Friday, July 29, 2016

it's not worth the meal (or wait) at MEL's @ 22 in Coooperstown, NY (7-29-16)

Last year when we came to the Glimmerglass Festival we grabbed lunch at Mel's @ 22 in the center of town as it was heaving with people and the menu looked great. The food was good, but the wait and service were unbearable then. This time, the place was virtually empty (it was a Friday at noon, and not a Saturday or Sunday like last time and we figured we would give it another go.
We noticed that the five folks who came in behind us were seated before the 5 of us were, and then it took ages before our server Carmen came over and seemed like we were not a priority (sadly, she also seemed to be assigned to the host desk which was two rooms away!). We ordered and I asked for water, which I drank up promptly, but had to ask for more from another server. Our friend Mel, asked for sweetener with his tea, but after waiting over 20 minutes, he got the little container from another table.
Sam had the Chicken Caprese Panini that he liked the year before with grilled chicken, basil, spinach, mozzarella, roasted red pepper and balsamic reduction. Everything comes with a side salad, fries, pesto garlic fries or tater tots (many of the mains are also fried). The simpler sandwiches seem to be the hits as are the salads such as Will's huge Cobb with blue cheese and chicken (shrimp are extra).
Mel & Juan split the special wrap and I went for a whole one: Asian Fried Shrimp Wrap with Sweet Thai Chili sauce, kale and cabbage. It was a good size and came out piping hot on a super hot plate that Carmen handed to me (and I almost dropped it) as I was across the table! The wrap was very sweet at first and spicier at the bottom making me think the Thai sweet chili sauce had two alter-egos.
Oddly, all the pesto garlic fries came out lukewarm and soggy. Did I mention, it took almost 45 minutes for our dishes to arrive in a place where the place was full by 1230pm and everyone else seemed to be seated, served and left before we were. They were out of lemonade(?), but the wines were nice and I enjoyed a crisp light Finger Lakes Gewurztraminer from Lamereaux Landing whose wine we like a lot.
It was fun to eat with our friend Mel at Mel's@22 and get a photo, but I doubt we shall ever return again, save maybe for the big yummy salads.


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

DC's DISTRICT COMMONS is still uncommonly wonderful (7-18-16)

Friends of Will's were visiting from Switzerland staying in the Dupont Circle area, so District Commons was first to come to mind when we seeked a truly American spot to eat for our families with kids and it was simply perfect.
The seven of us settled in, ordered up some of the superfun Hot Pretzel Baguette with Beer Mustard Butter that was a huge hit as we sipped a wonderful Breaux Viognier 2014 from Virginia (we wanted to really show off American food and wine--and we did). Our server Cheryl was bubbling with excitement when I chose the wine raving about some of the wonderful wineries in the area as we recommended some of the wonderful dishes we knew on the menu.
Shrimp Cocktail arrived with tasty fresh Oysters (Wellfleet from Massachusetts and one of my faves-Sister Point from Washington) as well as Benton Smoked Bacon Flatbread with Vidalia Onion & Vermont Creamery Fromage Blanc which two of the boys gobbled up. There were Vegetarian Hand Pies of Corn, Spinach, Mushrooms, Pepper Jack Cheese and Ranch Dressing which were specially chosen for one of their teenagers who doesn't eat meat or fish.
Starters included a beautiful Shaved Asparagus & Burrata Salad with American Prosciutto, Arugula and Pickled Red Onion and many our family could not resist the spicy yet tasty Hand Cut Steak Tartare with Sriracha Aioli, Quail Egg and Grilled Country Bread. (photos on FB)
We moved on to a delicious full bodied and fruit forward Andrew Rich 2012 Verbatim Pinot Noir from Oregon that was a huge hit with our visitors and us, so we had a second bottle!
Main courses were very varied although three of us chose the Crispy Beer Battered Soft Shell Crabs with Spicy Potatoes & Bacon Hash, Spring Veggie Slaw and Lemon Tabasco Butter which were superb, but a bit over battered for my taste hiding the superb crab itself. North Carolina Trout with Broccolini, Pine Nuts and Citrus Burnt Butter was another example of local quality American seafood and the Spring Peas & Parmesan Ravioli with Rose Tomato Sauce, Grilled Spring Onions and Beech Mushrooms was a great example of farm fresh ingredients. Brick Pressed Chicken, Rainbow Chard, Mashed Potatoes,  Preserved Lemon & Parsley Jus was a revelation for our guests' youngest teen raving about the quality of the chicken and the sauce. They mentioned that indeed it is virtually impossible to find chard, especially Swiss Chard, in Switzerland!
Cheryl wanted our friends to taste a Virginia red and offered up some Rockbridge 2011 Raphine Meritage which is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot and Cab Franc that packs a punch.
Will settled in with a Macallan 18-year old scotch for dessert and we choose some desserts, all quite chocolate intense:

