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My raspberry plants are producing a ton of fruit, and my mint plants are taking over the yard! It’s time to make mojitos!

Very often, I’ll use raspberries alone, but mojitos are even better when you combine the raspberries with blueberries. Though I have a few blueberry bushes in my yard, it seems that the birds get to them before I even get a chance. Fortunately, I have several neighbors that put little farm stands up in front of their homes, selling blueberries, so I stock up on them, rinsing them and placing them in plastic bags that go in the freezer until I’m ready to make my mojitos.

Store-bought frozen fruit works well, too, so if you don’t have a farm stand down the road, don’t feel like you can’t make this fabulous cocktail. Make mojitos by the pitcher and you’ll never have them any other way!

The ingredients

 

Make ahead of time…
1 1/2 cups fresh squeezed lime juice
1 1/3 cups turbinado sugar (Sugar in the Raw)

Mix both ingredients together, letting it stand at room temperature for a few minutes. I like to combine them in a Mason jar, then shake really hard until the sugar has dissolved. I keep it in the fridge, and it’s good for up to 3 weeks…ready to use any time. Shake it well again before using.

 

mojito pitcher

For the Mojitos…
1 cup sugar/lime mixture
1 cup mint leaves, packed
1/2 pint blueberries (fresh or frozen)
1/2 pint raspberries (fresh or frozen)
3 or 4 cups white rum (I use Don Q Cristal rum)
3 or 4 cups club soda

Combine the mint leaves and 1/2 cup of the sugar/lime mixture in bottom of a pitcher. Muddle the mint up very well to release mint oils. Add the blueberries and continue to muddle.

Add the remaining sugar/lime mixture, rum and raspberries. Mix well. Just before serving, add the club soda and ice. Stir. Pour into tall glasses.

Or…for drinks one at a time, don’t add the club soda to the pitcher. Instead, fill a tall glass with ice. Fill it one-third to halfway with club soda, then top with the mojito mix. Garnish it with a mint leaf.

 

Cheers!

Cheers!

Newport, Rhode Island is a great old town to explore…and we’re lucky that we live just a half-hour away. But Newport gets ridiculously crowded in the summertime, so we visit before the season starts or wait until the season is over before we even dare to set foot anywhere near its historic waterfront. But when we heard that one of our favorite restaurants, Fluke, hired a new chef, we broke our own rules and made a special trip to check things out.

The first change is the name: formerly Fluke Wine Bar & Kitchen…now Fluke Newport. Straight to the point, emphasizing its location: one of the oldest cities in the country, founded in 1639. Their philosophy is simple: the freshest locally caught fish and seafood when possible.

Jeff and Geremie Callaghan, owners of Fluke, have been in the biz for a long time, and we’ve been fortunate to know them for over a decade. We met one cold winter night, when my radio station Christmas party, being held at one of the mansions on Bellevue Avenue in Newport, went horribly wrong when they insisted on playing that lame “murder mystery theater” thing in the middle of dinner. My wife and I, being new parents at the time, and cherishing our very rare date night alone, ditched the Christmas party the moment we saw what was going on and made our way quite randomly to the bar on the third floor of Fluke, where Jeff introduced us to many wonderful sipping rums. I consider Jeff my mentor in this area, showing me there was far more to rum than a Captain and Coke.

 

The bar at Fluke Newport.

The bar has changed a little bit at Fluke Newport…where rums used to dominate, now there are bourbons…a sign of the times. But the creative bartenders use top quality spirits and hand-pressed juices in their cocktails.

 

Chef Eddie Montalvo, hands-on in the kitchen.

 

The new chef at Fluke is Eddie Montalvo, a graduate of Johnson & Wales University in Providence. He worked at the highly respected Al Forno in Providence before moving to New York City, where he worked for many years for restaurant legends like David Bouley, Daniel Boulud, Danny Meyer and others. Once Eddie became a family man, and he realized he didn’t want to raise a child in the city, it was obvious that a change of venue was needed, and he left New York for Newport. It’s clear that the move was not only great for him, but for Fluke as well (it was due for an injection of fresh ideas) and even the Fluke owners and staff, who seem re-energized by a talented new chef at the helm.

Eddie came to our table and we talked at length about food and life, and how the two play a crucial role in our existence. We instantly realized this was not only a talented chef, but a nice guy, not something you always find in one person!

 

Foie gras Paris-brest.

