Monday, December 29, 2008

Constant, gentle pressure...It's what he preaches, but does he practice it?

We Love NY more than eva!

Those are the words of Danny Meyers of Union Square Hospitality from his book "Setting the able." I've pulled five of his directives below:

  • Hospitality is present when something happens for you. It is absent when something happens to you. These two simple concepts—for and to—express it all.
  • Context, context, context, trumps the outdated location, location, location.
  • Shared ownership develops when guests talk about a restaurant as if it's theirs. That sense of affiliation builds trust and invariably leads to repeat business.
  • Err on the side of generosity: You get more by first giving more.
  • Wherever your center lies, know it, name it, believe in it. When you cede your core values to someone else, it's time to quit.
This mantra is how he guides the staff in their day-to-day operations of the companies crazily successful restaurants, which are:
Union Square Cafe, Gramercy Tavern, Eleven Madison Park, Tabla, Blue Smoke/Jazz Standard, Shake Shack, The Modern, Cafe 2 and Terrace 5, located at the newly renovated Museum of Modern Art, and Hudson Yards Catering.

Because I wanted to see if this guy was for real, I had to give his first restaurant, Union Square Cafe, a shot.

I went on the day after Christmas with my father, wife, and son. We had spent the day traipsing around, hitting FAO Shwartz, Brooks Brothers, Bergdoff, all of the places we can't afford.

The strange thing about it is that there was no traffic, the streets weren't crowded, and we had no trouble finding parking. I used to park in Ridgewood or Hoboken and take the train, but after watching the news in the morning I decided to make a run for it in the car. We parked on the street everywhere we went. We only had to pay for a garage for lunch parking. That may not seem special to a lot of you who read my column as parking is relatively easy to find in DC comparitively speaking.
Cheryl enjoying that first glass of wine after being chilled and on her feet all day.

Anyhow, on to the restaurant. Union Square Cafe is just off....Union Square! Everyone was pleasant from the minute we walked in. We had to wait about five minutes for the table. Not a big deal.

The decor is so/so modernist. Not impressive, but not in bad shape either. Most places look better at night, and since we were there for lunch we had the full day-light effect.

We started out with some salads/soups, and a carpaccio. The carpaccio was nice and fresh, as was everything else.


For my entree, I had a 1/2 portion (nice touch on the 1/2 portions) of Linguine with Duck Liver and Bacon Ragu. This was a great item. Just enough of the liver was there to add the flavor. The presentations were great and the food was excellent.
Linguine with Duck Liver and Bacon Ragu

The only complaint (if you can call it that) I have about the place is in regards to our waitress. It seems that the total situational awareness that I come to expect in the really professional restaurants was lacking with our server. The rest of the staff was fine, but there was something just a hair off with her. Danny, don't scold her if you're reading this please. It wasn't unpleasant, it just wasn't pleasant. In a place like this you would think at if a server didn't "Click" with their quest that they would pass the table to someone else.

Woud I go back and try his other places? Absolutely. My wife took 1/2 her sandwich with her, which they packed very well, and put in a bag with a note from the chef that said,
Tuna Salad with Anise and Bacon

"Thank you for dining at Union Square Cafe. I'm delighted that you thought so highly of your meal that you've taken the rest home. Hope you'll enjoy it as much the second time around. See you soon at Union Square Cafe!
Michael Romano

That's a nice touch.

Hope to hear from you soon folks. Keep the comments coming.

Next post will be about the New Years' Eve Meal..Michael Mina Style...Tenderloin poached in herbed butter, served with truffled cognac demi-glace, truffled mac and cheese, and truffled haricot verte with Rose Chapmagne. I'm not sure what's going on with the truffles as they're usually done for the season at this point. Don't look a gift horse in the mouth I guess.

Stay tuned for pix!

Give to those in need please.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Some musings on the nature of longing and renewal of faith associated with the holidays.

So I had some thoughts as I was watching the sun rise over Upper Greenwood Lake on Christmas Morning.
Going back to New Jersey for the holidays is filled with joy and a tremendous sense of relief that regardless of the time away or what has happened over the year, how people have changed, families merge and divide, friends leave, relatives grow old and new ones are born, you can always count just a few little things in life.
Taylor Ham, I love you for all of your crispy, greasy, salty goodness. May we never be apart for long.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Grace's Mandarin at the National Harbor Redux

The last time I went to Grace's there were no walls, doors, furniture, floors, or anything really, other than aluminum framing and a hole in the ground. Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw when I went to have a little pre-opening tour with one of the owners, Nice Guy Eddie. He is Grace's son.Nice Guy Eddie and me.
So, we drove down to the harbor and sampled some of his hospitality, sake, and sushi. All three were excellent. The food has got to be good when you've put in all the blood, sweat, and tears these guys have to build this restaurant. I'm predicting a very successful venture here.
MC 30Ft. Buddha
This overlooks one of the large tables they have. There are several areas in the restaurant where you can have small, medium, or large tables with privacy.

