Monday, June 29, 2009

Abe & Louie's, Dinner, Boston

After a couple of weeks of summer craziness- birthdays, weddings and business travel, I am finally finding some time to blog again! Good thing too- cause I've been enjoying some delicious meals lately.

Friday evening I was treated to a nice celebratory dinner at Abe and Louie's in Boston's Back Bay. As you may recall I had a less than stellar brunch there a year or so ago, but knowing that brunch really isn't a good indicator of a restaurant, especially a steak house, I was really excited to give it a go.

We arrived about fifteen minutes before our reservation time, but were seated immediately. Our water filled, bread delivered, we were left to peruse the menu. Steakhouses are forever confusing to me- I always go in wanting steak, then wavering when I read their seafood offerings, and this time wavered again at their lamb chops. But knowing that I was there for true steak, I finally chose their Tuscan aged prime sirloin. My dining companion decided on their Filet Mignon, and we chose sauteed fresh spinach and hash browns as our sides. For a started, we selected their crab cake.

I have to say, their crab cake was one of the best Ive had. Served with a fruit salsa and a tartar sauce, the cake was full of fresh, sweet crab, without any real discernible fillers. I am always so disappointed when crab cakes are all bread crumbs and stuffers, and you can barely even find the crab meat. This was just perfect- large chunks, sweetly flavored. The fruit salsa had just a little kick to it, and its natural sweetness and simple spice really played into the crab and made it just perfect. Tarter sauce was good-though nothing to write home about.

My steak arrived with a side of roasted vegetables, and a Cabernet demi glace. Moist in texture, the steak had very concentrated flavors, which really brought through a strong "beef" flavor. I found it to be strong, and almost bitter, what does that "Tuscan" aging do? It was cooked to a beautiful medium rare as requested. The side of roasted vegetables were pretty basic, and rather indiscernible. They appeared to be potatoes and red peppers, though it was difficult to see what was what until you were actually tasting it.

The spinach was light, and nicely prepared. I felt as though it had been sauteed with very little, if any real grease, and so the true flavor of the leaves them selves show through. The potatoes had been grated into long strips and pan fried into one big patty of hash brown good ness. Soft on the inside and crispy on the outside- a really nice take on "meat and potatoes".

I have to take a moment to point out that while everything was delicious (especially my DC's Filet) I very consciously noticed the lack of salt present in each dish we were served. Far too often I find that I walk away from restaurants feeling as though I just had a big block of salt for dinner, and so it is always a treat when that doesn't occur. Kudos to the A&L chef for monitoring his salt use.

In honor of the occasion, we decided to have some dessert. We selected their hot fudge sundae from the list, though were very tempted by their fresh baked cookie offering. We were not disappointed in our decision. Extra creamy vanilla ice cream was served on top of a pond of hot fudge sauce, garnished with slivered almonds and nice large chocolate dipped strawberry. On the side we were given another small boat of hot fudge for pouring, presented with a warming dish to keep it fluid. For it being "just" a hot fudge sundae, and neither of us being super big ice cream fans, it was out of this world. The fudge was rich and decadent, and the ice cream was better than any other ice cream I've had. We only had a quarter of it, if that, but felt as though our sweet tooth was completely satisfied- and in the best way possible.

After dinner was over, I noticed, via the table next to us that they had a wine by the glass from my favorite vineyard. I was introduced to the Silverado Vineyard last year, and since I have searched for it in restaurants all over Boston-this was the first time I saw it by the glass. So we wrapped up dinner at the bar enjoying a nice glass of wine.

