Thursday, June 4, 2009

Redwood Falling on Cedar

On a recent weekend, we drove to Bethesda to visit Redwood for Sunday brunch. While the "egg bar" seemed an ill-advised concept, confusing both patrons and staff alike with the over-glorified made-to-order omelet station concept, there were high notes. House-made lemonade made for a refreshing Arnold Palmer. The donuts (for which I have an admitted weakness) served with hot apple cider were scrumptious, especially after a thorough soaking. The bacon was smokin' (I couldn't resist) and the home fries were awesome. On the other hand, the biscuits were a bit dry, perhaps begging for the ham gravy or jalapeno jelly. With that mediocrity, I'm still inclined to return for dinner to give it another shot. Even if the food is a loser, the shopping at Bethesda Row is always intriguing.

A return trip, however, is not likely to be in store for Cedar, the new restaurant in Penn Quarter from Redwood's previous chef, Andrew Kitko. A mere steps from my husband's office building, we had hoped to grab a quick weekday lunch and return to work in a timely manner. We were disappointed, as were C's colleagues, seated across the room, a strange basement space. Things got off to a rough start when the waiter practically pouted when we ordered neither appetizers nor libations. Lunch folks, in a business district; is the disappointment truly warranted? My soft-shell crab sandwich was ho-hum, with a reasonably-executed fry on the crab (though I can get much better and cheaper at another favorite spot) and a savory remoulade. The sandwich, however, was served on slightly burnt white toast. That's the concept chef Kitko came up with for a dish served in the restaurant's first week? I say back to the drawing board. That and the sandwich was rather tea-sized, served with a few greens labeled as a salad, not particularly filling. That is to say, my stomach was still empty. C's burger and fries garnered neither complaint nor praise. They were acceptable. Because I was still hungry after my white bread sandwich, we chose to split the blueberry almond tart. It was the definitely the best course we tried, but with three bites apiece in the minuscule portion, we remained unsatisfied. The most disappointing parts of the experience were the multiple times our overly loquacious waiter asked if we enjoyed our food, we would respond with a smile through clenched teeth so that we could get on with our meal, and then he would respond, "the chef will be pleased". If you ask me, there's a little too much pleasing the chef, and not enough of the patron at Cedar. Worse yet, I broke the cardinal rule in dining by not airing my complaints, but at the pace things were proceeding, we were forced to question how long the ordeal might last. I guess my lack of return will have to speak for itself.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Rules for Wedding Season

As May has almost passed us by, and June is knocking on our door, it seems timely that we discuss wedding dining etiquette, or making it through. Remember, if all else fails, just take advantage of the open bar (with a few rolls packed in the belly of course).

1. Do not order the steak - Whether the reason is to make the most "bang for your buck" (or bath towels/blender, if you will) or you just prefer red meat, don't make this mistake. Steak will ultimately be mass-prepared and dry (usually served with some kind of sauce and/or gravy for re-hydration). Unless the event you are attending is at a restaurant and for 10 or less, you are much better off with the fish or vegetarian entree, if available. Pasta usually accompanies such and can be prepared quickly and still remain edible. Plus, with a less popular dish, you get the added benefit of more attention to detail.
2. Eat before the event - Ultimately, these things always take longer than expected. There's the ceremony, photos, the commute to the reception, and then introductions. After that, surely you will be sat at the table that lustfully watches everyone else's salads pass you by on the way to their recipients. Instead of listening to the chorus of your belly accompany the wedding march, grab a snack pre-event. 3 hours later, when you finally start dinner, you will be happy you did.
3. Sauce on the side - Hotel kitchens are well aware that the food they serve at conferences, banquets, meetings, and lest we forget, weddings, is crap. Thus, everything, even the salad and the veggies, is covered in a oil-rich bernaise or salad dressing, or something equally fattening. Though the waiter may snear when you ask for sauce on the side, you will save yourself a lack of bulge in whatever satin number you have shimmied into. If not enough calories saved, keep passing the bread without partaking. Whatever you do, however....
4. Ultimately, the cake is the best part - Forget your diet. Caloric provisions noted in paragraph 3 can also help balance things. Ultimately, the salad and the entrees suck. It's part of the routine. One should, never, however, say no to the cake. Even if the frosting is waxy (usually for decorative purposes), it can be put aside, and the cake itself will be generally scrumptious (I'm not claiming there aren't exceptions). Prepared by a bakery, not a caterer or hotel kitchen, a little TLC has gone into the confectionary course and it shows.
5. Be reasonable - Just last week, we headed to the Wendy's drive-thru post-reception, groom in tow, to grab a frosty and chicken sandwiches, respectively. Reason being, everyone kept their expectations low and was then pleasantly surprised by a nice meal. After sitting around past our bedtimes, we were all hungry again for what C calls "fourth meal".

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Surfside, Washed Up

I had put this aside for a while, not wanting to judge based on one visit, but the continued praise of Surfside forces me to intercede. We found the tacos unauthentic (honestly, Rubio's grilled fish version might be better) and not at all flavorful, the portions on the teensy size, and a complete lack of "vibe" (we were seated under a staircase and I bumped my head more than once, no small feat for someone my size). Even the guacomole was lackluster. If someone wants to clue me in on what I'm missing, I'm all ears.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Potenza, in brief

Potenza has garnered lots of attention in the last few weeks. It's warranted, given how strikingly different this restaurant seems from its correlaries in the surrounding area. With competitive prices in this economy, it should intrigue tourists, families, and those looking for a reasonably priced yet decent meal. The prices do not mean that the establishment is completely devoid of ambiance, with an open kitchen, decor including traditional Tuscan pottery, and waiters dressed in kitschy soccer jerseys. Our meals were hit and miss. The papardelle was not Batali-worthy, but passable. C adored his spaghetti and meatballs. The mussels were acceptable, but not as good as others in the area. The "bombolini" donuts were excellent, but they are donuts, so hard to criticize fried sweet dough. I'm also a fan of the house-filtered water, offered at a modest $2 fee. All in all, good, but by no means, great.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Say It Ain't So: Ray's Hellburger


As I peruse my Google Reader list this morning, I've been reminded over and over again (not going to bother posting all of the links) that our president and veep visited Ray's Hell Burger yesterday afternoon for lunch. I saw the News 4 "report from the scene" last night. Quite amusing, but I can't say that I wouldn't be acting as much an idiot as the folks in and around Ray's at that moment. I appreciate Obama giving business to a local "mom and pop" lacking even a website (as if it needs one), but I'm scared to think of what this presidential visit may bring. Rumor has it that one could not get near Ben's for weeks after Obama stopped for a half smoke. I am working from home today, and was thinking of a Hell Burger for lunch. That plan is out, but for how long do I have to avoid the greasy spot down the street?

