Probably the finest meal I have had so far this year was the extraordinary dinner of Juan Mari Arzak and his daughter, Elena, who does most of the cooking. This Michelin three-star restaurant unquestionably deserves all three stars. The menu looks a little wacky, but the food was far more classic and pure than the menu suggests. There are a lot of flourishes and creativity, but Elena does not drift far from classic aromas, flavors and ingredients. The presentation is top-flight and everything seems to work, often not the case at some of the more experimental, laboratory style restaurants that seem to be conducting culinary science at the diner’s expense. I enjoyed every course and it is difficult to pick a favorite, but the marinated sardines, dusted egg with mussel, lobster dish, white tuna belly, lamb and pigeon were all sublime. Dessert was a wonderfully creative dish served over top of an iPad with a fern gully-sort of jungle with vivid colors on the iPad radiating up through the clear glass where the desserts were placed perfectly to look like they were part of the scene from the visual dramatics on the iPad. I had never seen this done at a restaurant, and while it seems somewhat precious, it actually worked quite effectively with this dish.
We had two wonderful wines, especially the older Albariño from Pazo de Señorans, which is also available in the United States. We also enjoyed the reasonably priced 1994 Vega Sicilia Valbuena. The first bottle was slightly corked, but the second bottle was delicious.
The service was extremely professional and, for a Michelin three-star restaurant, it was surprisingly comfortable, and managed to avoid the pretentiousness and stuffy atmosphere of many Michelin three-star venues. For many years I had heard Arzak was one of the world’s great restaurants, and it certainly lived up to all of its accolades.
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Petit Louis Bistro
A lookalike, authentic French bistro, Petit Louis in Baltimore's Roland Park is the creation of restauranteurs par excellence Cindy Wolf and Tony Foreman. You feel like you’ve walked into a bistro on the Left Bank of Paris when you enter Petit Louis. The food is classic bistro, and they do it well. All of the courses we had were flavorful, sometimes a trifle rustic, but delicious in their intensity. This was good comfort food prepared extremely well. The wines started with one of the major surprises for me over the last year, the 2006 sparking wine from Tony Soter in Oregon. I had this several times while I was out visiting Oregon, and I had always been impressed, but this is a 10-year-old sparking Rosé that is just sensational, and I’m talking world class—it’s that good. Something this good from France would cost at least two to three times as much, so kudos to Tony Soter. The 1995 Billaud-Simon Chablis Mont de Milieu was oxidized and undrinkable. The 1996 Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris Clos St. Urbain Rangen de Thann was sweet, and although it went well with the foie gras, it was just a little too unctuous and sweet a wine...