This is a view from the third floor down to the second. There are a total of four seperate floors for dining/lounging, including a rooftop patio. All have great views across the harbor.

Oh, the food is good too! They weren't actually serving dinner, but since I showed up, they put together a little something for Cheryl, Alex and me. They were planning on a soft opening but didn't get all of the permits required in time to stock and prep everything until Saturday.

This place opens for business on Monday 12/22. Go down and give them a try. I think you'll like what you see. If you follow Waterfront Street until it hooks left you'll see Grace's on your left hand side.

Tell them The Doctor sent you.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Coming to you LIVE! From BLT Steak!

Sorry, had to throw in that title for obvious reasons. You run into the darndest people in Washington, don't ya? Wolf Blitzer and me at BLT Steak

So here's some news for you. I've got a favorite new steakhouse and it's name is BLT. I'd had lunch there previously, but I didn't really experience the whole thing then like I did Saturday.
Cheryl and I started out at her office party with a few glasses of bubbly then headed to BLT for a late dinner.

Our table at BLT was a little late to open, but after eating there I understand why people want to keep their tables for a while after they're done eating. This place has the VIBE. All caps, btw. You walk in and you know you're going to have a good time because everyeone else there is having a good time. The music is cool, the place is loud, the service is there when you need it and very friendly. Adam, the GM, is very good at what he does. Their sommelier, whose name escapes me at this moment, was helpful and knew what she was talking about.

So on to the meal: We started out with a cocktail at the bar while we waited. Once we sat we got a dozen oysters. Three of the twelve weren't the best we've had, but the rest were tasty. I was starting to get concerned. All worries, however, were forgotten once the Fois Gras showed at the table. I've had my share, but this was above and beyond. Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture, and truthfully it's not pretty anyhow. That being said, this was seared perfectly. There was a crisp carmelization on both sides and it was topped with some apple something. I wasn't paying attention to the fruit really. This FG, when paired with the sauternes the sommelier suggested, was unbelievably good. Sublime is a word that comes to mind.

From there, we moved on to the entrees. Cheryl had the Sole with a browned butter, lemon and caper sauce. The browned butter brings a nutty flavor to it. It was a nice dish. The texture and flavor we as good as it gets.
Dover Sole with Browned Butter/Lemon/Caper Sauce
On to my entree, which was a 5-ounce slab of Kobe Beef.
Kobe with a bone (full of marrow) and roasted garlic.
I've never had beef that tasted like this. This is the real deal flown in from Japan. The cows are fed beer and massaged daily. It tastes like it too. It was offered with a choice of sauces, though it's really not necessary with a steak like this. I got the Bernaise just to see how theirs was, and it was good, but I didn't let it near the beef. The bone was served with marrow in it. Some of that slathered on the cheese popovers they serve was a delight by itself.
The sommelier paired our entrees with a 2006 St. Joseph, Domaine du Tunnel. It stood up nicely and both Cheryl and I enjoyed it.
So, overall experience? A+. One of the top 10 meals I've ever had. I recommend it highly. Give it a shot.
Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Are my methods.......unsound? Into the heart of darkness:

Or, into the kitchen for Thanksgiving.
What a great time. I prepped for a few days, did everything I could before-hand, et voila! It was done.
I'm going to post this in stages, so check in frequently! We'll start out with the end. The turkey. I borrowed a recipe from The Inn at Little Washington. The brine has 23 ingredients. If you're interested, post your e-mail and I'll send you the recipe. Good luck finding all of the ingredients. I was able to get 21. Mike says he only tasted 19.
Here's what the bird looked like:Making a little roux for the gravy. I prefer to deglaze the roasting pan with some white wine and reduce that until it's barely liquid, pour in the drippings (minus the fat) and add it to the roux with some stock.

The cranberry dressing is fairly traditional with two bags of cranberries, one cup of water, 3/4 cup O.J., 1/4 cup Grande Marnier, and 2 cups of sugar. Simmer 'til it's thick and all the berries have popped (or pop them as you simmer) roughly 1/2 hour.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Just because you read it in The Post doesn't mean it's true. Redwood Rocks.

Was anyone but me incensed with the review that ran for this restaurant in the Post? Please comment.
I'm not sure what happened there. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but I have to say that I think Tom was wrong. Dead wrong.
I have yet to have a bad meal or service here. I've been at Redwood at least six times since they opened and I am speaking from personal experience.
Tonight was a standard example. I went to Redwood for dinner with my extended family. My son was a little sugar deficient at the beginning of the meal and was in the dumps. Ash, our server, went above and beyond to try to get him to a good spot. At the end of the dinner, my son was at the other end of the spectrum as far as his blood sugars goes, as you'll notice in the pictures.
We started out with a very nice bottle of red, some chicken liver mousse and a salad.
I forgot to snap pix of those and dug in.
Moving on we shared the following items:
The short-rib chili. Always good. Great comfort food on a cold night.

