Laughton, Clark Gable and Franchot Tone in
"Mutiny on the Bounty" (1935)
Owing to Technical Difficulties the Virtual Gourmet is one day Late. My apologies
IN THIS ISSUE
DC POWER DINING
By John Mariani
NEW YORK CORNER
TWO GREAT NEW ETHNIC RESTAURANTS
ON THE UPPER WEST SIDE
By John Mariani
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
Two Nights Only: The "Best" Restaurant in the
World Goes On a World Tour
by Andrew Chalk
DC POWER DINING
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 and frequent Congressional recesses--like right now. Money, lobbyists and lawyers fuel the capital’s dining scene, even if our stalwart legislators can no longer accept more than a $25 meal from BP, the NRA, the AMA or the NFL. (The way lobbyists get around it is to have the congressman order the cheapest thing on the menu, then switch it with the more expensive dishes and wines the lobbyists order.)
D.C. restaurants, then, are highly dependent on the flow of powerful people to keep them in the spotlight, and pols and celebs do their best to oblige. Indeed, after eight years when George and Laura Bush rarely ventured out of the White House to dine, the Obamas have made their presence felt consistently, celebrating their anniversary at the Blue Duck Tavern (left) in the Park Hyatt Hotel, Mother’s Day at the Italian Ristorante Tosca, and the First Lady’s birthday at Equinox, this last also a favorite of Jill Biden and Hillary Clinton.
Indeed, Michelle Obama
eats out often with friends and official visitors,
frequenting the Indian restaurant Rasika,
José Andres’ Mexican restaurant Oyamel, and the
Creole/Cajun restaurant Acadiana,
which has also proven a magnet for show biz celebs
like Jay-Z, Beyoncé and Sean Combs, who come
here to dig into the fried green tomatoes, jambalaya
and fried catfish with grits.
Of course, there is always a political element to entertaining dignitaries in Washington, so when German Prime Minister Andrea Merkle came to town, Obama took her to the historic 1789 Restaurant (below) in Georgetown, which has strüdel on the menu and gets it ducks from Hamburg, Pennsylvania. Condoleezza Rice said her favorite restaurant was the urbane (recently refurbished) Oval Room, especially because it was just steps from the Oval Office, where her boss, George W. Bush, stayed in, eating creamed cheese sandwiches.
Before Bill Clinton got to the White House, Presidents and their wives chose restaurants that tended to be high-end French and exclusive, with names like Le Pavillon and the Polo Club--both Nancy Reagan’s favorites--while media honchos like Larry King claimed their special tables at steakhouses like Duke Ziebert’s and The Palm. In those days reporters like Woodward and Bernstein ate at their desks.
There are still some old-line restaurants near the Capitol and Union Station that draw legislators between debates and votes, like The Monocle, which opened in 1960 and has served every President since Kennedy and almost every Senator and Congressman. Owner Nick Valanos estimates that three-quarters of his customers “are people coming to the Hill to do business or to show friends or family what Washington is all about. They stop to see the photos on the wall, to experience some of the history that makes us unique. We’re usually booked six weeks out when Congress is in session.”
The Old Ebbitt Grill,
which dates back to 1856 and was once home to
William McKinley before he became president, is just
two blocks from the White House, and is still a
place local media hie to for oysters, beer and
gossip for tomorrow’s columns.
Young Washington interns and lobbyists take up the community tables at the Middle Eastern restaurant Zatinya, a big space with 200 seats and 50 at the bar, and the hot new Del Campo (left), serving Peruvian grilled food, which has drawn Mrs. Obama, comedian Chelsea Handler, and Bob and Elizabeth Dole.
Of course, Washington would not be a crucible of secrets and intrigue if it didn't have places the high and mighty meet with the understanding that the public will not be at the next table, where the Secret Service and bodyguards sit. For this reason, private dining rooms in D.C. hotels work well for complete discretion. When Obama wanted to raise funds for his re-election, he collected $8.5 million from financial backers at private lunches held down in the wine cellar at Plume at The Jefferson Hotel (right), whose clientele also includes Bill Cosby, Joan Rivers and Martha Stewart.
the management of the new Capella
Hotel in Georgetown refuses comment
on any politicians or celebrities who stay or dine
there. Still, on any given night at Bourbon Steak
on the lower level of the Four Seasons
Georgetown, you’ll find a sure number of pols,
foreign ambassadors, generals, and lobbyists who
might well be on the front page of tomorrow’s
papers. Or CNN tonight. Of course, in
Washington, what they all eat and drink is not
nearly as important as with whom they eat and drink
it, and who ends up paying the check.