 

He started us off with an appetizer of foie gras Paris-brest. Paris-rest is a popular sweet pastry. They add local strawberry jam and foie gras to make little sandwiches that are sweet and so rich and satisfying. So good as an appetizer, I was already planning to have it again as dessert!

 

Striped bass crudo.

 

Next came an experimental plate. Chef Montalvo had some fresh-caught striped bass, and made a beautiful plate that was not yet on the menu. I’m not usually a fan of striped bass, but cutting it super-thin, and serving it crudo-style was brilliant. We told him he shouldn’t change a thing. Perhaps it’s on the menu by now.

 

Lobster with spinach angel hair pasta.

We don’t usually order chicken at a restaurant, but my wife’s local Baffoni farm chicken, cooked in a cast iron pan and served with morels and an artichoke puree, was perfect. Chef Eddie told me he prides himself in his pasta making, so I went with the poached lobster on pillowy-soft spinach angel hair pasta with mushrooms. Both of our selections were delicious, and the plates were beautiful. And I was too stuffed to have another order of the foie gras Paris-brest! Maybe next time…

 

An after dinner sip of Blanton’s made the meal complete.

 

Every bit of seafood at Fluke Newport is right off the boat. Produce and meats are from farms just up the road. And now, a chef that excels in putting them together for a fabulous meal.

I’m a wuss. I can’t do heat. But I’ve always been fascinated by jerk chicken: it looks amazing and smells fantastic. So I decided to try making a kinder, gentler version by eliminating the number one high-heat ingredient: Scotch bonnet peppers.

On the scale of hotness known as the Scoville scale, Scotch bonnets reach anywhere between 100,000 to 350,000 Scoville units. To give you an idea how hot that is, jalapenos only reach 2,500 to a maximum of 8,000 Scoville units! That means those suckers are 40 times hotter than jalapenos! And that’s why I left them out of my recipe.

I found that when I left the Scotch bonnets out, there was still plenty of fragrant, hot and smoky flavor in my jerk chicken.

 

Jerkalicious.

 

1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
3 medium scallions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon Chinese five-spice powder
1 tablespoon allspice berries, coarsely ground
1 tablespoon black pepper, coarsely ground
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon olive oil
8 lbs. chicken, parts or whole birds quartered

 

In a food processor, combine the onion, scallions, garlic, five-spice powder, allspice, pepper, thyme, nutmeg and salt. Process it into a coarse paste.

With the machine on, add the soy sauce and olive oil in a steady stream.

Place the chicken pieces in a large Ziploc bag, and pour the marinade in. Zip the bag up and squish it around to make sure the marinade touches all parts of the chicken. Place the bag in a bowl (to prevent accidental leaks) and place the bowl in the fridge overnight.

Bring the chicken to room temperature before cooking.

Indoors: Place the chicken on a baking sheet and bake in a 350-degree oven for about 30 minutes. At the end, move the baking sheet under the broiler and cook a few minutes more, to get some caramelization going.

Outdoors: Light a grill and cook the chicken over a medium fire, turning it so it doesn’t burn. Cover the grill if you like, for smokier flavor. Make sure the chicken is cooked through before serving.

 

 

 

This is a great side dish for any special occasion. And you can substitute to suit your needs. Goat cheese not your speed? Try Gruyère or smoked gouda. Need it to be gluten-free? Use GF breadcrumbs. Don’t like mushrooms? Okay…I can’t help you there…

 

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1 package large white mushrooms
olive oil
1/2 shallot, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, through a press
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, finely chopped
pinch of red pepper flakes
salt and pepper
fresh goat cheese
bread crumbs
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, finely chopped

 

 

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Rinse the mushrooms in cold water to clean them. Remove the stems of the mushrooms and set them aside. Rub the mushroom caps with olive oil and place them on a baking sheet, open side-down, in a 400-degree oven for a few minutes.

In a pan, sauté the shallot and garlic in a little olive oil. Chop the mushroom stems finely and add them to the pan. Add the thyme and pepper flakes.

Reduce the oven temp to 350 degrees after removing the mushroom caps. Flip the mushroom caps over so that they look like little bowls. Break off a small piece of goat cheese and place it in each mushroom. Top each with the sautéed shallot mixture. Sprinkle breadcrumbs on top and sprinkle parsley over that.

