Around the BLOCK

La Pineta in Marina di Bibbona, Italy

Written By: Mary Bloch - Oct• 06•13

Okay, there’s probably no point in my writing up this restaurant since it’s on the coast of Italy. But I was fortunate enough to dine there last spring, and it was so memorable I had to share just in case any of you find yourself in the area. P1010602P1010601the door to La Pineta

La Pineta is one of the  finest seafood restaurants in Italy, and sports a Michelin star. If you do go, don’t curse me when you first lay eyes on it. The unassuming restaurant is attached to a beach shack, and you have to pass that and the shack’s casual patio before you get to the door of La Pineta, inconspicuously marked with a small sign. But once you enter, you’ll find yourself in a lovely dining room with white table clothes and a nautical decor. It overlooks the beach and is so close to the water that it almost feels like you’re on a cruise ship.La Pineta

Owner and chef Luciano Zazzeri is very hands on. In fact, he takes everyone’s order, patiently answering every question lobbed at him. And he came over to the table after our meal to make sure we were pleased with our lunch. Chef Luciano Zazzeri--La Pineta

Once the order was taken, we received a complimentary glass of bubbly and an amuse bouche that was similar to paella. Looking around the room, I noticed that diners were served pink or white depending on what they would be eating.

Everything we ate was extremely fresh, simply prepared, and mouthwatering. From the crudo and the seafood pastas to the special fish soup called Cacciucco, every bite was perfection. Take a look—Amuse-bouche--La PinetaCrudo--La PinetaRisotto--La PinetaGrilled seafood--La PinetaPasta with Octopus--La PinetaCacciucco--La PinetaSeafood gnocchi--La PinetaApple cake--La Pineta

Definitely a highlight of our trip, and one of the few times we had fruits of the sea while we were in meat-loving Tuscany.


Written By: Mary Bloch - Sep• 29•13

Despite recent pieces in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, Chef Alex Pope is not about to rest on his laurels. Last month he rolled out a new food truck called Pigwich, that will be permanently parked behind his Local Pig butcher shop. Located in a secluded part of the East Bottoms, you would not think this is a hot destination…but you would be wrong.Pigwich

Since opening a year ago, the Local Pig has attracted carnivores in droves; it’s rare for there not to be a line to buy cuts of beef, pork, duck, rabbit, lamb or chicken, as well as eggs, a wide range of homemade sausages, and even tamales. All meats are hormone, steroid and antibiotic free, the quality of which is reflected in every bite. Purchases are attractively boxed and come with cooking instructions if requested.P1010205

Now Pope has parlayed this success into a sandwich shop on wheels (or a pedestal to be more precise), putting his mouth-watering products between slices of fabulous bread in innovative and delicious ways. Staples on the menu include a double cheeseburger (the truffle aioli kills it), cheesesteak, a Banh Mi with Thai meatballs, and even falafel for non-meat eaters. Daily specials run the gamut from a pastrami reuben and porchetta to a cuban sandwich.P1010208P1010207P1010209

Courtyard seating is available for those who can’t wait to dig into one of Pope’s luxurious creations, or who just want to enjoy some fresh air before hightailing it back to the office.
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Rasika–Washington, DC

Written By: Mary Bloch - Sep• 22•13

Often touted as the best Indian restaurant in America, getting a table at Rasika is now a little easier thanks to a second location in the West End. We went to the original, which may not be as chic and modern as the newer spot, but the menu is almost identical at both so we were happy. Having been years ago and remembering it as one of the best Indian meals I’d ever had, I was excited to go back. While it may not have exceeded my lofty expectations, I loved most of the dishes we ordered.

Malai Palak--Rasika

Here was the line up.paneer shashlik--Rasika

paneer shashlikP1010133 P1010132 P1010131 P1010130P1010128

Marinated cottage cheese / onions / peppers

Spinach / garlic / green chili / onion

Duroc pork chop with Vindaloo / Peri-Peri masala / spiced potatoes

Chicken Green Masala

Chicken / mint / coriander / ground spices

Gobhi Mattar

Cauliflower / green peas / cumin / ginger

Lobster Pulao

Bell Pepper / cumin / mango kadi

We also sampled naan in almost every flavor, including onion and sage, garlic, and chile and olive oil.

My son’s favorite dish on the menu is the spinach and, while it may not sound exciting, after trying it, I had to agree. It was crispy, and bursting with a complexity of flavors that belie the description. The paneer dish, which one usually finds floating in creamed spinach, held its own as a kabob, and I could have made a meal out of the cauliflower. I was a bit disappointed in the pork chop because though the sauce was spicy, it didn’t sing to me. The green masala was lighter than the typical red version since it didn’t contain cream, but if you don’t love coriander, this is not the dish for you. The lobster pulao was similar to a biryani rice dish, so I loved that.