The Red Snapper. Served on a potato pancake. Nice sauce. The fish was done perfectly and was crisped.

The Cioppini. I hadn't seen this dish before and was impressed. It was much better than the version I used to serve at Legal Seafoods. The soup had just enough kick. The inclusion of the head-on shrimp is interesting and gave my son something fun to play with at the table.

The Whole Rockfish. This dish was the star of the meal as far as I was concerned. The fish was done perfectly. The herbs they had stuffed in it perfumed the flesh nicely without being over-powering.

As for the blood-sugar dilemma, I'd say we had it taken care of with the S'mores. Yes, that is melted chocolate all over his face.
All in all, I'd say that this restaurant is a great reason to not believe everything you read in the papers. Don't believe what you read on blogs either...check it out for yourself.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

I'm usually not like this.....

However, this was too good to keep to myself.

Take a shot at the recipe below. If you click on it it should open up to a legible size. Don't leave this recipe lying around where little ones can read it as it contains foul language and violence that may discourage them from eating the dish.

This is a recipe for one of the best-tasting lobster dishes I've ever had, and one of the more impressive dishes I've ever made.

The flavors of this sauce and the way they come together is so good it will give you goose bumps. The richness of the cream and lobster is balanced perfectly by the four types of onions and the lemon finale. Make sure you have a nice crusty baguette as you'll want to dip.

The recipe comes from one of my favorite guys, Tony Bourdain, and is represented here without permission, straight from the Les Halles Cookbook.

Follow the instructions and take your time. The unpleasantness of tearing into a live lobster fades quickly when weighed against the taste of the finished product.

Rather than trying to cut the tail while it's still attached to the lobster, I suggest giving it a good twist and removing it from the rest of the animal before cutting. Don't try cutting the beast with your favorite knife unless it's very heavy-duty.

Thank you Tony.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Ben's Chili Bowl

So, I finally made it to Ben's Chili Bowl. Purveyor of half-smokes to the rich and famous. It's been around for a long time and unless they screw up really badly it will be here long after most of us are gone.
I had put off going to this establishment for years because it seems I'm always out of cash and they never had the technology to accept credit cards and there isn't a Chevy Chase ATM anywhere near it. That is exacerbated by the fact that I really like Ulah Bistro, which is right across the street, and they do accept credit cards.There is nothing surprising here. No venison chili with fresh chipotles that were hand-smoked by Native Americans in a yurt. No free-range chickens, no Kobe beef. Just your standard diner food.

Focused on chili, naturally.
How was it? Not bad. You know exactly what you're getting. The chili is a little pasty for me, but the half-smoke was good. The fries were great. Nice and crunchy, but not burnt.

Upon exiting, I was shocked to learn that they have decided not to use the their credit card processing capability. They can process them, but they choose not to. Interesting.
Best of luck.
Remember to bring cash, or be willing to pay the fee to use the ATM in their restaurant.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Sunday Gumbo Is Mighty Fine...

Sundays are good days around the Smelson household for the most part. We like to hang out, do some grocery shopping, and make something that takes a while. Or at least I like to cook something that takes a while and my family likes to eat it. This Sunday we were shopping at the new Harris Teeter on Rockville Pike, (very nice store) and I was hit by the gumbo bug.
You start out with a 1/2 stick of unsalted butter and a 1/4 cup of flour. I like to cook it in my trusty cast iron Dutch oven. Put the heat on low and stir extremely frequently. If you don't you'll burn your roux and have to start over.

Stir with one hand whilst you chop with your other...just kidding. Pay attention to one thing at a time when you're playing with knives. Anyhow, dice two large green peppers;

1/2 pound of okra, about 6 cloves of garlic, and one large onion.

After you've got the prep done for the veggies, you can start cooking the meats you're going to throw in the pot. This is a personal thing and gumbo can be made with just about any leftovers you have in the fridge, but I like to use lots of Andouille, smoked if I can get it.

Don't forget about your roux! It takes me about 45 minutes to get it to the color of peanut butter.

Once you've got that color, throw in the diced onions and garlic. Keep stirring.
How about some shrimp in there?!

Put the green peppers and okra in once the onions and garlic have browned up a bit.

This is what it should look like just before you put in the liquid. I use 3-4 cups of a good beef broth.
Once you've added the liquid, throw in a few bay leaves and a pinch or two of cayenne. If you've got it, some Prudhomme Gumbo File doesn't hurt either. The sauce will darken and thicken. It's ok to cover this and leave it on the stove on low for a few hours to let the flavors meld.

