Saturday, March 28, 2015

Mamnoon Seattle

Baking Khubz

Mamnoon Means Thankful

We went to another great restaurant this week in Seattle's Capital Hill area Mamnoon.  This area has undergone a transformation with many new restaurants and stores, there was the largest Starbucks I had ever seen where they roast the coffee, have entertainment, serve sandwiches, almost half a block in size.
When we walked in the hostess had read my blog and talked to me about some of posts in NYC.  It was a great way to start the evening.

Mamnoon Story

Mamnoon is a recent James Beard Semi Finalist in the Northwest and features food from the Middle East.  What is unusual about this restaurant is that the owners are restaurant rookies, Wassef and Racha Haroun.  Wassef worked for Microsoft as a project manager before leaving and starting the restaurant with his wife.  The food reflects his childhood when he and his mother spent time in the kitchen preparing traditiona Syrian dishes. During the creation of the restaurant the Harouns bought in their family members to help their new chef Garrett Melkonian recreate the tastes and techniques they enjoyed growing up. The Harouns have been able to create an open vibrant venue with great food and an impressive following. The restaurant space is what I would call industrial warm with a large area for baking on your immediate right and tables interspersed all the way back to the kitchen pass area.  The bakery is an entertainment venue with the baker kneading, baking and checking the final product before it is brought out straight to the tables.

Our Meal To be Thankful For

The food centers around breads which includes Khubz, Labneh, vegetables and exotic spices which create great marinades and sauces.  Mamnoon drink selection  is a lot more fun than other restaurants.  Each of the drinks incorporates a middle eastern spice or fruit to differentiate from any other drink you would ever buy, there was even a drink with curry.
Shish Taouk
Mamnoon is the perfect restaurant to enjoy small sharing plates, that way no one misses out.   We started the meal with Breads and spreads both creamy Hummus and Bateresh.  The Bateresh was made from charred Eggplant, Labneh, Lamb Ragu and Pine Nuts a very hardy and savory spread for the Khubz.  What a great way to start the meal!  We then were treated to two different types of dumplings one more like an Empenada, the Sambusek which tasted savory from the Feta and sweet from the fig Marmalade and Pomegranate, yummy.  The other Kibbeh which was more of a fried torpedo looking cracked wheat dumpling filled with Beef served with Tarrator for dipping (most likely wher Tartar Sauce came from).

Some of our Favorites

The last four main course dishes were all excellent but very different.
Dolmeh which is prevalent in many countries in the Middle East and is a vine leaf wrap stuffed with aromatic rice and sauteed vegetables with a hint of mint presented in a sweet and sour sauce.  The Shish Taouk is a Chicken Shish Kebab.  Mamnoon's preparation was with large chunks of chicken breast that had substance while stil being moist full of flavorful spices and  lemon very delicious.  Turlu is a vegetarian dish which is a flaky Phyllo pie crust stuffed with Tomato, braised vegetables, Armenian rice, Coriander and Urfa Beiber for heat and a lemon and cilantro pesto which had a bitter tart bite.  This was my stand out dish of our evening it had so many complex tastes and each bite was a little crunch from the crust and the perfect combination of filling and spices. .
Black Cod
Colorful and Delicious Turlu
Our last entree was a perfect prepared dish, Samkeh Harra, Roasted Black Cod seasoned with Aleppo Chili and Garlic served with some crushed pine nuts to add texture with delicate blanched pieces of Napa Cabbage with Mint leaves.  The Black Cod which is my favorite fish was perfectly seasoned and cooked and the simple cabbage with the mint leaf was unique, simple and tasty.
We were treated to Mazaher which was served in a large white bowl it is a concert orange blossom snow (finer Snow Cone Ice), whipped Labneh, Citus Syrup and Honey.  You take your spoon to mix it together till is becomes more of a Gelato texture that is colored light orange by the honey and citrus syrup.  Everyone then dives in to eat it communally with a spoon.  It is a Middle Eastern version of the snow cone but sweeter.

