Monday, June 29, 2015

Double Header: Maketto and Ocopa

Adam and I joke -- usually when we're on vacation and have to narrow our list of restaurants to try -- about doing first dinner and second dinner, but we've never actually followed through.  On Friday about two weeks ago, we came close with Josh and Jessica.  (I'd estimate three-quarters of a dinner times two.)  Ocopa quoted a 45 minute wait (and there were people at their tiny bar), so we figured we'd grab a drink at (larger) Maketto across the street (which we still hadn't tried).  They had a table immediately available if we wanted food, so we figured we'd do a round of drinks and snacks and decide at that point whether we want to stay.

We only ordered from the small plates section, mostly because there were more pesca-friendly dishes that appealed there, but also to avoid committing ourselves to a full meal from the get-go.  Fermented vegetables were unmemorable, some sort of thinly sliced white root vegetable (I don't think we were ever told what exactly, and I didn't care enough to ask).  I'd hoped for an interesting assortment of pickled vegetables, but no such luck.  The red snapper crudo was in a tasty sauce -- sort of like a very light Thai curry -- but the fish itself was a bit too fishy for Adam and me.  We were fans of the leek steam buns except Adam (who thought they were just okay).  Basically what you'd expect if you're familiar with the pillowy carb delivery vehicle that is a steamed bun, but I enjoyed the vegi-friendly take on what's usually only a carnivore's option (plus I love leeks).  Adam and I loved the generously portioned scallion pancake -- more bready and less greasy than you'd find from a mine-run Chinese restaurant, veering less Asian with the addition of fantastic scallion compound butter. The oysters on egg omelette was the other table highlight -- thin and slightly stretchy (from the addition of some sort of flour? an effect about which we were warned), the oysters' creating almost-creamy pockets in the egg.  Nostalgically reminded me of a late-night hawker stall meal in Singapore back in college.

By far my favorite drink was Jessica's turmeric "drinking vinegar" (aka shrub?) with palm sugar and soda water -- like an exotic Italian soda.  (They'll also mix the vinegars with booze, and I bet it would be great with the suggested bourbon pairing.)  Adam's Mala Colada -- basically a spiced pina colada -- was delicious (he loved it), but a bit heavy for my non-on-a-beach taste.  Josh's Pink Kao (an intriguing-sounding combination of Kaoling, ginger, Aperol, honey, lemon, and Angostura bitters) just tasted disappointingly flat -- everyone's least favorite.  I can't recall the name of my brown-liquor cocktail, but it tasted like a twist on an old fashioned that was good but read a bit wintery for the weather.

After the one round, the vastly superior cocktails and more interesting (in my opinion), consistent food at Ocopa beckoned us back across the street.  For now, Maketto is a better-than-H-Street-average addition to the neighborhood -- I'll definitely return -- but Ocopa is the better restaurant.  (I'm still confused by Maketto's concept, despite actually having eaten there, walked through the space, and helped Adam pick out ridiculous replacement socks for Caleb from the front store.  Adam's purchase aside, do they actually expect people to be buying $80 shoelaces, or is it just an occasionally self-subsidizing decorative scheme?)

Ocopa didn't have a table yet, but the tiny 4-seat bar was totally empty, so we ordered a round there.  Props to the bartender who set a full glass of the delicious purple corn punch before a very pregnant Jessica when she didn't order a drink -- a thoughtful gesture.  (The back patio opened the following day, so now there's a much larger bar area out back, plus more tables capable of seating groups larger than two.)  Just as we were debating order food from the bar, we were shown to a table, where Josh and Jessica ceded ordering to Adam and me.  The clasico cebiche and ensalada de maiz (choclo, yellow corn, cancha, avocado, huacatay vinaigrette) went over well as always, and we were pleased to see a number of new seafood dishes on the menu.  A soft shell crab special (with "salsa cebichera") was better than one we'd had the night before at Fiola Mare (which was sadly more heavily fried and accompanied by sauce that read as fancy tartar).  Causa de erizo (sea urchin, avocado, aji amarillo) was topped with beautiful sweet urchin; I preferred it to China Chilcano's iteration.  I liked the conchas a la paremsana (bay scallop, huancaina, paremsan cheese -- served in individual shells) more than Adam did, who compared them unfavorably to Hank's great BBQ oysters.  We mourned the removal of the grilled calamari, but the grill-seared atun (tuna, sweet soy, nikei sauce, kwiciha, sweet drops), while not an equal replacement for that awesome calamari, was nonetheless an enjoyable consolation.  Another round of delicious drinks and dessert, and we stumbled happily back into the night, much less grossly full than I'd feared.    

