Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Casa de las Sirenas supplies super food and a super view over the Cathedral in Mexico City (12-28-15)

Tonight's restaurant was located right behind the Cathedral and when we arrived we were escorted up three flights of stairs (after having climbed multiple pyramids during our day tour) to a beautiful terrace overlooking the Metropolitan Cathedral and part of the Zocalo (main square) just as the sun was setting. We prayed the food would be as good as our view and indeed it was.
Salsa rojo appeared but here it was the consistency of tapenade and packed a punch  as we shmeared it on the pumpkin seed rolls and flatbread.
We asked for the wine list and the waiter brought three bottles of red wine. When we said we were going to eat fish and wanted white, he returned with one option, luckily it was a good choice, Casa Madera Chardonnay 2104.
The starters were all superb hits from Samuel's Guacamole con Chicharon Placero with Chile Serrano, Cilantro, Onion, Tomato and Queso Fresco. The bowl was the size of cow head and was filled to the brim with at least a quart of guacamole and the chicharons were awesome. My Tostadas de Jiaba a la Campechana were loaded with fresh crab on a dribble of guacamole with tomato, olive oil, olives, capers and cebolla xnipec (a type of pickled onion). Will had the third home run with Tacos de Carnitas de Pato Estilo Mihoacan-duck confit in freshly made tortillas (we saw this at the far end of the room) and a hint or orange. The salsa rojo was just the right touch for these, as they came with no sauce of their own.
The main courses were just as good with Sam gobbling up his Rib Eye Grilled with a Salsa Estilo Chile Aceito which was made with peanut, sesame, chiles and was pasty but tasty.
Will & I split our two fish courses: Filete de Dorado con Verduras a la Parilla, Salsa de Herbas Frescas y Arroz Rosa Mexicana was a superb fresh fish with amazing veggies and a rose colored rice.
Filete de Huachinango was a Red Snapper with hoja santa y pipian and a portion of a bit too salty Shrimp with Mushrooms wrapped in a corn husk.
Will enjoyed a Corn flan with caramel/orange sauce that was okay, but won no prizes in my book.
The view and food combined for a truly memorable evening.


The St. Regis Hotel's J&G Grill is just great

We had planned to head out to a local BBQ place Sunday, but since the hotel pool was closed and I complained, we ended up with free dinner in the hotel.
I normally avoid most Jean Georges places, but this one run by Mexican-French chef Olivier Desboise Mendez turned out to be a hit.
We sat outdoors overlooking the Paseo de la Reforma and the only thing I have to complian about is the sad brown placemat on the beautiful wooden tables and the not so comfy wooden chairs.
Our server Alejandro was super helpful and brought us way more than we wanted when we asked to try things.
A yummy mini-taquito of octopus, avocado puree and Serrano started us off as an amuse. Will started with an excellent Grilled Black Pepper Octopus with Sweet Onions & Lime, that he said should have been warmer, but I understand the just over room temp logic. Samuel made his Pumpkin Soup with Corn Truffle & Amaranth disappear in what seemed seconds, and I adored my Kale Salad with Lemon, Serrano Chiles and a hint of mint...you couldn't taste the mint, which was fine by me. The kale was marinated a bit for softness and the chiles had just the right bite.
For main courses, Samuel did a second disappearing act with the Veal Milanese which he had French fries added to, Will hit the jackpot with the Braised Beef Short ribs and Apple Jalapeno Jam which was like a smoky liqueur glaze, while I adored my Paqueta or Pacific Grouper with lemon zest & olive oil grilled to perfection with grilled nopales (cactus) as well as charred snow peas and regular peas; the veggies here were amazing. The night before we had tried to inquire what esquites were and got nowhere, but Alejandro explained it was a corn soup with mayo and quickly brought a portion, which we fell in love with. Simply put it is a corn broth with corn, avocado & mayo for thickening, lemon, chiles and a radish garnish; sounds weird but tastes great.
We loved the "Don Luis" 201 Viognier from L.A.Cetto in Baja which was acidic yet creamy and worked with everything, although Will had a glass of red with his beef, which was oddly USA Columbia Valley Cab.
We tired and liked the acidity of a Late Harvest Casa Madero 2014 Cosecha Tardia from Valle de Parras made of 95%Semillon & 5%Gewurtz, but it was oddly served in a large water glass.
Samuel devoured his Warm Chocolate Cake but left the Vanilla Ice Cream, while Will & I split the most amazing Sweet Corn Cake with Cajeta(caramel) Sauce, popcorn and Mezcal Ice Cream, to which Will commented "there's alcohol in this."
We left promising never to poopoo hotel food or a JG establishment again.


Sunday, December 27, 2015

Porfirio's in Polanco, Mexico City is pretty good, but pretentious (12-26-15)

Our first night in Mexico City took us to a very beautiful if  extremely noisy, high end "meat joint" in Polanco that was recommended by the hotel. We were seated in a very nice, but quite dark large room in large comfy leather chairs at a huge table that seemed built to hold the monstrous trays of meats being delivered to them. There were odd chandeliers that looked like they were wrapped in plastic red cellophane as well.  We noticed video screens portraying what Sam said was a kid's play area, and sure enough we were told that on weekends they have this for the kids to run off and play; a novel idea, and I guess the parents can watch. Wrong, the video changed shortly thereafter and often had loud music videos put on by a nearby DJ, which just is not what I want when I am trying to relax and enjoy my food.
We ordered some of the fun frozen drinks called Josephina de Limon. Will had limon made with Mezcal 400, Controy (Mexican Cointreau), lemon juice, and soda while my Josphina di Pepino featured the same ingredients with cucumber instead and both had Chile Trajin lined glasses for a dash of spice, and chili flakes were also brought if we wanted to shake them on; I did. We saw fun carts going around the place which were delivering corn on the cob and we later saw it was smothered with what seemed to be mayo and then crunchy flakes and served on a raised to mouth level apparatus that allowed you to turn the corn and eat it--brilliant and fun. We even saw one dish being delivered with a smoking train to a table of some kids.
Our first server Luis spoke English, but then they switched as larger groups arrived and we got Abraham, who was nice, but his English wasn't so great. We let Samuel do the translating and he has been so superb, there are words we just cant seem to get translated as they are the same on both menus. Last night it was "esquites" which Abraham said was something in a glass? It's on the menu for tonight's dinner, so I will try and inquire yet again as it is translated as "popcorn" and "esquites" in many places; that's a ton of help!
We ordered away and Samuel explained that we wanted a rest of at least 20 minutes between the courses, as the food has been so filling and rich and we wanted to enjoy and relax. We saw the monster portions arriving around us and knew this was a smart move.
We had also received our wine, my favorite Mexican wine called Gabriel 2013 Adobe Guadalupe from Valle de Guadalupe which is 45% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Malbec yet has the most awesome chocolate flavor that makes it work so well with not only mole, but so many other intensely flavored Mexican foods. I hope it is on the menu many more times.
We had also received a pate of salsas (tomatillo, rojo(red) and mucho rojo(super spicy red). There were amazing crispy chili dusted tortillas in a stand as well as a bean dip with queso fresco and an amazing salsa made from the nopal cactus that I am in love with. At this point someone came over to take our order, yet we had done that ages ago; I felt the place was ruled by a low level of confusion.
Sam started with El Tamal which was a magnificently presented chicken tamale with salsa verde on top of an adorable wooden "bus," the kind that you might know from Puerto Rico, but here turned into a raised plate...loads of fun. Incidentally, once again many of the photos of these dishes from all week and future meals can be seen on my FB page....
Will ordered the Degustacion de Ceviches which were three different ones of fish, shrimp and octopus. I tasted the fish which was okay, but he said all three were exactly the same preparation; so much for variation! I chose form the daily special "Quesadillas" which had 5 or 6 different ingredients that you choose and then come with a yummy thick sour cream dip and lettuce (not sure for what), so I thought two were just the right size: Huitlacoche (a Mexican mushroom, also called corn truffle that I adore) and Flor de Cabeza, the same Squash Blossom that Will had the previous night, which was superb. Oddly, when these arrived they were giant empanadas, not quesadillas; it seems that each place uses these words as they please and it all makes no sense to me. Despite the nomenclature, they were awesome and also huge portions and I was so thankful we had asked for that break.
About 9 minutes after they cleared the starters, the main course arrived and we tried to explain that we had asked for 20 minutes at minimum. We were all stuffed from the dips, salsas and starters and needed time for sure, but Abraham seemed to tell Samuel that he understood 20 minutes from when he took the order to begin with...which was stupid. I had to talk to the manager, and it was all eventually straightened out, but not without them all staring at us like we were nuts; Samuel said that he overheard the staff calling us "the 20 minute people..." That said we had another 20+ minutes, time to digest and also some excellent wine on its own before the main courses did arrive all freshly redone. The folks around us seemed to order platter after platter of whole pig, whole cow, whole everything all cooked and looking amazing, but they all ate so fast. We sat down at 745pm or so and finished our starters at 845pm and then got the main courses about 925pm and headed out around 1015pm, yet the 5 folks next to us had four various monster plates, dessert and more, all in under 90 minutes! It seems Mexicans eat very fast.
Samuel ordered the Tacos de Suadero of steak, cilantro and onion and loved them, while Will went with the Chile Relleno Picadillo, a stuffed Poblano with ground beef, almond & tomato all in a rich thick chipotle sauce with crema. It was delish, yet the sauce seemed to have some seeds that he got super-spiced on. My Filete Tampiquena was a dream steak marinated simply and grilled to perfection so that I could enjoy all of the superb salsas on it should I want a kick (& I did). On the side was a bowl of beans which actually had potatoes and frank slices in it as well, avocado and then three miniature, but nonetheless rich and filing Chicken Mole Empanadas, which were NOT empanadas, but really rolled and not fired tortillas, hence really enchiladas...nomenclature yet again.
We split one dessert of Flan which was so beautiful when it arrived with a giant ball of spun sugar. The flan here was more like a vertical torte than a flat custard, but still delicious.
We had noticed that every table got this "tree" of flat colored discs after dinner and we finally got our "house gift" called Pepitoria. I wondered why they all came and nobody seemed to eat them, as they were the blandest floury discs on earth, save for the little drizzle of honey in the middle of a couple of them. They would save a ton of money if they eliminated them. On the way out we grabbed the delicious little milk chocolate logs that were on the front desk; they were yummy and should replace the Pepitoria!
Overall, a fun experience, a pretty good dinner, a price tag that would freak out anyone from Puebla or Cholula as our meal here with 2 drinks and one bottle of wine rang in at just over $200 (still a good deal compared to the US), but remember that our lunch for 4 was under $20!