Definite Must Go In Seattle

I would highly recommend a meal at Mamnoon, great unique food, good service and lots of fun.  Seattle has many great restaurants Mamnoon is definitely a great choice.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Il Buco Alimentari e Veneria

Beautiful Cured Meats
Il Buco is a Restaurant, Wine Bar and Market specializing in old world Italian food and drink.  David and I had a reservation and as luck would have it we got the two seater at the kitchen counter.  I do not think it was originally designed as a counter to eat at but we certainly enjoyed the location.  The team of chefs that is at Il Buco are definitely some of the best at their craft.  One area that Il Buco has focused on is their cured meat program.  I am a huge fan of cured meats so even though a little bit of a meal spoiler I could not resist the meat and cheese plate combined with their awesome bread and olive oil.  The problem with ordering this is that it tends to fill you up and in this case there were a lot more tastes to come.

Fortunately we ordered several small dishes that could be shared.  Our first dish was t\mushrooms that were sauteed in olive oil and garlic and served with Reggiano and alfalfa sprouts.  There were an assortment of mushrooms with different textures combined with the sharpness of the cheese and the tiny crunch of the sprouts the dish overall was very satisfying and unique.  Next compliments of the chef we had braised Quail quarters, cooked to perfection, moist savory and seasoned perfectly, a very nice holiday gift.

Now a little bit stuffed with two more small plates on the way it was time to buckle down and get the pallet ready for Bucatini Cacio e Pepe which is a thick spaghetti like noodle with a hole in the middle with Pecorino Romana and Black Pepper.  The pasta was cooked perfectly there was  heat from the black pepper and creaminess from the Sheep's Milk Cheese which made this a tasty dish.  Our last dish was a Veal Ragu with cherry tomatoes the Veal Sugo was cooked to perfection and left that nice rich coating on your tongue that lasted for hours.
Il Buco produces well made high quality Italian food, combined with helpfulness and passion from our Server Eric the evening was memorable and a good recommendation for great Italian Food!!

Tertulia the Gathering Place in NYC

Christmas Spirit at Tertulia
My buddy Tariq and I both love Spanish food especially Tapas. So when researching where the best tapas were served in NYC I kept on coming up with Chef Seamus Mullen's restaurant Tertulia. Located in the West Village Tertulia's look and feel is very
similar to many of the restaurants in that area.  When walking in, the bar is on the left near the front of the door and as you get by the folks either drinking or waiting for a table the restaurant opens up to 20 tables.  The kitchen open in the back so you get to see the food being prepared.  The best word to describe Tertulia is cozy.  I spent two weeks in Spain last year and got to really understand some of the great Spanish dishes that are served Tapas style.  At Tertulia there are a few menu items that have been taken from Southern Spain and transformed to more articulate dishes with flavor refinements, featuring ingredients and spices from Morocco.
Potata Bravas
Great Ale Cocktail
Tertulia has some great drink items one that I liked was ale cocktail with some bitters, lime and sharp sweet spices.  We started off with their version of Potatoes Brava, Nuestras Potatas which were more crisply deep fried potatoes and covered with a Pimenton Garlic Aioli.  We both liked the crispiness of the Potatoes and the Aioli provided some heat with bite from the garlic.  We also ordered the Coles de Bruselas, fried Brussels Sprouts with Sobrassada and Pork Belly bits with sheep's milk yogurt.  Over the last 2 years I have had many Brussels Sprout dishes the big differentiator was the fat from pork belly and the spice from the Sobrassada with a cooling effect from the yogurt.  One dish that can never be overdone because they consitently provide a good taste are the Pimentos de Padron.  Padron or Shishito peppers with just the right amount of sea salt.  These were cooked perfectly and seasoned with flaked sea salt that added a great salty crunch.
Moving on our final 2 dishes were both amazing, the Cordero al la Brasa, Grilled Lamb Belly with with marinated Eggplant and Garlic Labne.  I love any meat belly and the lamb belly was delicious with great fat to meat ratio that is savory, the eggplant provided a bite and was so good we wished we had more.
Simple Perfection
Lamb Belly
Finally one of the most simple but tasty dishes was the Broccoli.  Many of us growing up hated 3 things Brussels Sprouts, Cauliflower and Broccoli.  Tonight we had 2 out of the 3 and the Broccoli dish although very simple looked fantastic.  It is simply a large Broccoli Floret with Lamb Bacon bits covered in a egg white that has been poached in olive oil to make it fluffy like a donut and savory like a fried egg.  It was topped off with some Manchego Cheese to give it a little bit of a creamy bite.
Tertulia is definitely on my list for great tapas in a cozy environment.  They provide a different style of food that is enhanced by Chef Mullen.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Uncle Boons NYC -- Great Creative Thai Food

