Monday, January 30, 2017

a delicious dinner at DINO's GROTTO for a special birthday (1-28-17)

Our dear friends invited us to DINO's GROTTO in Shaw Saturday night and boy what a treat it was for the dozen or so of us all.
Tavernello Prosecco was poured on arrival and we settled in to a variety of starters that everyone gobbled up:
Vadouvin Deviled Eggs which I have written about so many times and are indeed the best around.
Frito Misto di Mare of rock shrimp, bay scallops, calamari and hake
Sweet Potato Croquettes were a special made with pear, ginger, parmigiano, chive, panko and egg and served with a drizzle of Tuscan sweet and sour sauce--we couldn't help feel this was an homage to the Lunar New Year.
Of course Sam had his Meatballs of Veal/Pork/Ricotta/Panko/Egg in a spicy tomato sauce.
Our first wine was a superb Etna Bianca DOC by Vulka 2015 which was followed by an amazing second wine from Sicily: Calabretta "Vigne Vecchie" 2006 from Nerello Mascalese.
Pasta is a requirement and we all adored the Canneloni di Vittelone or rich cannelloni stuffed with Randall Lineback Veal, Leeks, Shallots, Onion, Chive & white wine in a Fonduta with 24 month aged Parmigiano Reggiano.
The Duck Bolognese Lasagne was also masterful with its amazing Silk Road Spices also lending another Asian flair.
Sam decided more pasta was needed and his main course of Pappardelle with Wild Boar was gone fast while many of us decided to share or keep ight with sides:
Brussels Sprouts with Caramelized Onion, Walnuts & Aged Balsamico are a winner for us anytime, but raves were going on for the Grilled Eggplant Parmigiana.
Wild Boar Chops were superb which were grilled and served with a Tuscan Mole(red wine/much garlic/dried fruit) and some more of those Sweet Potato Croquettes.
At this point our host opened up a couple of bottles of Jefferson 1998 Meritage which we had purchased on a trip almost 15 years ago together to wine country in Charlottesville! It was smooth, silky and delicious and most importantly
brought back wonderful memories.
It was a crazy and fun night full of good food and friends and Andrew, the uber mixologist/bartender even showed up much later with "Pussy Power"s for us all which it needs to be explained is a blackberry, lime and gin drink that goes down like lemonade...oh well, really limeade. YUMMY and HAPPY BIRTHDAY! Happy Lunar New Year too!

Monday, January 16, 2017

DC's FIOLA MARE amasses a mean feast for brunch in Georgetown (1-15-17)

