Sunday, April 17, 2016

NYC's James Beard House presents the TASTE OF CHARLOTTE with super Southern cuisine (4-16-16)

Last night I was joined by a friend and client at James Beard House where I love to go on an off night in NYC as the events are always a treat.
On arrival, you always pass through the kitchen and this was different as four chefs from North Carolina were working on the hor's d'oevres (check my FB) and the place was a zoo.
I moved to the patio where Bob Peters, Mixologist from the Punch Room at Charlotte's Ritz-Carlton was serving Bottled Sherry with Topo(Top of the Hill) Southern Amaro (made specifically for this event).
The drink had a slight bitterness from the Amaro, but was nice and smooth and was truly ingenious with the many rich treats we were munching especially the Deviled Eggs with Smoked Trout, Trout Caviar, Dill & Pickled Onion (my favorite of them all). Just as rich and tasty was the Ashe Country Cheddar Pimento Cheese, Springer Mountain Farms Chicken Croquettes served in Romescu Sauce. While the starters were a collaboration in most cases, these came from Blake Hartwick of Bonterra Dining & Wine Room in Charlotte. Pastry Chef Ashley Boyd of 300 East in Charlotte and Heritage Food & Drink in Waxhaw created an odd mixture of Peanut Butter Biscuit, Salted Peanut & Black Pepper Ricotta, Muscadine Jam and Celery Sorbet served in a small spoon and while tasty, just had too much going on for my mouth. Green Garlic & Goat Cheese Panna Cotta filled out the group.

We sat down to find awesome hot biscuits in a cast iron skillet on the table with Strawberry Mostarda from Chef Boyd and launched into the first course, again a collaborative effort:
Pastrami-Cured No. Carolina Strip Loin in Cardinal Gin Smoke Oak Staves, NC Pink Lady Apple-Braised Red Cabbage, Toasted Cararway Tuille and Thousand Island Dressing which was one of the best quasi-Rubens ever. They mentioned that we would get take home bags with goodies and I was hoping for pastrami in mine, but alas there was none. This was accompanied by a Bob Peters' Cardinal Barrel Rested Gin Cocktail with Cheerwine "Cherry" a soda like Dr. Pepper from the region that was quite tasty.

Chef Hartwick gave us Ayden No Carolina Fried Catfish in Chicken Fat with BBQ Cauliflower, Pac Choi Slaw, Pickled Ramp Aioli, Geechie Boy Blue Corn Grits and Church Hot Sauce Bubbles which easily was the best catfish I've ever had in my life. Bennett seeds finished off the dish and that hot sauce was bubbling for sure, but all mixed together it was just simply perfection. Chalk Hill 2014 California Sauvignon Blanc was a perfect foil to the spice and fish.

Chef Chris Coleman of the Asbury at Dunhill Hotel in Charlotte prepared Chicken & Dumplings here with Slow-Roasted Springer Farms Chicken, Chevre Gnocchi, Newtown Farm Beets, Arugula, Radish, Pickled Green garlic and Roasted Lemon Jus. Chive, Chervil & Tarragon added depth to this winning dish served with a tasty Claude Riffault La Noue Pinot Noir Rose 2014 from Sancerre.

Chef Paul T. Verica of Heritage Food & Drink in Waxhaw was next with Heritage Farms Pork Belly, Sweet Potato, Swiss Chard, Black-Eyed Peas, Carolina Gold Rice and Cheerwine Glaze. The sauce was amazing and the chard was wrapped around the rice to make a sushi-like roll. If this was not enough, the belly was crispy, tasty and meaty with little unneeded fat. Just right with the 2013 Gilles Robin "Cuvee Papillon" Crozes Hermitage Rhone Blend. The entire dish was covered with shaved sweet potatoes all curled up that were fun as well.

Our pastry chef returned in glory with Local Goat Cheese & (Asheville)White Chocolate Cheese Cake with Textures of Strawberries, Sorrell Puree and Buckwheat Streusel & Marshmallows which was not too heavy despite the cheese and chocolate and I think every plate was cleared completely. Hou Hou Shu "Bubble, Bubble!" Sparkling Sake from Okoyama Japan was a novel sparkling sake that is easily a new fun fave of mine.

Lots of love form this huge team went into planning this dinner (which was slated months and months ago), and we all sadly remarked that our boycotts of North Carolina for the time being will not allow us to visit these great places, but at least they came to us, and I am sure these chefs will do their best to change the mindless efforts of some of their politicians and bring them round with a good plate and drink!