This is the finished product. Serve it over white rice with a good crusty loaf of bread an you've got a Sunday great.
Questions? Comments? Rude remarks? I'm all ears.
Until next time...keep eatin'.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Dino in Cleveland Park, and then some after-dinner libations at Redwood

It was a nice night to be out. I was out with a friend of mine from work, Matt Freeman.

We started the evening out at Dino in Clevland Park. Dean Gold, proprietor, is a consumate foodie. In a previous life he was a buyer for Whole Foods. He's passionate about his wine and his cooking.

We started off with some Risotto with white truffles. The texture was perfect, thought there was a bit more cheese in the risotto than I care for personally. The truffles were very mild for the white variety. I was disappointed that they weren't as pungent as some I've had the pleasure of trying in the past.

We got a nice bottle of something Italian (I let Dean choose for us) and followed the risotto with a half of a suckling pig, which we shared as well.

Fed and two glasses of red to the positive, we decided to stop by Redwood for dessert. It's not often that I get a chance to go out and play on the weekend, so this was a special treat.

When we arrived there was a line out the door of Dolcezza, which is next to Redwood. I'm glad to see that Rob is doing some business there.

Redwood was fairly full, and most of the outdoor seating was being used. When we first arrived there wasn't any seating available at the bar, but some folks left shortly so we bellied up.

Getting to dessert, we ordered a cheese sampler, followed by butterscotch pudding, and make-your-own s'mores. Everything was good, as usual.

Butterscotch Pudding

We had the pleasure of sitting next to the pastry chef on her night off, Kendra. She was very nice to chat with and she shared some of her dessert with us, so we had plenty.


As always, thanks for reading. Feel free to leave me a comment/question.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Get your Mise on!

I don't like to hear anyone whine about how they can't make the food they serve in restaurants. Ever. Unless you're dining at Citronelle or CityZen, it's in your power. In any event, the key is the mise.

Have everything deep-prepped so that when it comes time to dump the garlic into the pan or add the minced parley you're ready. That bucket of ice? There's 3 dozen clams chillin' under there. BTW, don't put them in the fridge. They will suffocate. Throw them in a pile over ice and give them some cracker meal to chew on. The grit will pass into the other bowl.

If you're not ready, who do you have to blame? That's right.

Look in the mirror pal. Only you.
I was going to dish about a client of mine that just opened a place in NoVa. However, I've always been tought that it's better to say nothing at all, rather than something not nice, so I'm going to remain silent.
In any event, keep cooking. Seriously. Times are tough, don't let it get you down. Eat.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Redux: Founding Farmers

Let me begin with an apology about the lack of pictures for this entry. My bad.
Now, moving on to the main course: Wow. These folks are working out some kinks at the front of the house, training a lot of new servers/managers/chefs/cooks, but let me tell you in no uncertain terms. These guys have good food.
If you check blogs past you'll see some shots I took as the place was in contstruction, so you'll have to look at those to get a feel for this.
The team behind this restaurant has previously worked with some of the highest grossing per square foot restaurants in the U.S. and they've put their knowledge to work. Jason and I shared two sandwiches, so I can only speak to what we ate, but they were great. All of the breads are made in-house, and I don't know where they got their pastrami, but the sandwich was awesome. I urge you to go with friends and try as many of the things on the menu as you can.
We sat by the kitchen doors and watched plate after plate of great looking food head to the dining room.
All I can add is: Congratulations Dan Simons, Lara Hardcastle, Ray Camillo and Mike Vucurevich. Well done.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

A Seinfeld Moment: Taste of Bethesda

Howdy all. I was able to pull a Seinfeld moment on Saturday.
Do you remember when George was able to eat a pastrami on rye, watch TV, and have sex all at the same time? Or when Kramer found that he could shower and cook at the same time? I was able to hang out with my restaurant folks, eat their food, spend time with my family, and see a car show all at the same event.
It was a good day.
If any of the event organizers are reading this, pay heed: Expand the number of streets that are closed and put more space between the food vendors. This was crowded beyond the point of comfort.

Yeah, there were a few people out on Saturday.

I'm not an expert, but I'd say this is a 1986 Buick Grand National. It was the fastest production car in the 1/4 mile available for sale in the U.S. that year.
This is a very hot rod..
Pretty ladies all in a row.

What could be wrong with 500 HP and a car that weighs less than 2,000lbs?
Aluminum bodies are pretty, but parking lot dings can be expensive!

Hope you enjoyed the pictures. If you get a chance to attend Taste of Bethesda, or put up a booth, I'd suggest doing it. Lots of people, lots of exposure if you're a restuarant owner.
Until next time....