for a lovely lunch in Cholula (near Puebla, MX) get thee to GUEROS (12-16-15)

We headed towards Mexico City with our guide Monica, who will join us again several times this coming week and had planned to spend much of the day in Cholula to visit the archeological ruins and Gran Piramida as well as the famous church built atop them, Nuestra Senora de los Remedios.
We headed into town and right on the Zocalo (main square) I led our group to Gueros where the food was truly excellent and the huge meal for all four of us with drinks and tips rang in at just over $20US!
Cecina was what Monica ordered and the salt dried beef came here on a huge plate with enough to serve everyone. Awesome salsas of green (here looking like a creamy runny guacamole, yet packing a punch) and red, warm tortillas, guacamole, and more made yummy little sandwiches. Sam loved his Chalupas, they really are taco pizzas and an order of delicious guacamole with tostado chips, while Will returned to his Sopa de Tortilla, which is a meal in itself.
I had chosen this place for its Pozole, which is not even on the menu, but famed throughout the region and it was stupendous.
Hot soup with the hominy balls can be ordered with either chicken, pork or "mixto" which I chose and it comes with every piece of every animal you can imagine cooked to perfection in the slightly spicy broth. There is a side server of chili flakes, onion, and many garnishes that you can add as you please; this was not only a meal, but an experience.
Gueros means blonds...an odd name for the place, and the "U" has two dots over it like an umlaut, changing the "u" sound to a "wu" sound, or here gweros.
whatever, it's a find in an adorable little town.
We also tasted fried grasshoppers in the market with various spices of chilis, lime, garlic and more...crunchy and tasty. The wild dish of the market was a giant round slice of jicama on stick looking like and all-day sucker that you have splashed with lime and salt and then your choice of seasonings. The hot chili is the hottest I have ever had and our lips were indeed on fire for some time, but the flavor was intense and yummy.
Off to Mexico City.

El Mural de los Poblanos is perfect in Puebla, Mexico (12-25-15)

El Mural de los Poblanos is appropriately named sure to the numerous murals by local artists covering the walls. Local folks of fame are featured in some,  and others are more abstract, but quite interesting even though  we did not know the meaning behind them. Here the décor is a colonial style room with fine linens and crystal; very upscale compared to everything else which is quite casual.
The servers were attentive handsome young men, but never invasive, like the evening prior.
We enjoyed and amuse of mini-open-taco with shredded beef, crema, cheese, lettuce and a dab of refried beans which was yummy.
Will & I enjoyed Casa Madero 2V, and excellent Mexican white blend of Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc which worked superbly to cut the spice of my starter:
Totritas de Camaron con nopales romentos en salsa de chile pasilla, which was like a floury shrimp cake in salsa with both seaweed and the nopales cactus steamed on the side, again to cut the spice on occasion. This was a rare special from the holiday menu featuring items made only at Xmas.
Samuel had a superb chicken consommé to which a number of fun items were added as he requested them and Will had the Quesadillas de Mercado con tlalitos which were corn tortillas with squash blossoms, mushrooms & Oaxaca cheese.
For the main course we switched to a yummy bottle of red Rivero Gonzalez Tinto 2012 from Valle de Parras in Coahuila, another famous wine region. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot & Cab France was a superb blend for a great foil to my Sliced grilled Duck in Mole Poblano which was perhaps the best mole ever. It came with carrots, string beans, rice and of course more tortillas, but I could not eat any more starch.
Samuel went for a famous local special, Tacos Arabes de cordero made with spicy lamb, olive oil and jocoque which is a Lebanese sour cream all in a spicy chipotle sauce, none of which he would share.
Will had the spectacular Cecnina de Tepeaca which is top quality (strip loin) salted and dried beef with grilles nopal cactcus, refried beans, grilled gooey Panela cheese(think mozzarella), guacamole and white chorizo.
We were full but had clearly found the best food in all of Puebla..today onto Mexico City.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Casona de la China Poblano, Puebla's (Mexico) pricey and pretty spot for local cuisine (12-24-15)

After quite a harrowing delay of close to 7 hours on our flight to Mexico, we finally arrived at our hotel at about 6am on Xmas Eve, went to sleep, woke up before noon and spent the day touring as much as we could see. Dinner was early as we needed sleep. So we headed to the beautiful courtyard of Casona de la China Poblano, a pleasant colonial building in the center of town. It was deserted and as we enjoyed our meal the staff almost annoyingly hovered over us.
We started with yummy margaritas and looked around the quaint courtyard over which the hotel rooms opened up on. In the center was the larger than life statue of La China Poblano, the fabled daughter of a Mongol king who was abducted to Mexico. Well, Samuel noted that her blonde braids and fair skin made her look more like a little Dutch girl!
Amuses came in the form of mimelitas, small pizza like squares with salsa and queso fresca, which is very tasty in this region as it is indeed so fresh.
Will had a gorgeous Sopa Azteca of avocado, pasilla chilis, chicharron, queso fresco and crema de rancho, a sour cream of sorts. Samuel had the even more intriguing and tasty Taquitos Santos made from chicken and cheese, but here wrapped in root beer leaves with chili Serrano sauce that packed a punch. Think of it as a Mexican version of meaty/cheesy stuffed grape leaves, but bigger.
Sesame seed rolls with salsa verde and red salsa(hotter) arrived and we enjoyed these as well, but little did I know my starter of Las Cemitas Poblanasa "Mercado del Carmen was several miniature sandwiches with the same bread stuffed with a slaw, salsa and then some kind of small fried square of meat and perhaps ground seeds, but we never did find out, as language for food is a big problem here, even when Samuel speaks the language so well, as the dishes are so local.
We ordered a superb Santo Tomas 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon from Baja that was very full bodied and went brilliantly with the traditional signature dish of the region, which both Will & I had, Mole Poblano or chicken breast in mole with tamale, rice and full of delish flavor.
Samuel ordered guacamole as his main course, even though a starter, yet they brought an bland soup broth which he could put some things in like onion, cilantro and such; he did not want to speak up, so he ate it.
We were full and spent the rest of the evening walking through all the Xmas stuff in town and visiting churches, which was fun.
We thought our dinner was okay, but it sure didn't win any prizes for the first night. Praying for better as we move through 2 more weeks in Mexico.


Wednesday, December 02, 2015

a reasonable review for REDWOOD in Bethesda, MD (12-1-15)

A while ago we won a 4-course tasting for 2 with wines at the charming Bethesda eatery, REDWOOD. It was chilly last night and wet, so we were grateful for the (albeit $4) underground parking at Bethesda Row (which is not validated for diners) and proceeded to the virtually dead restaurant at 7pm. It's quite a pretty place with lots of redwood touches such as the tables, walls, accents, etc and tall glass windows overlooking the shops on Bethesda Row (a pedestrian mall) and even lots of outdoor seating which was not in use with 48degree temps and lots of rain!
The bar was quiet and occupies a large area, but we were seating in one of two adjacent areas.
We were seated and presented with the 4-course tasting menu, which had no options at all. They also left a wine list, despite the fact that pairings were included. After our bread arrived (super hot mini-baguettes with superb whipped butter that melted so fast), a manager arrived to apologize and ask if we wanted to move to the other dining area as a group of 70 or so were expected at the bar area for a match.com event! We moved as quickly as you could snap your fingers.
Our server Nely was awesome, and she explained the menu and poured the first glass of Biutiful Prosecco, which we have had before and is okay. This was paired with a Farm Beet Salad which was a huge salad of purple & golden beets, beet greens, arugula, orange sections, whipped goat cheese and a divine Pistachio-citrus gremolata. the flavors burst in every bite and I have to say I was impressed.
Next came huge bowls of Yellow Beet Gnocchi with sliced cooked red beets, sliced red cabbage, asparagus, cherry tomatoes all in a garlic-herb butter sauce with roasted black garlic cloves and a dash of red beet cream. It was very rich and quite indulgent, so we left about 1/3 of each of our bowls, which Samuel was happy to take to school today for lunch (we told him it was veggie gnocchi, as he would never have eaten beets!).
The Mountain View Pinot Noir 2013 from Central Coast, California was an intense 13.9% alcohol pinot with lots of flavor and worked perfectly with the food.

We were quite stuffed and had a 30-minute rest before the next course arrived. Laguiole-like knives (actually Fortessa) arrived but were not needed for the very tender and tasty Wood-grilled Flat Iron Steak with grilled Asparagus and housemade steak sauce. We could not really figure out the ingredients of the "secret sauce" but knew there was an aged balsamic and a smoky element that gave it both a bitter and sweet taste. It was good, but I was not overwhelmed; Will liked it more than me. The True Myth 2012 Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon was divine with the intense flavors on the plate, again which part of went home for later as we were so full.
A trip to the loo had me passing the now very busy bar, but sadly the 20 & 30-somethings from match.com had left the restrooms quite a mess; don't parents teach their kids to clean up after themselves? Indeed, when Will went to the W.C. (which was how 3 of the 4 were marked), these dot.comers were all in a line waiting for the one bathroom that had a man/woman figure on it, not knowing that the three others with "WC" on it were also bathrooms!

The dessert was Flourless Chocolate Cake with Chocolate ganache and Orange segment and I cautiously asked Nely if there was  a lighter fruit option. Will loved his cake, but I adored my White Chocolate/Cranberry Whipped Mousse on Graham Cracker Crust with Cranberry Sorbet atop and dots of Cranberry Coulis. It was light and so refreshing as well, especially the sorbet. Grahams' Late Bottled 2008 Port was a delight and we waddled out with our doggie bags.
I only wish we had some choices and could have created our own 4-course menu, then perhaps we might have been a little less full, so maybe we will go back to Redwood to try some other items on the menu next time.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

NYC's Artisanal Bistro is a brilliant brunch (11-28-15)

On our last day in NYC we headed to an early brunch before our flight home and joined two dear friends/clients and their 15-year old daughter, who has really grown in a beautiful young teenager.
I chose Artisanal Bistro (artisanalbistro.com) at 2 Park Avenue(entrance on 32nd St,) for several reasons: the amazing cheese menu, the great brunch choices with a bit of French flair, its convenience to the Queens Midtown Tunnel so we could easily be at LaGuardia within 15 minutes and maximize time with our friends.
We arrived and I noticed the little menu box stating $20 unlimited Bellinis, Mimosas, Bloody Marys, Beer and sparkling wine. Well after 5 drinks (that's $4 each) I was really happy. The Bloody Marys are spicy with little gherkins and large caperberries skewered on top. The Mimosas are nice and since they were out of Peach liqueur, they offered up tasty Lychee flavored Sparkling, which I had for my dessert!

