Archive for November, 2007

Afternoon Tea at the Mayflower

November 23, 2007

I am, if you will, a connoisseur of afternoon tea. My sister, Jeanette, and I have made it “our thing” and my other sister, Alison, and now Brian have gotten in on the gig.

Afternoon Tea at the Mayflower

Jeanette and I have tried tea at this venerable Washington institution before and were disappointed by a staff who clearly thought us too unsophisticated to be at the Mayflower: our teapots were left unfilled with tea leaves seeping themselves to sludge and tea sandwich crusts were dried out from a too-early preparation. When Brian and I went today as part of our Thanksgiving weekend treat, I was counting more on the setting to impress than the actual tea.

The setting:
The Mayflower Hotel is simply gorgeous. It’s historic, classic, and feels like the world of Old Money. I love it. However, the flowers were a day past needing their stems freshly snipped and blooms re-arranged, and the emptiness of the room because of the “reservations only” policy to discourage drop-ins made it seem a little less chic than you’d hope for dropping $80 on an afternoon drink and snack.
But just barely less chic.
The walls have murals and faux marble painted on the columns, and the soft yellows and greens with the contrasting dark green water glasses make for a relaxing setting. Had the harpist been playing in her Juliet balcony suite, I could have completely wasted the day there gorging myself on treats and tea.

The service:
Much to my dismay, our server was the same as the one Jeanette and I had when we visited. His awkward English was a disadvantage to himself only when he tried to make a joke (He set out our tea and said, “Well, what are you waiting for?”) but he was present to ask how things were going once or twice and fill our teapots with hot water after every fresh cup.

The food and tea (and a glass of champagne too!):
We started with a glass of champagne that was really quite delicious – nice citrus on the back end and not too sweet. It also went well with the sandwiches offered.
I was disappointed at first glance at the list of tea sandwiches: salmon, vegetarian, duck with goose liver mousse, and mozzarella with roasted red peppers on pita. I’m a traditionalist when it comes to an afternoon tea, and sometimes a gal just wants sliced cucumber and cream cheese on fluffy white bread with the crusts cut off. Brian, however, was thrilled and declared the salmon tea sandwich one of the best salmon dishes he’s ever had. I think it was the whipped cream cheese mousse on which the piece of salmon was resting. The pastries, however, were exactly what I was looking for and I was bummed I’d wasted valuable stomach real estate on the aforementioned sandwiches.
Brian joked “signature” banana bread was his favorite, and he was spot-on. The éclair was good and the black currant scone just okay, but a raisin brioche and coconut macaroon were swoon-worthy.
I ordered Earl Gray tea (I can’t help myself – I tend to go for whatever tea is strongest and seep it until it looks like a cup of coffee) but this tea was STRONG. I actually had to spoon water from my water glass into my teacup to make it drinkable, although it was fine once I did that. Brian had Chamomile Citrus and added milk to make it more British.

I suggest The Mayflower for afternoon tea for the wonderful setting, “wow” factor, and incredible coconut macaroons.

Best for: Impressing out-of-towners and Anglophiles.

Worst for: Coffee-drinkers.

Sonoma

November 23, 2007

Sonoma Restaurant – Friday, August 04, 2006

I’m on a kick of checking off places on my “Must Try” list, and this past weekend I made it to Sonoma, a wine bar restaurant I’ve been wanting to try since last summer. The quick review? I want more!

Sonoma

The setting:
We drove past Sonoma on our first attempt at finding it because it’s unassuming in the middle of a row of stores with a small entrance. The restaurant is set up like a row house – long and skinny with tall ceilings and three floors. We had to wait because our table wasn’t ready for our reservation, so we wound up at a bar upstairs to have a glass of champagne to start the evening. The color palate is cool and soothing with low furniture that looks really comfortable but usually makes your clothes bunch if you have to sit on the chairs and couches. I’ll stick to the bar stools, thanks. My date commented that it would be fantastic if they could set up a table in the wine cellar you can see through the glass-backed bar, but the only seating is downstairs in banquette and chair seating along one wall, or picnic table style seating for larger parties.

The service:
My only complaint was that the hostess didn’t seem apologetic that our 9:00 reservation was going to be considerably late. We waited almost 30 minutes, which seems a bit long considering we had reservations. But that delay let us meet Theo, the bartender on the second level who was friendly and open to judging other wait staff as “great” or telling us “she sucks.” Our waitress indulged my date’s request to change his wine glass from a generic red wine glass to a Bordeaux glass and checked back with us at a good pace. She was friendly and joked with us when appropriate and was able to gauge our table well. The manager, Mike, came by and chatted with us about wine (my date is an enthusiast) and different wine shops in the area. Overall, the service was absolutely wonderful.

