Tuesday, May 31, 2016

ESTELA in NYC's East Village is a cute spot for cool cuisine (5-29-16)

Our last dinner in NY at ESTELA (estelanyc.com) brought us to East Houston Street where this small narrow restaurant can be easily missed as it is a 1/2 flight up. The huge front window was open and facing the street which scared me as the temperatures were still warm and they seemed to have no air. It was not perfectly comfortable where we were near the rear, but it was quieter than the front bar area. It's a small unassuming spot with wooden tables, chairs and bar. Even the menu is simple and they serve only organic sodas like ginger ale and ginger beer, so forget your Coke here. Luckily Sam likes Ginger Beer.
I have to mention the bathroom only because it was clean and had nice aromatic spray and hand soap which one often finds lacking in even a good dining establishment these days.
We bypassed the cocktails and Zwan, the sommelieuse was a great help guiding us to a novel French wine from Ardeche called Chasselas by Pierre Gonon 2014 that was deliciously creamy and full of earthy tones. What a superb choice it was with all the starters from the tasty Peter's Point Oysters with yuzu kosho mignonette to the tasty Beef Tartare with Crispy Sunchokes, Onions, Capers and Mustard served with toasted sourdough. Sam insisted on having his own even though the idea is to share here. Burrata with Salsa Verde and charred bread was pretty and served with a sweet potato leaf, and while it was nice, I can always have burrata at home of fine quality for so much less. The salsa verde however was more akin to a Mexican JUGO Verde as it was quite thin but also very vegetable-y and not spicy at all. Samuel loves mozzarella, but refuses to try burrata which I like to call mozzarella on steroids.

For his "main" Sam chose the Steak with Spicy Marmalade, Potatoes and Taleggio cheese, and while he offered me a taste of the marmalade, no steak was forthcoming for me to comment on here.
Will and I chose four superb dishes. First was Fried Arroz Negro with Squid & Romesco that would win a prize anywhere. Our server Siobhan suggested this as her first choice, and whle she seemed to not be feeling too well, this was a spot on hit.
Swordfish with Heart of Palm (sliced in thin long shavings) and Meyer Lemon that was like a chunky glaze we loved.
We had switched to an amazing red thanks to Zwan and fell in love with a Pinot from Lombardy in Italy called 'Ca' Fracia Valtellina Superiore from Balgera that was a 2000 vintage full of amazing earth tones and again superb pairing with all our rich dishes.
 Ricotta dumplings with mushrooms and pecorino sardo indeed had a super rich sauce that was divine. Our final Pork (fotos on FB) with Burnt Cucumbers and leeks was a nice change from the regular pork dishes one sees so often.

For dessert Will ordered the novel Parsnip Ice Cream with Sesame & Caramel which was nice and I had the (surprise) cheese which was a winner of a plate with
Fromage d'Affinois -that creamy super rich brie from Rhone Alps
Gutensberg from St. Gallen in Switzerland which was a real novel treat in the USA
and Picon Bejes from Treviso, Cantabria in Spain where blue rules.
I do have to warn that the cheeses are $8 each and I begged to get a $4 portion of each sharing all three which took some arm-twisting as they don't usually do a 3-cheese plate unless u want 3 full $8 portions!
Zwan found the perfect dessert wines: Domaine Marengo No. 655 Muscat from Corsica 2012 and Vollenweider "steffensburg" Riesling Auslese 2010 Gold Kapsel from Mosel, Germany.

We left full and happy and ready to head back to DC the next day after a wonderful weekend of theater and food in  NYC.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

NYC's TXIKITO in Chelsea is the best Basque around (5-28-16)

