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!