The food and wine:
I left all ordering decisions to my date, and he selected a Zinfandel for me and a Syrah for himself, which turned out to be the right choices for each of us. I liked the spiciness of my glass, and he preferred the depth of his. They went well with the charcuterie board we ordered: heavenly prosciutto and speck, three fantastic cheeses, although because I didn’t order, I’m not entirely sure what they were, but my favorite was an ash rind goat cheese. Wonderful. Port-soaked figs were good, but I prefer fresh figs, and a unique serving of pickled baby peaches, as well as a marinated scallion salad (which I didn’t try because of a green onion allergy) were on the board, as well as a plate of grilled Tuscan bread. Surprisingly, the mixed nuts were the biggest hit: seasoned with rosemary and absolutely delicious. My date asked for a second serving of them, and something tells me if they had offered us a board of nothing but those nuts, he would have scarfed them all down.

Dinner felt very Mediterranean, and I spied several things on the menu I would love to try on another trip to Sonoma. I’ll definitely be back with a full appetite.

Matchbox

November 23, 2007

Matchbox – Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Matchbox

The setting:
Matchbox in Chinatown looks like a gutted townhouse: narrow and tall with two stories used for seating. The walls are brick and cozy, and the bar takes up almost a whole wall downstairs with high bar table seating against the other wall. We sat at the bar and could hardly talk from being distracted by 3 (!) televisions all within immediate view.

The service:
This is my lunch date’s favorite neighborhood place, so he knew the bartender by name when we sat down. They have a dumb waiter system that is really neat to move food from the lower to the upper levels, and the servers all seemed friendly.

The food:
I tried one of the famed miniburgers – good, but not mouthwateringly so. The bun was buttery, and that kind of made the burger. However, I like cheese, and there was no cheese on those miniburgers! The salad had spicy candied walnuts that I picked out and ate them by themselves, but never tried a full bite of the salad. I opted instead for a pizza with mushrooms and pepperoni. The crusty was crunchy yet still flexible, and the toppings were top notch: yummy mushrooms that were still firm and the pepperoni were spicy. What I liked best about how the toppings were distributed was that they were partly under the cheese, but not completely covered. I really want to go back and try a better helping of the miniburgers and some more of the menu.

Bistro Bis

November 23, 2007

Bistro Bis – Tuesday, August 15, 2006
I went to lunch at a fantastic-lunch standby for Betsy’s birthday.

Bistro Bis

The setting:
Bistro Bis is in the Hotel George, a Kimpton property (known for great restaurants in their hotels and for “inventing” the boutique hotel concept.) The room is sunken into the room and really lovely with thick white tablecloths and brightly, yet not glaringly, lit.

The service:
This is my favorite thing about Bistro Bis…they always get it right. I had called ahead to make sure they could accommodate my cousin’s wheat allergy, and when we mentioned it again at the table, our server said the staff has a meeting every morning and they had discussed our reservation and were aware. It was a long, leisurely lunch, and we never felt pressured to leave even though we were there almost 2 hours!

The food and wine:
Even though it was afternoon, we decided to celebrate Betsy’s birthday with a glass of wine. Our server didn’t really help in steering us toward a good glass when we asked, so I think both of us just picked a grape we like. I had a pinot noir and found it a little drab, but that could be my shifting palate. Betsy enjoyed her glass until the final swig where she noticed a HUGE amount of sediment in the bottom. Our server made no comment about that when he removed the glass full of sediment.

We began our meal by splitting an endive (thanks, Betsy – I originally said arugula) salad that the kitchen was good enough to plate separately for us. Betsy had the chicken, a dish she declared “the best food she’s ever had” while I had the veal scaloppini special. The mushrooms that accompanied the veal were the best part of my meal; they were buttery, a little chewy, and excellent. The veal was slightly too fatty and it masked the flavor of the meat. For dessert, Betsy got the crème brulee and then they brought out fresh berries with “Happy Birthday” written in chocolate sauce. We finished with too-weak cappuccinos, but completely fulfilled.

Urbana

November 23, 2007

Urbana – Thursday, August 24, 2006

Urbana is brand spanking new and so close to my apartment – first impressions are that the kitchen needs to meld just a bit more, but the service is great already!

Urbana

The setting:
This may be Urbana’s greatest asset: cool greens and neutrals. The restaurant is sunken into the building, down from street level. Several high tables are in the patio area. As you walk in, the bar bi-sects the restaurant: bar/lounge to the right, restaurant to the left. The booth seating in the restaurant is set up a little oddly. It’s almost as though the seating is for 3 people instead of two, with oblong tables and the booth wrapped around. Talking with my dinner companion was tricky until she moved to the center of the table and I stayed on one end. There was plenty of room, however, and would be for a party of 3 as well.

