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Global Feast : Washington DC

Palena Cafe
September 5, 2010

We finally returned to Palena for the second time last weekend. As with our first experience, the food was absolutely excellent and we regretted that we had waited so long to go back.

After spending a beautiful day walking through Rock Creek Park with our dog, we put our name on the list for outdoor seating in the Cafe and we sat for dinner after only a 30-minute wait.

I was already determined to try the well-regarded roast chicken that night and I picked a seasonal beet salad for my appetizer. My husband decided to go with their 3 course menu but our waiter explained that we could actually order anything from their menu a la carte. His choice was a sweet corn ravioli with Maryland crabmeat and chives then a wild caught striped bass (roasted with trumpet royale mushrooms, manila clams served on potato purée with a parsley coulis).

Palena's cafe salad, roast chicken and side beans

Café Salad : Greens and lettuces, roasted beets with hazelnut oil, house aged vinegar,
and local honey vinaigrette ($11); Palena Roast Chicken with side beans($15)

Palena's sweet ravioli, strip bass and sheep cheese cake

sweet corn ravioli with Maryland crabmeat and chives ($13);
wild caught striped bass roasted with trumpet royale mushrooms,
manila clams served on potato purée with a parsley coulis ($29);
goat cheese cake ($10)

As I expected, their roast chicken was so juicy (probably the juiciest roast chicken I ever had) with a fantastic spice rub. The spice mix is a chef's secret and even their staff do not know what's in it. It reminds me of a North African spice mix but who knows.

The sweet corn ravioli was our favorite of that night though. It was sweet and savory & creamy and chunky. We wanted to eat another plate of this. The fish was excellent and exactly as I heard about their cheese cake, it was delicious. This dessert brings the richness of goat cheese but not the strong goat cheese flavor so even you don't like goat cheese, you would love this for sure.

And of course, while probably not important for many readers, being able to eat at one of the best restaurants in the city with our dog is an extra point for us.

Palena
3529 Connecticut Ave NW
Washington, DC
202.537.9250
www.palenarestaurant.com

Palena on Urbanspoon

 

Artisa Kitchen, Supper Club
August 31, 2010

Last Thursday, I had a surprisingly wonderful dining experience at the Artisa Kitchen Supper Club. I found out about this supper club from the daily newsletter that I subscribe to from Tasting Table (this is a great source for food, drink and restaurant info in DC. If you have not signed up for their newsletter, I highly recommend it). As soon as I read about this supper club, I went to their website and booked the next available dinner.

The Artisa Kitchen Supper Club comes together once a month at a local art gallery (they don't reveal the location until a week before) and is hosted by chef Byron Brown. He worked for Jaleo and his culinary techniques are clearly influenced by molecular gastronomy. This month's supper club was held at the Project 4 Gallery on U street. While the underground supper club concept is gaining in popularity, many of these are just gimmicks focused on the viral-info nature of the experience rather than the food. We therefore approached Artisa with a certain skepticism, but were suprised and pleased to find out that Artisa is the real thing: a fantastic, unique dining experience that is focused on artistry.

My husband and I were welcomed by the hostess and offered a glass of sparkling wine. We sat at the table about 6:30pm. We thought that time was quite early but we found out why much later in the evening.

For nibbling while we are waiting for the first course, they offered a house smoked ricotta cheese crumble with the crusty country bread. But soon enough, the dinner began, and what followed was five solid hours of gastranomic delights.

1. Amuse Bouche - Artisa's Olive
This first dish was a great introductory demonstration of Chef Brown's love for molecular gastronomy. The technique is called spherification and it is a signature dish of Ferran Adria of El Bulli. Using this technique, Brown created a liqudified olive with a solidified olive skin. I was very impressed and thrilled by the debut.

Corzetti stamp2. Corzetti with Walnut Pesto
Corzetti is a traditional pasta from northwest Italy. It is a thin, round pasta embossed by a special wooden tool (see right). By following the tradition, chef Brown dressed corzetti with a walnut sauce. It is very simple but well prepared and I loved both the texture of corzetti and the flavor of the walnut pesto. I wanted to eat more.

3. Tomato Trio (cucumber slice with tomato foam, tomato caviar on cellery, tomato jelly).
All three items provided a burst of tomato flavor. I especially liked the jelly.

