (also in Alexandria at Eve) and while I gave in and purchased 3 bottles of this same wine at $100 each(!!!), I reminded myself that it really needs a while in the bottle as it is a huge Bordeaux style blend of Merlot, Cab Franc & Petite Verdot. I felt this was a bit too overpowering for the foie gras, but many folks felt it was a great pairing; wine is so personal!
Next was a Juniper Dusted VENISON LOIN accompanied by Smoked CHESTNUT PUREE, Swiss CHARD, Glazed BABY BEETS & Red Wine Jus. I knew winter had arrived and anything with venison or chestnuts wins me over in two seconds flat. This dish was no different. The meat was perfectly seared just past rare and oh so tender; the puree enveloping and the veggies divine. The Barboursville Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2012 is my first time with this particular vintage and it has always been my favorite Cab Franc on this side of the earth, perhaps indeed anywhere. This vintage is great and I'll have to make sure we get some in the future, when there is space in the cellar :-)).
Dessert from pastry chef Erin Reed showed her prowess with a Caramelized BITTERSWEET CHOCOLATE CUSTARD, Jivara LEMON CREAM, HAZELNUT BRITTLE & Frangelico Pearls that was not only delicious, but gorgeous to look at. THIBAUT-JANISSON Blanc de Chardonnay was served, and while I do like champagne, I would have loved a nice sweet dessert wine.
As we finished up Chef Harper McClure who is the chef de cuisine at Brabo emerged along with DC uber-chef Robert Weidmaier to massive bravos, applause and cheers. They deserved much praise for the fine work, dedication and attention they gave to this truly special dinner and event. BRAVOS to BRABO!

Monday, December 01, 2014

The SMITH in NYC(@Lincoln Center) is not totally up to snuff (11-28-14)

While in NYC over Thanksgiving our other dinner in town was at THE SMITH across from Lincoln Center as the three of us were headed to La Boheme at The Met.
I have always enjoyed my meals here, despite the noise and crowds. On Friday night, the quality was down a bit and I may rethink my next visit to the Smith.
The very nice SALMON TARTARE was the spicier of the two according to our server, but not too spicy. It comes in a mason jar, as so many items here do, and has jalapeno, sriracha and scallions for spice on the side. I loved the flat lentil
crisps rather than more bread as they had flavor but not heft. Will adored his Roasted TOMATO SOUP with Cheddar Melt, and it's always nice to munch on the tasty mini-baguettes that come in mini-paper bags with excellent butter.
They also provide complimentary bottles of house filtered sparkling and still water on arrival.
Since I adored the chicken pot pie on my last visit, Will went for the Pennsylvania Dutch TURKEY POT PIE with Cheddar Chive Biscuit Top, and it seems to have shrunk in size, but is still a winner of a dish.
Samuel ordered the FILET MIGNON with Fries which he asked for medium rare. the crust was tasty and crunchy, but while the center was medium rare, the edges were dry, chewy and past medium. He complained it was too dry and chewy for a good steak, and he was indeed spot on.
I chose the Friday night special of LOBSTER ROLL & Chips. The homemade chips were awesome with a spicy kick and while the roll was a good size, it was a bit soggy and messy to eat and leaked all over the place as I took each bite.
The accompanying Agave Lemonade was declared as way too sweet.
Samuel ended with the monster-sized HOT FUDGE SUNDAE which was Vanilla Ice Cream over flourless Chocolate Cake, a nice chunk of Almond bark and a very not fudgey (more thick chocolate sauce) hot fudge topping.
Will liked his STICKY TOFFEE PUDDING that came in a skillet with caramelized apples and vanilla ice cream. The coffee here always gets high marks.
We'll seek other options in the area next time, and maybe return to The Smith at a later date.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

YC's Ai FIORI exudes elegance, fills you and takes a turn on Italian (11-26-14)

Last night after a long travel day in rain, sleet and snow and a matinee on Broadway we headed over to Murray Hill and the Langham Hotel at 400 5th Avenue (37th St) to escape the Theater District and the crowds. AI FIORI has been open a while and is one of Chef Michael White's growing enterprises (we experienced Marea on Central Park South a couple of years ago), and only a couple of months ago joined the Relais et Chateaux group in its exclusive group of NY fine dining spots.
It was a quiet oasis of calm when we arrived just after 530pm, and the place never got noisy (it was a quiet night for them the day before T-giving), but this, again, is a hallmark of a Relais dining establishment.
Our server Jon arrived with a cheery smile and we settled in for a couple of hours of wonderful food and excellent service. Salted grissini (thin breadsticks) arrived standing in a small shotglass filled with EVOO and herbs for dipping. We consulted with the sommelier and arrived at a new white for us, ETNA BIANCO from Graci 2013 in Sicily which was crispy yet dry and creamy when it got a bit warmer.
The amuse was PARSNIP PUREE with a dab of Balsamic Reduction and Candied Orange which was rich and creamy, but Sam sent his over to me (yay, more for me)....Will declared it was a bit bitter, but I loved the novel combination which was a palate wake-up call.
Sam chose to go right to the pasta section as he was enthralled with the AGNOLOTTI of veal & butternut squash in a divine Sage & Black Truffle Sugo with crispy fried sage leaves on top. It was gone oh so quickly.
We decided to take advantage of the $97 four course prix fixe which includes a starter/pasta/main of fish or meat/and dessert. It's quite a deal since the prices here tend to be quite high at every starter in the high teens, pastas even higher and mains in the 30's and 40's$ range.
Will started with the tender PULPO cooked (as Jon carefully explained each dish as it arrived) sous-vide in garlic & thyme and then grilled a la plancha with fennel, purple cabbage and served over a kicky prosciutto spread that we all could not resist.
My ANIMELLE were soaked in milk veal sweetbreads that were oh so tender as well and melted in my mouth but had a crunch due to the crispy batter oh-so-delicately around each piece.  These came with butternut squash and a superb black truffle jus. On the side was a most interesting Caponata made from pistachios and raisins. I would not call this caponata, but it was interesting and truly to my liking (I'm not a huge raisin fan, especially with such a delicate meat.

For the pasta course I was leaning towards the Duck Confit Risotto but Jon steered me to a wonderful SPAGHETTI with Blue Crab(MD), Lemon, Bottarga & Calabrian Chiles. It was salty, spicy and everything my mouth desired. The crab was worthy of the best we get at home and I was happy I listened to Jon. Will had the same amazing Veal Agnolotti as Sam had and declared it one of the best pasta dishes on earth. He said he wants to have this served at his final meal before he goes on to the world to come!
Samuel had decided to try the Zuppa di Zucca or Butternut Squash Soup with pickled delicata squash, brown butter and pumpkin seeds. The dish usually comes with foie gras, but Sam asked for them to leave it out. He did not care for the soup overall as it was a bit wimpy on richness. I tasted it and must agree because we were expecting a creamier soup more typical of the butternut squash style that Samuel usually adores. Jon quickly agreed to replace the almost untouched dish and guess what Sam chose...another plate of those awesome Agnolotti that disappeared promptly.

Will & I had moved on to an excellent full bodied and intense 2009 BARBERA d'ASTI "Tulin" from Pelissero full of tasty tannins along with a wonderful earthy nose and flavor. It was superb with my ANATRA or Long Island Duck Breast cooked with honey and a crunchy crust of toasted hazelnuts on the skin.  Salty Tuscan Kale accompanied the dish, Cipollini onions, mustard fronds, apple mostarda and a foie gras jus. The combination was divine and the duck cooked perfectly.
Will ordered the VITELLO or Amish veal chop "au four" which came with new potato cake, sage, capers, prosciutto and a rich truffle cheese fondant. On arrival the dish was not very hot, so it went back for a warm-up and returned to Will's liking.  Will said the meat was not as good as the duck, but overall the preparation was good.

There were wonderful breads: black olive, country white, multi-grain and sesame seed served with Columbino EVOO and Rosemary salted butter.

