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Restaurant Review: Artisa Kitchen Supper Club (in pictures)

The What:  Artisa Kitchen Supper Club

The Where:  The Fridge Art Gallery, Washington, DC

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Restaurant Review: Kinkead’s

We finally made it to K.  After four rescheduled dinners, dinner club finally has K under its belt.

K is for Kinkead’s.

Since we arrived a bit early, we sat at the bar for a cocktail before our table was ready (and, happily, were able to sip and chat for as long as we wanted and were not rushed, even though we were at the bar beyond our reservation time).  It was nice to sit and catch up.  It was not nice to get the stink eye when I asked the bartender if he had a cocktail list I could peruse.  I’m not good on the spot, I need ideas.  Apparently, I should know better than to be so gauche as to ask for a menu.  Vodka cranberry, then, it is.

Upon being seated, we were immediately given a wine list—but not menus.  In fact, we weren’t given menus until we had been sitting for five minutes or so.

While we looked over the menu (which, we noted, was different than that which was on the website—I understand this is normal and should know better than to choose and commit myself to something online), the waiter brought us a bread basket.  Filled with a variety of choices (cornbread and slices of white and wheat) the basket was accompanied by a dish of soft butter.  Soft butter is key.

The cornbread was fantastic—it had a touch of cumin and a kick of chili pepper, which were both nice surprises that were subtle enough that you could taste something “different” but not so overpowering that they took over the sweetness of the corn.

Not surprisingly, we each started with an appetizer.  Two of us ordered the pumpkin ravioli with a sweet balsamic glaze, crispy sage, crisp prosciutto, and pine nuts while the other two ordered the Hawaiian style tuna tartare “poke” with sushi rice, mango, toasted macadamias and taro chips.  Not a drop of anything was left on any of the four plates.  The ravioli appetizer (the long plate had four on it) were tender and the pumpkin puree was sweet and smooth, complemented well by the acidity of the glaze.  And the sage was a perfect touch.  I always forget how much I like crispy greens; it reminded me, a bit, of the crispy spinach appetizer (the palak chaat) at Rasika.  The tuna tartare was perfectly seasoned, with the mango adding sweetness and the macadamia nuts adding texture to the appetizer.

We practiced a little more individuality when ordering our entrees.  As this is a restaurant known for its seafood—and since there was really only one non-seafood entrée option (a NY Strip), we each stuck with the fruits de mer.

The most impressive of the entrees was the crispy grilled whole black sea bass with cucumber salad, baby bok choy, and a Chinese fermented black bean sauce.  The waiter made sure that we knew that the fish was whole.  A whole fish means that it comes with the head still attached and that you have to figure out how to filet and debone it yourself.

Yes, we know.

The fish came curled around the cucumber salad.  It was perfectly crisp on the outside, flaky and moist on the inside.  The Asian flavors—ginger, sesame, fish sauce—added a complexity to the dish which, otherwise, would be simple but still delicious.

Another entrée selection was the swordfish served with cannellini beans and ditalini pasta.  The fish was perfectly cooked and topped with a fragrant pesto.  The sauce that accompanied the fish was the perfect complement.

I stayed “safe” and ordered the cod.  But it was topped with imperial crab and served with pureed sweet potatoes so delicious we ended up ordering a separate side order for the table.  The dish also came with a stuffing like concoction, the components of which I was never sure but the taste of which I was certain was delicious.  There was definitely corn in it—it was sweet like cornbread but had the consistency of stuffing.  I also had a small pile of wilted spinach on the side, but, alas, I can’t tell you how that tasted.

The fourth selection was autumn themed—a flaky white fish served with carrots, root vegetables, and a beet puree that gave the plate a beautiful fuschia color.  The mixing of the flavors was warm and comforting.

Who were we to say no to dessert?  We tried, we really did, but as we saw plate after plate of dessert parade past us, we knew we had to give it a chance.  What better way to try things out than to get two samplers?  We ordered the sorbet (mango, passionfruit, and raspberry) and the crème brulee (pistachio, dark chocolate, and salted caramel).  The mango sorbet was the star of the desserts—it tasted like summer.  Sweet and fresh, the sorbet was so authentic it was as though you were eating a mango half that had been frozen.  The passionfruit was very tart.  Very.  The raspberry was nothing to write home about; we decided it was the best “go to” in terms of sorbet flavors.  Each of the crème brulee selections were tasty.  The chocolate tasted more like pudding than crème brulee.  The pistachio was so subtle we had to be reminded what the flavor was but, once you had it in your head, the flavor became more pronounced.  The salted caramel was the best of the three and the only one that we finished completely.

