Sunday, December 31, 2017

Arequipa Peru's CHICHA cooks up a Peruvian feast (12-30-17)

We had only one night in Arequipa and had heard many good things about the top restaurant in town called Chicha which is famous from one of the top chefs in Lima who has opened Chicha branches in several major cities.
 On arrival we were taken past a large open courtyard with an open kitchen,  but led on to a beautiful vaulted stone room with tile floors, nice linens and leather and wooden chairs,  Definitely a Colonial feel with some local woollen art mounted on the walls.
 The drink menu is huge and will chose the Cholopolotan,  a way too sweet drink made with Pisco, Cointreau, Passion fruit, sweet lime and cranberry.  Samuel hit the jackpot with a Pisco Punch made with pineapple syrup and lemon that was not sweet at all and I went with the standard excellent Pisco Sour.  The water here was San Pelligrino but at about 7 dollars for a 1/2 liter bottle!!  Bread arrived and there were 3 options from an Andean bread as well as quinoa grissini and the delicious chica morada(purple corn) bread with raisins and nuts.  There was a nice butter made from rocoto chili(which is in virtually every dish here) and parsley. 
 Samuel started with a dish called Ocopa, Salerillo  Potatoes with egg and fried cheese that he adored.
 Will and I decided to combine 3 of the ceviche dishes which included sea urchin, classic sea bass and then the local river shrimp.  Of course they all had lime, onion, sweet potatoes, rocoto, crunchy corn and Peruvian corn and an amazing leche de tigre sauce and was just spectacular.
 We decided to share a dish called Escribano, made of potatoes,  rocoto, tomato and Chicagre with olive oil,  It was a delicious dish and can be explained as a potato salad gone spicy Peruvian style.
 The portions were huge and we began to worry as we had each ordered a main course and probably could have shared them.  Will and I were enjoying a bottle of Tacama Blanco de Blancos,  the same delicious white blend that we had had the night before.  Will had ordered a glass of red wine but unfortunately our server Edson who was excellent was completely overwhelmed by a group of loud and obnoxious Russians wearing stilettos and God knows what at the next table; it never arrived.
 I ended up pouring the rest of the white wine myself and we had to ask 3 or 4 times for 1 or 2 of the non alcoholic drinks that Sam had ordered which he declared wonderful.
 For his main course Sam ordered Torrejitas,  which were  8 huge deep fried vegetable fritters with Ariquepean sauces of rocoto chile, ocopo and huacatey (the famous local black mint which really doesn't taste minty at all).  We knew we had way over ordered.
 Will chose the pork adobo made with cumin oregano onion garlic and chicha(corn beer). The portion was huge and some of the meat a bit fatty but otherwise it was a hit.
 I chose one of the most famous local dishes called Chupa,  a huge thick rich river shrimp soup made with potatoes, fava beans, cabbage, huacatay, corn and milk with shredded spinach on top... It was one of the best soups I've ever had but was so huge I could barely finish half.
Key words to remember here "ORDER LESS!
While the desserts sounded fantastic there was no way on Earth any of us could eat another bite so we gathered our stuff together and walked the 15 minutes back to our hotel and hit the sack before we head back to Lima for New Year's Eve.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Colca Lodge in Colca (Canyon)Valley(near Chivay,Peru) comes up with creative cuisine (12-29-17)

We headed northwest from Titicaca yesterday morning on a long journey to the Colca Valley and ended the day for our overnight at the not so luxurious Colca Lodge. The lodge is famous for it's hot springs, and I welcomed the hot tub fed directly by the springs on our secluded private terrace overlooking the valley with its pre-Incan agricultural terraces. So the fact that the shower had natural rain coming in through a leak and lots of squeaky doors was made up for by the location, springs and restaurant.
The bread and whole wheat grissini that came with garlic butter were okay, but nothing compared to what we had on our journey so far. We also learned from the English menu translation(very good) that the local herb huacatey is called "black mint" in English, although it is not very minty.
We had Passion Sours to start which were Pisco Sours with passionfruit added and while a hint sweet at first, got more sour from the lime as you drank more!
Samuel started with the Taboule de quinua which was a gorgeous tabbouleh/quinoa salad with peas, carrots, corn, pepper and avocado with a fig and peach compote(which he skipped). As always there are FB fotos available.
Will had the Tartare de Trucha nuestro estilo which was a huge portion of trout tartare with quinoa, apple, avocado and curry sauce with toasted Andean bread(rolls). I tired the Causa de Trucha ahumada and while the causa is a famous national potato dish, here there were three (room temp) mashed potato towers with avocado, quail egg, smoked trout, aji amarillo sauce with capers and sprouts that was a wonderful take on the traditional causa.
Will and I enjoyed a 1/2 bottle of Tabernero Peruvian Blanco de Blanco which was a blend of Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc that was super with our trout dishes. We ordered a bottle of Intipalka 2015 Syrah for our main courses since a bottle often costs less than 2 glasses or 3 here...we shall enjoy the rest of this plummy wine with a hint of tannins tonight before bed. I have to say I was impressed by the Spiegelau crystal, although we did have Riedel at the MAP Café in Cusco.
Samuel had Le pizzeta caprese of mozzarella, candied tomatoes, olive oil and basil which was gone before I could even get a taste, and while he said it was good, it was not as good as the other pizzas he has had.
Will loved his Aji de Gallina,con cremoso queso Andino, which was a take on the local chicken dish with aji amarillo sauce here with cheese and pecans. I loved my Risotto de quinoa con lomitos de res en aromas de saltado y pisco which was a beautiful quinoa risotto with sautéed sirloin tips marinated in lomo saltado sauce with pisco.
There was no room for dessert, but we did miss our Badoit from back in Cusco as here the local San Mateo sparkling is VERY gassy.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Titilaka on Lake Titicaca in Peru is a truly terrific and memorbale experience for travel and dining (12-27/28-17)