For dessert Samuel jumped on the TARTALETTA, a chocolate pastry shell of Loma Sotarento 72% ganache, chocolate chiboust, tiramisu gelato and a bit of chocolate crunch. It was excellent and the hit for me was the gelato and crunch. Will had the MELA or caramel apple confit with brown butter torta, vanilla & cider sorbetto. It was refreshing and lighter and perfect for the season.
Some mignardises arrived of salted caramel, peppermint chocolate, a fruit gelee and one more. There were only four of these and 3 of us, which made for difficult splitting. Jon returned with a bottle of ARDBEG Scotch from Vigeadail in Islay (we had mentioned we liked scotch) and gave us each a complimentary pour to warm us up and send us on our way. Small lemon poundcakes arrived which we just finished for breakfast and they were tasty and moist and just right with the morning coffee.
Not everything was perfect at Ai Fiori, but the flowering service and most of the excellent food made our evening really great. Plus, we missed the massive traffic exodus from the NYC to Long Island where we headed for the holiday.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Jackie's in Silver Spring is super in the suburbs (11-16-14)

Yesterday afternoon we attended a concert in Silver Spring and headed just up the block to JACKIE's ( where there are smiles waiting on your arrival in this brick garage turned restaurant where the fabric patterns will wake you up and the cozy warmth was just right on a cold wet night. We ordered a bottle of La Cartuja 2012 from Priorat which our server Dan was not sure, so he checked with manager/bartender Ryan and we gave it a go. A warm deep red from Spain that despite its youth is drinking superbly now and goes with so many items on the menu. Samuel chose the TRUFFLE CHEESE FRIES from the snacks menu which was a HUGE portion, not a snack, but yummy nonetheless. By the time the dish is finished though, the cold fries are no longer as exciting as they are on arrival, so gobble up. We also tried the CHICKEN LIVER CROSTINI starter which is a snack of three slices with fresh Black truffles, Arugula Pesto and Grano that is a nice starter. The 3 course dinner special is a steal at $32 (there are some supplements), and includes either snack, appetizer and main or appetizer, main and dessert. Sam continued on to the BEEF SHORTRIB with Smoked Gnocchi, Cabbage Crème Fraiche & Red Onion jelly. the cabbage was not a hit, but he adored the gnocchi and ate a good part of the huge meat portion.
Will started with the Walla Walla ONIONS, LAMB BACON, Raisin, Radish & Kale Chimichurri which is a great dish and awesomely smoky from the bacon and chimichurri. My starter was the Salt Roasted BONE MARROW with Foie Gras CRUMBLE, Shallots, Vanilla(Butter) Brioche which were three huge bones and oh so yummy, but slightly overdosed with shallots making it hard to really taste the marrow itself. The crumble was great and the Foie gras taste came through just fine.
We moved on to a bigger wine, BOBAL from Finca Sandoval "Signo" 2010 from La Mancha in Spain which is groan at a high altitude in lime, but still has huge fruit notes in the wine. Ideal with Will's thick rich Roasted COBIA with Cauliflower Variations(puree& roasted), Black Fig, Prosciutto Vinaigrette & Cheese Gnudi. The puree was intensely salty, which Ryan later agreed with us on, but overall the dish was a star. Chef Adam Harvey has been there a year now, and was out last night, so perhaps the sous chef had oversalted erroneously. My GLAZED DUCK with Fermented Bok Choy, Sweet & Sour Eggplant & Cherry Mustard was cooked on the rare side and yet, still had a crunchy crisp skin I adored.
For desserts we chose two and Samuel gobbled up his Warm Chocolate GANACHE with Concord Grape, Peanut Butter & Salted Caramel Popcorn while Will and I tried the Buttermilk PANNA COTTA with Gala Apple, Oatmeal, & Vanilla Dulce di Leche which was a nice dish, but not your traditionally flavored custard as it did just seem slightly odd, though tasty.
We had a real nice time here and the place was almost dead, so it was very quiet on a Sunday....maybe we need to get out of DC to get to the quiet these days?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

an enticing evening at ENTYSE (McLean, VA) with lovely LINDEN wines (also from Virginia) (11-11-14)

10:09 AM (6 minutes ago)
Last night I headed over to the Ritz-Carlton Tysons Corner where one of the dining options is ENTYSE which has a beautiful private dining room which the 40 or so of us occupied with
uber-winemaker Jim Law who owns and runs LINDEN Winery in Virginia. I was especially pleased to be seated center-table (we were at one large long table) right opposite the maestro himself, whom
I have admired for decades. He told us many wonderful stories of his 35 years of vintages and it is easy to see from what we drank, what a huge success he is.
We started with Avenius Sauvignon Blanc 2013 (which was just released), and it was superb with the variety of passed hor's d'oevres from
Quail Egg with Hollandaise Sauce, Bacon & Caviar
Grilled Shrimp on Sugar Cane Skewer
Salmon Roll with Caviar
An amazing FOIE GRAS which I could have sworn had cocoa in it, but I was told no.
and more that I have sadly forgotten
We sat down to dinner and were served both the 2009 and 2012 Chardonnay "Hardscrabble" which were two distinctly different wines, although the same grapes!
The '12 is lighter and the '09 was more intense, creamy and rich. These were served with a DOVER SOLE with Roasted Baby Fennel, Creamed Leeks and LOBSTER MEDALLIONS with a Lobster Tarragon Butter Sauce. A yummy quenelle was on the side as well.
Interestingly enough, we all agreed the Fennel & Sole went best with the 2012 and the 2009 was awesome with the Lobster, butter and leeks. I'm thrilled that I have a good supply of the '09 at home.
Wines were poured by sommelier/cellarmaster Vincent Ferraud, whom I have not seen since a previous visit to the Ritz-Carlton when Maestro was located there. He has been a  fixture in DC for decades going back to Jean-Louis at the Watergate!
Spiegelau crystal was used and really enhanced the experience.
The second course was a rich and creamy Organic MUSHROOM RISOTTO with Shaved Parmigiano Reggiano and Truffled Micro Arugula with tomatoes. The only thing that could have improved this dish in this season would have been fresh white truffles! It was still superb and paired with a Linden CLARET 2011 made from 44% Merlot, 36% Cab and 20% Cab Franc. Jim explained that each year when they blend the Claret it is developed thru "blind" tastings of the grapes and chance blendings so to speak.
The main course was a BISON FILET with Cauliflower Puree, Confit Marble Potatoes and miniature chips, Globe Carrots and Port Wine Jus. There were two reds from HARDSCRABBLE 2009 and 2010 and Jim explained that these blends vary as well by year with no Merlot in the 2010 (83% Cabernet Sauvignon) but less Cab and more Merlot in the 2009. I have the 2010 at home and while they were both good, it was the 2010 that went better with the meat and the '09 better just as a nice finisher.
Dessert was another pair of wines:
Vidal Late Harvest 2007 and Petit Mensang Late Harvest 2009 (which we have lots of at home!). Jim explained that these are not true but fake icewines in that the Petit Mensang was just picked last Thursday and then the grapes are frozen.
The 2007 Vidal could easily last years and mature like a good icewine or Sauternes. The Petiti Mensang is a sweet "wild fruit trip" that is good anytime and anywhere after a meal or with intense cheeses as well.
We had a nice ALMOND FRUIT TART and then started off on our way home very full and very happy that Linden found its way to ENTYSE us!

Saturday, November 08, 2014

a bit less curious about the CURIOUS GRAPE in Arlington, but still good (11-7-14)

After a little over a year we returned to The CURIOUS GRAPE ( in Shirlington and for the most part, the food was very good. However, it seems that Chef Joe Hornbeck who had just started there in the spring of 2013 has departed and was replaced about a year a go by Chef Delian DiPietro, who has many good ideas, but perhaps needs some more guts.
Wines and cheeses here are stars and we started with a delicious white Grenache 2013 Chapoutier Cotes de Luberon "Le Ciboise." The glass come in full or halves, so you can try many tastes. We moved on to a bottle of red (also available by the glass) from Bodegas LAN 2005 Gran Reserva which was decanted and oh so wonderful on the chilly cold night. We did have to ask for the wine several times after the order was placed, and this was the other big issue. Our server, Jon, was most helpful, but it seemed that the completely full restaurant was desperately understaffed with servers.
The warm focaccia and olive oil for dipping was nice as well.
Three of us started with the wonderful sounding on a cold night POTATO LEEK SOUP with Crispy Potatoes, Fried Shallots, Baby Arugula & Mustard Oil with Kymac, which Jon explained is a Turkish double cream! The crunch from the shallots was great, the soup creamy and rich, but not really hot enough, and sadly, OH SO BLAND. I asked Jon for pepper which came fast, but one of our friends who asked for salt never got it. We were asked about the dishes we liked and disliked and mentioned that it needed crispy bacon or white pepper or something.
The special starter was MEATBALLS PUTTANESCA which was a winner for sure. Indeed we all chose, smaller plates for our meal so as not to fill up before the theater.
My next course was a big winner: Seared OCTOPUS with Black Hummus, Fresh Chick Peas, Cucumber & Fried Capers. The hummus was very different from the thicker manila brand and very vinegary which worked so well as a dressing for the perfectly charred and tender octopus. The dish also was loaded with crunchy pomegranate seeds for a burst of flavor.
The other winner was the CHICKEN ROULADE which was a breast rolled with mascarpone, marcona almonds and marsala jus. Opposite were local mushrooms on a square of date paste that was just as yummy.
The loser was the PORK RAGU which had a scant amount of Virginia pork shoulder on pappardelle with piave vecchio cheese and herbed panko. It too arrived lukewarm.
We tried some of the cheese plates and they were both quite good with some odd additions to be sure. The FALL Cheese plate had pumpkin chevre, cranberry Wensleydale and a maple smoked cheddar with apples chips and the most divine port-infused cranberries. The TRUFFLE Cheese plate had TREMOR Truffle cheese, which could have been a shade riper and BOSCHETTO al Tartufo with Truffle Toast, Truffled Salami, a swath of divine Thyme Honey which went great with the two cheeses and a pile of Preserved Mushrooms which were quite odd. The small pile of micro greens had a glop of gooey balsamic that I thought was worms at first; need I say more.
So, while we had some good dishes, THE CURIOUS GRAPE no longer holds top billing for us and boy does Shirlington need some more fine dining for those of us that love going out to eat before or after attending our beloved Signature Theatre down the street!

