Saturday, February 28, 2015

a new neighborhood treat and BISTROQUET is more than OK (2-26-15)

Last night we joined some friends and headed to BISTROQUET which opened in the Palisades 5 months ago ( It was very quiet for a Thursday at 630pm and the place never filled up, so I am not sure how good they are doing, but the cheery demeanor of the staff and the warm feeling made us indeed fell as if we were in a tasty French bistro gone American.
The crusty French bread was very nice and the butter was delish, but could have used a dash of sea salt on top for flavor. They were out of the Saumur we ordered but the Domaine Philippe "Plantevin" 2012 Cotes du Rhone was a superb blend (60%Grenache/40%Syrah) that went with everything.
Three of us chose the Napoleon of Crab, Avocado, Celery Root  Remoulade and Grapefruit that was assembled on layers of "Parmezan" Tuiles (someone must not be spellchecking). It was a delish creation and very light and refreshing. The Gratinee Lyonnaise was a superb French Onion Soup laden with Swiss (as opposed to Gruyere) and got raves. The kids passed on starters but loved their main courses. There are several kid's menu items that are very French such as the trout, and of course Samuel loved his Petit Steak/Frites.
For entrees we chose the Filet de Saumon cooked a la Plancha with Crab-Lemongrass Ravioli, Lobster Coconut Sauce and Stir Fried Spinach that was a success for sure as was the Fricassee de Volaille au Curry Vert, a Friacsee of Chicken Breast with Thai Green Curry, Basil Coconut Milk and we even were able to change the Jasmine Rice(carb) for Spinach Béchamel (not carb, but rich).
If you were on Will's facebook page last night you saw not only the photo of the two boys, but his enormous Saucisse de Toulouse Maison, a foot-long Grilled Housemade Sausage with Mushroom Fricassee, Pommes Frites and Salad. It was so huge, we had to take part home. My Veal Kidney Dijonnaise was sublime with Maille Mustard & Wine Cream-Mushroom Sauce and Fresh Linguini.
We also had a yummy side of Sautéed Brussels Sprouts with Bacon, Shallots & Butter.
Dessert was less of a success while Samuel liked his two Raspberry Macarons (true French ones) ridiculously prices at $2.25 apiece for the bite-size treats. Oliver loved his Mango Sorbet and my Cherry Clafoutis Crème Brulee was a true winner.
Petit Pot Chocolat Noir with orange Confit Ice Cream  and Sacristan Cookie was a pudding at best but the loser was Will's Raspberry "Tilamisu" (yes, spellcheck) witrh Lady Finger, Sweet Muscat Raspberry Liquor and three tons of Mascarpone Whipped Cream that made up 90% of the dish with little flavor to boot.
We will go back, but maybe we shall eat more starters than desserts!!
Our server Branden was very sweet and helpful and is getting married soon, so we also wish him luck!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Sheila Kaufman's THE TURKISH COOKBOOK makes for awesome cuisine at the Natl Press Club (2-25-15)

Last night I joined our friend Sheila Kaufman as she presented a Turkish feast based on her cookbook, THE TURKISH COOKBOOK, which is her 26th cookbook published to date.
The event was held at the Fourth Estate here in DC at the National Press Club and as we arrived Barkan Israeli Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon were being offered with some tasty tidbits:
Cheesy Fried Eggplants (Kizarmis Peynirli Patlican, Istanbul)-I will give the dishes name in Turkish as well as which region it comes from.
which I adored even though I am not an eggplant fan! The feta cheese was the magic key to these tasty fried treats.
Chicken Kebabs (Tarcinla Tavuk Kebabi, Istanbul) were moist and juicy
Chickpea patties with Garlic Yogurt Mint dipping sauce(Nohut Koftesi Yogurtlu Havuc) were awesome fried chickpea patties and remember I am not a mint fan, but the sauce was spectacular
Walnut & Red Pepper Spread (Muhammara, Gaziantep) was a tasty sauce broiled on slices of bread which I could have eaten all night....but more was to come.
As we sat down I was thrilled to be at Sheila's table and little did I know how much she knows. It seems she was a history teacher and this has spread to her cooking knowledge which was clear when she spoke so eloquently before and during the dinner. She was introduced and the catch phrase used for her cuisine was "easy, elegant and fuss-less." I have the cookbook, so we shall see....
First came Green Bean Soup with Green Lentils & Bulgur (Fasulye Corbasi, Sivas-Central Antalya)which had a bit of spice, which Sheila usually doesn't like, so I was quite surprised. The beans were cooked perfectly and crispy thanks to the amazing team of Chef Susan Delbert.
Vermentino 2013 from Argiolas Costamolino in Sardegna (Italy) was a crisp dry wine with lots of textures that was amazing with the soup thank to the work of The Wine Guy, Ron Brooks.
Next was the Salad which was supposed to be Grandmother's Purslane (Semizotu Salatasi, Gaziantep-Antalya) but was replaced here with celery, radicchio, parsley, sumac and more. The wine was a Regaleali Bianci 20102 from Tasca in Sicily which might just be my new go to salad wine!
I used my knife and was a bit disturbed when the server placed it (dirty) on the table for me to reuse with the fish. This is really not good for fine dining.
Moorenko Green Apple and Mango Sorbets came next for a palate cleanser.
The fish course was Baked Grouper with Mediterranean Flavors (Akdeniz Usulu Laos Baligi, Mersin) which was topped with a tapenade like sauce made of garlic, shallot, cubanelle peppers, tomato, mushroom, spices and more. On the table was a bowl of Hot red pepper sauce which I added for a bit more spice and the grouper was simply divine. The wine was a Vinkara Reserve Kalecik Karasi 2001 from Ankara which has to be my first Turkish wine. The Kalecik karasi Grape is novel to me for sure and according to Ron sits between Pinot Noir & Nebbiolo...okay--we all loved the wine and the pairing.
The entrée was Lamb Shanks with Romaine Lettuce & Scallions served with fingerling potatoes and root veggies. On a cold night, this is a super dish I will be ready to try at home. It's earthy flavors and spices went amazingly well with the Anima Negra 2012 from AN/2 in Falanis on the Spanish island of Majorca, another new awesome wine place for me! The grapes are Caillette and Montenegro and they leave a hint of spice on the back of the throat; the wines are also all natural and organic, always a plus.
We were getting full but dessert arrived in the form of Nightingale's Nest (Bulbul Yuvasi, Gaziantep) which is a phyllo pastry filled with walnut a la baklava but here rolled into a cylinder and formed into a coil bird's nest shape and sprinkled with pistachio. The sccop of vanilla ice cream was welcome as the dish was very rich and quite overdosed in the phyllo zone for me. We had a choice of Raki(arrack) from Yeni in Turkey or the Moscato d'Asti house wine, which I chose. Those that tasted the raki made awful faces saying it was way too strong and very licoricey....NOT FOR ME!
I saw the hot pepper sauce on the table and asked if I could take it home and a lady opposite me asked to have her leftover lamb to go; they refused. I called the chef over and she made an exception. I could not believe the Fourth Estate sneers on doggie bags!
Well, that said, the dinner was a success and the book is staring at me here begging for me to try something...maybe this weekend!

