Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Coppa is the brainchild of Chefs Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette which opened just a few weeks ago on December 9th. It specializes in Italian small plates, capitalizing in local and sustainable ingredients. Additionally, I found out, they cure many of their own meats...but I'll return to that later.
After a bit of a crazy day on Monday, we had a bit to celebrate last night and so we ventured out to Shawmut Ave on the later side, and arrived at Coppa around 8:30. The night started out a bit on the rough side as when were greeted we were informed that a table wouldn't be ready for an hour and a half. It took a moment to process- an hour and a half wait at 8:30 pm. Ok. We were also informed that the space was at capacity and they wouldn't be able to accommodate us at the bar. Odd- but that's fine we headed down the street and had a drink at Franklin Cafe, and then we returned to Coppa to see if we could get in at the bar. It was still packed, but we were able to find some standing room near the bar and we ordered drinks. After standing for just a moment or two we were offered a plate of crostini with white bean and sage puree to snack on. Just as we were offered that two seats at the bar opened up so we snagged them, and perused the menu while enjoying the snack. That white bean puree was delicious. The more I've been making dips at home, the more I've been loving them when I'm out-this one was spectacular, creamy and light with just subtle hints of sage. It was then that I knew I was in for a treat.
Loving the idea of small plates we decided to order a few different tastes- and selected their meatballs, the arancini, the Cavatelli di Pollo, and their Rigatoni. We were served the meatballs first-they were plated as three meatballs, in a red sauce, with a piece of lardo over the top, and then fire roasted. The flavor that came out of these was absolutely incredible. The meatballs themselves were moist and had a wonderful meat flavor enhanced by herbs and just slight breadcrumbs. The lardo on top had been cooked til crisp on the edges but so succulent inside and wonderfully "melty". The combination of those was honest bliss.
We were next served the Cavatelli di Pollo-this was a combination of cavatelli pasta, chicken sausage, slow cooked broccoli and oregano mixed with just a slight bit of tomato sauce. I had thought that the meatballs were bliss but wow, this dish had incredible flavor combinations and depth. The oregano mixed with the cavatelli and the wonderful fennel from the chicken sausage. Each bite revealed more wonderful flavors than the last. This dish took the cake as my favorite from the night, and one that I am currently wishing I had more of.
The Arancini were served next, piping hot, a top a bit of tomato sauce. Crispy and beautiful, risotto perfectly cooked inside, and filled with creamy Fontina cheese. These were gorgeous to look at, and lovely to eat. Absolutely delicious.
Finally our Rigatoni was served with a goat ragu, mushrooms and thinly sliced green olives. Now, I have never had goat before and so I wasn't able to compare it easily, but it was a wonderful tasting meat-creamier than beef, and with a bit more "game" flavor. It was so nicely contrasted with the salty olives, and paired perfectly with the hearty rigatoni.
Still wanting more, we looked again at the menu and decided to have a plate of their Proscuitto di Parma, and to try their Pollo Milanese. We were served a very generous helping of their Proscuitto which, by far was absolutely the best I've had. Cured meats can so often taste solely of salt, but this had such delicate flavors, and wonderful texture, it was just beautiful. As we ooo'ed and ahh'ed over the Tracy, who was stationed behind the bar with the cured meats and and some cold small plates, offered to make us a tasting plate of their other meats. Tracy out did her self. She presented us with a platter starting with Pate that had been studded with Pistachios, Duck Proscuitto, Lomo, cured Blood Sausage, Coppa, and Lardo, with just a bit of grain mustard in the middle. What an amazing compilation of tastes, textures and flavors. The Duck Proscuitto, as was declared both by us, Tracy and the couple seated next to us was out of this world. It melted in the mouth almost immediately and filled the palate with salty sweetness. It was an incredible piece of meat. The Lomo, cured pork tenderloin touched with crushed red pepper flakes, was light and had definite pork flavors, perfectly complimented with the heat from the red pepper. The Blood Sausage was a great rendition of the meat, one that made me really enjoy it. I remember blood sausage from the time I spent in London being served for breakfast, and I never quite got a taste for it. Last nights version had some good spice to it, and reminded me of a less greasy salami. The Coppa, also known as Capicola, was as lovely as the original proscuitto, but had much richer flavors. The Pate was beautiful, wonderfully seasoned with the slight crunch of the pistachio, it paired as wonderfully with the grain mustard as it did on its own. Finally the Lardo- dressed with fresh cracked black pepper and supreme honey, this cured pig fat was luscious. Light flavors filled the mouth as the lardo melted on the tongue. The plate was a masterpiece, and I was completely sold on it.
At this point I must note, Coppa has taken on the task of curing their own meats, all that are not intrinsic to a region of Italy. The very idea of this to me is outstanding, especially when looking at their range of cured meats, tasting the quality, and the size of their space. It is dedication to detail like this that is making Coppa shine already.
Though we were severely lacking for appetite at this point, our Pollo Milanese arrived-a golden brown beautiful piece of chicken, topped with artichoke hearts and placed on a bed of sauteed spinach, lightly seasoned with lemon. I always enjoy lemon essence, but sometimes feel that it is overdone, or rather, over powers the rest of the dish. Here that was not the case, the lemon held back highlighting notes of the crispy crust of the chicken, and lightening the spinach. It was a shame that we were not more hungry when it was presented, as we did not do the dish justice.
We were forced to decline desserts as our belly's wouldn't allow us to eat even one more bite.
Coppa was by far an incredible spot. The food, as Ive described was beyond words. Well executed, well delivered, well spiced, every item was spot on. What shone, though, even more than the food was the outstanding service. Each person who spoke with us, and helped us along the way was welcoming, gracious and knowledgeable. Each treated us as friends, and we felt the difference.
We consistently remarked throughout the night that the amount of prep, the attention to detail and the incredible importance placed on the little things is making a world of difference. The "new restaurant" blips that one comes to expect seem to be negligible and Coppa appears to be running like a fine oiled machine even at this short point after opening. Chefs Oringer, and Bissonnette-hats off to you- Coppa delivered an incredibly fine meal, and has joined my very short list of favorite restaurants.
