Friday, August 3, 2007

Another Restaurant Week Experience

by Erin and Xani

On Tuesday, we took advantage of Baltimore Restaurant Week and went to Mezze, a restaurant in Fells Point. Mezze is a tapas place but the tapas are more Mediterranean than Spanish, so we were looking forward to the new spin on something which we love so much.

Now usually, the Restaurant Week deal is that you get three courses for $30, but at Mezze they switched it up a bit. We got 10 different tapas (plus dessert) for the same $30, which turned out to be a huge amount of really good food, so we feel we got quite the deal!

Here was the menu for Restaurant Week:

  • Hummus
    Pureed chickpeas and tahini sauce seasoned with garlic and cumin
  • Tzatziki
    Farm stead yogurt mixed with roasted garlic, cucumber, dill and imported olive oil
  • Village Salad
    Tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet onions, cubanelle peppers, capers and imported feta cheese tossed in a balsamic vinaigrette
  • Grape Leaves
    Stuffed with aromatic rice, pine nuts, parsley and onions, topped with tzatziki sauce
  • Falafel
    Traditional ground chickpea and fava bean cake with tahini sauce, chopped tomato and parsley
  • Spinach Pie
    Spinach with imported feta cheese and fresh herbs, wrapped in phyllo
  • Stuffed Peppers
    Stuffed with aromatic rice, mushrooms, onions and a variety of Mediterranean cheeses
  • Chicken Kabob
    Mediterranean style grilled marinated chicken and vegetables
  • Baby Lamb Chops
    served with garlic potato puree
  • Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes
    Broiled hand picked crabmeat cakes
  • Baklava
  • Kataifi

    The restaurant itself is a very interesting, warm space, and we were greeted at the door by a hostess and some other folks. We were seated upstairs (and had a great view of the open kitchen from the steps) and got a good table for two, big enough for all the delicious dishes we were about to enjoy.

    We started the meal with some drinks. Xani got a glass of wine (dry Rosé) and Erin got a glass of sangria.

    The waiter quickly brought large bowls of hummus and the tzatziki (even before our drinks!), which were served with spiced, toasted pita wedges. The hummus was served with olives and a drizzle of olive oil, and it was good but not amazing. The tzatziki was delicious - creamy and tangy with fresh herbs and cucumbers and onions running through it.

    Tzatziki

    Hummus

    Next we got the Village Salad, which was delicious and fresh, with yummy vegetables and a herby, lemony vinaigrette, and lots of feta cheese.

    Village Salad

    Next, they brought us a plate with several items (2 of each - they're so thoughtful): Stuffed Peppers, Stuffed Grape Leaves, and Spinach Pie (or spanikopita for those of us who wish we spoke Greek). The peppers were good - the peppers themselves had a mild flavor and the rice was good, though we don't recall any Mediterranean cheeses or mushrooms in the stuffing, as was billed on the menu...hmmm. False advertising! Don't joke around about cheese! Um...anyway...

    The spanikopita was good but it was SO HOT that we couldn't eat it until a while later. The stuffed grape leaves (aka dolmades) were excellent! They are a favorite of ours and they definitely hit the spot. The rice was well-seasoned and had lots of herbs, and you could tell they were hand-made.

    Next came our last plate of savory foods, which included the Falafel, the Chicken Kebab, the Baby Lamb Chops, and the Crab Cakes. The falafels were delicious - crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside (though Xani thought they were just a little too mushy on the inside). While they were good, they weren't nearly as good as REAL falafels (and by that I mean Israeli falafels gotten off a street-cart in the middle of Tel Aviv), but they were still very nice.

    Falafel

    Next we tried the chicken kebabs, which were just grilled chicken with vegetables. The chicken was well-cooked and seasoned. This dish was fine but boring-- I guess they put it in there for people who just HAVE to have chicken!


    Chicken Kebabs

    The lamb chops, however, were excellent! They were perfectly cooked and delicious, and teeny tiny!

    Lamb Chops

    Lastly we had the Crab Cakes, which were absolutely delicious with big pieces of crab and not too much filler (spoken like a true Marylander) and broiled, not fried.


    Crab Cakes

    Lastly, we had a bit of dessert, which included a huge piece of baklava, and a little bit of Kataifi, which was a sort of crepe-like dough with a banana custard filling. Erin liked the baklava - it was sweet with lots of nuts and layers and layers of filo; Xani, on the other hand, did not like the baklava as she has serious beef with honey. The kataifi was okay - the banana filling was not very banana-y but it was nice otherwise.

    Overall, it was a lovely experience at Mezze, and we had a really friendly waiter and timely service. We would definitely recommend it for Restaurant Week, and we are looking forward to visiting again to try out their traditional menu. Opa!