Monday, June 22, 2015

2015 High, So Far

Day 6 of a summer cold, so I'm camped out on my couch, cranky, binging True Detective, and remembering just how delicious birch was last Friday.  (Day 3, back when I had an appetite and barely any symptoms.)  After a disappointing meal at Community Table the night before, we had hopes for better, but birch blew past our expectations to become our favorite dining experience of the year so far.  Ten dishes, no misses.

Adam posed his usual "anything different, interesting, weird?" wine question, eliciting a great rec for the surprisingly smokey 2011 Guido Marsella Fiano di Avellino.  (Almost meaty, particularly surprising for a white.)  Meanwhile, I'd started with the Royal (rye, chamomile, amontillado sherry, lemon and Angostura bitters), very nice.

Adam thought the tempura frying was unnecessary on the asparagus that in turn overpowered the delicate rhubarb-sunflower foam.  I disagreed; I loved the crisp texture, and thought the foam was a nice, bright secondary element to the asparagus that was great scooped up on its own after.  (I defended the bowl from being cleared after we'd eaten the asparagus while Adam tasted the wine so that we could eat it all.)  
Crispy Asparagus
Rhubarb-Sunflower Foam and Chive Blossoms

I loved the deceptively simple salad; honey sweetness balanced the lettuce's slight bitterness.  Lettuce pesto.  (Adam and I debated which dish in each of the first two courses we preferred -- I voted lettuce and spinach, he voted asparagus and peas -- a testament to the strength of the menu.)  The dish that most exceeded my expectations from the menu description, which is why I gave it the edge over the asparagus.  
Brushed with Honey, Kombu, Celtuce and Toasted Almond

We were instructed to mix the rice -- which was pleasantly stuck-to-the-pot crunchy, dusted with scallion-lemon verbena powder -- into the delicious asparagus-nasturtium flower broth.
Grilled Asparagus
Hop Shoots, Nasturtium, Sugar Kelp and Heirloom Rice

The second course was even stronger than the first.  The peas has been an obvious choice, but we'd settled on the spinach over the radishes on a server's (correct) recommendation.  (We were helped throughout the course of the meal by two lovely women, one of whom seemed to be more of a server and one who seemed to be in more of a somm/bartender role.  The U-bar jewel box of a space lent itself to staff interaction, which was casual, friendly, and informative in exactly the way we most enjoy.)  The broth -- potato skin, clam, onion -- was awesome.  The citrus sedum -- a succulent! -- added a novel hit of brightness.
Lightly Warmed Spring Spinach
Grilled Quahog Clam, Sea Rocket Capers, Potato and Yogurt

Sadly, it turned out that the peas' broth contained chicken stock -- we were informed after we'd ordered but before it was served, but Adam voted to turn a blind eye, as he often does with stocks -- which I can't imagine was necessary given the strong brininess imparted by the caramelized crab and pureed scallop.  A great contrast of springy pea sweetness and seafood savoriness, but I found it less subtle than the spinach.
Sweet Peas
Preserved Shellfish, Cherry Blossoms, Spruce and Brown Butter

Although we were initially disappointed that the scup contained meat, leaving us with only one option for the third course, I am so glad that I didn't have to share the cabbage.  (Let's ignore the possibility that the fish was as good or better.)  "This is the best cabbage dish you've ever had," we were told when it was set down in front of us.  And it was.  The classic rustic combination of cabbage and apple rendered into a perfect, complex balance of caramelized sweetness, pickled sourness, grilled and toasted notes -- Adam picked out cumin seeds -- richness without heaviness.  (It was also unexpectedly good with the wine.)
Lightly Grilled Cabbage
Caramelized Sauerkraut, Rutabaga, Toasted Seeds and a Broth of Dried Apples

I was legitimately sad as I finished my cabbage, both because it was so good and the meal was winding down, but Adam then asked the excellent question of whether we could, for a supplement, add the two dishes that we hadn't ordered.  (A very enthusiastic yes; service was really excellent.)  Huzzah.

