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 reading....now I'm going to get on the web and mail-order some fois gras...

Bastille on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Dave Hansen is Back in the US...and already working.

Frederik de Pue Appoints Dave Hansen To Be Operations Director of Bord’eau LLC
(Washington D.C. – Sept. 8, 2014) 
Frederik de Pue has appointed DC restaurant veteran Dave Hansen to be the Operations Director of Bord’Eau LLC, his company comprised of Table Restaurant, Market MBK, and 42° Catering.  Hansen has been tasked to fine-tune and perfect an already highly acclaimed stable of properties before turning an eye to new concepts and expansion into new territories.
Hansen says, “It is a very rare event to meet a chef-owner, with a massive pedigree behind them, with whom you feel you share both a creative vision and an unwavering commitment to excellence in guest experience.  When Chef Frederik offered this post it was absolutely a no-brainer for me to agree to the project.  When we sit down together, the collaborative energy is intense, and that makes for a very exciting environment in which to work and create.”
Sean Crowley
Award-Winning Public Affairs Specialist & Video Producer

Sunday, September 7, 2014

San Jose Costa Rica's Hotel Grano de Oro - Fine Dining in a Fine Hotel

Hotel Grano de Oro
Calle' 30, San Jose, Costa Rica
Phone: (506) 2255-3322
 The first two nights we were in Costa Rica we stayed at a lovely boutique hotel name the Grano de Oro. We were up for an adventure, so I chose this over the usual big names. It had a unique location in the middle of a residential neighborhood vs. being near the airport, and it wasn't a brothel as far as I knew.
Take a look at the contrast in the picture above. This is is an old mansion in the heart of a neighborhood, but the superstructure looks like the designer from 2941 spent some time working on this one with the glass and industrial supports. The lobby was contemporary, but the rest of the place was old-world.
 The woodwork at the front desk was exquisite. Every time I went to speak to one of the people at the desk I would find myself distracted by the beauty and patterns in the meticulously crafted veneers....they'd look at me and say, "Mr. Smelson, can we help you with something?"
The restaurant was very comfortable.The bar was open one both sides: one to the restaurant, and one to an atrium that was open to the elements.
 This is a picture of the atrium as the sun went down. Two stories of stained glass, tile floors, and smoked glass above your head to protect you from the daily rain (only if you're sitting at the bar though.) We didn't have the opportunity to dine in the atrium as it did rain every afternoon.
 Dinner here was nice. Not over-the-top, but certainly a break from the street food we'd had during the day. The amuse bouche was a fine ceviche with the ubiquitous plantain chips.
 Did I mention that I love the butter in Costa Rica? This was a little fancier than others. One was herbed with tarragon, the other with shallots.
 This is the tenderloin with truffled demi glace. Flavorful, cooked correctly. 
 The trio of sauces that came with my wife's Chateaubriand..peppercorn, Bearnaise, and roasted walnut.
 The cheese ravioli that one of the kids ordered was very nice. Handmade, light, and a nice presentation.
 Alex ordered the duck with caramelized fig sauce and a duck liver pate crostini, which he generously shared with me. He knows I have a thing for duck liver. Good boy. Sometimes when you order duck in a restaurant it is tough. I'm not sure if it's the duck or the cook, but in this case it was perfect. Almost as tender as my steak. Well done folks.
The finale was a piece of tres leches cake. Traditionally, and literally, it is the cake with three milks: in the cake, in the whipped cream, and in the caramel either as a topping or on the plate. How can you go wrong there? 
Overall, a good dinner. Not the best of the trip, but certainly not at the bottom of the list. The hotel is very cool. The rooms are all different as far as I could tell. Between the two nights we stayed on the way in-country and the one night on the way out each room we saw was unique. Tropical, but elegant. If you get a chance to go to San Jose give them a shot. Great location, very hospitable employees, and some seriously good espresso. 
Stay tuned for more travel adventures!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Soda Tiquicia - Short and sweet intro to the Tico Soda concept

Soda Tiquicia
200 meters north of bar Lora Amarilla, Santa Teresa, Costa Rica
As I've mentioned, no place in Costa Rica really has a street address unless you're in the big city. This is especially true on the coast of the Guanacaste Peninsula.
There is one dirt road that connects Mal Pais and Santa Teresa. It is full of pot holes, ruts, and one-lane bridges that have no good point of egress because of the ruts on either side. Kind of scary actually, considering the helmet-less motorcycle riders and entire families riding on ATVs. Anyhow, I digress. Let's get to the restaurant, Soda Tiquicia. It was the first restaurant we came to when we walked up our driveway and turned right. Physically-speaking, it wasn't much to write home about. Six picnic tables in a space that had tarps for walls. There was a kitchen in the back and a cooler full of Imperials and sodas. 
 I may be wrong, but from what I gathered Imperial is the chosen beer of Costa Rica. It's heavier than Corona, but very easy to drink on a hot day. After this little dinner, it became the beer-of-choice for the rest of the vacation.
 This was my appetizer, a plate of snapper ceviche. Not great, but not horrible. It was fresh, but there were some pieces of cartilage or bone that took away from the enjoyment.
This, however, was awesome. It was the fish taco. It was fried wrapped in a tortilla. Beautifully crisp and crunchy filled with tender fresh fish. That hit the spot! I was worried after the ceviche, but this was actually awesome. The rest of the crew was weary from a day on a fairly treacherous journey so they headed towards burgers...not quite blog-worthy there.
Bottom line, if you're staying at The Beach Estates stop in and get a fish taco with an Imperial to wash it down. You won't be disappointed.
Stay tuned for more Costa Rican adventures. We came here for breakfast too!