O.P. Heggie and Boris Karloff in "Bride
of Frankenstein" (1935)
ANNOUNCEMENT OF NO REAL IMPORTANCE
This issue of The Virtual Gourmet arrives two
days earlier than usual because I will be moseying around Arizona with
pardners until the middle of next week, unable to file on Saturday. If
still wish to read the current issue dated October 18, click
here. The next regular issue will appear the weekend of November 1.
QUESTIONS? TO REACH JOHN MARIANI WRITE
DINING, Part Two by John Mariani
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR: St.-Émilion 2005 and 2006 Are Just What We Need Right Now
by John Mariani
DINING, Part Two
800 Connecticut Avenue NW
Ashok Bajaj, owner of several of DC's finest restaurants, including the nonpareil Indian restaurant Rasika, has established the 15-year-old Oval Room as a consistently packed power lunch spot, a sunny, very civilized and spacious modern dining room with some of the most engaging cuisine in the city right now. Its name takes a wink at its closeness to the White House's Oval Office, and the restaurant has entertained Presidents Clinton and G.W. Bush; Conoleeza Rice said it was her favorite restaurant.
One can see why, for its décor is refined and soft, without any frilliness. It has cream-yellow walls and beautiful linens, rust red chairs, silver flower vases, and a good dash of modern art by Alenoush Ghondikiar that lends just the right amount of color to the Washington sunlight that pours through the big windows here. There are private rooms available too.
Tony Conte, formerly sous-chef at Jean-Georges in NYC, could probably just serve up the kind of country club fare pols, lawyers, and lobbyists seem to prefer (good food gets in the way of discussing issues), but he has gone way beyond that with a flawless, modern American style that makes this one of the finest restaurants in the city, and a romantic one at that. Service, as at all Mr. Bajaj's restaurants, is as unpretentious as it is knowledgeable about food and the extensive winelist overseen by sommelier Brent Kroll.
I had a splendid lunch at the Oval Room recently, beginning with paragon-quality blue fin tuna with a little chipotle, ginger dressing, and bonito tapioca. Burrata mozzarella, creamy and cool, took on novel notes from red papaya dressing and touch of basil olive oil. A crabcake with avocado and grapefruit would have gained by using more lump meat, and that afternoon gnocchi were a bit gummy, enhanced with pork belly, smoked plums, and Parmesan.
Two superlative entrees were on the menu that day--a perfect roast chicken with sweet potato and guanciale ham and a little green apple for acid, and excellent braised wagyu short ribs with a punch of jalapeño in the spaetzle and a sweet-tangy caramelized onion jam. Sandwiches here, like the turkey club with housemade potato chips and a steak sandwich with pickled onions and blue cheese are a steal at $12 each. Desserts get the same fine treatment as all else that the Oval Room renders with imagination.
Hobnobbing with the power crowd in DC (of course, we all know that Congressmen are allowed by law to be treated to lunch sitting down!) has its own rubbernecking pleasures, but dining at the highest level of cuisine, ambiance, and service at the Oval Room makes for the kind of abiding culinary pleasures still rare in the Capital.
The Oval Room is open
for lunch Mon.-Fri, for dinner Mon.-Sat. Dinner starters run $9-$16,
main courses $18=$36. A tasting menu is available at $84, with wines
three-year-old Hook, run by the PURE Hospitality Restaurant
Group, in Georgetown is just about the way you'd want a
modern fishhouse to look--bright, squeaky clean, with lots of strong
lines, buffed wood, and white and blue marine colors, with
big windows overlooking the bustle of M Street. The chef, Jonathan
Seningen, comes from
Maryland and he's been a lifelong angler in rivers and streams whose
pristine quality underpins all he buys and serves at Hook.
This high quality is tasted immediately in his crudo dishes, from North Carolina mahi mahi and Icelandic Arctic char to a ceviche made from shrimp, calamari, and sea bass from three corners of the globe.
The second courses are really appetizers, and what I tasted were very good indeed, simply conceptualized, simply served, with a few ingredients working in acid-sweet balance with the species of seafood. This included juicy tuna tartare from Florida with pomegranates nd poached apple, some spiced carrot and a ginger-cilantro oil--all tiny stimulants to the palate; sea scallops from Baja are treated with a little coconut, lime, blood orange, and olive oil, while the roasted eggplant gazpacho contains Littleneck clams, cucumber, and a zing of lemon.
Except for an overwrought dish of yellowfin tuna with barley, squash, strawberry and tomato-jalapeño sauce that seemed to run counter to the style here, the third, main courses were delicious, especially the Arctic char with sweet potato puree, broccoli, and lemon.
