Friday, December 30, 2016

La Purisima in Quito cooks up Ecuadorian cuisine that dates back centuries (12-28-16)

First of all, best wishes to all for a Feliz Ano Nuevo, a most healthy & Happy New year!
Another night in Quito brought us to the old town restaurant La Purisima in the colonial Teatro Bolivar. It has less than a dozen tables and is very simple and the tables are wood. but what's worse is the chairs are very hard wood. Glass walls look out onto the pedestrian mall and give you a chance to see everything that's going on outside.
My stomach was in bad shape but I'm still going to report on what everybody else had.
Will ordered a Paico Sour, which is a Ecuadorian version of the Pisco Sour with a different type of liquor but sweeter,  so I'll avoid those. The one appetizer of goat stew empanadas which both Sam and  Will wanted to order was unfortunately not available.
There were not a lot of other items that seemed exciting and many of them were seafood so Sam wouldn't have those, so the guys just decided to order mean courses when we saw how large they were as well. 
Adorable warm black and white corn tortillas arrived with spicy tomate de arbol salsa (that awesome tree tomato I have come to adore) sauce and I managed to eat one of them and they were delicious, of course without the hot sauce.
Will chose the oven roasted Pork Brisket  which was cook for 6 hours in Ecuadorian spices and beer and came with garlic and ginger fried rice which he declared to be an absolute winner.
Samuel chose what was called a sirloin tenderloin in Creole sauce which was a scallion and tomato sauce which he loved,  but unfortunately it arrived extremely rare and had to be sent back for a recook. It returned cooked to a perfect temperature and everybody was happy except for me because I couldn't eat anything. Each main course said that it came with a "salad to share," which in reality was a vegetable and that night it was a sauteed squash with spices, which will like very much but Samuel would not try even though he adores squash especially with spices. Will also declared the Club beer local to Ecuador an excellent choice.
Since they were no appetizers it seems logical to choose dessert and are very sweet waiter offered up his suggestion and both of my co dinner guests chose the Good Thursday Black Tart which apparently is an Ecuadorian delicacy with a recipe going back 400 years and made from some 25 ingredients. Will described it as a combination of fruit cake, Rum Baba and dulce di leche.
I'm glad I got out and got some fresh air as we walked to the restaurant, a mere 8 or 9 minutes from our hotel, but I was sorry not to be enjoying all these wonderful new tastes with my family.

La Gloria in Quito, Ecuador offers up Peruvian-Ecuadorian cuisine in a calm setting (12-27-16)

Our second night was also in the new city and took us to an empty La Gloria when we arrived at 7pm. They had two menus in English, but we soon discovered they had to be printed ages before as most the items were not on the Spanish menu, but between Sam's Spanish and my food knowledge we got thru it. The excellent Pisco sours helped. I headed to the small wine room as they let you choose your bottle from small cabinets marked with the prices, like a store, rather than from a menu. I chose a Santa Carolina Sauvignon Blanc Riserva 2016 from Argentina that was excellent with all our seafood.
Will started with a Peruvian Ceviche of fish with sweet potato and those yummy huge corn kernels. I had an amazing Shredded Hearts of Palm, Smoked Salmon & Goat Cheese salad dotted with awesome local tomate de arbol or tree tomatos with a passion-fruit vinaigrette which was huge(check it out on FB) as were all the salads. Samuel had a Caprese salad with two monster mounds of fior de latte mozzarella that looked like two giant white boobies(we head to the Galapagos soon).
Sam's main course was a nice penne with prosciutto and parmesan, while Will had a gorgeous Corvina (sea bass) over a lentil cake (called tacu-tacu), caramelized onions and basil.
My Loin of Tuna was covered with black and white sesame and in a Thai reduction with mandarin and lime.
There was no way we could eat dessert, so we headed back to the old city and our gorgeous hotel and bed.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Quito's ZAZU zooms to the top in modern Ecuadorian cuisine (12-26-16)

Our first dinner in Quito was at the famous Relais & Chateaux restaurant called Zazu located in the new part of the city so it was about a 20-minute taxi right away which is a steal at $6. We entered into the huge restaurant with many different rooms and we were taken immediately to our table which was located next to a huge group of Americans from New York that we had just met at the hotel 30 minutes earlier. Unfortunately they generated way too much noise for the next several hours and the restaurant was generally noisy the entire time and the music behind all the noise didn't help.  We were given some menus in Spanish and one in English and some bread was put down with some butter and the plates that were very beautiful were whisked away but then nobody came to the table for quite some time and we had no clue what was going on.
They seem to be severely overtaxed and very limited with staff and everyone was running around like crazy as huge groups entered into the restaurant to be seated.
Ultimately our server arrived and things quieted down at least as far as the service was concerned.  We ordered our food and wine and settled down for what turned out to be a truly memorable meal.

