Sunday, June 29, 2014

do try TASTE Gastropub in Olney, MD. if you happen to be out that way (6-28-14)

lney, MD about 20 miles north of DC is not a destination in itself, but it is indeed a nice suburban community with one of the best local theaters. Last night prior to attending a brilliant
performance of the musical AVENUE Q we chose to dine at TASTE GASTROPUB near the Olney Theater( It's a simple place with unremarkable décor, but
the service we received from Tatiana was superb and much of the food was quite good.
Malpeque and Cape Cod Oysters were on the half shell, so we gobbled a 1/2 dozen of those and enjoyed a basic OYSTER BAY 2013 Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, a great wine for most of the excellent fish dishes they offer.
Will headed for the AHI TUNA TARTARE with Ginger, Chili, White Soy and sadly it was a very small portion with SIX, yes SIX huge slices of focaccia; I guess they were trying to make up for the extremely small portion. On the other hand my
Shaved American KOBE (Beef) SALAD was huge and while not overdosed with the tender beef it packed a punch from jalapenos and was loaded with greens, scallions, cucumber, tomatoes, red onion, some peanuts a fabulous fennel slaw, carrots, and tasty dressing with some fried onions; it was a superb combo and quite filling.
I ordered the special of Pan Seared HALIBUT with Foie Gras (although I tasted it, there was no apparent meat in the dish). Oyster/Horseradish Emulsion, a super crunchy crust and Zucchini, Carrots and Arugula underneath. It was an superb dish and I felt awful when Will's fish arrived as it was the whole BRANZINO with Roasted Potatoes, and Arugula & Orange Gremolata. He looked at the head and begged Tatiana to fillet it, which she graciously did; they really need to say it's a whole fish on the menu. It was tasty, but still had some bones, and while a mayo dip was on the side, a simple squeeze of fresh lemon was all the superb fish needed. BRUSSELS SPROUTS are a great side here which come with bacon and are beautifully cooked as well.
Will & I were both looking at the RHUBARB PIE with Strawberry Salad and Violet Sorbet, so we decided to split that telling Tatiana we had not had rhubarb in ages. She recommended the peach cobbler, but we did not listen-DUMB US!
The pie had very little fruit filling and the strawberry salad was barely one forkful, while the sorbet was nice, it was the dud dessert for sure. The French Press coffee however is sublime and woke us up for a superb performance at the nearby theater.
I wouldn't rush back to Taste, especially since it's almost 40 minutes from our fome, but I would go again pre or post-Olney Theater!


Thursday, June 26, 2014

DC's CITY TAP HOUSE is a trip worth taking (6-22-14)

