Over the past month or so, I’ve had a TON of interesting dining experiences. Rather than format individual posts, I figured I’d slap my thoughts down right here. For your reading pleasure, of course!
Proof (Friday 1/4)–Ah, I love this place! The atmosphere is hip, the bar is hoppin’ (no wonder, with all of the great wine selections), and the food seems to get better every time I visit. The boyfriend and I shared the charcuterie board (which was HUGE, and a great value at $28)–I’ve never had so much cured meat in one sitting! Everything was really delicious, especially the house-made pate. Next we shared the cauliflower soup with crispy oysters–the former was AMAZING, and it actually didn’t need the latter (which had a cornmeal batter that wasn’t to my liking). The scallop entree was lovely and perfectly cooked, but the desserts really left us with smiles–the sticky toffee pudding cake was delectably sweet without being cloying, and the goat’s cheesecake was divine in both texture and flavor. Combine all that with some very well-recommended wines, and you’ve got a wonderful evening! I’m returning to Proof tonight, and I can’t wait–it’s such a great addition to the DC restaurant scene.
2 Amy’s (Tuesday 1/8)–My first visit, and it was tasty–my margherita extra pizza (tomato, buffalo mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, and basil) was the table favorite–but the experience just didn’t live up to the fanaticism that surrounds the place. Our server was excellent, and the wine and beer selections were really nice, but the pizzas (of which we ordered four) fell somewhat short of expectations. The crust was alright–certainly not raw or significantly underdone, but definitely not as firm and crisp as I usually prefer. The toppings were obviously of high quality, but their proportions seemed to be off–too much cheese on some, too little on others. Sister had a special mushroom pizza, sister’s boyfriend had the calabrese pizza (tomato, onions, anchovy, mozzarella, parsley, and olives), and my boyfriend had the ripieno extra stuffed pizza (ricotta, grana, salami, prosciutto, pancetta, and tomato). We all tasted everything, and the response was pretty consistent–good, but not mind-blowing.
Bistro 7 (Saturday, 1/12)–This is one of Philly’s famed BYOB restaurants, and my girlfriends and I really enjoyed ourselves. The space was smaller than I anticipated, but that gave it a really homey, comfortable feel (though I have no idea how the chefs worked their magic in the teeny tiny kitchen). Highlights of the meal were the duck mousse from the charcuterie plate (smooth and incredibly delicious), the gnocchi (light and pillowy, just the way they should be), and the duck legs (crispy, flavorful skin, and moist, tender meat). The lentils that accompanied the duck were significantly undercooked, and the dessert was a total miss (it was a pear tart with savory, pepper-infused creme fraiche, and it just didn’t work for me), but the service was good and the fresh bread was wonderful. Mostly, though, I enjoyed drinking a lovely bottle of Grgich Hills chardonnay without paying the ridiculous restaurant markup.
Creperie Beau Monde (Sunday 1/13)–Also in Philly, this place was recommended to me by my sister and her boyfriend. All I can say is–YUM! They had a zillion varieties of crepes, both savory and sweet, and I definitely would have tried more if my stomach had stretched a little farther. I started with French onion soup, which was really well done–the perfect amount of cheese, and a hearty onion flavor. Then, I had a mushroom crepe, which was done with buckwheat. Very tasty. The star of my breakfast, however, was the Nutella and banana dessert crepe. Oh. My. GAWD. I’ll go back just for that.
Bourbon (Wednesday 1/16)–I’ve had drinks at this Adams Morgan bar before, but I’ve never ordered food. I opted for the ostrich burger, served rare, and a side of tater tots. It was probably the best “bar food” I’ve ever had. I’ve heard that Bourbon does a really good brunch–that’s definitely on my to-do list!