Return the baking sheet to the oven, cooking the mushrooms until they are lightly golden in color, and the cheese has melted.

 

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Mushroom myth: Soaking mushrooms in cold water makes them mushy. Not true! Alton Brown, on an old episode of “Good Eats” on the Food Network, showed that mushrooms do not soak up any water when left to soak for even 30 minutes. So use your mushroom brush…use your kitchen towel…whatever you like. But I prefer to get them clean simply with cold water.

 

 

Bulgogi is the name given to the most common form of Korean barbecue. Unlike the daeji bulgogi that I cooked in a previous blog, this one is not based on a chili sauce that can take the roof of your mouth right off.

I used chicken, though this would work with pork as well, and for the best flavor, it’s best to marinate the meat in the fridge overnight.

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2/3 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup chopped scallions
6 tablespoons sugar (I use organic cane sugar)
5 tablespoons fresh garlic, grated or through a garlic press
5 tablespoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1 teaspoon black pepper
5 lbs. chicken pieces (skin-on thighs work best)

 

Combine all the ingredients except for the chicken in a bowl and mix well.

Place the chicken pieces in a large Ziploc bag and pour the marinade in. Seal the bag well and squish it around to make sure the marinade makes contact with the chicken. Place the bag in a bowl (to prevent accidental leakage) and keep it in the fridge overnight. Squish the bag around every few hours to make sure the marinade does its job.

When ready to cook the next day, pre-heat the oven to 350 and remove the bag from the fridge and let it come to room temperature. Place the chicken on a sheet pan (discard the remaining marinade) and bake for an hour.

Light a hot grill and push the coals to one side of the grill. Place the chicken pieces on the cool side of the grill and close the lid, opening the vents. Every few minutes, turn the chicken pieces over so they get nice grill marks but
don’t burn.

 

 

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There are very few sandwiches more perfect than the BLT, and I would be a fool to try to improve on it. Freshly toasted bread, a slathering of mayo (Hellman’s only, of course), crisp lettuce, fresh juicy sliced tomato, and my own homemade bacon. What could be better?

I recently tried my hand at smoking and slow-roasting a huge slab of grass-fed beef brisket, and it came out beautifully. Rich and smoky, there was far too much of it for a mere mortal like myself to polish it off, even if I ate it for days in a row. So I cut the brisket into more manageable sized slabs, wrapped them and placed them in the freezer.

 

beef brisket

 

I took one of those slabs out of the freezer the other day, and noticed that, with the grain of the meat and fat, it resembled bacon. And then it dawned on me: I could slice it like thick-cut bacon, fry it in a pan, and make my own BLT with it: a Brisket, Lettuce and Tomato Sandwich!

 

steakon!

 

The end result was fantastic. Quite different than the infamous BLT, but a beefy winner in its own right.

 

Alz BLT: Brisket, Lettuce and Tomato

Alz BLT: Brisket, Lettuce and Tomato

CHIVE TALKIN’

Posted: May 24, 2018 in Food, garden, pizza, Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , ,

This is the time of year when the chives in my herb garden are busting out with blossoms. Before they pop, I head out every few days and snip the larger ones off the chive plants with about 3 inches of the green stem, wrap them in freezer bags and freeze them.

 

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I use those blossoms over the course of the year on a variety of dishes, but they really shine on my signature marinated beef and chive blossom pizza. I just take a packet of chive blossoms out of the freezer, and sauté them lightly in olive oil and salt and pepper, then sprinkle them on the pizza before baking.

 

My signature marinated beef tenderloin and chive blossom pizza.

My signature marinated beef tenderloin and chive blossom pizza.

 

Pick 'em and freeze 'em in May!

Pick ’em and freeze ’em in May!

Chive blossoms not only add great flavor, but they look cool on the plate, too.  I’ll add them as a side to almost any meat dish, or chop them after sauteing and sprinkle them in rice or quinoa.

 

I love onion dip, and really good onion dip is hard to find…you’ve got to make it. It’s not difficult to do, and it’s worth the effort.

I recently hosted a boys’ weekend at Saule, our rental home in Little Compton, Rhode Island, (www.sauleri.com. It’s listed at Home Away.com), and made a massive amount of this onion dip. It vanished. Great with chips or veggies.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups diced sweet onions
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sour cream
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
chopped chives, to garnish

 

In a saute pan over medium heat, salute the onions in the olive oil and salt until they are soft and barely caramelized, about 15 minutes. Remove them from the heat and set them aside to cool to room temperature.