Friday, February 20, 2015

On the third night of power out, it was too cold to DISH was Delicious (2-19-15)

Well, we just lost power yet again and are praying.....PEPCO is due any minute.
Last night it was 0 with the wind chill, so we ate at our hotel where Will & Samuel had also dined on the first night away when I was in NYC. DISH at the River Inn is always a treat and last night our server Maram made us fell like family.
Samuel returned to his Butternut Squash Soup with Roasted Pumpkin Seeds but here with Pumpkin Seed Oil, which he declared superior to Chez Billy. Will tried the Roasted Red & Golden Beet Salad with Feta, Arugula, Marinated Onion & Citrus while I adored the Fried Green Tomatoes. They were prepared perfectly and some of the best I have ever had with a topping of Arugula and sitting on a bed of Crème Fraiche with little bacon bits. Superb!
Samuel had two orders of the Duck Confit Spring Roll appetizer but does not seem to like the Sweet Chili dipping sauce or the Mesclun Salad. Will & I both chose the Swordfish Special Grlled with a superb Chimichurri Sauce on top with Garlic Spinach & Rice. A Poppy 2012 Pinot Noir from Monterey, CA was recommended by Maram and she was spot on with this wine.
Will tried the Apple Beignet with salted caramel ice cream for dessert  saying the ice cream  was not very salted but beignet was yummy.
Sadly, while we love Dish and the River Inn, we pray we can stay home tonight and not checkin for the third time downtown this week!

Make it MANDU in DC if you crave Korean (2-18-15)

The third night of homelessness for Will & Sam was my second and I chose MANDU ( at 1805 18th St, NW just above Dupont Circle and we were very cold and heated up perfectly by the spicy and warmth of the food.
We had a hard day and cocktails were in order. A triple coke for Sam, a martini for Will and I chose the Joe Gibbson made with Hangar 1 Vodka, house brine, celery bitters, pickled carrot  and radish cube garnishes which were tasty and just right on this novel take of a martini.
A bottle of Poliziano 2012 Roos di Montalcino followed and was great with everything.
Samuel wanted the MANDU to start, steamed pork dumplings and declared they were delish. Will and I split the Hobak Jeon, a superb egg dipped zucchini, deep fried and served with soy dipping sauce. Our second starter we split was the superb Goo Jeol Mari, cold rice crepes (spring roll like) filled with veggies, egg, beef and according to the menu served with a thin mustard sauce. It was a light mustard, but packed a punch and I used it for the zucchini as well. 
Sam chose the Chicken Somyum Bowl which was a monstrous chicken broth bowl filled with Somyum Noodles, pulled chicken, mushrooms, carrots, bok choy and scallions. He asked for the egg strips not to be put in as they were cut strips of cooked egg. We took home half the bowl as it was so huge, but very filling.
Will & I both chose the hot stone bowls. Will had the Short Rib version called Galbi Dolsot and mine was Dolsot Bibim Bap or beef, veggies, rice and sunnyside egg on top. The sauce is called Gochujang which is a spicy chili bean paste. The stone bowl was so hot the rice caramelized on the sides as it sits in front of you. Even 45 minutes later as we finished the bowls were still very hot, quite welcome on such a cold night. We also received a plate of awesome veggies which included Broccoli, Rep Pepper & Sesame, Bean Sprouts with Oi (Marinated cucumber), Marinated Tofu with Fish Cakes and mini-kick Kimchi. It was all superb and fun as well.
Our server, also named Will, was very helpful as we had no clue what to order and the location upstairs has wooden tables and chairs (again no so comfy for my tuchus) with exposed brick walls and lots of various Asian art and pottery.
Surely a nice break from the many other Asian options we have in DC!
I also tasted the So Ju Charm, which is a rice & citrus Distilled Korean Liquor that tastes like Vodka but with lower alcohol. Think vodka-tasting-sake. YUM!
We shall return!

When the power is out (or you are hungry) head to Petworth in DC for french cooking CHEZ BILLY (2-17-15)

This week has been awful in DC with unreal temps, snow and then total loss of power and heat at our home on and off for 4 days going on 5 now.
So, we moved to a hotel and this is the first of several nights' out that we had not planned.
Chez Billy at 3815 Georgia Ave, NW has been around for years and its sister Chez Billy Sud just opened recently in Georgetown. It's a great place with some amazing dishes that you will find at many fine French bistros, but this was new for us.
The booths have very hard wood backs and seats with very thin cushions, wooden tables, tin ceilings, so it's not a place you linger.
As we were cold (well we seem to always be these days) we loved the awesome French bread that came steaming hot as hades/ We ordered a bottle of wine to find out they were out of many wines due to the Valentine weekend.
I asked for the Burgundy and when it came, Will offered to taste. I did not see the bottle and it was the one that was DOUBLE the price as there were two Burgundies. In the end, they did not charge us at all for the $94 bottle. WOW!
We tipped big. The Cote de Nuits Villages, Vieilles Vignes 2011 from Patrice Rion was an awesome Pinot Noir with a spicy taste in the mouth that I loved. It warmed us up well.
Sam is now on a butternut squash soup binge and chose the Soupe a la Courge Musquee with Crème Fraiche, Curry Oil and Toasted Pumpkin Seeds. It was gone and mopped up with that bread as fast as you can imagine. Will chose the same, and I had the Tartine aux Champignons (photo on my facebook page!) which is not really a tartine as it sits on a piece pf grilled bread kind of open face loaded with wild sautéed mushrooms with an awesome sherry vinegar and fried Duck Egg on top. It has to be one of the signature dishes of DC and does it taste terrific!
Sam had the Poulet Roti with carrot purre, swiss chard (which he loved) and cauliflower gratin which I have to say was a bit gummy and unappetizing. The baby chicken was moist and just right. Will had Moules Normandie with cider, leeks, apples, bacon, crème fraiche and blue cheese which had a nice flavor and of course a side of frites. My Confit de Canard was a tasty duck with pommes de terres sarlandaises (crispy balls, but not fried), shitake mushrooms and garlicky spinach. The dishes are large so we headed home full and thankful to find a warm place with good food on our first night together (I was in NY the night before while the boys had to move out!).


