Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Super service at SUR LA PLACE not to mention the cookin' cuisine (4-26-15)

My family often goes to our neighborhood spot SUR LA PLACE on MacArthur Blvd in the Palisades, when I head out of town for the weekend or such, but this past Sunday we went with friends and had a truly memorable and wonderful time as always.
On Sunday-Thursday they also have selected wines by the bottle and glass for 1/2 price so we got an awesome NORTON 2012 Reserva Malbec from Mendoza for just $17.00!! Who can beat that?
Samuel has become enamored of their Creamy Potato & Leek Soup with Crispy Bacon, and who wouldn't love this creamy concoction that oozes with flavor. Will tried the Wild Mushroom Ragout starter which is served with Grilled Garlic Toast and has added flavor as it too includes sautéed leeks. I went light with the Hearts of Palm Salad with Baby Spinach, Asparagus, Sliced Apples and a Citrus Vinaigrette.
For main courses Samuel always orders the Steak Frites and gobbles it up with the tasty Béarnaise Sauce (when served his steak the sauce was missing, and he gave us this look, but it showed up seconds later). Speaking of service it is as friendly as it can get here and our server Tula is always a gem, as is the entire staff. Any request can be made as was with our gluten-free friend who asked for her Mushroom Ragout without the toast and substitutions of Haricots Verts for Wilted Spinach on her tasty Rack of Lamb with Pomme Gratin a Red Wine reduction. Her son chose the Merguez Sausage & Frites as well and while I always want to enjoy their multitude of sausage options, I inadvertently end up ordering Moules/Frites. Sunday I chose the SNOB which is with Celery, Onion, Herbs, Lobster Bisque, Garlic & Brandy. The bisque is not too thick, yet easy to enjoy by the spoonful before, during and after eating the tasty kilo of mussels and crunchy fries. Sur La Place now offers fixed price meals as well with courses running $34 if you choose a meat or fish entrée and $30 if mussels. Will opted for POP-EYE which has the always present base of Celery, Onion & Herbs, here with Spinach, Bacon, Cream & Parmesan Cheese added.
We were all so stuffed that we couldn't even think of dessert, so Tila said that since the price of the fixed price with a starter was cheaper anyway, next time we could all have free desserts or a free glass of wine. What a deal! So now we have to go back sooner than later and I think Will & Sam are headed there when I head out of town next anyway!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

If you head to Philly, make sure you find ABE FISHER's (4-24-15)

If you are a Facebook friend of mine, you will have seen pictures from the other night of the kitchen and several of the dishes I had at ABE FISHER's in Philadelphia.

It is owned by Michael Solomonov, the now-famous Israeli chef of Zahav, but offers a completely different style of modernized "Jewish" cuisine and is run by Chef Yehuda Sichel, who also hails from Israel.

As I arrived, I was asked if I would like to sit at one of the two seats at the kitchen counter which allowed me to see almost all of the final prep that went on before dishes were served and to chat extensively with the servers as the came to the window next to me; it was a ton of fun. I was greeted by General Manager, Eilon Gigi and then met one of my servers, Tehila; I was beginning to think this was an Israeli invasion, but a good one!

The menu consists of three columns called 1, 2, & 3 each with 5 plates and priced at $10 each, $12 each and 414 each respectively in each column. There is an option for a fixed price meal of $39 with a choice of one from each column plus dessert and this is an awesome deal for sure. All the wines are priced at $12/glass or $50/bottle. The décor is dark leather, tile floors and a big busy bar, and my only real complaint was that as the crowd grew, the noise grew. It was like a combo between a hot bar spot and deli.

It was almost impossible to decide which items to choose from each column, but I was so lucky that I kept receiving tastes of the items I did not order. As soon as I had chosen, Sara arrived with a large cigar box in hand and opened it to reveal warm savory rugelach. I chose one of each and while the Caramelized Onion & Fennel Salt was superb, the Pastrami Short Rib with Spicy Mustard & Caraway was a dream come true.

Flaky, warm, tasty and indeed savory, I would have to return just for these.

I ordered a glass of refreshing Grenache/Cinsault Rose 2014 from Elicio in Cotes de ventoux which went with almost everything.

My first plate arrived and was a magnificent Jerusalem Artichoke Caesar Salad with Snow Peas, Radish, Pickled Onions, Pine Nuts & Pecorino Cheese. I was eating Spring and then tasted a small smooth, yet firm, crunchy and sweet fruit that I could not place. Sara said it was Asian Pear, and it was the perfect foil to this dish, although I love the fact that almost every dish here has something pickled on it! Roasted Jersualem Artichoke Chips come with the dish instead of croutons and are a true treat.

