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CA hound's report - Ray's, Ginger Cove, Cafe Mozart, etc.

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CA hound's report - Ray's, Ginger Cove, Cafe Mozart, etc.

PolarBear | Apr 29, 2005 03:29 PM

In town for a week as a result of my dear wife's selection as the science winner from California for the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching (PAEMST) and a series of speakers, recognition events and dinners, based out of the Capital Hilton at 16th & K Sts. Her father and step-mom made the trip so he and I split up the accompanying guest duties which left me a little free time to visit some of your great dining places.

Want to say a big thanks to the local hounds for the excellent input on my last minute postings the day before we left.

Sat 4/9 – FIL (Pa) was arriving later in the eve so the two of us headed for Coppi’s at 1414 U St. NW (thanks to Boltz for the rec). Shared a very tasty salad of mixed greens, sauteed apples, gorgonzola and pine nuts. For an app had the Mixto di Mare, monkfish and calamari with a mild salsa, OK but nothing special. Also split the Shrimp Pasta, perfectly cooked fresh tasting shrimp and a Pancetta pizza with kalamata olives and crimini mushrooms which also hit the spot. I had a couple of decent wines btg ($8 ea) a primitivo and a barbera. Total pre-tax/tip was 57. Interesting place, the owner is a huge fan of Fausto Coppi from Puglia, a well known cyclist (no relation apparently), returned to the west coast to find that several friends that ride know him also, one even has a poster.

Sun – Ray’s the Steaks, Arlington. (many,many thanks to Nancy and Lowbar). Took the Metro to Courthouse Sta. and had a nice downhill stroll along Wilson. This place was nothing short of fantastic. Never had beef that tender and flavorful. Waiting in line talking to a local who declared it better than Morton's, Fleming's, Ruth's Chris or any other of the highly touted steakhouses. Have to agree, my picky Italian FIL was even impressed, he and I both had the NY Strip, usually he'll order steak well done, but here had it cooked just past medium and loved it. Mine was a perfect med-rare, actually a uniform "rare" with seared edges. Was told that ordering rare would result in a cool center.
His wife wanting a smaller portion had the filet and loved it. My wife's ribeye with the brandy mushroom cream sauce (25) was the standout, pure decadence combined with the tender beef. I also ordered a large serving of 18 scallops to share along with the accompanying creamed spinach and garlic mashers (would highly recommend adding the scallops, what a taste treat). We paired the steaks with a very good '02 ZCS from the Santa Barbara Winery, a blend of 53% Zinfandel, 26% Carignane, 21% Sangiovese (30.00 IIRC). Wine list had a good spectrum of choices and the prices were very reasonable. Total pre t/t was about 200. There may have been a couple of desserts, but I was in beef and scallop nirvana. After our return home I caught Nancy's rec for the mussels next door at Village Bistro, IIRC there were at least two other restaurants in that small center, all packed. The Mexican place next door looked good, at one point their manager came into Ray's to complain that the line of folks waiting to get into Ray's was interfering with their servers trying to get food to the patio. It is rather a strange entry, single door into a kind of porch with left and right access to two busy places.

Mon – Following the PAEMST registration, Lady PB and I were alone for lunch and headed to Johnny's Half Shell, 2002 P St., one of my favorite spots during my many solo visits during 2001/2002. We usually share plates in order to experience as many tasty offerings as possible, she however, is not a fan of mussels so went with the crab bisque which she declared good and flavorful (I concur, managing to get a small taste), I had the mussels in a spicy red sauce that were very satisfying if not on the same level as Sharon Bank's (more of that later). The bread was also of high quality and perfect for soaking up all the remaining sauce (with plenty of help from my beloved). We were seated at one of the two two-tops in the front window and struck up a conversation with the couple at the other just finishing up their lunch, turned out to be from San Luis Obispo, just two hours to the west of us in the central coast wine country. After much discussion about the great wines in the west area of Paso Robles, I asked what dishes they'd recommend, having already made up my mind for the BBQ shrimp and grits from previous experience. They both agreed, the calamari appetizer. Another winner, tender curls of squid strips in a citrus marinade and a touch of smokiness that sent it over the top and on my must order list from now own. The shrimp and grits were as good as I remembered, perfectly cooked, buttery, cheesy. Had a couple of glasses of wine btg that went well with the fare, a French Muscadet and a Villa Simone, an Italian blend of Trebbiano, Malvasia and Greco.

