Sunday, January 30, 2011

Agora: A Greek Name for a Turkish Restaurant?

Dishes To Die For: lamb chops with sour cherry sauce; Aegean Delight

"And so what we should do is...," I stopped mid-sentence as my mind registered that a piece of paradise had just passed through my mouth. The echo reverberated on my tastebuds. This was Agora's Aegean Delight: apricots stuffed with walnuts, served with vanilla bean mascarpone cheese, caramel sauce and pistachios. Those pistachios are lightly toasted and pair sublimely with the tart apricots, all bathed in the gentlest of mascarpones. My mouth celebrated and put a stop to any more words that may have been on the way. So, absolutely. to die for.
Aegean Delight is named for the sea that lies between Turkey and Greece and is an ecumenical name for a dessert that could be at home in either country’s cuisine. Then again, the word “agora” is a Greek word that is used by both Greeks and Turks to mean “market place”. Despite these commonalities, not too long ago Turkey and Greece were sworn enemies, and you had to be careful not to order “Turkish coffee” when in Greece, or “Greek salad” when in Turkey. But now, in 2011, Turkey has a foreign policy called “zero problems towards neighbors” and Agora’s name is right in step with the times.  20% of its dishes are announced to be Greek in nature, and with a Lebanese chef, the menu also embraces the Mediterranean Middle East.

The offerings, though, are more than a representation of old standards. The kitchen works to keep the menu contemporary and fun, perhaps sometimes going too far in its playfulness: crab falafel, anyone? But for the most part, what you get is a wide range of new and interesting creations from the former Ottoman Empire.

Although there are plenty of vegetarian dishes at Agora, I am most impressed by their meats. On my second visit, I tried the lamb chops. Simply grilled on a charcoal fire, they are superb, a testament to the high quality of Agora's sources and careful execution. With that, I resolved to try the filet mignon with sour cherry sauce, kasar cheese and glazed shallots on my next visit. But -- to my chagrin -- when I returned a scant week later, this item had been removed from the menu. And no pleading with the waiter could get it back.

The solution I found was to order the lamb chops with a side of sour cherry sauce. I knew that the cherry sauce was still around, because it’s still on the menu – this time paired with kofte (spicy meatballs). But while the meatballs are very good on their own, their spices -- which include coriander and other robust flavors – are too harsh against the cherries. So I tried again with the lamb chops, and to great effect. The soft smokiness of the meat paired with the sweet sourness of the cherries sent me into a dreamlike state, absorbed in the experience of one my favorite meats being elevated to yet higher distinction. Do try this – the kitchen is happy to give you the sauce on the side, and if you are a lover of lamb chops, you will be happy too. I have zero problems with Agora in my neighborhood.

Agora Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 17, 2011

New at Nando's

Nando's in London has added a new item to their menu: "Wings Roulette". Much like in Russian Roulette, you and your friends get a platter of 10 wings, but have no way of knowing which wing has the extra hot peri peri sauce. As those familiar with Nando's know, even the "medium" is pretty spicy, and the "hot" is already close to combustible. Nobody I know has ever tried the "extra hot".

Wings Roulette is not yet on offer here in DC. But the manager at the Dupont Circle branch says that they would be happy customize one upon request. If you'd like to read The Guardian's review of Nando's, including a description of how to play Wings Roulette, click here. If you'd like to see a ridiculous video of how the game is played, go here.

And for my original post on Nando's, click here.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Word from Antoinette Id

Hello there. My name is Antoinette Id. After months of struggle, that goodie two-shoes Antoinette Ego has agreed to let me have my own blog. It's called "Dishes to Die From", and it's about foodie hell.  I just put up my first post today. You can view it here.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

On Fumes Alone

8 1/2
401 Strawberry St., Richmond, VA, 23220
(804) 358-8505

I never thought I would post about an aroma. But this time, fumes is all I've got to go on. The downside of Chris being a great cook and having a cozy hideaway in Richmond is that we seldom go out to eat when we are there. But on New Year's day, we took a walk in the Fan with our friend Lynn, and I discovered a whole new world of tiny restaurants and independent stores tucked in between the houses of this historic neighborhood.

One of these was 8 1/2, the take-out place for two of Richmond's most beloved restaurants: Edo's Squid and Mama Zu's --both creations of Ed Vasio. After three years of visiting Richmond, I have yet to dine in either of these. (Humphh!)  

So for now, all I have to go on is the divine smell emanating from 8 1/2. An aroma so distinct that, without even asking, I can tell it was red pizza sauce with toppings of anchovies, capers, onion and olives. Yum! (I assume). I am hoping that I'll get to do more than window shopping some time early in 2011.  :)

Happy new year everyone, and here's to new food discoveries in the coming year.

Update: as a result of this post, we have now begun to visit Richmond's restaurants with more frequency!
For a full list of Richmond visits, click here

8 1/2 on Urbanspoon