When our friends invited us to join them for a museum tour in DC preceded and followed by food, we immediately accepted the gracious offer. When they told us to meet at CITY TAP HOUSE ( a block from the Convention Center, we were a little taken aback. BEER PUB? Well, boy were we WRONG!
On arrival Lamarca Prosecco was flowing and hor's d'oevres surrounded us. I immediately tried to cut the carbs by not having the FLAPJACKS with MAPLE SYRUP the size of adorable silver dollars, but could not resist the amazing LOBSTER ROLLS (although, I did not finish all the tasty roll:-)). WAFFLES & CHICKEN are on the Tuesday evening specials and Sunday brunch, but here we got mini versions, and boy were these bite size treats yummy. GOURGERES were made with Parmesan cheese but full of flavor despite the Italian twist to the French creation. Wonton TACO Chips were laden with YELLOWFIN TUNA TARTARE mixed with Scallion, Cucumber, Red Pepper, a Yuzu-Ginger Dressing and topped with superb crunchy Wasabi Tobiko; these were divine. The most irresistible of all were the CRAB HUSH PUPPIES with Sweet Corn and a Citrus Remoulade; fresh corn shoots adorned the dray and I gobbled these up as well.
It was an amazing introduction into City Tap House's truly fine foods.
We headed to the Corcoran Gallery for our tour where more hor's d'oevres awaited, but most of us were unimpressed by the food from Muse Café of Equinox Restaurant; some folks declared the cheese & wine looked like a Costco platter!
After our superb tour we anxiously returned to CITY TAP HOUSE for an early dinner, where we received another royal greeting as the place was starting to fill up with tons of folks waiting for the World Cup game between the USA & Portugal. Our table of 10 or so was in a separate section, but we could see all the buzz and watch the many TV screens around it; the excitement was indeed electric. Our server Kevin was superb with suggestions, kindness and even folding the napkins after each of us made a trip to the loo (or replacing it if soiled). I have to admit that even with all the sportsmongers, the single stall unisex bathrooms were all kept virtually spotless throughout the long evening.
More prosecco arrived and Chef trainee Chad Weise presented a beautiful amuse of a slice of Watermelon Radish with a small bowl atop of SHRIMP CEVICHE with Yuzu Watermelon Vinaigrette and a plate scattered with Dried Lobster Roe. I had to mix these together for the whole impact and it worked brilliantly with the radish on the bottom, the ceviche and the crunch from the roe. A+.
Kevin explained that City Tap House specializes in beer and has 39 on tap plus 2 on cask at all times. Our table actually sat across from a glass wall that contained all the beer kegs on tap for the bar beyond. I was mightily impressed, even though not a beer nut. Will ordered a flight and got 2 Belgian blondes (no they were not handsome guys!):Ooomegang Henepin and Boulevard Tank 7, the latter he declared the best of the four. A shandly-like beer called Stiegl Grapefruit Randler and Schneider Aventinus filled out his flight. I was intrigued by the 3 STARS Southern Belle in cask that Kevin explained is deep, rich malty brown and "Girl-Scoutified" with thin mints. He was so gracious when I asked for a taste and brought a small taste for everyone at the table. The beer has a smell of thin mints for sure, but more of a coffee flavor; I still will stick to wine. Speaking of wine we ordered a superb MASI "Campofiorino" 2009 Amarino, which is a baby Amarone of sorts and goes well with all the flavorful main courses we had; but first the starters.
We had to order more of those divine CRAB HUSH PUPPIES and we all shared several other items as well:
KOREAN SHORT RIB TACOS were a huge hit on a small soft tortilla round with picked CABBAGE SLAW, Cilantro and a tangy Chili Sauce...YUM!
Pizzas here are fun and there are several choices; we opted for the superb veggie HONEY GOAT CHEESE with sliced red onion, pistachio, rosemary & truffled honey.
The TARTUFO PIZZA smells and tastes fabulous due to the roasted Mushrooms, Taleggio (Italian truffled cheese), Guanciale (pork cheek), fried egg and black truffle, but it is very very messy and you need to be oh so careful. The egg actually ended up mostly on the serving tray in the end, even though it tasted great.
Main courses were ordered and I was beginning to feel quite full, so I opted for one of the three Mussels dishes. AT $12-13 per 2 dozen plump bivalves, this is a great deal. The choices are Beer with Leeks, Italian with Garlic, Tomato and Basil and the choice Kevin said was his fave:PANCHO with Spicy Chorizo, Poblano Peppers, Tomato & Garlic. The sauce was so thick and rich (like an Italian bread soup) that it was impossible not to eat some of  the yummy three slabs of housemade focaccia with the sauce. The TAP BURGER is made from Pineland Farms Ground Beef, Lancaster Rustic Cheddar, Agrodolce Onion, Beer Gastrique on a Toasted Baguette; it even sounds like a local farmer's dream burger.
A number of folks ordered the RIBEYE which comes with Truffled Mash, Foraged Wild Mushrooms, Caramelized Cipollini Onions & sauce Bordelaise, but you all know I am a guy who likes his steaks BBQ'd at home and while this was nice, it was no amazing treat. Indeed, the treat main course of the night was the PORK CHOP Special with Smoked Chipotle/Jalapeno Cornbread, Asparagus and a kick-ass sauce that really got me excited when the whole room screamed as I tasted it (the US had scored a goal:-)).
We thought we were finished when Chef Matt arrived with an array of desserts:
three gelatos from DOLCEZZA: vanilla, chocolate and a to-die-for apple
Almond Strawberry Shortcake with mascarpone Berry Gelato and the winner
BLUEBERRY BUCKLE would make any mom's crumble turn white with embarrassment.
Some very rich chocolate truffles arrived and we headed home more than satiated knowing that CITY TAP HOUSE ain't just a beer pub/sport's bar or even burger joint. It's a great place to dine and loads of fun as well.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

be sure to partake of THE PARTISAN in downtown DC (6-14-14) or a big birthday dinner for Samuel

