Friday, February 22, 2008

Til Next Week

Alright kids, Im off to sunny Aruba for a week of sun, spas and some tropical delights. Ill be back next saturday with some island cuisine updates!

Have a great week!!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

For the "Cooking Challenged"- Fajitas

Yesterday I was talking to a good friend of mine and she suggested that I may want to try to help out the "cooking challenged" by posting an easy recipe or two. Now I have to say that I have recently been very impressed with this friends new found interest in cooking, so her request is one that I’m happy to oblige.

Several years ago I was visiting my sister and we prepared fajitas for dinner one night. Fajitas, in my opinion, are one of the best things to have in ones repertoire of dishes to make. They are versatile, fun to serve and to eat, and best of all, they are incredibly simple to make. Basic fajitas should include some type of meat (usually chicken or steak), though you could go vegetarian with them and do tofu or Portobello mushroom strips, peppers, onions, salsa, guacamole, sour cream and cheese. Some will add in rice as an ingredient, others beans- either whole or refried. The versatility it really up to the cook as to how complex you’d like to make them. I’ll stick with my basic concept and leave the options up to you.

I always start my fajitas by heating a non stick fry pan over medium heat and adding just a bit of vegetable oil to the bottom. Once the oil has heated through then I will add sliced onions and peppers to the pan. As you probably know peppers come in a variety of colors and flavors with equally varying levels of heat. Depending on how spicy you like your food, choose a pepper to your discretion. I have found that for no heat at all, there is nothing wrong with a nice bell pepper. As these come in green, red and yellow they can also add an appealing color to your fajitas. Once the onions have become translucent and the peppers have softened remove them from the pan and place aside in a container covered with tin foil. This will keep them warm while you cook the rest of your meal.

Without draining the oil from the pan so that all of the good flavors from the onions and peppers remain, add your meat of choice. With whatever form you choose, I would cut the pieces into strips that can be placed easily within your tortilla wrapper, but are not so big that they are the only things to fit in there. You want to be sure to leave room for the other ingredients. As you choose different meats to prepare for this dish, your cooking times will vary- thickness and doneness factors will also play a role. The one thing to note, please be sure, when you are cooking chicken to be very sure that it is cooked all the way through. Chicken can contain a lot of bacteria that must be cooked off for it to be safe to eat. For this reason, I would also be hesitant to add the chicken to anything else you may be cooking raw. For instance, if you wanted to make combo fajitas of chicken and steak, my advice would be to cook the steak first until the desired doneness, and then put in the chicken once the steak has been removed from the pan. I may be overly cautious, but Id prefer to be safe than sorry when it comes to chicken. My favorite last trick to preparing these is the one that my sister taught me many years ago. In the final stages of cooking, I like to add about half the jar of salsa to the pan with the meat. This infuses the meat with a little of the spice from the salsa, and creates a nice sauce for your fajitas. What would they be if not messy?

Once that is complete, you are basically ready to go. All you need to do at that point is set your table with the remaining salsa, sour cream, guacamole if you choose, and cheese. The vegetables and meats can be served in the same serving dish on the table. The only final trick I have is for the tortillas. A cold tortilla is no fun at all- I prefer to stack these in tinfoil, separating each with a damp paper towel and then placing them into a warm oven (approximately 250 degrees) for about 10 minutes, or until the rest of the meal is prepared. The damp paper towels add the moisture needed to keep the tortillas from drying out in the oven, and you are left with soft pliable shells for your fajitas.

As I was saying earlier, fajitas are a fantastic meal to prepare because of their versatility. To the base of the recipe you can easily add cilantro to the pan with your onions and peppers to give them a more authentic feel, and you can turn up the heat a bit with the addition of a Serrano, or jalapeño pepper. Plain white rice could be heated, or even yellow rice for an authentic feel if you decided. These are really a delicious meal that are entirely controlled by the cook. You have the ability to make them as easy or as intricate as you choose, and no matter what you do, people will be excited by your creativity.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Chicken Soup for my soul

Yesterday I decided to try my hand at making soup-something Ive never done before but always wanted to try. It had been a cold and gloomy weekend weather wise and I was feeling slightly under the weather, so I thought what better to sooth my soul and brighten the evening than a big pot of soup.

