Thursday, February 16, 2012

a steak to the heart

Marge: Homer, I have to go out to pick up something for dinner.
Homer: Steak?
Marge: Money's too tight for steak.
Homer: Steak?
Marge: Eh, suuure... steak.

Tenderloin medallions in porcini and tarragon-Marsala cream sauce.
Mashed potatoes with caramelized shallots.
Roasted asparagus with garlic.
Happy Valentine's Day, from Marge and Homer.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

everyone's in the kitchen

This past weekend, Ed and I went up to Boulder for a little getaway weekend. Boulder is just the right distance to be able to do that kind of thing pretty much on a whim: there are enough little hotels nearby (because it's a college town) that you can grab a cheap room and then spend the afternoon shopping, drinking coffee in local cafés, and browsing in the independent bookstore before heading off to a fantastic dinner at a spot that's completely hopping at 8, 9, even 10 p.m. -- you just get that excited-to-be-there vibe, even if the 8 p.m. reservation is a bit past your own bedtime (note to self: when did you get so old?).

I'd been looking forward to trying The Kitchen, about which I'd heard only good things. We arrived about twenty minutes early and managed to hover until we got seats at the bar to wait for our table. The bartender was immensely helpful, despite being slammed; when Ed ordered the whiskey flight, he talked through all four pours (the first being a millet whiskey from Chicago, something neither of us had seen before, and very intriguing). I stuck with a Barbera, which I had a feeling would carry me through the meal -- and it did.

We were seriously tempted by the tasting menu, but instead put together our own. To start, we shared the Escarole Saladblue cheese, walnuts, parsley & pedro ximenez dressing and the Long Farm Pork Belly – frisée, cure farm duck egg & saba. I love a winter greens salad like this one, the hearty escarole standing up to rich cheese and nuts, and the sweetness of the dressing pulling it all together. The pork belly was outsanding, four slices crisped perfectly on the edges but succulent inside, and the soft poached egg, when pierced, lent an unctuousness just cut by the bitter frisée and a bit of sweet saba. I could see making a meal of these two dishes and some of the garlic fries, which we did not order but saw go by frequently enough that I said, "OK, we're just going to have to come back for those."

"Oh, yeah," he agreed.

Next, we asked to share the Hand Rolled Celeriac Gnocchi black trumpet mushrooms, haystack chèvre & thyme. These were outstanding -- "Awesome!" I said to the server, when he came to retrieve our plates. The dumplings were small and on the denser side, which worked so that they could carry the mushrooms and delicious, creamy goat cheese, all tied together in an herb-redolent broth. On a cold night, a big bowl of this and some of the good bread to wipe up the rest would be heavenly.

For an entrée, I had the Pan-Roasted Red Trout Ingrid's mussels, root vegetables, saffron (this one isn't on the online menu so I'm doing the best I can from memory). The fish reminded me a bit of salmon, meaty but flaky with a very crisp strip of skin, with a mild flavor boosted by the saffron broth. Several plump mussels and tiny dice of local root vegetables, cooked through but not mushy, created a great textural interplay as well. This was both delicate and satisfying.

Ed went with the Koberstein New York Strip Char Grilledceleriac gratin, kale & green peppercorn jus. The juicy, medium-rare meat reminded of a bistecca alla fiorentina, with an exterior salt crust sealing in its flavor and just enough bite from the peppercorns. The gratin and kate rounded out the plate visually as well.

Since it was a treat weekend, we shared two desserts, the Pot au Chocolatwith heavy cream and the Potato Doughnutswith spiced hot chocolate. The latter came with three traditional-shaped doughnuts that were sugar-crisp on the outside and light as air inside, just right for dipping into the not-too-sweet chocolate. Even darker and more molten was the pot au chocolat, really a molten cake, presented like a soufflé with a pitcher of cream for drizzling. Decadent, for sure, but worth it? Absolutely.