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

when near the Bowery in NYC, head right to HECHO en DUMBO for delicious novel Mexican (2-16-15)

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My last meal in NY was just across from my hotel on the Lower East Side at Hecho en Dumbo ( where the food marries traditional Mexican cuisine awesome ingredients that give it a totally modern take.
The place is simple and small with a bar up front and just over a dozen or so tables of 2 or 4. There are exposed brick walls, and while the tables have candles, the lighting levels are a bit low for menu reading; many folks were using their smartphones to read them. Paper napkins could be replaced by something cloth as the food often requires using your hands and the tacos are stuffed full, so can be messy, There are no formalities here, just great cooking in a modern take.
From 5-7pm there is a Happy Hour and I was eating early to head to the opera, so I tried the classic Margarita (all of them run $12-15 apiece) which during this time (even at the tables) are all $7 each; a steal. There is a small plate menu for happy hour as well and I tried the Tostada de Atun which is on special for $3 apiece. It was a crispy yellow torn tortilla topped with Tuna Sashimi, Spicy Aioli which has a nice lingering of spice in the mouth and Crisp Fried Leeks.
I saw two starters on the main menu and asked if they were large. The server/manager/boss(?) said they were not huge, so I said that I would try and could always order more afterwards.
Three salsas had arrived in the form of pico de gallo, a traditional red tomato that was not too spicy and a super spicy habanero tomatillo.
My first appetizer dish was the Pulpo ala Plancha which was a superb Roasted Spanish Octopus over a Garlic Anchovy and Oregano Mojo with a yummy side of Grilled Housemade Queso fresco topped with some crunchy toasted bread crumbs. It's a great pair.
Next came the Tacos de Tuetano, surely the most modern take on the dish with a small basket of yummy mini corn tortillas and  ahuge plate of two huge roasted Bone Marrows and Beef Tongue with the most divine Morita Salsa on the side and a pile of tasty Caramelized Onions. It was amazing and so much fun to put the tacos together.
I was still a bit hungry so I ordered three small tacos from the taco menu and the server said I could mix them up if I wishes. GREAT!
Taco de Alcalde was filled with smoked Sable, Braised Octopus, Gulf Shrimp, Red & Yellow Pepper, Tomato, Red Onion and melted Chihuahua Cheese (I hope it wasn't made from a dog :-)))....The smokiness of the dish was amazing.
Second was Salbutes de Chochinita Pibil or Berkshire Pork with Yucatan Spice steamed in Banana Leaf over Sour Orange Juice with flash-fried yellow corn tortilla, bean puree and pickled red onion. I didn't get the orange flavor, but the tiny taco was a dream.
Last was the Taco Campechano with finely chopped cecina(salt-cured steak), chorizo, house made chicharron (pork rind) and chile de arbol and topped with chicharron salsa.
Sorry to be quick, but I gotta head home and the snow is making it hard!
All were great and I left very happy.....

Monday, February 16, 2015

ANNISA in NYC is more than just a nice-a place, it's awesome (2-15-15)

You might think that after my brunch, I might forego dinner. Well, I had planned a big dinner, and the brunch came after, so I could not give up my table at one of NYC's most intimate, amazing and hot spots, ANNISA ( located on quiet secluded Barrow Street in the West Village.

It had gotten even colder and when I walked in at 630pm, the temperature was 7 with a windchill of god-knows-what-below-zero. The dining room was protected with a huge hanging carpet like wall from the door, but my table was closest to the door, so I did feel a chill but it was rare as the place only has some dozen or so tables and the turnover is slow as most folks eat for 2-3+ hours here. ANNISA is Arabic for "women" and Chef Anita Lo, who had taken the night off after a no doubt arduous Valentine's Day the day before, is known for sourcing her wine from all female vintners! Logan, the manager, explained that I was in good hands with Chef Mary Attea, and indeed I was convinced of this within one course, if not two.

I started with a Candied Ginger Vodka Cooler with Baby Ginger, Lemon & Soda and perused the not too large menu. There were starters and mains and two choices of tastings: 5 & 7 courses. I opted for 5, told my charming and helpful server Dominic that I had eaten a large brunch and needed to spread these courses out over the entire evening. He was fine. I chose to do wine pairings to allow me to taste more of these awesome ladies' wines as well.

If one thing was wrong with Annisa, it was the slightly loud volume of the very nice music. I found myself humming along, but if I had company, it might have been just a tad too high to converse well. 

Dominic was assisted by Anna throughout the evening and all the staff really work here as a team and it does work well. I always had my wine and food on time and was offered an extra taste of wine if needed. When I asked to take more time, I got to relax between courses and find out that one of Dominic's friends was on Top Chef II and has  a place in Brooklyn, which he promised to email be about.

The 5 course tasting is $85 and this was indeed a bargain for such a high end NY dining spot. Speaking of the spot, the décor is simple with a large overhead fixture at my table so I could see well, candles at others. White walls, gold curtains and large wiry branches arranged in huge vases decorate the room. There is a bar with stools at the front on the entry level which was jammed and SRO only by 730pm, and it was Sunday. My table had some of the most beautiful fresh floers including luscious white roses.

