Friday, December 30, 2016

La Purisima in Quito cooks up Ecuadorian cuisine that dates back centuries (12-28-16)

First of all, best wishes to all for a Feliz Ano Nuevo, a most healthy & Happy New year!
Another night in Quito brought us to the old town restaurant La Purisima in the colonial Teatro Bolivar. It has less than a dozen tables and is very simple and the tables are wood. but what's worse is the chairs are very hard wood. Glass walls look out onto the pedestrian mall and give you a chance to see everything that's going on outside.
My stomach was in bad shape but I'm still going to report on what everybody else had.
Will ordered a Paico Sour, which is a Ecuadorian version of the Pisco Sour with a different type of liquor but sweeter,  so I'll avoid those. The one appetizer of goat stew empanadas which both Sam and  Will wanted to order was unfortunately not available.
There were not a lot of other items that seemed exciting and many of them were seafood so Sam wouldn't have those, so the guys just decided to order mean courses when we saw how large they were as well. 
Adorable warm black and white corn tortillas arrived with spicy tomate de arbol salsa (that awesome tree tomato I have come to adore) sauce and I managed to eat one of them and they were delicious, of course without the hot sauce.
Will chose the oven roasted Pork Brisket  which was cook for 6 hours in Ecuadorian spices and beer and came with garlic and ginger fried rice which he declared to be an absolute winner.
Samuel chose what was called a sirloin tenderloin in Creole sauce which was a scallion and tomato sauce which he loved,  but unfortunately it arrived extremely rare and had to be sent back for a recook. It returned cooked to a perfect temperature and everybody was happy except for me because I couldn't eat anything. Each main course said that it came with a "salad to share," which in reality was a vegetable and that night it was a sauteed squash with spices, which will like very much but Samuel would not try even though he adores squash especially with spices. Will also declared the Club beer local to Ecuador an excellent choice.
Since they were no appetizers it seems logical to choose dessert and are very sweet waiter offered up his suggestion and both of my co dinner guests chose the Good Thursday Black Tart which apparently is an Ecuadorian delicacy with a recipe going back 400 years and made from some 25 ingredients. Will described it as a combination of fruit cake, Rum Baba and dulce di leche.
I'm glad I got out and got some fresh air as we walked to the restaurant, a mere 8 or 9 minutes from our hotel, but I was sorry not to be enjoying all these wonderful new tastes with my family.

La Gloria in Quito, Ecuador offers up Peruvian-Ecuadorian cuisine in a calm setting (12-27-16)

Our second night was also in the new city and took us to an empty La Gloria when we arrived at 7pm. They had two menus in English, but we soon discovered they had to be printed ages before as most the items were not on the Spanish menu, but between Sam's Spanish and my food knowledge we got thru it. The excellent Pisco sours helped. I headed to the small wine room as they let you choose your bottle from small cabinets marked with the prices, like a store, rather than from a menu. I chose a Santa Carolina Sauvignon Blanc Riserva 2016 from Argentina that was excellent with all our seafood.
Will started with a Peruvian Ceviche of fish with sweet potato and those yummy huge corn kernels. I had an amazing Shredded Hearts of Palm, Smoked Salmon & Goat Cheese salad dotted with awesome local tomate de arbol or tree tomatos with a passion-fruit vinaigrette which was huge(check it out on FB) as were all the salads. Samuel had a Caprese salad with two monster mounds of fior de latte mozzarella that looked like two giant white boobies(we head to the Galapagos soon).
Sam's main course was a nice penne with prosciutto and parmesan, while Will had a gorgeous Corvina (sea bass) over a lentil cake (called tacu-tacu), caramelized onions and basil.
My Loin of Tuna was covered with black and white sesame and in a Thai reduction with mandarin and lime.
There was no way we could eat dessert, so we headed back to the old city and our gorgeous hotel and bed.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Quito's ZAZU zooms to the top in modern Ecuadorian cuisine (12-26-16)

Our first dinner in Quito was at the famous Relais & Chateaux restaurant called Zazu located in the new part of the city so it was about a 20-minute taxi right away which is a steal at $6. We entered into the huge restaurant with many different rooms and we were taken immediately to our table which was located next to a huge group of Americans from New York that we had just met at the hotel 30 minutes earlier. Unfortunately they generated way too much noise for the next several hours and the restaurant was generally noisy the entire time and the music behind all the noise didn't help.  We were given some menus in Spanish and one in English and some bread was put down with some butter and the plates that were very beautiful were whisked away but then nobody came to the table for quite some time and we had no clue what was going on.
They seem to be severely overtaxed and very limited with staff and everyone was running around like crazy as huge groups entered into the restaurant to be seated.
Ultimately our server arrived and things quieted down at least as far as the service was concerned.  We ordered our food and wine and settled down for what turned out to be a truly memorable meal.

I was kind of surprised that no amuse arrived as this is considered the most elegant restaurant in the entire country but that was not a problem is everything that followed was truly delicious. Our first wine was a Catena Zapata Chardonnay 2015 from Mendoza that arrived at the table virtually frozen and we had to warm it up and then we tasted the wonderful acidity and gooseberries. We also ordered a red: the Montes Alpha M 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot and petit verdot blend from Santa Cruz Chile which had nice tannins, intense plum flavor and really a huge body and amazing legs.
 Samuel chose to order a la carte and started with the Wagyu beef tartar fillet with capers and blue cheese foam (really a softish medium local blue cheese). He loved the beef but he's not a fan of blue cheese and tried to get it as far away from the meet as possible. He opened up one of the small brioche rolls and a raw quail egg came out onto his meat exploding with flavor which he eventually decided was ok.
His main course was a shiitake crusted filet mignon with Parmesan quinoa cakes which he loved except he shoved aside each and every one of the mushrooms.
Will chose the five course tasting menu which started with a wonderful dish called Andean grains and vegetables consisting of those large lupin beans which are more like large corn kernels with hearts of palm, tiny crispy quinoa and a slightly spicy yellow pepper sauce with cilantro. As a reminder most of these dishes can be seen on my Facebook page. 
His next course was  octopus with corn puree, chimichurri and native potatoes which was a 4 out of 5 star dish and the only downside on his 5 course menu.
His third course we're suckling pig taquitos which she said were okay but a bit lukewarm; they were pork confit  with guacamole and gruyere cheese and were topped with a Chipotle aioli.
His main course with a seafood tamale made from prawn, squid, mussels, clams and a spicy seafood sauce with maize.
His dessert with simply called chocolate and had three different kinds of chocolates in different forms: ganache cuite 78%, babarois 40% and mousse 62%.
I have to say I think I fared much better with the seven course menu and should mention that it only costs $50 for the five-course menu and $70 for the seven-course menu.
 My first course was a Ceviche of black clam with lemon and a craft beer foam on top with a little teeny plantain fried on the side to clear your palate afterwards.  AWESOME.
Next came the same Andean grains and vegetable course which I was in heaven over and gave more than 5 stars.
My down course was the stone crab without a cutter green apple pesto and a crab salad with 6 pieces of caviar.
Cazuela was a huge single prawn with banana and peanut "salprieta" with maize and shrimp-plantain pot-au-feu, which was a homerun.
This was followed by a dish that most people probably would think is really disgusting, but I was very excited to try as it is considered a delicacy in the north of the Andes in Ecuador. The empanada was filled with guinea pig confit, maize and aji chicha reduction of corn.
Be sure to take a look at this amazingly presented dish on FB with a gorgeous crispy tortilla with the confit and the reduction on top that was simply fabulous and everyone at the table tasted it and agreed.
 My main course was a pork cheek with barley, potato llapingacho and jus with organic salad.
 The meat was gorgeous and crispy skinned, perfectly cooked and a 5star dish well-deserved.
 Dessert for both Samuel and me was an amazing presentation of Helado de Paila,  a traditional local ice cream made a table side here with blackberries and strawberries and of course liquid nitrogen to create the ice cream with hazelnut crumble and meringue.
There is a video of this on Facebook which you can't miss.
Chef Oscar Camacho came out to greet us and we were thrilled to tell him that almost everything was amazing and he welcomed our commentson the dishes that were not such big hits. Kudos to.our server Elvis even though we had some language difficulties it was a truly memorable experience.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Arlington's BUSBOYS & POETS might be better if you get to know it (12-9-16)

For years we have been unable to get a table at the Shirlington BUSBOYS & POETS as they do not take reservations and are always jammed when we head over to the thetare. Last night, we had not planned to be there for dinner, but arrived at 630pm and the place was virtually full with one empty table which we grabbed (I say we as I had Samuel and a school friend of his in tow).
Our super friendly and helpful server Jakobe arrived and announced that lots of the drinks were on happy hour specials, but all of them sounded so sweet, and since I am not a beer lover, I chose a glass of the Sycamore Lane Chardonnay (also on discount) which was quite nice, especially for $5!
We ordered the Mezze plate and Lamb Sliders to share as a starter and these were also on happy hour discount; what a deal! Three huge lamb sliders were tasty, although I left half my bun (sliders always have too much bread). The Mezze (see FB) was beautifully presented with pita triangle on each option:Baba Ghanoush, Tabbouleh & Hummus. They were all tasty and while Sam would have none of it his friend discovered Tabbouleh and fell in love.
Both of the teens ordered a plain Tomato & Mozzarella Pizza which was okay, but I don't think pizza is their forte here. I chose the Turkey Burger in my effort to shed some pounds and it was a huge one, but super tasty made with shallots and mushrooms and a yummy chipotle mayo. I could have lived without the adorable sweet pickle pinned to the top of the bun with a toothpick, and indeed I disposed of the bottom half of the bun to allow only 1/2 the carbs and more of the flavor of the mayo. I had several sides to choose from and ordered the yummy tabbouleh, but had not realized it also came with the mezze; well, it was healthy and tasty. Another glass of $5 Sycamore Lane wine was Cabernet and not as good as it sister Chard.
I would love to go back and try more things, but who knows if we shall ever be able to manage that again as you simply can't PLAN to go there without a reservation; Catch 22!

Just a small note that this is my final review of our area this month before we head to Ecuador in 12 days for winter vacation!

