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  1. This post is a little about hyperbole and a lot about a place called The Bartlett Pear Inn (BPI), IMHO The Best Restaurant On The Eastern Shore. The BPI has occupied the space formerly known as the Inn at Easton for about two years. Apologies in advance for a longer post...okay a bit of an opus...but it's as much about guilt for not having posted sooner as it is about having a lot to share. And, for those who hate long posts, I've tried to use liberal formatting (sections, bold face, spacing, italics) to make it more skimmable. You can even stop after the one line Executive Summary just below if you like. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY Great and often inventive food from a humble yet driven perfectionist. Great people with genuine niceness and hospitable spirits. Great value at moderate prices. Go soon. FULL POST INCLUDING SOME MULTIMEDIA, LINKS, REFERENCES & DETAILS I have to say I'm more surprised this thread didn't already exist than with any other new topic I've yet seen appear on dr.com because... -- It's a truly great place and I'll go into detail on that below. -- It's run by a truly wonderful couple, Jordan and Alice Lloyd. -- The Lloyds were the buyers of the historic inn from Andrew Evans, of the previous tenant, The Inn @ Easton and of current "BBQ Joint" fame. Of course, The Inn @ Easton was loved on this board and had a fairly active thread. Surely some Rockwellians have investigated what moved in when Chef Evans moved out besides me? -- Not that I put much stock in those "other" food community sites but BPI has earned the highest ratings on virtually all of them (tripadvisor, urbanspoon, zagat, yelp, blah, blah). There has been a fair amount of media attention showered on the Bartlett Pear. Though will say TS underrated this place in my view--he was there on a night when the best aspects of BPI may not have been on full display. I hope he goes again soon. IT'S ACTUALLY MOSTLY MY FAULT BPI'S COMING OUT ON DR.COM COMES SO LATE (SHORT BACK STORY) The most blame for BPI's very late coming out on dr.com is best directed at me. Our (my SO and I) story with BPI goes back to December, 2009 and that nasty first snowmaggedon storm which started on a Friday night. It stranded us at the Inn at Perry Cabin in St. Michaels for most of a weekend. "Most" because we made it out for just one dinner--at the Bartlett Pear--the Friday night the snow started falling with the roads just passable for us to make it back to St. Michaels from Easton after dinner. Anyway, since then, we've dined and stayed at Bartlett Pear maybe half a dozen times. I thought I'd posted on it before but hadn't. I suck. So, on with it already. But, first a very brief and relevant word or two about exaggeration. HYPERBOLE Most. Best. Worst. Top 3. Top 10. Outstanding. Extraordinary. Fantastic. Too many of those words in amateurish write-ups like mine. That said, there will be some hyperbole in this post. There has been already. Catch that thread title? It's intended. I think the place rather unique. And, getting the cliched stuff out of the way early, I'll go on record with a somewhat audacious claim but one I think accurate. OVERALL BARTLETT PEAR HEADLINE BPI is at least the best food on the Eastern Shore and would be a Top 10 (5?) for sure were it here in DC. We love it. It's fabulous. We've sent many friends there through word of mouth. One of our very favorite spots in the region. THE BARTLETT PEAR INN/BACKGROUND + WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE? As written briefly above, the BPI is now about 2 years old. It's a gorgeous inn as I'm guessing the Inn at Easton was (I regrettably never visited it then). Alice Lloyd, the innkeeper, keeps 7 lovely, luxurious, yet moderately priced, rooms in great shape. She also handles two young children and one boxer but, no worries, the boxer is never in the inn for those concerned about that. I know they did extensive renovation to the Inn before reopening it as BPI. If bath accoutrements are any litmus, they use L'Occitane here but the rooms are surprisingly easy on the wallet. It's a perfect base for exploring Easton and the area. But, The Thing that's most exceptional about BPI is the restaurant and Jordan Lloyd's cooking. Jordan's only 31 and originally from Easton (as is Alice, whose maiden name was the inspiration for the Inn's name). He has the resume of someone older, more seasoned and very accomplished: - culinary school in Pittsburgh - worked and studied under several famous chefs including: * Christian Delouvrier (Bal Harbour, FL) * Thomas Keller (Per Se in NYC) * Michel Richard (here at Citronelle) Even TS wrote "....Lloyd has