Wednesday, December 30, 2009

RN 74: Outstanding San Francisco Newcomer

We had not even spent a full day in San Francisco yet and already had had a delightful meal at Moss (see separate writeup) and now were meeting our good friends John and Glenn for a much-anticipated dinner at RN 74, one of the hottest places on the San Francisco dining scene.

We dropped by their apartment for a warm-up glass of champagne or two, never a bad idea, before heading over to the restaurant, which is located in one of the new glass monoliths that is dominating San Francisco’s South of Market district. We learned, to our delight, that John is a close friend of Raj __, the proprietor of RN 74, dating back to the days when they were both on the staff of one of Michael Mina’s first restaurants. John has now moved on to a different profession and Raj has advanced through the ranks and is now wine director for all of Mina’s 17 (!) restaurants. RN 74 is his baby, with Mina generously allowing him to choose the concept and the details more or less as he sees fit.

Raj met us at the door and generously treated us to a cocktail each…Michael taught the bartender his signature “Canton Negroni” which was not as good as the master’s but pretty darn good, while John had something made with absinthe which was quite interesting as well.

Eventually we were ushered to a round banquette in a prime corner of the room. The dining room is handsome and intended to evoke a modernist interpretation of a French train station. Tables appeared to be well spaced and the room had a nice buzz without being overly loud.

We had a wonderful time there. The name RN (for route nationale) 74 is a nod to the main highway through France’s Burgundy district and naturally the wine list is heavy on all sorts of wine treasures. With the wine director himself choosing for us, I was able for once to disregard the list and concentrate on the food.

And we ate very well indeed. Michael and Glenn had a hamachi appetizer, which was sushi-like in concept and flawless in execution. Michael felt it was one of the one of the best fish dishes he has ever had. John had a dish of clams and pork which must have been great since it all disappeared rapidly. I chose a dish of squash-filled agnolotti which was rich and satisfying. We also had a generous order of tempura mushrooms which the four of us shared. And what could be bad about that?

For main courses, Michael had, predictably, roast chicken, and John had a pork loin dish. Glenn and I chose the steak, which was one of the best I have ever had. John’s pork loin, which he generously shared, was also outstanding. Michael’s chicken was good, from what I tasted, but not as exciting (but then, it was roast chicken…what do you expect).

With the meal, Raj provided a glass of Albrecht Cremant D’Alsace rose as an aperitif, followed by a wonderful Chardonnay that he makes himself from vines grown in the central coastal area of California. Not surprisingly, it is very much in the French style with just a hint of oak and no malolactic fermentation, so quite clean and crisp. With the main course, we were served a fine Pommard which complemented all of the meat dishes beautifully without being as assertive as a New World red can sometimes be.

All in all a very fine experience, not cheap of course but then fine cooking in a stylish setting with delicious wine rarely is (pity, isn’t it).

San Francisco: Moss

We met up with our friend Jon for lunch in San Francisco. Jon is a local, an excellent cook and an avid follower of the SF restaurant scene. Moss is located in the new Academy of Sciences. Unfortunately with school out, the museum was mobbed. We could not even get close to it for parking and it took me a full 30 minutes after I dropped Michael off to find a space. He reported that there was a 45 minute wait just to get into the museum (there is no separate entrance for the restaurant). Fortunately they have figured this out and there is an express line for people with restaurant reservations.

Moss, the more formal of the eating places in the museum, is on the lower level and other than a living wall of plants, still rather sparse, the decor is unexciting to say the least. But this was all about the company.

That notwithstanding, the food was generally excellent. We started with a shared pile of vegetable fritto misto, pita with hummus and a green salad. I had a Moroccan lamb burger (terrific), Michael had the grilled yellowtail (good) and Jon had the day's special catch which was grilled halibut. Unfortunately the latter was severely overcooked, so much so that Jon (rightly) sent it back. A new plate appeared which was nearly raw in the middle but which was eaten, and enjoyed, anyhow. I had a couple of bites and thought it was delicious...if we eat tuna and salmon very rare, why not halibut? And, to the restaurant's credit, they comped the halibut, which was generous but really not necessary. Just fixing the error would have been enough.

We were in a festive mood and so started with a bottle of Roederer Estate Rose, one of our favorite American sparklers. Well, one bottle is never enough so we did end up supplementing this with individual glasses of the same to round out our meal.

It was hardly a cheap or fast lunch...had the halibut not been comped, the total would have added up to just about $200, although that did include $85 worth of champagne. The service was excellent and professional. The complications of being in the museum did not help matters although if one went on a school day I am sure things would be much easier.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Napa Valley Report

We were up in Napa on our traditional year-end visit to family and friends and had the chance to sample a number of dining establishments, fine and otherwise, in the area. Summary reports on these experiences follow, in roughly chronological order.

1. Rutherford Grill: We stopped there for lunch while doing errands in the upper part of the valley. Good as always. We both had the Thai noodle salad (me with steak, Michael with chicken) which was generous, filling, and quite spicy. A glass of wine each. Note that although we arrived rather late for lunch (1:30 or so) it was quite crowded with a 30 minute wait for a table...fortunately we managed to snag a couple of seats at the bar after a short wait which worked out perfectly. As always, a convivial place for delicious, unfussy food in the valley.

2. Cook: We had dinner with Michael's cousin Kirsten who has lived in Napa most of her life and now lives around the corner from this relatively new place in St Helena. Very plain interior and a limited menu with a choice of four apps, 3 salads, 3 or 4 pastas, and four mains. We were in sharing mode and the three of us split fried calamari, a coppa plate, followed by some risotto and short ribs. All delicious. We started with a bottle of prosecco and switched to individual you can imagine from a restaurant right in the heart of wine country the selection was outstanding although most of the labels were quite unfamiliar. The pours on the wine were very generous including a "top-up" (which basically amounted to another glass) as we sat chatting after dinner. The food is not cheap (mains in the mid-20 range) and the decor is minimal but the quality coming out of the tiny kitchen couldn't be faulted. A small and crowded place (we sat at the bar again) filled with locals, mostly. Very Italian in its focus on a small number of ingredient-driven dishes.

3. BarBer Q in Napa. We had been hoping to get to Ubuntu in Napa but it was not in the cards for this trip so our friends, with whom we were staying and who live around the corner, opted for this small place unfelicitously located in the most crowded strip shopping center in Napa (with the local Trader Joes a few doors away). Not much on atmosphere but the food was good. Once again we sat at the bar mostly to avoid the long wait for a table. Michael and I split the "taste of the Q" special which for $36 included a couple of half racks of ribs, some chicken, pulled pork, sausage, and coleslaw. All was good to very good (Michael especially liked the chicken), nothing was memorable. Good value for money as portions were reasonably generous. I thought the pulled pork was a bit underseasoned and a little dry but maybe that's the local style. Our friends had the fried chicken, a Sunday night special, which I tasted and found excellent. Michael nursed a glass of Roederer Estate Brut through dinner and the three of us had a very interesting "Bride" from Black Bart vineyards which was a mix of Marsanne, Viognier, and Chardonay ($39). The earthiness of the Marsanne dominated and was a good mix for the rather rich food (Michael did get a glass in at the end). The bill for this was $140 before tax which seemed expensive for the casual nature of the place and the food but then there were four of us and we did spend $50 on booze, so maybe not so bad in retrospect.

4. Lunch at the Oxbow: The Oxbow is an attractive food market/restaurant court newly built in downtown Napa. We were there partly to pick up an assortment of spices for Michael's mom but took the opportunity to stop for a snack. There is a branch of the Hog Island Oyster Co so I stopped in for a quick dozen, being unable to convince any of my 3 companions to join me. Well, it wasn't quick but they were certainly good. The local Tomales Bay and Kumamotos and Olympias were among the best I've had. There were actually 5 types on my mixed plate and the other two weren't so much to my taste, being less briny and sweet. The dozen was also expensive at $30, I thought, with no accompaniments except lemon and a very good mignonnette sauce. I then walked over to join my friends at the local outpost of Taylor's refresher for a very good burger and B-quality sweet potato fries. Michael had an ahi burger which was equally delicious. Long wait at the Taylor's both there and at the Ferry Building in San Francisco...the food is good but, frankly, not that good.

5. Celadon: For our last dinner in Napa, we took our friends out to this relatively "fancy" (for the valley) place in a newer mixed use development in Napa. Nice big room, high ceilings with the sense of a loft. It was a rainy and cold night and for some reason the restaurant has gone with hanging plastic strips in lieu of a front door, which is neither attractive nor effective as the occasional cold draft buffeted our table from time to time. We had decided to go more or less at the last minute but they were able to fit us in at 8:15, which suited us fine. We had a couple of small plates to start, the steamed buns with pork belly (a kind of pork belly slider) and Maine crab cake, both of which were excellent. For mains, we had a sampler. In order of increasing success, Michael had a daily special pasta with crab which was misnamed (sold as papperdelle, but actually more like tagliatelle) which lacked any distinct flavor. My Moroccan spiced lamb shank looked like a huge portion but was mostly bone. Flavorful, not as tender as it could have been but with tasty couscous on the side. Gerry had a special skirt steak which I thought was very good, perfectly medium rare, but with a little bit of a funky taste typical of dry aged beef which he wasn't expecting. Keith's heritage pork T bone was one of the tastiest pieces of meat I've had in a long time. With a bottle of Rombauer Chardonnay ($59), dinner came to $220 before tip. Good but not memorable.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Fremont Diner in Sonoma: Best Breakfast Ever?

I know I lumped all of our other meals in Napa in a single post but this was so exceptional it deserves a post of its own.

