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!

NY's UNCLE NICKS:Bloody Marys & Brunch (4-22-17)

Well there's not a lot to write about today's lunch at Uncle Nick's on 9th Avenue and 50th(multiple locations exist) in New York City, though it was a very special afternoon for me because I got to see a friend I have not seen for over 25 years. Facebook is good for that and you can see photos from today's lunch of what is called a saganaki or feta, tomato and sausage casserole in a cast iron pan topped with an egg. It's very Greek and very simple but very delicious and Uncle Nick's has a bottomless Bloody Mary, Mimosa or Sangria for $18 so that was sure worth my three or four drinks as I lost count. The Bloody Mary's come with spicy olives as well as hot peppers so that's a real nice treat.

NYC's FUJI SUSHI is a super sushi deal in midtown(4-21-17)

It was almost a year ago when I was in Manhattan for a quick visit that I dropped into Fuji Sushi which at the time I mentioned I must have passed hundreds of times and never noticed in a small narrow location on West 56th Street just between 7th Avenue and Broadway.
I decided to return last night and was in for another amazing $50 dinner treat.
Apparently they have a two for one drink deal which nobody could refuse, so I ordered a Saketini which was dry sake, vodka and muddled cucumber and boy did this Super dry drink pack a punch. It took me almost an hour to drink it and then when they asked if I wanted another one complimentary. I said I would have something a little sweeter but much less potent and they brought out a very heavy on the juice instead of liquor, but excellent cosmopolitan.
I started with House Haru-Maki which is explained on the menu as shrimp crab lettuce and cucumber in a rice pancake. I asked her what it was like and she said it was like a spring roll of vegetables with a little fish. It was a treat and these delightful light rice wrap rolls were filled with vegetables and shrimp and crab with a thick soy-based dip. The dish was more of a vegetarian dish sprinkled with a couple of pieces of shrimp and crab and hence made an excellent appetizer or it could even be considered a great substitute for a salad with a little fish. 
For my main course I chose the Triple Roll which were huge sushi rolls filled with avocado asparagus and cucumber and each was a Toro quality Sushi of tuna salmon or yellowtail.
As you know I'm not a dessert person but I decided to treat myself here and order a plate of three varied Sashimi I went with three things I probably wouldn't usually order: the sea urchin or uni, the baby octopus and the Botan ebi or sweet shrimp. It was a small light plate and the flavors burst in my mouth both the octopus and the uni were in small sculptured cucumber bowls while the shrimp lay beautifully on the plate with its head standing nearby. Be sure to check my Facebook page for photos, and if you're in New York and like sushi and don't have much time this is one of the best deals you'll find between Lincoln Center and Times Square.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

FIOLA MARE makes a mark with a luscious luncheon (4-19-17)

We returned to FIOLA MARE in Georgetown with two co-workers for lunch as we had the most magnificent brunch there back in January! Nothing has changed. The food is fabulous, the service is superlative and the ambiance is awesome.
The only tiny error that occurred was one person got still instead of sparkling water, which was rectified immediately by using colored water glasses for the sparkling. Why doesn't everyone do this?
Our server Joshua was an attentive gem and truly was the perfect waiter. I have to say that while the prices here are indeed high, they deliver on every aspect of the meal from arrival to departure; every face is friendly and welcoming to boot.
We started with a glass of prosecco and I moved on to a superb Etna Bianco 2012 from Alice Buonaccorsi "ValCerasa" which was 100% Carricante and had the oddest yellow tinge from the intense minerals found on the volcanoes slopes. Can't wait to add this to our list of wineries and wines for Sicily this summer!
Appetizers included Ahi Tuna Tartare served with flatbread and grilled bread and Spanish Octopus Carpaccio with baby Arugula, Black Garlic and Blood Orange Dressing.
Two of us chose pastas: one guest went for the Rigatoni Carbonara which I had last time and is indeed one of the richest pasta dishes around, but so satisfying, especially on a cool spring day as it was. I chose the special pasta of Strozzapreti with Pork Sausage Ragu, Chanterelles and English peas. It was a seasonal delight and also rich, but in a restrained way accenting the spring with peas and chanterelles but having depth as the Strozzapreti(literraly meaning "priest-stanglers" as they are long and thick cavatelli like rope nooses!) noodles are so thick and dense as I love them.
Main courses were less varied. One of us chose the Crabcake with Pimento d'Espellete, Leeks & Orange Shellfish Emulsion which was one gigantic cake sitting atop the two sauces and sautéed leeks. Half of that easily went home for later!
The other three of us could not resist the special as it was indeed the first (and yes, Chesapeake local) Crispy Soft Shell Crabs of the season with Puntarelle (that wonderful green related to chicory that we discovered recently in Europe!), Anchovy Aioli (with truffle!!) and Seasoned Salt. The dish was sheer perfection and while it may have been chilly out, the recent warmth brought out our favorite summer crustacean and now we know spring is really here! The minerality of my Etna Bianco was superb with this as well.
Desserts were very varied with my Strawberry & Lychee Panna Cotta with Roasted Harry's Berries and Lime Meringue. The little dots of meringue were fun, but the strawberries starred here and while the panna cotta was light and superb, the marinated and fresh berries shone.
Marchesi is a chocolate terrine of Amedei Dark Chocolate with Garden Mint & Pistachios and the Amalfi Coast Lemon Spumoni was a huge bowl of the lemon ice cream sitting ver Almond Cake with Fresh Thyme and topped with a gorgeous Caramel Tuile. All of these can be viewed on my FB page and they are indeed all gorgeous presentations.
I am so glad we purchased these meals as Sam's school auction last year and we have one left--next week--a tasting dinner at Fiola!


Sunday, April 16, 2017

Dino's delicious not kosher for Passover, Passover-style miracle menu (4-15-17)

Every year we go to our friend Dean Gold's restaurant, Dino's in Shaw, for the very special Seder-like meal that he has tweaked and refined over the years with amazing recipes from his family ancestors in Italy.
This special menu is offered only through tomorrow evening (Monday, April 17) and is an amazing $59 per person and really worth it as you leave feeling as if you have truly overeaten at your bubbe's seder!
There are, as always, photos on my FB page of this super seder special that we enjoyed with two of our best friends last night while the kid's stayed home and enjoyed my miraculous matzah pizza. (By the way, it looks like our trip this coming winter will be to Peru where we will actually finally get to visit the real Machu Picchu!).
The meals starts with Tea Eggs with a parsley & horseradish Pesto that in itself is amazing with great mustard flavor for dipping the gorgeous variegated eggs into which have been simmered for 3-1/2 hours then marinated overnight and treated like little babys to give them the magnificent colors and "cracks." You have to look at the phot on FB to appreciate this and understand the love and work that went into this simplest appearing of dishes. Easter Eggs, eat your heart out!
Just as delicious and one of this year's highlights was the Veggie Antipasti Trio made up of Grilled Asparagus with a tangy tarragon aioli, Spinach sautéed with Garlic, lemon & Shallots and the Grilled Kale Raab (the flowering stock of the kale plant, as explained on the menu). Any vegetarian would have been thrilled with this as a main course!
We brought two bottles of kosher Passover wine from our cellar as Dino's doesn't serve kosher wine, although the regular wine list is awesome there. Domaine Netofa Syrah/Mourvedre blend 2012 from Basse Galilee (the fancy French term for Lower Galilee, where winemaking has become an art, as it is all over Israel) and then we went onto a rare Galil (again Hebrew for Galilee) Mountain 2012 Meron red blend of 70% Syrah/20%Petit Verdot/10%Cabernet Sauvignon from Galil Elyon (Hebrew for Upper Galilee) where we visited last summer and fell in love with the winery, the staff and indeed the wines!
Next up is what Chef Dean terms the "Passover Triumvirate:"
Duck Schmaltz Matzo Ball Soup with fluffy balls and a rich peppery broth that would make any grandma proud.
Chopped Chicken Liver that was almost creamy and peppery as well with a flavor that lasts forever, but the most amazing dish, as always, on this menu is the
House Gefilte Fish made from salmon, mahi-mahi and rockfish which I have to admit, if I ever have to make a seder at home, this is one item I would have to order out for. It is simply the best gefilte fish on earth!
Don't forget the homemade whit horseradish as well that packs a kick and I adore.
The three main courses are served with delicious Tzimmes (a dish I have not always appreciated, but love here in its grilled form) and tasty Matzo Kugel:
Chraime is Cobia or Rockfish with a Sephardic style spicy tomato sauce that hails from Livorno(?) and would make even the most boring fish wake up. This fish, however, was super tasty and the dish was another bright light in so many wonderful courses. The Braised Chicken is Amish raised French Red Hen with preserved lemon & olives as well as braised onions, while the Overnight Vittelone Brisket of veal breast (Randall Lineback Ruby Veal) cooked 12 hours is very special.
I am not a big dessert person and even more so on Passover but the Macaroons, Walnut Cookies and amazing Chocolate Matzo Crunch may have converted me.
Our server Stefania used to work at the old Dino's on Connecticut Avenue as is a welcome face here and such a kind and considerate person. She handled our every request and also loved the Meron Red blend!
Dino's is always special and even more so for families, as the place was packed with so many of them last night for this big holiday weekend. I am sure you can get a table tomorrow for the last day of the fabulous Passover presentation!

