Tuesday, September 05, 2017

DEL CAMPO does it deliciously yet again with an awesome asado (9-3-17) 2 messages

For several years now the wonderful and generous Chef Victor Albisu has been the Honorary Chef Chair of March of Dimes Signature Chefs and we have enjoyed of the hottest live auction items-his Asado dinner cooked to order for 12.
Sunday night we hauled over to Del Campo, where Chef Faiz Ally was running the show splendidly, as he and Chef Victor had just spent the week working in Houston on relief aid!
We arrived to Moet & Chandon Brut poured while we tried not to fill up on the exquisite passed hor's d'oevres:
Pork Belly Anticucho with Candied Fresno Slaw which was crispy in every bite and yielded almost no fat
Jerked Brisket Arepa with Sweet & Spicy Rocoto
Green Chile Crab -Causa Morado
and the amazing Lobster & Shrimp Empanadas with Burnt Green Pea Curry

We sat down as our servers, headed by the superb Kit, poured La Moussiere Sancere 2016 from Alfone Mellot and they served those yummy puffy pupusa like bread puffs with a 24 month aged lardo spread. OMG..DECADENT!
The Asado meal is served family style (which was nie as we took only what we wanted, and it gave us some leftovers to take home!) starting with the first course of:
Grilled Local Oysters with Parmesan-Chili Butter which were simply irresistible and I had to finish whatever was left as you really can't reheat these!
Local Oysters with a Fluke & Corn Ceviche on top--well, these were just as good and also really had to be finished, of course!
Ceviche Mixto of Halibut, Octopus, Lobster, Calamari with Pique-Limo Dressing was a ceviche that would send any seafood lover right to foodie heaven.
Smoked Tuna Ceviche had the Avocado Leche de Tigre and Spicy Plantains for dipping.

The second course was two gorgeous salads:
Burnt Beet Salad with Shallot Creme Fraiche and Crispy Carrots
Heirloom Tomato Salad with Whipped Burrata and Anchovy Toast
This was served with a superb Brick House(Oregon) 2015 Gamay Noir. I adore their wines and have never had this excellent varietal from them.

We rested some time as we knew the next course would be a large one. We were not disappointed and you can see photos on my FB page of the St. Bernard sized
Dry Aged Tomahawk Ribeye with Chimichurri del Campo
Snake River Farms Wagyu Bavette with Anticucho Dry Rub which one of our guest quickly describes as "Bavette's Feast!"
Grilled Maine Lobsters were served split with some Frisee and Chili Butter
and who cannot resist the Crispy Yuca Fries, Grilled Long Beans & Jalapeno Mashed Potatoes Sides that are the signature of Del Campo.
An amazing 2010 Syrah from Polkura in Marchigue, Colchuga Valley, Chile accompanied the huge meats and was a brilliant pairing as were all the wines.

Dessert arrived after a nice rest and again it was hard to choose, so I tired a bite of each:
Sweet Corn Clafoutis with Ginger Corn Ice Cream
Rhubarb & GUava Crostat with Sea Salt Ice Cream
and the ever-decadent and delicious
Tres Leches Twinkies with Passion Fruit Sorbet

Oremus Tokaji Late Harvest 2014 was our sweet and satisfying dessert wine.

Monday, August 21, 2017

REQUIN's Restaurant Week(extended thru this weekend) is really amazing if you find yourself near Fairfax,VA (8-20-17)

Last night we took the drive to the Mosaic District in nearby Virginia and have to say that at 23 minutes from NW DC it was not bad at all and there is tons of free parking as well. We settled in to our first meal at Requin to discover there were two restaurant week options (3 courses for $35 and four for $45 EXTENDED thru next Sunday) as well as the a la carte menu. Decisions, decisions. I ordered a glass of awesome White Sangria  made with Tequila and souped up with fruit garnish or kiwi and honeydew and Will loved his Gin Blossom with Beefeater, Cocchi rosa, lemon, persimmon bitters & cava brut, while Sam tried the Pineapple Lemongrass Soda(he moved on to Coke). We also loved the Bulgarian Rose called Mavrud from Karabunar Winery 2015.
Sam wanted us to share an order of Garlic bread, but chose the Burrata & Tomato Salad to start with pickled onions that he said were superb as well as almond herb pesto and aged balsamic glaze. His main course was a dish similar to one that Chef Jennifer Carrol had made at our home earlier this year: Roasted Wild Mushrooms with Melted Leeks, Pickled Ramps, Snap Peas in a Mushroom-Madeira Jus which he adored along with an order of Garlic & Herb Fries.
Will and I opted for the 4 course choice and I started with the delicious Deviled Lamb Rillettes with macerated Cherries, Pickled Mustard and a nice kick from chili as well. I love rillettes and always get them when they are offered and these were some of the best I can recall recently. Will had the Eggplant & Tomato Ratatouille with Fennel, Garlic, Shallot and Herbs which came warm with small sliced toasted bread (as mine did); apologies that there are no FB photos of these, but there are of the rest!
Next for Will came a heavier dish: Cod Croquettes with harissa aioli with red cabbage kraut and watercress which I was glad I did not order as while they were superb, the portion was very large, rich and of course, fried! He went on to a much lighter main course of Spanish Octopus with Summer Vegetable Couscous Salad, tahini & Feta that was indeed perfect for a warm summer night. I had the orgasmic Baked Oysters with Roasted Garlic & Herb Champagne Cream and went on to the Summer Corn & Sausage Risotto with Pecorino, Charred Tomatoes, parsley Oil & greens which was akin to a creamed corn risotto with great bursting flavors from the sausage, tomatoes, even the greens and don't forget the fresh corn.
Our server Hillary had directed me to this over a heavier dish and I was grateful as it was light and superb. She did a great job with suggestions and help all evening.
Will chose the Strawberry & Blueberry Clafouti with Lemon Curd, toasted Almond Streusel and Chantilly Cream which was also excellent, but I went the cheese route which was beautifully presented with Cherry Mostarda, Fuji Apples, Grapes & Fresh Honeycomb. There were many cheeses to choose from but I let Hillary choose and she did well with a superb Spring Brook Reading raclette and a creamy Camembert fro Soft Bloom.
Chef Jen sent out some yummy cookies which we nibbled on and took the rest home that were all super as well: Chocolate Chip, Rocky Road, Oatmeal Raisin & Snickerdoodle.
It was a yummy meal and a super deal which is extended for another week as so many places have decided to do.
The décor is simple with a huge open kitchen at the side of the restaurant and many tables all well spaced so that folks can enjoy their meals and not be crowded. Kudos to the super nice bathrooms with great music (Kennedy Center Honoree Lionel Richie) but also so clean and with superb scents. While Fairfax is a harder ride on weekdays, I can see us returning on weekends for sure! Chef Jen will also open in SW DC in October at the new Waterfront complex!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

DC's DOI-MOI starts our Restaurant Week with a rave (8-16-17)

It has taken us too long to get to DOI MOI (which means new changes) but it was worth the wait, and now that DC's b-annual Restaurant Week is on, you can eat a ton for $35!
I had met Chef Sasha Felikson at an event some time ago and was looking forward to seeing him in the kitchen, but alas his schedule did not coincide with ours, but I must say each dish was delivered in a timely manner, presented properly and tasted superb. Nobody could have told the boss was away! Only the service is a bit overly laid back and could use some fine tuning. It took a while for us to figure out who our server was at the start.
The split level inside and outside terrace as well as bar seating offer many options and by the time we left at 830pm, the place was virtually full. The décor is relaxing with white brick walls, white wash, a white bar with light wooden top all giving a very celan feel. The several pieces of artwork were whimsical and adorable; I wish there was more!
Now that Samuel is a vegetarian, he was in heaven and ordered his 3 plates for $35:
Sauteed Okra with garlic, Shallots, Chili and Sesame Seed that was one of the best dishes and indeed a Veggie Side that gives it Main Course Status.
Tarot Root & Potato Dumplings with Mushrooms, Broth, Thai chili, Soy & Lime that he loved, bu t it was the
Steamed Buns with Rice Cakes, Soy Mayo and Pickles that he adored so much he ordered a second helping!
Will chose the same Steamed Buns, but stuffed with Chili Braised Pork along with the Soy Mayo and Pickles which was yummy
went on to the Crispy Soft Shell Crab with Hot 'n' Juicy XO Sauce and Soybean Braised Cabbage. I loved this course(I also had it, and Will liked it) but a it more than 1/2 a small softshell might be in order.
His 3rd choice was the Brussels Sprouts with Nuoc Cham Aioli and Puffed Rice which was a real amazing veggie dish at all, so we thought...then I realized Nuoc Cham is fish sauce which got our son a bit upset...although he did love them until I told him...OOPS!
I started with the Chilled Mango Thai Chili Soup with Pickled Shrimp and Tomato Salad which was a super spicy and delicious soup. Interestingly enough I had ordered a drink called Salt 'n' pepa which was Jalapeno infused Rhum Neisson Blanc with Cotton & Reed White Rum, Lime Juice and Salt-cured Key Lime Soda that was superb but also super spicy and did work well to alleviate the soups' spice---luckily there was water :-))
I went on to the crab and then had the Grilled Quail with Vietnamese BBQ Sauce that was out of this world, and also a bit spicy, but great. It came with a Watermelon & Pineapple Kimchi that was not spicy at all, but also delicious and refreshing and garnished with gorgeous little purple flowers. The Syrah/Carignan Rose Moulin de Gassac 2016 from France was okay, but I adored the Red Xinomavro 2011 Foundi from Naoussa in Greece as it really stood up to the big spices.
Desserts were also quite delicious with Will trying a Soft Serve Ice Cream with Salted Caramel Fish Sauce & Coconut, Sam heading right for the Thai Spice Molten Lava Cake and me winning with the Summer Fruit Brulee with Sticky Rice & Coconut that was a chewy, crunchy topped gooey fruit jam with big chunks of red fruits and a tasty rice with coconut on the other side. It was scalding hot and they guy who delivered it didn't say so, and I managed to slightly burn my finger when I tried to pass it to the others for a taste!
Samuel tried a Dry Watermelon Soda which was novel and he wasn't crazy about and Will had beers starting with a leo Lager from Thailand that he said was wimpy and then switched to another (I forgot which) on our server's suggestion which he adored.
All in all, DoiMoi has such a huge selection of small plates to share that it's fun for everyone and with amazing bursts of flavors and spices! We'll be back, especially with the huge veggie menu!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

ROSE & KETTLE (Cherry Valley, NY near Cooperstown) rises again for our annual friends/client dinner@Glimmerglass(8-13-17)

It has become a tradition for us to invite our sponsored young artists, friends and clients to a dinner each year at Glimmerglass, so on Sunday night almost 20 of us joined again at the Rose & Kettle in Cherry Valley for a super evening of food, wine and camaraderie. This will be a short review as I could not possibly taste every dish, but I did check the wonderful wines:
Wachau 2014 Gruner Veltliner was our successful white while we started with a Farnese Montepulicano d'Abruzzo and then moved on to an amazing Earthquake Petit Syrah from Lodi 2013. 
Our server Mattie was amazing considering the size of our group and convinced me to start with the appetizer special of Braised Oxtail with Bok Choy, Red Onion & Asian Pear which was a tasty combination with the pear cutting the meat's richness and the broth enhancing the whole bowl. I ordered the traditional MeatLoaf of Locally raised beef, pork & lamb with garlic mashed potatoes, pan gravy and green beans which is always a hit. Only some of the yellow wax beans were way too al dente. It's a huge portion and I wish I could have taken the rest home but we had to drive 7 hours back to DC the next morning!
Others loved the salmon, steaks and pastas and some even managed to have dessert. Our dinner lasted almost 4 hours and everyone had a super amazing time. Thanks for being there!

