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NEW YORK CORNER: One If by Land, Two If by Sea by John Mariani
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR: Wining and Dining in South Africa by Mort Hochstein
By John Mariani
It’s been said that dining out for a large segment of Washingtonians means subsisting on canapés and white wine at receptions, and that the city’s restaurants slow way down during those long, frequent Congressional recesses. Add to that proscriptions against lobbyists lavishly entertaining pols at posh restaurants and it may sound as if the nation’s capital has little of the gastro-clout of other American cities.
Yet nothing could be further from the truth: DC not only has a slew of fine examples of restaurants featuring American regional cuisine, but it also has one of the nation’s best Indian restaurants (Rasika, see below), Spanish restaurants (Taberna del Alabardero), Middle Eastern restaurants (Zatinya), and several outstanding Italian and French restaurants. Each year at least two or three newcomers stir national media attention, and, even if George and Laura Bush don’t venture out of the White House much to eat, the city’s restaurants create a lot of buzz with visiting dignitaries, sports figures, and Hollywood movies stars off on a crusade.
BLUE DUCK TAVERN
Park Hyatt Washington
24 & M Streets, NW
202- 419 6755
The Blue Duck Tavern in the Park Hyatt Hotel manages to marry a very sleek modern look with a blazing open kitchen and enough tavern-like earmarks of golden oak and slatted chairs, Windsor benches, limestone, white oak flooring, and open kitchen to keep it homey and wholly American in style, as is Chef Brian McBride’s cooking, based on the best ingredients from around the U.S.--their provenance printed proudly on the menu. McBride's background includes everything from working the wood-burning ovens in Tokyo and open kitchens in Singapore, along with a stint at the Park Haus in Zurich. These influences show in his proficiency with grilling and roasting both meats and seafood, as well as vegetable side dishes.
Thus, you might begin with a creamy bisque made with artichokes from Kentor Canyon, California; or an array of oysters from Virginia, Washington, and Maine. Meltingly rich roasted Hudson Valley foie gras comes with spiced pumpkin hash, the juicy roast Prime bone-in ribeye is from Copper Ridge, California, and the signature roast duck is from Crescent Farms, NY, served with heirloom apples. End off with Florida Key lime and white chocolate custard with huckleberry compote, and you start to get a sense of the regional diversity of American gastronomy. And that goes for the irresistible breads and rolls here, the hoppin' john, smoky collard greens, the macaroni and cheese, and the country ham and Cheddar grits. I only wish more American restaurants served more American food like this.
Everything is first-class at the Tavern, including Bernardaud china, Hepp flatware, Frette linens, and Riedel wineglasses, yet there is not a whit of pretension anywhere in the place, not least at the very popular bar here where you may eat lightly.
Blue Duck Tavern is open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. First courses $8-$18, entrees $18-$26.
633 D Street NW
certainly never had better Indian food than
that at Rasika—Sanskrit for
“flavors”--which sets out to prove that the Indian Subcontinent has
cuisines that go far beyond mulligatawny soup and lamb vindaloo. Here,
shimmering dining room with golden lighting, the spice colors of saffron, tamarind, and
cinnamon, gauze curtains, glass
beads, and impeccably set tables, Chef
Sunderam shows his mastery of tandoori cooking, pilafs, biryanis, and
dishes, and he may change your mind about Indian desserts.
Let him do a tasting menu for you, and he will bring delicacies like amazingly crispy baby fried spinach served with cooling sweet yogurt and a tamarind-date chutney minced lamb galouti, cooked on the tawa griddle, with spring onions and green chutney, or black cod sweetened with honey and spiced with star anise and red wine vinegar. Sliced okra with dry mango powder and the creamiest of lentil dals with caramelized onions and tomato are vegetable stand-outs. His carrot halwa with a cinnamon sabayon an extraordinary show of dessert-making (right).
The menu is broad and deep, with seven dishes done on the griddle, four barbecue style, five from the tandoor, and a dozen or more main courses as well. There is also a substantial winelist--I actually recommend white wines with Indian food or a very heavy red like a zinfandel--along with some delectable cocktails made with mango, ginger, and other eastern fruits.
Rasika is not just the best Indian restaurants in America; it is also one of America's best restaurants, period.
Rasika is open daily, with starters $7-$12 and main courses $15-$24.