Friday, December 18, 2009
Aquitaine Bar a Vin Bistrot is part of the the Aquitaine Group, a locally based restaraunt company housing several French based restaraunts around the area including several locations of Aquitaine, as well as Gaslight Brasserie and Union Street.
Chef Gaudet is actually a Boston native who left our fair city for the excitement of New York several years ago. After holding positions under Jean George Vongerichten (Jean George's) and Marcus Samuelsson (Aquavit), he has come back now to Boston to take on the position of Chef D'Cuisine at Aquitaine. I must say-we are lucky to have him back here.
Aquitaine is a beautiful spot right in the heart of the South End. Small on size, but huge on personality, it defines a French cafe with its charm, but nicely lacks the attitude. We were greeted by the hostess who couldn't have been more charming and helpful. We were assured that we would be seated right on time for our reservation, and so as we were a few moments early, we chose to head to the bar for a drink. The information that had been sent to me on the updated Aquitaine highlighted not only that they had brought Chef Gaudet on board, but that they had redone their cocktail and beer menu. Sure enough their beer list, while small, had a great collection of micro brews, many of which from the New England area. I chose a light ale and happily sipped until our table was ready- precisely at our reserved time. I do love timeliness!
After we were seated our waiter quickly greeted us, and brought with him a lovely amuse bouche of cheese puffs served warm to the touch. These were a delight, eggy and light, with a slight kick of pepper in the background. When our waiter returned and offered us a second plate of four, we eagerly accepted. Those were too good to pass up.
As has become custom for John and I, when we see mussels on a menu, we order them. Last night was no exception. We chose their Mussels en Cassoulette, touted as being made with Sancerre wine, shallots, thyme and Creme Fraiche, for our shared first course. I have eaten a lot of mussels in my time, as first course, main course, whenever, Aquitaine's have, by a LONG shot, taken the title as my favorite of all time. The Mussels were perfectly cooked, each shell nicely opened, any questionable or non living discarded. The cooking sauce though- it was unreal. Creamy without being overpowering, a slight sweet from the wine without at all being "sweet" and the herbs were so well pronounced without over powering any of the other flavors. Thyme is one of my favorite herbs to work with, and one of my favorite to taste. Unfortunately it is incredibly delicate and can often be overshadowed. Here, the thyme was perfectly complimented, but kept its own flavor throughout. Outstanding on many levels.
As a welcome from the kitchen we were each served an interim course, after we had finally restrained ourselves from drinking the remaining mussels liquid straight from the serving pot, of a seared scallop, set on top of pureed white potatoes, surrounded with pieces of escarole, whole cranberries and a smokey squash broth. I was thrilled to have been served this as I had strongly considered it as my main course. The dish was an amazing combination of flavors. The scallop was naturally sweet and slightly salty, the base of potatoes were perfectly pureed, and a wonderful neutral backdrop to the remaining flavors which were quite interesting- the smokey broth that was also somewhat sweet from the squash, offset by the tart cranberries. A taste of each of the different components all together was, in my opinion, a masterpiece. John was a bit unsure of the broth thinking that the sweet overpowered the smokey a bit, but agreed that it was definitely an intriguing dish that pushed a few limits that normally come into play.
I had selected the braised lamb shank for my main course for several reasons- the first being that the white bean cassoulet served with it sounded perfect to fight the chill in the air, and because the orange gremolata that was described as an accompaniment sounded wonderful. The lamb shank was perfect. The meat tender, and fell cleanly away from the bone, wonderful flavors, and just so tender and moist. The gremolata, had been spooned over the top of the shank post cooking and visually added a really nice contrast for the eyes from the brown and white of the dish with the vibrant green. Not only though did it add to the visual aesthetics, but also in the olfactory sense as the savory flavors of the meat and the beans were brightened with wafts of orange. Finally the flavors played so well off of each other and really made for a wonderful condiment- a word I loathe to use for it. The beans- lest they be forgotten, had wonderful flavor and texture of their own, and had their own brightening with pieces of haricots vert throughout. A wonderful meal for a cold winters night.
John had selected the Steak Frites for his main course. The fries were perfectly fried and very tasty. The salad served on the side comprised mainly of watercress with shallots was light and really nice. It was dressed with a wonderful vinaigrette that so nicely played off of the strong flavors of the watercress. The steak itself had incredible flavor, just a hint of garlic highlighting the wonderful steak flavors. The only disappoint however was that it was a rather tough piece of meat and created a chewy texture. Given the rest of the meal, though this was rather upsetting, John was able to still rave about the flavor of the meat, and thought that the fries and the salad were quite tasty.
We couldn't pass up dessert, and settled on their Apple Tarte Tatin with Calvados Caramel and Creme Fraiche. This can really only be described as "wow". First, I have to admit, I had to look up Calvados as I was entirely unsure as to what that ingredient was. It turns out that Calvados is a type of apple brandy from the Lower Normandy region in France. What I do know, is that its addition really tied together the tarte. Apple, as it should have been, was the residing flavor throughout the dessert. The pastry was fork tender, and the caramel sauce covered the plate, aside from one perfect scoop of Creme Fraiche whose creamy white color diverted the eyes from the sea of caramel. Thinking, at first, that the Creme Fraiche was more of a garnish than anything, I started in by trying the tarte on it own with the caramel sauce. The result was sweet- not exactly too sweet, but sweet for sure, strong apple flavor, and delicate crust. And then, I started working the Creme Fraiche into my bites. The slightly sour flavor of the creme brought out a whole other dimension to the dessert. The mixture of flavors was a perfect marriage of sour and sweet. The result was a heavenly dessert, a sweet end to the meal.
Aquitaine will absolutely now join my list for French in Boston, and join it very high up. The dishes are inventive, and stimulating to the palate. The staff is friendly, knowledgeable and accessible. We had a wonderful evening, and can't wait to return.
