Thursday, September 1, 2011

Bombora, a Latin-Asian Gem on the Ocean City Boardwalk

Dining on the boardwalk.
Earlier this summer I was invited by Bombora in Ocean City, MD to join them as their guest for the evening to check out and blog about their new restaurant on the downtown boardwalk.  After an August weekend spent in Rehoboth and Dewey beaches, I made the drive down south to take them up on their offer.

Blue crab guacamole with plantain chips.
Bombora offers a touch of affordable and modern class to a destination that skew heavily towards the more old-fashioned side of the spectrum, a touch of elegance in a sea of tackiness and chaos.  White awnings and gas lamps, wooden ostriches guarding the entrance, and the font on the sign of the Beach Plaza Hotel which the restaurant anchors all speak more to Miami chic and Art Deco aesthetics than OC gaudiness.

Even the bread plate is thoughtful.
The menu, Latin-Asian fusion created by chef Arturo Paz, falls in line with the South Beach ethos.  The fusion concept has seen its day.  But it’s cutting edge for Ocean City, where prime rib, fried seafood platters, crab bushels, and the Jonah & the Whale dinner buffet rain supreme.

Flatbreads add a nice diversion
Emphasizing seafood as a menu that fronts the ocean should, Bombora offers small plates and a small selection of flatbreads in the $8-$11 range, entrees mostly in the low $20s, an a la carte breakfast, and a daily happy hour with $3 drinks and half price small plates offered in the elegant bar and lounge or the oceanfront porch.  A woman, leaving the 4-7pm portion, confirms with her server that it starts up again from 9-12.

A Trio of ceviches
Blue crab guacamole is an obvious attention grabber and if you miss it on the menu, you’ll notice the sundae cup it’s served in being brought to another table, with plantain chips spilling over the dish like bananas would from a split.  The mound of crab meat over a scoop of guacamole is a winner.  A tuna tartar seems like it will be overwhelmed by the wonton chips they’re served with, the presentation evoking a Japanese pagoda.  But the Thai green curry sauce the fish is prepared with shines through, making a very powerful canapé.  A trio of ceviches is highlighted by a sweet marinade for the grouper.  A tower of vine ripe tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella is stacked like a house of dominos, is the most fascinating way I’ve ever seen this commonplace yet always pleasing dish put together.

Our waiter, passionate himself about fine dining in OC with dreams of opening his own tapas and martini bar some day, raves about the shitaki pot stickers and calamari two ways (both of them asian ways) and explains that the crab cake sliders are done with a Puerto Rican flair in the spirit of the chef.

Salmon tops a carrot-ginger emulsion.
A whole fried yellowtail snapper on the large plates portion of the menu is another attention grabber, the whole fish, head on, crispy and twisted around a large plate ready to be torn apart.  Skirt steak, marinated in the juice of sour oranges and served with a chimichurri has a great char grilled taste to it.  A pan seared salmon pairs well with a carrot ginger emulsion, though the fish was cooked a little more than I would like.  A sautéed shrimp fettucine, priced to sell at a very reasonable $16, is also recommended.

Sour orange marinated skirt steak (appetizer portion).
Most of the cocktails, including some with interesting twists on how to use Jameson whiskey, are on the very sweet side.  The wine list is a better place to focus with bottles buyable for as low as $20.  Coffee to close out the meal is served in a French press, a nice touch.

The whole package makes for a worthwhile meal at prices that would be much higher if the restaurant were in Washington, a local crabshack, or the even the massive Phillips Seafood restaurants on the island.  In fact, though you would never be able to tell if you didn’t know, Phillips owns and operates Bombora and the Beach Plaza Hotel, a couple of boutique enterprises among a small handful in the chain’s portfolio.  The space used to be a Phillips restaurant on the boardwalk.  Paz came in to revamp the restaurant and upgrade the accommodations.

