Thursday, September 22, 2016

Hail to Helen's in Rockville, MD(9-21-16)

For over two decades we have used the same amazing caterer in our home and every event that Helen Wasserman has done was and always is perfect.
Many years ago she had a restaurant here in DC, but recently decided to go that route again in Rockville across from the ruins of White Flint Mall at 11120 Rockville Pike(
We were not sure where this was and were surprised to find an adorable house with a huge outdoor seating section that is a covered patio hiding just off the Pike.
The interior is bright and cherry a clean crisp feel of light grays with white tables and some gorgeous artwork, including a painting of the boss herself.
She has surrounded herself with some of her longtime staff, such as Kevin, her manager and some new folks as well, such as Oscar, our server, who was always there for every request and need
and never lost his charming smile. As soon as we sat down he brought out a delicious bowl of Cauliflower Hummus with crisp toasted Pita points. We ordered a bottle of Murphy-Goode Sauvignon Blanc from California which I had not had in years and we gobbled up the warm pita and begged for more.  Speaking of wine I have to say that it seems to me the wine is barely marked up, maybe $10/bottle, making some of these wines great deals.
Samuel ordered the Guacamole which was fresh and had little crunchy onions in it as well as the tasty herbed pita, but he only let me have a teeny taste. I adored my Salmon Spring Rolls with thin crispy (and not greasy) rolls stuffed with salmon, veggies and a superb Apricot dipping sauce. Will went for the Lobster Dumpling, also a good choice, but heavier for sure, with tasty lobster mixed with some ground chicken, spinach and jicama with a white wine, ginger and saffron sauce.
Over the many years we have used Helen the only (and it's positive not really a complaint) complaint we have had is that sometimes there is way too much left over and we have to freeze it (and often forget about it). We just pulled some of the mini-burgers from the freezer last week which had been rescued after Samuel's huge Bar Mitzvah party in June! The main courses show her generosity again, so it is wise to choose between a starter or dessert and maybe even share those.
Samuel had the huge Sirloin Burger with fries and spicy sauce, our friends chose the Delmonico Steak with chevre toast points, merlot sauce and caramelized sweet onions, corn souffle and mango cole slaw as well as the Grilled Chicken Scallopine which was a huge bowl of chicken with haricots verts and shallots and an entire second bowl of linguini with local tomato sauce; way too much for one person.
Will had the Crab Linguine with tomato, tarragon and parmesan which again was quite large and my Shrimp & Grits could have fed two with Helen's homemade BBQ sauce and a huge plate of tasty cheese infused grits with what had to me than 1/2 a dozen large shrimp! The dish was complemented with grilled onion, asparagus and a ton of tasty heirloom tomatoes.
We asked Kevin about the red wine and he suggested the Cigar Box Pinot Noir 2915 Old Vine which the menu lists as from Argentina, but is from Central Valley of Chile and while Pinot and smooth has a smokey aftertaste that we all loved.
The one dessert our friends split was the warm apple crisp with vanilla ice cream that disappeared fast.
Next time I want to try the Chocolate Beignets with Decadent Chocolate Sauce if I can make room.
What is great about Helen's is that ist is a quiet place for couples or even for families as we had a 2-year old in tow and nobody seemed to mind as he only yelped out once when I took a photo of him!
The appetizers run from $10 to a maximum of $13 and the mains start at $21 (burger is $16) for my awesome shrimp and don't top $27!
Its not too far from Dc and took us under 30 minutes in rush hour from our home! Well worth the mini-trek!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

another doozy of a dinner from Chef Donna at AL DENTE (9-16-16)

It has been too long since we visited Al Dente just around the corner and last night we returned for a tasting menu which we had purchased at a charity event, making it a double treat.
Getting ready for our next summer trip to Italy and Sicily, we ordered a Grillo 2013 "Aquilae" from Viticulroti Associati Canicatti which had us thinking about where we will go for wine tastings; so many choices.
Our red was a superb Cannonau di Sardegna(Sardinia) Fiori DOC Pala 2014 which our server Nick recommended and he hit is just right by explaining the wine has the mouth of a Pinot Noir, but with a spicy finish; we loved it.
Our amuse was a Prosciutto wrapped Roasted Date with gooey Gorgonzola Cheese running all over--YUM! The Grillo was ideal with the richness of this small bite(s).
It's mid-September and Soft Shell Crabs are heading our of season so we may have had our last one yesterday which was superbly tempura fried with an awesome Celery Root Slaw, Fried Lemon and remoulade for dipping. I will miss these little guys until next May! Photos are always on FB!!
A perfectly Grilled & Seared Sea Scallop was topped with frisee & mache and served on a slash of Salsa Verde that had us finishing off our white and moving on to the red.
Our first pasta was Rigatoni with Pancetta in a Cream Sauce topped with Fried Leeks which was rich but superb and who doesn't love those leeks!
The second pasta was so simple yet so complex it was brilliant: Ravioli stuffed with Burrata in a Red Pepper Puree with Paprika and Pesto.
Third was Gnocchi with a spicy Sausage Ragu and by now it was impossible to have a favorite as all three of these pastas were truly some of the best you can find anywhere.
We begged to move on to our main course as we were getting full and it was a perfectly sized Braised LAmb Rib with Eggplant Puree again in a superbly spiced Red Wine sauce with more of the delectable fried leeks.
It was nice to have Chef Roberto braving the spices, here they seemed almost Middle-Eastern or North African, and really creating dishes with a whole different flavor than the Italian we are so used to.
The best dessert here is unquestionably the Fig Tart with Vanilla Gelato and an entire tart arrived which we took pieces of and packed the rest away for another day at home so we could remember this superb meal and quiet evening out in the 'hood.
Well, that was until we got home to Samuel and his 4 friends who were sleeping over!
Back to the diet after tonight's wedding.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