    Happy eating,

    E & X

  • Wednesday, August 1, 2007

    Pazza Luna, My First Restaurant Week Meal

    by Xani

    Baltimore Restaurant Week started on Monday. So, clearly, my duty as a food blogger was to get out there and eat at as many participating restaurant as my stomach (and wallet) would allow! Monday night my friend Matt and I had reservations at Pazza Luna, a little Italian place in the Locust Point neighborhood in south Baltimore. When I say "in the neighborhood" I am not kidding-- the place was literally on the corner, in between a couple of cute little row houses. I love places like this-- makes me never hope I never eat in a strip mall again!

    Once inside, the place was casual but cozy. There were a few tables and a large-ish bar downstairs, but we were brought upstairs to a cute, airy dining room. A friendly busboy came by to fill our water glasses ("Sparkling, still, or Baltimore's Finest tap?") and to deliver a basket of assorted bread, some olive oil, and a head of roasted garlic. I thought this was a great touch, one of those things that will stand out in my memory, potentially longer that the meal itself!

    Our waitress came to the table promptly and we ordered off the Restaurant Week menu, which was a Prix Frixe $30 three-course dinner. Hard to beat that! But we had a tough choice ahead of us. The menu was as follows:

    Dinner Appetizer

    • Crab Salad with Cucumber and Yogurt
    • Asparagus Salad with Grilled Peach Vinaigrette
    • Yellow Tomato Gazpacho

    Dinner Entrée

    • Chicken Risotto with Romaine Lettuce and Lemon
    • Pan Seared Branzino in Orangecello Sauce
    • Vegetarian Lasagna
    • Veal Marsala in a Porcini Mushroom Sauce

    Dinner Dessert

    • Semi-freddo Triple Chocolate Mousse
    • Cannoli
    • Tiramisu

    So many good choices! But we had to make a decision, and after nibbling (ok, devouring) the bread and ordering a bottle of Italian red wine, out came the first course.

    I ordered the yellow tomato gazpacho, which was a stunning gold color, and had a fresh, tangy tomato flavor (of course as I ate it I was wondering where I could get my hands on some delicious yellow tomatoes myself!). It had a drizzle of olive oil on top (hard to see against the yellow soup) and a crispy bacon garnish in the middle, the saltiness of which really helped bring out the sweetness of the gazpacho. A delicious, refreshing summer starter.

    Matt got the Asparagus salad, which he was kind enough to let me taste. It was excellent. The greens were tossed with a delicious peach vinaigrette, the asparagus were served warm but were perfectly cooked to tender-crispness, and the grilled peach half (that's blue cheese on top) was awesome. I would absolutely steal this idea and served grilled peaches with blue cheese as an appetizer (or dessert!) on their own. All the elements of the dish worked well together-- again, good summer fare.

    For the main course I chose the veal, and Matt had the Branzino. Both were served with a vegetable medley of zucchini and squash, which was quite tasty (can you believe it, Mom? I like zucchini AND squash now! I'm all growns up). My veal was very good, the rich sauce had lots of fresh mushroom slices, and then meat was pounded thin and well-seasoned.

    The Branzino was very tasty-- I loved the orangecello sauce which gave it just a bit of sweetness, but not too much. The fish was very moist and flaky, not at all dry. Our one complaint about the main dishes was that the portions were fairly small. It would have been perfect with a little side dish of homemade pasta.

    Finally, dessert. Matt got the tiramasu which I tired but honestly it is not one of my favorites. There is something about the coffee (or rum) soaked ladyfingers that I am just not a fan of. Also, "ladyfingers" makes me think of this song by Tom Lehrer that my Dad used to play for us on the piano when we were little-- NORMAL! Anyway, I got the triple chocolate mousse which was rich and lovely. In fact it was SO rich, I couldn't even finish it! I know, I know, I just complained that the portions were too small; I'm a high maintenance diner. Sue me.

    Tiramisu

    Semi-Freddo Triple Chocolate Mousse

    I will definitely visit Pazza Luna again. It seems like a great place to get a casual, but not TOO casual, quality Italian meal, and its right in the neighborhood. What a great start to Restaurant Week! More to come...

    X

    Tuesday, July 31, 2007

    2941: Happy Birthday Erin!

    by Xani and Erin

    On Saturday night, the BCD family celebrated a very special occasion: EP's 25th birthday! (We were also doing some residual Mother's Day celebrating because, why not??) For an occasion(s) as special as this, we pulled out all the stops. Not only did we make reservations at the fabulous 2941 Restaurant in Falls Church, VA, we also hired a car service to drive us (about 45 minutes each way) so that everyone could eat and DRINK as much as he or she wanted, without worrying about the long drive home. Safety first, kids!