The Amuse arrived in the form of a tiny Tartelette, cup shaped and filled with Escargot with Green Garlic Butter, Lemon Zest & Chive. It was salty, garlicky and full of flavor one small bite that burst. Bread had arrived, but I never touched it all night as it was a simple roll not made in house.

Steak Tartare was my first course and I saw this on the menu, but was wary of the preparation, one of the Signatures of Annisa. It is mixed with bulghar, red onion for crunch, cinnamon and allspice and has a big Tunisian brick (chip) on top laden with cayenne which gives this dish a kickass punch. It was paired with a Lanzarote Listan Rosado 2013, a superb crisp rose from the Canary Islands that fought the spices and cleansed the palate easily. Three sauces were on the plate for amazing variety. A Chinese Chili Oil was simple, a Black Sesame Sauce and the OMG Sesame Tofu with Garlic & Lemon which was like an aioli and also had a dash of cinnamon. This had to be the BEST steak tartare I have ever had anywhere, hands down.

My second course was another Signature dish and this one will blow anybody's taste buds off the planet. Chop Sticks, Chinese Soup spoon and silverware arrived, so I was confused, but I had heard about and seen this dish already around the room. I was ready.

Shanghai-style Dumpling(with broth inside) was served with a magnificent slab of Seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras on top over a Ginger Balsamic reduction. Dominic explained the safe way to engage this "creature" is to place it in the spoon with the chopsticks and then bite into it (it is way too big for one bite) so that the insides flow onto the spoon and can be enjoyed, Speaking of insides, the broth is foie gras mousse based with jicama for crunch, shitakes, ginger and yes, anise (which I could not taste at all, thank goodness). The 2013 Jean Baptiste Gunderlach Riesling Kabinett from Rheinhessen had an essence of pineapple in the mouth and was super with this blow your mouth apart dish.

Next came an extra course of Pakora Fries Oysters in a cucumber with Pickled Fennel. I had told Dominic that fennel and anise were not my faves, but pickled fennel is now in my list of awesome things to pickle and boy did this carry a punch. This team is not afraid to use spice and it is done with great love. There was a chive oil, which was really a puree and yogurt underneath the crunchy oyster treats. 2012 Athina Assyrtiko from Santorini was one of my favorite wines all night.

Broiled Spanish Mackerel is such an intense fish, it is often so hard to prepare well. Here it is given oerfect bursts with so many different awesome spices. Alone the fish was seasoned perfectly with an amazing skin, but it was served with the most spectacular Korean Gocujang Sauce of Fermented Bean & Chili which reminded me of the fermented sauces we had in SE Asia recently. It had a great kick and a plummy aftertaste, and was served with Satsumaimo Sweet Potato Cubes and leaves (from Japan) that I adored. The crowning touch were Garlic Fried Milk Balls, think fried ball with supercreamy garlic filling of a cheesy consistency!! With this fermented sauce a 201 Tokay Furmint from Dobogo, Szent Tamas Betsek Vineyard was a tough wine to dissect as it was quite earthy to fight the spices and fish intensity.

I asked for a break and enjoyed some of the first red, Nittnaus 2012 Blaufrankisch from Kakund Schiefer that was slightly spicy and a great new find for a drink alone or with food red. Eventually my Seared Tenderloin of Venison arrived (perfectly rare) with Parsnip Puree, Saskatoon Berries, Parsnip Chips, Black Truffles and a sauce of Venison/Sage/Pink Peppercorn & Butter with Crispy Sage Leaves. YUMMY. And to my surprise, the next table was occupied by an opera singer friend of mine from DC!! Small world.

For those of you on Facebook (where I can now be found) I posted a photo of this superb dish with the caption, "Bambi, eat your heart out."

So if you want foodie photos and need to where I am eating at that moment (so you can walk in and surprise me as well), just friend me.

I watched as a lady at a nearby table lit her check on fire and blew it out; was she unhappy?

No matter, I was thrilled. Lafage Ambre Hor's d'Age Grenache(white) dessert wine from Rivesaltes was poured and I adored the golden liquid (thing young acidic Sauternes)even though it was not super sweet. Pecan Beignets arrived in a small basket with nary a drop of grease from the frying. They exploded in my mouth with the Warm Salted Butterscotch Filling and an awesome oozy center. I ate all but one as I was now at my limit. The Bourbon Ice Milk next to it in a shot glass was okay, but just too cold and icy as the temperature had dropped way below zero by now and the windchill was -17 or so!!

There was one farewell plate and it was quite hefty. The trio of treats was a Huckleberry Lychee Popsicle (this I ate as it was so small and oh so yummy)=, despite its chill), Candied Ginger and a Chocolate Mint Truffle.

ANNISA is not to be missed if you can get in!

NYC's MAREA means business for brunch (2-15-15)

On Sunday, I was thrilled to be able to meet two dear friends and clients in NYC who are here to sing at the Met tonight. I chose MAREA as the food there has always been so good, and our family loved dinner several months ago at it's sister Ai Fiori downtown.
It's been several years since my first time in Marea, and while formal and stiff, it is an excellent place to dine near Columbus Circle/Lincoln Center & Broadway.
I arrived early amidst the 0 degree wind chills and settled in with a traditional classic & spicy Bloody Mary made with Belvedere Vodka.
They do a $47 tow course fixed price brunch and while this seems high, the food is top quality and they are Relais et Chateaux!
I started with an awesome ZUPPA-Mushroom Brodo (broth) with Poached Egg, Sunchoke & Hen of the Woods. I loved this dish as it was hot and satisfying with such a strong broth that was ideal on this day, then the poached egg that oozed into it was so perfectly brunchlike as to transform the dish.
One of my guests had a delicious INSALATA of winter greens, pomegranates, gorgonzola and walnuts and the other chose a beautiful SEPPIA, Cuttlefish Tagliattelle with Soffrito Crudo and Bottarga di Mugine (mullet eggs).
A glass of superb Vermintino "Boboli" Collie di Luna 2011 from Giacomelli in Liguria arrived for my meal and it was ideal with the brood but even better with my main course-Strozzapretti, those awesome priest-hat shaped pastas I adore but here in a rich decadent creamy sauce with Crab, Sea Urchin & Basil, topped with crunchy bread crumbs for a little crunch. OMG!
Caramelle were superb goat cheese ravioli with arugula, an amazing sour cherry flavor and pistachios, while the CAPESANTE were huge seared scallops with Cider Braised Pork Cheek, Apple, Celery & Pine.
We had time for dessert and two of us chose cheese while the other went for a creamy Panna Cotta Fior di Latte with Green Apple & Roasted Pineapple Sorbetto.
My cheeses were a superb VBC Cremont from Vermont goat & cow that was creamy and rich and served with marinated red currants, a mediocre Consider Bardwell Pawlett (raw cow) with also not too exciting quince jelly and a yummy Bellweather Farm San Andreas raw sheep with a date paste.
I should have switched that Pawlett for the Casatica Buffalo from Italy that my guest chose.
Last came yummy Chocolate Almond Financiers that were tasty & crunchy and had a gold leaf on top.
Here is where things started to sour. We had asked for coffees after dessert and they never showed. I asked three or four times, and also requested the bill as I had a 3pm curtain and it was now 230pm. The coffee had not shown by 240pm, so I cancelled mine and paid very fast and ran out; I made my show with 4 minutes to spare as I grabbed a cab right outside. They did take the three coffees off the bill, but I never had time to enjoy mine.
Other than that, this brunch was a big boost on a cold day.