Friday, August 11, 2017

back in Coooperstown, NY: anothe chance for Mel's@22 makes us merry (8-10-17)

We have tried Mel's@22 several times and come away feeling the service is pretty mediocre or just plain awful, yet the food is usually quite good. Last year, it was overall just plain bad. Friends of ours who live here said please try it again for dinner on a quieter night, so we did. Last night we had no opera, so we dined at 7pm and while they had seemingly lost our reservation, we began to fear. I checked the book and saw it was under the wrong name! Once seated, alas next to the noisy banging kitchen door, we perused the menus, which had multiple veggie options for Sam, and ordered a bottle of Heron Hill Unaoked Chardonnay from the nearby Finger Lakes region which was delish.
Sam started with the Fried Mozzarella half moons with Pomodoro Sauce, which he liked, but was clearly not as good as my superb Tequila Scallops (3 large sea scallops perfected pan seared) with tequila lime-butter sauce or Will's Spinach & Artichoke Rangoons with Sweet Chili dipping sauce. Rangoons are usually just a pile of way too much fried dough with little filling, but these were quite good and full of filling. The Potato skins with cheddar, bacon, sour cream and chives seemed to be missing the chives, although the kitchen thought they could fool us with piles of scallions!
Main courses  were all very good save for Sam's Grilled Stuffed Avocados filled with quinoa, black beans, roasted corn and "queso fresco cheese;" can someone tell them queso IS cheese? The stuffing was nice, but I tasted the avocado and it seemed odd, almost off flavor, as if they had tried to grill an unripe avocado! The burgers here are always a hit and Sam's friend had the California Dreamin' with melted brie, smoked bacon, blue cheese, caramelized onion and arugula, while Will went for the Southern Inspired Burger with American cheese, pulled pork, cole slaw, pickled onions and fried egg; almost an overdose! His red wine by the glass was a Terra d'Oro California red Zin. I had the special of Sausage & Kale Ravioli with LittleNeck Clams and Sauteed Shrimp all in a rich Sundried Tomato Pesto Cream sauce. It was superb, way too rich and there were indeed 6 ravioli as described, but they were huge, not to mention the over a 1/2 dozen clams and 1/2 dozen shrimp...a deal for sure. I thought some of the large garlic slices were small clams and while I love garlic, did not need that! 
I still have qualms about the service, which was better, but still described best as odd. Our server was surely sweet, but kept calling us "love..." and boy was I glad we didn't ask for a break between courses, because it took about 25 minutes for each course to arrive. Additionally, they have a thing about bringing you clean silverware for each course; one of my pet peeves. We did finally get it after asking.
This weekend at the Glimmerglass Festival, our dinners are all the superb patron picnics, so there won't be lots of reviews, save for our big client/young artists dinner party on Sunday.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

last night in Sicily, letdown turns into fun at 'NNI FRANCO U' VASTDDARU (7-21-17)

We had intended to go to a modern Sicilian restaurant which was truly gorgeous when we arrived, but was fully booked and it seemed my reservation was for 2 nights earlier. They said they couldn't accommodate us (the place was empty) so we moved on to a local street food spot a couple of blocks away that folks we knew said was fun.
I think the 'nni is Sicilian for nonni (grandpas) and assume that when started Franco and Vastddaru ran the place. Now it's a bit old style and tacky with tiny plastic cups for the water and small plastic plates for eating. The napkins were small squares of waxy paper.
Samuel loved the panelle (chick-pea fritters) we had at the Duchess' several days earlier so we ordered a plate of those and they were fabulous. A bit greasy, but with tons of character and flavor to boot.
Will ordered a Forst local beer (3,50Euros for 2/3 litre!) and he liked it. I was blown away by the red house wine which costs 2 euros a glass or 3,50 per 1/2litre!!!! (that's a tad over $8 a liter!). I did get a wine glass for the wine as Will got a big glass for the beer. Samuel had several of his favorite Polar Spuma sodas he has come to adore.
We had to order our last Caponata, and sadly it was nowhere near as good as the one we had made at Planeta's cooking class; at least I have that recipe. Does ANYONE know where we can get FRESH CAPERS in DC???
Will and I had seen the street stands through Palermo selling Milza, which is spleen, cooked on site and sliced fresh into a into a panini. We ordered one to split with some shredded cheese on top, fearing it might be too way out, but loved it. The texture is somewhere between mushrooms and schwarma, yet it has tons of flavor and was a nice treat.
Samuel ordered a panini caprese with fries and the sandwich was loaded with oozy cheese and was so big he couldn't finish it.
Will and I finally split the Polpette di Vitello which was  basically a slightly overfried schnitzel veal ball. They were slightly dry, but that was quickly modified with some fresh squeezed lemon.
It was a fun evening and we got to bed early, which was important as we had to rise at 6am to leave Sicily this morning. I am on my way home and the others to the UK to visit family.
Our only regret about this place (and others) is that so many folks smoke outside you could choke trying to eat. What is worse is that many adults smoke and blow tons of the smoke into their childrens' faces every single day. I guess second-hand smoke is not considered a problem there; I knew I couldn't stand it if I lived there. We also noticed that cigarettes are still sold in machines all over the place, so that any minor can get them without a problem, which explains why so many young people smoke. I am so sorry for these people, especially the woman next to me last night who ate her panini as she smoked a stinky cig! YUK! Rant over.
Oh the whole meal with 1.33 litres of beer, 3 sodas, bottled water and .6 litre of wine was 36 Euros or $42!
Headed home after an amazing culinary journey.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Ke Palle(WHAT BALLS!) for luscious lunch and La Cabusa for delicious dinner in Palermo, Sicily (7-20-17)

We had a great tour in Palermo which was all day but interspersed with some foodie treats, tops of which was Ke Palle, which literally is Sicilian for "What Balls!" and is unquestionably the best place for arancini on the entire island. Arancini are basically fired rice balls, but here they are taken to new heights and some are monstrous in various shapes. Ke Palle has dozens of flavors savory and sweet(like Nutella) and we were all thrilled as they have so many options even for vegetarians and vegans. Samuel had the Quattro Formaggi loaded with tasty gooey cheeses, while Will had a ham and cheese and I went for the Gamberoni con Pistacchi which was a ball stuffed with gorgeous shrimp as well as a rich pistachio pesto cream and then also topped with some of the luscious cream for extra decadence(see FB). OMG! This is a not to be missed experience.
For dinner, we headed back downtown to the quaint and quiet Piazza Marina to La Cambusa, which had been recommended by numerous folks. The setting is very nice on a huge square and by 830pm it was simply a space for the famous passagiato, locals strolling in the late afternoon/early evening. We ordered a bottle of Alessandro de Camporeale 2016 Grillo Vigna de Mandranova which was super refreshing with our starters.
Will had the Triloga Sicula (Sicilian trilogy) of Caponata di Spada (swordfish), Polpette di Sarde (fried Sardine balls) and Caicocavallo in Carozza, the local cheese battered and fried. It was a huge portion, rich and enjoyable as well. My Cozze e Vongole was a huge bowl of saute clams and mussels with superb seasoning, white wine and lemon (no garlic, Sicilians are not big on garlic). The clams were tiny and reminded me of Manila clams, tasty and petite.
Sam had a huge gorgeous Kalamanna Salad of lettuce, tomato, radish, mozzarella, arugula and parm which he loved with a side of fires.
He followed that with a Ravioli di magro con crema di melnzane, pomodoro e ricotta salata, which were veggie raviolis in Eggplant cream sauce with ricotta.
Our pasta was another shared portion, this time Cavatelli con Pesto di fave, mandorle, cozze e tuma fresca which was a completely new dish which had a yummy fava bean-almond pesto with mussels and fresh tuma cheese which was a salty pecorino type shredded on top. The mussels were nice, but it was the crunchy almonds that made the dish so special. It seems the best almonds come from Avola, also famous for the Nero d'Avola grape.
We moved on to a bottle of Dei Principe Spadafora from Don Pietro in nearby Monreale 2014 which was a superb blend of Nero d'Avola, Syrah & Cabernet Sauvignon that was full bodied but went superbly with our two fish dishes. The locals drink red with fish often and we decided it was time to blend in.
Will had the Branzino (sea bass) con patate e scromorza affuimicata su crema di piselli which was another wonderful piece of fresh fish with potatoes, smoked cheese and pea puree. My Filleti di orate farciti con pomodoro, caciocavallo ed olive was a wonderful dorado or sea bream which was stuffed with tomato, the superb local caciocavallo cheese and olives for salt. YUM.
The dishes were large, but not overpowering and we had such an enjoyable meal that we felt perhaps one last dessert was in order as tonight we must eat, rush home and get to bed early to fly onwards.
Will tried the crème brulee which was more like flan and I loved the simple refreshing and ice cold Pistachio Semifreddo.
Our only issue here was that we did ask for venti minuti (20 minutes) between the pasta and main course, and it appeared in less than 5! So much for repeatedly telling them we like to eat lentamente.....

Palermo's Grand Hotel Villa Igiea does decent dining at Donna Fraca Florio (7-19-17)

Since we were tired from the drive, cooking class, and fabulous lunch at the palazzo, we ate dinner in our hotel simply because it was easier than starting to trek out as the hotel is about 10 minutes from the city center on the coastline. The restaurant called Donna Franca Florio is the "mid-range" spot in the hotel with bars being simpler (and offering little for a vegetarian) and the fine dining being way too much. The setting is outdoors and quite elegant with silky linens. But we had to move as soon as we sat down due to heavy smokers nearby; a big issue with mostly outdoor dining being the norm in Sicily!
Despite its ranking as the top place in town, the menu needs some spelling tweaks, as "chunk" of amberjack is not very appetizing!
I started with the Red Snapper Tartare on chickpea fritter (the same type we made for lunch that day) with a divine wild fennel and lemon dressing. It really just goes to show that sushi/sashimi isn't just from the Orient, the Sicilians have nailed raw fish here at every spot. Will had the Roasted Ocotpus with Ragusano Cheese Fondue and Tomato Powder, which was a nice novel take on the standard dish with the gooey cheese addition.
Sam started with a Cream of Asparagus soup that he adored which was not on the menu. The staff went out of their way to make him dishes other than the same ones he had been repeating.
His main course was a gorgeous plate of grilled veggies that were clearly the freshest available.
Our wine was a Quater Bianco made from four varietals:Grillo/Cataratto/Carricante/Zibibbo 2014 which was superb but the price was more than TWICE as much as it was anywhere else we had seen the wine on a menu, and really stunned me at over 50 Euros! Wine here generally runs 12-30 Euros a bottle for a good brand! They also tended to slug pour the wine in huge amounts, so that it was gone quite fast. At one point, they even poured some into Sam's Sprite (in a wine glass admittedly), and then sent two additional glasses of white at no charge for us later on..so not that bad.
The pasta course that Will & I split was a revelations: Mezze Maniche with Fried Zucchini, Bacon, Basil Pesto & Toasted Almonds prepared and flambéed tableside(check the FB fotos). The thick circular rings of pasta resemble giant calamari rings and are perfect for holding the rich sauce made with cream, EVOO, butter and cognac (definitely not Sicilian) and gave me an impression of a thick Sicilian Pesto "Carbonara." It was an impressive production, but was even more impressive in the mouth.OMG!
We also split a main course of delicate Turbo Fillet with Lemon Sauce, Crunchy Spinach and Celeriac Chips...but the spinach was not crunchy, it was sautéed. Nonetheless, the dish was delicious and the fine main course to split after the rich pasta.
Since we split the dishes, we all felt entitled to dessert, especially after seeing the magnificent tarts being rolled around on the dessert trolley:
Wild Strawberry Tart, Chocolate Mousse Cake with Crocante on bottom and my Pistachio Mousse Cake; all were superb. It was a super meal indeed, despite the prices, but not one for locals for sure as they would have had a heart attack with "il conto!"