Saturday, April 16, 2016

another NYC find in FUJI SUSHI (4-15-16)

If you happen to be in NYC and find yourself looking for yet another fine sushi spot between Times Square & Lincoln Center (especially on April 15 to cut costs) then head to FUSHI SUJI (238 W 56th St-between Broadway & 8th Ave) for a great selection and an even greater deal.
I passed this teeny spot twice already in the last day and hundreds of times over the years and it's so narrow and easily missed, I never noticed it. A long narrow room has a bar up front, lots of simple wooden tables and chairs and a sushi bar at the rear where no less than four chefs were working hard to serve the several dozen diners.
I was headed to La Boheme at the Met, is only a 2 hour opera, but with the Mets tedious long intermissions runs just over 3 hours!! I needed a light meal and started with a superb Seaweed Salad which here has a bed of cucumber slices and a cherry tomato on top. Green tea was warming as the evening chill was back again tonight, even at 6pm. I asked my server which if the many rolls and sushi to choose as there some 4 pages of choices and that was just rolls, sushi and sashimi. I chose the NY Beauty and it was indeed a beauty. Each of the rolls here is 8 HUGE pieces of sushi stuffed with Warm Grilled Lobster, Lettuce, Cucumber, Mayo, Avocado & Tobiko. The only thing I could complain about here was the mild wasabi, but the rolls are awesome and this warm one was a novelty for me as I am so used to cold sushi. I ordered a small (180ml) mini-bottle of Saki which was a creamy smooth rice-intense Hanaomai Junmai Katana and a steal for $9, not to mention perfect with the lobster.
I was still a tad hungry, so for "dessert" I made a selection of three sashimi:
Red Skimmer Clam, Mackerel & Salmon Belly were all superbly sliced and served atop a pile of shredded radish and all top notch quality with the tender clams and rich fish.
The whole bill came to about $50 and I was in awe. I shall return to Fuji Sushi....

Friday, April 15, 2016

NYC's ANDANADA is truly the route to terrific tapas near Lincoln Center (4-14-16)

Several years ago I wrote a rave review for a Spanish restaurant near Lincoln Center called Gastroarte, and sadly never returned. I made a reservation to dine with a friend at another place which I did not realize had actually opened in the same location some 4 years ago. ANDANADA ( is a cute simple spot at 141 W 69th Street just off the corner of Broadway. Several steps down it is a very white place, with white brick walls, splashy bright art and great food from a Michelin starred chef to boot.

As I entered the place came right back to me as the d├ęcor has not changed at all. The menu is simpler with lots of tapas and many paella offerings as well.

We both enjoyed the Pazo Pondal Albarino white as NY was warming up a bit from the past cold spell, and most of the tapas are seafood centric.

A tasty amuse of truffled potato soup came and was gone in seconds. Another item was the Red Endive leaves with a dip of Blue Cheese, EVOO & anchovy that was okay, but won no awards. I adore both blue cheese and anchovies, but something just was not quite right with the flavor combination.

Our first tapas was Grilled White Asparagus with Salsa Verde (called Spanish emulsion in the English) and Mussels which was divine. I had never had the giant white European asparagus in this country before; they arrive in April/May each season and are called Feldspargl in Austria and I miss them horribly. They were a dream here...huge and white and char-grilled to perfection with that simple salsa and several steamed mussels.

Next came Ravioli de Espinacas y Gambas which is a true misnomer. You can see pictures of this on my FB page and they are really spinach stuffed into a shrimp "purse" with gratineed seafood sauce that was creamy and rich with pistachios and shimeji mushrooms; a true marriage of ingredients made in heaven (or this kitchen).

Next was Langosta y Pepino, simply a hollowed cucumber boat filled with Lobster and dabs of Lime aioli. It was simple, refreshing and a perfect dish as the weather warms up.

The last tapas we shared was Salpicon de Pulpo and was the only spicy one we tasted, but cooked perfectly with Cold Octopus layered with spicy peppers and topped with slices of fresh creamy Avocado. It is served like a tart and looks as good as it tastes.

If I had to complain, I would say it was the table location. This one table was set aside from the others which is why I asked for it, but once seated, the servers kept having to knock my arm and back to get past me to the other tables. Also, once we finished our tapas and were waiting for dessert, it took some time before anyone offered to wipe off the several blobs of olive oil or food on the table which had fallen during our meal. These were right in front of me and a bit disturbing.

Dessert was Torrijas de Calabaza which our server explained as French toast-like and it was served with yummy pumpkin ice cream and sugared almonds. It was nice, but won no awards and the menu said it came with vanilla soup, which the server said was never served before??

