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In case you were wondering:  still here!  And still eating out regularly.  I have come to the sad conclusion that Beninese food is not up there in terms of my world favorites, with  a few exceptions.  Palm oil tastes unpleasant.  The bitterness of local leaves is featured rather than diminished, as is the "goopiness" of okra.  And I find the king of local food,  igname pilé, aka fu fu, basically awful.  I am an adventurous eater, but Benin has been challenging.

OK, caveat time.  Southern Beninese food is challenging.  Mid-Beninese food too.  But when you get to the Sahelian north -- voila! The flavors change.  Perhaps my favorite place in northern Benin is Le Secret de la Vieille Marmite, in Parakou, a confoundingly organized quasi-buffet style, quasi-fast food style spot.  You go to the buffet and point at what you would like, which the staff dishes up onto a plate.  They hand you a ticket with a price calculated seemingly out of thin air.  You pay, sit, and they deliver the plate to your table, and a few seconds later yet another staff member comes to get your drink order, which you pay for separately.  Why so many steps?  Why can't I carry my plate to the table myself?  Why can't I pay for my drink and food together?  These and myriad other questions disappear once you tuck in to your repas.

On a week-long trip up north, I ate at La Marmite four times, each time enjoying something different:  tender brochettes of mutton with red rice, fried wedges of local cheese with couscous and vegetable sauce, spiced chicken with amiwo, and a grab-bag plate of various items with a vegetable-accented rice dish.  I had liberal servings of piment each time, and each preparation of that ubiquitous hot sauce tasted slightly different.  Each meal cost about 2500-3000 FCFA ($5-6 dollars), beer included, and service was fast fast fast.

Parakou is my least favorite town in northern Benin, a sprawling carrefour with limited local culture, mostly used as a jump-off point for other, more colorful places.  But as a trading post, it has OK hotels and decent places to eat.  If you find yourself there, La Marmite isn't a bad option for eating at all.
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To restate, I'm not a lawyer, and haven't yet played one on TV, and I hope that GT prevails.

I do have experience reading legal briefs specifically as they pertain to alcohol laws. Have followed the direct shipping cases, and had my own case 20 years ago. 

I've just read the two briefs in this case, and am left with an uneasy feeling. I thought the state's defense was better and more robust than the Pacific Legal Foundation's attack. These cases can seem straightforward if you look at them from only one perspective. Look from both and they're more complicated.

Although they are different issues, I have a feeling just from reading the briefs, that Trone at SCOTUS, is on firmer legal ground, than GT in Va. I think the GT case could go either way, I'll be surprised if Trone loses.
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The centerpiece of Christmas Eve this year was a chestnut bisque (from this Geoffrey Zakarian recipe). It came out extremely well, but I really should have bought frozen chestnuts, as the recipe indicates, rather than roasting and peeling my own. That was a lot of extra time and frustration I didn't need. The addition of the pumpkin pie spice in this is essential. I even bought a new jar of it, and it paid off.  This was really good. I also picked up a new and decent quality bottle of sherry for the recipe.

The rest of the meal was an herb and garlic baked Camembert from Smitten Kitchen Every Day; crudites; an assortment of breads and crackers (sourdough baguette, pumpernickel, whole wheat pita, Carr's rosemary crackers, and Triscuits); cold cuts (Virginia baked ham, mortadella, and Genoa salami); regular and spicy Cava hummus; various olives, pickles, and mustards. It was way too much food, but it was fun to graze and everything left can be used in future meals.

Christmas lunch was more of the bisque, plus grilled cheese (leftover Camembert plus Parmesan, pear, and leftover ham.)

