May 24, 2008

The Evening Star Cafe - What a Disappointment

My friend and I were out enjoying today's beautiful weather, and when we were stumped on a place for dinner, I suddenly remembered the Evening Star Cafe in Alexandria. I'd always wanted to try it, and I'd heard great things about it, and now I'm just not so sure why.

We got in before the dinner rush and sat in a booth - it's a small place with booths lining the left and right walls as you walk in, and there are about 7 tables cleverly arranged in the middle with bold blue chairs that look comfortable. Our server was less than friendly, but I tried to ignore it in my excitement for what was to come. We shared the Almond-Crusted Brie, which was good, although not what I had imagined. Instead of the usual sliced almonds on the outside of the baked brie, the almonds were crushed into crumbs, and the brie was fried in the almondcrumbs. It was served with sliced granny smith apple which provided a nice crisp contrast to the fried brie, and truffle honey, of which I only saw literally one drop. A more generous drizzle of the delicious honey would have been wonderful.
For my entree I had "Pan Seared Salmon Filet" with "Sprout & Bacon Hash, Fingerling Potatoes, Pernod Sauce, Fig Essence." It was...interesting. Well not really, but what are you supposed to say? The salmon was delicious and perfectly cooked, with a tasty crust from the saute pan. But there were just too many flavors in this dish. The salmon sat atop the bacon and brussels sprouts hash which was too salty. On top of the salmon was sliced fennel ? and sliced raw red onion. The pernod sauce was totally overpowered when mixed with the hash or the salmon. It was just too complicated, and therefore hard to enjoy any one simple flavor.

My co-diner had the only vegetarian entree, Truffle-Ricotta Ravioli in a cream sauce with English peas and mushrooms. It was tasty, the peas fresh and not mushy, the mushrooms almost overcooked but not, and the pasta was al dente. I couldn't taste any truffle though.

Maybe it was the lackluster service, or too many competing flavors in the salmon, but I won't be going back here any time soon. The ladies bathroom was interesting - just for one person, but when you open the door there's a wicker screen separating the toilet from the sink area (and the door) so you're semi-protected if someone accidentally barges in on you. Nice soap, nice towel dispenser.

Back after my hiatus

I took the last several months off from this blog to, well, practice piano and finish another recital. It's done, and now I hope to get back into the swing of things on the food front.

Sadly, I never wrote my review of the 4th and final restaurant I visited during Restaurant Week 2008: Butterfield 9. Suffice it to say that I loved it. From the hostess' friendly greeting to the minimalist, open and airy decor, to the food, it was just an enjoyable meal. For my main course I had the Duck Leg Confit Salad, with arugula, winter squash, caramelized shallot, and pomegranate (no I don't remember these things - I kept the menu) and it was just delicious. I loved the contrast that the pomegranate seeds provided. I'm looking forward to my next meal there, and I plan to write about it before it's forgotten.

February 6, 2008

Restaurant Week Visit #3: Bistro Bis

For over a year now some friends have been telling me that I've just got to try Bistro Bis, near Union Station, in the Hotel George. So I thought, what better time to try it than during Restaurant Week? I had also recently read that Bistro Bis is one of the best restaurants to visit during RW because they offer choices that are actually representative of their regular menu. In addition to the offerings at the RW lunch and dinner prices ($20.08 and $30.08, respectively) you can try other items from their regular menu by just paying a few more dollars, so you really are able to get a taste for the restaurant. I went there for dinner and it was quite good.
My fellow diner started with Onion Soup Les Halles, a "rich broth with sweet onions and sourdough croûtons topped with gruyere and emmenthaler cheese." It was very tasty, not too salty, and the cheese was delicious. After the soup was finished we were still trying to find pieces of crusty cheese baked onto the lid of the soup bowl. Yum!
For the first time in my life I ordered snails. I've never had anything against them, but I've just never been curious enough to try them. But I figured, we can't both have the onion soup, and so I ordered the Fricassée d’Escargot, "sautéed wild burgundy snails with roasted garlic, chanterelle mushrooms, pearl onions, lardons, parsley butter and veal jus"
~ this cost an additional $3 and it was worth it for the experience. I'd say I have a fairly adventurous palate, but I think I may have a mental block against eating snails. I managed to finish them, but it wasn't easy. The mushrooms were delicious, as was the sauce, and my companion declared the snails delicious, but I don't think that I'll order snails again.
For an entree I ordered the Côte de Porc Sardalaise, "pan roasted rib chop with garlic, bacon lardon, fingerling potatoes, swiss chard and honey thyme vinegar sauce." As someone who does not eat much meat, I generally make an effort to eat meat when I go out to make up for the lack of it in my daily diet.
And I'm so glad I did. This rib chop was delicious. Tender, savory, with perfectly cooked little potatoes and a sauce that complemented the flavors in the meat and the chard. Highly recommended.
My friend ordered the Salmon Aux Lentilles,
"seared mustard crusted filet with bacon
lardons and red wine braised beluga lentils." This was a big hit for both of us. I cannot remember the last time I tasted such fresh salmon!