the chops to back up his dream..." Beyond "chops," Jordan has the passion, ambition, knowledge and skill one would expect given his bio. But, beyond that, there are three things we think most worth noting about Jordan and his cooking. THREE REASONS WHY JORDAN LLOYD'S COOKING STANDS OUT First, Jordan has that gift, exceedingly rare among would-be culinary innovators, to combine and invent; to create new, delicious and, at times, surprising flavors. This is the stuff that can't be taught in culinary school. No foams, sous vide or crazy experiments gone wrong on a plate here. Most everything we've ever had here has just been really excellent; lots of wows. And, in any restaurant of however many stars or diamonds, that's the most important thing, right? Second, Jordan has drive. It's not just about work ethic--though while anyone really good in this industry works their butts off, I can't imagine it'd be possible for anyone to work harder than Jordan. It's about his intense focus to become a great chef and then keep improving. That's why he sought out the jobs he did before opening BPI. That's why he logs the hours he does. That's why he'll even cook in 145-degree ambient temperatures (more on that below). Third and most important, Jordan is just an exceedingly nice guy in a way that can't be faked. He's genuinely humble and unassuming. I wouldn't be so sure about this had I not had as many interactions with him as I have; had I not taken a cooking class with him in his pillbox of a kitchen or chatted with him many times in quieter moments at the Inn. Maybe it's because he's so young. Maybe he was just raised that way. Niceness isn't just what makes someone so likable. Less obvious is that it (and associated humility) are what make it possible for a driven professional to always improve and get the best from staff. Such is Jordan. The BPI serves a full hot breakfast every day and dinner every night save Tuesday. They have a great brunch on Sunday, which I'll use for this post's food specifics since we were just there this past weekend. I'll then post again with some specific dinner items after a future visit unless others beat me to it. FINALLY, THE FREAKIN' FOOD! BRUNCH. This past weekend, four of us planned a Saturday dinner and Sunday brunch at BPI during a weekend stay. But, alas, for the first time in all our visits to BPI, our Saturday plan went awry thanks to the crazy high temps that would tax nearly any air conditioning system. Jordan's kitchen was getting up to 145 degrees and, after sweating out a Friday dinner, he shut down Saturday night to give his staff a break, despite the loss he knew he'd take with the dining room fully booked. We went to plan B for Saturday, enjoyed discovering the Bistro Poplar in Cambridge (which Jordan personally booked us into and which now has its own separate shiny new thread on dr.com) and cursed our bad luck for not having eaten at BPI Friday night when we had the chance. After all, as nice as the Inn is, the food is the biggest reason we keep coming back for weekends. Ah, 20/20 hindsight. So, Sunday brunch couldn't have come soon enough. We'd had a few Sunday brunches at BPI before so knew to expect great things. Our two friends couldn't stop raving. We ordered a larger number of things to best try out the various proteins, produce, dairy and treats featured across the menu. BRUNCH HEADLINE (FOOD AND MEAL EXPERIENCE DETAILS FOLLOW) Wow! Delicious, interesting and impressive. Strongly recommend eating (and staying) at the Bartlett Pear. SERVICE The service at BPI, whether dinner, breakfast or brunch, is always attentive, efficient and genuinely friendly and casual. This is one of the memorable and unusual things about BPI. They effectively meld an elegance and outstanding quality with an informal and casual culture. Most of the servers are from the area and pleasures. We had a relatively new and younger server for the brunch who took great care of us and our various special requests. FOOD We enjoyed: - Truffled Scrambled Eggs ($7): served in cast iron after being continuously whisked, these are light, velvety, savory and really, really tough to duplicate at home despite Jordan's unassuming and deceptively simple directions. - Side of Applewood Smoked Bacon ($4): suffice to say, this isn't the applewood smoked bacon sold at Whole Foods. Need to find out his source. This is the bacon any serious breakfast place should be forced to serve. - "Eggs Benedict" with Stonehouse Farm Poached Eggs, fresh hollandaise, Inn-Made Brioche toast and the bacon ($14 or free if staying at the inn). Of course, the technique is predictably and exactly what it should be with eggs perfectly poached to order. It's the brioche and