Monday, April 10, 2017

Get to Bethesda's SUMA for some of the best neighborhood noshes around (4-8-17)

My husband, Will, had the pleasure of working with Chef Gene Sohn many years ago when he was at Saveur in Georgetown, where we regularly visited. He moved to Adam's Morgan, which was a bit harde to get to, but now we are thrilled that he is celebrating his one year anniversary this month at SUMA in Bethesda. It's a small cozy intimate storefront space with small bar and the menu is much bigger than the space, not to mention the wine and beer list, as Chef Gene has always prided himself on that aspect of dining. A charcuterie & cheese plate arrived with Camembert, Amish Cheddar, Humboldt Fog, Bresaola, Prosciutto, Chicken Liver Parfait as well as some kicky pickled veggies (I adore the spring onion) and fig jam. Even the four adults and 2 kids found it huge as we knew more was coming, but I managed to try everything and the quality was top notch, especially the creamy parfait that had me from the first bite.
Since we had just come home from Spain we ordered a nice Verdejo from Duquesa de Valladolid 2014 in Rueda, right near where we visited north of Madrid. Our red wine was a punchy 14.9% alcohol 2013 Zin-phomaniac from Lodi.
I loved the menus made of cork which were quite original, but I have to say one thing: I only noticed the list of specials on the blackboard on the way out, and nobody ever mentioned them to us!
Size here is HUGE; maybe it's a suburban thing. I started with a very large and super tangy Romaine & Kale Salad with Caesar dressing, Bacon, Anchovies (the yummy white ones we loved in Spain), shaved egg and crostini.
The Deviled Eggs with Chipotle Aioli, Bacon, Chives & Goat Cheese are extremely rich and really should be shared rather than attempted as a single appetizer as they are indeed so over the top rich.
Others loved the Duck Spring Rolls, Grilled Octopus with Smoked Chorizo, Potato, Tomato, Capers, Olives, Shallots, garlic, White Wine & Harissa Aioli (next time for me!) as well as the Tomato Bisque with Basil and Crispy Calamari with Marinara, Arugula & Parmesan.
The main courses were even bigger ranging from Grilled Flank Steak (10 oz. Creekstone Farms), Maple Glazed Salmon Fillet with Carrot, Ginger Puree, Sugar Snaps and more of that yummy pickled Spring Onion. Fettucine was made with kale for texture and more sugar snaps, red peppers and a tangy Puttanesca Sauce.
Bison Reuben Burger is topped with Corned Beef for indulgence as well as Gruyere, Sauerkraut and Russian Dressing, but sadly came a tad past medium rare, but they did not charge us in the end!
I think this is one I need to give a go on the next trip as well.....after Passover.
My Challah Fried Chicken was three huge pieces battered and fried to perfection and still juicy as could be with tasty Kale Greens, a side of Mac 'n' Cheese and Tarragon "Gravy." I ended up taking two of the three pieces home.
Creme Brulee here is a winner with a perfect crust and crunch as well.
Considering it's about 15 minutes from our home and parking on the "other" side of Bethesda is a bit easier, I think that Suma will be in our future.

Friday, April 07, 2017

Santceloni, a superb selection for Madrid's fine dining (3-30-17)

While had a lot to eat for lunch, dinner was at 9pm because that's when they open. Our last night was at the Hesperia Hotel where we enjoyed drinks and a site visit (always working) before heading downstairs to the Relais et Chateaux 2 Michelin starred Santceloni, where our table say facing a huge window into the kitchen where Chef Oscar Velasco was very busy running the show.
Unlike DSTAgE or DiverXO there are no gimmicks or chemicals here and the food is presented the most elegant of settings. We were thankful for this truly.
A choice of Cava or Champagne was offered and since this was Spain we had the Glac Cava from Maria Casanova, which was thoroughly refreshing and crisp.
Samuel has the most amazing drink or peach, pineapple and grenadine prepared quite beautifully tableside. 
The tables were of gorgeous wood exuded elegance and EVOO from Andalucia Assemblage Special Santceloni from Castillo de Camena was a peppery green olive oil for the excellent breads.
Amuses began to arrive: lentils and saffron, lentils and oyster, squid and cauliflower and then a "fake" mussel made.of vegetablesand potato sauce; quite inventive as Sam would eat this as well, even with his seafood dislike.
The last amuses were a potato ball with tobiko, mushroom-parmesan crisp, chicken toast and finally fried potato with prune sauce.

Sam started with Maresme's Peas, Smoked Carrot Juice and garlic powder which was the first time we have seen fresh peas this spring and boy were they spectacular. Who knew a pea dish could bring raves?
Will and I decided to split two starters and I headed right for the White Asparagus, Parsnip,  Coconut, Orange and dried black.olive. While this might not sound so appetizing and perhaps even a bit sweet with the coconut, it was a brilliant creation and a true representation of what can be done with this so seasonal and often rare juicy rich white asparagus that I shall now surely miss so much. 
The second dish we split was a rich gorgeous Smoked Ricotta Ravioli topped with Petrossian Alverta Imperial Caviar; a true indulgence but definitely worth the little extra cost.
Classy bone handled Laguiole knives were placed for the main courses and each time o e of us went to the loo, our napkins were replaced with crisp clean new linens and the staff held our seats out. While I don't mean to nitpick, this is really all part of the fine dining experience, and should never be forgotten in any Michelin starred destination.
I chose a superb DO Ribera Godello 2015 from Ourive in Galicia that was loaded with mineral flavors and thicj and rich, but not creamy at all; perfect with the starters. We wanted to leave Spain with a big bang red and chose a Ramirez de Ganuza 2009 Reserva from Rioja (100%Tempranillo) was a real treat with our quite heavy mains.
We chose three delicious mains, mine being the least exiting of Hare Shoulder in mini corn tacos with mustard and yes, grapefruit, which I could not taste at all. Topped with cappuchina leaf, I sadly said farewell to this much loved garnish. Pigeon was superb with macaroni, cacao and black pepper while the winner was the Young Goat with roast Pumpkin,  Hazelnut  and Black Garlic.
At one point we did detected some cigar smoke but we were told not to worry as it would be kept in the smoking room far away and indeed it was.
I could not leave Spain without a final cheese course so Will and I split one:
Brillat Savarin
Torta de Varros from Extremadura 
Camembert from Calvados
Zamoranno from where else, Zamora
Valladolid Camporeja
Payoyo-one of the best goat blues on earth from Andalucia 
And of course 
Picos de Europa Cabarales, the awesome blue from  Asturias where we learned they make the cheese in mointain caves. 
A fitting end to an amazing journey through 13 Michelin stars in three capitals.

Madrid's Sala de Despieces delivers over and over (3-30-17)

Our last day in Madrid was a sad one indeed because we knew we would be seeing Sam's "Madrid parents" Ana and Pedro for the last time at lunch. Unfortunately their three boys could not join us because they were in school.
We arrived at the restaurant and some folks were waiting outside, so we opened the door to a small room with bar and tons of standing people eating tapas. We couldn't spot a table anywhere so I went over to the counter and told the gentleman that we had a reservation for 5 people at 3 p.m. He asked us to wait out in the street for a couple of minutes and about 5 or 6 minutes later another gentleman stuck his head out of another door down the street and beckoned us to follow him through an alleyway into a small room that was like a tin foil lined vault with about 7 other people sitting at the table which was one giant table in the middle of the room with about enough room to pull back a chair behind it. 