Our two nights and days at the Relais et Chateaux Titilaka were an experience we shall remember for many many years to come so fondly.  Located approximately an hour south of the major city in the region, Puna,  The 14 room lodge is located on a small isolated peninsula jutting out into Lake Titicaca with surrounding native Aymara villages,  that still retain an amazing amount of native culture that we were able to discover.
 The views from the rooms are amazing with huge glass windows overlooking the lake and the food is absolutely some of the best we have had here in Peru.  For my first lunch I had a truly amazing local quinoa and fava bean soup that was out of this world followed by local grilled trout from the lake.
 Dinner was even more impressive starting with a Alpaca Carpaccio with balsamic reduction, rustic pesto sauce, quinoa and arugula salad with dehydrated gooseberries and Brazil nuts.  At first I tasted the dehydrated gooseberry sauce and thought the dish too sweet,  But then mixing in the arugula and other ingredients in one byte made it one of the most delicious carpaccios ever.  
 Will started with the Green Asparagus with Andean pink salt butter, parmesan shavings and poached egg which he declared lovely.
 Samuel chose the Southern Peruvian salad with whole corn, grains, fava beans, local cheese, red onion and black olives.
 He and I then split the Quinoa and avocado salad,  Which both he and Will had actually had at lunch time and declared amazing.
 Wines are complimentary here as is all the alcohol and all the tea, all the coffee and all the amazing meals that are given constantly all day long, so I enjoyed a Peruvian Blanc de Blanc blend from Tacama of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier, while Will had a Mapu Reserva Chard from Argentina.
 He and Samuel were feeling very full and both ordered pizzas for their main course, Samuel of course went for the plain Margherita while Will loved the asparagus bacon and quail egg.
 For my main course I went heavy with Lomo Saltado,  a delicious tender beef tenderloin strip with onion, tomatoes and chiles, fried yellow potatoes and traditional rice.  The rice was plain enough to avoid, the potatoes were delicious and the meat was melt in your mouth fabulous especially with the Tacama Seleccion Especial of Petite Verdot and Cabernet which we had already had several times on the trip.
 For dessert, the boys skipped and I had a simple mango sorbet with a lemongrass sauce around it and a simple coconut crisp cookie in the middle.
 It was light and refreshing and the lemongrass sauce reminded me of a kind of slightly spicy fruity creme anglaise.
 Off to bed for early wake up calls as we had an 8 hour excursion to visit isolated islands on the Lake the next day.
 There are some Facebook pictures and they also include our fabulous lunch on the island of Taquile,  about an hour away by boat from the hotel but as if civilization had not reached it in a couple of 100 years.  The folks here have solar panels to heat their water and give them a bit of electricity but it's a simple way of farming life and we had a lot of great fun learning about their traditions.
 Back at the hotel of course there was a grand dinner....
 Our second dinner was even better than all the other meals where I started with a trout ceviche which they serve on the side what is called a chilcano,  which is basically a trout shooter with spicy vinegar salsa. The ceviche itself was loaded with roasted purple corn  and again that amazing trout from Titicaca.  A side note is that today all of the trout served from the Lake is Canadian trout which was imported decades ago and is eating up all of the local fish, so it's one of the few fish that is allowed to be taken from the Lake.
 Samuel started with the rustic Mozzarella and tomato salad with basil and black olives which he said had the saltiest vinagrette he's ever had although he seemed to like it.  Will had the Quinoa and fava bean Andean chowder which I had the day before which just has to be one of the best dishes they make here.
 For main courses will chose a simple Burger with bacon and egg although the fries were cold and Samuel had than gnocchi with rustic pesto sauce.
 My Duck Magret with Andean gooseberries, yellow chili sauce, potato gratin and green beans was truly a spectacular dish and the best duck I've had in the country.
 Samuel disappeared while we'll had a brilliant Quinoa Creme Caramel and I had a chocolate souffle that while it came out more on the less cooked side I truly loved.
 It's sad to know that we're leaving early tomorrow morning as we have truly enjoyed the 2 days here at Titilaka and Lake Titicaca... it's an amazing experience;off to Colca Canyon next.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Cusco Peru's MAP CAFE has it all mapped out magnificently (12-25-17)

Our last dinner in Cusco was right across the street from our hotel at the elegant and very beautiful MAP Cafe located in the  awesome Museum of Precolumbian Art(hence MAP), which Will and I had visited earlier that day.  The museum is in a beautiful colonial home and the 12 or so tables are inside a glass enclosure in the courtyard with some more tables outside,  although it was way too cold to dine outside last night, with temps in the 50's as is normal in the Andean altitudes over 12000feet.
 Our server Claudio offered us a complimentary drink called it a Raymi, which is Quecha for "party"  and was elegantly served in a mini stemless martini glass sitting in a glass of ice.  It was a combination of pisco, lime, gooseberry liqueur and aperol, which we all adored.  We weren't sure that it was included and we have to admit that the 165 soles price(just a tad over $50 each),  was an unbelievable deal for the 3 huge courses and this drink. The sparkling water was Badoit again,  so it must be very popular in the finer restaurants here, and is always a welcome treat, as it's our favorite.
 The unexciting amuse was sweet potato with parsley and sweet pepper and salt that didn't have a lot of taste,  but luckily everything improved from here on.  The breads arrived and were an amazing hit with Sam as there were quinoa grissini, purple corn rolls, pumpkin brioche and flatbread,  All served with an olive oil and balsamic blend seasoned with the local huacatey herb.
We ordered a bottle of Intipalka por Santiago Queirolo Reserve 2015,  which was a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah that we again fell in love with.  I loved the adorable little plate for the sommelier to put the cork in front of me on.
Samuel's Sara Lawa  Was a rich cream corn soup with thyme, cheese, broad beans, mushrooms and a poached egg on the bottom and the huacatey herb on top, which he raved about; the soup was poured into the bowl tableside so we could see all the ingredients beautifully arranged.. Will chose the Andean Tortellini in Brodo, which were filled with guinea pig  and served in a chicken broth with Andean mushrooms, confit chicken breast, pickled oyster mushrooms,  fava beans and crispy cuy (yup, guinea pig) rinds.
I went lighter with the Tiradito of Paiche(Amazon fish) with a mild sauce of jungle citrus fruits, camu camu and cocona with plantains and crispy uncusha(one of these was yuca and the other sweet potato).  We were all impressed with all 3 starters and knew that it had to get even better from here.
 We welcomed the long rest and then the palate cleanser which was a tangerine sorbet.
Samuel chose the Quinoa Cannelloni with Truffle, tomato pesto, arugula, and goat cheese filled with a fontina fonduta "poised over a bed of organic sauteed  vegetables, chard stems and baby fennel bulb."  Sadly the dish was so rich in truffles that it almost tasted sweet, it's what I might called overly French saucing. It also lacked the poise stated in the menu.
 Will and I chose the Andean Arroz con Pato,  which was a delicious crispy confit duck leg served with a rice and quinoa risotto with coriander pesto, corn and Peruvian chili sauce(mild). It was indeed perfect.
 Dessert was included so we indulged and Sam having a deconstructed caramelized lemon pie of soft lemon cream, a cookie, burnt meringue and Maras salted caramel ice cream..yum.
Lucuma kisses was on my plate  which was actually a large chocolate shell covering liquid creamy foamy and powdery lucuma in different textures with coffee flavored chocolate sorbet from Quillabamba on the side.  The sorbet didn't win any prizes but boy was the chocolate shell with all of its different flavors and textures inside a big hit with me.
Will chose Tumbao of Tumbo,  A Passion fruit curd  with meringue spheres, kinicha crumble, moringa ganache, strawberry syrup and yogurt ice cream; another hit for three stars.
 The service here was excellent and everything save for Sam's main course was truly impressive and except for that we really had a wonderful last night here in Cusco.
We spent the last night on the newest luxury train in Peru, the Andean Explorer under the Belmond flag(Orient-Express) and have now arrived at Lake Titicaca where we spend two nights at the amazing Titilika Relais et Chateau!

Monday, December 25, 2017

Cusco's Pachapapa pours on amazing Andean food (12-24-17)

We worried that places might be shut for the holiday on the holiday here in Cusco, but this city is open for business and hopping. We had been told to try Pachapapa which means "earth father" in Quechua and specializes in Andean local cooking. On arrival we asked to sit indoors as the weather was getting chilly (about 55) and while summer here, the Peruvians filled the outdoor patio. We were escorted into an adorable room with rustic wooden tables and chairs (thanks for the cushions) and dozen of silver-framed and enameled mirrors with some horse pottery in the alcoves. Only two other tables were occupied: an American couple at the far end of the room and two Asian gents right next to us who almost never put their cellphones down, even while eating.
We ordered Pisco Sours which were served in adorable clay mugs and perused the large menu.
We started with a shared order of Pachapapitas which were nice potatoes cooked in herbs and spiced butter and the  had our own starters:
For Sam the vegetarian Palta Rellena, a stuffed avocado with vegetable salad and house made mayo. Will's was the same with chicken.
I loved the Causa Rellena, a modernized version of the traditional potato dish akin to a Napoleon with layers of potato, trout, avocado, mayo and mild chili.
We ordered a bottle of water and were in shock when Badoit (yes, the French 5star winner) arrived (it was $7 when the bill came!). The bread was sad crusty rolls with a basic tomato salsa and a yummy herb/huacatey spicy salsa. The downer was the sad miniature paper napkins.
Main courses were all winner and Sam had a White Pizza Fugazza with sautéed onions and black olives.
Will chose the Pacha Papa plate with skewered alpaca brochette, stuffed hot pepper, corn tamal, grilled assorted potaotes with Andean cheese and a salad.
I had the Beef Short Ribs from the wood-fired oven that were cooked to perfected with crunchy edges and soft meat that fell off the bones, An awesome Yellow Chili Quinoto accompanied and was a truly fabulous quinoa/grain dish. I ordered a half bottle of Tacama Gran Tino of Malbec/Petit Verdot/Tannat 2016 which was only $10!!!!!!!!!!!!!! while Will had the local beer and Sam enjoyed a Mix Quillabamba of Mango, Passionfruit, Ginger and Honey Syrup.
No complaints and no dessert because again the portions were HUGE and delicious.
We returned to our hotel room to find not only a miniature pottery nativity scene made by a local artist, but a marshmallow Xmas tree with treats and more candies and much for no dessert.
Happy Holidays to ALL!
And as always many photos on FB!