The meal did run a little long for us, particularly since on this Saturday night, the place was crowded -- a six-top next to us turned and began anew at nearly 9:30, and I saw at least one two-top seated at 10 -- but the warm exposed brick, loft-like ductwork, and funky old glass and crystal chandeliers make the room a warm, welcoming place to spend a few hours. The staff gives the impression that they truly enjoying working there, which adds to the overall pleasant nature of the experience. 

We headed out into the quite chilly night after a fantastic meal, pleased and already discussing when we might return -- always a good sign. If I lived closer, I could see hit the bar (called "Upstairs," which should give you an idea of its location) for cocktails and garlic fries as a precursor to a movie or even dinner back home. In the meantime, I'd love to return as the seasons change to see what else the main space is putting out, and it would be a wonderful location to meet up with a few friends for a leisurely, excellent meal. After all, doesn't everyone always gather in the kitchen?

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

secret in a stone bowl

OK, so in the future, I should try not to let my birthday fall on a Monday (when many restaurants are closed) that doubles as the federal observation of New Year's (when ever more are closed than usual). After running down the list of every possibly option for a low-key birthday dinner, we settled on what I might have wanted to suggest all along: sushi.

I haven't been out for sushi in the Springs since moving here, and while I didn't expect or even necessarily want something transcendent, I did want to enjoy a night out with Ed to celebrate my birthday. Over to Tejon we went, seeking sake and seaweed to ring in my -- and the -- new year.

The sushi I had ranged from good (competent sake sashimi and hamachi maki) to excellent (the Hawaiian poke maki and tuna tataki over daikon threads in a spicy sauce -- aka the unfortunately named* Screaming Orgasm maki), but maybe the best thing about Fujiyama is that they keep a few stone bowls around. If you know to ask (almost no one does -- some of the staff didn't even know the bowls existed), they'll use one for your authentic** bi-bim-bap -- and if it's your fiancée's birthday and you give her some of the delicious crunchy rice from the bottom of the bowl, well, it just might be a really great birthday dinner.

And to the two couples at the table next to us when we sat down: the Ninth Doctor? Really? I sure hope that conversation was about to get into the awesomeness of Ten and Eleven

*I think I missed the genesis of the trend of putatively outrages names for sushi rolls. I guess it makes waves among the teen-and-twenty-something-set -- I've seen it more in college towns than anywhere else -- but it's really just very silly.
**We had a long discussion over the intersection of Korean and Japanese food, particularly in the states in restaurants owned by Koreans in places where serving only a Korean menu might not be as successful. Whatever the reason, this place does a great Korean rice bowl; I highly recommend it.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

and it comes with a slice of cantaloupe at the end

I had brunch/lunch today with my aunt and uncle at Seasons in the Four Seasons Georgetown. This has become something of a tradition for us; they're usually in town the first weekend in December, and I meet them that Sunday morning. In the past, however, we've met early, for breakfast. Now, I love hotel breakfast, particularly at a hotel with good restaurants like the Four Seasons (they make an excellent Eggs Florentine that I always order). But we're always there while the restaurant sets up its incredibly elaborate brunch, and I'm always a little curious about the extensive offerings.

This year, my aunt told me she'd made a reservation for noon. Score! I thought. Brunch!

That said, I'm not the average DC (or NYC, or LA) bruncher. Brunch in these towns seems to occur at 1, 2, even 3 p.m., but that just doesn't work for my body because I just can't comfortably sleep late; unless I'm ill, 9 a.m. never sees me still in bed, and even 8 a.m. has started to feel decadent. And I'm also a breakfast-eater (one of my favorite meals, any time of day) who can't wait five or six hours after awakening to have something.

But, no matter. Brunch, lunch, schmunch -- it was just a midday meal that would be a treat. I had my normal small breakfast this morning, and hit the gym, looking forward to sampling a bit of everything at lunchtime.

