Friday, August 22, 2008

Taberna De Alabardero - Restaurant Week

So this one is a little overdue, apologies.

I was inclined to just write 'eh', and the short little review below is not that far off. Nothing so spectacular or awful to really make for an interesting post, alas.

Anyway, here is the review I wrote for Yelp.....

Good, but not great....I think they dial it in a bit for restaurant week. They start with an exceptionally limited menu, with lots of up-charges, which really defeats the purpose in my mind. The Goat was spectacular....the rockfish less so. Desserts less than inspired, and service seems disdainful at best"

Taberna Del Alabardero on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Prime Rib- Restaurant Week

I AM Abe Froman, the sausage KING of Chicago.

Or so I needed to be to garner service worthy of the place at The Prime Rib last Wed. 

OK. I get it. Places like this HATE the crowds they get on Restaurant Week. Waiters get smaller tips, people use the wrong forks, suits contain polyester, good wine continues to age in the cellar while cheap swill is heartily consumed, I get it. But then why even play?

I was only able to get a 6pm reservation (I was originally offered 5pm, but through shameless use of a name drop was able to swing an hour later). Although the busboys were still getting dressed and the elderly couples had only started on their salad course, it was at least a somewhat acceptable time to begin eating. 

I had talked my best friend and another friend of ours (a former manager of XX in NYC) into joining me right after work. We were seated right away, and the service, while haughty, was attentive and spot on, as one would expect somewhere like here. I was put off when the waiter approached our table, and just said "tap water, not bottle, right?" It was a pretty bold assumption. The bitter swill I was offered as a first wine selection (he gave us a taste from an open bottle at the bar) was equally insulting, no less so than when in response to my comment that 'it was ok, but I think would overpower everything we ate', he noted that 'well, its the price', especially as I never gave an indication that we were limited in anyway in this regard. Once I made it clear that we were comfortable paying for something off the real wine list, we did in fact find something nice in the $70 range. The waiter also assumed we were here for restaurant week, and didn't offer us the real menu. A correct assumption, but mildly off-putting nonetheless. I get that I am young, and that I had an early reservation during Restaurant Week; the rest of the year, however, I will not hesitate to drop $200 on a great meal though, so charm me and I will be back loyally time and time again. Any good restaurant can provide impeccable service to its usual clientele; the mark of truly great restaurant service is how at home and comfortable it makes those not accustomed to such privilege feel when they indulge in it. There are restaurants that come down to the level of the dinner (we call them Applebees), restaurants that disdain diners who are not at their level (Prime Rib fell into that category) and the rare restaurant that elevates the common diner it's own level, briefly letting her escape into a world outside her own. This is the great joy of fine dining, and unfortunately, not something I saw at Prime rib.

That said, even the scraps afforded to us commoners were superb.

The food was excellent. Nothing fancy- soup/salad, steak, and cheesecake/key lime pie. The prime rib was on offer- usually, steakhouses are a poor choice for Restaurant Week because they don't put the good stuff on the menu, but The Prime Rob, true to name, did not skimp. It was a smaller portion than the normal (not only expected, but appreciated for a three course dinner at 6pm!), but delicious. The tomato soup was exquisite- not too sharp and acidic, nor so creamy that you couldn't taste the tomatoes that are so great this time of year. The Key Lime Pie was nothing special, but a nice wrap up. We did not have the salad, but from the looks of it, they toss it at the table, and it looked fresh and generous.

This is the steakhouse that others imitate- wood-paneled interior, old-school service (even in their haughtiness to those of us clearly not yet in the club), a pianist and bassist. It is the perfect place to appreciate this city we live in- where nostalgia for and a fascination with the vestiges of old-world power meet with the modern practitioners of it. The dining room is intimate, the service impeccable if disdainful of us peasants. The prime rib is out of this world. I will be back, for the regular menu at a reasonable time in a nicer suit. We will see how things go then

Until then, this is a great Restaurant week pick- it is exactly what this week is all about. It made a unique DC luxury accessible for many, and gave a few of us just the incentive we needed to go back. A 30% tip this time should help with the elevation issues next time around :-)

Prime Rib on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Dino- Restaurant Week

Two hours of great wine, food and friends, at a place I had not tried yet but will definitely be back to- this is what restaurant week is all about! I kicked off the season at Dino in Cleveland Park...and it did not disappoint.

I had an old friend in town (a self-described knuckle dragging airforce pilot). He stopped off in DC en route to Del Rio Texas from Japan, and I thought before he goes to the only place I know more isolated than San Angelo, I should get some tasty non-cheddar based food in him. Another friend of mine, Michael (who is about the best dinner partner a girl could hope for - never less than three courses, 2 hours, and 2 bottles of wine!) has been raving about Dino in Cleveland Park, so I thought this might be a good try. Of course, Michelle came along too!

Dino's is doing restaurant week all of Aug, and pulling no stops. The whole menu is on order, so you can get whatever you want for each course. In my mind, this is what Restaurant Week is all about. We each ordered different things and shared, while settling in with two wonderfully selected bottles of wine brought to us by a waiter that was pretty delicious himself.

Appetizers consisted of :
Veggie Antipasto - with imported stem artichoke, mozzarella di bufala (flown in fresh from Italy on Sun and Thur, I think), pecorino cheese
prosciutto - made in the old fashioned manner by a small family prosciuttificio where they age these hand salted gems a full 500 days.
Soft 3 Cheese Polenta {Asiago, Fontal & Gorgonzola} with assorted roasted mushrooms
Braised Meatballs - traditional Venetian snack: braised veal & pork meatballs with ricotta, garlic, herbs, egg & bread crumb in a light tomato sauce.

