China Chilcano, Penn Quarter

China Chilcano is open every single day, from 11 AM until closing: It’s open 84 hours a week. It’s safe to say that this restaurant better have some serious depth of staff, because you’re not guaranteed of the “A Team,” or even the “B Team,” at any given meal – that is an absolutely brutal schedule to keep, and there must be a very high number of employees here. A lot of people made a lot of noise when Koji Terano came here to run the ceviche bar, and when Carlos Delgado came here to run the kitchen, but if you play the odds, you shouldn’t count on them being here when you are.

From 4-6 PM, Mon-Fri, China Chilcano features “Pisco Hour,” with a few drink and food specials, most of which are a couple of dollars off the regular price. I arrived just before 6 PM one evening, and my first order was from the special Pisco Hour menu: a Pisco Sour ($5, usually $12 – there’s your bargain here) with Macchu Pisco, lime, an inch-thick coat of egg-white foam, and 5-6 drops of Amargo Chuncho bitters dotting the top, then formed into a spiral with a straw – it’s a nice looking drink, and if you leave it tilted long enough, an undercurrent of Pisco Sour will emerge from beneath the viscous egg whites, providing an exciting, chilled sip of liquid to enjoy before licking the moustache off your top lip.This is a good drink, and although I’ve never been a huge Macchu Pisco fan, it’s a good value at $5, and has a really nice flavor. My bartender, Lydia, really knew how to shake a Pisco Sour, and made a double – one for me, and one for my neighbor at the bar – apparently, there was a mix-up, and my neighbor didn’t get the drink she wanted (I didn’t get any details, but it was nobody’s “fault”), and Lydia was going to throw it out; I told her that I was most likely going to order two, and for her to simply give it to me and put it on my bill. My neighbor warned me that she’d taken a sip, but I didn’t care – I think it’s a sin to waste a perfectly good drink, and it was going to be thrown away, so I insisted on paying for it, and enjoyed it about ten minutes later with an order of Atún Picante ($10, usually $12 – the big savings at Pisco Hour are on the drinks). This “spicy tuna roll,” made uramaki style (an uramaki roll is one with the rice on the outside – they’re often called “inside-out rolls”), had the potential to be *very* spicy, as it was made with tuna, cucumber, avocado, cilantro, puffed quinoa, and the kicker: aji limo, which is a Peruvian Lemon Drop Pepper, the purée from which will bring tears to any man’s eyes. The very first bite I took was a fingertip of aji limo, and it lit me on fire, and left me wondering if this ample, eight-piece roll was going to be over-the-top. ThinkFoodGroup has a way with novel flavor combinations, so I still had hope that, if I had an entire piece in a single bite (which is exactly how this roll is designed to be eaten), the other ingredients would tame the heat, and sure enough, they did. It was a brilliant combination of flavors, and the lemon drop pepper purée was mercifully neutralized by things such as the avocado (the primary fire hydrant), the oil from the tuna, the cool cucumber, the egg white in the Pisco Sour, and I really enjoyed the dish – at $10, and even at $12, it’s a fine plate well-worth ordering, and I recommend it regardless of whether it’s Pisco Hour or not. One memorable condiment was the “ginger” on the side of the plate, which wasn’t ginger at all; rather, it was sliced-and-piled daikon radish – a lovely surprise that brought a smile to my face.

Pisco Hour had ended, so I finished my meal ordering from the regular menu. I’ve always enjoyed Cusqueña ($6), as it’s a fairly rare lager with malty overtones, so I finished my meal with this beer – I vehemently disagree with Beer Advocate’s low rating of this beer. Yes, it’s mass-produced, and tastes like it, but it also has a nice, malty flavor and is better than, for example, Fat Tire (another malty, mass-produced beer, albeit a light ale). Whenever I see Cusqueña, I’m usually at a Salvadoran-type restaurant, and often get it – I really should have gotten something more novel here, but I was in the mood for a cool one, so I went with my gut and stuck with beer.

There are three “classifications” for the food items at China Chilcano: Chifa (China), Nikkei (Japan), and Criollo (Spain and West Africa), and I was careful to get one thing from each. Koji Terano wasn’t working the ceviche bar on this evening, but someone still made a pretty good Atún Picante described above (and which, ironically, is something you’re more likely to see from Koji’s “counterpart” (I figured that was a better word than “arch enemy”), Kaz Okochi, because of the saucing involved).

The Atún Picante was obviously marked “Nikkei,” and for my second course, I went “Chifa” and ordered one of the four Sui Mai offered: the Concha ($12 for 7 dumplings), made with scallop, pork, jicama, shiitake mushroom, and tobiko. These were presented in a semi-traditional woven basket, and were worth ordering for their intelligently chosen flavor combinations. The biggest problem a purist might have with these is that the dumplings weren’t cooked to an al dente texture – they were more fully cooked: not quite “floppy,” but I’ve had sui mai countless times at countless Chinese restaurants, and these were towards the “fully cooked” end of the bell curve. However, the doneness of these dumplings wasn’t a deal-breaker, and the flavors were knit together well enough where I’m happy to recommend this dish.

As I worked my way through the Sui Mai, the serene feel of the bar area became quite tense. Earlier in the meal, I had seen one of ThinkFoodGroup’s upper-level employees at the other end of the restaurant, who mercifully left me alone (much appreciated). All of a sudden, the previously quiet atmosphere became infused with electricity, as if the entire staff had quaffed five shots of espresso apiece – then, I heard a deep, bellowing, Spanish-accented voice behind me and to my left. There was apparently a staff meeting taking place in the bar area, and only once in my entire dining career do I remember the entire staff leaping to attention the way they did on this evening: One evening, long ago, I was having dinner at Gerard’s Place, Gerard Pangaud’s outstanding little restaurant just off McPherson Square, and all of a sudden, Yannick Cam came walking in, with one of the most beautiful girls I’d ever seen, and took a table. Thrown into a panic, the servers began looking at each other with a “What do I do?” expression, and the entire “feel” of the dining room became one of “motion” – it was the exact same thing here, as if there was an ionized charge in the air. China Chilcano is a bustling restaurant during normal rush hour, but I purposely went during a more serene time, and the change in atmosphere was both palpable and dramatic. As one of the bartenders was filling a round of Pisco Sours, I broke the tension by joking that I would have another Cusqueña after they’d finished panicking. He laughed, and said something about “when Big Papa comes” – the entire scene was quite amusing.

