Monthly Archives: December 2010
We stayed recently in Washington as part of a wider tour to include South Carolina and New York. Stayed at the Sofitel which is a brand of hotel I very much like. Trendy, comfortable and with attention to detail. Great room, huge beds. Hmm perhaps this stuff should be saved for Tripadvisor.
First night we ate at the W hotel a little further down towards the National Mall. W is another great sub-brand of Westin with a more nightclubby edge. It was obviously a quiet night and we bypassed the velvet ropes and were whisked straight up the the roof top restaurant with an incredible view of the White House and Washington Memorial. Service was friendly and after a couple of outrageously potent Martinis we both plunged for a Bavette steak which is sometimes a little tough but seemed pretty tender to me, similar to sirloin. Plenty of crisp fries, sauteed spinach and good Bearnaise made this a perfectly acceptable entrance to Washington dining and sadly one of the best we experienced.
Checked out the Tripadvisor number one and it was Michael Minas Bourbon Steak which is in Georgetown to the west of downtown Washington on a rather quaint colonial street. I love the Four Seasons and try and stay at least once a year for a treat. Washingtons Four Seasons isnt particularly interesting looking but as soon as you enter the lobby you immediately experience the softly spoken luxury that makes the brand so desirable.
For starter I had a lobster corn dogs which were light, delicious and a lot of fun. It came with a whole grain mustard dipping sauce which was rather sweet and lacked heat to match the richness of the corndogs. For my main course I thought it had to be steak and was advised by the waiter against my instinct to have the skirt steak which needs very careful cooking otherwise it is like boot leather. It wasn’t bad but was a little too tough for me. However the flavour was extremely good as were the accompaniments off copper coloured beets, whipped potatoes and spinach which were served rather maddeningly in tiny bowls so had to be emptied out before eating.
The worst meal I had in Washington was definitely at a nouveau italian restaurant called Portenza. Everything looked so right with the huge bakery behind glass which you could watch while you are eating and the mixed buzzy crowd but from the starter of sauteed brussel sprouts (I know I should have known better) which were undercooked and burnt at the same time, things continued downhill. My main course of Orichiette with sausage and broccoli was bitter and watery. This was replaced with pasta with buffalo ragu which I thought couldn’t be messed up but it was the addition of barbeque sauce into the ragu which made it just vile.
The owner was obviously becoming frustrated with the failed attempts to impress us and came over for a chat and agreed the food wasn’t that great. He asked what he could do to improve things and I asked rather facetiously for the address of a decent italian restaurant and to his credit without a beat gave us the details of one!
On to the Museum of the Native American on the National Mall and following advice from fellow travellers we were told perhaps unfairly to skip the exhibition and go straight to the restaurant ‘Mitisitam’ on the edge of the ground floor auditorium. Set out like a cafeteria it is split into different areas corresponding to the tribe and its cuisine. Sadly the most popular tribe judging by the queues were the south west american indians as their food was pretty close to Mexican food. Thats where we chose and tried the ubiquitous ‘Fry Bread’ which was like a puffed up tortilla, fried at the edges. On top of this was lukewarm chilli and it was served with native american fries which were really just chips with chilli salt on them. Not impressive!
The best meal by far was at Sei which is a trendy japanese restaurant in downtown Washington. Dimly lit with clean lines and space age formica tables this restaurant would impress even if the food wasn’t great, but it is! Friendly and knowledgable staff guide you through the slightly confusing menu to help you assemble a meal. We had Japanese guacamole which was similar to the mexican type but with wasabi and cleverly comes with fried wanton chips rather than tortillas. We had the brilliant kobe beef roll and an amazingly
clever fish and chips roll which had flounder in the centre and salt and vinegar potato straws on the top. We also had sea bass sliders, three little fish burgers in tiny buns. Really clever and fun. Would definately go back here and explore more of the menu.
Another interesting eat were great oysters at Old Ebbit Grill which is the oldest tavern in Washington.
Washington is culinarily odd as it seems to be catering for big power eating for senators where everything seems to have to have a twist and more often than not this subtracts rather than adds.
Vacation time and since I promised myself business class travel after nearly crippling myself on what must have been the worst seats on a BMI plane coming back from Las Vegas a few years ago I plumped for my old favourite Virgin Atlantic. If you travel at the right time it actually isnt that extortionate and you can class it as part of the holiday. The holiday starts at the Clubhouse in Heathrow which takes the traditional business class lounge to a new level. In between a complimentary jacuzzi, haircut and massage you can eat in the Clubhouse restaurant and eat what ever you want from the menu as often as you like. No wonder people have been known to get to the airport 8 hours before their flight is scheduled to leave.
We went for the breakfast as it was a morning flight and a freshly prepared bacon, sausage and poached egg was brought out with plenty of freshly squeezed juice and good coffee. After that I lounged on a oversized day bed and drank a couple of bloody marys before being called to the flight.
Of course this starts a cycle of booze, from pre-take off champagne, to hand mixed cocktails, including drinks at the sit up bar at the back of the cabin. Food on Virgin Atlantic is great in Economy but not a huge upgrade normally as you move forward through the plane. the chair cum bed has a huge pull over table which is dressed with fresh linen and set with proper cutlery and cute aeroplane shaped salt and pepper pots.
After lovely warm breads we were given choices of wine and then into the starter of Smoked Halibut and marinated prawn with radish and shiso cress was delicate and moreish. A main of Fennel and mushroom risotto with chicken and saffron oil really tasted freshly prepared and was in a word delicious. Following that was cheese and biscuits and more booze followed by more after dinner drinks.
The seat was then converted to a bed and I was slowly rocked into a post prandial nap before being woken for our landing into Washingto Dulles.
I have to say that the food has definitely gone up a notch at Virgin, with competition in the sky as fierce as it is this isnt surprising but it certainly keeps Virgin as my number one choice across the Atlantic from now on.
Quick weekend in Paris on an unseasonably warm weekend in October. Early Eurostar mean breakfast in the first class lounge (Thank you American Express!) and lunch near the hotel while they were preparing the room. We were at the Best Western L’Etoile on Blvd Haussman near the Arc de Triomphe.
We went to a pretty modern restaurant on the Blvd called Restaurant Eugene. Full of chandeliers and flock wallpaper it offers French bistro cuisine with a modern edge. We had a selection of tartares of fish to start with which were zingy and bouncingly fresh. They were served with a light remoulade which complimented it beautifully. For mains we had a steak tartare which is my default position in a french restaurant. The tartare was delicious, came with perfectly cooked fries and interestingly was slightly grilled on either side. Like the best of both worlds, burger and tartare.
For dessert we had the largest profiteroles I have ever eaten. Light, crisp and delicious.
166, bd Haussmann, Paris, France. Tel: 01 42 89 00 13.
Next day we headed out to the Grande Arch at La Defense, the sort of Canary Wharf of Paris. It was another beautiful day but sadly the Arch seemed to be permanently closed so we sought consolation at a nearby bistro.
I started with Foie Fras which came with a caramelised nut bread with the texture of cake and was absolutely delicious, the best thing I have eaten in Paris by far.
Main was steak frites which was superb and for dessert Tarte Feulletee with Pomme and Poire. Absolutely excellent. All served with a perfectly chilled Sancerre.
Restaurant Le Paname, Le Parvis de La Défense 92800 Puteaux France