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

DC's TABERNA del ALABARDERO offers awesome and awful in one meal (12-5-16)

I searched through my over 1000 postings on my blog (www.phyllistines.blogspot) where there is (by the way) a great search engine for those of you looking for dining spots (just type in the city or country name!), and found I had not posted on Taberna Del Alabardero ( in a decade. I know for a fact that Will & I visited there some 3 or 4 years ago and had an unmemorable paella, so we hesitated to return for some time. We had purchased two tasting dinners for two people at various auctions, so it was time to redeem them last night with some friends. When making the reservations last month, I realized that the manager, PR person, chef and virtually the entire team there had been replaced in the last year, which gave me some worry as we knew not a soul on arrival.
I had to explain that we had two certificates for two each but ultimately they figured it out and we ordered a superb bottle of Vina Otano Barrel Fermented 2014 white blend of Viura & Tempranillo Blanco that was a bit too cold on arrival and needed some caressing in the glass to bring up to a non-super-chilled temp. The flavors came out when our first course of Gazpacho Andaluz arrived in a martini glass. It was creamy and rich and full of flavors, but perhaps I would have preferred something warmer on what was easily one of the coldest nights so far this season. Next came an superb (FB foto) Shrimp Carpaccio with Avocado & Black Pepper Dressing, which was superb, but needed a lot more fresh black pepper on it which did arrive to satisfy our taste buds. The shrimp was cut thin in a large square and the a scoop of avocado crema was at the center; excellent once the pepper came.
We switched to red quickly and chose an amazing bottle of 2005 La Rioja Alta 904 Gran Reserva, a blend of Tempranillo & Graciano, with the aid of super-sommelier Jorge, who declared it one of his favorites on the list. It drank beautifully on its own, smooth and silky and full of flavors, but not overpowering, and paired deliciously with the Grilled Red Snapper with grapefruit Veloute and Pickled Vegetables. Some thought the pickled string beans an odd accompaniment, but I loved the flavor burst and crunch.
Our final wine was an even bigger red suggested by Jorge and he hit the jackpot with a 2002 Paixar made of the Mencia varietal from the Bierzo region to the northwest of the country's center. The table had various taste notes including prunes, treacle and raisins, and its hugeness required some food. Alas the main course of Cochinillo or Roast Suckling Pig cooked for 12 hours and served confit with Sweet Potato Puree was a huge disappointment in that it was not only fatty, but some parts were truly inedible. It tasted like a crunchy pork wrapped in a fatty lardon, so it had some good parts, but overall we skipped the fatty parts. The staff noticed we were unhappy and offered to bring something else, but we had eaten enough and settled for dessert. Originally they said we would all get Rice Pudding, but I suggested we each be allowed to choose, due to the previous course; no problem. Will stayed with the rice pudding and it was unexciting. Crema Catalana was a rich creme brulee with intense rich custard and the crunchiest of brulees. Cheesecake was a revelation made with a blue intense goat cheese and manchego that brought cheesecake to a new level.
Delicious cookies arrived(FB foto) of a crunchy chocolate rice crispy on shortbread and were thoroughly enjoyed along with glasses of complimentary NOE Vinum Optimum Rare Signature Pedro Ximenez 30 years aged sweet sherry that was very welcome after the cochinilla incident.
We left full, but hoping that the one bad course had not happened. It was an enjoyable evening for sure and save for the one bad course, totally delicious as well.

Friday, December 02, 2016

DC Food & Beverage Collective does delicious dinner at MANDU with Chef Danny Lee (11-30-16)

Earlier this year the local chapter of AIWF broke off and created our own local charity to support various food and educational projects in DC. This was my first event with the DC Food & Beverage Collective ( and it was swimmingly wonderful. Membership is inexpensive and the benefits are great, so consider that. I also asked Samuel if he would like to join me for his first "event tasting dinner" in DC and as soon as he saw the menu laden with dumplings he was in!

Mandu now has two locations in DC ( at Dupont Circle and now at K St, NW in the NoMa Disctrict. You may recall that Tuesday was the day of horrid rain around rush hour at 615pm, so it took us almost an hour to get there, because (rant) DC drivers suck in anything other than perfect conditions. Once there, the rain let loose and we were forced to find a lot and due to a basketball game at Verizon, the lots all charged $20! I felt jipped, a bit damp and was getting sore on arrival, so I ordered an Aloe Sojoutini made from Korean rice wine (akin to sake) and aloe. It was refreshing, relaxing, delicious and not sweet, and during Happy Hour they are $4.00!!!

The group was seated in the upstairs private dining room at two long wooden tables and it was a bit noisy from the crowds down below filtering up to us, but we all had a super time.
Chef Danny Lee came out to describe each dish and take questions and we were all transported for several hours to Korea! As always, many of the photos of the meal are on FB.

First Course:
Mandu (shrimp, veggie, and beef & pork dumplings)--Samuel adores these, but I still couldn't get him to try the shrimp!! The veggie was superb indeed.
Hobak Jeon (egg battered and pan fried zucchini)-a simple dish dipped in a soy-sesame sauce like the dumplings
Pa Jeon (mini seafood & green onion pancakes)-Think treyfe latkes that are delicious...getting ready for Hannuka!
Korean Fried Chicken-Double-freid wings in a spicy soy glaze that was totally irresistible, which is awesome from me since I am not a wing man, but the spicy sauce was indeed magnificent.
These were paired with Mandu Soju - soju infused in house with cloves and pomegranate, the Korean rice wine used for the Sojutinis as well, and while the clove essence and flavor was prominent, the wine was excellent and with some of the spice, a brilliant pairing.

Second Course:
Chap Chae (stir-fried clear sweet potato noodles with mixed veggies)--these were clear noodles like the Asian rice version, but made with sweet potatoes instead for a truly novel taste
Yujacha Korean Salad w/Citron Vinaigrette, Orange Segments, Toasted Pine Nuts and crunchy Toasted Rice(think mini krispies)
La Crele Sancerre 2014, France was our Sauvignon Blanc that was probably the most citrus intense SB I have ever had from France and worked awesomely with the citrus vinaigrette.

Third Course:
Bulgogi (sweet soy marinated slices of grilled ribeye)
Dak Gui (spice marinated slices of grilled chicken breast)
Yache Gui (seasoned and grilled mixed veggies and tofu) including black beans, broccoli and sweet potatoes with sides of pickled cucumbers and superb kimchi for dipping.
Dduk Bok Gi (long rice cakes simmered in Gochujang broth made from Korean chili paste)-These were the most fascinating dish made from pressed rice into long cylindrical cakes which were served in the most excellent of spicy sauces. I am in love with gochujang and could eat it on everything!!
Steamed rice was prominent for all the dishes to be served with as well as lettuce wraps generally for the Bulgogi to be wrapped in, but the leaf size was a bit too small to really fill up with much!
Les Vignobles Gueissard Bandol 2012 from France was a beautiful intense red that went well with all the various intense spices.

Assortment of Mochi Ice Cream(chocolate chip) with Sweetened Red Beans
Makkoli - Korean unfiltered rice wine was the funkiest wine I have had in years and honestly not to my liking.

We all had a ball and loved the novelty of the food, even though many of us had been to Mandu before and enjoyed many of these varied flavors and dishes.
If I had to change one thing, it would be the very hard uncomfortable wooden chairs that my sorry tuchus was truly ready to leave after 3 hours! Oh and maybe the funky Makkoli!

Kudos also to our team of servers, but especially Jun, who had every drink served in minutes and every need filled from extra kimchi to more wine before we could even ask!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Cosme comes out top on with creative Mexican cuisine in NYC(11-25-16)

Cosme opened in NYC ( at  35 E. 21st St. about 2 years ago under the name of the  great Mexican chef Enrique Olvera. It's been virtually impossible to get a reservation there for quite some time but when we decided to spend our Thanksgiving Friday night at the nearby Edition Hotel on Madison Square I made it my business to get a reservation for the three of us on Friday night.

When we arrived at 6:30 the place was already leaving and we were not too fond of the sustained droning bass noise for what they seem to call  music. Over the evening the music did improve and I didn't feel like I needed to leave faster due to the unbearable drone.
While  the place is noisy the decor is simple and they have wooden tables with exposed floors making for even more noise. There  is some modern Mexican art on the wall that wouldn't be worth taking home but what they did have surrounding the entire room were  small humidifiers really making a very nice difference on an extremely dry cold New York night.
Server Victor could not have been more courteous giving us as much time to peruse the trysting drink menu as well as the fairly small food menu which consisted of no more than 20 items. Will ordered a plain Margarita while I ordered a Striptease which was Vida Mezcal with Dolan vermouth Blanc guanabana and lime as well as the most awesome absinthe salt surrounding half of the glass. It was quite strong but really delicious.
I chose the Huarache which was a large tortilla fairly thick filled with surf clams and marcona almonds as well as a lime kosho salsa verde on the side..superb.
Will started with the Burrata which was made with epazote garlic mojo and Market greens.
Samuel chose to go right to the main course of short ribs scallions Cipollini onions and avocado and of course all of the main courses that were meant to be wrapped in tortillas had the most delicious freshly baked tortillas brought right to the table from the kitchen.
Will and I decided to split the main course of their signature dish called duck carnitas with onions radishes and cilantro. The dish is cooked for over 8 hours and the duck is deconstructed and then reassembled to bring to the table so that it looks like a duck but has no bones in it with all the crispy skin layered on the top. You must see my Facebook page to totally understand this. These came with fresh limes which made the dish so much better as well of course as the tortillas and two sauces one was a tomatillo chili and a spicier Serrano and Chile de Arbol. 
At $72 it is a huge dish and Samuel help us finish it off luckily because it really is meant for 3 or 4 people at minimum, but we were truly glad we decided to order it.
We have always enjoyed our Mexican wines each time we go South of the border and sadly there are virtually none imported into the United States. The  chef has chosen here to import his own wine called Tinto de la Casa which comes from Vina Cava in Guadalupe of the Baja Peninsula and  it is a chocolate intense 2012 blend of Tempranillo, Syrah, Mourvedre and Grenache that makes you proud of any Mexican wine with a huge burst of flavor in every sip. 
Will ordered a delicious warm apple crumble tart with ginger cacti and mezcal vanilla ice cream that was out of this world and then some delicious fruit gelees arrived at the table which were made from Tamarind and dusted with a Chile de Arbol sugar.
So maybe it's a bit noisy and maybe it took us a while to get used to the music but the food experience here was definitely worth it.