To be followed by La Increíble y Triste Historia del Cándido Papa Grande y de su Presidente Desalmado.

I wanted to try a third selection from the Criollo section, especially given that this is most likely in Chef Carlos Delgado’s wheelhouse – recall that he came from Ocopa, at one time the best Peruvian restaurant in DC. What else would I get other than Aji de Gallina ($16), according to the menu, “Peru’s most precious dish,” an Aji Amarillo Chicken Stew, with fresh cheese, pecan, and rice – the descriptors don’t do this stew justice. Since it is, in origin, a long-cooked stew, I got it to go, figuring that letting it sit wouldn’t hurt it, and might even help it (there is actually one drawback to doing this which you won’t think of: the cardboard container is rough-hewn on the inside, and actually absorbed a fair amount of the deep, turmeric-yellow liquid from the stew – because of this one thing, I advise not getting the Aji de Gallina as a carryout item. That said, I really enjoyed this stew, and it’s quite a simple dish at heart, with its deep, mustard color coming from the mild Aji Amarillo chile. There are, I believe, five species of chiles, and the Aji Amarillo is a Capsicum baccatum – fear not: This is a mild spice, and would register close to a “1” on a “1-to-10” Scoville scale.

China Chilcano is an excellent choice for diverse groups of diners, as Peruvian cuisine tends to be quite mild – mixed in with overtones of Chinese and Japanese, there is something at this restaurant for (if you’ll forgive the cliché) diners from 8 to 80 – it might be a bit noisy for senior citizens, so that’s something you should keep in mind. Still, China Chilcano is maintained strongly in Italic, has a $10 parking lot within two blocks (901 E St. NW), and is one of your best dining options in Penn Quarter – it is currently my favorite ThinkFoodGroup restaurant (Minibar notwithstanding) by a sizeable margin.

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“The Don Rockwell Idiot Kit” – Coffee and Coffee Equipment for Complete Novices, Mail-Ordered from Qualia Coffee in Petworth

I cannot recommend The Don Rockwell Idiot Kit enough for people who know absolutely nothing about coffee, but wish to become experts with a minimal amount of work. Read that entire thread, especially the first post, and get on the phone to Qualia Coffee – by the end of the week, you’ll have everything you need to brew the best coffee in your neighborhood.

I knew nothing, zero, zilch, nada, about how to brew good coffee, and I can now comfortably say that I drink coffee that’s as good as anyone, and it’s *waaaay* less expensive than going to Starbucks – it’s a night-and-day difference.

Purchasing this kit from Qualia Coffee will not only enable you to go from “nothing” to “everything,” literally overnight, but it will also be supporting one of Washington, DC’s most valuable small businesses. I’ve never met Joel, don’t even know what he looks like, and have absolutely no financial interest in this kit – I just thought it was a good idea for him, and I care about supporting small businesses who in turn care about quality.

Here’s a recent thread about coffee makers – towards the bottom, I refer to “The Don Rockwell Idiot Kit” with its Baratza grinder (I bought the more-expensive “Virtuoso” model, and I can never go back) – I cannot emphasize enough how much I love it.

Make the call – if you aren’t absolutely thrilled with everything you buy, write me … I’m almost positive I won’t be getting very many letters, other than letters of thanks. And if I were buying someone a gift who loved coffee, but was just starting out? A no-brainer.

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Dönnhoff: The Most Underpriced Wines in the World

Every so often, you hear something that sounds too good to be true, and the vast majority of times, it is – it turns out to be a fraud; but once in a great, great while, you hear a claim like this, then ignore it, and then … it turns out to be true, and you kick yourself for having waited.

The greatest white wine grape in the world is none other than Riesling, in particular, Riesling from Germany. And there is no greater expression of German Riesling than the wines of Helmut Dönnhoff – arguably, the single-greatest maker of white wine in the world, and absolutely the most underpriced.

When you look at Burgundies going for $5,000 a bottle and more, then Bordeaux going for $2,000 a bottle and more … then take a  look to the Northeast, where the greatest white wines in the world are created in miniscule quantities by a quiet, humble man named Helmut Dönnhoff – whose very best Spätlesen are, ridiculously, still under $100 a bottle, this, when they’re made in annual quantities of “thousands of bottles,” sometimes “hundreds of bottles,” allocated for the entire world.

Ask any German wine lover to name the best five producers of German wine in the world: Dönnhoff will be on every single list.

These wines, one day, will cost over $1,000 a bottle. Mark my words. Oh, they’ve gone up in price – in the late 1990s, they could have been had for $20; now, almost twenty years later, the price has increased to something closer to $100. Rest assured that twenty years from now, they will be priced at multiples of where they are right now, and you shouldn’t be surprised to see the better ones going for over $1,000 a bottle.

People ask me what to purchase for the long-term, and I have yet to see one single person who tried a Dönnhoff, and didn’t sit there in contemplative silence after they took their first sip.

Remember the name Helmut Dönnhoff: It will be mentioned in the same breath as Lafite-Rothschild, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Henri Jayer, Coche-Dury, and the other very greatest producers of wines in the world, and will be priced accordingly. With such limited production, with world population growing, and growing, China and Russia *still* having not discovered them … when they discovered Burgundy and Bordeaux, the prices doubled, tripled, and quadrupled – now, it’s just a matter of time for Dönnhoff: the greatest Rieslings made on the planet.

The one word most-often used to describe Dönnhoff’s wines is “nectar.” And if you haven’t experienced them, get in now, because the prices should be ten times higher than they currently are. The beauty is: You can even afford to *drink* them now, while you save the rest for your retirement – not to enjoy during your retirement; to *fund* your retirement.

The secret is out, with my apologies to the wine-loving cogniscenti (it wasn’t going to last forever).

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All Purpose, Shaw

I went to All Purpose this weekend at around 7 PM – the restaurant was fairly full, but with no wait, and there were seats open at the bar.

