Friday, January 29, 2016

Stratford Univerty's Culinary Team is terrific(Alexandria, VA-1-28-16)

Each year at the March of Dimes Signature Chef's Gala, the Culinary Dept. of Strathmore University in Virginia is not only a sponsor, but they offer up a super special auction item of a 3-course dinner for 16 people prepared and served with flair and grace in their Culinary School's beautiful setting. We did this three times previously at their location in Woodbridge, but this year they moved the dinner to their beautiful new campus in Alexandria, a mere 20-30 minutes away, and much more convenient. Chefs Noree Hathaway(who runs the program) heads up a truly impressive team in the kitchen that really make you feel like you are in a 5-star restaurant with a flair of home dining.
Our first course was a truly miraculous Shitake Mushroom & Spinach Soup which had swirls of mushroom laced with salty green spinach puree and yummy fried crispy shitakes throughout the blend. We had a Chardonnay (we supplied the wines, but I forgot the brand!) which was a great pairing.
Salads can be a bore, but last night's Arugula Salad with Cara Cara Oranges & Shallot Vinaigrette was amazing from the delicate tasty (and not bitter) baby arugula which was clearly sourced from the best of vendors to the tasty oranges and superb creamy dressing. We paired a Cava Brut with this as I always feel salads should have bubbly, but alas at home we won't open a bottle of sparkling just for one course for the two of us!
The main course was another beautifully sourced and cooked Roasted Halibut with Provencal Vegetables (Carrots, Leeks, etc) that everyone gobbled up with the Bread & Butter California Pinot Noir that also got raves.
Speaking of Bread & Butter, the breads were also delicious and the butter was blended with honey for a touch of sweetness.
Our final course was no less impressive in the form of a White Wine Poached Pear with Madagascar Vanilla Bean Ice Cream with a decadent Caramel Sauce. We hauled a 1994 Fonesca Port from home which wasn't bad either.
We love doing these events as it is work-free and always so enjoyable, but also because we get to see the students work so hard and show their stuff. We asked each one to tell us where they were in their studies and where they hoped to go. It was fun to hear their enthusiastic answers and how much they truly love their studies and this terrific program. Bravo Stratford U!


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Take me to B TOO also for terrific Belgian fare (1-25-16)

While Snowmageddon swamped DC over the weekend, we braved the snow to head out on the first night of Restaurant Week (which runs thru Sunday) and chose B Too, as we have always enjoyed Chef Bart Vandaele's food and here he is joined by Chef Dieter Samijn producing some of the best Belgian fare in town.
We sat down and decided to order the Fried Duck Bitter Balls with lambic Beer & Cherry Chutney, one of the small bites options. Sam wanted none of these, but then after tasting, begged for more! We have loved bitterballen on our cruises and these duck version are so far superior, rich and creamy treats!!
Other awesome starters include the Foie gras Terrine with brioche, figs, speculoos & truffle, but the small bites winner is easily the amazing Crispy Pig Ears cooked to a perfect crunch and served in a leaf of Belgian endive with Pickled Shallots and an awesome Bourbon Soy Sauce. We could have easily had more.
All three of us started the 3 course $35 Restaurant Week deal with the spectacular Filet Americain Prepare or Steak Tartare with Quail Egg(boiled), cornichons, capers, parsley and crispy onions. The super tartare was slightly spicy and salty and creamy rich with little dollops of Russian-dressing-like sauce.
Will started with a Torched Hirbiliciouse which was Belvedere Vodka infused with basil & thyme, Pomegranate Juice and Rosemary served in a tankard. The metal gave me a weird taste, but Will liked it and the drink oozed herbs.
My Sunset Margarita was Olmeca Altos tequila with Cranberry Shrub, Orange & cranberry Juices and a Chili-Lime-Salt Rim. YUM YUM.
Our red wine was a superb Quindals Emporada 2007 "Mas Estrela" Blend of Grenache & Syrah that was superbly aged to perfection and big enough for our amazing main courses:
Samuel had the Josper Grilled A. Bros tenderloin with Belgian frites & Béarnaise; he of course skipped the small salad, and raved about the meat's tenderness.
Will had the Short Ribs Zoals Een Stoverij which was Flemish style braised short ribs with Leffe brown abbey ale, endive, mustard-potato croquettes on the side and mayo. It was a huge portion and super as was my
Konijn Met Pruimen or Braised Rabbit with plums, Straffe Hendrik ale, Pearl Onions, Beech Mushrooms, Fingerling Potatoes, Bacons and Lardons as well as Parsnip Chips and the sweetest ever carrots.
Dessert is included and the boys took home theirs for later, but our super server Denis said that my choice wouldn't travel, so I forced myself to eat and I adored the Fried Apple Waffle with bourbon Apple Compote, Speculoos Ice Cream and Calvados Caramel. The ice cream is a great treat that one finds only in Belgium and the Netherlands, but the waffle was also great and just the right size.
A small treasure chest of gels, Marshmallows and wafers arrived to send us on our way in the cold deep snow.
PS-parking right in front was quite easy downtown even with the giant drifts!
Of course, pics are on FB

MOMOFUKU DAISHO does delicious tastes in Toronto (1-24-16)