hollandaise that elevate this benny above most. - Chef's Sunday Inn-Made Pappardelle Pasta ($21): I always, always order the pappardelle whenever on Jordan's brunch or dinner menus. Again, a simple preparation with his hand rolled pasta, light butter, truffle, 8 or so well seasoned cockles and a cheese that really makes the dish and the name of which I can't recall. This dish = sumptuousness. Sumptuousness = this dish. - Stonehouse Farm French Egg Omelette w/ Roasted Bell Pepper Ragout, Homestead Farms Organic Green Salad ($11 or free to overnight inn guests). The omelette was lovely, light and beautifully seasoned but it was the bell pepper ragout that wow'ed. I'm not a big bell pepper fan. That said, these rocked. - Sugar Snap Peas, Roasted Garlic Confit ($6): Maybe an odd thing to get with brunch and everything else but I felt like an in season vegetable and these didn't disappoint. - Pear Tart ($4): Befitting their name, there are often pear-related dishes on the dessert menu in one form or other. This had light airy puff pastry and perfectly chopped tender pieces of ever-so-lightly-sweetened chunks of pear. - Pear Sorbet ($3): the menu calls this a "scoop" but it's actually a quenelle. The best fruit sorbets are an explosion of the featured fruit which makes you forget anything about frozen, ice or ice cream. This is that. - Fordham's Root Beer Float w/ Tahitian Vanilla Ice Cream and Ginger Spice Macaroon ($8): This was the only thing we did right culinarily Friday night, getting some tea and this at BPI's bar after a disappointing dinner elsewhere. Really refreshing and reminiscent of both past and current eras. Jordan's ice cream. A pear straw unlike anything I'd seen before. I'm not sure about the provenance of the roughly 4" diameter macaroon that capped the tall soda fountain glass but it was the perfect complement for the dessert if not quite up to the global macaroon standard :-) BEVERAGE We didn't really put this to the test this trip and others with way more expertise than me will have to assess it. But, I can say that the wine program is of nice size and forethought with about 40 reds, mostly European/French (Beaujolais, Burgundy, Rhone, Bordeaux, Barolo, Brunello) and 30 whites. Smaller selection of about 10 beers but with choices including a Saison Dupont Farmhouse Ale (Belgian/$12), Meredsous Brune Dubbel Ale (Belgian/$8) and Traquair Jacobite Ale flavored with coriander (Scotland/$12). THE END P.S., Go to Bartlett Pear. Stay. Have dinner. Have brunch. Have drinks. This place is a destination. [disclosure: I have no vested interest in BPI other than the history as described above. Just an avid fan.]
  2. Foti's: Is an outpost of English civility in a town whose name could have been Mayberry except its founding fathers decided on Culpeper. The hundred plus year old building houses a very personal and private restaurant with a dark brown pressed tin ceiling and wooden floors to match with chandeliers, recessed lighting and table top candles, an exposed brick wall lining one entire side and occasional Grecian columns outlining a particular area of this very special and romantic dining fantasy. With subdued lighting and exuberant staff along with the escapist small town charm this is an extraordinary setting for what is the best new restaurant of 2006 for the Greater Washington area. Foti's captures the charm and sophistication of Georgetown or Old Town while retaining the warmth and innocent appeal of a sleepy southern hamlet where Juliet might be enraptured with the cuisine of Romeo-if he were a chef. Even Verona has nothing on this setting for dining and romantic indulgence. In Culpeper Juliet is named Sue and Romeo is Frank. Both met in Little Washington at The Inn. They and six or seven others from The Inn, over time, have moved here to create a truly special place in the Mid Atlantic. Foti's now has a three week wait for a table on Fridays and Saturdays because of rave reviews in both the Washington Post and Washingtonian. With the connection of the chef and hostess along with the former sommelier from The Inn at Little Washington, Foti's has already been adopted by the Washington Press as the most recent outpost of Great Cuisine. And it justly is. Last night my wife and I did our best to work our way through its menu. A signature dish of a Great restaurant is one which literally causes your mouth to open, to uncontrollably exclaim "Wow" when it is served. To deeply inhale its enthralling effluvia, to moan after savoring its first taste, to breathe heavily and evenly after swallowing the first orgasmic bite. "Vanilla roasted Maine lobster with Jonny cakes and a Chardonnay butter sauce" is such a dish. Live lobster is roasted