Let me start out by giving the highest possible praise to my *wonderful* bartender Kyle, who raised the quality of my dinner all by himself – he noticed when things were going wrong before I said anything, and proactively took action to make them right. He knew the ingredients in the dishes, and was just one of the best top-to-bottom bartenders I’ve encountered in quite awhile – he was great.

I wanted to begin my meal with a cocktail, so I asked which Gins they had, and they only had three: Beefeater, Green Hat, and Catoctin Creek – one of which is mass-produced and innocuous; the other two of which are almost undrinkable in my experience. Nevertheless, I ordered a Gimlet with Green Hat ($8 + $2 supplement for something) because I’ve only had it a couple of times; unfortunately, I didn’t notice which of the five stripes it was (Green Hat makes five gins, each one having a different colored stripe). I like Gimlets – which are essentially Gin and Lime – because they allow the Gin to shine through. Unfortunately, this must have been the Navy Strength Green Hat because it was overwhelmingly strong. The lime juice appeared to be squeezed in-house, but was done so earlier, poured from a plastic container, and a deeply macerated cherry was curiously added on top, which I’ve never before seen in a Gimlet – it was a pretty lousy drink, all things considered, but it was mostly my mistake for not sticking with Beefeater. Like Bombay (regular Bombay; not Sapphire), Beefeater is an industrial, but perfectly inoffensive and decent Gin that I usually get when regular Bombay isn’t available, and I want something neutral – this drink was mostly my fault, but I’m not happy with All Purpose’s selection of Gins.

After my cocktail, I switched to a white wine which took care of me all the way through my meal: a 2015 DeAngelis Trebbiano Blend ($9) from the Le Marche region – this medium-bodied, dry white has a fine supporting backbone of acidity (albeit very high-toned acidity) that was more than enough to stand up to all my courses. I should add that awhile before I went, I asked someone deep on the inside of this restaurant what dishes they were most proud of, and ordered exclusively from the list I got in return. All Purpose has a mostly Italian, very workable wine list, with almost 50 wines by the bottle, ranging from $35-70, seemingly averaging in the $45-50 range; you can expect to pay about $10-12 for pleasant, drinkable wines by the glass, and $7-$11 for each beer on their medium-sized, well-chosen list, with 4 luxury beers priced well into the double-digits.

I began my meal with a nearly delightful Sicilian Tuna Mousse ($10), served in a bocal with salsa verde, (pickled) baby celery, and four thin slices of well-toasted bread for spreading – just enough bread to provide for a liberal spreading of the mousse. This was a very good dish, and would have been excellent had it not been doused with finishing oil – I suspect the mousse is made earlier in the day, and finished a la minute with the salsa verde – something very much like a nutless pesto – and the oil, which (combined with the upcoming courses) contributed to making this meal heavier than it should have been.

Spaghetti Squash “Aglio e Olio” ($12), a large platter of shredded spaghetti squash with brown butter, lemon, herb-roasted ricotta, and breadcrumbs that drew questions from both sides of me (“What is that?”). This was an oily plate of food, and lacked seasoning – “Aglio e Olio” means “garlic and oil,” and while I got a lot of oil, I got virtually no garlic. However, in one bite, I took what I thought to be a quarter-sized wheat crisp – lo, it turned out to be a piece of crisped garlic, so there it was after all. The highlight of this dish – by far – was the herb-roasted ricotta, which had the same look and texture as thinly sliced vanilla meringue, and I mean that as the highest of compliments – this was wonderful, sheep’s-milk (possibly goat’s-milk) cheese presented in a novel fashion, and saved the dish from failing – I took about half of it home, having it the next day, and since it theoretically had lemon in it already, I added a few much-needed grounds of lemon sea salt, making it a much better plate of food. Although I reheated it in my microwave, it was actually much better on day two because it was simply too hot when it was served, and the oil in the dish retained the heat throughout the meal – it was markedly better at a slightly cooler temperature, and certainly with the added seasoning – I didn’t enjoy it at the restaurant; I enjoyed it at home.

With my Squash, I had the Crispy Fried Mushrooms ($14), an intricate dish of four sliced, cremini mushrooms with smoked mozzarella stuffing, and chives, sitting atop a puréed avocado ranch “dressing.” I say “intricate” because the insides of this mushroom would fool most people, as it fooled me, into thinking there was some veal in it, but it was a vegetarian dish; the only problem was the breading which was bland and desperately needed some seasoning – the same problem which plagued the accompanying squash. More “interesting” than “good,” I would consider getting this again if the batter changes, and if I had a second person to split it with – as it stands, it’s priced out at $3.50 per fried mushroom – not unreasonable for what you get, but also not something one person wants to stuff himself on.

After these three courses, I was pretty well stuffed, so I got half of my Spaghetti Squash to go, and ordered a Buona Pizza ($18), with tomato, huge slices of pepperoni, mozzarella, chili honey, basil, and grana – also to go. I paid my bill, walked back to my car, opened the pizza box, took one bite of the cornicione, whispered a four-syllable word, and headed home. Over the next 24 hours – including that same evening – I played around with the pizza, and have several conclusions:

1) The cornicione, or “periphery of the crust,” badly needs work: It’s way too big – an inch long, and about a half-inch thick, and is dense and has a flavor not much better than a decent cracker. If you don’t mind spending $18 on a pizza, only to ignore the end crust, you may well like these pizzas; for me, the crust is an integral part.

2) The honey in this particular pizza conglomerated around the rim of the crust – I don’t know if someone used a squirt bottle in a circular motion, and the centrifugal force forced it outwards, or if it just crept towards the end in the oven, but there it seemed to be conglomerated.

3) The toppings were busy, but excellent, and the middle part of the pizza was delicious – even better at room temperature than it was when hot, because you could taste the honey; at full heat (or close to it), the cheese tended to overpower the more nuanced toppings.