While I have been to the Momofuku in Philadelphia, I was not overwhelmed. On the suggestion of the Sales Manager at the magnificent Shangri-La Hotel where I was staying, I did go to Momofuku in Toronto, which indeed is located in the Shangri-La Hotel complex. The huge 3+ story complex has a noddle bar on the ground floor, a milk bar on the middle floor, and Daisho Restaurant on the top floor as well as a tasting room separate dining option on Tuesday-Saturday.
As I went on Sunday, I was limited to the noddle bar or Daisho, which I chose.
Daisho has about 10-20 tables with a rear room as well with more tables. The front room set several stories high overlooks University Avenue and the Performing Arts Complex across the street in a most impressive setting. There is an awesome high ceiling with the Momofuku logo handing high above, wooden floors and tables and low humdrum music that I could have lived without. I did love the large Japanese drum-like lights that hung above the bar at the rear.
The menu is not huge, but there were so many items I couldn't decide. My server Jordan was very helpful saying that I should do a side veggie rather than a pasta as they tend to be heavy.
I started by ordering a bottle of Ginjo Nama sake from Izumi "Nama-Nama" actually made in Toronto, already a good start of the local ingredients with the Japanese ideas. The cherry blossom aroma with hints of cantaloupe and apple were superb and it was bone dry. Oysters arrived with a dash of cucumber and Kimchi which I adored. Three were Beau Soleil from New Brunswick, 3 from Raspberry Point in Prince Edward Islands which was a new type for me and a great trat as they were both superb!
Secreto Ssam was a Kunan Farm, Ontario pork roasted with apple xo(A Hong Kong style sauce), and served with Mustard & mayo sauces with Bibb lettuce to make individual wraps that were brilliantly excellent due to the amazing quality of the meat and the exciting sauces. My veggie side was Cauliflower Bhaji which had a nice spice to it from lime, pickle, green chile vinegar and cilantro. Later I found there was also cumin, fennel, shaved onions and parsley all with the cauliflower cooked in a fried chick pea batter that was divine. A glass of Stanners Cabernet Franc from Ontario was a nice pairing as well.

For dessert, it seemed Jordan had left and Monica took over and I was happy with a small bowl of Cranberry Sorbet with crunchy rice-Masago which was a nice refresher. My dessert was Warm Date Cake with Butterscotch Maple Ice Cream (from Quebec, the maple syrup that is) as well as Five Spice Sauce and pickled and candied Walnuts. It was a superb dish loaded with spices and flavors and the ice cream was a gem to cut the spice and maple flavor oh so local. I was a very happy camper as I headed back to my room to finish

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Origin's awesome bravado brunch in Toronto(1-14-16)

Last year after Die Walkure, I had the pleasure of taking Brunnhilde to brunch, and this year we returned to Origin( as we loved it so much, and were joined by her father, the Wanderer or Wotan in this year's Siegfried. I remembered the brunch special drink called TBD(the brunch drink;to be determined) which was Sangria which I passed on for a margarita with a chili-salt rim hoping the heat would warm me up from the 20degree temps.
Our goddess chose the Palominosa with ru by red grapefruit juice, tequila and prosecco which I would have had were it not for the statins.
We shared a plate of yummy Deviled Eggs with Souffletine(crispy puffed rice), herbs and smoked bacon which were delish (but not as good as the ones back home at Dino's)
Both gods chose the Fried Rice(crispy)& Pork Belly & Crispy Eggs with Ginger, soy and chilies. The food had great spice and flavor as did my Short Rib Hash with Béarnaise, Jus of rich marrow(it had to be reduced for days), Poached Egg & Buttermilk Onion Rings....can't resist onion rings.
Our server Lance was super and even though it took a time for the food to come we were having an awesome time it did not matter.
Brunnhilde plans to return there keep your eyes open for a god-spotting.


Porchetta and Co. in Toronto gets pure praise (1-23-16)

Since my opera was a 6 hour marathon at 630pm, I decided to indulge in a large filling lunch at about 3pm and chose Porchetta & Co( which gets huge raves on it's one offering PORCHETTA. The original location was about a 30 minute walk from my hotel and I decided to walk through the shops and stores of Chinatown, which got my mouth watering to begin with. Once there, the choices were simple, the meat with toppings and sides, or a sandwich. The special of the day was a sandwich with porchetta, cracklings, parmesan, mustard, hot sauce and truffle butter on a large roll. I settled into one of the 3 seats at the window, as this is primarily a take-out place, and indulged. The crunchy bites of crackling confused me at first as I thought it was a small bone, but I remembered that is the secret to this success sandwich and boy was it an amazing success. The sauces all combined for awesome flavors bursting in my mouth and when I finally left I was quite satisfied and then not full later when I arrived at the opera. A brilliant idea. On my departure, I asked if there were other locations and they said one had just opened downtown, about 6 blocks from my hotel. Well, at least I got some exercise!


Toronto's EDULIS is excellent (1-22-16)