The crowd was a bit older, but we enjoyed livening the place up with our youth and our interesting young folk conversation.  Parking was plentiful on the street, but the restaurant does validate garage parking.  On an expensive or not scale, Kinkead’s falls more on the former side but the quality of the food and its presentation is worth it.

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Restaurant Review: Poste Roast

A long overdue review. 

Several weeks ago, my friends and I got together for a farewell dinner for two friends of ours who would soon be picking up and moving themselves all the way out to Seattle.  What better way to celebrate them, our friendship, and the beginning of summer than an authentic pig roast?  And what better place to do that than Poste?

Every summer, Poste does nightly (except for Thursdays) family style dinners.  Poste Roasts are intimate, family style dinners for 6-12 people.  Held in the restaurant’s Chef’s Garden amid pots of herbs, these dinners are definitely an experience to be had.   Make your reservations at least seven days in advance  and you and your friends can sit at the big marble table and sample the deliciosity that Chef Robert Weland has to offer. 

And there is a lot that he offers.  When you make your reservation, you are asked to give your meat selection (as roasting an animal on a spit obviously takes a long time and needs to be done prior to your arrival).   The options (main dish and sides) are all locally sustainable foods.  For your meat selection, you can choose from standards such as suckling pig, beef brisket, or lamb.  There is also salmon, squab, poussin, or goat.   Each meat selection comes paired with specially chosen sides that are served family style. 

My friends and I decided to go with the pig.  Aside from it being a delicious choice, its paired sides of macaroni and cheese, grilled seasonal fruits, and sauerkraut were options we could not turn down.  

(As an aside:  we could also not turn down the truffle fries (or truffle frites, if you want to be French).  We ordered several baskets (why get plain fries when you can get truffled ones?)  for the group and devoured them within minutes.   They seemed to be double fried in what I guess was duck fat.  The truffle flavoring was there but subtle enough that it was not overpowering.  Served with a homemade ketchup that many of us had to keep from licking off our plates, these were a perfect beginning to what would turn out to be a spectacular meal.)

So, we’re all sitting around the table, engaging in our usual banter, when out comes our pig.  Our very own pig!  Our host presented it to us and allowed us a chance to look at it (and take pictures with and of it) before they took it to the kitchen and (SORRY) beheaded it.  The staff was kind enough to split the head (sorry, again) and separate the pieces (ears, brains) so that we could sample them as we pleased.  I actually expanded my culinary palate and pulled up my big girl pants and spread a little bit of the pig brain on toast.  The verdict?  Not so bad.  It had the texture of liver, I thought (kind of velvety) with the same kind of iron undertones.  I can’t say that I’d ever order it on its own (or by choice) but I’m glad that I tried it.

The pig itself was amazing.  We all had a little bit of the crispy skin…think Thanksgiving turkey yumminess times about one hundred.  The meat itself was succulent and juicy and its only downfall was that we had to carve the pig ourselves.  Thankfully, there were several brawny men in the group who not only embraced the task but, also, enjoyed doing so.  The pork belly was as good as you could expect, if only in small portions.  We all had our fill of the pork and then some, and still went home with six doggie bags (for which several actual doggies were very thankful).

The sides were also a hit.  Expecting to have grilled peaches (because that would seem obvious, considering the season), I was surprised when our cassoulets revealed grilled apples, instead.  Needless to say, this fruity accoutrement was my least favorite part of the meal, though the sweetness did work well with the savory aspects of the pork and the macaroni and cheese and with the acidity of the sauekraut.  Now, let’s talk about the macaroni and cheese.  In a word, it was scrumptious.  Absolute carbohyrdate cheesey perfection.  There were at least three different cheeses integrated into the sauce, though if quizzed, we couldn’t tell you which.  But they were fancy cheeses, no doubt.  The top was perfectly crisped, allowing for a slight crunch to go with the soft gooeyness. 

We all ate our faces off.  And enjoyed every second of it.  Of course, though, we had to have dessert.  Well, I did.  For the record, everyone else said that they did not want anything.  Fine, I could take one for the team.  Little did I know that, once the tasting of salted caramel (um, yum, no??) arrived, every single person within a five foot radius of me would dig in a spoon “for a taste.”  Good thing I don’t mind sharing.  We took down the dessert and enjoyed every last drop.  The selection included a coulant (which was really just a fancy caramel cake…it was actually pretty bland but had a hidden hint of caramel), caramel ice cream (not overly sweet, not overly salty), caramel creme brulee (with a perfectly hardened layer of scorched sugar, though it was still my least favorite component) and some caramel popcorn (super sweet but with a final kick of heat).

