Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Bambara, Kendall Square, Cambridge

Kendall  Square has been making food news for a while now.  It seems that every few months a new place opens touting inventive menus and critically acclaimed chefs.  One might assume that prior to the past few years Kendall Square was a veritable wasteland for food.  One would be wrong.  A few nights ago I was invited to dine at Bambara- a New American cuisine style restaurant located within the Hotel Marlow that, guess what, isn’t new at all. 

Quietly plugging along serving locally sourced ingredients combined into fresh dishes that truly showcase the bounty and beauty of this region, Bambara is producing consistent and delicious fare.  What I loved about my meal there was that they aren’t reinventing the wheel, you won’t find crazy molecular gastronomy here, but they are serving dishes with incredible flavor and creativity.  

Starting just with appetizers- their Warm Lobster Sliders and their Chickpea Fries, and you can already see the differences.  I can hear you though already- c’mon a lobster slider- this is Boston, we’ve been there and done that!  Let me tell you- you haven’t been there and done that- not like Bambara’s!  Toasted, buttery brioche baked into a top split roll, and jammed with as much butter poached lobster as possible- let me rephrase that- butter on top of butter….on top of lobster.  It’s finished with an herb slaw which cuts through all of that buttery goodness and adds these beautiful fresh
flavors depending on the season.  This isn’t your average ho hum lobster roll, if you can ever really call a lobster roll ho hum and I’m not sure you can.  Chickpea fries sound innocent enough don’t they?  They actually maybe don’t even sound that good- those mealy chickpeas made into fries?  What’s the big deal?  The big deal is the Chef at Bambara is making this silky puree of healthy chickpeas, forming it into long rectangles, chilling them and frying them.  The result are ultra crispy fries that have wonderful textural contrast with that chickpea filling.   They are served with an aioli dipping sauce that is lovely, but those fries can be eaten on their own- lord knows I was addicted!

On the lighter side, Chef Jay Silva is rocking his salad game with options including an Heirloom Tomato Salad and a Boston Feta Salad.  The Heirloom Tomato Salad is everything you’d hope for- gorgeous slices of perfect tomatoes surrounding an orb of creamy burrata, and covered under a shower of fresh basil and aged balsamic.  Then the unique twist- polenta croutons.  Croutons may be pretty boring on their own, but the polenta brings a whole new level to the game.   A similar feeling to the polenta fries, these had a gorgeous soft interior found once breaking through the crisp exterior.  I loved the contrast of the textures between these, the ripe
tomatoes and the impossibly creamy, oozy burrata.  If you’re looking for a more traditional salad, give the Boston Feta a go.  Boston Bibb Lettuce, topped with a perfect mix of cucumbers, roasted peppers (sweet and hot), Kalamata olives, cherry tomatoes, a bright and acidic lemon vinaigrette and ample chunks of feta.

Let’s talk entrees.  It is Boston, so seafood is a
major component to satisfy our love of all things ocean.  How about a gorgeous piece of braised cod, perched above fresh spears of roasted asparagus and shrimp enhanced risotto, and  finished with a pancetta broth?  Or a mix of Pork and Clams combining smoked pork loin with native clams over perfect gnocchi with fava beans and a roasted garlic sauce?  The cod was so perfectly cooked, it surrendered to the fork without any resistance allowing huge chunks to be matched with the textural contrast of the creamy risotto.  The flavors of this dish, as it flowed between decadent and light were a fantastic spring/early summer contrast.  Now the smoked pork loin paired with fresh steamers was
my favorite of the entrees tried.  Surf and Turf can mean so many things to different chefs but this was a truly great interpretation.  Clams have such a beautiful salty and earthy flavor, pairing them here with a deep smoke from the pork brought together the true ideas of land and sea.  I immediately felt like I was both sitting in an ocean village and that I was at a back yard bbq- both are extremely happy places.  The backdrop of gnocchi shouldn’t be forgotten either.  Pillowy perfection playing the perfect supporting role and the best vehicle I can think of to sop up that roasted garlic sauce.


Bambara delivered in every category, their food was well put together and showed the ability to push the limits of the box to include ideas that aren’t the norm.  The flavors will dazzle the palate and each dish is well executed.  Bambara isn’t an it place, but that just means you can actually sit and enjoy your meal without being rushed or jostled. Add it to your list of must go's in Kendall Square.


