Monday, November 16, 2015

Marcel's by Robert Wiedmaier, Washington DC

Marcel’s by Robert Wiedmaier, Washington DC, 10/29/15, $155/7 courses (excluding taxes & gratuity)
Marcel’s is considered the best French restaurant in Washington DC area. I therefore, made a reservation. It is located in Georgetown section of DC. The menu listed 4-5 dishes available under each course, each guest can select from 3-7 courses by choosing one item out of each course, or choosing two dishes out of one particular course. I chose the 7-course tasting menu, one dish out of each course.

Marcel’s served its house-made potato rolls and 3 different types of butter – sweet cream, pistachio and fig. Potato rolls were freshly baked, however, I missed the old fashioned baguette. It started with an Amuse Bouche.  
Amuse Bouche - A veal croquette, fried golden brown, over lemon aioli and topped with chives. It tasted good, but certainly was not a palette opener.

1st Course – Premier – The Magic Box – Lobster, Pickled Ginger, Avocado, Hamachi, Grilled Octopus, Crème Fraiche with Trout Roe
It was served in a bowl with six equal cells, each filled with one of the dishes. Starting from the 1 o’clock position was lobster salad, clockwise for the rest. Lobster salad was fresh, Hamachi was fresh, although can supplement with a bit of more flavor, and trout roe was sweet. But, octopus was chewy like rubber. I signaled my server that it was not chewable and I was offered a substitute course. I chose soufflé instead.

2nd Course – Fruits de Mer – Pan Seared Scallop Wrapped in Duck Prosciutto, Napa Cabbage, Julienne Apple, Black Garlic

It was a fairly large sized sea scallop sitting on top of sautéed Napa cabbage. I couldn’t not believe that one of the servers called it California cabbage. I had to ask him what California cabbage is. Scallop was wrapped by duck prosciutto, nicely cured and flavored, and scallop was sweet and tender. It was an excellently prepared dish. Often times, seared scallop was served in citric-based sauce. Here at Marcel’s, it used black garlic sauce to complement the prosciutto’s cured taste. This was my 2nd favorite dish in this meal.

3rd Course – Crispy Filet Dover Sole, Butternut Squash Purée, Caramelized Pearl Onions, Sauce Meunière

I was informed by my server that this dish is one of Marcel’s signature dishes. It was fried, slightly breaded, filet of Dover sole. Fish was crispy outside, although a bit greasy. But, butternut squash purée and caramelized pearl onions were so delicious. Marcel’s has made slight variation serving this dish. Usually, Meunière sauce refers to fillets of sole that are floured and sautéed quickly, then finished with lemon juice, parsley and browned butter.

4th Course – Foie Gras – Foie Gras & Crimini Mushroom, Butternut Squash Purée, Seared Foie Gras, Mushroom Consommé Froth

Foie Gras was served in two different way in this course. On the left side, seared foie gras was topped by mushroom consommé foam. While on the right hand side, foie gras and mushroom were folded inside a pocket made of pasta dough. Pasta sat on top of butternut squash purée and topped with micro green and diced squash and mushroom.

5th Course – Volaille – Marcel’s Classic Boudin Blanc, Black Truffle Mushroom Purèe, Caramelized Onions, Lardons of Bacon

I have read quite a few good comments about this signature dish and was very eager to try it. According to the Head chef, it was white meat sausage made of chicken (40%), duck, pheasant, foie gras (30%) and cream. It required two rounds of grinding, followed by manual refining. Then, cream was gradually beaten into grinded meat. The smooth mixture was fed into the casing to create the desired shape and size. After sausage was cooked, the casing was then removed. It was extremely labor intensive. In this course, Boudin Blanc was served with black truffle mushroom purèe to further enhance the taste. All dynamisms devoted to make this white meat sausage was worthwhile. It was my favorite dish in this meal.
6th Course – Viandes – Martin’s Angus Filet Mignon, Cauliflower, Brown Butter, Horseradish, Potato Purée, Cippolini Onions, Cabernet Sauce

Marcel’s acquired its meat supply from Martin’s farm. Martin’s sure provided excellent quality meat. Its filet mignon was very tender and sumptuous, almost melt in your mouth. Cabernet sauce, along with brown butter and horseradish, was with the right consistency and taste.