For $38/person (excluding drinks (take note of their cocktail menu, it’s pretty unique), appetizers, and additions), this is a great dining experience for a group of friends to share on a warm summer night.  The ambience is awesome, the food is fantastic, and the pace of the meal is perfect for a night out in the garden.

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Restaurant Review: Indigo Landing (nee Potowmack Landing)

The place where only the first syllable of your order matters. 

Shrimp Scampi?  No, SHORT RIBS. 

Hot Toddy?  No, hot peppermint patty. 

Girls’ Night Dinner.  Indigo Landing, a beautiful–though receptiony (maybe because I did actually go to a wedding reception there six years ago?) dining area.  Great view of the Capital building and the monuments and planes landing.  

We’ll start with the fact that the hostess totally checked in a couple and ruined the surprise dinner that was going on IN THEIR HONOR.  They said their name and she said, “someone called about that last night…and said it was a surprise.”  Clearly, the couple to be surprised was the couple standing in front of me.  FAIL. 

The menu has a lot of choices on it, which was nice after coming off of Restaurant Week (more about that in another post).  

We studied the menu and made our decisions.  We ordered a bit hesitantly, as the waitress seemed to be confused by everything we said.  Short ribs turned into shrimp scampi.  In fact, lots of things turned into shrimp scampi.  For a restaurant that had maybe four other full tables, there was no reason to mis-hear anything.  We were all a bit concerned when she left the table, and worried we’d all end up with the damn scampi as our main course.  The waitress came back almost ten minutes later to verify the orders again–without her pad.  Clearly, she had yet to do anything with the order we had already given her. 

We started with an appetizer and some salads.  The calamari was dusted in cornmeal, which was a nice departure from the typical (but delicious) greasy version you get at so many other places.  The fried squid came with a delicious lemon aioli and a hot and sweet pepper dipping sauce, both of which were perfectly seasoned and excellent complements to the otherwise bland (but not in a bad way) calamari.  

My tablemates and I also sampled the wedge salad and the beet carpaccio salad.  The wedge was a bit of a disappointment–the only component that was okay was the fact that the iceberg lettuce was, in fact, in a wedge shape.  It was also, however, a pale shade of green (hovering on being yellow).  The shaved sweet onion that the menu touted were, in fact, soggy rings of regular old white onion (whereas, ideally, they would’ve been nice, crisp, pungent red onion).  The Maytag blue cheese dressing had none of the delicious crumbles of blue cheese that I craved but, rather, was just a watery and milky cover to the poor lettuce.  The four cherry tomato halves did not disappoint except for their scant number.  The beet salad received no complaints.  The thinly sliced beets, wild arugula, citrus, and toasted almonds delivered a fresh, distinct flavor any beet lover would embrace.  There was a plethora of the chevre, which was nice.  The orange sherry vinaigrette provided the perfectly acidic and sweet dressing for the vegetables. 

After we had gotten halfway through these starters, our bread basket finally arrived.  We had only asked for and been promised fresh bread three times at that point.  At least the rolls were hot from the oven.  And served with a very tasty honey butter that was just the right combination of sweet and savory.  Note:  we still had not gotten our glasses of water and the fact we all had other beverages anyway is irrelevant (but what is relevant is that we also asked for, and were promised and denied, iced tea refills).  Note two:  a server other than our own came and cleared our table of the appetizer dishes…before we were done with the calamari and never asking if it was okay to do so. 

On to the main courses!  Luckily for us, substitutions were acceptable (though, as previously stated, we worried that they would not be honored, based on the flightiness of  our server), so we were all able to make tweaks to our selections.  

Those who ordered the scallops were surprised at their size.  Large and well-cooked, these treasures of the sea were about an inch and a half in diameter and about the height of a good old fashioned marshmallow.  Their accompaniments were nothing to write home about.  As one of my fellow diners said, the creamy celery root puree was more like “cold celery mush.”  And the dish, as a whole, came out lukewarm.  Chew on that. 

Speaking of chew…the NY strip was a bit chewy, especially for a cut that is generally tender.  Now, I know that I am used to (and definitely prefer) a filet, so that may be clouding my judgment.  But, that withstanding, the meat was definitely chewier and fattier than I would have liked and than I expected.  And, really, was it necessary to put rosemary on top of the meat?  Rosemary has a way of inserting its flavor into whatever it touches and, unfortunately, it is not a flavor of which I am overly fond.  So that was a bit of a bummer.   My sides of whipped potatoes and madeira sauce were heavenly.  The potatoes were just the right texture, so smooth that I questioned whether they really were potatoes.  

