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!

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.

 

Six-Course Tasting Menu at CityZen, 13 October 2012

It’s been some time since I’ve gone to a prix fixe dinner, so on Saturday I headed over to CityZen for their six-course offering.  I had previously made it to CityZen for a special ten-course chef’s table social, which had been excellent, and I wanted to see how they normally stack up.

Le Menu…six courses with the option for a entree upgrade and a cheese plate.

The dinner began with a glass of champagne and two canapés.  Both set the scene for the rest of the evening, and showcased chef Eric Ziebold’s creativity.

A canapé to start things off…pumpkin panacotta with a coriander tuile.

The second canapé was CityZen’s take on Chicken Cordon Bleu with Béarnaise.

I was a fan of the offered focaccia bread.  A little more salt and pepper than most, but it worked well, with just the right amount of moistness.  A couple other types were offered, including ciabatta and what looked like a wheatier option.

Focaccia bread.

The first course was the Maine Lobster, Cucumber, and Radish salad, served with a Greek Yogurt Sorbet, Turmeric Vinaigrette, and a Cumin Tuile…cool and refreshing, with chunks of lobster meat for an interesting twist.  Paired with a 2011 Albariño Rias Baixas Esencia Diviña from Adegas Gran Vinum.

The Maine Lobster, Cucumber, and Radish Salad. Nice and refreshing.

The next course up was the Soft Boiled Path Valley Farms Pullet Egg, with Brioche Pain Purdue and a Porcini Mushroom Velouté.  The mushroom and egg combination worked well together, and the brioche came in handy for sopping up the delicious sauces accumulated at the end of the course.  This dish was paired with a 2010 Chardonnay from Domaine Gaston & Pierre Ravaut.

Soft Boiled Path Valley Farms Pullet Egg

Next up – Swarnadwipa Poached Alaskan Halibut, served with Young Coconut, Lemongrass Mousse, and Roasted Corn Consommé.  The fish was light with a smokey flavor, which contrasted well with the lemongrass.  The 2011 La Meriana Gavi di Gavi from Broglia, with its front-loaded peach notes, complimented the dish well.

Swarnadwipa Poached Alaskan Halibut.

The halibut was followed up by the Oakleigh Farms Veal and Foie Gras Boudin Blanc, served with Mission Figs, Baby Leeks, Darden Ham, and a Hyssop-Red Wine Gastrique.  Those of you who follow this site may have noticed my love for all things duck, and this dish was an excellent rendering.  As it was boudin blanc, the foie gras was sausage-like, and stuffed with the tasty veal.  The red that accompanied it, a 2009 Corvina, Molinara, Rondimella Ripasso Superiore from Degani.

Oakleigh Farms Veal and Foie Gras Boudin Blanc.

After all that, I hit the entree.  This particular evening, there was an upgrade available…for an additional $50, you could change the main course, regularly an Herb Roasted Elysian Fields Lamb Ribeye, with a well-marbled Grilled Ribeye of Miyazaki Kuroge Beef, served with Potato Bone Marrow, Beef Tartare, Roasted Scallions, and Sundrid Tomato Panade.  Naturally, I did that (while my dining companion went with the lamb).  Both were excellent and quite different dishes, although the supplemental price increase was steep.  Both dishes paired with a 2008 Torroja Des de Dins blend of Grenache/Cab/Syrah from Mayol Viticultors.

Grilled Ribeye of Miyazaki Kuroge Beef.

The entrees came out with a small box of buttery Parker House Rolls (read more on them here).

These were perfectly baked…they looked perfect too, before I pulled the four on the side apart before the photo…oops.

An artisanal cheese course was also available with the tasting for a supplemental $15, and is well worth it.  CityZen provides amble options for your cheese plate, as seen in the following photos, including a few that will be picked up soon by me for some cheese plates at home.  My companion did an excellent job picking out winners:  Hoja Santa, a Texas goat cheese from Mozzarella Company; Robiola Bosina, a northern Italian sheep/cow mix; Hittisau, an Alsace cow cheese; Époisses de Bourgogne (the winner of the evening), a cow cheese from Burgundy, and Gorgonzola Cremificato, another cow cheese, from Italy.  As I expressed to our fantastic head server, Nicole, this was perhaps the best cheese plate I’ve had in the DC area.

Great selection…the recommendation is one from each row for a total of five per plate.

From left to right: Gorgonzola Cremaficato, Epoisses, Hittasau, Robiola Bosina, Hoja Santa.

BUT WAIT!  The dinner was not yet finished.  Before the dessert was brought out, CityZen provided a palate-cleansing entremet of pickled melon with a light sorbet (the type of which now escapes me, although I recall it being herbal/vegetable in nature – perhaps cucumber?)

The dessert before the dessert.

The dessert, Spiced Path Valley Carrot Cake, with Vanilla-Cream Mousse, Candied Walnuts, and Cream Sorbet, was a playful take on one of my personal favorite desserts, but the tastes left no doubts about what it was supposed to be.  Dessert was paired with a delicious Muscadet from di Lenardo that goes by the name “In My Next Life I’ll Be Thin, Pass The Cookies!” which should probably be my signature bottle, based on its title.

CityZen’s take on carrot cake…certainly a creative look.

The meal ended with a set of six mignardises to enjoy while taking care of the bill.  For this meal, that broke down as $120 per person for the six-course tasting, $85 per for the sommelier’s pairing, $50 if going for the entree upgrade, and $15 for a cheese course – within normal bounds for a high-end tasting menu in the DC-area.  I’d recommend it as a top-notch special occasion or date spot.

The end-of-meal petit fours, sans one.

CityZen at the Mandarin Oriental
1330 Maryland Ave, SW
Washington, DC 20024
(202) 787-6148
www.mandarinoriental.com/washington/fine-dining/city-zen/

Book on OpenTable

Update, 13 October 2012

I’m heading to CityZen tonight for the 6-course tasting with pairings. I went there about a year ago for a special chef’s table event, and I’m excited to try them again.

I’ve also got a post in the works on The Passenger. I go there so much that I pretty much have to put something up here to share their excellent bar food and top-notch mixological magic.

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Oh, hello FRIED ANCHOVIES.