Posts Tagged ‘restaurant review’

Amuseing our Bouches

The carpet felt like velvet on my feet as I walked toward our table and, when I sat down in the ivory-colored leather armchairs, I knew that this was the fanciest restaurant I had ever been in.

Wine bottles lined immaculate glass cases like those in jewelry galleries. They seemed to look down at my awestruck face saying, “I am way out of your league. It’s D.C. tap for you, kid.”

A waiter presented the amuse-bouche or “mouth pleaser”, which was a seafood dip served in a tiny cup. Regretfully, pleasure was not the word to describe the dull sensation in my mouth. Nevertheless, we found pleasure in cracking amuse-bouche jokes like “This chair is really amuse-ing my bouche!”

Lobster soup with tarragon was poured a la minute into a bowl over bits of lobster and croutons at the table. Although the tarragon was unrecognizable, the soup was soothing and complex, with strong lobster flavor.

The rainbow beet and endive salad was beautiful in the modest way the beet slices rested on the plate, intricately patterned and simply dressed. The candied walnuts were definitely mouth pleasing.

The roasted monkfish dish made me realize that all the fish I have ever eaten had been overcooked. It was simply prepared with peewee potatoes and a surprisingly delicate creamy mustard sauce.

Contemporary chicken breast parmesan was exquisite, proof of the fact that it doesn’t take an ill-mannered, Italian, mafia-involved chef to cook the dish. The elements were deconstructed; the chicken had a crispy-crumbly crust and was served with a béchamel-based cheese sauce, spinach that wilted as you ate (as did I), and a tomato marmalade.

Not just any tomato sauce, but one that could make single hundreds of old-world, Italian mothers. I asked the waitress for the secret and she replied, “I don’t know. They don’t tell us how they make it.” Although it tasted like pure tomatoes, the kind grown with the attentiveness of expensive wine, it’s possible that they used sugar to heighten their sweetness, while erasing all evidence of the clever trick.

I was never a dessert enthusiast, but I now realize why the course is served at the dénouement. A milk chocolate dome was filled with a luxurious moose and served with a quenelle of coffee-infused ice cream. A tian of silky, whipped cream and a fresh Clementine marmalade was both refreshing and comforting.  We swept these off the plates with the voraciousness of a Dyson. Thankfully, we too didn’t lose suction, popping in the petit fours which made those thin, chocolate-mint squares seem like gerbil food by comparison.

Adour is named after the river that Alain Ducasse grew up near, where he developed a love for cooking. And from the enticing appetizers to the seductive entrees and to the calmative desserts, we flowed out of the river and back on the streets, figuring that we probably wouldn’t have the chance to be amused again.

Read Full Post »

Greek Burger with Asparagus Spears

BGR The Burger Joint should not be associated with other burger joints that you may know. It is a soiree for the senses. What are the sounds of BGR?: the chitchat of satisfied customers and the frizzle-sizzle of dry aged quality beef on an eager grill. It’s also not as cheap as an average burger joint; a meal can easily cost you $20. But I knew, at the counter, that BGR is something special. Both the vivacious crimson tomatoes and the special spinning devices for buttering buns made me feel this way.

We ordered and were given a buzzer: a good sign for a burger joint. It essentially means: “We take our time to grill fresh burgers every time. We don’t want you drooling near the counter and tapping your foot, so go sit your butt down and we’ll call you when we’re ready.”

Greek Burger with Sweet Potato Fries

When I first met my burger, it gaped at me, revealing a charred lamb patty, crumbly feta cheese, a tomato slice and a lettuce leaf, nestled under a grilled bun. The whole ensemble seemed to boast its modesty.

I took a bite and smiled. The first thing that I tasted was the lamb patty: artfully seasoned with cumin and garlic and actually cooked how I ordered it—medium rare! Although, I couldn’t taste the meat, I would not have changed any spect of the patty. The tzatziki sauce kept the spices of the burger in check, and the feta cheese gave the burger a pungent, yet clean texture and flavor.

The asparagus spears were a tasty and surprisingly satisfying replacement for fries. They weren’t colorless and flaccid like lesser asparagus dishes. The sweet potato fries were plentiful and outstanding. These aren’t your average thin, shriveled strips of salty sweet potato; they’re thick, modestly seasoned and —what can I say—sweet potatoey.

The Wellington Burger

The Wellington was—well, god (no, this is not a misspelling of good). I’m not catholic, but if a christian tried this, I’m sure he would have a new understanding of the body of Christ. Unfortunately, the burger is more expensive than the conventional cracker that is used. Roasted mushrooms, caramelized onions, garlic, blue cheese, mojo sauce and black truffles. I couldn’t believe how, in a plain-looking burger, so many flavors could  melt together to create one colossal flavor. The BAM was big enough to make Emeril cry. With more truffle flavor than anything I’ve ever tasted, the Wellington really can give you back your mojo. If that doesn’t do it, there’s a nine pounder on the menu!