Friday, November 25, 2016

NYC's Ai Fiori comes out in front forever (11-23-16)

 It has become somewhat of a tradition for us to head to New York early Wednesday morning the day before Thanksgiving catch a matinee on Broadway and then head to the quiet and serene Ain
 Fiori in the Langham Hotel where Chef Michael White, one of the great chefs in New York has one of his wonderful Italian dining palaces.
 We always arrive early and the place was deserted as we sat down, but the place with filled up to about half capacity by the time we left 3 hours later. It tends to be a very quiet night for dining in New York and we really love the quiet relaxed and very high end feeling of refinement with beautiful linens and crystal and excellent service from top to bottom.

In our attempts to buy Sicilian and taste as much as we can before we go next summer we ordered a bottle of 2014 Tenuta di Fessina Etna Bianco "Erse" which had an apple and earthiness flavor that we loved.
Slim crisp grissini arrived in a glass filled with extra virgin olive oil and basil leaves and we spent some time perusing the menu.
The four course 99 dollar menu which is in a la carte choice from each category really gives you a lot of leeway and we each chose our dishes and sat back for a ride as an amuse of parsnip puree with pistachio crumble and oranges gelee arrived. The puree was excellent but  the crumble was a bit soggy and perhaps should have been put on only at the last minute before the amuse was served.
The first courses were as varied as they come with Sam ordering a Zuppa di Porri or leek and Yukon Gold potatoes soup with creme fraiche  and crispy prosciutto.   Will  opted for the Polipo alla Piastra which was octopus with sweet potato caponata, brown butter and pine nuts. My Riccio de Mare was a decadent sea urchin  panna cotta with lemon gel, creme fraiche  and caviar that absolutely was gorgeous with its tiny radishes and cucumbers curled up on top and decorating the beautiful plate. Be sure to look on Facebook for a lot of photos.
I do have to add that when I put the photo on Facebook and tried to read in the name of the dish on my phone it understood me as "search in Punta Cana" instead of sea urchin panna cotta!!
The pasta courses are probably the highlights of the meal here, and this meal was no less than any other normal one.  Samuel chose the Risotto Acquarello with brown squash, cranberry beans and Tallegio cheese. Will managed to hit the richest dish in this course with Marubin or Duck  Ravioli with foie gras butter and cherry gastrique. 
I find the pastas that have a little spice here to be the best and the Trofie Nero was amazing squid ink pasta with Ligurean crustacean ragu with seppia, scallops and spiced  Mollica or bread crumbs on top. 
We moved on to a different bottle of white wine which was very different in an earthy oaky way as it came from the Liguria it was called  Riviera Ligurie di Ponente Pigato 2013 by Laura Aschero.
 I forgot to mention that everything comes with olive oil and salted butter and I'm talking about the amazing breads such as olive baguette, rye,  pecan raisin roll, and whole wheat.  We tried  to refrain but it is virtually impossible.
Needless to say Sam had the Tagliata or prime dry aged strip loin which came with endive, potato terrine style "cacio e pepe" and bordelaise sauce.
Will  chose the Spada or extra virgin olive oil poached swordfish which came with artichokes, basil pesto and prosciutto. He declared the the dish tasty but that the fish itself was a bit on the soft side.
 I was thrilled with my Astice or butter poached Nova Scotia Lobster with delicata squash some petite onions and black trumpet mushrooms.
Sam went light for desert with Pear, Berry and Mango Passion sorbets.  Will had  the toTorta di nociole or milk chocolate mousse with hazelnut sponge, caramel and hazelnut gelato which disappeared fast, well I chose a plate of three cheeses and they were all top notch excellent:
Valencay, a soft ash rind French goat
Pleasant Ridge Reserve,  superb from raw cow from  Dodgeville Wisconsin
And Rouquefort d'Argental a raw sheep blue from Midi-Pytenees that was stinky and heavenly.
Speaking of heavenly we rolled out the door and headed home after an amazing first day of our Thanksgiving trip to New York.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Celebrating at CENTROLINA is always amazing! (11-13-16)

Last night, ten of us headed to the private dining room at CENTROLINA ( at DC's CityPlace for a celebration of our recent anniversary as well as our dear friends' Mel & Juan (they have been together an amazing 41 years!).
Chef Amy Brandwien and her team headed by server, Vidal and sommelieuse Kristen, made every bite a memorable experience for the close to four hours we enjoyed there.
Many of the dishes can be viewed on my FB page as always, although I must apologize that we all gobbled up the dessert before I thought to take a photo!
Our evening began with a toast using Ca' del Bosco Sparkling Rose and our "line" for the evening became, "Every one deserves a break this week...." not even considering a hint towards the fast food chain!
We became truly amused and intrigued by our Amuse of a Grilled Virginia Oyster with Nduja Sausage ragu that tickled our palates and make us beg for more. This was followed by Tonnino or cubes of top sushi grade yellowfin tuna, with lemon crema, roasted beets, fried sunchoke crisps and micro greens. We never did discover if the small soft onion-like ingredient was pickled shallot or ?? The larger tuna pieces mimicked the smaller beet pieces and you had to guess which was which.

We moved on to a Soave-Bertani 2012 and I can't recall when I last had this wine I was weaned on in my teenage years. It's a fascinating wine where 1/2 of the grapes are left on the vine to dry and then belended for a wonderful dry white loaded with so many flavors. Gorgeous sea scallops arrived on top of a disc of lentils and beet greens surrounded by carrot puree, lemon jus and micro greens. The scallops were seared to perfection and not salty at all, the lentil mix was a superb foil and made me want to try this at home as we saute beet greens a lot, but I never though of the lentil mix!

Our next wine was yet another revelation from Giulia Negri, 2013 Langhe Chardonnay "La Tartufaia" and even moreso I was intrigued as one never hears about women winemakers in Italy! She grows the grapes near truffle fields, hence the name, but this chardonnay is loaded with not only truffle essence but tons of minerality and earthiness. It was paired with what may be the most imaginative vegetarian dish I have ever had: Corn polenta topped with miniature Shitake Faux "Meatballs" laced with basil oil, micro greens and parmesan. Vidal explained that the "meatballs" are created from oven-roasted veggies and shitakes and then lightly fried. What a treat!

Giovanni Rosso 2008 La Serra is still a young Barolo, but was indeed smooth and beautiful to drink, but while the wine shone, the 5th course was perhaps everyone's top choice for the night: Potato Gnocchi with Truffle Butter Sauce & Parmesan that was so rich we were all squirming with delight in our seats, even from just the amazing white truffle aroma as the dish was placed before us! It made me want to make a reservation for a white truffle dinner soon; if I only had the time!

G.D. Vajra 2012 'Bricco delle Viole" Barolo is even younger, but an interestingly light Barolo but was superb with out Spinach Pappardelle with Veal Ragu, Peas, Genovese White Sauce and parmesan, another divine dish for vegetarians of which there are indeed so many at Centrolina.

Gorgeous pieces are seared very rare tuna arrived with an Eggplant Involtini stuffed with Fennel Sausage and served over a dash of Greek yogurt with intense Calabrese chilis that I can't recall ever being so spicy. Chef Amy has indeed used spice over the years and to great benefit as many of reminisced about her SPAGHETTI alla CHITARA from her previous home Casa Nonna which was superbly loaded with cauliflower and chilis! Franchetti 2011 from the slopes of Mt Etna in Sicily was an amazing treat and I would never have believed it was a majority of Petit Verdot  which was huge in the mouth with an herby berry taste that had us raving. This is a winery we shall surely visit next July when in Sicily!

Next came a superb Shenandoah Dry Age Ribeye with Broccoli-Rabe and Cannelini Beans, simply grilled and full of flavor. When Kristen dared me to guess the wine (hinting it was American), I said right of the bat, "I hope its not RdV," and of course, it was the 2011 Lost Mountain from RdV in Virginia, which she had decanted for three hours and was drinking magnificently; so now I know the secret to enjoying this wine I have poo-pooed a lot because of its huge price tag and need for long aging. Lesson learned.

When attending the James Bared dinner in DC last month Centrolina's brilliant Pastry Chef Amanda Cook-Pilkerton I had her brilliant Baba Cake and begged her then and again a week prior at March of Dimes to do a riff on this brilliant pastry, The Baba was poached with Hard Cider and served with Raspberry Puree, Apples & Whipped Cream. We all gobbled it up so fast, despite being so full! The piece de resistance was the accompanying Foggy Ridge Virginia Fortified Cider made from Pippin Black Apples that won me at the first sip. I have never been a hard cider fan, but this was truly delicious, sweet and full of flavor and an insane pairing that made so much sense!

Needless to say, we were all satisfied, full and thrilled at what many declared the best meal ever. Bravi to the entire Centrolina team, and especially Chef Amy Brandwien who generously donated this awesome dinner to March of Dimes Signature Chefs last year!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

James Beard Foundation flies Florence to NY for dinner with The Medici Table (10-29-16)

I invited two dear friends/clients to dinner last night at James Beard House for a truly unique experience as the Beard Foundation flew in a team from Florence University of the Arts's TuttoTuscana team to promote local foods and more. They were assisted by many students from both Italy and the culinary schools in NY that team up with this University in Italy. This exchange has been going on for 12 years with the foundation!

I came right from the Met Opera where the matinee was cut short by a white powder scare and I happened to be seated in seat L2 which was right in back of seat K4 which had a plaque that is was donated by James A Beard!

We arrived and walked through the small kitchen which was more cramped than I have ever seen it with dozens of chefs (FB foto) and trays laden with the hor's d'oevres:

Tuscan Carabaccia soup with red onion, cinnamon and almonds was a revelation in a shot glass

Deep fried Cresepelle Nests with Parmegiano Reggiano were sugar dusted as well and a bit too sweet for my palate at the start of a meal.

White bean and pecorino frittata were superb and flavorful

Ricotta stuffed with smoked leeks and dehydrated Prosciutto was a truly decadent and rich cream-like soup with luscious leeks and a crunch from the prosciutto chip.

The novel Cinque e Cinque with Shrimp tartare comes from a Tuscan tradition of "5&5" meaning that the street food from Livorno on the coast was made from 5 lire worth of chickpea and 5 lira worth of schiacciata bread, here topped with shrimp tartare and these tiny treats were indeed irresistible!

Two wines were poured with these:

an unexciting but nice Vermentino di Sardegna DOC 2015 from Olianas and a superb

Macari Vineyards 2015 Sauvignon Blanc from Long Island's North Fork (their son attended the school in Florence!) that was an excellent wine full of flavor and a perfect pairing to boot.