Strolling back to the hotel along M St. popped into Bell's Wine and Liquor that I recalled as a good source from the past. Couldn't believe my eyes when I spotted three bottles of Savannah-Chanelle '01 Pinot Noir Santa Lucia vineyard. A few weeks earlier back in Santa Cruz I'd learned that they wouldn't be producing any for the next couple of years and managed to bag the last two bottles from a store in that area. There were quite a few of their Central Coast vineyards bottlings so I came back the following day for a couple of those and gave one to our Congressman friend for his birthday. A very good Pinot at about the same price we pay on the left coast.

We were all on our own again for dinner, this being registration day. Had hoped to go to Ginger Cove for some mussels, but they were closed Mon. IIRC. I noticed an ad in one of the free local weekly papers for a 1.5 lb lobster special at the M St. Grill (19.95). Ironically, as we rounded the corner of M and 21st St. I realized we were about to dine at the St. Gregory Hotel, my former home away from home. Step-mom and I went for the lobster with the upgrade (27.95) that includes any appetizer or salad, and any dessert. My wife wasn't that hungry and just had a crab salad which she enjoyed, Pa had a NY steak that they burned for him so he was happy. I chose the Oysters Pernod (10.94 as an app) which was very disappointing, covered in a heavy, gummy breading of unpleasant texture, completely masking the oysters. My wife loved the chocolate bread pudding however. The lobster was OK, but not as good as what we had on our trip down the Maine coast to Boston a few years earlier. Should also mention that the flatbread was too thick and hard and the rolls were nothing special. Martinis however (3.95 all the time) was a nice change from the $10 ones at the Hilton.

Tues – spent the morning arranging meetings for our celebrity the next day on Capitol Hill then stopped into Ginger Cove, 444 8th St. Got a tour of the downstairs Ginger Reef and kitchen from Jimmy Banks, inquired about Fabrice his former wine steward, and asked if Sharon's mussels would be available that evening. He said he'd try and get them. Returned that evening, major disappointment, the mussels didn't arrive. Started with the Panko Crumb Calamari with Ginger Scallion aioli (9.95), OK now I'm feeling better, a light breading, tender squid and great dipping sauce. Step-mom ordered the Reef Chicken Calypso (16.50) that she raved about, never having experienced the great flavors of Carribean cuisine. It was a filleted breast with baby spinach & crabmeat potatoes drizzled with habanero-sherry gravy. The spice level was actually rather mild, nowhere near what you'd expect from habaneros. Thanks to the suggestion from Rob64, I chose the Stop & Go Oxtails (14.50) braised in red wine with sweet plum tomatoes and butter beans. The meat was as tender as I make at home, the sauce delicious, and the butter beans of a texture and flavor that I hadn't had before. OK Jimmy, you're off the hook for now.