We needed a place to eat an early and not too heavy dinner near the Theater District for our second night in NYC. After some research, I found TXIKITO (the Basque name for the Spanish "chicito" or little) at 9th Avenue at 25th Street (240 9th Ave-www.txikitonyc.com) which is simple, basic and friendly but offers up some of the most novel tapas and dishes in NYC.
The 15 minute walk from our Times Square matinee where we saw Aladdin (loads of fun) was a bit taxing in the 90 degree heat, but worth it. On arrival, the restaurant had no opened yet (they open at 530pm), but we were inside the cooler dining room within minutes. The hostess took us to a table in a second room, where we lasted several minutes before moving back to the first room and bar area as the a/c had not yet kicked in! We drank lots of water and ordered up a bottle of 2013 Domaine Ametiza Rose from the Basque region of France made from Irouleguey, Tannat & Cab Franc which was dry and refreshing. I can't ever recall hearing of Irouleguey so this was our first novelty.
The décor is simple with wooden tables in small rooms and simple wooden chairs; it really is a neighborhood spot, and what a treat to find this in my searches.
We chose a number of tapas starters to share and first to arrive (fotos on FB page) was the op winner Esparragos made from Navarran white asparagus marinated in Celery-Black Truffle Vinaigrette with Chopped Egg. We could not get enough of the tasty treat and ended up using the bread to mop up all the excess vinaigrette. Next came a Pintxos, usually a tapas served on bread, sandwich-like and ours was called TUTERA with large toasted bread slices smothered with a Gratin of Artichokes, Roncal Cheese and Jamon. Sam adored these and ended up ordering extras!
Our third starter was as simple yet tasty PULPO which was layered carpaccio of octopus with lemon oil, marjoram and piment d'espelette. It was superb and seasoned just right with delicious fresh green herbs as were most of the dishes (were those the first baby corn shoots of the season on the asparagus?).
Samuel chose the Albondigas (his often go to tapas) but here the huge meatballs were made with lamb and served in a simple minted broth; a big hit.
Will chose the special Suckling Pig with crunchy skin and Chimichurri sauce that was tasty, but did not come close to the amazing quality of my Grilled Brook Trout with Crispy Serrano, Crispy Garlic and Garnacha Vinaigrette.which our server Carlos (who hailed from Guadalajara) said was his favorite special on the menu and whenever it appeared sold out fast; no surprise there. The fish was fileted to perfection with the head and tail and skin still on and smothered with huge layers of crispy crunchy Serrano ham and small pieces of crunchy garlic slices and the sauce which was light, still was rich with butter and lemon and wine that simply made my mouth super happy. It was a sight to behold on the plate and a magnificent revelation in the mouth.
We chose three desserts and Samuel got the winner with Pastel, a lemon scented butter cake with crème fraiche which disappeared fast save for the two bites he shared with us. Cuajada is a goat milk yogurt with honey and walnuts that won no prizes and reminded me of a nice breakfast yogurt. The cheese tray was very nice with Quince Paste and Raisin walnut toast but had three cheeses very similar in texture and could have used a bit more variety. Ossau Irraty, Roncal and Idiazabal are all tasty cheeses from the region that are hard with different flavors and a Blue de Basques was a creamy rich blue we adored,
We loved our little new discovery and found out they have another just tapas spot across the street called El Quinto Pino and two more different places in Brooklyn, one a café, and the other, La Vara in Cobble Hill Park. Check them all out.


NYC's THE BRESLIN brings brilliant British cuisine stateside (5-27-16)

We headed right from the airport to 5th Avenue and 29th St (16 W.29th) to meet a friend for dinner at THE BRESLIN as I thought it be nice to have some British-style cuisine for a change. We were running about 30 minutes late for our reservation and despite the capacity crowds, the management was most gracious in holding our table due to our flight delay.

It's a busy spot and while noisy, not unbearably so. The décor is eclectic with booths and leather and lots of cows of ceramic, papier mache or other artsy styles, even the coat hooks have longhorn cattle. The tables and floors are dark wood and the ceiling above us looked like tin, but it was not as shiny; perhaps it was ceramic? The menu is not huge, but there are many fun things to share. We had only had several rounds of drinks back in DC at the American lounge and then more on the plane, so another cocktail was in order. I loved the idea of the Pickled Ramp Gibson and asked if it could be made with Vodka. Our sweet server David said he would check and came back with a happy face and ultimately a superb Grey Goose Vodka Gibson with some superb pickled whole ramps in the glass; this beats an olive or onion any day, especially in this spring ramp season when I use them regularly to make one of the best vinaigrettes I can rustle up all year.

We chose some starters to share including a superb miniature BEEF & STILTON Pie which we managed to cut into four totally miniature bites. At $10 it's a pricy two-bite small dish, but has great flavors and is a yummy pastry pie as well. SCRUMPETS were described to us as battered breadcrumb meat sticks which are deep fried, and while they were tasty, especially with the quasi-chimichurri dipping sauce made with malt vinegar for that British touch, the half stick that Samuel got was virtually one big piece of fat with fried breadcrumbs. LAMB MARROW was a special starter and a big winner. We got about 5 or 6 pieces of bones with the albeit very salty marrow and a yummy carrot parsley sauce that cut the salt. These were accompanied by housemade whole wheat bread slices which we could slather th marrow and further cut the saltiness for a super hearty and tasty treat. Our last starter was the first one I spotted on the menu as I have an eye for Sweetbreads. Here they were FRIED SWEETBREADS with 'nduja (that yummy porky sauce), Ramp Kraut (who can resist more of that) and a Black Garlic Aoili and there were chunks of Smoked Blue Cheese for extra flavor; this was a winner for sure.

We wanted a nice rose and David brought over a Schneider & Bieler Cab Franc Rose 2015 from the Finger Lakes in Upstate NY for us to taste as it is served (oddly, on tap) by the glass. It was nice, but we wanted something different and Nick, the sommelier-manager suggested a superb Monteniddo Rose 2015 from San Gimignano in Tuscany made from the Canaivolo grape. It was just right with all the various flavors. Our red wine to follow was a huge winner with the Lopez de Heredia Tempranillo/Granacho blend 2004 from Rioja called Vina Bosconia. It was a great match with the juicy huge Chargrilled LAmBURGERS (A Signature dish) served with Feta, Cumin Mayo and awesome Thrice Cooked Chips (that's fries). It also paired beautifully with the Crescent Duck Breast which came with Duck Sausage as well, a huge potato rosti underneath the entire dish, but still crunchy and flavorful and topped with fermented ramps (YUM) as well as poached rhubarb. Th dish was a perfect medley of flavors and was only marred a little by the fact that the duck skin was quite fatty (I cut it out) instead of crispy, my preferred choice for all duck skin.

