Friday, October 24, 2008

Drink and Lucky's Lounge, South Boston

Barbara Lynch is one of my all time favorite chefs, well anywhere, but within Boston for sure. She has this great clean approach to food, using locally grown produce, and exceptional proteins to create interesting and, in my opinion, exceptional dishes. She has several restaurants throughout Boston, one being No. 9 Park which also happens to be my favorite restaurant of all time. Her concentration hasn't just been restaurants though- she's opened a produce stand in the South End named Plum Produce, and next to it a cooking demonstration space, which doubles as one of the best cook book stores Ive been in. Wandering around the small space, leafing through books that explore every aspect of the culinary world is a fantastic afternoon for me. With as much respect and admiration that I have for Chef Lynch, I was thrilled to hear that she would be opening two new establishments on the up and coming Fort Point Channel in South Boston.

The first of her ventures recently opened, a bar surprisingly serving very little food, and so aptly named Drink. The mission of Drink is clear from the moment you walk in- it is to concentrate on extremely well executed drinks without losing time on other flourishes. The room itself is a long rectangle and the "bar" takes up about half the space, with three "stations" where the bartenders perform their magic. There are no drink menus here, a selection of just two beers, and a limited wine selection. But what remains is pure perfection. You are encouraged to speak to your bartender and come to a decision on what type of drink you want based on your preferences. If given the green light- they will make you their own concoctions which are imaginative, and delicious. In my last visit I ordered a Basil Gimlet for my first drink, a wonderful combination of earthy flavors, with just a background of sweet, and then gave our bartender full permission to make me whatever he wanted. The end product was unlike anything Id had before. Mixing gin, vermouth, grapefruit juice, muddled rosemary, simple syrup and a few other ingredients that I'm ashamed to say I don't recall, he came up with a drink that was both strong, refreshing, and utterly interesting.

Through the genius that is Chef Lynch, everything has been thought of at Drink. They chip fresh ice for every drink to provide each with aesthetics, as well as the coldest part of the ice. Their flavorings are out in medicine type bottles complete with the dropper for precision. Every ingredient in a drink is measured carefully, and you begin to understand that a cocktail is not JUST a drink, it's a form of art, of creativity and of exactness.

After having our fill at Drink, we ran across the street to Lucky's Lounge for dinner. Lucky's is a standby for me, a place where it is easy to relax and have an enjoyable meal. If you hit the day right, you might even get to listen to some fantastic live music. A few nights a week they have bands come in who play some great classic tunes, Sunday nights, and sometimes during the week as well they have a Sinatra cover band in. I have to say-those are my favorite nights. They are so good you can almost imagine Sinatra himself on stage. There was no live music that night, but there was some delicious food. I had Grilled Ahi Tuna Fish Tacos for my meal that night. These were served with a jicama salsa and a lime crema sauce, with tomato salsa and guacamole on the side. Three to the platter, these little guys were delicious. The tuna had been treated with a spicy rub previous to grilling which gave them a really nice "blackened" affect-just enough spice for me. Jicama is one of those vegetables that I don't feel gets enough credit for being delicious, so I'm always glad to see it being used on menus. Its satisfying crunch, and refreshing taste varies the textures in the meal to a really nice degree. The lime crema was tasty as well- the lime adding that great citrus flavor, though I would have enjoyed a bit more lime to it. I felt as though there was almost too much of the crema at times, but was missing the lime-I'm not sure how that happened to be honest other than that it was simply overpowered. The side salsa and guacamole were nothing mind blowing, but served their purpose nicely. I do have to note though that I really enjoyed the presentation of the tacos. They were speared together with a wooden kabob skewer, the sharp end of the skewer pointing at a small taco bowl filled with the salsa and guacamole. It was simple, yet affective, and I enjoyed it.

I am really excited for the new face of Fort Point to be revealed. Slowly but surely I'm seeing the changes come in, and each one has been very welcomed. Drink fills a need that Boston was sorely lacking previously. We've had our fill of sports bars, euro lounges, and Irish pubs...a place where the drinks are the focus is a fantastic addition. Lucky's has been around for quite some time, and is an old favorite- the two together are a perfect combination of new and old. Whats that saying- make new friends but keep the is silver and the other gold...

Barbara Lynch's Home Site:

Luckys Lounge

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Cauliflower Soup

As the temperature gets cooler, I decided to try out a new concoction that Ive been thinking about. Last march I experienced cauliflower bisque for the first time, and ever since Ive been wanting to try making it for myself.

So on a crisp fall Sunday I marched myself down to the grocery store and picked up a good size head of cauliflower, thyme, lemons and shallots. Back at home I broke down half the head of cauliflower into equal size small pieces and put them into a pot 3/4 full of water with a quartered lemon and a bit of salt. I set that to boil on the stove, and then added a small pat of butter, a little salt, pepper and a sliced shallot to a sauce pan. After the shallots had gotten a bit soft I added a few stems of thyme and allowed them to heat through. Then I added about a half a bottle of white wine, and left it alone to boil and reduce.