Cooking with the Duchess...an experience in Palermo in a palazzo that will please! (7-19-17)

We drove north from the south coast to the north coast in only 90 minutes and ended our drive at Palazzo Lanza Tomasi, which having been partially destroyed in WWII, has been lovingly restored by the Duke & Duchess of Palma (also Princes of Lampedusa) and just visiting this home is a memorable experience for its history, art, furniture and more; it is a living museum.
The Duchess (she prefers Nicoletta) gives cooking classes periodically in her kitchen and we spent the morning learning how to make many dishes. Eight of us then sat down in a magnificent dining room fit for a king and set beautifully and flawlessly, where we had a leisurely lunch with Nicoletta and her charming husband, Gioacchino, who it turns out, was the general manager of many opera houses in Italy including the Teatro Massimo nearby and the Teatro San Carlo in Naples; needless to say, we had many friends in common!
The meal began with Samuel's new favorite Palermo treat, Panelle, which are merely fritters made from chickpea flour. Ruvidelli with Pesto Trapanese was next, and while we made the pesto differently from our class the day before, it was still superb. We learned that each kitchen has its own variation on this everyday recipe here in the west of Sicily. Pesca Spada (Swordfish) alla Ghiotta was s super stewlike recipe with small pieces of fish in the thick tomato-vegentable sauce. This was accompanied by superb Involtini alla Melanzane, which are thin sliced eggplants layers first grilled then stuffed with an almond/caper/mint filling. I am not a fan of mint, but these were simply amazing. Dessert was a Gelo di Mellone al Gelsomino which was a Jasmine infused Watermelon Pudding that was somewhere between pudding and jello.
Wines were served as well: Regaleali Bianco 2015 and Regaleali Nero d'Avola 2014 with a beautiful Vecchio Florio Marsala Secco Superiore 2011 for dessert.
Conversation was amazing and then a tour of the palazzo was made where Nicoletta entertained us with stories about the ancestors whose paintings adorn the walls (I am tagged by my hubby Will on FB for many of the photos in the kitchen and the palazzo). It was a most memorable experience.
FYI-my clients can set up this amazing experience by booking their trips to Sicily through me. Indeed, the Palazzo has multiple apartments which can be rented by the day or week through Frosch Travel as well.

Menfi, Sicily's DA VITTORIO does virtue but ....(7/18/17)

Da Vittorio bad been raged about by everyone we met, and it is a decent place to dine, but very different from the night before at La Foresteria just a mile away.
The vegetarian choices were minimal again so Sam ordered what was called a Sicilian salad which was basically what he called a "bland"salad with tomato, onion and olives with no dressing as well as an order of French fries; kind of sad, but he did not seem to want the grilled vegetables. They are known for grilling fish here as it sits right on the sea and is a quaint setting indeed, especially at sunset, as it was.
Will and I started within order of Alice marinate, which are our favorite white anchovies simply marinated in oil;divine. Next came Cozze Mediterranea which were some of the most delicious mussels in a slightly spicy sauce that was a tomato base and really had guts.
We ordered a superb bottle of Grillo-Viognier blend from the nearby Can do Arancio called Dalila that was so refreshing and unbelievable at €16.
The main course was simply called mixed grill of fish. Neither of us expected the monstrous plate that arrived and you won't believe it even if you look at the Facebook picture. Unfortunately Will has a phobia over any fish with bones or heads on that has not been fileted. Here were 4 monstrous sardines, 4 of the spectacular local  red prawns, more shrimp and two whole fish, a dorado a d I think snapper. I tried my best to filet, but he would have none..it's a shame we couldn't manage .pay of it and he gave up. The prawns were amazing and what I managed to filet was superb, alas the sardines were bone infested.
Our friend Angelo from the nearby luxury  Verdura resort sent us a bottle of Oxydia Zebibbo  Marsala sweet wine from Floria that whe fell in love with along with some little pastries for dessert which sent us home on our way a bit disappointed but none the less full.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

La Foresteria Planeta, a wine estate in Sicily that will tingle your taste buds (7-17-18 & 7-18-19) with cooking classes!

Yesterday we arrived here at the serene hilltop overlooking the Mediterannean in Menfi, the southwest corner of Sicily. Planeta, is one of the biggest wine producers in Italy, and they have 5 separate operations in Sicily, but here in Menfi, they have a small comfortable "inn" with an amazing restaurant and chef Angelo truly impresses from his cooking, to cooking classes, to his stories about why Sicilian food looks like parts of the body!
Dinner is served on the open patio facing the glass enclosed kitchen where you choose to watch the chef and team, the ocean or just the grapes and olives growing.
Our amuse was a local apple caponata with duck breast, but for Sam ricotta cheese. We started with a Planeta Tereninto Grillo 2016 which is a new varietal for them from the nearby vineyards in Sambuca, where we shall visit for a tasting today. Our red was the Cerasuola di Vittorio from the east of Nero d'Avola/Frappatto DOCG "Dorilli" and since they have so many vintages library options, we chose the 2006 for a couple of euros more' well worth it for the aging.
Sam started with Uovo de Cavaliere which was a poached egg on mashed potato/EVOO puree and Will opted for the "Parmigiana" which here was a novel and exciting eggplant dish with Parmesan-Salted Ice Cream and Kamarino (local) cherry tomato sauce & basil,
I had the Crunchy Silver or ScabbardFish (Spatola) here served in a crispy bread crust and made even more fun with caviar-looking Balsamic-gel. The fish was divine and we all decided the chef was having fun with his preparation while pleasing us as well.
Capola was a new dish as it is risotto-like, but made with vegetables and red basil, but here served with raw oysters....a totally new take on a Sicilian tradition we did not know.
Will had the Mediterranean Red Snapper & Vegetable Soup, while I opted for the superb Baked Sicilian Grey Rabbit with Sea Snail Ragout, Herbs and Raisins. The delicate meat was wrapped in peppery bacon and I only wish I could finish the three huge roulades as they were superb. The vegetable with it was like chard or rapini and was called senape selvatica...which google says is rape or mustard. No matter, it was superb.
Dessert was split by all three of us and Will chose Terra di Etna smoked flower Ice Cream with ricotta, raspberry and black sesame, but we all swore the fruit was cherries?? A llight Brance Menta Granita with Meringue sent us off for the night.
But we needed bed and the next day woke to a super cooking class with Chef Angelo.
Today's cooking class was awesome and we learned not only how to make many traditional Sicilain dishes, we had a premier entertainer in Chef Angelo.
Caponata in the US is often a dull boring tapenade-like paste, We fried the local eggplant and mixed it with huge fresh olives, celery, onion (the size of your head) as well as toasted almonds and a red wine vinegar/sugar mix to temper. Out came the best caponata EVER (check FB). Pasta making is not easy and Busiati are curved and difficult, but we persevered and also matched it with the local Pesto Trapanese (tomato/basil/almond.
The main course was a simple thin veal chop breaded with crumbs and herbs and grilled served with a melon salad that was so superb, I though I could eat Sicilian fennel forever. We actually made the Canolo rolls and fried them, but ours were sad, so we got ones made superbly by the kitchen filled with ricotta that is delivered warm and fresh daily to the kitchen here. Again, I am in love with a dish which has often heretofore bored me. Making it was fun, eating it was better; but the experience is a memory we shall all cherish.

Cantinia Siciliana, impossible to find, but worth the trip if in Trapani, Sicily (7-17-17)

Cantina Siciliana in Trapani on the extreme west coast was recommended by a friend of mine, and while trying to negotiate the way too narrow medieval streets, we almost gave up as our guidance lady was having a fit (and so was my husband!).
Ultimately, I spotted it and we found a parking space a couple of blocks away in this maze-like fishing port.
Unassuming, tiny and almost feeling out of place, we were greeted by owner Pino Maggiore at the door and settled in to a short, but delicious and satisfying lunch.
Samuel wanted to try "their" Bruschetta as here it is made with Pane Nero des Castelvetrano, which is really NOT black bread, just brown, but superb. The bruschetta is hot here and Will and I tried a novel local version made with Tuna Bottargo that was salty and delicious. Will went on to have the Psat al Uovo di Tonna e Madorle di Noto which is a local pasta made with same tuna bottargo as well as almonds. I started with with Tris di Pesce Macerato which was a sashimi plate of swordfish, tuna and red prawns, I honestly could eat the amazing raw fish here every day forever! Samuel chose a dish we have come to adore and eat often, Busiato al Pesto Trapanese, but here the pesto is a basil and tomato base with almonds and has no cheese. This version had fried eggplant making it heavier, but the perfect dish for a vegetarian.
My main course was Cuscusu di Pesce condito con Aglio Rosso di Nubia. You must understand that western and southwestern Sicily are more African and hence coucous and other "Arab" influences have maintained their strength. This dish was cousous with chunks of tasty fish served with a bowl of red garlic broth from nearby Nubia that was truly spectacular. I ladled the borth over the couscous and fish as I ate it so that the dish did not get soggy as I went along; a journey I shall always remember and cherish.

There was no room for dessert and we had afternoon plans to hike to a belvedere...so off we went on our Sicilian adventures.

Rocco Forte Verdura Resort on Sicliy's remote and exciting south coast brings amore to AMARE (7-16-17

We were so lucky to be invited to a truly spectacular lunch at AMARE at the amazing Rocco Forte Verdura resort located about 40 minutes from Agrigento,  near the south coast town of Sciacca. I have to first say, that I thought this location to be odd, but now am convinced it is the perfect place to take a break while touring as well as be a center for your touring to places like Agrigento, Sciacca, the nearby mountain towns and so much more as well as the beach, huge pools, multiple dining options, kids club, blow-your-mind spa with fabulous thalasso-therapy pools, not to mention 45 holes of golf! The food was more than special as well at the casual seaside AMARE which sits on the rocky coastline that turns into a huge sand beach at the resort.
We have come to love the local Sicilian pasta called Busiate which is slightly thick and twirled (like DNA single strand) and here served with the superb local gamberetti (red prawns) and pistachio. I am going to start making my pasta this way when I get home, not to mention using pistachio for pesto, as well as almonds.
Caprese Salad here is a dream of local Mozzarella di Bufala, gorgeous tomatoes and balsamic and my Sashimi of raw fish & crustacean starter was a dream dish of local treat on a huge slab of Himalayan pink rock salt which included, swordfish, tuna, shrimp and sea bass dressed adoringly with local herbs. Be sure to check out the FB photos.
The wine was a revelations with a Guccione Cattarato from Monreale outside of Palermo that impressed us all to no end. I am not a fan of "orange" wine, but this funky, loaded with flavor and mineral wine was on the verge of that and also in color. It's a must taste experience if you make it here as I truly doubt it can be had abroad.
Maccheroncini con aglio e pomodoro ciliegino with basil was Sam's favorite pasta, although, I have to say, they have all been special.
Our host, Angelo, whom we adore, had the Tartare di tonno with ricotta e fagiolini(green beans) as well as a superb Spaghetti alla Vongole with the most delicate of clams.
Sam had the Elogio al Guisto which was a vegetable sashimi with avocado, green tomato, strawberry and mango with wasabi vinaigrette.
Gelati and sorbetti are all housemade and the tangerine, lemon and strawberry were loaded with fruit flavors, but I was "in cielo" (in heaven) with  Cremoso di Pistacchio con Gelato ai fichi as I adore the local pistachios and who can turn down anything with fig!?
It was creamy and rich, but not to sweet or overfilling and the fig gelato was just the right foil to the rich dish.
When in Sicily you never turn down a dessert wine and the best is always Planeta 2016 Passito di Noto, made where we were just several days prior and have come to love....it is OH so sweet and unctuous and I will have bottles in my bags to take home1
I can not imagine returning to Sicily without a stop here!