Substitute – Gruyère Cheese Soufflé, Epoisses Crème Fraiche, Chive

This is my substitute course. When my server brought it to table, it looked slightly burned. A chunk of triple cream cheese was served on the side in case you prefer cheesier flavored soufflé. This soufflé was overcooked, I would much prefer the gruyère cheese soufflé served at Benoit in NYC. 

7th Course – Chocolate, Blackberry Tart, Raspberry Cheesecake, Coconut Macaroon, Chocolate Caramel Ice Cream

Marcel’s doesn’t have a course for palette cleanser. This is my desert course. I saw other flavored sorbet on the desert menu and requested cassis sorbet (on the right hand side of photo) as a substitute for chocolate caramel ice cream. It turned out “cassis sorbet” was smooth and with pungent flavor, and was the best item in the desert plate.

Petit FourFinally my meal was concluded with four bite-size treats: blackberry tart, raspberry cheesecake, coconut macaroon, chocolate caramel square
During the meal, the Head chef came to my table because of my issue of chewy grilled octopus. I asked him about “Russian Beluga” listed on the menu and the fact that Beluga has been banned from US more than 10 years ago. He informed me what listed on the menu is hybrid beluga – ½ Ossetra and ½ Beluga. This hybrid sturgeon doesn’t inhabit in Caspian Sea like the original Beluga sturgeon. Surprisingly, its new home resides in Northeastern Asia.

I enjoyed my meal at Marcel’s in some way. I did have some nicely prepared dishes. Although it is rated as the best French restaurant in Washington DC area, it is no better than some of the fine dining French restaurants in NYC.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Minibar by Jose Andrés, Washington DC

Minibar by Jose Andrés, Washington DC, 10/28/15, $250/25 dishes (excluding taxes & gratuity)

Ever since I saw the episode of Chef Jose Andrés in “60 minutes”, I have been longing for dining at Minibar. I was happy to get a reservation at the Minibar about three weeks in advance. On 10/28, I arrived ½ hour early just to make sure that I would not be penalized for being late. The door was opened 15 minutes before the appointment time at 6 pm. I was greeted to the waiting room which is decorated with contemporary furnishing themed in black and white color.

Soon, when five guests were there, we were led into the Minibar which has two bar counters and each counter can accommodate 5 or 6 guests. Our group who came in for the 6pm seating were all arranged by one counter.

I used dishes instead of courses to describe the content of this meal because some courses had multiple dishes and it was the number of dishes, not the number of courses, which were included in the final counting. Each guest in a group most likely had the same tasting menu providing he/she did not have any food allergy issues.

1st Course – 1st dish - Lemon Verbena Slushy

It was a palette opener adorned with a cucumber blossom. As I got seated by the counter, the 1st thing I noticed was the haze (smoke) coming out a large pot. It was the wonder of nitrogen to cool some ingredients. This dish was comprised of lemon juice, lemon verbena, crushed frozen cucumber, yuzu and sake. It was very refreshing.

1st Course – 2nd dish – Goldfish Cracker

It was gold fish biscuit with aged cheddar cheese filling inside.
1st Course – 3rd dish – Pineapple Shortbread

Fine pineapple bits were mixed with whipped butter and cream, accompanied by shortbread. 
1st Course – 4th dish – Chicken Shawarma

It was chicken fat cracker, it was crunchier and tastier than the ordinary crackers, with a layer of cheese, sun dried tomato and micro-green.
1st Course – 5th dish – Black Garlic Bark

It was roasted garlic tree bark. It was not burned, but your mouth can tell it was garlic.

Among these 5 dishes served in the 1st course, my favorite was lemon verbena slushy.

2nd Course – Watermelon Margarita

Water ice (in white tiny particles) on top of an icicle flavored with Margarita and Mezcal, adorned with mint leaves. Like its cousin tequila, Mezcal is distilled from fermented juice – piña – of agave. However, Mezcal makers roasted the piña in earthen mounds over pits of hot rocks and thus give Mezcal a distinctive smokiness flavor. Water ice was made by adding water into liquid nitrogen. It was like a magic when Head Chef Josh demonstrated it upon my request. Watermelon Margarita ice was so balanced and tasty. It was a very successful and creative dish, and was my 2nd favorite dish in this meal.