The gentleman who ushered us on was a server named Pablo was serving all 3 parties at the large table.  He handed us a clipboard which had a listing of about 30 items on the first page making up the various dish options we could choose. All of us looked at it and while it was in Spanish we could figure out a lot of it and with his assistance, as well as Ana and Pedro's  we ended up selecting a bunch that we knew we would all enjoy and share.
There was no logical order to the way they were delivered but virtually every plate was spectacularly fabulous. I ordered a glass of superb Marques de Murrieta Rioja Reserva (Tempranillo)which was excellent with the lighter and heavier dishes,  so much so that I had a second glass (and remember the price was like  $3 a glass max).
One of the first dishes to arrive was the Rolex, a signature dish of Chef Javier Bonet who we sadly did not meet. It is basically a watchband size piece of bacon with foie gras, truffles and an egg yolk at its center resembling a real watch dial. Pablo cooked the bacon with a blowtorch and then passed the "watches" to us to roll up and eat in one bite period it was heavenly, I indeed almost orgasmic.
Pulpo from Galicia(every dish had it place of origin on the chart) came with a superb chimichurri sauce. Artichokes from Alicante were perfectly fried with an eel salsa, while Tirabeques from Kenya were what we would call huge pea pods with the most amazing spices and balsamic. These were simply edamame with edible pods gone crazy!
The Solomillo (sirloin) tartare for Sam was brought on a small tray with the ingredients (molasses sauce and oxfood cereal with beets..go figure?)and Pablo instructed Sam to take the meat in the plastic container and the sauce to marinate for 2 minutes and then use the salt to season.
Huevos "Rossini Plus" was a variation of Tournedos Rossini with the eggs topped with superb quality foie gras from nearby Segovia.
Huge King Prawns (from San Lucar near Cadiz) were almost the size of the 3+ inch long langoustines from the previous night in an amazing sauce of mentaico or tuna roe that I will always remember the flavor of.
Ox carpaccio was a gorgeous super thinly cut meat that we each wrapped tableside with rhubarb and straciatella cheese; it was so much fun to be a part of the preparation and we were all having a really super time.
The White Asparagus from Navarra was one of the most amazing preparations I have ever had of this dish as the season was truly at its height. The large trunks were as tender as could be and served with a sabayon of Algardogo or carob that just made them even better.
We were nearing our saturation point and knew we had another two-Michelin-star dinner that evening but we were completely surprised when Pablo brought out a gorgeous dessert made up of three separate desserts that he mixed together tableside and then let us finish ourselves: Gooseberries  (also called L'amour en cage or physallis) were mixed with raspberries in a flan with chocolate and dulce de leche as apple concentrate and crunchy quinoa were added in miniature jars for us to stir up and gobble down by the delicious mouthfuls.
Will and I agreed that while the show the night before was a 4 hour long amazing extravaganza, overall the food at this no star spot with one table that can barely even be reserved unless you have a contact, was one of the best dining experience we have ever had in our lives. We shall return!

DiverXO indeed a 3 Michelin star show in Madrid (3-29-17)

Our second Michelin destination in Madrid was the only 3 star game in town and we had heard you needed to book half a year prior to get in. Luckily, a business contact of mine cleared a table for us about 2 weeks before!
On the day of our reservation they contacted us to check on allergies and such and I explained Samuel doesn't eat any fish to which they said almost every dish is set and has fish. We faltered and discussed and finally Samuel, the mensch that he is, agreed to eat on thee suite with room service so Will and I headed off.
When the reservation was confirmed the week before by email the time given was 10:12pm. I did ask if we could come at 9pm when they open and they said no problem.  On arrival at the whimsical revolving door decorated with flying pigs and other funny animals. The reception person said we were early. I told her that the manager, Magda, said we could come at 9am and she said fine and to wait a minute.
I joked with her and asked what would happen if we showed up at 10:13 for a 10:12 p.m. reservation and within minutes we were whisked away for a short of the kitchen before being taken to our table.
It was quite dark with a dark curtain  around the table with multiple eyes emblazoned on it staring at us in the dim light; they lit a candelabra to give us a little bit of light and we ordered some Cava (Juve & Camps) and waited.
We sat in the most luxurious and comfortable gigantic gray leather chairs that have to be some of the best I've ever sat in at any restaurant and we were around a huge white table that could sit four comfortably. We heard noises, but could see nobody as the curtains remained closed. Even when the servers came in.
We were brought menus and told we could choose between 14 or 21 courses and there we no wine pairings, so we requested a wine list.
All of a sudden as if in a disco at 4 a.m. in the morning when they're sending everyone home,  the lights went on and the curtain whisked aside to reveal the rest of the restaurant. There were about 12 other tables, but we could only see several from where we were and the distances were quite fare between them. I saw a huge ice cream cone filled with ice that was about 4 feet tall sitting on the floor which was a cooler for water and wine. Everything was ok indeed very whimsical with many funny animal statues everywhere  (photos on FB). While i have always considered chefs to be performing artists, this was indeed very theatrical. 
We ordered two bottles of wine from the sommelier Miguel who was most helpful and informative, if a but gawky and unsure of himself as if making his theatrical debut!
2012 "Pedra da guix" Garnacha Blanca from Terroir al.limit soc. in Priorat and an unreal 2005 Clos Martinet also from Priorat with Cabernet Sauvignon, Garnacha, Carignane, Merlot and Syrah that was so smooth it was like drinking silk. I must commend Miguel as while there were wines in the range from 30 to 3000+ Euros he guided us to those very reasonable below 100.
While we were still enjoying our Cava, the first of what was over 14 courses was delivered,  but actually came in four separate presentations all called "Viva Mexico Cabrones!!":
-Green "mole" avocado with fennel, green tomato, octopus and bone marrow topped with that ever present nowadays cappuchina leaf
-Crunchy sandwich of oxtail  (menu said bull tail) with black mole which I can only described as an amazing attempt at a Mexican style soft sandwich like a Rueben. 
-Huitlacoche Taco with pumpkin flour and Palo Cortado  (sweet wine) espuma 

Each spring in Europe the white asparagus are a true specialty and here they came steamed with "vicchysoise" and toasted Buffala butter, red Japanese rice, yuzu, homemade Sriracha. Sansho Pepper and suckling Pig!! This was one of the most memorable dishes all night largely due to the fresh local seasonal ingredients and love used to prepare it.

Grilled and semi-baked red tuna belly was next with shisho and lime pesto "fettuccine," Quail fried eggs, botargo and bacon. It was like a Chinese BBQ sauce and while there was crunch from the beetroot, the eggs and bacon ice cream made this somewhat of a breakfast dish reminiscent of one we had years ago at The Fat Duck , but without the tuna or pesto.

Grouper was next and came with "duck royale" with five Chinese spice and gochujang, that amazing Korean spicy sauce, green mustard, chive and rice vinegar. This was presented as a "burger" piled vertically high on a buttered croissant with crunchy tasty duck tongues on an accompanying skewer with a mini mojito-shiso chaser.
Prawns with spicy bolognese were red shrimp with lily bulb, rocoto pepper, "karashi sumiso" (sweet Japanese mustard) and of course as the menu said, "his own grilled head" referring to the shrimp. The head was in Bangkok sauce, papaya and coconut; a bit way too see for me. There was sherry wine, miso and crunchy fried curry leaves as well for crunch and flavor.

The next course arrived in a multi-tiered steamer with steam (dry ice?) wafting all over and was quite visually stunning. Small thimble size Chinese pottery cups were filled with various wines to pair with each of the five "Dim Sum Madrid style:"
-Cod dumpling in salmon sauce was pairedwith 2012 Cappuchini 3 Puttonyos Tokaji "1413" fr Disznoko which I found a bit odd.
-Wonton XO soup was a guinea fowl dumpling with shitake, ginseng and peas as well as gelatinous pearls of pumpkin and Aliso flowers paired with Weinrieder 2006 Roter (red) Eiswein St. Laurent which was spectacular.
These were all served from the giant steaming system piled on a huge lazy susan that rotated just like in a Chinese restaurant.
It was fun, but iI managed to drop one of the slippery dumplings on the floor and it created quite a commotion.
You see everything in this restaurant is timed to perfection and I got them out of sync and they totally went insane trying to replace the dumpling and get it out before the next course which did not happen. It was quite hysterical
I also messed up my napkin because the sauce was all over the place and the napkin was never replaced. Even when I got up to go to the men's room later on, I noticed the napkins where never folded at our place or replaced with clean ones, which expects at an establishment of this level.
-Calamari sandwich XO was squid (spelled "squeed" on the menu), spicy aioli, black sesame and crispbread with sweet and sour sauce. The wine was Elixir 79, a late harvest Viura from Spain that actually had hints of lemon making it ideal with the next dim sum
-Lemon chicken XO had lemon  passion fruit, 5 Chinese spice and borage flower
-the last dim sum was Char Siu-Bao XO -a bao bun dipped in sheep's milk with toasted corn paired with Neige Ice Cider from Quebec.

I also forgot to mention that the servers all wore variations of the same outfits all with suspenders which were crossed over, wonky or just loose. One guy sported a tails jacket with shorts!

The next course, technically halfway thru was number 7 of 14 (but as I said there were many more): Elver or baby eels which actually looked like pasta as they were so small and thin, cooked in a wok with oyster sauce, chives, Chinese onion, ginger and soufflé chicken, which looked a lot like shrimp toast, in aji sauce (yellow pepper).