My first night in Toronto was at a small spot in an old house with no more than 16 tables. EDULIS is a homey warm spot right in town that has a bistro feel with marble tables and wooden floors as well as a small tiled bar in the corner, which is for service only as there are no seats. They only offer two tasting menus of 5 courses for $65 and 7 courses for $85, but you need to remember that the US$ is so strong that in US$ these two amounts are $45 & $59US!!
I even splurged for TWO extra optional courses, but more on that later.
Edulis charges a whopping :-)) $2(1.40US) for unlimited Q filtered water and the sparkling was quite nice. I was also warmly welcomed by my server Sean with a nice glass of Cava Cordoniu "Anne de Cordoniu."
Nice crusty bread and cultured butter arrived (it was not singing opera!) as well as toothpicks with soft breadcrumbs and pepper-stuffed olives.
The first course was a true novelty for me: Seaweed cured shima aji (a Bluefin varietal from New Zealand also called trevali) with radish, hemp heart and sesame. The dish was a superb sushi grade fish with a pickled radish base and seaweed that I loved!! I asked Sean for wine pairings and received an Albadia Albarino de San Campio 2014 from Riax Baixas which was quite nice.
Next came a Sake Daijingo Onikoroshi paired with an amazing Surf Clam on roasted rice loaf with a Boshi (or salt cured sour cherry) broth and sake butter which was another revelation in the mouth.
The third course was my additional course of Just Shucked Scallop with Crosnes(a thick interesting tuber that was akin to a Jerusalem artichoke), Brioche and shaves of Black Perigord Truffles. It was paired with one of my favorite winemaker's Marcel Deiss 2012 Pinot d'Alsace blend of Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc & Auxerrois.
Cider from Brittany came (Coat-Albert Brut) which was quite nice, but I would not drink it as a habit and it was paired with Black Trumpet Mushrooms cooked over Cedar wood with a Pine Nut Chowder. This was the only total vegetarian dish on the menu, but they do them superbly. The guy at the next table was thrilled to find out they have veggie dishes, but upset they won't do a veggie tasting!
John Dory was cooked perfectly over Japanese Charcoal with Parsley Root Puree, Onion Petals and a lemony sauce made from the fish bones that I adored. A Heus Blanc Macabeo blend from La Vinyeta 2014 in Emporda Spain made from Zarello, Garnacha Blanc, Malvaxia and Muscat was quite tasty as well.
Lagar de robla 2012 was a red from Castille y Leon Spain made from Mencia grapes that was also quite wonderful and paired with a very salty Salt-cured  Bonito also cooked over Japanese Charcoal with Last Summer (lima-like)beans which were preserved and yummy as well as mild chorizo which was breaded.
The main course was Milkfed Pork Belly with Salsify, Pistachio Sausage and Leek Puree in Cider Sauce. The belly was crispy and tasty (the table next to me said theirs was a bit fatty and not crispy, so I lucked out) and the sausage was superb. The Givry 1er Cru Burgundy from Domaine Thenard was delish as well.
This came with a very tasty side of Kale & Sundried Apple Salad that I loved but it was quite spicy dressing.
Cheese was next and for a mere $15Canadian you get 3(that's $10) and I chose two from Canada and one US:
Baluchon from Fromagerie Pichet in Quebec was a washed rind cow that was creamy and sweet as well as earthy
Aged Lankaaster rom Glengarry in Ontario was a hard cow that Sam would have loved as it is akin to aged Gouda.
I could not resist the Rogue River Blue from Oregon and aged in grape leaves washed in pear eau de vie!!
There was yummy quince paste and unique local Heartnuts from Ontario which are like walnuts but better.
Belem's Madeira 10 year Malmsey was a nice pairing and the end of my wine for the night.
Little did I know that two desserts would follow:
An amazing Blood Orange Sorbet on Citrus Mousse which was a hot mousse with citrus segments in it below and even a crispy edge. WOW!
Baba au rhum had extra rum poured on it tableside and Chantilly cream. I had two bites and had to stp after this truly amazing dining experience!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Blacksalt in DC; always worth going back to! (1-18-16)

We started off our year back in DC with a return visit to Blacksalt, easily the closest dining spot to our home, and it always makes me want to go back again and again.
The Chili Margarita brought back memories of Mexico with a smallish drink that packed a punch made from Milagro Silver Tequila with habanero, Lime & Salt.
The warm breads and herbed dipping oil was a big hit with the boys and also the adults.
Samuel had a huge pasta lunch as he had gone out with friends, so he only ordered the quite large starter of Skuna Bay Salmon Tartare with Sushi Rice, Ponzu, Sesame, Scallion, some Wasabi Oil & Spicy Aoili that both packed a punch. The tartare was sprinkled with crispy pieces of batter tempura for a nice crunch that really made the dish super.
Caesar Salad & Beets & Baby Citrus Salad were huge and also got raves, while Will had his standard the Woodgrilled Baby Octopus. I loved the simple Pacific Kampachi Crudo with Roasted Chestnut Aioli, Pickled Butternut Squash, Local Apple and Micro Leeks, but for $18 the portion is really extremely small. The fish was superb and the flavors were great, but maybe an extra couple of slices would have been nice.
We started with a bottle of Evesham Wood Le Puits Sec Oregon Pinot Noir 2012 from Eola-Amity Hills which was full of fruit in the mouth and then moved on to an awesome Villa Creek High Road, James Berry Vineyard 2012 in Paso Robles recommended by superb sommelier JJ, which is an amazing blend of 50% Grenache and 25% each Syrah & Mourverdre that really is a full bodied mouthful of berries and earth.
It was a great wine with the Atlantic Big Eye Tuna with Crispy Pork Belly, Kimchi Broth, Snow Peas & Mushrooms that itself was also extremely flavorful.
I had the Maryland Rockfish with came with Chanterelles, Haricots Verts, Brandy Cream, Black Trumpet Mushrooms and Pommes Puree. It was a huge dish also full of flavor that I loved with the wine as well.
One of the boys had some Mango Sorbet, but we wobbled home quite full after another meal so deserving of big bravos at Blacksalt!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Last night in Meixco takes us to the marvelous LA TERESITA in Guanajuato's Villa Maria Cristina, a really conquering Relais et Chateaux (1-6-16)

We more than loved every minute of our stay at Villa Maria Cristina in Guanajuato, where we were treated like royalty. The small agglomeration of 100+ year old homes is charming with excellent service and superb food. We saved La Teresita (where we also had brilliant breakfasts) for our final night and it was wonderful as we were the only ones there.
We sat at our formal table with white linens in a 150-year old room with antiques to match. The Riedel Crystal arrived with Casa Madera Chardonnay, but I could not resist my favorite red winery on the wine list: Adobe de Guadalupe 2012 here surprised me with yet another varietal mix called Serafiel (52% Cab/48% Shiraz) tasting of earth, vanilla and chocolate all at the same time.
Of course on our last night we had to start with the Mezcal Margaritas with Chili-Salt rims and here I went for Frozen tamarind flavor while Will went basic.
Samuel spotted Carne Tartara on the menu so we all had that prepared tableside with red onion, cilantro, parsley, capers, olives, serrano chilis, egg yolk and of course, in Mexico, lime. It was a very different flavor from our tartare here and we all loved every bite.
We also tried the Tostadas de Marlin which was a strong tasty fish with chipotle mayo and caramelized onions. I have to rave about all the starters and Samuel wanted another for his main and he chose Sopa di Jitomate, a tomato soup with basil oil and crispy mozzarella ravioli.