Per instructions, the Thai snapper came out grilled and not fried.  It also came out less than lukewarm.  It did not get sent back, though such a move was contemplated. 

The short ribs left nothing to be desired.  They were perfectly tender and just the right kind of flaky.  The sweet potato puree, while seemingly a tad bit out of season, was an excellent complement to the strong flavors of the accompanying sauce.  The brussels sprouts were good, not great.  A little more crunch than they were tender, they were the red headed stepchild of the entree. 

Once the table was clear of our dinner plates, our server wiped the table down.  With a wet towel.  This kind of grossed me out, but I kept the thought to myself.  

She then offered us an after dinner drink menu.  The Hot Peppermint Patty (a concoction of vodka, hot chocolate, and whipped cream) jumped out at us.  One of my friends ordered it.  She was met with confusion, but pointed her selection out, specifically, on the menu.  What appeared in front of her was a very big departure from what she expected.  What she wanted was warm, cozy, deliciousness.  What she received was a glass of what looked like very weak hot tea.  With a mound of something chunky on the bottom.  Cloves?  Brown sugar?  Who the eff knows.   We ascertained that it must be a hot toddy.  Okay, fine.  Except, no, no it wasn’t fine.  Whiskey and Lipton tea?  Not acceptable.  And, clearly, not hot chocolate.  Yet, this was a notion our server failed to understand and had no desire to comprehend.  Finally, after showing her the selection, again, on the actual menu, we were “rewarded” with what we ordered.  Except, it wasn’t really a reward at all.   This second drink attempt was hot chocolate with whipped cream and whiskey, again!  They really do love their whiskey at this place and/or have a surplus they’re trying to rid themselves of. 

Much like what we suspected of the shrimp scampi. 

After the debacle that was our after dinner drinks, we ventured to try some desserts.  We should have either gotten creme brulees all around or just forgone the calories.  Mrs. Smith has made me a better lemon meringue pie than the one I had last night–the lemon part was gummy and congealed.  While the meringue looked the part, it was ultimately flavorless (though, in its defense, the perfect texture).  And the crust?  Oh, the crust.  Cold and soggy and dis-gusting.   The chocolate mousse was mediocre and looked and tasted more like tiramisu than what it was touted to be.  

All in all, there were good parts and bad parts to the meal.  Sadly, most of the good parts had to do with the company and our ability to entertain ourselves with conversation and the shenanigans of the restaurant staff.  I can’t say I’d go back to this restaurant, unless, maybe it was to sit on the patio on a summer afternoon.  

Indigo Landing, you plopped. 

  

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Restaurant Review: VOLT

A place where gray meets brown in a fashionable manner.  Where everyone wears brown Chucks.  Where food is served synchronized and perfectly timed.  Where it’s okay to giggle and act like a 12 year old.  Where the bread basket is never ending (hello, bacon popover). 

Phenomenal.

Now, my friends often laugh at my superlative of “Top 5 Meal.”  I give it often enough that the Top 5 has grown to maybe 50.  But this meal?  Really was. 

This past weekend, five friends and I had the awesome privilege of dining at Chef Bryan Voltaggio’s VOLT in Frederick, Md.  You may know Bryan from such shows as, well, Top Chef.   When coming to our table the first time, the sommelier asked us how we heard about VOLT.  The six of us giggled.  And when the Chef himself actually came to the table, well, there was some more giggling.

When making our reservation months ago, we expressed interest in the tasting menu.  This meant that we got to eat in the kitchen.  The same kitchen where Chef and his talented staff cooked the food we devoured.  The same kitchen! 

The six course tasting menu ($95) had two options–the Kitchen Menu and a vegetarian option. 

We all started off with beverages.  I chose the Spicy Spark, a sparkling wine mixed with a jalapeno simple syrup.  The rim of the glass was dusted with almond and cinnamon.  The sweetness of the simple syrup helped downplay the spice of the jalapeno.  Mixed with the dry sparkling wine, it was an interesting and tasty combination.  Best left as a pre or post dinner cocktail and not a meal accompaniment, though. 

volt 007As we sat and watched Chef and his crew in the kitchen, we gawked at the menu in front of us.  Six delectable courses.  We couldn’t wait.  And, we didn’t have to.  Before we knew it, three servers swooped down on our table, placing in front of us a bonus course.  More like an amuse bouche, the tri colored macaroons were a sight to be seen.  One was filled with foie gras, one was a take on Caesar salad, and while I can’t recall what the third was, I can assure you it was delicious.  The exterior of the macaroons was similar to those meringue cookies that were ubiquitous at piano recitals.  You know the ones.  Biting into each of these, though, we were welcomed by a smooth, creamy treat. 