It’s a hopping place and is quite loud, but we had a prime window table making it easier to converse.

If you like Indian and you’re going to DC, call well in advance to try to snag a table.


Rasika on Urbanspoon

Cheese-making story in the Kansas City Star

Written By: Mary Bloch - Sep• 15•13

I can’t promise success, but it’s worth the effort to make your own cheese.

draining ricotta

Say Cheese

Written By: Mary Bloch - Sep• 08•13

A Visit KC “Jam Sessions” blog post by yours truly. Under the auspices of the Greater Kansas City Convention and Visitors Association.The barn at Green Dirt Farm


Greek Salad

Written By: Mary Bloch - Sep• 02•13

A Greek salad would go beautifully with chicken, beef or fish, and features ingredients that are plentiful in farmers’ markets around the area. Not only is it still peak tomato season, but cucumbers are available by the bushel as well.

Greek salad

Most greek salads don’t call for any lettuce, but my sister made one last month with a touch of arugula, giving it a bit more heft and adding a nice bite.Greek salad

I don’t follow a recipe but a traditional Greek salad has chopped cucumbers, tomatoes (if you find cherry tomatoes, halving them is best), Kalamata olives, sliced or diced red onion, chunks of red, orange and green peppers (the more colors the more visually appealing), and feta. If you’re feeling adventurous you could add roasted red pepper (mild or piquillo), quartered artichoke hearts and fresh oregano. (In the picture you can see I skipped the peppers, but only because I was long on tomatoes and cukes.)

This dressing is from Bobby Flay. Just whisk the ingredients together or throw everything into a jar and shake vigorously. Pour over the vegetables, and arugula if desired, toss and serve.

For the dressing:
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 lemon, juiced
2 cloves garlic, smashed with the side of your chef’s knife
1 teaspoon dried or fresh oregano
3 pinches salt
10 to 15 grinds black pepper

Candied Jalapenos

Written By: Mary Bloch - Aug• 20•13

Last spring I went to the Final Cut at Hollywood Casino and was served a cheese plate with candied jalapenos. I had never had this treat before and thought they were fabulous. Sweet, hot and an ideal match for the cheese. So I decided when summer came around I would try making them with the scads of jalapenos that we always have in our garden. I scoured the internet until I found a recipe that appealed to me. Some added too many spices but this one was just right.Poblanos and Jalapenos


It was simple to make but required a ton of jalapenos to produce a very small batch–30 in fact, for just 2 pints!

I would urge you to wear gloves while slicing the jalapenos: I never do and always wind up sticking a finger in my eye at some point and getting a very uncomfortable burn. Once you add the jalapeno slices to the sugar/vinegar mixture, watch them carefully so they don’t get overcooked. I took mine off the heat as soon as the bright green color was gone. P1010969P1010972

The recipe suggests adding cayenne pepper, but I used the seeds from the jalapeno, and that made it plenty hot…and I like heat.P1010977

I don’t can my produce due to concern that I may poison someone someday, but I have had good luck freezing jams, and I expect that these jars will be fine when thawed as well. P1010980

First Taste: Novel

Written By: Mary Bloch - Aug• 12•13

Those in the know know of David Chang, chef/owner of the New York based Momofuku mini-empire. So when one of his former sous chefs sets up his own shop in Kansas City, he and his restaurant are going to immediately be on everyone’s radar.Novel

And so it was with me. I love Momofuku Saam Bar, the Noodle Bar and,of course, the chewy and ridiculously good compost cookies made by Chang’s pastry chef Christina Tosi (which, by the way, my son and daughter-in-law provided as party favors at their wedding–those cookies have a cult-like following.)

When I heard that the aforementioned former sous chef, Ryan Brazeal was coming to town, I “liked” his new restaurant on Facebook and started paying attention to the inevitable buzz that surrounded the opening of Novel. Novel is how Brazeal defines his food. To him, New American and Nouvelle are outdated terms. He’s doing American his way.

Brazeal has taken over a quaint little home on the Westside that for years housed Lil’s restaurant. Overlooking 17th Street from on high, several steps must be climbed to get first to the charming terrace and then into the restaurant. The building is just west of the 17th and Summit intersection that has become a hotbed of funky and interesting restaurants.The bar at Novelthe kitchen at Novelone of the dining rooms--Novel

It was fun to watch as he posted pictures of the renovation and greeted area chefs who stopped by to welcome him back to town. Brazeal is a graduate of the culinary program at the Johnson County Community College and, in his mind, this was an inevitable return.

The renovation is smashing in a very rustic, cozy way. Reclaimed wood lines the walls and floors, and the large kitchen in back is completely open and spacious. Diners walk by an intimate bar in order to get to their table, whether it’s on the first floor or upstairs. Also upstairs is a private dining room that is sure to be popular during the holidays.