My first treat arrived and was a Borsht Tartare which I had been watching be prepared before me multiple times as it is one of the hit dishes on the menu. It is pickled beets with Smoked Trout Roe and a home made Sour Cream-Onion Potato Chip (that I could have eaten a whole bag of) and topped with fresh dill. The ideal dish for someone watching their weight, as was the Artichoke Caesar.

My second treat arrived seconds later in the form of Chopped Liver on Toasted Rye with Pastrami-Onion Jam, Pickled Red Onion and fresh Dill. It is one of the best I have ever had on earth and is of the creamy variety served in a smooth quenelle form which you can shmear on the awesomely buttery crisp thick rye bread. I wished I could take an entire pound (ok, a 1/2 pound) home, but I was headed to the opera and that might not keep.

For my second plate I chose the Matzo Brei just because it came with Smoked Tongue, Fried Egg and (yes, to my surprise) Maple Syrup. When I posted this on facebook, one person mentioned that smoked tongue is so rare (and another suggested he put cigarettes on his tongue....). OK, jokes aside, this dish was phenomenal in that the "brei" was of a kugel consistency in chunk form under the fried egg which I was able to break the yolk on for extra runniness which I adore. The two large pieces of tongue were accompanied by small crunchy pieces akin to bacon bits; I was in love. I might have thought the sweet of the syrup was weird, but NO, it was brilliant, and the fried egg was topped with crunchy thin scallion slices for even more flavor. This seemed to be the only dish I had (as well as dessert) without anything pickled!

Another treat arrived in the form of a one bite Corned Pork Belly Reuben. The folks had asked if I ate pork as they did not want to send out the one non-kosher style meat on the menu (this is not a kosher place for sure, but as I said, Jewish-style modern) and I shook my head "no-way." The bread again was toasted and buttery with pickled green tomato on the side and melted cheese on top. Instead of sauerkraut, this Reuben sported pickled cabbage/health salad with a zippy seasoning that was very different from your average Reuben and especially tasty.

Again, when it came to #3, I was in a conundrum between the duck and veal, so needless to say, they sent out both. The Duck Blintz is heavenly with a thinner than blintz pancake, but thicket than crepe and filles with Duck Confit, smothered in Foie Gras Butter and topped with a tasty tangy Sour Cherry Sauce. No bubbie makes blintzes like this! Although I would venture that Chef Sichel (who by the way will be cooking many of these dishes at James Beard House on June 17), must have someone in his family tree who tried to tweak our Jewish cuisine heritage!

The Veal Schnitzel Tacos are a revelation and I am so glad I chose this as my main course. There are two per plate and each soft shell is filled with a rolled up veal schnitzel that is flash fried before serving giving it a somewhat falafel crunch, yet the meat is so tender, it is soft inside. The team explained they were going for that fish stick taco look....no way, this was an awesome original creation topped with Health Salad or superb (and not bitter) radish shavings and pickled Cabbage with a to die for Anchovy Mayo drizzled on top. If you wanted spice, there were two lemon slices laces with Espalette Pepper for punch, and I didn't even think before squeezing them on. The overall experience was indeed "himlische", "meen ha-Shamayim" or heavenly.

For my main courses I had a glass of superb 2013 Petit Sirah from Peirano Estates in Lodi, California which Sara recommended. Right on the spot.

I had seen every dessert go  by and was completely full by now so I asked for a small plate of the Fluffernutter Crullers which looked like fried sugar-dusted bombolini and were filled right in front of me with creamy peanut butter and the placed on a shmear of Whit Chocolate Cream Cheese Fluff and garnished with poached Rhubard. the dish called for a mini-sprig of chervil, but the prep chef in front of me was not happy with the quality of the herb, so mine had none. No matter, I was so full and satisfied, that sprig would have been the After Six mint of Monty Python.

I can't wait to go back to Abe Fisher's in Philly for more food and fun. Thanks to the entire super staff as well.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Chef Erik Bruner-Yang of Toki Underground and the brand new Maketto makes merry at Food & Friends patron dinner (4-16-15)

