Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Best Things I Put In My Mouth in 2013...that are fit to print.

It's that time of the year again, where I browse back through my posts and rehash the year in food. As is my style (or lack thereof) I'm not going to get all flowery with effusive descriptions, just the pictures and a few memories. If you'd like to see the full review of the restaurant click on their name in the post.
Here we go:
Kimchi fried rice from Maple Ave Restaurant in Vienna, VA.
This was a huge boat of spicy, perfectly cooked rice with slabs of crispy, melty pork belly on top and diced in the rice as well. It was enough for lunch and leftovers for another meal. Joey and Tim do good work here.

This Egg Three Ways was a special at Daikaya. Kat called it, 'The Rocky Balboa".
My earliest memories of food are all umami flavors. I didn't even know the name for it until a few years ago, but now that I know what I'm looking for, it's much easier to find.
This was a whole bowl of it and it almost brought me to tears. Honsen egg, cured roe, uni, and house-made Ponzu. Katsuyu is a beast in the kitchen. Well done.
The Pineapple Upside Down Cake at The Pineapple Grill in Maui.
We ate a ton of Pineapple Upside Down Cake in Hawaii. Each was it's own interpretation, but this was the best. Macadamia Brittle Ice Cream, moist cake, perfect pineapple caramel sauce.
I don't think I'd go for dinner next visit, but I'd definitely stop in for dessert.

The Pork Belly at Pulpo.
Better than 9 out of 10 of my attempts at pork belly. Once in a while you score, but apparently these guys have the formula down, or at least they did while Billy Klein was there. I haven't been back since he left. Time will tell. It was crisp on the outside, unctuous and almost liquid inside with perfect seasoning. The only competition to this that I've had in DC was The Source.

The Roasted Bone Marrow with Caviar at Bearnaise.
The picture above is not how it is served, but it is how I ate it. I didn't get a good shot of the actual plating of this dish, probably because I saw it and immediately dug in, forgetting that I had a job to do. Regardless, this is a stupendous dish and a great much luxurious goodness can you fit in one bite? Not sure I've found my limit yet, but this was close.
Bravo Spike and Brad.
Who makes the best pasta in the city? It's a toss up between Roberto Donna and Mike Isabella. Roberto is more old guard and Mike is the young upstart.
Mike's flavors and textures on his hand-made ravioli can't be beat. My wife said it best with this dish, which was the Sweet Potato Ravioli at Kapnos: "It tastes like Thanksgiving."

And last, but not least, the Linguettine with garlic, parm, and white Alba truffles at Rose's Luxury.
This dish is exactly what you should get when you order a truffled pasta at exactly the right price. Too many places serve old, stale truffles with other things that shouldn't be on the plate for twice what they should charge. Aaron Silverman and his crew do it right.  It may be hard to get a table there, but the wait is worth it. You won't be disappointed.
Thank you for taking the time to check out my year. I hope yours was just as tasty and I look forward to providing you with reviews of some of the best restaurants in the Mid-Atlantic in 2014.
Until then, bon appetit!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Rose's Luxury...It's all that and a bag of chips.

Rose's Luxury
717 8th St SE, Washington, DC 20003
(202) 580-8889
Rose's Luxury is a two-story restaurant on Barracks Row. If you're a foodie, you've likely already been here or read about it.  There's been a lot of hype. Sometimes places have good PR and don't live up to it. This place is not one of those. It doesn't hurt that they have Elizabeth Parker blabbing all over the internet about you! In any event, I was flying solo as I'd just dropped my wife and son off at the White House for a Christmas party. It took me two hours to get the 13 miles from our house to Obama's. I decided I wasn't going to brave the traffic leaving the city and I'd just go sit at the bar and have dinner.
 As usual, I walked around until I found someone I knew so I could get a seat in the right place with the right person taking care of me. The hostess recommended I go to the upstairs bar, but I went to the downstairs and ran into Elizabeth. She told the bartender I was a friend and to take good care of me. Exactly what I needed!
 They start you out with a little loaf of bread and some soft butter with crispy shallots on top. Nice. I chose a Manhattan to start. Very nice. My cheftender Brian (I think) was very knowledgeable about the mixing arts and the food at Rose's.
 The downstairs bar....and my friendly cheftender. Nice selection slightly left of the beaten path.
The Vietnamese Pate. Think creamy liver spread topped with chopped peanuts and served with some house-made pickles and micro Thai basil. Avant Garde Banh Mi. Very nice.
A little difficult to put in your mouth, but worth the effort.
Lychee and habanero sausage salad. Nice combination of flavors and colors going on here. There were some crispy bits in there that really made it an interesting dish.
Elizabeth told be about the special before I even sat down. Linguettine in butter/garlic with shaved White Alba Truffles. She knows I'm a truffle whore. It was literally the best truffle dish I've had in years. I'm not sure if the last two or three seasons were not as kind to the lovely fungus or if there was something else going on in the market, but these were so perfect and fragrant I almost had to take a knee when I was finished. At $30.00 I also considered ordering a second helping. I've paid much more for a much less satisfying experience in some very nice restaurants locally. I apologize for the color treatment here, it was kind of dark and you can't get the full sense of the beauty of this dish.
This was the cheese course. Marscapone with some crumbles and fruit. It was lighter than it looks/sounds and a nice change of flavors/textures/temperature after the truffles.
This was also a dish not to be missed. Fois Gras French Toast. Salty/sugary/crispy crumble with battered brioche and caramel ice cream with a slab of sauteed FG. I appreciated that the Cheftender passed me a glass of beer fragrant with apples to enjoy with this, but the after taste of the beverage was a little bitter with this dish. Maybe I'm just a traditionalist when it comes to FG, but I think a sauternes, port, or muscato would have paired better.
Aaron Silverman. Chef/owner and maestro at Rose's. He's doing a hell of a job and I expect we'll see great things from him and Scott Muns in the future. 
Well done folks. Keep it up and keep your sense of humor.

