Hazel, Shaw

I’ve stressed for years that I don’t review restaurants; I review meals, and you all know by now that I have to call things as I see them, without any external influences. With that in mind …

Last week, I walked into an empty bar at Hazel, just as they were opening, and had a really nice, wonderful bartender who took good care of me all evening long. I *love* Hazel’s wine list, because it’s divided up in plain English – in a way that the non-wine connoisseur can figure it out without having to fear making the wrong choice. Having perused their menu, I knew I wanted a white with high acidity to stand up to their food, and so from the “Tart & Funky” section, I ordered one of Hazel’s two-most inexpensive wines on the entire list: a bottle of the recently-falling-out-of-fashion “Orange Wine” (which I happen to love) – a 2015 Meinklang, “Graupert” Pinot Gris from Burgenland, Austria ($40). I fell in love with this winery the first time I had it, because it’s not only a Vienna exurb (yet in an extremely rural area, mere miles away from the Czech Republic), but it also employs biodynamic practices – a philosophy which I embrace, not because of its wacky adjuncts, such as “harvesting by moon cycles,” but because they do so much else that makes so much scientific sense, so if you can swallow the kooky aspects of biodynamic viticulture, there’s an awful lot of logically sound methods at play. For a more detailed discussion about Burgenland, Graupert, and biodynamic agriculture, I would refer you to one of these experts, who are just out of my league when it comes to anything more than cheeseburgers: They’re the cream of the crop, and they’ll be able to help you sort through any questions you may have.

The wine was just as I thought it would be: tangy, acidic, Pinot Gris – barely recognizable as such, and smartly classified under “Orange Wines” (not to mention “Tart & Funky”). I don’t know who the F&B Director is at Hazel, but whoever it is, you have all my respect for fashioning such a smart, legible wine list, with good bottles starting at $40. Thank you for your hard work on this. I obviously can’t vouch for the list as a whole, but if this one wine is an example, it is *exactly* where I would place it, and even though it costs double-retail, I have *no problem* paying you for your expertise. Please write me and let me know who you are, as I wish to keep tabs on you going forward.


Hazel’s food menu, divided into four sections (Vegetables, Bread & Batters (cf: Tail Up Goat), Fish & Shellfish, and Meat & Poultry), is also well-organized, and makes the diner’s life easy when it comes to decision making:


I think I had Rob Rubba’s cuisine when he was (briefly) Chef de Cuisine at Tallula, but I’m not sure – there was a brief period of time at Tallula when chefs were going in-and-out like fruit flies (and I knew that losing Andrew Market was a huge mistake – arguably the best meal I had at Tallula came under his supervision). Anyway, this meal at Hazel may, or may not, have been my first experience with Rubba as Chef de Cuisine – I just can’t remember.

My meal here was a decidedly mixed bag, and I realize that I’m in a minority of just about “one” by saying so, as Hazel is receiving near-consensus raves and plaudits. Was my experience a one-off? Or, was it because I hadn’t eaten all day long, and my biology was just hangry-weird by this point? Or, was it just bad timing, possibly due to a miscommunication which may have been partly my fault? Read on …

The bartender who waited on me was positively delightful, and I’m kicking myself for not being able to find my receipt so I can praise her by name – she was a young, gregarious, woman of color who was working on a Tuesday evening, and I hope this review finds its way back to her, as she deserves recognition for her excellent work, both at understanding the restaurant, and also at making the customer feel like a welcome friend.

I ordered three courses, and she made it a point of telling me that the kitchen will course things out for the diner – my first course was very obvious, but there was (looking back) some confusion about my next two courses – I mentioned something about her picking which should be second and third (since, depending on the prep, either could have been second or third), and I don’t think I made myself clear, in which case, this is absolutely diner error, and no one’s to blame other than myself.