Almond Joy Sundae Coconut Ice Cream, Hot Fudge, Candied Marcona Almonds
BTS Brownie Sundae Choice of Ice Cream, Hot Fudge, Smashed Candy Bars  (the BTS is for Burger Tap Shake next door, but also for Butterfingers, Twix and Snickers which are the candies therein)--total overdose of sweet.
Buttermilk Chocolate Cake Cherries and Whiskey,  Dark Chocolate Ice Cream
Of course the mignardises of jellies, cookies and bars arrived to send us home, just in case we had not eaten enough.
I think we truly found an American gem to show our guests as District Commons really does it so well.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Olney MD's SARDI's FUSION--super starters, filling and rich entrees and fun food. (7-16-16)

We headed up to Olney, MD last night to catch the excellent production of EVITA and stopped in to Sardi's Fusion ( which was a new name to us in town only to find out it occupied the place we last ate in in Olney about a year ago. The new place is cool with neat modern Latin art, cool lighting and excellent service. Pierre our waiter was assisted by the owner who always asked if we needed anything.
I started with a Pisco Sour and the foam was perfect and the drink divine while Will enjoyed his Pomegranate Martini. The prices are high (low teens for cocktails) for suburbia, but worth it. The starters are quite inexpensive and were all superb.

Samuel loved the flaky pastry on his Chicken Empanadas but did not want to try any of the olive or other sauces that accompanied them. Speaking of sauce, you get three salsas with salty potato chips (or were they yucca) and they were all super from jalapeno, medium and mild all of which were creamy in texture yet not rich at all.
Will and I split two items and the ceviche comes from a choice of about 5 different ones so we went with MIXTO of Shrimp, Calamari, Otopus, Bay Scallops and Rocoto(Peruvian Peppers) Leche de Tigre. These come with the large Peruvian corn kernels as well as popped corn nuts for crunch. The other appetizer was GRAN PULPO with a huge piece of grilled octopus with Marble Potatoes, Microgreens, White Truffle Vinegar, Beech Mushrooms, Black Olive Aioli and Asian Pear Puree. There are gorgeous photos of these dishes on my FB page, but the Pulpo was sheer artwork, not to mention delicious!
Sam's coke was constantly refilled at no charge and sometimes before he had even finished half a glass, they would whisk the used glass away and replace it with a full new one. While this is attentive, it is a bit wasteful.

Salads come with each main course and were tasty with an interesting, if salty, Spicy Balsamic Dressing.
His main course was Tallarin Verde con Bistec which is a Linguini with Spinach Pesto Cream and Pan Fried Breaded Steak. The steak was eaten, but I had a bite and it was not the most tender. The pasta was a huge rich portion and a bit gummy. Frankly, I would avoid pasta in a Peruvian kitchen. Will ordered the Aji de Gallina or shredded chicken with spicy Aji Amarillo, White Rice, Boiled Egg & Olive which was the best of the main courses, but also quite rich and heavy.
I wanted fish and something lighter and Pierre tried to steer me to the Salmon with Crab Risotto, but I restrained and chose the Grouper Chorillana which was pan seared with aji amarillo mashed potatoes, smoked bacon and tamarind sauce.
The fish was excellent but buried in the heavy mashed potatoes and sauces which I left behind for the most part.
I think we will stick to many starters and multilple ceviches if we return.
Samuel decided we should split the Alfajores for dessert and this was a winning hit of the best we have ever had of these cookies stuffed with dulce de leche and served on little swizzles of chocolate sauce. The Picarones are fried dough drizzled with honey and indeed while tasty were way too much for us to finish, even if they were a gift from the manager. I think a table of 6 might do well with one piece each, but we preferred the yummy Alfajores (2 huge cookies in a serving).
The wine list says 40 wines under $40, but I only counted some 2 dozen plus and they are not of the best quality. You do well to stick to the Pisco Sours, but they do give a generous pour and my Oyster Bay Chardonnay was decent with the grouper as was Will's Malbec.
We get to Olney several times a year for shows and we would return for sure, but would avoid the heavier dishes at Sardi's!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Sticky Rice (H St Corridor NE) is sticky on service with food that sticks to your guts and fills you up for less (7-10-16)