I’ve officially initialized coverage of All Purpose in Italic in the Dining Guide, and have it currently ranked as one of the Top Five restaurants in Shaw. This will undoubtedly change in the future, but for now, I can’t rave about All Purpose, which is trying to be “Etto-ish” in nature, but not pulling it off quite as well. Still, All Purpose is a good, 2 Amys-style restaurant that can improve if the kitchen stays focused; the service I had was top notch, so there isn’t much room for improvement there. The wine list (by the bottle) is quite good, but the bar needs work.

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Restaurant Alain Llorca, La Colle-sur-Loup, France

Having stayed in the Hostellerie de Messugues in St. Paul de Vence (do note the tourist attractions in that thread), with it being end-of-season and the hotel’s restaurant shut down, we were able to snag a half-pension at Restaurant Alain Llorca, having a pre-fixe, three-course menu for the ridiculous price of 30€ each.

Technically, the restaurant is in the neighboring village of La Colle-sur-Loup, but it was literally a three-minute drive from our hotel on the outskirts of St. Paul de Vence.

The catch is that, while Restaurant Alain Llorca is a Michelin one-star, our meal was a set three-course, with no choice as to what we ordered (certainly we could have gotten something else, but not for 30€, and I blew the bill to Kingdom Come by ordering a 50€ bottle of white wine from their large, not particularly well-priced wine list, driving the total bill up to something more like $125 total – such is life.

Our wine was a humble Vin de Pays, and not a particularly good one – oh, it was a pleasant table wine I suppose, but it was something you could walk into Nicolas and purchase for 10€, I suspect. It was a wine I didn’t recognize, and although I was thinking it would be a Sauvignon Blanc, it turned out to be a blend, mostly of Chardonnay, and was really not what I had hoped; nevertheless, it carried us through the meal, and I could have *always* turned to the sommelier for help, and I chose not to.

Our first course was a Terrine de Rouget – a terrine of red snapper, and was bountiful to excess. Served in a sauce reminiscent of a classic ratatouille, there were probably three medium-sized filets in each terrine, and we could have eaten just this.

The breads were made in-house, and were excellent – we had our choice of a mini-baguette, olive bread, and pain de campagne, all three of which were first-rate.

The second, main course was Ombrine Cuite au Naturel en Croûte d’Herbes, Pappardelles Liées au Pistou de Basilic, an *extremely* fancy way of saying “Drumfish over Pappardelle in Pesto,” and it was the one dish cooked to order – it was fabulous, although at this point in the trip, we were craving red meat.

At this point, we were positively stuffed, but out came the dessert tray, filled with over a dozen pre-made selections. I ordered Baba au Rhum, which shocked the daylights out of my dining companion because of the straight rum poured on top of the butter biscuit, and my friend ordered a Chocolat Nougatine – a decadently rich heap of dark chocolate.

For the price, the meal and atmosphere could not be beat (bear in mind this price *included tax and tip*, and also included amuse-gueule and mignardises – one of which had the “deepest” Pop Rocks I’ve ever had: It felt as if they were inside our brains going off) – this was a groundling’s meal at a legitimate Michelin one-star restaurant, but there was nothing to complain about. We rolled back to the car, packed to the gills, and swearing never to eat again.

On the way out the next day, we ran in and took a picture of the patio on which we sat, overlooking the ramparts of St Paul de Vence. There were a lot of really interesting cars outside (it’s a hotel also, and there was some type of car convention) – not ultra-expensive like at Monaco, but interesting nonetheless: Here’s the patio, and our little Fiat next to one of the cars:

Llorca IMG_2560

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Johnny’s Half Shell, Adams Morgan

Twelve years ago, in 2004, the great Ann Cashion won the James Beard Award for Best Chef – Mid-Atlantic Region: Ann was, and still is, the *only female* to win the award from Washington, DC, and is a legendary, beloved figure in the Washington, DC restaurant world.

Ann is now back home, having moved and reopened Johnny’s Half Shell – not in West Dupont, not in North Capitol Hill, but in the old Cashion’s Eat Place space in Adams Morgan – this is perhaps the most roundabout, and welcome, homecoming in the history of Washington, DC dining.

Johnny’s Half Shell soft-opened about two weeks ago, and things still aren’t finalized by any means – there’s no wine list to speak of, and they’re currently reciting their wines by the glass. However, I started off with a London Honey Mule ($10) made with Barr Hill gin, Fever Tree (!) ginger beer, meyer lemon bitters, and fresh lime juice. The least expensive cocktail on their list, I certainly don’t need anything more than this as an aperitif, especially not when it’s going to be followed up with seafood (and it most likely will).

Remember in my Kyirisan review when I urged diners to rely on a critic with proven expertise in both food *and* wine? Listen up: unless you order the one, token, $40 steak (which is reportedly quite good), you should get the glass of Garnatxa Blanca ($8 at 5:30 PM) which has both the body and backbone to carry you through your entire meal here – other than the steak, it won’t matter which food items you order if you’re drinking this wine. Johnny Fulchino knows his wines, and probably has leftover stock from Capitol Hill that he’ll be bringing here, but until then, trust me and stick with this Garnatxa Blanca by the glass – unless you feel the need to spend more money than you have to.

The good news about the food here is that Ann Cashion is – at least for now – working service. My kindly bartender, Pamela, told me that either Ann or Jorgé Rubio (Ann’s Sous Chef) has been working the line every night – with either one, you will not go wrong. I so desperately wanted to give Ann a hug when I spotted her, but I went with ethics, and decided to save the hug for my second visit (and there will be a second visit … read on).

Having met with a friend at Songbyrd Music House before dinner (Do you notice something? The donrockwell.com Washington DC Restaurant ForumCoffee House Sub-Forum, Hotels Sub-Forum, Help Needed Sub-Forum, and Tourist Attractions Self-Forum are all now open to the public – I’m also really excited to announce that there will be more Easter Eggs – big Easter Eggs – coming your way in the very near future, so please join our community by clicking here (it’s quick, easy, FREE, and PRIVATE – just reply to the validation email, answer the four simple questions, and you’ll be on your way to having free, unlimited access to the largest single-city dining guide in the world). A bold proclamation, yes, and it’s also true – and I encourage all of you to write me at donrockwell-at-dcdining.com with suggestions, corrections, and opinions about the Dining Guide, which is all-encompassing, and updated in real time; not just once or twice a year. Even though I write and curate the dining guide, our area has become so large, with so many restaurants, that I use it myself almost every single day. I read every email I get, and pay careful attention to what our community has to say – I am by no means perfect, and our members correct and help me all the time. I am grateful to our members, and they alone are the reason our community is what it is – I look forward to welcoming you, and introducing you to the most intelligent, interesting group of diners on the internet.

