Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Pig & Pinot Fridays at Vidalia, DC

On some Fridays, DC restaurant Vidalia has a special Pig & Pinot menu, and chef RJ Cooper pulls out all the stops to feature amazing pork dishes that celebrate the animal from nose to tail.
He sources his Heritage pigs from a farm in Virginia, and all the butchering and curing of the meat is done in the restaurant.

I have been a few times, and here are some of my favorite items. My favorite item might be the crispy pig ears, frisée, and apple salad (top). At the bar, you can get small dishes of housemade pork rinds.

I also enjoyed the pozole, col, cilantro and oído de los cerdos as well as the Korean BBQ ribs with kimchi & scallion pancake.

Chef RJ has his own take on an 18 month cured black foot ham served with pickled vegetables. While not as oily as pata negra I have had, I admire his ambitions in this dish.

Another favorite item was the orejas, cripsy ear soft tacos with a spicy adobo sauce and avocado.

They also have pulled whole roasted shoat Csrolina BBQ style with cornpone.

The shaved pig Reuben sandwich is also fantastic.

Finally, there are also desserts. I liked the peanut with 60% chocolate & bacon bark, but the most wrong and amazing plate was the bacon chocolate chip cookies with sweet onion-bacon ice cream.

1990 M Street Northwest
Washington, DC 20036
(202) 659-1990‎

Monday, March 29, 2010

Table 21 at Volt

So Fougoo, Redneckhunter and I were lucky enough to score reservations to Table 21 at Bryan Voltaggio's Volt restaurant in Frederick, MD the week after the finale of the most recent season of Top Chef. Unfortunately, Bryan was not in the kitchen the night we had dinner there. Regardless, it was an unforgettable experience.
We started with a drink of ginger ale with an absinthe foam. Not too heavy on the alcohol- nice starter.
Our next course was his take on chips and dip. However the "chip" was freeze dried prosciutto, and the dip was a potato foam. The combination was really clever.

Course 3 was had one of the items he won with on an episode of Top Chef. There were 3 macaroons- a sweet & sour guacamole, a beet foie gras, and a Caesar's salad. The guacamole one was probably still my favorite.

We then had a tuna tartare with avocado, wasabi, and whitefish roe.

Course 5 was a pine nut veloute with shitake pearls, chili oil and basil.

The following course was a boneless duck wing presse on top of onion noodles with dehydrated bacon and and celery. Kind of like a gourmet McNugget. The noodles were not so much of a success though- bit rubbery.

Course 7 was delicious: it was a ravioli stuffed with Cherry Glen Farm goat cheese with brown butter served with butternut squash puree and topped with sage foam.

We then had seared scallop on top of beluga lentils and cauliflower with a vintage caymus reduction.

Course 9 was sturgeon on top of ruby quinoa with black trumpet mushrooms.

The last seafood course was a Marveta farmed prawn with a vinaigrette served with a sunchoke puree and strips of green apple. Yes, I did eat the head.

We then started into the "meat" courses. The 11th item was fried sweetbread with meyer lemon, olive and caper sauces to accompany the dish.

Course 12 was a duo of slow braised pork belly which was delicious. I liked the bacon chip that came with it. It came with nice calypso beans, an heirloom white bean, and some nice chard leaves.

The next item was Hudson Valley foie gras that was prepared in more of a dessert fashion. It was topped with Seckel pear marmalade and pistachio soil, and the "bread" was vanilla brioche toast. This was really nice- the foie gras was smooth and buttery and complemented the sweet flavors well.

Course 14 was Longnecker Farm rabbit prepped in 3 different ways. It was a mini version of a dish on the regular menu. The rabbit is still one of the best tasting I've ever had, and I like the little ribs. It came with a sweet potato puree and brussel sprouts.

We then had beautifully cooked Heritage duck served with orange braised endive, kohlrabi and crosnes (the cute spiral item on the plate).

Course 16 was lamb, cooked sous vide, topped with grains of salt, and served with curry yogurt, cauliflower & edamame, and garlic spinach.

The 5 courses were dessert. We started with a cheese dish. We were served Monacacy Gold, a soft creamy goat cheese, with orange gelato and balsamic vinegar.

Course 18 was my favorite dessert, a Meyer Lemon curd with ginger ice cream and anise hyssop.

The 19th item was a dessert that was all white: coconut sorbet, vanilla cup and lavender dust. I'm not a fan of lavender as it reminds me of lotion when too strong.