Monday, November 03, 2014

DC's JACK ROSE DINING SALOON - if you like Whisk(e)y, get there soon! (11-2-14)

At an auction last year we purchased a Scotch tasting and dinner and we were treated to an awesome evening last night at JACK ROSE DINING SALOON ( located at 18th & Florida Sts, NW just below Adam's morgan. The establishment has been there for 4 years and I never even noticed it in my many passings of this block! On arrival Roberto Cofino, the Scotch malt Whisky Tasting Advisor introduced himself and started us on our journey. Each of the five of us explained our likes and dislikes and he proceeded to bring over bottles and taste that were different per our requests.
We mentioned that we like the peaty intense Scotches we have had over the last 5 years since we first tasted Highland park at the distillery. We named some we liked and some we did not like as much, and also mentioned we were headed to Ireland next summer and would love to know more about Irish Whiskey.
A tasty amuse of warm goat cheese puffs arrived with pickled cauliflower and veggies and then the plate of various appetizers we ordered came and kept us busy for quite some time.
The platter is for two and can easily feed three and includes:
Deviled Eggs
Pickled Eggs
Spiced Nuts & Kettle Corn (pecan, almonds and peanuts)
Marinated Olives
4 Bros. Pickled Veggies
Goat Cheese & Ritz Crackers
Roberto returned and we began the EXPERIENCE:
A.D. RATTRAY (he called it Dewer Rattray as the Irish do) is a 12 year aged single cask Irish Whiskey from Cooley Distillery. He explained that the Connemara "style," which this was, is much more peaty. Only 212 bottles are made of this gorgeous liquor and we were all quite happy.
We looked around and noticed the long bar on one side stretching from front to rear has hundreds and hundreds of bottles each displayed on the wall library style with a sliding ladder(that screeched too much) to access them. Our side of the room was raised on step and had comfy leather booths that fit 4-6 and behind us was another wall of whisk(e)y that had us inspecting at length. There is an adorable original tin ceiling that sadly adds to the noisy din.
We proceeded to 12 year old LAGAVULIN 2010 Edition from Islay in Scotland that was another superb treat, but the winner was the potent potion, nay, the unctuous nectar of KILCHOMAN 4 years also from Islay, but bottled by the Jewish Whisky Society and only 245 bottles were made of this Single Cask Nation using Bourbon barrels and ringing in at 58.4% alcohol.
How odd that Roberto chose this as we were hosted by our rabbi and this was an item purchased at our synagogue auction!
I had a taste of the BALVENIE 15 year made in sherry casks and the GLENDONA made in Pedro Ximinez sherry casks (only 643 bottles) both of which had a wonderful sweetness to them.
We gave Roberto a run for our money when we asked him to pair a whisky with our main courses. Mine was the ultra-lemony STEAK TARTARE with Serrano Chili(not spicy), Homemade Potato Ruffles and a very vinegary but yummy side salad. His choice of DAILUANE The Scotch Malt Whisky Society's Single Cask 41.58 was amazing. The label called it juicy, juicy tart and fruity and it worked with the intense lemon for sure.
The fries here are Boardwalk style and super salty, but excellent. With the burger you might wish to try the BRUICHLADDICH The Laddie 10 (aged 10 years) but it is unpeated and hence alone is not my style, though it paired well.
It was an extremely fun night and I even got to have a small sip of WHITE ARMAGNAC which I had not had in years thanks to our generous server.
Now we can't wait to go to Ireland!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

DC's DISH still does it deliciously (10-29-14)

We were at DISH ( , two blocks from the Kennedy Center in the River Inn, back in June for a huge post-opera party and had a great time. Last night, I returned for dinner with the hotel's Sales Manager whom I have worked with for years, as well as the hotel's new General Manager, whom I have known for what it seems like decades! We had a super time in the small dining room that was full for KenCen pre-theater diners. Keith, the manager, has been a fixture there for years and does his job superbly, offering us a bottle of CLINE Ancient Vines Mourvedre 2012 from Contra Costa County in California that was not even on the menu! It was jammy, yummy and totally fulfilling with all our hearty dishes on the first chilly night of the coming winter.
BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP here has crunchy roasted pumpkin seeds and a swath of Roasted Pumpkin Oil for excellent flavor. It is definitely one of the best of its kind in town.
The DUCK BREAST was a huge dish and cooked perfectly as requested to medium rare with Baby Bok Choy, Sweet Potato Puree and a delicious Orange Grand Marnier Sauce. How I have missed these heavy cold weather dishes.
The Lamb Chop with Confit of Sweet Potato (I always wondered how this differs from the puree?!), Butternut Squash, Andouille Sausage, Onions, Arugula in a Red Wine sauce was a big hit, not to mention the gorgeous Pork Chop.
There is a set pre-theater dinner which includes most items and is a bargain, but dining here after 730pm will insure more quiet for sure. DISH is indeed DELICIOUS!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

James Beard Foundation TASTE AMERICA takes the tour to DC and the Mandarin Oriental (10-17-14)

Last Friday evening I headed over to SW DC and the ballroom at the Mandarin Oriental where The James Beard Foundation brought Taste America, it's fundraiser on wheels, so to speak.
We had a 90 minute cocktail party with the best food of the night prepared by awesome local chefs, followed by a four course sit down dinner with paired wines.
I made my way down the cocktail area first trying the fun sparkling rose from Lucien Albrecht which went so well with many of the options at each chef's table. I then moved on to a wonderful Jordan 2011 Chardonnay (there was also a Provenance 2011 Sauvignon Blanc). The reds were even better with a divine Newton Claret 2011 and an awesome Grgich Hills 2007 Merlot. Lots of love went into these choices. Bacardi had sponsored the beverages and there were three quite sweet mixed drinks using their rum which I avoided.
I first came upon Marjorie Meeks-Bradley of Ripple (where we had just eaten a couple of weeks before) & Roofer's Union who was assembling CARROT CAVATELLI with Lobster & Chanterelles that was so good I went back for seconds and thirds!
Next to her was one of Washington's newest faces, Chef Ed Scarpone of DBGB Kitchen, Daniel Boulud's first DC spot which is apparently so hot, reservations for months ahead are virtually impossible. He was serving a Truffled BOUDIN BLANC with Pomme Puree, Apples & Pork Jus, which was nice, but my least favorite item of the five chefs present. I guess I won't have to worry about getting a table there, as I would choose the others first!
Chef Jeffrey Buben of Vidalia was there and the only James Beard winner of these five as well. It was obvious as he had a luscious creamy and divine Low Country SHE CRAB Soup (really bisque) with the most adorable and tasty Old Bay Marshmallows (although the menu said it was a Deviled Crab Benne Seed Cracker--nope!).  Fourth was Chef Katsuya Fukushima of Daikaya, who I think is one of the most fun chefs in a DC kitchen. We had such a ball at his place a while ago that it made me want to return to his big smile and great demeanor. He had a wonderful dish of Buttered BREAD(really black bread toasted) with Fire Kissed UNI, Aged Ponzu and Jalapeno. He was torching the uni just a tad and delicately layering it on each piece of tiny bread with the ponzu and jalapeno slice (the menu said it was a Japanese Hot Pepper, but it was not). I must have had six or seven of these awesomely tasty tidbits. Finally was Chef Anthony Chittum of Iron Gate, where we also went for the first time last month. He prepared Melted CABBAGE Tortelloni, Surryano Ham & Red Onion Marmalade. which was super with the little piece of Virginia made crisped ham (a la Serrano) and the tasty pasta and sauce. I am glad I had multiples of all but one dish(the boudin), as the dinner was much less impressive than these superb creations.
There was a silent and live auction and I went home with two fun silent packages for dining out as well; I could not resist buying dinner with Chef Marjorie at Ripple!
I had a fun group at my table and we all talked about all the great dishes as the wine was poured. Our wine server had two bottles of the first wine, a Trimbach Rielsing from Alsace, but one was 2010 and one was 2011. I asked him to pour both (he did not realize they were different vintages) and immediately fell in love with the 2010 as it was much fuller than the fruity 2011. James Beard Winner CHARLES PHAN of The Slanted Door in San Francisco was flown in for the event and presented us with Banh Boc Lot PORK & SHRIMP TAPIOCA DUMPLINGS in Banana Leaves which was quite nice, but nothing more special than a really good dumpling (and while plural, there was just one on each plate). The wine was perfect with it and I would have had more, but the meal moved along steadily to the second course cooked by DC's own VIKRAM SUNDERAM where his work at Ripple has won him his James Beard Award (well, no surprise there!). His Baked BLACK COD was Marinated with Honey, Chili, Dill, Star Anise, Cream & Cheese and was the winning dish at the table for sure. The anise was barely evident (which made me happy) and the cheese was a crispy piece of Parmesan atop the dish like a little hat. Seguinot-Bordet Chablis was the paired Chardonnay and another superb wine.
For the main course Chef Phan was brought back with a Braised DUCK LEG, Shitake Mushrooms, Bamboo Shoots & Chinese Dates which again was okay, but not a bowlover, especially since the duck was slightly dry (always a problem with hundreds of people at a large event). The wine was an amazing Grenache/Syrah Gigondas from Gonnet in the Rhone. I kept drinking this for the remainder of the night as I did not really take to the 2007 McKinley Springs Late Harvest Chenin Blanc from Horse Haven Hills in Washington State that was served with dessert. Chef Didier Pouzier of the Mandarin Oriental in DC was allowed to prepare dessert on his own turf and gave us a refreshing Coconut Tapioca, Cucumber Meringue, Fresh Pineapple & Coconut Sorbet that sent us home feeling quite good as it was not heavy or overpowering at all after some of the very rich dishes that preceded.

