I have reviewed this place before here and I really liked it. I continue to visit and last week had a wonderful lunch outside enjoying the unseasonable weather. They have redone their menu and added some new options. For once I passed on the falafel and had a wonderful sandwich: the Genoa I think it was called. A big pile of oven roasted vegetables, with a creamy feta spread on herbed focaccia. Really marvellous. But now every entree comes with…. french fries. Yes, french fries! Nothing says mediterranean to me like french fries. And you pretty much have to get them. They can bring you the sandwich without them, but if you want anything else you have to pay for it. Not even an option to have a small salad or anything. Really irritated me.
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Saturday was putting up the Christmas tree day. Nothing but a real tree will do in the Fred household, so after a wonderful time of cutting down the tree in the falling snow and bringing it back home I had to deal with the dreaded task of sorting through the lights. After about fifteen minutes I had one full string and two halves of two other strings operational with no clue how to fix them and the Christmas spirit was draining out of me like a ruptured radiator. Luckily Mrs. F could see the gathering storm clouds on the horizon and suggested some bottled cheer for the rest of the tree trimming. A splendid idea that immediately boosted my morale. The wine we reached for was Willm Cuvée Leon IX Crémant d’Alsace. A non-vintage bubbly from the Alsace region of France. According to Willm’s website (now this may be inaccurate since it is all in French) this product is made up of a blend of 67% Pinot Blanc, 18% each of Chardonnay and Riesling, and 12% Pinot Noir. Amazing huh? You’re getting a 115% wine for the money! Anyway as a rule all Cremant d’Alsaces must be made from one or more of the following grapes: Auxerrois, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay or Riesling so you know its some combination of those.
On to the wine itself. I really try not to be a sucker for marketing, but the first thing that struck me was how beautiful the bottle and labelling were. As you can see from the picture it’s a truly elegant package with an embossed bottle and clean, classy label. I felt better just looking at it. Luckily the bottle was just the beginning and not the high point as is the case with other packaging experiences. Lighter than most Champagnes, but a little more complex than most proseccos this wine was a delight. Great nose of apple, pear and hints of yeast/bread. On the mouth it was slightly more than light-bodied, with gobs of green apple flavor, hints of pear and some lime/lemon acidity on the finish. A very good bubbly.
I rated it a solid 89 but in looking at my rating you have to factor in that I was drinking it during a terrrific afternoon with the Christmas music and roaring fire and the whole family trimming the tree. I’ll certainly revisit this wine again as it strikes me as a strong value. If my assessment differs I’ll let you know. Purchased for $13.99 at Frederick Wine House.
I interrupt my planned series of anniversary posts to bring you the following rant. Maybe I am just feeling cranky today, but another FNP article about food and drink irritated me. As mentioned earlier the Beaujolais Nouveau season is almost upon us. In yesterdays Post there was an article about Linganore Wine Cellars releasing a new wine: their 2008 Nouveau. Really interesting and I am always thrilled to see local wineries getting publicity. However the author of the article was unnamed and it was clear they had no knowledge, or at least none that they wanted to impart to the reader, of wine. First the article said it was made with a “grape hybrid.” Well, duh. No mention of what variety of grape. Secondly and more importantly no one said what the wine tastes like. Now I know it is too much to ask the Post to rate the wine, and rating are generally useless anyway- one person’s nirvana can often be another person’s swill, but some general ideas of what the wine tasted like would have been nice. Is it light, medium bodied? Is it acidic, tannic? Dry, off dry or sweet? It said it was red, but after that who knows? I think this would be especially important to know since the wine is only available at the winery, so I’d like to have some idea to see if it is worth driving out there for.
PS FNP: How about the cost?
Continuing in my never ending quest for good wine at a good price I want to pass on a decent value that I had the other day. Its a Spanish Non-Vintage Cava called Cristallino Cava Brut. Cava is Spanish sparkling wine and has a reputation for having some great values. Under Spanish law, it can only be produced in six wine regions (mainly in the Pendes region to the West of Barcelona) and is made according to the same methods as Champagne is (i.e. with second fermentation in the bottle). It can be made from a blend of any of six grapes: Macabeo, Parellada, Xarel-lo, Chardonnay, Pinot noir, and Subirat.
I picked it up for $9.99 at the Spirit Shop on 7th street. It had lots of fine bubbles with nose of pineapple and orange. Very crisp with lots of great acidity and flavors of lemon and orange. Hint of bread on the finish. Had worse Champagnes at eight times the price. Looking online I saw that some people elsewhere in the country had seen this on sale for $6-7. It would be a terrific value at that price. Great with a variety of food and decent just to drink alone. We had it with a Kabocha squash- pasta recipe and it turned out to be one of those phenomenal wine-food pairings that makes me all geeky as the tart acidity and citrus really played off the sweetness of the squash. Rating: a solid 88.