We had almost rin out of the fabulous white wine, but our red was superb with the next course, one of my favorites:
Roasted Langoustine with ("his")bordelaise sauce,  black garlic butter, homemade kimchi gel, and XO Lobster sauce with violet potato gnocchi.

Monkfish was toasted with maple syrup with a jalapeño chili gazpacho with vanilla oil and coconut that was out of this world.

We were starting to get full and asked the wonderful Manuel for a 20 minute break.
It seemed as if the entire staff were having a mental breakdown as nobody had ever obviously asked for this before. They were on a schedule and had to keep to it, but here they had a problem and decided to ask the chefs in the kitchen if it was even possible for us to have a break. Luckily they said okay, but it truly made us feel as if we were not in control of how we were going to eat.

Our "meat" course was called "Traveller Stroganoff" and featured a Japanese Wagyu sirloin cooked on the wok with achiote sauce, shimeji mushrooms and radish raifort chantilly. Fried chicken skins accompanied and were like chicharrones and colmenilla were the first morels of the season that were a most special treat.

"Animated cartoons...fantasy sweet world" was the 11th course and least successful in our minds. The tail of the Pink Panther was rhubarb, pink pepper, sheep milk and caramel milk that was interesting but marred by pop rocks which I really detest.

The second dessert was entitled "Does frozen cotton candy exist?" And was purple alisso (fleur de lys) with violet syrup, basil, blackberries and indeed frozen cotton candy. Oddly the basil was minty, but this dish was fun and tasty.

Afternoon snack first a Mochi Biscuit, followed by Croissant ice cream with chocolate, white cookies, black sesame and papaya sweet-sour ketchup all with a mini croissant.

Another dessert was Guava creamy pie with white chocolate, calamansi and beetroot with Thai basil, lychees and chocolate cookie powder which tasted like bubblegum with its guava globes, sweet yuzu and basil dust.

We left a lot of these portions on our plates as they were very sweet and there were way too many desserts as a matter of fact we were very glad when we were finished at this point and they didn't offer us and they didn't offer us anything to take home
We left full saying, "been there, done that" and having had a most entertaining night

I thought of the line from the opera Don Giovanni where Leporello says he is copying his master by "amusing himself " with the women as well. The Italian is divertiti from the same Spanish "diverso." Indeed DiverXO is an amusing diversion!

Holy Huertas and lucky us with Luke of Devour Madrid Tours(3-29-17)

On Wednesday we embarked on a long-anticipated for our neighborhood food and market tour of the Huertas or literary neighborhood of downtown Madrid. Luke met us in the hotel lobby and we popped into a taxi where we promptly headed to Chocolat, an adorable Cafe with super coffee excellent churros with chocolate sauce more yummy bits of food including Jamon on tomato bread and more. We walked around the area and Luke explained in depth about the history of food and Madrid and where we would be going during the day. Our next stop was the backroom of Mantequeria A. Caballo, 100 year old small market that  started selling butter and now had everything. We headed into the back room for a tasting of jams honeys, torta de aciete,  cortijo Las Monas EVOO and Rabito Royale. I think our favorite was the chocolate-covered figs which we had to buy some and bring home, although we took several bottles of olive oil as well.
Casa Gonzalez was another very old establishment where we headed into it back room again and enjoyed four  Spanish cheeses and both red and white wines.
Arzua from Galicia was a cow aged 6 days, Zamorano a salt cultured sheep aged 3 years max (think Manchego), Radiquero a salt cured goat from Aragon and the fabulous Cabarales Blue a mix of goat, sheep and cow from Asturias. 
Our next stop was in the Mercado de Anton Martin, will ask me walk through the market we could hear the stomping feet above us from the flamenco school on the top floor.
We tasted a ton of Spanish olives at our first stop then moved on to taste more amazing jamon bellota and finally ended at an Italian owned lunch stand where we had absolutely fabulous porchetta a la Española.
Los Gatos was a Crepe Bar at lunchtime full of people drinking amazing sweet Miro vermouth on tap and of course there were more sandwiches as if we had not had enough to eat already.
Our last stop was Pan de Pi, a famous bakery phone by a woman from Galicia who Luke explain to us is one of the foremost pastry chefs in the entire city. If you think New York cheesecake is the best in the world you need to come here and taste the Galician cheesecake made from real Galician tetilla cheese that we all adore to begin with.
We were stuffed and needed a long rest because that evening we had our three Michelin star experience coming up.
We headed back to our hotel put our bags down and went out for another 2 to 3 hours of clothes shopping. 

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Madrid's TEN CON TEN takes you to a terrific trendy spot (3-27-17)

Sorry folks-this one is out of order chronologically1
On Monday or touring schedule was a bit lighter and at 2:30 p.m. we headed for a business lunch at the beautiful and chic
Hotel Hospes Puerto de Alacala which was delicious with eggs and seafood, quail salad and another steak tartar for Sam.
I think too many steak tartars gave him an upset stomach so he did not join us at Ten con Ten for dinner that evening.
We had been told by a number of people that this restaurant was exquisite, fun, posh, overrated and just so many divergent adjectives we had no idea what to expect.
The setting is elegant and beautiful with very comfortable chairs and I was thrilled to be located next to a glass enclosed wine cellar with Opus One, Diamond Creek, Krug, Dom Perignon 1983 and Petrus 1987.
Fabulous warm Pan de Queso or cheese bread arrived and we perused the menu which to our surprise did not have very high prices although they were more expensive than what we had seen around Madrid.
We arrived at 8 p.m. and of course the place was virtually empty except for the bar but by 930 it was completely full. 
The amuse was an oyster with aioli, but when I asked where it came from they did not know. Regular bread arrived with olive oil and a little container of pumpkin cream soup for each of us which turned out to be an amuse as opposed to something we should dip the bread into! Huge briny green olives also arrived.
Will and I decided to split two starters because we have fallen in love with the grilled artichokes but here they are served with spinach, and while the dish was excellent with huge whole artichoke hearts they were more sauteed then grilled and there were only about 3 small leaves of spinach. 
Pedrero's Roasted Octopus was delicious as well served over potatoes and tomatoes with aioli.
We ordered a bottle of Clos Nelin 2013 from Priorat which was a divine minerally white blend of Garnacha Blanca, Macabeo, Viognier, Rousanne, PX, Marsanne, Escanyarelles and believe it or not, Pinot Noir!!!
Fish was on the menu for both of us and I had the Pez Limon or Amberjack with clams which was delicious but sadly a bit on the chewy and rare side at the center.  Luckily the piece of fish was big enough that I really didn't need to finish it anyway. I think Will made a better decision with his Hake and black truffles as we could smell it as it was being brought into the room. Despite the fact that we had asked them for a 15 minute break between courses it seemed that the main course arrived right after we had our appetizers cleared.
There was no room for dessert and we wanted to get back to Samuel who was in the room having soup.

Madrid's DSTAgE is truly a stage for fabulous food (3-28-17)

The next night was the beginning of a 3 night Madrid marathon and I don't mean the kind where folks run for charity. Ours started with a 1 Michelin star on Tuesday and continued with a 3 star  on Wednesday and ended with 2 on Thursday night.
First up was DSTAgE, which is indeed is how it is spelled, although there is no agreement on the pronunciation: d-stage or duh stage with a short a? Each letter actually stands for  something:
Days to
Grow &

As most restaurants open at 9 p.m. we had a reservation for this time, but when we walked in, while we were seated in the bar right away and ordered our drinks and began to sip them, it seemed that everyone else was getting some kind of amuse and attention, while we were ignored for some 20 minutes! We wondered if owner/chef Diego Guerrero, who was not in residence, would have allowed this.
Country music played mixed with Downtown by Petula Clark and Queen as we sat in the exposed brick and venting pipes room with minimal decor. As soon as you walked in you knew this was about the food and not the ambience or setting.
Finally a gorgeous mirrored plate of two whole fried anchovies with head and tail on a cracker with aioli were brought to Will and me; a nonfish Mocho Thai substitute for Sam. These were so flavorful and there wasn't the single bone and I actually have to say they tasted much better this way. We later learned that this was a traditional way to serve anchovies as a tapa on a cracker. 