Onward!

My coffee mate was meeting a friend for dinner at Johnny’s Half Shell, so we all sat next to each other at the bar, and I got a chance to nibble-and-pick at things I didn’t even order, leaving me with a vivid impression of the entirety of the menu. There’s both a bar menu, and a dining menu, and you can do perfectly well here by ordering from the bar menu (speaking of which, it looks *bizarre* seeing a second bar – a raw bar – in the back-right of the restaurant. Also, to see “The Painting” (Cashion’s fans will know which one I’m talking about) not behind the bar, but near the front door. Most importantly, the original Cashion’s Eat Place sign – complete with lighting – up against the right wall as you walk in, superimposed atop the “Johnny’s Half Shell” sign, paying homage to both Ann and Johnny – it all makes for a really nice package, which ties together the old and the new very effectively – would it sound corny if I said it was heartwarming? Even though Cashion’s Eat Place technically no longer exists, it sure feels like it does.

Onward!

The only plate I saw, but didn’t taste, was the Fried Oysters ($10) with Pickled Vegetables and House-Made Tartar Sauce. Pamela told us that oysters drop a substantial percentage of moisture when they’re fried, so it’s necessary to use larger bivalves – this makes perfect sense, and both my friends said the dish was very good (it certainly looked good, and I can’t imagine it would be anything but: The fry-job was perfect, and how can you lose with house-made tartar sauce supervised by Ann Cashion?)

My fried starter was the Fritto Misto ($7) of Autumn Vegetables – about a dozen large slices of vegetables, battered and perfectly fried. The one hesitancy I have about the oysters is that my batter, while perfectly fried, was pretty bland, and desperately needed its dipping sauce – I want to call Ann’s attention to this issue because it was a (minor, easily correctable) problem that appeared twice in my otherwise-delightful meal: Ann, you know I’m your biggest fan … please do check the seasoning in your batter.

The bar menu has a Daily Seafood Slider ($3.50), and on this day it was – to my delight – a lobster roll, and while I was told it would be “just a nibble,” it was slightly bigger than that: the soft bun was the size of a small dinner roll, and it was heartily stuffed with lobster salad – this was $3.50 well-spent.

One of the highlights of the entire meal was the Spicy Cajun Style Barbecued Shrimp with Asiago Cheese Grits ($9.75). These shrimp were of superb quality, each one deveined and butterflied (how often do you see this?), and the grits were terrific – most certainly not instant – and brought to life by the light drizzle of barbecue sauce. You will not regret getting this dish as an appetizer; it’s not impossible that you’ll be reaching for the salt-shaker, just for a single shake.

I got a bite of the Eggplant Gratin ($7) with Fresh Tomatoes, Herbs, and Parmesan, and it was all I needed – if you like eggplant, this is a wonderful presentation. One nibble is all I needed – it’s going to be very difficult not to get this dish the next time I’m here.

Spicy Grilled Chicken Wings ($7) with Green Goddess Sauce are an absolute must for chicken-wing snobs. Remember how good Carol Greenwood’s wings were at Comet Ping-Pong, or how good they are at Balraj Bhasin’s Bombay Curry Company? These are of that level – they include the lollipops, so they’re ample and meaty, and they’re perfectly seasoned with a thrilling (yes, thrilling) counterbalance alongside the Green Goddess sauce – damn, these things were good. You know what? I’m going to hedge my advisory to order the Shrimp and Grits – you might want to get these instead.

There was only one problematic dish in the entire meal: The Streaky Spoonbread ($4.75), a side dish that’s an obvious (and extremely clever) riff on Spanakopita – perhaps even a nod to John Manolatos. Unfortunately, this inexpensive side dish was the only thing that didn’t work for me – the “streaky” part was spinach, making the wedge of spoonbread look like a Spanakopita, but the dish was both bland (this was the second one I was talking about), and more importantly, watery – for whatever reason, perhaps the spinach wasn’t dried after it was washed? I’m not sure, but this is the one dish that needs major repair – it works on paper, but the execution will need to be monitored going forward.

But you see, none of that matters because of the Crab Imperial ($14) – as fine of a Crab Imperial as you’ll see, and at $14, a pretty darned good value as well. This was my favorite dish of the evening, and there were several dishes on this evening that were excellent. If you like Crab Imperial, this is non-optional, and you have to get it. At $14, it’s obviously not a huge portion, but if you doubled it and paid $28? You’d be running up-and-down Columbia Road, naked, screaming about the amazing $28 entree you just had, before being hauled into the klink.

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Kyirisan, Shaw

I was worried last Thursday – which was shortly after all the “Autumn Dining Guides” had been released – that Kyirisan was going to be packed, so I got there around 6 PM, and was surprised to see an empty restaurant – I sauntered up to the bar, and had my pick of seating. Surprisingly, the bar area was also nearly empty when I left sometime around 7:30 PM.

My bartender, who I would later find out was the delightful Kara, asked me if I’d like a drink (yes!), if I was from the area (yes, sort of), and if I’d ever been in before (no, although I’d been to all three of Tim Ma’s other restaurants numerous times), and first “discovered” him and Joey in tiny little Maple Ave. Restaurant in Vienna – one of the smallest sit-down restaurants in the area, with one of the most treacherous parking lots you can encounter. Tim has come a long way since then, and in fact, on this evening, he was to be out celebrating his Michelin “Bib Gourmand” award – yes, Tim, I actually did see you in your coat and tie, and congratulations, by the way.

While Tim was not cooking here on this evening, I have my doubts as to whether he’s cooking here at all – he has three children, lives way out towards Fairfax, and has two other restaurants in Virginia (at least for now – interpret that however you wish). The plating I got on this evening was indicative of the “A-team” working the kitchen, so I suspect (but don’t know for sure) that Tim has stepped into the role of restaurateur rather than Chef de Cuisine – good for him: I’ve known him and Joey while they were still a small family, and they’ve worked hard for what they have.

