Monday, February 29, 2016

Chef Cedric's CONVIVIAL is in it's own class and grades an A+(2-27-16)

Saturday night we headed to CONVIVIAL just behind the Convention Center where Chef Cedric Maupillier has set up his new top rated dining spot, and it's no surprise why he gets consistent raves.
The four of us sat down and perused the menu which our courteous server Stephane explained as broken into three major categories of Nibbles, Cold & Hot with each dish being about the same size and begging to be shared. The four of us (well, maybe not Samuel) were excited about so many options and tried to narrow it down as we ordered some bottle water. we couldn't have been happier when the BADOIT arrived as it tends to be rare and costly ($6 here, not so bad) in the USA.
Yummy bread arrived in small paper bag as olive oil was poured, and we tried to resist, knowing that a lot was to come.
We ordered a bottle of Domaine de la Rossignole "Cuvee Vieilles Vignes" 2014 Sancerre, super tasty dry wine, that arrived a bit to chilly for my taste, but left on the table came around to the perfect temperature when our first nibbles arrived:
BRANDADE CROQUETTE were cooked perfectly and richly filled with cod and served over a red pepper puree
LATKE with Celery Root & Dry Cured Lamb were four adorable pieces full of flavor and topped with a small piece of the lamb for added flavor. I have to make these next Hannuka!
The winning dish was Stephane's suggestion (he always chose perfectly): DUCK EGG BEIGNET with Piperade ( a dipping sauce of tomato & red pepper) with feat. A photo of these wonders can be seen on my FB page as the stand erect in the sauce as crispy fried treats filled with egg perfection.
Chef Cedric uses his sauces here as great accents and not being afraid of a little spice here and there as well.
We next chose several COLD dishes which began with a divine CURED ARCTIC CHAR with Tarama, Apple, Elderberry Dye & Shoots. This is sushi gone classy French/Greek/who knows what, but we loved it. The apple was the perfect foil and the tarama is always a winner at our table.
SOCCA is a large Chickpea Gallette served with Shaved Beets, Orange, Shaved Fennel & Picholine Olive and is a real flavorful dish that doesn't seem to come from anywhere, but tastes great.
The cold winner was easily the VEAL TARTARE which Samuel insisted on not only having his own, but taking part of ours. The dish is served with Pontargue (Mullet Roe--usually botarga), Cancoillotte(Cheese), Oyster Leaf, Argan Oil with Nicoise Olive Cracker. This dish can win a tartare prize just for the elements such as the oyster leaf which while a green indeed tastes like an oyster after a bit!

We moved onto red wine in the form of a Domaine du Pourra "La Reserve" Gigondas from 2007. Bravos, kudos and more go the team that got this perfectly aged wine that Stephane opened to breath for an hour before as well. It was aged magnificently and is drinking superbly now. Our "hot" dishes were indeed hefty, so this was a winner pairing with a creamy finish and bright fruit bearing up against the softened tannins.
FRIED CHICKEN "COQ AU VIN" was right up Samuel's alley and this treat is glazed with the coq au vin sauce and then served over a similarly glazed potato. Samuel was kind enough to share a small bite.
The BEEF POT AU FEU is made with yummy Cheek, Tongue and a slightly chewy piece of Tendon with Bone Marrow and the hot broth is poured over these tableside with a Sauce Gribiche on the side. The PETIT CASSOULET is a gem with Sausage, Pork Belly, Duck & Bacon(?) covered with bread crumbs and cooked perfectly. Anyone from Toulouse would rave!
The vegetable dish we chose was also a winner:BARLEY PILAF with SUNCHOKES, Lemon, Cashew, Goat Cheese Curd and shaved crunchy sunchokes on top.