Will & I split a salad called Potosina which was delish with our farewell of Marinated Nopal Cactus, Jicama, Queso Panela, Palm Hearts, Cilantro, Cabuchas (cactus flower) in a tasty balsamic vinaigrette.

For Platos Fuertes (main course) Will chose the Lechon 12 Semanas with Mole Rojo de Guanajuato. The meat was superb, but he really wanted that crunchy top we had come to love on the pork roasts. It came with yummy tomato and potato confits. My Pechuga de Pollo Marinada was in a white asparagus(creamy) sauce with paprika, herbs and garlic with Portobello mushrooms. It was a nice dish, but not super exciting.

We could not skip dessert on our last night as they had Churros Mexicanos Guanahuatenses with sugar, cinnamon and guajillo chili powder with cajeta (that amazing goat's milk caramel) as well as Chantilly cream.
We were all thrilled to have this as our last supper conclusion.   Yet Zignum Mezcal Reposado (100% agave) arrived which was a fruity alcoholic treat after the meal as well as Sacrificio Reposado which was intensely smoky. Will had a Macallan Scotch while I hoisted my glass to go back to our gorgeous suite to pack up and head home after so many miraculously delicious Mexican mouthfuls.

Guanajuato gives it up with EL CALLEJON del BESO, worthy of many kisses (1-5-16)

We moved further west for our last two days to the most adorable place we visited and instantly fell in love with Guanajuato with it's colonial feel yet somehow odd terrain on hills with dozens of subterranean tunnels that would loose anyone after a couple of margaritas. Speaking of margaritas, we asked for the bebida del casa, which here was a yummy sangria and then went on to a bottle of L.A.Cetto Nebbiolo 2011 Riserva Privada from Valle de Guadalupe. We had tasted another Nebbiolo from Cuna da Tierra, a winery we visited several days earlier, and this grape has really taken well to the Mexican climes.
El Callejon del Beso is named for the famous street nearby where everyone kisses amidst the fable of the girl who tried to run off with her student boyfriend as she kissed him on this so narrow street that their balconies touched. Alas, her father did not agree to the match and as they kissed, he stabbed his daughter in the heart. The specialty of the restaurant is grilled hearts which are served aflame tableside and then stabbed; we refrained, but chose to started with the Crocodile Carpaccio which was delightful-a kind of earthy chicken-tasting dish which went well with the wine's big earthy flavors. Trucha Ahumada was another superb starter and the smoked trout was served ceviche style with tomato, spice, onion and cucumber. Bread came with many salsas, a kicky mayo aioli, salsa verde with avocado crema, olive oil with chilies and tapenade.
We were in heaven enjoying every flavor.
Sam spotted plain Pasta with Fineas Hierbas and chose that while Will and I tried two mains from the famous grill:
Pulpo a la Plancha which offered up huge chunks of tender octopus with lime and an olive tapenade salad
Corte a la Casa was a huge steak with potatoes, chilies and oil that we could not finish but was as tender as could be. It was fun to try the various dishes with the aioli and different salsas as well.

We were full, but could not resist the description of dessert, Pan de Nopal, which literally is nopal cactus bread, but here it was a whimsical creation of a desert scene. The cake was moist nopal cactus with caramello sauce and cocoa-which was like the dusty sand, sesame, lime and apple with a strong alcoholic sauce (I assume tequila or mescal) and the while thing was topped with a crunchy grasshopper....YUMMY,
Sam loved his red velvet cake made with Philly Cream Cheese and a huge spun sugar dome (the dome is missing on FB--sorry).
We had only been in Guanajuato for hours, but we were already in love with this charming town!


MOXI in San Miguel, home to Chef/Entreprenuer Enrique Olvera, makes a mean meal, but needs some work in service (1-4-16)