Although bursting at the seams at course 20, I did enjoy the chocolate peanut mousse with tonka bean ice cream.

The final dish was mini ice cream sandwiches.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Sik Gaek, Flushing, NY

We went to Sik Gaek in the Flushing neighborhood of Queens NY over the weekend, and it was one of the most amazing and authentic food experiences I've ever had. Their specialty is "Chul pan" or "iron plate" cooking at the table.
We arrived around 7:30 in the evening to an already packed restaurant blasting hip hop (I do recall hearing the whole Marshall Mathers LP) with a small line of eager diners. I sense lines are common here as they have a roofed area specifically for people waiting to get into the place.
Once seated, they quickly whet our appetites with fried egg made on the hot grill. We started with one of their specialties, San Nakji, or raw octopus.
The octopus is dispatched just prior to prep, and it's legs are quickly diced up and brought to table, still moving. You can select from 2 sauces, the spicy gochuchang or the sesame oil & salt.
Now I'm a fan of tako wasabi in Japanese cuisine, but that is usually from a frozen octopus. The san nakji was just so amazingly good because it's that much more fresh. Will a minimal struggle as the suckers still work a little, it was oh so worth it.

We ordered a nice Gilghuri Tteokbokki, the rice dumplings in spicy sauce with fishcake and hard boiled eggs.
The grand part of the meal was the Nak Bool Combi Chulpan. Imagine hotpot with a spicy broth loaded with veggies like bean sprouts, cabbage, & cucumber. It's then filled with seafood like mussels, shrimp, baby octopus, and giant clam. Within the broth there are rice dumplings and noodles.
Our order included thin slices of raw ribeye, and then the staff pulls a live octopus from the tank and just plops it on top. Sure it moves for a short time, but is soon cooking in the boiling stew.
The end result is like a Korean flavored bouillabaisse. The clams were large, the octopus was so tender, and towards the end, the veggies, noodles, & dumplings have soaked up so much of the broth, they were fantastic.
Oh, did I mention the drinks. We ordered Oiju, a cucumber infused soju that was clean and mild in flavor. Next time we go we need to get the Soobakju, watermelon soju served directly from the melon.
Sik Gaek is worth the trek to New York City's outer borough and worth any wait in the line outside the place- just a truly great food adventure.

A couple more videos from fougoo (from the opposite angle):

161-29 Crocheron Ave
Flushing, NY 11358
(718) 321-7770

Monday, March 15, 2010

Sometimes Dining in Baltimore

A few months ago, a friend of mine in town told me about Sometimes Dining, kind of an underground dining group in the Waverly neighborhood in Baltimore.
Since their dinners are at an actual residence, spaces are limited, but luckily last week, I was able to score a seat for their Pi day dinner.
We showed up at the house around 7:30pm, and were immediately welcomed by the staff and chefs when we entered the house. We were instructed to sit where we could, and we were lucky to get seats at a large table in the kitchen area.
Everyone was very friendly at our table which consisted a mix of newbies like ourselves and friends of the people who were running things. They were BYOB, but they did include suggested wine pairings in our confirmation emails.
We started with some homemade rye bread that had a fantastic crust served with alder smoked honey butter.

Our first course was a beautifully set salad with broccoli stalked shaved in thin strips topped with fresh beets, cashews, and Unikass cheese (which was like a hard cheddar).
In between courses they served a drink of warm black tea, root beer and ginger.
The second course was homemade cinnamon noodles with a mushroom reduction, served with duck breast with a red onion, grapefruit confit. I really enjoyed how all the flavors were actually very subtle and fit together nicely.
The third course was "le trou normand", or "palate cleanser": a shot of clove infused vodka. At this point, the chefs came out and toasted their guests.
We also got small plates of pickled asparagus and roasted pistachios.
The fourth course was a wonderfully poached hake served wrapped in a scallion crepe with a frisee salad and topped with a poached egg. The whole dish was delicately prepared and delicious.

As the dishes were cleared for dessert, I ordered a really nice and strong cappuccino made with Baltimore based Bluebird coffee.
The last dish was an apple compote with a sage shortbread cookie with some creme anglais.
They finished us off with some homemade dark chocolates.
The whole Sometimes Dining experience was just so warm and intimate and with such wonderful and thoughtfully prepared food and drink, it is a true treasure in Baltimore's food scene.