Tuesday, June 5, 2012

East Coast Rapture
Just came back from a 3 city East Coast eating/viewing/walking tour.  I'll divide the blog into 2 parts: Washington D.C. and Philadelphia and then New York City.
Washington has become  a much finer food city than I remember.  We came for a fabulous wedding that we surrounded with some great meals. The 2 favorites were Obelisk and Thai Xing, both prix fixe but opposite dining experiences beyond the spectacular food at both.  Thai Xing is a true hole-in-the-wall with only a tiny sign way out on Florida Street. It's $30 for  6 courses of distinctive, homey Thai pleasures. Starting with  a stuffed cucumber soup, ending with fresh mango with sticky rice, each dish was a pleasure. Beef, fish, chicken, prawns, and squash and  pad see ew were the stars of the dishes in between. BYOB, which you should remember to do cuz a liquor store is not easy to find in this semi-dicey area.  The other great meal was at Obelisk in Dupont Circle. Another multi-course extravanganza at $75, which is  a pretty good deal. Wines are quite high but it's a good list of atypical Italian choices. Obelisk features 3 choices for primi, secondi, and desserts, but everybody gets the same feast of antipasti along with terrific homemade breadsticks.  Ours included garlicky prawns, eggplant crostini, burrata, canneli beans and prosciutto.  really got the taste buds working. For the next courses, the 4 of us picked the top-sounding one and ordered 2 of those and then 1 of each of the others. Very nice agnoletti in brodo, ravioli, and tagliatelle. Main courses included veal chop for 2 (done perfectly), quail, and sea bass, everything done nicely.  Entrees were followed by a cheese course, which I believe makes one feel less full, but others believe it's the theory of a fool. We then shared light desserts of chocolate, gelato, and fruit.  The place is not fancy or pretentious, the focus is on great eating and service was comfortable and responsive.
Other restaurants in DC were no slouches either.  Lunches at Zaytinya and Rasika were both delicious and reasonable. Rasika is one of the best Indian places I've ever been to and their fried spinach dish (palak chaat) is the best Indian dish ever. Sit in the bar area if you can't get a reservation-- same menu and very comfortable.  Very nice wines by the glass.  Zaytinya is also very popular and pretty loud, but the food is delicious.  We were there for Saturday brunch and enjoyed the Lebanese French toast soaked in orange blossom custard with dried cherries, perfect grilled octopus over smashed potatoes with turmeric making them very yellow, and giant beans with kale. The fried calamari was OK.

Philadelphia has also improved greatly in the food arena.  For our classic Philly treat, we had a brisket sandwich from Dinic's in the Reading Terminal Market. They were out of my chosen pulled pork but the brisket was tender and delicious and generously served with BBQ sauce. So many choices in the Market, it was not an easy decision, but ended up being  a good one. We had a decent French breakfast at Parc, a lovely Parisian-style brasserie looking out on Rittenhouse Square. When we first sat down at our window table, a large delivery truck pulled up to block the view and spew exhaust, but it left soon and all was pleasant afterwards, although my hot chocolate took a long time to come. My eggs and potatoes were done just right.  A very enjoyable dinner in spite of a very obnoxious server was had at Garces Trading Company on Locust Street, one of chef Jose Garces's well-regarded restaurants.  This one is also a market with many types of olive oils and vinegars and house-made charcuterie. Our server let us know that she has worked at all of his restaurants and is a very good friend.  Who cares? There is great care in the food, from olives through cheeses, charcuterie, pastas, an excellent pizza, scallops, duck, brussel sprouts, duck fat-fried frites, and desserts, all part of the $40 chef's tasting. We got the $20 wine pairings with 4 nice pours.
A higher level of Italian cuisine was enjoyed at Il Pittore on Sansom St, a fairly new star in the STARR group of restaurants, of which Parc is also part.  Fairly expensive but very good and serving wonderfully cold water.  Not sure why that impressed me so, but it did, as did my primo of poached lobster and entree of corzetti,  pasta coins with braised goat, mint and chili oil.  All pastas are made in-house. The arugula salad was nothing special, but the suckling pig as an entree was superb.  We shared a Pinot Noir from Northern Italy, which was perfect with all courses. Gilato for dessert was a perfect ending.

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