Tim used to be a successful electrical engineer, but he had cooking in his soul, and followed his calling to the world of restaurants. Ma has the ability to use an extraordinary number of ingredients within a single dish without making them overbearing – although I do wish he would consider refining his recipes to become a bit more minimalist, as many ingredients seem to be superfluous – not detrimental, but also not necessary – and I believe he could benefit from a “less is more” approach.

The mixed drinks menu at Kyirisan is a bit difficult to negotiate, and I would recommend reformatting it (as well as matching it up to their website – I would also recommend lowering the price on (or better substantiating) the “Dealer’s Choice” which is their most expensive cocktail at $15 and leaves the customer guessing as to what it might be). Nevertheless, I was able to find Not from Charlotte’s Lemonade Stand ($10, Charlotte is their eldest daughter), made with Sherry, Gin, Lemon, and Sage – I was nearly certain that the Sherry used was an Oloroso, and was somewhat humbled to find out it was a Fino: Sherry is absolutely the predominant flavor in this refreshing drink, and the leaf of sage remained in the background as strictly visual until I got a hint of it halfway through the drink, when I, well, silently let forth a teeny-tiny little eructation – and there it was: I know, TMI, but it’s also true, and ha ha ha for making you go to Google.

I was hoping my first course would arrive while I still had most of my adult lemonade remaining, and sure enough it did – beautifully (if inefficiently) plated, and both the plating and the cutting of this dish is what leads me to believe that the A-team was indeed working the kitchen on this evening. There are three main sections to the dinner menu, cleverly named, “In the Ground,” “Under the Water,” and “On the Ground,” and I made sure to select one dish from each category – the dishes, Kara advised me, get smaller-to-larger in size as you descend each individual section.

So I was surprised to see that the topmost course “Under the Water” was a reasonably ample portion: Raw Sea Bass ($14) intrigued me because it simply isn’t that common to see on a menu – finely chopped into chunks, forming a bar across the lovely ceramic plate, topped by, mixed with, or next to a Brunoise, Fish Sauce, Orange, Aïoli, and with thin slices of radish as an umbrella, this was a terrific way to present raw fish, and I would urge lovers of sashimi, crudo, carpaccio, etc. to order it as your first course, even though it’s slightly larger than your typical “small plate” – as with so many other aspects of life, when it comes to sequencing your meal, substance is more important than size, and having studied the entire menu, this is the one dish I would order before all others.

There are several clues that Kyirisan is taking some shortcuts – not necessarily a bad thing, and not something the vast majority would notice or even care about. One is that they use Gotham Project for some of their wines (*). For my second course, I went with one of Gotham Project’s wines on tap: the 2014 Bridge Lane Cellars Rosé ($10) from North Fork, NY, [menu typo] which Kara thoughtfully offered me a taste of before I committed to the entire glass – since I had the first glass of the day, she drained a few ounces to clear the line, and then poured me a small taste, even adding it to my glass after I gave her a thumbs-up.

And the Rosé – while somewhat ordinary on its own – had good supporting acidity, and was fermented almost completely dry, making it a perfect pairing for the Deep Fried Tofu ($9). I wondered why a tablespoon was placed at 12 noon before my first course arrived, and this dish answered the question. This dish should be eaten with a spoon, like a soup, tearing the lightly breaded, pan-sautéed cubes of tofu, and having a little with each spoonful of broth. I say broth and not sauce, because when this dish is finished, you don’t want any liquid left in your bowl – this was an excellent dish which really emphasizes the almost-Japanese influence that speckles this menu. Get these two items together, and you’ll see how a good pairing can make both the food and the wine better than they’d be on their own.

Working my way bottom-to-top in the “On the Ground” section of the menu, I eliminated the Sous Vide Duck Confit (while applauding Kyirisan for noting it on their menu), eliminated the Black Truffle Congee after Kara confirmed it was made with truffle oil, and stopped at the Pork Collar ($18) with Fermented Daikon, Beets, Fish Suce Caramel, and Sweet White Soy served in a separate bowl. It would not surprise me at all if this pork collar had also been par-cooked sous vide, as it had “that” kind of coloration and texture, but it was really a very enjoyable dish – my server instructed me to take this decomposed plate, and create “rolls” using strips of cucumber as the periphery, making sure to have each item in each roll (if you do this correctly, each bite should be shaped like a piece of Maki Sushi – just put the ingredients in the middle of the cucumber strip, one atop the other, and fold both ends of the strip on top using your knife and fork, and you’ll have a perfect roll within seconds). It was all of the flavors, in combination, that turned this into a very pleasant experience of tastes, textures, and (in theory) temperatures; having the items on their own would result in an exercise of frustration and expletives.

With this meat course, I wanted to switch to a red wine, though I could have also stayed with the Rosé, so I tried another Gotham Project wine on tap – the 2014 Pacific Standard Malbec ($13) from California, an unfortunate choice which lacked any charms, and had almost surely undergone malolactic fermentation (this is the process in which malic acid (think: green apples) is turned into lactic acid (think: yogurt), softening the wine, but more often than not resulting in something lacking the necessary backbone to have with food, and the dairy components were on display in the nose of this Malbec – it just didn’t work, either on its own, or with the dish, so I saved it for chocolate (it’s hard for a red wine – even a bad red wine – not to go well with chocolate). I strongly urge Kyirisan to jettison this wine, and to find another red on tap with the right type of acidity to stand up to your cuisine (and I don’t think it would be the Zinfandel; you need something lighter than that).