Read Full Post »

In Roti, in order to reach the ordering counter, I needed to walk by a lengthy stretch of menu options on the wall. First, I saw sides like falafel, then salads, kabobs, Mediterranean plates, and sandwiches.

Although there were many doubts in my mind, when I saw the rotisseries, towering shrines of meat, gleaming with juices, I had become enlightened.

The restaurant is influenced by a variety of Mediterranean countries. Venetian Murano glass lamps hang overhead, mounds of Israeli cous-cous rest in hotel pans, and Greek vertical spits line the counter-top. With these contraptions, thick slices of seasoned meat are skewered, methodically stacked, and rotated for even heating. The machine does all of the work because the juices from one slice of meat baste the lower levels.

I ordered the Venetian—fire roasted chicken with hummus, baba ghannoush, cous-cous, and tomato/cucumber salad. My roommate made his own sandwich of Laffa bread (Iraqi pita), chicken, grilled vegetables, sumac onions, lettuce, and tzatziki sauce.

The chicken was well seasoned and, unlike some other eateries, was not kept soaking in sauce. My one complaint is that the meat was not cut off the spit for service. When you are so close to fresh meat on the spit, why give the customer a product that has been sitting in a hotel pan?

The cous-cous was tastefully simple, featuring fresh herbs and to call the cucumber salad a side dish would be an insult to its color and flavor. The hummus was mediocre and the baba ghannoush—maybe it’s just me, but I can’t think of any food that’s meant to be served, gray, mushy, and flavorless.

Roti has good food, but also a few good philosophies, one of which is captured by this French proverb: “To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art.” To be able to create light and nutritious food that is also flavorful, vibrant, and unique is truly an art. Eat lunch out of necessity, but go to Roti out of intelligence.

1747 Pennsylvania Ave NW

Washington, D.C., 20006


Weekday hours: 7am-5pm



Read Full Post »

217 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106-2812
(215) 625-2450

We celebrated my birthday at Jose Garces’s (Iron Chef) first restaurant: Amada. Seeking refuge from the downpour outside, we were happy to dry off by the bar, where spirits, hanging meats, and barrels are displayed with equal dignity. I had a taste of the white rioja sangria with ginger brandy, fresh peaches, and mint. I wish all wine tasted like that. We were led to our table, an unrefined barn-like wooden table placed over a floor of stones.

For those unaccustomed to Tapas style food, it originated in Spain when customers were given small plates of appetizers and snacks. Not only did the small plates rest easily on wine glasses—both lessening distraction and promoting conversation—, they also doubled as “tops” or “covers”—hence the name “tapas”— to prevent fruit flies from sipping the wine.

Green Salad with Asparagus, Favas, Avocado & Green Beans

The dishes come from all directions: The Ensalada Verde was an attractive mound of fresh asparagus, lettuce, fava beans and avocados, all chopped and mixed with a tasty and simple dressing. Ham croquettes also came. I am always astounded by how they are able to fry a filling that tastes as thin as a sauce. Although I don’t particularly love them, these were the best croquetas that I’ve had.

Ham Croquetas

Papas Bravas is usually a spicy, tomato-based dish with fried white potatoes. Garces’s seemed to be a deconstructed version, but his lacked the richness and rustic appeal of other versions. It was a good bite-sized snack, yet it was reminiscent of a tater tot topped with ordinary-tasting, smokey paprika sauce. I do really admire his original recreations of classic Spanish dishes. From nowhere, came a sizzling plate of shrimp, bathing in hot chile-infused olive oil and browned garlic. I would almost say that the aroma alone was worth the nine dollars. And to think the taste was a free bonus!

The Chicken Brochettes A La Plancha (from the grill) were skewered chicken cubes. Unless the chicken was meant to flavor the skewer and we were solely supposed to consume it, I can confidently say that the dish was a unanymous failure. I understand that they were trying to allow the main ingredient to shine, but when the main ingredient is chicken, it—at the very least—needs salt.

Chicken Brochettes

Speaking of flavor, the Madre E Hijo had plenty. This dish was composed of sliced, marinated chicken breast, Mojama, truffles, and a fried egg. Evidently, they found it equitable to substitute thin slices of quality, salted tuna (Mojama) for some potatoes. Looking back on it, maybe, instead of money, we should have substituted our payment for a few Bed Bath and Beyond coupons. But we play fair. On second thought, I think I remember something that tasted like ham, but may have been the tuna. Nonetheless, the dish was genius. I even tried black truffles for the first time. The taste was very complex. You know those bits of caramelized fond at the bottom of a pan? It tasted like that with a hint of tar flavor. Let me put it this way: I would never pay $300 per pound for it. I suppose my palate is not yet sophisticated enough.