Every year we attend a wonderful dinner at the Food &Friends Facility here in Washington which is for major donors, and it always proves to be a very fun evening.
This year it was DC's youngest super-chef Erik Bruner-Yang who has blown DC away with his ramen restaurant Toki Underground ( H St, NE). Last week he opened Maketto which serves
breakfast, lunch and dinner while you shop for clothes; it's a novel take on dining & shopping and might be worth a stop-in to see. Chef Bruner-Yang still came last night, although he departed a bit early after taking questions and walking around the room to greet the diners; he had lots of work to do in his 6-day old restaurant/store.
We chose this night as we wanted to see what he could do outside of the ramen realm, and he explained that the cuisine last night was indeed Cambodian-influenced as his wife is Cambodian and this will also be one of the styles of cooking at Maketto.
On arrival we tasted an awesome Cambodian Sausage in a Cabbage wrap which he later explained was fermented in rice giving it a slightly sour yet spicy tang which made me go for seconds. As Chef Bruner-Yang is from Taiwan, Chinese buns feature largely in his cuisine and we had Leek Buns with a tangy Hoisin sauce as one of our hor's d'oevres. Only the Scallion "Pancake" was a bit boring and because it just needed more flavor. It was not really a pancake but a phyllo-dough pastry like Spinakopita which was buttery, flaky and delicious, but only one bite had enough scallion for me.

The first course was a tasty Red Snapper Crudo(Ph'Lee Uh Sach Trey) with Watermelon Radish, Coconut and a Salt Cured Egg which was quite novel and a bit spongy. Chef later explained it is salt cured for three weeks in tamarind & lime like salmon hence the name 1000-year old egg in China. The Domaine des Cassagnoles Gros Manseng 2013 was the perfect foil to the complex flavors in the dish.
A beautiful, if simple, Khmer Tamarind Salad (Nyoam Teuk Amp-uhl)of greens including lettuce, pea shoots and "Phil's" carrots was next with a tasty tamarind dressing. I loved the in-bloom watercress flowers that were quite large and yellow atop the salad as these were tasty and not bitter as some edible flowers can be. Domaine les Fouques Cotes de Provence Cuvee de l'Aubigue Rose 2013 was a superb crisp wine and ideal for any dressed salad.

American Wagyu (Bao Gua Bao) was our main course and again with beautiful steamed rice buns (which we were told are gluten free) and more of that yummy Hoisin. We made our own bao sandwiches with the lean meat and accompanying pickled veggies. A Marc Kreydenwiess Costieres-de-Nimes Perrieres 2010 was aged enough for sure, but didn't have enough punch in it's light red mix to work well with the intense flavors of the meat, pickles and hoisin.....

Dessert was Banana Cream Pie and I would call it RE-constructed (no deconstructed) with Struesel, Caramel, Pastry Cream and Coconut. Not one plate had a bite left on the table.

Kosher for Passover "style" Dining at Dino's Grotto in DC's Shaw (4-5-15)

Every year we head out on one night of Passover since we try to avoid leaven and enjoy a Passover-style meal at DIno's Grotto in Shaw. This year was truly the best of all Chef Dean Gold's years and the food was impressive. The three of us gobbled up most of the food served family-style, and what was left we took home for later and enjoyed again the next two days!
Trio of Charosets offered up some novel takes on the Seder dish which is used to dip the horseradish in. Here we had one with Dried Fruit, Coconut, Chestnut Paste and Poppy Seed which was sweeter than I am used to, but I enjoyed the tropical tinge. Cooked Dates and raisins was amore Sephardi take and the third was a traditional Apple & Walnut with Spices.
I think the best thing we all adored was the Leek Fritter with Saffron which Samuel really wanted seconds on, but we proceeded to what Chef Gold calls "The Passover Trinity:"
Chopped Chicken Liver which is easily some of the best around town--although Samuel will never touch this :-))
Matzo Ball Soup, which Samuel will always gobble up, and this was a tasty one with light fluffy balls as well.
The Gefilte Fish was a huge hit of the meal for both Will and me as it was made from Salmon, Rockfish & Mahi making it probably the best I have ever had anywhere--no questions asked!

The main course was several items again family style and came served with Sweet Potato Tsimmes and Matzo Farfel with Mushrooms both of which the adults loved.
Fish with Citrus and Ginger came in the form of a delicious Salmon Fillet which Sam ignored that night, but gobbled up at home a night or two later.
Braised Veal Breast was the least impressive of the mains, but on the other hand the Tuscan-Matzo-Fried Chicken with Livorno Leek & Tomato Sauce was spectacular with an amazing juicy fried chicken, crunchy coating which anyone would adore on Passover and superb sauce.
Desserts were a dairy Almond Torte with Nuts, Cinnamon Ice Cream and Caramel Drizzle-YUM as well as Macaroons (I like mine better, sorry!)
We always have fun at Dino's Grotto as the staff is friendly and we get to chat with Chef Gold and his wife who are so warm and loving and caring.
Dino's is great ALL YEAR, don't save it just for Pesach!