Course number one was the Atlantic Fluke Crudo ($15) with avocado, radish, shiso, and grapefruit ponzu. An absolutely delightful dish, both in terms of visual appeal, and also on the palate, the only possible nitpick I can find – well, there are two – is that the fluke *might* have been a little less spanking fresh than I’d normally want. Fluke is a very mild fish, and this particular fluke had a touch of the sea which caught my attention – nothing major, and it might even have been the grapefruit ponzu or shiso which imparted a slight aftertaste that deceived me; texturally, it was magnificent, and the only thing it could have been was “a little bigger.” At $15, this dish wasn’t cheap, but boy it sure was delicious, and I’d get it again in a heartbeat. In fact, I urge people – if they don’t mind paying $15 for a small-to-medium plate of crudo – to get this as their first course at Hazel (preferably with a bottle of the exact same wine I had). I took a picture of my second and third courses, and I really wish I had a picture of this, because it was the absolute star of the show.

My second course arrived right when it should have: Rabbit Nuggets ($14) with “Thai Flavors”, and curry mustard condiment. These were six “rabbit-tots” served in a paper bag (hopefully in order to keep them warm, and not just to look trendy – it served the purposes of being both). These were extremely rich, fairly heavy nuggets, and the “curry mustard condiment” came across to me as being from Southern Thailand – in fact, it came across as very much of a Massaman curry (peanut-based), even though I have no idea whether or not there were peanuts in the sauce – it sure tasted like there were. I enjoyed my first two tots at a leisurely pace, and began to notice they were getting quite heavy on the palate – not necessarily a bad thing, but “a thing” nevertheless. My bartender advised me that 2-3 courses are enough for an average person: I had ordered three, and I could already tell I wouldn’t have room for dessert, even though I wasn’t halfway through my meal.

Up until this point – this exact point – I was very much enjoying my meal, but then things just went downhill. My third course arrived less than five minutes after my second course had been served – I had only eaten two tots out of six – and I was in the unfortunate situation of having both in front of me, both needing to be eaten while they’re hot. The third course was the Gnocchi Bokki ($15), with pork-kimchi ragù, sesame seeds, and smoked pecorino. “Bokki” (and the related term “Bokkeum,” which you’ll also see on this menu) is Korean for “stir-fried.”

In front of me now were two courses that clashed as much as two courses could possibly clash, and I didn’t know what to do: Should I finish my rabbit tots, and let my stir-fried gnocchi get cold? No, that didn’t make much sense. But neither did anything else that I could think of. I want to stress that, looking back, I sincerely believe that I had mistakenly conveyed to my bartender that I wanted the courses together, even though that was the last thing I wanted.

Anyway, as you might imagine, “rabbit with peanut sauce” does not go with “gnocchi with kimchi,” and when I say “does not go,” I mean “pizza doesn’t go with hot fudge” – that’s how awful the combination was. To rub salt in the wound, kimchi does not go with pecorino: not in any way, shape, or form, and even within that single dish, the clash in flavors was almost too much to bear: It was quite literally disgusting. Why did I order it when it was clearly spelled out on the menu? Because I’m an idiot, that’s why.

Here’s a picture of what I had in front of me, and yes, that “white stuff” on top of the gnocchi in kimchi and Korean red-chili sauce is indeed pecorino cheese, to go along with my rabbit tots in what was seemingly a Massaman curry sauce (I got more peanut than mustard):


I had about 2/3 of my dinner remaining, and it had instantly become something very close to inedible. I went back-and-forth – concentrating on one, then the other, then trying to mix the two, and was almost literally choking down both items – especially the Gnocchi Bokki, which was one of the most poorly conceived dishes I’ve had in a long, long time – there was nothing that could have saved this dish: It was horrible. Not quality-wise, mind you; just the complete, total clash in flavors – I went from being so happy, to being so miserable, all in a matter of minutes. (There’s a very good reason that Koreans don’t eat cheese with their Kimchi Jaeyook Bokkum: They don’t enjoy vomiting.) But I was starving because I hadn’t eaten all day, and knew I wouldn’t eat again that night, so I just choked it down, and left in a state of something not far from nauseated. I took the rest of the wine home with me, and enjoyed it later that evening, left my kindly bartender a good tip, and headed on home, wondering what in the hell had just happened.

