Tuesday, February 28, 2017

BIGA on the BANKS gets big bravos in San Antonio (2-27-17)

After our first day of cooking classes were completed I spent some time working and then headed on a2 hour walk around downtown to do some shopping before I went to Biga on the Banks at the International Center on the Riverwalk here in downtown San Antonio.
It's a beautiful restaurant on the second story above the Riverwalk with a small terrace outside where you can eat and enjoy dinner overlooking the busy Riverwalk. The temperature was about 77 degrees and the humidity even higher so I chose to dine inside.

My server Brittany was a gem and heard every word I said and gave me brilliant ideas about what to choose to eat. I was thinking of starting with a margarita but she suggested the Harajuku Sunrise made from Hou Hou Sho sparkling rose sake, Aperol and Saint Germain which was absolutely refreshing and tasty, not too sweet.
I was looking at the ceviche but Brittany steered me towards the house Applewood Smoked Salmon Nachos and while that sounds like a huge dish it was five simple chips with a slash of Chipotle goat cream cheese made locally here in Texas with some smoked salmon and escabeche veggies on top with a port wine balsamic that ran across the plate and was divine, not to mention the peppery arugula garnish. A glass of Talbot Logan Sleepy Hollow vineyard 2014 Chardonnay brought me back to a wine we used to drink all the time so long ago.

I was very unsure which red wine to choose with my main course so Brittany offered up a couple of beautiful large Riedel glasses and poured tastes of two different wines. First was Il Fauno di Arcanum Tuscany Bordeaux 2012 that nobody seems to know how you made Bordeaux in Tuscany... it was a delicious full body wine but there was no information on what grapes were in it. The other one I wanted to taste was a Nanthia "Termes" Tinta de Toro 2013 which was way too dry and astringent.
As I started to enjoy the wine Brittany surprised me with an extra plate this time it was the house made Bao buns with Berkshire pork belly, pickled cucumber, scallions and two sauces:hoisin and Sriracha. I tried not to eat all the buns as I really didn't need all the carbs but they were so delicious and the sauces were spectacular.

Since I had time for another glass of wine I was thrilled to see they had a 2011 Barolo on the menu from Casa E. Di  Mirafiori and it was truly one of the youngest smoothest Barolos I have had in ages.
There was delicious cornbread and two other plane breads but the whipped butter was superb so I had some of the corn bread and then stopped.
My main course was a revelation with 11 spiced South Texas Nilgai antelope as well as grilled Lockhart aromatic Quail. The latter was in a delicious sage sauce and the former was so tender with berry compote as well as juniper sauce for both. On the side were Brussels leaves as well as a superb soft creamy and rich goat cheese tart with chestnuts as well.
Of course all of these can be seen on Facebook and this was truly a dish to marvel in.
While I was full I couldn't believe that they had a3 tasting dessert for $11 so I figured even if I only ate two bites it was worth it and in the desert was Sticky Toffee Pudding which needed a little bit of custard and Mexican chocolate mousse which was extremely rich so cut by a rum whipped cream on top. The winner was the coconut creme brulee. Everything was quite rich so I enjoyed a wonderful small glass of Antique sherry Jerez from Pal Cortado that was super dry.
Now this was a meal worth coming to San Antonio for.

SILO ELEVATED in San Antonio is not at the height it should be (2-26-17)

For my first night here in San Antonio before I was to start CIA boot camp the next day I decided to  choose Silo Elevated which is the upstairs of the downstairs Silo restaurant which is considered one of the more fun places with lots of varied plates(but is closed Sundays).

I arrived and was escorted through in elevator upstairs to a very elegant subdued room that was very quiet and virtually empty at 7 p.m.

My server explained that this was probably due to the Academy Awards as well as this being the last day of the San Antonio rodeo.

The chairs were hard wood, which seems to be a regular problem here as they are not too comfortable! Guess they want you to eat and run.