We were stuffed and headed to our hotel without dessert to find a plate of cheese, grapes and even mini-cupcakes in our suite on arrival at the Regency; what a nice treat on the start of our big NYC weekend.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

PENNSYLVANIA 6 in DC provides a perfect meal (5-16-16)

We were invited to dinner last night by our dearest friends at the spanking new PENNSYLVANIA 6 (www.pennsylvania6dc.com) located on Franklin Square at 1350 I St, NW and we were mightily impressed.
Since it was a belated celebration of Will's birthday, we started with Franciacorta Brut Sparkling from Guido Berlucchi in Lombardy which is a delicate super dry sprakling which surpasses the mediocre Proseccos we see so much of these days.
It's a great wine to have with some of the fun starters such as the Olives marinated in Rosemary, Chili and Citrus Aromatics or the super Fresh Ricotta Spread with Olive Oil, Black Pepper & Thyme served on a large slate with Grilled Bread slices and a super yummy, yet mild, Orange-Fig Jam. This is a really great fun starter and in addition you should consider the Sardinian Flatbread. These days, I always avoid the starchy, even though tasty, flatbreads as I prefer to avoid the carbs. This is a very crunchy flatbread that is more like lavosh which is smothered with shaved Aged Goat Cheddar, Radish slices, Arugula, Truffle Oil and 'Nduja, which our ever so sweet server, Olesea, explained was a slightly spicy sausage paste, that I just could not get enough of.
We were thrilled to find an old friend at the helm of the wine program, Sommelier Mark Slater, who hails from Jean-Louis at the Watergate and Citronelle, if you go back some years. He brought out a divine Geroges Vernet 2009 "Les Terrasses de l'Empire" Condrieu which has to be one of my favorite varietals on earth. Condrieu is a very specific varietal of Viognier that comes from a very small region on the Rhone that I could easily visit over and over; I can't wait to go back again as it is so beautiful, and also has magnificent views of the river and the Alps beyond. The nose was to die for and the wine simply earthy and full of body. It was ideal with the Charred Spanish Ocotpus with Gigande Beans, Fennel, "Nduja(more of that!!) and Salsa Verde; this dish is one of the best starters around town. We also tried the superb trio of Crudos of which my favorite was the Black Kingfish (Cobia) with avocado, ginger, palm hearts, serrano chile and citrus ceviche sauce. It sounds busy, but works. The Yellowfin Tuna Crudo with yuzu-miso, mango, roasted peanut and spicy cress was nice, but you know I make the best Tuna tartare around, so the Kona Kampachi Crudo with gooseberries, cumin salt & salsa verde was the least exciting for me.

I noticed a great deal for Happy Hour (4-7pm) at the bar with $1/oysters and $5/oyster shooters....gonna have to return for that, and the bar is huge with a very large lounge area to relax with all those deals.
The raw bar is extensive, but we refrained.
It was hard to choose main courses, and I was torn between the Monkfish Osso Buco but went for the Berkshire Pork Chop with Sweet Potatoes, Candied Pecans, Fried Brussels Sprouts and an amazing Bourbon Lacquer. the meat was perfectly cooked and the portion HUGE, so it will be eaten later in the week for sure. Will chose the 14 ounce Bone-in Fillet with Chimichurri, but they brought extra sauces and the meat was divine, charred on the outside, rare in the middle. Steak is great here and the décor is that of a clubby leathery steak place for sure, but next time I'm headed for the large choice of seafood for sure.
Sides are amazing here from the Wild Mushrooms to Duck Fat Fries which come with a decent ketchup, but an awesome mustard sauce. The Fried Brussels Sprouts which were on my plate can also be ordered as a side and have to be the biggest on earth and the tastiest. FB pictures can be seen of the main courses and desserts.

Our main course wine was a 2008 Pommard "La Chaniere" from Domaine Mallard Pere et Fils which was so fruit forward and truly a revelation. Will got a glass of the much bigger and heartier The Prisoner Zin/Petit Sirah/Syrah
blend that is available by the glass.

Mark brought us amazing Sauternes with dessert, Petite Vedrine 2010 which we all loved and we split two desserts: Spiced Apple Cake with Butter Toffee Pecan Caramel Sauce & Bourbon-Vanilla Gelato and the delish Bread & Butter Pudding with Black Currants, Butterscotch Sauce and Mick Chocolate Gelato.

We all had a great time and there is something for everyone at this new spot in Downtown DC.