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Essy’s Carriage House, North Arlington

I finally made it back into Essy’s Carriage House today after probably close to twenty years.

Nearing the 1 PM lunch hour, there were about five other tables in the restaurant, and mine was the only one that didn’t contain at least one person over the age of 70 – this is a restaurant that aims at senior citizens, treats them well, and shows them respect.

I was almost stunned at how expensive the lunch menu was – aside from a small appetizer section, there were some sandwiches in the mid-to-upper teens, and then, half the menu was entrees ranging from the low-to-upper $20s, with a few cracking the $30 barrier (keep in mind, this is an old, somewhat decrepit, Arlington institution, and not a particularly high-rent space – I suspect they own the land.

Not wanting a sandwich, and repeatedly seeing the promotion of their lump crab on their menu, I was torn between the Crab Cakes ($28) and the Crab Imperial ($29), and asking the Mâitre d’ for his opinion, and having been told both were good, I went with the Crab Imperial. Since it was lunchtime, I didn’t feel the need to get anything else, other than a glass of Diet Coke, which came in an ice-filled pint glass, and was not refilled throughout the entire meal – I don’t know if refills are free or not, but I do know the gentleman running the floor was very polite and cordial.

The Crab Imperial arrived, and consisted of a rather classic version of this dish – which I adore – baked and serve in a scallop shell, alongside of an ice-cream scoop of mashed potatoes, and precisely 14, frozen, green beans, saved by a light marinade of white onion and something which glistened a bit.

The Imperial was covered by a thin coating of something yellow which vaguely resembled Hollandaise Sauce, but I’m not entirely sure that’s what it was. It was made with 100% lump crab meat (although I don’t know from where) that had, at the minimum, tiny specks of red and green pepper, a bit of mayonnaise and possibly egg stirred in, and maybe some lemon juice among other things. It was a solid, honorable rendition of Crab Imperial that probably had a comparable amount of crab to two small-ish Crab Cakes.

It would be mildly jerk-ish off me to mention that the scoop of mashed potatoes tasted like it was made with margarine, especially considering there were about a half-dozen foil-wrapped pats of butter that came with my little basket of sliced baguette. The entree also came with a very typical, very old-school green salad with vinaigrette dressing in a little tub on the side which I used for dipping. I normally don’t eat salads such as this, but this force me to do it.

That’s about all there was – there was nothing special about this, and there was also nothing wrong with this (mashed potatoes being a nit-pick, as I suspect many people wouldn’t even notice the margarine-like flavors).

I wish I had more to offer, but that was my lunch, and when the bill came, the total, including tax, was $32, so the Diet Coke was perhaps included with the meal. Incidentally, Essy’s Carriage House is open on Christmas Day, and has the Crab Imperial for exactly $10 more – probably due to increased demand – they’re serving until 10 PM.

In the Dining Guide, I had Essy’s ranked way too low in North Arlington, and I wonder if that’s the reason it was nominated for a review (was it?) – I subsequently raised it a number of slots, and while it will never win any awards, it’s a solid restaurant which caters to senior citizens, and is really beyond any bare-knuckled type of criticism. I’m glad I went, and enjoyed my lunch while not having any sort of culinary epiphany.

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Comet Ping Pong, Chevy Chase, DC

(See the Jun 27, 2011 Review here.)

Aiming to go this Sunday or next and show support!

Don’t worry about showing support; worry more about getting a seat.

I stopped into Comet Ping Pong last night, after two Tweets (made with the blessing of James Alefantis) which, for me, were a bit on the controversial side, thinking I’d be walking into an empty restaurant; I could not have been more wrong.