Thank you to the folks at CBH Communications, and to Alexis and staff at Aquitaine for your help and for making Aquitaine Boston a delight.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
I settled on marinating the chicken in a quick bath of herbs, garlic, orange juice and champagne vinegar, and then baking them. I decided to throw together a quick salad dressing from with a base of low fat sour cream that I had on hand from making french onion dip for a party over the weekend. And then I decided that the perfect compliment to the meal I was envisioning was pancakes. Several months ago I started playing with making savory pancakes, well I suppose more silver dollars, as a compliment to white meat dishes. I think that they are just so fun, easy, unexpected and SO versatile. A quick stop at the grocery store for chicken, fresh greens and fruit for my lunch for the week, and I was back home ready to make a delicious dinner.
I started by finely chopping about 8 cloves of garlic, I knew I wanted a lot of garlic with the chicken and Id use it in some other items as well-so I just chopped a bunch. Then I moved on to the herbs of choice- fresh oregano and fresh rosemary- both chopped finely. In a small bowl I then blended a sprinkle of salt, a little less than half the garlic, the herbs, and then about 3/4 of a cup of orange juice, and 1/4 cup of champagne vinegar. Once blended, I placed my chicken breasts in a ziplock bag, poured my marinade over the top, squeezed out the air and sealed the bag. They were then set aside to marinade for a good 20 minutes or so.
While I waited for the chicken to soak up all those lovely flavors, I cooked up four slices of bacon, and I made up my pancake batter (Bisquick-I took the easy road this time) and then finely diced a few very thin slices of red onion, and a few sprigs of rosemary to mimic, but alter the flavors in the chicken. I added both to my pancake mix and let the flavors mingle.
I decided that the chicken had soaked up enough flavor, and placed them in to a lightly greased baking dish, covered them with half of the remaining garlic, and then placed thin slices of orange over the top. I covered the dish with tinfoil, and placed into my preheated 425 degree oven.
Then I very simply chopped and sliced some veggies- red onion, green pepper, then very thinly sliced a couple of handfuls of red grapes. As I finished that, I moved on to making my quick salad dressing, about two tablespoons of the low fat sour cream, the remainder of the garlic, orange juice to thin it out, and then champagne vinegar to counter the sweetness. The flavors were really nice in this, slightly sweet from the orange juice, a bit of acid and then the background creaminess from the sour cream. A really nice dressing- and one that doesn't include Dijon mustard as most of my dressings do!
All I really had left to do in this incredibly easy meal as I waited for the chicken to bake was cook the pancakes. I used the same pan that I had cooked the bacon in with the leftover grease to see if I could impart a bit of the smoky flavor into the pancakes. I cooked up little silver dollars, and they looked and smelled so good as they cooked!
Finally, once the chicken had finished baking, and the salad tossed with its dressing, I plated dinner by laying down one pancake in one corner of my plate, spooning a few heaping spoonfuls of salad over it and then placed a second pancake on top. I sprinkled a few crumbles of the bacon I had cooked over the top, and then arranged a sliced chicken breast next to it. Finally I dripped just about two teaspoons of the left over dressing over the chicken to tie it all together.
The final result was really delicious, and completely satisfied my need for a fresh salad. The chicken had wonderful bright orange notes to it, and the addition of the salad dressing highlighted all of those. The salad was fresh and clean tasting, and coupled with the herby and fragrant pancakes-they created a wonderful combination of flavors and textures. The pancakes themselves were really tasty. Strong notes of onion and rosemary, with just a background of smokey bacon. Fantastic. Those little crumbs of bacon added just a bit of crunch, and I thought really rounded out the meal.
Overall this was a great weeknight, simple meal-one of those great recipes to store in your back pocket and pull out when you want to make a meal out of stuff you have on hand (for the most part) and quickly!
Friday, December 11, 2009
As a true treat we decided to go all out and have the full 6 course tasting menu. It began with a light salad showcasing beautiful Hawaiian Hearts of Palm, accented by segments of citrus fruit, upland, or American, cress, a creamy vinaigrette and lovely pieces of shaved truffle. Hearts of Palm are such a lovely vegetable, slightly sweet, almost creamy and they were so beautifully complimented with the tart citrus segments. The finishing touch of the beautiful shavings of truffle with their gorgeous earthiness was just perfect. A wonderful start to the meal.
Our second course was a simple preparation of seared Yellowfin Tuna. It was topped with ringlets of calamari, and then garnished with red pepper squares and beautiful black squid ink spotted the plate. The tuna was very nicely seared- just a perfect amount of cooked ring around the wonderful deep pink center. The calamari was tender and lovely, though just a bit over salted. The squid ink, which I cant say I have ever had the pleasure of trying before added this wonderful depth to the dish, and grounded the seafood very nicely. A delicious touch.
The third course was one of my favorites of the afternoon- smoked potato Agnolotti served with a truffle butter sauce, bay scallops and clams. From my first bite to the last, this dish was heaven. I adore clam chowder, and this had all of the wonderful flavors of that, without the heavy cream. The Agnolotti themselves were soft and perfectly cooked and their filling was this beautiful creamy puree of potatoes that had been smoked to such perfection that the wonderful thoughts of bacon filled it. The clams and the scallops were perfectly cooked and added to the textures and flavors of the dish. I just loved the idea that this dish was a perfectly constructed ode to the New England favorite, and gave such warmth in its ingestion. Delicious.
Lunch did not stop there, we elected to have the interim "rich" dish as it was referred to us- and both chose the prune stuffed gnocchi, which are often heralded as one of the best dishes that No. 9 Park serves. Their acclaim is well deserved. The gnocchi are served topped with seared foie gras, sprinkled with slivered almonds, and enhanced with just a bit of Vin Santo, the lovely, slightly sweet Italian dessert wine. What an amazing combination of flavors and textures! The gnocchi were perfectly prepared, slightly toothsome, giving away to their jam like filling of prunes. The filling had a very nice sweet flavor, true to a prune, which might have been almost too much sweet, if you didn't mix it with all of the other wonderful flavors. The foie gras was perfectly rich and buttery and its gorgeous texture was a wonderful offset for the sweet prune and Vin Santo. The almonds added just that perfect crunch in the dish, the addition that gave a wonderful jolt of texture.