I was kind of surprised that no amuse arrived as this is considered the most elegant restaurant in the entire country but that was not a problem is everything that followed was truly delicious. Our first wine was a Catena Zapata Chardonnay 2015 from Mendoza that arrived at the table virtually frozen and we had to warm it up and then we tasted the wonderful acidity and gooseberries. We also ordered a red: the Montes Alpha M 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot and petit verdot blend from Santa Cruz Chile which had nice tannins, intense plum flavor and really a huge body and amazing legs.
 Samuel chose to order a la carte and started with the Wagyu beef tartar fillet with capers and blue cheese foam (really a softish medium local blue cheese). He loved the beef but he's not a fan of blue cheese and tried to get it as far away from the meet as possible. He opened up one of the small brioche rolls and a raw quail egg came out onto his meat exploding with flavor which he eventually decided was ok.
His main course was a shiitake crusted filet mignon with Parmesan quinoa cakes which he loved except he shoved aside each and every one of the mushrooms.
Will chose the five course tasting menu which started with a wonderful dish called Andean grains and vegetables consisting of those large lupin beans which are more like large corn kernels with hearts of palm, tiny crispy quinoa and a slightly spicy yellow pepper sauce with cilantro. As a reminder most of these dishes can be seen on my Facebook page. 
His next course was  octopus with corn puree, chimichurri and native potatoes which was a 4 out of 5 star dish and the only downside on his 5 course menu.
His third course we're suckling pig taquitos which she said were okay but a bit lukewarm; they were pork confit  with guacamole and gruyere cheese and were topped with a Chipotle aioli.
His main course with a seafood tamale made from prawn, squid, mussels, clams and a spicy seafood sauce with maize.
His dessert with simply called chocolate and had three different kinds of chocolates in different forms: ganache cuite 78%, babarois 40% and mousse 62%.
I have to say I think I fared much better with the seven course menu and should mention that it only costs $50 for the five-course menu and $70 for the seven-course menu.
 My first course was a Ceviche of black clam with lemon and a craft beer foam on top with a little teeny plantain fried on the side to clear your palate afterwards.  AWESOME.
Next came the same Andean grains and vegetable course which I was in heaven over and gave more than 5 stars.
My down course was the stone crab without a cutter green apple pesto and a crab salad with 6 pieces of caviar.
Cazuela was a huge single prawn with banana and peanut "salprieta" with maize and shrimp-plantain pot-au-feu, which was a homerun.
This was followed by a dish that most people probably would think is really disgusting, but I was very excited to try as it is considered a delicacy in the north of the Andes in Ecuador. The empanada was filled with guinea pig confit, maize and aji chicha reduction of corn.
Be sure to take a look at this amazingly presented dish on FB with a gorgeous crispy tortilla with the confit and the reduction on top that was simply fabulous and everyone at the table tasted it and agreed.
 My main course was a pork cheek with barley, potato llapingacho and jus with organic salad.
 The meat was gorgeous and crispy skinned, perfectly cooked and a 5star dish well-deserved.
 Dessert for both Samuel and me was an amazing presentation of Helado de Paila,  a traditional local ice cream made a table side here with blackberries and strawberries and of course liquid nitrogen to create the ice cream with hazelnut crumble and meringue.
There is a video of this on Facebook which you can't miss.
Chef Oscar Camacho came out to greet us and we were thrilled to tell him that almost everything was amazing and he welcomed our commentson the dishes that were not such big hits. Kudos to.our server Elvis even though we had some language difficulties it was a truly memorable experience.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Arlington's BUSBOYS & POETS might be better if you get to know it (12-9-16)