Christmas dinner was a simple and delicious celery and Marcona almond salad I've made before (from Fine Cooking) to start. For the main course I made a sous vide boneless leg of lamb (rubbed with Maille whole grain mustard, black and red pepper, and olive oil, stuffed with thyme, rosemary, and nicoise olives).  Steamed green beans with evoo and toasted pine nuts and sage scalloped potatoes rounded out the meal. That makes two dishes over the holiday I added to the menu after seeing Food Network's "The Kitchen" on what seemed like endless repeat.  The potatoes were incredible but super rich. I will not be making them again for another year, because OMG...2 cups of heavy cream. They were GOOD. The sage and garlic infused cream made the flavor amazing, plus the salt and cayenne between the layers added a spark I don't usually associate with scalloped potatoes, and the heat cut through the richness. The only downside (other than our cholesterol levels) is that the 1 lb. amount given for potatoes in the recipe is too low. I used two medium potatoes (1 1/4 lbs.) sliced thin and couldn't even get three full layers. I should have added the third potato I had. This is the first time I can recall not parboiling potatoes for this kind of dish and having them cook through perfectly.

Both nights I planned to make ice cream sandwiches with the homemade toll house cookies I made (my only holiday baking this year) but they went by the wayside since we had plenty of food already. Maybe this weekend.
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Oh Don. This is not a great article. Plenty of others have torn into it but I can't let this just fester at the bottom of the Chicago page like the fart it is.
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Don, the biscuit I ate didn’t have ham and the sweet element was very restrained.  The pimento cheese was a little odd, but didn’t overwhelm the chicken like I thought it would.  It was very mild.  Plus, I’m on vacation and the weather’s been gorgeous, which makes everything taste better.  
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If you are doing wine tasting on the West Coast, Alaska Airlines can be a great option due to their wine program, which allows Mileage members to check a case of wine for free from certain airports. 

We were able to haul a case of wine back from Walla Walla, WA via Sea-Tac.  One of the wineries in Walla Walla provided us with a shipping box and the cardboard inserts which cradle the bottles.  Or you can buy one of those fancy wine suitcases. Plus we flew Sea-Tac to BWI direct, also a bonus!   

Wine (Mileage Plan™ members only) - one protectively packaged case of wine when traveling on flights from the following airports, within the United States: Burbank (BUR), Fresno (FAT), Los Angeles (LAX), Monterey (MRY), Oakland (OAK), Orange County (SNA), Ontario (ONT), Palm Springs (PSP), Sacramento (SMF), San Diego (SAN), San Francisco (SFO), San Jose (SJC), San Luis Obispo (SBP), Santa Barbara (SBA), Sonoma (STS), Boise (BOI), Eugene (EUG), Medford (MFR), Portland (PDX), Redmond (RDM), Bellingham (BLI), Pasco (PSC), Pullman (PUW), Seattle (SEA), Spokane (GEG), Walla Walla (ALW), Wenatchee (EAT), and Yakima (YKM). The program does not apply when flying to international destinations.

Looks like they do a similar waiver for pineapples from Hawaii!
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The hearing in the this case has been set for 10 AM 1/22/19 at the Alexandria courthouse. 
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The referendum was not required, it was an optional attempt to relieve "Tea Party" type leave pressure.

The confusion has arisen because the leave campaigners induced some people to vote on the basis of some promises they have been unable to fulfil, and immediately disowned within hours of the vote, such as diverting money that currently goes to the EU, to pay for UK health services. People were asked simply to vote yes or no on leave. 52% voted to leave.

The EU had a protocol in place for a country to leave, but it had never been tested. When it came time to negotiate terms for the post Brexit relationship it became apparent that people had various reasons for voting leave, dislike of EU courts and institutions, control of immigration, particularly from Eastern EU countries, claims of welfare cheats etc. Most UK immigration comes from Commonwealth countries, not EU countries, so leaving the EU won't do a lot to solve the immigration issue. 

Inability to accommodate these disparate interests while at the same time trying to hold on to as many EU benefits as possible for business etc ( free movement of goods, but not people) has bedeviled the process. There have been as many resignations from the May admin as firings from the unmentionable's

There's no majority in parliament for anything the EU will agree to, other than remain, which the voters rejected. Think of it like Texans voting to secede, then unable to agree among themselves to accept any future relationship offers the US will agree to.

Brexit has been described as the greatest act of unforced national self harm in history.
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In appreciation for my favorite dish in this area. 

