Monthly Archives: August 2019

Charlie Palmer Steak — Lunch on 14 August 2019

Charlie Palmer Steak

Charlie Palmer Steak

For those arriving late, we’re about halfway through my annual review of summer Restaurant Week in Washington, DC. Every August, I sample a mix of restaurants that I’ve never tried before and places that I’ve especially enjoyed during earlier visits. I usually wind up with a 60/40 split, favouring the newbies.

Charlie Palmer Steak, a sleek and elegant power lunch hotspot on Capitol Hill, falls into the second category. I hadn’t dined there in a couple of years, but I had fond memories of the restaurant’s delectable meals and first-rate service.

Lamb Sugo

Lamb Sugo

It’s pronounced “shu-go”, and it’s a simple pasta sauce. The pasta, in this case, was house-made black pepper Cavatelli, and the protein was Shenandoah Valley Lamb.

I would love to have this as a main sometime. It was that good.

Glazed Beef Short Ribs

Glazed Beef Short Ribs

The glazed beef short ribs, however, were not as wonderful as I remembered them from the last time I had them at Charlie Palmer.  Not bad, by any means, but simultaneously fattier and less tender.

They were served on olive oil crushed potatoes, with lemon, parsley, and horseradish.

Chocolate Pave

Chocolate Pave

Déjà vu. Yesterday at The Occidental, the starter and the dessert were the highlights of the meal, and outshone the beef main course. Same thing here.

The dark chocolate pave with salted caramel and a blackberry sorbet was a knockout.

The Endless Sommar

Well, this is a surprise.

Jason Adams, whose My New Plaid Pants blog keeps me informed about movies—especially scary movies and the hot actors who appear in them—wrote that he got to see the director’s cut of Ari Aster’s Midsommar at a special screening in New York a couple of weeks ago. He was impressed.

This weekend, a lot more people will be able to share the experience. The unrated, 171-minute version, with new scenes and extended footage, runs almost half an hour longer than the original release. Click here to find where it’s playing near you.

Midsommar was Aster’s follow-up to his first full-length feature, Hereditary, which scared the hell out of everybody in 2018. Many people—me among them—are still irate that Toni Collette didn’t get a much-deserved Oscar nomination for her performance in that film.


Here’s the original trailer for Midsommar:

The Occidental — Lunch on 13 August 2019

The Occidental

The Occidental

That little rectangular patch of gold and navy blue near the center of the picture is one of the entrances to The Occidental, viewed from Pennsylvania Avenue. This might be the most impressive approach to a restaurant in Washington. All it needs is a trumpet fanfare to mark the arrival of diners. Every time I reached a new landing on the stairs, I was tempted to turn and wave graciously—regally—to the crowds of impressionable tourists below.

Most diners use another, more easily accessible entrance at street level a few feet further down Pennsylvania Avenue, but it lacks the grandeur of all those steps. Besides, a regal wave is difficult to pull off when you’re standing at the same level as the people you’re regally waving at, especially if they’re taller than you.

Occidental Interior

Occidental Interior

The walls of The Occidental are covered with pictures from the restaurant’s collection of over 1,500 photos of well-known guests who have dined there. This being Washington, it’s heavy on politicians. One wall displays large photographs of the last few Presidents. I asked to be seated with my back to that wall, since I had no desire to spend my lunchtime looking at Mr Trump.

Frito Misto of Calamari, Shrimp & Bay Scallops

Frito Misto of Calamari, Shrimp, and Bay Scallops

This was one of those lunches where the starter and the dessert were the best part of the meal. There was a lot of tastiness on this little plate, which combined calamari, shrimp, and bay scallops, with zucchini, baby eggplant, pickled peppers, and spicy aioli.

Flat-Iron Steak

Flat-Iron Steak

I’m by no means a vegetarian, but it was the roasted heritage carrots that delighted me most about the main. The flat-iron steak with a Marsala reduction and a streak of cauliflower-burrata puree was just a bit tough.

Chocolate Passionfruit Parfait

Chocolate Passionfruit Parfait

This Chocolate Passionfruit Parfait wasn’t the prettiest dessert of the week, but it was my favourite so far. Dig-Dugging my way through successive layers of white chocolate mousse, chocolate cremeaux, passionfruit gel, and Chantilly cream kept me pleasantly entertained for 15 minutes.

Great room, very good meal.

The Return of Jesse Pinkman

Confirmed at last!

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie written and directed by Vince Gilligan, will premiere on Netflix on 11 October 2019.

Here’s the first trailer:

The promo is set in the offices of the Drug Enforcement Agency, and if you look closely, you’ll see framed photographs of DEA agents Hank Schrader and Steven Gomez on the office wall. Inside, low-level meth dealer (and surprisingly talented keyboard player) Skinny Pete is being interrogated by DEA agents about the location of Jesse Pinkman. He graciously declines to cooperate.

Netflix reportedly did not plan to announce the movie this early, but leaks, including a fake web page for El Camino, started showing up on Reddit yesterday, forcing the company’s hand.

Aaron Paul returns as Jesse, There’s no word yet about which, if any, of the other Breaking Bad cast members will appear in the movie. That probably depends on Vince Gilligan’s use of flashbacks, since so many of Breaking Bad’s characters wound up dead.

I’ve already cleared my calendar for Friday, 11 October 2019.

Here’s the poster:

“Gloria Swanson’s Mansion” Is Ready for It’s Close-Up

Prepare to be dazzled.

Some of the articles describing Gloria Crest, a spectacular estate a few miles from New York City, identify it as “Gloria Swanson’s Mansion”. Depending on which rumour the author cites, Joseph P. Kennedy, the father of future President John F. Kennedy, either gave Swanson the property or installed her there in the 1920s, when she was his mistress.

