Vidalia, 6 June 2012

Having enjoyed RJ Cooper’s Rogue 24 a couple times in the past, I wanted to try Vidalia, where Cooper had been chef de cuisine from 2004 to 2010.  The chef and owner of Vidalia, Jeffrey Buben, is himself a James Beard Foundation award-winner, so I went into this dinner with high expectations.  Here’s some details and recommendations (spoiler:  everything I ordered was excellent).

When an amuse-bouche is good, you get excited for the rest of the meal. This one was rhubarb and orange on a parsnip purée.

Appetizers:

  • Seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras – “Rhubarb, spicy peanut praline, black pepper biscuit, cheerwine gelée.”  I love foie gras…if it’s on the menu I almost always get it.  This version didn’t let me down.  The savoriness of the foie gras went so well with the sweetness of the fruits and nuttiness of the praline.  Cheerwine is a cherry soda from North Carolina that has been around since 1917.  Great cherry flavor – reminds me of cherry pie.  Buy it online or at some grocery stores and restaurants.
  • Hamachi Crudo – Another good one…this was on the chef’s inspirations special menu.  Came with chilled watermelon, cranberry purée, cheese, and a vegetable sorbet.  The hamachi itself was fresh and tasty, without the fishiness you sometimes get with lower quality or poorly prepared yellowtail.
  • Crisp Berkshire Pork Trotter – “Sunny-side egg, black pepper grits, apple butter, béarnaise sauce.”  The pork trotter was by far my favorite appetizer….absolutely delicious.  So many flavors that work together in harmony.  This is no pickled pig’s foot, but rather some nice and tender leg meat.  If you only get one appetizer at Vidalia, this is the one you should be getting.

It was difficult to settle on only three firsts…many of them sounded great from the menu descriptions.  Next time I want to try the Oyster Pan Roast and the Sweetbreads & Waffles (right behind another dish of the pork trotter).

Pork, egg, béarnaise, apple butter, grits, pepper…so many flavors working so well together. This pork trotter was excellent.

Great foie gras. I’d get this one again.

Tasty hamachi dish…hit my fish fix.

Entrees and Sides:

  • Spiced Crusted Duck Breast – “Duck confit beignet, carrot purée, english peas, pearl onions, rhubarb, lavender jus.”  Duck two ways.  The duck breast was cooked perfectly…the restaurant recommends medium-rare.  The duck confit beignet was also tasty.  This was a very well prepared duck dish that I’d repeat.
  • Braised Barbecue Bison Short Ribs – “Zola’s cornbread purée, heirloom carrots, turnip greens, chanterelles, barbecue spiced jus.”  Although I loved the duck, I think this was the winner of the entrees.  The smokiness hit my mouth before the fork made it to my mouth.  Flavorful and perfectly cooked to fall off the bone…no knife needed.
  • Vidalia’s Baked Onion – “Country ham, red-eye gastrique, mushrooms.”  Being at a place called “Vidalia”, I couldn’t pass up getting this side dish.  A hefty vidalia onion came out and was cut up by the waiter into petals of sweet liquid.  This was a good choice…it went well with the entrees and lived up to the restaurant’s name.

Great duck…

Bison Short Ribs…so good…

The Vidalia Onion side dish…I don’t always eat all my side, but this time I did.

Cheese and Desserts:

  • 3-Cheese Plate – We went with a selection of cheese to start, one each from the sheep, goat, and cow varieties.  Vidalia has an extensive cheese menu (~25 options) which changes often.  The plating included three types of crackers and three jellies (apple, apricot, and plum) as accoutrements.
  • Georgia Pecan Pie – “Bourbon ice cream, praline lace crumble, caramel.”  The server’s recommendation…good call.  Paired well with the Boston Bual Madeira.
  • Peanut Butter S’More – “Guanaja-peanut butter mousse, toasted marshmallow, graham cracker ice cream.”  If you’re a peanut butter and chocolate fan, you need to get on this.  Paired very well with the Pedro Ximenez Toro Abala Don.

The Georgia Pecan Pie…

Peanut Butter S’more…

Cocktails:

  • Tobacco Road – “Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka, Boyd & Blaire Vodka, Peychaud’s bitters, Cheerwine.”  Another offering that includes the Cheerwine.  Sweet, but not overly so.  You definitely get that cherry pie flavor.
  • Wisteria – “Bluecoat Gin, crème de violette, cassis, soda, amaretti.”  Tasted flowery and was purplish, hence the name.  Good mix.
  • Ben Baker – “Rittenhouse Rye, lemon, sugar.”  Good one…if you’re looking for one a little less sweet than the above, this is a solid choice.
  • Mint Julep – “Wild Turkey, sugar, muddled mint.”  Tasty mint julep in a julep cup…it’s a southern restaurant, so it’s a good fit.