The pièce de résistance was a flatbread topped with heirloom tomatoes, Mezze Sorrel & Mahon. The festival of the tomato is beginning in Spain and Garces is celebrating with them. The tomato is so abundant this time of year, that rambunctious people chuck them at each other in a food fight of colossal proportions. Tomato juice runs down the streets like blood after a huge battle and, days later, the city reeks in the hot, August sun. I’m almost ashamed to admit that the best pizza I’ve ever had was at a Spanish restaurant. The Mezze Sorrel and Mahon cheeses rested on the crunchy crust which gave the usually flavorless component of pizza so much flavor. The fresh, plump slices of herb-marinated heirloom tomatoes encapsulated all the flavor of a great tomato sauce plus more.

When you thought there couldn’t be more, there were also perfectly cut artichokes in a rich and creamy parmesan sauce—the only way to eat a vegetable— and Spanish Octopus called “pulpo”. I really learned something about octopus: every tentacle has its own personality. In fact, every piece of octopus I sampled had a different texture; these ranged from buttery and smooth—like scallops—to slightly bouncy and firm—like shrimp—to extremely rubbery and chewy to the point that, with an added “squeaker” at the core, this dish could become my dog’s favorite toy.

Parmesan Artichokes or "Alchachofas"

When you go to a place like Amada, you don’t just go for nourishment. You go to be treated well, to receive seemingly limitless amounts of tiny, edible gifts. You go to  eat food that tells a story and to have experiences that make them. You try new things, prepared in novel ways, and presented in a modern fashion. You get to eat things with awesome names like “alchachofa” and “Salbitxada”. Finally, you go to do just that: go. For a few hours, leave the world of burgers, casseroles, potato salad, and chicken fingers and escape into another world for a bit.

Read Full Post »

71 West Upper Ferry Road

Ewing, New Jersey 08628

Lunch Mon-Fri 11:00 am -2:30

Dinner Mon-Sat 4:00-10:00 pm

Sunday 3:00-10:00 pm

My family and  I found this restaurant on our way to another. You could say it was restaurant “cheating”. After one look at the menu, I knew I wanted to eat there. It featured interesting items like Osso Bucco “Veal Shank bone complete with lots of marrow”. The place was lively and busy with lavender colored walls and artsy black and white images of Italy. They were

mushroom risotto

playing Andrea Bocceli. I already knew they had good taste in something. There was tasty parmesan encrusted bread on the table and we all got a salad with a light vinaigrette. I was disturbed by the fact that the centers were cut out of the cucumbers. It appeared as though a hungry member of the kitchen staff had a quick nosh. I had the apparently famous mushroom risotto. It came out piping hot. The rice was slightly undercooked to my taste, but it was very savory and flavorful. It was chock-full of a variety of mushrooms which were tender and so meaty that I thought I tasted chicken a few times.  I actually enjoyed thee dish more as it cooled.

Salmon Florentine

My mother ordered the salmon florentine special in a pink cream sauce. Yellow must be the new pink these days. The salmon was as moist as my mothers…quite an accomplishment. The portion was generous for the fish and the fresh spinach. I took some on my plate and tasted the sauce with my finger. Unfortunately, all I tasted was my finger.

My sister ordered fettucini alfredo. We asked if the alfredo was good and the waiter said “This is an Italian restaurant. Of course the fettucini alfredo is good”. I disagreed, but he was right, it was easily above average. The sauce was rich, but not overly cheesy and the taste of the pasta came through well.

Fettucini Alfredo

My dad had the Pollo Trifolata: chicken breasts with shitake, portobello, and Crimini mushrooms in a Madeira wine sauce. It was similar to marsala, but more savory than sweet. It was the best dish on the table and the sauce was flavorful with a subtle wine flavor.

Chicken Trifolata

For dessert we had the house- made Tiramisu, usually made of lady fingers dipped in strong coffee or rum, layered with a whipped mixture of egg yolks, mascarpone cheese, and sugar, and topped with cocoa. It was definitely better than most and lighter and less mushy than most, yet the homemade whipped cream received all of my attention. We had ricotta cheese cake too. Unlike cream cheese or mascarpone cheese cakes, it lacked a smooth texture. It also had an overpowering almond flavor. We didn’t send it back…there was whipped cream on the plate.

I would definitely revisit the restaurant. The prices are not astronomical and the service is great. The food comes out quick and is fresh. Bring your family, your own beverages, and an empty stomach.

Read Full Post »

Gelateria, espresso bar, paninoteca, pasticceria

Ste A, 30 Main St
Southampton, NY 11968-4856
(631) 283-1233

My aunt, my sister, my cousin, and I raced to Sant Ambroeus, hoping to catch a late lunch before they finished the lunch service. Luckily, we were seated at a table in the alley. This was not your average alley, but an up-scale one, brimming with vibrant flowers and trellises enveloped in green. We were flanked by Michael Kors. The only thing resembling alley-cats were the young, graceful italian waiters who all assisted our table.