1101 K Street NW
A true brasserie is a big beer house serving generous portions of Alsatian food, and America has never really had a good one until now. When you walk into the sprawling 165-seat Brasserie Beck, with its 22-foot ceilings, big station clocks, and see the gleaming marble and walnut bar with its spigots of beer and towers of glistening shellfish, you know this is the real deal. The design echoes the brasseries of European train stations, with white tile floors and art deco railway clocks. Sit down to crusty bread with good butter and slabs of charcuterie, then wait for the choucroute, topped with a pastry dome that releases fragrant steam when cut into. Spoon out the sausages and the wine-soaked sauerkraut, and order a side of frites with rich, yellow mayonnaise for dipping.
The Chef's Table (above) is inlaid with Delft tiles, and the marble-and-walnut bar (left), seats 21 and offers platters of seafood.
Chef-owner Robert Wiedmaier, who also runs the French restaurant Marcel's, is Belgian, so he proudly mixes Alsace, Montparnasse, and Antwerp on his menu, stocking more than 40 Belgian beers. Don’t miss the remarkable, Champagne-like Deus, served in a tall glass by beer sommelier Bill Catron, who gets all dewy eyed just talking about his professional passion. If you can have a better time anywhere in Washington, you’re probably in someone’s little black book.
Brasserie Beck is open Mon.-Fri. for lunch, every day but Sunday for dinner. Appetizers range from $9-$16, main courses $17-$23. The Chef's Table offers a 5-course prix fixe at $85-$95 pp.
1001 Pennsylvania Ave NW # 106
As revered as he is beloved, roly-poly bearded Chef Michel Richard (below) of the decade-old Citronelle in Georgetown easily ranks among the half dozen finest French chefs in the U.S. A master of pastry, he also has the experience to know that French cuisine is not to be trifled with and requires enormous discipline to make it right. Which is why, upon debuting Central, his homage to the brasserie tradition of a big, loud--and boy is it ever loud!--eatery with old favorite dishes you wouldn't find on the menu at Citronelle.
He has turned over chef de cuisine duties to Cedric Maupillier, but the place lacks the ebullience Richard himself brings to a room, and he has recently, in any case, been away from both his DC restaurants while opening Citrus at Social in L.A., where he made his mark at the original Citrus a dozen years ago.
Central is a very handsome restaurant, big, perhaps too big to deliver careful cooking, and the bare tables really need clothing: I watched while busboys wiped down vacated tables with the soiled napkins used by the previous guests! As noted, the decibel level is beyond ear-aching, and service is overwhelmed and amateurish, and the night I visited there was a half-hour wait between courses. And, since I was sitting opposite the open kitchen, I noticed the crucial difference between a staff that really knows what it's doing and one that doesn't quite get it: I saw no one tasting any of the food going out, so how could they know if it was correct?
This is all too bad because the food can be very good, from a charcuterie tower, at $15 per person, to hot, puffy cheesy gougères and excellent soft shell crab of the season. Churlish really, Richard has put an iceberg lettuce and blue cheese salad on the menu, and it's terrific--the crisp lettuce is a great foil to the cheese.
Among the main courses I liked a loup de mer with baby arugula and fried chicken with mustard sauce--admirably as southern as it is Provençal. Good old bistro-style steak au poivre was very welcome indeed at our table, but curiously enough the French fries were as flaccid as asparagus and the macaroni and cheese was insipid.
Desserts are pretty darn wonderful, from Central Cappuccino to a Kit Kat bar à la Richard. The banana split was nothing special. The winelist here is a closely printed two-sided sheet rich in regional French wines, many under $40 a bottle.
There is really a lot to love on the menu here, the prices are right, and the mix of French and American prole food is jolly indeed. But I think that Central needs Richard's closer attention. Some years ago he tried to branch out his original Citrus restaurant in Los Angeles to several cities too quickly and they suffered and flopped through inattention. Now, with his flagship Citronelle and another in L.A., I wonder how much time Richard can spend at Central to get it right.
Central Michel Richard is open daily for dinner and Mon.-Fri. for lunch. Dinner starters are $6-$18, main courses $16-$28.