And sample I did, having small servings of the Dill-Marinated Salmon; the Korean Grilled Octopus with Green Onion Salad; the Fried Okra Salad with Marinated Tomatoes, Onions and BaconArugula with Duck Confit, Dried Cherries, Spiced Pecans and Maple Vinaigrette (I cannot pass up duck confit, ever); and a few Smoked Crimini Mushrooms.


The cured salmon was buttery and full of flavor, while the octopus was nicely spicy and not at all overcooked (chewy, not rubbery). Bites of crisp-fried okra played nicely off the smoky bacon and vinegary tomatoes, while the lightly-dressed arugula salad had peppery crunch and sweetness to marry the duck's meaty richness. And I'm a sucker for a mushroom, and these had a nice full flavor to round things out.

My aunt and uncle delved even further, with a made-to-order omelet, some crab cakes, more smoked salmon and other items from the extensive raw bar (oysters, ceviche, shrimp, crab claws, crab salad), cheese from the cheese and charcuterie station ... I think the only place we didn't get to was the dessert table, probably because who could eat dessert after all that?

I'm not usually a fan of a buffet, but Seasons really has this one down pat, refreshing the salads and prepared dishes almost continually, and cooking many items to order. The layout in the room also facilitates movement, so it was never crowded or distracting. The entire meal was quite lovely -- company, of course, included.

The hotel is always decorated for the holidays with trees designed by local artists for charities, and the festive air is just part of the package, because I have looked forward every year to getting to spend a nice morning with my aunt and uncle as my start of the holiday season. And for the last DC rendezvous we'll have, well, we went out on a hight note.

Monday, November 21, 2011

big flavors, little serow

I have never dined at Komi.

I'm stating that up front because it's known far and wide to be one of the best restaurants (or perhaps "dining experiences") in DC. Johnny Monis has received national accolades for his Mediterranean tasting menu; add a fantastic wine list and exquisite service, and it's no wonder it's one of the first places the Obamas went for a special occasion night out after moving here.

In the past few years, though, I've not had reason or inclination to go all-in for the multi-course Komi adventure. It's not that I doubt I'd enjoy it; it just never quite made it onto my must-do list.

And then.

Two weeks ago, the Komi team opened the doors on a new project: Little Serow. Serving a set menu of northern Thai (Isaan) dishes family-style, the tiny underground space with no signage doesn't take reservations; Tuesday through Saturday, you just have to show up and take a chance -- or wait for a text message telling you your table is ready if you don't get in on the first seating when they open the doors. The wine and beer menu, curated by Komi sommelier Kat Bangs, doesn't provide suggested pairings, but the staff  guide you through your tastings with matches if you so choose. The early buzz, all positive, had my mouth watering. I wasn't about to leave DC without trying it out.

Ed and I met there at 5:30 on Friday night. Over the next ninety-plus minutes, we sampled the following:

jeow dtap bpet  crispy pork / duck liver / shrimp paste
yaam het   pet mushroom / cured egg / lime
laap pla   duk catfish / shallots / chiles
khao tod   fermented cabbage / lime leaf / peanuts
sai oua   pork sausage / kaffir / basil
jin tup   beef / charred & hammered
kaeng hung lay   pork rib / tamarind / ginger

The first dish was like Thai chips and dip -- house-made pork rinds dipped in addictively spicy pate. Along with it came a dish full of herbs and cooling raw vegetables, and a basket of sticky rice, from which we were encouraged to scoop with our fingers for picking up items from the next three dishes. These salads played with spice and texture; the mushrooms were earthy while the house-cured egg shavings added crunch, as did the the crispy shallots over the spicy minced catfish. Our favorite was the fermented cabbage dish, an umami-rich interplay of sour and spice.

Slices of pork sausage, redolant of herbs, came with a huge sprig of basil, the leaves of which served as utensiles and wrappers for each bite. The last two dishes -- fantastically charred beef with a piquant dipping sauce, and just-shy-of-falling-off-the-bone pork ribs with a curry gravy -- cried out for more of the sticky rice to help sop up every fragrant, satisfying  morsel. Two small squares of mint-coconut sticky rice finished off the meal perfectly, just a little hit of sweetness after the layers of herbs, spices, and heat.