Our last savory course was served as three perfectly cooked medium rare pieces of roasted sirloin, served atop a short rib ragu mixed with sauteed greens (chard and spinach as I could tell), and alongside was a small tower of polenta, topped with just a sliver of bone marrow. The sirloin was gorgeous. Fantastic flavor, perfectly seasoned, tender and moist meat. For a steak lover- it was perfection. The short rib ragu was far more fun than I had anticipated and I picked up notes of sweet caramelization in the meat which so nicely offset the hearty greens. Finally the polenta offered a nice background for the other vibrant flavors that appeared on the plate, re centering the palate for each bite. The only disappointment to this course was the marrow, which had unfortunately suffered a heavy hand of salt and its wonderful melt in your mouth buttery flavor was lost just a bit. However, this slight concern did not ruin this amazing course- the different levels of flavor and even the colors used made for a wonderful execution.
Our interlude before dessert was a lovely citrus salad, dressed with citrus juice. I preferred this as a palate cleanser far above the usual sorbet which I sometimes feel is too much, or more of an obvious solution. This tiny amount of tangerines, kaffir lime and lemon was elegant and beautiful to look at, and a perfect cleanser before the next course.
Dessert for me was Chocolate Gateau, a sliver of chocolate cake topped with a wonderful chocolate glaze, littered with toasted Hazelnuts, star anise glace and coffee beads. The flavor combinations were incredible, as were the texture combinations of the ice cream, cake and hazelnuts. It was a beautiful dessert. My mother elected to try one of their other desserts and settled on a fig cake at the recommendation of the manager. She had described it as a "Christmas in every bite", and we had to agree that she was absolutely correct. The warmth of the cake, with the variations of flavors and spices was just incredible and made you long to see a snow swirling around lit evergreens when you looked out the windows. It was just a wonderful, cozy dessert.
As I have been before, I am utterly delighted by No. 9 Park. The creativity in the kitchen is more than complimented by the courteous, professional and incredibly helpful staff. Each person that we came into contact with was wonderful and happy to respond to any question we had, or concern we expressed.
I, who gladly admit having a chef crush on Chef Lynch, was thrilled to see her in the dining room, even on just a random afternoon during an extremely busy season.
No. 9 Park remains one of my very favorite restaurants, in Boston and beyond.
Friday, December 4, 2009
I had heard great things about Teatro, a touted "contemporary Italian" eatery located incredibly conveniently next to the Boston Common Theater on Tremont Street. We went last night after I had read the menu for two days, and I was really excited. We arrived just around the 7:30 dinner rush, but were seated promptly without a reservation. Definitely a plus there. The room definitely gives off a "trendy" vibe with its blue tones and minimal art work. Judging by the carpet on the floor, high ceilings and sound barriers on the walls you can tell, though, that acoustics are an issue here when the place is full. But no matter to us, it was a nice hum that filled the space and we were happy to be there.
The menu is divided between small plates and regular sized entrees, so we decided to have a meal comprised of a few of the small plates and one of their pizzas to share. We selected their garlicky white bean puree, their veal meatballs served in a sage Marsala sauce, and their Gulf shrimp bruschetta as our small plates. They arrived quickly and we set to work. I started with a meatball. At first bite I was pleased to find that it was very moist, if lacking just a bit in flavor. I had tried it though without the sauce. Assuming that the sauce would add that burst of flavor I made sure that I had a good amount of it for my second bite. Unfortunately, while it did add flavor, it was the wrong flavor. It appears that they had mixed reduced Marsala wine into tomato sauce, but hadn't countered the sweetness of the wine at all. The result was just incredibly sweet. I also couldn't detect any sage in the sauce at all, which seemed almost in spite of the leaf of sage that had been placed on top of the meatballs in the serving dish.
Slightly disappointed, I turned my attention to the bean dip. A healthy portion of the dip, was served with just three small crostini. The dip itself had been topped with non pureed beans, parsley and a drizzle of olive oil, and even with all of that, it some how just didn't have a lot of flavor. The garlic essence was minimal at best, and the only real prevalent flavor was the bean itself, which isn't a terrible thing, but slightly boring.
I turned my attention to the Gulf Shrimp bruschetta. Three plump shrimp sat a top a long piece of crostini that appeared to have been grilled and had lovely charred marks on it. The shrimp had a nice sprinkling of shaved garlic and crushed red pepper flakes over the top. This looked good. First bite was of a shrimp by itself. Nothing. No flavor at all. Shrimp-plain, ordinary shrimp. If you were lucky enough to get a flake of hot pepper then a second of heat would come through-otherwise no flavor. Ok. So I tried a piece of the bread....the weirdly soggy bread. I have no idea what they had doused this with after it was removed from the grill- but once lovely, crispy, charred bread had been absolutely flooded with some sort of liquid. However, on the plus side, the liquid had flavor! Paired together though, the shrimp and the bread, didn't quite do it. The shrimp still tasted just of shrimp, slightly over cooked, and the flavor from the bread just stood on its own. All in all- it was just odd.
We moved on to the pizza. We had elected to go clean and simple with the pizza topping and had asked for just mozzarella with tomato and oregano. The pizza came out on thin grilled crust, the type of pizza I have been obsessed with recently. The crust was great- crispy and well seasoned with olive oil, and the char of the grill. The sauce was delicious- delicate tomatoes, not over done with spices and seasonings, the perfect back drop to the delicious cheese and the fresh oregano that was liberally scattered over the top. The pizza was the absolute star of the evening. I would go back for this alone.
Riding on the success of the pizza, we chose to have one more small plate to see if it was any better than the first three. We selected the beef short rib arancini served with a truffled aioli. I really love a good arancini, and those that do them correctly-wow the are fantastic. Little balls of fried risotto heaven. These were not that. The serving was four arancini, which were fried to a beautiful golden brown, served with the aioli on top and garnished with fried parsley. The arancini themselves were lacking. They were actually lacking several things, the first being the short ribs. Inside the arancini I found maybe three strands of what had been a rib, but I suppose it could have been discolored rice. I have no idea as the other thing lacking was, again, flavor. The risotto was very flat tasting. The aioli tasted 100% like mayonnaise, no truffle detected. I hoped that the fried parsley may punch it up a bit- it did not.
