Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Toscano's Restaurant, Mr. Bartleys Burger Cottage and Brown Sugar Cafe

Its been a busy few weeks for me, jetting off to Atlanta for a weekend and then trying to catch up at work, not to mention the highly disappointing Super Bowl this past weekend. However, that is no excuse, Ive been eating throughout these past two weeks, and Ive been eating well.

First, Id like to begin with the newly re-opened Toscano's Restaurant in the Beacon Hill area of Boston. I dined here...well two weeks ago- but I can truthfully say that I havent forgotten a morsel of the food. It was that good. To start, they have a fantastic Wine selection that is divided by region in Italy, which I personally enjoy. Regions- soil and sunlight- have so much to do with the flavor of the grape that its astounding. Now, I dont pretend to be as well versed as to be able to tell the difference between them at this stage, but places that organize by region allow me to experiences the difference and learn a little each time. Anyway -we chose a Tuscan Chianti-from the Felsina vineyard I believe, which was fantastic. Smooth and full bodied, a great accompanyment to a good italian meal.

We skipped appetizers for the evening and went straight to main courses. I had Frutti Di Mare Risotto which included shrimp, calamari and mussels. It was fantastic. They had added tomatos to the risotto and the result was the creaminess of a standard risotto with the delightful acidity of the tomatos. Honestly, without the tomato, Im not entirely sure how the risotto would have stood up to the seafood as each type has a flavor all to themselves. I found it to be a great blender. My dinner date had their scallops served with spinach. As he is a very generous individual, he gave me a scallop for me to enjoy. It was cooked perfectly-which Ive found -is not very easy to do. They had been pan seared and had a delightful tan crust to the outside. The center was warm, and not at all over cooked. My date raved about them, and thoroughly enjoyed his meal. We ended with their interpretation of tiramisu. Now anyone who knows me know my adoration of Tiramisu- I find it fantastic...it may be the idea of soaking cake in brandy- but I digress. Toscanos version was served in a martini glass which I thought was a nice touch, though I didnt find the actual desert to be overly remarkable. The sponge cake didnt appear to have been soaked very thoroughly and therefore did not add the correct flavor to the dish. However the filling was tasty on its own. I am a desert fiend, but I did not have trouble leaving the rest to my date after a few spoonfuls.

Overall, I did love Toscanos. I found the ambiance to be absolutely perfect, and found the wait staff to be attentive and personable. Our waitress was knowledgable of the specials of the evening, as well as the history of the restaurant. The bartenders for our pre-dinner drink were equally knowledgeable of the wine list, and seemed personable with the bar patrons. Though I didnt investigate, it appeared that a full menu was available at the bar as well, though the area seemed rather small.

Later that week, we ventured to a much less formal establishment, but one that has equally had my heart for years. Mr. Bartleys Burger Cottage in Harvard Square is a no frills place that cant be beat for their burgers. To be honest- I resolve with myself to try something new every time I go as their menue is rather extensive for being a burger cottage, but I cannot drag myself away from their burgers. Their menu consists of dozens of different burger topping combinations all named in a kitschy manner after different politicians or celebrities around Boston. My personal favorite is the Tom Brady (which has also been named the Tedy Bruschi, or just The Patriots) which includes guacamole as well as cheddar cheese. Its fantastic. My date got The Viagra burger (I think he really just wanted to hear them yell that out to the cook) which consisted of blue cheese, bacon, lettuce and tomato. It was absolutely messy, but based on his expression- it seemed fully enjoyable as well.

One thing to note about Bartleys is that you have to be in the mood to eat with your neighbor. Tables within the place are very close together, and often condiments are intended to be shared between two tables. There is one long community table in the middle of the room, and I have personally witnessed many a Harvard student debate there. Overall, if you want the best burger in town, and you dont care about noise, or personal space-this is your place.

This past weekend we headed out with one of my good friends and her boyfriend for what I consider some of the best Thai food in Boston, at Brown Sugar Cafe on Comm Ave in Allston. We started off the meal with their spring rolls as well as their steamed mussels. The spring rolls were basically chicken, ground from what I could determine, with chopped veggies wrapped in a light wrapper and fried. I have to admit-they were not what I was anticipating in a spring roll. The chicken did not appear to have a lot of flavor to it, however the light sweet sauce that they served along side was tasty. The mussels had been steamed with a variety of vegetables and were quite large in size. They were served in a half shell, with a spicy sauce along side. That is one of the things that I love most about mussels- you can dress them up in a variety of ways. Ive had them steamed in white wine, cider, and of course cooked into a sauce. Ive also had them simply broiled to be seasoned at the table. However these mussels I enjoyed. The vegetables that they had steamed them with gave them a light flavor, and the spicy chili sauce gave them quite a kick.

I strayed from my norm of getting Pad Thai (which is fantastic at Brown Sugar) and instead got their Brown Sugar Hawaiian Fried Rice that was basically fried rice, seasoned appropriately, with large shrimp and crab legs on top, and served in a half pineapple. I believe I was most excited to eat out of half of a pineapple. However, the crab legs were fantastic, as were the shrimp which were cooked perfectly. I have found that I have enjoyed, and my friends have enjoyed, basically everything that we've gotten from Brown Sugar. Its a great spot to go, get an authentic meal, and relax.

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