Thai is not usually my favorite of the readily-available Asian cuisines; I gravitate more toward Japanese and Vietnamese -- the latter because of its focus on sour, salt, and spice as much as sweet. The food at Little Serow played into this kind of profile, abandoning sweet or coconut-milk-laden oversaucing in lieu of fresh and herbaceous spiciness.

Seven courses and several drinks (very nicely matched cider and a Thai beer for Ed; a sparkling Gruner Veltliner and then a Willamette pinot noir for me; and we each got a taste of a brandy-fortified wine from the Willamette valley as well, which went nicely with the salads) later, finished eating but not even close to finished discussing the interesting presentations and compositions of flavors and textures of the meal, we made our way into the chillier-than-anticipated DC night. I may still not have gotten to Komi, but I am a big fan of Little Serow.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

serendipity at the conscious table

I admit it. I'm a planner. Even if I end up entirely breaking the plans, I tend not to be happy if I haven't put something on the schedule.

However, sometimes the best things happen when you just don't schedule them in.

Yesterday, we had planned to go see an early evening movie before a nice dinner at a restaurant we like near the theatre. Unfortunately, the movie theatre neglected to update its schedule; the movie we had planned to see was sharing a screen with another film, and we (not alone among people in the lobby, it turned out) had missed the only showing. We considered seeing another movie, but one in which we were only mildly interested had already started and was nearly full, while another would have required we go to dinner pretty much immediately and then return -- and between having just had coffee (so not being hungry) and my not even knowing if I wanted to see the later film, it didn't seem worth it.

   "We could go buy groceries and go to the restaurant tomorrow instead," I suggested.
   "Sure," he agreed.

Bzzzt -- the restaurant is closed on Sundays.

   "Well, how about we go to the wine store, then sit and read at the coffee shop?"
   A pause, then a considered nod. "Well ... I guess that's why we brought the iPads."

A half-case deal later, we began to chat with the friendly, helpful clerk as she rang up our purchases. A comment about the 2010 Bordeaux led to a joke about my friend the sommelier ... and that's when our luck began to change.

   "Oh, who's the somm?" asked the clerk.
   "Ah, not out here -- back in DC," I replied. "Although, boy, I wish I could get him out here. The Springs would be just the kind of place he could open the sort of spot he'd like."
   She half-laughed. "I moved here from San Diego and L.A. ... our food scene here is not all that."
   Ed and I exchanged looks.
   "Oh, I don't know," I said. "He thought that too before he moved back, but we've found some things to change his mind."
   She stopped putting our bottles into the bag. "Well, if you want to support good, local food, and chefs doing interesting things--"
   Another look between us. Did she just read our minds? Yes, please!
   "--Go down to Kiowa, and turn left off Tejon. You can't in a car, because it's one way. And there's a little place, just opened, doesn't even have a sign. The Conscious Table. Three young chefs doing local and sustainable, farm-to-table stuff. I helped them do their wine list -- I'm a wholesale rep, just work in the shop one day a week for fun -- they are doing awesome, creative stuff. Only open on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays ... you have to check it out."
   Our eyes got wide. "I think that description used every buzzword that generally indicates a restaurant the two of us would love," Ed finally replied.
   "Great!" she smiled. "Tell them Stacy sent you. It's fantastic. Enjoy!"

After putting the wine in the car, we headed for the restaurant. Sure, locavore and farm-to-table have become marketing speak that might make the jaded gourmand roll his or her eyes, but the actual practices lend themselves to the kind of cooking we both seek out and savor. If that's really what they were doing, we absolutely had to check it out.

And there, in a mostly-unmarked storefront, sat an adorable space with exposed brick walls, a working fireplace, and the menu of the night on a huge chalkboard. Country paté? Xocolatl yardbird? Red curry shrimp pho? Too many choices! While we tried to decide, an amuse of pickled beets atop a slice of lemon cucumber from an heirloom garden of a neighbor gave us the first indication that we were in for a treat.