I also love lentils and lardons - how can you go wrong with this dish? Needless to say we were both more than pleased with our entrees and the appetizers. No I wasn't crazy about the snails, but I think that's more about me not liking snails than about Bistro Bis not knowing how to serve them.
We were so excited when it came time for desserts. My partner gourmand ordered the Chocolate Toffee Bread Pudding "served warm with hazelnuts and toffee anglaise." This was good, but I prefer bread pudding without chocolate. The hazelnuts were toasted and delicious, and there is almost no way to err when combining them with chocolate. The toffee sauce was also tasty, and in all the dessert was not heavy, but still rich and tasty.
I ordered the Bistro Apple Tart with
"caramelized apples, crisp pastry, vanilla bean crème fraîche and calvados sauce."
This was probably my favorite dish of the night. I love apple tarts and this one was delicious. A perfect light and flaky crust, not too much sugar in the tart, just the right drizzle of calvados sauce to give a hint of flavor without overpowering the tart with sweetness, and the creme fraiche was a delightful addition both asthetically and flavorwise. Please order this if you go to Bistro Bis.
*Not remembering much about the restrooms but that probably means they were up to my standards. I do remember that they are down a flight of stairs. I'm sure there is an elevator, since it's a hotel, but that was a little out of the way. Great service, great space with high ceilings and an open kitchen, and I love the ties that the servers wear. I will be back here, definitely.

Restaurant Week Visit #2: Il Mulino

2. Il Mulino, Downtown DC: Mine was a lunchtime visit, which means the restaurant offers a 3-course meal for $20.08 - A way of ringing in the new year, I suppose. How excited I was when I read on that Il Mulino in New York is "the No. 1 rated Italian restaurant in NYC for the past two decades!" I mean, does that sound like a fabulous restaurant or not? And I have to admit, I thought we'd be getting a great deal by trying them out during Restaurant Week, since it's listed as such an expensive restaurant. I'll start with some plusses right away. The first plus is that because of my computer stupidity, I accidentally canceled my reservation while surfing around on, and when I realized there was not another reservation to be had online, I called the restaurant, explained my predicament, and they said if we could come 30 minutes earlier, they could fit us in somewhere, even though they were booked. I must admit I was imagining teeny table situated next to the bathroom with some folding chairs. But when we arrived, after checking our coats, the maitre d' showed us to a lovely table by the window in the front of the restaurant. Wonderful! We ordered a bottle of San Pellegrino sparkling water, and the waiter brought it to the table along with an ice-filled glass harboring lemon and lime wedges and tiny straws. After pouring our water he placed the bottle behind us in an ice bucket to keep it cold. Soon after we sat down, we were brought (as is everyone) a small dish of Caponata (an eggplant "stew" similar to ratatouille) to snack on. This was difficult for the next 5 minutes since we had no bread, but once the bread arrived, we enjoyed the caponata, although it could have been room temperature instead of cold out of the fridge. We were handed the small Restaurant Week menus, but we couldn't help but notice that absolutely every other table around us received the RW menu plus the regular lunch menu when they sat down... Hmm...
For the salad, one could choose either the Insalata Mista (mixed salad), Insalata di Rucola (arugula salad), or Insalata Caprese (tomato and mozzarella salad). [Names of dishes are approximations - I do not pretend to remember each specific title.] We both chose the Caprese salad, which was, by the looks of the other salads on the tables, definitely the best choice. The other salads looked good, but the Caprese salad was actually quite delicious, with the highlight being that the mozzarella actually had flavor! The salad consisted of 2 slices of mozzarella with 2 slices of ripe tomato, about 2 drops of olive oil, and some basil to garnish. The olive oil was delicious and if there had been just 2 more drops of it, I think the salad would have been perfect. Bravo!
The entree choices were Pappardelle with Sausage (my choice), Porcini Ravioli in a Cream Sauce (my fellow diner's choice), a Trio of Pizzette (3 little pizzas ~ I did not see anyone order this), and I think there were either one or two other pasta choices. The pappardelle were very good - freshly made and al dente, and the sausage was tasty, not too sweet or too salty, but when you got to the bottom of the plate you saw just how many onions were in the tomato sauce: too many.
The ravioli were also good - as a mushroom lover, it's hard for me to disapprove of just about anything with mushrooms - but there was just too much sauce on the plate. The sauce, buttery and creamy, was delicious, but so rich that just 1/4 of what was there would have been plenty.
According to their RW menu, there was a choice of 2 desserts: Ricotta Cheesecake and Tiramisu'. My co-diner and I had decided we would share and order one of each, when the waiter came and told us that he would be making a combination of the 2 desserts. There was a dessert station set up in the center of the restaurant where the waiters would all create this "special combination." I'm not really sure what would happen if you only wanted one choice, either Tiramisu' or Ricotta Cheesecake, because it seemed like you had to get the combination. Anyway, it was an overdone and overdecorated plate. Cheesecake, Tiramisu, Zabaglione, and Fresh Whipped Cream with Fresh Berries, plus a Pirouline in the center, a big drizzle of chocolate sauce, and powdered sugar. After tasting everything, just a few of the fresh berries with the cream would have been perfect. The cheesecake was ok, just not so flavorful, and the Tiramisu' was dry. Upon closer examination, I found that the savoiardi (ladyfingers) had not been dipped in espresso(!!!) The Zabaglione was ok too, but it did not belong on that already overburdened plate.