Tomato and Strawberry Salad--Novel

We were there on a hot day in July when the A/C was working very hard to keep up with the steamy temperatures. Though normally we would have bolted after dinner because of it, the intimate atmosphere and our particular companions kept us in our seats long after the dishes had been cleared.

Everything that comes out of the kitchen is worth a picture. The colors are vibrant, and the flavors of each ingredient are distinctive and intense. Each dish is really a feast for all of the senses and makes the statement that this is fare that is going to be uniquely Brazeal’s.

Here’s what we enjoyed:

Tomato Salad with heirloom tomatoes, pickled strawberries, crisp cucumber, fresh herbs, yuzu-ginger vinaigrette was clearly made from just picked vegetables and fruit. With the Asian dressing and an unlikely combination of strawberry and tomato, Brazeal wastes no time in making it clear that he’s all about local and seasonal, cooking with only the freshest ingredients that he can get from the farmers with whom he is developing relationships.

Chilled Corn Soup--Novel

Chilled Corn soup –it was a special the night we dined at Novel, and was easily the best corn soup I’ve ever had. Made from fresh ears of corn, it was incredibly sweet, with a hint of spice to offset the natural sugars.

Fluke Crudo--Novel

Fluke Crudo with salted avocado, lime, and jicama was a delight. Each bite was a revelation and the flavors married beautifully.

The scallop entree was too intriguing to pass up. Seared and sitting atop bone marrow, mushroom, leek and chile oil, the scallops were sweet and cooked to perfection.Scallops with bone marrow and chile--Novel

The Chicken Brick was also quite inventive. According to GM Richard Garcia, this is the process: Brazeal brines the meat and then it’s lightly pounded flat; both the light and dark meat are seasoned with porchetta seasoning (sage, thyme, rosemary, and fennel seed), the meat is then layered alternating light and dark meat, and topped with chicken skin forming what looks like a brick; the “brick” is then pressed, cut into portions and pan roasted to order; sauce for the dish is made from fennel, shallots, white wine, chicken bones, and finished to order with sherry vinegar and pickled mustard seeds. The four bricks are surrounded by a panzanella salad of sourdough, summer squash, upland cress, mustard seed. Its was moist, light, and bursting with flavor.Chicken Brick--Novel

Flourless Chocolate Torte--Novel

We also spied a huge rib pork chop with spicy pork belly ragu, rice spaetzle, and baby bok choy that the diner at the next table was attacking with relish.

One flourless torte with caramel and peanuts for our table of four was all we could handle, but we demolished it. That’s my kind of dessert.

The small menu is updated often to take advantage of what’s in season, and weekly specials are off menu.

The only off note was the bread service. Novel serves bread from its neighbor, Fervere which, in my opinion, is the best bread shop in town. Once our order had been taken, we were offered our choice of two varieties of bread, with homemade butter. It’s hard to resist any bread Fervere makes, and we didn’t, scarfing it down as soon as the slice hit our plates. But then the server took our bread plates, without offering us more or anticipating that we’d want bread with at least our starter if not our meal. I get it; bread is an expensive add-on and many restaurants don’t even serve bread anymore, but to have it as its own course instead of with our meal seemed a bit odd to us. Perhaps the practice was due to our server’s inexperience or the restaurant being in its infancy, but if it’s the norm, I hope they’ll reconsider.


I planned to go back again before writing this post, but since the menu is so seasonal, I decided I’d wait to see what Brazeal creates as fall approaches. Whatever it is, I know it will be flawlessly executed.

In the meantime, I have gotten lots of questions about whether I’ve been and what I thought, so I wanted to give my first impressions.

No matter the season, I think Brazeal and Kansas City have a winner.

Novel on Urbanspoon

Zaytinya in Washington, DC

Written By: Mary Bloch - Aug• 05•13

Jose Andres has done it again. The celebrity chef based in Washington DC owns several restaurants around the District, and I’ve now eaten at all of them with the exception of Minibar (though my son and his girlfriend went and took lots of pictures so I have experienced it vicariously).  I had heard fabulous comments about Zaytinya for years but was reluctant to go because the featured cuisines of Turkey, Greece and Lebanon are not typically my favorite. But this is not about hummus and dolmades, though those particular dishes are on the menu. If you venture out of your comfort zone, you will be richly rewarded with fun and exhilarating fare.P1010148Zaytinya in Washington, DC

Here’s the list of what we shared at our table with a description from the menu. I’ve made a few notes of explanation where needed. The pictures say it all.

