Friday, May 20, 2016

Amass again (5/20/2016)

We've had some good meals in our first three Scandinavian days (and one very disappointing, too long, too filling dinner last night), but nothing that has quite blown us away on the level of our last trip.  So we went into lunch at Amass today with trepidation that threatened to snowball.  What if it isn't that good?  What if nothing is that good?  What if we've come in a bad season, or just the entire culinary scene isn't what we recall?

Still not hungry after last night's dinner(s), at least I'd stopped feeling painfully full, which meant I could eat.  Still no word on whether we'll get off the waitlist for dinner on the 28th, so we went with the extended menu just in case.  (Because of course we did.  Taller may be the only time that we haven't opted for the maximum number of courses.)  The space is still great: airy and casual and just a bit edgy with it's concrete and stylish graffiti.  (Which I think has changed since our last visit; currently it features a beautiful portrait of a hipsterish woman.)

Diced radishes and salted plums swam in a bowl of almond milk dusted with green strawberry powder (toasted, perhaps?).  A bit reminiscent of the milk-heavy end of a bowl of (crunchy, vegetal) cereal with its slightly nutty sour-sweetness.  This dish might be a bit strange at dinner, but it was actually pretty perfect as the start to our first meal of the day.  (I think I liked it more than Adam, however.)
Almond Milk, Radishes, Salted Plums

Of course I was giddy to see the fermented potato bread again -- almost as giddy as I was when Adam recently sent me their recipe.  (At the time that I first read it, finding a warm enough room where I could let the potatoes ferment for "a minimum of 10 days" sounded like the tricky part.  The current plan is to make this project the fermented silver lining on the extremely dark cloud of an a/c-less June.)  Still dense and slightly sour and warm and oh-so-delicious.  I liked the vaguely Middle Eastern celeriac compote with cheese oil -- essentially the oil that separates when you melt cheese; the kitchen staff apparently eats the crispy solid bits -- and a spice blend including coriander and pepper, but not as much as I'd liked last time's cabbage and onion spread.  (I've used the oil from smoked cheddar on Brussels sprouts before with good results -- great minds? :P)  Because our Noma reservation was in under seven hours at this point, we didn't ask for more bread . . . but we ate the second piece that appeared without our asking.

Matchsticks of raw white asparagus were dotted with rose vinegar gel and concealed a bed of creamy cep and black garlic.  The creaminess tasted sort of mayonnaisey, giving the entire dish a bit of a cole slaw feel.  Light, excellent cole slaw, but still.  Not bad, but my least favorite dish.
White Asparagus, Rose Vinegar, Cep, Black Garlic

We'd loved the nut weed at Daniel Berlin, so were happy to have it show up again here.  The server compared it to asparagus, which I sort of get; although cooked softish (softer than the DB one) and nicely charred on the leaves, it had a kind of vague woodiness.  Combined with the rich egg yolk emulsion and the briny shaved brill roe, the whole effect was a bit brunchy, a Nordic variation on asparagus and hollandaise.
Knotweed, Egg Yolk, Hazelnut, Salted Fish Roe

Our second asparagus dish was my second favorite of the meal (and Adam's contender for favorite).  Sliced green asparagus and radish, a soft egg yolk, ramson broth and ramson capers, under frothy blanket of butter foam.  (The egg yolk comes from some special endangered Danish chicken breed that is a terrible layer -- something like an egg every two days, five months a year -- and apparently Amass is doing what it can to create a market for the farmers who go to the trouble to continue raising these chickens.  Ramson has been showing up everywhere; as far as I can tell, it's Europe's version of the ramp, a slightly more garlicky chef-fetishized spring allium.)  We both loved the fantastic, vibrantly green oniony broth, punctuated with sweet asparagus and acidic capers, and enriched with the yolk and butter.
Green Asparagus, Burnt Lemon, Ramson, Virgin Butter