On a related note, had the opportunity to visit the new Ray's the Steaks this past weekend, and I'm happy to report that everything remains the same. There was, of course, the exception of the girl with the sequined top and sunglasses arriving for her 9 PM reservation (no, she did not take her shades off). Steaks are still FAB-U-LOUS. Sides and apps are tasty, though I think they may have lightened the creamed spinach recipe, which is probably for the best. And, the Key Lime Pie is thankfully still bliss. Frankly, I think the understated decor actually qualifies as decor in the new location - with 5 times the seating capacity and a packed house, the ambiance is just fine.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

And the Winner Is....

Obviously, 2941 is out. While nothing to shake a stick at, it is not in the same class as the other contenders. Both Komi and CityZen offer originality, presentation and the all-important taste that in my opinion are unmatched in the city. CityZen gets high marks for constant cuisine that is unique and eye-opening. Komi boasts some of the best bites I've ever savored, but also some that I would have rather spit out.

So, which will it be? The consistent performer or the volatile rock star (sounding like American Idol yet)? I'll go with the risk-reward analysis and choose Komi, but this is a close call. Either now falls in my top-five-all-time-anywhere. The heights reached by Komi, however, give it the edge.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Part Three - Komi

I got an email the week after our visit, "How was Komi? Was it worth all the hype?". This is a thought-provoking question, indeed, but I can feel comfortable in answering in the affirmative. For our third celebratory occasion, we headed to the 17th Street top-ranked spot for a lovely, quiet evening. The spare, dim room focused our view on a bright and bustling kitchen to watch the show. Chef Johnny Monis, pacing and observing, makes it clear that the focus here is on the food.

Because it was my husband's birthday (I'm going to start calling him C, it will just make things easier), we felt no need to hold back and went for the full scale degustatione menu, including, by our count, twenty courses. Now, don't go thinking we are all out pigs; most of these were one bite plates. Faster and faster these messatakkia came, starting with crudos of turbit and shrimp. A scallop duo produced one delicious bite with truffle and bacon, and another rather disgusting bite, perhaps it was the sea urchin. We then turned our attention to a smooth and satisfying oyster, then a lovely steamed bun topped with trout roe and creme fraiche. The salmon tartare was typical, but nevertheless mouthwatering. Next, we were served a fried caesar salad bite (that's the best I can do to describe it), which was to be downed at once, with no plate provided to pace. While tasty, the warm burst of pureed greens encased in batter was a textural adventure, and maybe not a good one. Things started slowing sometime around when we were served a bed of micro greens served with hummus and octopus. After a brief break, we enjoyed my favorite of the messatakkia, hangar steak tartare served with a peppery black truffle ice cream. The savory petit fours signified the conclusion to the mezzatakias, but without declaring time for dessert. Not a bad selection in the bunch, including dates stuffed with marscapone (perhaps not the most innovative item on the menu, but still tasty), foie gras creme puffs, red pepper jellies, cheddar animal crackers, and goat cheese marshmallow s'mores. Yum....
For our chef-selected pasta courses, we were treated with braised beef cheek agniolette for the Mr., and eggplant ravioli for myself. My "sample" bite of the agniolette was pleasing, and given the speed at which my husband devoured the plate, I'd say he enjoyed the ear-shaped pastas himself. Served with pine nuts and remarkably intact snails, the flavors of my ravioli were very complimentary. The main course, meat with a capital M, was a substantial portion of roasted suckling pig - this course for two tells a story. First, the pig is presented whole then taken back to the kitchen for "prep", which involves breaking down the roast meat, removing the fat, and separating the crispy skin a la Peking Duck. This dish is served with pita and sauces and toppings including cabbage, oregano sea salt, eggplant puree, habanero sauce, and tsatziki. After two delicious "sandwiches" I had to throw in the towel, but C was not to be deterred. He made sure there was not a scrap of pork remaining on that plate.

As the evening began to decrescendo (mind you, about 2 hours in at this point), we turned our attention to the cheese course. When placing the reservation, we were asked about any dietary restrictions and I had made mention of the fact that C does not care for cheese. Not only did our servers discuss the various courses with us to make sure that the cheese content of each was acceptable, C's cheese course was thoughtfully replaced with texturized pineapple and vanilla coconut broth. Extra credit. On the other side of the table, I happily dove into my creamy Italian goat and sheep's milk selection served with brioche and honey. Good stuff. Finally, blissfully, dessert. First, we were served palate cleanser of mango puree, then a key lime aromatic with foam and crispies, and to conclude greek donuts to end all donuts. Ice cream, ganache, blood orange sauce, and szechaun caramel satisfyingly shared the plate with the sweet morsels of fried dough. What a perfection conclusion.

As C puts it, at Komi, "they don't mess around" - whether enough to unseed CityZen from the top spot of this competition, stay tuned.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Return from Hiatus

It's been a few weeks, and after giving up blogging to devote time to things for which I'd rather not be devoting time, I'm happy to be back. As previously promised, look forward to part three and the summary of my anniversary in three parts series. Plus, I hope to chime in on the lackluster Surfside, as well as the popular Potenza later this week.

It's a beautiful Friday afternoon. One of my favorite Friday afternoon customs when stuck in the office is to read DCist's "Overheard in DC" post...While some are more crude than others, it's always good for a laugh. Take my favorite from this week, for instance:

Earth Day at the coffee shop in the Univ. of Md. Student Union:


Two girls are decked out in green, sporting Earth Day face paint and discussing the success of the green rally they organized in spite of the rainy weather with a friend.

Girl to barista: "Do you have a plastic bag for that?"

You cannot make this stuff up! Gotta love it! I have two all-time favorite "Overheards" of my own. Some of you may remember these:

Mid-Afternoon on the New York Subway

Polite Homeless Man Asking for Money on the Number 1 Train: "Can you please spare some change?"

Sassy Woman in Response: "If you can say 'Can I have a dollar?', you can say, 'Welcome to McDonalds'!!"

(That one may have been little more cruel than funny.)
_____________________

At Vietnamese restaurant in Arlington, three mid to late twenties men comparing the attractiveness of women dependent on their respective metro lines.

Guy 1: "I'm not sure she's Red-line caliber, but she's definitely better than Yellow."

Guy 2: "Wait, remember the other one?"

All Three in Unison: "Oh yeah dude, totally the hottest; totally Orange."

I won't insult anyone by revealing the misogynists' ranking system, but I'm glad I'm an Orange-line gal!! Whew, wouldn't want to have to get by on my brains or sense of humor! Hope this added a little laughter to your afternoon before you head out to enjoy the fabulous weather.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Two Birds, One Stone

Last Friday, Washington Business Journal shared the latest in the Murky Coffee Saga. Not only do I get to happily bid adieu to a foul-mouthed owner (seriously, who says "I'll punch you in the dick", let alone quote such a phrase on a business website?) and his band of lazy baristas-cum-groupees, but I also get to welcome creole cuisine to the neighborhood. I'm happy to to welcome an independent coffee shop that actually feigns to serve coffee to its paying customers. That, and I get beignets without trekking to 18th Street. Is a little chicory in our future too? Let's hope. Bayou Bakery is scheduled to open in Clarendon in the early summer.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Ode to March Madness


With the final four facing off tonight in DEEEEtroit, I of course wanted to give a little love to the local areas boasting teams in this year's big dance. With favorite listings in East Lansing, Storrs, Villanova, and Chapel Hill as well as their local equivalents, you should have just enough time to grab treats before watching the games tonight (tip off is around 6:00 PM).