As I walked to the grocery store I couldnt quite decide what type of soup I wanted to make- I had been talking to my friend D about vegetable soups for a few days, and my mother had made chilli so both of those thoughts were going through my head- however I decided to make a nice chicken soup for myself. From the produce section I picked up three zucchini, three summer squash, one yellow onion, two serrano peppers, celery, white mushrooms, carrots, thyme, and rosemary. I then picked up three chicken breasts. I decided to purchase those with the skin on as I was hoping that they would add a little extra flavor while cooking the chicken and then I could remove them before adding the meat to the soup. I think next time Ill elect for chicken breasts with the skin removed. I also picked up a container of low sodium chicken stock as I already had one at home, and I picked up broccoli from the frozen food section. I had been hoping for Cauliflower, but I was unable to find any in the fresh produce section, or the frozen aisle so I settled for some broccoli.

Back at home I combined chopped rosemary and thyme with ground pepper and kosher salt and melted butter and then poured this on top of the chicken breasts. I had originally thought that I would massage this mixture under the skin of the chicken, but my fear of chicken germs took over and I refused to touch it. Again- I would be sure to purchase chicken with the skin removed in the future. I then covered my baking dish with tin foil and popped it into a 400 degree oven for 50 minutes. After that, I removed the tinfoil and baked for another 10 minutes un covered.

In the mean time, I chopped a bit more thyme and rosemary, and then started to chop my vegetables into large chunks, bite size but large bits so they would each stand their own. This was my theory for all vegetables aside from the onions, three cloves of garlic and the serrano pepper that I diced up seeds and all as I wanted this soup to have a bit of a kick. Into my large soup pot I added just a tablespoon of butter, the chopped onion, and the garlic and allowed those to sweat together for a few minutes. I then added the herbs and some salt and pepper. In succession while allowing each to add their own flavor to the mix before adding the next ingredient, I added the peppers, celery, carrots, zucchini, summer squash, and mushrooms. I then added both containers of chicken stock- I am not sure of the oz portions of each container, but they are pretty standard boxes at this point. I then added the frozen broccoli- about half the bag. The chicken was ready to be taken out of the oven at this point and so I removed the skin, chopped the meat and added it to the soup. A little wine was added, a bit more salt and then I allowed the soup to work on its own.

I had a bowl of it last night and I have to say-Im rather pleased by it. It is slightly spicy but that is almost just a backround taste after the rest of the garden fresh flavors emerge. The chicken retained it moisture through the baking and it added its own flavors to the soup. It was the first bowl of soup that Ive had in ages that I havent had to add anything to.

I have brought it for lunch today and will have it over some brown rice I had in my freezer. Hopefully it will serve as a satisfying and tasty lunch. It better-its what I plan on eating all week before I leave on vacation :-)

Monday, February 18, 2008

Parish Cafe, Masa and The Pour House

Long weekends are absolutely one of my favorite things. The extra 24 hours seems like just so much more time to spend with family and friends, and to fit in that relax time that we all seek. To me, they are also perfect opportunities to experience food :-)

Saturday night my friend A and I had dinner at Parish Cafe on Boylston Street in the Back Bay. I have never had a bad meal at Parish, it is definitely one of my favorites places for a reasonably priced meal. Saturday was no exception. We started with turkey meatballs in a turkey gravy, served with crostini topped with an apricot glaze. Two meatballs were brought to the table in a shallow boat filled with the turkey gravy. Three crostinis were artfully placed around them. Personally- if you are going to serve two meat balls- wouldnt it be better to serve two or four pieces of crostini? Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the whole appetizer. The apricot glaze complimented the delicate flavor of the meat balls well, and it was a lovely way to start the meal.

The fun thing about Parish, I find, is that their menu consists mainly of sandwiches created by different chefs in the area. I chose a veal pastrami sandwich served on french bread with a spicy mustard. I have found that there are several ingrediants that I cannot resist ordering- normally they include avocados, mussels and mustard-though not together. The idea of a spicy mustard sounded fantastic on Saturday and I was very pleased that they elected to allow the meat to shine without smothering it with cheese. All in all the sandwich was tasty, though I found it easier to eat disassembled with a fork and knife then as a sandwich.

A elected to have a sandwich that I actually recommended to her. Their Elephant Walking On Eggs sandwich is delicious- an omelette consisting of several fresh vegetables and goat cheese creates a light mix, served on a french baguette. A small side salad of fresh spring greens is served with it and all together you feel almost refreshed at the end of the meal while getting lots of proteins.

I have heard several complaints of bad service at Parish, however I have never experienced this myself. I have always found the staff to be helpful and attentive, though sometimes you may not know who your actual waiter is.