I agreed with Adam that the radishes got the three of the second course options, but I think they exceeded expectations more than the peas did (which got my two).  (I realize that I keep talking about expectations, but birch just kept outperforming them.)  Radish stems and buttermilk sauce over grilled radishes and pickled slivers.
Grilled Radishes
Cured Cucumber Radish, Dill and our Cultured Butter

The melty cheese was triple creme-like in texture (I didn't catch the name); sweet caramelized quince and crispy turnip chips balanced its richness well.  A great plated cheese.
Cato Corner's Cheese
Lightly Warmed with Crispy Turnips and Quince

We asked for dessert wine suggestions; the recommended Dolin Blanc for the strawberries and the Westport Rivers "Grace" (a dessert Chardonnay) for the whey paired so well that we're definitely curious to do a full pairing on a future visit.  (I love Dolin Blanc; there's a half-finished bottle of it in my fridge right now, but I don't usually drink it straight.  Surprisingly versatile and lovely with the strawberries, which I'll remember.)  A wallop of spring fruitiness -- strawberries, strawberry-cherry blossom puree.  I love corn in desserts; corn nuts and a nicely crisp Johnnycake added a savory note.
Dried Corn and Cherry Wood Ice Cream

Ever since Kadeau, any mention of whey immediately entices me, but I didn't know what to expect from the description.  Light rhubarb foam enveloped a block of frozen caramelized whey -- like a rich, dense ice cream.  A bed of tiny, crunchy grains added a third textual element.  Excellent.
Caramelized Whey
Rhubarb, Crispy Grains and Dried Herbs and Flowers

My one complaint: the whoopie pies were totally fine, but not more than that.  I'm confident that the kitchen is capable of a more exciting end.  (Even something as simple as a flavored cream in the middle -- whipped coconut cream, perhaps?)
Whoopie Pies

At $49 for four courses (plus a very reasonable supplement for our two additional dishes), birch is a great value.  Midway through dinner, we were already trying to figure out excuses to visit Providence again (a visit to Dan and Danielle in Boston? tack it on to a weekend in Portland?).  We asked if they served lunch (no); we'd have actually driven back from Newport before the wedding had it been an option.  Just a fantastic experience.  

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Rogue 24: Wedding Gift Debt Paid

Embarrassingly, we'd owed Alexis and Bear a wedding gift since October 2011 -- even longer than we'd owed Harriet and Nick when we paid them off at Amass last July -- so when they came across the Atlantic in May, we took them to Rogue 24 to settle the debt.  (I had high hopes of blogging this sooner, but all the anticipated free evenings in Geneva turned out to be a fantasy, so here we are in June.)  We did the shorter menu at our last dinner, for Caleb's residency graduation back in 2013, so we went for the full Journey experience.

The potato paper shell was sort of chewy when it should have been crispy, but our first bite had great corn and seafood flavor.
potato/corn/crawfish-espelette powder

The smoked tomato granita was easily the standout dish of the night.  Great flavor, texture, and temperature contrasts.  Just awesome.  (Caleb questioned whether it might have contained meat, which was meant as a compliment.)
smoked preserved tomato ice/hot oyster crema

Bear's reaction captured the table's feeling perfectly: 