First, I should make it abundantly clear that I am totally and completely biased as to this year's seeds. I love me some Spartans (parents are MSU alums, grew up bleeding green, you get the point....). Whenever we visited campus, we had to stop at Spagnuolo's on Grand River Ave. (Yes, I realize that going with pizza as the food of choice on a college campus is totally chiche). With really cheap MI-style pizza (meaning thick crust and full of meat - by the way, in no way am I claiming that it rivals NY or Chicago-style), it didn't get better than Spag's. DC boasts different varieties of pizza, not so much MI-style, so I'll recommend either Italian Store for NY slices, or Vocelli for delivery pizza (really not bad). I'll skip an analysis of the multitude of artisanal shops. Really, who wants 2 Amy's when we are talking March Madness?

Penn State was the original, so I feel that UConn is a little bit of a copycat in hyping their Dairy Bar, but it does seem to be a Storrs favorite for Huskies fans. For ice cream in DC, you might as well switch to frozen custard, and head to Dairy Godmother. It doesn't get any better.

Villanova boasts Maia seafood market and restaurant. In DC, looks no further than the Maine Avenue waterfront market. Pick up rolls and chowder for lunch, along with a nice piece of flounder, halibut, or the like for dinner, and you'll be happily set.

Matt Barrett of Chapel Hill raves about the southern favorites at Crooks Corner, particularly the Shrimp and Grits. While not exactly a sports bar, either carry out an order or stop in at Johnny's Half Shell for happy hour to devour the $6 plate of BBQ shrimp and grits, served with those addictive herbed oyster crackers and sourdough. It's fantastic!

Ok, I'm headed out to pick up my snacks now. Go Spartans!!!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

2941

If I've said it once, I've said it a million times; I do not celebrate Valentine's day. That being said, I am not one to pass up a potential deal just because it falls in and around a corporately-marketed, artificial, pressure-laden, supposedly-romantic-but-in-reality-disappointing holiday. At $105 a person, we were able to enjoy the 2941 "Valentines" tasting menu on a random Thursday night rather than at the holiday weekend price ($130), and at a bargain compared to the normal tasting menu ($90), which only includes four courses. We've taken to having random fancy dinners on weeknights, usually Thursdays, to avoid the rush and cost so often associated with weekend dining, instead staying in on Fridays to enjoy late meals prepared with a little relaxation and TLC. Frankly, the schedule has worked out quite conveniently, and cost-effectively, for us.

2941 was not the easiest place to find, tucked in an otherwise non-descript office building near the intersection of 495 and 66. Further, the interior decor suffers from an identity crisis with modern glass and architectural elements, a classic painting, what I would term a "nature scene" with fireplace, and random pieces of twentieth century sculpture dotting the room. On this particular occasion, an enormous chocolate sculpture also graced the counter behind my head. I kept thinking that the smell of chocolate melting from the kitchen was suprisingly strong in the dining room. That is, until rose petals started falling and we realized that the melting chocolate was indeed a lot closer than the galley. Truly, I was sympathetic for the pastry chef as he hurriedly attempted to carry away and salvage what started as a magnificent culinary creation. One final note regarding the ambiance before I move on to the food. Can I just say that the trend of naming the restaurant after the street number has to stop? Chefs, we are not setting ourselves apart with this trend. While it does help with directions, I think we need to give it up.

As I've mentioned in previous posts, I am quick to overlook complaints with decor, and even service, if the food is up to snuff. While nothing to turn my nose at, I'm not sure the cuisine here was of the caliber to overcome my initial pessimism. Things started out well, with a trio of amuse bouche, a Japanese oyster (don't ask me to remember the name), hamachi sashimi, and a chestnut velute...the entire course was very rich. For me, the richness was cut with a pleasing first course, a seafood salad with shrimp, avocado, and a suprising pineapple. On the other side of table, my husband enjoyed another rich course, a tuna tartar spiced with black truffles. The seafood salad was preferable to my palate. We then both moved on to ricotta ravioli, also garnished with black truffles, and a touch of parmesan and chives, the course was light yet flavorable. For the seafood course, my husband then enjoyed 2941's version of butter-poached lobster, served as a deconstructed New England Chowder. I chose the halibut accompanied by a vegetable fricasee in a sorrel (herb) sauce. While the chowder received lots of acclaim, the halibut was somewhat underwhelming. For main dishes, the parsley rack of lamb was much more flavorful than a "beef duo" which really was a simple filet with pureed potatoes and mushroom wine sauce. Truly, a little too simple for a restaurant worthy of the acclaim 2941 has garnered.

A small palate cleanser of orange and vanilla sorbets in jus of tangerine was better than the desserts for me, like a fresher fruitier version of a creamsicle. On the other hand, the chocolate moelleux (let's just call it mousse) was a bit dull. The cremeux (let's just call it cream) of passion fruit and other tropical fruits was better. Among the petit fours, with the predictable shortbread and candied fruit, I did finally find a bliss-in-a-bite moment with the fabulous dense and deeply fried doughnut holes. Even if there were low notes, I at least left with a delicious last impression.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Nothing Short of Zen: CityZen