I had already had a delicious complimentary margarita at my hotel, the hotel Emma which is a beautifully situated place in the new Pearl District, so I decided to order a bottle of wine and chose a 2012 Clincker Brick 1850 from Lodi, California which was a smooth and delicious blend of 60% Cabernet 30% Petite Syrah and 10% Zinfandel. Credit also goes that they serve the wine in a gorgeous large bowl Riedel crystal glass.

I had to choose the signature Chicken Fried Oysters with sauteed spinach Applewood smoked bacon tart apples and whole grain mustard hollandaise which were indeed delicious although the oyster seemed extremely small to me and Walla portion was plenty large enough I really missed more oyster flesh. 

I had asked for a good break between my courses but alas it seemed only 5 or 10 minutes before they brought out what seemed to me one of the biggest dishes I have ever seen in all of Texas. Now thats a statement because everything in Texas is truly big and my grilled duck breast was made up of 8 slices of duck breast and an entire quarter duck leg and thigh confit, with parsnip puree, roasted baby carrots, bacon wilted  frisee in a blackberry cider sauce that was all truly divine although the breast was a bit on the rare side and a little chewy.

There were two unmemorable three cheese and seeded breads.

I did enjoy one scoop of a salted caramel gelato which did really taste delicious but there was no way I could eat anymore, and I was grateful that my server only brought me one scoop as I requested

Monday, February 20, 2017

Olney MD's SARDI's FUSION falls a bit short this time (2-19-17)

After having such a good time at Sardi's Fusion in Olney we decided to return there last night after Sweeney Todd starring our friend E. Faye Butler as Mrs. Lovett (which you should not miss at Olney Theatre!).
We arrived at 530pm as the show was over early and the place was pretty empty, but filled up within the hour. The menu had not changed, but the service was lacking and while our charming server tried, it seemed that everything we wanted was sold out!
We started with their super Pisco Sours and a Margarita and those were hits as were the yummy plantain chips with three salsa; you can easily fill up on these. Last time we loved the starters and had some issues with the mains. This time they were out of most of the ceviches, (not good for a Peruvian place!) all the avocado and it also seemed truffle oil for the truffle fries which we ordered as well. Often the items came lacking certain and major ingredients and after checking my review from last time, I noticed none of us got salads, but now they offer a choice of two sides....
Empanadas here area  hit, so gorgeously flaky we had to make jokes about the meat pies from the show! After trying three different starters that were all gone I chose the Pulpo Anticudo or Grilled Marble Potatoes with Micro Greens and Grilled Octopus with White Truffle Vinaigrette(missing), Beech Mushrooms (missing) and Black Olive Aioli. It was a tasty dish and there were so many greens it was like a salad side! Will (also after several failing choices) opted for the Shrimp Tacos and Samuel went for the Spicy Lamb Tacos, which he loved, but said they were not spicy at all.
We asked for a bottle of Oyster Bay Chardonnay which took forever to come and it was a good choice as most of us had fish, but the wine list has dwindled to about 10 wines and maybe Sangria is a better choice?
Will had the Lima Burger (also with avocado, bacon, onion, fried egg, provolone and lomo saltido sauce on a brioche bun which he said was quite tasty as they do proffer  1/2pound of angus! Our friend, Faye tried the Grouper a la Chorrillana which I had last time and it was quite good, seared with aji amarillo mashed potatoes, smoked bacon and a tamarind sauce. Samuel chose the Brochetta de Pollo with onions and peppers on the skewers as well as pita and tzatziki sauce which was so huge he can finish the second half tonight! The sides were good, but we did miss the truffle fires, although the spicy jalapeno dip for the plantains works superbly. The grilled veggie side was very nice as well as the string beans.
My Langostinos main course was grilled with Andean Pesto (a mere slash across the plate and more would have been great) with Rocoto Garlic Butter but the Grilled Mussels were nowhere to be seen.
Our server apologized multiple times, but we had plenty to eat and most of it was good; it just seemed the kitchen was really a mess.
Next time we might have to try a different spot when we return to Olney?
Oh-fotos on FB as always!

