Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Five Best Things I Put In My Mouth - 2014

It's that time of year again fans and friends. I take a walk down memory land and recap my favorite meals of the year. These are in chronological order, so do not despair if you're at the bottom or top of the list chef friends. There are hyperlinks to the review in the name of the restaurant if you'd like to read the full post about any particular culinary adventure. Thanks for reading folks.

Let's start in May. I had a dinner alone while my wife was at Nerd Prom. I'd been meaning to get to Mintwood Place for quite a while. I was sorry it had taken so long once I got some of Cedric's Steak Tartare. Brilliant take on the dish and best I've ever had.

My next dish comes from a humble food truck. See, it's not all about fancy places with big tabs. It's about the food. The Firecracker Fried Egg from Culinary Nomad at the Central Farm Market was astounding. I can't recommend it highly enough. It's a must-try.

I took a trip to Costa Rica in August and had the opportunity to dine at some excellent restaurants. Unfortunately I didn't bring my camera to all of them. I had the presence of mind to capture dinner at La Esquina de Buenos Aires though. The dessert there was so good I can recall it like it was yesterday. Perfectly matched textures and flavors in a crepe filled with caramel then bruleed.

The weekend after I got back from Costa Rica I had the pleasure of attending a dinner party at a friends house. The chefs were none other than Byan Voltaggio and Mike Isabella. Crazy, right? That night Mike brought a dish that knocked my socks off. Lamb Neck with charred yogurt and lemon. Mike does the most amazing things with a good way.

Next up, and last dish of the post, are the lamb chops at Bastille in Alexandria. Maybe it was just Year of the Lamb for me, but these chops were spicy, crispy, and melt-in-your-mouth tender. Bravo.

Thanks for joining me on a journey down memory lane. I plan to get out to more restaurants in 2015. 2014 was a busy year so I didn't get out as much as I'd have liked's good to have goals right?
Thanks for reading folks. Best wishes for happy holidays and a great new year.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Newton's Table - Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end

Newton's Table
4917 Elm St. 
Bethesda, MD 20814

Newton's Table was chef Dennis Friedman's first solo effort. He opened this restaurant after working for many noted chefs including Daniel Boulud, Michel Richard, and Bob Kinkead. 
It is an oasis of white table cloths, quietude, and civility just around the corner from the hustle and bustle of Bethesda's restaurant row.  Alas, all good things must come to an end. The last night of service for Newton's Table is New Year's Eve. 
I've had many good meals at this restaurant and wanted to take a trip down memory lane on Friday.
Cheryl, Alex and I dined well that night. I started off with a Rittenhouse Rye Manhattan and Cheryl had a nice glass of Cab.
We started out with the mushroom flatbread, which was the special appetizer of the evening. Several different type of mushrooms with garlic and cream on a grilled and baked flatbread. Very tasty. Cheryl liked it even though she generally doesn't like mushrooms. These flatbreads are going to carry over into the new concept.
The other appetizer we had was the Kobe Wontons with garlic aioli. Crispy with perfect chunks of Kobe beef. The aioli is crafted with some unexpected flavors to elevate it above the usual.
Cheryl had the special of the night, which was a smoked, pulled pork sandwich with coleslaw and salad served on a Martin's Roll. This treat was a trial for the new concept which will, if everything goes according to plan, open in January.
Alex had the Fuzu, which is a noodle dish that has become popular for lunch at Newton's Table as well as Newton's Noodle downtown.
I had the Chilean Sea Bass. Crispy top and buttery-soft inside. Excellent.

Pig Brittle. Yes, it's real brittle and real pork in there. The bitterness of the caramel and sweetness of the vanilla ice cream go perfectly together. This dish will also carry over to the new concept.
We also shared the Petit Fours plate. Mini Eclairs and bites of Lemon Squares with a cream puff. The lemon squares will make an appearance at the new concept as well, albeit in a modified format/recipe.

You might be wondering how I know so much about the new concept? Well, Dennis and I have been friends for a long time. We used to sit and chat about food and the restaurant business in general fairly frequently. He also followed my posts on this blog and on Facebook and thought that a collaboration of our skills might make for a good concept. Something that's not fine-dining, but better than your run-of-the-mill neighborhood joint. 
It will be called Bethesda Barbecue Company
We're looking forward to bringing some genuine, thoughtful barbecue to Bethesda. We intend it to be a family restaurant with a creative cocktail program. We're engaging local, organic food purveyors, testing recipes and techniques, and soliciting advice from our friends, who are some of the best in the restaurant business.
Stay tuned for updates!