Our server Andre was helpful (always refilling the drinks quickly as three of us did the unlimited package) and when you order their amazing burgers you also get a bowl of soup and either a salad or frites.
Will went with the tuna burger with Sweet Aioli Mayo and Radishes, but four of us had the Artisanal Signature Blend Beef Burger with a tasty housemade Burger Sauce (kicky 1000 Island-type) as well as Tomato, & Red Onion (many of us skipped the onions). There were 19 artisanal cheeses to choose for toppings (all for a charge, of course) but those of us that had the Truffle Tremor choose a gooey intense flavorful truffle cheese that melted on the burgers so excellently it was like a bite of heaven. The burgers were all cooked to perfection and really won us over.
The Pumpkin Soup that accompanied them was slightly spicy and just the right small portion for a snack before. The salad was okay and the fries were superb in traditional paper cones.
Our friend had the Croque Madame which also got raves for its excellent gooey cheese and perfectly fried egg on top.

It was a win win brunch and we did make it to the airport in 15 minutes with 55 minutes to spare before for our flight was to take off. Luckily that platinum level got us right to the baggage check, and global entry had us through security in under 5 minutes, so that when we got to the gate it was just time for elite boarding, and we pulled away from the gate 13 minutes early making it back to DC way before the scheduled arrival.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

ANNISA is always a treat when dining in NYC's Greenwich Village(11-27-15)

After seeing new production of Fiddler on the Roof on Friday afternoon we headed downtown where I had dined at Annisa (http://www.annisarestaurant.com) earlier this year and had to bring my family back for the amazing tasting menu. The price went up $3 from $85 to $88 for the 5-course tasting which is probably due to minimal costs increase, but Chef Anita Lo could easily charge more after her recent outing to cook up a storm for the Obamas at the White House.
The rolls and butter win no prizes here, but the quiet serene simple décor makes it an oasis for a superb evening of quiet and great food.
We ordered a bottle of Gelber Muskateller from Heide Schrok (they use only female vendors when possible) 2013 from Neusiedlersee-Huggeland in Austria. Our server Narendra (who hailed from Nepal) said it had great acidity and it did. A slight sweetness hits the palate at first and turns quickly and then finishes with a long mineral flavor. YUM! Amuses were Tartelettes of Piquillo Pepper Puree with White Anchovy for a salty bite.
The first course arrived and I was so happy to revisit the Steak Tartare with Bulgur, Cinnamon, Spicy Sesame Tuille and Tofu Sauce, which was so good Samuel took a fork from both Will & my plates.
Next was the also Signature dish from Chef Anita: Seared Duck Foie Gras with Soup Dumpling & Jicama. A lesson is still needed in how to eat these as I always manage to have them explode as the Shanghai style dumpling is full of flavorful soup.
For the third course Samuel has a superb rich Chestnut Gnocco which is a brick-like pate form of chestnut with Grilled Maitake Mushroom (which he would not eat), Fried Sage & Kale Sprouts. The adults had Montauk Bluefish Fillet wrapped in Pickled Grape Leaves with Black Chickpeas, Tomatoes, and a superb lemony Anchovy Vinaigrette. The fish is intense but was great with our white as well as our second wine, a delicious Rioja Valencisco 2008 Reserva from Rioja Alta made by Carmen Encisco. Lots of body but not overly intense and oh so smooth red.
The main course was Lamb Tenders which was Grilled & Smoked Lamb with Mexican flavors as Chef Anita had just returned from Mexico. A bowl of posole was on the side and there were Pomegranate Seeds and a light Pomegranate Mint Sauce. This was our looking to the future as we leave for 2 weeks in Mexico in less than a month!!
Chef Anita came over to greet us and we were awed.
Dessert arrived on four plates which we rotated around the table:
Caramelized Pineapple with Pink Peppercorn, Puffed Wild Rice & Pandanas Ice Cream
Pecan Beignets with Bourbon Ice Milk to dip
Poppy Seed Bread Pudding with Meyer Lemon Curd
and the supreme winner (they were all amazing)-Sticky Date Pudding with Mascarpone Mousse
Candied Ginger, Orange Popsicles and Chocolate Mint Truffles sent us home very happy. What a great day and great dinner.

Long Island's KYMA is cool cuisine with Greek flair in chic setting (11-26-15)

After arriving in NY the holiday, we headed to Roslyn out on the island to join my brother-in-law, his sister-in-law and a friend of theirs from the UK who helps care for his dog Gibbs that we have known for a couple of years now. I chose KYMA (http://www.kyma-roslyn.com/contact.html) as I knew there would be a wealth of items Samuel would enjoy. On arrival we were escorted into the almost all white room to a table with benches on either side and lots of cushions. The all white room and tables were offset with black cloth placemats. It was cozy and comfy, except for a draft from the nearby floor to ceiling windows overlooking the street. The manager closed the curtain, we ordered drinks and warmed up. I had a White Cosmo of Belvedere Vodka, white Cranberry juice, St. Germain & fresh lime that was delish. Will's Afros of Crop Cucumber, St. German, Lime and Pineapple was too pineapply for moi. Warm pita and bread arrived with yummy lemony hummus. The lighting was subdued, but there's always a cellphone to light the menu these days. The walls are white brick and a huge bar in the middle of the room was as busy as could be for the night before Thanksgiving.
We ordered a bunch of starters to share:
Samuel wanted the Kyma Chips of paper thin zucchini & eggplant fried and served with tztziki dip which was enough to feed 4 people and tasted amazing. Ocotpus was sushi grade from the Mediterranean and grilled with onions and capers to a tenderness that was like butter. The taramasalata was okay, but too creamy and not fishy enough for our tastes. A huge Greek salad was amazing and had tons of gorgeous ripe red tomatoes as well as romaine, dill, and feta.
Maryland Crabcakes were tasty and used our Maryland Blue Crabs.
A superb Assyrtiko/Sauvignon Blanc blend Biblia from Chora Estate 2014 in Pangeon was a great pairing for all the flavors and then we moved on to a Talbott Sleepy Hollow Chardonnay 2013 from Santa Lucia Highlands, because I know my brother-in-law loves California Chard.
Main courses were all excellent save for the Skewered Swordfish Cubes with Tomato, Onion & Bell Pepper which Will had and did not complain about until the next morning; too late for a change or credit for sure.
Sam gobbled up his Grass-Fed Veal Greek Style with Fries and everything else was gone as well save for the huge portion of Double Pork Chops & fries.
Garides Tiger Shrimp were huge and served in a sauce of EVOO & Lemon.
My whole Mediterranean Pink Snapper with capers, lemon, oregano, salt & pepper was perfect with only about 3 little bones to boot. The fish was sweet and tender and the sauce simple and perfect. I chose the side of Leek & Rice Pilaf, which was nice but needed more leek.
We decided to all split one dessert of Chocolate Molten Cake which was okay, but served at room temperature and hence not very molten.
Glasses of Samos dessert wine were offered complimentary which was a nice treat before heading out into the cold near freezing temps. By this time, the place was over jammed and the music had gone super-loud disco and you couldn't get near the bar. It was a good meal, but it was time to leave.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

5 proteins with Pinot Noir make a party at The Partisan with Native Flora's fabulous wines (11-11-15)

Last night we joined our friends Denise & Scott Flora for the amazing wine dinner set up by the team at the Partisan under Chef Nathan Anda. They worked hard to pair the amazing wines and did a pretty awesome job.
All those in attendance had a ball. While we arrived quite early (no traffic on the holiday and a free space out front) I ordered a drink called The Regulator made from Cabeza Tequila, Hagman's Sloe Gin, Dolvin Genepy (a type of vermouth) and lime; think softened margarita without the salt but much more punch and no sweetness at all. I loved it.
We sat down (there were 30-something total attendees) and the first wine was poured:
2014 Native Flora "Solstice Skies" Riesling (all the wines are from Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon) which Scott explained was their second vintage of the wine, The first vintage was to "get rid of the diesel" and this was to see "how dry we can make it." Success for sure, because even Will loved it and only likes super-dry Rieslings. There is a mineral intense nose and I loved the intense mineral finish on the tongue as well as the wine's real strong acidity. It was paired with Smoked Mackerel Crudo, Pickled Apple & Celery Leaf (which seems to be such a silly garnish for my taste, or lack of it). The fish was fatty indeed and the wine fought that, but every now and then a large salt crystal was too much for the wine and indeed the palate. I love mackerel sushi and this was supreme, but a little less salt would have been welcome, or perhaps a finer salt.

Milk-Poached Pork Loin arrived with persimmon, Walnut & a Celery Root Puree. This dish was heaven as it was cooked in milk, sous-vide and then seared so the edge was a bit crusty, even if there were large pieces of fat (which I cut out). It was tasty and the persimmon actually reminded me of a slightly sweet potato with tropical finish. The wine was 2014 Native Flora "Karsts of the Andaman" Pinot Blanc and the tropical finish was a perfect match.

I love carpaccio and the 35 Day Aged Beef Carpaccio came so simply prepared with EVOO, Arugula, Salt & Pepper. The pepper was negligent and Scott grabbed the pepper mill and hit the carpaccio with a splash at every table giving it just the pop that it needed as this was served with the 2014 Native Flora "Jolly Rancher" Rose that we all adore so much and can live up to any spice.  It is so structured and made from a blend of co-fermented Pinot Nor & Pinot Blanc, but then floated with Malbec berries on top (which carbonically ferment and explode) for that Jolly Rancher punch, so aromatic of the candy, but bone dry. Scott calls it "heresy in a bottle." I asked our super-handsome server (that's another story), Russell, where the meat came from and we were told a farm in Maryland called Laurel Delight.

The best course all night was the Autumn Spiced Boar Sausage with Squash Puree which was quite spicy, full of flavor and declared by us all, "what a boar!!" I adored the fried sage leaves on it and the intense flavors which paired so finely with 2012 Native Flora "Next Time" Pinot Noir.

The superb and elegant 2013 Native Flora "Jaguar Reserve" Pinot Noir arrived with the Boar Ham with Foie Gras Grits and Red Wine Shallots. The grits were the highlight og this dish and the Pinot Noir was a perfect match yet again. The meat was a feral wild heritage pig (a lot was spoken about the animal and it's heritage back to the times of Columbus) which was brined 5 days and cooked 9 hours. Tasty yes, but a bit on the chewy side.

There was no dessert, but we were all full anyway and we all had a great time enjoying these novel dishes paired with these blow-your-mind wines that again are only available by direct sales from Native Flora due to the extremely small production. Well worth getting your hands on it. We do! 