I am not a big brunch person as a large midday meal often tires me out, but yesterday was an exception with the holiday and weekend and we had won the certificate at Samuel's school auction, so off we headed to Georgetown and FIOLA MARE on the Potomac River in Georgetown Harbor. On arrival we were warmly greeting and taken to one of the much quieter rear dining rooms, so while we had no river view the place was full and we had a very relaxes and quiet experience. Within a couple of minutes our server returned with apologies of taking too long (3 minutes?) and would be back shortly with complimentary prosecco; off to an excellent start and it just kept getting better.
The dining room was clean with crisp white linens in a most elegant setting with fabric ceiling and we could easily see through to the open kitchen in the next larger dining area.
Fiola Mare has an a la carte menu, but that seems silly when the $45 brunch includes a cocktail, three courses and a basket of awesome warm pastries such as croissants, pain au chocolat, apple turnovers, cinnamon rolls and cheese Danish!
We ordered and spent the next several minutes trying to guess the origins of our super server. We were all wrong! Milad was from Lebanon, and we subsequently promised to ask for him on every return visit. he even offered to replace our drinks (if only barely touched) should they become too warm, as brunch cocktails (you have 3 choices between Mimosas, Bellinis and Sangria) are meant to be served and drunk cold!
Our friend started with the Monkfish Tripe "alla Romana" with San Marzano Tomatoes, Calabrese Chile and grilled bread which was beautiful (all dishes can be seen on FB) while Will chose the Burrata of Buffalo Mozzarella with Smoked Beet Tartare, Celery Root, Capers & Green Apple Garlic Emulsion. I really wanted the signature Insalata of Frutti di mare (prawns, scallops, calamari, pomegranate, persimmons and marcona almonds) but we were told up front they were plum out of this, so I switched to the Butternut Squash Vellutata which was a rich bowl of creamy indulgent sup with "Carbonara" Espuma and Winter Black Truffles. The carbonara foam was graced with bacon bits making it a tasty crunchy addition. The Bellinis are superb and not too sweet and then I tried the Bellagio of vodka, cocchi rosa, Elderflower shrub & prosecco which comes with pomegranate seeds filling the bottom of the flute. The drink was superb and again not too sweet and the acidity was nice with my rich main course. I also loved the seeds at the bottom afterwards which by then had soaked up the alcohol nicely.
My main course was even more indulgent than the starter with "carbonara" as I chose the Rigatoni alla Carbonara with Guanciale as its crunchy protein (instead of regular bacon), black pepper, Pecorino Romano and a sunny side up Duck egg covering the rich dish like a little yellow and white cap. I can't remember a better Carbonara since I was in Rome 8+ years ago. Will had the Tortelli of Butternut Squash with Sage Brown Butter, Parmegiano Reggiano and tons of shaved Black Truffles! Since Fiola Mare does specialize in seafood, our guest chose the superb Spaghetti Gragnano alla Granseola which came with Alaskan King Crab, San Marzano tomatoes, parsley and Controne Chiles. We were all very happy pasta campers. If you lean towards breakfast options (we went at 130pm) for brunch there are also Lemon Ricotta pancakes, poached eggs with rosemary hollandaise & prosciutto and so much more.
Dessert is included in the deal but again we were warned the Warm pear tart was sold out, so I had the yummy warm Bombolini (Sardinian Ricotta Doughnuts) with Chocolate Sauce which came 6 to the order and I insisted on sharing while the others had a super Marchesi or Creamy rich terrine of Tuscan Amedei Chocolate with basil and Sicilian Salted Pistachios. Once again Milad excelled and offered us each a glass of complimentary Bracchetto d'Acqui, a sweet red sparkling dessert wine which cut the rich chocolate perfectly. Excellent Cappuccinos followed and we left knowing that Fiole Mare will see us back again soon! BRAVI TUTTI!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

back in DC LUPO VERDI is vivacious (1-7-17)

After our amazing trip to Ecuador, we joined a bevy of friends on Staurday night prior to the theater at LUPO VERDE ( at 14th & T Sts, NW. The small restaurant has a bar and some seating downstairs and we headed upstairs where the dining scene is a bit quieter and relaxed. While waiting for everyone to gather I tried a Persephone or Mezcal, Prickly Pear Juice, Cinque Apertivo, Apple and Lemon Juice  with Honey & Rosemarymixture that was not sweet and most refreshing. The Peppino was Gin, Limoncello & Lemon Juice with Prosecco & Bitters that got raves as well.
It was bitter cold so we stuck with red wine and started with a Tenuta Fessina Mascalese 2014 ERSE Cappuccio that was medium bodied and a great start. Our server, Mohi, recommended the second red, a 2014 Hauner "Hiera" Acitana a blend of Alicante, Nocero and Nero d'Avola from Sta Marina Salina in Sicily that was such a big hit, we had another bottle.
Food was superb across the board with excellent salads, Fried Artichokes, an awesome Chestnut Soup to start with Fennel Sausage, Mushrooms and Rapini for starters.
The main courses here vary from fish to pasta to pizza to meat and we had some of all (see FB page for fotos):
The whole Dorado special was filleted and brought tableside in the simplest of presentations. The Sandra Zappa Pizza (it that Frank's sister?) came with tomato, mozzarella, spicy sausage and chilis. The Tortellini Speical offered up filled pasta with swiss chard, ricotta and meat in a truffle sauce which was decadent and indeed all the pastas were a success: Fettuccine al ragu di coniglio was a rabbit ragu with roasted baby carrots, thyme and white wine, while the Fusilli Campani was a Neapolitan Ragu (Chef Matteo Venini explained that Neopolitans do a different mix of beef and pork) with Pinenuts and Pecorino.