Rose's Luxury on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Bolt Burgers - Not Just Another Burger Place

Bolt Burgers
1010 Massachusetts Ave. N.W.
Washington, DC 20001
(202) 320-9200

Just a little background here - Bolt Burgers has been in the works for a long time. It's a creation sprung from the imagination of a few different groups headed by Mike Davidson, Joe Spinelli and Troy Clayton.
Mike is an optician by trade, Joe is the man behind the scenes in the Mid-Atlantic restaurant business (trust me, you've been somewhere he's touched, likely on a daily basis) and Troy is a chef/owner of a restaurant in Alexandria.
What's different about this burger place? A lot. Anyone can cook a burger, but not everyone can cook a real (read not-fast-food) burger to the same temp over 1000 times a day without breaking a sweat. Not everyone has custom blended spices and sauces, and not everyone uses this much technology to make it happen.
As always, I head straight for the kitchen. I like to see what's going on and what it looks like. Shiny stainless, employees with clean uniforms, nothing on counters that shouldn't be there. Check. Looking good.
You may have noticed the screen to the right of the manager in the previous picture. That is a Kitchen Display Screen. It's more than just a representation of a ticket, it's information. From glancing at the screen you can tell how long any ticket has been in the kitchen, which prep area is finished with a given ticket (or not,) how many orders aren't currently showing on the screen yet, and which orders are done and waiting to be delivered to guests. The oldest done ticket is always in the upper left-hand corner with a blinking border so it's always the first one to go out and you don't mix up peoples' orders.
It can also show trainees how to assemble a certain dish, handle prep work, show nutritional info/ingredients, or display training videos. Cool stuff.

Bolt Burgers lets you order your way not only with regards to food, but in the way you actually get your order into the kitchen. 
You can walk in, get your table number, and walk up to one of the kiosks placed around the restaurant and order yourself. Once you've gone through it once, you may decide to stick with that route as it's easy and if you mess up your order you only have yourself to blame!
 You can go to the walk-up counter and order from a person. This might not be a bad idea the first go-round as they've got some specialty burgers you might want to know about. I had one and it was pretty darned tasty.
 This is the Mr. Truffleupagus. As my frequent readers know, I'm a fool for truffles, so I had to give it a shot. It comes with truffled Pecorino cheese and sauteed mushroom. Nicely done. Good beef and a very nice bun too. It was cooked to a perfect medium. I'm sure they'd custom cook one for you if you ask.
These are cute, aye? The fries/rings come in a mini-fry basket. They were good too! I tried a little of each of the custom spice mixes and I particularly like the curry and the chili-cumin. 

Below is a video of the final piece of tech that rounds out the in-store ordering options, and that is the MICROS mTablet. It can be programmed for servers in a table-service restaurant or used as a terminal on the counter and can be wired or wireless. Take a look at the video:

After you input the order and swipe your card, a receipt prints out at the host stand and they bring you a copy and collect the mTablet. Very slick.

The final option for ordering is web, which is coming soon. You'll be able to order from your phone, desktop, iPad, iPod Touch, Tablet, however you interact with the web.

These guys/gals involved have put a lot of thought into what they're doing and it shows. I'd expect to see more of these rolling out in the near future. If you stop in, tell them where you read about it.
If you've got questions about the technology, feel free to drop me a line.
Thanks for reading.