Sunday morning, my mother and I decided to get brunch at Masa in the South End. I have been to Masa several times before and while I loved it the first time I dined there, I have not been as impressed in subsequent visits. Unfortunately, Sunday morning followed this trend. Through our own fault, we had failed to make reservations for brunch and showed up at around 12:30 pm. We were greeted and told that our wait would be a half an hour. In actuality, we waited forty-five minutes to an hour in a very cramped space with many other parties. This is one of my pet peeves with restaurants. I understand that it is difficult to be 100% accurate with wait times, but I do not anticipate them to be off by basically double what they quoted. We were finally seated though, and promptley greeted by our waiter who got right to work on getting our drinks- a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice for my mom and a cup of coffee for me. He then took our orders, banana stuffed french toast for my mother, and southwestern eggs benedict for me. Unfortunately they were out of the french toast, and my mother was left to choose a new entree. After hoping to have bananas added to the chocolate chip pancakes, but was dismayed to find that that wasnt possible, she settled on a hamburger. She was rather disappointed that there were not many options available on their menu that did not have eggs in the starring role. Basically most options consisted of eggs scrambled or in an omelette. However, to make up for the disappointment of my mothers meal, our generous waiter brought over Masa's signature spring rolls on the house. These were delightful, fried wonton rappers filled with meat and spices, served with a salsa and sour cream based sauce. Finally our meals arrived and they were both slightly disappointing. My mother marked nothing exceptional with the burger and found that any diner could have done better. My eggs benedict were not much different. The poached eggs were served on biscuits with avocados and a hollandaise sauce. The sauce did not have a lot of flavor to it, and it congealed a bit too fast for my taste. The biscuits were dry did not absorb the egg yolk as they should have. It was served with a side of home fries that were actually rather tasty.

Brunch is one of my favorite meals and I was disappointed that this menu was limited in its options and those options were not perfected. I will continue to hope that Masa returns to the caliber it was at a few years ago, but this is marked down as another disappointment. Masa Restaurant

Sunday evening I met up with friends to toast our former presidents with some beers, and since we are always up for cheap beer and cheap but tasty food, we decided to head to the Pour House on Boylston Street which has both. We settled into a back booth for some girl talk and indulged in their 22 oz beers and a plate of nachos for the three of us. While its not easy to mess up nachos, I have had worse. The Pour House did a tasty job of combining cheese, olives, jalepenos, salsa and sour cream on top of a mound of tortilla chips. An excellent start to our meal. I then had a blackened chicken cesar wrap that was accompanied by crispy french fries. Now, I have to say that there was a bit too much dressing in the wrap, and Im not so sure that the chicken was blackened, but it was otherwise a good wrap for the price. You dont go to a place like the Pour House for their cuisine but for the scene, and if you can grab a good bite while you're there, well its a bonus. I find that The Pour House is a great bonus for pub food at a GREAT price. Pour House

All in all, it was a great weekend- nicely spattered with good food and great company.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Redbones

Boston seems to be obsessed with a BBQ eatery over in Somerville called Redbones. Over and over from many different sources Ive been told how fantastic this place is, by far the best in Boston and the surrounding areas. I can wholeheartedly say that I was on board for checking this place out. I am a BBQ fan, and to that degree I am a huge fan of ribs. So needless to say, I was excited to check this place out.



To be honest- I was disappointed. Starters for the evening were Hush Puppies (a cornmeal mixture deep fried and served with a vinegar sauce for dipping) and catfish fingers (basically fried pieces of catfish served with a tartar sauce). I found the Hush Puppies to be dry and mealy. And while the vinegar tried to solve the dry problem, it wasnt quite the right taste for them. The catfish fingers had an odd flavor to them. Now, this was my first experience with catfish so I cannot be sure if that was just the way it tastes, but there was something peculiar. To be honest- I was two for two with the appetizers.



The pulled chicken sandwich had been recommended to me so I thought that that may be my best bet, esp as my companion was getting texas ribs and I knew Id be able to steal a bite to see what they were like. The sandwich, available as just the sandwich, or as a "plate" with beans, cole slaw and potato salad, was tasty. The chicken was well seasoned, but not over powering. It was served on a hamburger roll with plenty of pickles which made me very happy. The cole slaw was fine, nothing outstanding, as was the potato salad. I am not a fan of beans at all, but it was my expectation for them to be baked beans. They were actually red beans. From what I had of them, they were rather flavorless.



I was able to snag a bite of the texas rib which I did not find to be outstanding either. The meat was not "fall off the bone", in fact from the one that I tried- that meat wanted to STAY on the bone. It did however have a nice smokey flavor, though even that could have been a bit more pungent. Finally, the meals came with dipping sauces, two types of bbq sauce, one far spicier than the other, molasses, and the vinegar again. All four were good, though I preferred the spicier bbq sauce to the milder version.