Agrigento, Sicily's LA SCALA has huge portions, delicious food and sadly musical noise from outside that would rival La Scala in decibal count (7-15-17)

When we arrived at La Scala in downtown Agrigento we had a little trouble finding the restaurant as the sign pointed up above a store so we went into the store and they told us we had to go around the corner and up stairs. w
We e had to pass a woman smoking a cigarette in our face at the bar below but we managed to get upstairs and find a beautiful room with what we called peach colored walls in a classy setting and tile floors. We were corrected by Samuel, these were yellow walls.
There was nobody in the restaurant at all so we sat down with the menu and decided we would order several things to share to start. 
The bruschetta with cherry tomato basil and burrata which sure sounded nice and then we realized that they were going to bring us a ton of extra appetizers after we had ordered a ton of our own. 
Arancina filled with tuna along with potato chips and delicious olives were served with a choice of breads and breadsticks and extra Virgin Olive oil called santa lucia named after the chef Vincenzo Santalucia, who makes the olive oil himself.
After this Samuel had a souffle Ragusano with DOP cheese and cherry tomato sauce which I think was one of his favorite dishes on this entire trip.
We'll ordered the octopus  which came in a salad form and I settled for the Giardino di Mare Casa Grant Which oddly included a couple more of the tuna arancini as well as the same octopus salad that Will had and also a very sad piece of smoked salmon with a roulade of spatola or silver fish. It was huge but unsatisfying appetizer.
After our traditional Campari and tonics, Will and I chose a bottle of Baglio del Cristo di Campobello Grillo Laluci, which we loved.
We also decided to split a portion of the spaghetti con le sarde a mare with almonds which is gorgeous spaghetti with sardine sauce and almonds. Samuel chose the Norma Croccante which is more or less a pasta made into a crunchy bird's nest served with eggplant tomato basil and parmesan.
For the main course will and I chose to have the sea bass cooked in salt and then fileted and brought to the table it was a small portion and we were thrilled that it was as we were completely full by the time we left.
Simple and gorgeous with lemon it was the ideal fish to end the meal. We were quite thrilled that the chef It come out at one time to greet us and make sure that everything was OK.
As we had been sitting there for a couple of hours the music inside was calming and delightful but we could hear the band from the bar below warming up and sounding a bit out of tune. 
A couple arrived in decided to take a table for 2 out on the balcony which required that the doors next to us remain open and unfortunately we now heard the loud blaring obnoxious band for the last 40 minutes of our meal while we were trying to enjoy our food. It really made me unwell and unfortunately marred a large part of our meal.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Agrigento, Sicily's La Terrazza degli Dei does the gods well (7-14-17)

For our 1st night in Agrigento we decided to dine at the hotel's terrace which overlooks the ruins and is right next to our villa suite so we didn't have to go very far.
La Terrazza degli Dei (terrace of the gods) Is indeed a beautiful setting and we were pretty hungry as we have not had lunch so we decided to have a tasting menu called Essence. 
We ordered our traditional Campari and tonics and received a beautiful amuses of octopus, potato and orange with caperberry and pesto while Sam had one of aubergine, caper and onion. There was a spa menu which offered some very nice vegetarian options and Samuel started with a huge portion of steamed barley wheat topped with tofu and crispy vegetables And then went on to a spaghetti made of rice and maize in potato sauce with French beans and bays or pesto. He declared both successes.
We ordered a bottle of Baglio de Cristo de Campobello 2016 Insolia/Grill blend called Adenzia that was big in minerals with a hint of citrus and indeed extremely dry.
The pianist was playing some opera tunes, classical tunes and pop tunes alternately with an accordion playing for a private party on the level below. It seemed like a competition to us but ultimately the group downstairs quieted down-and we were able to enjoy the pianist.
Our 1st course was a very rich potato cream with carob which is used a lot in local cooking as well as clam scampi with its head sauce and time which they called Veloutate, but was way rich and delicious.
Next came lemonated meringue with cooked and raw shrimp and a leaf of mint which was an int'resting dish but did not really impress us very much.
Small vegetable pie with tomatoes, herbs and marinated prawns was very different as Tortelli with vegetables and pickles shrimp arrived. The shrimp were novel and actually very interesting as was the pastor but I really would have loved to have the vegetable pie instead. It was also funny that each dish was delivered with silver domes and this guy looking like Secret Service who had a microphone and earplug  going to the delivered everything to us.
We moved on to an amazing red wine Il Frappati 2015 Terre Siciliani IGT by Arianna Occhipinti who I had actually heard of before-and is from the Ragusa area. It was rich in tannins but yielded lots of fruit as well.
Triglia or Red Mullet Was presented on a rock with some foam and was a delicious version of the local fish which was followed by a cube of lacquered piglet in its garden which turned out to be mushrooms and sage.
The portions were thankfully small so we really did enjoy the various tasting options .
Dessert was a white chocolate mousse with red fruits meringue almond and beautifully dried fruit such as lime star Anise mint and sage decorating the beautiful dish. Be sure to Check-out the Facebook pictures for this I think you'll enjoy them and have a wonderful rest of our trip as there is much more to come.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Ragusa, Sicily's Locanda di Don Serafino supersedes all others in Siclily (7-13-17)

We arrived in the amazing hilltop town of Ragusa after a long day of touring, but knowing this was going to be a special experience. We were booked into the luxury suite which was in a cave over the restaurant with it's own garden terrace and Jacuzzi. Add that to a two Michelin star restaurant downstairs with Chef Vincenzo Candiano at the helm and an amazing staff with Stefano as manager and Carmello as sommelier, you have one of the finest dining experiences possible in Sicily, probably tutta l'Italia!
We had the option of dining inside or out and while the view is superb, inside the cave was air conditioned and the huge tables with comfy plexiglass chairs were so separated, there was amazing privacy no matter where you were. Ultimately, we realized that we were the only guests all night and this made us fell so special and honored indeed.
After much decision we opted for a 6 course tasting menu (120Euros=$135) and Samuel choose some of the veggie items that he liked and was super happy as well.
First came an amuse of Codfish(no fish for Sam)  brandade, tomato gazpacho and peach. Cod can be salty, but this was not at all, and we loved the Planeta Etna Brut Carricante Sparkling wine that Carmello proferred with such joy as we said we would let him choose at the wines from his amazing cellar, which we visited before the meal. The breads of cocoa, rustic, whole wheat, sundried tomato and divine thyme breadsticks (eat your heart out Jacques Pepin, as your Oceania breadsticks were often soggy!) were amazing as was the EVOO Tonda Iblea (the local region) which was peppery in the mouth, but not at the back of the throat as some EVOO's can.
Our first course was "Maki" of couscous topped with salmon roe in nori with a "see through"Ravioli made from thin cucumber filled with grouper tartare and a delicious oyster with fennel seaweed in sorbet like foam. All three were refreshing treats and so wonderfully conceived as well as beautifully presented (see FB fotos!). Samuel was treated to a dish of tomato, almond cream and plankton!!

Samuel  next had an Egg IN Tomato with Cacio Cavllo Cheese & Foam Basil which he declared a revelation as the poached egg was intact inside the tomato!!
Our next course was Red King Prawns, Mazzara & Onion  Cream with Spinach, Candied Lemon and Licorice (which was so mild I could not taste it, as you all know I don't like licorice). The head on prawns were superb and the wine was an amazing Cattarato "Beleda: 2012 from Rallo in Marsala, where we shall head later this week.
Our third course was Spaghetti (really more like squared off pasta) with squid ink, ricotta, sea urchin and cuttlefish that was simply divine and the best urchin pasta dish we had so far. Neromascalese Rosematte from Faro DOC (Messina) was an interesting choice, but we love good red wine, and the Sicilians like red with fish it seems as well.
Samuel had a shell pasta, kohlrabi, "tenerumi" and confit cherry tomato which we could not taste as it was gone so quickly, but got raves.
He was also enjoying the new local soft drink that Stefano procured in various flavors like Spuma (akin to sasparilla?).

Up fourth for Sam was a Summer Vegetable Millefoglie(millefeuille) with peppers, crusted salty zucchini, sweet onions and nuts which was  nice break from bruschetta, pizza and pasta!
We had Merluzo or Group Amatriciana with onion, tomato, pureed potato and Pecorino Romano. I have to say that if in Sicily, eat fish, eat fish, eat fish.....
Wiger "Artemido" 2012 Cab Franc from Etna is served chilled as are many red wines in Sicily and we loved this mineral intense franc unlike any other we have ever had anywhere. A brilliant fish pairing for sure!

The first dessert was Peach Bellini, but before this we had little sponges in water to clean our hands. The dessrt had a yummy crunch and was paired with Mimi Spumante from Ragusa, a local treat.
The final dessert was called Irminio's Valley after the local site and we had a milk river running through it with honey cream, almond crumble and carob ice cream. Paired with a yummy Marsala 1994 Florio Targa Riserva Superiore semi-seco that was a rare treat for sure.
More arrived in the form of raspberry/strawberry macaroons, chocolate and almond biscuits, pistachio/black pepper biscuits and a feeling of just right for the entire meal as we walked up the steps to our "cave" after many photos with the amazing team that truly excels and loves food and wine. Ragusa is a beautiful, quaint and pleasant place with SO much to see, but avoided by many tourists....don't give away the secret, but be sure to eat at Locanda Don Serafino (and stay there as well --you can book with me!).