Sticky Rice ( is another popular spot in the up and coming H St, NE corridor (1224 H St, NW) that is narrow and simple due to the old townhouse buildings that all seem to be minimally decorated and also have not too comfy seating.
Upstairs here there are some tables with old vinyl and metal chairs, but the booths are all wood with no cushions and quite a nuisance for those who prefer to relax their rearends when dining.
The three of us waited a good 15-20 minutes after receiving menus before anyone approached. Unfortunately, this was what the service was for our entire stay; not impressive at all. We asked our server, (and not to be PC) who was pierced, tattooed and seemed to be at a loss for what he needed to do, for some suggestions and got a bit of input. I think he said it was his first day and then told us what most people liked.
I ordered a Jalapeno Margarita which came loaded with slices of fresh jalapeno and tasted even spicier; it was tasty, but I needed tons of water and food to cut the spice. I love spice, but this was insane.
Samuel and our friend Rick played it safe with the Fried Chicken Potstickers to start which was a large serving of 6 and honestly, I thing the portions could be smaller as they really fill you up if you want two courses (and all mains seem to be under $12!). I tried the special Tater-Achoes as Sticky Rice is famous for it's bucket of Tater Tots with secret tot sauce & Wasabi mayo. The Achoes also had Chili, Cheese, Sriracha, Bacon chunks, Scallions, Refried Beans and Sour Cream creating one giant Tater Tot Nacho dish that was gooey, filling and actually quite yummy, but way too much even for several people to finish (photos on FB).
Samuel also played it safer for his main course with Chicken Sesame Noodles made with thick udon noodles, heavy on the green and red peppers a la Chinese food of the 60's and 70's and a nice sauce, but not a lot of chicken.
Rick had the Coconut Shrimp which are sautéed with onions, more of the red and green peppers, carrots, all in a quite spicy coconut-pepper sauce with cucumber, crushed peanuts and toasted coconut. Many of the mains come with your choice of noodles or sticky rice and he chose the vermicelli rice-thin which was a nice choice for this dish and a foil to the spice for sure.
Sushi is very popular here and I want to go back to try some of the raw fish specials, but last night was attracted to the Spider Roll Special of Tempura Soft Shell Crab with Spicy Mayo, avocado, cucumber and "unicorn kisses" which our server had no clue what it as. I think it was the generous sprinkling of tobiko on top for a nice crunch.
On the way out I saw a monstrous sushi pile called The Volcano and it looked interesting, but again way huge and I think in the future more restraint and more sharing is called for.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

a holiday weekend workout/cookout...or what does one do when two superstar chefs come over to cook-Haidar Karoum & Victor Albisu are all about this(7-3-16)

As part of last year's March of Dimes Signature Chefs we purchased both of these chefs cooking at our home for a magnificent meal, which was truly perfect in every way.
While Chef Haidar has been at Proof, Doi-Moi & Estadio here in Washington and was the winner of 2014's CHEF of the YEAR at the Rammys Awards, he recently left and will appear elsewhere in the near future. Chef Victor followed soon in his steps to win Chef of the Year in 2015 for Del Campo & Taco Bamba; so not a bad couple to have over for dinner!
I did not take notes and there was much more than I can recall, but we shared the wine responsibilities and started with an ELK COVE 1999 Sparkling Rose of Pinot Noir from Oregon and then the hor's d'oevres began to flow with scallops, lamb empanadas and Crab Cakes. We moved on to a Brandborg Gewurtztraminer also from Oregon and the Burnt Tomato Panzanella arrived with a Goat Cheese Crema and a wonderful hint of Anchovy flavor for saltiness.
We pulled one of our chardonnays from California for the Ceviche Mixto of Halilbut, Octopus, Leche de Tigre and Fresnos Chilies which was sublime for sure. A delicious Vovray was paired with the orgasmic Smoked Uni Pasta with Crab, caviar & Chives; truly one of our favorites all night, but then they all were.
We pulled one of our 2003 Sauternes from the Bar Mitzvah stash to pair with another brilliant dish of Whole Roasted Foie Gras with Burnt Cherries & Malbec, and then took a long declared respite before the main course of Grilled Asado arrived:
Brisket, Ribeye, Wagyu Skirt Steak and Bone Marrow stuffed with Lobster were all on the various platters (photos on FB) and this was served with a superb huge bodied red Tempranillo from Walla Walla Washington (sorry, the name slips my mind).
Dessert was a delicious Crepe Souffle stuffed with cheese and topped with grilled Pineapple, and we managed to find more Sauternes for that as well.
Needless to say the 4+ hour event was magnificent and we are so grateful for these two brilliant and kind chefs who donated their time (and money and staff) to raise needed dollars to help save the babies that March of Dimes so wonderfully assists.
Come to this year's gala on November 2 (single tickets are available through me as they are not being sold to the public, only full tables are!!) and watch us bid again!!