Their Chengdu Kung Pao Chicken continues to be the best version I’ve ever had. I stopped in for lunch today. They have a Kung Pao Chicken lunch special with rice and an egg roll. I asked if I could have the special with the Chengdu Kung Pao Chicken. They said no. I didn’t even care. The real “special” is the Chengdu version and this confirmed it.

I’m always here with groups and order multiple dishes, so it was great to just focus on one outstanding dish. Outside of the traditional chicken, peanuts, and peppers, they also include sliced ginger and garlic. These take it to the next level. I’m usually a stickler for using chopsticks, but I was wearing a tie so I used a fork for safety. This also made the dish better as I could get all the flavors at once rather than one at a time. These folks take my favorite Chinese dish and make it my favorite-ist. 
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Yeah, we still like the Northridge location better and are willing to drive the 10 extra miles roundtrip (a big deal anywhere in LA!) to get there when we have time. It's a less formal, always-bustling spot that feels warm and welcoming no matter the time you walk in. And the food, probably psychosomatically at this point, tastes just a bit better - spicier, noodles with just the right chew, veggies tender-crisp, etc. Though maybe it is because the kitchen is more open to the dining room so there are more deliciously pungent aromas of Thai food wafting about the room. Who knows? Regardless, we are always happy when we go.
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Definitely in DC, the home of bad restaurant name puns.

Ah geez it's already a thing. In Portland of course. http://www.pokemonpdx.com/

And just like DC, there is drama. https://www.oregonlive.com/dining/index.ssf/2018/10/colin_yoshimoto_poke_mon.html

But it looks like "Poke Salad Annie" is available.
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Unfortunately, this appears to be closed and under construction...
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"Spanish Chef Dani Garcia To Close Marbella Restaurant after Receiving Third Michelin Star Last Month" by Elisa Menendez on theolivepress.es

Had dinner here with some friends on Friday. Overall, it was OK, but not great. We had:

Nua Dadd Deaw - fried sun-dried beef. Pleasant enough.

Chicken Sate - the peanut sauce was very good but the chicken itself lacked flavor.

Moo Yang Kati Sod - quite good pork belly skewers.

Pla muk yang - a few pieces of grilled squid. Pretty disappointing, not much squid, and not much flavor.

For my main I had the Kua Kling. They had run out of ground pork so I had it with sliced pork. It was a little one-dimensional - extremely spicy, which I liked, but didn't have that mix of other strong flavors that I associate with good thai food. Shared a side of eggplant with ginger, which was fine.

Service was very good.

Maybe I ordered poorly, but I didn't see what the fuss was about. What I had was no better than many other Thai restaurants in the region, and certainly didn't have the freshness and flavors of Little Serow or Bangkok Golden.
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Headed to Fiola Mare for an early dinner last Saturday, pre-company holiday party. The restaurant was packed, the music was loud, and the atmosphere was hectic.

We checked in for our reservation a bit early and were offered a seat at the bar. As we ordered drinks, I perused the wine list. Ruinously priced, many, if not most, bottles at 4x retail or auction. Few bottles of red wine under $100 (unless you like Dolcetto or Lagrein) - nothing from France under $100 - including a cru Beaujolais  for $125?! Glanced at the bordeaux list only to see the 2000 Ducru-Beaucalliou pushing $900! I don't begrudge a business their markups, but damn. After a cocktail we chose an '07 barbaresco from Taliano for $130 that didn't seem like highway robbery.

Once seated, we ordered two appetizers - first, the Hamachi Sashimi, with marinated eggplant, basil, and olive oil. This was an excellent dish, albeit a bit olive oil heavy. The basil and eggplant added to the hamachi, punching up the flavor but not distracting.

Next up were two orders of risotto with white truffles - shaved tableside. The truffles were in great condition, and the captain shaved a generous portion over the two dishes. Great pairing with the barbaresco. We really enjoyed this course, though I'd love pretty much anything with truffles.