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

back in DC, CENTROLINA states a great case for some of the coolest cuisine around (11-10-15)

We are thrilled that our new friends from Oregon's Willamette Valley, Denise and Scott Flora, are in town this week for a big wine dinner tonight that we helped to organize.
We decided to start the celebration with them early, by heading to CENTROLINA (www.centrolinadc.com) at the hip new CityCenterDC where Chef Amy Brandwien reigns supreme.
I had only been to Centrolina once before back in June, and now I think it's even better as they are about to celebrate their 1/2 year anniversary and are going as strong as ever.
Scott brought some of his superb, rare and novel wines from his winery NATIVE FLORA, and we started with an amazing sparkling wine dubbed "Cuvee Lussier" 2011 Dundee Hills, Oregon, which is their first vintage of the delicate yet yummy wine made from 90+% Pinot Noir and the balance Pinot Blanc, innovative yet delicious.
Our server Shannon explained the menu and we perused the choices for quite a while and then tasted the Burrata which here is served with caramelized onions and greens over slices of Purple Sweet Potatoes as well as Olive Oil. I loved this new take on the cheese everyone adores and might even venture to try it at home.
Next up was one of the first reasons we fell in love with the Floras a year ago when at their home for a wine dinner. Native Flora Rose "Jolly Rancher" 2014 is the newer vintage of this superb dry rose made from Blanc de Noir & Malbec and it is simply superb. Chef Amy, Manager/ Sommeliere (I always thought it was sommelieuse!) Kristin seemed to be quite thrilled with these wines which incidentally are only available by direct sale from Native Flora and sold at no wine or liquor stores due to the very small production quantities, making this an even more desirable wine for your cellar or table (there is also a wine club -www.nativeflora.com).
We ordered our first white wine, and I managed to intrigue Scott into a Virginia Vermentino Reserve 2013 from Barboursville, which we all agreed had amazing taste at first, but Scott noted that the finish virtually  disappeared within seconds. Kristin opened another Vermentino from Corse made by US winemaker Oren Swift, but from Corsica (hence the name). The label was so poorly created it was nary impossible to read, but we all agreed that for less money, it was far superior with a creamy finish that was so well suited to the milder dishes. The Barboursville, however, did go very well with my spicy Tunnina, or seared tuna belly with bottargo aioli (the spicy element) and broccoli raab that was a tasty treat indeed. The other starters were Carolo or basically a Savoy Cabbage Slaw with Parmesan & EVOO that was refreshing and tasty; the signature POLPO which is octopus soffocato with potato confit, cotechinata and celery salad, which we know will always be on the menu. The Grilled Mortadella was a novel dish with red onion, frisee and pistachio that reminded me of a sophisticated spam (please forgive me for using that word).

Next we tasted Native Flora's 2012 Next Time Pinot Noir which is one of four that they make. We had not yet tasted this present release which has a huge vanilla aroma up front and some of the best body and flavor you will find anywhere in a Pinot Noir! 
We ordered several pastas to share and this is always a treat from Chef Amy:
Raviolini celebrated the autumn and were filled with Roasted Pumpkin & Ricotta Cheese in a Butter & Sage Sauce with Amaretti Cookie crumble.
Quadrucci were filled with Crab, Cod & Potato and served in a simple yet elegant Lemon Butter Sauce.
Neri is Squid Ink Pasta, which had been exhausted on my previous visit since all the pasta is made fresh in house and is often gone by later in the evening! Here is has Sushi-grade Yellowfin Tuna and Nonnaral di Pesce or a spicy fish sauce (think halfway between spicy Thai fish sauce and Puttanesca) on the side of the dish that you can take as much of as you like; I loved it.

The main courses arrived and we decided on two orders of the Grilled Swordfish with Tuscan Kale and two of the Anatra or Cured Duck Breast with Tuscan kale, Pancetta-wrapped potatoes with a tasty Persimmon Marmellata (foto on my FB page). Most of the duck was cooked perfectly rare and tender, but a slice here and there on each plate was a bit chewy, but not beyond edibility. Will enjoyed a glass of Ruche Crivelli 2013 Ruche di Castignane from Monferrato while I loved my Produttori del Barbaresco 2011. By this time, no more wine was an option!

Desserts here are excellent and we decided to share two:
Apple Crostata with Hazelnuts, Lemon Meringue (which comes in the form of cute little balls) and Prosecco Gelato. The dish had a super perfumey smell that announced the apples and spices and we all agreed the pastry was superb. Chocoholics will adore the Cioccolato which is a Chocolate Semifreddo with tasty autumn-influenced Pumpkin Seed Brittle, Chocolate Crouton and Maple Candied Ganache.

Candied Hazelnuts covered with Chocolate Powder sent us home quite full and happy to starve ourselves today before the exciting Native Flora Wine Dinner tonight at The Partisan!

Monday, November 09, 2015

LEMONGRASS in Las Vegas' Aria is amazing (11-7-15)

My last night in Las Vegas was a Saturday and just an hour or so after three intense days of conferences, etc. I was exhausted and walked about a mile or so up the strip to the Aria complex where I had chose the very highly rated Lemongrass, a pan-Asian spot secluded in the rear off the lobby which I loved. Here at Mandalay Bay, the dozens and dozens of dining outlets, from Hubert Keller (the famous French chef from SanFran) to Wolfgang Puck and more are all facing the monstrous casino area.
We had one lunch at Noodle House which had okay food, but nothing worth writing about. Sadly the casino noise is horrendous everywhere. While Aria also has a huge foyer/lobby/casino area as well, this area where Lemongrass and several other dining spots were located, was quite serene.
The décor was quite interesting with lots of dowels on the wall, giant ropes strung all over creating a giant loom feel as if we were sitting inside the loom. The leather booths, wooden tables and floors and open kitchen were nice as well. I looked up to see a gigantic rope chandelier (several indeed) which looked like a giant woof from a loom. It was fascinating.
The service here was attentive and friendly and the portions were monstrous.
I ordered a small bottle of unfiltered Sake, Miyashita "Sacred Mist", Honjozo Nigori which was cloudy since it was unfiltered, yet milky and smooth and truly awesome with the spicy food I chose.
Tom Kha Lobster was the version of the famous chicken or shrimp soup with coconut, but here with lobster chunks abounding, coconut, lemongrass, ginger, red chilies, Galangal, cilantro and a heaping of Abalone Mushrooms. I had to ask my server for a long rest as the portion was easily a main course.
My main course was a throwback to our winter trip to Malaysia and SE Asia with Penang Red Curry with Duck which was seared tneder and rare with crispy skin and then smothered in the spicy curry with hints of cocnut, sprinkles of peanuts and some lychees.
This place, like virtually everywhere in Las Vegas was not fancy; people really dress down in most cases, but it was more elegant for sure than so many of the restaurants and the food was as elegant as one could expect in any excellent Asian dining spot. A great end to my short stay.

Vegas Dinner #2....RIVEA, gets some raves, Ducasse does in Italian (11-5-15)

On my second night in Las Vegas I was thrilled to accept an invitation from one of my favorite vendors, who happens to handle the Alain Ducasse properties in France. RIVEA, Ducasse's newest installation, just happens to be the top floor of my hotel, the Delano with outrageously wonderful views of the Las Vegas skyline. We had drinks and champagne first in the elegant Skyfall Lounge next door with even a better view and outdoor heaters aflalme in this chilly weather.
RIVEA has Chef Bruno Riou in charge and while he is in control, I do not understand why the food is Italian bistro, where M. Ducasse is indeed one of the greatest French chefs on earth.
No bread here, just excellent grissini, which we munched on with Rolle, La Chapelle Gordonne, 2013, a white Vermintino from Cotes de Provences that I adored. The starters were Mozzarella di bufala & tomato, excellent Tomato Pizzettas with Culatello, San Daniele (prosciutto) & Bresaola that was truly lean and excellent. I also loved the piquant and tasty Octopus Salad with Coco Beans and Confit Bell Peppers.
The pasta was Paccheri with superbly cooked Ox Cheek and a French Daube-style sauce which is a hearty brown sauce that worked superbly with the meat. I was ready for the red wine and it did come as I almost finished (we were a big group and the place was jammed). Domaine Triennes 2013 from Var, France is a blend of Syrah, Merlot and Cab that was smooth, drinkable and tasty with a good body to boot.
The main course was an amazing Pepper crusted Bison Tenderloin that was soft, rare and divine.
It was the dessert that blew us all away. LIMONCELLO BABA with Meyer Limoncello from CelloVia in the USA, which is as good as any Italian limoncello I have had. The baba was split, soaked with limoncello, as opposed to rum and then doused with a delightful gob of whipped cream. Nobody left a bite on their plate and then a fortified red granache akin to Banyuls arrived.
We had more time overlooking the city from the private dining room at the other side, which had just emptied out (there is also a chef's table in the kitchen with no view save to the food).
Our meal was enjoyable, for sure but I guess I wanted more sublime French and was taken aback. I have no clue what the cost was, so I can't compare, but I am sure this view and M. Ducasse's name go for a price as high as the sixty-something floor it is on!

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Las Vegas' GUY SAVOY truly worthy of 3 Michelin Stars++ and superb experience (11-4-15)

I arrived in Las Vegas for a 3 day business convention and have to admit that although I have been a travel agent for 30+ years, this was my first time here in sin city. I was already down on the place by the time I hit my hotel as it took 30 minutes to drive less than 1 mile to the hotel (the airport is really across the street, but you have to go the long way around!). I walked through the Mandalay Bay Complex which also houses the Fours Seasons and the Delano, where I am staying, and was completely turned off by the casino, smokers, and offensive dress that many folks sport here (simply said, there are way too many women with skirts that don't go below their waists!). So after my first meetings which ended at 9pm (midnight on my clock), I hopped a cab to Caesar's Palace a couple of minutes away and made my way to the serene oasis of Restaurant GUY SAVOY, the Vegas spot this world-famous Michelin star from Paris chose to house his gastronomic temple. I loved the fact that it was so serene, quiet and restful and I actually relaxed in the room with only twelve tables (I think there was another small room, but it was closed) of which only 1/2 were still occupied. within an hour, at 1030pm, I was the only one left until my departure after the magnificent tasting menu. The SIGNATURE menu was chosen for several reasons:

1)I was in Vegas for the Signature Travel Network meeting.

2)I am co-chair of the Chefs Committee for  March of Dimes Signature Chefs benefit this month

3)I didn't want the pricier degustation menu or the way overpriced white truffle menu.

The price tag was $250 and the accompanying wines chalked up another $175, not to mention $10 for the excellent Badoit.

I did start with a $30 glass of champagne which was offered, but not priced for me. There was a choice of about 8 champagnes by the glass from a huge trolley, and I stayed in the middle to lower range and avoided the vintage choices of Krug, Dom Perignon and others. Chartogne-Tailler Cuvee Sainte Anne was a deliciously soft brut which set me at ease and allowed me to peruse the vast menu choices. It was also delicious with my four, yes four, amuses bouches.