Newton's Table on Urbanspoon

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Water and Wall - Cozy and Urbane in the 'Burbs

Water & Wall
3811 N. Fairfax Dr.
Arlington, VA 22203

I like the trend I'm seeing in independent restaurants. Good service, cocktails, and food in settings that are comfortable and welcoming. Chef/Owner Tim Ma's Water & Wall joins his first restaurant, Maple Ave, in those regards. It's got more seats than his first, which is good because seats are in high demand at his restaurants. Click on the link above to score a reso. You'll need to do it at least a week out if you're a prime-time-diner.
Understated entrance on Fairfax Dr.
We started out at the bar with a couple of drinks. I had the Theodore's Elixir. You can't go wrong with bourbon, Fernet, and some citrus. The ladies had some Thibaut-Janisson bubbles, also appropriate for the occasion.
We were dining with our friends Craig and Laura, who we often share blog-worthy meals with.
Seared scallops with grits. Rich and savory.
Pumpkin soup with sage oil and apple cider creme fraiche. One of the best pumpkin dishes I've ever tried, and the only pumpkin dish I've had this year. I'm saving myself for Thanksgiving.
A lot of restaurants offer fried calamari. Few season it well. Here there was ample salt and pepper, a sudachi aoli, and some pickled Fresno peppers. Lots of flavor.
A little closer please...

Chicken liver mousse with pear compote and champagne gelee. A lot of restaurants have a version of this. Tim's is better than most.
The ladies in a "Whatchu talkin' 'bout Willis?" moment.
Cheryl and I both had the Steelhead Trout. The white bean puree and salsa verde added some pizazz to the dish. The skin was cracklin'-crispy. Interesting factoid: a group of Steelhead Trout is a hover. It eats more like salmon than the white-fleshed brown trout you see in most places.
The catfish. This was my favorite dish. Unfortunately, I didn't order it. My friend Craig did. It had some excellent heat that came on the back end of the bite. Very nice, warm, but not overpowering.
Laura had the Duck Confit. It had Brussels sprouts and a maple gastrique. The skin was nicely crisped.
There were four desserts on the menu. There were four of us. Coincidence? I think not. This was the Pumpkin-buttermilk pound cake. I loved the pumpkin-seed brittle.
Apple crisp.
The bittersweet chocolate bread pudding.
And my favorite...the chocolate-peanut butter tart. I'm not sure, but it tasted to me like they used browned butter in the crust. Nice touch.

Definitely a nice addition to the neighborhood. Congrats Tim & Joey. Nice job. Looking forward to seeing more from you in the future.
Water & Wall on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 3, 2014

Wildwood Kitchen - Awesomeness Comes in Small Packages

Wildwood Kitchen
Shops at Wildwood
10223 Old Georgetown Rd.
Bethesda, MD 20814

Wildwood shopping center is a strip mall at the corner of Old Georgetown and Democracy in Bethesda. I go there once in a while when I'm trying to source a particular ingredient or quality of ingredient that only Balducci's carries locally. It is home to Oakville Wine Bar, where you can always get a quality piece of fish and glass of wine or some good pizza at Geppetto. There is also a Starbucks and a few other places, but I don't go there often. 
There is a small restaurant down towards the end of the strip though, that might entice me to make the journey more frequent. It's Wildwood Kitchen.
If you live in the DC Metro, or the east coast of the U.S., you've probably heard of the owner. Robert Weidmaier. He owns several concepts, most notably Marcel's in DC and Mussel Bars scattered about the area. Marcel's is a favorite of the critics and is fine-dining while Mussel Bar is casual place to have some great mussels and exotic beer. Brasserie Beck is also under his umbrella and has seen some great chefs come through it's doors.
All that being said, Wildwood Kitchen is a neighborhood joint that happens to have some terrific food being put out by Matt Newland, Chef de Cuisine.
Let's get on to dinner though,
 I'm never one to turn down a good smoky rye drink with a big ice cube, this one was called the Smoking Rye Boulevard and had Campari and cherry. This version was good without being smashed with smoke. That happens sometimes...not sure if it's what's being used to create the smoke or the length of time it's in there, but this one was good. 
 The bread is torn, brushed with olive oil and mildly singed. It's a perfect format for dipping in the sauces and soups to follow.
 Speaking of soups, the potato soup with goat cheese was the soup of the day. One of the nicest I've ever tried.
Duck Rillettes were nicely done. Tender and flavorful with a good bumpy mustard on the side.
 I'd like to get Chef Matt's recipe for his confit...if he'd give it up. Literally the best texture I've ever had in a confit. 
 I had the hanger steak. It was topped with a compound butter and served atop a puree of parsnips. The veg rocked.
The finale was a grapefruit with sabayon and meringue morsels with some grapefruit sorbet if memory serves me correctly. It was light, citrusy, and a great way to end dinner.

This restaurant is a true neighborhood gem. If you go, make sure you get your reservations at least a week or two out if you prefer prime-dining hours. It's a small place. Go with friends and enjoy. You won't be disappointed.

