Friday, September 26, 2008

Santarpio's, East Boston

For some reason the idea of heavy weight boxing has become an easy analogy for comparisons everywhere. Products up against each other are often visualized on either sides of a ring, duking it out point for point. Well imagine, if you will, a competitor in his corner of the ring, his coach talking him up, boosting his ego, he looks determined, ready....and then his competitor walks to the ring. The confidence is unmistakable, and before a bell can be rung, our fighter has run from this competition, terrified and half way home already. Who could be so menacing? So assured of a win? In the pizza world-its Santarpio's Pizza in East Boston.

I love good pizza, and I will always have a very special place in my heart for Antonios in Amherst and will claim that its the best-but its not- not when Santarpio's is in town. Santarpios doesn't need to make their pizzas a work of art, there are no fancy toppings here, just good, clean, classic pizza, made the way it should be- with a little attitude.

The crust is homemade, without a lot of salt to it, which serves as the perfect holder of all of the other toppings. Homemade tomato sauce, where you can taste the herbs and the garlic, just the right amount of cheese, and then maybe some pepperoni, or sausage, or garlic, or jalapenos on top. Each flavor perfectly melds, the cheese is nice and melty and you can almost imagine your self in Italy, on a back stoop of grandmothers house, chomping down on a pie made with love. Nothing feels processed, nothing mass produced.

Now of course, Santarpios has a few other items on their menu. Their bar-be-que lamb skewers are fantastic, and I'm dieing to try their homemade sausage that they cook over a flame at the front of the restaurant. The serve great fresh bread that has the same subtle flavor as their pizza crust-and is perfect paired with some jalapenos. They aren't shy about heat in this place-honestly- they aren't shy about much. Get ready to be treated like a regular, or at least feel like you should be one. Have no fear though- the pizza is fantastic and worth the trip to Eastie to get.

Santarpio's Pizza on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

O'Hara's Food And Spirits, Newton Highlands

Cheers, the well renowned television show from the '80s may have really been on to something. Sometimes, you really just want to go to a place where "everybody knows your name", where you can watch your favorite game, drink a pint or two, and even better- enjoy a good meal. I find that the combination of all of these things is difficult. Some places are great for the game, but the food is generally lacking, there are amazing food restaurants, but TVs can be sparse, and normally both miss out on that great neighborhood feel where "regulars" abound and "second home" is generally tossed around. O'Hara's Food and Spirits in Newton Highlands fits the bill on all accounts. In that great home-y way your waitress will call you hon, top off your beer, serve you great food, and let you watch the game.

Monday night, O'Hara's provided the best back drop for the game in which we tied those devilish Devil Rays for first in the AL East. We started with boneless buffalo wings which were absolutely some of the best I've had. The chicken had maintained its crisp, something which is sorely lacking in many other places. I often find that the breading is almost too much, and as more chefs concentrate on the heat of their sauce, that great fried crunch goes by the wayside. O'Hara's nailed the crunch. Personally, I could have standed a little more heat in the sauce, but it did pack a nice punch, and the big bowl of blue cheese dressing was perfect for it.

For my main course I decided to have their Steak and Blue salad, a nice mix of marinated steak tips, salad greens, grilled red onions, blue cheese, tomatoes and roasted red peppers. I had requested for the tips to be cooked medium, and they absolutely were. The big chunks of meat were nice and pink in the middle, and with a really great steak tip flavor. I'm sure that they use the same terriyaki based marinade that most places use (at least it tastes terriyaki based to me) but its that familiar flavor that we've all come to expect with steak tips. There was a very generous sprinkling of blue cheese over the salad which gave that really nice and tangy flavor to the dish and worked well with the plum tomatoes and greens. The roasted red peppers were unexpected and added a great new flavor of smoke and sweetness that was missing from the rest of the ingredients. I did wish that the onion had been added a bit differently. It was obvious that they were just there for aesthetics as they had basically just taken two small onions, sliced them in half and grilled them. They did wonders for the presentation with the great contrasting colors of purple, charred black on the top and then sprinkled with the white blue cheese, however I do enjoy red onion in my salad- so maybe they could have taken a slice or two and diced it? Just a thought from someone who really loves that flavor with her steak...maybe a little too much. The salad was delicious though-one that I look forward to having again.

Overall, their whole menu looked delicious. Nice pub favorites all with a good twist to them that made my decision making process a little bit hard. Additionally, not only could you get your favorite brew there, they had a nice little wine list as well as a pretty imaginative cocktail menu.