401 Seventh Street NW, Washington DC
You can count on the strings of a guitar the number of Mexican restaurants that are truly distinguished in the USA, mainly because so many are so predictable and standardized for a Gringo palate—a thought that would never occur to the restlessly creative mind of José Andrés, whose highly eclectic, six-seat DC restaurant minibar pays homage to the master, Catalan chef Ferran Adrià. Now in Penn Corner, at a reincarnation of what had been a much larger Oyamel in Crystal City, Andrès has taken the small plate idea to a level that may at first remind you of the tantalizing street fare of Guadalahara; then, on first bite, you realize you are eating some of the best Mexican food of your life.
Chef de cuisine Joe Raffa, previously at Majestic Cafe in Alexandria and Andrès' Cafe Atlantico in Penn Corner, sends out hot tacos filled with chapulines (Oaxacan grasshoppers) sautéed crisp with plenty of garlic and tequila. There is an array of glistening, colorful ceviches, like the lovely sweet sea scallops shown in the photo at right. He does carnitas of suckling pig with tomatillo sauce, pork rinds, onions, and cilantro. Guacamole, prepared tableside, is silky and vibrantly green, and plantain fritters come stuffed with black beans and covered with coconut sauce, while pumpkin seed sauce naps seared scallops.
For dessert the warm chocolate cake with a cream of mole poblano, a cup of hot chocolate sprinkled with crushed peanuts and cocoa beans, and served with vanilla ice cream is my pick for Dessert of the Year.
Oyamel is open daily for lunch and dinner. Antojitos priced from $4.75-$8.50. Entrees $19-$25.
If by Land, Two If by Sea 212-255-8649
If by Land, Two If by Sea
mentioned as one of NYC's most romantic restaurants, One If by Land,
Two If by Sea (hereafter "1-2") has been the scene of more trysts,
courtships, proposals, and, probably, break-ups than any place
you can imagine. It opened in 1970
Consistently mentioned as one of NYC's most romantic restaurants, One If by Land, Two If by Sea (hereafter "1-2") has been the scene of more trysts, courtships, proposals, and, probably, break-ups than any place you can imagine. It opened in 1970on the premises of a 1754 Greenwich Village carriage house, where both Aaron Burr and John Jacob Astor once lived. With its brick interior, two working fireplaces, red cushioned chairs, wrought iron chandeliers, a delightful outdoor courtyard, and period artwork throughout that includes a reproduction of Grant Wood's "Midnight Ride of Paul Revere" from which the restaurant takes its name, 1-2 has always had a congenial coziness.
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
THE OTHER DOWN UNDER:
THE WINERY RESTAURANTS OF SOUTH AFRICA, Part One
Durbanville Mountain Vineyards
by Mort Hochstein
Part Two of
this article will follow within a few weeks.
Mort Hochstein, former editor and producer for NBC News and the Today Show, and former managing editor of Nation's Restaurant News, has written on wine, food and travel for Wine Spectator, Wine Business Monthly, Saveur and other food and wine publications.
WE USUALLY JUST GIVE THEM THE DEEP FRYER AND LET 'EM MAKE THEIR OWN FRENCH FRIES
"Parents will do almost anything to get their kids to eat healthier, but unfortunately, they’ve found that begging, pleading, threatening, and bribing don’t work. With their patience wearing thin, parents will `give in' for the sake of family peace, and reach for 'kiddie' favorites-often nutritionally inferior choices such as fried fish sticks, mac n’ cheese, Pop-sicles, and cookies. Missy Chase Lapine, former publisher of Eating Well magazine, faced the same challenges with her two young daughters, and she sought a solution. Now in The Sneaky Chef, Lapine presents over 75 recipes that ingeniously disguise the most important superfoods inside kids’ favorite meals. With the addition of a few simple make-ahead purees or clever replacements, (some may surprise you!) parents can pack more fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants in their kids’ foods. Examples of 'Sneaky' recipes include:
· No Harm Chicken Parm
· Power Pizza
· Incognito Burritos
· Guerilla Grilled Cheese
· Brainy Brownies
· Health-by-Chocolate Cookies
· Quick fixes for Jell-O(R) "--Press Release for The Sneaky Chef : Simple Strategies for Hiding Healthy Foods in Kids' Favorite Meals by Missy Chase Lapine (Running Press).
THAT WOULD JUST BE A WARM-UP FOR HOMER SIMPSON!