we wanted to save the best for our last night in San Miguel, and also since uber-super-star Mexican Chef Enrique Olvera's Mexico City restaurant, Pujol, was closed for the holiday, we chose his MOXI, meaning "craving" in the local Otomi language. Even though this is only several hours north of the capital, Otomi is more akin to Native American Indians than to the Aztecs who hailed from the now-capital region to the south.
The setting was as elegant as it got in San Miguel, with crisp white linens and crystal in a semi-outdoor setting; of course, we had cigarettes and cigars again! How can these great chefs allow that?
Our sever was slow to bring menus and even slower to take the order and sometimes we have to hail the team down for anything we wanted. They were severely understaffed for a Monday night after a long holiday weekend and tables of Mexicans were flowing in and filling up the previously empty place when we arrived. Bui (Mexican bottled) water was poured and served with a choice of cucumber, lime or spiced orange which was a nice touch, but I have to say it was od that no amuse ever appeared.
The tasting menu was irresistible for 950pesos(about $55US) so Samuel & I went for that as Will still had a bit of queasiness for several nights earlier. He chose the Smoked Tuna Tartare with Radish, Cilantro, Roasted Chile and said it was good, but still not as good as mine! His main course was the Purslane Sea Bass with Shrimp Mole which was a good dish, but again not prize-winning  like the items on the tasting menu. We ordered glasses of Blanco de Mogordito 2012 Valle de Guadalupe which was a superb Sauvignon Blanc/Chardonnay blend that worked with Will's fish as well as my first dishes.
Sam & I were presented with the Zanhorias organicas, queso cabra, aceite guajillo, lechugas & crouton. A simple starter salad of carrots, goat cheese, guajillo chili oil, lettuce and croutons which excelled from the chili/lime vinaigrette. Next came the winning Tamal de Elote Dulce, Crema Acida, Queso de Rancho which was a huge bowl filled with creamy sauce masking a sweet corn tamale topped with sour cream and farmer's cheese. Each bite of the tamale got spicier and spicier and built as we discovered it was sitting on a small pool of habanero salsa. Both Samuel & I adored the dish and could have eaten more.
Sopa de Friol,Camaron al Ajillo was a bean soup with garlic shrimp, deep fried corn and epazote and Samuel passed his to Will as he won't touch fish (except salmon and the rare tilapia). Lucky for Will as this was another hit dish bursting with flavors and love.
Sam would not part with his Pumpkin Risotto and Squash Blossoms, although he did give me the two blossoms. The dish was devoid of spice and made a complete turn around from what came before; perhaps a palate cleanser and perfect with the winning red wine we ordered, Ala Rota 2011 from Valle de Guadalupe which was a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon/Petite Sirah/Merlot/Malbec & Tanat which at first was fruity and then turned earthy. Essences of beets and blackberries were abounding, and Will found rubber??
For the main course of the tasting menu we had a choice and Samuel went for the Beef steak with Mushrooms and Pickled Nopales (of course, Will & I ate those--YUM) and I adored the Rack of Pork with Radishes, Watercress, Purslane and Beans. It was crunchy on top and just the right portion so as not to overwhelm. Dessert was Yogurt Jelly, Melon, and Cucumber infused with Gin which was actually a sorbet and oh so refreshing. Chocolate truffles and cookies arrived and the night ended better with improved service and a truly terrific tasting.
I did ask where Chef Olvera was as his Mexico City place was closed and I was told he had spent New Year's in NYC at his new sold-out-all-the-time spot COSME (where I am sure the tasting menu must have run well over $100-200!!)...we got that deal, but in NYC you don't have to pay airfare!


Mexican lunches are lovely at San Miguel de Allende's HECHO in MEXICO and Bernal's EL MEZQUITE (1-3,4-16)

During our several days in San Miguel we had huge breakfasts, but there was always time for lunch (or a churro with cajeta..or chips with salsa on the go) when touring.
One lunch at the very American HECHO IN MEXICO  had chips and salsas on the table as we sat down and we always love to compare the salsas. Here the green was milder and creamier, while the red was smoky and intense. Samuel tried Chicken Fajitas with guacamole and French Fries; how Tex-Mex is that! Will (along with our guide Aaron) always went for the filling and tasty Sopa de Tortilla made with Gouda cheese, chipotle, avocado and chicken. Aaron was hungry and also ordered Fish & Chips, the quintessential Mexican dish served with Malt Vinegar of course (Aaron seemed clueless what it was for, but we quickly explained).
My Cochinita Pibil was a superb pile of slow roasted pork with achiote/habanero sauce, grilled Nopal Cactus and a tasty Jicama salad that cut the chili spice. Toritllas are always served fresh on the side for making a wrap, but I needed to cut back on the carbs at some point.

The next day took us to the small adorable town of Bernal, where I am sure we bought everything in sight from leather to pottery to wool to ponchos. Bernal is renowned for having the third largest free standing monolith on earth, only Gibraltar and Corcovado (in Rio) surpass, so our table at EL MEZQUITE had a clear view right to this monstrous rock, called Pena de Bernal.
As we sat salsas arrived with pickled vegetables (carrots, chilis, nopal cactus and more) as well as chicharrons to dip in the salsa. Sam went plain with Cheese Quesadillas and Guacamole, Will went for a soup, here Sopa de Albondigas with Chipotle, Avocado and Meatballs. I have come to love the salted beef called Cecina, which I ate for lunch and often had with eggs and salsa for breakfast. Here the Cecina Fresca was a huge slab of beef with enchiladas huastecas (local cheese filled with salsa) and a side of salad as well as refried beans. Full? YES!

San Miguel's LA CANICA, open only a month hits the firmament with Street Food by two Michelin Chefs (1-3-16)