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Aguascalientes' Sumaq at the foot of Macchu Pichu makes for a fine meal(12-22-17)

We were only in Aguascalientes for one night at the foot of much of picchu which allowed us to full days at the sacred site of the Incas.  There are many wonderful luxury resorts here but we chose to stay at Sumaq right on the river just about a 2 minute walk from the center of town which is supposed to have some of the best food in the area and boy were the reviews correct.

 The complimentary pisco sours were smaller but still excellent and Samuel seemed to gobble down all of the plain bread with the Huacatay Herb butter.
 I preferred the cheesy flatbread with seasoning as well as the delicious cheese straws. 
 They gave Samuel a special vegetarian menu which was quite varied and quite impressive and they actually brought him a different amuse even though both of them were vegetarian.  His was a simple tomato salad with eggplant and capers and Sam raved about the saltiness from the capers.  Ours was a local wheat salad which we have all come to love especially since local quinos is found everywhere.
 We chose a bottle of red blend from Tacama, Seleccion Especial 2015,  Which was a smooth delightful combination of Petite Verdot and Tannat with lots of fruit forward flavor.  The Peruvian wines tend to be a little less expensive than other South American options so we have come to love them very much during our stay here.
There was a choice of about 5 or 6 ceviches all made with local trout so I chose the Ceviche con Tumbo,  An exotic jungle fruit which was combined with coriander crunchy corn sweet potatoes Indian corn and had shoe string fries of sweet potato on top with one very hot red Chile pepper slice and coriander micro sprouts;  It seems that each day I find a completely new ceviche to put in my favorite list. Will chose the Ceviche de Trucha con Savored Andinos,  which incorporated ND and flavors into the trout with piquillo pepper cream.
 Samuel started with a Quinoa Tabbouleh which he declared his new favorite food on Earth which came with Andean Paria cheese tomato Olive oil and lime.  His main course with it was a gnocchi in a tree tomato red sauce with basil that was out of this world; the gnocchi were filled with mozzarella and eggplant mousse.
Will chose the Adobo de Res,  Which was a veal stew cooked for hours with a spicy marinated and Peruvian pumpkin risotto with bell peppers,  Well I devoured my tasty Lomo de Alpaca,  A grilled tenderloin of alpaca with a bearnaise sauce and local grilled mushrooms smashed potatoes and sweet peppers with grilled green beans.  The meat came sliced and was crunchy on the edge and only one piece was a bit chewy as you got to the center it was more and more tender and delcious.
 Dessert is included here and there was no way on Earth that Samuel was not having the Fondant de Chocolate with strawberry coulis and Vanilla Ice cream which was gone before I even got a chance to look at it, but luckily you can check it out on Facebook.  Will loved his Arroz con Leche,  a rice pudding but here with Pisco mosto Verde and iced chicha morada which is a purple corn liquor famous in the area.  It was topped with a Quinoa caramel.  I went for the Fantasia de  Lucuma which had foam, warm coffee sauce a mousse of the exotic fruit along with ice cream.
 All delicious and wonderful but we had to get to bed to head backup to the heights to climb MacchuPichu you once again.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Sacred Valley's Sol y Luna is kingly with Killa Wasi (12-20-17)

We moved on quickly from Lima where we will  Return on New Year's Eve for one more night so now we are located in the Sacred Valley in the town of Urubamba,  located at some 9000' above sea level this is the entrance way Macchu Pichu,  Where we will visit tomorrow.
First we are spending 2 nights at the magnificent Relais at Chateaux complex here in The Valley called Sol y Luna.  I actually put a great video of our casita on Facebook yesterday.
We dined in the formal restaurant last night called Killa Wasi, which means house of the moon and actually there were only 2 occupied tables in the entire intimate restaurant.  The décor and art work in the entire complex is truly gorgeous not to mention all the Flora everywhere inside and out.
Of course we started with pisco sours and they were as delicious and large as the night before,  and then we went on to a bottle of red wine from the same winemaker as the previous night: Intipalla Numero 1, 2014  which was a delicious blend of Cabernet, Tannat, Malbec, Syrah and other red grapes that had red granite chocolate and truffle aromas.
The bread here was good,  But less impressive than the previous night with a mashua or potato bread as well as a grain bread  served with olive oil that came from the coast and homemade balsamic.
 The amuses were fabulous with Sam getting a mayonnaise and black Olive aioli with palmetto, avocado and tapioca made of yucca and beetroot juice (that looked like caviar)with beautiful flowers on top.  All the dishes had edible flowers,  And as always you can see them on the Facebook pictures. The amuse for us was the same aioli with local smoked trout lasagna  and a fish oil reduction; spectacular flavors.
 Samuel started with a quinoa falafel with confit of allucos or fingering potatoes,  just one of the many hundreds of potatoes that are grown in this valley. It had a panda chili vinaigrette, hummus and coriander sprouts.
 Will chose the fresh hearts of Palm which were shredded in a pile that was so large I didn't think anyone could finish it and came with chestnuts Farina and crispy jerk cecina in an avocado-cocona sauce.
 Being who I am of course I had to try the Piernitas de Cuy Confitadas or crunchy guinea pig with Maras salt potatoes and a superb Ucho cuta dipping sauce. The meat was tasty and it was crunchy as could be, although there were a couple of small bones which made me a bit uncomfortable.
 The appetizers were huge and we were beginning to get full already but the main courses eventually came after a long rest and will had and adobo de cerdo or puff pastry with pork while  I chose the loin of local lamb with corn chica sauce and potatoes in Chaco which was clay and baby spinach.  The meat came extremely rare and I had to send it back even though I had asked for it medium rare and then I ate a little but I was so full.
 The sauce was superb but the clay covered potatoes had no flavor and were absolutely weird.
 Samuel was thrilled with his local pumpkin lasagna with chili and Ukay farm cheese in a dried morel sauce.
 We couldn't even think of dessert but there were Passion fruit marshmallows and limemousse with edible pansies.