Dessert is a winner here, so save room for a number if you can:
HOT STICKY TOFFEE Pudding with Maple Ice Cream had Will reminiscent of Yorkshire.
KEY LIME & SPECULOOS PIE is a fun take on the American dish with the Flemish cookie treat.
CHOCOLATE BREAD PUDDING with Bourbon Sauce & Rum Raisin Ice will please the pickiest bread pudding connoisseur
but my favorite was the VANILLA CREME BRULEE which was a perfect brulee that won because of it's BLACK MERINGUE "bark" piled on top like sticks.

We left full, happy and OH SO CONVIVIAL that we found a new hit dining spot in DC.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Valentine's value (or anyday) is awesome at AL DENTE (2-14-16)

Each year the prices go up and the offerings go down at local restaurants on Valentine's Day, so we decided to head out with some friends and forego the romantic atmosphere. We always like AL DENTE about 3 minutes away and last night, Chef Roberto Donna was managing a packed house aided by his super-manager Cliff and a team of great servers. The lines were evident, but folks were seated quickly and food was superb. The deal here was three ourses for $49.95. Yes, it's a tad more than restaurant Week, but a great deal if you were having a $25 or so entrée. Add this to Sunday Wine specials at 1/2 price for bottles over $50 and you have BIG savings.
Samuel went right for his gnocchi with pork sausage ragu and his friend Oliver gobbled up almost an entire pizza.
Will & I Started with margaritas; traditional for him and the Mele-Rita for me made with Jose Cuervo Gold, Honey, Solerno Blood Orange Liquor and Lime---a great variation that was tasty for sure.
To start, Will had the Prosciutto di Parma with Burrata, Honey and EVOO which was a huge late of some of the most tender, soft and supple prosciutto ever. Our friend, Stephen & I both had the filling Ribollita, a rich hearty soup of beans and kale that was just right in the less than 20degree temps! Sadly, we were so full after just one bowl.
After a nice rest the entrees arrived and Will had his Quattro Staggione Pizza which has olives, mushrooms, and artichokes in each quadrant, but he switched the ham for pepperoni. The pizzas here are some of the best in town and are way more than a meal. Stephen had the superb Grilled Branzino with Sauteed Spinach and a yummy Salsa Verde, while I went for the special  of Pork Cheeks in Rich Chianti Reduction over Mashed potatoes that I ended up taking a good half of home as I was indeed so full from the soup.
Our wine was a superb Palladino Nebbiolo d'Alba 2011 from Serralunga d'Alba that was velvety and full of flavors that worked ideally with the pork and pizza.
Desserts were the always awesome Al Dente Tiramisu and a yummy rich Panna Cotta with Sour Cherries and whipped cream (which I skipped).
A Valentine's Day meal that would make anyone on a budget happy and full to boot.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Capitol Hill's SONOMA is a sure bet (2-11-16)