1)Foie Gras terrine with black truffle vinaigrette was creamy, rich and indulgent

2)Tomato concasse (that's fancy for chopped) with black olive was served in adorable little indentations on toasted bread points. It was tasty, but unexciting.

3)a magnificent petite burger (we now call them sliders) was rare and tasty with Dijon Mustard

4)a small bowl arrived with crunchy quinoa over which Carrott Ginger Soup with Espalette Pepper was poured tableside.

The bread trolley was amazing and it was impossible to choose as one does not wish to overdo this. I went for Bacon & Salt Mini-Brioche as well as the tasty Chestnut Bread and the amazing Seaweed. There were also Mustard Seed, Ciabbata (onion or plain), Lemon, and both Poppyseed or plain baguettes. There were both salted and unsalted butters imported from Normandy, fresh ground pepper and sea salt, all served under adorable mini-glass domes that had a Moroccan feel to them.

The first course on the menu was entitled "Colors of Caviar" and consisted of a gorgeous parfait like creation with vinaigrette or caviar, caviar cream, caviar sabayon, herbs and Osetra Caviar and a mother of pearl caviar spoon to dig through the vertically layered parfait to get a taste of each layer in each bite. It was rich, sublime and again indulgent. Paired with R. & L. Legras, Guy Savoy Blanc de Blancs Champagne from Chouilly which was very dry brut, but with a floral nose and herbaceous aftertaste.

I love chestnuts, so Chestnuts "All Around" or "Tout Autour de la Chataigne" was a treat for me and brought me back to my first Michelin-starred chestnut soup in Paris as Carre des Feuillantes decades ago. Here we had a combination of braised chestnuts, chestnut custard, custard chips all in a bowl filled with mushroom-infused milk (think light creamy broth). The wine was Clos Ste. Magdeleine 2012 from Cassis in Provence made from Marsanne & Ugni Blanc, a tasty earthy white that enhanced the dish to perfection.


Red Mullet Fillet was with a Spinach and Mushroom Gratin and this famous French dish (Rouget in Europe) was delicate and tasty in a mullet fume and was served with Yves Cuilleron 2010 Saint-Pierre from Saint-Joseph in the Loire valley. I reveled as I saw the bottle approaching as I had the pleasure of meeting the late Maestro Cuilleron over 15 years ago when I visited his world famous vineyard and tasted so many of his superb wines. This white was again genius pairing, and the sommelier was impressed with my knowledge of it.

The fourth course of the tasting was another Foie Gras, here called "Bitter Infusion" and offered up the treat in a Duck Consomme with Beets, a Kumquat Puree and was paired with a crunchy piece of seared Foie Gras underneath a small cup as a finishing surprise. I gobbled it all up and loved the Domaine Albert Mann Grand Cru Furstentum 2011 Pinot Gris from Alsace that offered up a good deal of residual sugar and sweetness to pair with the "bitter" element of the dish.

As I was enjoying the previous course a glass teapot was brought to the table and placed over small flame to heat what was apparently an element of the next dish: Artichoke & Black Truffle Soup, Toasted Mushroom Brioche and Black Truffle Butter.

Here we had braised endives over crispy Puffed Rice (Chef seems to like crunchy elements) as well as a Gamache of Green Tea(the glass pot). The truffles were from Perigord and shaved over the dish and the brioche made from mushrooms sat in the middle. The broth was a rich intense reduction that was almost velvety from the truffle butter and aged parmesan was shaved over the top. I loved all the courses, but this was truly a favorite and revelation. Domaine Anne-Marie Gille Vosne-Romanee 2003 Pinot Noir from Bourgogne was a throwback to when I drank this amazing wine while at cooking school at the University of Dijon in the early 70's (of course, it was much less expensive back then).

The "main" course was an American Prime Beef Tenderloin with Braised Paleron (shoulder of beef), Potato Puree and Baby Heirloom Carrots. The Tarragon & Grape Mustard was awesome. The shoulder was nowhere near as amazing as the filet, which did not need the Laguiole steak knife as it was so tender, a fork could cut through it. The Coup de Foudre 37.2 Cuvee Merlot 2012 from Napa was way too young to drink at this time.

I was back in Europe as the cheese trolley rolled over and I debated which to choose:

Brillat Savarin was superbly salty and creamy and went best with the Verget "Les Enseigneres" Puligny-Montrachet 2003, aged to perfection.

I must note that the fine dining spots in Vegas all seem to use Spiegelau crystal which is nice, but here I would have expected Riedel. The white was refreshing after the red I did not care for, so I was happy to switch colors.

Lejeune Altize was a great goat with Ash

Onetik is a tasty earthy sheep and cow with a nettle-like rind with salt

Fleur de Maguers was a superb Corsican Sheep and my

blue was Fourmes d'Ambert

Following this was a palate cleanser of Aloe Vera Gelee with Grapefruit Meringue that was truly novel and fun and oh so refreshing.

The first dessert was Quince & Apple which had apple-wrapped ice cream amongst other multi-variations of the fruits (I'm not a quince fan) and an ice-wine gelatin. The Domaine Huet, Le Haut-Lieu, Moeulleux 2009 Vouvray was another wonderful wine choice.

As I stared out the windows onto the strip, I marveled at the lit signs for Planet Hollywood, Vuitton, Dior and the massive video screens. I was so thankful to be inside and sheltered from the craziness of Las Vegas.

The main dessert was a Samuel treat in the waiting of Chocolate Fondant, Crunchy Praline and Chicory Cream. I was worried about the bitterness associated with chicory, but there was none here. This was a miracle chocolate dish and paired with one of my favorites ice wines, Inniskillen Cabernet Franc 2008 from Niagara in Ontario, Canada.

I have a note that I was served a black pepper tea sorbet with something at one point, but it seems to have been lost in the 3+ hour trip to gastronomic heaven that ended with a bag to go of pastries, muffins, mini-cheesecakes and more which I have had with my coffee in the room every morning for the past 3 days. How I love re-living my best meal in Vegas every day as I now plan to head home.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

DC's DEL CAMPO does it deliciously (10-26-15)

Last night we headed downtown with Samuel and two friends of ours for our first trip to Del Campo's (www.delcampodc.)dining room. I've been several times before for events, but really wanted to eat there as Chef Victor Albisu is our honorary chef chair of this years March of Dimes Signature Chefs event (of which I am co-chair of the chef's committee) three weeks from now. Chef Victor is very generous to the DC community when it comes to charity and indeed all events, the least we can do is give back to him for that.
We arrived at 630pm and the restaurant was fairly empty, but the bar was heaving. The dining room was almost full by the time we left and the noise levels were high, but not unbearable. One huge arty of about 30 at the rear was quite loud, but we were way up front at the window. The dining room is elegant and warm and most comfortable as well. Our server, Dmitri took our wine order and quickly delivered a bottle of Muga Viura barrel-fermented 2013 from Rioja an earthy white that actually had little oak taste due to the barrel, but was superb as an aperitif alone, or with starters.
Some of us were attracted to the set $45 menu which has a choice of salad, the Provoleta melted cheese with bread and then a huge Asado selection from the grill of Short Rib, Flank Steak, Chorizo, Grilled Greens and a choice of Sweetbreads or Chicken with Chimichurri and Salsa Criolla. Sadly, the whole table must do this, so we have to go back again for that option which I am so game for.
Two starters arrived in the form of a huge portion of Hamachi Ceviche with Sweet Potato, Aji Amarillo, Radish &  Brown Butter(well, thats' what the menu said online, but it also had a Leche de Tigre or citrus marinade that had a lemon curd consistency) which was superb, especially with the small slices of jalapeno for extra spice. A revelation was the Grilled Pear and Pecorino Salad with Arugula, Hazelnuts & Burnt Onion that was one of the best salads I think I have ever had. The vinaigrette was tasty and exciting and the pears were grilled to perfection.
We had moved on to a superb Valsacro "Dioro" Gran Reserva 2005 Tempranillo from Rioja as well that Dmitri suggested and was smooth and easy to drink. The starters were varied and the wine was divine with all:
Grilled Octopus & Crab Causa with Grilled Scallion, Piquillo & grilled Avocado (after a while you do realize that almost everything is grilled here!) which was also a huge starter (well, they all were)
Provoleta was a huge cast iron pan of seared provolone cheese with oregano served with lots of crispy country bread for dipping
My Seared Iberico Pork Loin was as tender as it gets and truly worthy of the name from which the famous Spanish ham also comes. It was served with Grilled Brussels Sprouts, Baby Eggplant, Smoked Yogurt, Salmon Caviar and a nice Romesco sauce.

While we waited for our main course we finished off the superb Valsacro and Dmitri suggested a lighter Malbec from Luigi Bosca D.O.C. Lujan de Cayo 2012 from Mendoza in Argentina that was much bigger than I expected but again superb with the grilled main courses, even the fish! Samuel had the 10 ounce Prime Hanger Steak with Steak Frites and Salsa Golf (aka Argentine Ketchup or ketchup with mayo, hence Russian dressing-ish, but with more oomph) which was a s tender and delicious as it gets. Two of us had the Grilled Tuna & Calamari with Smoked Tomato, Espalette and Grilled Olives, while the Peruvian Chicken with Crispy yucca, Aji Amarillo Alioli & Green Chili Puree was declared moist and superb. My Cast Iron Seared Prawns (photo on my FB page) were huge with head on and served with Chorizo, Mussels, Chillies, Ink Citrus Spaetzle and Mint (which I could not taste at all) as well as a Corn Salsa. It was perfect indeed and while a lighter dish, quite filling. Delicious green Jalapeno Mashed Potatoes arrived that were creamy and divine as was the Grilled Cauliflower with Raisins and Salsa Verde. Don't skip these fantastic sides as they are all superbly tasty and novel.

