Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Bethesda's KAPNOS KOUZINA is keeping up with Greek tapas (3-12-16)

On Sunday night we headed to Chef Mike Isabella's Maryland outpost KAPNOS KOUZINA and were rewarded with a superb meal and excellent service from our always smiling and upbeat server, Tony.
Sam remarked about the succulents in the windows as we walked in and said that made him very happy as he loves cacti!
Samuel fell in love with the Sasparilla Ginger Beer and I think had more than two? Afterwards he also tried to Mint Lemonade with Grapefruit & Rosemary and declared it also excellent.
I started with a Chloe & Llamas (odd name and I never did get an explanation) which was Macchu Pisco (awful pun), Campari, Cocoa Nib, Banana Orgeat, Lime & Egg White. It was a gorgeous drink and not sweet at all with that banana. Indeed it tasted like a glorified Pisco Sour with a slight hint of chocolate at the end of each sip; totally refreshing! Will went for a Cosmo as most of the other drinks were indeed sweet and then we moved on to a bottle of superb 2013 Planeta Nero d'Avola/Cab Franc blend called "La Segreta Rosso" which got us very excited about or July Sicily trip as we will be staying at this winery!!
Pikila or a choice of three spreads are a standard at almost all Chef Mike Isabella's spots and here they seemed to be even tastier. We chose an amazingly smoky Melitzanosalata of smoked eggplant, roasted peppers, walnuts and feta; one of the best ever Taramosalatas of carp roe and cauliflower topped with caviar that was loaded with tiny speckles of the red carp roe for superb flavor and Favosalata of lentils, scallions, black garlic & pine nuts. They come with huge warm loaves of pita for dipping that are so steamy as you tear them apart you want to just inhale the smell.
Sam chose the Tomato Flatbread with roasted tomatoes, garlic and kefalograviera cheese which was the one item he didn't care for as it's a bit salty like feta (we loved it) and then went on to the Felafel which came with a small side salad and tahini.
Will and I shared Swordfish Kebabs with Fava, Roasted tomato, caper & Dill that was perfectly cooked and flavorful, ye the Ground Duck Kebab with Red Endive, Fig & Charred Shallot compote was slightly dry, but saved by the awesome compote that deserves a medal. A side of Roasted Cauliflower with roasted green olive relish, whipped feta and za'atar was another winner as Chef Mike always treats this veggie with such grace and love.
We each chose a dessert and while Will opted for the novel Baklava Ice Cream & Salted Caramel Ice Cream, I went for the real thing with Almond/Walnut Baklava and Vanilla Creme Anglaise. Samuel devoured his Portokalopita or Orange Phyllo Cake with Cinnamon, Walnuts and Vanilla Ice Cream.
We were very happy with our wonderful dishes and even happier with the quiet corner table as Sunday night can be quite busy and noisy here. Kapnos is superb fun and the variety of dishes makes it a place that is so easy to return to many times for trying everything!

Saturday, March 04, 2017

NAO Latin Gastro Bar at San Antonion Culinary Institute of America was a nao experience for us all! (3-1-17)

On our last night in San Antonio, the CIA invited us all to NAO their Latin Gastro Bar attached to the school and staffed in the kitchen and front of house by CIA students, which is an amazing statement to begin with.
It was a fun experience and we had a pretty decent menu to boot.
The Margarita won't win a prize, but it was darn good and we had four starte plates to begin with that simply overflowed and again we wanted to pack up the extra to go, but alas could not, as we did not live there:
Arugula Salad with Goat Cheese, Fennel, Apple & Toasted Pumpkin Seeds was one of the best arugula salads around just for its simplicity but also for the flavors. Empanadas were superb flaky crusty creations filled with Corn, Mushroom and a light yet creamy Salsa Blanca with a spicy Tomatillo Salsa and these disappeared pronto! Argentine Chorizo was nice with corn, tomato and onion but lacked imagination. the only bad dish all night was Provoleta which was an aged provolone melted in a cast iron pan with crostini and chimichurri that also oozed grease and was difficult to extract from the pan as well.
I ordered a bottle of the superb Emilia Coyan Red blend from Colchaga Valley Chile 2013 made of Carmenere, Syrah, Merlo, Cab, Mourvedre, Malbec and Petite Verdot that was rich, full bodied and organic to boot.
My main course was Duck Carnitas with greens, bulb onions and salsa cruda as well as tortillas to stuff the gorgeous confit leg into. We have eaten so many starters though we could barely finish our mains, even with sharing. the others were Hangar(spelled hanger on the menu) and Fresh Gulf Tilefish.
The desserts were a rich but tasty Almond Panna Cotta with Passion Fruit Curd, Charred Pineapple and Lime Zest, but the huge tube like churros were the winner with their spice chocolate dip and stewed plantains!
Off to the hotel bar with some classmates for a nightcap before we struggled out at 630am for the final day of boot camp!