A plate of dense-crumbed fennel-studded bread with excellent salted butter and olive oil helped get us through the decision process. The (yes, actually) well-priced wine list yielded a nicely drinkable Côtes du Rhone that went wonderfully with the Butternut squash tarte tatin we shared to start. The tatin was amazing, with caramelized pineapple bringing out the natural sweetness of the squash, and the puff-pastry crust adding flaky, buttery crunch to each bite. We also had a small Sencha saladmixed greens, candied walnuts, apples, goat cheese -- a perfect fall combination, and one of the best vinaigrettes I've had in ages (and I wish I knew what it was).

For his main course, Ed chose the Lamb bolognese, mashed potatoes, a slow-cooked dish of rich, deeply-flavored comfort if ever there was one. And I had to go with the Seared scallops, sweet potato purée, arugula, and beet molasses: four perfectly cooked giant scallops, caramelized on the outside but tender inside, over wilted greens, with little hits of sweetness from the root vegetable elements -- everything I could want in each lovely bite.

By this point, we knew this had to be the best meal we'd had in Colorado Springs, and on the list of the best meals we'd shared anywhere. The kind of place we want to bring people, just to see their eyes widen when they take their first bite and realize the talent that went into creating their food. The kind of place we want everyone to go, so the place succeeds beyond its wildest dreams.

We opted to bring home leftovers in favor of trying the Cranberry chocolate frangipane for dessert ... and asked the waitress if the restaurant would consider doing a semi-private event in mid-January.

"Sure!" she said brightly. "Here, I'll go get Chef."

And so, mid-bite of the excellent dessert -- tart cranberries mitigating what might otherwise have been a sugar-bomb of chocolate and almond paste -- Chef Brent Beavers pulled up a chair to chat with us.

And, full disclosure -- that "sencha" in the salad was a clue. Ed had already begun to notice the staff looked familiar; several of them hail from a restaurant of that name, now closed, that he used to visit and quite liked. It's like when your favorite actors show up in an indie movie you hadn't even planned on seeing ... just a little extra treat.

The restaurant is already offering chef's tables with multiple courses and pairings, so we talked to Chef Beavers about doing an event there, which seemed to be right up his alley. He seemed as excited as we were to plan a mid-winter celebration, and I can't wait to go back and taste what he's got in store.

Sure, the movie would have been fun. But stumbling into a restaurant that could have been created with us in mind? Plans, shmans: I'll take that any day.

And another one of those squash tarts. Oh, yes, please.

Friday, September 09, 2011

holy cow, whole foods

The proximity of the new Whole Foods Foggy Bottom store to my commute is truly dangerous to my financial well-being. I already live above a very good Harris Teeter; to have a really awesome Whole Foods at the other end of my Metro ride is gilding the lily.

How do I know it's awesome? I just stopped in on my way home. I wasn't going to, because I was tired and figured it'd be mobbed, but the sunshine put me in a good mood and I figured I'd check it out. I didn't order any sushi or prepared foods, but the touch-screen kiosks for specializing your prepared foods or sushi (provided by Kaz Sushi Bistro*, says the sign) made me think I'm going to be getting a lot of sushi dinners here. The produce, shelves, and meats/seafood are as you'd expect, although the staff, outgoing and friendly and knowledgeable, reminds me more of the staff at my Whole Foods in Colorado Springs than anyone I ever encountered when I used to visit the P Street or Georgetown stores.

The olive bar has my all-time favorite olives** that only Whole Foods carries, and it always has cornichons, which are surprisingly hard to find with any regularity at other places in this town (Trader Joe's has them sometimes, but we all know how our favorite items tend to disappear from Trader Joe's; occasionally my downstair store has them, but one never knows; specialty stores are also weirdly hit or miss for me). Plus, I like the layout: the olives are by the cheeses are by the wine, but in a more navigable flow for me than P Street was. Honestly, they really crammed a lot into a smallish footprint, but if you remove the (inevitable, and given the location, inevitably student-heavy) crowds, it's really not claustrophobic.

