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

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 ( 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!