Thursday, December 22, 2011

Top 10 Things I Put In My Mouth in 2011

As 2011 sputters to a close, it's time for a little retrospection of what has come to pass.  I've done some serious dining.  Some of the food I had was so good that I actually get misty when I describe it to people.  Some of it, not so much.
What I've assembled here are the top ten dishes I had the presence of mind to photograph this year.  If you click on the pictures they will expand to show you the big shot.  Where applicable, I've posted a link to the blog entry giving you more details.
Strangely enough, I went through and picked out my favorites from all the items I shot pictures of in 2011 and they were all in fairly distinct categories.  I didn't have to choose between favorites in the same category, which is nice. 
Let's start with dessert first:

Best Dessert 

RJ Cooper, owner and chef of Rogue 24, sent this to our table towards the end of our 24-course tasting menu.  The flavor combination here was astounding.  Everyone in our party gushed.

Best Freebie on the Table 
This is the truffled pop-over from Kevin Sbraga's eponymous restaurant in Philly.  Crispy, tender, flaky, warm, and stinking of truffles.  Don't get me started.

Best Counter Service Chicken 
Outstanding Peruvian chicken is hard to find.  A lot of it is good, but there are only a couple that are superlative.  Super Chicken is the winner in the DMV.  The customer service is great, the sides are not an after-thought as they are in most other places like this, and the chicken is so good it makes you drop the knife and fork and pick it up with your hands.

Best far 
Fiola,  Fabio Trabocchi's restaurant in DC, is a quiet return to some upper-end dining.  The bar can get lively, but I think of this place as a temple to this dish.  This is all I want when I go there.  Fois Gras, perfectly seared, over a buttery brioche.  There was some fruity element and a balsamic glaze.  This is not on the menu anymore, but I'm sure there will be another iteration of it there soon.

Best Pasta
The person who created this occupies 20% of my top 10.  Chef Mike Isabella.  The is the sweet corn stuffed agnolotti which he was showcasing when the restaurant first opened.  I've posted twice about this restaurant.  The first was here.

Best Pizza.  Ever. 
It doesn't matter who I'm with or what else we're having:  If I'm at Graffiato after 5:00pm I have to order one of the Countryman Pizzas.  Here is a link to the second post I did about this restaurant when I had the pleasure of trying the tasting menu.

Best Comfort Food 
Comfort food doesn't have to be Mac n' Cheese.  That's American comfort food.  Other cultures have comfort food too, and it doesn't have to be full of fat and cheese.  Not that I'm knocking fat and cheese, but I loves me a #12 at Pho 75 on Rockville Pike.  I checked my stats on Foursquare and Yelp, and I've been here, for this dish, over 40 times in 2011.  Crazy.  My neighbors and I live 10+ miles from this place, but we run into each other there.  We like it that much.

Best Side Dish
I'm not sure how else to describe the Palak Chaat dish properly. Vikram Sunderam pulls together many flavor and creates this wonder at Rasika.  I could go there, have a plate of this, and leave satisfied. 

Best Cheese Course 
I miss this dish, and the man who created it, Roberto Donna.  I'm hoping to see him back at work somewhere soon.
  The Budino Parmiggiano.  This was a different presentation than the one in my original post, but it made a better picture.  Sublime.

Best Home Cookin' Feature 
As readers of my blog know, I sometimes take on a home cooking project and post about it.  This was the tastiest adventure of the year.  Shrimp and Grits, using a recipe posted by RJ Cooper on StarChefs.  I made it for a party my wife was attending and this was the test run.  Salty/creamy with layers of acid and flavor.  One of my best, if I do say so myself.

It was a good year for food and restaurants in the DMV.  2012 should prove exciting as well.  Please be sure to stay tuned for more posts on this and my other blog, POSmelson where I post information about the issues, tools, tricks, and technology behind and involving restaurants.  As always, your comments, forwards, retweets, and emails are appreciated.
See you next year.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Hamilton - Revisited

The Hamilton
600 14th St. N.W.
Washington, DC 20005
12/18 and 12/20/2011

You've seen my posts about this place before.  It is a monster. Lots of seats and a music venue.  Open 24X7.  Serving breakfast, lunch, dinner, and sushi!  The picture above is of their stairs leading down to the music venue.  I hadn't seen these lit up before.  Very cool.  Strangely enough, it doesn't have a cavernous vibe as you might expect in something this big.  They broke this restaurant into many small sections and bars in order to keep it feeling intimate.