On a misty and cool morning in Napa, we had no pressing agenda and drove with our friends Gerry and Keith over to the Fremont Diner just over the Napa/Sonoma county line. Our hearts were immediately won over by the greeting from the two restaurant dogs, both Australian shepherds and extremely friendly. We were missing our own Aussie mix and were glad to give the two pups some much-appreciated tummy rubs.

Michael ordered ricotta pancakes and scrambled eggs with sausage. Somehow there was a mixup and I thought he was ordering for both of us (apparently not, but fortunately he was willing to share). Both were marvelous, the eggs had a deep rich taste that you only get from really fresh organic eggs, the sausage was chunky and spicy, and the pancakes were thin, light, and delicious. Keith had french toast which was a very generous portion of four thick slices. Both they and the pancakes came with a small pitcher of real maple syrup, none of this b.s. about charging extra for real syrup or substituting the nasty corn syrup based stuff. Gerry had a dish of beans with an egg on top. It wouldn't have been my choice but the beans were well cooked if a tad underseasoned for my taste.

This is the kind of breakfast you dream of, everything perfectly sourced, perfectly fresh, perfectly cooked. My only regret was that they had run out of biscuits so I couldn't have the biscuits and gravy. But here's a little story that tells how nice they are there. We arrive, I ask about biscuits and are told they'll be out in 20 minutes, so we order something else. Well, by the time we finish it's been 20 minutes so I go up and hopefully ask if the biscuits are done yet. The chef tells me he's very sorry, but he's having a little trouble with the oven and they won't be odne for another 10 minutes. I say no worries, thanks anyhow and we head out. I get distracted by playing with the dogs and it's a few minutes before we actually head for the car and the chef runs up to me and gives me a biscuit in a paper bag with a little container of charge! It was a very delicious biscuit in the true southern tradition, flaky and moist with a bit of sweetness.

I will be dreaming about that breakfast for months to come, I am sure.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Rasika on Christmas Eve

Michael and I headed to Rasika after a hectic day of pre-departure activities for our traditional night-before-vacation meal. We always look forward to a great meal at Rasika and happily this year was no exception.

The streets of Washington were empty as we drove up…we found a parking spot right around the corner – but inside the restaurant was as warm and bustling as on any other night. We were greeted cordially and shown to a small table in the back corner of the main room.

In a somewhat adventurous spirit, we decided to try some new things this time rather than relying on our old standbys, although of course it was not possible to skip the awesome crispy spinach. We supplemented this with some sort of cauliflower appetizer and also the crab cakes (it is hard for me to give details as the only real complaint I have about Rasika is that the menus – both food and drink – are printed in impossibly small type for those of us entering our second half century, and not just we semi-elderly if my younger dining companions can be believed.

The cauliflower was outstanding. This is the second great cauliflower dish I have had recently, both at Indian restaurants, and I must say it is making me rethink my lifelong loathing of cauliflower. This particular dish was in a very spicy brownish/reddish sauce or coating, sprinkled with small sliced green chilies (one of which I made the mistake, rather absent-mindedly, of eating.) The texture was almost that of a shrimp tempura or tender chicken, but with a hint of underlying sweetness (like shrimp) that set off the spicyness.

Michael also loved the crabcakes. I thought they were good also, but being a son of the Chesapeake, my palate has been trained that the less you do to crabcakes, the better. This meat was also flakier and less chunky than blue crab, I suspect maybe Jonah or rock crab…not that there’s anything wrong with that, as they say. Well, for non-traditional crabcakes they were very, very good.

For main courses Michael had the lamb gucci korma and I had the duck. The duck was superb, small slices fanned out on a plate with a rich sauce and accompanied by delicious orange flavored rice (that Michael, uncharacteristically, requested repeat tastes of) and caramelized orange peel. The lamb was also delicious, in a very subtle light tan creamy sauce and falling apart in tender chunks that tasted of the essence of lamb, with a few morels strewn in the sauce for good measure.

As sides I also ordered a smoked eggplant dish that was sensational, a rich brown mound that was kind of the consistency and pretty much the appearance of a pile of refried beans, but very complex and subtly spicy. I keep ordering these exotic dishes hoping that they will change Michael’s attitude toward eggplant (similar to mine about cauliflower). I think I am making progress…he did go for a second helping of what turned out to be a very generous portion…but progress is slow. We also had some cucumber raita...well, I did, for some reason couldn’t get Michael interested in it, but it did nicely cutting the spice of the duck and eggplant.

With dinner we drank a very pleasant New Zealand chardonnay from the Martinborough region, one of the less pricey choices ($52) from Rasika’s extensive and rather expensive list. Delightful, on the crisp side like a decent white Burgundy and went very well with the food.

Michael was in the mood for something sweet afterwards. He thought he was ordering a chocolate samosa, probably for my benefit, but ended up with an apple jaleh which is a kind of caramelized apple beignet with cardamom ice cream. Tasty, but not something that I’ll have dreams about later.

As usual dinner at Rasika was no bargain, a tab of $165 before tip, but we did order generously: 3 apps, 2 mains, 2 side dishes, and dessert. And the quality of the cooking was, as always, superb. Service was, as always, polite and professional.

Friday, December 18, 2009

San Francisco: Maverick

By a stroke of luck, I happened to be in San Francisco on business and was there to celebrate our friend JP's birthday with him and his partner Rusty. After a warm-up glass or two of wine, we headed out to Maverick, a favorite of theirs in the Mission district near their home.

Maverick is a very small and atmospheric place with a nice, neighborhood, hip vibe. We were seated at a comfortable table and quickly began looking over the menu. I had had a particularly long day with no lunch so I was anxious to get some food on the table!

Rusty and JP recommended the fried chicken so that is what I fact we all had the fried chicken, which might not have given a very broad picture of the menu, but at least it cut down on sharing. Being hungry, I started with clams casino....kind of a throwback to the 60s, or 70s maybe...anyhow something I haven't ordered in I don't know how long. The clams were OK, not overwhelming. Four smallish clams with some bacon and breadcrumbs. Maybe I expected more, maybe too much. Anyhow, no need to order this again for another 20 years. Rusty had a salad which looked perfectly pleasant but unremarkable.

Fortunately, the chicken was delicious, with a seasoning that was maybe a tad thicker and a hair less crisp than perfection (and by perfection I'm thinking of Mrs Rowe's Restaurant in Staunton, Virginia) but plenty good nonetheless..the seriousness of the breading was made passable, even desirable, because it was deliciously seasoned. Kind of like a crispy cream gravy wrapped around the chicken, which was two generous pieces bedded down on collard greens. We had a small side dish of mac and cheese with it which I think JP liked more than me. It certainly wasn't bad (hard to make mac and cheese that is actually bad) but I thought it could have been hotter and cheesier.

With the chicken, we started with a bottle of "champagne" (actually a bottle of method champenoise rose from Alsacee), quite delicious, and switched to a Lang & Hall cabernet franc at the urging of the enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and helpful sommelier. He was right, it was a good "food wine" with a very nice mix of fruit and acidity that was not overwhelmed by the bitterness of the collard greens. Wine prices in general seemed fair for the still wines and a bit high for the sparklers ($40 for Gruet? I mean, really, I like Gruet, but $40 for a bottle that's $13 retail seems a little much).

All in all a very festive evening and a place that perhaps Michael and I will visit together when we are back in the Bay Area for the holidays.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Masala Art: Nice local Indian

Michael and I dropped into Masala, only a few blocks from home, in the middle of a day of errands to check it out for lunch. What we found was very pleasing.

Michael is, rightfully, suspicious of Indian restaurants with buffets as these often are a dumping ground otherwise uninspired cooking. But at $9.50, we figured we had little to lose.

The space is clean and attractive although the layout is a bit awkward, perhaps due to the need to reserve enough space in the back for the buffet tables. We were initially shown to a table near the buffet (which is in a relatively dark and spare section of the restaurant) but when we hesitated were cheerfully ushed to another table closer to the front.

In fact, we were very pleasantly surprised by the quality of what we ate. Perhaps one positive is that the restaurant did not try to create 20 different dishes, all badly. What we had was, in addition to the usual rice, a ground-lamb-and-lentil dish (tasty), a curried chicken (delicate…not nearly as spicy as I would have wished, but otherwise good), a lentil dal (no complaints), something with cauliflower and peas (normally I hate cauliflower, but I went back for seconds on this one), and a very rich spinach dish…I suspect much ghee included. In addition there was a table with ingredients for a salad and toppings for the various dishes, a bowl of raita, and some Indian rice pudding (kheer) for dessert. Fresh naan was delivered to the table (and replenished).

I would say the food tended toward the delicate rather than robust, but it was all delicious and of course you can’t beat the price. We intend to revisit the restaurant in the evening and see what the menu has to offer, as a buffet doesn’t really show off the ability of the kitchen.

Another very useful place within walking distance of our house…things are looking up!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Vidalia for Lunch

With a couple of valued clients, I recently visited Vidalia, a place where I have always enjoyed the food but not always the ambiance so much. In fact the last I was there for dinner with our good dining buddies David & Ra'ed, for dinner on a Saturday night, when the food was delicious but the place was so empty and quiet that it was frankly, a bit depressing and very much detracted from our enjoyment. Not the restaurant's fault, really, I'm sure they would have preferred lots more people there, but not ours either.

I'm sorry to say that lunch, which previously I had noticed was a more popular meal, was more of the same story. We had a really delicious although not "fancy" lunch. My guests both had Reuben sandwiches which they seemed to enjoy heartily. I took advantage of a $24 three course special, which had a few options. I chose the pozole, not a traditional pozole but a small portion of a kind of deconstructed dish with hearty and savory broth accompanied by some plump hominy kernels (hence the pozole, I guess) and some bacony, piggy pieces. Really a nice starter. I then followed up with a Cuban sandwich (I must admit I am a sucker for Cuban sandwiches) which was huge, greasy, rich, filling, and altogether satisfying. Compared to a classical Cuban sandwich it was a little light on the pickles (which I think provide an important foil for the richness) and used roasted pork belly instead of ham just for a little more decadence. It was almost more than I could eat (well, I was with clients so I was trying to be polite). And to top everything off there was a choice of pecan pie or lemon chess pie. Fortunately my clients were willing to help out with the pie, which was excellent, not as treacly-sweet as pecan pie can be....if they hadn't they'd probably have had to cart me out in a wheelbarrow. What a wonderful value for $24.