Lima, Peru's MARAS is magnificent for fish and more (12-19-17)

Our first full day in Lima brought us to the Westin hotel and Maras one of the more beautiful dining places you can find in town where we sat in a comfy corner with a black brick wall looking more like enamel in silver leathery swivel chairs. There was a light chicken wire globe above the table that was lit from above creating and eerie black figure on the white table cloth.  The one thing we did notice from the second we sat down was the extremely loud disco music emanating from the nearby bar that did subside as the evening went on,  but was still way too loud throughout the entire meal.
 Will and I ordered the requisite Pisco Sours which came in huge glasses and lasted quite a long time and were extremely tasty;  Our 1st well deserved drinks after arriving in Lima at approximately 1:30 in the morning the night before and having to wait an hour and a 1/2 for all the luggage to not arrive.  Luckily Sam's bag appeared at the hotel mysteriously the next morning.
 A superb amuse arrived and Sam's was a caisa of potato with avocado sauce while ours was a sea bass crudo with ricoto Chili, Maras salt and beetroot leaves.  Maras is nearby where we are now in the Sacred Valley high up in the Andes and we will visit these famous salt pans which yield some of the most tasty salt we have ever had in our lives. 
 We ordered a bottle of Peruvian wine which was called Intipalca and had been recommended by our guide it was a Sauvignon Blanc 2017 from the Valle de Ica with a  huge grapefruit scent in the nose and  intense citrus flavors in the mouth.  It was perfect with our starters first a grilled octopus with corn hummus, roasted chili, olives and toasted cassava that was on a blandish side and did not give much excitement.  On the other hand the Ceviche "carretillero  of Ses bass and ocotpus was a dream come true, perhaps one of the best ones ever on Earth.  Samuel started with a salad of ancient grains from the Andes that he could not give enough raves about,  And when the breads arrived we all went insane with the red pepper butter and avocado spread, especially with the pumpkin bread having salt of Maras,  the little brioche, French and grain breads, all which we had to have more of.
 For his main course Samuel had local pumpkin ravioli called "loche"  with an artichoke sauce,  Well we'll and I split 2 main courses:
Arapaimafish from the Amazon with pork-soy broth, mushrooms,  Hearts of Palm, fennel and fried rice with bellaco plantains.
Osobucco  was very rich with an even richer artichoke ravioli and creamed artichoke sauce, "huacatey" herbs.
 We told our excellent service Fernando that everything was truly excellent but there was no way on Earth we could eat another bite.
 Fernando preferred some delicious chocolate truffles as well as white chocolate, strawberry chocolates and orange chocolates which we could not resist.
 If this was food in Peru we would be very happy for the next weeks.

Monday, November 27, 2017

DC's SIREN serves up spectacular seafood and service (11-25-17)

Siren by Robert Wiedmaier opened earlier this year in  the spanking new Darcy Hotel off Scott Circle at 1515 Rhode Island Ave, NW ( and I had planned to get there earlier in the summer, but was waylaid by an ill client. Since our son has gone vegetarian on us, seafood is on his no go list, so as soon as he ran off for a sleepover on Saturday, Will & I headed downtown for an adult night out with the fishies!
The space is comfortable and simple with lots of nice décor touches and many curtained booths, but after a while we had to move due to cold air from an overhead vent. We settled in at a warmer spot where we could also see a lot more and enjoy the space. While the restaurant is co-owned my Chefs Robert Wiedmaier (of Marcel's fame) and Brian McBride (original chef at Blue Duck Tavern), the kitchen is under the supervision of Chef John Critchley (previously of Brine, Bourbon Steak & Urbana) whose resume indicates he is most worthy. we had met Chef John many times before and he came out to greet us as did Chef Brian and they cheerily headed around the dining room when spotting other regulars or friends. It did feel like family. Our server Eddie made several excellent suggestions as did the chef and we settled in with a bottle of Halcon Vineyards "Prado" Rhone Blend 2013 from mendocino, Ca suggested by GM Todd Salvadore who knew his wines and what goes well with the seafood. Creamy and rich, it was ideal with every bite we had all night. Top this off with my favorite sparkling water, Badoit, and you have me reined in.
My starter was the Japanese Sea Urchin with Edamame, Blue Crab Custard, Arctic Surf Clam & Galil Spice Oil (which I discovered online is indeed an Israeli product from the Galilee--Galil is Hebrew for Galilee). and the flavors burst all over the place with the creamy custard and pops of earthy urchin. I would call it a clod seafood stew of types with a custard base and it was indeed dreamy (see FB fotos). Will had the Grilled Fish Causa which I would describe as a variation of the Puerto Rican Mofongo, but here with a Yukon Gold Potato shell stuffed with a fish melange, Peruvian Pepper (getting ready for our trip in less than 3 weeks), Aleppo Pepper Oil & Flying Fish Row. Again flavors bursts here, which indeed was the signature of every dish all night: novel, exciting and flavorful.
Before our main course arrived, Eddie brought out some superb amuse-like treats:
Grilled Cuttlefish with Spaghetti Squash in Vegetable Broth with Thai Basil Vinaigrette was tender and tasty and was followed by
"Almond Cake" Duck Liver Mousse with Verjus Gelee which was a complex yet teeny two-bite foie gras treat.

We asked about bread and Eddie explained it comes just before the main course, and it did in the form of Soft Lavosh (more like a light pita) with a Tuna spreak topped with Red Pepper Puree. We had noticed the large oil containers on the table with spices and assumed it was for the bread and when one of the servers brought the spread, he quickly announced he would drizzle the star anise oil over it. OOPS! We smelled the intense licorice before we could stop him, so that went back to the kitchen and another oil-less plate emerged quickly. It was tasty and simple and filled a space, but I would have loved some real bread to mop up that stew broth at the end.
Main courses here shine just like everything else with Will's Poached Alaskan Halibut with Mishmish Spiced Octopus, Sobrasada(a type of chorizo adding flavor) Emulsion, Almond Milk and a divine Farro Grano Arso (which upon checking is a burnt grain apparently originating in Puglia; we must have missed this when there this past summer!). I may have found a new favorite seafood dish in the amazing Fisherman's Stew, which Chef John explained, has been evolving since the opening. I love it just the way it is with large pieces of crispy seared Royal Bass, Diver Scallops and Squid Ink Brittle which melts as the broth is poured on tableside. The two winning ingredients of the dish, however, are the three Middleneck Clams piled with Sea Urchin and topped with French Trout Roe which totally blew me away. I can't recall such an amazing combination of flavors. Beside these were Lobster & Shrimp Dumplings, which I can only describe as matzo-ball like in texture and floating in the seafood/fish broth. I had to save the last bite from one of these tiny treats.

A plate of Lamb Shoulder Cannelloni with Braised Leeks and Lamb Jus emerged as a postlude and while we had intended to try and keep this meal mostly meatless, we could not give in to the rich treat.

Desserts here should not be missed and while they sound large and complex, they are indeed not huge or too filling for each to have his or her own. Will went right for the Key Lime Cream with Passion fruit, Graham Cracker and Orange Blossom ice Cream which he loved save for the very soggy graham cracker which marred the dish. My Coffee Mousse & Gingerbread was a holiday treat with Hazelnut Sponge, Gingerbread Ice Cream and Crystalized Hazelnuts. I was totally happy and even happier when the macaroon, , Gelee and Dulce de leche cream mignardises arrived. 
Chef Robert Wiedmaier has been around DC for decades now and indeed has amassed a talented staff in his kitchens but also in front of house and Siren surely offers exemplary service and superior seafood. Siren is perfect for families (as it is in a hotel), romantic evenings, or just a night out, and as we were leaving the jazz combo was setting up, so that's also an option from 9pm (I believe on Friday & Saturday).
Check it out and enjoy!

Saturday, November 25, 2017

NYC's MAS(farmhouse) fully satisfies (11-24-17)

We always try to do a fine dining experience each Thanksgiving trip to NY and while I had been to an enjoyed MAS(farmhouse) in Greenwich Village before, I knew they would be able to cater to Samuel's vegetarian experience fullfold and I was correct.
When we arrived at 630pm the small cozy and comfy dining room was empty, but within 90 minutes it filled up as they generally do one seating per table each night.
We ordered drinks and Will had what was called Grapefruit while I had the Oaxaca Negroni.....I totally failed to note the ingredients, but they were superb. We went on to an excellent Saint-Aubin white (the wine prices here can get crazy): Domaine Paul Pillot 2015 "Les Charmois" 1er cru that was creamy and rich and paired well with the starters. An amuse of Golden Beet Terrine with Goat Cheese and Hazelnuts arrived and was nice, but won no awards. Hildon sparkling water from the UK is used here.