Photo by Stirling Elmendorf
This article first
appeared in the NY
NEW YORK CORNER
TWO GREAT NEW ETHNIC RESTAURANTS
ON THE UPPER WEST SIDE
By John Mariani
Walk up or down any avenue on the Upper West Side and you will be astonished at the number of small restaurants of every ethnic stripe right next to each other. Indeed, it’s tough to find a dry cleaners or nail salon wedged in between them all, and, if I lived on the Upper West Side, I’d go crazy trying to choose what kind of food I wanted to eat.
Two outstanding newcomers to the neighborhood prove yet again that many in the food media, who never seem to venture above the Bowery or beyond Greenpoint, have demeaned the UWS’s restaurant offerings by sheer omission. Bustan (left), a Mediterranean restaurant with an Israeli chef, and Awadh, which features the cooking of that northeastern region of India, both diverge from other restaurants in significant ways. Both also show that, unlike so many of their competitors up and down the block, there is a sure degree of professional pride in the management of the places, instead of the lackadaisical and robotic rote you find far too often.
Bustan, which means garden, is clearly a labor of love for proprietor Tuvia Feldman, executive chef/partner Efi Nahon and general manager/partner Guy Goldstein, who are committed to showing the extraordinary depth and breadth of the food cultures that hug the shores of the Mediterranean. So, you’ll taste the intertwined flavors of North Africa, Italy, Greece and the Middle East from a long menu, from mezes to flatbreads, and many dishes are cooked in a dome shaped, wood-fired taboon oven. Goldstein has assembled a small estate wine list that is exceptional for small restaurants of this stripe.
The 74-seat room and outdoor patio blend sea colors with earth tones, with a charcoal-colored faux stone wall backlit with portholes. At the moment, the garden out back is in full swing and highly desirable.
Our table of four ate extensively from the menu, starting with an array of mezes ($6-$19), or mazettim, that included luscious hummus with lamb kebob and shredded beef cheeks. Charred octopus ($18) with warm white bean masabaha, crushed tomatoes, green harissa and botargo roe was a lot of good food on one small plate, while Moroccan lentil soup ($9.95) was
riddled with delicious lamb merguez sausage and root vegetables, with a lacing of cool yogurt.
Soft egg buttery, flaky burek pastry ($18) with creamed sunchokes, mushrooms and truffle oil is, I suspect, unique to New York, and the saganaki ($11.95) was well out of the ordinary, with efalograviera sheep’s milk cheese on fennel seeds with a roasted tomato compote.
There was so much more I loved: tender flatbreads with cured tuna, zaatar, red onion, feta, spinach and fresh tomato ($15); spicy lamb terracotta (above), with grilled vegetables, tahini and pistachio baked in flaky top crust; and the Greek pastrami with parmesan and red peppers ($12) was sensationally good. All these I would rush back for without hesitation, though I would not for the only real dud in the menu: tasteless roasted eggplant in coconut milk with a curry-like seasoning called vodouvan. I might add that if Bustan served nothing more than its complimentary puffy bread (left), I would wait outside to collect the day’s leftover loaves.
Desserts are well worth ordering, from shredded halvah ($8.95) with milk gelato, rice brittle and caramelized nuts to semolina and coconut cake ($8.95) with strawberry compote and yogurt-chestnut gelato.
There are several Indian communities around New York, but the Upper West Side is not one of them. What a wondrous surprise, then, to find that the best Indian restaurant in the city is up there, Awadh; indeed, along with the superb Rasika in Washington, I’d rank Awadh among the finest anywhere.
I say that with one caveat: almost everything I ordered was a specialty of the region of Awadh in Uttar Pradesh, whose rich cuisine and slow cooking methods were heavily influenced by well-spiced Mughal cooking. So, if you insist on ordering the Pan-Indian items on the menu, I’m sure you’ll be pleased but you would rob yourself of extraordinary dishes not found all over town.
I should not have been surprised that Awadh was go good, for its owner and chef is Gaurav Anand, whose Moti Mahal Delux and Bhatti Indian Grill, both on the East Side, have justified reputations for their refined cooking.
Awadh is a very
smart-looking restaurant, unusual among the
storefront eateries on the UWS. It’s set on
two floors, the first with a double-height glass
façade, an 8-foot chrome and cascading bubble
glass chandelier, dark wood paneling, gold pendant
lights, exposed wood beams and gold foil wallpaper
setting the tone for a cozy yet refined atmosphere.
The second floor (right) is a
bit more reserved and happily less noisy, with
tufted banquettes and textured stone
Photo by Maike Paul
Sommelier John Slover shows that Indian food need not be distanced from the subtleties of good wine, and there are spiced and herbal cocktails offered, along with an impressive array of teas.
getting to the menu, I must comment on one of the
most delicious breads I’ve ever had in my
life. It’s called ulta tawa parantha (left) and is
thin, very flaky and cooked with ghee butter in
a wok, resulting in a pattern of flattened bubbles
that add texture. I even broke Indian
tradition to eat it before the man courses because I
could not resist.