My favorite dish was Adam's second favorite.  Amass continues to wow with the carrots.  Carrot ribbons bedecked a two-year aged goat/sheep cheese (like a fresh cheese that had been aged into some bite), which was accessorized with fennel fronds and pickled fennel seeds and bathed in a carrot-reduced whey sauce.  (Well, that was some mixed metaphors.  Moving along.)  The carrots' sweetness was more subtle here than with last time's roasted carrots; bright acidity was the star this time, from the slightly acidic, light-but-creamy cheese to the whey sauce to the pops of pickle.  (I love whey sauces.  Whey in everything, please.)
Carrots, Salted Goat Cheese, Pickled Fennel Seeds, Reduced Whey

Brill in a sauce of brown butter (with bits of red seaweed?1) and bitter greens/kale/cabbage was more simple but lovely.  Good salt and acid, the two pillars of an excellent dish.
Brill, Sea Kale, Red Seaweed

Angelica (compared to matcha tea) ice cream under a frozen breadish layer (almost like sugar cookie dough), dotted with parsley oil.  The beauty of its light, herbaceous sweetness enhanced by slight bitterness.  A very good dessert that just stepped a toe across the savory line (rather than straddling it the way some new Nordic desserts do),
Angelica Ice Cream, Bread, Honey

We'd gotten into conversation with the Columbia undergrads at the table next to us, one of whom is seriously into food and seems to share our taste on many places (loves Saison and Willows, down on Per Se) and the other of whom patiently put up with our food/restaurants conversation.  (I feel like being down on Per Se is a bit of a personal Shibboleth for compatible-with-me food taste.)  Unfortunately for them, they were a bit rhubarbed-out on this trip, but I've loved it in pretty much all its presentations.  Here, its vibrant hot pink -- not too sweet -- was partially obscured by a mound of walnut granita.  Additional nuttiness from walnut cookie, and black pepper ice cream added a spicy bite.  (I'm not sure I picked up on the juniper oil.)  Very interesting, and very delicious.
Rhubarb, Green Juniper, Walnut, Black Pepper

Like the potato bread, these delightful little oregano cakes must be a signature for Amass.  Still delicious, but while good, the blueberry jam wasn't as addictive a pairing as the strawberry last time.  The coffee grinds graham crackers were barely coffee-flavored and the chocolate marshmallow was tasty, so I actually ate the entire little sandwich.  (I'm sure a coffee-chocolate lover would give this a more enthusiastic recommendation.  Mine is as enthusiastic as my coffee-phobia will allow.)
Fresh Oregano Cakes, Blueberry Jam with Coffee Graham Cracker, 100% Chocolate

We haven't eaten them yet, but I love the idea that they make chips with the liquid run-off from their bread making.  (Let's hope they haven't gone stale by the time I am in danger of being hungry, which, given our itinerary, isn't likely to happen before Sunday morning.)

Fingers crossed that we'll be back for dinner in a week with Andrew and Brooke . . . .
1. After our lunch, I emailed to ask for a full menu, which Julie kindly provided. That menu confirmed red seaweed in the dish, so good for me?

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Pineapple and Pearls

After seven hours-intensive months on detail, I'm basking in the quiet of this first week back (before we leave for eighteen days on the longest, most gluttonous vacation we've ever taken).  I'll invariably fall behind on blogging all our planned meals, so I am determined to write about Pineapple and Pearls before the restaurant binge begins on Tuesday.  [It's now Tuesday -- I started this post at the end of last week -- but I'm getting it finished just under the wire.  T minus two hours and change until AOC.]

Adam grabbed a Tuesday evening reservation for the 19th a few weeks in advance.  I tried really hard to moderate my expectations, but this was the most excited I'd been about a meal in DC in ages. I'm relieved that I wasn't disappointed.  

We walked in about five minutes late for our 9:15 reservation (I called) and were almost immediately offered our choice of two cocktails.  (Service was predictably warm, given the Rose's service ethos, and we were even recognized by the hostess from our meals there.)  We both went with the Gold Rush (bourbon-based, garnished with a gold-leafed cherry) because the other option contained a bitter amaro (probably Campari, but I don't recall precisely).  The cocktail didn't leave a huge impression beyond a chuckle at the ornate cherry and a general impression of enjoyableness.  

My biggest complaint about the night was the early pacing of the meal.  We stood around drinking our cocktails for a few minutes before being led behind the curtain (literally) to our seats at the kitchen counter; not a big deal, but I'd probably have been a bit annoyed if I were the sort of fashionable woman who wears uncomfortably stylish heels.  The snacks trickled out slowly, and we didn't receive a course more substantial than bite-sized until almost 10:00, by which time we were starving.  (I'll chalk it up to newness and assume that the pacing will improve as they get more settled.)