After my poor experience last year at Abe and Louie's, I was not anticipating such a delightful meal. Our server was friendly and knowledgeable, though a bit absent at times, though that didn't interfere on our wonderful experience. I can confidently recount my displeasure, and would be happy to return.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Sebastian's, Locations throughout Boston

As I enjoyed my lunch earlier, I thought that for as long as I have worked in down town Boston, Sebastian's has always been my go to for a "treat" lunch. Normally I bring my lunch daily, knowing that economically, and health wise-I'm doing myself a big favor. Soup, or the occasional salad, maybe a wrap, and several pieces of fruit make up my normal noon time meal, but when I'm feeling like I deserve a little treat, I head down to Sebastian's. With four cafe's in Boston, and one in Cambridge, they do well in satisfying the cravings of a hungry lunch crowd.
Set up similarly to a cafeteria, with different stations for hot entrees, fresh made sandwiches, a large made to order salad bar, and plenty of spots for pre packaged goodies, they are an easy spot. I normally find myself at the salad bar, where a host of efficient salad makers walk you through their expansive list of options for your salad. Behind them are big display cases of different greens mixtures- Mixed greens including Arugula, Spinach, Radicchio etc, Sebastian's blend which walks on the wild side with some Fri see mixed in, and then simple Romaine as well. You choose your type of greens, and then pick out what other ingredients you want to add to your salad from the display case that separates you from the staff. The options are fantastic- ranging from "typical salad ingredients" such as cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions, to a fun corn salad, to many different options of beans, sprouts, broccoli, and beets. Several different types of cheese can be added, along with croutons, sesame seeds, chow mein noodles, etc. As you point out each ingredient, their salad chefs add as much or as little as you want. After you choose your dressing from a list of nine, they mix it together for you, for even distribution of course, and then seal in a nice box for you to take with you back to your office, or sit in their small sized cafe- if you can find a seat! The best part of their salad bar is that it isn't weighed, you can add as much or as little as you want, and still pay the same rate.
Protein additions such as chicken, salmon, tuna, hard boiled eggs are an additional cost, but as someone who has gotten burned at other salad bars for putting in too many pieces of broccoli, or carrot slices, I feel that this is a fairly good system-though definitely pricey.
Though I haven't had anything other than a salad from them in recent years, I remember being very pleased with their sandwich offerings as well.
Another fun fact about Sebastian's- you can order your salad (the way you like it!) on line and then just head over to pick it up and avoid the crowds! Fantastic! Also...they cater :-)

Monday, June 8, 2009

Pazzo, Newbury Street, Boston

It was an absolutely gorgeous in Boston this weekend- blue skies, birds chirping, temperatures up into the 80's. It was a picture perfect early summer weekend. A great weekend to take in Boston by foot. Of course this also builds up a bit of an appetite as well, so when hunger set in my beautiful Saturday companion and I popped into a new Newbury Street restaurant Pazzo to check out its fare.
Pazzo opened about a month or two ago in the space formerly held by Croma, which was a fairly average upscale pizza place. Pazzo, under the guide of chef Bill Bradley promised a more comprehensive Italian themed menu, a nice turn around from its sister restaurant Tapeo, a Mediterranean tapas restaurant also located on Newbury Street.
As we had worked up our appetites rather substantially, we opted to sit at the first available table, as opposed to waiting for a table on their patio. We were sat immediately inside. Our waitress, who was doubling as the bartender as well, immediately brought us bread for the table, served with a delicious white bean puree. This was surely a sign of good things to come. The bread was wonderfully fresh, and had a nice eggy texture, and the puree had just a hint of garlic, and the luxury of olive oil. We ordered drinks and then set to the menu.
We chose to start with the Aranice Telephono, billed as Saffron Risotto balls stuffed with Mozzarella cheese. The delicate little balls were fried golden brown and served on top of a Marinara sauce with a little fresh parsley over the top. Arancine are one of those appetizers I cannot get enough of- and these did not disappoint. The risotto was nicely prepared on the inside and glowed that beautiful yellow that Saffron brings to the table. The Mozzarella inside was a wonderful little addition, melted and stringy. The star though I thought was the Marinara sauce-as just an aside to the meal I found it was a bit of a show stealer! Really nice subtle flavors-a good Marinara.
I settled on their Salmon salad as my main. Billed as grilled Salmon served with asparagus, feta, white beans, feta, pesto, and mint, it really sounded light and delicious. Unfortunately- it was not as light as I had originally hoped. Served was a generous portion of perfectly cooked Salmon. Grilled and charred on the outside-beautifully pink on the inside. The salmon was wonderful. The asparagus was nicely al dente still, and the rest of the "salad" flowed nicely with the different tastes and flavors. However, it was literally drenched in feta cheese and oil. I had felt that the pesto would be enough of a dressing, however they had then added another 1/4 of a cup or so of just plain oil to the dish, that while it looked pretty, was rather unnecessary to the meal. The feta was tasty, but was again, just too heavy handed. Honestly I found it a shame, the flavors were so light an beautiful- mint with pesto, bright asparagus, the buttery nature of the all just got a little lost under the oil and cheese.
My companion selected on of their pizzas- roasted garlic, Cambozola cheese and olive tapenade which sounded delicious, but sadly fell flat. As I had to look it up myself- Cambozola Cheese is a cows based cheese-a combination of a French triple cream and a Gorgonzola. I would have anticipated the pungent Gorgonzola to shine through, and be nicely complimented with the salty olive tapenade. Unfortunately I feel that they used too much cheese and it rather drowned out the rest of the ingredients. Again, a shame for a dish with promise.
Overall, I think that Pazzo has good things in store. They have a good concept, the dishes sound fantastic, and their location is fantastic. If they are able to ease up on the heavy hand, I think that they could have a really nice addition to Newbury in store- a real step up from its predecessor.
As an aside- their cocktail menu featured some fantastic sounding concoctions and we both really enjoyed the drinks that we got-though their names escape me.