DC's AL DENTE anniversary dinner is delicious (4-2-15)(please forgive my lateness)

Hi folks,
The night before Passover we decided to do a carb binge and chose AL DENTE where Chef Roberto Donna was actually holding a 3rd Anniversary Party for the restaurant in our neighborhood.
I am very sorry for the delay on this write-up, but Passover came and then my computer decided to misbehave, so I am quite backed up on this group!
At any rate Samuel looked at the menu and immediately chose the RAVIOLI del PLIN since he adores the butter sage sauce not to mention the meat stuffing and veal jus. They were superb and reminded me of how Chef Donna is truly one of the greatest pasta makers we know.
Before we ordered some anniversary nibbles arrived in the form of a shrimp arancini (fried risotto ball) which we offered to Sam as he loves them, not knowing it was risotto and shrimp. He was not happy as he truly does not like shrimp, at least for the past couple of years. When will this change again?
Prosciutto and parmesan cheese were on a slab of bread as was mozzarella and tomato, but the yummy tastes were the huge meatball with hot sauce and an Italian style mini-frittata.
We ordered a bottle of 2010 Val D'Aosta (Piedmont) called Donna's Nebbiolo which was specifically bottled for Chef Donna from near the French border (hence the label using the French valley's name Valle D'Aoste).
The wine is an awesome blend of 90% Nebbiolo with 5% each of Freisa and Neyret from the Caves Cooperatives de Donnas!
Will and I decided to order two starters to share. The Fried Zucchini Flowers with Ricotta, Lemon and a slight hint of mint were just in season and truly fresh and refreshing, while the Fried Sardines were superb with a Salsa Verde and Arugula topping. The bones lifted right out of each fish for simple bone-free degustation.
Will, knowing that Passover was 24 hours away chose the Pizza Salsiccia e Rapini with tomato sauce, smoked mozzarella, pork sausage, garlic and wonderfully fresh broccoli-rabe. I went traditional with the Veal Saltimbocca topped with Prosciutto and Sage in a rich thick Marsala Wine Sauce with Sautéed Spinach and a Potato Puree Tower.
We were way too full to even think of dessert and went home knowing that it might be a week without bread or pasta, but we had our fine share that night.
Congratulations Chef Donna on three wonderful years almost around the corner; it's good to have you so close!


Thursday, April 02, 2015

COLICCHIO & SONS soars in NYC's Meatpacking District (3-28-15)