All in all, it was a winner of a night. The Sox won, and I got to experience one of the greats...a place with good food, good drinks, and a great attitude.

O'Hara's on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Chicken Tacos with a Veggie Slaw

After two weeks of not cooking, attributed to a week where I couldn't eat thanks to Strep Throat, and a week of checking out some restaurants around town, I was incredibly excited to try my hand at a new dish last Friday night. I had gotten this idea to make chicken tacos for a luncheon at work, but since I didn't want to infect my co-workers, I chose to postpone their inaugural run. So Friday night- I set to work.

I picked up a couple of chicken breasts at the store along with a shredded broccoli and carrot mixture, tomatoes, avocado, red onion, cucumber, cheese, small sized wheat wraps, cilantro and Serrano peppers. Then I made one more stop, and picked up a six pack of Dos Equis beer.

Back at home, I combined a small amount of butter (to create a richer background), a little salt, a whole Serrano pepper (seeds and all), some chopped red onion and bunches of cilantro in a pan over medium/low heat. I let these meld their flavors together for a short time, and then I added two bottles of the Dos Equis to the mix. I have to say-I'm really loving cooking with beer! The flavor really concentrates and you can smell all of the great flavor in it. Once that had sufficiently reduced so that the alcohol was out, I added the chicken breasts to the pan to let them cook in the mixture. I turned them every 10 minutes or so.

In the meantime- I set to work on the slaw I wanted to have over the top- easy enough. I combined a couple of handfuls of the broccoli/carrot mixture with thinly sliced cucumbers, tomato, avocado, red onion, lime juice, 3/4 of a Serrano pepper (seeds removed this time), and a bit of salt. Then I made a dressing for this of a little mayo, about twice the amount of Dijon mustard, more lime juice, and a tiny shot of champagne vinegar. I tossed the veggies into this dressing and the dinner was almost complete.

Once I felt that the chicken was cooked, I removed it from the liquid, and shredded it using two forks in a big bowl. Then I assembled the tacos- a little cheese on the bottom of the wheat wrap, a layer of the shredded chicken, and then a healthy dose of the veggie slaw over the top. These were some incredibly filling tacos! They had really nice flavor from the beer, good heat from the slaw, which also added a nice light yet creamy flavor, and the necessary crunch of veggies to the meal. I really enjoyed the different textures and flavors that all of the different kinds of vegetables added to the dish. The tomatoes were nice and soft, the avocados backed up the cream of the sauce, the carrots and broccoli were the sturdy backbone, and the onions and cucumber added some great texture and flavor. The cheese was a good addition, but got a little lost under every thing else. I also, again, in my panic over chicken germs, over cooked the chicken. Id rather be safe than sorry- but in the future Ill need to be more careful then that. Ill definitely make these again- the chicken had such a nice flavor to it!!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Gaslight, South End, Boston

Last night I finally got the opportunity to dine at Gaslight, a French restaurant that opened just over a year ago or so in the South End of Boston. Since its first reviews I have wanted to check this place out. The ambiance was talked up as authentic Parisian cafe style, with street lights to floor tiles imported from France, and the menu was to match. I have always been a bit obsessed with classic French style, and so the idea of a place that pays enough attention to detail to ensure its style is spot on, is really exciting to me. So, and without too much pleading from me, we ventured over to Harrison Ave, took advantage of their complimentary parking lot, and got ready to be entrenched in French cuisine.

The space was much larger than I had anticipated, and could immediately see why many of the reviews that I had read about it warned of noise issues. The high ceilings didn't seem to give much help in limiting how much sound could travel. Luckily for us we were eating a later dinner last night, and so the place was relatively empty when we got there. No noise problems for us. We ordered a bottle of Merlot and began to study the menu. We chose to start with an appetizer of Fromage Blanc, a delicate soft white cheese topped with a sprinkling of herbes de provence, sea salt and a hint of olive oil, served with croutons and a medley of pickled vegetables. The dish was delicious. Fromage blanc is made similarly to a typical hard cheese, however it is constantly stirred during the process so the curds never settle, this creates a lovely spreadable texture similar to a light Ricotta. The herbs and salt gave a subtle back flavor, and when spread on a crouton and topped with a pickled carrot, or onion, or cucumber it gave a really beautiful combination of bite, crunch and cream.