The line system is a bit confusing: there are three areas to queue for three banks of checkouts, and there's an automated voice and sign announcing which checkout is ready, but you can go to any of the checkouts from any of the lines, so they have some people directing traffic. This has the potential to be very efficient, but right now it doesn't quite make sense (i.e., you don't go to the left-most bank from the left-most line). I mean, most of the world doesn't understand the right-of-way rules at a four-way stop sign; expecting them to get this right is really asking a lot of the typically crazed post-work grocery shopper. Or maybe that's just me.

*Warning: kind of terrible restaurant website ahead.
**I did not espy the Spanish cocktail mix that is truly, truly addictive. This is probably a good thing. Probably.

Sunday, September 04, 2011


Back-to-back incredible multi-course dinners don't occur routinely for me, so this weekend has been a bit of an indulgence, but for good reason. Last night I finally got to Eola, which I've been wanting to try since it opened. Chef Daniel Singhofen recently transitioned the restaurant to a tasting-menu format from a la carte, although he's got three from which to choose: dinner, vegetarian, and offal, for which he first started earning acclaim in the food world. (Also, one Sunday a month--sadly not today--brunch offers a bacon flight, which is also the buzz of the "Everything's better with bacon!" crowd.)

To kick off a celebratory meal, we started with a couple of glasses of cava as we perused the menu. It went nicely with the "first course," which is a series of small amuses of the chef's choice. Tiny bites included 24-Hour Confit of Pig's Heart with Pesto and Crostini; Tomato Gelee on Cucumber with Basil; Crudo of Lamb with Black Truffle, Brioche, and Cress; Smoked Pork Belly on Steamed Bun with Scallion, Pickled Ginger, and Spicy Mayo; and Sorbet of Cuban Hats with Smoked Ham Froth and Peanuts. The first three achieved different levels of success: the pesto was delicious but overwhelmed the sliver of confit, and the gelee was more texture than flavor; the lamb with truffle was not quite enough of a bite to register the intensity of the flavors that were clearly at work there. But the final two bites hinted at what was to come with the rest of the meal--intensely flavorful pork belly, cut with spice and acid, filled the best pork buns I've ever eaten, and the spicy sorbet both cleansed and awakened the palate.

I began with the Stewed Halibut Cheek, porcini, country sausage, spruce, a tender, delicate piece of fish in a light nage with meaty mushrooms, rich sausage, and an herbal aroma that tied it all together. Ed's Stuffed Napa Cabbage, farro, pine-nuts, raisins, fennel sausage-tomato ragout had one of the deepest and richest tomato sauces I've tasted in DC or indeed anywhere, traditional flavors used to full effect.

Next came Sweet Corn Ravioli, dungeness crab, pickled jalapeno, roasted tomato, basil and Free-Form Lasagna, rabbit bolognese, coarse carrot puree, pasta rounds, parmesan. I recently had a similar corn and crab dish at Palena, but this one blew me away: plump ravioli stuffed with perfectly sweet corn, with just enough heat to amp up the sweetness of the crab and corn together, and the smokiness of the tomato highlighting somehow pulling it together. The bolognese also hit all the right traditional notes, with the sweetness of the carrot giving it just a little twist and making it all work.

The Merguez of Border Springs Farm Lamb hummus, curried heirloom pepper slaw, eggplant, and cumin jus presented a panoply of Mediterranean flavor, the sausage not so overly-spiced as to lose the great lamb flavor. This dish begged for all the elements to go together in each bite: creamy, smoky, spicy, crunchy yielded a complete experience in each mouthful. The Cedarbrook Farm Shoal Loin crowder peas, ratatouille, and a smoky jus also blended flavors masterfully. The chef appears to appreciate smokiness, I realize as I write this, but uses it with enough restraint that it was never overwehlming, and merely enhanced the tender shoat with a cracker-crisp skin and nicely cooked seasonal vegetables.