Uncle Boons 
My best choices for restaurants are former James Beard Semi Finalists, this is where I found Uncle Boons.  Uncle Boons is in NoLita off of Spring Street, down a set of stairs slightly below street level. It is like walking onto the set of South Pacific a little bar and a kitchen pass to the right and several tables to the left.  Lots of palm frons and Polynesian decor.  This is a restaurant that you should get reservations because it is small and very popular.  The menu is one page and full of share-able items so everyone can enjoy.
To start with you are brought out Mieng Kim a snack from Thailand that is a Betel Leaf topped with dried shrimp, chiles, toasted coconut and dipped into a Galangal sauce and popped into your mouth.
Mieng Kim
Chicken Banana Blossom Salad
Kabocha Squash
Thai Escargot Green Curry
The leaf is tender with a little bitter bite and the dried shrimp are crunchy and salty all this combined with dried coconut and a dip of the  Galangal sauce makes it a scrumptious way to start the evening.  I always have to remember that Thai food can be very spicy and although I like spice I listened very carefully to what our server said about ordering certain dishes. Knowing that we would get into some spice we ordered the Boon's Brew which had essence of lime, chiles and coriander which would help cut through the heat,
We started out the meal with Hoi Tak, Green Curry Snails topped with crispy Garlic.  Thai Escargot, the Green Curry really enhanced the flavor and the crispy garlic added some tasty texture to the dish, not too spicy just the right amount of heat.  Next was the Yum Gai Hua Pli which is a very meaty chicken salad with some real heat that is addictive. You would take one bite and go that is not bad , then it would grow and intensify but instead of saying it is too hot your mouth says I want more of this really satisfying dish.  Served with the Chicken are Banana Blossoms and crispy shallot so each bite had substance.  Kang Yang Muay Thai is a dish traditionally served at Thai boxing matches and it is a delightful dish served with Roti for you to make little tacos.  You take the chicken the salad and fold it with the Roti and dip it in the sauce for a great taste.  We ordered a side Haw Mok Phukk Tong which is a Kabocha Squash in a Red Curry Custard and toasted Pumpkin Seed to add some crunch. There were so many flavors going on with the previous dishes that this was a great heat cooler but got lost because of great tastes of the other dishes.  To wrap up the dinner we had their Milk Toast desert which is a Brioche saturated with Condensed Milk and sweet Thai spices, Delicious.
Overall this is one of these restaurants that has great food and an opportunity to enjoy over and over again

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Betony -- A Charles Dickens Meal -- Great Eating Experience

From the Upper Level
What makes a meal memorable?  For the last 4 years and 130+ posts the meals I remember were great food, unique ambiance, great service and a fantastic experience.  Most of the restaurants I review have the first 3 elements but the fourth element, fantastic experience is earned.  It usually involves a restaurant team member that asks more than how do you like your meal.  Betony is a restaurant that will stand out in our minds as a great experience. 
When you walk into Betony you observe the vastness of the space and the combination of the brick from the original infrastructure and the contemporary architectural touches that give it an edge of newness.  We were seated in the upper section where there you could look down on the NYC bar scene below.  Where we were seated there is very fine detail that has been added to the walls.  One side there is this very old world wood panel and on the other there is a cement laminate with designs and hand written French sayings. There was a lot of thought put into the entire environment to make it unique.  The overall ambiance of the restaurant gives you the feel of formality without the need to be dressed formal or act formal, it is warm and comfortable.
Blue Corn Croquette
Yogurt and Beets
The menu is very direct and the combinations of flavors could keep a diner busy for many visits.  On this night they were featuring a holiday special of Pheasant and all the trimmings almost like the meal from the Christmas Carol.  We really did order this because it was our holiday treat and a unique way to round out a trip to in NYC during the Christmas week shopping, crowd watching, holiday decoration and awesome store windows.   