I've been CURED and can say it's charcuterie and cuisine that is cooking in San Antonio (2-28-17)

CURED (curedatpearl.com) was just a 1/2 block away from my hotel in the beautiful Pearl District and is the genius child of Chef Steven McHugh and Manager Robert Rodriguez who run a tight ship and truly deliver.
While I knew some folks here, and indeed, have known people at many places we dine, it was a thrill to be greeted at the door with a glass of JP Chenet Brut Blanc de Blanc as Robert showed me the amazing place which is an historic destination in itself as this building was the admin space for the Pearl Brewery for decades and even still houses the vault which held the beer recipes! There are so many wonderful things to enjoy not to mention the charcuterie cooler that welcomes you as you walk in the door. 
After meeting Chef Steven, I was taken to a cozy table and while the place is large and has such high ceilings, it's not that noisy, even at full capacity which it always seems to be (even on a Tuesday at 630pm). There was a guy next tmme whose voie boomed so loudly it was almost nerve wracking. I could write a book about his comments, but will only make several quotes such as "Calfornia is a liberal shithole," and the Oscars are all liberal propaganda. I eventually discovered he emigrated to the US in his twenties and asked how he had no accent to which he responded, "Any immigrant coming here should learn proper English and no have an accent, " which was one of his logistics for not allowing folks in today. Enough said!
The amuse was a Arancini with truffle and a slightly pricy Pomodoro Sauce which was yummy and got me in the mood.
My drink of choice was the Starter Kit if Dulce Vida Tequila with Grapefruit, Jalapeno, Lime and Salt. It was meant to be a margarita for the man who rebuilt this entire district and has made it what it is as he loves tequila, grapefruit and jalapeno; it was delish and refreshing. The Charcuterie plate (fotos on FB) arrived and it was huge, but I could not resist. My excellent server Mark explained every little aspect:
Apple Jalapeno Pork Rillettes which were easily the best I have ever had on earth as they were blended just right (not too much) and topped with a yummy apple jalapeno marmalade.
Flatbread or Brewer's Crackers that resembled matza, but tasted better was loaded up as well
Chicken Liver Mousse was rich smooth and creamy.
Smoked Beef Shank Terrine was earthy and full falvored
Lamb Landjager or Hunter's Sausage was spiced perfectly and an ideal miniature salami
Of the cut meats my favorites were easily the Smoked Duck Ham and 90 Day Coppa
Accompanying were Pearl Quince Jam, Orange Mustard, Blueberry Mustard (which I fell in love with), Curried Onion, Apple/Honey Mustard and both Dill & Bread & Butter Pickles.
You can choose THREE ($18), SIX ($26) or NINE ($34) items from the daily list of cured meats (30days-12 months) from the group which today totaled 18.

My Zum Martin Sepp Gruner Veltliner was crisp and refreshing with a hint of white pepper for a needed palate cleanser with the meats as well as with my next course of Chicken Fried Livers, a Cured take on the Chicken Fried Oysters seen everywhere, here with Lemon,Pepper Jelly and Shallots that all delivered a crunchy fried kick. A Pieropan Soavce Classico had acidity and lemon that matched those found in the superb fried offal!

My "main" course was perfect and light as well: Bison Tartare, which would have sent Samuel to heaven, came from local vendor Buffalo Trace and was as lean as tartare can get with Huitlacoche Puree, Bourbon Cured Egg Yolk and Brioche.
The wine was The Crusher Petite Sirah from Clarksburg, California (you know that liberal sh*thole :-).
I have to add that while there 18 reds, 17 whites, 2 roses and 5 sparkling wines on the menu over 80% are served by the glass in Reidel stemware!

I wanted to stay light for dessert and chose the STRAWBERRY which was Lemon Poppyseed Cake, Roasted Strawberry Ice Cream and Green Pea in the description. Indeed it was warm poppyseed cake that was not the least bit dry and divine strawberry ice cream with lemon curd as well as pea meringue and tendrils which was accompanied with a glass of Osborne Pedro Jimenez sweet sherry.
I walked the 2 minutes back to my hotel and hit the sack to be ready for my 6am wake up call to return to culinary boot camp!
If I make it back to San Antonio, I'm headed right back to CURED.
By the way, Cured donates a dollar from every charcuterie plate to charity which rotate every 3 months. So admirable!