Our main courses included wonderfully aromatic nali ki nihari I (below), a hefty lamb shank ($18) simmered overnight to absorb tremendous flavor. The famous butter chicken called makhanwala was created at Moti Mahal ($16) and now everyone does it, but none better than Mr. Anand, who brought it cross town to Awahd. Steamed basmati rice came with a savory lamb stew ($16).
Indian cooks too often dry out their fish with cooking or, just as bad, overspice it. At Awadh, mahi musallam ($21) is a whole fish coated with spices like turmeric that pack their punch but give way to a juicy,flavorful whole fish that is an exemplar of what careful attention to detail can accomplish.
Too few Indian kitchens pay much attention to desserts, often buying them elsewhere and bringing them in to sit in the refrigerator. Awadh’s are made fresh and have both subtly and fragrance, from the phirni rice pudding with cardamom ($7) to the kulfi creamy “Popsicle”($8) and some very intense flavorful sorbets of peach, raspberry and coconut ($8).
I’ve every reason
to believe that the rest of Awadh’s menu lives up to
its Uttar Pradesh specialties, but if you go,
promise me you will focus on the latter. And tell me
how the rest is. I’m dying to go back and find
Photo by Maike Paul
A TILAPIA BY ANY OTHER NAME CAN TASTE A WHOLE LOT BETTER
By Dotty Griffith
In my experience, “tilapia” has always been the English translation of the Piscean word for “flaccid fish.” Mushy, tasteless, not even a particularly able canvass for flavors and techniques that other fish – red snapper, sole, cod, sea bass even catfish – showcase so much better. Imagine my surprise when I found myself loving tilapia at Galei Gil restaurant (left) in Tiberias, Israel, an ancient town on the shore of the Sea (understand it’s a freshwater lake) of Galilee.
Every bistro menu on the lakeside promenade overlooking the storied body of water touts its specialty: St. Peter’s fish. So does my Frommer’s Guide, explaining that the fish, also known locally as musht, was in St. Peter’s net when he was tapped by Jesus to change jobs and become a fisher of men instead of musht. I adore the irony of the pronunciation: “mush-ty.” Don’t tell me otherwise and spoil it.
Whole, butterflied with head on, then grilled, St. Peter’s fish at Galei Gil, served with roast potatoes and lemon sauce, was delightful, full of flavor. Yes, with bones, but that’s where the flavor comes from. And from the skin and the head. Of course, the legend and the setting also enhanced the plate. When I ate it, of course, I had no idea I was eating tilapia.
I also found out that St. Peter’s Fish, also dubbed Saint-Pierre, poule de mer and dorée (France , John Dory Britain), Christópsaros (Greece), hout sidi Tunisia), dülger (Turkish), gall (Catalonia) and kovaç (Serbia), was introduced to the Sea of Galilee in the 1930s by a kibbutz. Seemed to me this was more than an editing oversight or a theological dispute. So I turned to the ultimate authority: Google. Imagine my surprise when I learned that St. Peter’s fish aka musht is tilapia, the most insipid fish on American menus! (Though the average American eats only a pound and a half of it each year.)
The disparities can be reconciled. After all, musht, aka St. Peter’s fish aka tilapia, has been a food fish in the Nile and the Near East for thousands of years, way BC. And the species has been released into the Sea of Galilee many times to remedy overfishing. Clarify your text and call the Sea of Galilee specialty a St. Peter’s fish, a musht, and a tilapia.
And will somebody please sell me a whole tilapia instead of a twice or thrice frozen fillet that thaws to mush? I can’t believe I had to go to Israel to find meaty, toothsome and full-flavored tilapia.
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
Two Nights Only: The
"Best" Restaurant in the
I should say that the 1987 Torres Mas la Plana was the perfect partner. It was! But that would detract from the singular joy of these two great foodstuffs of the western world being revered in solitary isolation. The Mas la Plana was a wine at its peak. Ripe fruit embraced in cedar effusing cigar box aromas all framed with fully resolved tannins.
highlight was veal shank which, I suspect, was
cooked sous vide. It was cut-with-a-fork tender and
rivetingly exciting with all those African and Asian
spices in the mix. In an apparent nod to the idea of
exceeding one’s own best efforts, the 2006 Vega
Sicilia ‘Valbuena,’ a Tempranillo Merlot blend
from the Ribera del Duero, the second wine of the
Spain’s most famous winery, was an excellent match,
and a young eight years old.
AS HIP AND COOL AND POP CULTURE SAVVY
AS WE ARE, WE DON'T UNDERSTAND A WORD OF THIS
HE'S PLEADING THE OSCAR PISTORIUS DEFENSE
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