For the first time ever, I completely lost my notes (and pen) heading to the car last night in the freezing cold, so I will try to reconstruct this from memory!
We dined at SONOMA ( at 223 Pennsylvania Ave, NW and it's been well over a decade since I was there last. I recall it was California cuisine but now its very local bistro food with pizzas, pastas and burgers, but Chef John M(sorry I forgot his last name) really know how to improvise as we arrived with a coupon for a tasting menu for 2 and he did it great justice.
Shari, the asst. manager took care of us well, filling our glasses and making us happy on what I feel was our Valentine's Day early date (I hate prix fixe menus on Feb 14th with high costs and crowded spaces!) since we are headed out with the kids and friends this Sunday to one of our local spots (not for kissing).
Shari poured a J. De Telmont Grand Reserve Chardonnay-based Champagne which was dry and tasty, but the slight draft from the cold (and we were far from the door) made me yearn for red wine that had no chill. A gorgeous amuse of Fried Oyster with Bacon jam & Chipotle Sauce arrived and really warmed me up, especially the jammy part that had bacon bits for bursts of flavor.
Next came a glass of Brandborg 2013 Pinot Gris from one of our favorite Oregon wineries we discovered almost 2 years ago while in the Umpqua Valley. I was surprised to see it on th menu as I did not realize they had gotten local distribution in DC!
It was pared with a Squash Risotto which had Crunchy Pumpkin Seeds on top that we loved and a splash of rich Pumpkin Seed Oil for added flavor. The risotto was al dente and won me over instantly, not to mention warmed me up.
The décor here is unremarkable with exposed brick walls and unfinished ceilings with exposed pipes; it's the food that stars. I saw yummy pizzas, pastas, soups and burgers all over the place and what seemed to be many devoted locals enjoying the atmosphere.
Next came a yummy Rosso di Montalcino paired with a magnificent Tagliatelle with Butter-Poached Lobster in a Lobster Cream Sauce with Basil and Cherry Tomatoes which us oohing and aahing as the chef placed them before us. The lobster was cooked to perfection and the butter so wonderful it dribbled down my chin! The dish was decadently rich and tasty beyond all dreams and the pasta was also beautifully made with love.
Our main course was a 30-day Aged NY Strip Steak (FB foto) with a rich Wine reduction/Marrow/semi-demi-glace that was also superb. Grilled Asparagus were intertwined in the dish and the highlight was the Smashed Sunchokes cooked with cheese (and I forgot to get the recipe!!). A delicious Blue Rock "Baby Blue" 2013 blend from Alexander Valley in California was made up of Cabernet/Cab Franc/Merlot and more and was oh so tasty and jammy; we had big refills on this.
The service here is very attentive and everyone has a smile on for sure which is always nice. We asked for a pause and after enjoying our last red, we were wowed by the dessert that arrived (see FB foto) with Ricotta beignets on Dulce de Leche sauce, homemade vanilla and cherry ice creams and a single cylindrical Red Velvet Cake with bourbon cream cheese and warm chocolate ganache that was out of this world. I usually don't like icing type cakes or cream cheese frostings, but this was to die for. Sam adores Red Devil, so we brought home half of the yummy treat for him! Indeed everything on the plate was divine, especially the beignets and cherry ice cream loaded with yummy cherries.
I am sorry to say I can't recall the amazingly yummy dessert wine.....apologies.
We left very happy feeling that this haul to Capitol Hill was oh so worth the trek!

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

L'Homage Bistro does DC well (1-30-16)

If you are looking for fine French Bistro food in downtown DC, look no further than L'HOMAGE which opened this past fall at 450 K St, NW and is head up by Chef Joshua Perkins in a truly elegant bistro setting.
It was Saturday night with the Auto Show two blocks away at the Convention Center, so parking was a challenge, but not impossible. We arrived on time and loved the very French décor from a split-level area with bar up front and steps down to a roomy and quieter, but quite large, dining room. There are smoked mirrors, globe lights, old photos, posters and everything that makes up a French bistro, but it is the food that wins you over.
For Restaurant Week(extended now!) they have only two/three choices of starter/entrée/dessert but what excellent dishes. I chose the French Onion Soup with gooey cheese on top and a peppery broth loaded with caramelized onions.
Samuel ordered off the special menu and had (naturally) the Steak tartare which was truly French with mustard and spice., then went on to the Steak Frites which was  Blank Angus Hangar with Maitre D' Butter, Pommes Frites and Watercress Salad, which I ended up eating much of and adored the perfect Dijonnaise Vinaigrette.
Will also had the soup and then  chose the Pan Roasted Skate Wing with Lemon Brown Butter & Baby Spinach which he declared very good. My Coq au Vin was simply perfect with Oyster Mushrooms, Lardons and Pearl Onions. Perhaps the best chicken around. Later Chef explained it was Amish Farm raised. Our wine was a yummy Savigny Les Baunes Domaine Pierre Guillermot "Les Grands Picotins" which wasquite ight for Will's fish and very fruit forward; a yummy Pinot for sure.
We both had Creme Brulee for Dessert and it was top notch with a crunchy caramelized top and lots of vanilla bean in the perfect custard.
We look forward to returning on a weekday when parking is easier and enjoying the excellent and huge menu!