The three of us were ultimately escorted into the rear room where our table was right next to the kitchen, but first we were asked to stand in front of chef who was preparing a shrimp tartar on a giant block of Himalayan rocksalt.  His real name was Octavio do but he went by the name of Junior in the kitchen here and apparently spent a year in Kansas working in a small town on the Colorado border. We chatted as he worked the tartar and added various ingredients but we were completely thrilled when he pulled out an Australian finger lime which basically looks like a miniature zucchini and is cut open to reveal a citrus tasting caviar that pops in your mouth. Emulsified shrimp heads with chili was used as a sauce and then he added cilantro and placed the mixture on a banana leaf and added some fried shrimp legs for crunch and asked us to enjoy them right there in front of him. He took a short break to prepare a coconut and grapefruit canneloni with tostones but no flower or eggs for Samuel. Jamaican water, hibiscus tea and lime salt were an unexpected flavoring as well.
As always you can see many many many pictures on my Facebook page of this entire experience. 
We took our seats and our next course arrived which was roasted Avocado Masato with an Amazonian white cream of fermented yucca, mole poblano, coriander flowers and shoots and wild strawberries which was served warm and while as a quasi guacamole didn't blow me away the overall ingredients mixed together really made an impression. We had chosen the wine pairings and this was paired with Junmai Ginjo sake DeWasakura Dewa Sasan which was smooth but had the slightest licorice taste and indeed was the only licorice taste we got during our entire two weeks abroad.

Samuel's favorite course came next but this was truly the most way out there ingredient we had had in awhile: Bloated dry-aged cow tartare from Galicia  (aged 4 months) with a cayenne kimchi, sea urchin and begonia leaf.
Prior to the meat arriving, Zulema, one of our serving team brought over the tiniest glasses and proceeded to pour some house made beer with the following label on it, "De mayor quiero ser cerveza" or when I grow up I want to be beer. She told us not to taste it until after we ate the tartar which we did and it had an amazing chocolate taste and was probably the only beer I've ever like in my entire life. The complete combination of "bloated tartar" and beer was indeed something we shall long remember.
There was organic kamut bread made with sourdough that was cold fermented for 48 hours.
The journey continued with aji-kubak (akin to the aji we recently had in Ecuador) and Pigeon leg which was prepared buy another server, Javier,  table side with coriander and crispy rice in a small cast iron pot. The dish with season perfectly and was  served with a Capellania Viura from Rioja aged in wood, making it very much like an American Chardonnay.
Blood sausage(looking like a scoop of sorbet!) from Beasain was served in a spring onion broth with young leeks and ashes and was as soft as could be and melted in our mouths. The sharp acidity of the Xarello from Pairal worked with this dish they called Pil-Pil.Sam was getting a variety of homemade fruit drinks as well  as we proceeded through the evening. One was raspberry based, another fruit with a sesame seed rim and chocolate.

Crispy pork bao buns with foam arrived in the cutest piggy containers and while amazingly delicious it was the bed of crispy fried pork pieces they sat upon that had us thinking that this could easily replace popcorn in movie theaters. Alas another orange wine appeared Tenuta 2 from Segovia, which was okay but I sure wouldn't be buying these types of wines to drink at home.

Our next course, Sartenes o canciones, was Grilled Cod with Iberic Kombo sauce and citrus oxalis topped with caviar, while Sam got an a amazing plate of grilled vegetables from Galicia. 2015 Ponta da Borga was a blend of two grapes I have never heard of:Brancellao and Merenzao.
We were thrilled to have a Ribera del Duero (Tempranillo red) 2005 next from Alonso del Yerro, and I have to add here that the wines were always poured before each course arrived so we could taste them alone and then experience them with the food. It was a superb red wine and served with the most gorgeous Pigeon breast with a slightly spicy Sichuan sauce and waffles as well as Chinese lettuce  (cabbage?), citrus zest and cappuchina leaf, which seemed to appear in almost every other course we had for the next 3 days. A crispy Chinese red chili laid across the top of the dish and none of us dared to touch it until Javier explained that it was boiled in water and seeded  so the spice was reduced. Sam and I gave it a go and it was actually quite delicious and then Will bit into his and his mouth seared with fire; must be an English thing. All I could think of while I sat there was this would surely the best Pigeon and Waffles or Chicken and Waffles I  ever had. 
A small ice cube arrived with a purse of celery and apple placed inside a begonia leaf and Javier declared it was a pre-dessert called a margarita cocktail. It was more of a half bite palette cleanser but surely worked.

Diables Catalunya was the first dessert wine which we called raisin love. It was served with one of the most bizarre desserts I think I have ever had in my entire life which consisted of an ice cream made from  potatoes and black truffles served over a soft sand like grain seasoned with vinegar and pieces of toffee.
It was good for sure but I'm not quite sure whether fell into savory or sweet or somewhere nebulous.

A huge plate of Corn flavored cotton candy arrived topped with soft popcorn which we were told to roll up as there was a mango sauce underneath and it would form a quasi taco filled with sweet corn; it worked. At this point Samuel wrote on my notes "I love this restaurant please give it 5 stars."
S' was the name of the next wine, yet another orange one, but this sweet made from PX by Bodega Sauci. It was a very good dessert wine and a fabulous pairing with what was called The Spice Trail. The plate arrived with spices divided into pie piece like design in a circle, each spice in a different color and covering a superb chocolate ganache that was so light.
I could have lived without the chocolate pop rocks in the ganache but overall it was an amazing taste experience.

The last dish to come was called purple garlic and was a meringue of garlic filled with garlic cream and chocolate dust. It was an intense garlic flavor but with sweetness which I really liked, but have to admit that if you don't like garlic you really wouldn't have like this.
We headed home after the chef who headed up the kitchen came around and asked how everything went and we just told him we were simply blown away it was a truly wonderful experience which indeed earned 5 stars in our book!

ARZABAL in Madrid makes a mean meal (3-26-17)

Back in Madrid after a full day touring to El Escurial and Segovia and a large lunch again, we decided to try a very well known Catalan tapa bar not too far from our hotel in downtown Madrid facing the Retiro Park.
Arzabal was just what we wanted so Samuel could have his Steak Tartare and Albondigas de Solomillo de vaca or tenderloin meat balls.
There was a big metal tin on the table with breadsticks and delicious French bread as well as some olives and we had to laugh hysterically when the server brought over a 5 kilo vat of French butter and plopped down on the table as we dug in.
We started with a plate of Jamon Iberico de Bellota split between the two types they offered: D.O. Salamanca (Arturo Sanchez) and D.O. Extremadura (Esencia Pura). This was the beginning of education of this amazing Spanish ham where the pigs are fed by specific acorns and the production is monitored and starred somewhat akin to wines by region. Actually it's most interesting to note that only the hind legs of the  animal are allowed for this,  then of course while there a many different varieties each person that cuts the jamon can vary the slicing techniques which makes monstrous differences in how it tastes and chews.
At first we felt that the Salamanca version with softer get to your any Extremadura version was crisper and more flavorful with seasoning. As we progressed through the plate however some of it got chewier and some softer and more delicate. This is truly an educational experience.
Will and I also split a steak tartar which I can't say was very good or flavorful.
The Boquerones or white anchovies from the north coast were like butter and perhaps the best we have ever had.
While we weren't that hungry Will and I thought 2 or 3 tapas besides the ham and anchovies would be just right, but here a tapa plate is a huge portion, which we discovered when the Laminado de Tomate con Ventresca de Bonito Ortiz arrived, which was a monstrous plate of at least three huge tomatoes sliced super thinly and laid over with some of the most wonderful tuna belly from Ortiz. Fried artichokes were absolute heaven as we have discovered at virtually every restaurant in Spain.
We were all stuffed and headed home and rolled into bed in our suite at the Ritz Mandarin Oriental after an amazingly fabulous weekend.

Ribera Del Duero: Fuente de la Acena in Quintanilla de Onésimo(Valladolid) offers up filling food and doozies of deals (3-26-17)

On Saturday or host family took us north to Ribera del Duero  about an hour and a half outside of Madrid known as one of the most amazing red wine regions of the world famed for its Tempranillo. Our visit at Figuero with the owner and his family was an experience we shall always cherish. During our tasting of some 4 or 5 wines, we also had chorizo, salami, bread and superb Jamon Iberico de Bellota which I shall elaborate more on in a later posting.
We headed to lunch in a nearby teeny village where our hosts found a fabulous inn and restaurant called Fuente de la Acena in an ancient converted  mill on the Duero River.
We enjoyed our amuse of monkfish pate as we saw the water flowing by.  Cecina de Leon is a local specialty we have tasted elsewhere but comes from this region and is another aged and dried meat but this made from ox and probably my favorite. Another starter was the Foie casero con chutney de mango or huge slabs of duck foie gras pate on thin toasted bread with mango chutney that could have won a prize and again was priced at a ridiculously low 10 or 12 Euros!
I had a superb glass of Domine 2015 Rueda/Sauvignon Blanc blend that I loved and I need to add that is virtually every restaurant we went into, even in the big city of Madrid, a glass of wine generally runs 2-5 Euros maximum and that's $2.16-5.40. I've never seen a hotel or five star restaurant at the United States that can do this pricing.
Some of us ordered Cod Tacos with baby octopus, mushrooms and garlic cream  which was nothing of the sort as a huge piece of fish came out looking like a portion for almost two people. It turns out in this region that tacos actually means a large portion or platter.
Lomo de merluza was a gorgeous hake fillet with vegetables and cockles, and Sam adored his Hamburguesa de Lechazo or local lamb burger which came also on a large plate without a bun, but eith superb sweet mustard.
A dish of zucchini ribbons which were wrapped in bacon was topped three huge scallops. Each of these dishes rang and at somewhere in the 12 to 17 Euro region which actually blew me away.
Fresas salteadas con sorbete de Tempranillo was it desert worth it just for the wine flavored sorbet but the marinated strawberries were equally spectacular. Soufle de Chocolate y Caramelo was a gooey rich treat as well.
We also realized that lunch in Spain is it true experience that you don't have to do it with a local family and it takes two to three hours.
Again we were so appreciative of our new friends here.