3rd Course – Frozen Almond Sandwich

It was whipped and foamy tomato juice (in white color) made as layers, and almond cream filling was sandwiched in between the tomato layers. Dried tomato powders were sprinkled on top for decoration. It certainly involved a lot of work.

4th Course - Burger

It was a burger bun with wagyu beef and sea urchin sandwiched in between buns. Sea urchin and wagyu were both half-raw. In addition, it has got soy sauce and vinegar flavored seaweeds on top of sea urchin and yeast-flavored meringue at the bottom (the semi-translucent layer at the bottom). This was the 1st time that I had beef and sea urchin in one dish. Although this was not my favorite dish, it had a well-balanced taste.

 5th Course – Gorgonzola
It looked like a piece of Gorgonzola cheese sponge cake. It was made by pumping extremely cold air into a vacuum sealed bag, the small chunk of cheese would expand hundreds of times to look like a piece of sponge cake. I had something similar at Noma 2 ½ years ago.

Finger cleaner – a plate with a white tab (not edible), lemon verbena leaf, lemon and cucumber blossom. When I opened the tab, it was a small towel to clean my fingers.

6th Course – Asparagus con Mayonesa

This dish had many ingredients, as I saw a few chefs arranged the various items into each plate. First, a round ring was placed on each plate. Then, one after another, each ingredient was gradually placed in the middle. This dish had cashew, bread crumb, miso cream, cashew cream, asparagus, and finger lime juice. Finally, some nasturtium leaves were randomly placed for decoration.  Finger lime is a new produce that I have never had before. It has got tiny half-transparent pearls inside and a sweeter taste than lemon. However, your mouth will feel the taste of sweetness and sourness.

7th Course – Fusilli al Pesto

House-cured mullet, roasted pine nuts, lemon peel, quail egg (half-cooked with soft yolk), Parmigiano cheese, some micro-green and a special type of pasta. This pasta shaped like thin swivel screws. To satisfy my curiosity, Chef Josh demonstrated how to make this pasta. First, chilled the mold in sub-zero temperature, then coated with a layer of non-flavored gelatin. Removed this gelatin from the mold and surgically used needle fill the gelatin pasta with substance (whichever color or ingredient). To enhance flavor, Head Chef Josh soaked these gelatin pasta in Parmigiano cheese broth for a while. I really liked Head Chef Josh’s attention on both enhancement of the taste and transformation of forms for visual pleasure in food preparation.
8th Course – Potato Gnocchi with Ibérico Broth

There were three types of gnocchi, each made from different types of potato. Inside of each piece of gnocchi, it was filled with light potato purée. Gnocchi was served in condensed Ibérico ham soup to enhance the flavor. In addition, we got a treat; Head Chef Josh came around to shave some white truffles into each guest’s plate. I missed the white truffles when I visited Italy in late September because this year’s harvest was later than usual due to the dry climate in summer. I thought I might not have the opportunity to have it this year. I was delighted to have this pasta dish with white truffles. Gnocchi was so light in texture and so sumptuous when served with white truffles. This was my favorite dish in this meal.

9th Course – Charred Monkfish and Lemon Yolks

Charred monk fish was served with man-made yolk from real egg yolk and lemon. These man-made yolks tasted like half-cooked egg yolk. They looked really cute. In addition, sautéed onion and black onion powder were also on the side to accomplish the taste.

10th Course – Like Water for Chocolate

It was quail breast (resembles white chocolate) served with blackberry sauce and blackberry in rose water. Quail breast was very tender.

11th Course – Thai Rabbit

Braised rabbit was served with roasted Asian pear. It was braised and prepared with Thai style sauce, with peanut foam on the side. One guest felt guilty to eat rabbit.