The result is a dining experience  that does not feel at all corporate.  And there is lots of taste and value to be had.  Plus the place is on the boardwalk.  At 13th street, it’s a little further north than the chaotic heart of the downtown span.  Walk past the t-shirt shops water ice stands, and oddities museums.  Ignore the girl to your right handing out flyers for the souvenier store below.  And you'll find a gem of an option for Ocean City whether for an elegant yet affordable meal, $20 bottle of wine, or $3 beer and small plates on the boardwalk patio.  Or perhaps all three.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Dinner at Kevin Gillespie's Woodfire Grill

On location - Atlanta, GA

A few weeks back I found myself in Atlanta with the chance to eat at Woodfire Grill, the restaurant of Top Chef Season 6 finalist Kevin Gillespie. North of the city center in the Piedmont Heights neighborhood of ATL, the restaurant is a bit off of the beaten path and if you're visiting not too accessible without a car. It's about a $15 cab ride from the city center or you can take the 37 bus from the North Ave. or Lindbergh MARTA Stations. You'll enter a long, unassuming, bar area that leads to a narrow dining room. I was seated a few tables from Kevin who was firing entrees from a kitchen in the dining room. The full kitchen is off to the right.

The slow food menu changes often. The website says daily, though the posted and dated February 23 is nearly identical to the one that I ordered from a month ago. Gillespie features seasonal, local, and/or sustainable foods for the menu and is heavy on fire-roasting and grilling meats in the dining room kitchen. And it won't surprise any Top Chef fans that he's heavy on what he bills as simple presentations; there's no molecular bells and whistles. But most dishes do have 4-6 accompaniments in the descriptions: cornbread puree, duxelle of roasted mushrooms, black pepper caramel, braised peanut and pickled cherry relish. That's not exactly amateur flair, Michael Voltaggio. It's simple accentuated with complexity and elegance.

Diners have the choice of a 3 or 5 fixed courses or a la carte dining. At the restaurants with 2 college friends, we opted to go the a la carte route. That way, for about the same price as the 5 course prix fixe where we would all be getting the same dish, we could basically order the entire menu. What we got...

One of the better dishes of the evening was a creamy sunchoke carnaroli risiotto.  Roasted apples top the dish with crispy twigs of fried sunchokes at the front.  Pictured is a doubled order.

Duo of wild Washington state steelhead.  The two ways is a tartare and a sashimi.   The fact that it is steelhead and not tuna (which you would be unlikely to ever find here) entices you in.  It's a mild fish, with the slices accentuated with dill and grapefruit.   When asked about all of the components, the server pulls out a napkin where he's listed the 26 ingredients of the dish.

Duck breast (wood grilled sonoma artisan).  A generous portion cooked perfectly.  The black eyed peas, endives, duck cracklins, and pickled squash must be under there somewhere!

Strip loin (wood grilled Painted Hills).  A nice cut of beef, though it was the black olive powder on the right that was the star of the show.

Pork loin (wood grilled berkshire).  Gillespie shows his love of all things pig with the coca-cola glazed country ham underneath the loin.

There are four veg side options, $6 each, which are well worth tacking onto the meal.  My favorite was the roasted local sunchokes (rear right) with zaatar, mint, and pomegranate molasses.  Brussels sprouts  are pictured in the front.  I wished I could have tried Kevin's kale on the Natalie Portman vegan episode, but unfortuntely smokey greens weren't on the menu when I visited Woodfire.  Cooked with benton's bacon and smoked pork broth, however, they would not be for Natalie.

Cocoa nib doughnuts with coconut ice cream.  The plate is also dotted with passion fruit caramel around the doughnuts, cocoa nibs, and passion glass atop the ice cream.  Brittany Emerson's desserts are between $8 and $9.  You can also sip on a port or dessert wine flight, 3 for $14.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Leonsis Discusses the Business of Happiness

This is normally a food blog (when I post here instead of DCist). But here is a post about Ted Leonsis' new book and a book talk that he held on Wednesday, February 24...

