Saturday, February 28, 2009

Ember at the top of the world

Finally! A civilized dining experience at Snowshoe! Don't get me wrong. I love The Junction and Foxfire Grill, but when you have a child and don't want to sit at the bar with him for three hours waiting for a table they get a little old. This is the bar at Ember. It's located at the Top of The World complex. Note the lack of hooligans at the bar.
This is a view from our table. This is a nicely put-together restaurant. The materials and design set this place apart from other restaurants on the mountain. Although aesthetically pleasing, I'd suggest that they install some heat lamps on the line. The food was not as hot as it could have been. It was very tasty, but just not quite hot enough when it got to the table.
This is the amuse bouche. Tasty little buggers. I'm not quite sure what they were.
They serve sushi here! They normally do rolls, but Alex was in the mood for some plain sushi. It was surprisingly fresh tasting. Alex scarfed down everything except the eel.

Hello from the mountain! As a side note, service here was good. I called the reservationist too late to secure a reso. I called back and asked her to put us on the reserve list should anyone cancel. Sure enough, the next day she called back and said, "It appears you were meant to dine at Ember, we've had a cancellation at the time you requested." Our server was very patient and gracious as well. All of the staff we came in contact with were friendly. This is also a departure from some of the other establishments on the mountain. This year there wasn't the joi de vivre you normally get up at the resort. I'm guessing the economy isn't helping these folks.

This was Cheryl's steak. The picture doesn't really do it justice. What you have to understand is that this plate was about 12" across. This was a hunk of cow. There was not a bit of gristle or fat on the entire filet. Nicely done. The potato was mashed Yukon Gold with a Maytag demi glace. Never heard of Maytag demi, but it sure tasted good.

I went adventurous. This is The Huntsman's Grill, which had elk, wild boar sausage, , and French Game Hen. The potato was mashed sweet with pecans. There was also a Vidalia, macintosh and ginger conserve. This was a nice touch with the sausage.

We only had one bottle of wine, but it was a good one. This is a David Bruce Pinot. I usually have a hard time remembering what wines we have with dinner because most are just mediocre (especially in the price range I usually stick to), but this stood out.
This is a shot of one of the tables that was near us. Obviously someone is getting their feng shui on.

To finish the meal, what more could you ask for than house-made cotton candy? This particular confection was Black Cherry. This was all Alex was looking forward to as he remembered from last year that they have cotton candy. They actually brought him two as the bartender overheard Alex asking for it so both he and our server made one.
Cheryl and I had a Lemoncello panna cotta with blackberry coulis. Nice.
In summary, a nice place to go for dinner when you're at Snowshoe. You can actually make a reservation. The portions are good. The food is adventurous. The staff is courteous and friendly.
If you need a break from The Junction happy hour crowd, take the shuttle up to the top of the mountain and check it out. It's worth it.
Thanks for reading.

Friday, February 27, 2009

**SCOOP** Blue Ridge in DC.

Part of the joy of what I do for a living is getting to watch people who are much more creative and talented than I am bring their visions to life. Some of you may not find pictures of floors with holes and bare studs/beams so enthralling, but for me it's very similar to hearing a good piece of music or getting the perfect mix of butter and syrup on a good pancake.
This post in particular is about a restaurant in DC named Blue Ridge. It's on Wisconsin Ave. in Glover Park where Busara used to be.
The proprietor is Eli Hengst of Sonoma, Mendocino, and Redwood fame. He recently took this place over and has begun his transformation. This is a shot of one of the dining rooms upstairs that overlooks Wisconsin Ave.
Same room.

This is the bar up on the second floor. It has doors that open up onto the patio outside.

This is a view from the 2nd level out onto the 2nd level of the patio.

This is what looked to be a lounge between the bar and the patio on the second floor, but this may change before opening.

This is a view from the dining room on the main level facing the stairs to go up.

Same dining room.