Last week after a superb performance of LA TRAVIATA at the In Series, we headed with the three leads of the cast to THE PARTISAN which had recently opened in Penn Quarter ( - 709 D St, NW).
Several weeks prior we had discussed dining options with Samuel as it was his 11th birthday and when he spotted FRIED APPLE PIE on the on-line menu, his mind could not be altered. It was a superb choice.
We arrived a while before the singers could escape their fans and ordered a bottle of 2012 Cabernet Franc Rose from Brooklyn (the name of the winery) in NY's Finger Lake region. It was refreshing on a hot day and works very well with many of the various (as well as more intense) flavors on the menu. Samuel mentioned that he had to have the BEEF FAT FRIES with Ranch Aioli, so while we were waiting our "on top of everything" server Matt brought over a complimentary order for the birthday boy! Most of them were gone in a flash and our guests only got to taste one or two as they arrived! (I'm just as guilty as Sam & Will, though!)
Charcuterie has become a big "thing" in DC and dining most everywhere these days, but at The Partisan it is taken to new heights by Chef Nathan Anda who operated the Red Apron Butchery next door as well. While he was not in Saturday night, he team manages a smooth and satisfying operation, and we had to peruse the Charcuterie menu to start. Each of us chose an item or two and we ended up with a gorgeous display of the following:
Campari-Rosemary Dried Italian Salami(Negroni Inspired)
Thai Basil Cured Bresaola-cured beef with Ginger, Kefir Lime & Jalapeno
Herb Saucisson-dried with herbs de Provence
Kielbasa-smoked Garlic sausage with Marjoram & Peppers
Spanish Chorizo-with Paprika & Peppers
Poached Fig Rillettes-bourbon poached and oh so rich!
The plate arrives with hot mustard for the sausages as well as pickled plums that were also a big hit. On the side comes a rack of freshly baked Tigelle which are simply pressed wheat breads with a brush of lard pressed on iron grills--YUM. Sam adored these and asked for an entire bag to take home for breakfast the next day!
The Charcuterie is divided into Bright, Herbal+Floral, Spicy Hot, Smoky, Spiced, Rich+Smootth and Earthy and can be ordered in combos that are pre-set as well. Don't skip this, but don't overdo it; we ordered just right with 6 selections for 6 people.
Peter Koll, one of the managers and sommelier on duty came over and we decided to have a second bottle of the yummy Rose as it was indeed so perfect with the spices in the meats, but as I mentioned we were headed for heavier meats for dinner, he suggested  a divine 2009 Clos Martinet "Martinet Bru" Granatxa/Syrah blend from Priorat in Spain. The wine opened up after about 20 minutes in a carafe and was indeed amazing when we finally drank it later.
The menu is many layered here and it is hard to decide; I will have to return to try many other items, but I chose MIXED (Pork) GRILLE on Matt's suggestion. It comes with Whey Brined Tenderloin, Smoked Heart, three huge cut open bones filled with Marrow, Dandelion Greens and Pickled Wax Beans. It sounds much bigger than it really is and the marrow was sublime as was the entire plate. Will fared not as well with the FOIE GRAS TIGELLE Burger on the famous pressed bread, but the Salt Cured Torchon with Beef Patties & Peach Chile-Jam was kind of mess and he declared not that tasty. BUTCHER's CUT was a hit with Charred Baby Tomatoes, Basil Grits & Lime Zest and Samuel gobbled up his 80DAY AGED RIBEYE rare & sliced very thin Italian beef with a Jus that had a kick. He did not care for the tasty side of Giardiniere...but we all tasted his meat and it was the best "Italian" version of the famous open roast beef sandwich au jus ever.
Many of the items on the menu come in serving sizes for more than one person and indeed up to 6 or 8! Two of our guests chose the 2 lb. bone-in RIBEYE with Citrus Marrow Butter, Shaved Celery and Fresh Horseradish (which served 2-4). While we each has a taste, the entire slab was gone ere long and all that remained was the foot long "Bam Bam" bone! The Flintstones never had it so good with their Brontosaurus-burger!
Sides were amazing here and are worthy as we mentioned about the Beef Fat Fries. We also adored the Crispy WILD NETTLES with Shallots, Ramps & Pesto Dressing with Grated Salami, but if you want to keep veggie there is a superb BRUSSELS SPROUTS Slaw with Horseradish & Grain Mustard Vinaigrette that packs a kick and is not at all like the sprouts themselves as they are shaved super thin and laid out flat on the plate.
Mashed YUKON GOLD POTATOES with Olive Oil were just that, but the RADISHES & SUGAR SNAPS with Pickled Ginger, Scallion & Cilantro won my prize for best side.
After all this you would have thought nobody could eat a bite more. WRONG! It was a birthday dinner. I ordered up the superb CHEESE  which came with mostarda and honey. The three cheeses on the plate were a 5-Year Aged Gouda(one of Sam's favorites) and a Blue Baylee from Hayden Vermont and a Merry-Goat-Round from Virginia...all WINNERS!
Other desserts arrived including Samuel's FRIED APPLE PIE with Bacon Caramel Sauce & Candied Pecans; he chose VERY WELL as it was a huge hit and gone quite fast save for the Vanilla Bean Ice Cream.
The only thing I did not like about The Partisan is the awful lighting; I was given flashlights and phones repeatedly to read menus! We were seated in the front section and the rear section opens into a giant elaborate room with bar which I think would be nice next time.
Other desserts included the FERNET Ice Cream FLOAT with Ginger Beer, Lime Zest, Fernet Branca Ice Cream and Ginger Molasses Cookies on the side.
Alas, Will bombed again with the BUTTERSCOTCH TRIFLE  which is banana bread, butterscotch pudding, nilla wafers & whuipped cream, but nothing akin to the English trifle he expected.
SNICKER's TERRINE with a candle arrived for Sam and was fun with Peanut Butter Cheesecake, Milk Chocolate-Peanut Caramel & Chocolate Glaze, but our child stuck to his apple pie as he is not a cheesecake child. Our soprano, tenor and baritone sang a "Happy Birthday" to beat all, so much so with all the high notes, that the high noise level of the entire restaurant went to dead silent to listen and join in. This was oh so special!
I perused the dessert and before I knew it Paul arrived with a birthday gift of a Rheinhessen Eiswein 2006 called Nachtgold (Night gold) that was indeed golden honey hued and ever so yummy. THANK YOU PAUL for making our meal, along with Matt, a truly wonderful birthday celebration.