Heather Chittum is a local, award-winning pastry chef and you'll see why when you dip into her lingonberry Linzertorte with the surprise of Taleggio cheese ice cream and a Port wine reduction; or her "Don't Hate Me 'Cuz I'm Honey," whose weird name buoys a straightforward strawberry-rhubarb cobbler with vanilla ice cream. There is also a fine cheese selection here, and a winelist well culled to back up this kind of cuisine.
Hook is open for lunch, Tues.-Fri., dinner nightly, brunch on Sun. Crudo runs $8-$19, appetizers $9-$13, and main courses $25-$34.
Zola and Zola Wine & Kitchen,
owned by the The Malrite Company and Stir Food Group, have been among
DC's most popular dining venues, and their newest effort poses as an
Italian trattoria, though its size is something well beyond what small,
homey, family-style trattorias are by nature. This is a
sprawling, well-lighted, extremely convivial set of rooms with a broad
open kitchen where Chef Bryan Moscatello is offering a good deal of
everything for everybody, whether it's the first-rate, crisp, charred
pizzas--some of the best I've had in the USA--or some sumptuous pastas
like tortelloni stuffed with
rabbit and truffles with a white asparagus sauce and pecorino cheese
and more truffles.
Potenza is open
throughout the day from 11:30 AM Mon.-Sat., with brunch in Sun.
Antipasti run $8-$16, pastas $$12-$18, and main courses $21-$26.
Not too long ago--oh, say, just before October
2008--the price of
seafood was skyrocketing, and chefs at restaurants were paying top
dollar because they could in turn sell it to their customers willing to
dollar. Since then, demand has dropped and restaurateurs and chefs have
had to figure out a way to still buy the best quality without driving
customers away to Red Lobster and Long John Silver's.
Chowder House is open
for dinner nightly and will soon be serving lunch; breakfast daily;
brunch on Sun. Appetizers range from $9-$16, main courses $18-$35.
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
The Village of
St.-Émilion, Bordeaux (photo: Frank E. Johnson)
2005 and 2006
Are Just What We Need Right Now
It is a very good sign when you walk
into a wine tasting and can smell the wines even before you see
them. That was the case at a recent tasting of 2005 and 2006
St.-Émilion wines held by the Wine Media Guild at New York’s
Château Cormeil-Figeac Grand Cru 2005 ($39)—solidly knit and
still evolving through its tannins, this has the good gravelly taste of
☛ Château Grand Destieu Grand Cru Classé 2006 ($40)—An enormity of fruit balanced with good acid makes this a wine to start drinking this fall with roast beef and venison.
Château Le Carré Grand Cru 2006 ($100)—This is pricey for
a St. Émilion in the Grand Cru Classé, but it is pretty
gorgeous, still youthful, and the tannins are still sleeping.
at the tasting was Olivier Nouet, president of Adams French Vineyards,
owned since 1995 by Stephen Adams, a former U.S. banker and afterwards
RV distributor. (Château Fonplegade is his estate, among
six.) Nouet reported that the 2007 vintage, at first derided as
terrible, is showing some virtues among a few estates. The 2008 will be
“a great vintage,” and he predicts 2009 will be “absolutely beautiful,”
owing to perfect weather conditions throughout the region.
John Mariani's wine column appears in Bloomberg Muse News, from which this story was adapted. Bloomberg News covers Culture from art, books, and theater to wine, travel, and food on a daily basis.
PEOPLE SHOULD FLOCK TO IT
In the (sort of) appropriately named town of Troutville, Virginia, a Norfolk animal rights group wants to rent the soon-to-be-closed Botetourt Correctional Center building and turn it into the nation's first "chicken empathy museum." A spokeswoman said her group believes a prison a perfect setting for exhibits showing what it contends is mistreatment of chickens raised for slaughter, along with displays about chickens' "habits and intelligence."
WRITING 101: Get to the point
"Balompié Café looks like many another modest restaurants in the Mission, but it does make a convincing claim to uniqueness, in three parts. The first is the striking name — basically `ball foot' in Spanish. Football by any other name — including `balompié' and `fútbol' — is still ... soccer. Somehow soccer's claim to being the true football is more convincing than our own. In American football, the combination of ball and foot is seldom a presence or factor. The second part of our triad is Balompié's identity as a soccer bar. The walls of the otherwise unassuming space are festooned with soccer-club banners from around the world, and flat-panel televisions mounted high on the walls show plenty of action. Some of the patrons scattered around the dining room and at the bar are likely to be watching rapt, while others will be dividing their attention between the screens and the plates of Salvadorean food in front of them — the place's Salvadoreanness being its third distinguishing characteristic."—Paul Reidinger, SF Bay Guardian 9/30/07.