This is a view of the bar right as you walk in.
Now for the real scoop. DC Prodigal Son Barton Seaver of Hook fame will be at the helm in the kitchen. This is a big pull for foodies, and I'm sure the PR won't hurt the restaurant. Give them a try after they have a few weeks to sort things out. I'm sure you'll like it as there is a lot of talent going into this project. Look for a late March/early April opening.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Home Cookin' - Short Ribs

Home Cookin' - Short Ribs
Short ribs don't take talent to cook. They take talent to cut. 
These ribs had about two inches of meat on them.
So here's how I rolled. Put 1/2 cup of flour, 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper and 1 teaspoon of salt in a plastic bag. Rinse and dry the ribs. Put them in the bag one at a time and shake them up. Knock off the excess.
In a Dutch oven or similar device, heat up enough fat to brown the ribs. Brown them well, but don't scorch. I use bacon fat if I have it. It puts a little extra flavor in the mix. Butter or vegetable oil also work. Don't use olive oil as it tends to not brown as well.
It takes time. Be patient. Don't throw them all in the pot at the same time. Get a nice crust on them.
I have no idea how old this pot is, but I wouldn't trade it for the world. It weighs about 10 pounds and it's uglier than a mud fence, but it distributes heat well, holds heat, and is airtight. The lid weighs about five pounds.

Like I said, be patient. All of the brown goodness (fond) at the bottom of the pot is going to be the basis for your sauce.

Of course, throwing two cups of nice Demi Glace in the pot doesn't hurt. You can use beef broth if you must. It won't taste as good, but it will do.

Dice up some veggies. This is fun and gives you a chance to practice your knife skills. It doesn't matter what they look like when you're done as you're going to strain them out anyhow. I used a package of mushrooms, a large onion, a roasted pepper, a couple of sun-dried tomatoes, two cloves of garlic, and a 6 oz. can of tomato paste.

Deglaze the pot while keeping the ribs warm on another plate. I used 1/2 cup of cognac. Do not get your face near the pot when you're doing this. It can flame up and you'll lose your eyebrows. Let it boil down until it's almost dry, then put in your demi, the veggies, and a tablespoon of bouquet garni, or use the real thing. A sprig or two of sage, bay leaf, thyme, wrapped up with butchers' twine or in a cheesecloth bag. Once again, you're going to strain this so it doesn't matter what the stuff looks like that you're throwing in the pot.
Bring all of this goodness to a simmer, then put it in the oven. If you're in a hurry you can cook it at 225 for two or three hours or until they're fork-tender. I cooked these at 175 for 18 hours. All the fat renders, leaving nothing but tender meat.
When you're ready to serve, put the ribs in another pan, cover and keep warm. Strain the sauce. Twice. Maybe three times. Reduce until it's fairly thick. Skim off any fat, bubbles, scum. If you've got the time, strain it again.
Make some mashed potatoes, polenta, whatever you feel like serving this on. Crisp the ribs up under a broiler for a few minutes, then place them on the potatoes, sauce them, and you've got a nice romantic, impressive, tasty dish. I served this on Valentines Day at Snowshoe. I'd done all the prep and cooking a week in advance, then froze them using my favorite new kitchen gadget, the Handi-Vac. Once we got up there, I just thawed, crisped, sauced and served.
Serve this with a big cab or a burgundy and a crusty baguette.
Not the finest China, but it sure tasted good. Hope you enjoyed reading about this. Please feel free to comment.
Better yet, try the recipe and THEN comment.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Traipsing Down Truffle Lane at Vidalia

So Matt and I decided to get together for dinner at Vidalia. We'd talked about the restaurant before, but hadn't had the opportunity to go there together. I'd been there a couple of times with family. We tried to get reservations for Restaurant Week where the menu we had would have been a bit less expensive, but resos for Vidalia during restaurant week are harder to find that honest politicians. Matt and me at the beginning of the meal...we started out with a reasonable bottle of rose champagne. Matt is a great dining companion as he's happy to keep passing every course back and forth. With this strategy we were both privy to 10 courses of Vidalia's finest. That didn't count the amuse bouche or the tasty confections at the end.

Jeff Buben, Chef/Owner, was working in the kitchen that night. Great to see chefs actually working in their restaurants. He's got two, and I know, he can't be in both places at the same time, but it's still a nice touch. Not that I don't trust his exec, R.J. Cooper.

So we start with an Amuse Bouche. The item on the left was a puff filled with a creamy, warm cheese. The one on the right was a sardine with some Parmesan and something else...pardon my lapse of memory here. Yes, I ate the sardine.

Next was a pappardelle with rabbit bacon and fresh black Perigord truffles.

The bib lettuce salad with a truffled honey dressing.

After that, came the fois gras. Drabs of honey and an apple compote. That went very well with the champagne.

Very nice presentation. I had to step back and get a picture of the whole plate for you.