As a follow up to my October 31st post: on election night I had a bottle of N.V. Mumm Napa Blanc de Noirs ($18, Spirit Shop) a rose California sparkler, which I gave an 86+ to. Was decent, if it had any flaws it was just that it was on the plain side. You can do as well if not better for less money.
Sorry guys. I didn’t mean to take so long on this topic, but I have been incredibly busy lately so the posting has fallen off. The wine that I found as a casual, everyday ‘pizza wine’ is the 2006 Gnarly Head Old Vines Zinfandel.
This wine is very good. As mentioned the Spirit Shop has it for 10.99 a bottle. It’s got lots of red fruit and pepper and a surprisingly long finish. Its medium bodied and pairs really well with the red sauce in pizza. I give it a solid 89. As an aside I was at a family reunion this past weekend and the aforementioned Uncle showed up with a case it. He manged to pick it up in NJ for under $8 a bottle which would make it a screaming value!
Well, I know the professional critics will not review a restaurant until at least three months after it opens, but hey I’m just a rank amateur, so what do I care. With all the anticipation I’m not inclined to wait more than three weeks. Also my brother and his wife were in town so it seemed a perfect occcasion to check out Volt this weekend. Doing a little research I learned that Volt is divided into several areas: a bar/lounge, the main dining room, a group area and the chef’s dining area. Besides overlooking the kitchen, the chef’s dining area is the only place where you can get the five or seven course tasting menu ( FYI you cannot order a la carte in this area). We decided to go large and managed to score a reservation at the chef’s dining area. The chefs dining area consists of four tables that overlook the kitchen. Beautiful tiled walls, soft indirect lighting and an impressive sculpture/light fixture made the area feel like the fine restaurant it is. The place settings were beautiful: big white china, with hefty, stylish flatware and best of all- the stemware was all Riedel, including the water glasses. Even more impressive: when you eat in the chef’s dining area nothing but a waist high counter separates you from the kitchen and staff. It takes guts to have up to 16 pairs of eyeballs on you as they cook. Watching the staff was amazing. The choreograph of a well-tuned kitchen was evident. They communicated mostly non-verbally and when they had to talk they did it in head-to-head hushed whispers. Above it all Chef Bryan Voltaggio supervised the whole process with an aquiline presence. I didn’t see him smile once the whole evening. The only clunker that I observed was that it still seemed like the wait staff was finding its way and there was some confusion with further explaining and switching of dishes.
The food is what I would call New American Cuisine. An eclectic mix of flavors and styles that combines ingredients in new ways. All of us opted for the five course vegetarian tasting menu ( if anyone in authority is reading this we would’ve gone for a seven course vegetarian menu like you have with the meat if it had been available) and the wine paring. Immediately we were given a series of three amuse-bouche that were not on the menu (throughout the night we were given small extras that were not on the menu: bread, extra pours and glasses of wine, an extra dessert, a chocolate plate at the end, and the ladies got sweet biscuits ”for their morning coffee.”). They were stupendous. Two really stood out: A small demi-tasse of corn custard with chili oil and morel mushroom, and then a bite of compressed watermelon with vanilla sea salt. The comment was made that we could’ve just had a whole bowl of the corn, called it a night and been ecstatic. I agree. The first course was an English pea soup with carrot ravioli, and a pea shoot tempura. The soup was a vibrant green and tasted like dewy peas plucked straight from the garden. The only complaint was that I felt the soup was slightly too salty-(in fact the only complaints of the night were that we felt the kitchen was too heavy handed with the seasonings in the soup and in the eggplant (course #4)- too much pepper). The night proceeded in an unrushed and refined succession of delicious dishes. I am not going to give a blow by blow here, but each course was amazing: summer heirloom tomatoes made three ways, yellow corn ravioli, eggplant confit and a dessert titled: Chocolate and Hazelnut “pave” chocolate caramel, praline anglais and frozen hazelnut custard. To top it all off we ordered another dessert: the goat cheese cheesecake which was ethereal and goat cheesy and sweet (if that makes sense) all at the same time. Each course had a very good to excellent pairing with wine and some of the courses were quite difficult to match (I’m still not sold on the heirloon tomato- prosecco match, but it certainly wasn’t bad). The sommelier Aaron was always there to describe each pour and answer our questions about the wine. I’ll go into detail perhaps in a supplemental review (or perhaps do more research-yay!) but the cocktails were top notch as well.