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Toronto's BYBLOS will blow your mind (2-5-17)

Sunday night after a 5-1/2 hour opera marathon of Gotterdammerung, I had the pleasure of taking friends and clients to BYBLOS (byblostoronto.com) just a few blocks from my hotel and the Four Seasons Centre (where the Canadian Opera performs). We arrived around 8pm and all of us looked at the menu and I declared jokingly, one of each. We actually entered through a doorway, wind reflector (they have these inside many places in Canada to keep out the drafts), descended several step to a bar and small room, but were quickly escorted up a flight to an elegant almost casbah-like upper floor where we were able to relax is a very quiet and cozy atmosphere.
We perused the drink menu and I ordered up The Fox: Tequila Tromba Blanco, Fino Sherry, Watermelon, Coriander, Line & Cucumber which was a tart treat that I loved. Our server, Maggie, tried to help us with choices from the very varied and large menu, explaining that everything was for sharing; we were game and kind of shouted out of choices randomly and all agreed!
Duck Kibbeh(confit) was first with Dried Fig(many pictures on FB!!)  and a thick Date Molasses sauce and Tahini drizzle to cut the slight sweetness that we all oohed and aahed (sp?)  over. Steak Tartare was gorgeous with a hint of mint and Middle Eastern spices with chilis as well as a gob of Labneh on top, which was indeed a big signature to many of the dishes. It was so great to have homemade Labneh since we haven't had it since Israel last August where I gobbled it down on bread with za'atar each morning. This was exceptional, but created a small problem for one of the lactose-intolerant guests. Barbari bread comes with many of the dishes and it is like a thick cigar shaped bread cut up and doused with olive oil and seeds and spices that we could not resist.
I was thrilled with the wine list and many options for Canadian wine and chose a Pearl Morisette Cuvee d'Une Nuit Chardonnay from Niagara which everyone declared a revelation with its minerality and lack of oak (it gets a hint of French oak) again resembling the super Chards of France or even Oregon. YUM. The red was even better as I love British Columbia's Burrowing Owl but had never had their Malbec 2012 from the Osoyoos region (I never even heard of it!). This was a huge full bodied red but with just enough tannins to stand up to some of the big meat we ordered.
Roasted Beets arrived with Pistachio, Caraway and a ton of that awesome Labneh, but I think the most mouthful was in the Pide, a flatbread here with intense Black Truffle, Buffalo Mozzarella, Hallumi Cheese, and Tartufata(truffled) Creme Fraiche that disappeared in seconds.
One of our starters, the Crispy Baby Artichokes arrived after even the main courses, but was superb with Preserved Lemon that was almost overwhelming (I needed more Chardonnay), and of course more Labneh!
The main courses were even more amazing with Spanish Octopus with Fingerling Potatoes, Biber Chili Vinaigrette & Preserved Lemon bursting with flavor that we really wanted more!
We chose two vegetable sides both of which were superb and spiced to perfection: Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Halloumi, Tahini & Yogurt, but it was the Seared Cauliflower in Duck Fat with Tahini Sauce, Sesame, Coriander that got me so excited.
We chose two meat dishes both of which were superb:
Wagyu Striploin came perfectly rare with five large slices in Cauliflower Hommus,  Amlou Dressing(Moroccan dip made from toasted almonds, argan oil, and honey) & Veal Jus that was as tender and scrumptious as could be.
Slow Braised(12 hours) Ontario Lamb Shoulder with Pickles, multiple sauces (garlic, spicy, and more) and House "Lavash" which was like a wonton wrapper to put the lamb, pickles and sauce in. The portion was huge and could have fed all of us for just one main course, so there was takeaway left for sure! The meat fell off the bone and was so scrumptious it was hard not to have several little wraps, but there was more.
At first, we decided that rice was too much to add, but then I saw the Rice made with Persian Kale, Saffron, Aleppo Pepper and topped with Crispy Lentils, Black Beans, Labneh & Persian Lime. You have never had rice until you eat this memorable dish which comes in a huge cast iron pan with top and is truly a revelation and so aromatic as you pull off the pan cover!
Dessert seemed an indulgence so the four of us settled on two choices based on Maggie's suggestions:
Crispy Qatayef(dumplings) with Ashta Cream, Turkish Delight, Honey Syrup, Sumac & Strawberry was my favorite of the two with small sugary dumpling-like treats filled with Turkish delight (almost in liquid form).
Turkish Coffee Bombe was a Coffee Cardamom Mousse covered in Chocolate with Cherry Confit, Hazelnut Dacquoise and Borek(phyllo-like crumbles).
I desperately wanted a glass of Icewine, but alas they were out and settled for a yummy glass of Hidden Bench (Ontario) Late Harvest Gewurtztraminer and we all stumbled back down the stairs to head home.
This trip certainly gave me so many new amazing Toronto dining options on top of all the others I have enjoyed!