It’s well documented that Swanson had an affair with the elder Kennedy that began in the mid-1920s and lasted into the early 1930s, but the rest of the story is almost certainly untrue. Property ownership is easy to trace, but no one is particularly interested in debunking the myth. As the old newspaper adage put it, “the story is too good to check out”.

Gloria Crest is in the news these days because it’s for sale at a greatly reduced price. Don’t call your mortgage broker quite yet, though. The sale price is $9,999,999.*

What makes that a bargain is that Gloria Crest was previously on the market with an asking price of almost $40 million.

Gloria Crest

Gloria Crest

Here’s what Forbes had to say about the estate:

“Gloria Crest is a 24,000-square-foot mansion on one of Englewood, New Jersey’s historic streets. It was built in 1926 for Stefan and Edith Poniatowski (Stefan is said to be a descendant of a former King of Poland) but their fortunes soon crumbled when the stock market crashed in 1929. …and they soon had to auction their house along with most of their belongings in order to move to a condo in New York City. The home has had numerous owners over the years, and comes with the unconfirmed but oft-repeated rumor that it was occupied by film star Gloria Swanson while she was involved with Ambassador Joseph Kennedy…..

“Its most recent sale history had it on the market for $39 million back in 2013…then nearly going to foreclosure a little while later, then almost finding a foreign buyer for $20 million. Throughout all this Gloria Crest is still standing, as an eight-bedroom, 14-bathroom home on five lake-front acres, with its original Mediterranean style design intact now asking $9.99 million for the entire estate. While New Jersey does have some of the highest property taxes in the country, this is still a good deal.”

For those interested in purchasing Gloria Crest, here’s the listing.

For those interested in Gloria Swanson, here’s the last scene from Sunset Boulevard:


* I think the owners were afraid that people would be scared off if the property was listed at an even $10,000,000, so they lowered the asking price to attract bargain hunters. Clever sellers!

More about That Incredible Wallpaper at the V&A

Here’s a bit more by and about Fallen Fruit, aka David Allen Burns and Austin Young, who created the fantastic wallpaper for the Victoria and Albert Museum’s “FOOD: Bigger than the Plate” exhibition, which runs through 20 October 2019. The artists drew their inspiration from images in the V&A’s massive collection of prints.

Detail from "Fruits from the Garden and the Field"

Detail from “Fruits from the Garden and the Field”

Here’s a video from the artists:


And here’s a PDF containing 321 pages about Fallen Fruits’ larger, long-range goals,  notes on the V&A show, and lots of amateur collages.

Taberna del Alabardero — Lunch on 12 August 2019

Taberna del Alabardero

Taberna del Alabardero

It’s a True Fact© that Taberna del Alabardero, a couple of blocks from the White House, is Washington’s best Spanish restaurant. As its website notes it’s “the most authentic Spanish restaurant outside Spain since 1989”.

The restaurant is part of Grupo Lezama, which has operated in Spain since 1974, when it opened the original Taberna del Alabardero next to the Royal Palace in Madrid. The Madrid restaurant continues to thrive.

My meal at the Washington outpost was a delight, from start to finish.

Ensaladilla de Cangrejo con Espuma de Mahonesa de Zanahoria y Brotes de Guisantes

Ensaladilla de Cangrejo con Espuma de Mahonesa de Zanahoria y Brotes de Guisantes

I didn’t even try to approximate the pronunciation of the names of the dishes on the menu. This starter was described as a crab and potato salad with carrot mayonnaise foam and pea shoots. Interesting dish, but I tasted only a hint of crab.

Chipirones a la Parrila con Cebolla Confitada al Oporto, Alioli de Tintade Calamar y Patas Crujientes

Chipirones a la Parrila con Cebolla Confitada al Oporto, Alioli de Tintade Calamar y Patas Crujientes

This was a brilliantly-plated work of art. It was so beautifully done that I was reluctant to disturb its symmetry, but, somehow, I managed to cut into the grilled squid and take a bite. And another. And another….

The menu described it as grilled baby squids with oporto caramelized onion, squid ink allioli (the Spanish version of the French garlic sauce aioli), and crisp potatoes. Before my waiter served the dish, the “grilled baby squids” part of the description had me expecting tiny pieces, but the squid sections were huge—the largest I’ve ever seen.

Tierras de Chocolate con Yogurt, Frutos Rojos, Pistachos y Sorbete de Mango

Tierras de Chocolate con Yogurt, Frutos Rojos, Pistachos y Sorbete de Mango

Loved the dessert, too. Chocolate crumbs with yogurt, berries, pistachios, and a mango sorbet. The berries were a mix with one or two berries of each type, which made eating this dessert something of a happy treasure hunt.

Service throughout was impeccable and friendly.


About Those Grilled “Baby” Squids

As I noted above, what the menu described as “grilled baby squids” were, in fact,  gigantic. I thought the meaning of the Spanish phrase had been incorrectly translated until something happened shortly after I left Taberna del Alabardero.

I was walking home, past the branch of the Potomac River that flows down the middle of 17th Street, when I saw this:


It was the enraged mother squid (technically, the “Queen Squid”) attacking one of the restaurant’s supply ships. I’d always thought the “The Giant Squid of the Potomac” was a myth or an urban legend, but here I was, seeing it with my own eyes. As the Giant Squid dragged the vessel beneath the waves, I quickly snapped the above photograph. There was no time for a second shot, as the squid, the ship, and the unfortunate crew were swept over the 17th Street Falls and deeper into the river, which flows under the White House and out to the Atlantic Ocean.

Thank goodness I was able to get a clear photograph as proof of what I saw!

(I’m available for media interviews, with reasonable compensation.)