There was a gentleman working the front door who had been hired from a security agency, just to make his presence felt, but there were also some people eating outside on the patio, some others waiting at the door to get inside the full restaurant, and a completely full bar area, with several people (including me) standing against the wall waiting to get a seat – I probably waited at least twenty minutes for a single seat to open up, and another girl would have taken it if I didn’t need it (I offered it to her repeatedly, but she said she had another friend coming, and that it was okay – if it wasn’t difficult for me to stand right now, I would have never taken her up on it).

Comet Ping Pong’s bar was as busy at 6:30 PM on this Wednesday night as I’ve ever seen it during the week (they were, according to James, closed Monday, but apparently things went swimmingly last night). The bar offers 15 interesting beers in bottles and cans, in the $5-7 range with one outlier at $3 (PBR) and another at $8 (Victory Dirtwolf Double IPA), then four British pint drafts at $7, and several wines by the glass and bottle. I also counted 66 bottles of liquor on their two small mixed-drink shelves behind the small bar, but this is, for the most part, a place to have a hipster brew.

Comet Ping Pong’s menu (that’s a 180K .pdf file) is larger than I’ve ever seen it, I hadn’t been in a long, long time, and I went back to an old favorite, the Comet Hot Wings w/ Dipping Sauce ($7). You get a plastic tray, lined with paper, with six, jerk-style wings in a thick, creamy, horseradish-based dipping sauce that’s something like a pudding in texture. Even though the sauce provides some nasal-toned heat with the horseradish, its cool creaminess helps to neutralize the jerk-like heat generated by the chicken, which I suspect is due to Scotch Bonnet (Habanero) pepper used as part of the rub. These are really delicious wings, hot but not super-hot, and very different from what they once were under Carole Greenwood (but similar to how I remember them from a few years ago – they’ve been jerk-style wings for years now). The quality of the chicken itself was better under Greenwood, but this is still a quality product, and one which I would gladly get again, and am happy to recommend to you.

I hadn’t eaten anything all day, but the wings curbed my hunger. I compromised by ordering a Chopped Salad ($9) with chopped romaine (that’s the “chopped” part), chickpeas, radicchio, provolone, Savoy cabbage, no salami (which was optional), and oregano dressing. This was a diptych salad, with half on the left (the provolone, chick peas, et al), and most of the greens on the right – why they do this, I’m not sure, but it worked well enough – it was dressed reasonably well, and was a good combination of flavors. The chopped salad from Comet Ping Pong was better in the past, but there was nothing wrong with this, and I’m glad I got it, without feeling the need to urge others to do the same.

As part of the compromise, I ordered two  Tomato Pies to go ($8.95 each) with Comet Tomato Sauce and Fresh Mozzarella. Comet used to bottle their own tomato sauce at Toigo Orchards, and they still may be – it was Carole Greenwood who started this (there are pictures of this on her chat), and they still may be using Toigo – I suspect they were using Toigo’s surplus of non-perfect-looking tomatoes in order to make this wonderfully fresh sauce. I only ate two pieces while they were hot, and this is very good pizza, without hitting the heights that it hit under Greenwood’s baton – my biggest problem is the outer periphery of crust, which is just too big for its own good, and the pizzas themselves seem to have gotten an inch or two smaller in diameter over the years – they’re pretty small pies, definitely individual-sized (they’ve always been individual-sized, but now they’re even smaller).

I had a really nice dinner at Comet Ping Pong (which included a few of their $5-7 beers – well-stored Great Lakes Beers are *always* welcome in my life). Most importantly, I’m happy to report that Comet Ping Pong was *rocking* last night – it was swamped with loyal customers, showing solidarity against terrorism, and proving that while there may not always be safety in numbers, there *is* confidence in numbers, and this was on full display last night – there wasn’t a worry in the house, and I can assure businesses in the area who are worried about this, that you have nothing to worry about (other than competition from Comet Ping Pong). Folks, please don’t forget that these other surrounding businesses took a hit as well – please throw your support their way if you’re in the area; Comet is doing just fine!

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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.


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.


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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