and shelled then the lobster meat is sautéed with chardonnay butter, lobster stock is added and then reduced down with caramelized sugar. All of this is plated on top of several Rhode Island Jonny Cake discs with the sauce drizzled around and over. Simply, a Great dish worth of The Inn nearby or The Fat Duck, the three Michelin star and one of England's two best restaurants near the home of Sue Maragos, Frank's wife and partner who together open Foti's. Sue moved here five years ago from her home near the Cotswolds, apprenticed at The Inn and now with her husband has moved onto a national stage much sooner than either of them may have anticipated. A "fried egg sandwich on garlic toasted Ciabatta with baby arugula, Virginia country ham and parmesan cheese" is another signature first course. Inventive, imaginative, excellent. Still, a short step below the imaginatively delicious excess of the vanilla lobster. "Olive oil poached tomatoes on a roasted garlic and fresh herb crust with sautéed winter vegetables" is a vegetarian entrée that we had as a middle course. It was delicious. For entrees two signatures stand out: "seafood paella with shrimp and lobster on Jasmine rice with a saffron scented tomato broth" and "Surf and Turf a la Greque" which is a "grilled beef tenderloin and pan seared shrimp with lemon roasted potatoes, sautéed broccolini and a Byzantine sauce." The seafood paella is an Americanized version of the Valencian dish, but no less for this. Fresh lobster and fresh shrimp along with chunks of San Marzano tomatoes nestled in Jasmine rice highlighted an excellent version of the Spanish classic. The "turf" portion of the "La Greque" included a filet which was as flavorful as any I have had on this side of the Atlantic. Succulently delicious, a savory worth savoring every bite. Desserts actually came up a step short: chocolate pots de crème were very good but not over the top good as, say, the pots de crème from Susan Wallace at Black Salt. A "chocolate mousse tower on a roasted cocoa bean and hazelnut shortbread drizzled with a citrus and vanilla clear caramel sauce" was very, very good. But similarly not quite up to the level of the first two courses. The hospitality and warmth of Foti's is distinctly European, perhaps Sue would say English for where she is from. Every customer is made to feel special, every table for each server and each assistant is set as the only table in the room. While there are other tables it is only yours' that matters. This is not The Inn. But it may be the English, perhaps the French countryside in a small town where one stops in and is accepted as a guest, the only guest in a house where the guest is all that matters. Foti's is a cross between Southern hospitality and charm and European romance and style. All in a small town sixty miles and sixty minutes south of the Beltway, but a Century and an ocean apart from anything else available here. The three week wait for weekends is only going to get longer; soon there will be a wait for weeknights. This is, indeed, a special place that only reinforces the Greater Washington area as one of America's best. We are very lucky that Foti's opened here. It could just as easily been near the Cotswolds as it is in Culpeper. Three and a half stars. Just a whisk away from four. I will also be hosting a private dinner there in late April/early May. Joe Heflin Links for reviews of Foti's: Tom Sietsema in the Post Kliman's review One more comment, this about wine. Last night we had a bottle of 2002 Artazu Santa Cruz, a single vineyard 100% Grenache from Spain. It was $60.00 on their wine list. We really enjoyed it. I just discovered that this lists for $43.00, their markup then an extremely reasonable 50% over what I may have paid for it in a store. In fact the best price that I can find on the internet is $32.99 from the Wine Library. My guess is that as this restaurant's popularity and fame spreads all of their prices will go up. For now this seems even more like a "bargain" of sorts for what it delivers.