Service was typically professional. Well, it was easy, I think there were only four other tables occupied in the room. Worked for us because we were discussing private business, but it can't be good for the restaurant. I'm afraid if this trend continues Vidalia is not long for this world, which would be a shame because the food there is really delicious and I think it deserves a wider following.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Acacia Bistro: Nice Place in our neighborhood

Our good friend JP had returned to town from the wilds of San Francisco, where I hear it’s very hard to get a decent meal, so to celebrate we wandered down the hill to the newly-opened Acacia Bistro. We had been eyeing this place for about a month, intending to stop in, and heartened by the appearance of a decent place to eat within walking distance. The posted menu and wine list looked good and we were anxious to give it a try. In fact, we had given it a try a couple of weeks prior, with our friends Jeremy and Jen, but it turns out to be closed on Sundays, so we ended up at Buck’s Camping (about which see separate entry).

Anyhow, let’s get the bad stuff out of the way up front. The Washington Post writeup suggested that the owners, having changed concepts in mid-stream, had kind of run out of decorating money, and it shows, sort of. There are a lot of positives about the nice, clean looking, high ceilinged space. The big negative are the large plate glass windows overlooking a less than scenic corner of Connecticut Avenue – the space used to be a Schlottsky’s Deli and it still has a bit of that feel. Some kind of window treatment would do wonders.

The other negatives are that the tables are too small and the placemats are terrible. Well, that may seem like a minor thing to complain about but they tend to bunch up under the plates. We ended up rolling them up and sticking them on the spare chair. The tables, as I said, are too small for a place that specializes in small plates. What I find is with small plates, you end up with a lot of them and there was way too much balancing and shuffling going on.

The upside is that the food is very good and reasonably priced. There is a large portion of the menu devoted to flatbreads (basically, pizza). I didn’t think this was the most successful part of the meal as the pizza was a bit doughy and perhaps just a little underbaked. But the other dishes were terrific. I don’t remember all of them, but Turkish meatballs stands out [more] There is also a very interesting, well organized, and remarkably reasonably priced wine list. Of the perhaps 30 or selections, the vast majority were in the $30-35 range which is extremely fair these days. We started with a bottle of central California chardonnay –Santa Teresa Valley if I remember right – which was crisp and clean in the French style. JP and I moved on to a red from the Douro region which was very pleasant, earthy and gutsy in kind of a Spanish style without the dustiness and austerity that Spanish reds often exhibit.

The bill was very reasonable, just over $100 if I remember right and this was with two bottles of wine! Service was good if perhaps just a little over-solicitous…perhaps the waiter didn’t have enough to do.

Acacia also has what appears to be very generous happy hour specials (happy hour is from 430 to 8!) for people sitting at the bar, and I will have to check those out one day.

This is not the fanciest restaurant in the world, or the most perfect, but it is just the kind of friendly, interesting, reasonably priced, honest place that we all wish we had in our neighborhood. Now we do. Let's hope it makes it.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Buck's Camping

With our friends Jeremy and Jennifer, we tried to visit the new bistro Acacia, conveniently down the street from our house, only to find to our dismay that it was closed on Sundays. We'll have to try another time and will give you a full report. Meanwhile, we decided against the old standbys in Cleveland Park and went up to Buck's, which Jeremy and Jen had been wanting to try. We hadn't been to Buck's in about 18 months...our last visit was memorable for a wonderful white gazpacho and generally enjoyable, so I'm not sure exactly why we haven't been back since, but we were happy with the idea.

The room was about half full when we entered a bit after 7, although most of that was occupied by an enormous birthday party. We were seated promptly and courteously. Service following was quite prompt and attentive, if not exactly warm. The menu is very short...five or six "snacks", a couple of steaks, fish tacos, and Sunday night specials which this Sunday night were turkey and white bean chili (with or without salad) and ribs. Not a lot for a vegetarian (Jennifer) but as usual she managed with a salad and some toasted almonds for a snack.

I opted for the ribs and Michael and Jeremy went for the turkey chili. We finally managed to select a wine from a very interesting and unusual, fairly priced list...we went for a Vouvray which was a good choice, nicely minerally without being mouth-dryingly acid.

Afterward Michael reported that the chili ($16 with salad) was "ok" but not exciting. The portion, attractively served in a metal camping-style bowl, seemed a bit skimpy. My ribs ($21 with potato salad) was a half rack. They were beautifully cooked and very tender. The sauce was a bit overly tangy for my taste and could have been commercial. The portion, like with the chili, left me wanting more, and I don't mean that in a good way. The salad consisted of a large portion of very fresh and tasty mixed greens, very (as in barely) dressed with some sort of lemon dressing. The quality of the greens was flawless.

Oddly, there was no mention of dessert on the menu nor were we asked whether we wanted coffee or anything else. The main courses were delivered, eaten, and removed and we then sat until we asked for the check. Given the small size of the portions, dessert would have been welcome.

All in all, not a meal that is likely to make us enthusiastic about a return visit any time soon. The food was tasty but not exceptional and the prices were fair. But portions were small and service largely unsmiling. I have heard the chef/owner, Carole Greenwood, has a reputation for being a little eccentric and this seemed to be consistent with that.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Nantucket: Straight Wharf

AFter a long and tiring day of exploring the island, including a bike ride of well over 20 miles, we were ready for another delicious dinner. I had made, well in advance, a reservation at Straight Wharf restaurant which is one of the oldest fine restaurants in Nantucket. Having never eaten there in my early, somewhat impecunious visits, I was worried that maybe it was resting on its laurels or reputation, but I needn't have worried as we had a fine dinner there.

While relatively unprepossessing from the outside, the restaurant has a great setting overlooking a back corner of the harbor and the inside is warm and welcoming, with much dark wood in evidence set off by large windows. There was a large crowd at the entrance seeking admittance but we were welcoming and whisked promptly off to a choice table on a semi-enclosed deck overlooking the water (our choice).

Dinner was delicious. I started with a special of bonito while Michael had watermelon-based gazpacho. If I remember right, the bonito was raw and it was sweet and fresh like the best sushi. Even Michael, not one for much raw fish, savored it. For my main course, I could not pass up the dayboat scallops that Nantucket is known for, which were perfectly matched with corn, chanterelles and bacon just muted enough not to overwhelm the scallops. Michael had the wood-grilled chicken which if memory serves, he said was the best chicken he had ever had. For dessert we shared a pain perdu which I suspect Michael chose mostly because it came with peanut butter ice cream. Of course there was no chocolate involved which made it automatically second-rate in my opinion, but if you discount that it was terrific.

Straight Wharf is an expensive restaurant and the wines are very expensive. I don't remember what we was something from the cheaper end of the menu, still stingingly expensive and not memorable. I do concede, however, the logistical issues of getting wine onto the island must add some amount of complication and expense.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Nantucket: Town

It had been a long day of traveling. We had left Bar Harbor, not without regret, at 8:30 in the morning on another beautiful sunny day, after another tasty breakfast at Cafe This Way (where we sat again at the Wonder Woman table...maybe it's reserved for gay people?). It was hard to guess how long the drive to Hyannis would take given the need to drive through the middle of Boston and fight Cape traffic. During the drive the clouds thickened and a drizzle started and it rained more or less consistently from Portsmouth south. But in the event, traffic was not too bad and even allowing for a brief shopping stop in Freeport, and a unplanned and worrisome detour through a very obscure part of Hyannis, caused by my ill-conceived decision (contrary to Michael's advice) to follow the GPS rather than the clearly posted signs...despite all of this, I say, we found ourselves parked and at the ferry terminal in time to catch the 3:15 ferry to Nantucket, which was well ahead of what I had dared to hope for.

We got on the ferry just as the skies really opened up and the downpour began. Fortunately an hour later when we arrived in Nantucket, it had diminished to just an occasional drizzle. Even with a considerable amount of luggage left in the car in Hyannis, we still struggled to transport our four pieces of luggage and two bicycles to the inn near the harbor, but after a few tense moments (and two stops to ask directions) we finally made it.

After settling into the inn, fending off the helpful but overly chatty receptionist, and cramming our assorted gear into our pleasant but compact room, we set off on an exploration of town. I had deliberately, and uncharacteristically, failed to make dinner reservations for that night because I wasn't sure exactly when we would arrive or how tired we would be. We had a delightful walk around town...Michael was as entranced as I had hoped he would be...but we had trouble settling on a place to eat. Well, what to do? What we normally do, which is go have a drink while we contemplated the situation.

We found ourselves just east of Main Street and fell into a stylish and attractive looking place called Town. The bar, and bartender, were welcoming and we settled ourselves happily on a stool for closer examination.

Being hot and thirsty, I started with a quick beer, followed by a ginger martini, which served as our initially, and ultimately costly, introduction to a ginger liqueur called Domaine de Canton. Michael was tempted by, I think, an Asian pear mojito but quickly switched to the ginger martini for the second round.