I always have fun when I go to the James Beard House in NY and attend their events here in DC. I anxiously await the next one!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Come into NYC's KINGSIDE for some swell cuisine (10-11-14)

I've run up to NYC for a quick two nights of opera, musicals and the Tucker Gala and since I'm staying at the one-year old VICEROY hotel in midtown, I decided to try the restaurant in house called KINGSIDE (120 W 57th Street near 6th Ave). guess Saturday night in mid-town isn't the busiest time for Kingside.
My server, Stacy, said it might pick up later, but that weekdays are busier.

I settled into my cozy brown leather booth and was a bit dismayed by the loud music. The décor here is quite nice with B&W tile floors and white tile walls. There are cool chalkboards on the walls with quite wonderful drawings of various vegetables (very Audubon-ish) which Stacy explained are redone periodically. The lighting is deco-ish and muted and there are lots of votives on the tables.

The bread is sesame seeded and warm and comes with a timbale of tomato jam which tasted like pasta sauce panna cotta, an interesting flavor sure. The white bean puree was a winner for sure.
The menu is simple with some crudos, small plates, large plates and salads. I did not want a lot so I started with the amazing Shaved Kale with Goat Cheese, Olives, Toasted Almonds and a superb Lemon Vinaigrette. I had a very nice "quarto" (small carafe) of Tenuta Rapitala "Campo Reale" 2013 Nero d'Avola from Sicily which worked with the lemon.
Next I went a whole different route based on Stacy's suggestion. The Crispy Baby Artichokes are cooked to perfection and come with juicy lemon slices. All it needed was some fresh pepper which was on the table. Two silly deep fried slices of zucchini were not welcome with the crispy tangy veggies.
The Lobster Toast is a treat with four small squares of toasted brioche topped with lobster salad with mustard seed, fennel and almost no binder; think aioli gone very light. YUM.
A super cappuccino finished my meal, but I was not done for the night.
I returned at midnight where Stacy was tending bar and had a post-opera snack of a 1/2 dozen Chesapeake Oysters with a boring cocktail sauce, but superb jalapeno mignonette and a novel marinated beef mignonette. A small plate of Shaker Blue cheese was a treat which came with yummy port-roasted grapes.
Owen Roe(Yakima Valley, Wash) Rosa Mystica Cab Franc  was an awesome wine choice as well. Now, I was ready for bed.


Friday, October 03, 2014

RIPPLE will tingle your palate and send your foodie senses soaring (10-1-14)

We celebrated our anniversaries on Wednesday evening at RIPPLE in Cleveland Park and had a superb time. I say anniversaries, as we have Oct 3 for our more recent (2010) legal wedding and Oct 1 for our first commitment ceremony which was 20 years ago! The menu is not too large and Devon, our terrific server, was most helpful in helping us negotiate the different choices. The wine list is amazing and we headed right to the Georges Vernay "Les Terrasses de L'Empire" 2008 Viognier, Condrieu from a winery we have visited and adored for ages. The Condrieu grape (a specific Viognier grown in the Rhone Valley in a very small steep region on the river) offered a creamy luscious and almost orgasmic flavor that we shall remember for a long time.
The dining room is long and narrow and there is a bar and lounge area in a similar long and narrow area where you walk in. The tables are wood with banquettes and decent comfy chairs opposite. There are several "pewter"-looking old-looking chandeliers and lots of cute artwork. We were seated towards the rear where there was one very large table with a very loud crowd, but they quieted down after a while. We arrived at 730pm, and by 8pm, the place was full and a bit too noisy for our tastes, but not awful. At one point a lady at a nearby table got so loud and screechy, I asked Will to re-relate the story of his ancestor who was murdered at a pub for being too loud! I was considering this option for a while until she left!
Our shared starter of HAMACHI CRUDO arrived with Edamame Puree, Crispy Ginger and Yuzu aigre-doux(sweet/sour) which was superb due to that crunchy ginger and the sweet/sour combo. It was also divine with the Condrieu.
We went on to separate starters and Will had the STUFFED BONE MARROW which is easily one of the not-to-be-missed dishes in DC. It is a huge bone filled with tasty marrow, house bacon, chimichurri and a slash of apple butter on the plate to temper the dish's intensity. The marrow and bacon are inherently salty, so I am not sure why there was a small pile of sea salt on the corner of the plate! I ordered the MATSUTAKE MUSHROOMS with DUCK EGG, Chanterelle Puree & Fontina Focaccia, and when a small plate of extremely tasty wild mushrooms arrived, I asked where my egg and focaccia were. I apparently was served the side order of Wild Mushrooms, which was great, Will and I split this and polished it off while I awaited my appetizer. Devon explained it was brand new on the menu and the kitchen had made a small error. It appeared in 4 minutes and was another superb dish that impressed me with its wonderful layered flavors and I loved the multi-colored radish slices and pickled onion.
We moved onto a divine red which the manager Caroline helped us pick. We had just been to Shea Wine Cellars in Oregon for a private tasting with Peter Shea and were wowed by their single block vineyards so we had the BLOCK 23 Yamhill-Carlton Pinot Noir 2009 which is just drinking gorgeously after 5 years in the bottle. We tasted the more recent 2011 vintages at the winery, so we shall wait several years to drink the wine we purchased! Will loved the clove flavors in the wine; I just adored the whole damn thing!
On a trek to the men's room I adored the gigantic spoon, knife and fork decorating the wall and I was thrilled to return to find our neighboring screechy cantatrice (that's Italian for singer, but she really sqauked)
Will's main was HOUSEMADE SPAGHETTI with olive-oil poached Tuna Belly, Tilefish Cheek & Manila clams, a hearty dish for sure despite the seafood; any pasta lover would be impressed. My SEARED DUCK BREAST came rare and juicy with Roasted Beets, Baby Turnips, Celery & Watercress Puree that was the most awesome pairing with the Block 23! We were both very happy with our choices and by now, the dining room had quieted down so we could enjoy quiet conversation.
Chef Marjorie Meek-Bradley arrived to greet us and we gushed raves as everything was indeed sensational. She has become probably the most famous up and coming female chef in DC and has really made a name for herself. She will be one of the challengers in the DC Central Kitchen Food Fight next month!
We had seen the cheese tray near the entrance and had our hearts set, so we chose several to share:
RONCAL-Spanish sheep from Navarre that was sharp and tangy;I called it Manchego-go-home
MONACACY ASH-a 90days aged goat from Boyds, MD> with vegetable ash rind that I always love for it's tanginess and goat creaminess
BABY HAZEN BLUE from Greensboro, VT that is also a creamy blue but so mild I felt I was not having blue
FELSA YAHR-a superb creamy  nutty sheep, cave-aged washed rind from Howard, PA
HARBISON-cow wrapped in bark from Harbison, VT that was the winner with an almost triple crème feel
 These came with tasty Clover Honey and Apple Butter as well as spiced flatbread which we promptly took a taste of and packed up to go so we could enjoy more.
Our dessert choices were PANNA COTTA for Will-Poached Pear, Almond-Oat Crumble, Ginger Coulis and Honey Jelly and my CHOCOLATE HAZELNUT BAR with Dulce de Leche, Cherries, Buttermilk Sherbert that we shared and both enjoyed a lot; latter being a superb dense choco lover's dream and the panna cotta a lighter yet tasty option.
A glass of Smith Woodhouse 200 Colheita Port was nice with the chocolate bars!
We headed home having had a very happy anniversary meal.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Don't miss DC's KAPNOS for creative cooking in a genuine Greek style (8-30-14)

