Monday, November 10, 2014

RAMW Grand Tasting Pavilion Review

It's not easy being a food critic. Imagine feasting on 25+ amazing bites/tastes of food at Metro Cooking DC's RAMW Grand Tasting Pavilion, taking lots of photos, then writing about each delicious bite later. Poor me, right? Who's kidding who? I wouldn't trade places with anyone, especially yesterday. The sold-out tasting was the culinary equivalent of Christmas morning at the Trumps; and it gives me great pleasure to break it down for you (post-feeding.)

This year's Grand Tasting (under new management) was remarkably well-organized, and significantly more spacious. Lines were infrequent, and best of all... fast-moving. Better still, there were lots of tables to stand at, allowing one to eat in comparative style to last year's "traffic jam." Trust me: It's not easy to snap photos, talk, write and eat in one motion. Hats off to those in charge; and special thanks to the restaurants, who thoroughly outdid themselves. Almost everything was delicious (words almost unheard-of from a critic, especially yours truly.) My only regret? There's only one of me.

In alphabetical order (with special designations to the day's top five bites.)

BlackFinn Ameripub: Chicken, wrapped in bacon and stuffed with sweet Italian sausage. Yum. Lots going on, not to mention a delicious side of sweet potato mash; but it all works. I pass by it (BlackFinn) at least once a month, before/after movie screenings at the nearby MPAA; but I'll be sure to stop in next time.

BlackFinn Ameripub

Grade: B

Carmine's: Meatball. When you make meatballs this good, you don't need to do/say much more. Big, bold and flavorful. Pasta optional.

Meatball at Carmine's

Grade: B

Dean & DeLuca: Chili Lime Marinated Shrimp. Looks good, but I was hoping for (a lot) more seasoning. Not one of my favorites.

Dean & DeLuca

Grade: C+

Dino's Grotto: I thought Dino was way overrated in Cleveland Park, and my disappointment carries over to the Shaw eatery's Charred Beet Salad (not pictured) and Pork Testa. Really bland.

Pork Testa from Dino's Grotto

Grade: D-

Elevation Burger: BBQ Bacon Burger. What's a budget burger doing at an upscale tasting? Holding its own, I assure you. Hats off for making mine without cheddar; and if not for a cold bun, I would have gone back for seconds. Caramelized onions & Simply Heinz Natural BBQ Sauce = difference maker.

BBQ Bacon Burger at Elevation Burger

Grade: B-

Floriana Restaurant: Gnocchi Bolognese. Generous portion, and well-flavored. Extra points for great salesmanship too. Definitely one of the most fun (and tastiest) stops of the day.

Gnocchi Bolognese at Floriana

Grade: B+

Gifford's Famous Ice Cream: Toasted Coconut Ice Cream. Coconut ice cream with chocolate-dusted coconut shreds. Heavenly.

Gifford's Toasted Coconut Ice Cream

Grade: B+

Guy Fieri's Baltimore Kitchen & Bar: B-More Fries. Along with PAUL, Guy's had the longest lines of the day. No wonder, as their generous order of waffle fries with blue crab dip & Old Bay qualifies as a full appetizer on any menu. I made the mistake of eating it last; and it's decidedly heavy. Worth exploring again (at the Horseshoe Baltimore.)

B-More Fries from Guy Fieri's Baltimore Kitchen & Bar

Grade: N/A

Medium Rare: Steak and Frites Sandwich. Are you kidding me? Steak, fries and gravy inside one of the area's best buns? I live about a block away from their Cleveland Park location. Guess where I'll be having dinner this weekend?

Steak and Frites Sandwich at Medium Rare

Grade: A- (Top 5)

MXDC Cocina Mexicana: Pollo Taco. Nice flavor, but I wanted more toppings. Double the amount, and we're talking about something special.

Pollo Taco from MXDC

Grade: B

Nage Bistro: Jerked Pork Belly with Tomato Salad & Lime Vinaigrette. Wow. Tons of flavor, and just wait for the kick at the end. Pork belly is almost always good; but this is surreal. Biggest surprise of the day (I've never been... will soon) and second-best bite of the day.