We were having such a good time that we decided to stay for dinner; a great deal of this was due to the friendly and welcoming presence of bartender Graeme Fleming, a Scot who came to Nantucket 19 years ago and never left. The menu at Town is heavily Indian-inspired. Well, mostly. We started with a couple of tiny "truffled sliders" which were just as good as they sounded...outstanding in fact. I could have made a meal of them, but it would have taken about a dozen. Following most of Graeme's recommendations, I started with an appetizer portion of Weeping Tiger Shrimp (with coconut milk and chilies) and followed with a lamb vindaloo...very tasty, but not nearly as spicy as a true Indian vindaloo, which was probably just as well under the circumstances. Think well seasoned lamb stew and you have the picture. Michael had a nice green mango salad to start and a dish combining soba noodles, broth, and braised short ribs. All delicious. With it Michael had a Cupcake Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, no surprise, while I had what I think was a Blue Pirate Pinot Noir (after rejecting a Hangtown as too thin...or maybe it was the notes are very sketchy as Graeme was extremely generous about keeping our wine glasses topped up plus treating us to a bit of a taste of Domaine de Canton as a digestif).

All in all, a wonderful evening and a great introduction to the delights of Nantucket.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Maritime Cafe, Stonington, Maine

On Labor Day we decided to drive down to Blue Hill for a bit of sightseeing and antiquing. We found Blue Hill OK but most of the shops were closed (although we did spend some time in an interesting art gallery) and most of the eating options were also unavailable...those that were open didn't look too interesting. Not being in a hurry, and wanting to show Michael more of the coast, we decided to drive down to Stonington. Well, it is a longer drive than I thought (about an hour from Blue Hill) but an interesting and attractive one.

The town was beautiful and we parked right in front of a little cottage offering the best lobster rolls in Maine. Well, naturally we had to check that out and were disappointed to learn that they had actually run out of lobster meat! So we went reconnoitering, which doesn't take too long in Stonington. We considered the Fisherman's Friend, which seems to be the popular choice judging from the number of pickup trucks parked in front, but Michael found a small cafe on the other end of the short main street and we wandered down for a look.

Let's cut to the chase. It was one of the most memorable impromptu lunches we have ever had. We had a table on the end of a wooden deck jutting over Stonington Harbor, overlooking the busy commercial pier where lobstermen were coming in to unload the day's catch. Meanwhile schooners and yachts could be seen traversing Deer Island Thoroughfare and, in the distance, Merchant Row, which made me wish I had access to any sort of a sailboat.

We split an order of crabcakes as a starter. At the risk of being excommunicated as a native Marylander, they may have been the best crabcakes ever, full of sweet and flaky Maine crabmeat. We also had corn and crab chowder which was equally delicious. We then each had a lobster roll which was perfect in its unadorned simple perfection. Perfectly toasted and buttered bun with no distractions. My only regret is that I did not order the "jumbo" roll for another $4.

With our lunch we had a couple of local draft beers which were perfect. Just a perfect lunch. If you're near Stonington, don't miss it...and order the jumbo lobster roll.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Docksider for Lunch

On our first full day in Acadia, Michael and I started on a longish bike ride over the carriage trails. It was a beautiful day, perfect weather really, and we felt very privileged to be there. After riding through much of the park, we emerged near Jordan Pond House and decided to pop down to Northeast Harbor to see what was going on. (I was having some bike trouble and hoped to find a bike shop open). We looked into, and rejected the Colonel's Restaurant for reasons nonspecific but shared by both of us, and ultimately fell into the Docksider on Sea Street. This is a place I had eaten in several times while on boat is the closest restaurant to the NE Harbor marina...but of course the last such time was now well over 10 years ago. While it did seem to run a significant "touristy" risk, given the few options, we decided to take a chance.

Well, we were glad we did. We both had soup and a sandwich...clam chowder and haddock sandwich for Michael, fish chowder and crab roll for me. Soup was delicious, unthickened so therefore more milky than you would find in Boston, but full of flavor and generous with ingredients. The crab roll was outstanding, the usual bun stuffed full of sweet flaky Maine crab to which I was rapidly becoming addicted. With it I had a local beer and Michael had a local ("Old Soaker") root beer which he was wild about. Even I liked it, and I can't stand root beer. Service was prompt and friendly and the cost was reasonable.

After a brief stop to get my bike fixed, we were back on the trails, well fed and happy.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Havana: Not Quite What We Remembered

After an easy drive from Freeport to Bar Harbor, we checked in to our rental house, got settled, and did a little wandering through the crowds of Bar Harbor and food shopping at the unexciting but utilitarian supermarket. However, after our long 3 days of driving we felt like going out and celebrating our arrival in Acadia and so naturally our thoughts turned to Havana, certainly the most stylish place in Bar Harbor. We secured an 8:00 reservation and turned up a bit early to find several other parties also waiting in the crowded little bar.

Well, that was no problem, we never mind a pre-prandial cocktail (never mind the bottle of champagne we had consumed an hour before to celebrate our arrival). The wait did go on a bit longer than usual and seating was at a fact we and a few others were forced to stand rather uncomfortably in the small space, but I suppose that's the price of arriving on Labor Day weekend. The bartender, a real character with a long white beard, finally had time for us and mixed up a couple of caipirinhas which to our taste were rather uncomfortably sharp. Soon after, we were escorted (with appropriate apologies) to our table.

My notes on the meal seem to be incomplete but I do remember ordering seared scallops as an appetizer and duck leg confit with lentils as a main course. Michael's main course was a seafood stew. The scallops were fine. The confit was also good, but seemed a bit was, indeed, a duck leg (but only a leg) on a modest-sized bed of lentils with no other sausage or accompaniments. Michael's seafood stew was tasty, but we agreed it was a bit one-dimensional in flavor and also quite skimpy on the broth.

Somehow the idea of more wine just didn't get us excited so we opted for a couple of cocktails to go with dinner...some sort of Caribbean-themed martini which I remember as being rather tangy. Perhaps the same bartender had a bit of a heavy hand with the lime juice for both sets of cocktails.

In any case, we left Havana feeling a bit disappointed in the meal compared to our experience in 2005. On the bright side, we did manage to secure a spot at their farm dinner for two nights later, which turned out to be a highlight of our trip.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Fore Street

Our much needed vacation started with a drive to Freeport, Maine and a few productive hours in the outlet shops before we headed back to Portland for our much awaited dinner at Fore Street, perhaps our favorite restaurant in the US (or certainly in the top 5). Calling two weeks in advance, we could only get a reservation at 6 pm and that was before the recent NY Times and Bon Appetit articles heralding Portland as a great restaurant city.

In any case, 6:00 or not, we walked in to the restaurant with great anticipation and were greeted as usual very cordially and shown quickly to a fine table near the back overlooking the room and with a view of the harbor as well. Our personable and very professional server brought us menus and we set out to usual we had a very difficult time limiting ourselves to just one appetizer and main per person, so in this case we didn't.

To begin with Michael chose a simple salad of lettuce with pears and blue cheese, while I could not, as usual, resist the seared foie gras. In this case however it was delivered with two more or less equally sized little lobes of foie (about the size of your little finger, or mine anyhow) which made it ideal for sharing. Just a perfect couple of mouthfuls of rich goodness, while the salad was a light and fresh opener..not anything you couldn't make yourself at home given access to the right ingredients, but perfectly executed nonetheless.

As a shared third appetizer, we had the roasted tomato tart with goat cheese, which was wonderful...roasted tomatoes have such a rich and fulfilling flavor and seem very consistently satisfying, especially in this year of disappointing tomatoes.

To accompany the early courses, our server enthusiastically approved of my choice of a Trimbach Reserve Pinot Gris 2004, commenting that it was one of her favorite food wines. Michael could tell by my face after the first taste that it was not quite what I was in fact a bit more austere and less rich than I had expected or that we have experienced with many other Alsatian Pinots Gris. More like an Oregonian one, in fact, or maybe the Oregon ones are a better imitation of Trimbach.

In any case, the wine grew on us and it was indeed a very good foil for the food, not terribly assertive in its own right but a very low-key and complementary addition to the meal.

Having now taken off the initial hunger pangs, we eagerly awaited the arrival of our main courses. Michael had ordered the roast chicken, as he seems often to do, while I had opted for a special consisting of a roast leg of pork combined with shredded pork shoulder. Both were excellent, not terribly complex but very good. I compared the pork favorably to the similar version we had had at Sorellina in Boston over the Michael said this was "very porky" but he meant that in a good was full of taste and flavor without being excessively gamy or assertive. It just tasted the way it should, which I suppose is a good summation of the food at Fore Street.

Dessert was magnificent. Michael had a selection of sorbets while I had a kind of chocolate terrine that was simply of the richest, most chocolate-suffused desserts I have ever had. If it were possible to experience chocolate overload (which of course is not possible) this dish would have triggered it.

We left the restaurant very satisfied and very happy to be starting our holiday in Maine. As always, we did not feel that the food was the most innovative or most interesting that we have ever had, but the combination of impeccable ingredients, careful and unfussy preparation, professional service, and a warm, welcoming, and lively atmosphere made us recall why we try to eat at Fore Street whenever we pass through Portland.

Lobster Rolls at Harraseeket

It gives you an idea of our yen for lobster rolls when I say that upon entering Maine, we drove straight to Harraseeket Lobster for lunch without stopping anywhere else, not even to unpack the car. Well, we were also driven by was well after one and we were mindful of our looming 6 pm dinner reservation at Fore Street.

Well, the lobster rolls did not disappoint, although by the end of our trip in Maine, having consumed some superior ones, we would not make a detour back to South Freeport. They were tasty, and the mix of meat and mayo was good. The strip of lettuce underneath did not add much to the equation, and compared to rolls further down east, these might be considered a little skimpy (and a little expensive). But I suppose that must be expected in the tourist mecca of Freeport. As usual the whoopie pie was sublime and addictive...the kind of thing that you tell yourself you will only have a bite of, and are then surprised to find it is all gone.