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Farmavore, Lunch Delivered to Your Office

It’s lunchtime, you’re stuck in the office, and all you really want, even more than that 3rd cup of coffee, is for someone, some angel, to deliver a healthy and delicious lunch.  Deliver it to your office, immediately.   Well that is no longer just a dream my friends, that is reality.

The folks behind Farmavore had this idea- that lunch should be a mid day meal that would give you energy to push through the rest of your day, it should give provide you with nutrients but not make you groggy, it should be delicious and filling.  Sounds like a pretty great idea right?   So they set to work creating a concept of delivering farm fresh meals to your place of work, each one designed by chefs to and approved by dietitians to ensure that you are getting not only delicious food, but useful food. 

I had the extreme pleasure of receiving two of their meals at my home office and man- they did not over promise.  I was treated to lamb burger, served with a fresh arugula salad and a delicious hunk of focaccia bread, and a wonderfully flavorful pork loin paired with a sweet potato hash.  The burger was simply enhanced- salt and pepper to the meat and then topped with roasted red peppers and black olives- the Mediterranean pairing that you would anticipate for lamb.  Simple flavors, but wonderfully prepared- exactly what you would want if you were sitting on a beach in Greece, or in your cubicle.  The focaccia had just enough chew to it, and just enough of those crisp places where the olive oil it was baked with pooled just a bit- enough to be fun but not so much to incite guilt.  The arugula salad, with feta cheese and tomatoes was the perfect light addition- providing a good dose of greens. 

Now the pork was absolutely delicious.  Pork loin isn’t easy and is so often over cooked to dry nothingness.  It loses all of its natural decadence and instead is lifeless and, sometimes, just bad.  Farmavore didn’t let that happen.  Their pork was tender and well seasoned.  It showed pride in the meat with just a little gravy topping it- allowing the true beauty of the pig shine forth.  Green beans served along side were fresh and crisp- nothing fancy just good and clean.  I loved the sweet potato hash here too- big chunks of the peeled potatoes, sauteed with melted leeks- it felt decadent but I knew it was just a wonderful  pairing.

Farmavore is delivering what it promises.  Their meals are fresh, delicious and health conscious.  They are ample in size but not comatose inspiring.  Their meals are exactly what lunch should be.  

Monday, May 18, 2015

Under Fire, Back Bay, Boston

Let's say you're wandering around the Back Bay.  You've explored, you've shopped and now you're ready to drop....unless, of course, you get a little sustenance.  Opening just a few weeks ago is a brand new spot that's offering a bright new fantastic option to make sure you're ready to take on the rest of the stores.  

Now, lets be clear, this isn't your average pub grub.  Under Fire, opened in the downstairs bar area of Fire and Ice, is bringing its diners fun, easy and delicious foods at bargain prices for the area.  Their menu is full of finger foods- a burger bar, fantastic tacos and delicacies known as BLT sliders.  I had the opportunity to attend a media function there recently and loved every bite.

Let's start with those BLT sliders.  Delicate rolls, stuffed with juicy tomatoes, crisp lettuce, a slather of mayo and...pork belly.  Under Fire isn't using regular old thin strips of bacon here.  No, their pork belly is thick, rich and full of that perfect smoky flavor meaning it's not getting lost in this sandwich.  Every bite yields a full helping of each ingredient making it the perfect sandwich.

The tacos are what really stole the show however!  I loved how they are putting a unique twist on the standard format of tacos.  How about the Pollo Pesto which combines grilled chicken with a sunflower pesto, tomatoes, fresh basil and that awesome salty deliciousness of Queso Fresco.  This was a great unique twist on your average taco borrowing influence from Italy and combining big leaves of fresh basil with that queso fresco that we all have been gifted from Mexico.  Or check out The Club which brings that amazing pork belly to center stage again and combines it with fire grilled chicken, guacamole that they are making fresh in house and a jalapeno garlic aioli.  

Their burger bar is chock full of interesting toppings and additions such as peach bourbon BBQ sauce, red cabbage slaw, or pulled pork.  And this burger bar isn't just beef burgers, turkey and veggie are also options.

Under Fire is a fantastic addition to the Back Bay.  They have fun cocktails, a friendly staff and a menu designed to make sure you're noshing on only delicious items.  

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