For years we have been unable to get a table at the Shirlington BUSBOYS & POETS as they do not take reservations and are always jammed when we head over to the thetare. Last night, we had not planned to be there for dinner, but arrived at 630pm and the place was virtually full with one empty table which we grabbed (I say we as I had Samuel and a school friend of his in tow).
Our super friendly and helpful server Jakobe arrived and announced that lots of the drinks were on happy hour specials, but all of them sounded so sweet, and since I am not a beer lover, I chose a glass of the Sycamore Lane Chardonnay (also on discount) which was quite nice, especially for $5!
We ordered the Mezze plate and Lamb Sliders to share as a starter and these were also on happy hour discount; what a deal! Three huge lamb sliders were tasty, although I left half my bun (sliders always have too much bread). The Mezze (see FB) was beautifully presented with pita triangle on each option:Baba Ghanoush, Tabbouleh & Hummus. They were all tasty and while Sam would have none of it his friend discovered Tabbouleh and fell in love.
Both of the teens ordered a plain Tomato & Mozzarella Pizza which was okay, but I don't think pizza is their forte here. I chose the Turkey Burger in my effort to shed some pounds and it was a huge one, but super tasty made with shallots and mushrooms and a yummy chipotle mayo. I could have lived without the adorable sweet pickle pinned to the top of the bun with a toothpick, and indeed I disposed of the bottom half of the bun to allow only 1/2 the carbs and more of the flavor of the mayo. I had several sides to choose from and ordered the yummy tabbouleh, but had not realized it also came with the mezze; well, it was healthy and tasty. Another glass of $5 Sycamore Lane wine was Cabernet and not as good as it sister Chard.
I would love to go back and try more things, but who knows if we shall ever be able to manage that again as you simply can't PLAN to go there without a reservation; Catch 22!

Just a small note that this is my final review of our area this month before we head to Ecuador in 12 days for winter vacation!

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

DC's TABERNA del ALABARDERO offers awesome and awful in one meal (12-5-16)

I searched through my over 1000 postings on my blog (www.phyllistines.blogspot) where there is (by the way) a great search engine for those of you looking for dining spots (just type in the city or country name!), and found I had not posted on Taberna Del Alabardero ( in a decade. I know for a fact that Will & I visited there some 3 or 4 years ago and had an unmemorable paella, so we hesitated to return for some time. We had purchased two tasting dinners for two people at various auctions, so it was time to redeem them last night with some friends. When making the reservations last month, I realized that the manager, PR person, chef and virtually the entire team there had been replaced in the last year, which gave me some worry as we knew not a soul on arrival.
I had to explain that we had two certificates for two each but ultimately they figured it out and we ordered a superb bottle of Vina Otano Barrel Fermented 2014 white blend of Viura & Tempranillo Blanco that was a bit too cold on arrival and needed some caressing in the glass to bring up to a non-super-chilled temp. The flavors came out when our first course of Gazpacho Andaluz arrived in a martini glass. It was creamy and rich and full of flavors, but perhaps I would have preferred something warmer on what was easily one of the coldest nights so far this season. Next came an superb (FB foto) Shrimp Carpaccio with Avocado & Black Pepper Dressing, which was superb, but needed a lot more fresh black pepper on it which did arrive to satisfy our taste buds. The shrimp was cut thin in a large square and the a scoop of avocado crema was at the center; excellent once the pepper came.
We switched to red quickly and chose an amazing bottle of 2005 La Rioja Alta 904 Gran Reserva, a blend of Tempranillo & Graciano, with the aid of super-sommelier Jorge, who declared it one of his favorites on the list. It drank beautifully on its own, smooth and silky and full of flavors, but not overpowering, and paired deliciously with the Grilled Red Snapper with grapefruit Veloute and Pickled Vegetables. Some thought the pickled string beans an odd accompaniment, but I loved the flavor burst and crunch.
Our final wine was an even bigger red suggested by Jorge and he hit the jackpot with a 2002 Paixar made of the Mencia varietal from the Bierzo region to the northwest of the country's center. The table had various taste notes including prunes, treacle and raisins, and its hugeness required some food. Alas the main course of Cochinillo or Roast Suckling Pig cooked for 12 hours and served confit with Sweet Potato Puree was a huge disappointment in that it was not only fatty, but some parts were truly inedible. It tasted like a crunchy pork wrapped in a fatty lardon, so it had some good parts, but overall we skipped the fatty parts. The staff noticed we were unhappy and offered to bring something else, but we had eaten enough and settled for dessert. Originally they said we would all get Rice Pudding, but I suggested we each be allowed to choose, due to the previous course; no problem. Will stayed with the rice pudding and it was unexciting. Crema Catalana was a rich creme brulee with intense rich custard and the crunchiest of brulees. Cheesecake was a revelation made with a blue intense goat cheese and manchego that brought cheesecake to a new level.
Delicious cookies arrived(FB foto) of a crunchy chocolate rice crispy on shortbread and were thoroughly enjoyed along with glasses of complimentary NOE Vinum Optimum Rare Signature Pedro Ximenez 30 years aged sweet sherry that was very welcome after the cochinilla incident.
We left full, but hoping that the one bad course had not happened. It was an enjoyable evening for sure and save for the one bad course, totally delicious as well.