✉ Guidelines for submissions: QUICK BYTES publishes only events, special dinners, etc, open to the public, not restaurant openings or personnel changes. When submitting please send the most pertinent info, incl. tel # and site, in one short paragraph as simple e-mail text, WITH DATE LISTED FIRST, as below. Thanks. John Mariani
IMPORTANT NOTE: Owing to the number or Thanksgiving announcements received, QUICK BYTES cannot publish any but a handful of the most unusual.
* On Oct. 28 and Nov. 19 in Los Angeles, Marino Restaurant is hosting a
special dinner: "WHEN NAPLES MEETS VENICE" in cooperation
with Stefano Ongaro of All'Angelo
Restaurant. 5 courses at $ 55 per person and $ 25
wine pairing. Call 323-466-8812l; www.marinorestaurant.net.
* In Las Vegas,
Guy Savoy at
Caesars Palace now offers 5 differtent menus, ranging
from $98 to $750 pp. Call 800- 634-6001.
* From Oct. 29-31, Fuego
at Hotel Maya in Long
Beach, CA, will be celebrating Dia de los Muertos, All Souls’
Day, with a festive menu created by Executive Chef Jesse Perez (the
recipient of the Flavors of Passion Awards, 2009 Top National Latin
Chef). $65 pp, $85 wine and tequila pairings incl. Call
562-481-3910 or visit www.fuegolongbeach.com.
* On Nov. 1 & 2 in NYC, Mercadito Restaurants will
celebrate the Mexican holiday Dia de
los Muertos (Day of the Dead). All restaurants will feature
Tamal de Elote, Tacos de Cordero and Budin de Calabaza. The Tippling
Bros. have also concocted La Murte, a prickly pear margarita with ancho
chile salt. For Mercadito Avenue B call 212-529-6490, Mercadito Cantina
call 212-388-17509 and Mercadito Grove call 212-647-0830.
* On Nov. 2, World
Cares Center, Inc. hosts its 8th annual "Iron Skillet Cook Off"
fundraiser in which five firefighters battle against 5 of NYC’s best restaurant
chefs, at Strata Call 212-563-7570.
On Nov. 4 in Pasadena,
CA, Vertical Wine Bistro
hosts its first wine class “Get EntWined!” with new “Wine Pimp” David
Haskell, with 3 handpicked wines paired with 3 dishes for
$33. . . . On Nov. 8 Vertical Wine Bistro hosts the first
of a 3-part monthly Winemaker Dinner Series featuring boutique wines
made by local winemakers. The first dinner features Joshua
Klapper of La Fenetre with a 3-course family-style dinner paired with 5
wines. $65 pp for the wine dinner, or $20 for a flight of wines at the
wine bar. Visit www.verticalwinebistro.com or call
* From Nov. 6-8 Castle Hill Inn & Resort, in Newport, RI, is presents the return of Dennis Cakebread of Cakebread Cellars for a wine weekend, incl. 2 nights luxury accommodations; a Fri. reception; Sat. wine seminar followed by lunch; a 5-course wine dinner; breakfast each morning; and afternoon tea. Packages begin at $1,611.90. Call 401-849-3982 or visit www.castlehillinn.com.
* On Nov. 7 & 8 in NW Sonoma County, the Wine Road
is hosting the 11th annual “Wine
& Food Affair,” with 80 wine producers participating
from the Dry Creek, Russian River, and Alexander valleys. Each prepaid
attendee will receive the Tasting
Along the Wine Road cookbook, Visit www.wineroad.com
or 800-723-6336. $60.
* On Nov. 7 in Atlantic City, NJ, The Water Club at Borgata hosts its 2nd Annual Savor Borgata prepared by Borgata’s chefs incl. Wolfgang Puck, Michael Mina, Bobby Flay, Stephen Kalt, Michael Schulson, Geoffrey Zakarian, Thaddeus DuBois, Romeo DiBona, Ron Ross, with wine pairings by Peggy Fleming’s Fleming-Jenkins Vineyard. $125 pp. Call 866-900-4TIX or visit www.theborgata.com.
* On Nov. 7 in St.
Helena, CA, Primal Napa will
celebrate fire cooking, meat and the art of butchering. Chefs and
Butchers incl. Chris Cosentino of Incanto and Boccalone, Staffan Terje
of Perbacco, Taylor Boetticher of Fatted Calf, Scott Boggs of Hudson
Ranch, Ryan Farr of 4505 Meats, Tia Harrison and Melanie Eismann of
Avedano's and Jesse Schwartzburg of Star Meats. Hosted by Chase
Cellars’ Hayne Vineyard. $65 pp. Visit www.artofthebutcher.com.