We sat down to dinner and started with some superb breads and breadstickts with a trul superb Azienda Agricola Pruneti extra virgin olive oil that was also used in the Antipasto entitled "Pitti Palace":

"Boboli Garden" Renaissance style sald of mixed field greens, pecorino, caper(berries), anchovies, sultana raisins, walnuts, olives and EVOO foam with citrus-tomato drops (fotos on FB of all courses) which was not only gorgeous to look at it was truly one of the most exciting salads I have ever had. The wine was an ever so smooth Barco Reali di Carmignado DOC 2014 Capezzana made from 70% Sangiovese, 15% Cab and other wines.

Primo I was called "Castello del Trebbio, Scapera e San Piero" after a fortress-like castle built by the Medici outside of Florence and was a Ricotta & Black Cabbage Gnudi on a light Corazon & Paterno pecorino, garlic & sage sauce that was simply divine, The wine was called Lastricato  from Chianti Rufina Reserva DOCG 2011, Castello del Trebbio and was another super smooth fine 100% Sangiovese.

Primo II was called "Villa di Cafaggiolo, Barberino di Mugello" for another medieval villa in Mugello and was a Rustic Borlotti Bean, Farro and Mushroom Soup made from Oyster mushrooms and chanterelles! The wine again was the same superlative Lastricato.

Our Secondo or main was Anatra all'arancia, a duck dish with breast, foie gras, celeriac, chesnuts, honey, Brussels sprouts leaves and candied orange zest with drops of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena DOP "extra vecchio"(25 years aged) from Acetaia Malpighi which looked superb, but my duck was a bit overcooked and dryish (they were not all this way). A 20%cab, 80% Sangiovese Villa di Capezzana Carmignan DOCG 2010 from Capezzana was again simply smooth and beautiful.

Our pre-dessert was called "Camugliano (Pisa)" for another Medici villa and was a Honey rosemary mousse with pine nut crumble in lingue di gatto shell, which literally means "cat's tongue" but is a simple almond tuille.

Next came Dolce II called "Seravezza (Lucca)" fir a palace perched in the Apuan Alps and was a contemporary Sponge Cake with Orange sauce and nuts. The amazing Vin Santo del Chianti DOC209 was from Castello del Trebbio.

Of course biscotti di Prato and petit fours (called ovis mollis, ancioni & ricciarelli) arrived with more Vin Santo....

We waddled home very happy.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

NYC's BOULUD SUD still serves superior Mediterranean meals (10-28-16)

It's been some time since my last meal at Boulud Sud ( Lincoln Center, so I decided to try their pre-theater prix fixe dinner at $60 last night prior to attending the opera.

I had a 515pm reservation, and the opera was at 730pm, but my plans were messed up by a wrong choice of subways and a late start from my downtown hotel. I was about 25minutes late, but no worries, they had me seated, served and out still within 80 minutes.

The décor is still simple with one large room that can get noisy, especially pre-theater at Lincoln Center, and I wish they would take the paper sheets off the table as it really lessens the class of what I still consider a fine dining establishment.

I started with the OCTOPUS À LA PLANCHA with Marcona Almonds, Arugula, Jerez Vinegar which was a delicious warm appetizer loaded with tender tentacles and lots of arugula to really fill you up. There was a hummus like paste at the bottom and I sadly did not find out what it was. Speaking of hummus, delicious bread and focaccia arrived before this with oil poured onto a plate of spices tableside as well as a little bowl of spread made from chickpea, Aleppo peppers and some other ingredients that I missed, but was superb.

I ordered a glass of wine and was quite intrigued with the Kabaj from Ravan in Slovenia made from Goriska Brda 2012. The floral nose belied the wines minerality and earthiness and while it had essences of lemon zest, there was no hint of citrus on the palate at all; a superb dry and fascinating choice for sure.

My main course of SEARED DAY BOAT SCALLOPS with Heirloom Beans, Piopini Mushroom, Smoked Ham Broth consisted of two huge sea scallops perfectly seared and cooked, but alas a bit too salty for even my tastes. The aromatic and tasty broth and potato puree helped to lessen the effect and the veggies and beans were truly spectacular.

The 3 course meal includes dessert and I chose the RED WINE SPICED PEAR, Almond Frangipane, Gorgonzola, Vanilla-Black Pepper Gelato which my server said was also with blood orange. There were so many flavors in this little tart with pear and almond cream (foto on FB), I was having a lot of fun mixing the different elements and seeing the various flavor combos. The spices were evident as I had a small piece of bay leaf in it!

Service here was pretty good, but can get spotty with the big pre-opera/concert/ballet crowds, but about 4 minutes after I had left and walked into the Boulud Epicerie next door to just browse for 2 minutes, my server came running down the street after me with my VISA card that I had left behind. Now that's service.

Monday, October 10, 2016

PROOF is perfect for a celebration or lovely evening in the Loire (10-8-16)

For Will's birthday this year we invited some of our dearest friends & clients who have supported many of the charity events we are involved in every year to a special birthday dinner that I purchased at last year's March of Dimes Signature Chefs.
The dinner was supposed to have been cooked by DC Chef Haidar Karoum, but he departed Proof earlier this year, where a new team has taken over and is real proof that Proof is perfect.
Chef Austin Fausett offers up superb cuisine and manager Brent Kroll, who comes from a true wine background poured amazing bottles that wowed us over and over.
We arrived and started with Veuve Fourney Verus Blanc de Blanc, which was a bit gaseous for my tastes, but definitely cleansed the palate when the amuse of Rappahannock Rover Oyster arrived with Cantaloupe Sorbet.
Flatbread was tasty with a superb labneh/mint/jalapeno spread that reminded us of our recent trip to Israel.
The wines, for the most part, were from the Loire region and we started with an awesome 2013 Sancerre called Ammonites from Matthias et Emile Roblin that was brilliantly paired with Baked Pipe Dream Crottin (from Lancaster, PA) with Sour Cherry Reduction, Mizuna & Radish. It sounds simple, but the dish was a true reflection of the way this restaurant is moving into wonderful territory with pairings and presentation.
Foie Gras Torchon was next and came Honey-Poached with Elderflower, Apricot, Sicilian pistachios (another hinting of our upcoming trip there next July!) and a small piece of fried and lightly salted flatbread. Now I am a traditionalist and adore my Sauternes with foie gras, but the pairing here was Le Bel Ouvrage 2012 Savennieres from Damien Laureau that was so aromatic you could smell the stone fruits and taste them as well. Here, the wine actually became sweet in the mouth after a bite of the foie gras and apricot flavors, akin to a viscous Trokenbeerenauslese, abounded. The foie gras itself was simply decadent and divine.
Halibut is always a great fish and here it was cooked in a beurre rouge and encrusted (Halibut en Persillade) with a parsley, garlic crust and served with zucchini, micro sorrel and a red wine gastrique. My notes indicate two red wines, so I am indeed confused! Chateau Peuch-Haut Grenache/Syrah blend ansd Saint-Drezery 2013 Le Prestige from Languedoc. I must take better notes.
We roamed far from the Loire to Bordeaux for our next wine a 1995 Chateau Leoville Barton from St. Julien that was drinking so well and had massive earthy (if not funky) overtones that was superb with the Pekin Duck with Summer Squash, bruleed figs, pomme rosti and shoyi, sauce made from raw unfiltered soy. The table was graced with a platter of roasted rosemary and cinnamon which made us feel enveloped by the flavors and aromas.
Our palate cleanser was an Angostura Biiters & Ginger Sorbet that I loved served with Scarpona Moscati d'Asti; it really did completely cleanse the palate.
Le Mont 2015 Moelleux Vouvray was a wonderful and sweet dessert wine that had acidity as well to match the Apricot & Beach Marmalade Beignets with Apricot Gastrique and Vouvray Ice Cream made from the same wine; now a paring like that takes advance planning and much effort.
Our entire team was amazing from our gracious and helpful server Christian to the team in the kitchen who welcomed as if we were at home!
Indeed White Chocolate Truffles with dehydrated raspberry powder and sesame arrived to send us home on a super sweet note as well as bags of granola for our breakfast on Sunday morning so we would remember the night before extra fondly.
Bravi to Proof having come back to life and a Happy Birthday to my hubby, Will!

Saturday, October 08, 2016

DC's DBGB gets definite bravos for gourmet bangers and more (10-7-16)

Chef Daniel Boulud opened DBGB over two years ago in DC and at first nobody could get in; it was in instant hit. So I was surprised to see they had room just 2 days prior for a Friday night/holiday weekend during IMF when everything in DC seemed to be booked. I had tasted some of Chef Ed Scarpone's treats at various foodie events, but had sadly never made it in; bad me.
Four of us headed over and we had a glorious time dining outside in gorgeous weather overlooking the fun plaza at City Center DC, which has quickly become on of the hottest dining and shopping destinations around town.
The menu is not huge, but there were so many wonderful things to choose and tit was hard to decide. We asked our server Luis, who was helpful with guidance. I started with a Baby Why Can't We Elope, which was a bit sweeter that I had hoped, so I didn't fall in love with the vodka drink made with yuzu and cantaloupe. The salty flatbread and sourdough bread was perfect with the most wonderful salted butter as well.
After we ordered, we were in shock when multiple plates arrived "from the chef."First came two of the Tarte Flambee, that amazing Alsatian flatbread of fromage blanc, onion and bacon, that was truly irresistible. We must have failed to order any veggies, so Chef Ed sent us three spectacular veggie starters that would have blown the tastebuds away of any vegetarian!

Roasted Delicata squash was probably my favorite with brown butter, sage, pomegranate, lemon crème fraîche, pumpkin seed and yogurt.

SWEET AND SOUR EGGPLANT was a major hit with honey baked eggplant, sherry vinegar, sumac yogurt, mint, chickpea socca

And while we liked the CHARRED YOUNG LEEKS with crispy fried egg, dijonnaise, smoked soy vinaigrette, it suffered from being quite salty and intense on the palate.