All desserts at Kyirisan are $10, and knowing that I wanted chocolate, I ordered the Chocolate Mousse Cake with, gulp, Veal Marrow, Rocky Road Ice Cream, Marrow Tuile, and Cherry Bourbon Jam. For a long time, I’ve joked that “I like hot fudge, and I like pizza; I just don’t want them together,” and yet, here they were, before my very eyes, in an intricately plated hodgepodge of chocolate, veal marrow, and thick, sludge-like jam. Although the flavors didn’t clash per se, the textures just didn’t work at all, and in every bite, I was cringing at the thought of eating veal marrow with chocolate, not knowing exactly where the marrow was to be found. I suspect it was the white coating on the chocolate bar, and also the savory tuiles – neither of which were bad at all; it was more of a psychological terror, and the actual problems were in the textures which were just a mess, and the jam which was just too thick – this was the only course I didn’t finish, mostly because I was quite full, but also because this dessert just didn’t work for me. So paradoxically, the meal ended on a sour note with the sweet course.

One last thing: There are two options on the menu – “Like Your Food … Send a Round of Beers to the Kitchen” ($12), and “Love Your Food … Send a Round of Scotch to the Kitchen” ($24). Although the kitchen did everything it could, I thought $24 was a bit much for a single diner at the bar, so I bought them a round of beer. :)

However, I was impressed enough with Kyirisan to formally initiate coverage in Italic in the Dining Guide (this is available for free to donrockwell.com members with ten posts, is the largest single-city dining guide in the world, and is the only one which is updated constantly, in real-time) – I’m also happy to announce that in the immediate future, our Washington, DC forum is going to be opened up to the public. I have finally halfway caught up with what I need to do, and I’ll figure out a way to revisit the other half somewhere down Highway 61).

(*) When it comes to selecting a restaurant critic or restaurant guide, I would encourage consumers – the ones who spend their own money – to rely only upon those with proven expertise in both food *and* drinks: Given that beverages can easily account for 50% of the final bill, doing otherwise would only result in stranding you halfway up the mountain with a flat tire, and that’s if you’re lucky.

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Eqvita, Monte Carlo, Monaco

Unless you want to drop four-figures on Louis XV, there’s one other “logical” dining choice in Monte Carlo, and that is Café de Paris: the venerable brasserie that’s right across the courtyard from Louis XV – Café de Paris is where (so the legend goes) Crêpe-Suzette was first served, way back in 1895.

The last time I was in Monaco, a few years ago, I had lunch at Café de Paris. Back then, it had one Michelin star which was perfectly justified; although it’s included in the 2016 Michelin Red Guide, it no longer has its star.

Going to the same restaurant in Monte Carlo twice in a row is oh-so-last-month, so this time around, I decided to break new ground (actually, there was a Yacht Show, and there was exactly *one* parking space available in the entire principality). I emerged from the garage – which seems to encompass all of underground Monaco – and was staring face-to-face at the restaurant I really wanted to try: Eqvita.

“What in the hell is Eqvita, Don?”

Well, believe it or not, Eqvita is a 100% vegan restaurant, backed by none other than World #1 Tennis Legend Novak Djokovic, who is mostly vegan, having a gluten-free diet, and lives in Monte Carlo when he’s not traveling the world winning Grand Slam Championships.

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The weather was lovely, and my dining companion and I chose to dine across the little road, on Eqvita’s umbrella-covered patio. It was a pretty late lunch, and we were both getting cranky-hungry, so we were delighted to over-order, just a bit.

Eqvita serves wine (organic, of course), but we chose to go with the flow, and enjoy the restaurant’s house-made non-alcoholic beverages. My companion ordered Novak’s Secret (8€), made with dry chia seeds, hemp protein, chlorella-spirulina powder, spinach, banana, pineapple, avocado, and apple juice; I got a Stefan’s Kid Shake (8€, Stefan is Novak and Jelena’s son), made with banana, vanilla extract, soaked dates, sweet water from soaked dates, probiotics, and homemade coconut milk. The most surprising thing about these two *very* different beverages was how much they tasted alike – both had only a faint hint of sweetness, and switching them back and forth provided very little difference – it was bizarre, considering how different they looked.

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We ordered everything at once, and asked our extremely pleasant server to just bring everything when it was ready. I’d say when it was “cooked,” but this was all raw food, and it was probably the single healthiest meal I’ve ever eaten at a restaurant. You could eat every single meal at Eqvita, running the menu as many times as you please, and still probably lose a half-pound a day, no matter what you ordered.

I wanted the Pea Soup with Lime and Mint (10€), and my companion asked our server for a recommendation: “The lasagna,” he quickly replied after finding out there were no dietary restrictions (although I can’t imagine what type of dietary restriction could prevent anyone from eating such a dish), so the Amazing Lasagna (16€) it was. The Lasagna was really just a salad, with “noodles” made of zucchini, and innards of cashew-milk cheese, sun-dried tomato sauce, pistachio pesto, tomatoes, and arugula – while healthy, it was also (I’m sorry to say) quite bland, and would have prospered greatly from some salt and pepper. Don’t get me wrong: This was not bad *at all*; but it was healthy to an extreme, and when you’re used to eating at least *some* type of seasoning, there’s no way it can’t come across as very neutral on the palate.

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Knowing full well this wasn’t going to be enough food, we ordered a “can” (sorry, my own bad pun) of three Energy Balls (6€), one of each, and they were – as you might suspect – the highlight of the meal, with the possible exception of the Pea Soup. There were all sorts of healthy things in them – almonds, dates, coconut, etc., and they tided us over food-wise. We’d also finished our drinks, and got a couple glasses of Matcha Milk (8€) – really more for some additional calories than for any type of thirst. Alas, it was *quite* bitter, and even after adding multiple shakes of raw, brown sugar to try to neutralize the bitterness, it was still poking through – it was the weak point of the meal, for sure.

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Our grand banquet (the Matcha Milk is pictured above):

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So, the big question: Would we return? If I lived here, and had Monaco Money, I’d eat here *all the time*, and would probably live to be 110; as a tourist, coming here once is plenty, but I am glad we tried Eqvita – surely one of the healthiest restaurants on the planet. Plus, now I can go back to Café de Paris and not feel quite so last-month.

Oh, one other thing: I wasn’t kidding about the Yacht Show. If Monaco doesn’t have the highest concentration of extreme wealth in the world, I’d like to know what does – somewhere in Abu Dhabi, maybe?