Monday, June 09, 2014

NYC's SOBA NIPPON offers beautiful buckwheat soba in so many forms (6-5-14)

On my way to Carnegie Hall last wee I stopped in for dinner at SOBA NIPPON at 19 West 52nd St. ( (they also have a Japanese restaurant at 155 E 52nd called NIPPON) where I was totally taken by the simplicity and great food. The décor is indeed basic with a "bamboo" wall of poles which curves over part of the room to create a canopy with twinkling lights. Screens separate the booths for privacy and one wall has a giant photo of the buckwheat in bloom at the farm in Quebec where the wonderful grain is grown and then made into noodles solely for these restaurants!
I started with a SEAWEED SALAD which while priced at $10.00 was a bit small yet the best I have ever had. There were four different kinds of seaweed in green, black and red(!!) with miso dressing in an Asian style with mustard in it for sure. Sesame seeds dotted the top and a cherry tomato was halved. I just wish it was bigger as it was SO good. I ordered a glass of Junmai Saki "OYAMA" from Yunagata that's was dry with a spicy finish in the mouth. This was nice with the seaweed and ideal with my main course of, of course, SOBA! I chose the TAN TAN TSUKEMEN which are the housemade buckwheat soba noodles from outside Montreal on a spicy thick pepper-laced broth with minced beef, mushrooms and scallions. It was what I would call gutsy and curry-like. Bamboo shoots and greens abounded and the entire huge bowl with the seaweed, two glasses of sake and dessert came to $58 without tip!!
I loved these noodles so much I decided to try the SOBAGAKI DANGO for dessert which is a soba cake filled with sweet red beans. The cake was doughy and soft like a dumpling and the filling was like jam with red bean powder on top of the whole thing. It was novel and okay, but very heavy. Green tea arrived complimentary and I even got a refill! The service was good and the owner came over several times with many thanks for me as well. I was impressed and will head back again!