According to Ted Leonsis, the concept of community is a central component of happiness. That means being an active participant across multiple communities, finding ways to intertwine those communities, and giving back to the community. As the owner of the Washington Capitals, it’s not that he wants to win the Stanley Cup per se says (though he does). It’s that he sees what the success of the team can do for the city and its fans. When he thinks of wins by the Jets and Mets when he was growing up in New York in the ‘60s, he remembers sharing the moment with his father and he thinks of the lasting memories a Caps championship would create for a new generation of families. He chokes up while relaying a story about a man who stayed connected with his son while posted in Iraq by video chatting with him daily about the Caps.

Thus it was fitting for Leonsis to deliver a talk promoting his new book, The Business of Happiness, on Wednesday night at the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue. The late Abe Pollin, business partner of Leonsis, famously helped save the synagogue building from being turned into a nightclub in 2002, paving the way to creating a thriving Jewish and cultural community in downtown Washington. Leonsis, who is now negotiating with the Pollin estate to purchase the majority share of the Wizards and the Verizon Center, described Pollin as a man who embodied the spirit of giving back to the community.

Leonsis himself would have liked to have been home with his wife that night watching his star player Alex Ovechkin and Russia take on Canada in Olympic hockey. But he was happier being at 6th and I promoting his book and “creating another community.”

And so Leonsis recounted his early business successes, a near plane crash, a realization that he wasn’t truly happy, and his decision to write down a life plan of 101 personal and professional goals to achieve happiness. He wrote goals in 7 categories. There’s family and financial matters. Possessions like owning a beach and a great collection of watches. Charitable giving. Sporting goals like owning a team and winning a championship, playing several elite golf courses, and going one-on-one against Michael Jordan. Sixteen trips around the world. Miscellaneous “stuff” like going to the Oscars, swimming with sharks, and advising a foreign government.

After you get over wishing that you had Leonsis’ life, that you could accomplish a fraction just a couple of the things he has on his personal list, you’re left with no choice but to admire the guy. Yeah, he’s got more money than God; he’s already checked off #14 from his list, net worth of one hundred million dollars after taxes and is working on #15 ($100 billion). Making money off the Capitals and winning a championship will make him happy, but the way his team can bring the city closer together makes him more happy. Blogging, interacting with fans, and inviting readers of his book to e-mail him personally to let him know what they thought makes him happy. Making award winning movies is part of his bucket list. He accomplished that by becoming a “filmanthropist” making documentaries with purpose and launching a website that links charitable giving with independent films and provides a forum for exposure for small film makers.

Putting such goals to paper is a great start to completing some of them. You may not want to be as ambitious as Leonsis with your list. If you want to know what’s on that list, it’s published in the back of the new book. Or you can check it out here.

Friday, January 8, 2010

J&G Steakhouse Restaurant Week Menus

I'm excited about trying J&G Steakhouse during Restaurant Week, the Jean-Georges Vongerichten's newly opened restaurant in DC that has won praise from Tom Sietsema and Todd Kliman. They are doing lunch and dinner. Menus aren't posted on their website, but when I called, they were happy to e-mail them to me. Uh, why not just put them on your website! But looks good, many options, and from their regular menu.