The Tobacco Road…it’s tough to tell but it’s slightly red…sort of looks like a Roy Rogers.

The Wisteria…I know it looks like the one above, but this one was more of a purple than a red, thanks to the crème de violette.

My high expectations for this dinner were met and exceeded.  If you haven’t been, I’d recommend you change that.

Buben has a second restaurant in DC, Bistro Bis, which serves French cuisine.  That one is on my list.

Vidalia
1990 M Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20036
(202) 659-1990
http://www.vidaliadc.com
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AGAINN, May-June 2012

I’ve hit Againn twice in the past month for some delicious , locally-sourced, gastropub food.  What makes it so endearing to me is the simple pub-fare food, classed-up, and somehow made lighter than one would typically expect of such eats.

Thus far all the dishes I’ve had at Againn (a Gaelic word meaning “with us“) have been excellent.  I’ll mention the details here.

Baked Camembert Cheese. Great starter.

Appetizers:

  • Baked Camembert Cheese – “Studded with garlic and rosemary, tomato chutney, garlic croutes.”  Really garlicky (especially the croutes, although there is plenty in the cheese).  I’m a fan of baked Brie, and Camembert has its similarities.  The tomato chutney went well with the rosemary and garlic flavors, adding tang and a mellowing out of the saltiness.
  • Salmon Fishcakes – “Lemongrass, chili, coriander, marinated cucumbers, sweet chili dip.”  As one would imagine from the description, there’s a hint of Thai in the taste…not a bad fusion, although not the typical UK pub grub flavors.
  • Oysters – Add a half or full dozen of the daily selection of oysters Againn has up for offer.  They came out with a half lemon (with a cloth filter to catch the pulp and seeds) and a tasty shallot vinegar.

Love me some oysters…

Good fishcakes appetizer…

Entrees:

  • Pork Belly and Crackling – “House made black pudding, apple mash, red wine jus.”  I’ve tried this twice, and every bit of the dish has been delicious.  The pork belly was tender and succulent, and the black pudding and apple mash were flavorful even without the jus.  The crackling was crunchy and went well with the rest of the entree.  If you’re a pork fan, get this one.
  • Grilled Lamb Rump – “Potato gratin, red wine sauce.”  Againn serves the lamb medium, although it appeared closer to medium rare to me.  I actually asked for medium rare, so this was great.  Keep it in mind if you prefer yours more cooked.  The red wine sauce went very well with the meat, and the gratin side was savory (I’m definitely a fan of the sides here – they’re not something that everyone gets right).

If pork belly is on the menu, I’m probably getting it…

Great lamb dish…

Desserts:

  • Cheesecake (special) – Againn was testing a new cheesecake recipe when I was visiting.  Baked cheesecake with an Oreo crust, topped with melted Mascarpone, and served with a berry sauce.  The Mascarpone could have had a little more sweetness, although it worked as a nice contrast with the taste of the rest of the dessert.
  • Sticky Toffee Pudding – served with vanilla ice cream.  Sweet and tasty…a good pub dessert.  I’d get this again.
  • Strawberry Eton Mess – “Pimm’s marinated strawberries, crushed meringue, whipped cream.”  I didn’t get this, but it sounded so good that I want it in the near future.

Againn’s test cheesecake…

Great ending…

Cocktails:

  • God of War – “Makers Mark bourbon, cherry herring, sweet vermouth, Peychauds bitters, house-made blood orange bitters.”
  • Pimm’s Cup No. 13 – “Pimm’s No. 1, choice of any spirit, english cucumber, mint, lemon, ginger syrup, Angostura bitters, ginger beer.”
  • Lady Macbeth – “Choice of vodka or gin, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, lemon, eggwhites.”

These were all good…they’re going up on my list for in-house mixology.

God of War…

Pimm’s Cup No. 13 (with gin)…

Lady Macbeth (with gin)…

If you’re a scotch fan, Againn has something for you.  Besides having an extensive scotch list, scotch lockers, and listed scotch flights, Againn will let you do your own custom flights.  I tried one with Islay scotches…all nice and peaty.