The mozzarella is out of this world- unlike anything readily available in the US. Light and fluffy, with a strong but amenable taste, and perfect compliment to the prosciutto. The Polenta was my favorite (really!)- just the right amount of flavor, creamy, and with a hint of earthiness that went wonderful with the potent vinegar used to marinate the veggies.

For our main course, we requested a wine that was more 'grrrrr' than the previous bottle- really, we were a little tipsy already. Our tasty waiter paused, and said "got the perfect thing". And it was. I really can't compliment enough the uncanny ability of the waitstaff to match well with our orders- I expect it from a sommelier, but its notable in a waitstaff, especially during a week of puny Restaurant Week tips.

Mains were:
Pappardelle ai Cinghiale - Wild Boar - house made ribbon pasta, chunks of wild boar, crushed tomato, onions, golden raisins, celery, carrots, red wine, garlic, herbs & spices, grana cheese Maialino - Milk Fed Young Pig - herb rubbed, roasted on the rotisserie with smashed fingerlings
And a delicious Venison steak I can no longer find on their online menu.

The pasta was a good base, although nothing to make you weak. Personally, I adored the venison, although Michael was less than enamored. This might have been because he had been devouring the delicious Maialino- so soft you could almost spoon it up- and the more gamy taste of the venison was harsh after the Maialino. The juices were wonderful when mixed with the noodle dish. Great portions as well- just enough for all four of us to have a good portion of each dish, but not necessitating a superfans heart restart.

Dessert was inspired. Michael's favorite is hands down the espresso and homemade gelato. His description of its various delicious stages of melting and blending as you taste it, mixing of hot and cold, sweet and bitter, left all of us a little breathless and red from inappropriate thought (oh who am I kidding, there is no embarrassment here, I was ready to sneak off upstairs with whoever walked by next). It was exquisite. Michael says he often comes by late at night just to get the dessert, after the kitchen is closed, and I believe it. This habit would probably be bad for any relationship I were in though, as I am pretty sure that there is no sensuous energy left after this. Its like frozen birth control.

I had a peppercorn gelato with candied plums that was out of this world. The perfect balance of strange and powerful tastes that was just the perfect finish to a strong meal. I left feeling indulged, full, and glorious (the two bottles of wine and free shot of something that comes with the dinner probably helped that along).

The other desserts, “Cappuccino” di Nutella- nutella & mascarpone crema, bourbon soaked sour cherries topped with whipped cream & cocoa powder and Gianduia - “Nico” hazelnut gelato with toasted hazelnuts atop bittersweet chocolate gelato with chopped chocolate, chocolate sauce & whipped cream were less uniquely inspiring but good nonetheless.

All in all, we all left full of great conversation, wine, and some of the best restaurant week food I have had. I will DEFINITELY be going back sometime soon. We closed the place down, and I would absolutely recommend you do the same. Spend a few hours, try everything, and take advantage of the great wine parings. Its worth every minute and penny. Not a place to rush.......Make it a Sat night, with a few old friends, and try a little of everything. This is eating at its best.

Dino on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Week in DC.......

So, its that time again. Unlike most years, the realization that the happiest time in all the year was nearly upon me did not come too late, and I was able to get a few decent reservations for Restaurant Week. For us poor government employees normally relegated to happy hour specials and appetizers at the bars of great restaurants, peering longingly into the windows envying the well-suited lobbyists frivolously ordering 15yr old scotch and lobster courses, Restaurant Week provides the rare chance to break in and try the best (and worst) that DC has to offer.

In some ways, this is a win-win proposition. At best, you discover a great new place, or a new item on the menu of an old favorite, and have a great meal for $35. At worst, you walk away from a $35 meal grateful that you did not waste a bonus, birthday, or wealthy date on the experience. Of course when you have six reservations in five days, all accompanied by a few bottles of wine (exquisitely paired with each course naturally), it becomes what you buy instead of, say, your rent or non-ramen lunches for the month. But still, its wonderful.

I do love this week. This year, I was ecstatic to remember that restaurant week was coming in time to actually get great reservations . Ok, so 6 pm, strongly argued up from 5 pm, at The Prime Rib isn't the best time, but still, I was lucky to get something at all. At least there might be someone other than busboys starting a shift and an elderly senator from South Carolina in the room.

In preparation for DC Restaurant Week, I was trolling for blogs, websites, anything that discussed the best places to go, and came up dry. There is seemingly a lack of good info out there, which is a shame given the great disparity in how many restaurants approach this week. I have eaten at places that really went all out to present a great image and seek new customers, places that used the week to try out fantastic, awful, and always interesting new menu options, and places that seem to inexplicably participate in the most begrudging way, openly snarling at the poor masses that mob otherwise fine establishments demanding decent service and a chance to discover a new special location. Even though, as previously explained, I do really feel that the week is win-win, whether a meal is good or bad, I still definitely try to seek out the tasty places, and put this blog forth as a hopeful resource for others looking for something a little special.

With that said, here is the lineup, all dinners (sorry kids, I work where there is no fine cuisine, and only a halfway decent chance of making it to your car without mace, so no lunches):

Dino, Sat 9 Aug
TenPenh, Mon 11 Aug
Taberna del Alabardero, Tues 12 Aug
The Prime Rib, Wed 13 Aug

Its already Thur, so I will try and get back reviews out there ASAP. Otherwise, The Prime Rib looks like its first up!