Not to worry--the food was superb and worth a return visit for sure!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

RIPPLE rules in DC with Top Chef-testants Marjorie Meek-Bradley hosting Carl Dooley from The Table in Cambridge,MA (4-11-16)

I was lucky enough to snag a seat at last night's awesome dinner at RIPPLE (rippledc,com) where Chef Marjorie Meek0Bradley has held court now for several years. After her recent turn of Top Chef (where she should have won at least Fan Favorite) she is in the process of expanding her empire as well as growing her worthy name. For this amazing dinner she was joined by co-Top Chef contestant CARL DOOLEY who reigns at THE TABLE( in Cambridge, Mass. These two are indeed a natural team (as so many of this year's Top Chef-testants were, so hopefully we will see more visiting here) and presented a superb evening of varied and exciting foods while also taking time to greet each diner and chat (catch my FB photos of the meal as well of me with Chef Marjorie).
As I sat down, I decided to take the option of paired wines for each of the five courses but also started with a 1/2 glass (yes, they offer half pours on wines by the glass!) of Weingut Tinhof, Blaufrankish Sparkling wine from Burgenland in Austria which had a sweet nose, a tinge of cherry in the mouth, but was bone dry on the finish; a truly wonderful summer treat for sure.
The magnificent piping hot Salted & Seeded Parker House Rolls arrived in a cast iron pan with 4 to a pan. I was alone, yet I still got four (but ate only 3:-))......while most couples got four as well. The salted butter was divine as it melted faster than I could spread it.
The courses were indeed divided by chefs and we started with the out-of-town guest, Chef Carl, who it turns out had a stint in DC for over a year at the now-departed Palena under DC uber-Chef Frank Ruta.
Terrine of oie Gras & Rabbit Confit was a delight and while it came with a deliciously grilled bread, I skipped most of that and left my carbs for the rolls in between and as a sauce mop. The terrine was beautifully plated with slices of Rhubarb, little dots of Purple Mustard (Chef explained to me this is done with grape must) and Spiced Almonds. As my wine was poured, a Donkey & Goat "Stonecrusher" Rousanne 2014 from El Dorado, California, the server explained it was "orange wine" and my face dropped. I had orange wine only a couple of times prior and the last time it was funk, fermented-tasting and truly awful (check my blog to find out where last year). This was not really funky or offensive like the previous incarnation, and indeed it paired quite well with the dish, although I could never drink this on its own.
Chef Marjorie was up next and always excels at pasta: Here we got a magnificent dish of Spring Pea Agnolotti with Chanterelles, Pickled Ramps, Hazelnut Dukkah & Pea Shoots. The dish was divine and these were my first ramps of the season (oh, I did make Ramp Pesto on Sunday and our son had it with pasta yesterday for lunch, but I have not partaken yet). Christian Lauverjat "Perle Blanche" Sauvignon Blanc 2014 Sancerre from France was a superb Sancerre oddly more citrusy than Sancerre tends to be with a full mouth of acidity that was just right.
I adore tongue, but can't ever recall having pork tongue. Chef Carl here mixed Pork Tongue with Brown Rice Congee, Carrots, Beans, Spring Vegetables, Black Garlic, Ginger, Basil and Coriander that was a miraculous wonder of mouth tastes that had me won from the first bite. We had moved to red wine with an Alain Coudert, Clos de la Roilette 2014 Gamay from Fleurie that I instantly fell in love with. I should note that while the servers worked as a team all night, so I had what seemed to be a dozen different and totally excellent folks serving, it was Matt who won me over with several extra pours. I am already inquiring about this magnificent wine which while light packed a mouthful of great tastes.
Chef Marjorie returned to the fore with La Belle Farms Duck Breast seared rare and served with Braised Endive, Roasted Beets and a White Asparagus-Mustard Puree that was heavenly. I even told her point blank, that this duck was excellent and better than that at Brushstroke in NY just last week. The wine pairing was an Olga Raffault "Les Picasses" Cabernet Franc 2009 from Chinon in the Loire was delicious but had the funkiest nose that I got past quickly. I still was in love with the Gamay I guess.
Finally came Miso-Carrot Cake which was rich and decadent with a White Chocolate Cream Cheese-like Frosting, Benniseeds & a scoop of superb Strawberry Ice Cream. I love carrot cake, but am not a big icing fan, although this dish was superb. The Candied Ginger sprinkled around was perfect to cut the richness and I truly love that stuff, I could have eaten it alone. The wine was a viscous treat with Donnafugatta "Ben Rye" 2013 Zibbibo from Sicily that was loaded with sweet apricots and would give any top notch dessert wine a run for its money and sweetness.
On departure we were treated to a small 3 inch rectangular wrapped treat from The Table in Massachusetts which I opened this morning and was thrilled to find a fruit/nut/grain bar which was just perfect with my coffee. How nice to remember the meal all over again at breakfast. I am so anxious for another event like this as it was indeed a special treat.