When I hear that Top Chef star Chef Mike Isabella was opening a Greek restaurant in DC, I have to say I was wary. I was at Kapnos ( in the spring for a James Beard event and was impressed, but that night the chefs were from all over the USA. Last night four of us returned for an awesome tasting menu that never ceased to impress us at every bite. We were seated just before 7pm and the dining room was not yet full on a Saturday night, but then it is a holiday weekend. Well, by  the time we got into our first course, every table was full and they seemed to be turning people away or giving them the option of outdoor (80degree+) seating! The dining room can tend to noisy, but we had a quieter table near the street window and could see the open kitchen with its spits of roasted chickens, whole suckling pig on rotisserie and leg of lamb. The chandeliers are fun here as they are made of recycled wine bottles or wine glasses.
We ordered some cocktails and loved our choices. Our excellent server Yari (pronounced Jarri) suggested the "Blame It on the Rain" with Absolut elyx, burnt cinnamon, lemon, grilled fresno pepper & Domaine de Canton for Will as he said he didn't want anything too sweet; it was ideal. I mentioned that I liked spice and she said to have the fairly spicy "Angry Elf" with Altos Reposado Tequila, Serrano infused Yellow Chartreuse (you don't taste chartreuse at all, but the chilis are super), lemon & Benedictine. Sparkling and still house filtered water is served at no charge; this should be mandatory at every newly opened restaurant!
We mentioned to Yari that we liked lots of small plates and many tastes included in our tasting menu, and we had clearly chosen the right place. After finishing our drinks and telling her our "allergies" or dislikes, we were served a glass of House Keg Lemonade made with licorice, mastiha liqueur, watermelon, lemon and tarragon. Luckily the licorice was extremely mild and the stuff was so light and fun with a shaved radish in it for garnish that it disappeared fast! Our first plates arrived from the "SPREADS" section of the menu:
Warm stone baked flatbread that is almost a foot diameter and folded on a small tray are seasoned superbly with sea salt to dip in the many spreads that arrived.
FAVOSALATA was yellow lentils, scallions and black garlic
MELITZANOSALATA is smoked eggplant, roasted peppers, walnuts and feta - think Baba Ghanoush on crack.
REVITHOSALATA is chickpea hummus with tahini and sultan chutney 
TZATAKI here is the traditional yogurt, cucumber and dill with citrus and garnished with caviar
We always ask for and adore TARAMOSALATA which is carp roe, caviar, and here made with cauliflower---it was a huge hit as they all were.
Tops was the TYROKAFTERI of feta, smoked manouri cheese and grains of paradise(whatever that is) garnished with jalapenos for a nice kick.
All of these can be ordered separately or in a "pikilia" or large stone (very heavy) tray with three sections and your choice of three for $22.00....don't skip them.
We had moved on to our first wine which was a sparkling Cote-Mas Brut Rose, Cremant de Limoux made from Pinot Noir & Chenin Blanc--an odd combo for a sparkler, but perfect with the various and strong flavors in the spreads.
Next came Assyrtiko Hatzidakis 2012 from Santorini, which Yari called Sauvignon Blanc. I was not aware that Assytriko was S.B., or even related, and I have had it many times, but it does have a strong citrus flavor for sure. It paired with our next set of COLD MEZZE & GARDEN MEZZE which were as varied as could be:
SPANAKOPITA is made here with the traditional spinach & feta but adds leeks for extra flavor
DOLMADES were rich, lemony and full of flavor
Farm House Vegetable Salad was tomato, cucumber, eggplant and feta in a red wine vinaigrette--nice but basic
ROKKA SALAD was awesome with peach marmalade, grilled plums and grilled halloumi cheese
SMOKY BEETS of red and yellow had the mandatory yogurt but came with green peppercorns, citrus segments and the wildest meringue croutons
WATERMELON SALAD was so refreshing with manouri cheese sorbet (this was a prize in itself), urfa (a spice) and pickled watermelon rind. Who would have thought that manouri (a got and cow cheese), or any cheese, would make an amazing sorbet?
The FAVA was yellow lentils with corn, spinach and pearl onions served hot, but it was the
GREEK FRIES that wowed us more made with chickpeas, peppercorns and mizithra. These potato pancake-like cylinders had a kick from the peppercorns and the mizithra cheese was grated over them a la parmesan. To me it was a potato/chickpea kishka without the meat!
Our one OCEAN MEZZE was a perfectly cooked PAN ROASTED SEA BASS with Artichoke, Pastirma & Baby Carrots. The pastirma is indeed a pastrami that is smoked with orange zest, but to us it had a curry flavor and tasted like a pastrami potato chip as it was so thin and crispy. WHAT FUN! The dish was topped with a savory relish that turned out to be stone fruit compote. Who woullda knew?
We moved on to a superb house red KAPNOS RESERVE Kit-Yianni 2001 from Naoussa in Greece made from Syrah/Merlot & Xinomavro that really was silky, smooth and a bit spicy. I could drink this wine anytime here with any dish!
Our two WOOD ROASTED MEZZE were the
SUCKLING PIG with orzo, dill and orange that also has broccoli, pork rinds and scallions with a crispy skin and oh so juicy meat loaded with flavor.
The MARINATED LAMB was very crispy and crunchy as well with and ancient grain salad (I failed to asked how old the grain was!), but not as flavorful as the pig, though very nice.
I have one major complaint alone about Kapnos and it is the flatware. The knives are contemporary style with curved handles that cause them to constantly slide off the small mezze plates used throughout the meal. I counted losing the knife in my lap at least five times! I know the staff told me they pass on the constant complaints, but someone needs to tell management to buy new knives!
A trio of desserts arrived as we knew we were reaching our limits:
CHOCOLATE MOUSSE was a rectangular bar which and creamy with a scoop of creamy cherry gelato atop.(Did I really hear Yari say the gelato was made with merlot and syrah? Well, I could have eaten a bottle.)
LOUKAMIDES were pistachio and fried with lots of dipping honey that was abit too cloying and sweet, but we all adored
the PANNA COTTA with Blood Orange and Pistachio crumble. I mourned the fact that Chef Mike Isabella had lost Top Chef Duels earlier this week probably for his panna cotta which did not set well; it's a shame he didn't serve this one!
A glass of excellent ANTHEMIS 2008 Sweet Moscato from UWC Samos sent us on our way after a wonderful evening with friends!
We also now know that we have to return to Kapnos to try all the other items that we didn't get to taste on the menu!

Friday, August 29, 2014

You ought to eat at IRON GATE, it's really great (back in DC-8-24-14)