I decided to have the roasted leg of lamb with pommes morbier. The lamb was perfectly cooked, pink on the inside, nice sear and flavor to the outside, and the spice rub that they used to enhance the meat was delicious. Spicy without being over powering, just really enhanced the good meaty flavor. The pommes morbier, or basically potatoes au gratin, with the cheese being morbier cheese were ok. They were cooked well so that each layer of potato held their shape, but the flavor was lacking. The cheese wasn't strong enough to hold its own, and there didn't appear to have been any other enhancers (salt, pepper, herbs of any kind) added as well. The best part of it was the top layer that had been nicely browned in the oven so it had good depth of flavor. Sadly- that part was pretty small.

I have to say though, as pleased as I was with my lamb, and I was very pleased, I had a bit of jealousy for J's meal. He had ordered their bar steak served with caramelized shallots, a mustard cream sauce, and frites. It was, in a word, outstanding. The steak was well cooked, nicely seasoned, and the mustard cream sauce was absolutely perfect with the shallots. The flavors combined to make just a wonderful combination of complete indulgence. The fries were also excellent, nice and crisp with great flavor and color to them.

We ended the meal with their Tart Tatin, served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. This was really only ok. The apples were slightly over cooked, the caramel could have had a bit more flavor to it, and the crust was basically non existent. I was looking for a nice deep brown caramel that you knew was just oozing that wonderful flavor, and an apple with a bit of bite left in it. As it was the apples had good flavor, but were difficult to cut, and the caramel was enhanced greatly as the ice cream melted into it.

All in all though, I adored my experience at Gaslight. The ambiance was wonderful, the food had very high points that far out shined the lows, and I felt very well taken care of by the wait staff. I will definitely return to Gaslight, and perhaps take in their bar a bit more, and indulge in one of their famous cocktails!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Bleacher Bar, Boston

Summer is sadly coming to a close here in Boston, and while I love the fall, and the winter for that matter, I also have a great love for summertime in this city, and all that goes along with it. As I have mentioned several times already here, I love our Boston Red Sox, and heading to Fenway is one of my all time favorite summer activities. That warm night air, a cold beer, and the excitement of our beloved home town team battling for a title...its all just thrilling. I have been incredibly fortunate this year to make it to quite a few games thus far, last nights blow out of the Baltimore Orioles being the latest. There are a ton of great bars in the area, some very near and dear to my heart for pre and post game socializing, but there is a new one in their midst that I am quickly falling in love with. The Bleacher Bar opened earlier this season and boasts a view that no other "outside" bad can compete with. Built under Fenway stadium, a section of their back wall looks out on the field, at field level. I have been in a couple of times now, and each time am amazed by the view. Standing there, looking out on our own "field of dreams", its a majestic sight- whether there is a game going on or not!

Last night one of my girl friends and I decided to grab a bite there pre-game to add a little variety to our Fenway dinner fare. I was surprised at how limited the menu is, though that isn't necessarily a bad thing. I walked in anticipating "pub" food- burgers, the requisite salad or two, pizzas etc. The menu concentrates, almost wholly on sandwiches. They boast 7 different varieties of a club sandwich, and then have offerings of hot sandwiches and cold sandwiches, all with a variety of different types of meats. Boston is not known for its brisket and pastrami, so it is exciting to see those types of meats being used in sandwiches.

Being raised by a former New Yorker by way of New Jersey, I grew up with a taste for a good Pastrami sandwich on rye- heavy on the mustard. It was an immediate decision to order it last night, and when the waitress clarified- "we serve that with mustard is that ok?" I'm sure I didn't hide my disbelief that someone might actually order this awesome combination of salt and fat and spicy mustard WITHOUT the mustard. There is just something about the flavors of the sandwich that go so perfectly together, that the thought of ruining that with- I cant even imagine what- Mayo??- is just blasphemy in my book. I assured her that mustard was just fine by me. The sandwich, served in record time for us game bound ladies, was exactly as I had pictured it. A stack of pastrami, sandwiched between two pieces of light rye bread which just adds a delicious sour tangy flavor to the meal, and spread with spicy mustard was exactly what I wanted, and was served with a cute little bag of potato chips, and a whole pickle. To be a little picky- the pastrami could have been a bit hotter temperature wise, and for my taste, I would have appreciated a bit more mustard, though this was easily remedied as they had provided a bottle on the table. Overall though- it was a tasty sandwich, with nicely flavored potato chips, all washed down with a beer before running to our seats for the first inning- it all added up to an awesome evening.

Sometimes there are just great ideas out there, and while the food at Bleacher Bar may not be particularly inventive, or even complex, it serves its purpose well, AND the space provides more atmosphere than you could ever want. Bleacher Bar is now ranking as my favorite Fenway hang out.

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