We prayed that no more would come, as we had ordered enough to start and then our starters came after a nice long rest.
Grilled Kale Salad with brussels sprouts & sweet potato, a gorgeous Roasted Corn Salad with cojita cheese, pickled shallot, cilantro, scallion and garlic aioli and two of had the
superb Octopus a la Plancha with bonito, pickled ginger and tonkatsu sauce.
Our host was a friend and winemaker from Oregon so we opened a delicious bottle of his 2013 Native Flora Jaguar Pinot Noir and it is always a treat to drink any of his wines, but the chef, sommelier and staff were truly impressed with its delicacy, finesse and quality. I must also give them credit for using fine Riedel for all the wines they serve. I actually had a glass of Lamy-Pillot St. Aubin 1er Cru 2006 "Les Charmois" that was  tasty, if a bit funky due to its age, but a fine pairing with my appetizer size Hand-Cut Steak Tartare with pickled Veggies and Egg Dressing. The tartare was very traditional and superb with lots of intensity from the meat making that truly shine. (I am so glad I changed my order to the appetizer size!).
Sausages are stars here so there were Thai with Lemongrass, pork, red curry, green papaya, peanut, quail egg and basil fried rice which is really a meal in itself and apparently the top seller. Nobody can deny, though, that the Boudin Blanc is a star with Truffled Pork, Apples and Pommes Mousseline; it's like butter (to quote Barbra) was all we could think.
Our server Luis always had a smile, and was always helpful, but he also seemed to be so personable with everyone he was helping, and the outdoor seating area was indeed full.
Sommelier Andrew has chosen some nice wines for the menu and we need to head to back to try them as well as so many other dishes that were truly mouth-watering.
Bravo to the entire team at DBGB which has settled in to be a great DC bistro. It's so nice to welcome Daniel Boulud back to DC after almost 3 decades!

Friday, October 07, 2016

James Beard Foundation Celebrity Chef Tour encamps with over a dozen chefs at Del Campo in DC (10-5-16)

Each year we get a couple of visits to DC for the James Beard Foundation Celebrity Chef Tour, but Wednesday night's tour brought more chefs(15?) than ever to Del Campo where host Chef Victor Albisu put on a show worthy or foodie royalty.
We arrived to a superb apricot brandy and Afrohead rum and Pineapple vanilla drink  called "Let Love Rule" which was not too sweet, but I switched to the yummy Etude "Grace Benoist Ranch" Pinot Noir 2014 from Carneros and it's been years since I have enjoyed this superb wine. There were craft beers as well.
Passed appetizers abounded and I desperately tried to refrain knowing full well what was in store in the five courses to come. Chefs Mike Isabella & George Pagonis, both Top Chef-testants, offered up Haloumi-filled Loukoumades with Truffle Honey and a mouth-watering Taramasalata on chickpea blini with caviar. Another Top Chef Alum who opened Requin recently in Fairfax, Chef Jennifer Carroll served Deviled Lamb Rillettes with macerated cherries (think chutney) and pickled mustard seed on a homemade potato gaufrette. Just in case we wanted to fill up there were awesome Wagyu Beef Empanadas with Salsa from Chef Victor Albisu.
We had a great table headed by Celebrity Chef Tour head honcho Jeff Black who always gathers some of the best foodies around for these events. The dinner as served family style for the most part, which was indeed a relief, so I did not feel ike I was wasting food, and hopefully what was left on the platters was used back in the kitchen by the staff (or I would have asked for a 5-gallon doggie bag).
First came DIM SUM in the form of Spicy Laab Shumai with ground pork, yellow curry paste, chilis and Northern Thai herbs from Chef Erik Bruner-Yang of Maketto (DC); Kimcheese Mandu with Berkshire Pork Shoulder, butter kimchi and sharp cheddar stuffed dumpling from Chef Danny Lee of Mandu (DC). Samuel would have been in heaven with these two dumpling options alone; but there was much more. Chef Tim Ma of the recently opened Kyirisan in DC plated huge XO Bone Marrow with Cilantro & Preserved Lemon over a Scallion Pancake which was perfect to absorb the slight amount of grease from the bone (photos are on FB as always). The winner of the Dim Sim offerings, however, was Chef Scott Drewno's (The Source By Wolfgang Puck) Hot & Sour Pumpkin Soup with Roasted Short Rib, Brisket & Bone Marrow Dumplings. The soup packed a punch and the dumpling was as good as they get. There was a declicious Las Perdices Pinot Grigio 2015 from Mendoza, Argentina, but it was the smooth and dry Gekkeikan "Suzaku" Junmai Ginjo-shu Sake from Kyoto, Japan that had me in heaven as it simply cleansed the aplate so brilliantly after each spicy mouthful.
Credit goes to our server Janelle and her team, not only for making sure glasses were full, but that everyone at our table of some 17 people got every dish. While the entire meal and cocktail hour lasted almost 5-1/2 hours, the pacing was superb and if it were any faster, we would have all burst.

Two chefs and longtime friends, Chef Tarver King (The Restaurant at Patowmack Farm in Lottesville, VA) and Chef Justin Severino (Cure & Morcilla in Pittsburgh, PA), offered up what they described as "seafood inspired charcuterie," where was indeed the most intriguing course of the meal as well as the most novel. With almost every place offered charcuterie plates these days, their innovation went to the next level. Chef Justin described it as "the culinary version of The Shining," which I may not get, but we could not figure out which part was which and had to get a personal detailed explanation, which I attempted to show on my FB photos. The least exciting dish was the Crab Croquelon (deep fried puff) simply because the heavy Salmon Nduja sauce(?) was too overpowering. If chicharones married shrimp toast you would have their Salt Cod Crackers with Saffrin Mustard and Swordfish Finnocchiona. The winner here, by far, was the Scallop Mortadella on Uni Bottarga Cookie that unfortunately begged us all to have seconds (and maybe thirds) to rave reviews. The Sohm & Kracher Gruner Veltliner 2011 from Neiderosterreich in Austria was a huge winner as well with intense green apple flavor that paired marvelously. I tried to find out if winemaker Gerard Kracher is related to the late Alois Kracher whose winery we know so well.

Two DC chefs, Haidar Karoum & Kyle Bailey (Engine) paired for the next course which was thankfully only one plate of spectacular Roasted Pork Belly & Charred Heart with Blake Rice Chao & Pickled Green Tomato. The belly was crisp and meaty and the heart sliced thin and just full of flavor. Beans and scallions topped the dish and the pairing was a Chateau Raspail Gigondas 2012 from the Rhone that was fine WITH the food, but a bit too young for me as I tasted it on its own. SO kudos to Sommelier Brett Stevenson for keeping me from sipping too much between courses, but pairing everything so well!

The Fourth Course (I called it 10th), was shared by Host Chef Victor Albisu, Chef Amy Brandwien of Centrolina and Chefs Gabrielle & Greg Denton of Ox & SuperBite who flew in from Portland Oregon for the event! The couple prepared the monstrous portions of Coal Roasted Ribeye with White Bean & Chanterelle Gratin which would have wowed any steak and potatoes lover on a level not known before. Chef Amy had the most delicate, yet tasty Salsiccia Siciliana (Sicilian sausage) that just made me want to head to Sicily right now rather than waiting for our upcoming visit next July! Chef Victor had lovely Grilled Lamb Sweetbreads that were so tender but here with a Calamari Escabeche and spectacular squid ink sauce.
I am not a beer person, but the paring offered Samuel Adams Oktoberfest which I skipped, but we loved the Le Dix de Los Vascos Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 from Colchaga Valley Chile.

Dessert was in three separate courses in reality:
Chef Amy Brandwein served a variation of a cheese course with Napoleon of Labne, Gaglioppo Poached Pears and Michel Richard's Pistachio Crocante in an homage to the recently deceased uber chef of DC. The dish was superb and paired with a divine slightly sweet Felsina, Vin Santo del Chianti Classico 2004 from Berardegna, Italy. Next came a small chocolate gourmandise with gold leaf that I think was meant to come at the very end and then the best dessert I have had in ages was Chef Amanda Cook-Pilkerton's (Centrolina) Apple Pie Baba with rum whipped cream, candied walnuts and Cranberry which had the most perfect baba cake ever that was so fresh, light and easily so enjoyable even after this marathon meal!
BRAVI to all the chefs and those of us that attended!

Saturday, October 01, 2016

Riviera Maya's Banytan Tree at Mayakoba has a super sell with SAFFRON (9-29-16)

On the last night, I invited some hoteliers to join me at my hotel's signature restaurant Saffron which sits overlooking the river in a very zen setting that only adds to the ambiance.
We had some hor's d'oevres and cocktails at the managers cocktail party which was outside so on arrival we  asked to sit indoors. They looked at us like we were nuts since the temps were in the 80's and the humidity was close to 90%!
Nobody had asked me if I wanted indoors or outdoors when I reserved, but within seconds we were at a prime riverside table inside and our server Abraham was explaining the menu. We could not decide if we should take the set tasting or order a la carte, so within seconds, the Thai chef himself, Renu Homsombat , came out and began to recite the menu; we were convinced.
A simple amuse of Shrimp, Lemongrass, mushroom, cilantro and mint was an amazing blend with nothing overpowering believe it or not.
We ordered two Mexican wines which I adore (and brought home as well the next day since we cannot buy these here). Santo Tomas 2014 Viognier from Ensenda which had a very clean but aromatic flavor on the palate and worked nicely with some of the spicy starters. The red was , of  course, Adobe Guadalupe Gabriel 2012 which has to be the best red wine in the country. Oddly, two of my guests were married in Acapulco a couple of decades ago and the Santo Tomas was their white wine at their reception!
Lemongrass flatbread with kaffir lime flavor and rice crackers arrived which to be dipped in 3 different sauces: Cherry Tomato & Chicken; Coconut, Shrimp and Chicken; and Tomatillo, Serrano and Eggplant which reminded me of a hot pepper jelly spread. We did not want to fill up as we knew much more was to come, but the flavors were bold and bursting with seasoning.
Starters were superbly batter fried  and tender Calamari with two dips of Black Squid Ink and one of chili paste; I loved them all.
Spring rolls came fried and cold with rice paper wrap again with two dips Tamarind & Fish Sauce  for the cold rolls and Chili Sauce for the hot fried rolls.
Satay is often a disappointment if it comes dry but our chicken and beef skewers were moist as could be and here served with Peanut Sauce with Coconut or a cool Cucumber Syrup.
The dipping choices were truly hard to choose....we tried every possible combination. I had one skewer where the meat would simply not slide off and after losing a small piece of beef across the floor, I burst out, "I'm trying to get it off!!!" which got plenty of laughs.
The Seafood Salad of calamari, shrimp, mussels and scallop was like a ceviche salad with a sauce including mango, cilantro, basil and a hint of mint with a very spicy Thai fish sauce that we all loved (except one person who can't eat fish!). It was decorated with gorgeous purple edible Thai Butterfly Flowers.
Photos are always on FB!
The next course was a (thankfully) small bowl of Thom Ka Gai made from chicken and while intense on the lemongrass and ginger, it was also very rich in coconut.
At this time I noticed the soft music and truly elegant feel to the setting which truly relaxed us.
Main courses arrived after a while as we needed a rest and my favorite was the Placam Rod Fish with a fabulous sauce.
Juicy Grilled Shrimp were in a bbq-like sauce of Sesame Shallot and Tamarind, while the Vegetable Dish of Mushrooms, Fried Garlic, Peas, Broccoli, Cauliflower in Oyster Sauce were all Wok-Stir Fried to perfection. Another favorite dish was the Penang Curry of Beef with Coconut Milk, Basil and Peanut giving this Malaysian dish a very Thai turn that wowed us.
Abraham returned with a huge platter and four gigantic bowls of rice which required two people to serve. we could choose from Saffron rice, jasmine rice, brown rice and Pandam which is a Thai Coconut rice with a hint of Peppermint.
We had no clue that dessert was included but it arrived after some while in the form of superb Creme Brulee, Bananas in Fried Crispy Dough and Fresh Fruit, sadly most of which went untouched.
The service here was impeccable and indeed the only complaint I had was that the larger spoons that are in the sauce dishes have a tendency to fall out when you pass the plates with them; smaller dainty demi-tasse like spoons would be super.
I love Mexican food, but this Thai meal using local ingredients was a true treat and change that was most welcome.
Indeed, I shall miss the many friends in my business that I got to see this week as well as the Banyan Tree and my gorgeous Spa Villa (check out the video on FB).