    Before we went out to our car, we had a little family photoshoot...

    We arrived in our shiny town car about 20 minutes early for our 8:15 reservation. The restaurant is gorgeous, surrounded by a large pond and other water effects, and beautiful landscaping. Inside, the space is bright and airy. The walls are all glass and the ceilings looked to be about 25 feet high! There are beautiful pieces of art and interesting architecture effects throughout the space. There was a guy softly playing flamenco-style music on a guitar right next to the large oval bar.

    Yeah, that bar is where we spent the next hour! The restaurant was hopping and there was some delay in getting us our table. But, we certainly made the best of it by enjoying some cocktails and bar snacks. Xani had a champagne cocktail, Mom had a cosmopolitan, Erin had a mojito, and Dad his usual: "Johnny Walker Black, rocks, twist." They had excellent bread sticks and nuts for us to nibble on while we waited. Finally the table was ready, and to make up for our wait, they comped us our drinks-- now that is good service!

    Next we were seated at our table, and it was time for another drink. 2941 has something we had never seen before: a champagne cart! They roll it over to your table, and inside are 4 different sparkling wines, chilled and ready to pour. We thought this was a lovely and irresistible start to the meal, especially since we were celebrating. But which to choose? Well, four wines, four of us... we ordered one of each and had a mini-champagne tasting! The wines were:

    • Champagne- Guy Charlemagne, Blanc de Blancs, Grand Cru, Mesnil, France

    • Champagne- Deutz, Brut, Classic, France

    • Champagne Rosé- Philippe Gonet, Brut, 1er Cru, Le Mesnil, France

    • Prosecco di Valdobbiadene - Bisol & Figli, Brut, Jeio, Veneto, Italy

    They were all delicious and tasting them side by side was a really effective way of tasting the differences between them. With the glasses of bubbly we were brought an amuse bouche of parsnip veloute. This warm, creamy little treat was just a taste of great things to come...

    While 2941 was offering a very tempting tasting menu that night, we instead chose to create our own "tasting" by ordering four different first courses, and four different main dishes, and rotating the dishes between the four of us, so that everyone could try everything. (Does anyone else do this?? We get some weird looks at restaurants, but honestly it is a very fun way to eat!)

    While waiting for the first courses we enjoyed the delicious, homemade bread. The bread actually has quite an interesting history at 2941, as 2941 is a family operation: the baker is the chef's father, who after many years working as an opthamologist, followed his passion for baking bread and went to Italy to study the art of crafting bread! He returned to work with his son at 2941, where he creates their amazing breads. Isn't that a great story!? On Saturday night we sampled several breads: French Baguette, sundried tomato, pumpernickel and maybe one or two others (it was hard to keep track). At the end of the night we took home a complimentary loaf as well-- one of the perks of dining very late at night!

    After the bread came the first course. We chose:

    • Maryland Summer Blue Crab Soup
      sweet corn, fennel, Smithfield ham, bliss potatoes
    • Licorice Poached Maine Lobster Salad
      jicama and rhubarb, lemon chervil vinaigrette
    • Sashimi of Hawaiian Kampachi Seared Rare
      hearts of palm, artichoke, charred onion relish, soy balsamic reduction
    • Sautéed Sonoma County Artisan Foie Gras
      glazed black mission figs, sherry citrus reduction

    Everything was just as delicious as it sounds! And just look how beautiful...

    Foie Gras

    Kampachi Sashimi

    Lobster Salad

    Crab Soup

    The winning dish was the foie gras, which was absolutely rich and decadent. The lobster was perfectly cooked and the flavors really popped. The sashimi was extremely fresh-tasting and had the perfect amount of crunch from the hearts of palm and artichoke. The soup, while very tasty and bursting with the flavors of the sweetest corn we have had all summer, was the weakest dish of the four. It was somewhere in between a broth-based soup and a cream-based soup, and it just seemed like it should go one direction or another. Basically, it didn't compare to the Spicy Corn Soup and Blue Crab we had at The Bicycle last summer (you know its good soup when you are still thinking about it a year later!).