A Napa Love Story -Meadowood Resort moves East to James Beard House in NYC(2-14-15)

For my first of three nights in NYC, I returned to James Beard House where the team from Meadowood Estates Events in Napa Valley had come east for a cold wintry Valentine's dinner.   Headed by Chef Alejandro Ayala, who has been running the special events catering at this luxurious resort for two decades they did an amazing job as the house was packed more than I have ever seen. On arrival, I met Beverage Director Scott Beattie and I was amazed at the two drinks he had created for this event. One, a simple Manhattan made with superb bourbon & rye with a giant square ice cube in the round glass was heightened by three types of bitters:Angostura, Bitter Truth & Fee Brothers-Whiskey Barrel Aged. I fell in love with my first Manhattan in Manhattan. The other drink was an amazing creation of love made with Vodka, Meyer Lemon Juice, Kaffir Lime zest and candied peel, but the highlight of the drink was the Rangpur Lime (it looks like a Mandarin Orange) from India marinated in Chinese 5-Spice & Honey. It was so tasty and soft, you could eat the rind. I fell in love with this treat.
As always many hor's d'oevres were being passed around and I got to taste them all, Beets & Raspberries with Bergamot & Chive was nice, but won no prize unless you are a vegetarian. Better was the Squash with Pepitas & Crema on a crispy Squash Chip. The three winners were the superb Beef Tartare with Parmesan & Salsa Verde, the awesome Foie Gras Tortellini with Short Rib & Black Truffle Consomme and finally the divinely rich Lobster Arancini (fried rice balls) with Pimenton & Cilantro.
After a couple of glasses of Napa Krug Sparkling, we headed to our tables for the huge and elegant dinner.
First was the Meadowood Garden, which featured vegetables specially grown for this event in their Napa garden and starred Yellowfoot, Black Trumpet Mushrooms, Burgundy Truffles, Celery Root Puree and Pickled Matsutaki. YUM.
Smoked Bodega Mussels were flown in as well  and served in a Marble Potato Chowder with Celery Variations & Espellete (pepper). I loved the pickled celery in this dish and it was all served with a Napa Valley Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2013 which had quite a high acidity; I would have preferred a smoother wine such as viognier.
The Day Boat Scallops, it turned out, came from Maine and were served with an awesome Creamed Kale, Black Truffle and Meyer Lemon. The truffle vinaigrette was gorgeous, the charred onion powder oh so different, and the mini-turnip so cute. Copian Brousseau 2012 Chardonnay made by Wells Guthrie & James Thompson of Chalone was a perfect pairing.
Ora King Salmon came form New Zealand and was carefully treated with Heirloom Lentils, Coriander Stages & Iberico Ham in a dried crunchy form that gave excellent flavor to the dish. The Hilt Vanguard Pinot Noir 2012 was a bit thin for me as I so prefer Oregon wines, and this made by the folks who own Screaming Eagle (oops).
Liberty Farms Duck was crunchy skinned to perfection with Parsnip, Huckleberry & Tiny Carrots and we had a delicious The Napa Valley Reserve 2004 Cabernet blend which really had aged beautifully.
Rib Eye "Cap & Eye" was an excellent steak dish with Garden Vegetables Cabernet and turnips and was served with two reds: The Napa Valley Reserve 2008 was quite nice, but I thought the Jonata El Alma, 2009 Cab Franc was way too tight; maybe it needs more time in the bottle, or maybe it's just not for me.
Lots of chocolates and macaroons arrived as there was no formal dessert, but we had all enjoyed a wonderful Valentine's Dinner, with no kitchen failures that so often occur in your dining establishment with blownup prices on this night!


Saturday, February 14, 2015

JamesBeard Celebrity Chef Tour takes it to DC at Del Campo deliciously (2-12-15)