Desserts were very good as well with Tiramisu '13 (not sure what the 13 is), Crostata alla pere-a roasted Pear tart with vinall sauce, cranberry puree and meringue.
I went my usual cheese course way and was thrilled with the selections here:
LA TUR a soft runny cow/goat/sheep from Piemonte
CACIOCAVALLO SILANO a sheep/goat from Calabria and the
intense MUFFATO ALLE ERBE a superb blue cow from Veneto.
The plate was very nice with apples, grapes, onions and fruity/nutty bread.

We all left full and were happy the show we were attending was short and light-hearted, knowing that we will come back to Lupo Verde!

Friday, January 06, 2017

Guayaquil, Ecaudor's Caracol Azul is more about seafood than snails (1-4-17)

Our last night in Ecuador brought us to a different city as we were connecting back to the United States the next day thru the city of Guayaquil. Sam was a bit exhausted and asked if he could stay in the hotel and order a pizza, so just Will and I headed downtown to Caracol Azul.  A 15 minute taxi ride cost only $4 but was hair raising through the insane traffic and maniacal drivers which we had not experienced anywhere else during our two weeks in Ecuador.
Once again on our arrival 7 p.m. the restaurant was empty, although by 8 p.m. some other tables have been occupied, but not more than a dozen or so folks total. Luckily they had a menu in English and Will and I both decided to order different  octopus starters only to find out they were clean out of pulpo. I settled on what turned out to be an amazing the Peruvian mixed ceviche which had sea bass (corvino), shrimp and a bit of octopus as well. On the side were the traditional lupin corn, sweet potato and the fried corn kernels. We had already been brought fried plantains and bread with a mild tomato salsa as well as the amazing aji salsa I have come to love (I have 4 bottles in my luggage), so a little of that on the ceviche made it a true winner. Will ordered a crab and avocado salad which was gorgeous and came with a small crab claw perched atop, and while it was good it needed a little kick from salsa or something. 
A superb bottle of Trapiche Roble Chardonnay 2016 from Argentina was ideal with everything. 
For main courses we both shows sea bass but with different presentations.  Will's with smothered with a rich Gorgonzola cheese sauce and scattered with a couple of artichokes, well mine had a just is rich three cheese sauce with several shrimp on top; they were both excellent.
Will decided to order the coconut flan which was truly amazing and we split that for dessert headed back to hotel and went right to bed as we had a 510 a.m. wake up call for our flight home.

Quito's OCTAVA de CORPUS offers up culilnary delights (12-30-16)

Our last night in Quito before leaving for the Galapagos status booked at the esoteric and interesting Octava de Corpus.

 Will was not feeling too well so Samuel and I ventured to Old Town Quito alone and discovered a huge home hidden behind a beautiful doorway on a colonial street.
The owner greeted us and escorted us upstairs through Christmas knick knacks and many beautiful keepsakes and tchochkies.
The dining room had about 8 tables of varying size ball with gilded plates and beautiful crystal. There was a huge Christmas tree in the center of the room and everywhere you knew it was a holiday here. The menu was huge and daunting, but Sam and  I looked through it and finally he decided to start with a tomato stuffed with chicken and then continue with a superb steak. I started with three amazingly huge and delicious langoustines cooked in a rich brandy sauce, and then had a simple chicken dish stuffed with cheese and ham.
We asked the gentleman if there was a wine list and he chuckled and took us 3 flights downstairs to several huge rooms laid out with thousands of bottles some well over 30 or 40 years old and costing thousands of dollars were from France Spain and South America. We settles on a Bonarda from Argentina and even Sam had a glass and a half with his meal. 
Nobody else ever arrived the entire evening and we almost felt horrible that the place was not doing much business, but perhaps it was due to the fact that it was the night before new years eve and people just don't go out for dinner.
We were too full for dessert and rolled ourselves into the taxi outside as a bevy of drag queens descended on us asking for money which is a tradition here on New Years Eve, but I guess they were starting early.
How awesome it was to have this experience dining in someone's magnificent private home in the colonial city of Quito.