Flight of Islay scotch…Ardbeg 10, Bowmore 15, Caol Ila 12, Oban 14…

Againn has lower reviews on some sites than I would have expected.  As with any restaurants, I’d encourage folks to check places out for themselves before taking a restaurant off your list based on poor reviews – especially when the number of reviewers is low.  Keep Againn on your list.

AGAINN
1099 New York Ave NW
Washington, D.C. 20001
(202) 639-9830
http://www.againndc.com
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Zaytinya, May-June 2012

I can’t get enough of Zaytinya, José Andrés’ Mediterranean restaurant near Chinatown.  I’ve been there four times in the last couple months…great food and drinks.  It works well as a date place, or for a quick, light dinner at the bar.  Zaytinya is almost always busy – I’d recommend reservations if you can get them.  They do however allow for walk-ins, and there is usually a little bit of space available for this at the bar earlier/later in the evening from what I’ve seen.

“Zaytinya” means “olive oil” in Turkish, according to Zaytinya’s website. The bread pictured can be used to pick up most of the mezze. The “Z” in the oil is pomegranate molasses, adding a sweet tanginess to the oil.

The dishes are mezze (small plates).  I’d recommend four per couple and work from there.  Here’s my recommendations:

  • Kibbeh Nayeh – “Lebanese style beef tartare ground to order, bulgur wheat, radish, mint, pita chips.”  This is my favorite, and every time I finish it, I want to order a second helping.  This is very rare (read: raw), so be prepared for that.  If you like sushi, you’d probably like this…texture-wise it’s pretty similar.
  • Octopus Santorini – “Grilled Mediterranean octopus, marinated onions, capers, yellow split pea puree.”  The best octopus I’ve had anywhere.  Not chewy like you’d expect…extremely tender.  The yellow split pea puree and capers adds a nice tanginess to the dish.
  • Lamb Kleftico – Shredded lamb in phyllo on a dill yogurt sauce with feta.  This dish has been on Zaytinya’s special menu for awhile…I’m hoping they’ll just move it over to the regular one so that it doesn’t disappear.
  • Snail Kibbeh – “Crispy potato crusted snails, baharat spiced labne, heirloom lettuces.”  I’m a fan of snails wherever I can find them.  This dish is excellent.

I haven’t gotten anything at Zaytinya that I wouldn’t get again, so these recommendations are not a complete list (for some more examples, check out this review…he’s got some great shots).

The former executive chef at Zaytinya was Mike Isabella (as seen on season 6 of Top Chef), who has since moved on to open Graffiato (one of the next stops on my list), and last week he opened his new Mexican restaurant, Bandolero.  The current chef (since 2010) is Michael Costa, and he is clearly doing great things there.

Kibbeh Nayeh…

…Lamb Kleftico…

…Octopus Santorini…

…Snail Kibbeh…

…Baba Ghannouge.

Zaytinya also has a creative cocktail menu with Mediterranean flair.  A couple I’ve had recently:

  • Clean Monday – “Cucumber & mint infused Plymouth Gin, St. Germain, Cava.”  Nice and light…good compliment for the mezze.
  • Corfu Buck – “Rittenhouse Rye, house-made kumquat liqueur, fresh squeezed pomegranate juice, ginger beer.”  Fruity but not overly sweet…another good pairing.

They have a pretty extensive liqueur collection (noticed crème de violette and allspice dram) so they’ll more than likely be able to make you your favorites.  They also have a number of different house-made mixers and infusions to spice up their drinks (besides the ones in the above drinks, they’ve also got apricot-infused Metaxa Brandy, lemon verbena-infused vodka, and orange-thyme syrup, to name a few).

Clean Monday…

…Corfu Buck.

Zaytinya is definitely a place to hit over and over again.  If you haven’t yet been to this restaurant, remedy that.  You’ll probably see me there.

Zaytinya
701 9th St NW
Washington, D.C. 20001
(202) 638-0800
http://www.zaytinya.com
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Protip: Absinthe Misto

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Rather than pouring absinthe into your glass to prep it for your Sazerac, use a Misto bottle filled with la fée verte to apply a thin coat.  Saves you from having to pour out any excess that would otherwise muck up your Sazerac.  I’ve got another Misto for bitters, and one spare in case I come up with another good idea for it.

I made this Sazerac with Bulleit Rye, Peychaud’s bitters, Sugar in the Raw (which is my go-to cocktail sugar), and Lucid Absinthe.

(h/t to the mixologists at Founding Farmers for passing along this idea.)