Just weeks before leaving for Mexico, I spotted a small article about two Spanish Michelin starred chefs opening a small joint in San Miguel de Allende called LA CANICA. I emailed the concierge and he had no clue, but after persisting, we got a reservation and what a treat it turned out to be. We were welcomed at the door by Chef Bruno Dominguez who had moved from Madrid and joined with another Spanish Michelin-star winner, Paco Roncero, and ushered to ur table in an adorable courtyard.
Alas the chairs were quite tinny and uncomfy though saved by a thinnish cushion, and the tables had rungs across where your legs went, so it wasn't actually a place you would linger for hours. But then, the live music started with Mexican/American entertainers alternating all night and it wasn't loud, just pleasant and real mood setting; the huge antique fountain at the center didn't hurt either. We loved the modern artwork, especially a number of art mirrors which we ended up buying on of.
Our super server Cesar, helped us decipher the simple menu of street food combining Mexican and Spanish flavors, but before this he brought over shot glasses of amazing house made herbal/guava infused Oaxacan Mezcal  with spiced orange slices. The orange arrived after I had gulped down the wondrous liquor, so he quickly refilled my glass. YAY! we ordered Mezcal Maragritas with chili-salt rims made with the special herbal mescal, and it was so good, I had a second. I asked if the drink had a name and they said no, so ia sked the name of the woman at the bar making the drinks; within seconds we dubbed the drink the Mexcal Perla! Popcorn arrived instead of bread, making it easier to order more alcohol! We asked Cesar about the wine list and he asked, "red or white." after choosing red, he brought over 5 or 6 bottles and we chose Incognito, 2013 Valle de Guadalupe made from Merlot, Cab & Syrah which was a nice wine to go with everything.
Plastic plates and small napkins are the norm here, which was fine as we had a napkin holder on the table to keep grabbing more as this was big time messy finger food.
I started with the rich creamy Iberian Croquettes made from potato, Jamon Iberico (from Spain), pepper puree and micro greens on top. Will went for the Grilled Pizetta with smoked salmon and goat cheese, which was a huge tortilla-like pizza that could have served two as a starter, and Samuel bravely chose the awesome Tempura Asparagus with Bacon (spelled "beacon") cream and teriyaki; it may sound off the wall, but it tasted great.
Sam went on to have the Thai Burger which was a monstrous beef burger with Asian recipe spices, onion, ginger on a monster bun served in a Spider man lunchbox with chips. We noted all the burgers came in these adorable lunchboxes as Hello Kitty was at the next table. Will had Fish Tacos & Panaengnuu Sauce, which nobody could pronounce and they simply declared it was red curry; another hit.
My Beef Chamorro Poboy was the biggest sandwich I have seen since a NY deli loaded with corned beef. Smothered with caramelized onions, guajillo chilis and a ginger crema, the dish had to be a pound of bbq meat that was smoked perfectly. There were some bits of gristle, which I was wont to spit out to be couth, but I had to, and I still left a ton as doggie bags don't work when you stay in hotels. This came with amazing homemade potato chips as well. We have come to love the local chip ladies on each corner...our favorite are the cheese-chili chips which are bagged covered with lime juice and then sprinkled with hot salsa which you can eat on the go--what fun!
We were way too stuffed for dessert, but this little find is a new star in the Mexican heavens.

San Miguel de Allende is amazing for food when you eat at APERI (1-2-16)

Our second night in San Miguel took us to Aperi where Italian-Mexican Chef Matteo Salas serves up some of the best food in town. The small dining area is indoors in an almost homey living room setting with Modern Mexican décor and dark woods which is open to a beautiful garden full of trees and plants AND SMOKE. We learned that many dining spots allow smoking in the outdoor areas, which are often connected to the indoor ones. This can be a problem for those of us who like to enjoy our food without inhaling tons of nicotine. Luckily, it was not continuous.
An amuse arrived of Rice Chicharron with leek ash and avocado gel; this was a good clue that the food here was going to be different. The drinks here were novel as well and while Will went for a more traditional Grand Marnier Margarita with agave, tajin, polvo de chipotle, Tequila Reposado, Grand Marnier, lime and a chile jalapeno rojo rim, I opted for KALE: a mix of Mezcal, nectar de agave, lime, ginger and kale shrub pulverized with grated kale leaves and a salt rim. It tasted very much like jugo de verde, which I always drink for breakfast in Mexico and adore, but here with an alcoholic twist.
Will and I decided to split the Beet Salad to start which was brought to the table under a large glass dome full of smoke and was released in front of us with great dramatic flair (check out my FB page). The dish was composed of pickled and grilled beets, goat cheese, horseradish cream, balsamic & beet juice gel (this was really like a rich jello), pecans and baby spinach; Mexican salad making at its best. Samuel chose the Artichokes & Fennel which was a combination of both veggies grilled (although he chose to omit the smoked provolone cream) with breadcrumbs, Kalamata olives, fennel oil and lemon juice. While not a big fennel fan, these were the mildest versions I have ever tasted and the dish was indeed impressive.
Our wine arrived and somehow the bottle of Quinta Monasterio 2013, Sinfonio de Tintos from Valle de Guadelupe was ice cold; somebody had screwed up. We later learned it came from the cellar a bit warm, and the manager went to chill it quickly, but forgot it! OOPS! We really could not appreciate the wine for almost 20-30 minutes until it came back to room termperature.
We has tasted ESQUITE in Mexico City and it is a new favorite, so Will tried this version of Roasted Corn in corn broth with fresh chickpeas, fava beans, smoked Cotija cheese, lemon mayo and chile powder which was a new top choice for this dish!
I started with the baby Squid which was flash cooked in brown butter and lime and served with a gigantic charred Oyster Mushroom and confit of Leeks (spelled leaks on the menu!) as well as sea beans, which are a salty miniature bean that resembles seaweed. I loved the way the salt worked with the squid, which was cooked perfectly and so tender. I love calamari, but try to avoid the fried version; this was a great take and won my prize.
Since an Italian was in the kitchen, pastas were on the menu, and Sam could not resist the Tagliatelle with tomato, parmesan, olive oil, and basel, which was as simple as pasta can be and gone in a matter of seconds.
Will went for the Suckling Pig, cooked at low temperature which had soft juicy meat and an amazingly crunchy crispy skin with potato puree (spelled pure on the menu) as well as leaks (sp!) and lemon vinaigrette.
I loved my Seared Duck Breast with spices and a huge slab of seared foie gras, sweet potato pure (sp!), butternut squash, seasonal chutney and wine reduction with balsamic and spices. The sauce was very Mexican, but the preparation was the finest duck I had had in some time.
Desserts could not be resisted here and Will tried the Arroz Con Leche, a rice pudding with cajeta, the amazing goat's milk caramel that we have come to love (we brought a container home and it is best on churros!), caramelized rice chicarron, caramel popcorn, dehydrated yoghurt and goat yoghurt ice cream; need I say more.
I could not resist the Artisanal Cheeses as in Mexico the cheeses tend to be simple. These were all locally made in San Miguel, Jalisco and Michoacán regions and obviously catering to Chef Matteo and his tradition.
Alpenzeller was a stinky version of parmesan, crumbly and yummy
Goat Camembert was gooey and creamy and probably my favorite
Crottin was a traditional creamy goat
and Smoked Provolone was a treat as in Mexico hard cheeses are rare.
The next day we actually visited a cheese farm and I think the provolone may have come from here as it tasted similar. The cheeses were served with toasted Italian/French bread and such, but the big treat was the xoconostle (cactus) jelly; a true local take on our quince or guava, which I always do not care for.
We had the pleasure of meeting Chef Matteo after dinner and he announced that he is appearing on the soon to air Top Chef Mexico on Telemundo/NBC Universo. I have emailed their HQ asking if we can see it on USA cable, so if anyone out there hears about it, please let us know!!

