Monday, July 30, 2012

Kaffir Lime

Sunday after our visit with Donald and Terry at Boxwood Winery, Amanda and Dimitri came back to our house for dinner. Donald and Terry went straight back home after the winery because they have to get up so darned early in the morning to commute. That sucks!

After the long thirsty ride home from the winery, we cracked a bottle of Palacio de Feffinañes Albariño. The lemony mineral crispness was very refreshing after drinking the Boxwood Topiary Cabernet Franc blend at the winery. I got some salume out of the fridge to go with the bottle of 2007 Alpha Estate Red that Dimitri brought with him. I have tasted Alpha wines a few times in the last couple of years and they are always very good. This particular blend of Syrah, Xinomavro, and Merlot from the far north of Greece worked really well with the sausages from Olli Salumeria just west of Richmond. We had a Norcino and a spicy Calabrese made with Sangiovese. Delicious.

Greek Wine and Virginia Salume, a Great Combo!
It is so rare that I plan a meal ahead on a Sunday, my day off from the restaurant. Usually, I am very content to go with the flow and create something out of whatever we have on hand. But not this weekend. We just got a new batch of kaffir lime leaves in and they have inspired me to create a couple of new dishes that I wanted to do at home. Ann kept asking all day what was for dinner and I kept blowing her off, wanting to surprise her.

I came up with this mussel dish for a tasting this week and I liked it so much that I wanted to reprise it. Start by sautéing minced garlic in olive oil with a few kaffir lime leaves. Then add the mussels and a shot of dry white wine (I used Sancerre), cover the pan, and let the mussels steam. When the mussels are open, remove them to a bowl, and return the pan with the cooking liquid to the heat. Add a good splash of coconut milk to the pan along with a shot of fish sauce. Let reduce by half. Meanwhile, add fresh kaffir lime leaves, cilantro leaves, and Thai basil leaves to the mussels. Once the broth is reduced, off heat, stir in a couple tablespoons of tobiko which will turn the broth a glorious orange color. Pour over the mussels and toss well.

Mussels with Coconut Milk, Thai Basil, Cilantro, and Tobiko

Yum! They were Delicious!
For the main course, I wanted to do pork and thought that Syrah might just be a great pairing so Dimitri brought along a bottle of 2006 Grand Rêve Syrah from Red Mountain in Washington State, a dense berry fruit-driven wine. I kicked in a bottle of Barrel 27 Syrah from Paso Robles. Both had enough oomph to stand up to dinner. I love Syrah and was excited to taste the Grand Rêve for the first time. This is not a wine in my usual price category. I have tasted some neighboring wines and like most of the other wines hailing from Red Mountain, Washington's smallest AVA, it is a super effort!

Dueling Syrahs, not a Bad Choice for Pork
For dinner, I reprised a great staff meal from last week, grilled pork burger bánh mì. I originally made this as a meatball for a cocktail party that we catered a couple weeks back. The pork is flavored with a slurry of kaffir lime, cilantro, Thai basil, ginger, garlic, palm sugar, black pepper, and fish sauce. The slurry is so green that it tints the pork! I served them on split and grilled demi-baguettes drizzled with a sweet and spicy rice vinegar, sugar, fish sauce, and chile paste sauce. Garnishes are cole slaw (rice vinegar and sugar dressing), cucumber slices, and fresh cilantro. The flavor and aroma of these burgers is just ridiculous!

Pork Burger Bánh Mì
Yet another great weekend! Thanks to Dimitri for bringing along such incredible wine!

Boxwood Estate Winery

After a miserably slow week at work, I was ready to get away and do something, anything that didn't involve standing around and wondering if customers were going to show up. And so I was really looking forward to our planned trip to visit Boxwood Winery with Donald and Terry. It was a fantastic day weatherwise: puffy white clouds against a beautiful blue sky and a temperature well below 90F with a refreshing breeze; quite the delightful day for the end of July!

We met Donald and Terry in the parking lot just off the crush pad and walked around front to the courtyard where manager Amanda Galanis came bounding out to greet us. Her husband Dimitri was right behind her. It was awesome of Amanda to come in on her day off to meet us, give Don and Terry the grand tour, and sit with us and share wine.