If Freeport is as far as you are going in Maine, I certainly would not hesitate to stop here. But if it is for you, as it was for us, only a brief detour on the way much further east, I would probably hold out for something a little further off the beaten path and a little better value. More to follow on this.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Black's Bar: Nice but expensive -- and SLOW

After a long drive back from the beach, we arrived home well after 7 and in no mood to cook anything. Our car discussion focused around something "exotic" but since we had no appetite for a long drive, even as far as downtown, that ruled out things like Rasika even if we could have gotten a reservation. I pushed Indique as an alternative, or possibly the bar at Palena (not exactly exotic) but somehow we ended up at Black's Bar in Bethesda.

My initial worries about whether we could get a table were unfounded...the place was almost totally empty. There must be something going on...was there a food poisoning episode or something we were unaware of? In any case, we plunked ourselves down in the bar (slightly more atmospheric than the deserted dining room) and waited to order. And waited, and waited. For a deserted restaurant, service sure was slow. The waiter was friendly, and competent when he showed up, but that took a lot longer than it should have. Given that we were sitting in plain view.

Ordering was a bit complicated by the fact that the appetizer/salad half of the menu was missing from both our menus (and not just ours...we saw this happen to at least one other person) so the menu appeared quite limited. After some considerable delay, Michael finally managed to get a bottle of wine ordered...he splurged, somewhat, on a bottle of Silverado Chardonnay which was certainly pleasant, if a bit on the austere side, but hardly worth $54, I didn't think.

Anyhow, we finally got the menu situation straightened out, ordered, and got food. I have to say that once it finally got there, the food was excellent. Michael had an arugula salad and I, on his recommendation, had the fried artichoke salad. He followed up with the salmon (naturally) and I had the seafood stew, which was really quite good...full of shellfish and with a delicious spicy tomato-based broth that stood up very well on its own. And very filling.

The tab for all of this pleasure was $120 plus tip. I really can't complain about the quality and good food is rarely cheap, especially not fish. However, I usually leave the Black restaurants...whether the Bar & Kitchen or Blacksalt...feeling like the evening was expensive for what it was. I suppose I wish we could run in there and grab an informal meal and get out for less than $100, which I suppose we COULD if we didn't keep drinking $50 bottles of wine.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Stars Bistro...No Stars

With Rusty & JP, often referenced in this blog, we dined, if that's the right word, at Stars Bistro on P Street. The main advantage of Stars is that it is a short walk from Rusty & JP's place. That may indeed, based on our visit, be its only advantage.

In any case we had much to catch up on with the boys and were delighted to see them...potential job changes all around the table, them moving, us staying put, and so forth so the food was somewhat incidental. Fortunately.

Let me just say for starters that it is located in the Residence Inn. Need I say more?

We started with a mix of Mediterranean style appetizers...I had baba ghanoush, having been warned away from the tabouli ("too much parsley") by the charming and friendly, but somewhat clueless waiter. The boys had hummus, Michael had a salad. Well, the apps were edible, although not as good as what you get in plastic tubs from Whole Foods. The pita bread that came with it was stale. Not a good sign.

For dinner we all had hamburgers except for JP who ate some sort of other salad. I followed the time-tested "hamburger rule" which says that if you think the food is going to be bad, order a hamburger, they can't screw it up that much. Well, it worked, in that they didn't screw it up much, but it was no more than edible. With it the boys and I had a $30 bottle of Australian Shiraz (some sort of critter wine) marked down to $15, which price we found hard to resist. JP's comment after the first taste: "well, we didn't overpay". Michael had a couple of glasses of some nondescript white.

The bill came to about $22 a person, which these days is kind of shockingly cheap, but then again it wasn't very good. Other than proximity, or desperation, I can't imagine a good reason to visit this place again.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Boston: O Ya

Having spent a very enjoyable day wandering around Boston, we convened with our foodie friends David & Ra'ed for a late (9 pm) dinner at O Ya, perhaps the most acclaimed new restaurant in Boston. We stopped off for a preprandial appetite sharpener at No. 9 Park, just a block from our hotel, where we enjoyed delicious cocktails and a few nuts with the gregarious and hospitable bartender. (He was extremely accommodating when Ra'ed's glass of pinot gris proved to be corked..for the first time in my experience, the color of the wine was OK but there was a distinct odor and flavor of cork. It appears to have been a bad batch). Indeed, we were enjoying ourselves so much it was hard to tear ourselves away but we finally managed to.

It was a short, but not terribly scenic, walk through the deserted Boston financial district until we finally found O Ya at the edge of downtown. Ra'ed's iPhone served us well in step by step navigation.

Once inside, we were promptly seated at four corner stools at the bar. The restaurant is very small...only about 10 tables plus about another dozen seats or so at the bar. Properly positioned, we had a direct view of the chefs who, sushi-bar style, put together most of the menu.

Well, once again I had neglected to bring my reading glasses and my only real complaint was that the small type on the menu (necessary to cover the large number of possible options) and rather dim lighting made choosing difficult. Too difficult, frankly, so I opted for the omakase menu in which David (always a fan of tasting menus) was happy to join me. Michael and Ra'ed, being either more finicky or less sight-impaired, decided to pick their own courses.

What a meal we had! Easily the most memorable since we last ate at Alinea, and maybe before. The tasting menu was a LONG procession of courses, not quite as overwhelming as Alinea, and certainly not as "out there" in the tastes and techniques. Just delicious, wonderful food, probably 14 or 15 small tastes, each more delicious than the rest. I won't bother to try to single out any of them individually; in fact I really can't remember the specifics (although what I can only describe as a potato chip laced with truffle oil did wow all four of us). Just an extraordinary meal. With dinner we started with a bottle of Trimbach Pinot Gris ($46) which went so well with the wide variety of food that we stuck with it. Michael and Ra'ed, who were at the far end and perhaps not paying close attention, or maybe in a food stupor, were amazed that no matter how much they drank, the bottle never seemed to run out. (I kept reordering...we went through 3 bottles, not bad considering how little Ra'ed drinks. Of course we were there for close to 3 hours).

The cost of this extravaganza: $415 including tax and tip. Expensive, yes, but I would do it again any time we happen to be in Boston. It was one of the best high-end food experiences we have ever had, and if any $400 dinner can be said to be a bargain, this one was.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Boston: Sorellina

At long last I was dragging Michael to Boston, a new place for him and a return to old and happy haunts for me. While we were joining friends on Saturday night, we were on our own for Friday. Where to go? After much research and visits to local Boston blogs and boards, I settled on Sorellina near the Hancock building.

It turned out to be an excellent choice. The restaurant was not full when we arrived a little early for our 7:30 reservation, but soon all the seats were taken. It is a large room, well broken up, expensively decorated, and with an excellent lighting level. Too often places are either so bright as to ruin any sort of relaxing or romantic mood, or so dark that you're fumbling with a flashlight to see your food, never mind read the menu.

The meal did get off to a slightly rocky start. We ordered gimlets as an appetizer, celebrating, if that's the right word, Michael's abrupt disassociation with his employer of five years. The server -- extremely knowledgeable and professional -- asked us if we wanted fresh lime juice or Rose's in the gimlet. Nice of her to ask. Naturally we chose fresh. However, when the gimlets came they were exceptionally...tart. I didn't mind that much but Michael felt it was undrinkable (and for him, that's saying something!). Fortunately the server noticed our distress and quickly brought us new drinks, cheerfully and without hesitation, for which we were very grateful. Frankly, the new ones were not up to the level of Blacksalt, which is kind of our gold standard for gimlets, but we did manage to finish them (big surprise) and move on to a nice bottle of Mark Kreydenweiss Pinot Gris.

Dinner was terrific. Sorellina is certainly Italian themed in the best sense of simple and delicious cooking, not overly fussy. At our server's recommendation, I started with the grilled octopus while Michael had the "verdure" -- a salad of spinach, artichokes, and pancetta. The salad was excellent and the octopus, with a bed of squid ink couscous, sublime...Michael had 2 bites which given his inner ambivalence about octopus, really is saying something.

We then had half pasta portions...fettucine with wild mushrooms for me, red beet ravioli for him. Both were sublime. I was a little startled at my first taste of the ravioli, having misread the menu in the dark as "red beef ravioli". Gotta start carrying those reading glasses.

For main courses Michael had roasted chicken and I had the double pork chop. Both were good, but the chicken was better, the pork being just a bit too plain for my taste. And maybe just a tad was pink as requested, but not quite as juicy as I might have wished.

Nonetheless, it was a lovely dinner and a memorable evening. Not cheap..somewhat over $200 before tip...but certainly a very happy choice.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Dino: Great Wine List

With our friends Rusty and JP, late of our New Mexico adventure, we convened at Dino in Cleveland Park for a late Friday evening supper. Despite its proximity to Bardeo, one of our usual hangouts, we had never eaten at Dino, which has a reputation for an awesome wine list.

We got off to a slightly awkward start as there was no record of our OpenTable dinner reservation (which could have been my fault). However, the restaurant was not full and we were quickly and cheerfully shown to a table...we chose one in the quieter upstairs area.

JP and Rusty arrived rather damp from a tremendous thunderstorm that had caught them walking to Metro, and had to fortify themselves in the bar before facing the arduous set of steps up to our second floor table. Rusty had grabbed a glass of rose on the way up, most likely the Dal Maso Tai Rosso from the Veneto, which we all agreed (I helped myself to a taste) was pretty unexciting...not a great start. Meanwhile, JP, in need of more fortification, had tried a "spa" cocktail which mixed Hendricks gin, cucumber flavor, and lime juice among other things. It was tasty on first sip but we also agreed that the cucumber and lime were not such a good mix, the lime being a bit too acrid.

