Saturday, May 30, 2015

Dinner at The Inn At Little Washington

For quite a few years now, I've stopped on the way home from Balticon at one of my favorite inns anywhere, The Inn At Little Washington.  Chef/proprietor Patrick O'Connell's country creation is a wonderful place to get away from it all, enjoy great food, and relax.  As I wrote in a recent entry, I stopped again this year and owe you a review of the dinner in the kitchen table.

The Inn now offers only tasting menus.  The night we were there, it had three.  One featured classic dishes from its past.

Click an image to see a larger version.

We opted for that one, but with the addition of the foie gras dish from the seasonal menu.

The meal begins with a snack that's occupied this starting position for as long as I've been going there: truffled popcorn.

The truffles were early finds from Australia.  An accompanying tradition was the small set of parmesan crackers, which were exactly as they should be:  flavorful, salty, and fun.

A bit of pork belly on a spoon, a potato chip--a dream of a potato chip--stuffed with ham and cheese, and a radish fresh from their garden served as the amuse bouche.

At that point, the menu officially began!  I have tasted the chilled asparagus soup and delicate cheese puff before, but I was excited to get to try them again.  Both were as absolutely delicious as I remembered.

The tin of sin featured American Osetra caviar sitting atop some Peekytoe crab.  Spread a little on the perfect brioche slices, and you have a heavenly combination.

Our addition appeared next.  The hot foie was perfectly seared and melded beautifully with the gastrique.  The cold foie was differently wonderful, and the cherries blended well with it.

The baby lamb carpaccio proved to be perfectly seared and flavorful, though I think we would have done better with a single small scoop of the Caesar salad ice cream.  (Yes, regardless of how it sounds, it tasted great.)

The Inn had just that day received its first shipment of soft-shell crabs, and Executive Chef Evan Pope, who was running the kitchen that night, surprised us with a special dish featuring them.  The peanuts on top were a surprising addition I quite enjoyed.

I'm not a fan of sea bass.  I have nothing against it, but I've felt for some time that too many restaurants were overusing it.  This perfectly prepared dish changed my mind.  The fish could not have been better, and the shrimp and pork dumpling was a delight.

The squab breast with hackleberries took no prisoners with a very strong flavor and a nice combination of meat and fruit.  If you like squab, as I do, you will love this dish.  (If you don't care for squab, though, this is definitely not the plate for you.)

The final savory course, the prosciutto-wrapped veal with country ham and fontina ravioli, was another set of strong flavors that worked very well for me.

When faced with a cheese cart as strong as The Inn's,

you have only one choice:  add a cheese course.  So I did.  I failed to photograph it before I was partway through it, but this picture should serve to indicate the delicious variety of cheeses I sampled.

Dessert was up next, but at The Inn, nothing succeeds like excess, so first you get a pre-dessert, in this case a wonderful little creamsicle.

I'm not a creamsicle fan in general, but I would eat one of these every day if I had the chance.  (I am very thankful I do not.)

For dessert, I chose the only option I could not resist:  the Seven Deadly Sins, a selection of miniature versions of many of their desserts.

I'll leave to your imagination (or your Goggle research) exactly what each of these is, but every single one was delicious.

I have strongly recommended a meal at The Inn At Little Washington since the first time I ate there, and I do so again now.  The food is wonderful, the setting beautiful, and the only drawbacks are cost--nothing this good is cheap--and your need to exercise afterward.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Dinner at Aggio

In a recent post, I promised a more complete review of my meal at Bryan Voltaggio's Aggio restaurant in Baltimore.  Though I enjoyed the dinner overall, it was decidedly uneven.

The restaurant is an attractive blend of modern hipster and old-school Italian looks.  I know it sounds odd, but it works.  So far, so good.

Given Voltaggio's good and growing reputation, we decided, as I frequently do, to opt for the tasting menu, which featured five courses.  Again, so far, so good.

The first item to appear at our table did not bode well: boring and rather dry bread sticks.

Click a photo to see a larger version.

Two cheese spreads proved tasty and definitely helped the bread.

The first real course placed parts of a soft-shell crab on a bed of greens and delicious red sauce.

The next course knocked our socks off.

A tortelletti stuffed with gorgonzola dolce and covered with pine nuts and subtle baby beet slices, this pasta was so good I would have happily made the rest of my meal a big bowl of it.

At this point, we were excited about the next course, having a good time, and ready for more.

We then waited.  And waited.  And waited.  At one point, I snapped a picture of the candle holder, which I do confess to liking.

After an apology from our server and more waiting, we finally received the third course, another pasta dish.

This small helping of spaghetti carbonara with house bacon and cured egg yolk tasted completely different from the previous dish but was equally delicious.  A giant bowl of this stuff would make you right on a cold night.

The final savory dish mixed a small piece of strip steak, a similar amount of beef cheek, and a carrot and fava bean ragu.

The beef cheek tasted rich and flavorful, though it wasn't a patch on the one Gabe Rucker serves at Le Pigeon.  The vegetables were adequate but no more.  The strip steak, despite being the ostensible star of the dish, was mediocre at best:  chewy, weak-flavored, and not even properly salted.  Had I tasted only this dish, I would have been tempted to write off the restaurant.

The final course, dessert, proved to be a big step up from the meat course, but it was nowhere near as good as the pastas.

The chocolate custard and the pistachio sorbet were tasty, as was the other bit of cake.  They were not, however, particularly memorable.