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Toronto's RICHMOND STATION is a rare spot which deserves raves!! (2-4-17)

Last night I was invited to RICHMOND STATION (1 Richmond St. West www.richmondstation.ca) just a couple of blocs from the hotel and was surprised when we arrived that only a sign outside indicating RESTAURANT showed the location! We entered into a small space with a bar and numerous tables opposite which I thought was the whole place, but were then escorted up a short flight of steps to an expansive upper level with one large room facing the open kitchen as well as one smaller private dining space. It was nice to be further away from the door (cold air!) and bar (more noise) in this more intimate space where we were served by Mark as well as the manager Steve, who suggested that the chef just cook for us as we could not decided on what to eat. The menu is not huge, but it is very varied and we enjoyed every single item that came out for what ended up being almost 4 hours!

The wine list offered many wines by the glass and we were immediately drawn to the Ontario options and started with a bottle of Rosehill Run Chardonnay 2012 from Prince Edward County about 2 hours to the east where the wine business has been steadily growing over the last decade! The Cuvee Richmond Station is bottled for the restaurant has a crisp mineral taste and is mostly steel barrel fermented that really hints back to the true French chardonnays and has nothing to do with those oaky, vanilla-intense California ones of the same varietal.

Soon enough we each received a small plate with a pairing (see photos on FB) of a New Brunswick Village Bay Oyster on one side and a Beef Tartare on top of a deep fried triangle of Pommes Kennedy topped with a Bloody Mary clamato gel. The tartare was amazing even if the potato triangle was still just a bit oily from the frying. I can't recall ever having a New Brunswick oyster (and I know I have had many from both coasts of Canada which I love), but this mollusk was indeed a plump morsel.

Next came two house specialties that blew us away (everything from here on was served family style):

Pate en Croute made from Rabbit & Pork with a pork stock gelee and Leek Mostarda which was truly a brilliant construction in beauty and even more amazing in the mouth.

Duck Liver Pate(whipped) with Apple Mostarda on Brioche which was as rich as could be, but truly an explosion of flavors in the mouth

On the side was a small salad of Arugula and Mushrooms with Pickled Shallots.

Steve said that we needed to have the Charcuterie plate as everything is made in house and indeed the restaurant practices whole animal butchery so that nothing is wasted; a truly admirable goal for any establishment. After the Duck Pate and Pate en Croute, how could we disagree! He then brought over a glass of Coat-Albret Brut(hence no sweetness) Hard Cider from Normandie that was an amazing pairing with all the varied meat options on the platter:

Culatello-a prosciutto like creation of inside pork round

Venison Piemontese-easily the best venison charcuterie I have ever had made even richer with red wine!


Pork/Rabbit/Lamb Terrine made with Medjool Dates (need I say more?)

Grilled Lamb Sausage

Grilled Summer Beef & Pork Sausage

and finally House Cured Lardo whipped to perfection with black pepper, Maldon Sea Salt & Rosemary.

