Last month, when I was in London for the Book Fair, I had the opportunity to try out a couple new restaurants.
I met up with a client at Wodka Restaurant located at 12 St. Albans Grove in the Kensington area. I had a long leisurely walk from my hotel in South Kensington through some gorgeous domestic neighborhoods to arrive at an unprepossessing restaurant-front that led to a clean and crisp interior with an elegance that belied its simplicity.
Originally, I had very much wanted to try their foie gras blinis, but was regretfully told they were not serving them that night. Instead the two appetizers ordered were kaszanka and pelimeni. The former is a grilled black sausage, somewhat similar to blood sausage, and served with pickled red cabbage and pear -- the pear added a nice counterpoint, I thought. Pelimini harks back to Siberian sources -- they are veal dumplings with bread crumbs and butter. Very rich and quite filling, I didn't make it through the entire serving before deciding I needed to pause to be sure I had room for the main course.
For entrees: We ordered spicy beef goulash with potato dumplings. This came served in a cast iron staub pot. I must admit, it is nothing like the goulash I ate as a child which was an American imitation (it didn't even have smoked paprika in it) that put me off the dish for years. This had a rich sauce and was full of roasty flavor. For the other dish, there was roast guinea fowl stuffed with goat cheese and herbs. Very tender and tasty.
The wine chosen for dinner was Cotes du Rhone Villages "Nature", Domaine La Fourmente, Visan 2007. This is a mix of 60% Grenache and 40% Syrah from clay soils and mature vines (25-55 years). A lovely dark red with a peppery and fruity taste.
By the time we finished, we just didn't have room for dessert. I was very tempted by the poached pear with chocolate sauce, evenso.
I've tried five new beers this year, and here's just some quick thoughts on them to keep track.
* Samuel Adams Blackberry Witbier: From their brewmaster's collection. The hint of fruit in this is tasty, but not too sweet, perhaps even a little tart, even though the initial aroma after pouring makes it seem as if the berries will be over-pronounced. Drinkable and a nice companion with food.
*Hobgoblin Dark English Ale: Not a lot of aroma, but a pronounced nutty, roasted smell with a bitter chocolatey finish. On the carbonated side.
*Brooklyn Local 1: Using Belgian yeast, a cloudy lighter color. Sweet but with a tart bite on the back of the tongue (maybe almost like grapefruit) and herbal undertones.
*Brooklyn Local 2: #1 was a bit more to my taste, but this one was pretty decent too. Sweeter (which is part of what made it less appealing) with honey and caramel overtones. The citrus doesn't meld as well so the counterbalance is less well-paired than #1.
*Rogue Double Dead Guy Ale: Malty and sweet. Not as bitter as expected. Balanced but not deeply textured taste.
from Cook's Illustrated, May/June 2007
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 TBSP dark brown sugar
4 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, minced
4 tsp cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
4 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp ground black pepper
2 TBSP lime juice
Combine soy, oil, sugar, chiles, cocoa, oregano, garlic, and pepper in medium bowl. Remove 1/4 cup marinade and combine with lime juice in small bowl; set aside.
Place remaining marinade and steaks in zip-loc bag and seal. Refrigerate at least 1 hour (I did mine overnight), flipping bag to make sure steaks marinate evenly.
Remove steaks from marinade and discard excess marinade. Grill steaks as desired, basting with reserved marinade. Let rest 10 minutes before serving.
Notes: Good for about 1 pound of steak. The original recipe calls for a short-term marinade and then using the excess in the cooking process in an attempt to shorten the time required to get the steak properly infused with flavor. While I can appreciate the time constraints, I prefer planning ahead and getting enough lead time to give the flavors a chance to really work together. And it pays off. This was just lovely.
Located at 110 Glastonbury Boulevard, Max Fish is part of the Max Restaurant Group centered around Hartford, CT. Seating is available in both the retro-chic dining room and at the casual U-shaped Shark Bar.
Opened the meal with their tuna wonton tacos, which were amazing and delicious. They come with a lime cilantro dressing and mango. The textures in this dish are perfectly balanced and the flavors well-matched. I could eat these a lot more often and my mouth would be happy.
For entrees: From the specials, trout served with fennel, fingerling potatoes, arugula and a grapefruit salsa. The fish was perfect and flaky. The only complaint? Not enough of the grapefruit salsa which had a tempting flavor that the dish only hinted at. Accompanied by a glass of Sauvignon Blanc Les Deux Tours 2006 from the Loire Valley (the wine selection is nicely varied and there's a decent selection by the glass). Also, a blackened tuna with andouille and potato/onion hash, and a mango salsa. Just the right amount of spice in this one. Served with Allagash Black. Portions were reasonable.
Dinner finished with two desserts: tasty apple bread pudding and a lovely creme brulee.
Service was friendly, helpful, and prompt. Partway through our meal, a noisier party was seated nearby and from the acoustics in the room, one suspects the noise level could rise quite dramatically on crowded nights in the restaurant. Still, it's probably a worthwhile price to pay for the excellent food.
[note: This much-delayed review was for my friend Michael's birthday dinner back in February.]