Saturday, January 02, 2016

New Year's Eve Celebracion Barocca at Dulce Patria is a precious experience(12-31-15)

We did not want a hotel party or a mediocre dining experience for New Year's Eve, so we chose Dulce Patria, the elegant dining destination of Mexico's top female chef, and indeed on of Mexico's most famous chefs..Martha Ortiz. We arrived early as we expected tons of traffic on the holiday, so we had to wait about 15 minutes before they even opened the doors at 8pm. Our table was a sigh to behold, with leatherette and feathered masks, beautiful flowers and elegant Riedel crystal and china. I was happy already. The menus were printed and Samuel chose to have the children's tasting menu which was just as good as ours, but cost 1/4 the price!
Our server Gonzalo was a gem and asked exactly when each should be served during our 3-3/4 hour extravaganza.    Istarted with a  cocktail made from Pubela apples with tequila and wild lavender that was yummy, while Sam had a Mandarin soda that lit up (catch the photo on FB) for the holiday. Will was not drinking so he had a hibiscus water with cucumber. We all enjoyed the Smoked jalapeno chiles with ranch cheese and sweet tomato which were actually covered with a crunchy crust. The spice here was milder and indeed the cuisine was Mexican with a refined French flair of sorts. Breads arrived and we wanted to try them all but could not. Each different roll had a filling such as chipotle-cheese, mole, beans, or nogada....they were all amazing.
A sextet of string musicians and Mexican guitar-like instruments played, often the same music and especially Vivaldi's Four Seasons, but it was very nice and again quite elegant and classy.
I think our favorite course for all was the Cream of Young Corn Soup with Poblano chile strings and was not spicy at all and truly a divine corn soup.
I started with a Pionero 2014 Merlot-Tempranillo-Cab blend from Baja that I liked. My second wine was Casa Madero 2013 3V with the same grape blends and I didn't even finish it. Tops was the Hemisferio 2011 blending Petite Sirah & Merlot with yummy jammy notes, another wine perfect for mole.
The main course for Sam was Chicken breast breaded and baked (Milanese) with maize and cheese and rice with vegetable stars which was a huge portion for any person, let alone a child, but he adored it. We had the Beef Ribs with strokes of talavera(it means workshop) and old-style mole, which was explained as the Baroque style of cuisine from olden days. It came with tortillas which we did not even touch as we were so full. The dish had yummy plantanos with queso fresco, but alas the meat had some gristle making it not the best option. The accompaniments were corn gnocchi, mini grilled corn cobs, zucchini circles and so much more that it did not matter.
The first dessert was Red Pipian Ice Cream with caramelized fruits and seeds. The ice cream sat on a bed of spices and salt and these changed the flavor of the ice cream itself into an almost love-hate relationship as some spices were yummy and others not so much. It was a novel treat for sure.
Next came Baroque Almond Cake with Three Rompopes and roses of Castilla which was a divine egg, alcohol and peanut cake with pistachio nut sauce that I oohed and aahed over as I so rarely like cake.
We had heard that Chef Martha was amazing at desserts and yet more arrived with sugared grapes and a glass of Mumm's from France. We toasted the New Year as it was now just 11pm (midnight at home).
Adorable Mexican mini-wooden chairs on a platform came with even more treats of cahela(milk cream), apricots, chocolate and amaranthe, tamarind-nut and chile jellies. We took these home and are still munching them 2 days later.
The excitement did not end as we had the pleasure of meeting Chef Martha Ortiz on the way out and having our photos taken with her.
What a night!


Mexico City's Guzina Oaxaca wakes anyone's palate (12-30-15)

The next night I ended up dining alone as Will stayed in the room for chicken broth and Samuel was very tired and joined him.
I headed to another uber-Mexican chef's domaine, Guzina Oaxaca, where the cuisine hails from the south coast region of that name.
I started with my best "margarita of sorts" ever which was a Pepina/Mezcal cocktail with cucumber and lime as well as an awesome salted-chili rim on the glass.
As soon as I sat down a young waiter arrived and asked me what ingredients I wanted in my table-side made salsa. I chose all and went for the picante. A video can be seen (as well as the regular photos) on FB! No questions, this was the best salsa I have ever had with huge chunks of tomatillos and tomatoes as well as a dash of onion, cilantro and of course chiles and garlic. Blue corn and white corn crispy tortilla "chips" were for dipping.
The manager Ernesto helped me through the menu but I knew I wanted the famous Cazuelita de Lengua al oregano which was a thick stew of tongue with a wonderful sauce with a hint of lime. Tortillas arrived made by a woman at a stand in the front of the very small establishment with probably no more than a dozen or so tables, making this a very desirable spot with a long waiting list. It is very casual and simple though.
Some folks at a nearby table asked to buy tortillas and Ernesto said they were not for sale, but did offer me a take home batch of salsa...which I kindly refused as I knew it wouldn't keep in the hotel fridge as it was not cold enough.
Ernesto said not to worry that I couldn't choose between the starters as he would be bring over a bowl of the famous tiny grasshoppers with chilies and lime. I ate most of them and they were superb.
A white from  Valle de Guadalupe Hilo Negro Invisibile which was Sauvignon Blanc and that was excellent with the grasshoppers as well as  with my main course of Red Snapper wrapped in Hoja Santa Leaves in white wine and garlic. There was a divine rice underneath that was gooey and stretchy with what we would call Queso Oaxaca, but the Oaxacans call it simply Quesilla, as it is their cheese. Ernesto brought some over that was shredded and it tasted like a dry version of mozzarella, which made for a great blend with the rice.
Dessert was an Obleas de Maracuya which I would call a passionfruit Napoleon as it was wafers with a passionfruit and pasilla chile cream that was superb, but too rich for me, even though Ernesto insisted it was light.
I left hoping to return here again as he menu was huge and I only tasted a tiny portion of the excellent Oaxacan cuisine.


