A Night in Boston, 23 NOV 2013

I was needing an escape from New Hampshire during my visit up there to visit family for the holidays, so I booked a hotel and some restaurant reservations in Boston.

The view from my window of the Boston Waterfront area.

The southeasterly view from my window at the Westin Boston Waterfront Hotel.

The first stop for me was Drink.  I had hit this fantastic, top-rated cocktail bar back in 2011 after a previous overseas tour (see here and here), and wanted to experience them again.

I started by asking for something with Green Chartreuse (a favorite of mine).  I was started off with a classic – The Last Word – with gin, lime juice, Maraschino liqueur, and Green Chartreuse.  Along with that, I had the very tasty (albeit tricky-to-eat) Sirloin Carpaccio.

Sirloin Carpaccio.  You have to pick it up to eat it, and it's too big for one bite.  I had some issues and was probably embarassing myself as I ate it, but it was delicious.

Sirloin Carpaccio. You have to pick it up to eat it, and it’s too big for one bite. I had some issues and was probably embarassing myself as I ate it, but it was delicious.

The Last Word.

The Last Word.

I followed The Last Word up with a Bijou (gin, Green Chartreuse, a sweet vermouth, and orange bitters) which provided more of the complex flavors of the Chartreuse.

Bijou.

Bijou.

To change things up, I asked for something with kümmel (previously mentioned here), an old, but hard-to-find liqueur which tastes of carraway, cumin, and fennel.  What I got was The Maiden’s Choice, which consisted of Plymouth Gin, dry vermouth, and kümmel.  This cocktail is great for showcasing the interesting flavors of the kümmel, although it’s a flavor that is probably an acquired taste.  Fortunately, I like it.

The Maiden's Choice.

The Maiden’s Choice.

The mixologists over at Drink have a thing for showmanship as well.  As I was enjoying my beverages, I watched them playing with fire.

Yep, that's fire he's pouring right there.

Yep, that’s fire he’s pouring right there.

I met up with some D.C. expatriates at the bar who endorsed Mockingbird Hill [Twitter/Facebook], the new Derek Brown sherry bar in Washington that I’m going to have to hit when I’m back in town.  A mixologist at Drink also recommended it.

After taking a short break after Drink (their drinks don’t want for alcohol content), I headed over to Empire Restaurant and Lounge for dinner.  Sporting a nightclub atmosphere (see – “Lounge”), I wasn’t sure what to expect the food to be like, although I’d seen high reviews for the joint.  I was happy to discover that their food program (namely the sushi, which was what I stuck to) was excellent.  Besides running Empire, Big Night Entertainment Group runs GEM, which has also received plaudits for their food.

I started off with the Hot Night in Bangkok (Avion Silver Tequila, plum infused sake, passion fruit, and Sriracha sauce), which provided a combination of sweet and spicy flavors.  It went well with the Sushi Cupcakes (broiled Maine lobster, spicy garlic butter, crispy pressed sushi rice, and marinated uni) of which I considered getting a second order.

My view of the Empire kitchen.

My view of the Empire kitchen.

The Sriracha goodness that is the Hot Night in Bangkok.

The Sriracha goodness that is the Hot Night in Bangkok.

Sushi Cupcakes.

Sushi Cupcakes.

Next up – the Hamachi Tartare Roll (with avocado, gobo [burdock root], cucumber, topped with spicy yellowtail tartare, and served in a ginger sauce) the fresh taste of the tartare went great with the ginger.

Also in this round – and one reason why I picked this location for dinner – was the ‘Fish & Chips’ Roll (with tempura cod, malt vinegar tartar sauce, and yukon potato chips).  I’m a big fan of the Fish and Chips Roll over at SEI in D.C., hence my interest in this menu item.  The Empire version adds in more of a vinegar flavor, which reminded me even more of the flavors you’d experience in a traditional fish and chips basket.

Empire's 'Fish & Chips' Roll

Empire’s ‘Fish & Chips’ Roll

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Hamachi Tartare Roll.

Hamachi Tartare Roll.

The final four dishes I went with were Nigiri-style – the Tuna ‘Hot Night’ gunkanmaki (spicy tuna, sliced chilies, sesame chili oil), Wagyu Beef Nigiri (with crispy shallots and a dark rum glaze – the beef replaced the nori as the wrap around the roll), Eel Nigiri Kabayaki (barbequed eel, sesame purée [reminiscent of peaut butter], and Granny Smith apple), and the Nigiri ‘Surf & Turf’ (more Wagyu beef, along with Sockeye salmon, scallion, ginger, and sweet miso vinegar).  Great rolls.