be sure to catch CATCH in Playa del Carmen, MX (9-29-16)

Catch is a branch of the famous New York restaurant and now there are three or four around the world but here it is a twist on local Mexican cuisine. I started with a Seedless Suzy which is Absolut Elyx vodka with lime basil and watermelon.. so refreshing in the heat especially since we were eating outside with a gorgeous view of the twinkling ,lights of town and indeed all the way across the gulf to Cozumel. What was nice about this place is that by the time we sat down the sun had set and a very very strong breeze was keeping us nice and cool. Our amazing waitress Sandra who had virtually no accent and explained that she was from San Luis Potosi, which I could not ,insisted that we try all her favorite dishes so we did. First to arrive were the MRC roll which stands for Manhattan Refrigeration Center which is where Catch is located in New York; this role came with shrimp tuna and a ponzu brown butter crunch which blew us away. Of course gorgeous pictures can be seen on Facebook. Paired with this was another starter of Sashimi tuna, Hamachi, ponzu, American caviar and truffle soy sauce. Eat Your Heart Out Japanese sashimi.
We moved on to a wonderful local white wine called Rancho Mogorcito which was from the Guadalupe Valley and was a blend of sauvignon blanc and Chardonnay 2015 and was superb with all of the dishes we had this evening. Next came Wagyu short rib tacos in the most gorgeously crispy corn tortillas which stayed crispy for quite a while. They were served with guacamole mango and Serrano and a huitlacoche aioli. By the way the water was Mexican sparkling called Hethe which is superb.
Paired with this was a sea bass lettuce wrap with bourbon miso sauce shitake mushrooms and that wonderful crispy kataifi, which we had so.often in Israel, which was on top to give extra crunch.
Next served was a very rich mushroom spaghetti with truffle cream sugar snap peas a bit of tomato and Parmesan which we could not finish as we were nearing our limits.
Our final course was a beautiful vegetable dish of grilled cauliflower with capers which was paired with a tropical red snapper topped with roasted turnips Chaya squash yuca wasabi cream and more as well as the kataifi  on top. 
Unfortunately Sandra insisted that we have the parmesan truffle fries which were very very truffly and I ate about 4 or 5 and we left the rest because we were just so stuffed and had to head home very full after an amazingly fabulous dinner with wonderful company a great View and a super server.

Rosewood Mayakoba's Casa del Lago on the Riviera Maya in Mexico is a marvel (9-26-16)

My first night here on the Riviera Maya about 30 minutes south of the Cancun Airport have me moving out of my Resort at the Banyan tree for dinner in the nearby Rosewood mayakoba at their top Restaurant Casa Del Lago where we ate some 7 or so years ago when we visited this complex right after it first opened.
We had a delicious meal then and the restaurant is still a superior dining destination in the area.
The setting is quiet and serene and we headed right indoors for the a/c as the heat and humidity here have been oppressive; a spicy margarita arrived fast and cooled me off.
The gentlemen has Taittinger Champagne!
A delicious mushroom dip appeared with oil and vinegar for dipping our bread but this was nothing compared to the amazing grilled octopus salad which had huge pieces of tender octopus deliciously spiced with Mexican spice levels and potatoes from Lima in the Yucatan as well as cherry tomatoes and arugula. Be sure to check my Facebook page for photos. One of my guests decided to go light with a salad but the other chose the excellent Fish Tiradito
 I was thrilled to be able to order one of my favorite Mexican wines Adobe Guadalupe 2013 Gabriel which is truly one of the finest wines in Mexico and since the peso seems to be dropping every day it was now down to some 60 something dollars a bottle which is amazing for this wine that has essences of chocolate and coffee and intense blending of red varietals.

For our main courses we had the rack of lamb with cashews and spinach which was a deliciously gorgeous dish to look at, as was the Pasta Bolgnese , but my Risotto of funghi and huitlacoche with epazote and Cactus was absolutely amazing; rich and creamy and it had a little bit of crunch on top from some bread crumbs.
It had been a long day traveling from Washington and then having the Opening Ceremonies for my convention here for the international luxury travel mart and we did not even start dinner till close to 9 o'clock so our dessert with skipped they brought us some beautiful cookies and we headed home.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Hail to Helen's in Rockville, MD(9-21-16)

For over two decades we have used the same amazing caterer in our home and every event that Helen Wasserman has done was and always is perfect.
Many years ago she had a restaurant here in DC, but recently decided to go that route again in Rockville across from the ruins of White Flint Mall at 11120 Rockville Pike(
We were not sure where this was and were surprised to find an adorable house with a huge outdoor seating section that is a covered patio hiding just off the Pike.
The interior is bright and cherry a clean crisp feel of light grays with white tables and some gorgeous artwork, including a painting of the boss herself.
She has surrounded herself with some of her longtime staff, such as Kevin, her manager and some new folks as well, such as Oscar, our server, who was always there for every request and need
and never lost his charming smile. As soon as we sat down he brought out a delicious bowl of Cauliflower Hummus with crisp toasted Pita points. We ordered a bottle of Murphy-Goode Sauvignon Blanc from California which I had not had in years and we gobbled up the warm pita and begged for more.  Speaking of wine I have to say that it seems to me the wine is barely marked up, maybe $10/bottle, making some of these wines great deals.
Samuel ordered the Guacamole which was fresh and had little crunchy onions in it as well as the tasty herbed pita, but he only let me have a teeny taste. I adored my Salmon Spring Rolls with thin crispy (and not greasy) rolls stuffed with salmon, veggies and a superb Apricot dipping sauce. Will went for the Lobster Dumpling, also a good choice, but heavier for sure, with tasty lobster mixed with some ground chicken, spinach and jicama with a white wine, ginger and saffron sauce.
Over the many years we have used Helen the only (and it's positive not really a complaint) complaint we have had is that sometimes there is way too much left over and we have to freeze it (and often forget about it). We just pulled some of the mini-burgers from the freezer last week which had been rescued after Samuel's huge Bar Mitzvah party in June! The main courses show her generosity again, so it is wise to choose between a starter or dessert and maybe even share those.
Samuel had the huge Sirloin Burger with fries and spicy sauce, our friends chose the Delmonico Steak with chevre toast points, merlot sauce and caramelized sweet onions, corn souffle and mango cole slaw as well as the Grilled Chicken Scallopine which was a huge bowl of chicken with haricots verts and shallots and an entire second bowl of linguini with local tomato sauce; way too much for one person.
Will had the Crab Linguine with tomato, tarragon and parmesan which again was quite large and my Shrimp & Grits could have fed two with Helen's homemade BBQ sauce and a huge plate of tasty cheese infused grits with what had to me than 1/2 a dozen large shrimp! The dish was complemented with grilled onion, asparagus and a ton of tasty heirloom tomatoes.
We asked Kevin about the red wine and he suggested the Cigar Box Pinot Noir 2915 Old Vine which the menu lists as from Argentina, but is from Central Valley of Chile and while Pinot and smooth has a smokey aftertaste that we all loved.
The one dessert our friends split was the warm apple crisp with vanilla ice cream that disappeared fast.
Next time I want to try the Chocolate Beignets with Decadent Chocolate Sauce if I can make room.
What is great about Helen's is that ist is a quiet place for couples or even for families as we had a 2-year old in tow and nobody seemed to mind as he only yelped out once when I took a photo of him!
The appetizers run from $10 to a maximum of $13 and the mains start at $21 (burger is $16) for my awesome shrimp and don't top $27!
Its not too far from Dc and took us under 30 minutes in rush hour from our home! Well worth the mini-trek!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

another doozy of a dinner from Chef Donna at AL DENTE (9-16-16)

It has been too long since we visited Al Dente just around the corner and last night we returned for a tasting menu which we had purchased at a charity event, making it a double treat.
Getting ready for our next summer trip to Italy and Sicily, we ordered a Grillo 2013 "Aquilae" from Viticulroti Associati Canicatti which had us thinking about where we will go for wine tastings; so many choices.
Our red was a superb Cannonau di Sardegna(Sardinia) Fiori DOC Pala 2014 which our server Nick recommended and he hit is just right by explaining the wine has the mouth of a Pinot Noir, but with a spicy finish; we loved it.
Our amuse was a Prosciutto wrapped Roasted Date with gooey Gorgonzola Cheese running all over--YUM! The Grillo was ideal with the richness of this small bite(s).
It's mid-September and Soft Shell Crabs are heading our of season so we may have had our last one yesterday which was superbly tempura fried with an awesome Celery Root Slaw, Fried Lemon and remoulade for dipping. I will miss these little guys until next May! Photos are always on FB!!
A perfectly Grilled & Seared Sea Scallop was topped with frisee & mache and served on a slash of Salsa Verde that had us finishing off our white and moving on to the red.
Our first pasta was Rigatoni with Pancetta in a Cream Sauce topped with Fried Leeks which was rich but superb and who doesn't love those leeks!
The second pasta was so simple yet so complex it was brilliant: Ravioli stuffed with Burrata in a Red Pepper Puree with Paprika and Pesto.
Third was Gnocchi with a spicy Sausage Ragu and by now it was impossible to have a favorite as all three of these pastas were truly some of the best you can find anywhere.
We begged to move on to our main course as we were getting full and it was a perfectly sized Braised LAmb Rib with Eggplant Puree again in a superbly spiced Red Wine sauce with more of the delectable fried leeks.
It was nice to have Chef Roberto braving the spices, here they seemed almost Middle-Eastern or North African, and really creating dishes with a whole different flavor than the Italian we are so used to.
The best dessert here is unquestionably the Fig Tart with Vanilla Gelato and an entire tart arrived which we took pieces of and packed the rest away for another day at home so we could remember this superb meal and quiet evening out in the 'hood.
Well, that was until we got home to Samuel and his 4 friends who were sleeping over!
Back to the diet after tonight's wedding.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