In a bowl, combine the rest of the ingredients except the chives, then add the cooled onions and mix well.

Refrigerate the dip and stir again before serving. Sprinkle the chopped chives on top to garnish.

Not only is this Saturday Cinco de Mayo, it’s also the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby! Margaritas and Mint Juleps are two drinks I don’t want to mix, so I’m sticking with the julep this Saturday.

The Mint Julep is such a perfect, classic and historic bourbon drink, it seems silly to wait until Derby day to have one. Of course, as any aficionado of spirits will tell you, there are as many right ways as wrong ways of making one.

The first step in my Mint Julep is making the simple syrup. I use the standard ratio of 1 cup of clean, filtered water to 1 cup of sugar, but I use an organic product like Woodstock Farms Organic Pure Cane Sugar. Place the sugar and water in a saucepan and heat until just boiling. I’ve found that it needs to reach this stage for the sugar to really dissolve. As soon as it starts to boil, remove the saucepan from the heat, and throw in a handful of freshly picked mint leaves. Stir to make sure the mint gets in there, and then leave the saucepan to cool to room temperature. Once it’s at room temp, strain the simple syrup into a bottle with a tight sealing lid, and place in the refrigerator to cool. It will keep for about a week.

The next step is the tough part: the battle of the bourbons! The recent explosion of choices on the bourbon market has made it all but impossible for the average imbiber to know which bourbon is best for their tastes. My suggestion for this is to go to a trusted bartender and explain that you’re new to the bourbon world, and could you have the tiniest of tastes and sniffs of what he’s got at his bar. Chances are, you’ll get a sampling of some of the better known brands: Maker’s Mark, Woodford Reserve, perhaps Buffalo Trace or Bulleit, and the standard Jim Beam. This is a very good start. If you have deeper pockets, go to the manager of a trusted higher end liquor store and explain that you’ve had all the rest, now what does he think is the best? Of course, hinting to wife and friends that “I’m trying new bourbons” around your birthday or Father’s Day inevitably gets you a few bottles as well!

My go-to bourbon for mint juleps is the very affordable Eagle Rare 10-year-old at $32.99 a bottle, or the classic Maker’s Mark.

Other ingredients for my perfect Mint Julep include crushed ice from clean, filtered water. Don’t even think of using tap water for any cocktail much less this one. Why ruin an expensive bottle of bourbon by going cheap on the ice? I make my own ice cubes, then put them in a canvas ice bag and bash them to the perfect crushed size.

And a Mint Julep needs a metal–not glass– Julep cup. Made of pewter or aluminum, it frosts on the outside as you stir your drink, keeping your beverage ice-cold on even the hottest of days. You simply need to have one to make the perfect Mint Julep.

 

So here’s my recipe…

 

 

3 oz. bourbon
1 oz. mint-infused simple syrup
crushed ice
Julep cup
Fresh mint for garnish

Crush the ice and pack it into the Julep cup, even letting it dome slightly over the top. Don’t worry…the alcohol will melt it.

I like to add 1.5 ounces of bourbon, then the ounce of simple syrup, then another 1.5 ounces of bourbon on top. Break off a few mint leaves from the stem and push into the ice. Using a long spoon, stir the drink well. A beautiful layer of frost will form on the outside of the cup. Add more ice, if necessary, and garnish with a sprig of mint.

 

Like any major city, our nation’s capital has no shortage of restaurants. It’s always a challenge to go through a variety of lists, from Trip Advisor to Open Table to Yelp, trying to find the handful of restaurants that will take our vacation to the next level.

In my experience, I’ve found that many websites with reviews can really be tricky. A person that gets one bad dish may give a restaurant 1 star. Someone who loves Burger King can give it 5 stars. So how do you know which reviews are real and which ones have an agenda? You don’t. You have to read…and sometimes read a lot of them…before you can make a decision.

Of course, when I’m talking about restaurants, I’m not talking about where to get a breakfast sandwich–although I will have that for you in this blog as well. I’m talking about a true dining experience, something that might cost you a lot of bucks but will give you happy, lasting memories.