Sam started with the Yams, Brussels Sprouts and Pomegranate, while and I were both enthralled with the excellent Roasted Chestnut and Porcini Mushroom Soup with Toasted Pumpkin Seeds, Caramelized Fennel and Preserved Fig (which looked like a swirl of balsamic in the soup--fotos on FB!!)
Next for Sam came Kuri Squash Risotto with Mushrooms and he could not rave enough about the flavors. My Poached Lobster with Kuri Squash Butter & Preserved Lemon, Quark Spatzle and a brown butter watercress puree was dotted with yummy Hon Shimeji Mushrooms. The dish was excellent and a divine pairing with the Burgundy Chardonnay, but the lemon was so intense in a couple of bites, it almost tasted salty, which was odd, but not bad. Will chose the Roasted Local Cod with Crispy Spaghetti Squash, Blood Orange, Capers, Brioche Crouton and Kohlrabi. Not a complaint there.

We moved on to a Jean-Luc Joillot 2005 "Les Rugiens" Volnay also from Burgynday which was one of the funkiest noses I have ever smelled and quite earthy in the mouth. While delicious, it really needed food. Again a divine pairing with my Roasted Rettland Farm Duck Breast with Sunchokes, Beluga Lentils, Macerated Cranberries and Cabbage Wrapped Duck Confit Leg. Will had the Violette Hill Farms Chicken Breast stuffed with Apricot Sausage, Smoked Cheddar Braised Beans, Glazed Broccoli and Maitake Mushrooms while Sam adored his Beet Ravioli with Trumpet Mushrooms. As you can see the name (farmhouse) means a lot as the ingredients are local and fresh year round which makes this place such a treat.
It was a cold night and the wind did come down the entry at times when the door was opened, which made a chill, but the place was warm and full so no more chills after 730!
We shared the Cheese Plate of Cricket Creek Maggie's Round, Old Chatham Sheepherding Ewe's Blue and Haystack Peak, all of which were superb and served with pickled pear, pickled apple and walnut crackers.
For dessert, Samuel chose the Warm Upside-Down Cake with Huckleberry Compote, Quince, Pink Pepper Anglaise & Buttermillk Ice Cream.
Will went for the Pumpkin Mousse with Chocolate Fudge Ice Cream, Almond Crumble, Cardamom Milk Chocoalte & Pumpkin Tuile, while I adored the Caramelized White Chocolate Cheesecake with Blistered Grapes, Peanut Butter Cookie, Lemon Confit and Concord Sorbet
They were all amazing and tasty desserts that totally filled us up, but not enough to skip the Lavender Marshmallows and Pecan Squares. I was happy for the latter as we didn't have pecan pie the day before and when we asked if the marshmallows had gelatin(for Sam) they immediately came out with some chocolates for him.
This was an evening of fine food, fine service and justa  nice family feast.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Candle 79 in NYC is a vegan/organic place you have to see (and eat in....11-22-17)

Since Sam entered his vegetarian stage over a half a year ago, I thought it would be nice to try one of NYC's top veggie dining spots this time around, so we headed to the Upper East Side and CANDLE 79 (154 E 79th St. It was nice to escape the holiday masses in midtown after our spectacular matinee of Hello Dolly starring Bette Midler and head uptown with a friend and client to the oh so quieter East Side.
It had become windy and bitter cold, so we were thankful for the cozy warm feeling we encountered as we entered. There are two floors and our table was near the street window so we could see the passersby while keeping toasty warm. A long bar (where folks can dine as well without reservations) was along the side of the room and there were cozy booths on the other. Upon entering my first remark was, "well how bad can vegan food be if they still have wine and booze?" Some of the nearby guests laughed and we settled in for a super fun evening.
I do have to say I like it when a restaurant offers a choice of white or black linen napkins so folks don't have lint all over their laps when they leave. Our guest asked for a black napkin, as so many folks do where black in NYC, but alas white was the only option; I too had on black pants--just a thought. We ordered some super fun cocktails (see FB fotos for them and all the food):
Mar "Tea"-Ni was EG Earl Grey Tea & Sage Vodka with lemon, chamomile agave & lavender bitters and was slightly earthy and tasty but I adored my super spiced
SPICY SENORITA (I called it a spicy senor) with Jalapeno Infused IXA Silver Tequila, Agave, Combier, Carrot Juice & Lime with a slice of jalapeno on the rim....just in case.
Samuel had the organic Q Cola which reminded me more of Ginger Beer than cola and we all agreed was super tasty.

A nice, but unamusing amuse arrived in the form of a cucumber slice with a dab of almond "cheese" which to me was more like a thick nut cream (think thinner  and lighter than almond butter).
The menu wasn't huge, but it was very hard to decide. We all chose some starters and agreed to enjoy those and then see what mains we might or might not want:
Fried Artichokes came atop a stew-like composition of chickpeas, and zucchini in a tomato-cashew sauce and while delicious, I had thought all the veggies were fried, so wanted some more crunch.
The Housemade Live Cheese Plate has a truly interesting name not only because cheese is not vegan, but live seems an odd choice. The name is used a lot here and simply means "raw." We had already tasted the almond cheese on the amuse, but here the plate was loaded with various items and flavors:
Pepper-Macadamia Cheese was more like a paste and loaded with flavor, while the Almond Cheese tasted very different here almost the consistency of goat cheese with a similar flavor and requiring spreading on the tasty Brown Rice-Kale-Chia crackers. The Herb-Cashew cheese was also delish. Dates and Apples adorned the plate in a beautiful presentation.
Fried Dumplings are made from seitan, which our server explained was a wheat derivative, with a Sesame-Ginger Soy broth and crunchy broccoli. They tasted quite meaty inside, but we weren't totally fooled.
Empanadas were two huge pastries with Chili-grilled Seitan, Oyster Mushrooms, Zucchini, Escarole, Tomatillo Sauce, Guacamole and Almond Cheese (they like this stuff) and were bursting with flavors from all the various ingredients and definitely made a hit. The Mezze Platter was also a good choice for variety with Smoked Hummus, Eggplant Caponata (I never found this), Olives, Slivered Almonds, Almond Tzatziki, Babaganoush, Grilled Paratha Bread(we needed more for all the tasty spreads), roasted garlic cloves and red pepper oil.
The star starter was the Guacamole Timbale simply made of guac layered over with Chipotle Black Beans packing just enough spice, Pico de Gallo and layered with huge fried thick Plantain Chips for dipping and covered with a kicky Ranchero Sauce.

A bottle of Querciabella Super Tuscan 2013 was the perfect red wine on a freezing night to have with all the earthy and slightly spicy foods.
Our biggest complaint was the table size was not being large enough to hold all the various plates and at some times when three starters arrived we had to play musical plates a lot.

Our guest was polishing off the mezze, so the three of us ordered a bit more with Sam having a starter portion of the Wild Mushroom-Butternut Squash Ravioli with Sauteed Spinach, Tomato-Cashew Cream and Truffle Oil which was a hit with him while Will chose the Herb Grilled Cauliflower with Wild Mushroom Squash Risotto, Cashew Cream, Kale-Pine Nut Pesto and Frizzled Leeks. The cauliflower was quite al dente and a bit hard to cut, but it was a tasty, rich and filling dish largely due to the risotto that was intense and heavy. I think the winning main was our waiter's choice and I went for the Wild Mushroom Crepe with Seasonal Veggies, Sauteed Wild Mushrooms, Tempeh, Spinach, Garlic Truffle Aioli and a side Arugula & Beet Salad. The salad was nice but won no prize, but I was indeed worried about a rich heavy crepe and I was so wrong as our server said it wasn't heavy. The sauces were light and while the crepe itself was thicker than a traditional (think more like buckwheat crepe) it was indeed just right and bursting with flavors. A side dish of Onion Rings with Chipotle Aioli never arrived and we were told it was sent to the wrong table. I was tempted to cancel it, but really wanted to know what vegan aioli was like, and when it arrived we were all impressed with the crispy rings and the superb slightly spicy aioli which indeed had no eggy mayo flavor that aioli always does as it is made with other ingredients; but still works. Although since they came after we finished, we really should not have been charged.
Will ordered a scoop of tasty boysenberry ice cream which was tasty, but I really would have liked a truly dairy gelato  :-)).