Our next course was another bonus:  lobster flan with caviar.  Fancy pants we definitely were.  It was an interesting dish that I can best describe as a creamy custard (think a little firmer than creme brulee, but savory not sweet) with lots and lots of chunks of lobster mixed in.  The lobster was tender and not rubbery.  And the caviar was the perfect touch of saltiness the dish needed.  (Note:  as a salt fiend, I am happy to give compliments to the Chef–I did not wince, once, because there was no salt on the table…not that I would’ve asked for it (I know better), but the fact I didn’t have to is pretty cool). 

And if that weren’t enough, we were brought  a morsel of falafel.  As a self-proclaimed expert in this genre of cuisine, I’d say that Chef Bryan has it down.  It had the right combination of spices and was a perfect texture–if done poorly, falafel can be dry and crumbly.  This was quite the opposite.

And now on to the menu items.  First on the list was the Yukon Gold potato soup.  The bowl came empty but for the bonus volt 013accoutrements, the brunt of which I don’t recall but there was definitely some crunchy pancetta in the mix.  What more could you ask for, really?  The servers meticulously poured the creamy soup into our bowls and we dove in.  The potatoes were pureed to a golden, creamy, liquid consistency.  The soup was so smooth and served at just the right temperature.  Had we not all quickly scarfed down our bread minutes before, I can assure you there would have been some serious dipping and plate mopping  going on.

Next up:  the Cherry Glen Farm goat cheese ravioli with butternut squash puree, sage brown butter, and sage foam.   If forced to choose my favorite course, I’d have to say this was mine (though my impeccably cleaned plate for each course would cause one to believe I liked them all equally).  I generally am not a fan of foam–I always order my lattes without it.  But on this?  It worked.  Much like Graham Elliot used a horseradish foam to highlight the taste of the beef in my deconstructed beef stroganoff several weeks ago, Chef Bryan Voltaggio used the sage foam–a slightly more pungent flavor–to highlight the delicate flavor of the butternut squash brown butter and the slightly stronger flavor of the goat cheese.  The ravioli itself was perfectly cooked–it was tender all around, not hard on the sides as ravioli can sometimes tend to be.  I could have eaten a full sized entree of this and called it a night.  Thank goodness I didn’t have to.

volt 015

Next up were the pint sized Nantucket Bay scallops.  I don’t like scallops, but I probably could’ve fooled anyone who saw me take that plate down.  These succulent scallops were served with black forbidden rice, cardamom spiced carrots, shiitake mushrooms, lemongrass, and coconut.  The pairing of the flavors had an obviously Asian twist that worked well.  The lemongrass and coconut helped to tame the stronger cardamom. 

volt 017Pork belly.  Pork belly.  Pork belly.  Need I really say more?  Cholesterol be damned, this made my heart happy.  Served atop cannelini beans (whose blandness helped cut down the salty from the pork belly) and with a side of crispy petite red ribbon sorrel (think thin circle of bacon) and moutarda, this was a true treat.  The sauce was a sweet complement to the salty fatness of the overall dish.  Definitely not for those who are watching their fat or caloric intake.  Which is why it was so damn good.

Our final savory course was the piece de resistance for many of my dining companions:  the Wagyu beef culotte.  Wagyu beef is volt 018suddenly the be all end all of beef, taking over the throne from Kobe (Kobe is Wagyu, but Wagyu is not always Kobe–you know the whole square and rectangle conundrum).  This beef proved why.  It was cooked to a perfect medium rare (again, not for the faint of heart) and accompanied by ratte potatoes, golden raisins, dragon carrots, and glazed Tokyo turnips.  The turnips were the only thing I was served that I did not eat.   I wish I knew what he put in those potatoes but maybe that’s a secret he should keep, as I would make them ALL THE TIME and then get sick of them.  An interesting garnish on the plate was a garlic transparency…it was just a clear square that, when you bit into it, made you glad you weren’t a vampire. 