Bottom line is that Volt lives up to and exceeds all the hype. I went there armored in cynicism, but instead we had an amazing three hour dining experience. Frederick is lucky to have this establishment here. The food, the atmosphere and the service was superb. There is nothing that comes close to rising to this level in Frederick and very few that rise to this level in whole the region. I could see this restaurant becoming Frederick’s answer to the Inn at Little Washington. My brother, who with his expense account has dined in places like Le Bernadin, Per Se and other fine dining establishments, agreed with this reviewer’s opinion. One thing worth mentioning: for although Bro may have brought his refined palate to dinner, alas he did not bring his expense account. Dinner was not cheap. For four of us with the tasting menus ($69 for the menu plus $35 for the wine each), wine parings, 5-6 cocktails, and an extra dessert plus coffee brought the tab with tip to $580. Now I was hesitant in mentioning this because of my concern that people will think Volt is an unaffordable luxury or a once in a lifetime special occasion place. Everyone’s tastes and budgets differ, but bear in mind that we went whole hog, so to speak. Looking at the a la carte menu I think that dinner for two, perhaps sharing an appetizer and dessert and having a wine or two by the glass would run you around $100-120. There is also a lunch menu and the lounge to consider.
Give it a try and as always your comments are welcome,
Continuing my summer reading I recently finished Passion on the Vine: A Memoir of Food, Wine, and Family in the Heart of Italyby Sergio Esposito which I picked up from FCPL. Every time I am in New York City I try to find a way to slip over to the Italian Wine Merchant: a store devoted to nothing but Italian wines, so I was really excited to see this book by the store’s founder. Part memoir, part travel guide, part my Big Fat Italian Family this book is a memorable account of how the author built his wine business through the unique relationships he forged with Italian wine makers and other personalities. Interspersed throughout is the tale of him growing up, first in Naples and then as an immigrant in upstate New York. His narrative about some of his family members had me laughing out loud at times- it especially resonated with my Italian-American heritage. An enjoyable read, my only complaint was it made me very thirsty!
The Tasting Room (101 North market Street)- I go there several times a year and I have to say that the food that I have had has always been uniformly very good with occasional bursts of excellence. They serve what I would call contemporary American Cuisine. I also love the fact that the menu changes from season to season. (It changes faster than their website which at the time that I write this still has their Fall 2007 menu on it). This time I had the shrimp with linguine and spring vegetables. It made a nice light, springtime lunch. It was ostensibly dressed with white truffle oil, but I couldn’t taste the truffles. I tend to gravitate towards the pasta because it is always cooked perfectly; I know al dente means different things to different people but they hit my al dente spot. I also tried some of my companion’s Sicilian tuna steak which was superb. Had a great crust on the outside and moist and perfectly cooked on the inside. Much better than my linguine!
As the name implies they have a good wine selection. The shoot for coverage rather than depth, and the list has a little bit of everything so its fairly easy to find something you like. Their wine list is around 100 bottles. They also have a bunch of wines by the glass. I had a nice Sancerre which went well with the shrimp.
It’s a fun space and different from most other Frederick restaurants. It’s located in a beautiful old building with very modern decor. Specials are written on chalkboards and there are etched glass panels with pendant lighting which creates an interesting juxtaposition between the old architecture and the modern decor. Occasionally with all the windows you feel as if you are in a fishbowl, and the tables are quite close together so its not a place for an intimate dinner. Again ( A Fred pet peeve I know) but I always wonder why restaurants feel the need to keep a TV going. It always seems to cheapen the atmosphere in a nice restaurant. On the plus side the service is always formally impeccable and a cut above most other restaurants in Frederick.
All in all the Tasting Room is one of the premiere fine dining restaurants in Frederick. This comes at a price however. The tab with tip for two lunches, two glasses of wine and one dessert (a delicious creme brulee by the way) was $68. This generally puts it in the special occasion category for me. You don’t have to get a meal though. They have a nice bar where you can get a glass of wine (or two) or one of their specialty cocktails and take in the scene. Their mojito looked good and I intend to go back and try one soon.
After hearing some good things about Caballo Viejo I finally got a chance to try this restaurant. First of all you have to understand that cuisine is primarily Venezuelan. Not that this is in any way bad, just that if you go in there looking for a typical tex-mex experience you will not get what you want. Located in the 7th Street shopping center it’s a small restaurant- you order at the counter and there is some seating around the perimeter but not a lot. They also have some tables set up outside. We ate at the restaurant, but based on my observations it seemed about evenly split between take out and eat in. The people there were terrifically friendly and enthusiastic about their food- they seemed genuinely delighted you were there.
The specialty of the house is Pollo a la Criolla- rotisserie chicken marinated in herbs and spices. You can get the chicken by the whole, half or quarter bird, all white, all dark or both. The guy at the counter couldn’t tell me where the birds came from. However, the chicken was excellent. Crisp on the outside and juicy on the inside. With that we also had the cilantro-citrus rice on the side (decent, but nothing special) and tequenos. These were listed as a “classic Venezuelan hors d’oeuvre” and consisted of fried cheese sticks with a wheat dough crust. Interesting and pretty good, especially when dipped in the ranch-like dressing they came with. The chicken is definitely worth the trip.