Madrid's PLATEA previews the fine food of Spain to come (3-25-17)

On our first night in Madrid we joined Samuel's host family where he had spent the previous 10 days in school. Ana and Pedro have three wonderful sons: Pedro, who was Sam's age, Ramon and Fernando, who at age 11 definitely has a future as a gourmand.
They asked us to join them at Platea which was a large movie theater that has been converted into a restaurant-like mall. We went down to the lower level which was much quieter than the upper level where people roam around and grab bites of many types of foods from all over the world.
As we sat down the empanada lady approached showing her wares 's and you get to choose which empanadas you might wish to eat, but we were not ready for that and held off until later.  
White wine came first in the form of an Albarino from Mar de Frades in Riax Baixas, which Ana adores as she is from nearby Galicia in the northwest. Our red was Matarromera Crianza made from Tempranillo grapes 2014 from Ribera del Duero, where we would be going the next day for a wine tasting with them as well. Indeed this wonderful family took us under their wings and gave us an entire weekend of touring in the region around the capital.
We ordered many dishes and shared them all as the kids ordered pasta and burgers and such, but Fernando was thrilled to taste everything that we ordered.
Pulpo a la brasa was a huge octopus tentacle presented whole after grilling with alot of paprika and sauteed potatoes on the side. We discovered at future restaurants that this is the way they serve the octopus in Madrid and you are expected to slice it yourself. By doing so you can make the slices quite thin and hence extremely tender. 
Croqettas de Jamon were crispy on the outside and gooey on the inside with oozy ham and cheese.
Ceviche Mixto was Perivian style with large corn and the Tartar de Atun was a superb chunky  tuna with yuzu.
The highlight dish was Anticuchos classicos de Corazon de ternera con patatas fritos which were 3 huge grilled skewers of beef hearts that were seasoned to perfection and so tender they resembled sirloin or filet!
At several points during the meal a gentleman who was topless came over and grabbed  a thick rope at the center of the room and started climbing up it a la Cirque de Soleil.
 It was a lot of fun for everyone and then there was also a band playing on the stage one floor above us where we stopped to enjoy some Beatles classics on the way out.
We knew that we would have several more meals with our wonderful new  friends and family and this was an amazing start to an amazing week in Madrid.

Vienna's Palais Hansen Hotel's EDVARD excels all expectations (3-23-17)

Our Last night in Vienna was at the beautiful and elegant Hotel Kempinski Palais Hansen where Edvard, their intimate and truly classy one Michelin star restaurant, shines with no more than 20 tables.  Super clean lines and comfy chairs,  crisp linens and so quiet with staff that respond to every need instantaneously, I can't imagine a more wonderful setting. On arrival Bollinger Special Cuvee was poured by Wolfgang the sommelier, as Christiana the manager took care of our every need and Martin our server bought out hot brioche  and smoked butter that could not be surpassed. 
The first amuse was a curry cracker with burrata cream and chicory with dried orange, followed by a second amuse of lobster praline with aioli and finally a third of mushroom with veal head Ragu, cream with lentils and beans and dandelion herbs. We were all set for for a wonderful journey.
The restaurant offers two various degustation menus and you choose the number of courses you want. What we did was roam back and forth between the two choosing the various items that sounded good.
First came a French oyster with pea, wasabi  & seaweed and this was served with a Calcinaires Domaine Gauby 2015 which had an herbal acidity to it from the Macabeo, Chardonnay and Muscat.
The second course was an organic duck liver with pineapple jelly pearls, cacao, red wine on a salted butter brioche slice and with praline ice cream which was really made of liver. OMG!! This was paired with a superb gewurztraminer, Terrazas de los Andes 2014 from Torrontes, Argentina grown at 5900feet altitude.
I think perhaps one of the best courses was the potato Ragu with Organic egg and grated potato, vanilla butter, miniature asparagus and potato foam with crunch, which was paired with a Preiler Chardonnay 2015 called "Sinner" from Burgenland which got small oak barrel fermenting and had a superb mineral taste.
Both the wine and the dish or truly highlights of the evening.

Char was cooked sous-vide then flambeed with broccoli and served with cashew nut and teff which is a small quinoa or millet made into a cracker as well as a salad on the side.
The wine here with an unfiltered Numen Chardonnay 2013 from Zilinger which was an orange wine and hence had scents of honey and walnuts but worked quite well with the fish despite my dislike for most orange wines.

Venison in its own sauce with celeriac, onion and poppy seed butter was an amazing dish served with a divine Etna Rosso called Novello Mascerese from Planeta where we will be actually staying this summer in Sicily.

The cheese course was gooey Vacherin served with Sorrel ice cream over Pumpernickel powder and presented with an herb cracker on a gorgeous stone slab. The wine was a 2011 Jura Cremant de Domaine Rolet.
Next was the Danubia saddle of lamb with aubergine, garlic and white soft polenta balls. The lamb had a gorgeous salted crust and was served with a Valferana 2009 Nervi from Gattonara in Piedmont which was 100% Nebbiolo.
The first dessert was called milk olive and rice and consisted of milk yogurt with ice cream and cracker as well as crumble, whille the other dessert was called carrot passion fruit and buckwheat. The wine was a Heiligenstein 2011 Riesling Zobing Reserve from Kamptal that had lots of intense fruit. 
A sesame cracker arrived with nougat, raspberry ice cream and raspberries as well as white chocolate ice cream with yuzu which was served with Lambrusco fermented in bottle called Cantina Della Volta.
It was truly a memorable evening and we are so grateful to Hanna who is my contact at the Kempinski hotels and showed us their two-year-old baby at now truly is a wonder on the Ringstraße.
Vienna now has several Michelin stars, but our two nights truly were the best meals in town!

Vienna's STEIRERECK soars to the top of dining spots on earth for us! (3-22-17)