    A quick break to chat and out came the main courses:

    • Sautéed West Coast Halibut sweet corn, Maine lobster, fava beans, short rib potsticker
    • Grilled Rib of Beef and Roasted Maine Lobster
      chanterelle mushrooms, sweet corn, quickly sautéed calamari
    • Hudson Valley Duck Breast Roasted with Wild Thyme
      pistachio purée, savory cherry pudding, cassis reduction
    • Morel and Spring Asparagus Love Letters
      fresh pasta folds, mascarpone, ricotta and morel cream

    "Ze Duck"

    Surf and Turf

    Love Letters

    Halibut with Short Rib Potstickers

    Again, everything was just absolutely gorgeous on the plate. And the flavors... WOW! This time the weakest dish (though not by much) was the halibut. It was tasty, of course, but not at the level of the other three dishes (although the accompanying short rib potsticker was outstanding-- we could have eaten a whole plate of those!). The "surf and turf" was excellent: both beef and lobster were perfectly cooked, and the mushroom, calamari and corn saute had an amazing, burst-in-your-mouth flavor. The love letters were made of impeccably cooked homemade pasta with a mascarpone and ricotta cheese filling folded in the middle that honestly had to have had crack in it, it was that good. The ultra-fresh veggies scattered on top were amazing (EP felt the dish was a little on the salty side, but still really, really good).

    Finally, we had 'ze duck'. Ze duck was AWESOME. Rarely do you find duck so perfectly cooked-- the crispy seared skin, the moist, rare meat, the rich, meaty flavor... we are drooling as we type this! The little dot of savory cherry bread pudding and the pistachio puree were more than just cute additions to the plate, they absolutely complimented the duck perfectly. A masterpiece!

    At this point one might think the meal is almost over.... well, not really. We had 3 more courses after the main course! First, a cheese plate with a tasting of three wine pairings. After-dinner cheese is a BCD favorite and this plate was quite good. From the selection of four cheeses, our favorite was the Epoisse, a soft, strong-flavored cheese that was perfect with the toasted bread and a sip of Muscat.

    Next, dessert, coffee and espressos. (Xani was, as usual, pleased with the small spoon that comes with the espresso - she LOVES tiny silverware!).

    A slight service mishap here as we ordered a peach and berry cobbler and were served a Hazlenut Praline Mousse instead! At this point we were all too full and... "happy" to care very much. We also ordered a selection of ice creams (our five choices: Tahitian vanilla, chocolate, citrus creme fraiche, caramel, and a mango lime sorbet), all delicious and served in a gorgeous silver bowl, and as a special surprise they brought EP a tiny serving a bread pudding with a candle to celebrate her special day!

    Hazelnut Praline Mousse

    Ice Cream!

    Birthday Bread Pudding

    One more treat lay in store-- our server came by with a towering serving of pink, fluffy COTTON CANDY! This was especially exciting for Xani, who has always had a weakness for cotton candy. Along side came a tiny dish with some homemade marshmallows and other little cookie-like treats on it.

    Overall, it was an incredible, delicious, and very special meal from 2941. We recommend it highly if you have a special occasion or are just looking for somewhere fabulous to dine! It was a great 25th birthday for EP!

    Happy celebrating,

    X & E

    Monday, July 30, 2007

    Lunch at the Place Formerly Known as Doobie's

    by Xani

    Last week I escaped from the office long enough to join a friend for lunch at what is now known as the Penn Street Tavern on the 200 block of Penn Street (formerly Ras Doobie's or just Doobie's; this post on ChowHound includes a discussion of how and why it changed, and how various ChowHounders feel about it). The Tavern is in Ridgely's Delight, a neighborhood a few blocks from where I work. Its a bit tricky to find, but once you turn the right corner you see this big new sign and the bright blue door greeting you!

    Although many are sad to hear of the changes at this location, I have to say it looked a lot better than the last time I was there. Fresh paint, new floors, and other decorative elements make the space warm and inviting. The staff are still friendly and welcoming. The menu is similar (identical?) to what they had under Doobie himself. In addition to several preparations of chicken and fish, they also have more adventurous dishes like goat and ox tail! However, that particular lunch I was not feeling all that adventurous, so I ordered the curry chicken. They had just run out of that dish, so the waitress recommended the fricassee chicken instead. My friend Jeanne ordered the jerk chicken, which had been her favorite under the old chef. Penn Street Tavern also has a variety of delectable side items: the rice and peas are a must (Jeanne and I both got them), I also got the fantastic plantains and Jeanne got the broccoli. As you can see, they do NOT skimp on the portions:

    My chicken was moist and very flavorful, with almost a BBQ-type taste, and the cooked, multi-colored peppers on top were a nice treat. The rice and peas were excellent, as were the soft, sweet plantains. I tried a bit of Jeanne's jerk chicken which was also very good although lacking a certain quality it used to have under the old chef.

    Overall the dishes at the Tavern were a big plates of hearty, good-tasting grub, for a very reasonable price (I think each plate was $11, and believe me, its more than you can eat at one sitting). Its close to Oriole Park at Camden Yards (if you are in the area and looking for something other than bar food or stadium food), and very close to what is soon to be my new office building... I think once I'm just a couple blocks away, I might just become a regular at the Tavern.

    X

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