I'll use another pop culture reference since my first was untraceable. Do you remember the episode of Seinfeld where Kramer loses his sense of taste? He ran into Jerry's apartment while it was being fumigated, killed his taste buds and even the most flavorful peach in the world had no flavor to him anymore. I searched my mind last night to remember if I had been in a fumigated apartment recently and had killed my taste buds. I have not.
Teatro is in a fantastic location, and has won praise in the past. My fear is that they are now resting on their laurels hoping that their praise from before, and their proximity to the movie theatre and the theatre district will keep them in business. I hope that that is not the case, and that maybe I hit an off night. Either way, if I return to Teatro it will be for nothing more than the pizza.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
"Brazilian Cocktail Party, Part 1 This December Slow Food Boston is kicking off a series exploring the food traditions of local immigrant groups. First stop: Brazil! Nazare and Washington—two of the volunteer cooks for our upcoming festa—and I are here at Casa de Carnes Solução, a Brazilian butcher shop on Bow St. in Somerville. We're shopping for the ingredients for pão de queijo, rolls made from manioc and cheese from Minas Gerais, region of origin for most of Massachusetts' estimated 75,000 to 230,000 Brazilians. Let's take a look inside! caipirinha, piping hot cheese rolls and 7 other delicious appetizers prepared by the Brazilian staff of the Massachusetts Alliance of Portuguese Speakers (MAPS), our host and partner for the event. Proceeds will be donated to their AIDS/HIV Prevention & Education Program. Brazilian Cocktail Party Thursday, December 3rd, 6:30-9:30 pm Massachusetts Alliance of Portuguese Speakers 1046 Cambridge Street Tickets $20; reserve them here.
Next up: a Vietnamese picnic in spring 2010. Email me if you have ideas for others!
Anastacia Marx de Salcedo, Slow Food Boston "
Slow Food Boston is a non profit organization advocating sustainability and biodiversity through out the Boston area. You guessed it-this means that the Brazilian Cocktail Party will be full of fresh locally grown produce and foods- AND of course those amazing flavors will bring you right on over to Brazil with their beaches and sun :-).
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Right on the Freedom Trail, just steps from the Capital building sits the Old City Hall built between 1862 and 1865 and used as the official City Hall building until 1969, it is a real piece of Bostonian History. Though for over a century this building held the law makers of this great city, today it is occupied by over 20 different businesses. One of which is Ruth's Chris Steakhouse.
Entering the building gave me a feeling of mystery and wonder, and I hoped for an equally pleasing dinner. We were seated promptly, in what the host was pleasant enough to tell us was his favorite room. It was a lovely room- stone and wood, perfect for the time period in which the building was built. Once seated we were handed menus, and within just moments our server came to greet us. Throughout the evening, I have to say, I was incredibly impressed with her- she had reached the perfect combination of professionalism and familiarity to make me feel right at home.
We decided to start with their Crabtini- which was large chunks of crab meat dressed in a light vinaigrette, enhanced with just some light veggies and lettuce all served in a martini glass. It was delicious. I was very surprised at the size of the crab, they were honestly huge, and of course sweet and tasty. The vinaigrette offset the sweetness really nicely, and all in all it was a perfect palate teaser for the steaks that we were about to enjoy.
I chose the Ribeye for myself, and John decided on a Petite Filet and Shrimp combination that paired two 4 oz Filet's with Gulf Shrimp. We also decided to share their sauteed spinach and their mashed potatoes. My steak was perfect-well marbled, full of flavor, moist and tender and exactly medium rare as specified. Fantastic. I loved every bite of it- even the leftovers I brought home! John's shrimp were also wonderful, and his steak had great flavor, though his was a bit over cooked which was disappointing, however this didn't seem to diminish his experience too greatly. The mashed potatoes that we selected were described as having just a hint of garlic-wow were these addictive. The garlic was present, but not over powering, and nicely blended in. Normally I can resist having more than three or four bites of potatoes, but these- I just couldn't keep my fork away. The spinach, on the other hand, was a bit of a failure. While the menu described it as being sauteed with just a little butter, what we were served, based on the amount of water that was in the dish as well, appeared to steamed which I would normally be fine with, except that it was insanely salty. No more than just a few bites of the spinach got down- but thank goodness that wasn't the main entree.
Dinner complete, but wine still to be drunk we decided to take a look at the dessert menu. The perfect end to the meal was found in a delicious Creme Brulee served with fresh berries decorating the top. Something about cracking through the top crunchy layer of sugar into the creamy and wonderful custard below is just heaven.
Ruth's Chris has definitely won my affection. From entrance, to the kindness and friendliness of the staff, to the wonderful food, I am definitely a fan and hope to return again very soon.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
The antipasto was simple, but delicious. Prosciutto and Salami paired with Parmesan and Provolone cheeses decorated the plate in generous portions. The meats were fantastic, cured to salty perfection, just the right flavors and consistency. The cheeses were equally as good- the Parmesan salty and crumbly, the Provolone creamy and rich. Both offset the meats in their own way and made for a really tasty appetizer.
We had decided to keep our pizza order simple, and went with just a Margherita, which is always one of my favorites. Simple Mozzarella cheese, tomatoes and basil- its a combination that you just cant go wrong with, and when done well, its outstanding. Based on our experience with the appetizer, I couldn't wait to get home and try out their pizza which was sure to be a hit.
Words cannot describe the disappointment. John's very first bite contained a hair. I wont go into detail as it still grosses me out, but it was a hair and therefore it was an uneaten pizza that then hit the trash can. To be honest- I have to state-it didn't look that great either, but then maybe I'm just bitter. A half hour and one phone call to our reliable delivery place Cinderella's later, and we had a pizza once again- hair free.
I cannot begin to express the disgust that I have for unsanitary eating establishments. Ducali- invest in some hairnets, or hats or something-no one wants a hair with their mozzarella. I don't care how good your antipasto is- I won't be returning
Thursday, November 19, 2009
This weeks soup though, well I am 100% in love with it. I had a few things on had that I wanted to use up before they got "weird" in the fridge, but also really wanted to try a soup with pureed yam. Yams are one of those great veggies, but I never really think about using. They are high in vitamins, low in saturated fat and sodium, and help to protect you against osteoporosis, heart disease, diabetes and obesity-sign me up! Off to the grocery store I went and picked up a couple of yams, celery, baby spinach, red pepper, low sodium chicken broth, spicy Italian style chicken sausage, and a can of Cannelini beans (of course).