We had 8 dinners in Washington DC, and because we arrived late on a Friday night, we decided to go to the restaurant located at our own hotel, the Westin in Georgetown. The house restaurant is called the Caucus Room, and being a hotel restaurant, we weren’t expecting amazing food, but we were expecting some food. A week earlier, we made a reservation for dinner at 8:15PM, and when we arrived, the place was empty except for one server who was cleaning up, the strong smell of ammonia in the air. We never got a call that our reservation was cancelled. Just an empty “sorry” from the server before he went back to wiping tables.

The fact that the Caucus Room, and its sister restaurant on the premises, Boveda, were dead–and I mean dead–the entire weekend we arrived, we pretty much decided our hotel was not a food destination. (And when we tried room service, not only was the food overcooked and dry, but it came in a large paper take-out bag. No real plates or utensils. This was the Westin’s new idea of “room service.” They called it  “Fork, Knife, Spoon,” or something dumb like that.)

 

Room service at the Westin Georgetown.

 

So with the Caucus Room closed, we started to walk the neighborhood and soon found the West End Bistro a couple of blocks away. If you “check in” on Facebook, you’ll see they call themselves West End Bistro by Eric Ripert…and although it is connected to the Ritz-Carlton hotel, clearly chef Ripert (of NYC’s Le Bernardin fame) scooted outa there a long time ago. However, we were hungry and we left somewhat satisfied. (I gave it a 3 out of 5.)

Saving ourselves for a Saturday morning brunch our first morning, we were off to explore the city, with a stop at the Navy Yard, where the huge amount of new construction reminded us of Boston’s waterfront: massive apartment complexes, beautiful walkways by the water, and many restaurants to feed those moving into a very dog-friendly neighborhood.

Recommended by our friend, Sal Liotta, the owner of the Back Eddy restaurant in Westport, Massachusetts, we made reservations for brunch at Waley’s in the Yard, as they call it, and we were not disappointed. My daughter went for the straightforward order of pancakes (though she said they were the best she ever had), but my wife and I shared a beautiful seafood tower (with cocktails, of course.) Excellent food, excellent service, friendly staff, excellent first meal of the day: a solid 5 out of 5.

The fabulous seafood tower for 2 at Waley’s.

 

Fiola Mare: Chef Fabio Trabocchi is a big player in the DC restaurant scene, owner of a half a dozen restaurants. We chose Fiola Mare because of its location on the water in Georgetown, and its seafood menu. The food didn’t disappoint, but the service was something out of a bad comedy. To our waiter, Miguel (who looked more like a Mikey), every dish we asked about was “fabulous” or “dazzling.” My wife was handed the wine list and three separate sommeliers swooped down on her within five minutes, asking if she needed help. She barely had time to turn the first page. I saw my favorite vodka, Stoli elit, on the menu, but at $26 for a martini (in a very small glass, I might add) I settled for Belvedere at $16. I also ordered 2 Manhattans. The first one arrived perfectly poured. The second one looked and tasted like they left out the vermouth. The lack of consistency with bar drinks would become my number one pet peeve on this trip.

A rich and delicious half-portion of the lobster ravioli at Fiola Mare.

So the food was excellent, but the service a laugh. And they did everything they could to rush us through our meal. We spotted that nonsense a mile away and let them know we’d be sticking around for a while. A very noisy atmosphere, but the food made us happy. Expensive. I give this Trabocchi cash cow 3 out of 5.

 

We had our disastrous room service food the next morning (as mentioned above), so after that we searched the neighborhood for local breakfast joints. There were three: the Uptowner Cafe, located directly across the street from the Westin hotel (meh)…the Fabulous Market and Cafe walking toward the Foggy Bottom Metro station (also meh)…and Aroma Cafe, a small sandwich shop on 24th between the other two, run by a lovely Asian couple that became our buddies for a few days. Fresh sandwiches, good coffee. Nothing crazy, but just what you want: a fresh bite of food before you get on the train and start your day. Thumbs up to Aroma Cafe.

 

Sunday night’s dinner was a fun challenge. I had read good things about Tail Up Goat and simply made the reservation. (The name comes from islands where the goat and sheep populations are huge. As the saying goes: “Tail down, sheep. Tail up, goat.”)

Crudo and lamb ribs at Tail Up Goat.

 

A small, neighborhood eatery with loyal local customers, Tail Up Goat was fun, bright, and eclectic. Cocktails were again served in tiny glasses, but the food was interesting and challenging in a good way: bold flavors and spices on our lamb ribs with yogurt-za’atar onions on the side. The biggest negative was an extremely small menu. Two of the three main courses offered were for two people, so if you were dining alone, that gave you only one choice. 3 out of 5.