For the actual anniversary dinner, we went with CityZen. We were not disappointed in our choice. With a beautiful and lively setting, and a celeb sighting (Oscar-winners Jamie Foxx and Paul Haggis, director of "Crash", discussing perhaps a DC-based project), the mood was set for enjoyable evening. When I say I had a bad day on this particular day, I mean I had a bad day. CityZen turned things around. While the atmosphere was nice, I must stress that it really was the cuisine that truly brought me back to life.
A duo of amuse bouches whetted our palates, a hazelnut soup and sweetbread terrine. Hazelnut soup does not sound like something I would like, but I was pleasantly surprised by the texture and flavor. It really was a perfect first bite, or slurp, as it were. While I'm not one for the texture of brains, my husband tells me the sweetbreads were also delectable.
We then treated ourselves to the tasting menu of seven courses, starting with a fantastic sashimi of yellowfin and toro. Served with dates and an orange-cardamom vinaigrette, the fishes were balanced, as was the complimentary citrus and spice flavoring the sauce. A pasta course was next, sweet potato gnocchi in brown butter that left me wanting more and my husband wondering why he normally passes up the potato pasta. For the seafood course, a simple butter-poached lobster in broth embraced the oil/butter-poaching trend with perfect execution.
I shouldn't get carried away before moving on what I would consider the main course, a rib eye of beef. I'll be honest, I almost passed up the tasting menu because I really do not like to order steak at fine restaurants. Generally, I find that the beef is not given the proper care and is lost in the shuffle of other courses, or is too filling to work properly on a tasting menu. Such was not the case for Eric Ziebold's creation. Instead, a conservative portion of tender and lean (if there is such a thing?!) ribeye was accompanied by fried marrow and fennel hash that wowed me more than any other course on the menu. In fact, I'd even consider ordering this off the dinner menu, but only if accompanied by the homey minibuns (bite-sized popovers served in a cedar chest).
As the meal decrescendoed, the cheese cart rolled around. Not being one to ever shun dairy goodness, I tried a sheep and goat's milk variety, a gouda, and some sort of dry Italian fromage I cannot remember, so probably not noteworthy. The offerings were arranged by region, flavor, and texture, and the staff was full of information regarding each selection. My lactose-intolerant husband enjoyed a simple poached pear that made him quite happy. Winding down, we anticipated that, as is often true with tasting menus, the dessert would be pleasant but lackluster. The chocolate tea cake, however, was instead yet another surprising and scrumptious course. Moist, rich with chocolate flavor, and served slightly warm, it filled my belly with a comforting sensation that made waned me to sleep on the way home.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Anniversary in Three Parts

This week, I'll be posting a little differently, a series on our anniversary dinners. Yes, I say dinners plural, but let me clarify and not sound too overindulgent; we went to all three on-deck locations for separate special occasions, the first of which was our actual wedding anniversary. Check in this week for posts on CityZen, 2941, and Komi, in that order. Friday, I'll let you know which we liked best and why.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Braised Short Rib


I brined, I braised, I glazed, and the end result was well worth the time and effort. In these lean economic times, my coffee and coke glazed short rib with onion marmalade conception served as a perfectly delectable substitute to a more pricey evening out...If the legal market continues with recent trends, these labor-intensive yet altogether satisfying nights at home may become all the more frequent.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Strip

We used our extra leave over the inauguration to escape the madness and head out to Vegas for the weekend. Now, I'm finally getting around to writing about it.

Upon arrival, we started walking the Strip to locate some of our old favorites, particularly regional spots that have Vegas outposts. We were disappointed to find that Pink's Hot Dogs of Hollywood and Commander's Palace of New Orleans have departed what was the Aladdin to make room for Planet Hollywood Hotel upgrades. Really, are these upgrades worth losing both spots?

Reasonably-priced meals are not easy to find in Vegas, but we did enjoy natural, nutricious, and somehow tasty fare, including housemade sodas and juices, at the Canyon Ranch Grill. We had hoped to hit up the top-ranked Wynn Buffet for Sunday brunch, but with a two-hour wait, we had to look elsewhere. Alternatives ranged from vomit-inducing (Sugar & Ice cafe in the Wynn) to not-too-shabby (Noodles dim sum and noodle bar in the Bellagio).

Other hits on our trip (seriously folks, Vegas is made for foodies, just foodies with deep pockets) included Joe's Stone Crab and BLT Burger. Joe's offers the opportunity to try fresh stone crab claws outside of Miami, the only location other than Chicago. The large portions can be shared, even with big eaters. Though a bread basket is not often worth mentioning, Joe's offers such a variety that I think it's worth the nod. I had high expectations for the key lime pie, but I honestly think the version at Ray's the Steaks is better. With BLT Steak a local destination here in town, we thought it only appropriate that we try BLT Burger, located in the Mirage. BLT is noteworthy for its classic, simple, respectable burger. While I don't consider it on par with a Hellburger (this Ray's comparison thing is becoming a theme) or Central, I would return for the great fries and shakes.

Truly though, the crowning glory of our weekend was B & B Ristorante, with Thomas Keller's Bouchon a trailing though secure second place. Both are located at the Venetian.

B & B is Mario Batali's mid-priced Vegas venture with partner Joseph Bastianich, a perfectly pleasing and stuffing choice. I would focus on pasta here; in fact, I ordered one for my appetizer and one for my main course. My particular favorite was the tagliatelle. The pork belly was quite fatty, though flavorful. Generally, the carniverous fare paled in comparison to the crowd-pleasing gnocchi and linguine. The struedel dessert was truly a culinary milestone.

At Bouchon, I must stress that you should focus your attentions on the entrees. Cod beignets were chewy and dry at the same time, with a tanic aftertaste that really was kinda yucky; The beet salad was edible (really, it's pretty hard to screw up roasted beets), though lackluster; and the very minute serving of chocolate mousse failed to leave any impression. Why then do I score Bouchon at a solid second? Two reasons. First, the steak frites were simply amazing. Served with a pat of herbed garlic butter, the flank steak was tender and juicy. The fries were crisp and plentiful, the perfect yin to the steak's yang. Second, the macarons are coma-inducing. I went with the chocolate variety, filled with ganache. Heaven ---- on ---- Earth. Seriously, good stuff folks. Just trust me here and pick up a couple at the Bakery just off the casino if you have a chance. Given the quality of the baked goods, I would also trust the Zagat rating for Bouchon as one of the best breakfasts in Vegas, though we were just too full to give it a shot on this trip.

In the end, both B&B and Bouchon thrive in their respective specialties. Both are definitely worth stop-ins on future trips.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

My Weekend with Patrice Olivon


My weekend with Patrice Olivon...

A couple weeks back, I spent an intensive, and lengthy, weekend learning French culinary techniques with my grandpa, chef Patrice (ok, he's not that old, but his personality is much more grandpa than dad, in that sometimes gruff, but mostly cute and cuddly kind of way). I got up really, really early on Saturday and Sunday mornings to drive to Gaithersburg, and finally headed back to Arlington at 8 pm or so on Sunday (beware, folks, the class is advertised as 9-4, but the course is more than meets the eye. The "advanced culinary weekend" course is a long and exhausting weekend.). Rather than recounting my weekend step-by-step, I'll let you enjoy a course at L'Academie de Cuisine yourself, and leave you with my top ten list, David Letterman style:

10. A Sauce is Worth a Million Words -

Sauces are much more labor intensive than you might think, but this is really the glue that can bring together a dish

9. Calories, Schmalories -

Seriously, this is French cooking. It's nothing if not fat-laden. The focus needs to be portion size rather than ingredients...small bites are quite enough when a dish is layered with flavor.

8. Clumsiness Can be a Blessing and a Curse -

Ok, so maybe you might back up into someone wielding a knife in the kitchen. On the other hand, you may throw in tarragon rather than tumeric and end up delighting in the consequence.

7. The Internet is Your Friend -

All sorts of things are available at specialty stores online, especially many of those sold-only-in-France ingredients. My personal favorite is Zingerman's.

6. It's Your Bread and Butter -

Serve homemade bread and high quality butter - 'nough said.