Our second night in Vienna was decided the second I knew were headed there as every time I have visited I have dined at Steirereck, which was originally the only Michelin-starred (1 star) spot in town located just outside the city center in a quiet neighborhood house where you dined in one of many small rooms and chose your wine from the cellar, in the cellar.
Some time ago, Steirereck moved into a magnificent Beaux Arts mansion smack dab in the middle of the StadtPark (City Park) and was also a destination just for the decors, setting and of course, the food and excellent service.
As we pulled up I was confused as I knew the taxi driver had brought us to the Stadtpark, but we approached a modern wooden and glass structure that was clearly not where I had been before. Apparently, just over a decade ago they built this magnificent structure and moved here. The setting is calm and the rooms are all divided by fine wood walls that curve, so you never fell like there are more and several tables within eyesight.
The menu was presented and all we had to do was decide between a la carte (no way) and degustation, 6 or 7 courses and which choice in each course. The 7 course with aired wines comes in at 241 Euros (just over $250) and is a true bargain as they now have the highest Michelin ranking in town with 2 stars!
There were many servers, and always attentive service rendered within seconds. The pace was perfectly kept and slowed when we asked. Nothing went wrong indeed. Stefan was our lead server and before each course arrived, he placed a small card in a holder explaining the food, what it contained as well as special or rare ingredients.  
Each glass of wine was poured to taste before each course arrived and with plenty to enjoy during the wait and with each course. We actually started with a glass of Austrian Sekt Jurtschitsch 2011 Grosse Reserve and of course everything is served in Riedel crystal completed by gorgeous Christofle silverware, crisp linens and a huge table with a small serving center at its side wherefrom Stefan got the silver and other items so he didn't have to go far. It could also be used as a staging center for a course that required some prep.
Amuses here are never simple and indeed it is a truly wondrous and special experience. Stefan explained the Chef wanted to take us on a tour of Austria.
Tafelspitz, the traditional dish of Austria comes in many versions and we had crispy potato with spinach. Stryia is known for its stew and we had a corn cracker like polenta with marinated vegetables and roasted pork. From the Alps came oyster mushrooms smoked for 48 hours with bacon and radish that really tasted like an oyster do to the smoking. From Carinthia where our server Stefan hailed from, came a salted cheese cake with cabbage kraut and sour cream soup with a foam and salty flavor that was amazing. The chef had recently visited Russia and gave us a taste of that with cabbage rolls stuffed with catfish, asparagus and potato with a sour cream spiced dip.
Each of these was indeed a special treat and we knew that based on these amuses we were in for a culinary journey like non else before.
Next the bread cart arrived and again this can be viewed as all the dishes can be on my FB page. This cart is like non else with about 20 different options not to mention the unpasturized local butter may from only hay-fed cows! The salt on the table was of a powdery light form and I forgot to ask what type it was. We tried many breads such as lavender, parmesan-arugula, pretzel, olive-tomato, pork crackling and black pepper, bacon with linen seed, a super spicy chili-chorizo and finally and unreal black pudding with chunks of the delectable morsels embedded in the bread but in no way making it soggy--amazing.
The official first course for Will was "Krauthauptel" which was "Grazer Krauthauptel" from the city of Graz made with Medlar, Steamed Monk's Beard (lettuce) with limquat (think a lime crossed with kumquat) from the Orangerie at Schonnbrunn Palace where much of citrus for the restaurant is grown. The wine was a 2015 Terramatter (Alvarinho from Portugal like Albarino in Spanish) Quinta de Soalherio in Minho that was very grapefruity like a Sauvignon Blanc, but with a mind of its own.
I had the "Reinanke" with Cornel Cherry, Yacon & Stone Crap (yes with a "p" not crab) which was a confited and glazed wild fish which exists in only three lakes in Austria(!!) with a cornel cherry, meyer lemon and red elderflower glaze that made it look like an eel! The yacon root was roasted with spiced pumpkin, stone crop(a vegetable) and grains of paradise with pumpkin jus and cornel cherry & tonka bean jus. My wine was a creamy 2014 Gruner Veltliner from Hannes Schuster in St. Margarethen, Burgenland.
The second course for Will was Puntarella which Stefan explained was an Italian winter vegetable which is a rare member of the chicory family and looks like a giant bok choy (as they brought out a huge head to show us when the course was presented). It was served with Woodruff, salted Capers & Bouchot Mussels with dried kaki (don't ask) and celeriac. An accompanying 2015 Es Mussol Malvasia from Conde de Suvrot in Mallorca, Spain was appropriately acidic for the salad with balsamic. My Crayfish with Bittersalad, Jerusalem Artichokes & Green Almonds and Radicchio was a crayfish grilled in coffee butter with marinated foie gras (that was heavenly) as well as crispy fried artichoke chips with red onions pickled with lingonberry; the almonds were actually preserved and hence soft and tender.
The wine was a 2015 Double Cuvee from F.M.Mayer in nearby Vienna-Doubling that's was like a Bordeaux blanc in that it was sauvignon blanc with a hint of Semillon that I could not detect at all.
Third for Will came Pike-Perch with Fennel, Pericon & Schonbrunner Calamansi (more citrus from the summer palace orangerie from the Philippines served fermented here) paired with a 2014 Bourgogne Chardonnay from Domaine Amiot Guy et fils. My Amur Carp with Romaine, Purple Salsify & Dill (one of the few dishes with ingredients I knew) was served with amazing crispy skin, sour cream, dill, fermented black garlic and a rich spiced yogurt sauce with dill oil and paired with a divine 50/50% blend of Viognier/Marsanne Blanc from Domaine Romaneaux-Destezet (Rhone).
The fourth course was Calf's Brains with Salsify, Tomato, Peppers & Medlar (another new veggie) Kernel and came crispy as well with preserved apple-peppers and mustard pickle. The meat was tender and delicious and for those not familiar more akin to a sweetbread that is meatier. I was thrilled with the Austrian 2009 Riesling "Schutt" Smaragd (old vines) from Knoff in the Unter-Loiben region as it really cut the intensity of the meat and entire dish. Will chose the Lamb from Pogusch with Romanesco, Chanterelles & Walnut-leaf which had been cured first with apricot, capers and fermented greenage and served with pickled chanterelles in a lamb & apricot sauce with beluga lentils, pericon & Raz-el-hanout spices. Amazingly paired with a 2006 Gruner Veltliner "Schon" Reserve from Josef Hogl also near Vienna which I never would have thought of for meat, but really worked.
We both chose the Alpine Beef Short Rib with Cubio, Endive & Macadamia Nut which amounted to the "main" course or such although everything was portioned and timed amazingly well. It was a seared sirloin short rib served with a super sharp Laguiole knife that melted as you cut it. There was sour marinated endive, dried wild chervil and stems, macadamia cream with cress seed and beef jus. The wine was a 2007 Coll del Sabater Cabernet Franc from Escoda Sanahuja, Conca de Barbera in Catalunya Spain that blew me away.
Just like the bread cart, the cheese trolley at Steirereck is an experience as it is two tiered and holds several dozen organic cheeses that Verena knows so intimately she can easily choose for you after you explain what you are looking for. Since we were two people, we got two plates of four cheeses each. If you can add, that's eight amazing cheeses served with more of that amazing bread and some dried fruits and grapes. The wine was a 2016 Apfel-Eiswein from PUR-Fam in Mahrer, Sierndorf which was okay, but I still prefer a good regular Austrian dessert wine such as Kracher without the apple taste.
One plate:
Black Sheep- an Austrian sheep ash
Jersey Camembert from France
Let Petite Fiance-a goat from the Pyrenees
Bleu di Bofala from Italy
Other plate:
Il Cava Nero-Italian sheep/goat blend
Soumatrin-from Burgundy
Cirone-3years aged cow from Switzerland
L'Ami de Chambertin-a Chablis washed French
Our dessert was Viennese Malt which was served with Quince, Sea Buckthorn (the reason we both chose this instead of the pear dish) with Lavender. The dish had a caramel-malt ice-souffle with roasted malt syrup as well as crispy barley, quince poached in sea buckthorn juice, candied sea buckthorn and sea buckthorn-lavender sauce. Need I say more to any of who have tasted this amazing treat we have come to love. The dish had a burnt caramel flavor which was paired with 1998 Rivesaltes Vin Doux Naturel (17 years aged in barrels) from Parce Freres in Roussillon France that was a blend of Grenache Gris, Grenache Blanc and Brandy that had us oohing and aahing until we departed,
At this point we also noticed there was a hint of cigarette smoke in the air and apparently the door nearby to the hermetically sealed smoking room had been left ajar. OOPS...but fixed quickly.
Finally we received an interesting extra course called Citrus Variety from Schonbrunn which offered various flavored and dried fruits from the orangerie:
White chocolate with pumpkin seed oil
Dried Moro blood orange with poppy seed
Dried Persian Lime with Black Nettle
Bitter Chocolate with black nuts
Candied Lemonade Lemon or Sweet Lemon
Candied diamante citron
Frozen Rowan berries with makrut lime, buttermilk, gooseberries and mountain pine
Marinated Citrus with Elder & Dried Pear
Orange Blossoms with Apricot, Yogurt and Quinoa
Of course we got take away chocolates, cookies and more, but who remembers that.
Again deepest apologies this took so long as we have been eating our way through Europe and touring all day, so I promise to catch up with more soon.

Vienna's Zum Schwarzen Kameel keels over a bit after many years (3-21-17)

Will insisted on having schnitzel for our first night here in Vienna so we ran literally across the street from the hotel to the famous Zum Schwarzen Kameel.
I remembered it as a quiet intimate place with magnificent décor and great service, but now they seem to have an ante room with tons of people smoking while we waited for our table and it was a bit disturbing.

It was only a couple of minutes and after we sat down I ordered a glass of Riesling Smaragd  Loibenberg Obere Parzelle 2015 which I really enjoyed and Will had a local beer that he thought was a big hit called Schladminger.
Will started with a salmon tartare with caviar which looked good and he liked, but I was thrilled with my tartar of Austrian veal with medallions of Canadian Lobster cook just passed seared and covered with micro Greens in a yuzu avocado cream with artichokes.
We both had the same main course which was the classic Wiener Schnitzel with potato salad which was covered with delicious purslane. The veal scallopine was hammered so thin I couldn't believe it and was extremely tender but it was a large portion and I think now Will has his wiener schnitzel cravings subsided.
The Umathum Zweigelt St. Laurent blend from Neusliedersee 2014 was a nice accompaniment.
The service was mediocre at best, as we asked for a good break of 15 to 20 minutes between the courses and they took over 50 minutes. We really don't know what happened as we finally told them we wanted to eat after half an hour but it still took 20 more minutes. 
We skipped dessert and headed back to the hotel as that was enough for us.