Wildwood Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Ginger Cafe - Santa Teresa's Best Non-Tico Tipico Breakfast

What is a non-Tico breakfast you ask? It is more of a continental breakfast, which is to say it's not beans and rice or some variation thereof. Not that there is anything wrong with beans and rice for breakfast. I had it several times while in Costa Rica and enjoyed it thoroughly. 
Ginger Cafe was a slightly more European cuisine.
To start with, the coffee was amazing. I fell in love with Costa Rican coffee while I was in Santa Teresa. Here I had a latte with an extra shot of espresso.
This is what the kids had as appetizers...yes, they got appetizers before breakfast. We were on vacation after all. This is a croissant from a bakery down the road, which we also ate at a few times, slathered with Nutella. 
Some of our crew were hooked on the banana french toast.
I was a fan of the eggs and toast with salami. Interesting choice of breakfast meat, but it's what I got. Our server's English was about as good as my Spanish, so I likely ordered the wrong thing, but it was tasty. Notice the butter: great color/flavor. The eggs were perfectly cooked too.

One of the more interesting things about this restaurant is the fact that it is attached to the owner's house. The house itself is a large, open-air structure. When you look up from your table you can actually see the fridge in his kitchen, which is upstairs. The walls in the restaurant are just gauzy coverings. Very cool place. I'm taking notes for when I'm ready to retire and open my place.

If you get the chance to go to the Mal Pais/Santa Teresa area make sure you stop in. You won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Bastille Restaurant- My Neighborhood Deserves One of these!

Bastille Restaurant
1201 N. Royal St.
Alexandria, VA 22314
This neighborhood gem, and I mean gem, is located on the outskirts of Old Town Alexandria. There is plenty of parking, and an outdoor patio that seems like a perfect oasis for the youngins who don't have to go home right after work to handle carpool duty.
The owners, Christophe and Michelle Poteaux, are there on a daily basis, if not both at the same time. What this does for their restaurant is obvious. It allows them to have visibility to and influence on the smallest details. The little things that can make the difference between a meal that's acceptable and an experience that is best-in-class are handled with style, savoir faire, and hospitality.
Chef Michelle was working the pass the night my family and I ate there. She sent an amuse bouche of  shrimp and corn beignets with basil on a rouille aioli. Lots of garlic and basil goodness. It arrived very hot and crispy, as it should.
Sommelier extraordinaire Mark Slater is in charge of their beverage program. I've had the pleasure of dining with Mark several times in the past including a meal at the chef's table at Citronelle back in the day, and when he was working with Mike Landrum at Ray's the Steaks. He knows his wine.
Alex started out with the charcuterie board that included duck rillete, brassiole, country pate, and salami. The cured meats here are made by Jamie Stachowski, formerly of an eponymous restaurant, Palladin, eCiti, and several others. 
Cheryl started with the tomato salad with warm goat cheese. She said "Ooh, you've got to try this cheese." 
I started with the escargot with a garlic and piquillo pepper coulis. They were plump, hot, and tender. 
For his entree, Alex had the lobster paella. The lobster was grilled nicely and the paella itself was loaded with mussels, chorizo and tomato. 
Cheryl had the double-cut lamb chops, mid-rare, with harissa yogurt and couscous. The lamb was cooked perfectly and well-seasoned. The merguez was nicely spiced. No doubt a Stachowski product as well.

I had the Le Burger au Fois Gras. I was jonesing for some fois gras and was hoping for a sauteed slab of it, but this was the closest I could get. It had good flavor and texture, reminiscent of the torchon I've purchased from Hudson Valley Fois Gras farm in the past. 
This is the knock-your-socks-off Burgundy that Mark recommended to Cheryl to accompany her lamb. It was all that. Huge.
For dessert I had the upside-down cherry cake. It's obvious that Michelle, their pastry chef, specializes.
Alex had the creme brulee. He gets it at almost every restaurant we go to that offers it. Mainly to compare it to the one I make at home. It's amazing how much a dish with four ingredients can vary from cook to cook, but it does. I thought it was on par, but Alex said mine was better. Maybe he was just being kind as I was picking up the check.
Cheryl had a ricotta cheese cake with blueberries and graham cracker crumbles. Alex had a taste and said, "That's what cheese cake is supposed to taste like." Bravo Chef!
Overall, an excellent meal. Service was cooperative, meaning we had several people attending to our table, and as you can see from the menu, should you choose to check it out, the prices are reasonable for the level of refinement and forethought that you're getting. I've paid much more for sloppier presentations, luke-warm food, and indifferent service.
This restaurant, which will soon be moving to bigger digs at 606 N. Fayette St., is worth checking out for a date, a family dinner, or just happy hour on the patio.
If you go, let them know you read about them on Pleasures of the Table!
Thanks for I'm going to get on the web and mail-order some fois gras...

Bastille on Urbanspoon