The overall ambiance is, well... I'm not sure there is one. The bar looks like an Italian bar, but then there are tapestries hanging on the walls, and medieval-looking wrought-iron candelabras hanging from the low ceilings, right next to dirty air vents; there's a huge montage in the center of the dining room that looks like a display window for an Italian deli, which I guess is supposed to make the restaurant look more authentically "Italian" - only I don't remember any fine Italian restaurants in Italy ever having stacks of canned tomatoes, boxed pasta, and other items that you can find in any grocery store in the middle of the dining room. That stuff belongs in the kitchen. The ladies' restroom was fine.

Our lunch was good, but not great. If Il Mulino in DC is anything like it's NYC homebase, then I'm seriously wondering WHO was voting it the #1 Italian restaurant in NYC for 2 decades??? Perhaps I did not get the full experience since I ordered from the RW menu, which honestly I felt offered a small selection of mostly the "poorer" dishes from their menu.

After doing some research (and unfortunately after my lunch at Il Mulino), I realized that the best restaurants to choose during Restaurant Week are those who offer all or most of their regular menu, so that the customer really gets a chance to experience what the restaurant has to offer. Hence my next restaurant choice.

January 19, 2008

Restaurant Week ~ How I Love Thee! Let me count the ways...Visit #1: Ruth's Chris

1. Ruth's Chris Steak House in Dupont Circle: For $30.08, we got a four-course (ok maybe 3.5 course) steak dinner. It started with their Steak House Salad, a fresh salad with mixed lettuces, cherry tomatoes and garlic croutons. It comes with fresh onion too but I asked for it without. With a choice of several dressings, I went with the creamy lemon basil. The lemon and basil combination sounded delicious, but, well, it was very creamy - a little too creamy for my taste. It was clearly made fresh in the kitchen and I could taste the egg (which isn't necessarily a good thing). Out of four entrees we both chose the Petit Filet (medium rare) because if you go to Ruth's Chris, you should eat a steak. End of story. It came served on an extremely hot plate, it was cooked perfectly inside, and it had a buttery and rich consistency. You can choose a side dish as well, so we ordered one Mashed Potatoes, "with a hint of roasted garlic," and one Sauteed Mushrooms. Both excellent choices, with the potatoes being creamy but not too whipped, and not too garlicky, and the mushrooms being very fresh and served whole. At the end, a choice of several desserts. We ordered one Bread Pudding with Whiskey Sauce (don't forget, Ruth's Chris is a New Orleans restaurant), and one flourless Chocolate Cake. Definitely order the Bread Pudding. Please get it! It's delicious! The chocolate cake was good too, but the Bread Pudding was the star.

Excellent service, excellent value, and really interesting (yet slightly weird) decor.

Bathrooms - located way in the back, you have to walk very close to other diners to get there, which was a little uncomfortable, at least for me. I almost locked myself in a stall, not realizing immediately that you have to pull the little latch before sliding it back to the right to unlock it. The trash can was overflowing with towels (it was the end of the night, but for $85 for a Porterhouse for 2, someone could empty the trash in this place), and the toilet paper was so thin (again, I expected better) that it took 5 minutes just to remove about 10 squares, which incidentally equal about one square of regular TP.

Not sure I would return since meat is not my favorite, but I'm so glad I went here during Restaurant Week, and so are my iron levels ;)

January 2, 2008

New Years Brunch at Meze, Adams Morgan

Bad service, mediocre food, good Bloody Mary. 10 minutes after our party of 6 ordered a variety of breakfast foods, the waitress tells us she forgot to mention before that they are "out of potatoes." Who cares?, you wonder, except that every single egg dish comes with roasted potatoes. I don't like fries with eggs for breakfast but it was either that or a salad to substitute. So I got a very bland and cold dish of eggs florentine - 2 poached eggs (I'm guessing quail eggs from the size of them) atop a soggy cold english muffin with some flavorless tomato and stringy boiled spinach, and a tasteless hollandaise sauce to top it off, with fries. 3 orders of steak and eggs, another eggs florentine, and a mixture of salad, fries, and lentil meatballs for the vegan of the group later, we left unsatisfied with the food but luckily happy with the good company shared.
Tip: Don't get the virgin bloody mary unless you want plain tomato juice mixed with club soda and lime (no spicy bloody mary mix in sight!)
Ladies restroom downstairs ~ fairly clean, with a scary movable faucet, but has soap, towels, and a door that locks securely.
Last word: A fun place for drinks and dancing at night, stay away from the food, which tends to be overpriced and way overrated.