Desserts were inevitable so we tried several and shared, except for Samuel who would not let anyone have a bite of his Warm Chocolate Cake with Dulce de Leche Toasted Cashew Ice Cream. He seemed full after eating about 1/2 and finally allowed us to taste the yummy dish. The one not so great dish all night was the Coconut Caramel Crepe Soufflé  with Grilled Pineapple & Canela , but the Grilled Key Lime Pie with Lime Espuma made up for it and the even better Grilled Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Ice Cream & Dulce de Leche was beyond excellent. As if this was not all enough a plate of Nutella Donuts with Grilled Banana Ice Cream magically appeared which were easily the winner overall and simply decadent and oh so tasty.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

doin' the whole darn dinner @DINO's in Shaw (10-12-15)

Last night eight of us headed to our friend Dean Gold's DINO's for what was an event we purchased last year when he was raising money for his move to the new place. Little did we know this would be an over-3 hour long event starting with cocktails and snacks including Tapenades & Crostini(Yogurt,Garlic,Cucumeber with Roasted Red Pepper; Corona Bean; Kalamata Olive), Fried Crab Balls with Remoulade, and the always so deadly and indulgent Deviled Eggs with Crispy Parma Prosciutto, Anchovy Sriracha Aioli & Salsa Verde. I had a Fuego Verde again which was even spicier than last time, but loved it.
We moved upstairs for the main event which commenced with pours of a Sparkling Rose Fiorini Corte degli Attimi, Lambrusco di Sorbara which I can't say is one of my favorite sparkling wines as I prefer it drier, but paired very well with the multiple plates of salamis, pates, etc. These included the best Testa ever(pig head) with a to-die-for ginger mostarda, sliced Fagatini with a very mild horseradish cream, and a Prok & Mushroom pate. Also in evidence was Boar Salami, Andouille Sausage and a superb creamy Rillettes.
If we weren't full enough, we were when the first pasta arrived which was a delicious vongole (clams) and then another full plate of Linguini in Pesto with vegetables came. Well, we have plenty of leftovers this week to eat at home. The wine was a superb Soave Classico, Vigneto du Lot 2010 from Inama which was creamy and intense. I joked with our server Roberto about the name as it had a Greco-clad couple on the bottle which was supposed to be the Biblical Lot and his wife, who turned to a pillar of salt-odd choice for a wine.
We asked for a long rest and ordered a bottle of Ridge 2012 Estate Chardonnay, Monte Bello Vineyard which Dean's wonderful wife, Kay, recommended as one of her favorites. This was a ddeal as wines ar 33% off Sundays-Tuesdays! It was a superb California chard, full of huge fruit flavors and as far as I can recall, the first American wine I have ever had as Dino's is so Italian-centric.
The rest was over and the Castello dei Rampolla 1999 from Samarco, a subtle yet full bodied Tuscan red arrived to truly set the stage for the meat course of Pork Belly with a yummy Tuscan Mole Sauce that packed a nice spicy bite and a plate of roasted potatoes with several slices of the Teres Major Steak with Salsa Verde that we discovered earlier this year and is a real treat for meat-aholics.
After this another amazing red arrived that was much bigger than I expected from a Sudtirol (South Tyrol, near the Austrian border) wine. De Silva Lagreine Edizione 2010 from Alto Adige which indeed impressed us. It was a delight with the excellent cheese plate of Ubriaco al Pepe (aged cow with a punch), Moliterno al Tartufo (an intense aged sheep with truffle) and a new cheese for all of us, St. Stephen which is a triple cream cow from upstate NY that is oh so creamy and salty at the same time. There were spiced almonds and an apple compote that disappeared oh so fast.
Some folks opted for desserts and while I was full, I told everyone that my favorite was the poached peach which may be gone soon as autumn is indeed upon us. A glass of frozen Limoncello, that was unctuous beyond belief, sent us away very happy and we have to thank Dean for his undying kindness to us in oh so many ways, as well as his generosity to all who know him in DC. We
were happy to help make this move possible, even if only with a small contribution, but boy was this a meal to remember.


Thursday, October 08, 2015

HUNTING CREEK STEAK simmers & steams in Alexandria (10-7-15)

Hunting Creek Steak has been open most of this year, but we only found out about it a month or so ago. We know the owner, Michael Nayeri, who also rules at A La Lucia in Alexandria, as well as the Chef, Will Greenwood, who actually cooked our first honeymoon meal in the Jefferson Hotel 22 years ago this last week!
These guys have put together an adorable spot at 1106 King St. (http://www.huntingcreeksteak.com/) with plenty of room and plenty of choices. You all know, I am not a steak nut, but this has to be one of the best steaks in the area for the price; a worthwhile venture for sure for steak lovers and others.
Samuel and I went while Will is away, and he wanted to sit outside since it was such a nice evening; it was a great idea and the brick enclosed patio facing the street was jammed with folks, but not noisy at all. There is a cute cabana if you want to spread out and enjoys drinks and snacks and lots of tables with umbrellas. The service outside is superb (it can often be bad when you are there alone and the waiter is AWOL) and we were looked after excellently by the entire team, but Eric was always on with the wine as was our server Shawn.
Speaking of wine, you get 25% off any bottle Mondays-Wednesdays, which I am a big fan of, so I ordered the Numanthia Termes 2011 Tempranillo from Tot, Spain which was smooth, yet intense and would be a superb steak wine for sure. My only complaint for the entire night was that the glasses are on the heavy side; but then this is ahuge palce with an outdoodr, so they need to be sturdy. Samuel had his coke.
Out came a small plate of pinwheel wraps stuffed with smoked salmon and boursin cheese, which Samuel declared inedible as he detests cream cheese; they were delicious, but filling, so I will have the rest for lunch today. I ordered the Lemon-Ginger Infused Salmon Tartar with Jerusalem Artichokes which is a great starter to share. The plate is laden with thinly sliced chokes that are deep fried and come out like thickish potato chips and are seasoned perfectly as the tartar is mild and can be scooped onto the yummy chips. There is also tasty housemade focaccia.
Every day there is a 3-course menu deal with many choices as this is not just a steak place, but we were drawn to the Roseda Farms Butcher's Cut Wagyu Beef Bavette from the start. The steaks are hormone and antibiotic-free at this grass-fed farm and dry aged 21 days in Maryland, which won me over from the start. The Wagyu cut is 12 ounces which is huge and rings in at an amazing $32!! Sam had his with Bernaise which he barely used as the steak was so tasty. My chimichurri was superb and there are many sauce options, although they are not needed at all! The steaks all come with tasty just spiced-right frites, so we skipped ordering any sides as we were indeed stuffed and managed to take home about 1/3 of each steak anyway for tonight! When Chef Will came out, we were all praises and he explained that the steaks are cryovac wet-aged for even longer in house which has to be the secret as well as the superb source.
A glass of tasty Foggy Ridge Pippin Gold Alcoholic Cider from Dougspur, VA was brought around and I fell in love with this sweet treat before we headed home, knowing full well we will be back to HUNTING CREEK for steak or not....maybe duck and the chocolate desserts...or whatever.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

lunch deals in NYC - 3 course is great at GUANTANAMERA (9-27-15)

We've been going to Guantanamera on 8th Ave(56th St) for years and have always enjoyed it, so today a group of 9 opera lovers  that joined together to celebrate the 25th anniversary of our beloved online opera group, Opera-L.
Samuel loved the empanadas filled with chicken and tomatillo salsa that he had two orders.
The deal here is the $15.95 3 course lunch with a choice of 3 starters and many mains. I had the Sopa de Pollo which is simple but tasty chicken soup with potato, veggies and avocado. There is also a salad or yucca rellena.
The main I chose was the Vaca frita, a skirt steak shredded with mojo, lime and onion which was quite salty but very delish. Everything comes with a huge pile of rice and a bowl of black beans, so it's impossible to leave hungry. The dessert choices are a tasty flan, which Sam loved or sorbet, and I liked the banana.
Simple, yes; a deal, yes and in NYC near Lincoln Center and Times Square, that isn't easy to find.


The SMITH at Lincoln Center is far superior on this trip to NYC (9-26-15)

Before Samuel and I headed to the glorious performance of Turandot at the Met, we had dinner across the street at The Smith.
Sam wasn't so hungry so he settled for the Corn Chowder and a coulple of mini-loaves of their crunchy bread(the butter wins no prizes). I started with 2 each of 4 different oysters and the Cotuit Bay & Peter's Point from Mass were my faves. The Pemaquid from Maine was nice, but the Island Creek from Mass was a bore and way too salty. I tried the Saturday night special of Paella and was truly impressed with this tasty combo of saffron rice, spicy chorizo, mussels, large tasty clams, and a lobster claw (see FB foto) with red peppers, chilis, onion, scallions and peas. The glass of refreshing Rose of Merlot from Charming Daughters vineyard on Long Island was perfect for the spice.
Samuel loved his Hot Fudge Sundae with flourless chocolate cake for dessert, but passed the crunchy almond bark to me. YAY!
We ate outside as it was glorious weather in NYC and sitting on Broadway across from the Met was great and actually quieter than sitting in the way too noisy interior!


Gordon Ramsay's MAZE in NYC needs more maintenance (9-26-15)

Samuel and I arrived at our hotel in NYC for an overnight and headed right to it's restaurant, MAZE by Gordon Ramsay at the London in NYC...yes a long name, with not so illustrious a meal to match. It's a very casual spot, indeed really worn with wobbly tables with chrome trim and no linens to cover their wear. The booths are worn silvery leather and chairs that are oddly quite low.
I went to put may napkin in my lap, and there was hair on it!! YECH! It also dawned on me after the meal, that no bread was ever proffered.
Samuel started with the Buttermilk Chicken Sliders with lettuce, tomato, bacon & black peppercorn ranch that were deliciously crunchy from the buttermilk batter and really the best thing we had all afternoon. My Grilled Octopus was tasty, but suffered from truly atrocious presentation (check my FB page from yesterday) and also was not cooked to a nice crunch at the thick end and suffered from a slight sliminess therein. It came with "tomato tartare" which strikes me as an odd name as tomatoes are indeed always tartare when not cooked and this was simply a small pile of chopped tomatoes that were not even quality tasty heirloom; a sad parsley spring was on top.
I did enjoy my glass of Domaine Vocoret et Fils 2013 Chablis from Burgundy, but then at an average of $15-20 per glass, any wine here should be awesome.
Samuel's main of The London Mini-steak Frites which was a small, but filling grilled flat iron steak with herb fines frites, steak sauce and garlic mayo that was indeed a delicious dish. My Seared Jerk Snapper was tasty as can be and cooked to perfection with Braised Rainbow Chard and a tasty Citrus Emulsion, but I told the server to mail Chef Ramsay they 1/2 dozen or so large bones that I found in the fish. I think he might need to go back and take one of his own Master Chef Challenges on how to fillet a fish.
The cappuccino was fine and off we went, knowing we would never return to Maze, except for the free breakfast this morning, which had few highs (the scrambled eggs and croissants) and many lows (the cheese, cold potatoes--though tasty, and cold bacon and sausage....)