And now, on to dessert.  It was called Textures of Chocolate and included a white chocolate ganache, milk chocolate ice cream, chocolate caramel.  There was some kind of chocolate wafer served along with it, as well–it tasted a bit burnt but that flavor went so well with the caramel (if you were innovative enough to dip it, as I obviously was).  The whole thing was dusted with a light cocoa. 

And if that weren’t enough, we ordered a cheese plate.  Make that two.  There were four types of cheese on each plate.  Served with whole wheat walnut toast, the cheese selection had something for everyone–there was bland, there was hard, there was creamy, and there was stinky. 

Just as we thought we were winding down, one last course appeared before us.  Compliments of the maitre d’ and as a thanks for joining them for dinner, we had an assortment of house made, mini ice cream sandwiches (think Chipwich–but better).  As a thanks for allowing us to join them for dinner, we ate the three different varieties–oatmeal raisin with coconut ice cream, chocolate chip with chocolate ice cream, and white chocolate chip with vanilla ice cream. 

chipwich

So, let’s recap:  six courses ($95) with an optional wine pairing (for an extra $45).  A regular or vegetarian course option (there was some molecular gastronomy going on with the vegetarian options).  Extreme willingness to sub in or out from the menus, based on preference and/or dietary restrictions.  Three bonus “tastes” from the kitchen.  Perfectly synchronized serving of all dishes, with a knowledgeable server letting us know what was in front of us.  Friendly staff who took the time to chat and socialize–not a cranky pants in the group.  Amazing view of the kitchen and all the action.  Mellow yet sophisticated atmosphere.  

Top.  Five.  Meal. 

PS we were sent home with a cranberry orange muffin so that we could prolong our fabulous dining experience.

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Restaurant Review: Graham Elliot (Chicago)

We could’ve stopped with the popcorn.  The super delicious, parmesan and black pepper topped truffle oil popcorn that just kept appearing in a basket at our table.  I mean, stop it already.

And that was just the beginning.

I spent the weekend in Chicago with two of my very favorite friends in the world.  On Saturday night, in keeping with our “we’re fancy” theme of the day, we had dinner at Graham Elliot (he appeared on episode two of Top Chef Masters but was eliminated).   We arrived at the restaurant and were immediately seated.  We walked through the dimly lit, trendily decorated restaurant and were seated in what appeared to be the wine room…I say this only because the back wall was just a huge wine rack.  

Our waitress arrived soon after we sat down, taking our cocktail order and offering us very informed descriptions of the nightly specials and answering all of our questions (pisco, in case you are wondering, is a  South American liquor distilled from grapes and developed by Spanish settlers in the sixteenth century).  Turns out Graham Elliot likes to change up the menu often and to use seasonal, fresh ingredients.  Thus, the menu had a cornucopia of pumpkin and squash and other warm and friendly autumnal foods.

Before leaving and letting us pore over our menus, our waitress mentioned that the Chef was trying out a new amuse bouche–foie gras lollipops dipped in orange Pop Rocks.  Yes, you read that correctly.  How could someone pass up a Foie-lipop?  I couldn’t.  And let me tell you.  The foie gras was absolutely amazing–smooth and buttery and without that pungency I often find when sampling dishes of the organ meat variety.  And the odd combination of the orange flavor and the popping sensation was a true experience.  The orange was subtle and complemented the foie.  And the popping was just fun and laughable.  Though one of my fellow diners abstained from trying the “meat lollipop,” the other tasted it and enjoyed it, despite her apprehension.  While it was delicious, it was much too rich and maybe a little too interesting to eat in its entirety.  But I’m so glad that I tried it. 

foielipop

It did not take us long to decide on our meals.  As a shared appetizer, we ordered the cheddar risotto.  The risotto was cooked perfectly–firm without being crunchy yet also soft without being gummy.  The risotto was made with Wisconsin cheddar, chunks of Granny Smith apples, Pabst glazed pearl onions, and crispy prosciutto.  And the piece de resistance?  It was topped with Cheez Its.  While the concept of the dish was unique and, we decided, had a lot of potential, the prosciutto overpowered the cheesy goodness of the dish.  I know, everyone loves prosciutto, but in this case, there may have just been too much.  In the end, we felt there were too many components that just didn’t seem to come together as coherently as we had hoped. 