The service:
Our server, Steven, was fantastic. I described the flavors I was looking for in my wine, and he brought me the perfect glass. He also made an excellent recommendation on food, except for the dessert. At no time did we feel rushed, even though we were there almost 2 and 1/2 hours. I only wish our water glasses would have been re-filled as we sat and chatted long after finishing dinner. The person who cleared our dishes was a little awkward, but it didn’t really detract from the evening.

The food and wine:
I began with a glass of Syrah and have decided this may be one of my favorite grapes. There were plenty of wines by the glass, and the selection was varied. Because I let our server choose my wine, I didn’t spend a lot of time looking over the wine list. I did, however, pay a lot of attention to the menu, which had several entrees that grabbed my attention.
I started with the heirloom tomato and mozzarella crostini. What I like about the crostini is that they can be ordered individually. Priced at $3 each, it satisfied my craving and my wallet! However, the crostini was so crunchy it hurt my mouth a bit, and the flavors weren’t very distinct.
Steven recommended the pork chop with polenta and brussel sprouts, something I had been looking at with interest even before he recommended it. The chop was good and had a plum sauce accompanying it. I wish the sauce had been poured over the top instead of beside it because the meat was a little dry toward the end and the sauce coagulated to be almost inedible. The polenta was great, but the brussel sprouts with lemon peel was too heavy on the lemon peel and not heavy enough on the brussel sprouts. The flavors together in one bite (pork, plum, polenta, brussel sprouts, and lemon) were fantastic, but it took a bit too much to put each bite together.
The dessert really didn’t do it for me. The banana chocolate tart had a caramelized top, but it really didn’t suit the dish. The crust seemed to be from frozen packaged crusts and it was hard and crumbly.

I want so much to like Urbana, but I think the kitchen has a few kinks to work out to make the dishes as delicious as they should be. In the meantime, it’ll be a new hang out for drinks and appetizers.

Montsouris

November 23, 2007
Montsouris February 28, 2007
The setting:
It had a great French feel to the place (which you would expect, but don’t always get) and I love the bar and will be back just to hang out there. The lines were clean and the colors muted for the most part, although there were pops of red that really set a great tone. It’s a pretty sexy place, and would make for a great date or special occasion destination.

The service:
The service was great – we never felt rushed, and our server made great suggestions. They were French without any of the stereotypical snootiness you get in some places (I’m talking to you, Bistrot du Coin) and were friendly in a way that made you feel like they wanted you there and were proud to be working there.

The hostess (manager?) brought us a wine chiller automatically when she poured our glasses and felt the bottle temperature, but I wish it had been the right temperature when we drank our first glass.

The food and wine:
We had 3 red meat-eaters, and we all tried something different – Kobe for the birthday girl, butcher steak for the man of the group, and rib eye for myself. The meat was good, but the variations on potatoes (pomme frites, gratin (OMG-worthy good) and mashed) were excellent. Our salads (spinach for two, endive for myself) were maybe the best thing overall, and the baguette had that perfect chewiness some overlook (sorry BdC).

Our wine selection (French Malbec/Merlot blend) was wonderful, but served a little too warm. I just loved the selection – shown written on the wall on a large chalkboard. Had we not had a few minutes to wait for our table and look it over, it could have been tricky. I’m not sure if there is a separate wine list they bring to the table.

The only real fault I have with the food or service was a weak cappuccino, but Montsouris is French and not Italian, so I can’t fault them too much.

Put this on your radar – it’s a bit expensive, but overall, an excellent experience!

A New Year’s Resolution Early: Kiss My Grits

November 22, 2007

I love food. And I’m opinionated about food, restaurants, service, and recipes. I started a blog on my MySpace page a while ago but veered off track talking about other things going on in my life. Instead, I decided to create this blog (it’s my New Year’s Resolution for 2008 come early!) to discuss food and all the deliciousness surrounding that topic. And what better day to start than Thanksgiving Day – a holiday all about food! (Yeah, yeah…giving thanks and all that, but aren’t we all thankful for wonderful food?!)The natural question given the day and my love of food is what I’m eating today. (At this particular moment, I’m typing with a piece of goat cheese gouda and Hardcore Cider) Brian and my plans to eat with friends were unexpectedly canceled last minute, so we’ve decided to create a feast for just the two of us: turkey and stuffing (cornbread, onions, and celery – stuffed in the bird it’s awesome), le Sueur peas (they’re the best!), mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce, washed down with a $20 bottle of Dolcetto (big spenders, I know…)

This evening I’ll also be making pumpkin cookies to take to a dessert party.

I’ll also be updating to include my reviews originally found on my MySpace page of some of the great places I’ve been.

If you don’t agree with my reviews or tastes, you can always Kiss My Grits!