Samuel, along with us, has always enjoyed Top Chef on TV, so he asked to go to Tom Colicchio's restaurant in NYC for our last night as we had no theater plans that evening after the awesome matinee of "On the Town." COLICCHIO & SONS is located on the Hudson River just off 14th Street across the street from the way-too-fun Chelsea Market where we spent too much time eating and wandering before being late for our dinner reservation. The hostess was so gracious and kind and we were so embarrassed. We were escorted to a beautiful dark wood table in the super high-ceiling rooms (more noise, alas) with carpeted floors )less noise). Exposed black steel girders divide and support (no, it's not a bra) the room. They have cool lighting which I can't describe and an awesome service team with our main server Morgan. The teams work so well together that everything was truly flawless and perfectly spaced as well.
The menu consists of several sections which Morgan explained were smaller size plates so you could choose more dishes and also share. House filtered sparkling or still is available, which is always welcome and we spoke to Patrick, the sommelier about our love of wines, especially those off the beaten track. He suggested an amazing minerally, dry and creamy Blanc et Morgez et de Salle from Valle d'Aosta in Italy on the French border from Maison Vevey Albert 2013 (hence the French name). The Prie Blanc varietal is one I never heard of but will surely remember for the future; the wine was supreme with all our fish dishes as well. Schott crystal is also nice, but the silly woven mats need to go on the tables.
House made Parker rolls arrived in a huge cast iron pan steaming hot with sea salt on top which we all gobbled up way too fast.
First came Hearts of PALM with Blood Orange & Sheep's Milk Yogurt with Brussels Sprouts Chips for Will. The dish had the hearts steamed on the thicker portions, so it was actually prepared two different ways.
Samuel started with the Broccoli-Rabe Ravioli which are charred and served in a broth with Lemon & Pepperoncini (actually Pequillo peppers) which he liked but said the broth was a bit unexciting. He went on to the Beef Tartare with Apple Jicama, Smoked Mayo and a kick from Aleppo Chiles, which disappeared prontissimo.
My first dish was the Marinated Himachi with Citrus, Celery, Pistachio & Watercress which I adored due to its simplicity but flavor as well; the pistachio crumble and dust was  very nice touch.
Will & I then split the Squid Ink Campanelle with Whipped Lardo & Egg which Morgan explained was awesome, but rich. It was wise to split this dish indeed and we were in love with every bite. Even the crunchy breadcrumbs on top were an asset to the perfect pasta preparation.
We were thrilled and surprised to receive a complimentary extra course for ALL of us in the form of the divine Celery Saffron Butter Poached Lobster with Candied Fennel and Fingerling Potato Chips which even Sam ate this reluctantly at first on the dare that he would get an extra APP for his phone. Well, he declared after that I can now cook lobster at home and he will eat it. Score one for the dads. The dish was awesome and truly a revelation.
For our "main" course, which is a misnomer as the dishes are all the same size Will chose the Charred Octopus with Citrus, Caramelized Endive & Chorizo Vinaigrette which I can only say was beyond compare as the octopus was so tender; like "buttah." The same goes for my Dry-Aged Sirloin with Asparagus, Black Garlic and Soy Bordelaise. I normally avoid steaks, but Morgan steered me to this super tender way more than flavorful meat that was indeed like "buttah." The garlic sauce helped a lot too:-)).
While Will finished the white wine, I ordered a glass of Artai 2009 "Closa Batllet" from Priorat in Catalunya, Spain which was an awesome chewy spicy red that paired excellently with the garlic and sirloin thanks to Patrick.
I was leaning towards cheese before the dessert menu came, but fell in love when my awesome platter arrived. There were three separate preparations (you can do one or three) each one a treat in itself:
SPENDIN' CHEESE was a Tickler (cow) from Devon with Mango Chutney in the form of a BLT on a biscuit with fried Prosciutto, avocado, roasted tomato and egg yolk. I could eat this BLT any day for lunch, or dinner or breakfast!
LET THEM EAT CHEESE was a Stilton Colston-Bassett from Nottinghamshire with a Vanilla Torte, Sweet Port/Lavender Sorbet(ice) and egg yolk as well as crumble. Again, sheer genius at work thinking these ideas up.
DON'T MIND IF I CHOUX (which is a play on the French pastry pate a choux, as opposed to the cabbage) and has Pyrenees Brebis (sheep) from Aquitaine with Cream filled Gougeres (puffs), Apple-Cherry Chutney, Fried Sage and Spiced Honey.
I honestly could not pick a favorite.

Samuel chose the Chocolate Hazelnut Tart with Port, Blood Orange and Cookies N' Cream Ice Cream. It was gone before I could even taste a bite.
Will has the yummy Coconut Cream Doughnuts with macadamia Nuts, Pomegranate-Ginger jam & Grilled Pineapple Sorbet.
Bravos to Pastry Chef Stephen Collucci, not to mention Chef de Cuisine Chris Lavey and the entire team here for a truly awesome last supper in NYC!

Midtown Manhattan's (NYC) PERA will perk up your taste buds at brunch (3-28-15)

While in NYC last weekend we met my niece for brunch and I chose PERA, a wonderful mid-town Turkish eatery that has a superb brunch deal with main course/brunch drink and coffee or tea for $21.00!
Yummy seeded rolls arrived with FETA Butter which we gobbled up and my niece was in the mood for Hummus which is served warm with LAMB Bacon and lots of tasty lavash flatbread crisps. The hummus was superb, but the bacon was skimpy and fatty; frankly our kosher vendors Hillel & Chaim who make Lambaaacon and sell it at the Bethesda Farmer's market every Sunday do a far superior job!
I had the SUMAC Bloody Mary which was tasty and had a super kick, but since Will is highly allergic to sumac, he had a delish Blood Orange Margarita.
My niece ordered the Pera-Style French Toast which looked awesome and came with Pistachio Jam, Feta Cheese & brandied Strawberries.
Samuel had the Chicken Brochette which was fire-roasted "tender marinated breast" with Garnish Salad (tomato) and lavash. He also insisted on the Mediterranean Fries which were seasoned so well, ketchup was not needed.
Will went for the kofte Slider of Grass-fed beef, "isot biber" mayo, more lamb bacon, Brussels Sprouts slaw and a side of those yummy fries.
Our server Kelly doubled as the bartender and seemed to be running the whole place which was cozy and warm on a cold day, but quite empty as it is at 42nd St & Madison Avenue which is quite quiet on a weekend.
He was very helpful and guided me to the Crock Baked Eggs which came in a huge cast iron pan and had a flan-like tortilla on the bottom, baked eggs all gooey and runny and mixed with Soujouk (sausage), Pastirma (a kind of crispy pastrami), fresh tomatoes and Kasseri cheese. It was one of the best brunch dishes ever.