For something a little different you should try an Arepas. These are thick, grilled corn cakes that they split and stuff with a number of fillings. Options range from grilled vegetables, shredded chicken and beef, chorizo, black beans and cheese. Even though they listed only a few combinations, since they make the Arepas up on the spot I see no reason why you couldn’t create your own combination. We tried two of the arepas, and they were both good. I was especially impressed with how the well they grilled the vegetables: they were crisp and flavorful. The black beans by themselves were a little dull (overall I was surprised by how unspicy the food was), but mixed with the cheese and the veggies were delicious. The arepas were very filling with the thick corn cakes and represent a lot of food for the money. I have never had these before, so I had no basis upon which to compare them, but they were enjoyed and Mrs. Fred who has lived in South America said they struck her as very authentic.
For dessert we had tres leches (three milks). Initially I was disappointed to see that they were bought (made by a company in Arlington if I recall correctly) but my disappointment was completely washed away after the first bite. An absolutely. delicious parfait consisting of cake soaked in evaporated, condensed and whole milk with whipped cream on the top. Very sweet. Three of us split one and were quite happy.
Finally a word about guacamole. Generally I have always thought that I do not like guacamole. I usually just avoid it. I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that it’s just because I haven’t had really had good guacamole. The guacamole at Caballo Viejo was phenomenal. We got a basket of chips (both of us thought that the chips were a little on the stale side unfortunately) and I ended up having to fight Mrs. F for the guacamole. It was that good. I loved it. I’d go back there just to eat it.
Also offered, but not tried (we were way too full to eat another bite) salads and various burrito combinations, fried yucca and tajada (fried plantain slices)
Booze: Alas they have no liquor license and Fred wept a little tear inside. As a consolation they had 8 or nine fresh juices they squeezed on the spot. We had the passion-fruit juice and it was really terrific (a lot of fresh juice for $2.95 as well). Still I could have used a nice cold cerveza.
To sum up: This is not haute cuisine. What it is is good food, quickly produced and reasonably priced. There are lots of healthy options as well. Why anyone would frequent a McDonalds or its ilk when you have this is beyond me. If you want to try something a little different from the ordinary this place is worth visiting. Try it and let me know.
There are three Indian lunch buffets in Frederick that I am aware of: Clay Oven, Bombay Grill and Nilgiris. I now have a new Indian Lunch buffet favorite. Its the curiously named Nilgiris Indian Sizzler. ( Nilgiris I understand- its a mountain range in southern India, but Indian Sizzler? Is it supposed to be the Indian equivalent of the Sizzler Steakhouse? Thank goodness its not!) Honestly don’t worry about it because the food is excellent. It is located at 5732 Buckeystown Pike in Frederick- that’s the same shopping center where the Common Market is. When we arrived for lunch it was almost full but we managed to snag a table. The place was nicely decorated and had a decent ambiance for a restaurant in a shopping center. My only negative was the big flat screen TV blaring Bollywood videos over the bar. Too loud, distracting and unnecessary. On the plus side they had nice place settings with really nice plates/bowls. Sevice was fine:- water glasses refilled promtly and empty plates cleared.
Food: We decided to take advantage of the lunch buffet. They had a small, sad, salad bar (the weakest part of the whole buffet by far) a nice selection of condiments all of which were good except the pickled lemon, which was so sour and astringent I can’t see what would be complimented by putting that on it. Next they had two kinds of rice which were followed by six vegetarian dishes. After that was the chicken rice and three other meat dishes. I tried to sample as much as possible, but it was too much food. Everything I tried was uniformly good. The highlights that stick out in my mind were the alu gobi( which was quite spicy), the vegetable korma and a mushroom mutter curry. I also thought the goat curry, which was in a brown sauce, was very tender and nicely spiced. Its not everyday you see goat on the menu. All in all the dishes were a nice mixture of spicy and not so spicy. The Naan was brought to your table and was hot and delicious. It was neat that you could see the cook through a window making it in the tandoori oven. Dessert was gulab jamun (deep fried cheese balls soaked in syrup) which were a really good way to end the meal.
Booze: They had Budweiser, Miller Lite and Sam Adams on draft. Their wine list had random selection of about a dozen each of reds and whites. Other than Gewurztraminer I’ve never had much success in pairing wine with Indian food. They did have a Gewurz on the list but I opted for a Taj Mahal beer. This is a crisp Indian lager that goes well. They sell it for $8 a bottle, but it is a 22 ounce bottle so its worth splitting with a friend.
The meal was a great value. After we were done I asked my friend how much he though the buffet would be. (He had no idea). He estimated $12-14. He was really surprised when I told him that it was only $8.95. In my opinion this represents an excellent value for the quantity and quality of food. I’ll be back.