All in all, the recommendation I gave in that earlier entry stands:  go to Aggio for the pastas, because the two that I sampled were spectacular.  I'd be wary of the other dishes, though, and I would not plan on great service.

I do hope to eat there again, because those pastas were so strong that they made the trip worthwhile and because the other issues were easily fixable.  Perhaps at next year's Balticon.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Tomorrowland: A tale of two tomorrows

From talking with several folks who've seen Tomorrowland, I've come to believe that whether you will like this movie depends entirely on how willing you are to give yourself over to its charms--and its manipulations.

At core, the film is basically an agitprop piece for science-based optimism.  The future we're facing now is one of utter extinction brought on by pessimism and a lack of science-based effort.  The future we could have is bright.  The plot shows us a path from the former to the latter.

A few folks called it Peter Pan, and in many ways that's not far off.  It argues that if enough of us pay attention to the lessons of science, remain optimistic, and work hard to improve humanity's behavior (or clap our hands), we (Tinkerbells all) will live, and all will be well.

That telling, though, is the cynical version of the story, one that you may well feel if director and co-writer Brad Bird's manipulations strike you as too heavy-handed and overt.

For me, Tomorrowland was vastly better than that.  Though I could see the manipulations--Bird pulls no punches with them--I still found the movie a surprising achievement, a film that is entertaining and absorbing from start to finish but that is also clearly and directly a message movie.  I loved every second of it.

I encourage you to check out Tomorrowland.  Even if you hate it, you'll enjoy the visuals and the performances of George Clooney, Hugh Laurie, Raffey Cassidy, and Britt Robertson.  With luck, you'll enter with a little optimism and leave with a great deal more.  I did.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Dropbox and rockets, servers and weightlifters

What do these couplets have in common?  Why the latest installment of Now with PT, of course. 

When you want to see what Principled Technologies has been up to lately, this short video series is an easy way to catch a lot of very interesting study results.

Check it out.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

On the road again: Balticon, day 5

Morning went to sleep, afternoon to driving, evening to catching up, settling in at home, and work.  I'm behind on many fronts, so I have to buckle down now on several to catch up.

Lunch featured this oddity from a Sonic Drive-In along the highway:

Click the image to see a larger version.

For those of you who have never seen this concoction before--and I had not--this is a Cheesy Bacon Pretzel Dog.  I'm not at all sure that this thing should exist, but given that it does, I had to try it.

The verdict?  Not bad, not bad at all.  Weird, and definitely not good for any human, but also tasty enough.

And now, more work, as normal life resumes for me.

Monday, May 25, 2015

On the road again: Balticon, day 4

After a reasonable amount of sleep--I am still exhausted and catching up--I headed down the road to The Inn At Little Washington, one of my favorite places to spend an evening.  (I've never stayed more than one night.)  There is nothing to do in this small town except relax and enjoy the resplendent Inn.  That's perfect for me and makes this a wonderful place to relax.

Because I knew dinner would be so large, my only food during the day was a small tea in the Inn's garden.

Dinner, as I always make it here, was in the kitchen table, where you get to enjoy both watching a world-class kitchen in action and consuming the amazing food they are creating for you.  Chef/proprietor Patrick O'Connell was in Ireland chairing a Relais & Chateaux meeting, but his Executive Chef, Evan Pope, was running the show and doing an excellent job.  I hope to provide a full review later.

Now, to chill a bit and then, I hope, sleep a ton.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

On the road again: Balticon, day 3

My convention work day began with my presenting the Baen Traveling Roadshow, a fun sneak peek at upcoming Baen books.  What makes this event special is that we get to see not only the covers of the books, but the original art behind those covers.  I've led this event for some years now at Balticon, and it's always fun.  As usual, we nearly filled a big room, everyone in attendance seemed interested and attentive, and we gave away quite a few free books.

We then dashed out for lunch at at nearby Noodles & Company.  A small frozen yogurt from a neighboring shop topped off the meal. 

After a work break, I joined a memorial event for Peggy Rae Sapienza, a friend and fan whom I quite miss.  (I wrote about her death back in March, when I learned of it.)  As you would expect, the mood in the room was at best bittersweet as a large crowd of people told stories about how Peggy Rae had touched them.  I went second and discussed my first two interactions with Peggy Rae, the same two I covered in that earlier blog post.  Peggy Rae was a good woman who performed an amazing amount of work for SF fandom, and everyone I know who knew her will miss her.

In the small break available to me, I strolled through the dealers' room, said hi to some friends, and then found the location of my next panel.

This one, "It's for a Good Cause," focused on how writers can user their work to help charities.  I talked about the giveaway program I created with Children No More, my fourth novel, and I also discussed some of the charitable work that PT does.  I enjoyed learning about the ways the other panelists used their fiction to help causes of interest to them. 

My final panel of the day--and of the con, because I'll be leaving in the morning--was about "How To Keep Writing After the Workshop."  The question the con posed the panelists was how one could stay in contact with fellow workshop attendees and also keep writing after a workshop.  We focused on the writing part, with all of us agreeing that the only secret was that there was no secret:  you sit in a chair and do the work, or you don't.  The audience remained interested as the conversation wandered, so all went well.

Dinner was a good but not remarkable meal at Azumi, a well-reviewed local Japanese restaurant.  The fish was fresh and tasty, but the omakase menu did not feature any outstanding dishes, and it did unfortunately contain a few disappointing elements.  Though I enjoyed the meal overall, I feel no need to eat there again. 

And now, to sleep.


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