For mains we had Ora King Salmon, with a mushroom ragout, ditalini pasta and winter truffle and a Bucatini with Red King Prawns, Uni and piment d'espalette. Both mains were excellent - the bucatini was probably the more "interesting" combination of the two, and was really more suited to a white wine, but we did that ourselves. The Salmon paired very well with the barbaresco, but perhaps better with a half bottle of Altesino Brunello that we ordered as well. While we enjoyed both dishses, all fell into the realm of very good, not great. The salmon needed a bit of salt, and the bucatini would have benefitted from a bit of acid.

Overall, service struggled to keep up with the kitchen. Granted, the place was filled, but we experienced waits to be seated, to receive our cocktails, wine, second half bottle of wine, etc etc. Service was perfunctory, but pleasant enough. The waits were nothing egregious, but enough to be noticed as glasses were empty. I came away thinking a few things - I'm not sure if the goal for Fiola Mare is a michelin star but our meal and service in no way merited one, the wine pricing is ruinous, bordering on predatory, and I bet they will do super in Miami.
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I was impressed by a recent lunch at Iron Gate.  Friday at 1pm the bar area was empty, and the carriage house was maybe half full, and that was mainly due to a large party of about 14 people having a company holiday luncheon.  We were given a table by the fireplace, which was very comfortable on a cold day.

KOHLRABI TZATZIKI garlic chips, vegetable crudites, fennel seed crackers $11.  Basically just a plate of raw vegetables and the tzatziki.  The crackers were solid.  But unless you are looking to eat some raw vegetables, probably not worth ordering, especially at $11. 

ROASTED MUSHROOM ARANCINI grayson cheese, thyme, black garlic aioli $7.  A trio of golf ball sized arancini, perfectly fried and delicious.

SESAME CRUSTED FETA sesame, vin cotto, earth + eats honey $8.  Really excellent, wonderful soft feta, some earthiness from the sesame and sweetness of the honey.  Highly recommend.

CRISPY RUSSET POTATOES yogurt sauce, lemon zest, house seasoning $7. Also seriously good.  A nice sized portion of super crusty potatoes, sitting on a pool of yogurt. 

CACIOCAVALLO STUFFED MEATBALLS shell beans, charred cipollini, salsa verde $16.  Another winning dish.  Good play between the richness of the meatballs stuffed with cheese and the charred mushrooms and salsa verde.  Perhaps a bit pricey at $16, but a very nice dish.  

WINTER VEGETABLE CAESAR pickled egg, white anchovy, crispy parmesan crackers $14.  Fairly solid.  The salad itself wasn't that standout, but I always love white anchovies.  

CRISPY BLUE CATFISH oil cured olive, pistachio, chili, winter fennel salad $18.  I would have preferred to have received a larger portion of catfish, especially for $18, but it was well coated and fried. 

DAILY FOCACCIA local grapes, kalamata olives, sage (gift from the chef).  A very nice square of focaccia topped with the sweetness of roasted grapes and saltiness of the olives.

On a chilly winter day, Iron Gate is a lovely place to spend a couple of hours catching up with friends over a long boozy lunch. 
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Since November 20, 2018, I have dined at the counter at Green Almond Pantry five times.  Every meal has been truly a delight.  My initial impression is that the dishes are thoughtfully composed and executed with lots of care.  Ingredients are impeccable, treated respectfully and allowed to shine with minimal fuss.  Flavors are so well balanced and precision of execution is mesmerizing.  Simple yet complex.  Chef Cagla Onal-Urel's exquisite touch cannot be replicated.