This is the cullot of beef. It's the outside rim of a piece of prime rib. It's heavily marbled, but the way they cooked it most of the fat had rendered. They cut it off, tie it into a pinwheel, and broil.

Wow....couldn't pass this up. This is truffled mac and cheese. He uses some tasso, panko, and more truffles. This dish was actually one of the two dishes I remember from my first meal here in 2001 or 2002. If you go, get it.

The Dover Sole was flavored well, but it tasted like it had been left under the heat lamp for a little to long. This was the only disappointment of the meal.

Yellowfin Potatoes? I'd never heard of them, but it had truffles on it, so we included it in the ad hoc tasting menu. Nice.

This is one of the ubiquitous dishes at Vidalia. Shrimp and Grits. The grits are cheezy, the shrimp still have their heads, and the Andoulie is awesome.

Always a southern favorite, pecan pie.

The dessert de' resistance: Lemon Chess Pie. This is the other thing I remember from my first visit here. I'm not a big fan of citrus desserts and am generally a chocolate kind of guy, but this is unbelievable. The texture is something that I have tried, and failed, to duplicate many times.

I've spoken with Jeff about it and he says it can't be duplicated without commercial equipment. I'm a believer.

As if all of that weren't enough, they send you out the door with some home made confections. Matt and I only shared the one bottle of bubbly and we're both big boys, but we were buzzed. If you've ever had a food buzz, you'll know what I'm talking about. If you haven't, try Vidalia's tasting menu. Tell Jeff I sent you.

Thanks for reading. I'm not sure what the next post will be, but I hope you come back to read it.

Until then...

Cafe Assorti Revisited

So, looking for the best borscht inside the beltway? Actually, I can't say that it's the best as I've only tried it here, but it was pretty good. View of the main dining room.

This is the view from the bar

This is a view of the bar. Full cocktail availablity. I'm sure there will be some folks tossing back vodka here in the wee hours.

The grab'n go counter.

View from the back of the dining room.

So here's the skinny. The sisters/cousin/mother who own this place are from Kazakhstan. They are the nicest folks you're likely to run across in this business.

The food is definitely Eastern European comfort food. Lots of meat/potato/cheese baked in pastry.

Some of the things are tastier than others, but to some, it's going to taste like home.

This is their signature dish, The Meat Pie.
The dishes are mostly served a la carte, so you can get a couple of little things to try. Be sure to wash it down with a nice shot Stoli.
Until next time, which will be an expose of a truffle orgy at Vidalia.
Thanks for reading.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Shout out to my brothers at Tako Grill

I only got one picture of the food at Tako Grill. Let me tell you why. Because everything they make is good. At least everything I've had there is good. So good, that I always start eating the dish before I remember to snap a picture.
Terry and Jasper are the guys who run this place. Jasper is younger partner who is usually there, and Terry owns the place. Terry and I both frequent Fall Road Golf Course and run into each other at the range. These are two of the nicest guys in the business. They know how to take care of seafood too.
Anyhow, to get back to the food, this was one of about four courses that my friend and I enjoyed that day. We had an order of a special they were running, Big Eye Sashimi with freshly grated green horseradish (not the powdered crapola) and it melted in my mouth. We also had a couple of single orders of different types of other fish, and some tempura'd crunchy-type rolls.
If you're in Bethesda you won't find a better place for Sushi.
Tell 'em you read about it here.
Keep eatin'!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Sea Pearl Revisited

I was lucky enough to be near Sea Pearl for lunch the other day, so I dropped in with a friend. It appears that they've got it together and have refined what they started with. The menu has been adjusted, staff has been refined along with the service. As you can see below, the food looks (and tastes) great.This is the Tuna Tartare appetizer. The wasabi cream and sticky rice make for a nice presentation and texture.

Just an FYI, did you know that the term "Tartare" describes a preparation of meat? The Tartans, or Tarters, as they were called, would place tough cuts of meat under the saddles of their horses. After a time you could imagine the weight, agitation, and horse sweat, would produce a nicely tenderized, flavorful cut of meat. Yum. Anyhow, I digress. Please read on.
This is the Tuna Wrap. Nicely done. Nice flavor and textures.
My friend had the roasted chicken. He said it was good, but I didn't get to try it.
Bottom line, it's good food, service, and atmosphere. I've heard that the martini happy hours are a good time. I believe they have some good happy hour comp food as well.
Check it out!