Many of the dishes can be ordered gluten-free as well, so these folks really aim to please and we were indeed pleased and left there totally full....but will of course, indulge again today. HAPPY THANKSGIVING to all!

Monday, November 13, 2017

Another great gourmet gathering at GABRIEL KREUTHER in NYC (11-11-17)

Back in the spring I had an amazing dinner when I first dined at the Michelin-starred Gabriel Kreuther in NYC and knew I would be back soon. This past Saturday night I was able to take a handful of clients for an amazing dinner that lasted over 5 hours and truly will remain in the top dining memories of my life.
I arrived before the other 5 guests and ordered one of the "historical" cocktails from the ingeniously created "Bryant Park Cocktail Menu" designed to recreate drinks that might have passed through the famous park across the street. The Public Promenade is made with Grey Goose Vodka, Cranberry, Allspice Dram, Lemon & Sumac and has an egg white froth dusted with autumn spices such as nutmeg and sumac on top. It's an earthy drink that, while served cold, gets even more warmer as you quaff. Everyone seemed to want one as they arrived! As we pondered the menu we enjoyed a bottle of Saint-Chamant Brut 2005 Blanc de Blancs Champagne from Epernay that was superbly yeasty and tasty.  It took a while for us to settle on the Chef's Menu for all of us and then pass off our allergies and dislikes to our excellent server, Ronald, who noted every need and was there for everything we needed. We dine in many excellent restaurants around the work, many with Michelin stars as well, and the service here is some of the best I have ever experienced, especially in New York when the folks can be a bit abrupt; here it is relaxing, attentive and always top notch.
The Savory Scallion Kougelhopf arrived with its rich Chive Fromage Blanc and I warned everyone to pace themselves and not gobble up all the amazing bread, but this is an exception.
Two plates of Tarte Flambee started us off; one classic with bacon & onion and the other with hen of the woods mushrooms and formage blanc. These too were filling and irresistible, but luckily there was just one small square for each of us from each tarte.
Next was Siberian Osetra Caviar with Quail Egg, Buttermilk Panna Cotta and a Vadouvan Savory Cracker all in an adorable miniature eggshell dish. This was a superb dish and reminded me so much of our late friend Jean-Louis Palladin and his treatments of quail eggs, caviars and mousses for his amuses! Paired with the champagne it was brilliant.
The next plates (photos on FB) arrived with three each amuses and a shot glass on the side:
The glass contained a Red Curry Butternut Squash Soup with Coconut Mousseline and Five Spice Crumble on top which you drank as a shot. It had a nice spicy kick, but that was immediately cantilevered by the Pomegranate Negroni Gelee with Orange Confit. Sesame Marinated Spaghetti Squash came on a Chestnut Cracker with Pickles Asian Pear, and while we all tried desperately to guess what these were, few of us succeeded. The last amuse on the plate was a divine Porcini Mac & Cheese with Tomato Powder.

A number of the courses came out with two different plates for the six of, forcing some cross table tasting!
the first pair was Hamachi, Black Truffle & Foie Gras Mille-Feuille with Celery, Grapes & Truffle Vinaigrette which I had back in April and adored. Opposite was the Langoustine Tartare with Flying Fish Rose, Salty Fingers, Cauliflower-Macadamia Puree that had a sweet tuile but chili for spice! The lobster melted in my mouth and paired perfectly with our first white wine "Ohne" Riesling from Ulrich Stein 2014 in the German Mosel Valley that was amazing especially with the minerality in the post-swirl in the mouth. Our sommeilleuse, Kelly, had every wine ordered and poured in time for the food and each of them indeed paired to perfection!
Our third bottle was a magnum (we were drinking fast and this was the last bottlel in the restaurant's cellar!) of Coffinet-Duvernay 2010 Chassagne-Montrachet "Blanchots Dessous" that was also brilliantly paired with the next several courses.

Sturgeon & Sauerkraut Tart with American Caviar Mousseline and Applewood Smoke is presented by the kitchen under a glass dome revealed tableside and wafted up through our nostrils. Chef de Cuisine Joe Anthony was praised by all for everything we had eaten so far, and I commended him on the superb job even though Chef Gabriel was off in Spain for a conference; I would never have known he was gone!
French baguettes arrived (they were really batards) with Valley Milkhouse Farm's Cultured butter, which was funny as the guests were all in the opera business or singers and as such were quite cultured! many laughs ensued especially when I insisted the bread was a batard and not a baguette. (They were later listed on the menu as wholegrain ficelles!)

Anson Mills' Spelt Risotto is a vegetarian's delight with Confit Yolk, Chanterelles, Pumpkin Seed Crumble and Parmesan. This is a heavy grain so not a typical Italian risotto and so novel it really should be called something else; yet so delicious, we did not leave one grain in our bowls.
Grilled Maine Lobster with Toasted Cashews, Baby Carrots, & Jamon Nage was almost like a bisque with a Leek Saffron Puree as well had this shellfish in its sheer perfection and again brilliantly paired with the Chassagne-Montrachet, a Burgundy Chardonnay of true class. One of us did not like shellfish and got the Roasted Black Bass with Olive Oil Breadcrumbs, Garlic Confit & Shellfish Broth instead.
Rosemary Buckwheat Rolls arrived with Whipped Lardo/Chili/Garlic Spread...who could resist that?? I always want to package this spread and take it home....Alas, not as carry-on!
Meat was coming and Kelly suggested a wondrously aged 2010 Cornas from Domaine du Coulet "Billes Noires" that we all raved over with the Berkshire Pork Tenderloin with Berawecka Brown Butter, Sage & Castle Valley Mill's Polenta. I was told berawecka is akin to fruitcake, but not the kind you buy in a package as this butter was divine with the tender pork loin. 

Our second red wine was one I had here earlier in the year and adored and is truly a superb red, Mas La Mola 2009 from Priorat was a huge red ideal with our last meat course: 7X Wagyu Beef Tenderloin from Colorado with Roast Salsify, Potato Dumpling & Juniper Jus. The meat was like butter and the dumpling (also made with veal breast) was truly spectacular and loaded with flavor. As if this were not enough, the palte was dotted with pieces of beef tongue as well as beech mushrooms! We were all nearing our limits, but there was more.

Pumpkin Cremuex was a Cider Sorbet with Red Currant Marmalade and Ginger SnapTuile was called a palate cleanser of sort, but was really a pre-dessert that we could not stop raving about. So perfect (as was every dish) for a bitter cold 20 degree winter night. 
Desserts were Decadent - Chocolate Caramel with Mixed MediaCrumble, Chocolate Mousse and Caramel Ice Creamfor three of us and the other received the amazing Harvest - Fig Crumble with Sauteed Fig, Pear Sorbet, Caramel Cremeux and Crystallized and Caramelized Pastry, Pear Gelee. They were both superb, but I have to say I preferred the fruit as I am a fruit dessert guy, but we all shared equally.
Not enough--there were Cheesecake Macaroons and Milk Chocolates with Saffron & Honey served in a Cacao Pod to finish and Chocolate packages to take home.

To quote the song: "Oh What a Night!" Kudos go to the entire amazing staff and team in the kitchen and front of house from everyone who greets, meets and even helps you find the loo, to all the chefs in the amazing kitchen where some of the best food in NY is always found!