Siracusa, Sicily's Trattoria La Foglia far above the rest and lots of vegetarian options, too (7-12-17)

Siracusa offers some wonderful dining options, but we were saddened that the top spot in town was closed for most of July, but thrilled to find a vegetarian option just a block from our hotel. We arrived at the adorable Trattoria La Foglia which was adorned with every kind of décor you could imagine from lace cloths to children's dresses. Roberta cheerfully explained the menu, which was not totally vegetarian, but there were so many choices for Sam, he was in heaven.
Cunzato..Sicilian bruschetta with cheese, sun dried tomatoes, basil and spicy chili pepper marmalade was a memorable local dish and the "marmalade" or tapenade had an amazing kick. Roberta just poured wine from a bottle (a local Grillo) as we felt like we were guests in someone's home. Arancini were superb, but had small pieces of meat inside..OOPS, but has a yummy caper tapenade. Bruschetta came with the freshest of local tomatoes and an olive tapenade. All the bread dishes were amazing and the bread crusty and yummy.
Sam's starter was a monstrous Vegetable platter with quiche omelette,olive, leek, fennel, carrot, potato, haricots verts, favas, spinach and more.....check out the FB fotos!
There were many vegan soup options and I chose the Macco, which was a rich mashed fava bean soup and came super hot despite the 90+ degree temps; I was quite full.
Samuel had the Lentil & Wild Fennel Soup which was truly amazing as well, while Will chose the spectacular local Atturata, tagliatelle with anchovies and roasted breadcrumbs. I hope we see this on the menu again soon. His main course was Cozze nelle pampine, another local treat of mussels wrapped in lemon leaves with secret sauce and couscous which rendered the little mollusks like butter! The dorado in lemon, caper and white wine sauce with olives came with barley and had amazing spices such as rosemary bay leaves and more.
Sam was so full from his soup he decided to have just a small plate of pasta with pesto which he could not finish as there was so much of everything. We apologized to Roberta that we could not have dessert, but left SO happy we had found a very special place in Siracusa with soul.

On Mt. Etna, Locando Nerello at Monaci delle Terre Neri is a must (7-11-17)

In between driving up to the Mt. Etna cablecar and climbing our way through the lava flows, lava tubes and more of Valle del Bove, we stopped for an amazing lunch and mini-wine tasting at Locando Nerello, the adorable restaurant in a small hotel, Monaci delle Terre Neri in the town of Zafferana Etnea on the eastern slope of Mt.Etna. The hotel doubles as a totally organic agricultural destination as they not only have a winery, orchards and make olive oil, but they harvest wheat for their own breads and pastries. The décor is funky in a beautiful noble house that is centuries old and it really can't be described, but that said, it's adorable and so was our excellent server. We first tasted the mineral intense and superb Cataratto 2016 from the Guido Coffa Winery which is the name of the winery on site. The Etna Bianco 16 and Etna Bianco M 2015 are made with Carricante (60% minimum required for the name Etna Bianco) which we did not like as much, but the excellent Nero Mascalese Red was a winner.
An amuse of Cavolo Trunzo (local cabbage) with caramezlized onion, plum sauce, dried caper and a splash of squid ink for decoration (not on Sam's plate) was a truly exciting preview of what was to come.
I started with an excellent Beef tongue with caramelized onion, ginger, cherry tomato& purple turnip purees and fior di latte (local mozzarella). Will chose the Cinsara Veal Tartare with Etna Mele Cola Apple Salad while Samuel had an amazing Monaci Poached Egg Fondue Tenerume with Caprino cheese from Cammarata & Timilia (high protein, low gluten, made on site)flour bread chips, which was served with spinach and bread crumbs and he begged for me to attempt to duplicate this for breakfast at home; I'll try.
For his main course he chose the Gnocchi with local almond, olive oil and honey which was oddly sweet, so he asked to switch it for the Courgette Spaghetti with Zucchini Flowers and Sea Asparagus which went over much better.
Will had the superb and rich Sea Urchin Pasta, while I chose the Egg Tagliolini with Seaweed, Red Prawns and Citrus topped with Pistachio Bronte, the pistachios that grow only on Etna and are prized here in Sicily. They give an amazing crunch to any dish which I have come to adore (even today I had an iced coffee with the local almond milk and topped with pistachio crumbs--WOW!).
For dessert we chose the Tonka Bean Crème Brulee with Celery Granita & Chocolate Crumble which was tasty but alas, no crunchy brulee topping here. The Black bee Semifreddo with "carrot cake" and Mulberry Ice Cream was refreshing for sure, but definitely on the outre side.
More chocolates, cookies and treats sent us on our 4-5 hour Etna hikes and excursion well nourished.

Taormina's Vicolo Stretto, a good view, a good meal, but some gaffes (7-10-17)

Our 2nd night in Taormina brought us to one of the narrowest streets off the main drag although calling it a street would be kind as the stairwell was barely wide enough for each of us to walk up single file. Halfway up the stairwell just to the side was a rooftop restaurant which truly gave us a fabulous view over the entire city as well as the bay and My. Etna. As we sat down complimentary glasses of Etna Bianco from Insolia were poured for us and shortly thereafter we received an amuse of tomato bread soup, which was nice and refreshing but didn't win any awards.
The plates were beautiful but huge in the table was pretty small so the silverware hid under each of the plates edges. 
Once again there were few veggie options so Sam resorted to the  Caponata and Eggplant Parmigiana.
Will started with the local specialty of Sarde a beccafico con ciliegino all'origano or stuffed sardines with sultanas, pine nuts and oregano. The dish was superb but the accompanying cherry tomato salad had no flavor and sat on a small nest of shredded wheat that was so bland, but adorable.
Pulpo came with herbs, vegetable dressing and carrot puree and was served over sauteed spinach. Our Barone do Montero 2016Viognier from Trapani was crisp and fruit intense. Unfortunately the waiter decided to pour the next table's wine into our glasses and really wrecked it. Ultimately he did offer us to complimentary glasses of a Sicilian Pinot Grigio.For the pasta the course Will and I shared a divine Carnaroli Risotto with seafood including shrimp mussels clams prawns octopus calamari and lobster with crispy leeks on top.
We moved on to a Nerello Mascalelse from Etna called Antichi Vinai(old vines) from the Pietra Lava winery thatvwas excellent with oir heavy swordfish main courses.
Will had the traditional Sicilian Pesca Spada or soup of swordfish capers tomato and fried eggplant and peel as well Messinese style, while I chose the swordfish stuffed with eggplant, mashed potatoes, sun dried tomatoes, mussels and clams.
It was a delicious meal but alas there was no room for dessert so we headed home.

time for fish in Taomrina at Osteria Nero d'Avola (7-9-17)

After driving further south on Sunday we ferried across the Straits of Messina (Scylla & Charbydis were not in evidence) to Sicily where we will spend the next 2 weeks.
Taormina, the super chic and expensive resort town perched on cliffs overlooking Mt. Etna was our first stop and our first night was at the quiet, off the beaten track, Osteria Nero D'Avola (named for the famous red grape of the region). The outdoor terrace was beautiful, save for the bees that kept bothering Will & Samuel, but ultimately as the sun set and the moon rose (FB photo) they let us eat in peace. The 82 evening temperature seemed cool with a nice sea breeze as the bells of St. Pancras chimed for a local celebration.
Will started with Pulpo Fiction which was a monstrous and delicious portion of octopus topped with paprika for spice, while I loved my Cozze gratinata al finocchietto delvatico, pinoli, uva passa e zafferano a magnificent dish of local mussels seasoned with breadcrumbs, fennel (very mild), pine nuts sultanas and saffron.
Samuel started with the Eggplant Parmigiana which he ordered to avoid more pasta, but said was just as rich, yet delicious.
A bottle of Zahara Grillo, Case di Grazia 2016 was fruit forward with gooseberries, but turned to citrus as we let the chilly wine warm a bit. It was our first Sicilian white in Sicily and we intend to have many more. Indeed we moved on to a spectacular chardonnay 2015 from the famous Regaleali Vigna San Francesco called Sicilia Contea di Scalafari that was superb with our main fish courses.
Three types of olive oil were poured with bread but we tried them without first to truly experience the flavors:
Monte Etna Romano was the lightest from the nearby volcano slopes on the east coast, followed by No. 1 Lorenzo, a Cerasuola olive from Trapani on the west coast (where we go later on) and Letizia from Monte Iblei in the south which was pepper intense and really needed bread or food (I wish I had that on my boring salad today at lunch!).
Samuel had the Trofie Pasta with Zucchini & Mint for his main course, and it was novel but quite delicious.
Will's pasta was Sicilian macaroni (longer and thinner than ours at home, as it was in Basilicata the other day) with a sausage ragu and I had the richest Spaghetti ai ricci di mare e bottarga di tonna which was sea urchin sauce with tune bottarga that was salty, rich, creamy and divine!
Will and I had fish for main courses (Sam skipped) and Will's Spada Siciliana was a gorgeous local swordfish (the #1 fish dish on the isle) while mine was Spatola (or silverfish) gratinata con istacchio di Bronte escorza di limone and I have to say the pistachio crumble (from the slopes of Etna) was an amazing treat with the lemon zest.
We couldn't even fathom dessert, so tonight we shall rethink having do many courses....maybe not!

Sunday, July 09, 2017

La Locandiera in Bernalda boasts brilliant food from a real family run restaurant (7-8-17)

Tonight's dinner was brilliant treat from the moment we entered (www.trattorialalocandiera.it) the small 8-10 table tiny family run La Locandiera here in Bernalda. The owners greeting us, while their mother assisted and the aunt was in the kitchen with a giant chef hat, long earrings and glasses on a chain, which would have made a great photo! Chequered red and white table cloths, terra cotta floors and food awards, books and photos adorned the place for an even more family feel, only the wicker chairs were uncomfortable. The 35 Euro menu (under$40) offered us enough to eat for close to 3 hours starting with an amuse of cucumber& caccio ricotta cheese in a large spoon. The five starters were enough to fill us up!!!:
-Frisella was a warm toasted bread with fried red peppers, tomato and basil; I would call it bruschetta gone Basilicata (the region) crazy
-Crappiata was a bean soup made from more types of beans you could count on your hands and meant to celebrate the August harvest
-Zucchini balls were beer battered and fried and served on skewers in the coolest piece of tree bark that resembled an open book (check the FB photos)
-Ciambatta was a jar full of cooked eggplant, peppers and tomatoes
(you may notice the vegetarian theme here as they knew Sam was a vegetarian and totally catered to his tastes)
-the last dish to start was a tomato "soup" concasse with local ricotta and green peppers which they called a "Basilicato Gazpacho" but it was too thick and rich for that simple title and totally won us over (as if this has not happened yet!)

We had a bottle of Calaprici "Amastuola" which is an organic white made form Fiano Bianco & Chardonnay with super strong acidity and dry as can be from nearby Puglia.
The first pasta course was Maccheroncini with creamed ceci bean, bread crumbs and sun dried tomatoes which was an elongated and thin macaroni-style pasta that was divine. Before this arrived, they asked if we like "spicy" and of course we said yes. A bottle filled with oil and pepperoncini was delivered which we tasted on the bread and then were told to add to the pasta for extra spice:OMG!
Sam next had Ricotta and Spinach Ravioli in Tomato Sauce with loads of fresh grated Parmeggiano Reggiano while Will and I chose the truly local Toretelloni with Burrata filling topped with codfish tartare that was out of this world. We did not expect raw fish and it was truly a novel and exciting dish.
Our main course was Braised Pork Cheekin Red Winse sauce that was as tender as it can be and so rich, yet small enough that we were not overstuffed, Some lettuce was on the side to check the dish as we enjoyed it with a glass of local Aglianico del Vulture(only grown in Basilicato) 2012 Liscone that was structured and intense.
Samuel's "main course" was Bread dumplings that looked just like two giant meatballs in tomato sauce which were gone quite quickly.