Wagyu Beef Nigiri (right), Tuna 'Hot Night' (left)

Wagyu Beef Nigiri (right), Tuna ‘Hot Night’ (left)

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Nigiri 'Surf & Turf'.

Nigiri ‘Surf & Turf’.

Closing out the evening, I made a stop over at Eastern Standard near Kenmore Square, and started off with a great Old Cuban (rum, lime juice, simple syrup, bitters, sparkling wine float, mint).

Old Cuban.

Old Cuban.

Eastern Standard also likes their sherries, as evidenced by the five sherry cocktails on their drink menu.  Asking for my bartender’s favorite, I got The Veil of Sanlúcar (La Gitana Manzanilla Sherry, chamomile mezcal, agave nectar, and bitters) – a great smokey cocktail.

The Veil of Sanlúcar.  Perfect way to finish the evening.

The Veil of Sanlúcar. Perfect way to finish the evening.

I’ll be back in the Boston-area every year around the holidays, and I’ll be making it a point to hit some new places every time.  If you’ve got any suggestions, please let me know!

What I’ve Been Eating, 12 Nov 2013

Sorry for the long hiatus.  I’ve been vacationing in southern Afghanistan, and now that I’m back, I figured I’d share some of my meals.

Bagram

Bagram. Mexican Food, Chicken Tenders, Cherry Cobbler

So Bagram wasn’t terrible for the limited amount of time I was there.

Maiwand1

This healthy breakfast was had in Maiwand district, Kandahar province.

Maiwand3

Significantly less healthy breakfast a couple days later, also in Maiwand.

So Maiwand didn’t score too high.  Still better than MREs, though.

Panjwai

Solid Army meal of taco meat and spaghetti. The spaghetti was spiced up with something that gave it a more exotic flavor. Hopefully it wasn’t the moon dust in Panjwa’i district, Kandahar province.

I wasn’t in Panjwa’i as long as I wanted to be, but the food on some bases wasn’t bad.  One in particular had made-to-order burgers every other week.  The one I had (sadly, no pictures) had a chipotle aioli with grilled onions, mushrooms. and jalapenos.  After the long trip to get there, it was phenomenal.

The winner for best DFAC (that’s Dining FACility for the rest of you) has to go to a location in Spin Boldak.  Consistently good meals for the time I was there, with a great dessert bar.  I had a strawberry smoothie there one day.

SpinBoldak1

Obviously, wearing your reflective belt is mandatory when you’re mixing up some fruit smoothies. Safety first, people. Spin Boldak district, Kandahar province.

SpinBoldak2

It tasted better than it looked. Note my strawberry smoothie.at 1100.

Obviously though, anyone who makes sushi at a combat outpost will win this competition.  Yes, this actually happened.

Spicy Salmon Roll, with water chestnuts and asparagus.  Senjaray, Zharay district Kandahar province.

Spicy Salmon Roll, with water chestnuts and asparagus. Senjaray, Zharay district, Kandahar province.

AfghanSushi2

The finished product. Simple, yet refined. The only sushi ever had at such a remote location? After 12 years of war…there are no firsts.

 

Tonight I’ll be having my first sushi since getting back.  I don’t know that I’ll appreciate it as much as I did with the sushi in Senjaray.  There’s something to be said for having a luxury like that out there…it becomes the best tasting thing you’ve ever had.

 

Other food that I had out there (besides all that wonderful DFAC food) included spicy chicken and lamb from a takeout joint in Kandahar City, some of the fantastic naan flat bread from Panjwa’i, Qabili Palao, and the cloyingly sweet chai (50/50 sugar-tea mix is how it usually tasted).

 

I’m glad to be back, and I’m looking forward to getting back into the food scene.  Suggestions welcome.

Gangnam Sushi House, February 2013

I’m sad to say that Osaka Sushi in Annandale has closed.  However, Gangnam Sushi House has opened in the same location…and they’ve got really good sushi.

Here’s a few photos of what I tried out when I went last week.

Monkey Brains - seaweed salad and spicy tuna wrapped in avocado and topped with roe.

Monkey Brains – seaweed salad and spicy tuna wrapped in avocado and topped with roe.

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Japanese Lasagna Roll

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Heart Attack Roll…with two big chunks of jalapeno per roll.

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Gangnam Sushi House
6669 Little River Tpke
Annandale, VA 22003

Kansas City Restaurant Recommendations

I had a request recently for a few Kansas City, MO restaurant recommendations.  In 2010, I spent six months there and was able to eat pretty well, so here’s what I’ve got:

Kato Sushi – I had an absolutely disgusting amount of sushi from this place…it was a once a week (at least) stop for me.  Lots of those chef’s special rolls that I’m a fan of.  There’s a few of them on their website, and more on their daily board at the restaurant.  Also good – KC Sushi, Moonlight Sushi, and Wasahi Sushi, but they were farther away from where I was living.