We started with an Amuse Bouche of pickled beets combined with horseradish, fennel and yogurt.  The beets were sweet, the horse radish had heat, the yogurt was tangy and added the right amount of fat.  We ordered as an appetizer the Blue Corn Croquettes with Cilantro and Aleppo Pepper it was like a New Mexican potato puff crunchy, creamy spicy.

Pheasant Perfectly Presented
The staff came out to our table to present us the Pheasant before it was prepared for us to eat.  It was sitting in a bid of herbs and we felt like Tiny Tim seeing his Christmas Goose.  Very soon after that the entire meal was brought out which included roasted Peruvian Potatoes in brown butter, sautéed Swiss Chard with lemon and garlic, grilled "Hen of the Woods" mushrooms a spiced apple and cranberry Chutney, a Pheasant Leg Confit, a meat tart with game hearts and gizzards flavored with Foie Gras and Black Truffle with a sauce of Foie Gras, Black Truffle and Madeira. The Red Necked Pheasant from D'artagnan was sourced from Scotland and was cooked on a Yakatori grill perfectly medium rare, moist and hint taste of the herbs.  Pheasant is very difficult to cook because the lack of fat, the chefs at Betony created a perfect dish and accompanied it with the sweet and spicy chutney.  Each of the accompaniments were simple, the Potatoes were sweet, the Chard was just crisp enough and the "Hen of the Woods" mushrooms added a great texture to the meal.  One of the standouts of the meal was the heart and gizzard tart which was
Heart Tart
delicious with a great savory and spicy bite.  Overall this meal 
Colorful Chard
was done perfectly and we were satiated and satisfied, the service had been great, if we had walked out at this point Betony would have gotten a good review.  Through out the night the floor staff had paid a lot of attention to the clients.  One of the team, Eamon Rockey spent some time with us and asked us about the meal and we got into the discussion of the blog and the menu.  It was apparent that Eamon had a passion for fine dining and we shared some great places that we had been to.  At the time we did not realize Eamon was the GM of the restaurant.  I asked Eamon what his favorite item on the menu was and he was adamant that they had the best Short Rib anywhere.  I was skeptical, when I think Short Rib I think slow cooked beef smothered in a Madeira Sauce that falls off the bone.  Something that I have cooked at home.  Eamon asked us if we had room to try their Short Rib and with a little bit of hesitation from me and prodding and challenging from him we reloaded for meal number two.

Short Rib Perfection
The Short Rib from Betony is the anti Short Rib served at every other restaurant I have reviewed.  It was like eating the finest piece of Waygu beef, tender marbled with just the right amount of fat.  It was served with a mustard sauce, a grilled onion and a stuffed Brussels Sprout filled with Foie Gras and Truffle and a small smear of mustard. On top of tat they served a smoked whipped potato which were addictive. Bottom line Eamon proved me wrong with a Short Rib that is so right.  This is the reason I love to go to great restaurants because people like Eamon change the meal to an experience that is memorable.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Chad White's House, Comun