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Fuji Sushi in NYC satisfies once again for a deal (11-10-17)

I wanted a nice bite with a friend before the opera so I headed right to Fusi Sushi ( a block from my hotel on 56th Street.
The green tea was hot and warmed by cold hands (it was in the 20's outside) and the superb Tomio Hanaichirin "A Flower" Junmai Daijingo Sake was also quite warming.
My friend has the veggie soup while I enjoyed the always super Seaweed Salad and we went on to share two sushi rolls which were both excellent:
TOKYO ROSE-spicy tuna and cucumber topped with tuna, avocado and salmon to make an almost gorgeous colorful paint palette (see FB foto) and
SPICY CRUNCH which was spicy tuna with a crunchy tobiko top.
The prices for midtown cant be beat and the food quality is top notch. Fuji Sushi is forever in my return list.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

It's always amazing at Arlington's AMBAR (10-28-17)

As most of you know we have a few favorite spots we visit more than once, and since our first trip to Ambar just over 4 months ago, we decided to return for many reasons.
We expected the kinds to come and they love the flatbreads (although they both cancelled), it's only $35 per person for as many smallplates as can possibly consume, and I think the 6 of us must have downed over 30 for sure (so the math tells me that we paid under $6-7 per plate, if not less and the unique Balkan wines are pretty good as well.
We ordered two Macedonian wines to start from Stobi: a superb Rose($30-s range) with hints of lemon and tartness and a full bodied red Vranac Ventas(about $60--too high!) which still was not as good as out third wine, the 2011 Bulguriana Cabernet/Syrah blend from the Thracian Valley which was jammy and full bodied and rang in at way under $40 a bottle. We had to order some of the fabulous dishes we had last time that we adored (many are pictured on FB, along with some fun photos of our group featuring the two tenors and a travel agent with spouses!):
Almond Chicken is always a hit here as are the Kebabs with their pile of spicy paprika for dipping. The spreads are divine as are the breads, but we didn't get those huge fluffy pita-like breads this time. the spreads on the chef's three choices are a beet tzatziki, urebnes cheese and lamb pate (very reminiscent of rillettes).
Meat pies  are fab as are the Stuffed Sour Cabbage with melting Pork Belly comes with creamy mashed potatoes with chives, but don't skip the super veggie salads such as Quinoa/Broccoli and Slaw.
Steak Tartare here is done well, although I skip the raw onions, and the Smoked Salmon spread was also a super new dish for us. White Veal Soup is creamy and lemony, think the Greek Ovgolemono with meat base instead of chicken. Flatbreads seemed to come nonstop with just white ones, sudzuk sausage akin to pepperoni, and even one with grilled shrimp which I loved.
Mushroom Pilav treats the rice like a star, but it came with the unsatisfying Beef Goulash (although the spaetzle are nice on that).
If you want fish, the trout is superb with an almost crispy skin atop scalloped potatoes, but the calamari is not a winner, but then not rally bad, just soso. The Grilled Shrimp come over what is called a corn puree and I would simply say its Balkan grits with a hint of that salty feta-like cheese (urebnes, zlatibor or other?).
Veggies here also star with Brussels Sprouts and Grilled Asparagus always winning top honors.
There's something for everyone and nobody goes home hungry for sure, and we were there for over three hours, even though they warned us we could not keep the table over two!
We did skip dessert as they charge extra and we decided last time there were no winners and having more small plates is SO much better!

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

MUZE makes me muse over the amazing food at DC's Mandarin Oriental Hotel (10-23-17)--oh, and delicious drinks and oysters at Hank's

Last night I was invited to dine at MUZE at the Washington Mandarin Oriental Hotel by the MO sales team from DC/NYC and National and I realized I had dined at now closed CityZen there ages ago, but never at the hotel's other spot, MUZE. Mandarin obviously fuses Asian flavors, but also has wonderful local cuisine.
A tuna tartare amuse was okay, but alas the tortilla chip on top was gummy. The Artichoke & Crab dip with crispy grilled bread was addictive for sure, but it was my Roasted Duck Breast with Curried Lentils, Baby Carrots, Smoked Tomato Jam and Curry Leaves that was a perfect fall chilly eve hit. even though it wasn't that chilly. There was a huge amount of confit in the lentils as well as three large perfectly cooked pieces of breast (check the FB photo). A glass of Lemelson Pinot Noir 2014 "Thea's Vineyard" reminded me of the first time I attended a wine dinner at the hotel by same vintner when the place first opened 13 years ago! Even our charming server, who has been there since the opening, remembered that superb wine dinner. Needless to say, the wine was sheer perfection with the duck. Another dish at the table was the sushi platter which went over well, but the most intriguing other dish was the Green Curry Chicken using the Asian influences at their best.
We shared three desserts:
Mandarin Orange in 5 Segments which was a bombe-like chocolate shell filled with orange cream, some foams and more orange segments.
Chocolate Delight was 70% Valrhona with brownie-pecan bar, dulce chocolate cremeux and crispy feuilletine; think dark chocolate bar with milk creamy mousse and crispy pastry layers.
Tops was the Mt. Fuji with Green Tea Meringue, Yuzu & Passionfruit Marmelade, Lime & Yuzu Gelee and aerated white chocolate....what a dreamy dessert, light yet full of flavors.

Afterwards, we headed over to the new Wharf, where huge lines waited to get into the new theater there and many of the restaurants were actually opening for their first night!
We stopped by our friend Jamie Leed's newest HANKS on the WHARF ( where I nibbled on a 1/2 dozen top quality oysters and we all shared some Hushpuppies as well as novelty cocktails:
The dud was the flavorless "I have Stronger Feelings for Sauvignon Blanc than Anyone I Ever Dated" a blend of SB with vodka that just seemed so bland.
Two Bananas was slightly sweet banana mixed with Glenmorangie.
the winner was clearly my "You Had Me at Beef Jerky" which was Copper & Kings Apple Brandy with Ancho Reyes Reserve(a poblano chile liqueur), Hellfire Bitters, Melon and several shards of spicy tasty beef jerky; what fun and what a kick!
Speaking of fun, what a fun evening it was as it was 70+ degrees and balmy as we moseyed around the quite busy Wharf and soaked in the sites and scenes!

Monday, October 23, 2017

DC's TICO is tops for tapas and a terrific time (10-22-17)

Last night eight of us headed to TICO ( at 14th & T Sts, NW for the first time in its close to three years of being a major attraction in the neighborhood. We chose it largely for its variety, but also because of the large vegetarian optons for Samuel, and this was indeed a vegetarian's dream meal, especially if you like a lot of spice in your food. It was hard to decide as there were so many options, but our congenial server Dom suggested we try the multi-course tasting menu, which while everyone has to take it, he could tweak to allow vegetarian, non-shellfish and more dietary requirements, such as no red peppers!
There were three options:
Kind of Hungry for $35 per person
Forgot to Eat Lunch for $55 each
Full On Tico Experience for $75.
Dom warned that there was lots of food, so we stuck with the $35 option, and he said we could always order more afterwards, which was never in or minds as we got about halfway through the virtually 10 courses.
They all came tapas style with a small plate for every two people (except for the special diets) and we ended up taking home about 8 or more different things in multiples!
An aromatic Finca Sophenia 2013 Viognier Reserve from Mendoza started us off and while we loved the wine, we wanted something else to move on to and ultimately chose a Martino 2011 Pedro Ximenez also from Mendoza which was a super dry wine but with lots of minerality to complement the spices. Our third and final wine was so good, we ordered a second bottle of the Genium Cellars 2007 Garncaha Blend from Priorat in Spain full of jammy flavors and a hint of sour dark cherries. There are many wines from latin countries at very reasonable prices as well and a lot of American and non-Latin options, but we figures, let's stay with the theme, and it worked.