The sign isn't lit, but you really can't miss it.  It covers half the block and is where the old Border's was.

So, to move onto my favorite part:  the food.  These are some cheesy potatoes that one of my fellow diners had.  I didn't dig into her dish, but it looked good.

I went with the Sushi/Sashimi combo.  All of the fish was prepared nicely and was extremely fresh.  They offer fresh-grated horse radish, but you have to ask for it.  It's worth the upcharge.  I love that stuff. 
Artful and tasty.

This was a nice touch...fresh jumbo-lump crab in the California Rolls.

Everyone likes happy chefs!  David Moran and his crew found a very talented sushi crew.  Looking around, it seemed like every table in the restaurant had sushi of some sort on it, but they have a full menu of  regional items as well.  The sushi is going to be popular as there isn't a good sushi place within several blocks.

Nice variety of fish at the sushi bar.

Huge, glossy scallops.

This is the crudo.

I just happened to be snapping pix when this came out.  Not my food, but it looked good.

I'm pretty sure this was a firecracker roll in front and something spicy behind it...

On the 20th I went back with my wife and son so I could try some of the turf, as opposed to just the surf. 
The Hamilton is following a local trend here that I love:  house still and sparkling water at no extra charge.  I love sparkling water with dinner, but hate being charged $10.00 per bottle as I've seen in some restaurants.  This is also much more environmentally friendly as the bottles are washable and reusable.  No wasting plastic and space in a landfill. 
I got the Dancing Manhattan.  Balanced and well made.  Here is a link to the Drink Menu.
The bread is served with a cube of butter topped with what appears to by Maldon Sea Salt, which as you may or may not know is what I smoke a lot of for gifts this time of year.  Tender and crisp.  Interested in a bottle of hand-crafted, Smoked Maldon Sea Salt from Pleasures of the Table?  Let me know.
Let me show you how deftly I handle my chop stix!  Alex is a sushi fiend and has been since he was about three. 
This plate was actually enough to keep him from asking for dessert.  Amazing.
As before, the fish was tremendous.  I'm sure they are burning through their inventory on a daily basis here, so no worries about freshness.  Here is a link to the Sushi Menu.
Cheryl got the crab cakes.  I had her get the double because I knew I'd want one.  Jumbo lump, just enough filler to hold it together, and that's it.  This was sweet and well prepared. 
This was the Pork Chop.  One of the better ones I've had in a restaurant.  It was big.  Nicely crisped on the outside/tender and juicy on the inside.  Just hot enough to get past pink.  Speaking of hot, my wife and I both noticed that the food came out together, and everything was hot.  That may not seem like a huge feat in a diner, but in a restaurant of this size pulling food from different stations with different cooking times, it can be a challenge to get everything out at the right temp and cooked properly.  If you'd like a glimpse of the magic behind that, look at this link.

I'll post again when I've had a chance to try the music venue, the late night menu, and the breakfast menu.
Keep in mind when you're viewing the menus that this is a new restaurant, so they may change.

In summary, I feel that this place is going to rock.  They have the formula down from many years of experience, and they have a very well-seasoned management staff to keep things rolling.
I will be back to cycle the everything they have to offer over the next few months, so stay tuned.
Thanks for reading.  Questions or comments?  Let me know!  Thanks.

The Hamilton on Urbanspoon

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Home Cookin'...Artichoke Hearts Wrapped in Prosciutto

Want to be the hit of the party?  Try making this recipe.  I don't remember where I found it, but I've been making it for years and it's always a well received.
Start with some prep.  Chiffonade a hand full of fresh sage.  Set your oven to 375.
 Drain a few jars of marinated artichoke hearts.  I like to get mine at Costco.  They're big and inexpensive, and they've got a good texture.
Get about a pound of prosciutto.  No need to spring for anything fancy here.  Boar's Head works just fine.

 Wrap each artichoke quarter in 1/4 piece of the prosciutto.  This takes time, but the end result is worth it.
Mmm.  Porky goodness.
Cover the wrapped hearts with crumbled Gorgonzola.