Wednesday evening I was delighted to attend the first James Beard Celebrity Chef Tour in DC this year hosted by Chef Victor Albisu at his Del Campo (777 I St,NW) where he was joined by a cadre of chefs from all over to serve another awesome mea. Jeff Black, who organizes these events said it was the 3rd time in DC in a year, which makes us a hot destination! YAY!
As always, the event started with a cocktail hour and I tried a Lady Marmalade (don't you just love the name) from Pepita Cantina which had Avua Cahaca, Blood Orange Marmalade, Calvados & Lime. I had another yummy drink from Del Campo, but forgot to jot down the ingredients.
Many yummy hor's d'oevres were passed around and local Chef Scott Drewno from The Source was at the counter frying up yummy dumplings as well. Spicy Potatoes with a creme fraiche dip, uni on a chip with caviar, deep-fried rice with hot sauce and my favorite the monkfish liver all abounded.
We sat down and I had a nice table of folks making it an excellent evening company-wise.
Yummy pupusa-like bread came with il and sea salt; I stopped at one piece.
The first wine was poured, a Casa Silva Sauvignon Blanc "Cool Coast" from Colchagua Valley in Chile 2011, as all the wines were from South America with the Latin themed dinner (subdued Latin music played all night). Our glasses were always full all night and we could not have asked for better service at every moment. Chef Anthony Lamas of Seviche Restaurant in Louisville was at bat first with Tuna Tiradito, Aji, Peanut & Sweet Potato. He said that in Kentucky they do spell Seviche that way, so it was okay....and also told us the awesome peanuts were Tennessee Reds and Carolina Blacks (who knew you could be a peanut afficianado?). I got my grapefruit fix from the wine and the the first course was a huge success across the board.
The second course was prepared by Chef Michael Schlow of Tico Rstaurant from Boston which is now also open in DC (gotta get there soon). His "Spicy Catalan Stew" with Crispy Rice & Crushed Almonds was the hit of the night for everyone. There was indeed spice, shrimp, chorizo, escargot, clams and more with a paprika aioli that had the most awesome texture due to the rice. Flavors abounded and burst out all over in the "stew" which really was not stewlike at all as the "sauce" was thick and not runny.
I never did get to ask the chef what the spicy strands of leaf were atop the dish.
A Catena Zapata Chardonnay "Catena Alta" 2011 from Mendoza, Argentina was a nice wine, and while I know this was a fish-based stew, I think a lighter red would have even been better.As the wine warmed up, the Chardonnay developed and did fight the spice much better.
Third was Chef Jamie Bissonnette of Coppa in Boston and Toro in both Boston & NYC with a Cuttlefish, Crab, Black Chili & Iberico Ham. This was an orzo based "chili" with a little goat cheese and the entire thing was another thick stew-like dish that really had lots of flavor, but did pale a bit next to the Catalan-style dish. Vitivinicola Lafken Pinot Noir, Cuncumen from Leyda, Chile 2011 was a nice unfiltered wine that was on the lighter side; give me Oregon, please.
Fourth was a Asado Trio of Rolled Creekstone Prime Skirt Steak with Parmesan, Sunchoke & Smoked Yolk that had awesome flavor and was one of the stars of the trio. The second star was the Fermin Iberico Pork with Crema & a Smoked Caviar Chimichurri which was the biggest hit at our table (save for the lady next to me who did not eat shellfish or meat--WHY WAS SHE HERE?). The Olive Smoked Rack of Lamb with Tapenade, Roasted Garlic and a Goat Dulce de Leche (which we never did seem to discover) was a very nice lamb chop, but just that. The three meats were paired with an awesomely smooth and delicate but gutsy Malbec Blend from Bressia called "Profundo" 2009 also from Mendoza, as well as a Los Vascos de Rothschild Lafite Cabernet Sauvignon "Le Dix" from Colchagua Valley in Chile that was overly gutsy and just so big I really did not care for it.
The main course was of course prepared by host Chef Victor Albisu (also owns Taco Bamba in Falls Church) who was joined by Chef Antonio Soriano of Astor Bistro in Buenos Aires who came in for this event!
Dessert was an awesome Salted Flan with Meringue, Pistachio & Dulce de Leche Crepe (more of a rolled pancake) prepared by Chef Chris Ford who hails from Bouchon in California and is Corporate Pastry Chef for Bryan Voltaggio Restaurants in DC & Maryland.
It was a hit of a night for all and I am right now in NYC preparing to head out to dinner at James Beard House itself where Chef Alejandro Ayala of Meadowood Resort in Napa will be cooking up a storm!

Sunday, February 08, 2015

ORIGIN in Toronto is terrifically original, esp for brunch (2-8-15)

I met a client at ORIGIN ( for brunch today and the menu was equally split between lots of French toast dishes and savory ones.

We both wanted a hefty meal in the snowsqualls and chose the Short Rib Hash with Chimmichurri, jus, fried egg, white and sweet potatoes and yummy buttermilk fried onion rings. My guest chose the Fried Rice with Pork Belly, Deep fried crispy eggs, ginger, soy and chilies. The eggs were deep fried and amazingly crunchy outside and like poached inside...awesome.

The Duck Duck Goose drink of which I had two was a revelation with duck-infused Vodka, clamato juice, hoisin, fresh micro coriander, sesame brittle in the form of a powder on the rim and pickles. More novelty.

Even the tables are glass topped over a wild silver metal weave. The place is simple and fun a perfect for brunch.

A final glass of dessert wine from Cave Spring, but this was the much better 2010 Indian summer late harvest Riesling..and I'm hopefully headed home.

Toronto's LUMA is lovely for late night or anytime...(2-7-15)

Last night my marathon of Die Walkure at the opera ended just after 9pm, so I headed several blocks from the Performing Arts Center to LUMA ( which as you can see from the website is part of the large empire of Chef Oliver Bonacini, a well known and successful entrepreneur in the food biz up here. LUMA is on the second floor of a movie theater complex and it has the window space over the street so while I sat, I had a great view of the CN Tower and its awesome nightly light "show."  Behind me on the other side is an open kitchen and the dining room is one large (and hence quite noisy space) with a large bar and lounge at the other end. The wall that separates the spaces has a great display of neat wooden plates. The fact that I was surrounded by two groups of loudly cackling women, made it worse, one woman was extremely loud, vulgar and bothersome; all the staff sighed when she departed.

My server Stephen was a gem and very helpful. There is a $35 three course Winterlicious deal that runs for a couple of weeks here like our own Restaurant Week back home. I saw some items on the a la carte menu I preferred, to which Stephen said "no problem." I perused the wine list and searched out some of the wines I had seen earlier in the day while shopping at the huge liquor store nearby for treats to take home from Canada and settled on a bottle of Norman Hardie "County" Unfiltered Chardonnay 2012 from Prince Edward County in Ontario (Niagara region). It was evident that Ontario has some of the best and largest limestone for wineries and the wine was full of flavors from that stone and the fruit; a chardonnay that is very French, yet very Canadian-no oak or butter, but superb. It was great with both my courses.

I started with the Smoked Klondike Potato Soup with Flaked Haddock, Braised Leeks and Tobiko. The rich warm soup had no cream, but was thick and tasty after walking the 10minutes in the strong snowfall. The flavor from the haddock and tobiko a fun burst.