* On Nov. 8, The St. Regis San Francisco will hold a distinctive evening of Japanese culture hosted by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and husband and wife restaurateurs of Ame, Hiro Sone and Lissa Doumani. Guests will have the opportunity to view a collection of preeminent Japanese photography, magazines, and artist books from the Provoke Era, after which they will learn about select Japanese styles of sake and enjoy a tasting of the exclusive variety along with paired appetizers at Ame. $90 pp. The price for the overnight package is $395; Call 415-284-4070.
* On Nov. 8 Four
Seasons Hotel Miami
Executive Chef Patrick Boucher will host “Thanksgiving 101,” a hands-on
session created to provide the novice cook with the basic skills to
prepare a traditional holiday feast. $35 pp. Call Acqua, the
Hotel’s restaurant at 305-381-3190.
* On Nov. 8, McCormick & Kuleto’s (415-929-1730) in San Francisco, and Spenger’s Fresh Fish Grotto (510-845-7771) in Berkeley, CA will be offering all U.S. military veterans a free lunch or dinner entrée in appreciation for their service to our country. The restaurants hold this event on the Sunday prior to the national Veterans’ Day weekday holiday to enable families to dine together on a weekend with the veterans in their lives.
From Nov. 10-12 in Portland, OR,
the Classic Wines Auction
presents 12 winemaker dinners at Portland restaurants to benefit 5
local charities serving families and children. Meet winemakers up close
at the intimate dinners at some of Portland’s finest restaurants. $150
pp. Visit www.classicwinesauction.com; Call 503-972-0194.
On Nov. 10 the 12th Annual
WhiskyFest New York will return to the NYC Marriott Marquis hotel, with
250+ whiskies from around the globe, put on by Malt Advocate. Admission
incl. a Glencairn tasting glass, 1- year subscription to Malt Advocate,
event program with tasting notes section, all seminars, gourmet
buffet and beverages throughout the evening. Call 800-610-MALT or visit
* On Nov. 11 in NYC,
the James Beard Foundation will host "American Icons," the 2009 Gala
Dinner and Auction, at the Four
Seasons Restaurant, with a menu by Dan Barber, Larry
Forgione, Gale Gand, Charlie Palmer, and Alfred Portale—with reception
hors d’oeuvres from Fabio Trabocchi and cocktails from Dale DeGroff.,
paired with American wines from Napa Valley Vintners. $375 for James
Beard Foundation members, $450 for the general public, $750 for VIP
seat and $7,500 for VIP tables. Call 212-627-2308 or visit
* From Nov. 5-8, in Bermuda, Cambridge Beaches Resort & Spa, is offering a Cooking Well Weekend escape hosted by Chef Laurie Erickson, author of CHEF by STEP®, available as an add-on toaccommodations at $229 pp, incl. cooking classes, wine tasting, and 50-minute massage. Call 800-468-7300 or visit www.cambridgebeaches.com.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~NEW FEATURE: I am happy to report that the Virtual Gourmet is linking up with four excellent travel sites:
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."
Eating Las Vegas is the new on-line site for Virtual Gourmet contributor John A. Curtas., who since 1995 has been commenting on the Las Vegas food scene and reviewing restaurants for Nevada Public Radio. He is also the restaurant critic for KLAS TV, Channel 8 in Las Vegas, and his past reviews can be accessed at KNPR.org. Click on the logo below to go directly to his site.
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).
Family Travel Forum (FTF), whose motto is "Have Kids, Still Travel!",
is dedicated to the ideals, promotion and support of travel with
children. Founded by business professionals John Manton and Kyle
McCarthy with first class travel industry credentials and global family
travel experience, the independent, family-supported FTF will provide
its members with honest, unbiased information, informed advice and
practical tips; all designed to make traveling a rewarding, healthy,
safe, better value and hassle-free experience for adults and children
who journey together. Membership in FTF will lead you to new worlds of
adventure, fun and learning. Join the movement.
All You Need to Know Before You Go
nickonwine: An engaging, interactive wine column by Niclk Passmore, Artisanal Editor, Four Seasons Magazine; Wine Columnist, BusinessWeek.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.nickonwine.com.
MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET NEWSLETTER is published weekly. Editor/Publisher: John Mariani. Contributing Writers: Robert Mariani, John A. Curtas, Edward Brivio, Mort Hochstein, Suzanne Wright, and Brian Freedman. Contributing Photographers: Galina Stepanoff-Dargery, Bobby Pirillo. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.
Any of John Mariani's books below
may be ordered from amazon.com by clicking on the cover image.