Jerked Pork Belly from Nage Bistro

Grade: A (Top 5)

Osteria Marzano: Short Rib Ravioli. Amazing broth, but ravioli/filling fails to match its intensity. Perhaps you need a whole plate of 'em: I can't wait to test that theory.

Osteria Marzano's Short Rib Ravioli

Grade: B-

PAUL: Chocolate Croissant. Not as many choices as last year (think dessert smörgåsbord) but this croissant was incredibly flaky and rich in chocolate. What more do you need?

Chocolate Croissant from PAUL

Grade: B

Room 11: House-Smoked Trout Rillette. Creamy and delicious, this was easily the best seafood item of the day. Room 11 wasn't on my radar before... but you can bet your bottom dollar, it is now.

House-Smoked Trout Rillette at Room 11

Grade: B+

Silo Restaurant: Shrimp and Grits. Good grits, great broth, but shrimp/sausage needed more flavor. One of the best-looking dishes of the show.

Silo Restaurant's Shrimp and Grits

Grade: B-

Smith & Wollensky: Steak Tartare. Nobody does tartare like S&W. Nobody. I'm afraid to make it at home; and besides, some things should be left to professionals. My only complaint? I only had two.

Steak Tartare from Smith & Wollensky

Grade: A- (Top 5)

Sweet Teensy: Double-Chocolate Brownie & Pumpkin Bread. This Bethesda gem never disappoints (even though they ran out of Red Velvet Cupcakes) and yesterday was no different. Their pumpkin bread has no equal (A-) and even the brownie (B) appealed to a non-chocoholic like myself.

Double-Chocolate Brownie & Pumpkin Bread

Grade: B+

Thally: Sautéed Shrimp. Last year's #2 best bite was my first taste of the afternoon, and the best overall at the end of the day. Co-owner Sherman Outhuok delivers a gorgeous plate of shrimp, egg noodles, pickled onions, arugula and alfalfa sprouts... so good, it pains me to think I've never eaten in his restaurant. Shame on me.

Sautéed Shrimp at Thally

Grade: A+ (Top 5)

The Fourth Estate at the National Press Club: Calamari Cakes. Beautiful presentation, and quite a surprise. I was expecting a fritter; but what I got instead, was tender and flavorful (with zero grease.) Lovely Chili Aioli, and lettuce wrap makes for a perfect vessel.

The Fourth Estate's Calamari Cakes

Grade: B

The Pig: Chicken Fried Face Bacon. It may not look like much; but missing out on my third favorite bite of the day would be criminal. The pumpkin-induced glaze sets it apart from the rest; and it goes without saying, I can't wait to make a reservation. Logan Circle, here I come.

Chicken Fried Face Bacon at The Pig

Grade: A- (Top 5)

Washington Firehouse: Wagyu Brisket Slider. Sounds delicious, doesn't it? It is. In fact, it's the best slider I've had all year. Arugula mustard, crispy shallots and dynamite brisket on a brioche bun. If I'm/they're missing something, tell me. Just missed the top five, which should tell you how stiff the competition was.

Wagyu Brisket Slider at Washington Firehouse

Grade: B+

Wildfire Steaks, Chops & Seafood: Bison Meatballs & Wildfire Chopped Salad. Dear diary, these bison meatballs are A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. If all salads came with these meatballs, I'd eat a heck of a lot more salads. One more reason to visit Tysons Galleria, the DMV's best shopping mall.

Bison Meatballs & Wildfire Chopped Salad

Grade: B+

Zenful Bites: Ginger Limeade & Hibiscus Blossom Tea. Never underestimate the importance of something delicious to drink. Hats off to Zenful Bites for providing two delicious palette cleansers... the second of which (hibiscus tea) deserved to be at every table in the room. P.S. Thanks for seconds!

Ginger Limeade (top) & Hibiscus Blossom Tea

Grade: B