Things improved after that. Michael and I each ordered a rose tasting flight, which seemed expensive at $15 but it turned out to be three pretty hefty portions of wine. The only one I can remember is the first, a Littorai Pinot Noir Gris from Anderson Valley, which was off dry and delicious. The other two were also extremely tasty and increasingly hefty (in fact the third one seemed a lot more like a red than a rose to me) much so that when Rusty and JP had polished off their rather unfortunate first drink choices they joined us in the tasting sampler.

Since we were in no rush we ordered some appetizers for the table...a plate of burrata, a cured meat (salumi) plate, and an unusual black cabbage bruschetta which was, basically, upside down (the bread was on the top). All were tasty and quickly consumed. My impression was that the portions were not overly generous but when you have four hungry men picking at an appetizer, it's not going to last for long.

After the appetizers, we each had a half portion of pasta...Michael and I had boar tagliatelle and Rusty and JP had something else, all delicious (enough that I wished I had ordered a full portion) but not particularly memorable.

Service was very professional and attentive (and provided by an extremely attractive waiter, who caught the attention of more than one person at the table).

Having dessert waiting at the house, we finished our wine and departed, with a group of satisfied boys and plans to return soon.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Cafe St-Ex

I dropped by my friend Bill's house to visit with him, his mother (visiting from Boston) and his toddling daughter Eileen. After some pleasantries, we ventured around the corner to Cafe St-Ex, one of my favorite little places in DC.

We were seated promptly at an outside table, which proved to be a mixed blessing as it was early (6:30) and still quite warm. We all anxiously awaited the moment when the sun dropped behind a nearby apartment building.

The restaurant quickly filled up. We were there to catch up and keeping Eileen reasonably close to the table (she has recently become proficient at walking and is happily exercising this new power) took precedence over food and drink. Nonetheless, we had a very pleasant meal.

We started with a shared appetizer of "chicken confit sliders" which was perhaps the least successful dish I have ever had at this restaurant. There is probably a reason why I have never seen chicken confit anywhere else as I think it is just too insubstantial to stand up to whatever treatment it received. What we got was two small buns smeared with a chickeny paste which was more or less the exact consistency of tuna salad. Not bad, but not good, and distinctly odd.

Main courses were more successful. Bill and mother Jean had the burgers which were as good as always. I briefly pined for one but was very happy with my choice, a fried green tomato BLT which was both delicious and relatively light, given the heat, and accompanied by tasty sweet potato fries. (The regular fries that came with the burgers were also excellent).

With dinner, and before, I had a couple of Unibroue Maudite beers. I mourn the disappearance of Delirium Tremens from the draft beer menu here and hope the management will restore it (it is still on the bottled beer menu, at a staggering $24 per 750 ml bottle). However the Maudite was an excellent substitute, a bit darker than DT but with the same quality and overall taste. Bill had some sort of nondescript lager and Jean had a G&T, neither worthy of special note.

Cafe St Ex remains one of those great local places that makes me wish I still lived closer.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Santa Fe: Cafe Pasqual's

Back in Santa Fe with our friends Rusty and JP, we had been foiled (by the 40 minute wait) in our attempt to have breakfast at Pasqual's, ending up at the French Pastry Cafe for the second day in a row. That evening's dinner was planned for La Choza, so you can imagine our horror when we found that La Choza was not open on Sundays! (I suppose we should have checked, but it did not occur to us until we drove up). Tomasita's, our second choice, was similarly closed, so we decided to take a flyer on Pasqual's.

To our great good fortune, there was only about a 10 minute wait and we were ushered to a table overlooking the room. Then the feast began.

JP and I split appetizers of pupusas and tacos barbacoa, while Michael enjoyed grilled asparagus wrapped in Parmesan and Rusty had a simple romaine salad. For the main courses, both Rusty and Michael opted for the "sampler platter": chile relleno, chicken mole enchilada, and taco do carnitas, to which Rusty added the optional barbacoa skewer. JP went for the straight chicken mole enchiladas while I had the pork and green chile carnitas.

Without attempting to describe every dish, let me just say that all of them were fantastic. The mole was deep, rich, and spicy. The pupusas (a new experience for all of us) were fascinating. I don't think I even got a taste of the chile relleno, Michael gobbled it up before I could grab a taste. Everything had wonderful flavor and was simply amazing. With all of that we washed it down with beers to start and a very pleasant bottle of rose to follow...we were all impressed that asked to recommend a rose from the three on the interesting list, our friendly and professional waiter recommended the least expensive one.

Toward the end of the meal, Michael and I agreed that we had found our new favorite restaurant in Santa Fe...hardly an undiscovered gem, to be sure, but a wonderful and festive meal. It was not cheap (about $220 for the 4 of us with one round of drinks and a bottle of wine) but in terms of the quality of flavors and enjoyment of the experience, it was certainly the most memorable meal we have had.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

More Santa Fe Dining

Rather than giving a full entry to each, in the interest of time I thought I would summarize some of our recent dining experiences in Santa Fe.

As always, the French Pastry Cafe was useful, friendly, and efficient. I had a cherry tart the first day that wasn't the best (a little dry and flaky). The cafe au lait was terrific. The chocolate croissants were the largest we have ever seen, and are good, not just big. The chorizo egg and cheese crepe is an excellent hangover treatment. We ended up here 3 of our 4 mornings.

Bobcat Bite. The burger is all it's cracked up to be, one of the best anywhere. The wait was not too long and the staff is remarkably friendly. We had a nice view of hummingbirds out the back window. Not too much to say for the decor, but the burgers were great.

Coyote Cantina. We ate here the first night; it was pleasant, friendly, and welcoming. The menu was interesting but the food fell a little bit flat, we thought. Not bad, just not memorable. Lively crowd and decent service. The charge for chips and guacamole seemed a little much.

Tune-up Cafe. Great breakfast/brunch our last day. Huevos rancheros were good, but left me a little hungry. The breakfast burritos could not be improved on. Friendly, funky atmosphere.

Aqua Santa. We had a very nice meal here which somehow, for us, did not reach the heights of our original meal. The room was crowded and hot (it was a pleasant, not overly warm evening outside) and the meal took a long time. Service was excellent. The food was good but not nearly as memorable as our meal at Cafe Pasqual the following evening. Much more romantic and elegant setting, though.

Bumblebees. As good as ever. Some odd anomalies there...the interior of a fast food joint, but cloth napkins. Serve yourself chip bar is a treat, but much of the salsa seemed a bit pallid (nothing really spicy). Tacos were good...the shrimp still is the best of the sampler platter. Next time I will skip the others and go straight for the shrimp. The mango soda was a little over the top for our taste.

Sadly, the tamale bar at the Whole Foods is no more. The guacamole bar is a poor substitute. It's still the best Whole Foods I've ever been in, however. We put together a meal for Rusty and JP (they were arriving late) which was terrific, and bountiful, but expensive...those items from the buffet really add up at $9 a pound.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Rasika: A lesson for other restaurants

We went to Rasika on Friday, February 13th as part of our traditional pre-trip night out. Our reservation was for 6:30...I arrived just a couple of minutes early and Michael was less than 5 minutes late. I checked in with the very courteous host when I arrived and was offered the chance to sit at the table, but declined since I knew Michael was just a few minutes away (looking for parking, as a matter of fact).

By the time Michael arrived, the offered table was no longer available. The host solicitiously asked if we had a time problem, like a movie or theater curtain, and was assured that we did not. We waited peacefully for a few minutes and the host returned, visibly embarrassed, to say that he thought it might be 15 minutes or so until our table was ready. Perhaps we would like to have a seat at the bar (there was a small table open) and have a drink on the house while we waited? Well, indeed we would. And we were most appreciative also.

We each ordered a blood orange margarita, which was delicious, and the waiter also brought a complementary small plate of papadums with some of Rasika's delightful dipping sauces. We were in no particular hurry and it seemed like only a few more minutes (in reality, it was close to 7) before the host returned, still apologetic, and said he had a table for us.

On the way over to the table, the host apologized yet again and said the restaurant wanted to buy us an appetizer in exchange for the inconvenience. We said that this really wasn't necessary, that the drink was enough, but he insisted. So we ordered an tandoori chicken appetizer from the friendly and professional server. It arrived very promptly along with an unasked for but extremely welcome serving of the crispy fried spinach which is one of Rasika's signatures! We felt, frankly, a little overwhelmed by the largess.

Having consumed the appetizers and finished our drinks, we joked about being satisfied and leaving with a free evening. But of course we each had a glass of wine and an appetizer (Michael's lamb rogan josh was as excellent as ever, while my fish curry seemed a bit too refined -- i.e. bland -- but I suppose the chef didn't want to overwhelm the delicate fish, and the texture was excellent).

Having just paid for two glasses of wine and two entrees, plus a generous tip, we left having had a very economical evening. We made sure to stop on the way out to thank the host again for his generosity. His actions took what might have been a minor annoyance and left us with extremely positive feelings toward Rasika and reminded us why it may be our favorite restaurant in DC.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Vegetate: Just like the name says

We visited this restaurant near the convention center with our friends Jeremy and Jennifer to celebrate Jennifer's new job in the administration. She is a vegetarian and is always on the lookout for decent vegetarian places, which I suspect from my limited experience is a pretty tough search. Anyhow, Vegetate is in a neighborhood which one might say is, um...unpretentious? not yet suffering from gentrification? a throwback to yesteryear? Well, maybe all of the above, but the good news was that we found a parking place right in front (even better, there is a big picture window so I could keep an eye on the car, which I found vaguely reassuring even though the neighborhood isn't that bad, really. I think.)

The restaurant is very spare and minimal, kind of in the mindset of minimalist vegetarianism I suppose, but nicely lit and quite welcoming. There is a smallish dining room on the first floor and apparently some other seating on the second floor which we didn't see.