Kato Sushi Takeout.

Kato Sushi Takeout.

Bristol Seafood Grill – Something of a chain (four in the area, and two sister restaurants in seven other cities), but they have a huge brunch buffet, which includes a Bloody Mary bar.  Dinner there wasn’t bad either…especially their Seared Ahi Tuna.

Blanc Burgers + Bottles – Wow…their burgers are so good (for example, the American Kobe, with port wine onions, truffle butter, mustard aioli, and watercress on a salt and pepper brioche bun).  They also have EIGHT different boozy shakes (like the Bananas Foster one – 99 Bananas, sauteed bananas, brown sugar, 151, and vanilla custard), and these excellent locally-made sodas called SodaVie (I was a huge fan of the Citrus Chili and Thai Basic Clove flavors) which they also add into cocktails.

Tannin Wine Bar and Kitchen – This place had a different name when I was there (JP Wine Bar and Bistro), but I get the impression that it’s probably the same place based on the look, the fact that it’s still a wine bar, and because JP’s URL sends me to Tannin’s site.  Tasty food and good wine (and scotch).

Oklahoma Joe’s – The award-winning barbeque place that you MUST visit.  In a gas station.  With what seems to be a never-ending line.  Look past both of those facts and order yourself a Z-Man Sandwich (slow-smoked beef brisket, smoked provolone cheese, crispy onion rings, all on a kaiser roll).

Really sad about this one…R Bar and Restaurant was hidden in West Bottoms in an industrial area…live jazz bands and excellent food (Bone Marrow Risotto comes to mind) and cocktails (I think I had my first Moscow Mule here, and they had a bunch of house inventions).  Apparently they closed.  If I owned a bar, this is what I’d want it to look like.

A few upscale places:

Bluestem – This place was excellent.  I got their ten course tasting menu with pairings when I was there (I was a fan of the torchon de foie gras with brandied apple butter, stout ice cream, and pecans, paired with a glass of Heinz Schmitt Riesling Auslese).

The American Restaurant – Top-notch fine dining by Executive Chef Debbie Gold, a James Beard award winner and Top Chef Master.  I had some amazing duck breast as a part of their seven-course tasting menu.

Duck Breast - part of my tasting menu at The American.

Duck Breast – part of my tasting menu at The American.

Michael Smith Restaurant – Michael Smith and Debbie Gold were the husband-and-wife chef team over at The American Restaurant.  In 2002, they left to open 40 Sardines, until they divorced in 2007.  Gold went back to The American, while Michael Smith went on to open his own restaurant.  This is another great spot if you’re looking to try a top tier tasting menu (best is Smith’s six-course, which was, naturally, the one that I got).

And also…

If you haven’t been to KC before, check out the Power & Light District‘s nightlife…it’s like a mall…of bars and clubs.  Also, check out the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.  The building itself is worth going to see.

Power & Light's nightlife scene during the day is much less exciting, but you can see what it offers.

Power & Light’s nightlife scene during the day is much less exciting, but you can see what it offers.

I'm not sure what this was supposed to be, but the rest of the Nelson-Atkin's Museum is more awesome.

I’m not sure what this was supposed to be, but the rest of the Nelson-Atkin’s Museum is much more awesome.

Fuego, 3 November 2012

Fuego Cocina y Tequileria is a new Mexican restaurant located where Harry’s Tap Room used to reside in Clarendon.  I dropped by there the other night to meet some folks for a birthday party, but after checking out their menu, I thought I should get some dinner there first.

First off, they’ve got some flavorful guacamole.

Some good, flavorful guac.

I went for three orders of soft corn tortilla tacos each ($7 / order of two).  The tacos at Fuego come with three salsas – rojo, habanero, and salsa verde – which went well with all the tacos I tried.

I got orders of the Lengua (slow braised beef tongue), Al Pastor (spit roasted marinated pork and pineapple serrano salsa), Birria (Jalisco-style roasted goat), and Pollo (chicken tinga, shredded lettuce, queso fresco).  The vegetarian I was eating with got the Calabaza version (Yucatán-style roasted squash and spicy pickled red onions).

Beef Tongue Tacos…so good.

Goat Tacos…

Round three – pork and chicken tacos.

To not overdo the taco theme of the evening (although they were all quite tasty – especially the beef tongue), I next ordered the Ceviche de Pescado (Tilapia, habanero, red onion, fresh lime).

Closing it out with a good ceviche.