Boston is a difficult town to get BBQ in, as we are no where near the South and its become my impression that unless we're eating lobster, we dont prefer to get messy with food. So for Bostons standards, I would agree that this is good, and appeared authentic. However, it is my personal belief that there is better BBQ out there.

Redbones

Friday, February 8, 2008

Neptune Oyster

Wednesday night, D had gotten us tickets to see the Celtics play which I was entirely excited for. Since the addition of KG tickets are nearly impossible to get a hold of. Gone are the days that I could get a company discount and $30 would get me 10th row seats...now $100 will barely get you into the Garden. But I digress. I was very excited for the game, as well as for dinner before hand. We had decided to go to one of the great food bars as I like to call them on Canal Street- we had decided on Boston Beerworks which my best friend and I gush over at all times (sweet potato fries- FANTASTIC) with a back up of The Fours which Ive only been to once, but I enjoyed. So down Canal we went and found that Beerworks had an hour wait...it being 6:15 already and the game starting at 7:30- we vetoed our decision. Down the street we went to go to The Fours and found the same issue. So on the spur, D suggested that we head to the North End and eat at Neptune Oyster bar. It turned out to be a fantastic suggestion for several reasons.

D had been there before, but I had not which left me to peruse the menu for some time. He quickly settled on a hot lobster sandwich with a glass of Riesling to compliment it. I finally decided on their Cioppino with a glass of Pinot Noir (a wine that I am quickly enjoying more and more). One of the best things about seafood restaurants is that they are never shy about mixing their foods together. Its rare at a restaurant to find chicken and beef and pork all together, but creations like Cioppino are common fair. This version consisted of shrimp, scollops, mussels, clams and grilled fish all over rice with a tomato saffron broth. A few things to note, the broth was actually very brothy. Other Cioppinos Ive had have had a thicker, chunkier soup to it- actually that is why I chose to pair a red wine with it-thinking it would stand up to the soup. A white would have been a better pairing. Second, the clams were served in shell as they were supposed to be, but were far saltier than other clams Ive had and tended to be over powering. Overall however, I enjoyed the flavors of the broth, and the grilled fish was delightful. All of the seafood was perfectly cooked and the dish was delightful.

The ever generous D ensured that I tried his lobster roll. It was, in a word, outstanding. They offer the roll either hot, drizzled with butter, or cold which is more of a lobster salad with mayonaise. D had chosed the hot sandwich. It came piled high with big chunks of lobster, and the hot dog roll that it was served in was saturated, but not to the point of being wet, with butter. It was perfect- as though it was summer and you were cracking open a whole lobster and dipping the pieces in butter. The most simple of flavors that together are out of this world. It was served with french fries, which were also tasty- but to be honest- completely overshadowed by the lobster.

Now, I would be remiss as a Boston sports fan to not mention the third highlight to my dinner, next to, of course the company and the food. When we arrived we were asked to sit at a table at the end of the room. Neptune Oyster is a small place, perhaps 10 tables total, on this particular night there were people sitting right next to the door and then at another table at the end of the room. The middle section was apparently reserved for a group of 10. So after we had taken our seats, and had decided on our dinners, the party of 10 started to filter in. Several ladies took over the table, and a few men arrived. The first who walked in bore a striking resemblence to Tedy Bruschi, one of my favorite Patriots. I stated this to D who turned and said that it couldnt be him and so on with dinner we went. However, as the evening progressed and the table for 10 filled up, and ordered several bottles of champagne we noticed that it was, in fact, the one and only Mr. Bruschi, and with him were Mr. Welker and Hochstein. Now, just to be clear this dinner was exactly three nights after their heart breaking loss to the Giants in the Super Bowl. But yet-there they sat, mere inches from me (thank god for intimate restaurants) celebrating the beginning of their off season I suppose. It was a momentous occasion for me that I absolutely had to share.

With that- I leave you with my impressions of Neptune Oyster, one of the best lobster rolls Ive ever tasted, a delightful Cioppino that does require a white wine, and a place, however infrequently, to see local Boston celebrities. Neptune Oyster

Happy Eating!

Neptune Oyster on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Orleans, Somerville

For months now, since early June, I have been hearing about how fantastic the mussels are at Orleans, a great little eatery in Davis Square. So last night I ventured over there to finally try them. They were prepared in a white wine and tomato sauce (I love the variety in cooking mussels) and served with generous lobster pieces over the top. Honsetly- they were incredible. When I was told that they had lobster meat with them, all I could think was a sprinkling of miniscule pieces over the top that you would barely even know they were there. I was very mistaken. The pieces were large and plentiful, and paired perfectly with the mussels and their sauce. I was very impressed.