12th Course – Pumpkin Seed Tart

Pumpkin seed oil was mixed with Mandarin purée place in a bowl. Here we go again with the Molecular Gastronomy. A mold with star-shaped tip was placed into a nitrogen filled bowl. Immediately this tip was dipped into the mixture of pumpkin seed and Mandarin purée. Almost instantaneously, a crust was formed and was able to be separated from the mold. Chef Josh would then place this piece on each guest’s tongue. I guessed this course was considered a palette cleanser.

13th Course – Parmesan Shaved Ice

Parmigiano cheese was cooked in water. Thru the cooking process, it would separate into three layers of products – fat, water and protein. This dish utilized only the frozen Parmigiano water and shaved the ice into flakes. The Parmigiano flakes were served with roasted bell tomatoes (red and yellow), micro-green and a few drops of 20-year aged Balsamic vinegar (a gift from Chef Massimo Bottura of Osteria Francescana.) It was a very pleasant palette cleanser for getting ready for the desert. It was my 3rd favorite dish in this meal.

14th Course – This is not Carrot Cake

It was a health-conscious desert without too much calories. Two mini-tower shaped carrot sorbet sitting on yogurt and topped with ginger bread crumbs. Micro green was placed on top of carrot sorbet for the appearance of a carrot.

15th Course – Piña Colada Tablet

Piña Colada custard filling was wrapped inside marshmallow. We were invited to spend the rest of the meal at Barmini which is adjacent to Minibar. Each of us was offered a piece of tablet on our way to Barmini.

Both Minibar and Barmini belonged to Chef Jose Andrés’s Think Food Group. Minibar is more high-end fine dining and Barmini is like a snack bar for casual dining. Barmini usually doesn’t require reservation and often is packed. On 10/28, an evening under the influence of hurricane Patricia, Barmini was less crowded than usual. Thus, our group was given the opportunity to hang out there.                                                       

16th Course – Caterpillar

This course was made of passion fruit flavored marshmallow shaped like a caterpillar, with cayenne pepper and chili flakes on the side.

17th Course – Éclair

A small éclair with custard filling and chocolate glazing.

18th Course – Doughnuts

Krispy Cream donuts were crumbled and turned into ice cream shaped like a donut.

19th Course – White Chocolate Asparagus

Roasted green asparagus (edible) was coated with white chocolate accompanied by a cute ceramic puppy in the plate (not edible).
20th Course – Liquid Bourbon Peanut

It shaped like a peanut in brown color. It was full of surprise inside – bourbon. We were warned in advance to take it in only one bite.

21st Course – Cherry Bomb

It was the sister of liquid bourbon peanut, a cherry shaped candy filled with cherry liquor.

We were treated with extra amenity since we were the 1st group Minibar served that evening. We were offered a plate of grilled sandwiches. These bit-size sandwiches were special because they were served with white truffles (it is the season) sauce. Surely yummy.

I enjoyed my experience at Minibar. Food was scrumptious and elaborately prepared. Head Chef Josh was very creative, friendly, and attentive to guest’s inquiries. He not only dedicated his talent in enhancing the visual presentation by using cutting-edge equipment, he also made sure that the taste was improved and balanced in the re-invention process.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Da Vittorio, Milan

Da Vittorio, Brusaporto, Italy, 9/25/2015, 250 Euro

Da Vittorio is located in a resort named Cantalupa which is comprised of a caterer, 10 guest- rooms and the Michelin 3-star restaurant Da Vittorio. The surrounding is absolutely fabulous. Da Vittorio has a very classy setting with impeccably placed floral arrangement and table setting. To get to this place is a challenge. You have to take a 50-minute ride on the train from Milan to Bergamo (the birth place of Donizetti), then take a 30-minute cab ride.

The restaurant currently is operated by the 2nd generation of the Vittorio family. Two of the three brothers are chefs in the restaurant. There are four menus to choose – business lunch menu (70 Euro), In the Tradition of Vittorio Seafood menu (180 Euro), a la carte and Carta Bianca (Carte Blanche) Tasting Menu (250 Euro). Since I came a long way to get there, I chose Carta Bianca to get a real feast. I was warned not to eat too much bread.
1st Course – Spicy bread, apricot jam, Taleggio cheese ice cream
It was a refresher and starter. Taleggio has strong aroma but is much milder than blue cheese. It is tastier, lighter and creamier than mozzarella cheese. This dish was elegantly adorned with cute orchid flowers. 