Last Sunday night, Will & I headed to Iron Gate where Chef Anthony Chittum reigns and we were quite wowed, not only by the décor and renovations, but by the excellent service and the food, of course (
Hidden on a quiet side lane off N St, NW & Connecticut Ave, NW the front has a long zinc bar with what seem like church pews. There is a large open courtyard where the a la carte/bar menu is also served in nice weather and then the inner sanctum is in the rear, where only tasting menus are available.The room has an open kitchen on one side, with backlit jarred pickles giving an eerie feel! It is a simple menu but loaded with options from the number of courses to the choice in each category. There are 4 and 6-course menus at $60 and $80 ($40 & $50 extra for wine pairings) as well as a Chef's Tasting for $110 ($90 extra for pairings). Chef Chittum was ill the night we were there, so we thought we would start simple; I'm so glad we chose the 6-course option, because more on a summer's night might have been too much!
We were offered our choice of in-house filtered water--AT NO COST; it needs to be this way in most places, really!
The menu is divided as follows
Everyone gets the TASTE which is a selection of starters bursting with flavors and lots of fun. These may include what we had:
Marinated Olives with tasty lemon rind for flavor
Potato & Dill Fritters with a House-Made Yogurt-Olive Salad
Corn & Black-Eyed Peas with Tomato & Feta
Octopus Salas with Celery & Thai Chilis
Risotto Balls on Pesto
Taramasalata with Syros(an island in Greece) Fennel crackers that we fell in love with (both the crackers and the tarama)
Jimmy Nardeto Roasted Peppers with EVOO
Housemade pickles consisting of Okra, Radish & Carrots
A divine STEAK TARTARE with shaved Parmesan which had some tiny croutons embedded within for a cool crunch
These dishes depend on which menu you order and how many people there are, but I am sure you can mention something if you prefer it!
The paired wine was a super dry 2013 ZINOS "AURELIA" N/V Sparkling Rose from Epirus, Greece that worked amazingly with every one of these flavors.
We all chose the GOAT CHEESE RAVIOLINI from the two Garden choices and came with Roasted Baby Beets, Poppy Seeds and Walnuts 2 Ways. It was a superb dish, but slightly salty. The wine fixed that as it was a 2013 Cantina del Taburno Falanghina from Campania. Our guest was leaning veggie and she chose the other Garden dish for her next course-GRILLED HALLOUMI CHEESE "Puttanesca" with petite Herbs and Croutons. The "Puttanesca" was slightly spicy with olives, capers and tomato, but vegetarian as it had no anchovies. This was served with a 2012 De Angelis Piedrosso, Lacryma Chirsti also from Campania which was an awesome red that worked well with the cheese and spice.
Our second course was from the Water category in the form of a CRISPY SOFTSHELL CRAB tempura-style with Shell Beans, Hothouse Tomatoes(Green Zebra), Anchovy and an great dipping aioli. It was perfect and perfectly paired with a 2012 Sella & Mosca "Terre Bianche" (Torbato grape) from Sardegna. I forgot to mention the champagne came in Schott crystal, while the rest of the wine is served in "The One" which is quite nice, although not Riedel :-((.
While we moved on to the Pasture, our guest chose the other WATER choice of GRILLED RARE AHI TUNA "Salad" with Baby Fennel, Local Cherries & Torn Mint which was another superb dish with lots of layered rare tuna and a pairing with 2013 Wine Art Estate, Malagousia from Macedonia that was intensely citrus.
Will and I decided to choose one of each of the PASTURE choices and my excellent and just -past rare PENNSYLVANIA LAMB DUO was a rack chop and kefta kabob with Summer Squash, Almond Slivers and House Yogurt paired with a 2008 (yes 2008!) Moratis Paros Reserve from Macedonia that I could have kept drinking for days. Will's OUR BERKSHIRE COTECHINO was a pork patty with Grilled Foraged Mushrooms, Sherry Vinegar and "Dippy" Egg or fried egg atop that was also yummy save for the mushrooms being grilled a bit to much to slight dryness. His wine was a 2011 Tascante "Ghaia Nera" (Nerola Mascolese) from Sicily.
Pairings had worked superbly to this point and we did return to some of the wines we liked more. Our guest also raved about the Iced tea! On the 6-course menu every gets the CHEESE course of CAROMONT RED COW with Spring Radish, Lemon & Honey. The Virginia cheese is a nice apple cider washed cow, but not super exciting. The breakfast radishes were sliced super thin and went well with it, but the "funky" 2012 Denavolo "Catavela" from Emiglia-Romana that our wonderful server Mark explained was an oxidated "orange" wine, was something none of us could stomach. He quickly whisked away the 3 glasses and we happily received more of the awesome reds!
Dessert or SWEET is two choices and I went for the BITTERSWEET CHOCOLATE TORTE with Eggplant (yes, eggplant) 2 Ways, Plums and Almond Tuile which was a great creation of spiced chocolate torte with plum sorbet, poached plums, yummy almond tuile that was really almond brittle and the awesome eggplant which was bruleed and fried (the 2 ways); AMAAZING. This paired with Kourtaki Mavrodaphne port-like wine from Patras in the Peloponnese in Greece.
The others adored their BABA AU RHUM with Roasted Peaches & Mascarpone Ice Cream served with 2010 UWC(Union Winemaking Coop) Muscat of Samos "Nectar" from the Aegean Islands of Greece; need I say more.....??
Dinner did not end here as Lukamades (orange honey blossom fried dough) arrived along with Amaretti cookies with cherries imbedded. Mark knew we had a bad taste from the funky orange wine, so he offered us a make-up, which we did not need, with an amazing TREJE 2009 Bisceglia Agliatico (Merlot/Syrah blend) which gets 2 years aging in oak. I think this was offered as the red substitute with the cheese, but can't least I got the wine right, and everything else.
Even to Toto soft close toilets are welcome in the rest rooms!
Iron Gate is a welcome change in that it offers many tastes in a very satisfying setting with a small American twist entering into the Greco-Italian vein. Bravo Chef Anthony!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Provo, Turks & Caicos - a report on some lovely lunches (Aug 12-19)-Greenbean Cafe/The Gansevoort's Stelle Beach Bar/Market Cafe/Las Brisas/Daniel's Cafe

My final report will cover the multitude of places we stopped for lunch while staying in Providenciales and other islands during our recent journey.
Samuel would want me to mention GREENBEAN CAFE first located at the Turtle Cove Marina about 5-10 minutes from Grace Bay at it's very west end.
It was the first place we went, and he repeatedly asked to go back. When we mentioned this place to islanders they seemed to frown, but then said they had tried pizza and burgers here, and we have
loved the WRAPS.
The Panini were also good, especially MUSHROOM, but if you wish to cut those carbs go for a Sundried Tomato, Spinach or Whole Wheat Wrap and get either the JERK CHICKEN WRAP or the Southwest SPICY CHICKEN WRAP.
These are huge wraps for $12 each and can easily be split if you are not that hungry. They are loaded with chicken, veggies and yummy seasonings. There is free wifi as well and the place is open for breakfast thru mid-afternoon.
After our initial visit, Samuel kept begging to go back, which we did the next week, but he still could not be satisfied with a second visit; he begged for more, but time did not allow a third visit!
One day we headed to the LEEWARD Marina at the east end of the island (also no more than 5-10 minutes from any point in Grace Bay) where the newly reopened BLUE MARINA Hotel sits near the hub of watersports (diving, fishing, snorkeling and more) making it the ideal location for those seeking just a bit more than a pool and beach. While there are some dining spots in the hotel, just across the parking lot is the MARKET CAFE, which has nice outdoor seating on the canal with views of the huge villas nearby. There are many items you can get here, but we loved the various burgers. There are many food items to buy as well since it is a full-scale supermarket.
One day while doing a site visit we were treated to a superb lunch at the GANSEVOORT Resort. Stelle is their fine dining establishment open for dinner only, but we sat outside just above the beach at the Stelle Beach bar and enjoyed a crisp refreshing cold glass of Perle de Rose 2012 Cotes de Provence Rose as we enjoyed the very pretty people walking by. Samuel (who is on a wrap trip) enjoyed the Chicken Wrap with Sundried Tomato, peppers & his favorite condiment, Pesto!
I loved the refreshing GAZPACHO with Goat Cheese Bruschetta and then went on the awesome CONCH FRITTERS which came with a mixed Green Lettuce Salad and Louisiana Sauce for dipping. Will had a superb fresh CONCH Salad with Lime Juice, Red Onion, Peppers, Croiander, Cumin and enough Jalapeno to make it just the right heat. Our server, Kim, was a treat and made everything we wanted happen, as she called herself, Kim-possible!
Heading to the South & West you might wish to spend a day boating on the CHALK SOUND, a remote part of the island about 10 minutes south of the airport where the water is milky white and the view from LAS BRISAS Restaurant at Neptune Villas ( is quite different from the long sandy beaches elsewhere. As you know from my recent postings, Friday August 15 was the beginning of the local lobster season. So, while Samuel settled in with a superb Veggie Wrap, which came loaded with vegetables of all kinds and served hot, Will and I ordered the same with LOBSTER ADDED for an additional $5.00. It was our first taste of local South Caicos Lobster, which is apparently HAND CAUGHT. The cost was nothing for the large amount and large chunks we got in our tasty warm wraps! Las Brisas was worth the drive!
Our final lunch outing was part of an entire day tour to the more remote and fascinating islands of North Caicos & MIddle Caicos. North Caicos is accessed by air, private boat or a 25 minute ferry from the Leeward side of Provo. Cars can be rented here if arranged, but we chose to hire a guide and driver for the entire day and boy were we glad. The trip organized through a local tour operator was amazing. Our guide, Luke, picked us up and whisked us all over both islands (population of North Caicos is like 1500, and Middle rings in at like 300!). The highlight of the morning was a stop at the private home of Mrs. Susan Butterfield who welcomed us into her home for very strong tea (made from ginger, lemongrass, herbs and lord knows what else) with lemon cake. She told us her life story (she looked 90, but was only about 70!) and then offered us a huge soursop fruit cut right from her tree outside. It was awesome, sweet and sour and juicy and fun! We later headed south to Middle Caicos and the hamlet of Conch Bar which probably has about 150 habitants! Right on a cliff above the ocean is Daniel's Café where there are not too many items on the menu aside from Fried Fish and Fried Conch. They come in individual orders or platters, so we went in for the Conch Platters as Samuel munched the rolls and had a coke as he would have none of the options. The side salad was simple with lettuce, tomato and onion and the dipping sauce was Thousand Island, but homemade. This, of course, is then spiced up with local hot sauce, Louisiana hot sauce or other depending on the choices. I went for a scotch bonnet based hot sauce that was not too spicy from Trinidad! The conch was tender and battered nicely and fried perfectly. There was a side of rice and peas (those little beans that these islands always call peas) and there was a jar of "pickles" on the table which I opened and tasted some carrots, okra and other pickles from. There were awesomely spicy and then I noticed the little cut up scotch bonnet peppers in the jar that lent their intense heat to these little treats. Luckily the Ginger Beer was strong and there was plenty of rice and roll to cut the heat.
That was our last lunch out on the island as breakfast was included at our last hotel, so we often just ate no lunch as we slept late a lot!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Turks&Caicos Coco Bistro can do it all(8-20-14)