(Wine Paring : Inzolia from Sicily)

4. Beet Gazpacho
This beet gazpacho was so creamy, illustrating the color, texture and flavor this veggie offers.

5. Mushroom Risotto with Foie Gras Reduction
Perfectly cooked risotto with a killer foie gras reduction. Bite size with a big flavor.

(Wine Paring : Al Mouvedre Spain 2010)

6. Sous Vide Fried Chicken with Collard Greens and Sweet Potato Puree
Chef Brown told us that the chicken he used is called K-22. This breed is a slower growing bird which gives a good texture and flavor. The chicken was light and soft and served with crispy chicken skin. However, the best part of this dish was the collard greens stuffed with shredded turkey meat.

7. Fresh Oyster with Champagne Foam
The only dish I did not care for that night. It could be just been the oyster I got, but it seemed chewey and bland. The foam was interesting but didn't mask a poor oyster choice.

(Wine Paring : Chateau de Clapier 2008 & Domaine de Mairan Chardonnay Classique 2008)

8. Osso Buco Pasta Tips with Gorgonzola Cream Sauce
This osso buco pasta was fabulous, period. The filling was inspiring and the pasta shell perfect.

9. Pan Seared Rockfish with Ratatouille
Another amazing dish. The ratatouille was especially tasty. He followed the rule for good ratatouille: cook each vegetable separately. That gives the amazing result of the texture.

10. Braised Pork Cheeks
The fork-tender pork cheeks were served simply with fresh braised tomato. They were flavorful as they were but I wished there had been a little more salt if I can be so picky.

(Wine Paring : Langhe Dolcetto 2008)

11. Mojito Sorbet
He used the liquid nitrogen to put the sorbet together. Everyone at the table loved this.

12. Artisa Cheese Platter with Apricot Marmalade with Honey Aioli
Great cheese from Cheesesetique. The best part was the sweet and spicy (from garlic) aioli sauce.

13. Macerated Cherries with Vanilla Cake, Vanilla Cream and Balsamic Reduction
By this time, I was 130% full and drunk. And so was everyone else! But I still enjoyed every bit of this dessert. The macerated cherries with cream alone were delicious but the balsamic reduction made it even better. And the vanilla cake... very yummy.

(Wine Paring : Rioja Crianza 2006)

Chef Brown and his staff are getting ready to cook at the gallery's patio

Friendly and charming hostess at the door to great the guests (left);
Chef Brown gave toast to the guests (middle); Chef Brown thanked to his staff (right).

Chef Brown (left); The hostess and the sommelier (middle);
The sommelier serves sparkling wine to the guests before the dinner starts (right).

We left the gallery at 11:30pm. Thankfully we lived only a block away but one one couple who were sitting in front of us were from Leesburg! I am sure everyone had a rough day the next day but it was absolutely worth it!

It was certainly one of the most memorable dinners I have had in this city - or anywhere. To be honest, I was a little skeptical before I tasted his food but Artisa Kitchen really grabbed my stomach and heart. I will definitely try it again but I expect with a dining experience this good (for $90 with wine!) it will get very difficult soon to score tickets. If you haven't been, go quickly!

Artisa Kitchen, Supper Club
www.artisakitchen.com

 

The Source
July 24, 2010

After a long wait, we finally made it to the Source, one of DC's most celebrated restaurants. We wanted a quintessential DC power place for our best friend's farewell party and the Source fit the bill. The restaurant is very chic and filled with young and ambitious looking customers. The waiters probably spotted us looking out of place from a mile away but they never let on.

After we examined the menu, we all agreed that there were more interesting dishes on the appetizer menu. So decided to try bunch of small dishes to share. The waiter didn't blink an eye and grouped our plates into what turned out to be a logical and pleasing order.

Sauteed Maryland crab cake, tomato-mango relish, red Thai curry vinaigrette (left)
Spicy tuna tartare, sesame-miso cones, shaved bonito, tobiko (right)

 

Scallop & shrimp sui mai with shanghai curry lobster-uni emulsion (left)
Crispy suckling pig, black plum puree, chipollini, sweet bean sauce (right)

"Tiny Dumplings" pork belly, black vinegar, chili oil, ginger, cilantro leaves (left)
Stir fried Colorado lamb, lettuce cups, toasted pine nuts, crisp rice sticks (right)

Warm raspberry & chocolate soufflé with whipped creme fraiche and vanilla ice cream (left)
warm blueberry crumble (right)

Everything was delicious - not one dish managed to disappoint. Some of them were perhaps a little heavy on the sauce or seasonings. For example, the dumpling was filled with a black vinegar sauce that squirted out like a bullet when I bit into them. The sauce wasn't bad, but I would have preferred more of the tasty pork flavor instead. Also, the stir fry lamb in lettuce cup was coated so heavily with black bean sauce I could not taste lamb itself.