An Loi-Columbia, MD's amazing Vietnamese venue for delicious deals (4-10-16)

After a matinee of Sweeney Todd at Red Branch Theatre where Will is in the superb production of Sweeney Todd, a whole bunch of us were looking for a reasonable dinner spot that we could also bring along 4 tweens to.
We found it in AN LOI ( an unobtrusive spot in a local strip mall somewhere in Columbia. we all looked at the menu and marveled that virtually nothing cost more than $15 for main courses and $7-8 for starters, so the entire meal was a real bargain. They serve only one brand of wine (Sutter Home) and it's all priced at $15.95 a bottle; it's decent Chardonnay or Cab for the price and works well with the spices (we, of course, avoided the White Zin!).
Shrimp Green Papaya Salad was superb here with good acidity, not a ton of shrimp, but enough, and intriguing enough to get those that had never had it to give it a try and be thrilled to find a new dish. It is served here with Seaweed Jelly & Fish Sauce.
The Grand Combo Appetizer was superb and offered up a lot of choices and comes in varying sizes. We got TWO Grand ones for everyone to share and there was plenty of spare food.
Tops on this dish are the Grilled Grape Leaves stuffed with tasty Beef and served with two Dipping Sauces(for all the starters) of Fish & Peanut Sauces.
The Spring Rolls were large, stuffed to the gills and light as well, the Summer Rolls (what we would call miniature Egg Rolls) were also delish. The Grand Combo can be had with a satay-like grilled beef, chicken or pork though here not served on a skewer and hence not as dry as satay can get. The peanut sauce was amazing with this.
The main courses are hugely varied with dozens and dozens of choices, but noodle soups of varying kinds are the largest selection.
Tai is a Northern Beef Noodle soup with slices of Eye Round Steak. Many of the Pho and Bun are not very spicy (Some are) and you can add as much of the hot sriracha sauce or hoto chili in oil on each table's lazy susan loaded with various condiments.
If you seek Bun, try the Bun Ba Mon which allows you to combine three different items in the bowl.
The bowls are all huge and the broths are super, not to mention the top quality noodles.
I had the Hu Tieu Hoac which comes with rice or egg noodles in a rich chicken broth with minced pork, garlic, scallion and believe it or not a SIDE dish with a 1/4 dark meat of Crispy Fried Chicken and amazing Ginger Dipping Sauce.
Pickled Cabbage, Sprouts, Basil, Coriander and more veggies are piled high on a plate to allow you to manage your dish so it does not overflow. Needless to say, few of us finished our monster bowls and we all skipped dessert, but enjoyed the little Tamarind Sucking Candies that came with the check!
We don't get to Columbia a lot, but this was a fun spot and such a bargain, we would easily reconsider it if in the area.


Sunday, April 10, 2016

New York Japanese jewels-a super lunch deal at Times Square's SHIMIZU and a beautiful BRUSHSTROKE tasting and experience in Soho(4-7-16)

I was in NYC for a quick business trip and was invited to a business lunch at the Washington-Jefferson Hotel (318 W 51st St) near Times Square where SHIMIZU-Sushi & Shochu Bar has it's home.
I could not believe the $19 or so lunch deal which not only included a bowl of some of the best MISO Soup, but also a small salad. This accompanies virtually any of the lunch combos, and I chose the Chef's Sushi Selection with a 6piece Mexican Roll(Yellowtail, scallion, avocado & Spicy Jalapeno mayo) which was really delicious and not that spicy. The sushi platter had a huge selection of large fish as well as a tofu sushi and I have to say that I was full before I even got to this (my hosts had ordered edamame & dumplings to start, which was just too much).
I spent the afternoon walking across Manhattan and visiting the Morgan Library then worked a bit before heading downtown to BRUSHSTROKE at 30 Hudson Street. The elegant restaurant has an all glass front looking into the happenings centered around a long sushi bar of about 20 seats. All the tables, chairs and floors are blonde wood yet quite comfortable. The service was beyond impeccable and I was constantly taken care of by the excellent staff. Sommelier Steven brought my plum colored, but not sweet UME SAWA, a cocktail of Kissui Rice Vodka, Casoni Aperetivo, Yuzu & Plum Jam and I perused the menu which consists of a couple of tasting options and ala carte as well.
I settled on the Spring Kaiseki Menu (at $135) which seemed to be what almost everyone else was doing and settled in for an amazing journey that lasted over 4 hours.
My servers Taylor & Dario always refilled my sparkling Saint Geron water which was very nice and a new brand for me, and of course, Steven always had the wine pairing (extra cost) to me just before each course so I could taste, and refilled when I really seemed to need more :-)). FYI an entire selection of photos can be seen on my FB page including that of the sushi master chef, Mitsunori Isoda, who was constantly working the most intricate miracles right in front of me for the entire evening.