We were greeted and seated promptly as the room was not crowded. We quickly ordered wine from the short but interesting and very reasonably priced list, then turned to scanning the menu. I am sure Jennifer was relieved not to have to look at the tail end of the menu for the chef's vegetable plate or some other afterthought and instead to be able to choose from the entire menu. We were too. The menu was quite interesting and well split up.

At our table, various people ordered the vegetate burgers, risotto croquettes, a green salad, edamame, sesame crusted tofu, and a Spanish least I remember all of those things. There might have been more. The burgers were surprisingly tasty if a little lacking in condiments (isn't ketchup a vegetable?) and the croquettes were quite good. I ordered the tofu as a "large plate" and it was quite a generous portion..I ended up giving a third of it to Jeremy, who can really pack it away, and a good chunk to Michael and still had plenty for myself. Michael was a little un-thrilled with his Spanish omelette since as he said, "I could make this at home" but I suppose there's only so much you can do with such a thing.

I was actually quite satisfied and uncharacteristically didn't order dessert, but Jeremy and Michael ordered the apple crisp which personally I felt was long on crisp and a bit short on apple (it was also vegan, which is an awfully high hurdle for any kind of baked goods and one for which this particular dish fell a little short).

The tab, with two glasses of white for Michael and a bottle of pleasant but undistinguished red for the rest of us (some sort of Chilean Malbec, as I recall) came to a bit under $90 per couple before tip which qualifies as a cheap night out in my book. Service, I must say, was a bit erratic as our waitperson tried to take an order for wine about four times in the first five minutes we were sitting; evidently becoming bored with our indecision, she retaliated by disappearing from some time after that until we had to flag down reinforcements. She then made appearances at irregular intervals thereafter before apparently being replaced by an understudy.

I can't say that the food or ambiance at Vegetate were great, but they were certainly pleasant. Vegetarian cooking, like kosher cooking, puts a fairly stiff handicap in front of the average chef and seems only fair to grade on some sort of a curve; with that in mind I will say that it was a very enjoyable evening and were I for some reason looking for a vegetarian dinner, this would certainly be worth a repeat visit. I will also say that post-dinner, I did feel quite satisfied and yet very comfortable so maybe there's something to this vegetarian stuff after all.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Founding Farmers: Great, Except for the Food

I met my friend Bill for lunch downtown and he suggested that we try Founding Farmers, which is right around the corner from his office at the World Bank, instead of one of our usual 19th Street standbys. Having taken a look at the menu on line, I happily agreed.

On a snowy and cold day in DC, the dining room did not appear full at 12:45 when we walked in. Nonetheless, the courteous hostess said there would be a 25 minute wait for a table (perhaps the open tables were reserved?). But we were welcome to sit at the bar, and so we did.

There were lots of positive things we found about FF. The menu is very well constructed, with lots of appealing options mostly oriented toward comfort-type foods (meatloaf, chicken pot pie, entree salads, and so forth). The prices are very fair for a downtown restaurant and the portions are generous, to say the least. Unfortunately the food was not very exciting.

Bill and I split a "flatbread" with prosciutto and figs and mascarpone. The portion was generous -- three good sized slices. When I think of flatbread I expect a kind of thin crusted pizza. This was, however, literally a kind of flat bread. Not that flat. It sort of resembled a piece of country wheat bread with stuff on top, more like what you might expect from bruschetta. The topping was of good quality but the mascarpone was smeared on the top like butter and made the whole thing rather greasy. In general I would say the dish lacked seasoning.

While I was intrigued by some of the comfort food options on a cold snowy day, and Bill initially was leaning toward a salad, we ultimately opted for burgers...I had the simple cheeseburger and Bill had a "Frisco" burger with a variety of toppings including avocado. Mine was a very generous portion for $10, almost more than I could eat (and that's saying something!). The meat was allegedly hand ground but frankly I could not tell the difference. I had ordered it medium rare and I thought it was a tad underdone but frankly medium rare is a matter of opinion and this was certainly within the range of tolerance.

The big disappointment is that this big, attractive burger just didn't taste like much. It tasted like a big pile of unseasoned meat. The fries that came with it were limp and also not particularly flavorful (which of course did not stop me from eating most of them in the interest of research). It would appear that the kitchen's supply of salt had been exhausted...perhaps they had used it all to clear up the sidewalks in front of the restaurant and there was none left for the food. Or maybe there are salt and pepper shakers on the tables and we missed out by sitting at the bar.

With the burgers we each had a beer (Stone IPA, quite tasty, although they were out of my first choice, Bell's Two Hearted Ale). The food and beer came to just under $40 which I thought was an amazing bargain for a generous lunch in the heart of downtown. I just wish the food had been tastier. I will try it again, though, in the hope that perhaps I just chose badly, since I would love for a place like this with an attractive setting and very fair prices to succeed.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Brasserie Beck: Revisiting an Old Favorite

Our friends Matt and Brendan were visiting from San Francisco and we decided to show them a bit of DC liveliness. So we headed over to Beck's after a stop for a pick-me-up at Halo.

The evening started with a good omen as we found a parking space right around the corner...a good thing as it was a freezing cold night and the Californians were not dressed for the occasion despite borrowing a good portion of our winter clothing. We strolled in and claimed our table.

As usual, the atmosphere was lively and festive despite the late hour (we could only get a 9:00 reservation). There was some awkwardness as we juggled food, wine, and beer menus. As usual at Beck's since beer is really the focus, we all decided to have beer and yet it takes forever to go through the hundreds of beers available. Why don't they make more than one menu available per table? As it turned out the first of us took about 5 minutes to pick a beer, which is not surprising, and then there was an awkward situation with the waiter...does he bring the first person his beer and then come back for the next order? Does he wait until everybody's ready? By the time the list got to me I just picked something I knew since I really didn't have time to go through the whole list without feeling impossibly rushed. Note to restaurant: one list for each person, please.

The food, as usual, was delicious. Well, mostly. We shared a pot of mussels and fries which were as good as always. We also shared a duck sausage appetizer which was terrific. I was pleased to see Michael eating the mussels since after a very unfortunate encounter at BlackSalt he has been off mussels for about a year and hopefully this will help him get back in the mussel-eating saddle.

For mains, Michael and Brendan had the "choucroute en croute" which they both seemed to love. The one taste I got was very enjoyable although I didn't actually notice any sauerkraut inside...with his usual solicitousness Michael probably just gave me a piece of sausage rather than the kraut. Matt had a crispy skate wing which he also devoured. I had the lamb shank which was perfectly tender but, I thought, woefully underseasoned. What is it with salt these days in restaurants? I know we're all trying to cut down on salt but not at the expense of taste? I enjoyed the lamb but it was just missing something.

Since we had plenty of dessert at home, and it had been a long day, we passed on dessert. The bill for 2 apps, 4 mains, and 6 beers among the four of us came to $240. I was reminded that I like Beck's but I always feel, when the bill comes, that it's a bit expensive for what it is. $12 beers will do that to you. I guess that's why we don't end up going here more often than we do.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Blacksalt for Lunch

I had a nice loaner car from my local car dealer as the station wagon was once again in the shop (sigh) so since Michael loves cars as well I proposed that I pick him up for lunch so he could have fun driving the car himself. He readily agreed and the question was where to go from Georgetown that was far enough but not too far and where we could get in and out in a reasonable period of time. Blacksalt fit the bill on all counts so off we went.

It was very quiet in the restaurant on a Thursday afternoon and in fact there was only one other person at the bar. Blacksalt was running a special on some of their wines with bottles at half price. We had a bottle of some French rose (I cannot remember the exact name, and for some reason browsing through Blacksalt's menus on line causes Firefox to crash: beware). However, it was very pleasant and for half price of $13.50, was cheaper than two glasses (normally we would never order a bottle of wine during a workday but I can't resist a bargain. In our defense we didn't finish the bottle. Naturally I forgot to take the leftovers home...oh well, a little extra tip for the excellent bartender). In general Blacksalt's wine list is well chosen and very fairly priced by the bottle...the prices by the glass are, as usual, a little less friendly.

For lunch we had an app of fried oysters (which I hoped Michael would share with me, but I could only convince him to eat one). Large, perfectly cooked, very delicious. Probably not totally healthy. We each had a fish sandwich...mine was tuna with a provencal garnish, very moist and tasty. The tuna was minimally cooked. The oil-based garnish made the whole thing a little messy but impossible to put a couple of ways, it was so good and also I suspected if I put it down I would never be able to pick it up again. Michael's sandwich was based on some sort of white fish (see caution about a flaw in their on line menu) and was also delicious based on the one bite I got.

The bill for this was about $70 which is rather extravagant for lunch, but we deserve a little extravagance every once in a while. The quality of the food was, unlike Rod Blagojevich, unimpeachable. The setting was not nearly as glamorous as at night, we both agreed, as the bar and casual seating area looks a bit forlorn in the light of day especially when it is not full. But it was a very enjoyable splurge and I am glad we went.

Friday, January 9, 2009


For my father's birthday, we had a small family gathering (6 people) at Charleston in Baltimore, one of our old favorite places. The restaurant had just reopened after its holiday hiatus so there were a few empty tables, unusually (or maybe it is the recession) but it was still mostly full.

As always, we had a great meal. I had a wonderful snail tartlet, heavy on the demi-glace, followed by seared tuna, duck breast, beef tenderloin, and a chocolate treat for dessert. Michael had shrimp and grits with andouille sausage first (a signature of the house), followed by a green salad, the tuna, the beef, and a lemon tart for dessert. The other four members of our party made do with one course less.

Charleston's menu is an extremely flexible and user friendly one which starts at three courses (plus dessert, which is always included) for $74 and adds $12 for each extra course. You can pick and choose between hot and cold appetizers, fish, poultry, and game. There are usually three or four choices in each category all of which generally sound terrific and they can be had in any order. For example my cousin Amy on my right started with a hot appetizer, then had a salad, then another hot appetizer before going on to dessert.