Pazzo on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Cafe Vittoria, North End, Boston

As some of you may know, my Italian Pastry world was turned up side down last June as I revolted against Mike’s Pastry after a truly horrible experience. I vowed to never return to Mikes, but that has put me into a quandary- where do I go now to get my Italian Pastry fix? Who do I turn to?

I have been going to The Modern since June (my trips aren’t that frequent for the record), and I’ve been doing so quite happily. Fresh Sfogliatelle (a pastry I never even LIKED from Mikes I now love from Modern), delightfully fresh Cannoli, delicious Ricotta Pie-everything is just wonderful. The down fall of course- is that it’s a tourist attraction- long lines, limited seating, crunched ordering-not exactly a relaxing experience.

A friend of mine has been telling me about how she and her boyfriend always make sure to go to Café Vittoria whenever they are in the North End for dessert, an experience that I got to share with them recently. Café Vittoria is surprisingly large for its Hanover Street location, featuring several different sitting areas where patrons can relax with dessert and coffee. Styled very much like an old world café, the surroundings were beautiful, though a little loud.

My friend and her boyfriend settled on their usual, a slice of Ricotta Pie, and my dc and I split a cannoli. The shell of the Cannoli was light and crisp with a delicate flavor, and the filling was smooth and creamy, with just that hint of Ricotta flavor, it was the perfect ying and yang of dessert textures.

As a special birthday surprise the table shared and additional piece of Tiramisu. I have to say-this was the most delicious Tiramisu I’ve had. A thick layer of their Mascarpone mixture over a single layer of soaked lady fingers, all sprinkled generously with cocoa powder. This was just the most decadent dessert I’ve had in quite some time- thankfully four of us were sharing so I didn’t inhale the entire plate on my own.

I am quite satisfied now to enjoy a relaxing experience at Café Vittoria, but continue to head to The Modern when I’m just looking for a quick fix. I have to say…everyday I am thankful that the North End exists.

Caffe Vittoria on Urbanspoon

A take on an Italian Classic- Pasta and Walnuts

One of the best things about the summer, in my opinion at least, is all of the fresh produce that abounds. One of the best ways to do take full advantage of this is at one of the many Farmers Markets that pop up all over the city during these months. Local farmers gather their goods and set up stands at different locations a few times a week. Its a really wonderful way to scoop up fresh, beautiful fruits and vegetables at a fraction of the cost of grocery stores. Case in point, last night I picked up several gorgeous bunches of spinach for just $1.30. You can't beat that in my opinion! For more information on these farmer markets please visit Mass Farmers Markets for times and locations.