Lunch Specials are updated daily and can be packed to-go.  Keep in mind some dishes have made only a one-to-two time appearance on the menu so I highly recommend that you take your time to carefully make your selection and don't hesitate to ask your server any questions.  To-go Dinner Specials if already prepared can be served at the counter upon request and at the discretion of the Chef.  Below is a list of dishes I have enjoyed (not in any particular order of preference):

Puntarelle Salad with Anchovy Dressing + homemade croutons


Tardivo, Farro + Beet Salad with Citrus + Balsamic


Local Leek + Goat Cheese Tart with Root Vegetable Salad


Puntarelle Tart with Goat Cheese + Egg


Roast Pork Tonnato with Arugula + Radish Salad


Tuscan Bean Soup



Click on any of the thumbnail photos below to see the enlarged version:
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It's been awhile since Lady KN and I checked in with George and Lily, and Lily reminded me of such with a nice voice mail last week wondering if I was OK. This being the holiday season, Lady KN and I packed a bottle of El Massaya arak in a gift bag and headed to see George and Lily for lunch today. 

After the greetings and hugs and family catch-up chit-chat, we sat down to a pleasant, if gut-busting, feast. We shared a combination platter of kabobs, along with small orders of hummus special (with meat topping), labne drizzled with olive oil, lubee (broad beans with tomato sauce), sauteed spinach, and a plate of pickles, pickled turnips, and olives. All of this was accompanied by bread from their oven, so hot it had to cool off for a minute or two before we could rip off pieces to serve as our dipping scoops. The food was outstanding. A true mom-and-pop serving up some of the fare of its kind in northern Virginia -- still on top of its game after nearly 17 years. Count me a very enthusiastic fan. Don't expect luxury here -- you're eating off styrofoam plates with plastic utensils in a small grocery store. But do expect some of the best Lebanese food in this area.

Before we left, I picked up some shankleesh and olive oil, the latter because it makes for ideal holiday gifts, and the former because eggs and shankleesh are a pairing sent to us from Heaven.
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Visited last night as part of a corporate private party. 
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Interesting, per the 2 Amy's website:

No longer DOC

When 2amys opened in 2001, it was a very different time in the pizza world.  We were excited to be a part of what we saw as an inclusive and dedicated group of restaurants trying in their own way to preserve the legacy of Neapolitan Pizza.  

At that time, there were only a small handful of restaurants in the States involved, and we felt it was an important story to tell.  In the past 17 years, the rules regulating production have been changed, amended, and adapted (apparently you can now cook in a gas oven if regulations don't allow wood), and 2amys has been cited for improper peel usage, among other serious violations.  Although peel usage is not well defined in the dissaplinare, we have decided to move on and are no longer a member of the VPN.  We wish them the best of luck in continuing to redefine the history of pizza.  
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A HUGE loss for Philadelphia.

"Capogiro Gelato Artisans and Capofitto To Close" by Marilyn Johnson on phillygrub.blog
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We watched the documentary "New Chefs on the Block" last night. Frank Linn and Aaron Silverman  are the "new chefs" of the title. The film chronicles the build out of Frankly Pizza and Rose's Luxury (and to a lesser extent, P&P). It's a pretty fascinating film. The coverage starts in 2013 and goes through 2016. The film came out this year. I was unaware of it until I saw it pop up on Amazon Prime when we were looking for something to watch last night.

It was interesting to see the roles both sets of parents played in getting the restaurants off the ground. Also fascinating: the projected expenses for opening vs. actual. Rose's budget was much bigger, but as a percentage they went over much less than Frankly (which was working with an existing restaurant space). The way each handled staffing was also interesting to see.

Since there was quite a gap between when work on the film began and when it was wrapped up, there were some interview bits that otherwise wouldn't have been jarring but were. The most bittersweet part of the film was the segments featuring Michel Richard (who gets an "in memoriam" at the end) talking about food and restaurants. Then there were the segments with Mike Isabella talking about running restaurants. Oh my.

In any case, I haven't been to Kensington in years, but it was cool to see the evolution of Rose's, a restaurant I've been too quite a number of times.
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Any recent thoughts, especially in light of the Xi'an opening?  We haven't been in quite a while and were wondering about overall quality, anything specifically better/not quite as good, etc. 
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We had two proteins tonight. One was a salad I improvised using halibut.
The other was a Mark Bittman recipe for deviled chicken thighs, which I made cautiously, as it involved cooking skin-on chicken under the broiler. Served with dill mashed potatoes and the salad.
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