Dessert was a hit with the boys having Strawberry Marmalade Tart while I went for the local Apricot Jam and Cream over Apricot Semifreddo that was out of this world. Limeoncello arrived for Will and Sam while I loved the Nespolino, a local summer fruit liqueur mixed with almond.
When we thought no more could come a slate arrived with honey biscuits, gelees, chocolate truffles and raisin jelly cake; all were superb.
If I told you this all cost under $200 you would not believe me, but the whole bill with wines, sodas and 3 bottles of sparkling water came to under $165US!!
What an amazing night.
Sicily next!

Bernalda's Palazzo Margherita: a private palatial treat for the palate (7-7-17)

After arriving in Italy we immediately drove south to the Basilicata region near the instep of Italy's "boot" and the quaint town of Bernalda where Francis Ford Coppola traces his roots and returned several years ago to buy and renovate Palazzo Margherita with his daughter Sophia (who was married here?). There are only 9 rooms and the "restaurant " is indeed the patio or kitchen of the palazzo and only open to guests. Last night it ws the three of us and another couple that were treated to top notch service in a most congenial garden setting.
Crusty awesome homemade bread arrived and we dressed with local olive oil, balsamico, and some red pepper flakes. Oro di Elena was a local Fiana Bianco grape from Basilicata wine from Masseria Cardillo that was dry and had a wonderfuly minerally and slight grassy taste. It was superb with the starters as I had the most amazing Cozze ammollicate or mussels baked with breadcrumbs and Will had the  Calamari with fava bean puree with mint. Sam raved about his eggplant caponata, and I explained he can have it made every day a different way when we get to Sicily tomorrow!
The pastas were very good with Sam's Lucanian black truffle risotto and Will havinf the same with shrimp, and my divine Linguine alla vongole(clams) winning stars as well.
Sam tried the Zucchini/ALmond Pesto Pasta for his main course which he said was okay while Will and I both enjoyed the "Peasant" roasted sausage over a bed of rustic crispy potatoes but felt a bit over-carbed. A bottle of F. Negroamaro, Negroamaro Salenino IGT from Feudi di San Marzano was the perfect red, but the 90 degree heat (albeit dry) was killing us by the end the long day of driving and touring sent us right to bed!

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Barcelona's Bohemic is now the glorious SANT ANTONI GLORIOS (7-4-17)

We were just in Barcelona on the cruise ship for the day, but it was mandatory to grab lunch (albeit for almost 2 hours) at our favorite place in virtually all of Europe, When we last visited this city,Chef Francesc held rule over the tiny Bohemic, which has recently changed to the bistro-like Sant Antoni Glorios at the same address (Carrer Manso, 42 www.santanontiglorios.com) which has a simple menu, but some of the best food you will eat anywhere.
After a warm reunion, I settled in with a glass of refreshing Cava Reserva Brut from Ferret Guasch while Will enjoyed an Alhambra beer. The famous Papas Bravas arrived and Sam's eyes burst out of his head as he fought his father (see FB video) for the superbly fried potatoes now served with a spicy BBQ like sauce and a mayo aioli like cream; nobody can make fries like these.
Next came the typical Catalan tomato bread, followed by Mackerel with Yuzu and yogurt which is basically sashimi gone Catalan Crazy. No wonder, the chef's nickname is Crazy Mandu!
I switched to an amazing white blend courtesy of "sommelier" Davide from France which was a blend of Godello, Albarino and I think Heredura(?) called Ribeiro from Ramondo Casar in Galicia that had amazing minerality and unreal flavors that was perfect with the fish. Next came Samfaina Omelet vegetables which Samuel wants me to make every day; good luck with that. Grandfather's Fried Egg is slow cooked first then quick fried and served with small side sauces of fermented onions  and sabrasosa (a cured pork cooked into a ragu). It was like a poached egg but firmer then dropped into a sea of sweet potato puree (see FB foto). Gambas came in the sauce of its own head, and by now I had switched to a superb Garnacha Sindicat La Figuera from Montsant. More shrimp (gambas) arrived with chickpeas in a divine sauce and the  final dish was a revelation, Albondigas Ibericas which are meatballs made from the famous Iberico pork and served super rare in an amazing sauce of aji/yuzu mayo and ciboulette onions with pork cracklings. I could have eaten a dozen if I was not full.
Of course there was time for dessert and espresso and we all split one of the most glorious desserts ever: Borracho Glorioso or Glorious Drunk Rum Cake that was like a baba au rhum gone crazy Catalan.

The space is small and the hours are short, so plan your trip here with care and leave plenty of time to savor each bite. Soon, Chef Francesc will open up a secret back room for small tastings of fish, meat or chef's choice around 14 courses, but you have to have a connection to book this truly exclusive experience. We will return there for sure as this is indeed our favorite place in all Europe.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Nobu Miami Beach brings it on with bravura (and bucks) (6-20-17)

Our one night in Miami Beach at the Nobu Eden Roc Hotel was spent with our two local friends at the hotel's NOBU MIAMI BEACH restaurant.
The décor is calming, the music a bit booming, and we never did figure out what was going on as the hosts shouted as each party was seated.
That said, the food is spectacular and the service attentive, even if the prices are what one might consider a bit insane.
We told our server, Peter, that Sam was a vegetarian and he made tons of suggestions, and I have to admit the flavors of the dishes for vegetarians was wide and superb.
We started with some "snacks" of Crispy Okra, Avare and Spicy Tosazu as well as some of the best ever Spicy Edamame with Chili Garlic, Sake Soy, Sesame Oil & Peanuts (on the side for the one allergic).
These were both irresistible and our only complaint was that most of the dishes tend to be very soy sauce intense, but the spice of the edamame was amazing.
Drinks were varied from Samuel's Lychee, Passion fruit and Pineapple to the adults'
Mia Margaritas with Corralejo Anejo Tequila, Passion Fruit, Honey, Lime and Schichimi (Japanese 7 spice).
There was also a Taiko & beet drink which I failed to write the ingredients for that was super as well as my Matsuhisa Martini with Reyna Vodka, Hoketsu Sake and Pickled Ginger which was so intensely alcoholic it took me quite some time to finish it; which I guess is good.
Samuel's first dish was a gorgeous Tofu Sashimi fried with citrus and soy which he raved about. Each dish for him disappeared quite fast before we could often taste!
Peter suggested we share 3 or so cold dishes as starters and he was just right and suggested the amazing melt in you mouth Salmon Nasmi (some of the dishes are Nobu standards and others are exclusive to this location such as this dish) which was Scottish salmon wrapped around Asian pear with yuzu, truffle oil and truffle salt. It is sushi gone nuts and so amazing it cannot be resisted. I have to not that almost every cold dish was priced at $20-something to $30-something so when the bill arrives it's quite a shocker.
Next came the Lobster Shitake Salad with Organic Greens, Sesame Seeds, Spicy Lemon Dressing, Dry Miso Crumble and Micro Arugula which had a small bowl on the side of palate cleansing baby peaches or Momokochan which indeed cleansed the mouth before this delicate  and delicious dish. Peter said there was half a lobster in the dish, but between the four of us we each got about 2 bites of lobster; maybe he meant half a lobster tail!
Our third choice was the Seafood Ceviche Nobu style which was a larger dish which was welcome, but indeed just a ceviche and therefore nothing that wowed or made it special, though it was very good.

Samuel's next dish was the Spicy Veggie Taco with Spicy Aioli in a Dumpling Shell....we didn't get tastes as they were quite petite.
We also received a dish that Peter brought out of Brick Oven Cauliflower with Jalapeno Salsa and Soy Salt which was mostly for Samuel, but we all tasted and marveled over. I am truly going to try and recreate this one at home. Oddly enough, we didn't order this, and when it appeared on the bill, I asked and it was quickly removed.
We started with a bottle  of Pascal Jolivet Rose from Sancerre 2015 which was superb, but at $63 quite pricey as was all the wine (more than 75% was over $100, and many were in the hundreds and thousands!).
We moved on to a bottle of Arinzano "La Casona" 2008 Tempranillo from Navarra, Spain as the red from Puglia where we will be in 2-1/2 weeks was sold out! It was a very intense tannin wine for its 9 year age, but quite delicious, even at $95. I should add that our party of 5 also had a mandatory 18% gratuity added as well as 10% tx, so 28% on top of any menu price.

Main courses were hearty and delicious with Pan Seared Sea Bass with Kabocha Squash and Crispy Spinach and another sea bass with Tomato Salsa, Trufffle and Micro Chives for our friends. I can never resist Soft Shell Crabs and Peter said these hail from Boston (odd) and were deliciously fried with Pickled Watermelon. I did order the special version which was supposed to come with Crispy Kurobuta Pork Belly in a Spicy Miso Caramel, but that never arrived. Peter had excused himself as he had an "emergency with his girlfriend" and Gisella had taken over. She apologized and offered to replace the dish, but I loved the crispy crab so much, I stayed with it. Will chose the amazingly inventive Nobu Fish & Chips with Triple Cooked Fries, Crispy Eggplant Fries,Nasu, Salts and Spices. there were many dipping salts as well as three delicious creamy dips (aji Amarillo, jalapeno and spicy) which were heavenly. He said it was a truly memorable dish, but the fish itself did not rank number one on earth as back in the UK it's better, but it did get raves.

We also ordered a shrimp dish with glaze that we saw go by earlier for the table to share and this was really one of the best we had all night as well.

Desserts were varied with Miso Vanilla Tart, Sable, Miso Caramel, Vanilla Mascarpone and Miso Cucumber getting the most raves.
My Strawberry Lychee Pisco Sour with Lime Sponge cake, Lime Cremeux, Pisco Mousse, and Orange Bitter Meringue over the top and a scoop of Strawberry Lychee Ice Cream on the side came in second.
Banana Soy Toban with soy caramelized bananas, candied pecans and Malaga Ice Cream was less exciting and probably the least exciting was the Smoked Peach Cake, Black Orchid Sponge,Blueberry Shisho Compote, Smoked Peach Mousse and White Peach Sorbet.
A small bottle of Hokusetsu Junmai Daiginjo "The Sake 71" was a wonderful after dinner drink as we made our way to bed after the shock of the bill.
We board our ship tomorrow for 16 days, so while there will be an occasional report from a port, the food reviews will start in earnest in Italy after that.
And FB photos abound for all!!