5. Know What You are Paying For -

Some things are worth it, others are not. Don't overlook Giant and Safeway for perfectly adequate and well-priced produce. Even Costco has a great meat selection.

4. It Takes Time -

Stir-fry is for your average week night; French food is for when you have a couple of hours to devote some TLC to your cuisine.

3. Waste Not, Want Not -

From bones and other parts used for stock, to buying an entire tenderloin that can be broken down. Think before putting something in the trash bin, garbage disposal, or compost pile.

2. Not All Things can be Replicated -

I've been trying to make those pesky macaroons every weekend since I took the course (mind you, they turned out perfectly when I made them at school). I think it's time I give up and head to Pralines in Bethesda.

1. Put in a Little Heart-

Don't work from a recipe. If you make food your own, you'll enjoy it that much more.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Snacks in the Hood

For some occasions, fine dining is in order. For others, more simple options are appropriate. Once in a while, we just want an afternoon snack or late night bite. We recently tried two relatively new spots in the 22201 which offer less formal bites, both large and small.


Tom Sietsema was right on when he reviewed Spider Kelly's...it's all about chicken, chicken, chicken. Whether in the roasted or fried variety, or in a nice bowl of chicken noodle soup, it's all delicious. Portions are more than generous and can easily be shared. The fries are flavored more with salt than the promised rosemary and garlic, so not my pick. Though we did not get the chance to try them on this outing, the Kelly Black (a cocktail of blackberries, Maker's, and ginger ale) and the Po'Boy both sound intriguing. It does seem that the kitchen is still trying to figure out cooking temps on the burgers (Sietsema complained of his being "raw", while the man at the table next to us let the server know that his was somewhat overdone - and comped, by the way, if anyone is curious). I'm nevertheless curious regarding the version cooked in pork fat. One other note; while you can certainly come as you are in the early dining hours, I wouldn't as evening sets in; a group in the open seating area near us were decked out even though it was barely 6 pm on a Sunday evening.

Jackson's Roasting and Carving Company in Ballston offers an honest sandwich and a good cup of coffee. My dining companion, who grew up loving Kenny Roger's Roasters, got a little confused, thinking that the menu was more rotisserie chicken than carved sandwiches. Jackson's prime rib version is juicy, almost bloody, but very flavorful. The meatloaf, topped with a little housemade horseradish sauce and on whole grain, is a comfortable favorite. I like that you can get your sandwich on a variety of house-baked breads, kaiser roll, or croissant if you prefer. Jackson's is not quite Atrium deli in Southwest, but it's open on weekends and accessibly located. Without many good delis on this side of the river, fresh carved sandwiches are a welcome addition to Arlington.

Monday, March 2, 2009

All Things Legislative...


I felt it necessary to take down my earlier post with the attached corrections because of my misunderstanding regarding the actual terms. In Obama's own terms, this legislation was designed to affect families making $250,000 or more, with no mention of whether this was net or gross income. So, it appeared to me that our president was talking about including more rather than less folks in the highest tax bracket. Let me say this clearly now; I WAS WRONG. The brackets are actually a return to Clinton-era tax brackets. In my defense, I did try to complete my due diligence...I went to whitehouse.gov, and recovery.gov, and tried search terms such as "tax bracket" to uncover the promised transparency...When these attempts were unsuccessful, I was forced to rely on media accounts, including WSJ and other prominent source accounts, to make sense of the new plan. I relied on incorrect ifnormation, but my misunderstanding has now been corrected; see this WaPo article for an accurate breakdown. These brackets have criticisms of their own...My strongest criticism is that I believe that in selling his plan, Mr. Obama has misrepresented those who truly makes up the upper class, or upper crust, in this country. By returning to the Clinton era rates, those making around $250K in net taxable income (pardon my earlier confusion) rise from 33% to 36%, plus their charitable contribution and mortgage interest deductions are further limited. Those making more than $378K in taxable income go from 35% to 39.6%. Those are the brackets of taxpayers affected by the increases in the plan. However, in selling his plan, Mr. Obama compares the nation's 400 highest-earning taxpayers to the the United States' middle class. I agree, those 400 taxpayers should pay more, much more. If we are going to honestly criticize trickle-down economics, then we need to specifically target the rich in this country. If we assume that these 400 taxpayers are actually working for their money, as wage earners, we can assume that their respective jobs come with incentives much more desirable than money. Company founders, CEOs, celebrities, professional athletes; these people are not going to quit doing what they do because they may fall into a higher tax rate. These positions include natural incentives; power, fame, fun. If, on the other hand, we assume that these persons do not earn a substantial portion of their income on the job, but instead make money off their investments (largely those with inherited family legacies like the Kennedys and Bushes of this country), this new plan raises their capital gains rates from 15 to 20 percent...is this really doing any good for our country? Shouldn't we create a new bracket, even a cap gains bracket, for those top 400, or even top 4000 taxpayers. Shouldn't a taxpayer making $350K be taxed differently than one making $35 million? Why don't we change this? We don't because of the same reason that no politician before President Obama has; their pockets are filled (their campaigns funded) with the riches of these folks....Democrats and Republicans alike are guilty here. President Obama prides himself on his campaign funding, the fact that most donors gave less than $50. I think that is admirable...He just has to start practicing what he preaches.

Now, as the first part of my post, I stand true...I'm posting it again below:


I am going to make an earnest effort here to fit all of my political complaining into one concise package. I'm well aware that not all of my readers and friends share my views. But, if a blog is not a forum to express one's self, than what is? So, on to my criticism of our plan for this nation's economic certainty and what it means for homeowners and taxpayers. First, the president institutes a "bailout" for all those homeowners who cannot meet their mortgage responsibilities because of ARMs that they cannot meet, ARMs that these folks entered into knowing full well that payments would escalate when interest rates increased. I call that a "windfall" for the negligent, but ok, for argument's sake, "bailout". I think my real criticism of this part of the package comes from my time spent in Orange County, ground zero for the collapse of the housing market. You see, out there in the OC, leveraging oneself for purposes of portraying a style of life well beyond one's means is commonplace. Anyhow, that tangent complete, I'll point out why I agree with CNBC's resident lunatic. The government, with tax dollars, is going to help keep homeowners in houses they cannot afford by lowering obligations to no more 37% of take home, paying off any deficit partially with credits to the bank, but more importantly, with taxpayer dollars. Here's what this package comes down to: bailing out, with taxpayer funds, greedy homeowners who bought homes they could not afford...this plan is not tailored for those who are now out of work, and is not tailored for those who've already been foreclosed upon. If your average homeowner, however, wants to take advantage of the favorable interest rates in this market, and lower his or monthly payments (on say, a responsible fixed rate mortgage), that homeowner will have to shell out 2-3% in closing costs, anywhere between $15-20K..which said homeower cannot afford, because his or her dollars are currently tied up in taxes paying off the mortgage down the street, you know, the one "bailed out" with the president's package.