  3. Bibou French BYOB close to the Italian Market It's not that the food wasn't great. It was. But Bibou was more a revelation in the atmosphere it produced; homey and intimate don't nearly encapsulate the feeling we had by the end of our meal. If the words don't do it justice, well, use your imagination. Here are a few snapshots from the night-- Our sexagenarian server in an amusing French accent- "I have one order left of the last oysters of the season. West Coast. Very briny." Later on a lamb special- "We also have lamb chops from Colorado. Very expensive." (They were $45). After reading some of the reviews I thought I could prepare myself for the bewitching effects of charm but the earnestness and honesty of the place resonated deeply. We started with the oysters (which were more briny than I'm accustomed to from the west coast), a first for my dining partner. Overhearing us Charlotte (Chef Pierre Calmels' wife) came over and told us how she didn't try oysters until she was 29. Tonight was my lady's 28th birthday. More traditional foodie note-The mignonette they served with the oysters was mild enough not to overpower the Pacific ocean. Next up was the escargots in a bordelaise sauce with trumpet mushrooms, fava beans, tarragon, and plenty of diced shallots. Really delicious and wonderfully different from the classic butter-garlic version most are accustomed to. We cleaned out the snail shaped bowl with our bread. I was able to talk my partner into the veal bone-marrow, which came next. It was decadently rich and served in the bone. It resembled stuffing but was so concentrated I actually asked my adopted papi/server why he brought it out before the fletan (halibut)--he replied "We just wanted to slow it down for a nice dinner." Maybe I've eaten in and worked at too many bistros but a novel concept like "slowing down the meal" really floored me. The halibut didn't blow me away, but that was a good thing following the bone-marrow. Served with an English pea puree and orange Sicilian veal jus it was a model of restraint. The fish itself was expertly cooked and flaked under the pressure of a fork edge. This was all despite the fact that they split the dish, unrequested. As advertised Chef Calmels did indeed stop by the table. Maybe it was the wine, which by the way was the only disappointment of the night (thanks in part to the terrible selection of Philly's "premium" PLCB stores), but I blurted out something like "If I were a writer I'd say we are full in belly and spirit." Ugh. Might as well have just drunk texted him.. The [less feminate synonym for magical] evening wrapped up with one last bit of grace-- while we posed for a self-shot outside of Bibou a busser/food-runner (who had early recognized my dining partner from her work at a tavern he frequented years back) came outside and took the picture for us. I've had some fantastic dining experiences in Philly over the years (Tinto, Morimoto, etc.) but Bibou would be the very first place I would return to.
  4. I was lucky enough to land a reservation at Blanca for my 40th and, nearly two weeks later, I'm still thinking about it. Having eaten my way through my share of triple-digit tasting menus, I can safely rank this experience among the top (somewhere alongside Komi and Blue Hills at Stone Barns). Given their strict no pictures or cell phone policy, the only pictures I was able to snap were of the ramshackle courtyard as they lead us from Roberta's into the building housing Blanca and of the control panel for the Japanese toilet seat in the restroom. I had trouble recalling all of the details of each course even just later that night while sipping on a scotch, so I've only provided some of my favorites below. For those who are lucky enough to go, a few tips. There's not much of a dress code (i.e. no jacket required). I wore a collared shirt, v-neck sweater, and jeans, and I'm pretty sure I could've gone even more casual and been fine. They really strike a balance between fine dining and a very relaxed atmosphere. Given its location in one of the historically rougher parts of Brooklyn, use the closest subway or better yet use a car service (we asked them to call one for us as we paid our bill and it was there when we were ready to leave) if you really want to be safe. While I didn't partake in the beverage pairing, it looked just as epic as the meal. A whole slew of variety (cider, beer, wine, sake of all kinds) and a lot of rare sounding stuff. And now (excerpted from my blog post which explains some of the other information) -- It came time to plan an outing for a milestone of a birthday, I started from a very short list. I first started with some regions and got it down to New Orleans, San Francisco and Napa, or New York. It didn’t take long to hone in on New York but still there was some more work to be done. I’ve always pined for a Thomas Keller meal, but Per Se and the French Laundry seem just out of reach for me. Three summers ago, I had one of my all-time favorite meals at Blue Hills at Stone Barns and have always imagined what they would do in different seasons, so this was the fallback plan. The backup plan if we weren’t able to secure reservations to a pretty new place called Blanca which sits in the ramshackle compound of Roberta’s a pizza place for those in the know out in Bushwick. And with a little bit of effort (none of my own doing, thanks