CRISPY BRUSSELS AFELIABrussels Sprouts with Greek yogurt--Zaytinya
brussels sprouts, coriander seed,
barberries, garlic yogurt

HORTA SALATAKale salad --Zaytinya
kale salad, smoked olives, fava Santorini,
ladolemono, pistachios

medjool dates, orange, pomegranate,
pistachios, mintHalloumi cheese--Zaytinya

Halloumi is a cheese that can withstand heat without melting. It gets a bit too chewy when it cools, but right off the stove it’s soft and pairs well with a variety of sauces and fruits.

sautéed shrimp with tomatoes, green onions,
kefalograviera cheese, ouzo

grilled Mediterranean octopus, marinated onions,
capers, yellow split pea pureeOctopus Santorini--Zaytinya

Samke Harra-style with coriander, cardamom,
pickled Lebanese chili oil, pine nuts and tahiniSalmon with Lebanese chili oil--Zaytinya

grilled chicken thigh, sumac, onions, garlic tuom,
grilled tomatoesChicken thigh with sumac, tomatoes, and tuom--Zaytinya

Garlic tuom is a Lebanese dipping sauce made along the lines of a pesto in that a mortar and pestle is needed to crush the ingredients into a paste. This particular condiment contains garlic, salt, olive oil and lemon juice.

There are a number of beef and lamb options on the menu. Knowing we had another meal to eat later in the day we opted for the lighter dishes. Though the small plates are meant for sharing, we still ordered too much food for three people to consume for brunch. The salmon was the only dish I didn’t care to fight over. There was nothing objectionable about it; compared to the other dishes, it was ordinary.

Not to be forgotten is the puffy warm pita that comes to the table with olive oil for dipping. It’s light and airy and makes a great pusher for each dish. We asked the server how it was made and he said it requires a very expensive machine, so I dismissed thoughts of trying to duplicate it at home.

Pita at Zaytinya

I try to check out a new restaurant, or one I haven’t visited, each time I make a trip to DC, but Zaytinya will definitely be on my repeat list.




Zaytinya on Urbanspoon


Written By: Mary Bloch - Jul• 29•13

Standing outside the front door of Affare on Main St. in the Crossroads District you would never expect what lies within. The restaurant itself is quite large, but part of the massive room is given over to a lounge and bar for those who only want a drink or bite to eat. The latter proposition is an easy one; the menu is comprised of small plates organized by the source of the ingredients–In the Garden, Under Water and In the Barn.AffareIMG_0840

Chef/owner Martin Heuser and his wife Katrin bill their cuisine as “Modern German”. While there is the obligatory schnitzel and spatzle, most of the menu reads more Continental…and no matter what you order, bring your camera. Each dish is a work of art on a plate.Pretzel rolls--Affare

Pretzel roll lovers will be delighted to see that a basket of them (courtesy of Farm To Market) comes to the table along with a bowl of spiced olives to whet your appetite. After that, it’s best to either rely on your server or ask a lot of questions since the menu needs deciphering. Our server was more than happy to assist and did a beautiful job of helping our table construct a balanced meal by choosing from each of the categories.Beet salad--Affare

We started with Red Beet Salad with flower blossoms and leaves, goat cheese and spiced pecan nuts, and Sommerfest: geräucherter black forest Schinken with heirloom tomatoes and summer squash.Spring vegetable salad--Affare

Lump Crab Salad in a roasted red pepper roulade, with frisee lettuce and madras curry paint was beautiful but tiny and a bit more bland than its composition would suggest.Roasted red pepper Roulade with lump crab salad, madras curry paint, compressed cucumbers--Affare

Pretzelknödel served with chanterelle mushrooms and brandy-cream sauce sounded rich when our server described it, and though that proved to be the case, it was so much better than a savory bread pudding would suggest, especially if you’re a mushroom lover.

Standouts on various visits included mushroom soup, Mushroom soup--Affarea beautiful elk chop, a bison short rib, and baked quail, wrapped in cabbage with almonds, cranberries, cassis jus, and celeriac puree. The lemon risotto that accompanied the seasonal seafood didn’t have much oomph, but the fish was delightful.Bison short rib--Affare*Edelfisch Allerlei (seasonal seafood) in liaison with lemon risotto, asparagus spears--AffareBaked Quail Ballontine, wrapped in cabbage with almonds, cranberries, cassis jus, celeriac puree--Affare

The most beautiful of our dishes was the Ricotta-Erbsen Ravioli with carrot puree and balsamico foam, and it tasted as good as it looked.Ricotta-Erbsen ravioli with carrot puree and balsamico foam--Affare

No visit to a German restaurant is complete without apple strudel, and this one is worth the splurge, as was the Black Forest Cake, which came with a shot of kirschwasser for drizzling over the cake.Apple Strudel--AffareBlack Forest Cake--Affare

In addition to the main dining room, there’s a private dining space, as well as a long picnic table in the outside courtyard for special events.

My favorite area of town to dine just got a bit sweeter.

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