For my personal appetizer, I ordered the sweet potato bisque, an obviously seasonal choice but a good one for the cold, Chicago night we had just come in from.  The waiter set the bowl in front of me, empty but for the chipotle jam (SPICY!), garlic marshmallow (you heard me), dollops of lime creme fraiche, and the myriad corn nuts.  He then proceeded to pour on top of all that goodness the bisque.  It was a rich combination.  Taking a little bit of every component into each bite was definitely the way to go–the garlic marshmallow melted into the bland (but not in a bad way) bisque, providing a sweet bit of a kick to the warm flavor of the sweet potato.  Add to that the spiciness of the chipotle jam, the fresh citrus from the lime, and the crunch of the corn nuts and you’ve got yourself an unforgettable soup experience.

beetsMy companions had the beet salad…it was a sight to be seen.  Everything we ordered was presented in such a way that we hesitated (okay, for maybe a second) before breaking into the absolute artwork put in front of us.  This particular dish was comprised of roasted baby beets, hazelnut clusters (think about the clusters from Honey Bunches of Oats but substitute oats with ground hazelnuts), little balls of peppery goat cheese, micro arugula, pickled pears, and horseradish froth.  Yes, friends, the whole dish came covered in horseradish flavored foam.  Both of my friends greatly enjoyed the combination of flavors and agreed it was a great, light [second] start to the meal (or, I guess, third if you count the popcorn).

On to the main courses.  Each of my companions ordered fish–one the Arctic char (brussels sprouts, turnip confit, mustard caviar, and cider bubbles), the other the seared Atlantic cod (smoked clams, brandade beignets (!!!), blistered corn, pancetta persillade).  The fish on both plates was cooked to perfection.  Each dish had such interesting components to it–the beignets were made not from dough, as you would expect, but from mashed potatoes; and the mustard caviar was an interesting and successful attempt to make a powerful flavor option look like a more pretentious add-on. 

The “home run of the night,” however, was my selection:  the Wagyu beef stroganoff.  Now, I’ve been quite interested in the concept of food deconstruction since the Voltaggio brothers appeared on Top Chef this season.  While it totally fascinates me, this approach to cooking also stroganoffcompletely confuses me.  Sometimes, I just don’t get it.  Not the case here.  The dish was beyond fabulous–in presentation, in concept, in execution, in taste.  The beef was melt in your mouth perfect.  It sat, in thinly sliced medallions, over a puree of thinly spread forest mushrooms (think the consistency of pate).  It was accompanied by two mounds of peppered spaetzle that were of lukewarm temperature (but it worked) and had a slight sweet hint to them (it kind of reminded me of the flavor of traditional, sweet, macaroni salad–the kind you can buy by the bucket load in the deli section at the grocery store).  The plate was finished off with two dollops of warm creme fraiche.  Each “piece” of the dish separately was a flavor dream come true.  But, put all together on one forkful, you tasted the ultimate result of beef stroganoff (albeit definitely less rich and much fresher tasting than that with which you are probably familiar).  Had I had double the portion that was put in front of me, I would have easily devoured it…and been more willing to share more of it with the gals.

We couldn’t leave without some dessert.  We ordered two:  the blood orange dreamsicle was another deconstructed creation.  The “citrus supremes” were small, gelatinous, orange cubes–they reminded me (in both taste and texture) of a jello mold my mom used to make that had cool whip mixed into it.  Anyway, it was good but not OTT to die for.  And, honestly, the crunchy meringue that came on the side was just a little weird.  Our second choice was the pumpkin pound cake.  The dish had four small cubes of pound cake, candied ginger, cinnamon stick, and pieces of pie crust and whipped cream.  I’m not sure why the Chef added the pie crust to the presentation but, bravo.  It was my favorite part of the dish.  The ginger was very strong and totally overpowered the rest of the dessert, if you allowed it to.  All in all, the desserts were my least favorite part of the meal. 

So there you have it…my first travelling review.  If you’re ever in Chicago, I highly recommend making a reservation and heading over to GE.  The amusement you’ll get just from reading through the menu and marvelling at the Chef’s creativity is enough.  And, you can only eat so many pieces of deep dish pizza (in my case, two at Gino’s East.  YUM.), Chicago Dogs (just one at the airport, but it was worth the wait),  or bags of cheddar and caramel Garrett’s popcorn (my fingers were orange for days).  

(And sorry about the quality of the pictures–I know they’re worse than usual…I didn’t want to draw attention with the flash…but go to the website to see pics, if you want).

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Restaurant Review: Firefly

I am sure all you faithful followers out there are asking yourself this very important question:  does this girl do anything but eat and/or talk about food?  Fortunately, yes.  But, because I do love food and talking about it and reading about it and because I have a new penchant for writing about it, all of you out there who anxiously await my blog posts (oh, I know who you are) are lucky.