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Chez René Socca, Nice, France

I just went back and stayed with magdelena for the first time in far too long. Nice has changed a great deal since I’ve last been in 2011 – they’ve finished a tramway downtown, and also completed a “Coulée Verte” (Green Path), which leads from the Promenade des Anglais up to the “Vielle Ville” (Old Town).

My suggested walk – one of several – is to start out at “Jardin Albert 1er” (bottom-left of the map), wind your way northeast up the Coulée Verte – it’s almost all pedestrians – making the “Musée d’Art Moderne” (right-center of the map) your destination – it’s about a 20-minute, leisurely stroll, with plenty of time for pictures, sightseeing, etc. (you’ll want to take your time and see all the neat things to see). Then when you reach that area, cut over to where it says “Nice Chapelle du Saint-Sépulchre,” and get lost winding your way through “Vieux Nice” (Old Town), heading back the way you came.

Right around where you’ll first cut over into Old Town, there’s a legendary restaurant / carryout called Chez René Socca which you should locate on your GPS. Now, this place isn’t a great restaurant – you stand in line, and order when you get to the front, and if you want to eat inside, you walk across the alley with your food, and grab a table (it will be obvious). However, they have *all* the classic “Nissarte” dishes: First and foremost, Socca, and this is *the* place to get Socca – it’s as good as anywhere in town. But they also have halfway-decent renditions of other dishes that you’ll only find in Nice: Pissaladière (a square of “pizza” made with caramelized onions, olives, and anchovies), Tourte de Blettes (a savory-sweet pastry made with (believe it or not) *Swiss Chard*, raisins, and powdered sugar on top, somewhat mediocre Pan Bagnat (a Salade Nicoise on a bun), and Poivrons Farcis (stuffed peppers). If there are two of you, go ahead and pig out, and get all five of them, so you can see what these dishes are like – other than the Socca, these aren’t *the* best representations of the dishes, but they’re okay, and you can try them all during one meal – you’ll be absolutely *stuffed*, and won’t be able to finish, but your bill will only be about $20-30, and little “ballons” of rosé are about $5 at the tables across the alleyway.

After lunch, wander the streets of Old Town, and go shopping, strolling, and picture-taking – make sure to see the Cathedral, and then when you get back, walk along the Promenade des Anglais, which runs along the Baie des Anges (the beach which forms a crescent). It’s a great, unhurried way to spend a few hours, and won’t be exerting at all. You’ll get a great taste of the city by walking along three parallel, *very* different routes: the Green Path, Old Town, and the Promenade along the Beach.

If you only get one thing at Chez René Socca, get one order of Socca to split between two people – if you get it to go, they’ll put it in a little cone, and you can eat it while you’re strolling – the socca really is good here, and it’s made in the traditional fashion.

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The Spotted Pig, West Village, New York City, NY

Given that The Spotted Pig was a 2016 James Beard national finalist for “Outstanding Restaurant,” I went there for a second visit, and left over $100 (just over $100) poorer, but not at all disappointed; in fact, I was quite pleased with every aspect of my meal.

Starting with the wines – I’d gotten to the restaurant just before 5 PM, right when they stop serving food at the bar, but before they begin seating for dinner at 5:30. I pulled up the very last bar stool, right at the pass, and enjoyed a glass of white wine ($10). The Spotted Pig has very good wines by the glass, and it’s really not necessary to know the producers or vintages; regions alone are perfectly adequate with this cuisine, and given how strong their wines are by the glass – they aren’t inexpensive, but they’re quite good. I don’t even remember the varietal I had, because I was so zonked when I got there – it might have been a Savennières (Chenin Blanc), but I was just grateful for a place to sit down, and for a glass of wine in my hands – I nursed it for a good thirty minutes.

Having put my name on the list early, I got a two-top right at 5:30, when the restaurant was still empty (but it filled quickly on this Monday evening). I ordered a glass of Rudolf May Silvaner Trocken ($13), a wonderfully aromatic wine that was fermented completely dry, and was a logical follow-up to my Chenin Blanc.

For my first course, I wanted something that would match the wine, and I selected the Sheep’s Milk Ricotta Gnudi with Basil Pesto ($20), and oh my goodness, this dish was just about perfect. A medium-sized bowl of gnudi, with the most wonderful lemon-butter sauce surrounding the fresh pasta and well-sourced ricotta. I was starving, and it was a food-and-wine pairing that was pretty much made in heaven. I positively savored each piece of gnudi, and didn’t waste a droplet of sauce, and when I was finished with this course, I was a new man – having gone from exhausted, to invigorated.

I hadn’t eaten the entire day, so I was truly hungry. For my entrée, I ordered the Grilled Skirt Steak with Broccolini, Romesco Sauce, and Cipollini Onions ($35). I’m not sure when skirt steak got so expensive, but this is one hell of a lot of money – and it didn’t come out flopping off the plate as it sometimes does; it was sliced, thus difficult to tell about the portion size, but it was ordered and cooked to a perfect medium-rare, and everything on the plate was in sync. It was a great, if fiendishly expensive, skirt steak, and a large-enough portion so that I was quite full when I’d finished. One thing I noticed is that, despite it being a Monday night, every single detail on both plates was perfectly executed (including the all-important sauces) – when you have name recognition like The Spotted Pig, you get to hire the cream-of-the-crop when it comes to line cooks and sous chefs, and it really showed on this drizzly Monday – the kitchen was doing outstanding work.

With my steak, I’d ordered a glass of Domaine Ruet Brouilly ($15), a single-village, cru Beaujolais that might have been a touch light for this dish, but it was the wine I wanted, so I got it anyway (you’re better off with something from the Rhone Valley here).

Had this been an ordinary meal, I would have left full and happy, but I really wanted to test this restaurant, so I got a Blueberry Tart ($10) for dessert, and yes, it had been pre-prepped sometime earlier, but it was still really well-made, and the blueberries themselves were just as you’d want them – not west-coast good, but still good. A fitting finish to a meal that hit on all notes, met-and-surpassed my reasonably high expectations, and reaffirmed just how good of a gastropub this restaurant is (and The Spotted Pig *is* a gastropub). It might not be fancy, but it’s worthy of consideration for the Beard Award.

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