Back at home I started my soup by peeling and slicing the yams into chunks, and pealing and chopping a tablespoon of fresh ginger. I added both to an empty small sauce pan, filled with water til just above the potato line, and set to boil. Then I started on the rest of my ingredients-grated ginger, chopped garlic, celery, carrots, and onion, and added them to a big pot to start to simmer with a few sprigs of chopped rosemary, a teaspoon of butter, and about the same of olive oil, salt and pepper. Then I added the chicken sausage which I had just sliced into about 1/4 to 1/2 inch slices. Let those brown a bit and cook with the rest of the flavors. While all of those ingredients melded together and scented my kitchen with all sorts of wonderful smells, I strained the potatoes and ginger from their hot water boil, and put them into my food processor, added a can of beans, a little salt and pepper, a few more sprigs of rosemary, and started to blend. As I blended I slowly added the chicken stock until it reached the consistency I was hoping for. Once we reached that level I tasted it a few times, loving the ginger flavor, and then fiddling with the salt/pepper ratio and throwing in a bit of crushed red pepper for a kick. A few more pulses in the processor, and it was ready to be added to the vegetable/chicken mixture on the stove.
What a beautiful looking soup it was! Great color from the yams, and the carrots and celery dotted through with vibrant orange and green. I let it simmer for a bit, then added half of a red pepper, chopped, and several very large handfuls of spinach. Once the spinach wilted, I turned the heat off so it wouldn't lose its pretty color.
The flavors of this soup are pretty incredible. I have always loved the smell and taste of ginger, and with the cold and flu season upon us, I tend to stock up on it. Its believed that its properties can ward off the symptoms of both cold and flu...worth a shot in my book! So while the ginger has a very nice presence, the rosemary really offsets it nicely with an earthy flavor. The yam/been puree gives a beautiful velvety texture offset with the great texture changes of crunchy carrot, and celery. Though I'm all for protein in soup as I think its more filling, I could definitely see making this without the chicken sausage and swapping the chicken stock for vegetable stock for a vegetarian variation.
This one will definitely be made again-I can feel my immune system boosting with every spoonful!
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
The menu that we dined on last night was the brainchild of Chef de Cuisine Armand Toutaint, and what a journey of well prepared seafood it was. He started us off with a quad tasting of their first course offerings: their "hall of fame" clam chowder, a fried oyster, beet tartar and a seared diver scallop. The clam chowder was rich and full of flavor, the broth thinner than I am used to, but so delicious with big pink clams spotting through out. Delicious, and very satisfying on a cold night. I could have eaten quite a bit more than I allowed myself to, but I had to move on to my fried oyster. This was such a beautiful presentation. The golden fried oyster sitting in its shell on top of just a bit of creamed spinach, and topped with a beautiful yellow hollandaise sauce dotted with pancetta. Gorgeous to look at and delicious to eat. The thickness batter was a bit surprising but it held the whole dish together really well and gave it a real backbone. I then moved on to the seared scallop that was so nicely complimented with a Bosc Pear chutney. The scallop was perfectly cooked, beautifully golden brown, and the chutney had wonderful flavors of sweet and tang they really played well off of each other. The final piece was the beet tartar that was dressed with an apple balsamic, and complimented with rocket greens (arugula) and a lovely piece of bruleed goat cheese. Now, let it be known, as my mother can clearly testify to, I am NOT a fan of beets. Never have been. But I have to say- these were some tasty beets. The golden variety, beautifully dressed with the balsamic that added a nice sweetness to them, and then combined with the rocket-really lovely. The bruleed goat cheese was the scene stealer of that plate though- that beautiful golden crust with its smokey hints, atop the tangy soft cheese-perfection. Sad as it was to come to the close of our first course, it had to be done, and then it was time for the second course.
With another showstopper for presentation, we were each served a little bowl of Pappardelle pasta mixed with chunks of fresh lobster meat, cured tomato, edamame, held together with a chervil cream and topped with a substantial sized piece of lobster. The chervil cream mixed with the tomatoes to make just a beautiful sauce for the dish, decadent at the same time as being light, with just hints of the herb throughout. The pappardelle had great texture to it, and was nicely offset by the toothsome edamame. John, the lucky boy who got to accompany me on this journey, did think that perhaps the pappardelle was a bit too large of a noodle for the dish, and we decided that it did make it a bit difficult to combine it with the different elements of the dish. The lobster though- wow. It was just perfect. Sweet and tender each piece left me excited for the next.
Our third course for the evening was our entree course- three perfectly sized servings of three different types of fish, each complimented with their own sides. The first was a beautiful piece of Loch Duart Scottish Salmon, sitting on top of a beautiful scoop of Laughing Bird shrimp fried rice, accented with thinly sliced jicama and apple, with a tamarind reduction. Our extremely helpful waiter was quick to point out that the Laughing Bird Shrimp, comes from one of, if not the only, sustainable, eco friendly shrimp farms. Now that's a feat! I actually somehow managed to not not receive a shrimp with my portion of rice so I had to steal one from John- and it was just as you'd think, sweet and delicious. I loved the combination of the fried rice with all of its wonderful salty smokey flavors with the salmon- a great combination. The ahi tuna had been seared with an orange and sesame crust which gave the fish such a wonderful flavor, though I would have loved even more of the orange. It was served with a lentil succotash which added just enough texture to the tuna to really compliment it and tie it all together. The final piece was a lovely piece of haddock, dressed with a fennel buerre blanc with an accompaniment of blue crab mashed yam side. The yam was simply enhanced really allowing the natural sweetness to shine through, and the blue crab was just an added decadence. The haddock itself was well cooked and that buerre blanc...well there is nothing wrong with buerre blanc!