Friday, September 18, 2015

doin' the deals at DINO's in SHAW (9-17-15)

Yes, we have been to DINO's IN SHAW many times this year and there is a good reason. Chef/Owner Dean Gold is a generous, kind and caring guy who knows what his customers like and always comes through. he has donated many wonderful charity packages to food events which I work on and is always there himself to make sure the food is served and properly. Indeed, he was at our home just several weeks ago to do a package of cocktails and appetizers from March of Dimes last year! We had a ball.  Two of our friends who went to Dino's when it was in Cleveland Park had not been to the new place, so we dragged them out from Virginia to Shaw and the 6 of us had a fine evening.

To start, the bread is irresistible with olive oil and ground salt and pepper, fresh on the table....then we had a superb FUEGO VERDE which is a habanero infused tequila with house falernum (sweet syrup), lime juice and agave. It's kind of a margarita without the salt and a big punch. Our wine was a superb Calabretta (I can't ever recall hearing of this grape prior) from Etna, Sicily called "Gaio Gaio" Old vines lot g12, which apparently means most of the grapes are vintage 2012, but a blend is possible, It's a nice smooth wine with great flavors that worked excellently with both big fish and duck(those were our mains).

Starting was the always revelatory Deviled Eggs with parma prosciutto(crispy) anchovy, sriracha aioli and salsa verde; addictive!

Meatballs are always a hit, especially with the kids and I marveled at the Tomato & Mozzarella Salad (dubbed "not Caprese") as it seemed to have everything in it.

I started with the "Tuscan Bacon" Pork Belly & Brussels Sprouts which featured smallish sprouts caramelized to perfection and served with caramelized onion and saba (balsamic-ish sauce). The crispy belly was superb and the whole dish a hit.

Will had the Local Basil & Pesto pasta with preserved lemon, local zucchini & squash with carrots and tomato sauce, which is a paean to local produce at this time of the year (well, everything at Dino's is!).

If you seek heavier pasta head for the Chinghiale Pappardelle with wild boar ragu of tomato, burnt soffrito, cocoa,, cream, rosemary and pecorino pepato.

Samuel loved his Tuscan Pan-Fried Chicken with preserved lemon, garlic-sage, panko crust, sage pesto and sautéed kale (well, he wouldn't eat the kale--so we did) which had a wonderful lemony flavor as well.

The chicken was cooked perfectly and spicy and flavorful as well.

His friend had the burger, which came with cheese, even though we asked for it without...oh well. The both loved the simple vanilla gelato for dessert.

My main was Polpetto del Tonno or tuna meatballs that were meaty and flavorful in panko crust with Sephardic tomato sauce that was amazingly flavorful. The red chard sautéed with preserved lemon and garlic on the side was beyond superb.

Linguini with Vongole (clams) was simple yet flavorful with tiny tasty Virginia clams and a white wine garlic and herbs sauce. The Teres Major Steak (from Shenandoah Valley Beef Co-op) is tasty and superb with salsa verde and roasted Tuscan potatoes for the carnivores in you.

Only the Duck Breast of heritage Pekin Duck seared rare was a disappointment as it was more fat than meat, but it's Tuscan Mole sauce was garlicky and made with red wine, cocoa & dried fruit for a perfect sauce, alas on not a great meat. The borlotti beans were quite yummy, though.

We were full, but could not resist dessert. Rhubarb Crumble was super as was the Poached Peach which I had earlier this summer served with yogurt but just right for breakfast or a light dessert.

My Saffron Panna Cotta with Blackberry poached in Blackberry shrub was tasty as well, but I prefer a lighter panna cotta and this was quite rich and thick.

Our server Roberto was attentive and helpful throughout and really made us feel like he could do anything. This is the reason we always return, not to mention the dining deals with fixe price dinners, multiple plate options, wine discounts and more. Check out their website and plan your visit for the best deals at www.dinoinshaw.com.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

make it MACON BISTRO for Southern comfort in Chevy Chase (9-1-15)

Back in the spring when I attended Taste of the Nation, one of the participating restaurants intrigued me when I met General Manager AJ and spent some serious time talking about her almost 1 year old MACON BISTRO & LARDER (www.maconbistro.com) located in Chevy Chase just inside the DC line at 5520 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20015. Well, six of us finally made it there last night and what a treat we encountered. The place is simple and cozy with exposed ceilings and wonderful old B&W photos on the wall of the owner, Tony Brown's, family. There is also a gorgeous huge painting of a monstrous magnolia tree that hung right over our table. There is inside and outside seating as well as a small open corridor that is protected but open to the outside. The service here is super friendly, and we loved Nataliya who hailed from Crimea; it seems Eastern European servers are crossing the Atlantic more and more (that sounds like something the Donald might take up:-)). Owner, Tony Brown, was constantly making rounds at the tables to see if all was in  order and indeed it was.
One of us was running late, so we ordered up some Essie's Biscuits which were divine rich treats with honey butter and a superb and not too spicy, but yummy Pepper Jelly; we had to place another order.
Water here is house filtered and comes sparkling or still; another important point these days when a bottle can cost upwards of $5 at some places!
Small shooter glasses of "fennelade" arrived which Nataliya explained were fennel juice, agave and ginger. It had a licorice flavor, which you all know I can't abide, but I have to admit, it was tasty and refreshing and the thimble size was quite palatable for me.
The boys ordered sodas (cutely served in mason jars with straws) and here they are "Q" Cola and Orange which they said were just not as sweet as regular sodas; so much for organic. We ordered a bottle of  Ferraton Pere et Fils "La Martiniere" 2011 Marsanne from Crozes Hermitage which we used to drink all time after meeting the winemaker himself in his home some 15 years ago when in the Rhone. It's a super white that goes so well with everything, and boy did we order everything. The wall blackboard has a list of "SNACKS" and it was hard to resist, so we went that way rather than with starters:
CORN FRITTERS were hushpuppy like and superb with a wonderful pesto dip that was a change from remoulade and not as rich either.
DEVILED EGGS were gorgeous and had a yummy crunch from crispy bacon bits and some pimento on top of the decadent mayo rich oeufs.
FRIED OYSTERS were cooked perfectly and crispy battered on the outside with another tasty dip that had a mild kick (I never did ask what it was).

We were intrigued by two starters and chose one (we did not have the appealing Southern Ramen which was vermicelli made from zucchini with green chili fumet, fried egg yolk and lime.
We did order the Summer Ratatouille which was quite large and rich (as a starter, but an awesome side) with summer veggies, herbed tomato broth, coddled duck egg and sourdough crumb.
Indeed the side dishes here are most appealing and we also ordered the tasty Colalrd Greens with Bacon, garlic and White Wine. Next time I must try the Spicy Kale with Crispy Grits, Shallots, garlic & Chilies.

I was intrigued by a red wine on the menu and jotted the name down and then asked AJ for her input. She actually must have been reading my mind as she came over with a bottle of that same wine declaring it was perfect with all the dishes but especially the goat. The Xavier Weisskopf 2012 Cabernet Franc "Le Rocher des Violettes" from Touraine was a tasty wine so well balanced yet with a hint of spice, fruit and a superb finish.
Speaking of the Country FRIED GOAT, which we had three orders of, it was a superb tasty dish with Duck Fat Dumplings (Samuel wanted more), natural broth that I could not get enough of, stewed vegetables and chili oil. The Amish Chicken Breast came with yummy Black Eyed Peas, Country Ham Broth (I am adoring these broths with the food), & Bright Light Chard. The other dish I split was the Braised Pork Shoulder with Charred Onion, BBQ Vinaigrette, Cheddar Grits and Broccoli Rabe which was offered up a tasty sauce (no broth) that really was amazing and also paired divinely with the Cab Franc.
There is a $35 prix fixe from 5-630pm of 3 courses which includes the fish of chicken breast and is another great deal here, along with specials like Shrimp & Grits on Tuesdays and Burgers on Thursdays.
Chef Dan Singhofen and his team do an amazing job along with Pastry Chef Jamella Hassan (remember those biscuits).
Well, we were full but had seen the desserts when we arrived and knew we could not resist. The Almond Custard with Cherry Compote and Almond Crunch was okay (the crunch got raves), but the portion was in a very teeny jar. This was the only dud all night as the Pineapple Coconut Cake with Pineapple Bavarian & Pineapple Rum Sauce was a light fluffy delight, truly as light as air and oh so tasty. My White Peach & Raspberry Cobbler was superb, but richer as it hinted back to those biscuits with its superb crust and was accompanied by a creamy Benne Ice Cream.
Salted Caramels were on the table as we departed and we left not only full, but feeling that we had indeed traveled to the deep south for a fine meal in MACON!


Monday, August 31, 2015

say yes sir to SER, Arlington's newest Latin bistro (8-29-15)

We had heard many good things about SER which opened earlier this year in the Ballston are of Arlington at 1110 N. Glebe Rd (www.ser-restaurant.com). We arrived and parked underground (there is virtually no street parking) but discovered at departure that with validation, the fee is only a reasonable $2.00! The setting is nice with bright floor to ceiling windows surrounding the whole rom, wooden tables and wooden chairs, that frankly start to be a bit painful after sitting for more than an hour; this is the one thing I would change. Simplicity is the rule in décor and indeed the table only had a tiny vase with one yellow and one white daisy, but I don't dine out for the floral arrangements!
We were warmly greeted by our Ukranian server, Ganna, who was very helpful in explaining the various dishes and many new names. At several points, the owner Javier came over to check on us as well.
Will started with a tasty gazpacho and Sam was also in a soup mood and went for the Chickpea Soup which was tasty and hearty. I ordered the superb Steak Tartare with Santona Anchovies, Organic Quail Egg (which Ganna offered to break tableside) and Piparra (which is the extremely tasty salad of frisee, shaved fennel & greens). The meat needed only a bit of fresh pepper as it was tasty and the small grilled bread slices were just thin enough for the steak.
Our guest had the Lamb Sweetbreads which scared me from the ingredients of Mushrooms, Maple Syrup & Ice Wine. They were superbly fried and not too sweet at all, which I feared, not to mention so tender.
We enjoyed a medium bodied, slightly spicy aftertaste red Bovale 2012 from, Utel Requena that is made from the Boval grape and really is a wonderful wine that goes with so many foods. The wine list is reasonable and fairly nice with many options by the glass as well.
Samuel had come from a big party and ordered only the Patatas Bravas for his main course which are decadent fried potato chunks smothered with a spicy tomato aioli. They need to be eaten quickly as once they cool down, the flavor (as in most fried potatoes) is flat. Main courses were all superb and varied with Tallarines a la Mariscada being a huge portion of pasta loaded with mussels, squid, shrimp, clams and monkfish all bursting with a wonderful zarzuela tomato-based sauce.
Josu's Bacalao al pilpil con Pipirrana was a yummy salted Cod with olive oil emulsion and lots of veggies that suffered only from a tad too much oil. The Carrilleras de Iberico are tasty Braised Pork Cheeks with Rioja, Ginger, Zucchini Pisto(I guess that is Spanish for pesto) and burst with flavor; the cheeks literally feel apart and could be eaten with no knife as Ganna had promised.
We were full but wanted to try one dessert and we chose a superb GOXUA to split three ways. It is a cold layered dessert with strawberries, cream, spong cake, custard and a caramel brulee crunchy top layer that was adorably served in a small jar and was most refreshing after the huge meal. Coffee here is good whether Americano, Cappuccino or Cortado(espresso with dash of milk). We will surely return to SER, but might bring a cushion next time :-)