Salmon Tartare, Ginger Dressing, Fresh Radish


Crispy Calamari, Pickled Chilies, Yuzu Dip


Arugula and Boston Lettuce, Fines Herbes, Mustard Vinaigrette


Creamy Tomato Soup, Cheddar, Sourdough and Basil


Slowly Cooked Salmon, Mashed Potatoes, Truffle Vinaigrette


Grilled Chicken Sandwich, Chipotle Mayonnaise


Fried Haddock Sandwich, Black Olive Tartar Sauce


J&G Cheeseburger


Hanger Steak, Mashed Potatoes, J&G Steak Sauce


Green Apple Crisp, Cinnamon Ice Cream


Crème Fraîche Cheesecake, Glazed Figs, Concord Grape Sorbet


Ice Cream and Sorbet




Salmon Tartare, Ginger Dressing, Fresh Radish


Rice Cracker Crusted Tuna, Citrus-Chili Sauce


Butternut Squash Soup, Wild Mushrooms


Parmesan Risotto, Fall Mushrooms, Herbs


Roasted Golden Tilefish, Glazed Mushrooms, Poblano and Dill


Seared Cod, Scallion-Chili Sauce, Basil and Celery


Parmesan Crusted Organic Chicken, Artichokes, Lemon-Basil Butter


6 oz Petite Filet, Mashed Potatoes, J&G Steak Sauce


Green Apple Crisp, Cinnamon Ice Cream


Crème Fraîche Cheesecake, Glazed Figs, Concord Grape Sorbet


Pot de Crème, Liquid Caramel


Ice Cream and Sorbet


Friday, December 11, 2009

Top Chef Finale (one of the brothers didn't win)

It sort of had to come down to this. Top Chef season six started with 17 chefs and one big sibling rivalry. Local-fave Bryan Voltaggio and his younger brother Michael quickly and clearly established themselves as two of the best chefs on the reality show competition, as well as a favorite story line. Their impressive resumes and complementary applications surely left casting directors and producers salivating. Their fancy techniques were similar, but played out quite differently in the kitchen, highlighting polar opposite though perhaps equally intense personalities. Bryan, the even-keeled brother, brought a composed and cautious approach to his trade. Younger brother Michael was at times conniving and often rubbed his brother and other contestants the wrong way. He and Bryan both had finesse, but his creative flair almost always landed him in the top tier of each week’s elimination challenge judges. It was not a surprise that the two were amongst the final three standing for this season’s Top Chef title.

Still, the smart money was on Atlanta-based chef Kevin Gillespie, whose simple dishes with complex flavors often edged out the wizardry of the Voltaggios. Bryan and Michael said their mom was probably pulling for Kevin last night—easier on the heart strings to have two runner-up sons than a winner and a loser. But Kevin’s simplicity finally caught up to him. He shook slightly as Padma called his name—dramatic pause—to tell him he wasn’t Top Chef. And then there were two.

Some DCist commenters, discussing the decision on DCist’s morning post on the just launched Voltaggio website, thought that Kevin was robbed, while others argued that he did himself in with a tired dessert choice. A third group, unsurprisingly, took the discussion down the path of junkpunches, moaning vulvas, and Molly. While odds may have been with Kevin going into the evening who was a popular fan favorite, it’s hard to say that he was upset or robbed last night. As Bryan and Kevin frequently (and not so much a cockier Michael) said, all three chefs were of high caliber and any of them were capable of winning. But Kevin’s conception of his dishes did him in. He made a decent pork belly entrée with caramelized ham jus, but head judge Tom Colicchio said it needed to be paired with a roasted pork to be successful. His bacony roasted banana needed the banana “two-ways” treatment to be deemed worthy; Kevin only had one treatment and it was too simple. On the other hand, the judges praised Kevin all season for his simple dishes with complex flavors. In the finale, apparently they wanted complex dishes with complex flavors. And yeah, perhaps they didn’t mind the chance to have Bryan and Michael as the last two standing.

Bryan, who watched the finale at his Frederick restaurant Volt at a private party hosted by the City of Frederick, was true to himself to the end. In describing his strategy, he says “I wouldn’t say I’m playing it safe. I’m playing it smart.” Judges said that his sous vide rockfish was the best cooked of the “mystery box” fish dishes but needed more seasoning and didn’t inspire. His venison was prepared perfectly and each vegetable side was prepared two ways. Wouldn’t you guess…Tom loved that! Bryan seemed to pour cheesecake rounds out of a vat of liquid nitrogen and his lauded as the most subtle, restrained, and sophisticated of the desserts. And when Michael needed a 9-volt battery for some thermal doohickey, of course Bryan had one lying around that he was happy to share. When criticized by Brit critic Toby Hall as displaying restraint as his hallmark, Bryan replies that he doesn’t see that as a fault and felt that everything he cooked underscored his philosophy.