We ended the evening with with a white chocolate mousse terrine. Not only was this delicious, but beautiful to look at. They had used a mold that had three sections to it, and each had been topped with a different sauce, one a simple caramel, another a port inspired and the third had been enhanced with the flavors of Baileys. Each one was so delicious, it was impossible to stop nibbling on them. To lighten the dish the terrine had been placed on a berry smear that was enhanced with toffee chips. The whole dessert was perfectly held together and held my interest much further than white chocolate normally does. A wonderful end to an amazing meal.
Though I normally don't discuss the libations of the evening, I think it is important to mention the wines that were served. Both were products of the Frei Brothers Reserve, a division of the Gallo Winery. The first and second courses were served with a Chardonnay, and the third and fourth courses with a Pinot Noir. I have always been under the impression that red wine just doesn't match well with fish, some of it I'm sure comes from my own want for color palates to match-light protein, light wine, dark protein, dark wine- and the rest comes from simple tradition. Luckily I was sitting with the representative from the Gallo Vineyard and his statement clarified it all for me- either contrast the flavors (sweet wine with a spicy meal), or match the weight of the dish- salmon is a strong fish and it can stand up to a nice red.
I bring up the Gallo Vineyard though for another reason as well. In the spirit of the eco friendly menu and efforts of sustainability- the Gallo Vineyard has embraced these ideals since the 1930's-far before the rest of the world caught on. A family run business they are doing their part to preserve our land and give back where they can. Another inspiring company....
My evening at Turner's was an absolute joy. The meal was incredible, and the premise even more so. I want to say a thank you to Tom, Brie and Marija from 451 Marketing, the wonderful folks at the Westin and Turners, and Joe from Gallo Winery. I can do nothing more than to tip my glass to the Chef Armand Toutaint for an amazing experience.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Tapas style is one of my favorite ways of eating- small plates of food, designed for sharing, tasting, and trying. For someone who is forever asking for bites of my companions food, this is really the best way to go out to dinner with me :-). Small Plates has a beautiful location, tucked back from busy JFK street, you almost forget for a moment where you are and allow yourself to be transported to a quieter time where "strolling" is all the rage. Inside, the restaurant is cleanly designed and exudes a quiet elegance.
Once we had all arrived, we began to peruse the menu, each of us calling out dishes that sounded appealing to us. Since it was small plates, we decided to start off with six chosen dishes plus one "gimme" thinking that if that wasn't enough food we'd just order a few more plates. You may be wondering what a "gimme" is my friend and I, through the years, have realized that there are some things that we just order and its obvious we'll order them. Things that we love, and are usually just sorta small little things. Here, it was the rosemary and garlic marinated olives, elsewhere it may be sweet potato fries. Along with the olives, we also ordered the Mussels, the Pissaladiere, the Baby Artichokes, the Jerk Chicken, the Two Killer B's (sliders), and the Spicy Tuna.
The olives arrived, and soon there after each of the next plates began to arrive. The olives, the treasured olives that we had been so excited about, were terrible. I tried several to try to find a flavor other than soap in them, but sadly that's all I tasted...soap. Hmmm ok- I still held on for the next dishes. The Two Killer B's were tasty-the mini burgers themselves were nothing special really, but they were served with a homemade ketchup which I thought was fantastic. It had great depth of flavor to it- and a lovely texture. The Spicy Tuna, served with a "crispy sushi rice cake" and a "wasabi grapefruit drizzle" was the highlight of the evening- perfect seared tuna, just enough spice...the tuna was great. The rice cake however was not crispy, which was a shame as I would have thought that the texture combination between the soft tuna and the cake would have been great, and I couldn't detect the wasabi or the grapefruit. Despite those- the tuna was definitely the star of the evening. The final highlight of the evening- the Jerk Chicken. Served with mashed plantains they had great contrast between the sweet of the fruit and the spice of the jerk. Delicious.
The remaining dishes however- eh. The Pissaladiere, which, I've learned, is a type of pizza made/served in the South of France, near Nice. Traditionally, it is served as a white pizza, without tomatoes, and is served on a crust thicker than regular pizza dough. Small Plates version was a mixture of various roasted veggies and chevre all on top of puff pastry. It was ok. I didn't really find anything special with this one. The mussels were cooked fine, the sauce tasted hauntingly of tomato juice without much addition. They had added in two snails which were a nice touch, but mine was a bit over cooked. Finally with the mussels that had place a piece of bread which is rather traditional to serve with mussels and always appreciated, however this one was rock hard. Even with a knife in the mix it was incredibly difficult to chip off a piece, and then it was quite a gnaw to to be able to swallow it. Sad, I have to say.
The baby artichoke was another miss in my book- the artichokes were over cooked rendering half of it inedible. They were served with poached shrimp which were ok by the reports of others, panchetta and preserved lemon. The lemon made a very strong impression on the dish, which is really neither good or bad, but the panchetta was nice and crispy and added good texture contrast.
After plowing our way through these, we decided that we were still pretty hungry and so we decided to order just two more- the Paella, and the Chicken Soulvaki. We ordered, and were told by our waitress, who was incredibly sweet, that there would be just a slight wait as the kitchen was backed up. Ok- a slight wait is fine- good company over rules any annoyance of a wait. So we sat, and we chatted. And then we waited some more, and chatted some more, and then we decided to get a bit more wine, so then we waited some more, and more again. Finally, the dishes arrived, but no wine- so we cancelled the wine. Honestly for a tapas place where the very nature of the cuisine is to enjoy different rounds of food- the wait for two small plates was insane. The really upsetting part though was that once we had finally survived the wait, the last two plates were again- meh. I have to say-they were not at all memorable.
Small Plates is definitely off my list for a return visit. I love the location, the interior and our waitress was wonderful, but the food was just not what I was hoping for at all. With all of the other delightful tapas spots in town, I have to completely remove this one as an option.
Friday, November 13, 2009
Because of this, I've sort of discounted The Paramount as a dining location-for some reason I completely forgot that they served other meals than breakfast, and have just avoided it. Last night- that all changed. While deciding where to eat, and discounting all of our normal spots for various reasons, I finally came up with The Paramount. They were featured recently on The Phantom Gourmet and showcased a burger that John thought looked great- so we decided to see if we could get in our Paramount fix after dark.