The Kushi oyster was my worst dish of the night -- actually kind of gross.  The liquid was described as sake-yuzu, but badly needed acid, leading us to speculate that the yuzu was inadvertently omitted.  (The menu description of cucumber instead suggests that it was a mistaken description, not a kitchen omission.)  A nice oyster was dragged down by the texturally unpleasant, thickish liquid that had no discernible flavor.
kushi oysters/cucumber/sake/puffed black rice
The halibut skin was very nice (and reminiscent of Willows Inn).  The substitution meringue was light and a bit sweet -- totally fine -- but seems like we were the losers on this course.  (We'd triumph on a later substitution for the foie gras.)  Beth said the watermelon and chicken skin was delicious, but had too much fruit in the ratio to the skin.
puffed halibut skin/halibut brandade/seaweed powder
creme fraiche meringue (substitution)
watermelon/chicken skin/glace

The potato foam was kind of tasteless, but I liked the caviar and gelee combination (although I would have preferred a more mild caviar to highlight the gelee a bit more).  Adam liked this one less than Beth and I.  It went well with the recommended wine, a 2012 Nuhberg Alte Reben Wiener Gemischer Satz (with which we weren't familiar, so I'm not sure what is the varietal/maker/other identifying information).  (I enjoyed the whimsical plating.)
paddlefish caviar/caper-onion gelee/toasted potato skin air

Rogue 24 apparently does excellent things with tomatoes; the clear gazpacho and razor clams dish (adorned with bits of tomato and avocado, I believe) was another evening highlight.  Lovely and light.
clam/clear gazpacho/green almonds/sea grass

The meat eaters agreed that our substitute veloute won the next round (regardless of whether they tasted both dishes or only the foie gras).  Silky artichoke veloute, parmesan espuma, crispy artichoke, and citrus gel. (I think -- our printed menus unfortunately didn't list the pescatarian substitutions.)  Very good, and nice with the champagne that Adam had brought (a 1998 Selosse Grand Cru blanc de blanc brut).

Beth on the foie gras: "Roadkill in the texture of saw dust, soaked in tequila, with a side of sock."
foie gras/tequila-vanilla/banana fresno compote

The slightly bruleed uni was heavier than urchin is often served, paired with great forbidden rice -- almost meaty in complexity, the rice salty in a good way.  The carrot sauce underneath didn't stand out, but the dish was nevertheless another highlight.  Visually beautiful.
sea urchins/[duck-kombu jelly/]fermented black rice/yellow carrot puree

Yes, I'm a sucker for smokey flavors, but they made for another excellent course.
smoked mussels/ember roasted purple carrots/bronze fennel

Bulgar substituted for the the lamb for us, and I think there were also bits of lightly fermented turnip and onion.  I've had so many good nasturium-adorned dishes over the last few years that I get excited whenever I see them now.  Lovely -- slightly Middle Eastern, good acid.
lamb kibbeh/nasturtiums/lemon-yogurt dressing/oat cracker

The crispy onions tasted like a fancy bar snack -- I love salty bar snacks, and anything with mustard seeds -- but it felt like the dish needed a protein to really come together.  (Maybe the omitted ice cream helped.)
onions/leeks/[smoked tallow-malt ice cream/]mustard seeds

Our next course was a beautiful homage to spring, with English peas, snap peas, and pea shoots.  Excellent salt and acid (was goat whey used in addition to the dollops of bright lemon curd?), and just delicious.
peas/goat curd/mint flowers/chlorophyll/olive oil jam

I didn't jot down any notes on our substitution of beet for beef heart, which means it was probably good -- neither bad enough to warrant particular negative comments, nor exciting enough to leave much of an impression.
beef heart tartare[/beet]/yolk/potato puff/bull's blood beet bubbles

But I do remember how delicious I found the plated cheese course that followed.  Rich, cheesy custard was cut by espelette oil and a slight sweetness from the (rye?) croutons.
parmesan rind custard/wild asparagus/black truffle crouton/lemon ash

Salsify subbed for pork jowl, and both the salsify and strawberry had a nice grilled smokiness (although I wished the salsify was more tender).  Very good.
pork jowl[/salsify]/dandelions/green strawberries/strawberry-rhubarb "coulis"

The seared monkfish with duxelles was also very good, with a nice balance of sweet, acidic, and earthy.
monkfish[/lardo]/cepe mushrooms/nasturtiums/smoked hay-red wine jus