We saved Coco Bistro ( for our last night as it seemed to get all the raves for the top food and best place to dine from virtually every source.
It was a 5 minute walk from out hotel right inland from Grace Bay, so there are no views, but the place offers a wooden decking with lots of overhanging palms.
We were first seated near the front and ordered our water and wine, a bottle of William Fevre Chablis 2012 from our server Wisner, when the kids at the next table started to whine and have multiple fits. We noticed lots of children here, so asked to be moved to a table away from most of them. The manager, Steven, was oh so gracious and moved us to the extreme rear in a small alcove with only two tables and we felt very romantic, even with Sam there. There was another table just through the palm trees with a huge group of folks from either New York or Jersey and we heard every loud word they said, especially the lady who kept saying, "I TRIED." They left minutes after Steven returned to open the wine, which has been rebranded and now comes in a tacky foil wrapper, but it's still a great Chablis.
We had already gobbled up the pesto rolls (yup, pesto inside the rolls) at the first table, so we proceeded to order from our now new server, Frankie.
Samuel ordered the Caesar Salad with Crisp Bacon, croutons, anchovies (on the side, and they were canned!) & fresh shaved Parmesan in a "Spicy Dressing (no wimps please)" according to the menu. Well, the dressing was by no means spicy, and we all laughed and remarked on this to Steve and Frankie; they said that many people returned the dish, so that was why they had a warning.
Will ordered the Spicy Lobster Soft Tacos with Fresh Guacamole and Sour Cream, Pineapple Tomato Salsa, and again while delish, they were by no means spicy.
My Avocado & Lobster Spring Rolls with Thai Mango Salad & Sweet Dipping Sauce were fantastic and loaded with chunks of sweet lobster to boot, my farewell to this tasty friend we met while here in the Turks & Caicos, which I shall surely miss.
In a very poor attempt on food bravery Samuel ordered the Homemade Ravioli of Conch & Flame Grilled Sweet Peppers with Piquant Rose Sauce. When it arrived he looked at the very large ravioli and almost fainted. He took a taste and would venture no more. While he had tried the dish, I was itching to taste it, but we decided against our better judgement and called Frankie over and explained. They said they would gladly replace the dish and shortly his Chicken Breast with Shrimp in Curry Sauce, Rice and a huge crunchy papadam arrived. That was not problem, although he wouldn't try the shrimp.
Will and I had asked for a longer break and ordered a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc 2013 called Graywacke from Marlborough, New Zealand. It was a great wine and while slightly citrusy it was perfect with both our varied main courses which we split. Steven explained it was made by the same guy who used to make wine Cloudy Bay!
Penne Pasta with Caicos Lobster (oh yes, we had to have more one last time), Shrimp, Bay Scallops & Arugula in a very rich White Wine Tomato Cream Sauce laced with Fresh Homegrown Basil and Asiago Cheese Shavings could have served two people. The dish was superb and the fresh basil was indeed superb as an accent as was the cheese. All the seafood was so fresh and tasty to boot. Luckily, we were splitting our entrees and mine was much lighter in size, but very intense in depth. Blackened local Mahi came with a tasty Red Thai Curry Sauce & Jasmine Rice. On the side was a wonderful Mango Chutney and welcome Buttered Broccoli, as veggies are not too common it seems.
I have to also mention that the bathroom has air conditioning, which is not too common! Also, at one point during dinner, there were some rain showers. The staff provided umbrellas, which we saw popping up in other areas around us, but due to the heavy palm tree leave overhangs above us, barely a drop touched us. I just can't imagine what happens at all these outdoor spots when it rains much harder. Right before we came to the islands, Tropical Depression Bertha passed through with two solid days of rain, and now that we have left another depression has hit (well, it is hurricane season) and is threatening three to four days of rain and thunderstorms!
We decided we had to have dessert on our last night and I made the mistake of trying the Fried Banana Fritters, which was a huge portions, really enough for two or three!
The fritters were drizzled with Caramel Sauce and had the most delicious scoop of Vanilla Ice Cream, which was a treat compared to the heaviness of the battered treats. Will chose wisely with Homemade Ice Cream, and it was the best we had all trip. His Vanilla was the same as mine, and the Banoffee Ice Cream was a true creamy treat.

Bay Bistro where you literally dine on the bay gets bravos-Turks&Caicos(8-19-14)

Bay Bistro is down the beach a mile or so from the center of Grace Bay in an unassuming resort but sits right on the edge of the sand, so we were able to enjoy the sunset as we arrived and ordered a bottle of Minuty 2013 Rose from France which Will declared to smell like pot (yup, marijuana), but my innocent self called it a dry crisp refreshing rose with an earthy aroma.
Bread arrived in the form of yummy warm cheese rolls with a pesto dip that was what I would call rough as the leaves were still not completely pulverized, but we all loved it, especially Sam the pesto man!
The menu here is similar to many other places in that it specializes in local fish with some imported meats and such, but the recipes do have a novel twist.
Will started with the Princess Conch (which was odd, as we had been told that only the Queen conch was worth eating!)& Mushroom Crepe with roasted red pepper pesto and cream sauce. It was extremely rich and heavy, but delicious.
I chose the Coffee-rubbed Yellowfin Tina sliced thin and served barely seared and oh so perfectly rare in an Asian marinade with Garnish Salad (wasabi dressing) and pickled ginger. It is the perfect starter after spending the entire day touring the remote island cays(as we did) in the intense heat.
Samuel ordered the Veggie Spring Rolls on Baby Arugula with Oven Dried Tomatoes and then decided to go on to the simple Kiddie Menu Angel Hair Pasta with Tomato Sauce & Cheese.
For our entrees Will and I both chose the excellent Blackened Lobster with Mango Chutney, light Curry Sauce, roasted potatoes and sauteed vegetables. This was a winner of a dish with two HUGE tails for a price less than all the other lobster dishes we had  in 6 days of lobster season! It suffered only slightly from the fact that the meat was just slightly overcooked, but in no means dry or well done!
We did have an issue with our server Jamesly as he seemed to disappear every time we needed more wine, so I did most of the pouring. We also asked him and two other folks each for a wine list to order some more, but it seemed to never come. We finally just ordered a glass of the house red, Louis Philipe Edwards Chilean Pinot Noir, that we figured was light enough for the lobster, but would stand up to the spice, which while not intense, was formidable. It actually tasted more like a Malbec, but worked quite well.
We asked Jamesly if he had ever been to North & Middle Caicos (more on them later) where we spent the day and the islands are so very pure and pristine, and he said even though he was from Provo (Providenciales), he would not be interested in going there. We were quite surprised, but I guess it's like a New Yorker who has never been to Albany!
We were all full and headed home for a quiet night and an early to bed!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Grace Bay Club awes at ANACAONA Restaurant (Turks& Caicos-8-18-14)

Back on Grace Bay where the main hotels are located we settled into our gorgeous oceanview one bedroom villa suite with butler for the remainder of our stay!
It's the best here, with gorgeous beaches at our feet and the service beyond the best. We had dinner in the hotel's top restaurant with some of the staff and it was one of the best meals we had on the entire trip.
It started with fun drinks at the Infiniti Bar overlooking the ocean and lots of fun noshes including a tasty Conch Quiche and simple yummy mayo/curry dip with fried plaintains....
As we sat down virtually on the edge of the sand at the bay's edge we enjoyed Pinghin Pinot Grigio and Napa 2012 The Prisoner by the glass which were excellent house wines. Our sever Florence was overjoyed to do anything and never stopped smiling; this is why we love this island so much!
Herbed Butter and Portuguese Salted butter arrived with a Pesto Parmesan Baguette and Sundried Tomato Rolls; they were all superb.
Will started with a divine Chilled Avocado Soup with Bay Scallops, Peppers and Sour Cream and I adored my Mahi-Mahi Carpaccio with Cahacha Lime Dressing and some Jalapeno to boot for spice.
Samuel went directly to the Hangar Steak which was gone in minutes and I settled in with a monstrous piece of South Caicos Red Snapper Filet with Roasted Millet, Oven Tomato Garlic Chutney Relish and some tasty carrots and asparagus. The fish was firm and cooked perfectly and the skin crunchy on every bite.
Will decided on the Malaysian Seafood Pot with Hard Boiled Egg, Rock Scallops, Wild Prawns, MahiMahi, Egg Noodles and Thai Chili which he said was excellent.
Desserts were just as fine making this the best across the board meal we had  from KeyLime Pie with Raspberry Sorbet, Mix Berries & Vanilla Tulle for Will, the Chocolate Gourmandise for Sam which was a cake with shaved banana and chocolate salted vanilla ice cream. My Yuzu Ice Cream with Chiquita Caramel Banana and Peanut Butter Foam & Powder was a chemical dream creation that had so many flavors and feels I just couldn't stop, despite its huge size.
A glass of Zapaca 20+aged Guatemalan rum was the perfect finisher with gourmandizes of chocolate brownies an cheesecakes arriving in case we wanted more.

Sadly, this fall Anacaona will be renamed, rebranded and rebuilt as a totally new concept, but I have no fear that whatever it is, the folks at Grace Bay Club will have a winner of a dining spot-tops on the island!