They put the “tini” in martini at Tail Up Goat.

 

We decided to go old school for dinner the next night, and by the recommendations of several friends, we dined at the very crowded, loud, and tourist-trappy Old Ebbitt Grill. Although the website talks a lot about the restaurant’s history dating back to 1856, and although the interior looks like a very cool old historic saloon, the fact of the matter is the Old Ebbitt Grill has only been in its current location since the 1980’s. So much for history!

But…the food was solid…straightforward roasted chicken, beef, pasta and sides. (Sadly, though, not one really good steak is offered on the menu.) However, I did finally get my first REAL martini of our trip!

A real martini filled to the brim at the Old Ebbitt Grill.

 

The Old Ebbitt Grill

I give the Old Ebbitt Grill a 3.5 out of 5.

We had our most disastrous dining experience the following night. Originally reserving a table at Le Diplomate, we made a last-minute change to dine at the highly rated Marcel’s by Robert Weidmaier. Expensive, snooty, and dripping with attitude.

There are very few restaurants where we’ve actually felt compelled to return a dish because it was so badly prepared. But my boneless quail didn’t look or taste like quail. In fact, the sausage-like roll they plated could have been any meat. And it was extremely salty. So…we had to say something and return the dish. Once we did that, our server took the plate away and didn’t come back–not to see if perhaps we’d like to try another dish, or if there was anything else he could do to make our experience better. No…he didn’t come back at all. Once we complained about the food, we were put on the proverbial sh*# list, and no one returned to our table until dessert was served. (We had ordered that in the beginning, so no contact needed to be made.) Only when my wife asked is she could have some tea did our server turn to me and ask if I’d like something to drink as well.

From the sommelier that kept telling my wife all of her wine choices were “dead,” to an expensive and very tough veal chop, to a fishy scallop plate and a disappointing foie gras appetizer, we stared at each other in total disbelief. How could this restaurant get such great reviews? If they were having a bad night, they were having a really bad night. And sadly, that meant so were we. A very expensive bad night. I really want to give zero out of 5.

 

On the menu at the Blue Duck Tavern.

 

Thank goodness we had what was probably our best dining experience the next night, at Michelin-star rated Blue Duck Tavern. Located in the Hyatt hotel that is literally across the street from our Westin hotel, the Blue Duck Tavern is huge, gorgeous, full of space and light, with a professional staff and knock-your-socks-off food.

 

 

The place was packed on a Wednesday night, and we were given a table right in the center of the party. Unfortunately, we struggled to hear each other and asked to be moved to a quieter table. They did so without hesitation and without attitude. Our server, Frank, was the pro you hope for when you come to a restaurant like this: knowledgeable about the entire menu, eager to recommend when asked, and offering tons of useful information to food fanatics like ourselves. He even gave us a tour of the restaurant and kitchen after we placed our order. This dude knew what we wanted!

 

Bone marrow with a pretzel crumble. OMG.

 

The foie gras creme brulee was an absolute knockout. The bone marrow with pretzel crumble was without a doubt the best I’ve ever had, and I’m a bone marrow freak. I have been spoiled for life. Of course, if you come to a place called the Blue Duck Tavern, you must have the Moulard duck breast…fabulous. And my wood oven roasted whole branzino in a sunchoke romesco sauce, all 1 1/2 pounds of it, was devoured by yours truly with only bones to show for it. My usually picky daughter had a feast with the charcuterie and cheese plate followed by a plate of rich ricotta gnudi.

 

Wood fire roasted whole branzino.

A great wine selection, wonderful house cocktails, assistance without attitude…it’s everything you want in a fine dining experience. I can’t give them another Michelin star, but I give the Blue Duck Tavern a solid 5 out of 5.

 

 

Washington DC is chef Jose Andres’ playground. Sure, he’s got restaurants all over the country, but he’s got a dozen of them in DC, all very different from one another. There’s his Michelin-star rated Mini-Bar, Peruvian with Asian and Spanish accents at China Chilcano, heavy-duty Eastern Mediterranean at Zaytinya, and more. I opted for his straightforward Spanish tapas restaurant called Jaleo. We were in Madrid just a few years ago and we loved everything we ate. We were hoping to rekindle some of that “foodie love” and Chef Andres did not disappoint!