Bread stick mille-feuille, polenta stick and hollowed bread stick were served.

2nd Course – Raw tuna fish, stuffed with cod and potatoes mousse

Tuna fish fillet was filled with cod and potato mousse, then topped with sweet onion cream, baby basil leaves and anise leaves. It was served with lemon and lime oil (in yellow color) and grated lime skin. The quality of tuna used is extraordinary, as good as what I had in Tokyo last year.
3rd Course – Apple, Caviar, ice pearl almond

Beluga caviar is caviar consisting of the roe (or eggs) of the Beluga sturgeon, primarily from the Caspian Sea. The Beluga sturgeon can take up to 20 years to reach maturity. The eggs themselves are the largest of the commonly used roes. In this course, Iranian Beluga caviar was served with a cute green apple jello which was filled with apple nectarine inside. On the side, there were almond milk granité (tiny white balls), hazelnut crumb (at the bottom), beet root and red fruit sauce. Apple was partially covered by a thin sheet of potato bread to make a mystic and romantic looking. It was my favorite dish in this meal. Beluga caviar is so.. delicious, no other types of caviar can compete with it. Beluga is sweet, less fishy and sumptuous. The combination of all ingredients made this dish a perfection. I kept thinking of this dish ever since I had it. 

 4th Course – Cherry’s foie gras

Foie gras filled with cocoa and covered by cherry jello. It was served with molten salt and cocoa powder. The contrasting color of a red cherry sitting on two green leaves made this dish a picture perfect object.

5th Course – Caccia al caciucco (soup with raw fish)

This course required two dishes prepared separately and then merged at the time of serving. There were different kinds of raw shell fish in the plate, prawn with head on, razor shell (in front), lobster (on the left), scallop (under prawn) and red mullet (in the middle), and crust of bread. It was served with Caciucco-Livorno soup which was one of the most famous fish soups, always served with a slice of Tuscan bread brushed with garlic. In this course, soup was cooked in the kitchen and served with the raw fish. Cooked shellfish which produced the flavor in the soup was discarded.

6th Course – Sea Bass carpaccio and eggplant cream, water clams

Sashimi of Sea Bass from the Mediterranean Sea, served with eggplant purée and clam. Black squid bread was at the bottom, parsley and tomato piece for decoration were on top of sashimi. It was served in clam soup with orange cream for additional flavoring.

Croissant, brioche and tomato focaccia were served

7th Course – Prawns with burrata and barbecue tomato cream
Large prawns were served in grilled tomato sauce made of 3 different types of tomato. It was served with chopped olive, lemon cream, burrata cheese, potato bread and Sicilian red onion (on top). Sicilian red onion has a sweeter taste than other types of onion. So far, every course of seafood was delicately prepared and different from others.

8th Course – Rice with green peas and shrimps tartar

It looked gorgeous, it was the risotto, rice cooked with condensed bisque of crustaceans and green peas. Raw shrimp scampi was place on one side of risotto. In addition curry powder and powder of green skin of peas were sprinkled in a V shape for visual presentation.
Extra - My server was very nice to me that he diverted a small portion of pasta from other guest’s serving plate. This pasta was created since day one when Vittorio was opened in 1966. It was called Paccheri alla Vittorio. It shaped like a hollowed tube and served with orange color sauce. My server informed me that the sauce was made of tomato, basil, oregano, pecorino cheese, pepper and carrot.
9th Course – Hard coal

Mediterranean Sea Bass was cooked in a block of coal which was made of sugar, squid ink and a little bit of water. My server brought out the fish fillet after he cut open the coal block. He also served me a chunk of the coal. Chef/owner liked to use local fish from the Mediterranean Sea. Sea Bass’s texture was tender; sweet and nicely flavored. It was served with Perlina aubergine (eggplant) from Sicily, candied tomato, rice spaghetti (in white color), small pieces of rock shell (edible), seaweed and passion fruit foam. It required so much work to make this dish.