Just entering the spot gave a completely different impression. The lights dimmed, candles adorning the tables, wine glasses twinkling- the chaos of breakfast was long gone. Now it was quiet, relaxed, and even a bit sophisticated. I was excited.
The menu is not extensive, but it is complete. It seemed to have something for every mood, every craving. Light salads, interesting seafood notes, burgers and sandwiches and of course those great American comfort food staples. Feeling as though I wanted to go a bit light for dinner I chose the fresh homemade Salmon Burger which I hoped would satisfy my real burger craving. John chose one of their specials that night- the Chicken Cordon Bleu, and we decided to start off with Calamari.
Once we had ordered, our waitress reappeared with a basket containing two slices of bread, and a wonderful white bean dip that was chock full of herbs and olive oil goodness. Delicious. Then, with perfect timing, we were served our generous helping of beautifully fried calamari. I have to say- these were some GREAT calamari. The batter was incredibly light and perfectly crunchy- the red pepper coulis served on the side accented it perfectly with creamy decadence. The most fascinating part though? They served the calamari with tomatoes tossed in and banana peppers as well- both of which were fried with the same batter. Lightly fried tomato- who would have thought? Either way- the flavor combination was fantastic. Score one for The Paramount!
Again, perfectly timed, our entrees arrived. Unfortunately they had been out of the special, so John had resigned himself to a burger topped with cheddar cheese and piping hot french fries. My salmon burger arrived with all the fixings for a burger- pickles, tomato, red onion, lettuce- as well as a wasabi mayo and a sweet ponzu sauce. Ponzu sauce, since I had to look it up, is a citrus sauce with Japanese origins, that is usually served tart. Interesting-The Paramount's version was a dark brown color, sweet, and looked as though it had been studded with Sesame Seeds. They had also allowed me to swap out the normal french fries served with my meal for a salad. The plate looked delicious. The salmon had been ground up, combined with herbs and spices and breadcrumbs, formed into a patty and grilled on their flat top. The flavors were very tasty combined, especially with a healthy dose of their wasabi mayo that had a great kick to it and the sweet Ponzu. Delicious. My only thoughts on the burger was it had perhaps too much breading to it which took over the flavor a bit, and made the patty a bit crumbly. My salad was great though- chock full of veggies, and with just a simple vinaigrette.
The burger that John had settled for turned out to be delicious. Juicy and well flavored, though he did find that the bottom bun was a bit too thin for the burger and ended up getting soaked. Additionally, though the fries were incredibly hot to start, they ended up being rather bland and not at all crispy. It was a shame-they looked delicious when served.
All in all, I'm incredibly happy with The Paramount's dinner scene. Incredibly relaxing, service was lovely, and the food was delicious (aside from the fries). I will definitely be back-its a great spot to add to our rotation!
Thursday, November 12, 2009
At the time-it seemed like such a big job- so complicated- but now, since I still relish the opportunity to make it at Thanksgiving-it seems so easy and incredibly uncomplicated. Such is life though I guess huh?
Even as easy as it is to make fresh Cranberry sauce, I saw a can of whole berry Cranberry sauce the other night, and thought "you know-I bet that could make a wonderful dip!" so I purchased it. I admit it- I was ashamed to buy it- but it was late, and I wanted dip, and just didn't want to wait the hour and a half or so to cook it, and let it cool before it would be good to use. I cheated- it happened. Lets move on.
Armed with my can of cranberry sauce, a few sprigs of rosemary that I was going to use for other dishes that night, a can of Cannelini beans (of course), and knowing that I already had garlic and sage- I headed home.
Food processor ready to go- I threw in two cloves of garlic, half a sprig of chopped rosemary, and a few leaves of sage gently torn. Then I added in the can of beans, and about half the can of cranberry sauce. I pulsed to start and then set the processor on, and added just about a tablespoon of olive oil to help the ingredients bind as well as just a pinch of salt. A quick taste once the dip had pureed together- and I wanted a bit more sage, a bit more rosemary, and I decided, a sprinkle of crushed red pepper flakes. The end result was really fantastic- a creamy, slightly sweet dip enriched with those lovely flavors of rosemary and sage and with a slight kick of hot pepper to round out the sweet. What a wonderful fall combination! Ive been eating it all week with celery sticks and its been a great addition to my afternoon snack. My one change when I make it again? Perhaps just one clove of garlic- the other flavors were so nicely blended, and the garlic became a little shocking at times-or maybe just one and a half cloves!
Thursday, November 5, 2009
Well now- he's bringing that face right here to Massachusetts! On November 17th, 2009 Guy Fieri is "rolling out" his road show-known as the First Rock N' Roll Culinary Tour in Lowell, MA! From the Media Release:
WHO: Guy Fieri, star of three Food Network shows Diners, Drive-in and Dives. Guy's Big Bite, and Ultimate Recipe Showdown, co-owner of Johnny Garlic's (3 locations) and Tex Wasabi's (2 locations) in Northern California, and best selling author.
· Hayden “Woody” Wood an Australian-based flair bartender
· Chef Michael Schlow of Radius and Via Matta
WHAT: Guy Fieri kicks off his 21-city Road Show in Boston. Taking American food culture to new heights this show marries food and a high energy rock-n-roll concert with blow-your-mind entertainment.
Australian-based flair bartender Hayden “Woody” Wood, an effervescent entertainer and educator on all things liquid, will serve as the opening act. Each city will feature a local celebrated chef, and then Guy will take center stage with an unscripted and wildly entertaining performance, complete with interactive cooking stations, demos, behind the scenes stories from the road and more.
Tickets $39.50-$250.00 and available at www.ticketmaster.com
WHEN: Tuesday, November 17, 2009 8:00 PM
Visit www.guyfieri.com for additional tour cities and dates.
WHERE: Lowell Memorial Auditorium
50 East Merrimack Street
Lowell, MA 01852
For those of you not in Massachusetts-Guy is visiting 20 other cities- check it out at GuyFieri.com
Id love to hear about your experiences if you go- so please drop me an email or a comment about the show!