Amanda and Dimitri on the Crush Pad

Mr. Cooke's House is over Donald's Left Shoulder

Ann and I Missed the Memo about Wearing Blue

How Gorgeous is the Sky Framing the Windvane?

I Love the Petunias Draping over the Boxwood Planters
After tasting the 2011 rosé and the 2010 reds, all of which are delicious, we had a bottle of the rosé and then switched to the Topiary. All the wines are delicious, but the softer Cabernet Franc blend of the Topiary seems to be our favorite for the summer. No doubt we'll be drinking the more muscular Cabernet Sauvignon-based Boxwood blend when cooler weather arrives. The Trellis blend that was terribly angular right after it was bottled has really come around and is delicious as well.

Topiary, our Favorite Boxwood for the Summer
Amanda, thanks once again for your warm hospitality!

Saturday, July 21, 2012


Long post warning: a three-hour lunch takes a long time to describe! :)

What a hell of a week this one has been! Two big tops and lots of guests on Tuesday, crushed on Wednesday, full house for our Glen Manor dinner on Thursday, and then the weekend! All of this and being down a cook too. No wonder I haven't had time to think about posting about our trip in to DC last weekend.

We look forward to going to see Cirque de Soleil any time that they are in the DC-Balto area. And this year they were at the Verizon Center with their tribute to Michael Jackson. Cirque always puts on a spellbinding show that is well worth the hefty price of admission and so we save our pennies and splurge on this once-a-year extravaganza.

But first things first. Where to eat? We decided to have a leisurely lunch before the 4pm show and within seconds of looking at restaurants in the vicinity of the Verizon Center, Zaytinya was our choice. I've never eaten there before; Ann has. We love tapas and mezze and the restaurant is directly on the path between Metro Center and the Verizon Center. What's not to love?

So, let's get into our nearly three-hour lunch, shall we? First, an apology. I didn't bring the big camera: no way they would let me tote that in to the Cirque show. So we used Ann's little point and shoot and although it pointed, it didn't shoot worth a damn. Crappy picture warning. They'll help us remember our good times, but otherwise not worth looking at.

Despite leaving a lot of slack in our schedule, we managed to walk in the door just at the time of our reservation thanks to Metro and its balky ticketing equipment. If I used Metro more often, I would hate Metro. We were seated promptly and soon enough our server, Paul, came over with the wine list. I know enough about wine lists to know that I know my own and I know nothing about anybody else's so I asked Paul for help.

We wanted a red and probably not a Greek red. I've tasted a lot of reds from Greece and on a really hot day, didn't want to tangle with a mouthful of Xynomavro, Agiorgítiko, or Mavrodafni, uh, I mean tannins. So with Paul's help, we went to old favorite Chateau Musar from the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, ordering a bottle of their Jeune Rouge (young red), a deliciously light-bodied Cinsault-dominant blend.

After toasting with a glass of wine, we got down to looking at the menu and there's just too much food on it! And after talking to Paul for a couple of minutes, I asked him to order for us with preference for the dishes that the kitchen would like us to eat, as opposed to customer favorites. I love to be surprised and there's nothing much that I won't eat.

Within minutes food starting arriving with Paul arriving soon after to explain the dishes to us. He did a fantastic job with our table. Kudos!

Htipiti: Roasted Red Peppers, Feta, Thyme
This spread for our pita was good with especially creamy feta. The peppers, though well prepared, just didn't have the flavor I was hoping for. I'm guessing they are red bell peppers and not something more interesting.

Horta Salata: Fava Puree, Kale, Bull's Blood, Smoked! Olives
This horta salata was the best dish we had all day. It seems it is always this way: the simpler the dish, the better. The interplay of the fave, the lightly cooked kale, and the surprising smoked kalamata olives was exquisite. Ann was equally bonkers for this dish!

Avgotaraho: Cured Mullet Roe in Beeswax
Chef Michael Costa brought this plate of pressed mullet roe (avgotaraho, botargo, botarga, bottarga, boutargue) to the table himself and we chatted for just a little bit. I've eaten a lot of roe in my life: I grew up eating herring and shad roe from the Chesapeake Bay and every roe-laden fish that we process in our restaurant kitchen yields a delectable chef snack. I've never seen botarga presented at the table still in its beeswax coating, but it makes for a great presentation. Carter gamely tried it and when Paul asked him about it, Carter said he liked it but wasn't a fan of the texture.