All of the food was delicious as is always the case...Cindy Wolf, the chef, won the regional James Beard award a few years back and the restaurant is generally acknowledged to be the best in Baltimore.

With the first courses we had a Zind-Humbrecht Herrenweg de Turckheim Pinot Gris ($84) which I liked very much. It was much less sweet than the PG we had had in California and I thought it was a more balanced partner for most of the food. Michael did not love it, he told me afterward, and found something off about it. With the main courses most of us (except Michael) switched to a 1999 Domaine les Aphillantes Cotes du Rhone ($69) which was delicious and unusual. My parents had discovered this on a previous visit and been most attracted to it...unfortunately I think we drank the last bottle, or close to it. Generally the wine list at Charleston is quite extensive (about 600 bottles) and fairly expensive but with quite a few decent selections in the moderate range for those who are trying to hold down the cost.

My parents, being regulars, had asked for their usual table and their usual service. Service was impeccably professional and extremely friendly. I have never been able to develop the status of a "regular" at any restaurant more exalted than the local Chinese place so have missed out on some of those benefits but it is certainly a bonus to be a friend of the house. Among other things we were all treated to a glass of a delicious, somewhat sweet sparkling wine for dessert (I think it was the Moscati d'Asti on the list but am not sure).

Michael and I rode home in a happy food daze. We agreed afterward that we could have managed quite happily with one fewer course (especially considering the delicious bread -- especially those corn bread sticks that arrive regularly). But with all of the wonderful choices on the menu it was just too hard to limit ourselves.

Charleston once again upheld its view, in our opinion, as the go-to restaurant for a celebratory meal in the Baltimore-Washington area. Certainly there are restaurants in DC -- Citronelle comes to mind -- that have cooking on the same level, but few can put together an attractive setting, great food, an interesting menu, and service that combines professionalism with personality, all at a fairly reasonable cost. AT $86 for the food cost of what we ate, it is one of the great high-end food bargains we have had recently.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Town Hall: Memory Lane

Finding ourselves rather unexpectedly on our own on New Year's night, we decided to make the rounds of both new and old familiar San Francisco places. First order of business of course was cocktails and we dropped in at the Clock Bar of the St Francis, just a block from our hotel, for a drink. Michael had a pomegranate martini sort of drink and I had my first Sidecar, which I'd been intrigued with for a while. The glamorous retro setting seemed like the right time to try one. Both drinks were tasty without being knockouts. The bar was very pretty but was unfortunately populated by less than elegant hotel was the kind of place that was worth getting dressed up for but I suppose they can't enforce that in a hotel. So we left and went on to Bourbon and Branch, which was much different -- see Michael's separate write-up on that.

In between visits to Bourbon and Branch, we went to Town Hall which was one of Michael's favorite restaurants when he was a local. The room has a kind of rustic country sophistication which reminded me of Zuni Cafe although the location of the bathrooms -- near the entrance and up 3 short flights of stairs -- left something to be desired (having just come from 2 bars, this was of more than usual importance.)

The food at Town Hall was, for the most part, delicious. I started with 3 oysters of different types, one of which was delicious and the other two of which were a bit earthy for me. Not spoiled, just not tasting of the ocean the way I prefer them. Michael then had a butter lettuce salad with a very light blue cheese dressing, while I ordered biscuits with ham. I was rewarded with 3 small biscuits accompanied by some delicious country ham and jam. Naturally I didn't get to eat all 3 as Michael stared at them longingly until I forked one over. His salad was also very good, with nice lettuce and a very well balanced and proportioned dressing.

For entrees, Michael had the tasso-encrusted pork chop while I had the shrimp etouffee. As is obvious there is a pretty heavy Southern component to the cooking there. Both of the entrees were really good. I detected a slight taste of undercooked flour in the shrimp, maybe rushing the roux a little, but not enough to detract from the dish. No complaints about the pork.

We shared a piece of German chocolate cheesecake which we both thought was OK, but it was a little more sour than I was expecting and not quite as good..the topping also was a bit sparse which may have been the problem as some additional sweetness in the topping would have played well against the tanginess of the cake.

Since we were in the middle of an extended cocktail sampling session we uncharacteristically didn't order a bottle of wine; Michael had a glass of a pleasant but unmemorable Chardonnay and I had a glass of a similar Syrah. The list of wines by the glass was not very exciting for a San Francisco restaurant but the bottle prices seemed reasonably fair.

Bourbon and Branch- Revisiting the Speakeasy

It was the night of New Years Day and our last night in San Francisco. Feeling truly adventurous, David and I headed out for the streets in search of the bar, Bourbon and Branch after reading about it in the New York Times. Our love for a good libation and for nostalgia made our choice an obvious one.

The night was cold and the thickness of the San Francisco fog blurred the lines of the buildings and streets which added an air of mystery to the adventure that we were embarking upon. At the corner of Jones and O Farrell there is an unmarked, discreet door made of oak and with a traditional peep hole at eye level. We knew that we were in the right place when we saw a small group of people huddled outside the door. The door opened every couple of minutes allowing the people in front of us to enter in groups. After a few minutes we were greeted at the door by a pretty, and very friendly young lady who promptly asked us for our password. (To obtain the password of the night you must visit the Bourbon and Branch web site).

As we passed through the door I immediately felt as if we were stepping back in time. Soft overhead lighting and numerous candles left the room in a dark and moody glow. The walls were covered in a dark, damask patterned, raspberry flocked wallpaper and the fluted pilasters were painted black. The lack of windows made one feel as if you were insulated from the hectic, modern world outside where you could truly appreciate the mood of the space with little intrusion. Period music of the twenties and thirties played softly as we sat down at the bar and my mind was immediately swept away with images of the past. People smoking cigarettes would have completed the scene.

We had the bar to ourselves while everyone else was tucked away in discreet little booths behind us and in the back. Others had slipped away through a blind door disguised as liquor cabinet to a secret room beyond.

Our bartender was appropriately dressed in a long sleeve dress shirt with a period sleeve garter. While surveying the extensive libations menu it felt as if we were reading a history book dedicated to cocktails- what a dream come true! Branch water was a term that was first used in the 1800's referring to a small stream of pure and clean water called a "branch". To order a "Bourbon and Branch" is a nostalgic term for ordering a bourbon and water. The speakeasy is most popularly connected with the prohibition era in America from 1920 to 1933 but the term actually predates prohibition by thirty years. Legend has it that an old Irish lady bartender from Pittsburgh, PA sold her liquor without a license and therefore asked her patrons to "spake-aisy".

Bourbon and Branch requests that their patrons follow tradition and speak easy upon entering and exiting the bar.

For our first round I decided on a vanilla mimosa topped with a thin layer of egg whites and s few decorative drops of bitters. The champagne was delicately hinted with the scent of vanilla and the egg whites added a luxurious richness to the drink. It will be hard to go back to the traditional mimosa with orange juice, which I now realize is can be too sweet.Although the name escapes us, David ordered a gin mixed with a splash of champagne. Who would have known that the combination could be so delicious. The herbal qualities of the gin shined through and were complimented by the champagne.

Four our next round I ordered a "Pisco Sour" and David ordered a traditional Manhattan. You could compare the pisco sour to a Caipirina and the Manhattan defined the concoction.

It was hard to pull ourselves away from the bar but we had 7:30 dinner reservations at Town Hall so off we went but we decided to go back for a nightcap afterwards.

Despite our true enjoyment of our dinner I think we were both secretly longing to get back to Bourbon and Branch and to continue our adventure to the past. So without further ado after dinner we set off in a taxi.

For our nightcaps I had a Manhattan and for our second round we both had a marmalade whiskey sour, which elevated the art of libations to a whole new level. Our bartender was a true artisan and I thanked him for keeping such a beautiful and tasty tradition alive.

Neither of us wanted to leave but reality and a morning flight back to DC pulled us out of the twenties and straight back into the reality of the hectic world just outside the door.

Yank Sing

Having had an extremely tame New Year's Eve, we trundled down the foggy, cold streets of SF hoping to find a place open on New Year's Day that was not in a hotel. First checked out the Union Square sales but finding that nothing was open until 11:00 at least, we renewed our efforts to find sustenance. After our experience at Y Ben the previous morning, Michael was reluctant to seek out another dim sum palace -- not me, as I could eat dim sum every day. But he quickly agreed that the rather more genteel confines of Yank Sing were different enough to give it a try.

So we wandered down to Rincon Center; fortunately it was just around 10:30 and a bit too early for the crowds to arrive (it goes without saying that they were open..nice that the Chinese celebrate New Year's on a different day than we do). We quickly got a table...not a good table, kind of crammed next to a pillar and in a main traffic lane, but we were sitting and eating. Since it was, after all, New Year's, I ordered a couple of glasses of champagne.

The dim sum was delicious. Yank Sing is by dim sum standards very upscale and clean and that is reflected in the prices (the location also contributes to this I'm sure). The most outstanding thing we had were soup fact we had a repeat order. We also had great shiu mai. The Peking duck was not so good, kind of chintzy on the duck, the hoisin sauce was watery and the buns rather doughy. I can't remember everything we had. I do know that we ran out of appetite and there were still things we wanted to beans, pot stickers, pork buns, and the like.

By the time we left the big room was packed although there were still seats available out in the enclosed courtyard. The experience clearly was not as authentic as at other places both in the food and the clientele. On the other hand there is nothing wrong with tablecloths, clean bathrooms and pleasant professional service and you don't get something for nothing. The bill was about $75 not counting the champagne, tax and tip. I suspect the Peking duck ran this up a bit and it was not worth it, but the rest of the food was excellent. Was it 5 times better than Y Ben? Not in my book, but those who put a higher value on creature comforts might disagree.