Different mustards adorned the platter (the FB photo shows this amazing work of art in the butchery department!)

Now everything was amazing but the venison stood out for it's novelty and the terrine was truly terrific, but it was the unsuspecting Lardo that we all went loco for.

Spread on a piece of bread it came off as an amazingly seasoned tasty whipped "butter" with gusto that we simply could not resist!!

Steve joked that it was the perfect spread for your breakfast toast!

We continued with one of my favorite Canadian winemakers who has almost become a cult up here and indeed Richmond Station does not advertise they have the wines on the menu, but keep them for special guests! The Norman Hardie 2014 Prince Edward County Pinot Noir is a dreamy pinot that equals any from Oregon or France with guts. Next year if we return to Toronto outside of the bleak wintertime, I am surely going to try and plan a trip to Prince Edward County!

Our next course was the Pan Roasted (deliciously crispy skinned) Euro Bass served atop a Brassica Caesar Salad made of greens with Brussels sprouts, white anchovy & Caesar dressing. While the fish itself was delicious, the salad needed a bit more oomph and all I could have asked for would have been some of those amazing anchovies from Italy, we just could not seem to find them!

Three main courses arrived and we decided to tackle them each one by one:

Rabbit Two Ways offered up a Leg & Croquette with Celeriac Puree, House Cured Smoked Bacon and was the specific dish I had asked for and was rewarded with a real winner as each bite had a different flavor and texture and really showed off the kitchen's amazing technique for variety.

Fleishnacko is a rolled pasta stuffed with pork and I can only describe as "pate en pasta"stuffed with pork cooked sous-vide and paired with Grilled Pork Loin in Mushroom Gravy, Pork Stock, Cippolini Onions.

The Venison Tenderloin shined cooked just past rare and served with potatoes, root veggies in a mushroom & red wine jus that was out of this world; the meat melted in our mouths!

J.M. Sohler 2013 Pinot Gris from Alsace was a treat as well!

The though of dessert scared us so we suggested just one to share and the Coconut Tart (very deconstructed-sorry no photo) with London Fog Cheese Cake, Earl Grey Ice Cream and Seabuckthorne puree was loads of fun and a glass of Tawse Niagara Ontarioa Riesling Ice Wine was simply the icing on the cake (or tart if you prefer!)

I am sure I have to come back again next year and revisit Richmond Station for sure as this was indeed one of Toronto's best dining experiences ever!!

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Toronto's MOMOFUKU has a Winterlicious wonderland (2-3-17)

Each time I return to Toronto in late January or early February, I forget that their "restaurant week" runs for two whole weeks and is called Winterlicious.
After the Magic Flute last night, the Sarastro and I headed across the street for their $28 ($21US!!) 3 course menu which is a steal for sure. There are 3 or 4 choices for each course and I was upset the Inari (steak tartare) was all gone by our arrival just before 11pm but the food was yummy nonetheless.
I love ramen and should have chosen the Smoked Chicken Ramen with toasted miso, menma, scallion and egg that Matt chose. It was hot and delicious. My Spicy Clam Noodle was more noodles and lots of tasty clams with only a hint of super spicy miso broth with chili and scallion. I loved the dish, but in the 18degree temps, yearned for more hot soup!
Last year I had the superb Toronto made sake called Izumi (Nigori)"Nigorizake" which I love and paired superbly with all the spice.
Since Inari was gone I opted for the Lamb Bun (each dish is locally sourced as well and indicated here:Jim Giggie, Ontario) with spicy mayo, iceberg lettuce and pickled bean sprouts. It was mildly spicy, but the bun, lettuce and super sprouts negated that and I have to say it was a superb and filling dish but not too large. The Prork Bun (Kunan Farm, Ontario) with hoisin cucumber and scallion looked yummy as well, but Matt said it was slightly fatty.
I moved on to a tasty glass of Kew Vineyards 2013 Gamay from Beamsville Bench in Ontario reminding me even more of the delicious variety of wines up here...have to go shopping today!
Dessert for both of us was Spiced Chocolate Mousse with Sichuan spices and honeycomb which came in a small mason jar and was a rich fudgy intense chocolate paste more than mousee, yet quite tasty with the spices and that crunch was just right.
Off to bed after a long day as more is to come all weekend!