Quintonil for quintissential cuisine that is modern Mexican in Mexico City (12-29-15)

We had been very excited about our last three nights dining in Mexico City as they were three of the top places in the city and indeed the country (and two other top places were closed for the holidays!).
We headed to Quintonil. Quintonil has received "top 50 restaurants in the world" for 5 or more years now!
We saw the tasting menu (10 courses) and gave in immediately, especially at the 1100 peso price, which is $66US! Sam started with the String cheese sup with fried pork belly and plantain which he loved but declared way too rich and then went on to a main course of Chuck eye wagyu beef in "pulque" with corn and dried chiles demicglace, which came later in the overall scene, but was gone in seconds nonetheless.
We started with a bottle of Emblema Sauvignon Blanc from Paralelo, 2014 in Valle de Guadalupe was very smooth with a light citrus taste on the back palate. The sommelier, Daniel was most helpful and suggested the Unico Gran Resrva 2009 of Cab/Merlot which we had before several years back and is truly one of the best Mexican reds that goes with everything.
The restaurant is small and simple with firm benches and seats, wooden walls and large mirrors on them, which Will hated as he faced one. Unique ceramic plates were used and Spiegelau crystal was a big plus for the great wines.
An amuse of Nopal (cactus) ceviche with onion, vinegar, chiles and cucumber was a treat and then the peanut bread arrived hot from the oven with black bean dip with oja santa, butter honey and huitlacoche honey. Housemade tortillas came in an adorable hand-knitted white basket. Of course, salsas of red and tomatillo arrived as well.
Most of the dishes had local edible flowers, which I always say have little or bad taste, but they are always so pretty and here some larger pansy-like colorful ones were beautiful.
Course 1 was Mexican herb salad with Cotija cheese, grilled tomato and an herb emulsion. The word herb here in most important is that is the essence of the name quintonil itself. Herbs that are rare and unique are used in every single dish making for quite unique and wonderful flavors not available anywhere else on earth. The greens included Purslaine, mint, gasanta (which comes from Oaxaca), cilantro and more, The vinaigrette was to die for.
Marlin was smoked and served in salsa verde with purslaine, fennel, red prickly pear and guacamole just lightly underneath with a hint of chilies. This was sushi/ceviche gone Mexican crazy and we loved it.
#3 was a Smoked Crab "Tostada" with lime, radishes of many colors and chili habanero mayo, which was so light the mayonnaise was almost not there, but the flavor was a great binder (think crab cake with a punch). The tostada was made from corn, but tasted like a rice cracker and was corn-chili dusted as well. This dish beat the previous night's crab tacos by a million miles.
#4 was glazed mushrooms with "escamoles" (ant eggs), chile powder and huitlacoche puree. Daniel suggested we try the red with this and it was brilliant and imbued the intensely flavored fungus dish with even more essence.
More funghi came next in the form of a refreshing Cuitlacoche(they use a variant spelling) broth with seaweed and squash blossom serving almost as a palate cleanser.
Course #6 was the fish course and was Sea Bass with "Chile Guajillo" puree, ayocote(black, green and red radish), black beans, "chile guero" (blond chili) and pineapple pico de gallo. The latter two were actually small puree dots that appeared on the plate to allow you to dip the dish in and get different flavors and essences.
It was at this time that Will departed the table only to return and state he needed to go back to the hotel. I won't blame this mishap on the food as we later discovered he probably had an allergic reaction(possibly due to his asthma) to any one or more ingredients that he was not used to. We ate exactly the same food ALL DAY, and I was fine.
The main course arrived in Course #7 and it was the same dish Sam had just finished, so he gobbled down Will's wagyu with pulque...Now we had tasted this local homemade alcoholic "moonshine" the day prior and liked it a bit, but even  more with fruit flavorings (Sam liked, yes he tasted, the pina colada, and we loved the mix berry), but here it was used for a red glaze that was simply superb.
It was accompanied by Boracha or chayote squash.
Nopal Cactus Sorbet was the palate cleanser and came with a dash of sea salt and chilis for flavor. I could eat this anytime. It was also meant to frame the meal which started with nopal amuse.
Dessert Number 1 was preserved grapes which were frozen with tomatillo, rhubarb, lemon and grass creamy figure it out.
The last course was a Soursop jelly with chocolate, avocado and coriander which was a sweet puree and Sam & I loved this but went bananas when they delivered
the piece de resistance Café de Olila (not what was in it, but it was sweet) and bunuelos (tiny sugared donuts).
A bag with take-home gifts of "punche" or jellies of hibiscus and guava, marshmallows, mandarin marmalade & cocoa and so much more kept us busy remembering the night for days.
Sadly, Will was quite ill, but there were no ill feelings for Quintonil, and I daresay, I would jump at the chance to return.