Halloumi, Compressed Watermelon, Watermelon Rind, Tomato
Seriously, who doesn't like seared halloumi? Compressed watermelon, though it makes for a good presentation, has never impressed me. It seems that no amount of work with a vacuum sealer imparts any significant flavor into the watermelon. Hopefully this is a fad that will just go away.

Falafel, Carter's Sole Request
Falafel is not something we would have ordered for ourselves as we've eaten a lot of it in our lives. Delicious, yes; shows something unique about a particular restaurant, no.

Soujouk Pide: Kasseri Cheese, Soujouk Sausage, Egg
Too bad this picture is so awful because the soujouk (sujuk) flatbread in the shape of an eye was really cool! It has kasseri cheese down with hard, dry, fermented, spicy soujouk over. My first experience with this sausage: it's a winner! Really cool to have a poached egg (OK, so theirs is done in an immersion circulator: show-offs!) on top of a flatbread. Chef Michael served this dish himself. Me gusta mucho.

Lamb Shank, Eggplant-Kefalogravieri Mousse
And here is one of the shining stars of the day, not the lamb shank, but the orgasmic eggplant and kefalogravieri mousse/puree. This puree was the single best flavor bite of the day, though the horta salata was the best overall dish. As soon as our eggplants start coming in in our garden, I am certain that Ann will be demanding that I make this. And I will. I will rip this off and make it my own!

Mushrooms! With Dates and Toasted Almonds
Nice hard sear on these mushrooms; great job by the line cooks! What is not to love? I saw beech, porcini, and chanterelles in this mix, but honestly, I was in stuff-face mode and not really in dish dissection mode.

Octopus Santorini: Yellow Split Peas, Capers, Marinated Onions
I wasn't wowed by the octopus. It is a fine dish, but the spice crust dominated the octopus. Nothing wrong with the dish, but one of the weakest on a menu of standouts.

Crispy Brussels Sprouts Afelia
Once again, awesome job on the sear on these sprouts, guys! Just delicious!

Kibbeh Nayeh: Beef Tartare
Kibbeh I have had dozens of times and dozens of ways and this was, to be perfectly frank, boring. The weakest dish of the day. Technically very fresh and very correct. Exciting, no. Is it a contradiction to say that I liked it, though? Pomegranate seeds would go a long way towards bringing some needed acidity to this dish.

Apricot Parfait
What a great presentation! A fun little dessert. I'm not into dessert so I probably didn't appreciate this or the rice pudding as much as I could have. Still, great attention to detail and very nice presentation.

Rice Pudding with Pear Sorbet

Carter Ate a Dozen Pita!
Not pictured is a dish of roasted cauliflower with golden raisins, pine nuts, and caperberries. I liked the flavors, but the cauliflower could have roasted a bit longer to my taste. I loved the caperberry treatment: it was unique in my experience, sliced into rounds and deep-fried. We also had a shrimp dish, Garides Me Anitho, shrimp with dill and lemon that vied with the kibbeh for boring honors. Extremely popular with the masses I am sure and probably the Zaytinya equivalent of our crab cakes: a huge revenue generator.

Ann's son Carter went with us and I have got to say that I was amazed at his performance. In addition to eating four baskets of pita (that's a dozen pita folks: welcome to our food bill at home!), he ate some of every single dish with face-stuffing gusto! When have you ever seen a 12-year old do that?

My hat is off to Chef Michael Costa and his crew, our server Paul, and especially the backwaits and food runners who ran their behinds off in serving us. I was very impressed with the physical facility, the service, the menu, and the food. Zaytinya truly deserves its ranking as one of the best in DC.

Oh yeah. We also went to see Cirque de Soleil. We left at intermission. I want my money back. It sucked that bad. 'nuf said.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Yellowtail Snapper, Watermelon and Corn Seviche

Seviche with Cancha
Sunday night after dinner, I saw that there were a watermelon and a few ears of corn left in the refrigerator. And Ann had been asking me all day to make some sashimi soon. So Monday, I decided to kill the proverbial two birds by combining all these into a delectable seviche. A better hot weather dinner I cannot imagine. Ann opened a bottle of Amalie Robert Pinot Meunier while I set about breaking down the fish and doing the veg prep. The plan was to let it sit for about an hour before eating it, but it never made it that far. This may have been the best seviche I have ever eaten in my life. We topped it with cancha in the Peruvian style.