Our mushroom needed seasoning, but otherwise this was a very interesting dish.  "Challenging in a good way," per Adam. (I was particularly into the Brussels sprouts kimchi.)

duck/beet gastrique/black walnut milk/brussel kimchee/sour cherries

Unfortunately, although I'd specified no octopus when I called to give our dietary restrictions, I didn't think to clarify/reiterate that night.  When our last savory course ended up being octopus, I didn't eat it.
beef[/octopus]/thai coconut broth/dried seaweed

The babysitter for Alex and Nate had to be asked to stay later, and as the extended deadline was bearing down on us, we asked if they could speed things up.  (Not really the restaurant's fault -- we hadn't felt that the pacing was unnecessarily slow, given the number of courses.)  As a result, we were brought all the desserts at the same time, and in the flurry of arrivals, I gave up on taking notes and just enjoyed.  It was a string of interesting, beautiful dishes.  I disliked the coffee sponge less I might have, and I believe others really liked it.
rogue blue cheese/almond/raisins/coffee sponge/verjus air

I love a light, vegetal dessert.

orange/walnut/black tea

chocolate/passion fruit/coconut

happy endings/little things/small bites

By this point, the others were obsessively tracking their uber while we paid the check.  Overall, it turned out to be a great wedding present choice -- a lot of fun, interesting, all but one dish were at least very good, and there were some definite standouts -- reminding us that we need to keep Rogue 24 more frequently in the rotation.  I'm definitely not going to wait two years to go back!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Iron Chef Coconut: Coconut Hostess Cupcakes

Well done, Ben and Dina -- coconut was an excellent Civil Appellate Iron Chef theme ingredient.  I'd recently made chocolate cupcakes with coconut milk when I didn't have enough regular milk, and they'd had a subtle coconut flavor.  I loved Hostess cupcakes as a kid (and into adulthood, until I discovered to my chagrin they are not vegetarian!), and so I was inspired.  I was pretty proud of my (now award-winning) coconut Hostess cupcakes; a mix of creativity, nostalgia, chocolate, and child-friendly servings makes for an Iron Chef dessert crowd pleaser.

At least a few hours (ideally overnight) before beginning the active preparation, stick a can of full-fat coconut milk in the fridge.

I started with Smitten Kitchen's "I want chocolate cake" cake, subbing coconut milk for 1/2 cup of the buttermilk and coconut flour for 1/3 cup of the flour.  (In retrospect, I'm not sure the coconut flour did much for flavor, and it made for a slightly drier texture.  I've not experimented enough to compensate for that.)  This is a smallish recipe, making about a dozen full-sized cupcakes, so I doubled it.

6 tablespoons (85 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 (145 grams) firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons (25 grams) granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup coconut milk (I used light coconut milk, but I bet full-fat would be even tastier)
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
1/2 cup (44 grams) Dutch cocoa powder
2/3 cup (85 grams) all-purpose flour
1/3 cup coconut flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon table or fine sea salt

Heat the oven to 350 F (175 C).  Line cupcake trays with paper liners.  In a large bowl, use a hand or stand mixer to beat the butter and sugars until fluffy; scrape down the bowl.  Add the egg, yolk, and vanilla and beat until combined, then add the milks and mix again.  Scrape the down the bowl; don't worry if the batter looks uneven.  Sift flours, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the batter bowl.  Stir on low until just combined; scrape down the bowl a final time.  Scoop batter (I use a small ice cream scoop) into the cupcake trays and smooth flat.  Bake for about 18 minutes for full-sized cupcakes (10-12 for mini ones) until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  

While the cupcakes are baking, make the whipped coconut cream and the chocolate ganache. The refrigerated coconut milk will have separated into a thin liquid with a solidified layer on top.  Scoop out the solid layer into the bowl of a stand mixer.  Beat on high with a whisk attachment until fluffy (this only takes a few minutes).  Add a few teaspoons of powdered sugar (to taste) and half a teaspoon of vanilla extract and beat to combine.  Divide the whipped coconut cream (unevenly -- about 90% and 10%) between two pastry bags and stick in the fridge.