10th Course – Separated scorfano (scorpion) fish, stewed and raw

It was also from the Mediterranean Sea. The word scorfano can also mean ugly in Italian, which gives an idea of the appearance of these fish, while the scientific name, scorpaeno, derives from the Greek scorpion and refers to the poisonous spines that rise along its dorsal fin. Contact with spines on camouflaged scorpion fish can cause poisoning. However, whole cooking effectively denatures and eliminates their venom. Europeans liken them to lobster. Scorpion fish are coveted by most Europeans as a precious and essential shears. Make sure you eat the cheeks. This course was comprised of two parts:

1). Tartar with ginger and lemon broth

2). Fish head poached, then pan fried and cooked in vegetable broth. Sauce was condensed and fish was topped with bah choy. The moment I saw the fish head, I knew right away the best part was the cheek. If you are not used to eat fish head, you missed the best part of the fish.

 11th Course – Grilled onion with robiola cheese and red onion sauce

Cipollotto Canna onion was grilled and served with Robiola cheese Piemonte (sheep, goat and cow cheese). Chutney of peach, raspberry pieces were placed on cheese, while the small pieces of blackberry and root of onion were on the side for decoration and eating. This course is a palette cleaner for the following course.

12th Course – Ravioli with strachitunt cheese, violet potatoes foam, black truffle

This type of pasta is called Casoncelli (ravioli from Bergamo). It is one type of stuffed pasta, typical of the culinary tradition of Lombardy, in the north-central part of Italy. The shell typically consists of two sheets of pasta, about 4 cm long, pressed together at the edges, like that of ravioli. This ravioli was stuffed with potato and taleggio cheese (a semi-soft smear-ripened Italian cheese with a strong aroma and mild fruity tang flavor). It was served with spinach, snow peas, fava beans, black truffles and violet potato foam. Powdered porcini was sprinkled in the plate. This was like a sophisticated vegetable-themed dish.

13th Course – Pigeon with candied tomatoes and black Taggia olives, wild salad greens

Pigeon breast was stuffed with roasted and candies tomato, this piece of pigeon breast was the tenderest one that I have ever had. There was some salad on the side and a piece of potato chip filled with an olive, and polenta with robiola cheese. Everything was made to perfection. This was the last savory dish in this meal, I did my best to stretch my stomach to the limit to finish this plate. This was my 2nd most favorite course in this meal.

14th Course – Cannoncino and Zeppola di S. Giuseppe

Some popular Italian pastry filled with custard.
15th Course - creama pasticcera

Nocciola (hazelnut) ice cream, dipped in chocolate sauce and covered with cocoa

16th Course – Baba Rhum with Chantilly, fruit and mint

One of my favorite, too good to pass.

17th Course – Soup of red strawberry coulis, lime sorbet and white foam of vodka

This desert palette cleanser soup is truly sublime. The best desert soup that I have ever had. It was my 3rd most favorite in this meal.


Petit Four – cookies and chocolates

Left side – a plate of three cookies, orange cinnamon, white chocolate with berry and apricot

Right side – on top of cotton candy, chocolate with raisin, crunchy chocolate, chocolate with anise liquor (Sambuca), chocolate with mint, and chocolate caramel and salt.


At the end of meal, I realized that I did a superb job of fitting all this magnificent goodies into my stomach within 4 hours. My stomach definitely has endured another stress test successfully. My server suggested to have a walking tour of the Cantalupa. I saw its kitchen facility with about 20+ staff to serve the maximum seating of 120+ during the ordinary time and 30+ during the holiday season. I also visited its wine cellar which has the temperature control setting at 40 F. Da Vittoris has got great collection of pricy vintage wines including a dozen each of La Tâche and Romanée-Conti, and some St Emillion. It also owns a bottle of brandy dated 1862.
I made a journey to Da Vittorio. I had such a wonderful experience with its impeccable service, unbelievably creative, visually pleasing and sumptuous food, and gorgeous classy setting. All dishes were made to perfection and I had my 1st time taste of Beluga caviar. I did not know how expensive it cost presently until I got back to NYC (It has been banned from importing into US for more than 10 years). I truly appreciated the chef/owner’s special attention to prepare such a luxurious and extravagant meal for me. It definitely worth another journey.