Caprese Salad with Buffalo mozzarella

For me, the highlight was the caprese salad, which I couldn’t resist when I heard it was made of buffalo’s milk. Buffalos make the most delicious mozzarella. When I tasted a portion of these billiard ball-sized pieces (the picture is only half the real portion), I new for sure that this was the best mozzarella I’ve ever tasted. The texture was like biting into a cloud before a rain shower: soft and moist beyond belief. It was tangy and juicy. Oh, there were tomatoes and basil there too.

My aunt ordered Insalata Di Carciofi: thinly sliced artichoke salad with sliced parmesan and arugula. It was light, peppery, and the artichokes were prepared well. It was just missing some buffalo mozzarella. We ordered Pennette Al Pomodoro E Basilico or “penne in tomato sauce with basil”. The pasta was cooked al dente and the tomato sauce was so simple, yet had so much fresh tomato flavor. My aunt said that Sant Abroeus has the best tomato sauce. I now know where she was coming from. I’m sure he grows his own tomatoes or something. Maybe he feeds them buffalo mozzarella.

Penne with tomato sauce and basil

I had pappardelli with mixed mushrooms and beef. The pasta was great and it was hearty, while remaining light. It could have used a vinegary element to cut through the monotone flavor of the beef and brighten it up. Maybe I should have accepted the parmesan when offered.

I strongly recommend trying the restaurant (there are two other locations: one on Madison Ave and one in West Village). It has everything that a good italian restaurant must have: great bread, great olive oil, and great tomato sauce. The menu is smart and short. The service is impeccable and the waiters look genuinely happy. They are charming and knowledgeable and most have italian accents.

pappardelle funghi with beef

Before we left, my 6-year-old cousin had a gelato and said that it was good. Believe me, she knows her gelato and ice cream. We bagged our leftovers, although not plentiful, and received a “doggy bag” that Michael Kors would have been happy to place newly sold bags in. We left heavy and happy.

Read Full Post »

21090 Saint Andrews Boulevard
Boca Raton, FL 33433
(561) 361-8244

Italian food in America has gone well beyond spaghetti and meatballs. Although faux bistros and unauthentic italian restaurants are abundant, Maggiano’s in Boca Raton Florida understands something about Italian cuisine. Maggiano’s makes every meal feel like a special occasion. High ceilings, deep wood paneling, black and white photographs, and fancy wine cabinets elevate the establishment to a status of elegance and taste. Live easy-listening music is a plus as well.

When i tasted the olive oil, I knew I was going to enjoy the meal. It was full of body and color and had a strong fruity flavor. With some simple roasted garlic, it was a perfect match with crusty bread. Maggiano’s is known for its family-style service (large portions that the whole family can share). However, anyone can order individual meals off the menu. Looking around the room, I saw people of all ages conversing and having a good time. After a brief moment of people-watching, the Caesar salad came. Salads are sometimes prepared negligently; sometimes even by inexperienced members of the kitchn staff. The Maggiano’s Caesar was crisp and green with an appropriate coating of dressing.

I had beef Braciole (pronounced “brajole”), “beef cutlets stuffed and rolled with ground beef, Asiago cheese, Focaccia and italian vegetables, slow-cooked in a red wine tomato sauce” and served with a fettucini. I was able to eat without worry knowing that the vegetables were Italian. The waiter lifted the lid to the casserole, releasing the earthy aroma from a rosemary sprig. 10% of our tasting experience is devoted to smell. The texture of the dish was disturbing because the beef cutlets were not tender and the beef mixture inside was reminiscent of over-cooked hamburger meat. Nonetheless, the stuffing did meld, in flavor, with the cutlets. I appreciated the al dente pasta and beans as well as the rustic presentation.

My grandfather had veal parmesan which was tender with a light, yet crunchy breadcrumb coating (veal is much more flavorful than chicken). Any parmesan preparation that does not follow the sequence: meat-sauce cheese should not even be tasted. My dad ordered a Lasagna the size of a skyscraper in flavor-city. Besides the added flavor from the pork, the Lasagna was average and slightly dry… just exponentially larger. My sister’s pasta dish was the best: Rigatoni “D”. The pasta was cooked with chicken, caramelized onions, mushrooms, and a Marsala cream sauce. the pasta was obviously cooked fresh because the sauce stuck to the pasta because of the starch still remaining from boiling. The chicken was tender and the sauce was light and rich at the same time. The dish was laced with intricate layers of flavor; it was composed of a creamy foundation, added depth from wine, and a sharp final touch from parmesan cheese. There are Maggiano’s locations in over 20 states, so it’s quite possible to get a taste of italy near you.

Read Full Post »