 

 

Jaleo is a lot of fun. It’s loud in many ways: the crowd, the crazy, bright colors and architecture, and the bold flavors on the menu. This is a place you bring your friends. Small plates mean you can share or not…but you can try many, many dishes and flavors all night long. We devoured plates of jamon Iberico with Manchego cheese, as well as a salami made with the same jamon. Two types of calamari: fried in olive oil and garlic, and sauteed with white beans. Crazy “liquid olives” inspired by legendary chef Ferran Adria. Grilled asparagus. Chicken fritters. Shrimp fried in olive oil and garlic. Grilled quail with a rosemary sauce (done perfectly–are you listening, Marcel’s?) And an Iberico tenderloin with blue cheese sauce. Yes…we ate it ALL.

 

The Iberico ham, salami, and manchego cheese.

 

The mind-boggling “liquid olives.”

 

We love Spanish wines from Rioja, which made it an easy choice at Jaleo. And I went over the top with the best gin and tonics I’ve ever had. I will never drink it any other way than Jose’s Choice: Hendrick’s Gin, Fever Tree tonic, lime and lemon, juniper berries, and a verbena leaf.

Jaleo gets a 5 out of 5 for sheer fun, great food and atmosphere, super-casual.

 

Out last dinner was right before we hopped on our plane homeward. We had a late flight, so we stopped by Nobu, which happened to be just a block from our hotel, for their Friday happy hour.  This location was the newest in the vast Nobu empire, and the space was huge, clean, modern, classy. It was a good time to go: though the menu was small, there were plenty of tasty bites to choose from, including a Wagyu beef dumpling with foie gras. We were even able to choose a dish or two from the main menu. Tasty food beautifully prepared, and a perfect non-bloating dinner before getting on a plane.

The bar at Nobu.

 

Of course, we had more than just dinners in Washington, DC. Twice we dined in museum cafeterias. Both times, the food was mediocre at best…but we weren’t expecting much more than that at a museum anyway. Once we dined from a food truck. OK food, too.

We were craving Chinese food, so I did a little research and found a place called Chinatown Express. Although the name wasn’t inspiring (think Panda Express–gack!) the food was excellent. When we saw the lovely ladies making dumplings by hand in the front window (“on the spot,” as the sign says), we knew it was the perfect authentic Chinese restaurant we were looking for.

We feasted on roasted duck, fried and steamed dumplings, chicken fried rice, wonton soup, and lots more. 4 out of 5 for authenticity.

 

Just a few doors down, on a day when my daughter and I had lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe, my wife returned to 6th Street to slurp down ramen noodles at Daikaya. She said it was so good, she’s been spoiled for life. Walk in for the ramen, or go to their restaurant for everything but the ramen. And yes, they fly in their noodles from Japan every day! 5 out of 5 for the ramen.

Daikaya.

 

And speaking of the Hard Rock Cafe, I’ve created a monster. I took my daughter to her first Hard Rock last year, when we went to Universal Studios in Orlando. Since then, the big question wherever we went was: “Is there a Hard Rock here, Dad?” So this one was her fourth.

She’s also been to the Hard Rock in the Cayman Islands and the one in New York City, which is located in Times Square (but the original was on West 57th.) The food at every Hard Rock is the same, so no review for that. It’s what you’d expect. But we always tour the entire restaurant after our meal, talking about music, bands and videos. It’s one of the few times that Dad, being the rock jock full of information for almost 4 decades, is actually cool.

 

One last note on inconsistent drinks: I mentioned earlier that it’s a pet peeve of mine that was tested several times during our vacation. Our Westin hotel didn’t even have a lobby big enough for a bar, so a couple of nights we went across the street to the Fairmont hotel, which had a large, spacious lobby and plenty of seating around the bar to sit, relax, grab a bite or have a cocktail. I kept it simple both nights, requesting a Blanton’s on the rocks. The first night, my drink was properly served in a rocks glass with a nice, large cube…a good pour for the money.

The second night, I literally received 1/3 of the drink I got the night before. When I posted my complaint on Twitter, Fairmont Hotels quickly replied, offering me a free drink if I returned. Sadly, I was home by then.

 

 

All in all, a great trip to Washington DC, with some wonderful experiences and some disappointment. But like with any trip, you’ll always increase your chances for success with a little research!