We decided to share a cheese course after dessert, which consisted of Huckleberry-Pine Nut Tart wild ginger custard, burn sugar, and a red-currant gastrique, and "Peaches and Cream" vanilla-poached peaches with sarsaparilla ice cream and a shortbread cookie. Not overly sweet, relying on the fresh fruit and a talented hand at pastry to be refreshing as well as delicious. The cheeses were local sheep's-milk creations, one a blue and one similar to a manchego, that rounded out the meal nicely. (We brought home some of our mignardises at that point!)

A 2007 Laurus Gigondas carried us through the entire meal beautifully, round enough to have a lushness but not so smooth that it abandoned its character. I'm usually a fan of Gigondas, and our server reassured me that this would be food-friendly, which it was. In fact, service was outstanding all through the evening: knowledgable, friendly without being overbearing, and generally an enhancement to the meal rather than an intrusion on it.

Because it's an automatic four-course meal without an a la carte option, the restaurant is certainly a special-occasion go-to spot--one I'd recommend over many restaurants that have long held that status in DC. I'm glad it was our choice for last night, and I hope we can revisit it for special moments in the future. With its focus on deftly-prepared, seasonal (and local) food, with a definitively creative twist, Eola has to be one of my new favorites.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

birch and barley {insert witty play-on-words here; I'm still too full}

A friend recently asked me, "Hey, where's Gennaro? He never posts on our food forum anymore." Well, true, and when I saw him recently for drinks, I good-naturedly teased him about it. But he has a very good reason: he's moved up to working the line at Birch and Barley, and he is there pretty much every single day. Doesn't leave a lot of time for cooking at home, or dining out, I imagine!

I took two work colleagues there a couple of weeks ago (one of the rare occasions Gennaro wasn't working, in fact), and had a fantastic meal. And I'd already planned to return last night with Ed, who used to live a block away before moving out of town -- and who was part of our foursome when Gennaro and I went to Vidalia 24 last year -- so we were both really looking forward to a great night out, with the remote hope we'd get to see our friend in action.

I'd actually texted Gennaro earlier in the day, and he told me they'd moved the skirt steak to the main menu (from the tasting menu, I think), and he recommended the pastas, as usual. Our server, Eli, remembered me from a few weeks ago, and confirmed that the steak was new to the menu but not much else had changed. We decided to go with the following courses:

Half Fig & Prosciutto Flatbread Gorgonzola Cremificato & Caramelized Onions: this has been on the menu since they opened, I think, and given that it's one of my favorite flatbread/pizza topping combos ever, I almost always order it. A great starter, creamy/salty/sweet/chewy all in one.

Panzanella Salad Heirloom Tomatoes, Grilled Baguette, Whipped Burrata, Groundcherries: the burrata here is almost like an airy cheese mousse, and there's a great interplay of textures here as well. This dish relies on the freshness of the ingredients, and last night's were excellent.

Melon & Cucumber Salad Almonds, Herbs: from the "Sides" portion of the menu, this is another dish that is all about showcasing freshness. The cantaloupe in particular was excellent, which made the salad come together. Really refreshing and light.

Then, a surprise: We were treated to tasting portions of both pastas currently on the menu (remember I said Gennaro recommended them...) Well, as I've said elsewhere on this board, I rarely order pasta out, but Kyle and his team are turning out pastas more than worth ordering. In fact, I'm not sure i have superlatives enough to describe them:
  • Hand-Cut Tagliatelle Roasted Kabocha Squash, Okra, Fried Squash Blossom, Bottarga: one bite of this will remind you why fresh pasta is so outrageously good. Silky squash, tiny rounds of crisp-tender okra, and fried squash blossom on top for crunch and beauty.
  • Ricotta Cavatelli Roasted Chicken, Heirloom Tomato Puree, Housemade Mozzarella: I think this was slightly different than on the online menu (braised chicken, breadcrumbs, and crunchy chicken skin), but this may have been the dish of the night. Outrageously rich, these cavatelli are more like gnudi, the sauce deeply flavorful and comforting.