Once the cauliflower had boiled through and was fork tender, I pulled it off the heat and strained the water from it, also removing the lemon wedges. Then came the fun part. I received a Cuisenart last year for Christmas but hadn't gotten to use it just yet. Now was the time. I set it up and added my boiled cauliflower to it- I set it to pulsing and my cute little florets began to puree into a liquid consistency. To make it a bit creamier I added some butter to the blend as well. Then I transferred the contents of the Cuisenart to a second saucepan.

The wine mixture had reduced a fair amount at that point so I strained the herbs and shallots out, and then added that to the cauliflower puree. My thought on that was to add flavor first of all, as well as to thin it out some to make it more soup consistent. Unfortunately, I didn't make enough of the wine so it didn't quite do the job I wanted, though it did add fantastic flavor. A little more fresh thyme, and some cracked black pepper and my soup was complete- and delicious.

When I make it again though I think that Ill add vegetable stock as well as the wine reduction to thin it out some and boost the flavor, but otherwise I really enjoyed the flavors of lemon, wine and thyme all together in the beautiful backdrop of cauliflower. I think that this may become my newest obsession...

Friday, October 3, 2008

Anthony's Pier 4; Waterfront, Boston

As I have previously mentioned, I have been reading The Last Days of Haute Cuisine by Patric Kuh for some time now- its one of those that I'm refusing to finish. Kuh's description of how restaurants began, and the image of privilege and wonder is one that has stuck with me. Restaurants today are a far cry from what they began as. Today it is not uncommon for Americans to eat out several times a week, and restaurants have catered to this. Now we have "neighborhood restaurants", kid friendly approaches to make it easier on parents, we hold "pub grub" to high standards because no longer do we go to a bar just to drink- we want a good meal out as well. But at the turn of the century, it was a very special occasion to eat out. Patrons dressed up in their best clothing, and relished every moment of the meal. Restaurant staff catered to every wish, and treated their guests as just that- guests. Wait staff was dressed to impress, and all was served with a flourish. There are not many places around any longer that have held on to this ideal. Many restaurants today encourage a "come as you are" dress code, and many have relaxed their staff uniforms as well. Black pants and a collared shirts still seem to be a staple, but gone are the tuxedos of a few decades ago. However, last Friday, I had the distinct pleasure of walking back in time for an evening, and dining in what I assume is one of the last of a dieing breed- a restaurant maintaining their stance that to dine out is a special occasion and they are going to treat it that way.

Anthony's Pier 4 on the waterfront, opened in 1963, is a long standing staple in Boston's cuisine. Recent reports have found that their quality of food has gone down hill, but they have maintained their place in haute cuisine and all that goes along with it. When we arrived we were greeted by several staff members, the men dressed in tuxedos and the ladies in black skirts and white collared shirts, well pressed. We were led to table with a gorgeous view of the harbor. From there, we were treated incredibly well. Each glass of wine, each course was served with a bit of a flourish, from the bread basket served with a generous plate of marinated mushrooms as well, to our entrees.

We started the meal with a plate of calamari for the table. The batter was light and crisp, and the pieces of calamari were large enough to stand up to the varied flavors of both the batter and the dipping sauces. Calamari is a dish, in my opinion, that is either served very well, or very badly. There doesn't appear to be an in between very often, this was served very well. Each of us then moved on to a cup of their clam chowder. Though I know that the proper way to make chowder is a thinner based mixture of milk and clam juice, I prefer the thicker staple that we are often served normally made with cream or some type of roux. Anthony's was the thinner variety, very smokey in taste, with a great many clams and potatoes. While not my favorite, it was delicious in its own right.

I selected grilled swordfish for my main dish, served with a baked potato and a Cesar salad. The salad was served first, well dressed, fresh lettuce, though I anticipated that. To be served anything less would have been a shock. The swordfish was beautifully grilled, and was served resting in a pool of tomato and olive buerre blanc. The sauce, sweet and salty at the same time from the mixture, was the perfect accompaniment allowing me to enjoy the full flavor of the fish, and breaking up the monotony in places as well. Though I was extremely jealous of the baked stuffed lobster that one of my dining companions ordered, and looked delicious, I was very satisfied with my dish.

They had an incredibly extensive dessert menu that I just wasn't able to indulge in, but all on it looked incredibly delicious. I can note though, that my cappuccino was very well made.

All in all, I was very impressed with Anthony's. Their attention to detail was flawless, down to a staff member carrying a basket of warm popovers around the dining room and filling each tables bread basket half way through their meal. I was there on a business meeting, and so we sat for quite some time at that table, others around us being turned three times, but not once did I feel rushed in the least. Our waiter seemed more than happy to allow us to sit, chat, conduct our meeting as needed, and take over his table for the night. He engaged with us when we asked questions, was very knowledgeable about the history of the restaurant, the area and the menu itself. Was the meal itself one of the best Ive ever had? No. The dishes were not particularly creative, nor were they presented with that artistic flair that Ive come to expect, but the aura that is Anthony's Pier 4 doesn't belong in that sense, it is in the tip of that hat that it gives to what dining out is really all about- making the guest feel special.

Anthony's Pier 4 on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Reviews: A dead art?

Last December I declared 2023 the year I would return to food writing.  It was a bold statement (even now as I look at my last published dat...