Bolt Burgers on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Bisnow's 3rd Annual DC Restaurant Development Summit

Bisnow's 3rd Annual DC Restaurant Development Summit
The Boilermaker Shops
300 Tingey St. S.E.
Washington, DC
Occasionally I get to attend some fun business events as part of my job....and my hobby.
This was one of the better ones I've been to. Bisnow is a leading virtual publication for business to business activity and they have an entire section devoted to restaurants. My favorite subject! As you go through the post you'll notice that some of the restaurant names are hyperlinked - if you click it will take you to the review I wrote on that particular restaurant.
Michael Babin, Owner of Neighborhood Restaurant Group, presented opening remarks. He has created quite an empire in the DC Metro which now includes 14 venues, some one-offs and some with multiple outlets such as Rustico, the brewery downstairs from this venue - Blue Jacket, Evening Star, Vermillion, Church Key, Birch & Barley, Buzz Bakery, Tallula, Red Apron Butcher, and the newest, which opened softly today, Iron Gate.
The first panel consisted of the President of the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington Kathy Hollinger. Seated to her right were some of the folks involved in various regulatory boards including the Alcoholic Beverage Administration and others.
This panel started to swing the fun needle to the right. From left to right we had Michael Faerber of McMillan Metro, Alex Hurtado of Collective Architecture, Jason Wilt of Winmar, Ramsey Meiser of Forest City Washington, and Ty Neal of Matchbox. I've worked with Alex, Jason and Ty on various projects over the years and they are all consummate professionals.  I know I can count on things being done when I walk into a deal and see Alex or Jason there.
Ty is one of the founders of Matchbox Food Group. They are one of the most successful local chains in the area. Their restaurants include Matchbox, Ted's Bulletin, and DC3. They have nine locations currently with more on the way.
The next group consisted of more restaurant people. This was my entertainment for the evening. Above is Chef Geoff Tracy on the left and Mike Isabella on the right. Geoff has Chef Geoff's and Lia's restaurants and Mike owns Graffiato and Kapnos &G. 
The ever-lovely Hilda Staples. She is a partner in the Volt Restaurant Group which includes several locations in Frederick and one in DC. The Frederick locations include Volt, Family Meal, and lunchbox. She recently opened Range in DC, all with partner Bryan Voltaggio. She helped get Graffiato off the ground as well.
Left to right, Spike Mendelsohn of Good Stuff Eatery, Bearnaise, and We The Pizza, Bill Lukashok of Hill Country, Hilda Staples, Ashok Bajaj of Knightsbridge which owns Rasika, 701, Bombay Club, The Oval Room, Bibiana, Ardeo+Bardeo, and Rasika West End, Chef Geoff, and Mike Isabella.
I don't want to brag, but 5 out 6 panelists above agree - I'm an OK sales person.
Quote of the event: Ty Neal said, "So far, all the risks have been worth it." when discussing the risks/rewards of opening multiple concepts in the DC metro area in some less than optimal areas.
Topics covered by the group included everything from how they got started in the industry to the effects of new restaurants coming in from out of town and not understanding the fact that the city doesn't have the population density that the out-of-towners are used to. 

I did not stay for the happy hour afterwards as I was really looking forward to the 2-1/2 hours I was going to spend sitting in traffic travelling the 15 miles back to my house...however, I'm sure the food provided by Blue Jacket was wonderful.

Thank you to Bisnow for putting the event together and to all of my customers who participated. A special thank you goes to Jason Wilt of Winmar for the shout-out where he reminded people to budget for their MICROS systems when they're opening a new place.

See you all soon.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

G and M Seafood: Serious cakes of all varieties

G & M Seafood
804 Hammonds Ferry Rd.
Linthicum Heights, MD 
 Their URL says it all.
 I've never eaten anything else at this restaurant, though I'm sure they do other items well.
This restaurant is on an intersection kind of in the sticks, but very close to BWI and major highways. It's worth sticking into your GPS one of these days if you haven't been there yet.
 When they say they're jumbo lump, they're jumbo lump. There's more filler than is necessary to hold it together, but you certainly get your fill of crab.
 Alex loved the eclair. It thought it was pretty good.
 The cannoli was ok, but the shell was a bit soggy and the filling was too thick for me. Then again, I'm kind of spoiled that way.
 They do all of their own baking on premise and have some great looking cakes.
They do some serious carryout in the retail outlet on premise. Lots of technology in this joint.
Here's my first video blog post too! Just wanted to shake things ups a little and try something new. Speaking of new, all of the pictures on this post were taken with my iPhone5. It wasn't a deliberate thing, I just went out with Alex to do some shopping and forgot my camera. Let me know what you think.

As far as the restaurant goes, G&M is worth a drive. They've cleaned the place up and it looks pretty good. 
If you go, tell 'em where you read about it.
G&M Restaurant & Lounge on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 21, 2013

Woodberry Kitchen - If I Were To Open A Restaurant...