Not that we even needed main courses by this point, necessarily, but oh well!

Honey Glazed Duck Breast Leg Confit, Wild Rice, Brandied Cherries, Radishes: I've probably mentioned before that I'm a sucker for duck, and Eli recommended it. I concur -- this was some perfectly cooked medium-rare duck breast, but the star may be the confit, which is air-dried and then crisped up. I love wild rice as well; sauteed greens (radish greens?) along with the radishes gave this some nice bitterness to offset the richness of the duck.

Skirt Steak (description isn't online) with whipped potatoes, zucchini: arriving a perfect medium rare, this looked gorgeous and apparently tasted it, too. Yes, I could have snagged a bite, but I restrained myself and let my friend enjoy his steak without having to parry an incoming fork.

(Yes, Ed tried several beers over the course of the night, but I don't remember which, so I can't comment here.)

We were absolutely stuffed at this point, but we managed to share the Tasting of house-spun sorbets buttermilk, plum-yuzu, nectarine-ginger, apricot, exotic spice (you do what you have to!). I love yuzu and it pairs so nicely with plum that this was a stand-out to me, but I would also eat a giant dish of the buttermilk, which is tart and tangy and creamy and somehow both light and decadent at the end of a big meal. The ginger flavor is also one I love, as it's not supremely sweet but retains that great ginger spiciness and kick. This was a wonderful way to end the night.

As one would expect, the restaurant was hopping last night, and Eli apologized at one point for the lag between courses, which didn't bother us since we were having a good time regardless. The staff was so gracious and friendly and seemed to have things running smoothly; I think this is one area where B&B has gotten dinged occasionally, but perhaps they had the A team on last night, or perhaps they're just gelling more as a team. (Oh, and Greg had on a spankin' tie.)

I ran back to the kitchen before leaving just to see if I could catch Gennaro and wave, although I expected he'd be busy. Chef pulled him off the line for a minute which was really nice, just so that I could tell him how awesome it was, and to make sure he shared that with Kyle and the rest of the kitchen. It was truly a wonderful meal and a wonderful experience, and again to repeat myself, if I lived closer, I'd be here even more.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

the art of senart's

I've been to Senart's several more times without writing anything, because it sort of seemed like, why should I? Solid oysters on the half-shell at good prices during happy hour, a great hanger steak with the incredible onion rings; a decent wine list, good craft cocktails...Frankly, in my usual way, I don't want to tell everyone about it, because it's really good and consistent and it's my neighborhood place and I don't want it overrun with everyone on the planet.

Which it would be, if word got out. I mean, $8/$16 for a half/dozen oysters at happy hour, well-shucked and with a great red-wine mignonette or a solid cocktail sauce, which also accompanies the jumbo shrimp cocktail -- holy moly are these shrimp good, by the way; they must be poached in court bouillon or something wonderful for all the flavor they have even without the cocktail sauce or the horseradish sauce, and I often find super-large shrimp tough and tasteless, but these were lovely and sweet -- that hanger steak, which really has no right to be as good as it is, and the onion rings, which are even better ... I don't want more people to know how solid Senart's is because it's crowded enough with us Hill residents already, and I like being able to get a seat when I show up, even (especially) on a Saturday.

I know 8th Street gets some flack from people for being a row of sell-outs; I know there's some local disappointment with the transformation of the strip into nothing *but* bars and restaurants. I get that, and I don't disagree. But then you get something hitting all the right notes, like Senart's, and you are thankful that you can get things like that a mere stumble from home.

(I write this, by the way, with Frodo caught in Shelob's web on my TV, which normally would block all thought of food from my mind as I cringe in arachnophobic horror at what I know is to come. That is a large fuckin' spider. And I'm still writing. Take that for what you will.)