Next, make a quick chocolate-coconut ganache.  I don't follow a precise recipe for this -- basically you just want a smooth texture that's pourable when warm and more solidified when cooled.  Melt about 8 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate chips/chunks.  (I like a makeshift double boiler, a pyrex bowl over a small pot of simmering water, but the microwave would work -- just make sure to heat in short bursts so that you don't scald the chocolate.)  Add about half a cup of coconut milk and a tablespoon of room temperature butter and mix until smooth.  Let cool while you prepare and fill the cupcakes.

The assembly of the filled cupcake is the most time consuming part, but relatively easy.  (Another good combination: lemon cake, lemon curd filling, marshmallow frosting.)  First, cut a cone out of the top of the cupcake with a small pairing knife, leaving a good-sized hole in the cupcake without piercing the bottom.  (Sometimes I scoop a little extra cake out of the hole to allow for more filling.)

Level off the cone to leave a thin cake cap, discarding the now-smaller cone/any crumbs.  (I like to save them for cake pops.  Just eating them also works; quality control is an important part of my baking process. :))

Pipe the whipped coconut cream (from the more filled pastry bag) into the cupcake hole:

Replace the cake cap over the now-filled hole:

Now, decorating!  Coat with ganache (while it's still warm enough to be spreadable, but not so hot that it just drips off the side) in a thick enough layer that you can't see the seam of the cake cap.  Fill a second pastry bag with more of the whipped coconut cream, this one with a tiny tip (or just a cut a smaller hole) so that you can pipe curlicues on the top.  Et voila!

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

To the 'burbs.

Kapnos Taverna has been on Adam and my list for awhile now -- it opened around four months ago -- because we've liked Kapnos for dinner and brunch (a general lack of respect for reservation times and a few bad dishes aside), and this more seafood-focused effort sounded right up our alley.  So when Jo declared that she likes Greek and that the menu looked vegan-friendly enough to give her some options, we trekked out there in a rainstorm last night.  (We got pretty soaked on the dash around the corner from our parking spot to the front door.  Luckily, we are not witches.)

Our waiter was very nice, but service was a bit inattentive.  This made sense at the beginning of the meal, when the restaurant was pretty full and we were preemptively and apologetically informed that there were only two servers on the floor that night, but it became frustrating when the room emptied out and our waiter still didn't come back to ask after our empty drink glasses.  (Jo finally flagged him down a table away and basically shouted her second wine order at him; he didn't follow up to ask whether Adam or I wanted another cocktail.  By the time we ordered a second round, they didn't arrive until after all the food.)  He didn't know offhand which dishes were vegan/could be made vegan, but he did promptly check and bring back a list.  (Also, we got a kick out of speculating whether the symbol tattoo on his inner forearm was for the Deathly Hallows, which he confirmed when I asked.)

Of the spreads, we ordered the favosalata (yellow lentils, scallions, black garlic - $7 and vegan), taramasalata (carp roe, caviar, cauliflower - $11), and melitzanosalata (smoky eggplant, roasted peppers, walnuts, feta - $8).  The eggplant was excellent and our clear favorite -- good smokiness, nicely contrasting crunch and creaminess.  I liked the taramasalata more than Adam did; although it's definitely inferior to Nostos's lighter, whipped version, I wasn't as bothered as he by its greater fishiness or runniness.  (I couldn't tell what the cauliflower was doing, and in fact forgot it was a listed ingredient until I went back to look at the menu for this post.  I did like the sprinkling of chives on the side, which cut the richness a bit.)  No one really loved the lentils, although they were fine.  The drizzle of black garlic (syrup?) was a bit oddly sweet, while the lentils themselves were bland (they could have use a bit of salt, I think).  A little gremolata-ish dollop in the center was surprisingly spicy and would have been better if we'd figured out immediately to spread it around instead of eating our way to it from the outside of the dish.  When the bill arrived, we appreciated that rather than charging for the crudite we had ordered in addition to the gratis flatbread that comes with the dips, we got two flatbreads and one plate of sliced tomato and cucumber for free.  The drizzle of olive oil on top was unnecessary and weird given that we wanted the vegis for dipping; I'd have asked them to leave it off if I'd internalized its presence from my menu perusal.  (Note: we were asked whether we wanted to do the three-spread samplers for $21 and declined.  This seems like a terrible deal; even having ordered the most expensive spread on the menu, we would have saved $5 and gotten what appeared (from our view of another table's order) to be about half the amount.)