Cranberry-Colored Amalie Robert Pinot Meunier

Monday, July 9, 2012

Summer Time and the Living is Easy

Wow! The weather has been ridiculous recently! Up in the high 90's to low 100's every day with wicked, wicked thunderstorms with violent wind and hail. The restaurant kitchen has been correspondingly hot. It rarely gets below 95F and at the peak of summer heat (such as the last two weeks) it approaches 120F. Tony and I have been nearly drowning in our own sweat. So, you can imagine my enthusiasm for cooking on my day off this time of year. Yeah, it's somewhere between slim and none, and none left town.

Quite paradoxically though, this is my favorite time of year to cook because all the summer fruits and vegetables are at their absolute peak of perfection. That's quite a problem I have: wanting to cook and hating to cook all at the same time. What's a guy to do?

Sunday I knew I wasn't going to cook. Primarily because of the scorching week we've had, but also because I knew I was going to spend several hours on Sunday morning out working in the yard, trying to get one of our flower gardens in shape. At 7:30 when I started, it was nearly 90 degrees and by the time I finished, I have no idea how hot it was. But I did know that cooking dinner was not an option.

Planning ahead, I chose a no-cook dinner of tomatoes, corn, and peaches from the market. And a good thing too. A violent thunderstorm ripped through just before dinner time leaving hail all over the yard and leaving us without power.

Dinner was awesome! The first tomatoes and corn of the year are something I look forward to each year, and who doesn't like a juicy peach?

Summer time: I hate the weather and cooking in the heat but with the abundance of great fruits and vegetables, the living is easy!

Tomato Cucumber Salad with Feta and Basil

A Light Grilling Adds Smokiness to Fresh Corn

Friday, July 6, 2012

Fourth of July

There's no point in having the restaurant open on July the 4th. Except for a handful of tourists, nobody wants to eat out on the 4th, so we close and take the day off. We decided to have just a small family grill-out, Ann, Carter, and me, but somehow as these things do, we ended up with a whole collection of people: Kelley and Mark, Tony, my daughters Lillie and Ellie, my niece Kali, and Lillie's boyfriend Jack.

Mark Does his "Evil" Face

Tony, what a Dork!

Jack, Lillie, Ellie, Kali

My Neck is Being Squoze

The menu was really simple. With the temperature in the high 90s and low 100s, it is so hot that I don't really feel like cooking at home especially after dealing with the heat and humidity of the restaurant kitchen. So simplicity was the order of the day: hot dogs, hamburgers, guacamole, and potato salad. Ann got into the spirit of things with a beautiful flag cake decorated with blueberries and red raspberries.

Burger Toppings

Cheese, Lettuce, Onion, Bacon, and Guac?!?

How Appropriate! Red, White, and Blue Potatoes

Killer Potato Salad: Bacon, Parsley, Green Onions, Chives, Sour Cream

Guac Mise

How Much Guac Do 12 Avos Make?

Proud Cake Maker

Beer and Sparklers!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Salad Days

One of my favorite things to eat in the summer when it gets hot is salad. Too bad that salad greens don't tolerate the heat well enough to be consumed in the summer! This year, we tried a new more heat tolerant romaine-type lettuce from Israel called Jericho. It seemed to fare much better than the other leaf lettuces that we grew, but still, we had to harvest it last week as the temperatures climbed cruelly into the 100s.

For dinner Monday night, Ann made a beautiful salad from the romaine with a lemon and olive oil dressing. In our division of labor in the kitchen, it seems that she almost always makes the salad and the dressing. I made a sheet tray of croutons and a big bowl of strozzapreti with butter, garlic, and sage from the garden. That seems to be one of our go-to combinations when we don't feel like anything else. But as good as that pasta is, I like the salad better.

I can't wait for fall and a new crop of lettuces.

Ann's Delicious Salad
Strozzapreti with Sage Butter; Salad with Croutons

Linguini with Clam Sauce

It felt good to get back in the kitchen yesterday, if only for a few minutes to make a late afternoon lunch of linguini with white clam sauc...