That being said, I do believe that we need to take steps to fix the housing situation of so many that have no alternatives, whether renting or being foreclosed upon. This other WaPo article outlines the housing situation of those truly in need. With an involved administration, and HHS, I believe that there is a responsible plan to help those who are struggling....let's go back to the drawing board and think about this.
I also feel it's necessary to repost the final part of my original post...After all, I still believe in our president, but also in fiscal conservatism.

I don't regret voting for Obama. Our nation needed to take a step forward and to be inspired - Obama offered that hope and we as a nation accepted the challenge of becoming one again. That being said, I am a wee bit frustrated with our president, ringing in what I believe he thinks it the
New New Deal, but what I consider wasteful and irresponsible spending. Alas, my inspiration wears thin and I'm reminded, once again, why I'm a republican.

Now, on to DC voting rights....I kid, I kid....there's plenty of criticism for both parties here, and constitutional questions abound (anywhere from the right to bear arms to the power of self-governance), but I'll leave it to those who can summarize the situation much more eloquently than I. Ok, I'm stepping off my soapbox right this minute, and returning to the food...

Again, I'm stepping off the soapbox, but I felt it necessary to post one more time on this issue. I didn't want to stoke the fire of the media's mis-portrayal of this proposed budget package.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Kudos

Locals make good....Looks like The Bitten Word is world renowned folks, and Spike, still making DC proud with his Good Stuff at Food Network's Burger Bash at the SoBe food and wine festival.

Now, if only Maryland (hate those Dukies) and Carla on Top Chef can pull it out tonight...

Sunday, February 22, 2009

And The Winner Is....

....PassionFish!!

This year's restaurant week was full of pleasantries....seriously, not a bad pick in the bunch. All in all, I don't have major complaints about any of our meals. Amongst them, Adour, Poste, and Tosca as well. Adour offered a short but refined menu with tasty, well-executed dishes at a much reduced fare. Poste was also a nice experience, with a particularly satisfying striped bass, though the choices focused a bit too heavily on poached eggs. Tosca's food (especially the pasta) and service were exemplary, given a packed RW house, and the offerings covered almost the entire menu with only two upcharges. Yet, PassionFish established itself as the clear winner.

In terms of factors, I would consider value and taste to be my primary considerations, with service (given those special RW complications) following closely behind. So, let's get to the critical analysis...at this point, I should point out, if you don't like fish, you may as well stop reading now:

1) Value: Apps and desserts were slightly limited, but every entree on the menu was included on the list. Plus, the servings were very generous with and full of pricey goodies, like lobster and crab. Our table ended up adding a sushi roll, but amongst our group were some really, I mean really big eaters. BTW, the PassionFish roll, a rainbow roll with a twist, was a big hit with us.

2) Taste: Ok, this is the really the category that gets me every time. Crappy service and high prices can be overlooked (though not issues on this particular evening) when you reach bliss in a bite. I had several of these bliss moments over the course of our meal. First, the butternut squash and lobster bisque was heavenly, adding richness with squash rather than just cream (not that I can pretend that cream was absent, but a girl can dream!). That's not to overlook the "bread", which was a very accurate approximation of Win Schuler's bar-scheeze and schips...Michiganders know what I'm talking about... Also great are the classic ceviche and monkfish. The must-have dish would probably be the whole crispy flounder. Served in a thai basil sauce, the fish was flavorful and light. Dessert is included with a RW menu, but I would rather get my sugar in the form of cocktails here. There are some truly unique selections, including the Marie Antoinette and a variety of bellinis that sound fabulous.

3) Service: Also stellar. A busy night with RW craziness and large tables presented a challenge, but our waiter was definitely up to the task. Kudos for great recommendations and none of the RW snootiness that can sometime plague servers concerned about their "discount" tips. We also were seated immediately even though we arrived 15 minutes before our reservations. What a way to make guests feel welcome.

Still on the list...Cafe Atlantico, with a two-week Restaurant Week menu. I'll be sure to edit my post accordingly.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Best and Worst for Restaurant Week

Restaurant week is always an adventure. There are winners, and there are losers. Either way, it's always a great opportunity to determine just which restaurants are worth full price.

Dino is a great pick. With the option of a half pasta, or hot or cold antipasti for the first course, plus the availability of everything on the menu, their RW menu is full of delicious options. I would recommend any of the fish or pasta options for the main course here, particularly the tilefish. The option of adding a $4 cheese course seems like a bargain. However, with grappa and a satisfying dolce course still to go, the fromaggio may just be too much, even if the price tag is under $40.

In all fairness, Dino's "restaurant week" deal is available most of the time right now, not just the 16th through the 20th. There's also always the early-bird menu, for pre-theater or other dining prior to 7 pm ($24). Plus, their Valentine's menu shames other restaurants with a $59 price tag. So, while the RW deal is not the only way to take advantage of the tasty Venetian fare at Dino, you will not regret this reservation.

Other great picks include Capital Grille (yes, cliche, but just try the NY Strip salad), Bistro Bis, TenPenh, and Firefly.

Now, what to avoid. First, I have to put Mio on the list. During our last RW stopover, Mio's offerings were not inspirational, and lacked flavor. Looking forward to the relief of dessert, we found that this course was not only flavorless, but also lacked texture. Only two or three options were available per course. What's worse, nearly half of the menu was unavailable for our 7:00 reservation, hardly late night dining. The service also lagged, even though the restaurant was nearly empty. It was a disaster, and I couldn't fairly recommend Mio to anyone of whom I'm fond.

I also would skip Oya, Domaso, and Oyamel (at least for lunch) this week.

Looking for more recommendations: check out Todd Kliman's guide to restaurant week (v. helpful).

Saturday, February 7, 2009

My Anti-Valentine's Dinner

So, last night, I tried out Washingtonian's latest frugal foodie dinner, a beet roulade and pork loin with fantasy potatoes from the chef at Evening Star. As always, I edited a bit, adding some frugality of my own. Because I already had shrimp and pork loin (boneless, not bone-in as per the recipe) in the freezer, and my Green Grocer's shipment this week included beets, avocado, and gold potatoes, I was well on my way. I picked up a bit of Gruyere at the Whole Foods salad bar (a great place to look for smaller bites of cheese) as well as a couple of mushroooms and a fennel bulb. I skipped the oysters because I don't care for them and who needs their aprhrodisiac qualities when it's not Valentines, right?! I'm kidding, of course. I also subbed other items I already had in the fridge, ham for the bacon and carrot root for the spinach. Finally, I slightly caramelized some white onion to substitute for the shallots. For me, the cost was more like $4, pretty good for a gourmet dinner at home.