BRINE brings out the best in Virginia's Mosaic Disctict(Fairfax)(9-3-16)

At last year's March of Dimes (save the date this year, it's November 2) Signature Chefs event we purchased a dinner for 4 at Virginia's Brine ( where the folks from Rapahannock Oysters haved teamed up with Chef John Critchley (previously of Urbana and Bourbon Steak) to create a casual, yet exciting venue offering something novel and delicious.
The large open dining are faces a bar and open kitchen as was not too noisy (it was quiet for a holiday weekend) and the wooden accents keep the feel warm, but the wooden chairs are deadly after an hour or so and the steel twined legs can tear your pants or dress should it get entangled as the double-helix metal legs can be sharp in places. That indeed is the only bad thing I can say about Brine.
The staff is friendly and warm and we got a great greeting from manager Cara, who helped Chef John throughout the night along with other servers including Paul, as we had settled in for a multi-course tasting menu with paired drinks.
Barboursville Brut started us off and I can't think of a better choice when in Virginia on a beautiful evening; the sunset was so gorgeous we had to run out to take photos (see FB).
Our first course was a simple salad of Golden & Candy Cane Beets with Marinated Honeysuckle Cheddar Cheese and a dressing of beet juice, agave and lemon that was less of a vinaigrette and more of a sauce that I just could not resist. The cheese was rich and intense and creamy and dish was a true fresh taste of local ingenuity. The theme of brining had already started with the marinated cheese; what a great idea!
Every meal at Brine should feature oysters and we haven't had any since August isn't an "R" month, but it's now September! Riptide from Cape Cod, Whalebacks from Maine and Rapahannocks from Virginia were served and I can't imagine 3 totally different types of mollusk offering such different flavors as well. While these come with cocktail sauce and amazingly inhouse made Barrel Aged Bourbon hot sauce(use that on the bread), a small dash of the mignonette is the way to experience the oysters' flavors.
In-house baked Parker House rolls arrived hot from the oven with sea salt on top and we tried to refrain, but it was hard. Soon the Sashim-grade tuna arrived with a habanero-Red Pepper Sauce with Thai Basil, Mustard Seed and Najiki that was sweet and smoky and not too spicy in the least. Paired with an amazing High West Rendezvous Bourbon Cocktail with Lemon, Sugar, Allspice Dram and Egg White Foam it was brilliant.
Golden Tilefish is so rare in these parts and a welcome change here with Carolina Gold Rice in a Moroccan broth with Olives, Garlic Scape and Chermoula.
Broken Dreams Chardonnay 2013 from Napa is new to me and has a yummy hint of vanilla but little oak overtone that can be so Napa.
I think my favorite dish all night was the amazing Organic Kelp Pasta literally made from Plankton and served with Chili Threads, Middleneck Clams, Guanciale, and Preserved Lemon in a rich sauce that blew me away. Our friend Kevin called it "brain food" which was perfect.
The sea Scallop that arrived next was huge and came on a bed of salsify(check that out on FB) puree with chanterelles, caviar and marinated Finger Mushrooms. It was a sublime dish and as we were filling up, the one huge scallop was indeed enough.
I loved the STRUB 2013 Riesling that Cara brought next as it was to be paired with the briniest (save for the oysters) dish all night, BBQ Autumn Olive Farm Berkshire Pork which had been brined 30 days and smoked and served over Beemster Cheese Spoonbread (gluten free!) with Braised red Dandelion, Sherry & Bacon which had a vinegar essence but was clearly the essence of brining and Brine. Will does not like semi-dry Riesling (even though it was a brilliant pairing), so Cara preferred some Linden Rose 2014 which everyone loves.
Dessert was a perfectly light single and oh so adorable Profiterole with Sea Salt, Caramel gelato and Butterscotch Sauce served with a double espresso to send us home. Calvados was also offered, but I refrained so as not to mix too much!
It was a totally fun experience, a great meal and a super place to go as it was indeed only about 25 minutes from our house on a no traffic night with free parking in a huge garage next door. What could be better?
Many thanks to the entire team for making us feel so welcome at Brine, where I know we shall return to be pickled once again!

Friday, August 26, 2016

hail to Herbert Samuel at the Ritz-Carlton in Herzliya where haute cuisine can stil be casual (8-25-16)

Our last night in Israel was at the Ritz Carlton Hotel just north of Tel Aviv in Herzliya on the sea, so we decided to eat in their restaurant called Herbert Samuel after Israel's premier kosher fine dining chef. The setting was very simple and had a nice view out over the marina and the sea and the service was impeccable; they even poured the San Pellegrino which hadn't been done anywhere before.
We celebrated with cocktails before dinner with will having a Campari and tonic and me trying a Spicy Scotsman, which was a shot of Glenlivet with a cinnamon stick some lemon juice and a hint of vanilla which was indeed a slightly spicy and delicious drink.
I perused the fancy wine list which was installed on an iPad and chose a wine which our waitress Ron (pronounced Rone)said was not available; so much for updating an iPad.
She did however offer us the Yatir 2012 viognier for the lower price and we had had it before and loved it.
As soon as Samuel openef the menu he knew he was having the Beef Tartare with a Russian cornichon salad which turned out to be a pickle salad very heavy on the Russian dressing and mayonnaise along with some pickled radishes. It was an excellent Tartar and had an egg on top which I am usually doesn't like decided was acceptable in this case. Will joined him in the beef tartare and I chose the Peruvian Salmon Tartare with togarashi crispy bean noodles, chili sauce and cilantro which was out of this world.

We decided to order the Tomato Salad Herbert Samuel which came with gorgeous heirloom tomatoes both grilled and fresh, as well as some egg and olives and a healthy dose of zaatar with other herbs, onions and dressing that was perfection.
For main courses Samuel chose the lamb chops and Will opted for a superb Mediterranean Drumfish fillet which was grilled with potatoes, Swiss chard, saffron in a yellow tomato sauce. I love my sweet breads which came a la plancha with a fava bean puree as well as crunchy okra.
Our second wine was the only Pinot Noir we had had during the entire trip a 2012 Golan Heights Winery Yarden which was excellent full-bodied and delicious.
None of us could face dessert and we headed upstairs to bed.

Haifa's Fattoush, while not a failure, fumbles and falters...(8-24-16)

Our last night in Haifa was not as much of a success as the previous night. We headed to a middle eastern restaurant that is well-known locally but we kind of ended up describing it as more of a tourist spot with a lot of local young trendy people.

When we arrived at Fattoush they escorted us directly to an outside table without even asking us if we wanted to sit inside. It was a pleasant evening so I said okay but then realized my mistake when people started to smoke near us. Luckily that did not last very long and we really didn't have too much of an issue with it. We looked at the menu and ordered some drinks. Samuel got used to the response "no Coke, Pepsi"which always made me giggle from Saturday Night Live. There were actually only two Israeli wines, and maybe a half dozen others, on the menu both from Recanati and one was a white called Yasmin which was a nice Chardonnay and sauvignon blanc blend the other was a Cabernet Sauvignon red which I also had a glass of later on when will decided to order a beer.
Our server came over and gave us a completely clueless look as to what was going on. She seemed nice enough but got very confused trying to open the wine and broke the Cork and then completely tried to pull the cork out sideways. My first impression was that she had more piercings than brains, but that would be a rude thing to say. Her name was Aden and I understood that to mean Eden or Heaven in Arabic which was pretty cool but seriously this must have been her first night.
Will and I decided to split two appetizers one was a mixed Middle Eastern dish of Kubbe, meat filled fried torpedoes, Sfiha, a pastry with some minced meat on top and cheese fingers with tahini dip. While these were nice they would not win a prize, and the second appetizer of Ajami was fried cauliflower on eggplant with garlic tahini and Chili's that was served cold but tasted fabulous.
Samuel ordered a plain bowl of hummus with chickpeas which probably had at least a cup and a half of humus in it and clearly could be eaten by at least 5 or 6 people.
A small plate of vegetables and pickles arrived and Samuel decided he was very full and wanted only some more so they brought another plate which was about 10 times the size for him as a main course. He ended up eating 1/5th maybe.
Will and I decided to split the Fattoush Kebab which was a beef kabob with parsley onion vegetables arugula and Tahini and tomato sauce which didn't really win any prizes but was nice once we stuffed it into some pita with some hummus and tahina.
When our server arrived with Will's beer it was the wrong type and decided to make it up to us by bringing out some extra nuts however she spilled those all over the table; it was so embarrassing.
The out door setting was nice with funky furniture in trees with faces and lanterns and upside down chairs, but we had had enough got up paid the bill which seemed to take 30 minutes and headed back to our hotel not too thrilled.

Haifa's Hanamal 24 is tops for food, decor, setting and more (8-23-16)

Our first real meal in Haifa was an amazing experience from the second we arrived in the restaurant and walked up a flight of stairs that looked like we were entering into a rickety second-story run down flat.