Monday, June 19, 2017

AMBAR is awesome in Arlington (6-18-17)

When you have four dads and two sons who all have different likes and tastes from carnivore to vegetarian, where do you go with huge variety and the best bargain in town? AMBAR in Clarendon has a $35 unlimited small plates per person charge ($15 for kids!) and the selection is unreal with many veggie options and tons of lighter and heavier plates which I will explain below.
On arrival we tried the Cucumber Basil Smash with vodka instead of gin, muddled cuke, basil, a dash of liche juice, seltzer and some spice(chili) which was refreshing but gone in seconds, so we moved to a superb white wine recommended by our server Melvin. The Stobi Rkatseli from Tikves in macedonia 2015 has green apple and mineral flavors that would remind you of a Gruner Veltliner and drinks superbly with spicy or lighter foods. We eventually moved to a nice red from Serbia, a 2009 Budmir Triada Prokupac(that is the grape) with dry tannins and some cherry hints, but not as regarding as the white. The wines as the food are all Balkan, with décor of old B&W photos many with Russian words plastered on them so you can tell these are further north in the Balkans. The wines are from macedonia north and are very varied and all new to me and most priced under $40-50.
The menu is broken into several sections and we chose from all and shared and loved it all.
The spreads are superb and come in the form of Urnebes (aged cow cheese with ajvar and chilli glakes), Garlic Bean spread with onion and paprika, Dry Roasted Red Pepper(Ajvar) with Garlic, and Roasted Eggplant as well.
Puffy bread comes to mop it up as well as Fried sourdough and corn breads; all unavoidable.
There are the cheeses and meats which come plated like charcuterie such as Beef Prosciuto, Spicy Salami, &  Zlatibor which is an aged 3-6 month cheese like a salty feta crossed with cottage cheese.
Samuel headed right for the Frilled Veggie, Pesto & Calamata Flatbread, while his younger friend chose the Sudzuk or sausage flatbread. It is interesting to note on the menu the Balkan term for flatbread is pizza!
We adored the salads:
Organic Slaw with carrots, red onion, watermelon radish and cabbage
Ambar Spring Salad with kale, shaved carrots, apple, endive, pine nuts in an excellent elderflower-lemon dressing
Red Quinoa with broccoli, green pees and pea puree, strawberry and a superb mustard-lemon dressing.
Homemade Meat Pies are the best made with flaky phyllo and topped with garlic yogurt!
Less exciting was the Wild Boar Patty made with bacon, smoked gouda and served with pickled pesto. It was very rustica style and a bit greasy, but not bad.
The veggies are superb including Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and lemon & garlic yogurt
Grilled Asparagus with veloute, crispy prosciutto, roasted squash and a fried quail egg.
There are as always many photos on FB!
One of my favorites was the Grilled Shrimp on a bed of corn puree, while the Calamari was braised with herbs and served Gremolata (it said there was a potato salad, but I missed that).
Rainbow Trout had a crispy skin that was superb and was indeed served with the Potato Salad in a German style with no mayo, but good vinegar base.
Balkan Kebabs were a big hit and had many repeat small plate calls. They are small beef/veal rolls grilled with a small mound of paprika to dip them in as well as raw onions(skipped those).
Stuffed Sour Cabbage was filled with mashed potato, pork belly, rice and yogurt and was sublime.
There is no question that the top dish winner was the Almond Crusted Chicken which may sound simple but it was the best "fried" chicken ever served with walnuts, green apples, chive and a "wasabi" mayo, that had virtually no spice, but was still super.
Dessert was Chocolate mousse with tarragon gnocchi, black tea infused something, sprouts and so much going on, I got lost after one bite as I found it very overwhelming. Some liked it, but next time, stick to the small plates which are unlimited.
If you get hungry you can order unlimited big plates of meat and fish and more for an extra $10 per person, but not needed.
Service here is friendly and helpful as there is so much to choose from and most of the staff work in teams. We loved the way they managed to scatter the dishes and we chose to order as we went along rather than all at once; a very good move.
Balkan bistro food is bravissimo.

Friday, June 09, 2017

ART WORKS NOW charity dinner features fearsome female chefs of fortitude (6-8-17)

Last night I was invited to participate in a superb charity event that has been running for 5 years now and by all means is a truly wonderful event. Art Works Now (www.artworksnow.org) is the brainstorm of Barbara Johnson and she spoke how over its short existence has gone from providing art classes and programs for 11 students to over 5000!! Barbara and her spouse Chef Ruth Gresser (of Pizza Paradiso fame) open their gorgeous home each year to a group of talented female chefs and about 50 guests for an intimate and exciting evening of food and drink as well as silent and live auctions of amazing trips and prizes.

The evening started with Sue McWilliams of Sue McWilliams Cooks serving up a yummy Slushie de Lima with Black Raspberry infused Pisco, Passion Fruit Juice, Lime and a Pickled Aji Amarillo Pepper (I got extras) served over a scoop of crushed ice. It was delish and I would have downed a couple more if the temperature were even warmer. It was indeed a gorgeous evening and celebratory so that Zena Polin of The Daily Dish (Silver Spring) was serving up Leo Hillinger Secco Sparkling Rose from Austria, which we actually served at Samuel's Bar Mitzvah exactly a year ago! Zena paired with Wendy Gordon of Flash Public Relations (who procured the wines) for the remainder of the wines all evening and we ended up going home with a wine tasting with munchies at The Daily Dish!
While we sipped, we also noshed on superb hor's d'oevres that seemed to never stop coming and restraint was hard as they were prepared by Bonnie Moore of Willowsford Farms who will definitely have to be noticed in the future!
Willowsford Farm Chicken Pot Pie Fritters (need I say more?)
New Asbury Farm Lamb Meatballs with a slightly kicky Romesco Sauce were irresistible
Country Ham Biscuits with Red Pepper Jelly were simply amazing
Farm Vegetable Risotto with Meadow Creek Appalachian Cheese had to be the best risotto hor's d'oevre ever made, so rich and creamy, warm and tasty on simple spoons we took bites off, but had to return for more and more and more. A true vegetarian dish (no chicken stock used) which truly impressed.

We were escorted into the house for dinner where the chefs were heatedly running around the open kitchen as we observed and settled in.
Lubanzi Wines from South Africa were a new find and on order for the first three courses. I just wish they didn't use colored glasses for the wines (amber for the white and red for the red). The white was a 2016 Chenin Blanc from Swartland and I generally don't care for 100% Chenin but this was refreshing, dry and totally worked with Chef Elizabeth Faulkner's vegan first course: Blackened Eggplant Hummus, Beet Quinoa, Collard Greens, VXO Sauce & Peanuts. It was indeed a dream "salad" with the raw kale (it must have been so well massaged with the dressing as it was so tender) and the beet quinoa so reminiscent of a steak tartare, many vegans would have been fooled!

Up next was TV superstar Chef Carla Hall with her co-chef from Carla's Southern Kitchens, Chef Janis McLean recreating an north African(Ghana) dish in the form of Grilled Shrimp, Braised Plantains, Short Grain Rice and a Spicy Tomato-Ginger Broth that demanded a spoon to get it all sopped (or souped if you prefer) up (there was no bread). This may have been my favorite dish for its novelty and creativity and the small pieces of crispy fried kale on top were simply an added treat.
We had switched to the Lubanzi Red blend of Shiraz (46%), Mourvedre (20%), Cinsault (31%) and Grenache (3%) which I immediately fell in love with and was lucky enough to get a bottle of to take home and share.

Chef Jamie Leeds of Hank's Oyster Bar/Pasta Bar/Cocktail Bar and more shared her duties with the one gentleman in the kitchen from her team, Jay Garrison and they excelled with the most tender of Duck Breasts with a creamy divine Spring Pea Puree with morel Mushrooms, Crunchy Pickled Ramps and a Black Truffle Vinaigrette. I adore duck and loved this dish which, as all the others all night, reflected the spring season and fresh ingredients way above and beyond the norm!

Dessert was from Chefs Caitlyn Dysart & Amy Brandwein (the latter who was unable to attend) from Centrolina and also was spring in essence with Local Strawberries, Ricotta, Robiola Budino and Basil which was truly a combination of a cheese course and a dessert and was elegant simple and light (photos available on my FB page). Paired with a superb sweet Domino de Punctum Dulce Venganza 2014 from Cuenca in Castilla Spain. I searched the bottle and finally discovered it was a Late Harvest Chardonnay which none of us could believe, but so superb it was, I had a second glass.

Record funds were raised and for such a great cause that I was honored to be able to be a part of this amazing event and amazing teaming of women in the kitchen who proved for sure that food in DC is in excellent hands!

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

New Zealand dining is delicious at the Embassy! (6-3-17)

Saturday night was the Washington National Opera Gala and I had the pleasure of joining about 10 folks for an elaborate dinner at the home of The Honourable Tim Grosser, New Zealand's Ambassador to the USA. It was a delicious evening starting with hor's d'oevres and Deutz New Zealand champagne followed by a long and so enjoyable seated dinner. I must say that I have always believed in one degree of separation (or close to that) and the sweet woman seated across from me turned out to be good friends with our friends the Seamans in Naples, Florida!
This was a truly memorable experience for the company as well as the food as it turned out that Ambassador Groser spoke eloquently and extensively on the recent rejection by our president of the Paris Accord which he was influential in authoring!
We started with a simple demi-tasse of Tomato Tea which burst with tomato flavors and was a simple room temperature broth that we all wowed over. It was paired with Drumsara Dry Pinot Gris 2015 from Central Otago (all the wines, of curse, were from New Zealand). Next came Lobster & Caviar Salad paired with an amazing Squawking Magpie Chardonnay "Counting Crows" from Hawke's Bay 2015 that I fell in love with and paired beyond perfectly with the shellfish.
Next came a decadent and delicious Pan Seared Foie Gras with fresh Pears and Sauterne which was fascinatingly paired with a Cloudy Bay "Te Koko" 2013 tope of the line Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough.
Chargrilled New Zealand King Salmon with Poached Asparagus and Tarragon Hollandaise was a lesson in the finest of French cuisine using New Zealand's best fish. We have Pacific King Salmon from Alaska which is awfully good, but this is farm raised in New Zealand and really blew us all away. The wine was "The Darling" Sauvignon Blanc 2016 from Marlborough. Add the fact that the plate had some of the finest white asparagus I have ever had in this country (save for those amazing ones that come from Europe every May), and a sauce to die for...OMG.
Smoked Venison Carpaccio from a New Zealand farm as well came with Arugula and was a perfectly wonderful light option for a "meat course" as we were quite full by then. Anthony Joseph Vidal "El Legado" Syrah 2013 from Hawke's Bay was another wonderful treat.
French cheeses followed with Quince Paste and Ostler Caroline's Pinot Noir 2009 Waitaki that was a new and delicious full bodied red for me.
Lemon Tart with Persian Fairy Floss finished the meal with homemade macarons (the French kind)which was paired with a superb dessert wine, Seifried "Sweet Agnes" Late Harvest Riesling 2014 from Nelson.
As if this was not enough, chocolates of all kinds followed as coffee and tea were offered after our 3-1/2 hour extravaganza. WHAT A NIGHT!