Chad White with the Birthday Boy
Over the last several months there has been a lot written up locally about Comun Kitchen and Tavern and its Chef Chad White.  I chose to go there on my birthday to see what all the commotion was about.  The noise that had most intrigued me was that other Chefs in San Diego and South of the Border were saying that Chad's restaurants were the place to go.  Comun is in the East Village of San Diego.  East Village is not a tourist area but one of the faster growing urban areas in downtown. Comun is similar to other new restaurants that you find across the US, communal, open, comfortable, designed for function with street art and craft funk decor.
It is a Wednesday night in San Diego no conventions, no ball games most restaurants are empty but Comun is full of local people.  The kitchen is the center of attention it is a bright light like a food operating room, people in white and stainless steel.  Chad is not a chef that hides back behind the action but he positions himself as the center of the action.  When we walked in I noticed him with a knife, cutting board and an aluminum bowl carefully cutting pieces of bread into croutons.  I asked to be sat at the counter so we could be entertained by the action.
The menu is simple only one page but I took the opportunity to ask him what he would recommend at first he said that is like picking who your favorite child is but then he eased into the answer and one by one went over each item in detail of why he was proud of the dish.  It was easy to imagine at that point that the meal was going to be great.  Chad's story is simple was trained to cook in the Navy, got his first exposure to fine dining at the Hotel Del Coronado Prince of Wales, got on the job training in managing a restaurant at a local hotel country club, hired to take free rein as Executive Chef at a local Top Chef Contestants Fish House. Started his own pop-up food business and started getting involved in the Baja restaurant scene.  When you add all that up and you combine it with being a culinary artist with very distinct values you get a chef like Chad.  In our conversation throughout the evening what struck me was his conviction to sustainability.  Every beast he buys for the restaurant has a pedigree, the Albacore is wild and line caught off the coast of Baja, the Mutton is fed the barely remnants from a local brewery, the entire animal is used to create dishes on the menu and when it is finished the ashes from the remnants are used as a spice to bring flavor to his next dish (note the Chicarrons).

Let's get to the food we shared several snacks, the Chicharron, Elotes and the Radishes. The Chicharron is a deep fried pork rind that is filled with a Albacore Belly Tartar with Sesame, Lemon and Ash.  The Chicharron is used as a mini edible spoon the star is the Albacore bite.  The Elotes can be described as Savory Mexican inspired Cream of Corn.  Aioli.  Your initial reaction is wow it is colorful, that looks pretty basic, hmm did I make the right choice.  But the first bite tells you otherwise it is refreshing, there is not a lot of heat from the radish there is just enough sea salt to give it a pop and when you add the Aioli you think wow this is great and so simple why isn't this done more often?
Elotes and Radish
The bite is sweet, savory, rich with a little bit of heat at the end.  I save the simplest but most creative for last.  If you go to a steak restaurant in the East or Midwest they occasionally have this large dish of Carrots, Celery, Radishes and Cherry Tomatoes your initial reaction is healthy something to keep your mouth busy till your salad comes.  In this case you get a bunch of Radish that looks like it was just plucked out of they yard, with it's stalk all the way down to that thread like trailing root.  the Radish has been lightly sprinkled with sea salt flakes and situated next to a spoonful of Coriander
On to the main dish my family got the little Tostadas, my wife had the Octopus and our daughter had the Chicken.  The story here is not about the protein solely even though the Octopus was prepared perfectly tender.  It is all about the individual ingredients that are present in each Tostada to make it a standout dish.  The Octopus was accompanied by Black Romesco, Queso and an avocado relish, the Chicken was with Hominy puree, Chile Guero and a Salsa Verde.  The point here is how enhance the flavor of the protein.
Based on Chad's overview of each dish I went with the Lamb.  This is a dish he serves in his TJ Baja cuisine.  It comes in two stacked Blue pots with a Kale Salad on the side.  The Lamb is in the pot on the top, the tortillas are steaming in the pot below.  The process is simple grab a fresh steamed corn tortilla and spoon in the Lamb and Black Bean stew and go to town. The bite breaks down like this, you get the taste of the freshly made tortilla then a savory sauce that has a hint of heat with bites of Lamb and Black Beans.  What stood out was the how the taste progression went the sweetness of the corn tortilla, the richness of the salty Lamb bite, the heat from the chilis in the Chorizo and the fresh bite of the cilantro.  This was a great simple dish with very complex flavor combos.
Lamb Stew 
restaurant so it has the authenticity of Mexican Cuisine.  The Kale Salad was unexpected the leaves were tender and from my perspective it is served to cleanse the Palette.  It was the first Kale Salad that I have enjoyed.
To finish it off since it was my Birthday Chef gave us each a Paletas which are Baja Popsicles flavored each to imitate a Mojito, Watermelon with Thai Basil, Dolce De Leche.  A very good way to finish dinner.
I am glad we went, although the food was great my memory will be my opportunity to talk to Chad and listen about his passion for cooking great food.  Chad also hosts monthly pop-up dinners with guest chefs.  I need to go to one and try more good food.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

