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.