BRINE brings out the best in Virginia's Mosaic Disctict(Fairfax)(9-3-16)

At last year's March of Dimes (save the date this year, it's November 2) Signature Chefs event we purchased a dinner for 4 at Virginia's Brine ( where the folks from Rapahannock Oysters haved teamed up with Chef John Critchley (previously of Urbana and Bourbon Steak) to create a casual, yet exciting venue offering something novel and delicious.
The large open dining are faces a bar and open kitchen as was not too noisy (it was quiet for a holiday weekend) and the wooden accents keep the feel warm, but the wooden chairs are deadly after an hour or so and the steel twined legs can tear your pants or dress should it get entangled as the double-helix metal legs can be sharp in places. That indeed is the only bad thing I can say about Brine.
The staff is friendly and warm and we got a great greeting from manager Cara, who helped Chef John throughout the night along with other servers including Paul, as we had settled in for a multi-course tasting menu with paired drinks.
Barboursville Brut started us off and I can't think of a better choice when in Virginia on a beautiful evening; the sunset was so gorgeous we had to run out to take photos (see FB).
Our first course was a simple salad of Golden & Candy Cane Beets with Marinated Honeysuckle Cheddar Cheese and a dressing of beet juice, agave and lemon that was less of a vinaigrette and more of a sauce that I just could not resist. The cheese was rich and intense and creamy and dish was a true fresh taste of local ingenuity. The theme of brining had already started with the marinated cheese; what a great idea!
Every meal at Brine should feature oysters and we haven't had any since August isn't an "R" month, but it's now September! Riptide from Cape Cod, Whalebacks from Maine and Rapahannocks from Virginia were served and I can't imagine 3 totally different types of mollusk offering such different flavors as well. While these come with cocktail sauce and amazingly inhouse made Barrel Aged Bourbon hot sauce(use that on the bread), a small dash of the mignonette is the way to experience the oysters' flavors.
In-house baked Parker House rolls arrived hot from the oven with sea salt on top and we tried to refrain, but it was hard. Soon the Sashim-grade tuna arrived with a habanero-Red Pepper Sauce with Thai Basil, Mustard Seed and Najiki that was sweet and smoky and not too spicy in the least. Paired with an amazing High West Rendezvous Bourbon Cocktail with Lemon, Sugar, Allspice Dram and Egg White Foam it was brilliant.
Golden Tilefish is so rare in these parts and a welcome change here with Carolina Gold Rice in a Moroccan broth with Olives, Garlic Scape and Chermoula.
Broken Dreams Chardonnay 2013 from Napa is new to me and has a yummy hint of vanilla but little oak overtone that can be so Napa.
I think my favorite dish all night was the amazing Organic Kelp Pasta literally made from Plankton and served with Chili Threads, Middleneck Clams, Guanciale, and Preserved Lemon in a rich sauce that blew me away. Our friend Kevin called it "brain food" which was perfect.
The sea Scallop that arrived next was huge and came on a bed of salsify(check that out on FB) puree with chanterelles, caviar and marinated Finger Mushrooms. It was a sublime dish and as we were filling up, the one huge scallop was indeed enough.
I loved the STRUB 2013 Riesling that Cara brought next as it was to be paired with the briniest (save for the oysters) dish all night, BBQ Autumn Olive Farm Berkshire Pork which had been brined 30 days and smoked and served over Beemster Cheese Spoonbread (gluten free!) with Braised red Dandelion, Sherry & Bacon which had a vinegar essence but was clearly the essence of brining and Brine. Will does not like semi-dry Riesling (even though it was a brilliant pairing), so Cara preferred some Linden Rose 2014 which everyone loves.
Dessert was a perfectly light single and oh so adorable Profiterole with Sea Salt, Caramel gelato and Butterscotch Sauce served with a double espresso to send us home. Calvados was also offered, but I refrained so as not to mix too much!
It was a totally fun experience, a great meal and a super place to go as it was indeed only about 25 minutes from our house on a no traffic night with free parking in a huge garage next door. What could be better?
Many thanks to the entire team for making us feel so welcome at Brine, where I know we shall return to be pickled once again!