There were delicious warm sourdough rolls with lemony-garlicky hummus.

Next came Seared Scallops (from eastern Canada) with Curried Cauliflower Puree, Kamet Cashew Pilaf with cashew pieces & Raisin Jus with marinated raisins and Cider Reduction.

There were four HUGE scallops on the plate seared to a crunchy top perfection and perfectly pink inside. The Kamet pilaf was new to me and akin to Kasha or barley and quite filling as well, so this is not a light dish at all. The puree was creamy and rich and each scallop sat on a wilted spinach leaf for texture which I loved. The cashew reminded me of the chef's crunch signature from the night before at George. Coriander Cress (we call that cilantro) was on top. The dish was a masterpiece of various flavors and I was so thrilled to enjoy it from off the set menu (even though there were nice choices there) as I really wanted fish for dinner.

Dessert was a cheese plate of 3 Canadian cheeses:

Le Mont Jacob from Jonquiere, Quebec was a semi-pasturized cow that was the least exciting but improved with a dribble of the honey that came with the dish.

Goat Cheddar from Lindsay, Ontario made in an English clothbound style was a nutty crunchy cheese with creamy intense flavor that I adored.

Bleu d'Elizabeth from Ste-Elizabeth de Warwick, Quebec was a superb crumbly organic semi-soft blue that I could easily have eaten more with.

I had ordered a glass of Cave Spring Riesling IceWine and when I drank the glass that arrived it was nit that sweet. It turned out Stephen had brought me the less intense Cave Spring Late Harvest Indian Summer Riesling, which was fine. After I realized the error he brought me a small glass of the much more expensive IceWine which was awesome and so sweet and perfect after everything--and he didn't charge me for that! I am so happy I have a bottle of the wine to bring home and cellar and enjoy again in 10 years or more!

get thee to George for glorious gourmet tastes in Toronto (2-6-15)

I arrived in Toronto for the short weekend at about 6pm yesterday, quickly cleaned up and took the 20 minute walk over to GEORGE ( which is one of the most fascinating dining spots on town and truly an experience not miss.
There is a small bar in the entry and quite a small dining room divided into several sections. The noise level is not too high, but the music could have been a bit softer.
The floors are rustic wood with exposed ceilings of black. Where I sat in a small open wrought iron pagoda ( about 6 tables were in this area) there was a large central steel drum-like chandelier filled with tiny flame bulbs and drooping with huge giant crystals. At the opposite end of the room there were several steps down to the open kitchen, which seemed even larger than the dining area. Overhead mirrors made it food to look at what was going on from where I sat. A large B&W poster of a lone man in Piazza San Marco reminded me of "Death in Venice;" there were some posters as well, but little else in wall decor. Here the food of Chef Lorenzo Loseto has been the star for just over a decade.
House sparkling water was offered (a flat $2 charge for unlimited pours) which was some of the best I have ever had as house sparkling can be wimpy. I ordered the Deep Freeze Martini which is Belvedere Vodka served in a glass half-filled with frozen (-20degrees Centigrade) and it was indeed ice cold. It came with olives, but they will do lemon, onion, or whatever you prefer. It warmed me up after the long cold walk and the only thing wrong with it was the cocktail napkin under the glass on the plate which sticks to the glass each time you lift it (think your tongue on a frozen surface).
I just moved it and all was fine.
My server Ian began to explain the menu, but I had decided I wanted a tasting menu and all I needed to do was decide between 5,7 or 10 courses. The regular menu is divided into 3 sections for courses as well, but I just said everything looked awesome and chose 7 courses for $130 (please remember these prices are Canadian$ and hence are 20% less in US$, so $104US). The wine pairings were and extra $80CAD and well worth it for the variety and healthy pours (and refills if needed).
A breadbasket arrived with olive bread, plain, focaccia and the most awesome flatbread that was salty, crumbly and greasy (not bad greasy, more oily,like olive oil) and hard to resist.
Ian explained that he was also the sommelier, although the super handsome Jordan often brought the wines and explained. First came Brut Sauvage from Domaine Baud et Fils, a yummy Cremant de Jura that got creamier indeed as it got a bit warmer. The amuse, which was quite large arrived shortly after and featured Calamari with a super rich Black Pepper Panna Cotta. There was a small mound of what the chef calls "Singapore Slaw" which is a cabbage/carrot/veg slaw that has a mini-kick. Having just been in Singapore, I would never say it was spicy. The squid was perfectly cooked and tender and served at room temperature; the panna cotta was divine.
This adventure started at 730pm and I left at about 11pm, so the service is perfectly spaced and balanced; I never had to ask to slow down or speed up. I did notice two men at the next table that arrived at about 745pm and were gone within 90 minutes after eating three courses rather hurriedly; maybe they had other plans. I would linger over all the awesome offerings.
Casa Marin Sauvignon Gris 2013 Estero Vineyard from the San Antonio Valley in Chile is a wine region I did not know, and this rare Gris version of the grape is splendid. It was paired with a Tuna Sashimi stuffed with Tuna Tartare an topped with Caviar (I think Osetra, I forgot to ask). The plate was decorated with colorful beets, carrots and celeriac with cardamom oil, a lemongrass aioli and some paper thin miniature sesame wafers. The carrot wasabi mustard was not spicy at all, but the tartare and sashimi was melt in your mouth magnificent; truly one of the best ever.
There was a brown wild rice and bacon crumble for a big crunch, and I was to discover that the crunch element is this chef's signature in each dish!
At this point I noticed the crystal was Spiegelau with a large "G" etched into each bowl, although it did change to Riedel when the reds arrived. My next white wine was another novel varietal, Chasselas Vieilles Vignes 2012 from Schoffit in Alsace was packed with acidity and while Jason said it was full of stone fruit flavors, I smelled the ripe fruit, but on the palate it was more like unripe nectarines. The wine was nice, but probably my least favorite all evening, and I always like a richer wine with lobster, which arrived seconds later. Butter poached Canadian Lobster was over Saffron Couscous with Roasted Mandarin & Blood Orange segments, Heirloom Carrots, Brulee Avocado, a ChimiChurri Puree (which was quite wild and fun), Baby Watercress, Cashew Crumble (for that crunch) and a single Potato Tuille (think elegant home made potato chip) for more crunch. I loved this dish and it easily was one of my top choices all night, but others were all just as good.
My favorite wine of the night arrived next, Kew Old Vine Rielsing 2012 Beamsville Bench from Ontario is a small production (about 500 cases) wine that I wish I could buy to take home. Jordan called it off-dry, but the old vines here are indeed quite dry and filled with awesome fruit in the mouth. An exciting and novel Crab Cake was sandwiched in a seasame-potato-pancake-crepe like construction with Navy Bean-Papaya Relish, Black Olive Tapenade, Brulee Cauliflower which tasted pickled and more of that Singapore Slaw was another favorite of mine and I savored each bite and hence had to ask for more of the awesome Kew Riesling :-).
By 930pm the din of the full room had grown, but not to that loud trendy noisy stage I despise. Rabbit Confit over a potato slice with sunnyside up Quail Egg on top, a Chick Pea Fritter, Passion Fruit Sour Cream, a huge slab of seared Foie Gras (from nearby Quebec) with tiny sliced Kumquats, Sweet Potato Crumble and tasty Matchstick Veggies all over the plate. I love Foie Gras and Quebec has some of the best. This was as simple as the preparation gets, but the kumquats made it really pop. The rabbit was also amazing, like a hash with a fried egg on top.
Torraccia 2011 which is from Corsica offers the Neolucchio grape (another new one for me, akin to Syrah/Grenache) from Christian Imbert et Fils was a full bodied red that paired well with the dish, maybe perhaps even a bit too big.
Next came the "main" course so to speak:a Beef Ribeye with Pecan Sweet Potato Puree, Candied Garlic, Turnip & Apple, Artichoke Hearts, Goat Cheese, Black Olive Relish, a super thin slice of Olive toast (almost wiry) and a small pile of Sauerkraut & Parsley Quenelle in the corner, which was the one thing all night that I really did not care for. I am not a steak person, but this meat was cooked divinely and really showed off the meat to perfection; I almost did not need to chew it! The surrounding embellishments made each bite different and even more fun. There were also micro greens, candied garlic (for crunch?), Mushrooms and Chard. A magnificent 2005 Cannubi Barolo (Terre de Bricio) drank elegantly and at almost 10 years old has cellared well and would make any red lover happy.
Cheese was the 6th course and overall the least exciting of them all. Pacific Rock Pasturized Cow a delicious Canadian Cheese was featured and was a cheddar consistency served with parmesan crisps and bread. Candied Apple Pecan and Persimmon Jam were the accoutrements, but overall the dish needed something else for me. The Belen's Bual 10 year old Madeira was a treat.
1983 Pedro Ximemez PX Gran Reserva Sherry was an intensely rich and sweet sherry which paired with my overly chocolate dessert; true indulgance.
Cocoa Mascarpone Mousse with Mandarin Broth, Orange Streusel, Blood Orange, Gooseberries and Candied Citrus was another superb dish, and remember, I am not a chocoholic. This was a great pairing and a wonderful way to end the evening, YUM YUM. I have only one more night here, but intend to dine around as much as I can!
I'll have to return sooner next time (it's been a decade since my last trip!).