Now, what the meal lacked in cost, it made up for in preparation time. It took me 2 hours to complete the prep and cooking and I think my husband did appreciate my romantic efforts. The potatoes were great, frankly I think ham added a better flavor than bacon would have. The pork loin was quite tasty, but a bit dry. I'm afraid the boneless substitute was not a good choice. The beet roulade was the best course, the flavors mingling perfectly. I will point out that only plastic wrap will lead to a proper roulade. I only had press and seal wrap, which never got tight enough, and mine resembled more of a salad than a roll. One other note, I think this meal is portioned for plenty of leftovers dependent on the size of your beets and potatoes, so don't overload the plate. All in all, a great value and some very delicious courses. The randomness of refined quiet dinner at home, just like our random anti-Valentine's engagement a few years back, provided plenty of romance.

Look forward to losts of new posts soon to celebrate our new readership. I'll be blogging on our recent gastronomic finds in Vegas, restaurant week suggestions, and comparing grocery delivery services in upcoming posts.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Too Much of a Good Thing


It's February!! Time to celebrate the peak of truffle season. Time to bust out those gourmet goodies and top everything with their delectable shavings. But let me warn you, at least from my own palate's sensitive perspective, limit your portion size. A lengthy meal at the eponymous restaurant of venerable Parisian chef Michel Rostang, one that ended well after midnight, taught me this valuable gastronomic lesson. While we look back fondly on our very expensive meal last February(what is the dollar versus the euro again?), perhaps six courses of truffles is a bit too much. I danced through courses such as truffle terrine, truffle sandwich, truffle salad, truffle soup...you get the point...at least the cheese and dessert courses were truffle-free. Now, don't get me wrong, this was probably the most decadent dining experience of my life. Everything was incredibly rich, flavorful, and the souffle may be the best I have ever had (a close tie with La Grenouille in New York). Our favorite part of the meal was perhaps when our waiter explained that dogs have replaced les couchons (or, pigs) as truffle sniffers because the pigs eat too many. It was wonderful, but it was just too much. I looked ridiculously bloated in my fancy dress, my belly hurt, and my senses were overloaded. When I left, I didn't want to see a truffle for weeks, and a year later, I'm still not sure I do. Perhaps I should have remembered when ordering, all things in moderation....

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

I ♡ NY ≠ I Hate DC

What is it hater? Why you gotta be like this? And Politico, you Benedict Arnold, shame on you for running it...while yes, we should strive to be both self-analytical and self-critical in our quest to achieve high culinary standards, I have to agree with foodies elsewhere. This snobbish lack of effort is not to be tolerated.

At least, however, there are some NYTimes journalists who can manage to be objective and to celebrate rather than rain on the parade that was Obama's inauguration. It also seems that Gourmet, with Alice Waters in tow, mind you, (but what does she know?!!) and celebs galore found the local offerings tolerable. Bon Appetit, on the other hand, seems to be in Marian Burros' camp, though I understand BA's focus is not necessarily on restaurant dining.

It's a standing feud...it's not likely to go away anytime soon...While I stand firmly on the southern side of this divide, perhaps we can learn from this. In no way do I profess to be some savant, but I've traveled a bit and I've eaten quite a bit. I've eaten quite a bit in quite a few restaurants, including a few in NY. I think DC is truly coming into its own, and hopefully, this most recent spotlight will result in a favorable, rather than downwardly nasal view. So, next time your friends are in town from MAn-HAt-An, take them out and show them what we have to offer.

Full disclosure: I have to agree with Burros' take on Marcel's...What is up with Robert Weidmaier lately?

Not horrible, but not worth it: Marcel's

Our inaugural weekend visit to Marcel's was enjoyable enough, but not worthy of recent rankings in several of DC's top ten lists. First, let me say that we were impressed by the decor, a beautiful space with a lovely open and elevated kitchen. Also intriguing was the menu selection: can you say options? Anywhere from three to seven courses are available from between $42 and $110. Twenty-eight different offerings are spread across seven courses, that are really more like categories: appetizer, shellfish, fish, game, meat, cheese, and dessert. The menu also offers a nice variety of French wines.

The service was also exemplary. Our service captain, Theo, was helpful and attentive, but what struck me most is that he truly believes in Marcel's cuisine and chef Robert Wiedmaier. For my taste, however, there were far too many courses not to be believed in...the snails were chewy, the scallop and foie gras not seared enough, and the tuna over seared, almost cooked. The meat and game were much more pleasing, in particular an herby bison filet, and venison roast served with a perfect root vegetable purée. At first, we weren't enticed by the dessert and cheese options but when we saw a soufflé go by, we changed our minds - personally, I'm always a sucker for a souffle. Unfortunately, this hazelnut example just wasn't the best, though curiously plenty of diners arrived just for dessert.

I come away with the conclusion that Wiedmaier's talents are chops, roasts, and charcuterie, which are on better and less expensive display at Brasserie Beck. For my money, Marcel's isn't worth the price.

Monday, January 26, 2009

A secretary of defense and former president drive into a strip mall....Peking Gourmet

On Chinese New Year, it seems only appropriate to welcome our new Commander in Chief to the area by sharing a little insight to a presidential right of passage - Peking Gourmet in Falls Church. You see, never have we arrived at PG to find that we could be seated at reservation time (or within a half hour thereof, for that matter). I'm repeatedly reminded of the classic Seinfeld car rental reservation episode, yet we consistently subject ourselves to a situation like this other Seinfeld episode (though with a huge crowd participating in the wait with us) .

Why do we wait? Is it to see the high-ranking legislative and executive branch folks that we count as our local celebrities? No, only once did that turn out to be a true A-list DC politician (or two): Bill and Hillary strategizing her presidential campaign bid with Terry McCullough. More often, it's instead been folks like William Cohen. Is it because Mr. and Mrs. Tsui are so good at charming their customers who get so tired of waiting? No, even though the Tsuis are incredibly talented at making you feel that you are at the very top of their priority list. Is it because of joy of the countless family gatherings we've celebrated here? Well, no (please, family, forgive me), as much as I enjoy the memories, this just isn't it.

No, we keep coming back, and waiting, and waiting, and waiting, and waiting (you get the point) because the food is simply that good. You will not find Peking duck, salt and pepper shrimp, black bean sea bass, or bean curd family style (just a few of our favorites) quite like this anywhere else in the area. This is why we, and other large crowds, continue to return, and continue to wait. Once the first bite hits your tongue, you've suddenly forgotten the forty-five minutes you were standing in a cramped room. Some may say that PG is not the same as it once was, but that is not what the crowds tell me.

Now, I'm quite certain Obama will not have to wait...in fact, the special secure room is likely to be available just in case. However, even if he did, I think he might deem the wait worth it as well.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Caribbean Dreams

We finally took our late "summer" beach trip, postponed by hurricanes, airlines, and every other roadblock that nature and fate could throw at us.