The room itself is beautiful; Adam commented that it's like what Kinship should be.  (Perhaps controversially, we don't like the Kinship dining room much.  It feels too monochromatic, kind of cold.  We much prefer Kinship's bar area.)  P&P has plenty of white, but pops of colors (like the mustard chairs) and texture (like the strings in a sort of 3D mural on the right wall), plus the view into the huge open kitchen, make it inviting.  I loved being able to watch what the chefs were doing only feet away, although our front-row seats didn't help my mounting hunger.  (Aaron also recognized us from Rose's, although we've never exchanged more than a few words with him, and he was very gracious about thanking us for coming and of course friendly whenever he served us or explained a dish.)

Our first snack tasted like an awesome riff on a sour cream and onion not-potato chip -- light crunchiness dusted in salty, savory, oniony powder.  (I couldn't recall what the puffed starch standing in for potato was, but the Post review filled in the blank with tapioca.)
Ranch & Spring Onion Bite

The inside-out take on a tortilla chip and guacamole was tasty (dip inside the chip), but felt a bit out of step with the rest of the food -- more a cute gimmick than fittingly (if at times playfully) refined.
Masa Chip & Dip

I surprisingly liked this (beautiful) sphere, given that I usually dislike licorice notes.  Golden raisin sweetness with soft fennel flavor, with only a hint of absinthe in the refreshing cocktail of green apple and celery.
Fennel & Absinthe Bonbon

Other places (including the new minibar, if I remember correctly) offer the hand towelette disks that look like oversized Altoids and expand when liquid is poured on, but Pineapple & Pearls does the most beautiful presentation that I've seen.  The subtly fragrant jasmine tea is lovely, but so much is used that I had to wring out the towel before it could be used.  (Again, I assume practice will fix this.)

The first real dish was amazing: a perfectly balanced mix of salty roe with creamy avocado ice cream and creme fraiche, punctuated with bursts of finger lime. (Salt and acid!)
Avocado and Osetra Caviar

Next course: eggs two ways.  I really liked the beautiful parmesan egg drop soup.  The egg-and-cheese broth, ladled over vibrant spring vegetables (including peas and nasturtium), had just enough chili spiciness to cut the richness, and an herby puree emphasized the dish's springiness.  

Snap Pea & Spring Garlic Egg Drop

Unfortunately, the "coddled" egg was the only real technical (and service) failure of the night.  Although the onion marmalade and morels on top were delicious (and would have paired well with the unctuousness of a runny yolk), our eggs were basically hard-boiled.  We ate the toppings and left most of the egg at the bottom.  (When a waiter came to clear these dishes, he asked which we'd preferred, and I said honestly that it had to be the soup because the other egg was overcooked.  He didn't react to that comment at all, nor seem to notice that we hadn't actually eaten the egg.)
Blue Ribbon Coddled Egg

Adam said the barigoule was good but not amazing.  I liked it more than he did.  The roe-heavy beurre blanc with vermouth was delicious but not as creative as I'd hoped.  I thought the salty-butteryness, while very satisfying in the way of well-executed rich sauces, overpowered the spring vegetables.  Perhaps mixing the fresh horseradish into the sauce rather than shaving it on top would have distributed it better, allowing it to balance the butter?  Less sauce to better emphasize the light vegetables?  (My roe-loving toddler goddaughter would have lapped it up.)
Trout Roe Barigoule

Loved the Spanish mackerel -- which is definitely not one of my favorite fishes. I badly wanted bread (which we didn't yet have) to mop up very drop of the ramp vinegar and puree.  Visually beautiful, brightly oniony, nicely acidic from the vinegar, not too fishy -- just lovely.  (I'd been watching the plating of this gorgeous dish all night, anticipating when we'd receive it.)
Spanish Mackerel with Wild Ramps & Virginia Bluebell