Michael is true to himself too. When talking about Jennifer going home the challenge before, he says that it sucks that it wasn’t Bryan instead. When asked about why they should be named Top Chef, Bryan says it should be him because he did what meant the most to him, which was to express his cuisine. In response to the same question, Michael says he just doesn’t want Bryan to win. And we’d say that’s just partly tongue in cheek. Michael’s mystery box course, where where each chef had to create their own dish using the same ingredients, is a clear favorite with a butter poached rockfish glazed with dashi, tomato-kombu sauce poached crab, and sweet and sour squash salad with Meyer lemon. For a squab course with “real and fake mushrooms,” he goes for refined technique in a rustic way, and the dish is deemed excellent though slightly derided for being a bit gimmicky. He thinks he would have clinched the night if he hadn’t overcooked his chocolate coulant.

But the dry cake doesn’t end up costing him. “Michael,” insert dramatic pause from Padma and knowing, defeated glance from Bryan that just looks like all of his other glances. “You are top chef.” The brothers’ hand shake turns into a long embrace. A crying mother Voltaggio comes out from behind the scenes to hug Michael while over his shoulder lending a consolatory stare into her eldest son’s eyes. Michael breaks down and the judges tear.

It seems not too many viewers were pulling for Michael to win, especially in these parts where Bryan reigned as the hometown favorite and the affable, jolly, bearded Kevin equally won hearts. But it’s hard to dispute the decision. Kevin himself knew that he hadn’t done enough to win. Bryan proved himself as an always reliable talent and an emerged force to be reckoned with in the culinary world. Michael’s cooking is a high risk, high reward proposition. He seemed to thrive on competition and besting his brother and everyone else. When he’s on, he dazzles, and he’s usually on. Thus, high reward achieved. It was a season that definitely raised the bar in terms of the quality of the chefs competing.

Parting words from our local protagonist? “I set out to win the whole thing, so coming in second place, that’s tough. But I’m proud to see my little brother win. I mean obviously it was against me but rather him than anyone else,” said Bryan, mature and naturally gracious in defeat. And that’s certainly not the last word from Bryan. You can now join him and Michael in their online community of course! Or head up to Volt for dinner…they can probably fit you in within a year or two. Congrats to Bryan, Kevin, and Top Chef Michael Voltaggio.

Check out my work on DCist

Haven't posted here for over a year, as when I write, I'm writing for DCist for the most part. Check out my work there here. But I'll make some use of this, my original blog for some additional posts and link. I've had fun covering lots of food stories including Top Chef over the past year. Check out interviews I've done with the Washington area contestants and other coverage.

And I'll be posting my take on the season 6 Top Chef finale momentarily.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Taste of the Nation Recruitment Happy Hour at Vidalia

Vidalia to Host Taste of the Nation Recruitment Happy Hour

In preparation for the 21st annual Taste of the Nation® event in March 2009, the DC Taste of the Nation Volunteer Committee invites all DC foodies to lend a helping hand.

Alongside Chef Chair R.J. Cooper, Chef de Cuisine of Vidalia, the volunteer committee seeks new members to become involved in the planning process of this highly anticipated culinary event. On Monday, November 10th, 2008 from 6-8 pm, Vidalia's acclaimed wine-tasting happy hour will host a special recruitment event, offering more than a flight of wine.

Learn more about how to become an active member in the fight against childhood hunger while sipping and munching on tasty treats, courtesy of Vidalia's dedication to the cause. Feel free to bring along any guests who may be interested in further involvement with the DC TON Committee.

We look forward to seeing you there!To learn more about this event, please contact Judith Mandel at or 703-549-0585.