Vidalia (Saturday 1/19, Restaurant Week)–For appetizers, I opted for the veal tongue and my boyfriend got the bison carpaccio/tartare. The former was out of this world–incredibly tender and flavorful, it almost reminded me of a really good pupusa (due to the flatbread on which it was served and the cabbage “slaw”). The bison was also a winner, though I didn’t get much of it because it was wolfed down too fast! For entrees, I went for the rabbit saddle and boyfriend got the cassoulet. I’ve had rabbit before at Vidalia, and this version just didn’t wow me–it was tasty, and the carrot-ginger puree was a wonderful touch, but the meat was cooked more than I would have preferred (my sister got the same thing and asked for it to be cooked rare, and the server indicated that it couldn’t be done that way) and the spaetzle didn’t really contribute anything to the dish. The cassoulet was great–we couldn’t decide which part of the pork was our favorite (I think mine was the shoulder, but the sausage was also nice). The beans were hailed table-wide as the best part of the dish–yummy! For dessert, we returned to our favorites–the pecan tart for me (fabulous, as always) and the peanut-butter crunch for my man. Service was good, if a bit frazzled (hey, it was Saturday night of Restaurant Week, that’s to be expected). Wine recommendations, from both the server and the bartender, were spot-on and reasonably priced. As I left, I was even invited back for one of the wine tastings (in a way that didn’t feel like I was being sold something)–what a wonderful strategy to get people back in the door! I will certainly return to Vidalia as many times as possible before I leave DC–it remains one of my faves in the city.
I also visited Corduroy recently, but that meal deserves a post of its own (especially since it was my first experience there). So, there you have it! After tonight’s return trip to Proof (hooray!), I plan on eating out less and cooking MUCH more. Stay tuned!
As a poor public servant, my food reviews are generally relegated to a) what I concoct in my own kitchen, b) affordable neighborhood spots, and c) Restaurant Week specials. Every once in a while, though, I splurge on a true dining experience—and an experience is exactly what I got last week at Morimoto in Philadelphia.
Since it was my first visit to the restaurant, I arrived at 723 Chestnut Street about 45 minutes before my scheduled reservation in order to check out the scene in the lounge. After walking upstairs, I was greeted by a much smaller bar space than I was expecting—but the cocktail menu was full of big flavors. I opted to begin my evening with a cilantro gimlet (Belvedere vodka, fresh cilantro, and simple syrup, served with a wedge of lime). I love cilantro, so it was the perfect drink for me. Actually, it didn’t taste too overpoweringly like the strong herb. However, when I leaned in and inhaled while sipping, the aroma of the cilantro combined with the cool tartness of the vodka to create a delicious sensory experience. I knew it was going to be a good night.
I resisted a second cocktail and made my way back downstairs to the sushi bar, where I settled in for the main event. I had already decided to order the chef’s tasting menu, or omakase (which, in Japanese, means “entrust” or “protect”). The only question was, which one? The price points were $80, $100, and $120, and with every increase came more creativity and higher quality ingredients. I decided to go for the $120 menu—after all, I was in search of an experience. The waitress, Wendy (who was marvelous), also convinced me to order a beverage omakase to compliment my meal. Those came in $45, $65, and $85 varieties, with the latter being very sake-heavy. I chose the middle ground and asked for replacements for the sake, since I’m not a big fan.
The first course consisted of toro (fatty tuna) tartare with fresh wasabi. The toro was combined with scallions and spices and molded spherically in the middle of the plate. A large spoonful of ossetra caviar was placed on top of the toro—absolutely stunning presentation. I was encouraged to put the toro, caviar, and wasabi onto my spoon (and, thus, into my mouth) at the same time. I did so, and it was unbelievable—the sweet taste and soft texture of the toro balanced beautifully with the salty, almost crunchy nuttiness of the caviar. And the fresh wasabi? Well, let’s just say that it was NOTHING like the pungent green paste you see at neighborhood sushi joint. It really enhanced the flavors of the dish. Also included on the plate was a palate cleanser of Yamamoto (wild Japanese mountain peach). With this course, I was served a glass of Moet & Chandon White Star champagne, which was a lovely compliment.
The second course involved three Kumamoto oysters on the half shall, each served with a unique sauce. One was Japanese orange salsa, another was citrus cilantro salsa (kind of like a ceviche marinade), and the last was Thai fish sauce with jalapeno. I didn’t think I’d like the Thai fish sauce, but it ended up being my favorite. None of the sauces were overpowering at all—they contributed just the right amount of flavor to the plump, mouth-watering mollusks. This course was paired with the Morimoto martini (sake, vodka, and Japanese cucumbers). The booze-soaked cukes were yummy, but the cocktail overall had too much sake for my liking, so I discarded it about halfway through.
For the third course, I was presented with live Japanese scallop carpaccio, which was seared with olive and sesame oils, drizzled with yuzu citrus soy, and garnished with shiso, ginger, chive, and Japanese micro cilantro. The scallops were the freshest, sweetest, most tender bivalves I’ve ever consumed. The hot oils cooked the meat just enough to impart some delicate flavor and enhance the already-divine texture. This may have been my favorite dish of the evening—absolutely heavenly, especially when served with a Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc.