Sakizuke:Cape Cod Scallop & Uni with Strawberry Lemon Foam and Tosazu Lemon Gel arrived and from from the first bite of the soft scallop combined with urchin I knew this was going to be a mouthful of flavor for each bite all night.

Nimonowan:Rabbit Sakura-Shinjo (dumpling) in Rabbit Dashi Broth was a soft rabbit white meat loin dumpling that was oh so tender in the most subtle of broths scattered with thinly sliced daikon and tasty cherry blossoms, which I later learned are dried on arrival to preserve them and give them a yummy slight crunch. Paired with a 2012 Ziereiser Spatburgunder from Baden, Germany with slight earthiness, thick legs and a lighter red body. The pairing, as they all were, was ingenious.

Tsukuri:Long Island Amadai Usuzukuri was a Tilefish sashimi from right nearby in Long Island(who knew??) magnificently presented with razor thin radishes and daikon as well as green scallions. The fish itself was buttery and rich and worthy of any great sushi master and accompanied by a superb soy dip that was blended with seaweed for amazing flavor. Here served with a Riesling Trocken from Karthauser Hof, Ruwer Dry in the Mosel (Ruhr) that had thick white legs, guts and a spicy finish.

Hashiyasume:this course was a Ramp & Bluefoot Mushroom Chawanmushi or Steamed Egg custard that was super thick like creme brulee, but rich and earthy with the ramp & mushroom flavors as well as pieces of bluefoot.  Steven brought me saki in a Waterford glass(some were Schott Crystal) Daishichi Minowamon , a superb smooth creamy rich higher in alcohol Junmai Daiginjo Kimoto from Fukushima that I fell in love with as it richness matched the custard. While the only thing I did not like all night was the small wooden spoon to eat this dish was because I could not really get all the custard at the bottom, I was thinking, Thomas Keller(whose reknowned custard at the French Laundry is world famous)--eat your heart out.

Hassun:Japanese Red Snapper Sakura(leaf) Sushi, Scottish Salmon Yuan-Yaki, Hawiian Hearts of Palm Soup was next and the dish was served with more cherry blossoms and Tasmanian Mustard Miso sauce. The Hearts of Palm was a creamy veggie soup that reminded me of squash soup with a Chive Sancho Oil swirl. the wine was a divine Domaine Lafon 2014 Mersault & Petite Mensang blend from Burgundy. At this point Chef Isoda handed over an additional plate that he created just for me with two pieces of Sashimi, Anago (sea eel) and Fatty Toro(tuna) with a warm soy sauce.....this was all so overwhelming, I did not know where to start between all 5 items, which were indeed amazing.

Shiizakana: The main course offers a choice and I opted for the Smoked Cherry Wood Grilled Long Island Duck Breast with Garlic Red Wine Reduction, Sakura Leaf, Onion Blossom, Flowers, Shanso Peppers and more; it was beautiful. The Santa Rita Jills 2012 Pinot Noir from Santa Barbara was brought by Steven as he also offered a bigger Domaine de la Cote from Lompoc next to it for comparison. I felt like a king unable to choose.

Gohan is the final savory course and also offered a choice of this rice based dish:Stewed Fuji-Pork Belly with Black Rice, Japanese Mustard, Chive with cucumber, Daikon, and Brine-Fermented Veggies with a Brown Miso on the side. I loved this, but was getting quite full by now and was happy to see more Sake arriving in the form of Hatsumago Junmai Kimoto,

Dessert is again a choice and I tried to go simple with Black Truffle Ice Cream with Tuffle Honey & Almond Nuts which arrived with a  gold leaf and reminded me of tiramisu gone truffle with chocolate powder, not to mention a drizzle of balsamic.
The wines were again a pair to compare with Rare Wine Co.Madeira Special Reserve Sercial from Charleston which was nice and a superb Marsala Superior Vignia di Miceia Oro Marco de Bartoli.

At this time I apologize for what must be multiple spelling errors, but not for indulging in this truly amazing experience made so special by the entire top notch team at BRUSHSTROKE, where a meal is truly a work of art.