Wednesday, June 21, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 19, 2017

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

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

Friday, June 09, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

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

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