The fourth course was Kampachi (striped jack) sashimi served over mixed greens with soy onion dressing, chive oil, and a balsamic reduction, garnished with shaved bonito (skipjack tuna, which is smoked and dried). It was the greatest salad I’ve ever eaten. The sashimi was, needless to say, fresh and fantastic. The fish had strong flavor, which was not a bad thing, and it was amped up even more with the addition of the shaved bonito (which was very fishy and very good). I had heard fairy tales about the soy onion dressing, and I’m happy to report that the stories are true—it is just that good. I am still amazed how something so robust could be so simultaneously refreshing. The wine for this course was tasty, though I must admit that I was so into the food at this point that the pairings sometimes escaped me. I believe it was a Sylvaner from Alsace.
After a brief intermezzo (lemon pepper sorbet, I believe), I was ushered into the fifth course, which was Lobster Epice (Eight Spice Lobster). The lobster was tender and delicious and very spicy (which is a good thing, in my book), and the accompanying crème fraiche was perfect to cool my mouth between bites. Normally I prefer the tail of the lobster, but this one’s claw meat was so sublimely seasoned and cooked that my bias went right out the window. The wine for this course was a pinot noir from the Burgundy region—again, I was so wrapped up in the food that I forgot to take a good look at the label.
Prior to the sixth course, seafood had been the name of the game. Then arrived a plate of pan-seared Kobe beef with grilled abalone mushrooms, dashi/mirin/soy reduction, micro greens, and basil oil. I had never eaten Kobe beef before, but I had watched with envy as countless Iron Chef judges marveled over its flavor and mouth-feel. I am pleased to report that it is everything I thought it would be, and more. In contrast to American aged beef, the generous portion of Kobe was smooth, subtle, velvety, and actually quite sweet. The firm, earthy mushrooms and salty soy reduction were perfect compliments to the meat. As if this course wasn’t perfect enough, the wine was one of my all-time favorites—Montecillo Gran Reserva Rioja (1998). When I told the waitress that I discovered the wine while living in Madrid, she seemed to appreciate the wonderful memories that the bottle brought forth and said, smiling, “Well, let’s pour you a little more of that one, shall we?” Brilliant.
Despite the fact that a feeling of fullness (and tipsiness) was beginning to wash over me, I knew that the seventh course was the sushi course, so I rallied for the most anticipated part of the meal (for me, anyway). One by one, I watched as the chef prepared and delivered my sushi—anago (conger eel), toro (fatty tuna), kasugo (young sea bream), fluke, aoyagi (orange clam), and shima aji (white trevally). Each piece had its own unique taste and texture, and it would be impossible for me to pick a favorite. The glass of Veuve Clicquot champagne that I was served only enhanced the course.
For dessert, I was presented with a bittersweet chocolate torte with white chocolate ginger ice cream and raspberry sauce. To be honest, I wasn’t all that impressed, and this turned out to be my least favorite course. The ginger ice cream surprised me (normally, I am not a fan of ginger, but this rendition was simple, subtle, and delicious), but the cake was average at best. My wine pairing was an Alvada 5-year Madeira, which was way too sweet for my taste. Next time, I’ll ask for a second sushi board and another glass of bubbly.
Obviously, the food was the highlight of the evening, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the exceptional service I received. Everyone—from the hostess to the bartender to the waitress to the food-runners—treated me as if I was the only customer in the restaurant. When I asked if I could take photos* of the dishes, the response was enthusiastically affirmative. When I mentioned that I didn’t want to spend my time writing down details, the manager stepped up to the plate and, at the conclusion of the evening, consulted with the chef and typed up a list of what I had been served. Wendy was friendly and conversational, and she checked on me frequently to make sure I was enjoying each course. However, she didn’t smother me, and she made sure I had enough space to enjoy the experience in my own way.
With opening cocktail, omakase (both food and beverage), tax, and tip (which was admittedly generous), the total came to $269. Yes, I left Morimoto a bit lighter in the wallet, but I was fuller in the stomach and in the spirit. Regardless of whether or not “the man” is in town (I learned that I missed him by one day), I would return in a heartbeat. Arigato, Morimoto!
* Aside from the first and last courses, I only remembered to snap the pictures after I had eaten significant portions of the dishes. Therefore, I decided not to include them in this review—they really wouldn’t do justice to the beauty and delicacy of the presentations.