First came a Shredded Cabbage Slaw with Salsa Verde, Asparagus and Toasted Almonds that had a mild kick from the salas that we all adored and could not resist (photos as always on FB).
It was odd to find eight people who all love Brussels Sprouts, but we all oohed and ahhed when they arrived in a divine aj-limo honey with pickled curried onions and toasted peanuts. This is a recipe I must learn to duplicate somehow.
Chicken Empanadas arrived with huacaina, plaintain chips and an aji-gallina sauce to dip that I loved.
Another vegetarian dish that I need to get a recipe for was the Crispy Roasted Cauliflower with Chipotle Mayo(none for the red pepper allergy), Cotija Cheese & Crunchy Favas
On the side was a plate chock full of Shishito Peppers roasted with Crispy Shallots, Lime Zest & Sea Salt. The lime made them very different from just the basic roasting we do at home; next time.
Lamb meatballs arrived with Ricotta Salata in a hoyo tomato sauce with cumin & pine nuts, while our resident vegetarian enjoyed Mozzarella Sticks (one of his fave dishes on earth)
A novel and different dish which was more American than Latin was the Roasted Turnips in Huckleberry Sauce with Roasted Peanuts and Sliced Jalapenos. I liked it because it reminded me of Venison with Huckleberry sauce which would have been the perfect meat to pair it with!
Mac & Cheese is served with Serrano Ham, Manchego and a tasty crunchy bread crumb topping and the vegetarian gets the same without the meat; another super hit here.
We had requested the Nopal Con Queso which is a nopal cactus (which we loved in Mexico) flown in from south of the border, seared and served with Oaxaca cheese in a tortilla. I think the tortilla takes away from the flavor of the cactus and is too much; it was indeed the only dish we all really didn't adore.
Edamame Tacos are also served on the delicious soft tortillas and are seasoned with harissa yogurt with falafel as well. The combination of the falafel with the edamame again was too much inside the tortilla, but the flavors were superb. Even Sam, who does not like yogurt on most things, loved this combination.
This was thankfully our last savory dish as we were all way more than stuffed, but not enough to resist three fabulous desserts that ensued:
Tres Leches with Mango Sorbet, almond crust, strawberry and blueberry
Churros Con Dulce were super churros and a deadly Dulce de Leche Espuma Dipping Sauce with Dark Chocolate Pearls
Chocolate Devil Cake was a spectacular semi-frozen cake with Caramel Crunch & Gelato.

We all loved virtually every bite and it was a wonderful experience for all of us knowing we will return again (if only for the Duck Tacos!).

Monday, October 09, 2017

another beautiful birthday bash with a delicious dinner at DINO'S in DC (10-8-17)

Last night for Will's birthday we used yet another wonderful auction item and eight of us headed to Dino's for an awesomely super spread that lasted almost 4 hours!(FB fotos already posted!)
We started by sipping a sparkling Lambrusco from Fiorini in Sorbara, Italy called Corte degli Attimi.  It's always fun to taste and savor new wines at Dino's as owner Dean Gold revels in telling us the story behind each grape, varietal and label making it a ture wine experience and not just a meal. He also has an amazing staff at the Grotto Bar downstairs where there are happy hours from 5 to 7pm every Tueday to Saturday and all night Sunday & Monday with amazing cocktails. We next enjoyed a Negroni tasting of the 8 different Negroni cocktails he offers on his "Not So Secret Negroni Menu:"
Negroni (Classic) with Beefeater Gin, Campari & Cinzano
DC Groni #2 with 1-8 untitled barrel-aged gin, Don Ciccio Cinque Apertivo, Capitoline Vermouth
Luxury-Tanqueray, Luxardo Bitter, Carpano Antica Formula
Scofflaw's Negroni-Hayman's London Gin, Campari, Dolin, Orange Bitters
Dean's Gold-Beefeater Gin, Aperol, Carpano Antica Formula
Boulevardier-Old Granddad Bourbon, Campari, Sweet Vermouth 9this one packed a huge punch_
Virginia-XO "Virginia Moon" White Whiskey, Cappelletti Bitters, Cinzano--one of the more popular varieties amongst our crowd
Mexigroni-Mezcal, Campari, Cinzano & Rhubard Syrup which had to be the most popular amongst our group that tasted and passed repeatedly until we found one drink we really preferred as
Dean's DEVILLED EGGS arrived to start us off followed by SQUASH BLOSOMS filled with ricotta, Egg, Garlic, in Summer Tomato Essence with Parmigiano Reggiano.
Tintero Arneis 2015 from Piemonte was poured as we learned the story of how the Arneis varietal was almost wiped from the face of the earth.
All the dishes were served Family Style and they seemed to never stop arriving, each full of flavor and taste.
Classic Caprese was an awesome selection of local Heirloom Tomatoes with fresh Italian Mozzarella, basil, Occhipinti Sicilian EVOO and Hawaiian Alaena Red Salt. This was caprese gone crazy.
Chard & Fresh Mozzarella Bruschetta came with the garlic and lemon scented filling on the plate and then topped with huge grilled slices of olive bread.
Grilled Pork Belly arrived with Asian Pear from Pig Crafters of Virginia. The spice cured, braised and crisped meat was superb and rich (not fatty at all) and the caramel spice grilled Asian pear a perfect foil.
Bardolino Chiaretto 2016 from Farina was a super rose with a hint of effervescence and just right to fight the richness of the pork.
Grilled Local Veggie Antipasto was a huge selection including Candy & Sweet Red Onion, Delicata Squash, Zucchini, Bok Choy that we loved and tasted but left to take home as we knew so much more was yet to come..such as Fregola with Grilled Shrimp & Ricotta Salata..OMG with heirloom tomato, chards, kales, cauliflower, broccoli, romanesco, zucchini and string beans.

Our first red was Jante Tereano 2011, a mineral-intense treat from Venezia Giulia (Fruili) that arrived with the Pasta courses:
Heirloom Tomato, Grilled Corn & Veggie Risotti with Basil & Walnut Pesto, Shallot, Herbs, Butter, preserved Lemon, Veggie Stock and 24month aged Parm. Leftovers for Samuel tonight!
Sausage alla Calabrese was Rigatoni with House Sausage that packed a mighty spicy punch in Spicy Pepper, red chili flakes, arugula and confit tomato
Duck Lasagna has to be one of the best pastas at Dino's with Spicy Bolognese, Fonduta, 24month Parm and Silk Road Spices for an amazing flavor bust that just makes you so so happy.

I have to give huge kudos to Omar & Gustavo whose service never failed or wavered despite the many large groups all around us and many tables enjoying long dinners as it was a holiday weekend. Next poured was Monferrato Ruche di Castagnole 2015 from Ferraris which was an herbaceous Barbera-ish wine, so lighter than most Italian reds, but gutsy.
It was ideal with our 3 main courses:
Grilled Eggplant Parmigiana (also leftovers for Sam) with smoked mozzarella that we all raved about.
Lamb Rib-slow roasted Shenandoah breast with grilled onion, tomato and chile salsa and potatoes with house ramp butter --this was the only item all evening that didn't impress me as much as the meat was on the fatty side as breasts tend to be and I think we all enjoyed every other bite so much, we moved on to the truly spectacular
Tagliata--Sliced Roseda Dry Aged Sirloin with Salsa verde that was cooked to perfection and melted in our mouths; no steak knife needed!

Cheeses arrived in abbondanza:
Gorgonzola Dolce
Note del Giusto Pecorino Tartufato(truffled raw sheep)
Abbondanza Caprino alle Fragole--goat cheese aged with strawberry
Mostardo was super, not to mention the Grappa, Strawberrycello and Butler's Newphew LBV 2007 Port which I adored.
of course Will had to have a slice of Tiramisu with a candle before we could all roll ourselves home.

Many thanks to the staff and also to Chef/Owner Dean Gold for his generosity!! HAPPY BIRTHDAY HUBBY!