Stragely enough, the spicy tuna tartare, which is many people's favorite dish at the Source, was not mine. I loved the texture of the cones, though. But for me, probably my favorite dish was the crab cake. You would think that in a place like DC, it would be hard to impress with a ubiquitous crab cake, but this one was special. The thai curry vinaigrette was delicious and strong but it was laid under the cake so you coould just scrape a little bit on the cake and it was just right. The crab cake itself had lots of juicy crab meat in it, and was perfectly seasoned.

The warm raspberry & chocolate soufflé was also impressive. If you love chocolate, this one is for you. But I liked the warm blueberry crumble more. The ice cream on the top was excellent.

Finally, I was very impressed with the service there. Our waiter was very professional, efficient and knowledgeable. One of the best servers we have had in a long time.

The whole meal with two glasses of shochu was less than $100 (excluding tip).

The Source by Wolfgang Puck
575 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20001
202.637.6100
www.wolfgangpuck.com

The Source on Urbanspoon

 

Mourayo
July 23, 2010

Many Washingtonians who love to dine out and get a good deal at the same time are already using Groupon or Livingsocial. This is a great way to try places you might not otherwise go. We usually procrastinate until the last minute to use our coupon and we just realized that our Groupon deal for Mourayo would expire in a few weeks so we decided to go there last Friday.

I have passed by Mourayo hundreds times but somehow I have never thought about going in. It has the location and look of a Dupont tourist trap, which is often a bit off-putting. But regardless, the place was clean, simple and welcoming.

Sardelles stin Shara: Fresh semi-boneless grilled sardines served over eggplant puree;
Achaian Spirit : Grilled lamb chops in traditional style;
Htapodi stin Shara me Fava : Grilled fresh octopus, fava bean purre and octopus ink vinaigrette

I have grown tired of eating the usual fish like halibut, salmon and tuna over and over at other restaurants so I was very pleased to see many unique fish and seafood dishes on their menu. Their fish selection included cuttlefish, squid (they have squid ink soup!), octopus, sardines, salted cod and more.

We shared the Sardelles stin Shara: Fresh semi-boneless grilled sardines served over eggplant puree ($11.95) for our starter. The fillet of sardines was grilled and seasoned with salt, pepper and some lime juice. And of course extra virgin olive oil on the top. This simple method is always the best way to enjoy fresh fish. The eggplant puree was such a great side for this fish. Suddenly I had already fallen in love with this restaurant at this point.

For the main course, my husband picked the Achaian Spirit : Grilled lamb chops ($23.95). They offer it either with a Mavrodafine wine sauce or in traditional style. The waiter recommended traditional style. Again, they were very simple but perfectly cooked lamb chops. Peppery and smoky on the outside, juicy and flavorful on the inside.

My choice was the Htapodi stin Shara me Fava : Grilled fresh octopus, fava bean purre and octopus ink vinaigrette ($11.95) from the appetizer menu. The octopus was slightly charred outside but very soft and moist. It was salted slightly but the octopus ink vinaigrette gave it a salty and creamy kick. The side octopus salad was also simple and good. Small chunks of octopus were mixed with some vegetables and a citrus vinaigrette. The dish also comes with a fava bean puree which is very similar to hummus. Even though this is an appetizer, it filled me up and it was a great portion as a main dish for me.

We are not familiar with Greek wine so we asked for help and our waiter recommended Gentilini Aspro from Cephalonia ($33). Unfortunately, I was a little disappointed with this wine. It was very tart - almost like a sour apple cider. I will have to study Greek wine before I go next time.

Mourayo offers traditional meals with some modern twists. Yet, they cook the simple way to bring out the natural flavor of each ingredient. Because of that, some people may think their food is plain. But for me, I love the fact that they use good ingredients and cook them real simply but perfectly without playing around with fashion. Tried and true tradition is often what I like the most.

I really have to thank Groupon. Otherwise, I would never have tasted their wonderful seafood dishes that few other DC restaurants seem to offer. I will definetly go back.

Mourayo
1732 Connecticut Ave NW
Washington, DC 20009
202.667.2100
www.mourayous.com

Mourayo on Urbanspoon

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