Woodberry Kitchen
2010 Clipper Park Rd., #126
Baltimore, MD 21211
I've been meaning to get to Woodberry Kitchen for a long time. It's quite a drive from where I live, and with so many excellent choices to be had in DC and it's close-in 'burbs, it's hard to justify making the trip to Baltimore. I'm very glad I took the time to try Woodberry Kitchen.
When I say, "If I were to open a restaurant.." I don't mean that I think I could do what he does here, I mean that I would try to emulate some of the things he does here and I'd be very happy if I even came close.
This is a top-notch operation.
I caught the owner, Spike Gjerde, while my dinner guest and I were having a little spiked winter punch by the fire pit. He seems like a genuinely nice guy. His attention to detail and philosophies on farm-to-table dining are well publicized and are at the forefront of his operations from the second you walk through the door.
The service at his restaurant is second to none and will be the go-to answer whenever someone asks me who has the best service in the northern portion of the Mid-Atlantic. My answer for DC is generally Bourbon Steak if that gives you an idea of the bar being set. It's a more casual atmosphere and the relationship between the server/guest is less formal, but they are just as well versed in the products and culture of the owners as any place I've ever been to.
This young lady is the reason I finally got motivated to drive to Baltimore. Marie and I have been friends since 1982 or '83. We hadn't actually seen each other since our first high school reunion in 1991 or so. Marie, thanks for dragging me out and providing excellent company!
Here's a view of the outdoor lounge area. Very rustic. Like you're sitting outside a friends house having drinks by the fire pit. There is a bar and some table seating as well. We started out with a couple of glasses of Winter Punch and sat by the fire for a bit to catch up.
Have you ever gone to a restaurant and been asked, "Sparkling or still?". I have, and I always choose sparkling. Without fail, some well-meaning employee will come by and fill my glass of sparkling with still at some point during the meal. I knew I was in for a good experience when I saw that they'd swapped out the shorter glass used for still (to the left) with the taller one that designates sparkling. Simple solution to a very first-world dining issue, but also a very welcome one.
Here's a view of the kitchen which surrounds the main dining room.
I started out with a split of bubbly for the oysters.
Our server Matt dropped off several condiments in advance of the oyster delivery. They are house-made, like everything else here. He was right on with the recommendation that we try the Verjus Mignonette.
Cleanly shucked, nicely presented. We chose to get two of the six varieties available that night.
No bits of shell, lots of liquor.
Rather than fill up on entrees, we decided to go with a bunch of appetizers. this is the cheese and crackers. Some very nice cheeses accompanied by honey and preserves.
The meat board was tasty. Several varieties of cured meats with some excellent pickled okra and bumpy mustard.

My friend fooling around with a slice of tongue
This is the crab pot. Excellent flavors and jumbo lump crab. It was topped table-side with some sherry, which you can see bubbling in the picture. The aroma coming off that dish was awesome.
The crab cake was off the charts. Bar none, the best crab meat I've ever had. I'm sure Spike has a direct line to the best crabbers out of Anne Arundel County to get them this good. The only thing that prevented it from being the ultimate crab cake I've ever had was the spice. I'm sure it's intentional and meant to cut the sweetness of the crab, but there was a layer of heat in there that was just a bit excessive. It wasn't too much to stand or anything, it just didn't feel like it needed to be there.
To finish off I had an espresso from their barrista.
And some ice cream. It had nuts on the bottom and a short-bread cookie. Excellent flavor and texture.
These folks do pragmatic. A little rain? Use a clear plastic bag to cover your MICROS!

Overall, the experience here was excellent and I'd be eating at Woodberry Kitchen very frequently if it were in my 'hood. 

A special shout-out is called for to my friend Farmer Shane Hughes from Liberty Delight Farms. If you  follow me on Facebook you know that he provides me the best meats I've ever had. He also supplies some of his glorious beef to Woodberry Kitchen and was key to my getting a reservation on short-notice.

Woodberry Kitchen is listed on some web sites as fine dining. It is not a fine dining restaurant in my view. It is a neighborhood restaurant that is casual and very rustic with an incredible amount of attention payed to detail. From the time we walked in until the time we left we felt warmly welcomed and the staff made it known that they were there for us, there were no rules we had to follow to fit into their plan (other than having a reservation) and they went with the flow of what we wanted, when we wanted, with no hitches or stutters. Particularly noticeable was the lack of non-guest-focused activity observed during the meal. The people who work there want to work there and embody the spirit of hospitality.
Kudos Team Woodberry!
If you go, you know what to tell them.
Thanks for reading.

Woodberry Kitchen on Urbanspoon