A British man named Adam Deeley, 34, choked to death during a cupcake-eating contest at a pub in
* On March 31, in
* Valley restaurant in
* From April 1-15 NYC Executive chef/owner Turgut Balikci of Bodrum is launching a special Kebab Festival with a wide variety of specialty kebabs (Adana Kebab, Urfa Kebab, Antep Kebab, Hashash Kebab, and others), priced $19-$22. Call 212-799-2806; visit www.bodrumnyc.com
* On April 3 in
*On April 4-6 The 2008 Greater New York Wine & Food Festival at the Doubletree Hotel in
* On April 6 at Acme Chophouse Taste of the Nation SF will be hosted by Traci des Jardins along with former competitors from "The Next Iron Chef" for a meal, with wines from top sommeliers. Chefs incl. Michael Symon, Chris Cosentino, Gavin Kaysen and Elizabeth Faulkner. $250-$300 pp. www.sftaste.org or call 1-877-26-TASTE.
* On April 15 in Highwood, IL, Chef Gabriel Viti and Sommelier Robert Bansberg of Gabriel’s welcome Dennis Cakebread of Cakebread Cellars in NapaValley for a 4-course wine dinner. $125 pp. Call 847-433-0031; www.egabriels.com.
* From April 16-19 the Craft Brewers Conference will be held at: Town and Country Resort & Convention Center,
* On April 19 & 20 Chef Mauro Colagreco of Mirazur will cook with David Kinch of Manresa in Los Gatos, for an 8-course dinner at $195 pp, with sommelier-selected wine pairings available. Call 408-354-4330. Visit ww.manresarestaurant.com
* On April 21 Chianti Classico & The Tuscan Nose: The Chianti Classico Wine Consortium will present a tasting of over 200 Black Rooster wines produced in the Chianti region, kicked off by a sensory experience of
* On April 23 in
* On April 26 the Stags Leap District Winegrowers Association holds its “8th Annual Vineyard to Vintner: On the Trail of World Class Cabernet,” with a fun and informative sensory seminar by author and educator Karen MacNeil, followed by 14 private winery open houses and culminating in a vintner-hosted fun and entertaining dinner at the Stags' Leap Winery. $40-$290 pp. Call 707-255-1720; www.stagsleapdistrict.com
Everett Potter's Travel Report:
I consider this the best and savviest blog of its kind on the web. Potter is a columnist for USA Weekend, Diversion, Laptop and Luxury Spa Finder, a contributing editor for Ski and a frequent contributor to National Geographic Traveler, ForbesTraveler.com and Elle Decor. "I’ve designed this site is for people who take their travel seriously," says Potter. "For travelers who want to learn about special places but don’t necessarily want to pay through the nose for the privilege of staying there. Because at the end of the day, it’s not so much about five-star places as five-star experiences." To go to his blog click on the logo below:Tennis Resorts Online: A Critical Guide to the World's Best Tennis Resorts and Tennis Camps, published by ROGER COX, who has spent more than two decades writing about tennis travel, including a 17-year stretch for Tennis magazine. He has also written for Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel, New York Magazine, Travel & Leisure, Esquire, Money, USTA Magazine, Men's Journal, and The Robb Report. He has authored two books-The World's Best Tennis Vacations (Stephen Greene Press/Viking Penguin, 1990) and The Best Places to Stay in the Rockies (Houghton Mifflin, 1992 & 1994), and the Melbourne (Australia) chapter to the Wall Street Journal Business Guide to Cities of the Pacific Rim (Fodor's Travel Guides, 1991). Click on the logo below to go to the site.
MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET NEWSLETTER is published weekly. Editor/Publisher: John Mariani. Contributing Writers: Robert Mariani, Naomi Kooker, Suzanne Wright, John A. Curtas, Edward Brivio, Mort Hochstein, Brian Freedman. Contributing Photographers: Galina Stepanoff-Dargery, Bobby Pirillo. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin .
John Mariani is a columnist for Esquire, Wine Spectator, Bloomberg News and Radio, Diversion., Forbestraveler.com, and Cowboys and Indians. He is author of The Encyclopedia of American Food & Drink (Lebhar-Friedman), The Dictionary of Italian Food and Drink (Broadway), and, with his wife Galina, the award-winning Italian-American Cookbook (Harvard Common Press).
Any of John Mariani's books below
may be ordered from amazon.com by clicking on the cover image.