Wednesday, February 01, 2017

DC Restaurant Week commences with a crescendo at DEL CAMPO (1-30-17)

Since I'm headed out of town this weekend, we decided to do our one night this week at DEL CAMPO (777 I St, NW) and at the last minute Will had to cancel, so a friend joined Sam & I.
It was a most pleasant and relaxing evening and when we arrived at 630pm the place was rather quiet; by 8pm it was pretty full, but still not noisy--a sign of fine dining for sure in my mind.
I ordered a superb Pisco Sour (fotos as always on FB) which had me reminiscing about Ecuador and Samuel had his requisite Coke. He also decided that the $30 three-course Restaurant Week menu with its 3 choices in each section was not for him. He started with the Wagyu Sirloin Empanadas and Salsa Criolla which were a sure hit as I have enjoyed them here so many times before. We started with the Corvina Ceviche with Rocoto, Leche de Tigre, Sweet Potato & Cancha Corn which had to be one of the best ceviches I have ever had. Corvina was used a lot for our ceviche and main courses in Ecuador and was superb; here it was taken to new heights with kicky slices of fresno chilies, that amazing leche de tigre and a sweet potato puree, but the excitement came in the small crunchy (think somewhere between rice krispies and corn nuts) of the cancha corn.
A magnificent bottle of Santa Carolina VSC 2009 from Colchaga Valley in Chile was recommended by our strikingly handsome server Reyez, who our friend Rick immediately recognized from another restaurant he used to work in!
The red blend of 60% Petit Verdot/15% Cabernet Sauvignon/10% Carmenere/13%Malbec/2% Mourvedre made for an amazing full bodied and intense wine that was a big win with us!
Puffy steaming hot pockets of bread called Chappas (from Argentina) arrived with EVOO(from Chile) and sea salt(from England) that we wolfed down and begged for more :-))......
Of course the wine went superbly with my main course of Grilled Creekstone Farm Short Ribs with Jalapeno Potato Puree & Bone Marrow. Chef Victor Albisu is known for his grilled meats and bone marrow needs to be foremost amongst them! The dish comes with a super chimichurri like salsa. Samuel had the Gnocchi a la Parisienne which were made with fall mushrooms, burnt broccoli pesto, parmesan and black truffles; who wouldn't like that? Rick had the Salt Baked Salmon with white beans, escarole and bagna cauda that may have sounded light for the big red wine, but this fish dish was a filing and delicious dish for such a cold winter evening as it was.
We were wonderfully surprised when Chefs Victor and Faiz Ally sent out two extra dishes which I immediately praised as two of the top dishes in the house and mandatory for any visit: Fried Yucca with rich creamy Aji Amarillo dipping sauce that would sent anyone to seventh heaven 9and I have to admit, I devoured most of them) as well as the gorgeous rare Wagyu Bavette Sirloin..with another Bone Marrow treat so Rick could have his own bone! It also came with a superb Chorizo Sausage! Some of the sirloin went home and even Will got to enjoy that when he got home from his meeting (where they only served him some teeny dessert or such right at dinnertime!).
the Restaurant week menu offers two desserts so Rick & I chose one each:
Tres Leches Twinkies with Passion Fruit Sorbet were an indulgence for me and quite rich, but so delicious.
The Grilled Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Ice Cream & Dulce de Leche was perhaps a tad lighter, but just as decadent and superb.
Del Campo sure delivers on restaurant week and they even have a $60 menu with upgraded choices such as that Wagyu Bavette Sirloin & Lobster & Crab Fried Rice amongst others if you wish to splurge.
No matter what week it is Del Campo offers you a huge varied menu and is sure to deliver!