When in Rome try Eating in the Monti District

Hotel View
We arrived to our Boscolo Exedra Roma Hotel at 8pm on a Sunday and wanted to find a place to eat. We went down to the concierge and asked for help.  I know better than to do this but we were tired and hungry.  We are looking for something close that has good quality food.  We ended up with a reliable but mediocre restaurant.  After a day of exploring we found a great area called the Monti District we asked our concierge what would you recommend in the Monti District that is contemporary and has great food they recommended Urbana 47.
Egg Plan Urbana 47

Urbana 47 is on Via Urbana, a street that is devoted to feeding and providing services to young Romans living in the district  There are little boutiques, antique stores several nice restaurants, grocery and hardware stores and very few cars.  Urbana 47 could be located in many of the new urban renewal areas that are popping up in the US, it has that hipster country look with a general store feeling.  We were the only Americans in there and we felt like we had hit on a winner.I had the Eggplant Parmigiana, Joann had the Caprese Salad.  The highlight of the meal was the Eggplant Parmigiana I am not sure what was topping it but it was almost like deep fried corn silk and it added a great texture to the very savory taste.  A Caprese salad is very simple and really is hard to differentiate but in this case the use of the different color tomatoes really made this dish pop.  We finished off our meals with Pasta, I had the Porcini stuffed Ravioli's and JoAnn had Spaghetti in brown butter, basil and garlic. Both dishes were tasty and the Pasta was perfectly done.  We needed a restaurant for the next day so we asked our server for a recommendation.  She went to one of the locals who recommended Trattoria Monti.
Trattoria Monti

Suckling Pig
Trattoria Monti was a 20 minute walk from the hotel and on the way it started to sprinkle and of course no umbrella.  Out of nowhere a street vendor popped up and made a sale after a bit of negotiation with JoAnn it came to $5. Trattoria Monti is a small warm contemporary Italian Trattoria.  The Kitchen pass is viewable from every table so you can get a show of the action.  I started with a Tortello stuffed with Ricotta and an Egg Yolk, first time I had this Michael Tusk cooked it for me in Santa Fe and then at his Restaurant Cotogna in San Francisco.  After cutting into the Ravioli the dark golden yolk poured out like a syrup, the color of the yolk is created by the Chicken only eating either Corn or Carrots, In this case it was corn so it was less orange.  This dish was very tasty and started the evening out perfectly.  JoAnn had a Pumpkin Soup which looked great but really lacked the additional seasoning that you would normally get it was a non cream pumpkin soup plain and simple.
Egg Yolk Tortello
For the Secondi I had the Roasted Suckling Pig Leg, it was tender with a crispy skin and the pork taste was perfect you could tell this was not from one of those large processing farms.  The dish came with potatoes that had been roasted with the Pig and a sprig or Rosemary.  JoAnn had the Rigate Carbonerra that was simple and perfectly cooked.  This is a restaurant that I would highly recommend.  After the meal I went to meet the chef and told her about my experiences with the egg yolk and the ravioli and how much I enjoyed it.
Great Vegetarian Pizza
For our last night I went to a place that I have been to many times in NYC, Eataly.  Eataly is an Italian high end grocery store founded by Oscar Farinetti a high tech entrepreneur in 2007.  The store in NYC are Owned by Mario Batali, Joe and his mother Lidia Bastianich.  this store was on the out skirts of Rome and required a 10 minute Metro ride and a 15 minute walk.  The store is very modern, multilevel and has great restaurants as you can imagine.

Rigate Carbonera
Since we were in Italy I went with the Pasta and Pizza restaurant followed by a Gelato.  I ordered a Rigatoni which had a great savory Ragu and perfectly cooked pasta.  The Ragu gave you that warm sitting by the fire feeling.  JoAnn had the Vegetable Pizza with Peppers, Aubergine and Mushrooms on a base of olive oil and Ricotta.  The Pizza in Italy is lighter with a perfectly cooked crust.  There are none of the multiple meat lover versions here.  Overall this was fun to come to and we had a great dinner.