We were warmly greeted by the staff in a beautiful room at the top of the stairs and quickly escorted to an amazing cave-like room at the rear of the restaurant which was bolted with bricks and had a small window with hanging sausages wine and cheeses.
Before we even had a second to look at the menu or the wine list a complimentary bottle of their own specially labeled wine Bilvad (which in Hebrew means "only for ") 24 arrived. It was a special Shiraz, Cabernet Franc, Carignane  and Petite Sirah blend made by car with kitten in 2011 that was silky smooth and gutsy at the same time.
We were so excited about the room and the wine and our waiter whose name was Matan, which in Hebrew means gift, we only wish that he was a gift for us.
We perused the menu and decided to order a bottle of white wine to start and Matan was totally thrilled that we  chose the Dalton Reserve viognier 2014 from the Upper Galilee  Valley which was a wild yeast fermentation yielding  a creamy and mineral white wine that was awesome. 
And then news arrived which was a rich macchiato of corn soup with coconut cream. We knew this was going to be an amazing meal.
Rosemary grissini arrived with a very smoky smoked eggplant salsa as well as a tomato salsa but we resisted knowing there was a lot more to come.
You wouldn't believe that Samuel ordered the beef sirloin tartare with capers, black sesame tahini, shallots, chilies, and a dark toasted sweet brioche cube as well as creme fraiche.
Will and I decided that we would order two appetizers and two main courses and split them and since we knew that Samuel would not let us touch his sirloin tartare we had one of our own and had to agree it was superb.
We however started with citrus-scented gravlax stuffed salmon with spinach and cream cheese in a roulade that was delicious and truly made special by an olive crouton crumble. I should note that both of the starters came with delicious fresh radishes radishes as well as a roasted garlic with cream.
For main courses Will and I decided to split two items the first was a pappardelle pasta with prosciutto chunks, sun dried cherry tomatoes, artichokes, asparagus and baby mozzarella as well as melon to compliment the prosciutto. It was quite perfect and also went very well with the red wine which we had just started to drink. Speaking of wine. I should note that they use an Italian sparkling water that is extremely soft and that we really like called Ferrarelle.
Our second main course to split was the same one that Sam chose and again one of his favorite items to be had during the entire trip. A beef fillet with smoked goose, potato gnocchi, Chestnut Cream and Port sauce was definitely the best piece of meat we had had in all of our three weeks here.
Believe it or not they have a three-course menu for 179 Shekelam which included dessert. That's just over $47 at today's exchange rate. Can you beat that anywhere?
The dessert we chose was a layer of Chantilly cream and milk chocolate ganache with praline and bananas which came with a strawberry sorbet as well as grapes and a nut crunch in toffee sauce that was simply out of this world and one of the best desserts we had had during the entire trip. A second dessert of pistachio creme brulee was so aromatic and delicious with caramelized apple and vanilla crumble that was bruleed with a torch tableside by are absolutely magnificently gorgeous waiter Matan and was an exquisite version of the crunchy topped dessert.
We were thrilled to have this as our first meal in Haifa and had only hoped for more like it since we were nearing the end of our trip

Uri Buri in Akko, Israel is really one of the best dining experiences around (8-22-16)

About a half a year ago the Washington Post had a full page spread on Chef Uri Jeremias and his restaurant located on the Mediterranean in the Crusader town of Akko called Uri Buri. I had also heard a lot about this amazing chef from any other chefs in the United States and all around who rave about his amazing capabilities and boy everybody was correct.
We decided to have lunch here as we were not staying in town but arrived around 2 p.m. for a late lunch so we could pretty much fill up for the rest of the day. It was a bit disconcerting at first since nobody seemed to notice us, but within minutes our waiter Almog, came over and said he would be with us in a second. The setting is across the street from the Mediterranean, which you can see if you sit outside (in the 90 degree heat) which I am sure is amazing on a cooler day, and inside is about as basic as it gets.
Almog tried to get us to order a tasting menu, but we were not that hungry so we ordered a la carte. Within minutes Chef Uri himself arrived saying he was sending this and that and please don't worry about anything.
I ordered a half bottle of Sauvignon Blanc and was sad that they were out of it and settled for a Gamla Chardonnay which was very nice.
First to arrive with small pieces of watermelon that was sun-dried and stuffed with cheese. It had a dried meat and nut cheesy taste with a crunchy chew that was pretty much indescribable but sure tasted good.
I don't think I've ever had a Ceviche of Mediterranean Jackfish and this was truly a revelation that I don't think I could even recreate if I tried to. I think one of our favorite dishes was the third thing to come: caramelized tilapia which locally is called St. Peter's fish from the Sea of Galilee was served with beets. I have never been a huge fan of tilapia but the way this was prepared was amazing, the caramelization of the skin was beyond belief and made it truly one of the best fishes we have had on this trip.
You could probably never give me enough Sushi or sashimi and I have to say that Salmon Sashimi with a little bit of soy sauce doesn't sound very exciting, but all you need to do is put a cold scoop of Wasabi sorbet on top of it and you have truly one of the most amazing dishes ever created. The Wasabi was not that spicy and you needed about a half a teaspoon with each little bite of salmon to get just the right combination and Chef Uri was right there to make sure we did it exactly correct. Indeed he was constantly visiting the table to make sure we were happy even though we really hadn't ordered any of these dishes.
I did order the raw shrimp and have to say it was a brilliantly simple preparation of some shrimp sliced super thin with some jalapeno chilies and lemon on top. Yes it sounds simple and yes it was brilliant.
Next came small espresso cups of seafood soup with coconut milk made with basil and ginger and loaded with shrimp, crab and calamari. Our guide Amir was with us and he doesn't eat any fish or shellfish at all due to allergies so Chef brought out for him a mushroom version of the same.
I had ordered the artichoke shrimp for my main course which comes in a tumeric butter lemon sauce and is served with black rice noodles. It sounded amazing but on the plate it was even more unbelievable in a creamy and Rich lemon butter sauce with amazing noodles that you would have thought were made from something like squid ink, but Chef explained they were simply black rice formed into noodles.
Many of these courses are available to be seen on my Facebook page and you really have to look at them, while they're not magnificently gorgeous the simplicity and love that went into them really showed on the plate and in your mouth.

Scallops arrived next in a cream, ginger and white wine sauce with seaweed. There were huge sea scallops but what was amazing about this dish was the seaweed which chef called sea lettuce and was truly a local delicacy like I have never had before. I love seaweed but I doubt I'll ever be able to find anything like this at home for cooking.

Well since we had each ordered only two courses, this is been quite a surprise and we insisted we were full at this time as Chef Uri and repeatedly came out and asked us if we wanted anymore. He insisted we try his superb delicious spicy cardamom ice cream and then we left very full knowing that we would not be eating a very big dinner that night. 
It was indeed a supreme pleasure to meet Chef Uri, enjoy the thrilling tastes of his food and truly have a special experience to take home of Uri Buri.


Galillee's Magdalena will make you much more than a happy meal (8-21-16)

For our last night in the Galilee our tour guide, Amir, suggested we go to Magdalena in the small town of Migdal located just north of Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee. 0or Kinneret Lake.

When we arrived shortly after 7 one other table was occupied and the huge second floor space facing out to the lake seemed to be worse than dead. We need not worry as he had chosen what they call in Israel a Chef Restaurant, which means that the chef likes to play with food and make our experience very special; I guess we would call this fine dining back home.

I chose the sea fish Sashimi to start with which turned out to be a super raw tuna with goat cheese, Mediterranean spices, red Endive and fennel fronds that was absolutely magnificent not to mention beautiful. Remember that pictures are always available for you to view on my Facebook page. Will chose Zahara which was a fried cauliflower with tahini, Curry and tomato salsa with pickled mango. 

Samuel was feeling quite full and he chose simply the tabouleh salad which turned out to be a monstrous bowl of salad that was quite heavy on the parsley side. There's no way on earth that any person could have finished it by themselves.

We had the Yatir Vineyard  viognier  a week before in Jerusalem and comes from the Negev Desert near the town of a Arad, so we chose their Rose a which was also superb. Delicious bread arrived  which had a tomato and nut spread which was also irresistible.

For the main course our guide chose a lamb Shawarma with hummus caramelized onions and pine nuts which he declared to be one of the best he has ever had. I had an extremely rich scallop risotto with fresh peas and topped with a crayfish foam with slices of black truffle that was so intense I could not finish all of the delicious arborio rice.

Will's portion of lamb stew with couscous and chickpeas had to be bigger than his entire head I think it was like an osso bucco gone bananas.

We got a kick out of this sign on the men's room where it said "men to the left because women are always right."

It was a delicious meal and boy am I glad that we had our driver to take us up the Steep hairpin curves on the Mountainside back to our hotel.

Muscat at Mitzpe HaYamim makes a perfect meal in the Galilee(8-19-16)

Heading north to the Galilee we arrived at the beautiful Mitzpe  Hayamim Resort hanging high above the Hula Valley with magnificent views down to the Sea of Galilee or as we prefer to call it the Kinneret Lake.
Our first night we decided to eat in the meat restaurant which is not technically a part of the hotel but is located attached to it and is called Muscat.
It was a wise choice and an amazing meal with a gorgeous Terrace looking over the Galilee and Golan Heights.
I started with the veal tongue in a raisin almond and onion sauce with baby arugula and walnut oil that was out of this world.
Will chose the sea fish Ceviche with radish from their garden which was amazing to begin with as well as chili lemon and baby coriander leaves and extra virgin olive oil.(they also have a goat farm to make cheese, cows for the milk, and more)
Samuel in his quest to keep away from carbs chose the absolutely amazing mushroom risotto.
Our guide Amir insisted on the salad because he's trying to cut carbs and keep away from anything but meat and vegetables, but in Israel a salad is always amazing.
We ordered a Rose from Gamla in the Golan Heights 2014 that we had tasted earlier in the day at the winery itself and was made from Syrah grapes and totally dry and out of this world.
For main courses the veal fillet was an amazing winner aged and charcoal grilled in a sauce of beef consomme with mash potatoes and interesting enough a small miniature corn on the cob with tomatoes. Will chose the organic duck with thigh confit roasted breast, mashed potatoes, roasted sweet potatoes and an orange caramel duck broth.
Yummy Focaccia arrived that look more like giant dinosaur bones and we gobbled it up with a balsamic sun-dried tomato paste that came with it.
Our wine was a blow your mind Domaine du Castel Grande Vin 2013 from the Judean Hills made of Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot and petit verdot which could easily last another 10 to 15 years.
While our dinner included three courses none of us could really think about dessert but could not resist it as well so we chose the Goat cheese and Kadaif pastry with caramelized pistachio and sugar cane liquid that was absolutely divine as well as a supreme biscuit with meringue salted toffee and rum raisin ice cream with vanilla cream.
It was an amazing start to three nights at this spectacular hotel and we must thank our server Avtal for really giving us excellent service above and beyond the call of normal duty as we kept telling her we wanted more time or less time etc etc.
Our breakfasts over the next three days for both days that would blow anybody's mind not to mention the dinner buffet on Saturday night. This is a truly excellent high-quality Resort where everything is organic and comes from pretty much on the grounds of their several acre estate.