Paris' VIOLON d'INGRES offer volume, voluptousness and value (3-20-17)

Our second and last night in Paris was destined to be a lighter meal especially after the 9 courses the previous night. I specifically look for a French bistro that had something very different going for din that it was Michelin starred as well as not just a classic bistro but having very classy bistro food.
Chef Christian Constant is famous in Paris for many Michelin star destinations but this is truly a wonderful place and much less expensive of course. Le Violon d'Ingres is a fairly small bistro with no more than maybe 20 something tables and it is long and narrow with a bar at the rear as well as a complete walk in kitchen behind it. 
The service is friendly and attentive and as soon as we were seated we received some cheese straws as well olive bread with an olive cream on top. We spoke with the amazing Anthony as he insisted he had some English blood and hence an English name about the wine and immediately settled on one of my favorite wine makers in Yves Cuilleron 2015 San Joseph "Lyseras" which is an amazingly creamy grown blend of Rousanne and Marsanne that we both fell in love with immediately.
We perused the menu for a while and Will decided to start with soft eggs rolled in bread crumbs and truffle toast that was quite a novel dish something like an upscale breakfast dish with truffles. While it was delicious I was blown away by my tartare of oyster, sea bream and scallops with ginger lemon and lime covered with trout eggs and Avruga caviar, which is apparently a French faux version of caviar made from vegetable.

We chose our red wine early on so that Anthony could open it up and he brilliantly suggested a 2014 Gevrey Chambertin Domaine des Tilleuls by P. Livera that was an intensely wonderful Pinot Noir loaded with aromas  and flavors of strawberries but yet hearty in red intensity. 
Will chose the Cassoulet Montauban, from the chefs home village  which had dense sausage, fatty pork and an amazingly rich sauce and he was mad at himself for choosing the super heavy dish. He told me I could say that.
I had the amazing Ris de veau with vin paille or sweetbreads with straw wine from Jura, creamy morels, the first of the season, as well as asparagus wrapped in a parmesan tuille with celeriac5t puree. The caramelization on the meat was truly amazing and made this dish one of the best sweetbread dishes I have ever had in my life.
I haven't mentioned that the tables are of simple Formica but they have nice linen mat which run the length of the table as well as etched and frosted glass and mirrors running along the walls. Be sure to check out my photo of the etched mirror in the men's room on Facebook along with other photos from the meal.
Will chose the tart au chocolat Christian Constant which was a whipped cream atop a rich dense chocolate mousse with macadamia nuts and gold leaf design.
I decided to go for the cheese course and when they brought out a plate with two pieces of the same cheese and one small piece of blue I told him to take it away as it looks so boring.  Our server Guillaume was devastated and said I could switch it for anything but I really didn't feel like anything else and then he said please just enjoy it because they won't charge me for it. I love Saint Nectaire but both of the pieces were not as ripe as they could be and hence a little disappointing although the Fourme D'Ambert  blue was spectacular.
It helped that Anthony poured two glasses of complimentary Banyuls from Galateo 2015 Come del Mas to make us happier. The wine is good with cheese but it's even better with chocolate.
Of Course when you eat in a Michelin starred restaurant  one dessert is never enough and we received not only Madeleine but almond tuilles that were so buttery I actually finished mine and most of Will's. The coup de resistance were these little treats which I can call  rice krispie treats on crack.
Overall it was an amazing experience on our second and sadly last night in Paris. Onto Vienna.

Gorgeous GABRIEL gets us off to a perfect start in Paris (3-19-17)

After an exhausting overnight trip and a full day walking around Paris we did none less than visit one of the most wonderful 2 Michelin star restaurants for a super menu degustation.
On arrival at Gabriel at La Reserve Hotel, one of Paris' most intimate luxury secrets, we were escorted to our beautiful table in the dining room that had dark red leather wallpaper, candle holders of pewter on the table, huge mirrors and no more than a dozen or so diners. As the evening progressed maybe 20 or more diners came in but there were never more than 25 or 30 people total and I don't think the restaurant can hold much more than that as it is extremely intimate but not the least bit noisy.
We actually had some wine in the piano lounge before we went in and I enjoyed a Sauvignon Blanc called Goulee by Cos d'Estournel 2012 from Medoc, Bordeaux which happens to be owned by the same gentleman who owns the hotel. I fell in love with this wine despite it's extremely funky and odd nose and Will had a wonderful glass of Domain Vacheron 2015 Sancerre.
Chef Jerome Banctel was not in house as it was a Sunday night and most Michelin starred restaurants are not even open on Sundays so we were thrilled just to be here. He left his wonderful team in charge and every second of the entire meal we felt that we were in good hands with some of the best service we have had anywhere ever. 
We debated the various menus and finally said we would let the chef cook for us and take our chances which was a ton of fun.
While we were doing this 3 amuses arrived at the table: the first was a superb oie gras tartelette  with beetroot and read fruit gelee on top, the second was a meringue filled with crab, wasabi,  granny smith apple and ginger, the final was a salted puff pastry with tomato and thyme which unfortunately was a bit dry.
As always there's a ton of pictures on facebook.
Bread was simple but delicious in the form of mini bag gets with crispy pointed and and grain rolls and the butter was salted and from Brittany like the chef.
The first course was a Pollock tartar with mild Thai spices and yuzu which was extremely light tasty and refreshing and was paired with Champagne  Jeepers Grande Reserve Blanc de Blanc also owned by the same owner of the hotel. 
The second course was one of the chef's signature dishes a crispy crunchy chewy tasty Coeurs d'Artichauts "Macau" cooked Sakura style with fresh coriander (what we call cilantro) in a Sauce Barigule of artichoke, veggies, wine and butter. It was a heavenly dish and got us off to a great start. This was served with the wonderful Goulee that I had had prior to coming into the dining room and was thrilled to have another glass of. I forgot to mention that the Badoit water was served in beautiful silver chalices and all the wine was in reading crystal however there was one wine we felt needed a much larger glass which would have been for red rather than white.

The third course had to be the most fascinating one we had as when it arrived at the table it look like a gigantic puff pastry stuffed with something and we looked at each other and stared at our servers and told them to please start giving us longer rest between the courses and we prefer to eat slowly. They laughed and said that this dish was very light and explain that it was whipped egg whites into a meringue to make it look like puff pastry served with black truffles and mushroom slices and a yolk on the side all topped with a yummy tuile like cracker that turned out to be not cheese but caramelized corn flower. The joke was on us but we absolutely loved the dish. 
We moved on to our next wine which was a Savigny Les Baunes from Simon Bize 2014, who the Asian sommelier was quick to point out was married to an Asian woman. Indeed I must come in his assistant Natalie who hailed from Hong Kong and was pouring most of our wine all night and often gave us refills without our asking!
I adore Rouget Barbet or red mullet here from Haute Normandie, which was served roasted with an unfortunately very gummy carrot ravioli in a ginger orange carrot sauce that was out of this world. The Vouvray 2009 from Foreau that was served with it was Moilleux or slightly sweet which Will detested but I actually loved once I had some of the sauce combined with the wine that really worked together brilliantly.  As soon as you could look up Natalie had substituted his wine for a glass of the Sancerre.
This restaurant specializes in Brittany cuisine with hints of Asian spices so it was no surprise that we had another fish dish in the form of a gorgeous Turbot fillet with Jerusalem artichokes more black truffles and of course black truffle foam. The wine pairing was one of those rare wines that you just can't stop loving and here was Albert Mann 2012 Alsace Grande Cru Schlossberg Riesling.
We did have one meet course and it was absolutely perfect indeed probably the most tender Pigeon (from Vendee) I have ever had with Cocoa sauce and Manotte, which is a buckwheat crisp as well as served over buckwheat grains in a style of risotto. While we were nearing our limits this was truly one of the best game dishes we have ever had any where on earth. Add to this the fact that they served the Bordeaux red from the owner's vineyards called Les Pagodes de Cos (as in Cos D'Estournel) 2012 which was majority Cabernet with 30%Merlot and drank as smooth and silky as could be. 
We enjoyed more of this delicious wine as our four cheeses arrived:
Ash coated goat
Comte aged 24 months from Haute Comte 
Salerce from Comptal that was slightly soft interestingly grainy and oddly sour, but still so delectable.
There was no question in both of our minds that the runny gooey yummy Camembert from Normandy was the most amazing cheese we had had in sometime.

Desert was a passion fruit souffle with mango passion fruit sorbet which had gold leaf in it as well as black sesame paste and passion fruit crisps with Gavode chips, which we never really did find out what they were. Will souffle came out perfectly but mine was a bit less firm in the center I didn't mind though as I couldn't finish it. Tokaji 2001 Hetszolo 5 puttonyos rounded out the meal and sent us home so thrilled with virtually everything.
Before we left the manager Vincent came over and gave us each bags of chocolate and marshmallows mignardises so we could have them later, just in case.
Luckily tonight we just going to a fancy Bistro.