Saturday, May 06, 2017

DC's FIOLA is far above and offers optimal enjoyment (5-5-17)

After our 3 visits to Fiola Mare this year, we settled in last night for a multi-course dinner at the parent restaurant, FIOLA, owned by Chef Fabio Trabocchi and his wife Maria. On arrival to my surprise, the new executive chef in the kitchen was the awesome Ed Scarpone, recently of DBGB, who told us he had been there only 3 months, but seems settles in quite well. The evening before, our server Joshua told us to ask for his friend Anton at the sister restaurant, and to our surprise, he was indeed our server, and another excellent one at that. Again, here, the staff is sublime and efficient, ready to assist with your every need. Nothing went wrong all evening, although if I had to ask for one thing it would be for gentlemen to be more kinder when urinating in the men's room (you know what I mean guys!) and I think they need to have someone on staff check it every hour or so.....sadly.
I ordered a Bellagio to start with Vodka, Elderberry shrub, Cocchi Rosa, Prosecco and an edible flower. It was gorgeous, delicious and just right again; not sweet, but slightly herbal. Delamotte Brut Champagne arrived next as we were served an amuse of Crispy Savory Cannoli with Mascarpone, Foie Gras, Chives and gold leaf on the outside; it was as pretty as it was tasty. Be sure to check out the FB photos! Magnificent flaky puff-pastry like rolls with cheese, seasoning and herbs arrived that were irresistible and we had to tell them to stop bringing more!!
The décor here is elegant with tall columns filled with see through (fake) trees, glossy dark tabletops, a huge sunken dining room below the bar with cushy chairs and banquettes. The tables here are a bit closer in some places than might be expected, but overall it oozes class.
We all wowed when the first course arrived: White Asparagus Three ways: Poached, Grilled Hearts and Shaved Raw on top with Egg Confit, Morels (from Oregon), Grilled Ramps, Mustard and drizzled with Extra Vecchio (25 year old+) Balsamico from an eye dropper.. It was a dream dish, which Will declared the best asparagus dish he had ever had on earth; I had to agree.
Jennifer, the head sommelier was eager to explain each wine and its origins and for the next course we had "from Black to White" Il Bianco 2014 from Zyme, a blend of Garganica and Trebbiano from Veneto which at first I thought might be too light for the rich pasta, but worked out perfectly. Cappelletti filled with Beef Cheek & Foie Gras in an awesome Bone Marrow Broth with black Garlic and more wild ramps!! Yum, this is the season for so much good vegetables!
Scallops  from Hokkaido in Japan came seared to perfection with Manila Clams, Fish Foam, Plankton Powder, Crunchy Sea Beans, Meyer Lemon, Sweet Spring Onion Compote and SIX kinds of seaweed. It was hard to taste each element, but fun to try and enjoy the so many flavors of this wonderfully conceived creation. It was paired with a Ca' Marcanda 2013  from Vistamare in Tuscany (owned by Gaja) made from Vermentino & Viognier that had an amazing creaminess and acidity as well.

This was followed by a Chateau de Pibarnon 2014 Bandol from Eric de Saint-Victor which was 90% Mourvedre and 10% Grenache and drinking so beautifully despite its youth. It has a perfume in the nose, but in the mouth the flavors were all smoky.
The meat course it was served with was a beautiful roulade of Lamb with its own Jus, Green Asparagus, Chickpea, Ramps, Fava Beans and the most delicate yet delicious glazed Lamb Sweetbreads. Again, flavors burst at every new bite on the plate, but alas, we were so full, we had to take the remainder home--so we get t have it again on Monday!

We asked for a small cheese course and Anton explained that all these unpasteurized cheeses come from one purveyor named Renato Brancaleone  in Italy who ages them in limestone pits!
Birbette was a cow with Bavarian lager washed rind
Pecorino Alle More Selvatiche is a sheep that is wrapped in wild blackberry
Blu di Montefeltro was one of the most beautiful blues I have ever had from Italy.
they are accompanied by the paper thinnest of flatbreads, thin toasted fruit bread, fig jam and macerated Harry's Strawberries, which I am now in love with.
Jennifer offered a real treat with Domaine Weinbach Cuvee Laurence 2014 Gewurtztraminer which was so sweet and so peppery and so delicious. I mentioned that I had the pleasure of meeting Colette Faller, the matriarch of the winery in her home some 12 years ago for a private tasting and Jennifer told me that she had passed away a couple of years ago; I am so sorry.

Strawberry Sorbet with Rhubarb and a Lime "sponge" cake was a palate cleanser before the dessert of Gianduja Mousse (chocolate from Peru) with Alba caramelized Hazelnuts & White Chocolate sheets arrived paired with a sweet-sheery-like Ben Rye 2014 from Donnafugata in Sicily. It was a cross between caramel & vanilla and we added it to our must stop wineries this summer!
We rolled home, but have to say that fine dining still exists in DC and I am so happy we have found these places where one can relax all evening and truly savor the wines and foods and delicacies that make a meal so special with such excellent service as well.!!

Friday, May 05, 2017

Fiola Mare is best for business dinner in DC(5-4-17)

Last night umpteen travel agents were invited by the super amazing sales team from the US Virgin Island's  Caneel Bay, one of the top resorts in the world. The dinner was at the posh Fiola Mare where I returned for the second time in 2 weeks and even had the same superb service from Joshua!! We gathered at the bar first where I tried a delicious Forbidden Lust, a mix of Tequila Silver, a dash of passion fruit juice, lime, habanero for sufficient spice and a red wine float that had the top of the clear drink look like a red velvet cupcake! At the arrival reception we had truffle potato puffs and yummy crabcakes with a slightly spicy remoulade.
We sat down to dinner in one of the private dining areas as Nigl Sparkling Rose from Austria was poured and the team reviewed the glories of their amazing resort where we went some 2 decades ago, so a return is in order!
I chose to start with the Jumbo Lump Crab with Apple, Sorrel Coulis which Josh explained as a cold crab "salad." It was actually a monster-size cold crab "salad/cake" in a bowl of dreamy sorrel bisque with a hint of apple from some slices. Super refreshing for summer, this is a winner of a seafood dish for those that love crabmeat and as usual photos on my FB page. Lucian Crochet Sancerre "Le Croix du Roy" was the perfect wine with this as well. You all know how much I got down on sea bass while in Ecuador earlier this year, but it's been 4 months since then so I chose the Olive Oil Poached Royal Sea Bass (what makes it royal?) with asparagus, Pesto Cetarese (made with anchovy!!) and a light cream sauce as well. The fish had a light crispy skin and was cooked to perfection brining me back to loving this super fish, of course, this is Fiole MARE, were the sea(food) rules.
Desserts were a choice of Tiramisu or the Farm Strawberries with Balsamic, Candied Basil, Lime Cake and Burrata Gelato, which was any easy choice for me. The berries were so fresh and just marinated and macerated a bit and the gelato was awesome, a true winner of a novel dessert! A glass of Pinot Noir and off to home after an excellent business dinner that we all truly appreciated. Thanks so much to Caneel Bay and the excellent team at Fiola Mare.
Tonight--we go to Fiola, as it is time for meat :-)

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

NYC's GABRIEL KREUTHER is indeed a king in the fine cuisine realm (4-22-17)

I had heard much about Chef Gabriel Kreuther from Alsace and his move to 42nd Street in the Grace building just between Fifth and Sixth Avenues and Saturday night he delivered over two hundred percent! (www.gkny.com)
On arrival I was impressed by the large room with super high ceilings and way oversized paintings decorating one wall that were very modern splashes of color. I was a bit concerned as the bar area was full and very noisy; the space was so open you could see back to the kitchen and the chef's table where people were already seated enjoying themselves. My fears were allayed however and within an hour so the bar had quieted down and the restaurant filled up but there was never a din of noise that was bothersome.
I ordered a glass of Andre Jacquart Brut Experience 1er Cru Blanc de Blanc and perused the menu. I noticed a small glass fixture on the table with a whole in it which I assumed to be a bud vase, but I was wrong because shortly afterwards they brought over a glass holder with a savory Kugelach (is that a cross between a kugel and a rugalach?) in it which was placed into the glass container so that it sat on the table.  I tried to untie the string it was wrapped in, and ultimately my server Rachel assisted, then took a slice  and smeared it with gorgeous chive sour cream with which it was served. Delicious!
I relaxed on my elegant but firm banquette which also had pillows in case I needed them and settled in for a four plus hour evening which really was an amazing experience.

Three amuses arrived and they were in this order: a grapefruit segment in Mezcal with tomato chili powder served on a slice of lime which you're not supposed to eat,  a Savory Pea Falafel sitting on a bed of Meyer lemon yogurt with sea salt, and a white pepper scone which was crispy and savory with a cremini mushroom marmalade. I felt that ordering a bottle of wine would be the best route so I chose a truly amazing Mas La Mola dark intense red fruit and smoky wine from Priorat 2009. It was a good choice because even my courses which seemed to logically pair with white wines were quite rich and heavy.
First up was Hamachi with Black Truffle and Foie Gras served in a "Milles Feuilles" set-up that was a gorgeous chess board construction with little pieces of celery carved out into teeny circles sitting on a grape slice with a rich truffle vinaigrette.  It was quite rich and I ate it as slowly as possible to savor every bite, as it was truly one of the best if you can call it "pates" I have ever had.
I advised my superb server Rachel and Molly who was the sommeileuse that I wanted plenty of time between the courses and they guided me through this wonderful journey which was absolutely perfectly timed.
After a while I was surprised when they brought over a dish that I had not ordered, but thought about on the menu. The Sturgeon and Sauerkraut Tart was so Alsatian in its creation, I was blown away especially by the perfection of the puff pastry and Siberian Ossetra caviar (from Finland)that sat on top. It was served under a glass dome which had smoke surrounding the tart which wafted up into my nose as they lifted the globe. I can't recall ever having a savory puff pastry tart ever this brilliantly assembled and so delicious.

The next dish was typically ordered for two people, but they told me they would manage to bring it for one although it was quite a large dish if I was okay with that. It was the Austrian White Asparagus which we had had so often the month before in Europe  and I could not resist. They were served in a mason jar in which they have been marinating in white wine since I ordered them; they also came  smothered with morels spring onions and topped with Pea Tendrills which was all assembled in front of me on the table. Also a warm French whole wheat ficelle had arrived and was served with Societe Originale Quebecois cultured butter from grass fed cows. On the side I also received a demi-tasse cup which had a brunoise of the white asparagus on the bottom covered with asparagus soup and again topped with Siberian Ossetra caviar.
This is a one-of-a-kind dish that I or anyone in the neighborhood during this month to run over and grab as quickly as possible.
While I was eating the chef himself came over and introduced himself and I was thrilled to talk to him learn a little more about him and also discover he had worked in Washington at Le Caprice years ago when he first came to the United States. A very sweet gentleman who knows that having one restaurant for fine dining is truly the way to go rather than splitting yourself among a hundred where the food quality deteriorates.
For my main course I had ordered the Long Island Crescent Duck Breast with Black Trumpet crust, Fleischnacka and Ginger Jus which  came with balsamic strawberries, hazelnuts, crispy trumpet mushrooms and broccoli puree. The duck was so tender you could practically cut it with a fork and the crust on top made the most amazing burst of flavor in your mouth, easily one of the top 10 duck dishes of my life.
I do have to say that the Lehmann Crystal was a little narrow in the top on both the champagne flute and the red wine glass making it a bit difficult with my nose to drink.
I did love the elongated cutlery which was served on the leather strap at the side of my plate. 
More bread arrived in the form of a buckwheat and rosemary roll served with a Mangalitsa Lardo that was simply out of this world. Up until a couple of months ago I would have skipped the Lardo, but after having it in Canada I am now a huge fan.
I rested awhile before contemplating dessert and ultimately chose what I was going to have, but of course a free dessert had to come first in the form of Cara Cara Orange refreshing on top of a rich Tapioca Yogurt  base with Malt Biscuit. 
The main dessert was Lambent-Mandarin Milk Chocolate with Peanut Butter Crunch, Mandarin Jelee and Milk Chocolate Cream. A true winner of deserts this one I will remember for a long time, not to mention its beautiful presentation which you can always see on my Facebook pictures.
After this I was treated to Cheesecake macaroons, pistachio Rosemary chocolate, spiced pear chocolate and honey saffron chocolates all of which I took home.
A teensy glass of Rochelt Black Elderberry, which apparently is an Austrian eau-de-vie aged in glass balloon, was proffered by Molly as a gift which truly settled my digestion and had me on my way after four plus hours.
No question here that this is one of the top 10 meals I have had in my life, and I truly cannot wait to come back!