Friday, December 02, 2016

DC Food & Beverage Collective does delicious dinner at MANDU with Chef Danny Lee (11-30-16)

Earlier this year the local chapter of AIWF broke off and created our own local charity to support various food and educational projects in DC. This was my first event with the DC Food & Beverage Collective ( and it was swimmingly wonderful. Membership is inexpensive and the benefits are great, so consider that. I also asked Samuel if he would like to join me for his first "event tasting dinner" in DC and as soon as he saw the menu laden with dumplings he was in!

Mandu now has two locations in DC ( at Dupont Circle and now at K St, NW in the NoMa Disctrict. You may recall that Tuesday was the day of horrid rain around rush hour at 615pm, so it took us almost an hour to get there, because (rant) DC drivers suck in anything other than perfect conditions. Once there, the rain let loose and we were forced to find a lot and due to a basketball game at Verizon, the lots all charged $20! I felt jipped, a bit damp and was getting sore on arrival, so I ordered an Aloe Sojoutini made from Korean rice wine (akin to sake) and aloe. It was refreshing, relaxing, delicious and not sweet, and during Happy Hour they are $4.00!!!

The group was seated in the upstairs private dining room at two long wooden tables and it was a bit noisy from the crowds down below filtering up to us, but we all had a super time.
Chef Danny Lee came out to describe each dish and take questions and we were all transported for several hours to Korea! As always, many of the photos of the meal are on FB.

First Course:
Mandu (shrimp, veggie, and beef & pork dumplings)--Samuel adores these, but I still couldn't get him to try the shrimp!! The veggie was superb indeed.
Hobak Jeon (egg battered and pan fried zucchini)-a simple dish dipped in a soy-sesame sauce like the dumplings
Pa Jeon (mini seafood & green onion pancakes)-Think treyfe latkes that are delicious...getting ready for Hannuka!
Korean Fried Chicken-Double-freid wings in a spicy soy glaze that was totally irresistible, which is awesome from me since I am not a wing man, but the spicy sauce was indeed magnificent.
These were paired with Mandu Soju - soju infused in house with cloves and pomegranate, the Korean rice wine used for the Sojutinis as well, and while the clove essence and flavor was prominent, the wine was excellent and with some of the spice, a brilliant pairing.

Second Course:
Chap Chae (stir-fried clear sweet potato noodles with mixed veggies)--these were clear noodles like the Asian rice version, but made with sweet potatoes instead for a truly novel taste
Yujacha Korean Salad w/Citron Vinaigrette, Orange Segments, Toasted Pine Nuts and crunchy Toasted Rice(think mini krispies)
La Crele Sancerre 2014, France was our Sauvignon Blanc that was probably the most citrus intense SB I have ever had from France and worked awesomely with the citrus vinaigrette.

Third Course:
Bulgogi (sweet soy marinated slices of grilled ribeye)
Dak Gui (spice marinated slices of grilled chicken breast)
Yache Gui (seasoned and grilled mixed veggies and tofu) including black beans, broccoli and sweet potatoes with sides of pickled cucumbers and superb kimchi for dipping.
Dduk Bok Gi (long rice cakes simmered in Gochujang broth made from Korean chili paste)-These were the most fascinating dish made from pressed rice into long cylindrical cakes which were served in the most excellent of spicy sauces. I am in love with gochujang and could eat it on everything!!
Steamed rice was prominent for all the dishes to be served with as well as lettuce wraps generally for the Bulgogi to be wrapped in, but the leaf size was a bit too small to really fill up with much!
Les Vignobles Gueissard Bandol 2012 from France was a beautiful intense red that went well with all the various intense spices.

Assortment of Mochi Ice Cream(chocolate chip) with Sweetened Red Beans
Makkoli - Korean unfiltered rice wine was the funkiest wine I have had in years and honestly not to my liking.

We all had a ball and loved the novelty of the food, even though many of us had been to Mandu before and enjoyed many of these varied flavors and dishes.
If I had to change one thing, it would be the very hard uncomfortable wooden chairs that my sorry tuchus was truly ready to leave after 3 hours! Oh and maybe the funky Makkoli!

Kudos also to our team of servers, but especially Jun, who had every drink served in minutes and every need filled from extra kimchi to more wine before we could even ask!