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Back in the USA, Roberto Donna makes our day at Roberto's 8 at AL DENTE (8-26-15)

We had such a great time about 7 weeks earlier dining at AL DENTE with Chef Roberto Donna cooking at Roberto's 8 (his eight seat "mini-bar" open to the kitchen where you schmooze with the chef and get a show as well) that we went back again this week with another couple. It really was just Roberto's 4 as the other seats were empty; few folks want huge meals in this heat, but we had a ball.
From the second we arrived, manager Cliff and our server, Jose insured our glasses were always full and we were happy and never lost their smiles; this truly makes a meal special as well.
We started with an APEROL Aperitivo of Mozzarella di Bufala, Olive,  and aperol with a lemon rind crunch that I loved. This was served with Clara C Prosecco which lasted for several courses and got us bubbly and cheerful for the evening.
What has to be some of the best focaccia in town arrived and while some of us gobbled up several pieces, I limited myself to one, knowing that there was much more to eat.
The adorable pizzetta in a box was the same as July with Sweet Vidalia Onions, Fontina, Soft Quail Egg & Truffle, and frankly I could eat this kind of pizza every week, not just once every 8 weeks!
Tigelle was my first experience (that I can recall) with this small version of a Panini that came with Salamino, Black Olive, Goat Cheese Burrata & Pickled Onions and Ramps, and again, who wouldn't like a little (or big) sandwich like this?
We moved to Leonardo de Toh! from which is a slightly earthy white friulano grape that was for the next several courses.
It paired very well with the Tuna & Octopus as they are indeed earthy dishes.
Tubnas was a tartare with Green Tomato & Roasted Tomato, Basil-Mint Oil, frisee salad and shoots, but it is the Octopus that we love here cooked so tender and served with Cannellini Beans, Spring Onions, Yogurt Sauce and Sweet Drop Pepper, yet brought to the table in a glass dome full of smoke and spice that wafts up your nose as the dome is revealed. Not only is it dramatic, it is ecstatic in taste and will always be one of my favorites here.
Head-On Shrimp with Saffron Mayonnaise is tasty and fun, but I would gladly take two servings of the polpo instead :-)).
We switched wines to a Depie Rose Campi Flegrei from Campagna that was fruity, fun and dry. This went amazingly well with the Corn Soup with Sausage Crumble which was spicy and had a nice kick cutting through the veloute of sweet corn. This was one of the new dishes not on the July menu that I also fell in love with.
A dinner at Roberto's 8, 4 or anything else wouldn't be complet with his signature Eggs, Black Truffle and Burrata. Chefs takes his presentation cue from the late Jean-Louis Palladin(who used eggs a lot), who was also his dear friend, and presents the dish in the eggshell but scrambles the eggs with buratta and truffle for supreme richness making it totally Italian and totally his own ultimate creation.
For the first pasta dish (those who know, there are usually three here) was also a new dish for the summer with Open Raviolo, Sea Scallops, Chives & Shitake that was just slightly creamy, but not overly rich and of course, the pasta can not be beat.
We switched wines to a Luceres Poggetto 2006 which had a tobacco nose and drank as smooth as silk. It served the Spagetti alla Chitarra quite well and I noticed that Chef Roberto has increased his spice in this dish, which I always adore, here with Pancetta & Clams. Third on the pasta plan was Risotto with Black Truffles & Gorgonzola, and indeed I can't remember risotto being richer except in tow other dishes in my life and that was under the guidance of Chef Roberto in the guise of white truffle risotto and foie gras risotto; perhaps they shall be on future Roberto's 8 menus.
The "main" course Prosciutto wrapped Squab with Dates & Spinach, which was our same dish earlier this summer and indeed is perfect on these hot nights as too much big meat can be silly. We were all nearing full and quite happy as we guzzled down our lovely Tuscan red.
Castelmagno Cheese with Honey, Hazelnut, Mostardo di Cremona and a flat thin crispy flatbread like cracker across the top was beautiful and a light but superb cheese interlude followed by a super refreshing Peach Fruit Granita.
Desserts semmed to come one upon the other starting with a refreshing Panna Cotta with Caramel Sauce, Tiramisu with burnt coffee cookie crisps, mascarpone and chocolate with coffee caviar and the most heavenly Fig Tart with Vanilla Gelato (which we also had in July, but welcomed again with open mouths).
Bicerin is that superb espresso doused with rich chocolate which is how the meal is always finished here, unless you go for an after dinner drink, but this night was indeed different from all other nights as we had eaten way too much and yearned for a rest. It was the best way to be welcomed home from our recent trip, as if we had not had enough huge tasting meals and feasts in Ireland; it's good to be back home with friends.


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Kai Cafe comes to the rescue with a fantastic finale in Galway, Ireland (8-19-20)

I had chosen KAI CAFE for our last night since it seemed like a "lighter" dining spot, but boy was I wrong. We had scheduled for late at 8pm since we ate lunch that day and also gave ourselves time to finish packing and then enjoy a relaxed dinner. It was the perfect plan. We walked in and Will immediately recognized the guy from the counter next to us at lunch and we ultimately laughed off the incident as he and our server Sheena were a super team along with chef/owners David & Jess Murphy who whipped up each amazing dish in the open kitchen not far away. It's a small cozy place, but that seems to be the norm in Galway, and even with that, it was impressive.

Will ordered a vodka & tonic (they had run out of Dingle!) and I tried the house Bellini with Blackcurrant liqueur (it was so nice I bought a bottle the next day at duty free). Of course, Samuel wanted a coke, but this is all-organic and settled for an Ubuntu Cola which he said was fine.

The menu was awesome and decisions were difficult to make. We ordered a bottle of Domain de Coussergues Pay's d'Oc Chardonnay/Viognier and enjoyed our drinks until we spoke at length with Sheena. She said not to worry; we would be taken care of. I ultimately chose the Wild Clare Rabbit Rillettes & Toast while Will went for the West Coast Crab & Goat's Bridge Caviar (did I write that correctly?). They were amazing dishes and beautifully adorned with yet more edible flowers of all sizes as well as radishes and shoots; a true garden on each plate. I had a yen for the scallops, so Sheena sneaked out a plate of the creamy rich divine Scallop Ceviche & Tiger's Milk which had avocado & cucumber as well. These were three of our favorite starters indeed and they were also quite large, so we were almost full by the time the mains arrived.

Samuel ordered a Brady's Strip Steak (with a chimichurri like crust) & Tonty's Tomatoes and Chanterelle Butter, which was all to die for and came with creamy rich potatoes just in case you needed more (as if we had not eaten enough in 18 days in Ireland). Oh, did I forget to mention the Black Bread served with Sea & Celery Salt Butter. Now that we are home we have bought Kerry Gold Irish butter, but it just isn't the same!

Will & I chose to split our main courses and they were both sublime:
Monkfish & Mussels & Dillisk (seaweed) Broth which was light but dabbed with a rich Aoili

John Dory with Butternut Squash, Kale Inzimino (chick peas stew) which was slightly spicy and rich as well. It is rare to get John Dory over here and if available it tends to cost a bloody fortune, so this was a special treat as well.

The setting is quite nice with a large glass roof that looks up to a Gothic church of sorts; it was sadly not light that night as Sheena said it sometimes is. The walls are stone and there were hanging bulbs in mason jars that were really cute. If I have to complain, it would be about the not very comfortable chairs (that was the curse of both meals that day) and the loo was quite dilapidated with a broken seat (the acrylic of a large jellyfish can go as well :-)).

Everything was so great we had to choose one dessert and since Will & I had enjoyed so many scrumptious ones with rhubarb we chose the Rubhard with Custard & Shortbread which was a parfait compote with custard and cream crumble....a wonderful end to our last supper. But there had to be more. Kanppogue Greenspot Irish Whiskey was indeed (save for breakfast the next day and the crisps from the duty free at Shannon) our last taste of Ireland, and what a fitting drink it was.

I have to say that as "ard bia" was good food in Gaelic, "Kai" is Maori for food, and there is a Maori connection with a large wall painting of the owner's great-grandmother from New Zealand.

Once again kudos to Sheena who treated us like Irish gold, and made our last night so memorable!

ARD BIA at NIMMO's and odd name, and odd place but a good meal in Galway (8-19-15)

Our last two nights were in Galway City and we had scheduled a full day of touring, but wanted to include lunch at the well known Ard Bia at Nimmo's. I learned that Ard Bia is Gaelic for good food, so that made sense, and this place was as quirky as it gets in a building on the river in the old part of town that looked centuries old. We waited for a table and then were ushered into a corner where a window overlooked the beautiful flowing river (through cobwebs) and the chairs were extremely uncomfortable. Samuel & I had a bench on either side that was hard as a rock but muffled by some (also centuries old?) very useless cushions. The table was right next to a pair of stools and counter and the guys sitting there gave us a look of extreme disdain as we sat down, but we didn't budge, I had heard great things about the food and would persevere.
Samuel ordered a fruit drink, Will a Galway Hooker Ale and I had a Roots & Greens' Liver Cleanser of beetroot, carrot, orange, lemon and ginger that was quite nice.
Samuel was not thrilled with the menu and settled on MEZZE which was a plate of a medium arugula salad with pomegranate seeds, Spiced Toasted Pita bread and three superb dips:Muhammara (red pepper), Hummus and Butter Bean. He needed extra pita and this seemed to be a big deal, but it eventually arrived after a lot of asking (and we were charged as well). Our tourguide said the Irish were simple eaters and ordered the simplest item on the menu, Panfried Haddock, saying it was delicious.
Will ordered Shakshuka which is basically baked eggs in a crock with spicy herbs, feta and brown soda BREAD. You will sense a Middle Eastern hint to the menu, which surprised me as I was hoping for scallops or lobster, but apparently lunch is a whole different thing here. I chose the Avocado & Egg, which is a name that the dish did not deserve. It was a superb warm salad of avocado with poached eggs on top, organic spinach, basil pesto and a rye bread crisp with seeds; I loved it.
I would love to come back for dinner, but doubt my rearend could take sitting in these seats or chairs for a long meal!