Take some heavy cream and give it a shake to make sure any fat lumps are distributed.  Just a note, but you may want to make sure the cap is on. 

Sprinkle your sage leaves over the dish liberally.

Bake at 375 until it's brown and bubbly.
While your dish is in the oven, toast some pine nuts in a dry saute pan just until they're slightly browned and smelling good.  Treat them like popcorn...keep shaking the pan and keep your eyes on it, lest you end up with a pan full of burnt pine nuts.  Your nose will know.

Serve while it's hot with a spoon and a baguette sliced into rounds.  People will want to spoon some of the sauce on the bread along with the artichoke hearts.

Thanks for reading folks.  If you try this, please leave a comment and let me know how you liked it!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Graffiato Revisited...Hitting the Tasting Menu

I am usually in a hurry when I eat at Graffiato.  Nothing to do with the restaurant, just that I'm usually down in that part of town when I've got something planned, like a concert or a movie.  This night the only thing on my agenda was to have a good dinner with some colleagues and business partners.  I'm glad I made the time.
 We started with some cocktails, then moved to our table upstairs.  The place was absolutely packed with Caps and Flyers fans getting their pre-game on.  
Everyone at the table decided that the tasting menu was the way to go.  
 The first plate out, other than some bread with the famed Pepperoni Sauce, was the charcuterie selection.  A great selection of different meats from the Meat Bar upstairs.

This is brocollini with a tasty sauce and some gorgonzola cheese.

This is the bone marrow.  It came out towards the end, but It was so pretty I moved it up in the picture order.  Think clams casino made with bone marrow instead of clams.  Not as heavy as you'd expect, but light, citrusy and crisp.

Surprise winner of the night?  Absolutely!
Brussel Sprouts!  Sauteed with bacon and drizzled with maple syrup.  Throw some cheese on there for good measure.  These were FAB!  My wife might even eat these if I could get the recipe.
Chef Mike has a penchant for making pillow-shaped pasta filled with something seasonal and ridiculously good.  Tonight was not an exception.  Here we have pasta filled with butternut squash and roasted chestnuts in a brown butter sauce.  The corn-filled pasta he had a couple of months ago was hard to top, but this is an equally tasty dish.
This is the hand-cut spaghetti.  It was light and the tomato/herb flavor was explosive.  Not what you'd expect.  One of the guys at my table couldn't stop talking about it.
Fresh black truffles, gnocchi, and cream.
What else needs to be said?
Speaking of truffles, we had to, just HAD to have a Countryman Pizza.  No trip to Graffiato is complete without it.  Fontina, truffles, and a sunny-side up egg.
The Cesar with cream cheese croutons is always fun.  The salad itself it just a plain, tasty salad, however, watching someone bite into one of the croutons is always entertaining.  You're not getting what you expect.

Potato was only lacking in comparison to the rest of the outstanding dishes we tried.  Anywhere else you'd say, "Damn, that's some fine potato salad."  Here, the bar is a little higher.
Pork belly.   Crispy on the outside, tender and porky on the inside.
Last, but not least, roasted wild boar.  Very little modification to the flavor.  Wild Pig, just as you'd expect.

All-in-all, a great time.  We didn't even make it to dessert.  The gild has not fallen off the lilly at this restaurant.  As is the case, some places start out great-guns, then fall prey to cutting corners.  I haven't had a hint of that here.  The service actually improves as it matures.  Despite all the TV shows, magazine interviews and charity events that he attends, you're still very likely to see Chef Mike pushing plates at the expo line, which is admirable in these days of celeb chefs who rarely set foot inside their own restaurants.

Would I go back?  This was probably my 6th or 7th time eating here.  Whenever someone calls me asking for a recommendation for a restaurant, which happens frequently, Graffiato is at the top of my list for a place where you don't have to dress up, you can spend a little or a lot, and the food is exceptional.  Do I recommend the tasting menu?  Hell yes.  If you saw something in my post that looked exceptional, let your server know and they'll likely be able to arrange having it included in your meal.

If you go, tell them you read about it on Pleasures of the Table.
Thank you for reading.

Graffiato on Urbanspoon