For a main course I had their special of Jambalaya (A-you got me on a kick!) which was really good. It was a combination of chicken, sausage, kielbasa and red snapper in a spicey tomato sauce served over rice. I actually really enjoyed that the sauce was over rice in this dish-it allowed for the pieces of the dish to be enoyed independently of each other rather than all together-which I feels sometimes loses the quality of the ingredients. D had blue cheese and steak pizza which- as he is so good about doing- he gave me a slice of his pizza which was also delicious. The steak was flavorful on its own, but nicely off set by the blue cheese. All in all it was a very tasty meal.

Sidenote- they were also hosting what I gathered to be a Speed Dating session- it provided for some fantastic conversation pieces :-)

I feel as though I ought to include links to the places that I am frequenting- Orleans Restaurant

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Super Bowl Sunday- from a foodies point of view...

Very exciting- two posts in one day. However my last post covered only the restaurants I have had the pleasure of going to recently, and not food that I have made.

I thought the best way to begin to talk about my own creations was to start with Super Bowl Sunday. Within my circles of friends, I am known as the girl who brings too much food to a party. Most people bring chips and dip and beer, I bring an entire spread. I do this because if I only cook for myself, well Ill have to go to the gym a lot more then I do, but if I can try out my ideas on my friends...well I get the joy of cooking-which is truly, my greatest joy, and they reap the benefits of having lots of food at their parties.

This past Sunday, Super Bowl Sunday, the fight to the end between the Patriots and the Giants, was no exception. I was headed to a party hosted by Giants fans, and since I knew that I would already be at odds with the boys, I figured Id bring some signature dishes to make up for it.

I started off with guacamole. I have been instructed by many of my friends that I am not allowed at this point to attend a party without bringing my home made guacamole. So I do. Honestly- I love to make it. I think that it is very therapeutic to sit in my kitchen, mash avocados, and then dice up the rest of the ingredients. To the avocados I blend in chopped tomatoes, chopped red onion, cilantro, crushed garlic, lime juice, and jalapeños to taste. Then I sprinkle in a bit of salt to bring out the natural flavors. Now I am incredibly critical of my own food, and I have to admit-this batch was not up to my standards. I personally believe it didn’t have enough kick to it- the jalapeños were rather mild I imagine. However I was told that it was fantastic- so I suppose that everyone’s taste buds do not need to be in agreement. Additionally, the large container of it that I brought with me was gone by the end of the night, so I felt good about that.

My second contribution I was really excited about. I wanted to make mini steak and cheese sandwiches-I figured football = meat so why not find the best finger food possible? I ran into several road blocks. First- every grocery store I went to throughout the week previous was out of shaved steak...I have NO idea what was going on. One place I talked to simply said they don’t carry it in the winter. I find that odd- are people grilling shaved steak? Why would it be a bigger sell in the summer than the winter? My questions remain un answered. So I picked up some tips and decided they would have to do. I also picked up ciabatta rolls figuring that they would stand up well to the cheese sauce I was concocting. And I decided on green peppers and yellow onions. Sunday morning I marinated the steak in garlic oil, pepper, salt and chili powder to give it a unique taste. I then made the cheese sauce by combining flour and butter in a small sauce pan, adding milk to thin it, and then adding cheddar cheese, Monterey jack cheese, and at the end- crumbles of gorgonzola cheese. The flavors came together to create a slightly tangy, flavor robust sauce. Honestly-it was delicious. I cooked up the steak on the stove top (though wouldn’t grilling it have been fantastic?) and then I sautéed peppers and onions. Later, when put together on the ciabatta bread- it made a very nice sandwich. The tips, though not authentic to a cheese steak, were moist and flavorful, and accepted the cheese sauce well. I was quite pleased with it as a dish and will definitely be adding it to my repertoire.

My final attempt were good in concept- poor in execution. I decided to make potato skins- which are always a crowd favorite-however I think it would have been better had I made them at the party location. Bringing them over already cooked was not my best idea. However, the idea was tasty. I made a traditional cheddar cheese and bacon (I forgot the olives-that one was supposed to have black olives on it- sorry!) and I decided to do carmelized onions and brie as well. These are the ones that suffered the most by the cab ride over to the party. However-though they did not LOOK very appealing (yummy squashed potatos) they tasted great. That could be a personal opinion as I happy to eat brie on almost everything, but they were enjoyable.

So those were my contributions to a fantastic Super Bowl party...even though the Patriots lost- the company was fantastic and the margarita machine was appreciated.

Finally -
D- brownies containing peppermint patties or twix...un real. A true gem. Wow.
A- Jambalaya...wow. That stuff was AWESOME

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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