to my companion who manned the phone) and luck we secured 2 of the 12 seats available for my birthday night. And for a month the anticipation grew and grew as I read the handful of reviews and reports from the past year since it opened. They ask that you check in at Roberta’s, then lead you through what looks like a cross between a construction zone and a junkyard. But then you arrive at a separate building that is at once austere, serene, yet fully comfortable. Clean, cream colored walls, cushy leather backed stools at the counter facing the steamy, smoky both hi- and low-tech (and always calm) kitchen, and Sticky Fingers blaring from the turntable. Then the relentless begins. I won’t even begin to describe every dish. I couldn’t if I tried. When trying to recount after the fact, at first I forgot some of my favorite dishes. That’ll happen when your head is swirling deep into a tasting menu of 25 or so courses that come like clockwork over the span of 3 hours. Oh, but before I mention a few of the dishes, let me mention the service. It was perfect. The right combination of attentive, informative, conversational, and absent. There and helpful when you need them, and helping someone else when you don’t. Like a great host at a party. The service really is part of the whole package, creating a really relaxed and fun environment. But now back to the menu highlights. It started with a slew of seafood dishes including a plate of 5 different raw preparations, each one better than the next. Needlefish, geoduck, herring, horse mackerel, and sea perch, each with their own garnish. A real microcosm of what the kitchen excels at. There were lightly breaded and fried veal sweetbreads with lime that were definitely the best sweetbread preparation I've ever had. Deep in my memory banks, I’m recalling perfectly tender squid, though I’d be hard-pressed to remember what else was on the plate. Shortly after that there was possibly my favorite savory dish of the night, thinly sliced strips of barely grilled Wagyu in a sweet kohlrabi broth that reminded me of sukiyaki. The paper thin, fatty beef literally melts in your mouth as you eat it. At some point deep in the middle of the evening we were presented with the simplest presentation of the night. A giant king crab leg still in its shell and a large dollop of plankton butter. And a hot towel to clean up with. A perfect dish for a kitchen that tries (and succeeds) so hard to present the most elegant and exquisite dishes and plates and presents them in the least stuffy way possible. There was a string of pasta dishes, including hand-rolled pici with squab and a single ravioli filled with nduja – a spreadable spicy salami. There was a course that was just bread and butter. But of course, it was 4 different breads and homemade butter. After about 15 courses, I thought this was going to be the end of me, but it actually invigorated me for the home stretch. In between some key transitional courses, there were some palate cleansing sorbets and granitas. Most notably, a celeriac gelato with lime gelee that tasted exactly as you’d expect and want. And a buttermilk sorbet with Meyer lemon marmalade. For the meat courses, there was a chicken dish that we watched all night as the whole bird – head and feet included – spun around in the oven for an hour, then was grilled on a yakitori grill – meat and skin separately and served on polenta. Obviously, the skin was the best part. And then another Wagyu dish for the ages. Aged New York strip cooked rare and sliced, served with radish, and a sauce enriched with melted beef fat. Finally dessert was the real surprise of the night. Following a cheese course of runny La Tur atop a lemon jelly, there were just a couple of similarly presented dishes but they might have been two of the strongest dishes of the night. The first is a contender for my all-time favorite dessert and absolutely one of my favorite dishes of the night. An orange sorbet sat atop a rye “foam” that reminded me of a zabaglione with crunchy rye berries sprinkled on top and a surprise dollop of caramel along the bottom. Totally amazing and wholly new. This was followed by an almost equally strong dish of apple ice with a thick sunchoke puree, dehydrated sunchoke chips, and some sort of sunchoke dust. Both desserts were complex, not single-note sweet, and completely unlike anything you’ve ever had before. So I enter a new chapter of my life noted arbitrarily by the calendar, I am thoroughly nourished and possibly changed forever by this meal, now more than 24 hours and a so-so night’s sleep in the past, that still has my head spinning trying to figure it all out.
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