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

Monday, October 14, 2013

G - Mike Isabella's Tasting Room

G Tasting Room at Kapnos & G
2201 14th St. N.W. @ W
Washington, DC 20009
How do you get a phone number like that? Geez. 
Guess it helps to the be The Man.
Mike Isabella is certainly riding high these days thanks to his successes at Graffiato, one of my favorite restaurants in DC.
Left to right - Elliot Drew, Mike Isabella, yours truly and James Horne. Missing from the picture is co-owner and GM Nick Pagonis and his brother/partner/Exec George Pagonis. We've worked together on several projects including Zaytinya (back when most of these folks were with Thinkfood Group) and Graffiato.
I had a free Saturday night, so Cheryl, Alex and I decided to spend a little quality time together over the tasting menu at G. During the day G is a sandwich shop attached to Kapnos. By night, it transforms into a very hip little section of the restaurant where you can enjoy some of the creativity that the chefs working here have.  It's separate from the main restaurant and there is an open kitchen where you can watch Elliot work his magic. The TV on the wall was showing Barbarella I think, the music was low, and the lights were high enough that I could get some good pictures. It's a pet peeve of mine....beautiful food and dim lighting don't make for good pictures.
We started out with the antipasti.
Some very nice charcuterie, arancini, crostini, frittata..
Buffalo mozzarella
and giardiniera...which kind of looked like a cannoli.
Nice looking food.
We had the supplement, which was fried blowfish, ruby shrimp, sepia, avocado and lemon. Nice little fried intermezzo.
There's my man Elliot working up a sweat in the kitchen. We arrived before the first scheduled seating so we pretty much had the place, and the chef, to ourselves.
Here's a formula Mike doesn't stray from: Perfect hand-made ravioli. These little pillows of tender, almost melt-in-your-mouth pasta were filled with sweet potato puree and topped with brown butter, maple sugar and pecans. My wife took a bite, closed her eyes, and said, "Mmmm. This tastes like Thanksgiving."
Macaroni with sausage gravy.
Art on a plate, with a photo bomb. This is the halibut with a romesco sauce wrapped in a leek. Very nice flavors. Not the little dots of charred scallion puree.
This was also very pretty, and cooked to perfection Lamb stracotto with root vegetables.
The texture was grand, but the flavor was lacking in that it wasn't the usual Isabella punch-in-the-tastebuds. I generally expect some more powerful seasoning/flavors from him and am rarely disappointed.
The desserts were fab though, and picked up right where they needed to. This was a chocolate layer cake with what tasted like mocha icing.
This is the sweet potato cheese cake with pecans. It was all that.

Last but not least, the gelato. This is from Rob at Dolcezza. Always great flavors and a texture that is remarkable. I believe this was cinnamon with candied pretzel pieces if I remember correctly. 
Final words? Great meal. Definitely recommend giving the tasting menu here a shot. Not only is the meal good, entertaining, and pretty, it's only $40.00/pp.
If you stop by, tell the crew you read about it on Pleasures of the Table!
Thanks for reading.

Kapnos on Urbanspoon

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Bearnaise Restaurant
315 Pennsylvania Ave. S.E.
Washington, DC 20003
 Yours truly, Executive Chef Brad Race, and Co-Owner Spike Mendelsohn just before taking me on a trip back to least on my palate. 
Brad and I have known each other since we met at minibar back in 2009. He guided my group through an incredible experience at that restaurant (here's a link to my post about that meal) and I was looking for more of the same. Obviously this restaurant is not about molecular gastronomy, it's about French comfort food, and I assumed, rightly, that he'd be bringing his attention to detail to the food here.
Spike, as you likely know, was a contestant on Top Chef and one of the players in Life After Top Chef. We've been working together since his first Goodstuff Eatery, which conveniently enough is two doors down, separated by his other concept, We The Pizza.
Cheryl and I had a night free while Alex was camping, in the rain, again. Poor kid. Too bad he missed out on this meal. He would have been impressed. We certainly were. The meal brought us right back to our honeymoon. We did one grand meal at L'Espadon in The Ritz, Paris, but we were just starting out so the rest of our meals there were in small, family-owned bistros we could afford. This meal brought us right back to those cozy, tasty restaurants where we spent numerous hours during our trip.
If you're unfamiliar with the concept here, your basic meal is priced by which cut of steak you choose. It comes with a soup or salad and all the frites you care to eat. The fries rock, but if you're smart you'll save room for some sides as they were the star of the show.
 The wine list here is very accessible. There is a flat price for most of the wines on the menu, and then there is the reserve list. This Pinot came from the reserve list, but was very reasonably priced. I posted a picture on FB and Mark Slater, famed sommelier of Citronelle and other restaurants commented on it, so I figure it must have been a good choice! We enjoyed it.  
 The bread basket is served without asking, or charge I might add, with butter and mustard. Don't fill up on the bread.
 The French Onion Soup. Had to try it and wasn't disappointed. Perfect for the cold, wet night.
 Cheryl had a creamy cauliflower soup, which was the special that night.
 I had the bone-in ribeye and Cheryl had the flat iron.
 The steaks were good, but the sides totally stole the show.
 Our table was overwhelmed with all of the sauces and sides. We had ordered bearnaise and spicy bearnaise, but Brad brought the lot of them including bordelaise and au poivre.
My favorite, by far, was the plain bearnaise. It was smooth, herby, and totally decadent.
 For sides we had bone marrow roasted and topped with caviar.
 The Tartiflette, which was roasted potatoes with pork belly and Reblochon cheese.
 And last, but not least, crisped brussel sprouts in Bearnaise sauce. 
 The winner in my book, hands down, was the bone marrow with caviar. I wish I could describe how good this was. Just thinking about it now...several weeks later...makes me want to go back.
There was so much food we asked them to pack the potatoes and the brussel sprouts to go. They were very tasty for lunch the next day.
For dessert we had the Praline Creme Brulee and the seasonal tart. Those of you familiar with my blog know that I have to get the creme brulee if for no other reason than to determine if I'm still the boss of that, and I am. The look on my wife's face when she bit into the seasonal tart was amazing. It was a poached pear with a lot of herbs in the liquid. She was glowing.

My advice is to try this restaurant. Make reservations for the next available time slot! 
There are some haters out there who don't appreciate the whole "Celebrity Chef" thing, but I can tell you from first-hand experience that it is just hype and most of the haters are just jealous of the free publicity this guy gets. They have to pay for theirs. Unfair advantage? Maybe, but you can't knock his food.
At the end of the day I don't care where his publicity comes from, I care how his food tastes and what the service is like in his restaurant and I was very impressed with both.
If you go, please tell Brad and Spike you read about it on Pleasures of the Table. I just may see you there.
Thanks for reading.
Bearnaise on Urbanspoon