After picking up my spinach, I started dreaming up what I could make with it. Since I have recently been trying to cut down on my carb intake, many of the dinners I have been making have been carb and starch free. Sadly my normal dining companion isn't always as on board with the plan, so I decided to add in some carbs last night.

When I was growing up, I always remember my mother te
lling me about her Christmas Eve tradition of eating a pasta dinner with just olive oil and walnuts when she was little. I was never particularly impressed with the idea of this dish, and always preferred our seafood entree on Christmas Eve. Recently though, I have been curious about this flavor combination, so I decided to put my own spin on it.

I stopped into the markets and picked up some of the new Ronzoni Smart Taste (Ronzoni Smart Taste) pasta, elbow macaroni to be exact. I figured that if I was going to eat pasta, it might as well be good for me pasta right? Loaded with Fiber and Calcium, but with the same white flour taste as regular pasta, this was sure to be a hit. I also picked up a small container of walnuts (loaded in omega-3s), a nice green Granny Smith apple, thick cut bacon (no nutritional value whatsoever I know) and a small block of parmesan cheese for grating.

Back at home I first toasted a handful and a half of the walnuts, just to get their juices flowing. I set about a 1/4 of the box of pasta boiling in salted water. Then I chopped three small cloves of garlic, half the apple, and two slices of the
bacon. After removing the walnuts from the pan, I set them aside and added the bacon to the same pan and let it do its thing and get nice and crispy. While that was going on, the pasta had reached its al dente state, and so I drained it quickly, and put it aside. When the bacon was done, I pulled the pieces out of the pan, drained them on a paper towl to get rid of excess fat and poured 98% of the leftover fat down the drain. I left the remainging grease in the pan and added the chopped garlic. Once that cooked through, I added the apple, a little salt and pepper, and then the pasta. Then I started slowly folding in the large leafs of spinach. Once it had wilted nicely, I added back in the bits of bacon and the walnuts and mixed it all together. A little sprinkle of Parmesan cheese over the top-and it was done.

Now granted, the bacon probably killed all nutritional value of the dish, but wow was this good. The smoky flavor from the bacon traveled throughout the dish, and was just broken up by the quick bursts of sweet appl
e. The spinach was as gorgeous as I though it would be, and the walnuts went really well with the pasta. Needless to say, this was a huge hit, and really did "hit the spot" as well after a long day!Thanks Mom for the back bone idea!!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Healthy Tuna Salad, just in time for Summer!

The other day I was looking for a healthy lunch, bored with my norm of soup or salad. I knew I had a can of tuna in the cupboard, but did not have any Miracle Whip on hand (yes-I'm a Miracle Whip girl -no mayo for this one). This brought me to a new idea, a tasty tuna salad without Miracle Whip, but that would bind together as a salad, rather than just plain tuna on a piece of bread. Originally I thought of Mustard, but assumed that the amount of mustard I would need to accomplish my goal would end up shadowing all of the other flavors of the salad. But then I saw it- in my cupboard, a can of Garbanzo beans, or Chickpeas as they are also called.

Garbanzo Beans are one of those great foods in my opinion- loaded with protein, fiber and zinc along with a bunch of other great vitamins, I consider them a great staple in any diet. Ground into Hummus, added to salads, toasted and served plain, they are just a great little bean.

I found a shallot in my fridge along with a bunch of parsley, and decided to blend all the ingredients together, with the addition of a little mustard for a bit of a binding ingredient. I blended everything together in my trusty Cuisinart, which I realize I use FAR too much, and then added just a small amount of salt and pepper for taste. I have to say-this one of the best tuna salads I've had, and completely guilt free. No thoughts of oil or how much is too much Miracle Whip, just plain and simple ingredients. The light onion flavor of the shallot with the mellow parsley and tuna was really delicious. The Garbanzo Beans added a real backbone to the salad and gave a slight nutty flavor, and the Dijon mustard I used lend ed a little spice.

Sadly, I neglected to take photos as I was making it, but this will be my new Tuna salad- it will be made again very soon.

Restaurant Reviews: A dead art?

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