Bread arrived a course too late to savor the ramps, but I was still excited to see it.  (Years of excellent breads at Rose's have bred high expectations.)  The rice porridge brioche (as it was described) didn't taste noticeably porridgy, but it was predictably tasty, fluffy inside its nicely browned crust.  And the white miso honey butter was fantastic.  Visually evocative of curled shavings of tete de moine cheese, it was creamy and sweet and had just enough funk; we ate it all.  (I am confused as to how our neighbors at the counter failed to finish theirs.)
Toasted Rice Bread with White Miso Butter

This is one of the few dishes that I noticed (from overhearing descriptions to other diners) had meat removed (as opposed to just subbing a course), but I didn't miss the chicken.  White asparagus in a crispy crepe with dashi-soaked maitakes, bonito shavings, lime zest.  So salty in a good way.  (I could see some complaining, but I love salt, especially on crunchy carbs or mushrooms.)  Excellent haute drunk food.
White Asparagus Okonomiyaki

Good sear on the nicely cooked monkfish and alliums.  I wanted salt on the porridge on its own, but it was unnecessary with the accoutrements, which I loved (creamy garlic aioli and bright nettle salsa verde).  A fun and interesting dish.
Monkfish Tail with Wild Nettle & Jimmy Red Grits

My contemporaneous notes read: "pea and gummies and delicious."  I remember thinking that it was a very good dessert, but it was quickly eclipsed in my memory by the course that followed.
Spring Kakigori

Elements of pesto -- moist pecorino cake, cheese crisps, basil ice cream, pine nuts -- paired with (slightly macerated?) strawberries made for one of the best desserts that I can remember.  Ingenious plated cheese?  Delightfully savory dessert?  Flawless.
Pecorino Cake with Basil Gelato

The chocolate souffle was well executed but not unusual.  Loved the roasted groats and honey ice cream that accompanied it -- the buckwheat savoriness tempered the sweetness of the honeycomb.
Chocolate Souffle

Crispy Buckwheat & Honeycomb Ice Cream

The box of mini doughnuts was adorable, but I was too full to muster more than a bite that night.  Great idea, but the strongly flavored liqueurs used in the icings won't make them as universally crowd-pleasing as doughnuts usually are; I didn't eat more than a test nibble of the Campari.  Yeast doughnuts don't hold up super well the next day, which is too bad given that serving them at the end of the meal, already boxed, encourages taking them home.  A parting sleeve of (thyme?) shortbread, in contrast, was still buttery-delicious with tea days later (when, thanks to Passover, I got to eat Adam's; mine didn't last that long).
Chartreuse, Campari, Grappa & Nardini Donuts

I see Pineapple and Pearls becoming one of our favorite splurges in DC, especially if the menu changes frequently.  I didn't love it more than our best Komi meals (our tasting menu go-to) -- and Komi is always going to have a secure place in my heart, I imagine -- but we did enjoy it more than our last Komi meal.  There has been a lot of debate about the price -- $250/person is going to cause sticker shock -- but considering that it's all-inclusive, it's a bit cheaper than Komi, a lot cheaper than minibar (whose inflated price at the new location combined with too much of the same old menu really galled me, as I wrote about at the time), and generally a good value (to the extent such a thing is possible at this cost) in terms of food and overall experience.  (Plus, prepaying allows for a certain charming seamlessness to ending the evening without the presentation of a check.)  We both opted for the wine pairing at my urging, but in retrospect I think Adam was correct to push for one of the non-alcoholic pairing; we'll definitely try it next time.  The wines were all good (and the pours so generous that we didn't end up finishing a number of glasses, which isn't our norm), but nothing stands out as a particularly unusual wine or an especially astounding pairing with the food, two features common to our favorite pairing experiences over the years.  (Komi somms, particularly Bill, have done this very well over the years.  I realize that when the pairing is the only option, you've got to tailor it to please as many people as possible; we're not the target for that, as Adam's standard question of a somm is "Is there anything particularly weird, different, or interesting that you recommend?")  In contrast, the non-alcoholic pairing sounded like it would include a number of very interesting drinks, and the hazelnut and pistachio nut milks that we tried in lieu of end-of-the-meal caffeine suggest that P&P will do them well.  Next time.  We'll be back, and probably pretty soon.

The end -- with two hours and eighteen minutes to spare!
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