The main lobster flatbread (lemon yogurt, caper, dill - $17) was very tasty, but exactly what you'd expect from the description.  The lobster itself was nicely tender, and the portion was large (although it would have been easier to eat if the half-a-square triangles had been halved again).  The most disappointing dish of the meal was the taylor bay scallops (apple, grapefruit - $16).  Five little shells each held a pretty mound of cubed scallop, apple, grapefruit, julienned radish, and dill, topped with a slivered disk of green chile (I'd guess serrano).  Other than the chile, I could only identify the components visually or from the menu description.  The overall impression was of moist, cool blandness followed by a punch of flavorless heat.  Badly in need of salt, the later bites were better once we requested some.

My first thought on reading the description of the crispy eggplant (spicy honey, orange pith puree - $9) is that pith puree sounds disgusting.  Our server assured me that it was very citrusy but not overly bitter, and I decided to risk it because it sounded interesting.  I loved the orange and honey combination -- I didn't get spice, but it did have a slightly burned-in-a-good way flavor that reminded me of Gypsy Soul's excellent carrots.  My complaint about the dish was about the texture of the eggplant itself. Although the outside was nicely crisp, the insides of the half-inch-thick slices were just unappealingly mushy.  Better were the smoky roasted oysters (ras el hanout, pastirma - $10); the four oysters tasted more raw than I'd expected from the "roasted" description, but they were delicious.  (However, after the fact I am very annoyed with a potential service blunder here: I'd asked the waiter what "pastirma" was, and he said a spice blend, which I found kind of funny at the time given that the dish also listed ras el hanout, but I took him at his word rather than following up.  Google suggests that it's actually a cured meat, which means that (1) as pescatarians, we inadvertently ate meat, and (2) it wasn't even good enough that we realized we were eating meat.  Maybe they just use the spices that would normally go with the meat -- the way that you can find pastrami-spiced non-meat things, which would explain why we didn't see/taste anything meaty.  And now that I write this, I assume that pastirma and pastrami have to be etymologically related.)

Jo's other vegan selections were the roasted beets (walnut, orange coriander dressing - $8) and horta (kale, chard, chickpeas, baby tomatoes - $9).  She loved (and I liked) the beets, particularly the dressing.  (I found the beets over-roasted into softness.)  The horta was odd, its broth so salty that Jo worried from the smell alone that it couldn't be vegan, although she was assured that it was.  It was basically a mound of wilted greens, chickpeas, and grape tomatoes (cooked to the point of softness but not yet popped) in a briny puddle.  It made me long for Jaleo's hearty spinach and chickpea stew.

Excellent cocktails.  I started happily with the papa-bear (bourbon, cardamaro, cinnamon raisins infused sweet vermouth, pimento bitters, alleppo) -- a bit sweet, the cinnamon strong, kind of a winter-breakfast-in-a-glass thing going on.  Adam went first with the hannibal (mezcal, cointreau, lime, ginger, harissa), which was nicely smoky while remaining light.  I liked the lucky charms (flor de cana 4yr rum, lime, allspice, mint, angostura bitters) -- heavy on the spices flavor, to the exclusion of really picking up on the lime and mint -- but preferred the shepherd (beefeater gin, mountain tea, grilled lemon juice, oregano).  (Grilled lemon has featured in Kapnos: original flavor cocktails that I've liked.)

Dinner was good, but didn't reach the same heights as Kapnos (or Zaytinya), and there were nits to pick with several dishes.  I want Kapnos Taverna to be better than it currently is.  If we're going to go to the suburbs for Greek again, my vote goes to Nostos.
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