So last night I went out with three friends for what has become a monthly dinner date.  We decided, early on, that we were going to work our way around town while working our way through the alphabet.  And so, tonight, we went to our letter “F.”  F, friends, is for Firefly.

It may have been our best meal yet.

The atmosphere was pretty cool–there were “tree trunks” (I couldn’t tell if they were real or not) all over the dining area, with lanterns hanging from the branches.  To the right of the entrance was a cute little lounge area, with comfy looking couches and some small, round coffee tables.  The restaurant was a bit loud but so are we, so we were able to hold our own amongst the din of the crowd.  While we’re talking atmosphere, we’ll talk about the service–it was a bit lacking.  I’d say we were there a good ten minutes before we were even approached to take a drink order.  We didn’t mind, however, as we were in no hurry to get out of there.

We all had a drink to start off the night–even I did!  I tried a strawberry themed cocktail that isn’t on their online menu.  If I recall correctly, it was a combination of sparkling wine (not champagne–I know there’s a difference!), Ketel One Citroen vodka, some kind of strawberry flavor, and a basil lemonade.  The result was cool and refreshing and had me wishing for more than just the one champagne glass that I was given.  All cocktails were $12.50.  The wine list was extensive and those who had wine instead of cocktails were happy with the choices. 

On to the food!  We started with–surprise, surprise–the deviled eggs.  These were much better than the ones I had at Founding Farmers.  The filling was smooth and creamy and had a powerful (but not overpowering) smoky flavor.  Each half came topped with a delicious and fragrant garlic potato chip.  Three halves were $5–clearly not the deal we had at FF but a delicious treat nonetheless. 

The entrees were all amazing.  There was not a morsel of food left on our plates.  I had the chicken confit pot pie, a warm and soothing combination of maitake, English peas, pearl onion, and cauliflower puree.  It was topped with a warm and flaky rosemary biscuit.  I am usually not a fan of rosemary (in fact, I kinda hate it), but this was delicious.  The peas were a bit undercooked and crunchy, but it actually added a bit of texture to the creaminess of the filling. 

My companions had seared yellowfin tuna BLT with avocado on multigrain bread (and a dumb salad), braised lamb and fresh papparedelle pasta (made with lamp shoulder, ramps, and mascarpone), and the 8oz bistro steak (with garlic herb butter, au gratin potatoes and roasted cauliflower). 

Now, while all of this was a treat to our tastebuds, the star(s) of the meal came with dessert.  The three we chose were possibly–no joke–among the best desserts I’ve ever had (if not in my life than definitely throughout our “eat through the alphabet” endeavor).  Without really knowing what it was (but assuming that it was in the cobbler family), we chose the apple brown Betty.    It was buttery and sweet and caramel-y all at once.  The texture was not soggy, as I find bread pudding type desserts to typically be, with crisp apples that were just the right amount of tart.  The dessert came accompanied by fresh, homemade strawberry ice cream.  Our second choice was the red velvet cake.  It was topped with a cream cheese frosting and topped with chocolate pearls.  Now, none of us could decipher what these pearls were–small beads of chocolate with a surprising crunch.  The plate was lines with a delicious strawberry and cream glace.  Had the slice been three times as big, we still would have eaten every last morsel.  And, because two desserts for four people just possibly couldn’t be enough, we rounded out our choices with the Firefly sundae–a fudge brownie topped with [the most delicious, peanut buttery] peanut butter ice cream [any of us had every had], chocolate sauce, and whipped marshmallow cream.  Imagine a Reese’s peanut butter cup, turned into a cool, creamy ice cream but without the texture.  Got it?  Now dream about it until you can taste it yourself.  The brownie and other additions were just mere counterparts to the clear attraction of the plate. 

The last treat of the night came with our check–the bill is rolled up and put into a mason jar that has holes punched into its lid.  Get it?  That’s what you use to catch fireflies! 

Firefly is located at 1310 New Hampshire Avenue, NW.  And, beware:  you have to travel through a traffic circle to get there, if you’re coming from Virginia. 

ADDENDUM:  HOW COULD I FORGET THE SIDE OF MAC N CHEESE THAT WE SHARED?  I’ve said it before, I know, but it was by far the best I’ve had in quite a while.  While I sang the praises of the mac at FF, it did not even compare to the one we had last night.  Elbow macaroni, three cheeses, creamy and delicious with a nice, crisp, not overly thick bread crumb topping.   If you are paying attention, readers, you will beging to see a theme with my culinary selections–and, though I dine with different friends, we all tend to gravitate toward the same things…

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