Traveling to the Cove at Paradise Island in the Bahamas, we were more then tempted to try their signature restaurant, an outpost of Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill. While Southwestern flavors are not my favorite for refined cuisine, I was still excited to try a new taste. Seafood and steak "reigned supreme" on the menu, though I found these dishes to be a bit underwhelming. I preferred the chili rellano, the same one from this episode of "Throwdown". Amongst Bobby's favorite ingredients, blue cornmeal and poblano peppers are both pervasive on this menu.

We also enjoyed the buffet at the Cove, though at $70 for Friday night dinner (ouch!!), the more reasonably-priced breakfast and lunch offerings were equally impressive to us. Each offered plenty of made-to-order stations as well as fresh produce, baked goods, and desserts. One thing to keep in mind at the Cove or Atlantis, the dining options don't come cheap....while we weren't desperate enough to pay the aforementioned price for the Cove buffet, other reasonably-priced dinner options are hard to find.

Truly though, it couldn't get any worse than the the Spirit Airlines terminal at FLL. With the prospect of a flight with no water, food, or beverages, we were desperate to find something to eat at the Fort Lauderdale airport. When I say there was nothing, I might be exagerating slightly...there was a Nathan's hot dog kiosk. With the odor reeking from the place, though, I wonder about both the sanity and stomach of lining of Joey Chestnut. Alas, our best option was to travel to a Chili's in another terminal (we had a nine-hour layover, so plenty of time to do so). While my soup and salad were passable, my previously-referenced desire to revisit chains does not apply to Chili's, given my aformentioned lack of enthusiasm for Southwestern food.

Arriving home, I thanked my lucky stars for the availability of Legal Seafood and other options at Reagan, as well the plethora of options available on every street corner in this DC foodie's everyday life.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Coming soon to Clarendon...

Le Pain Quotidien is opening here...basically at the footsteps of my building. Couldn't be more thrilled about having a new pick-up shop in the area. With the seemingly endless array of full-service restaurants around Clarendon, a bakery from which to carry out breakfast and dessert is just perfect for the neighborhood. Not only this, but finally, we are able to bid goodbye to the eyesore that has made up the Southwest corner of Fillmore and Clarendon for well over two years now. This makes me almost as happy as the coming of Pret a Manger (affectionately, "Pret") to Farragut West any minute now.

I also spy a new locale from restauranteurs Nick Langman, Peter Pflug, and David Pressley. filling one of the vacant spaces in the block that Liberty Tavern and Spider Kelly's currently occupy. Eventide promises to be the newest Clarendon destination with dining and bar experiences in three distinct settings. Better yet, Eventide will occupy the Odd Fellows building at Hudson and Wilson, preserving the historic facade.

Yeah for Clarendon development...

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Bastille - C'Est Parfait

It is with pleasure that I write to you concerning Bastille, the French inn tucked into an otherwise nondescript industrial complex in Alexandria. First greeted by a warm, low lit room, and quasi-open kitchen, we moved on with the distraction of a very comprehensive wine list. While the emphasis on the vino is French (obviously!), I was pleased to find that Pinot selections from the Oregonian Willamette Valley also made the list. While the Rex Hill offered by the glass is no Penner Ash, it won't cost you as much and is still quite tasty.

Bastille offers a variety of tasting menus, reasonably priced from $35 to $59 for between three and six courses, as well as a la carte selections. We chose the four course menu as it offered the most choice. Instead of a salad that is advertised as the second course of the mid-priced menu, our Saturday evening menu started with an amuse bouche of pate made from pheasant, duck, and chicken livers. The flavors were smoky and deep, and the consistency was pleasant, not as rich as traditional pates. Executive Christophe Poteaux's food is self-described as "straightforwardly good". The first course was by all means an indication of that philosophy.

We then moved on to an appetizer duo of scallop and foie gras. Both proteins were seared to perfection, with neither texture overwhelming the other. All of this was topped with a scrumptious and distinct fig jam. I would not have thought to pair a scallop with foie gras, each with its own richness and individuality, but everything about this course worked perfectly.

Entrees presented the first divergence at our table, with my dining companion enjoying the short rib and myself the veal sirloin. Meat is apparently the word for the entree course at Bastille. The short rib was accompanied by a long red pepper reduction. While the meat was a bit fatty for my taste, those who who enjoy a short rib would appreciate this dish, particularly given the tenderness of the meat. I was impressed with the vegetable fricassee served alongside - though I'm sure plenty of butter was involved in the preparation, the vegetables were crisp and flavorful. My veal sirloin, served with a porcini-truffle-red wine infusion, is best described as steak "noir". Not steak au poivre. Not a pepper flavor. But likewise dark yet punchy, and satisfying too. The parmesan pomme puree was infused with an uber parmesan flavor that bordered on overwhelming. Not a side for the faint of heart when is comes to cheese, but something I enjoyed. As is often the case for me, the entree was anticlimactic. Nevertheless, a pleasing and might I add, quite filling course.

The evening and the meal worked themselves to perfect conclusion with dessert. Both of us migrated to the maple flan choice. I am a sucker for deep-fried sage leaves, so this topping for the flan, along with maple-glazed walnuts, sang to me. The flan and coffee just capped off the meal with bliss. Pastry chef and wife Michelle Poteaux-Garbee knows what she's doing (I hear that her specialty, a spiced pear and blue panna cotta is also out of this world)!!

C'est parfait!!! That's all there is to say. Bastille was perfect meal - value, selection quality, flavor, charming ambiance, perfect.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Should have obtained a patent

Yes, I realize that this story has already been covered to the saturation point in both local and national media outlets. I also realize that I'm late to the punch. I just just cannot help myself. This is too much.

LeBron, we know you are "the One". Please note, however, there are those of us that do not, like you, believe that you are God. Yes, you are a pretty damn good basketball player. Yes, you may be able to demand an astronomical salary, dictate popular culture, and hold the NY/NJ metro area captive as to whether you will grace them with your presence. But, sir, you are no deity. Please, shut that overactive trap of yours and get that nasty smirk off your face.

Jordan was in my opinion, the best basketball player in history. He commanded the court, and often, calls. Kobe is unreal - he moves on a court gracefully and effortlessly. Wilt scored over 100 in a game; need I say more? Did any of them have their very own signature crustacean-named, penalty-immune, dance to the basket? No, the simple answer is no.

Wizards fans in particular have too often been subject to LeBron-favorable calls for years, as recently as Christmas day. These calls have determined the outcome of playoff series, kept your talentless coach in a undeserved job for several seasons, and the dashed the hopes of a once-Bullets loving fan residing at my address. But just this once the call was in favor of the lowly bottom-of-the-East-dwelling Wizards. But LeBron, you just cannot accept it and move on. No, it must be the refs that got it wrong. Clearly, they don't understand.

Alas, however, the call remains. Last I checked, David Stern had not repudiated the outcome or criticized the referee at issue. No, everything actually turned out just how it should have. Everyone except you, LeBron, realizes this. As Caron Butler so eloquently put it, "there is a God." Though, LeBron, it may need to be noted, Caron was not referring to you!!