Fuego offers three-glass flights from their extensive menu of over 110 tequilas.  This time around, I went with a flight of blanco, reposado, and añejo Chinaco.

Substantial amount of tequila options…according to a tweet I received from @FuegoCocina, they’ve got over 110 of them.

Also, great specialty tequila cocktails.  Try the Mala Suerte (habanero infused tequila, triple sec, grapefruit juice, lime juice) or the Gherkin Fresca (Sauza Blue Silver, Hendricks, jalapeño simple syrup, cucumber-lime agua fresca – has a great, fresh, cucumber-y taste).

Mala Suerte…

…and the Gherkin Fresca

I’ll be trying out some of the rest of the menu next time I drop by…I expect it’ll be good.

AGAINN Closing…

I was sorry to read this morning that AGAINN will be closing.  I’m always sad to hear of good places shutting their doors.

I wrote a post about AGAINN a couple of months ago, and since then I had been there for another dinner and a scotch tasting with a selection of their food, both of which were great.

Here’s a few more recent photos from the restaurant.

The Warehouse No. 1, with blood orange and basil-infused Stoli Premyr, Aperol, agave nectar, celery, and Maraschino liqueur. Great cocktail.

 

I wish I remembered what this was….I’m remembering it as ceviche-like. It was recently added to their menu when I last went there, and it was good.

 

The Corned Beef Sliders on super buttery buns. These were excellent.

 

AGAINN had changed the menu up and removed the Pork Belly and Cracklin, which was excellent, but had a new pork belly dish, which came with (I believe) crispy kale. It was good, although I missed that apple mash and black pudding in the previous version.

Another new addition to the menu whose name escapes me. Was a sort of pudding drenched in a scotch sauce (I think). Also good stuff. Couldn’t decide whether I liked this or the Sticky Toffee Pudding more.

 

Lightfoot, 21 October 2012

I’d been to the Lightfoot Restaurant once before about a year ago, and had been meaning to get back there for more.  It’s a little bit of a hike to get out there – they’re located in downtown Leesburg – but well worth the trip.  I took the Ducati up Rt. 7 and parked a couple blocks away in the convieniently free parking garage (which DC and VA should get more of).  I couldn’t get a reservation on OpenTable, so I called to see if they had anything available.  They did, and mentioned their systems were down (a good to-know – always call a restaurant if you can’t get reservations online).  I showed up around 5 PM on a Sunday, and they had plenty of space available.  The restaurant is in the old Peoples National Bank of Leesburg, and some of the bank vaults play into their decor (there’s one in the bathroom, and the dials still work…I may or may not have been trying out the combo lock).

The outside of the restaurant.

Yep, really used to be a bank.

I got three of the same things I had ordered a year prior…I wanted to get a baseline for whether they were still as good as I remembered.

  • Chef Ingrid’s French Onion & Field Mushroom Soup – Best French Onion soup I’ve had.  Comes with croustade, Gruyère, goat cheese, Pecorino Romano, and truffle oil.
  • Fried Green Tomatoes – One of the restaurant’s signature dishes.  These are delicious…jalapeño cheddar cheese, sautéed shrimp, Szechwan chili cream.
  • Slow Braised Pork Shank – Lots of restaurants say their meat falls off the bone.  This literally did.  While Lightfoot provided me with what appeared to be a pretty sturdy knife for this entrée, it was entirely not needed.  The meat was served in a brandy glaze with broccolini and a delicious bread pudding filled with aged cheddar, apple wood smoked bacon, and fresh thyme.

Even if French Onion soup isn’t your thing, you should try this…it’s delicious.

Fried Green Tomatoes is one of the restaurant’s signature dishes, and for good reason. It has not at all changed a year later, and is just as good as the first time I tried it.

Gives Tommy Floramo’s a run for their money…this is the Pork Shank that falls off the bone. I had this the first time I went to Lightfoot, and when I asked for a recommendation, my server came right back to this one. Glad I did the repeat.

The first time I stopped in to Lightfoot, my dining companions and I also got the Peking Duck Quesadillas, Meatballs with Butternut Squash, Coconut Cream Cake with Chocolate Ganache, Pumpkin Brownie, Apple Raisin Cranberry Crisp, and the Yukon Potato Encrusted Halibut.  I’m not sure which of those were seasonal or no longer on the menu.  All of those dishes were great, though, and I’d expect that most of the offerings on the menu when you go would be as well.  Make the trip out to Leesburg and try them out…you won’t be disappointed.

 

 

Lightfoot Restaurant
11 North King Street
Leesburg, VA 20176
(703) 771-2233
lightfootrestaurant.com

Book on OpenTable – Diners’ Choice Winner (American)