Monday, August 18, 2014

superb return to The Restaurant at Amanyara in the terrific Turks & Caicos (8-17-14)

Our last night here was bittersweet as we have truly fallen in love with Amanyara, its staff and the magnificent secluded setting.
We returned to The Restaurant for dinner as it was the only choice, however we were still quite full from our beachfront feast at Da Conch Shack.
We sat down at 730pm and our server Putu (from Indonesia) was a true gem satisfying our every need and helping us to decide what to eat so we did not overindulge. 
A simple amuse of tuna "nicoise" had a small chunk of tartare, mayo, green bean and soy which we all enjoyed, even Samuel.
Sam wanted to try the Avocado Green Mango Maki   which was the perfect light starter as it had six pieces so we could easily share. Sam noted how nice the chopsticks were and Putu even offered to send him home with a set! He went on to have the same dish Will ordered the first night, the Roti Green Beef Curry, which was far superior to the one Will had just two days earlier. Samuel asked for the dish to have medium heat, and it did; there was also more meat and veggies and the overall dish was just better.
Will had the Pan Fried Black Grouper with Black Rice, Asian veggies and a yummy dashi-ponzi broth. The local fish was superb and the presentation and flavors were excellent.  My dish was easily the hit of the night -Kaeng Luang was a Yellow Curry (which I asked for medium to strong and it came just that way) loaded with guess what, tons of that local South Caicos Lobster, Hearts of Palm, Chayote, Lotus Root and more crunchy Asian veggies. A dish of Jasmine rice did come this time for both the curry dishes and I was thrilled so I could mop up most of the superb sauce which easily made The Thai chef in residence shine last night!
A bottle of Coeur de Clementine, Cotes de Provence 2013 Rose was light and perfect for the dishes and made our evening perfect.
We couldn't even think of dessert, but stopped at The Bar for our final visit with Aldwyn, the bartender so Sam could have his final iced tea with guava juice, Will could have another Basil Dazil and I could enjoy Aldwyn's perfect Margarita.
Today we are back off to the Eastern side of Provo and civilization!


Sunday, August 17, 2014

don't you dare miss DA CONCH SHACK if you go to the Turks & Caicos, it's da best! (8-17-14)

Hot off the presses we left our cocoon of a resort and drove about 15 minutes to the north shore and the area of Blue Hills where DA CONCH SHACK rules.
Upon arrival we were greeted by warm smiles and a "have a seat where you like" at the tables set up in an open area on the beach between two small shacks (really houses), one is the kitchen, the other the Rum Bar where 14 different types of aged and prime rums are offered--don't miss the awesome Guatemalan Zacapa; it's he smoothest ever.
We met the manager Karel Rodney, who hails from Jamaica, but makes this home and has brought some of his island spice over as well. There's Jerk Chicken and Sam had the Jerk Chicken Tacos which he said burst with flavor.
Will & I started with the Infamous Rum Punch and I new I had to have another, but beware-they are potent and oh so pretty with layered colors of yellow, black and orange. They also have something called a Conch Knocker Shot which has to be on the list for our next visit!
Will had the Conch Salad to start which is a simple ceviche that always packs a punch and here it was declared the best. I had the Cracked Conch which is lightly battered ands and  fried and served with a Russian dressing of sorts which is even better if you add the Peppajay Hot Sauce made locally with scotch bonnet pepper and guava.
I learned from the menu as well that the conch is over 600 million years old and one of the highest viable proteins found in nature (37grams in the salad alone).
Other tidbits learned from the menu include the fact that natives think the pistol gives them virility, and they are also high in Omega-3.

For his main course, Will had the CONCH Combo with more cracked Conch, the best conch fritters we had all week and two sides (all entrees come with 2 sides, so this is a big meal!). We both chose the rice and peas and the Johnny Fries, which are French fries seasoned awesomely with local salt and smothered with a black bean and local pepper gravy. This was the icing on the cake for us, although Samuel insisted on having his without the gravy :-((
My main was the Cracked Lobster which they said, like the, conch, is fished locally (you will recall this is the third day of Lobster season, and thusly my fourth meal including these succulent treats). The two tails were just lightly battered and fried to perfection; the best lobster so far.
The secret to this little hideaway is the great food, the superb beachfront atmosphere, the excellent friendly service and the fact that it's a nice change from the many fine dining spots we tend to hit. Da Conch Shack is only 15 minutes from our secluded resort or about the same or perhaps 20 minutes from the main Grace Bay resorts. On Wednesday evenings there is live music if you want to party as well.
After we were satiated beyond belief, we looked at the vendors on the beach and purchased some gorgeous conch shells as well as t-shirts and hot if you are lucky you will hear me play the shell on your next visit to our home, and maybe I'll even use the hot sauce so you can have a taste of the Turks & Caicos, which is something we will always cherish.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

AMANYARA is awesome and The Restaurant is a revelation (Providenciales, Turks & Caicos)(8-15-14)

We arrived yesterday at the far reaches of the west coast of Provo down a several mile dirt road which is about 20-30 minutes from the airport (we got stuck behind a construction truck). Here lies AMANYARA, the luxury resort from the Asian team that has brought us so many exquisite Aman Resorts around the world; a small nest of some 40 villas and pavilions on the beach and small ponds nearby where you seem to never see another guest. Okay--it's a small world as just after we arrived and headed to the Bar for what is called "tea" we met a couple who knew my brother-in-law's sister-in-law (yes, always one degree of separation!).

Later on we headed to The Restaurant, which is the only dining spot here (except the Beach Restaurant which is open only one or two nights a week--we will dine there tonight most likely). Indeed, if you choose to head off property, save for Da Conch Shack (where we'll try lunch tomorrow) on a beach 20 minutes away on the other side of the island, your only options are indeed all over 30 minutes away...down that long, curvy and steep dirt road (not worth risking if you have a couple of beers or some wine!).

Much of the staff here hails from the Philippines and our server Emma was a gem, as are all the locals as well, who are some of the nicest folks I have ever met in the entire Caribbean! The Executive Chef hails from Switzerland, but he is off on vacation (sound familiar), so executive sous chef Patricio from Spain is in charge. We met him and he explained many of the dishes helping us to decide. We ordered a bottle of Matanzas Creek 2010 Sauvignon Blanc from Sonoma which has always been a favorite over the years. I have to say, it took a while for the sticker shock to fade, as the wine prices here are more than double the other side of the island (the $70 bottle we had on Monday was $140 here, which means it costs about $20-25 on the shelf at home!); the average starter was $20-25 and average main course was $40-55....enough said.

An amuse of small shrimp cocktail with mayo sauce and tomato was nice and refreshing, but I was not wowed.

Sam started with the Chicken Dumpling Soup loaded with mushrooms (which he left), bok choy, bamboo shoots and fried dumplings, as opposed to the softer wonton type. As I progress you will notice the Asian leaning of many of the dishes due to the origins of Aman and they even have a Vietnamese chef to oversee these dishes in the kitchen.

My starter was the most "chemical" I have seen here on the island and was deconstructed Cured Wild Caught Alaskan Salmon with Stone Fruits and an Idiazabal (Spanish cheese) cream. There was also a brittle, which I never did find out what it was, but it was yummy. The fish had a soft texture and almost melted as it had been cured sous-vide; an odd choice of cooking/smoking I have to say.

Will went Asian with the Tom Yung Goong-a sour shrimp soup which he said was lame as it had only four medium size shrimp. I have to agree that the portions needs to be a bit bigger when they are charging $25.

We moved on to a superb Nickel and Nickel 2012 Napa Chardonnay made with Truchard grapes and we have always adored the Truchard family and their wines. At $190 it was not a steal, but one of the least expensive chardonnays on the menu! Imagine that!

Will stayed Asian for his main with the Roti Jim Geng Kiaw Warn Neva-a yummy beef curry with roti, but he asked for it medium to spicy and it arrived he sent it back for a complete replacement, which was far superior. He felt the only thing the dish lacked was a bowl of rice, which would have made it go much further and be great for the sauce as well.

Samuel chose the Baby Chicken with Bok Choy and Sesame and enjoyed that fairly well, but the hit of the night was my Butter Poached South Caicos Lobster with roasted veggies and potatoes. You should understand that each year the lobster season starts here each year on a set date, and that was yesterday. WHAT LUCK! This was indeed the best Caribbean lobster ever, and divine with the wine.

There was a live musician sitting across the elegant pools that dissect the area where you dine and he was very good on his electric-like sax. There was a beautiful breeze and we indeed felt o so comfortable, which has not been the norm on most nights. My silk shirt did not melt!

The one thing that sorely needs fixing is the lighting on the path to the elegant rest room where it seems they clean up after each person leaves (are they watching us on closed circuit tv?) because there is never a dirty cloth in the bin or even a stray dirty Kleenex in the trash!

After dinner we headed to The Bar, where we are already friends with the bartender, Aldwin, who makes Sam the most awesome iced tea with guava juice as sweetener. I had a yummy cosmo-ish martini and Will had vodka-based drink loaded with basil juice and lemon which he adored, and so he should have for $20 a pop! Well, you only live once, and boy are loving living here like this.