Wed – German/Austrian food at Cafe Mozart, 1331 H St. (can't find who to thank for this one). Happens to be Opera Night (25.00 but no charge if having dinner). You think you're in the wrong place, looks like a small ethnic deli/market, but walk through a small bar area behind into the dining room and everything opens up. You can either have dinner prior to the performance or order ahead of time and have it served during intermission. Step-mom and I were accompanied by her niece from the Baltimore area and opted for a few apps beforehand and dinner at the break. We chose the sausage appetizer (two of four choices) of Knockwurst and Diebreziner (a spicy style, other two were Bratwurst and Weisswurst), and order of the Potato Cakes served with apple sauce and sour cream, and an order of the stuffed mushrooms. The sausages with mustard were quite good, took me back to Germany in the '70s, potato cakes and 'shrooms also tasty. Niece chose the Hassenpfeffer for dinner that had a nice berry (currant?) sauce with it, Step-mom had the Chicken Schnitzel that made her very happy, and I went with the Jaeger Schnitzel with a tomato mushroom sauce, accompanied by spaetzle and red cabbage, that was excellent. Other side dishes available were the potato cakes, sauerkraut, or potato salad. As a lover of almost all music, I've always lumped opera just above root canal on the things-to-do list, but Step-mom's excitement when I mentioned coming here as a dinner option and the lure of getting a taste of Bavaria that we can't find on the west coast locked us in. The singers did a great job, mixing it up between ariettas (sp?) and some show tunes. Sally Martin cranked out the best version of Summertime I've ever heard and a nice in character medley of a few Marlena Dietrich tunes. She was joined by Michael Blaney and a friend of theirs (Nikoli, IIRC) and accompanied by Jeff Jefferson on piano. I definitely came away with a new appreciation for the genre.

Thurs – Folks took the Mt. Vernon cruise so I had the day free while wife got a morning tour of the White House then met the President that afternoon. Hit Johnny's Half Shell again for lunch, BBQ shrimp and grits and the mussels. Seated in the same window seat, couple at the other table are from Newport Beach, CA. Curious as to how they knew about the place found out they'd just stumbled by while staying in the area.

That evening was the awards ceremony at the National Academy of Sciences with a reception and hors d'oeuvres following. Arriving back at the hotel a little before 10pm and still hungry, called Ginger Cove while headed for the Metro, still no mussels. Got on at Farragut North to go up to Dupont Circle, the train arrives packed, the National's first home game had ended. Barely squeezed in and realized immediately that I'd have to exit via the opposite door at the next stop. Somehow the mass of bodies was able to part just enough to let three of us exit. After a fruitless search, went back to the room and settled for a couple of glasses of the Central Coast Pinot.

Fri - Pa had been complaining about not being able to get a sit down basic breakfast so took everyone to the Waffle Shop, 522 10th. He got the ribeye and eggs and was grinning all day because it was only 4.95, IIRC. The breakfast specials were all good and we ended up seated next to Condi Rice's driver.

After touring the Int'l Spy Museum, my wife returned to the hotel to rest up for the dinner cruise that evening. The folks were flying out the next morning so we went around the corner to Ginger Cove to sample their rum concoctions and have a farewell toast. Had to ask, "any mussels?" waiter came back with a big smile, YES! I managed to limit myself to one order seeing as how I had to be back in about an hour for the dinner cruise. They were just as fantastic as I recalled from the Red Ginger days in Georgetown. An exotically spiced curry broth, I learned that Sharon brings the spices back from Jamaica, she doesn't use a recipe goes simply by taste, and the kitchen help isn't allowed in the area when she makes them. Thanked her profusely and gave her a big hug as we left and said to tell Jimmy the pain in the butt from CA was going home happy.

Dinner cruise on the Odyssey, much better than our expectations, tasty, good quality sliced beef, chicken and salmon also, IIRC. Caesar salad was well made, all in all a pleasant surprise. Lots of desserts.

Sat - A little last minute shopping in the late morning on Connecticut began looking for a decent lunch nearby. After finding Georgia Brown's and Loew's on McPherson Sq. closed, it dawned on us, most places only open for dinner in the area on weekends. Opted for the convenience and comfort of the hotel and ate at Twigs. We shared a very good French Onion soup, rich broth plenty of melted Emmenthaler. Wife had a Chicken Salad Wrap, I got a couple of bites, very flavorful. My Crab Cake sandwich was moist with a good crab to filler ratio, very satisfying. Only two wines btg, opted for an Australian Sauvignon Blanc over the Kendall-Jackson chard. Lunch while pricey, was good enough for us to leave D.C. feeling happy and well fed.

Picked up a ham and brie sand from Cosi's just before heading to Reagan, couldn't even think about having to put up with airline food after such a great week. Thanks again to all the D.C. area hounds for your help.

Dave in Fresno

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