Monday, February 02, 2015

CARAQUENA in Falls Church, VA is a squeeze worth falling for (1-31-15)

We had theater tickets in Falls Church on Saturday and decided to try a new place specializing in Latino cuisine of Venezuela & Columbia.
We arrived for our 6:15pm reservation at CARAQUENA (( which is the term for a native of Caracas).
The tiny place was jammed with over 1/2 a dozen people standing in the doorway hovering over tables nearby where folks were ordering and eating.
There were two women (one taking orders, one at the "bar" as a hostess) and one busboy and the kitchen has to be the size of a small bathroom!
I started to have doubts especially since the locale in a small building on the property of the Stratford Motor Lodge in downtown Falls Church looks about as welcoming as a Motel 5.
The "hostess" said our table would be ready soon, and we began to worry even more as the parties that were nearly finishing were at tables going to those in front of us.
We did sit at 630pm or so and while this was not too long, we worried more as our show started in 90 minutes. We ordered about 10 minutes later, and waited.
It took about 25 minutes for our one appetizer to arrive. I had heard this place was awesome for arepas, and the rumors are true.
We ordered one CARNE MECHADA Arepa which arrived stuffed to the gills with shredded beef and a tasty but not too spicy japaleno salsa on the side.
You could easily make a meal of two arepas, but then the vegetables are sparse as the ingredients tend to be meat, starch or cheese. We should have started with the chicken perhaps, as our main
course was made up of the same meat.
Samuel had ordered the POLLO ALA PLANCHA which is cooked juicy and served with a tasty lemon-caper sauce, which he adores. It had a side of broccoli which he stared and changed the mashed potatoes to fries (in an adorable mini-fryer basket), which were okay, but needed salt. Speaking of salt, it seemed that everything (save the fries) was indeed slightly oversalted, but still tasty. Our main courses arrived just as we finished the arepa, so indeed we made our show with tons of time to spare. So once you are seated and ordered, everything tends to come at once!
Will ordered a Palma Louca Brazilian beer which he liked, but my glass of Lopez de Haro Tempranilla/Crianza was only okay--maybe it was the saltiness of the food that made it taste funny?
Our main courses were a dream: PABELLON COMPLETO con BARANDA is again a pile of the pulled beef with fried plantains, avocado, black beans, queso blanco (very salty white cheese shredded) and rice all topped with a sunny side up fried egg. It's a gem of a dish guaranteed to fill anyone.
Above our table was a framed apron from the chef signed by TV chef Guy Fiero with a "Guy ate here" scrawled on  it dating back to May 2010. So this place has a following.
The one thing I really hated were the fraying colorful woven placemats that were slightly too large to fit two on one table, so that if you jiggled your mat, if forced the other person opposite you to have his food, or worse, the wine glass move!
Not well thought out. They need to be trashed.
Latin salsa music plays quietly and the mood here is upbeat and actually not too noisy (we had a table of 10 or 12 next to us for a birthday) as the place can't even fit two dozen diners!
I'd love to go back on a quieter night to savor the other arepas and the yummy looking margaritas!