Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Friendly Toast, Kendall Square, Cambridge

Boston's food scene has been abuzz for months about the arrival of a much loved Restaurant from Portsmouth, NH, opening a second location just outside the Boston city limits in Kendall Square, Cambridge. A favorite of University of New Hampshire students for the past fifteen years, the arrival of The Friendly Toast in Boston means simply that Breakfast has arrived. Boston is an apparent wasteland for good breakfast, there are a few jewels out there, but they are few and far between where variety rules the menu, and appetites are truly satisfied. This new opening promised to satisfy the craving.

The new location opened Sunday, May 17th, but this past Monday was the first opportunity I had to check it out. With any new place though, there are going to be kinks to work out, and so we went fully armed for either a fantastic experience, or a terrible one.

We were told there was about a 20 minute wait when we got there, but that the line was moving a bit faster than that, pleased by the news, we put our name on the list and took a seat outside on their small patio where we were told we could have a drink. This is where the kinks began. The waitress on the patio was wonderful, sweet and helpful, but obviously the flow hadn't been determined yet for working the patio. She was mobbed half the time, and the bar inside couldn't keep up with her orders, making it easier to just wait for all beverages until actually seated. Additionally, we were given a bill for our outside tab, but it had to be paid inside, where we would also pay our inside tab, but separately. It was a bit confusing.

Our 20 minute wait did stretch beyond 20 minutes, but it was such a beautiful day that relishing the weather made it pass by much faster. Finally though inside, we set to work reading through the menu, which is unfortunately abbreviated until their kitchen is fully up to speed. I settled on Huevos Rancheros, a Mexican dish which translates to a farm dish-one that the farmers in Mexico created from what was readily available to them. It was described as two poached eggs set atop Anadama bread, with avocados, salsa, and cheddar cheese accompanied by their famous home fries. Anadama bread has been a favorite of mine since childhood, a combination of key ingredients flour, cornmeal, and molasses-it makes for a really delicious bread. When I was a child I used to toast a slice of it, and then sprinkle it with brown sugar for a snack. The Toast's version had that same beautiful flavor that molasses adds to things- and was cut into big, thick slices. It was perfect for sopping up the runny egg yolk. Overall, this was a nice dish, the flavors were good, creamy avocado with the acidity of salsa cut through, and the comfort of poached eggs. However, the salsa was almost too cold for the hot eggs and provided a really weird contrast of temperatures. And sadly, only one of my egg yolks was runny, the other was completely cooked through.

Their home fries though...they were delicious. Thinly sliced potatoes mixed with lots of spices to give them a little heat- a perfect accompaniment to the meal. Another kink though, my companions potatoes were not cooked properly, and many were still rather undercooked.

He did love the rest of his meal though, egg in a hole. Basically, a slice of Anadama bread, fried on the flat top in butter, with two holes punched out and filled with eggs that are cooked right in. The bread won him over from the start, but he ran into the same problem, one egg was runny, the other was cooked through.

I can chalk all of this up to opening kinks. The staff is only partially permanent, many of the friendly faces we saw were on loan from the Portsmouth location, only in Boston to train the new folks. We were told that the kitchen staff was the same- partially from Portsmouth. It is not surprising that the flow isn't smooth at this stage, and that there are mistakes being made.

I have to make one final note- the decor was kitsch-fantastic. Wallpaper showing off old jacket covers of The Hardy Boys series, life size dolls from the 1950's, even the tables were reminiscent of the old diners. It was fantastic to take it all in and constantly notice different quirky items on all of the tables.

I have no doubt that The Friendly Toast will work out its difficulties and become the shining jewel of Cambridge that it has of Portsmouth, NH. I cant wait to return, especially when their full menu is available. I've heard amazing things about their Pumpkin Pancakes...mmmmmm


The Friendly Toast on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Exciting News! And- the Florentine Cafe, North End, Boston

Hello Faithful Readers! I have some very exciting news! I better though after a rather long silence here at A Boston Food Diary! The lovely folks at GrubHub.com, a food delivery site catering to San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia, New York and our own Boston has asked me to be a guest blogger for them!
So as I continue my exploration of Boston restaurants, good and bad, you will find my reviews in both locations, with more of my adventures in the kitchen here. I hope you all share in my excitement of being part of a great organization that not only helps bring food to the hungry masses of several US cities, but also unites a great group of food bloggers as we dissect the cuisines of our different cities. Definitely head on over to GrubHub.com to check it all out!

And without further adieu, I give you my review of The Florentine Cafe in the North End.

One of my good friends birthdays was last Friday and she chose The Florentine Café in the North End as her spot of choice for her birthday celebration. I searched all over the web for reviews, but I wasn’t able to find anything of note. I felt a bit apprehensive of going to a place “blind” but their menu sounded delicious. One fun fact to note is that it is one of Boston’s oldest bars- established soon after the Prohibition Laws were repealed.

There was some confusion as to whether they took reservations, so, throwing caution to the wind, we arrived at the restaurant at 7:30 pm anticipating a very long wait as it was a beautiful spring evening. I was happily surprised to find that they were able to seat our party of four immediately. Within moments of sitting, our waiter greeted us, and then ran to get water and bread for the table. We set to work on deciding on drink orders, and perusing the menu. The waiter returned, took our drink order, and then informed us that he would be back again to take our appetizer order. I found this rather perplexing. We had already decided on what we wanted to have for appetizer, and tried to give it to him- and yet, he was gone before we could insist. A few moments later he returned with the wine, which unfortunately gave him some difficulty in opening, and I think that it threw him from his game for the rest of the evening. After finally pouring the wine, he left again, without taking our appetizer order, and did not reappear for quite some time. A fair fifteen minutes had passed before he reappeared and took our entire order. I hate to bash a waiter, their job is incredibly difficult and one that I have a lot of respect for, but his disappearance definitely cast an odd shadow on the meal. Honestly-it became the low point of the evening for me.

My friend and I had read the menu on line during the weeks that led up to her big night, and decided that their mussels preparation sounded incredible and were a must have. They did not disappoint. Mussels Clams Al Brandy were a perfect start to the meal. The mussels (and some clams!) had been cooked in a broth of tomatoes, bacon, brandy and cream. The hint of sweetness from the brandy mixed with the cream and enhanced by that smoky bacon was really beautiful. I would have adored some crispy bacon sprinkled over the top-but otherwise I loved it. The portion was great too- perfect amount of both mussels and clams for sharing.

I am a huge fan, lover, of Port wine. It is my favorite after dinner drink, but I rarely see it used in savory cooking. Florentine offered a dish that unfortunately is not on their on line menu currently so I cannot remember the name, but it was served as pork medallions with a sauce made of apples, pears, Port and butter. Heaven on earth is what this was. The pork was beautifully cooked- slightly crispy on the outside which allowed for a texture change from the rest of the dish. The Port was mixed with (a lot) of butter, that resulted in a luxurious sauce, full of the beautiful sweet flavor of the Port. The apples and pears had been cooked through, and offered a really nice derivation, and yet compliment to the rest of the dish. I was extremely happy. Normally this dish is served with mashed potatoes and sautéed spinach, trying to lighten this meal a bit because of the butter component, I asked if it could be served without the potatoes, but with extra spinach, or veggies. It was served with a generous portion of spinach, and spears of asparagus. The spinach was well seasoned, though perhaps a bit over cooked. It reminded me of the spinach that we all used to buy in the freezer box, indiscernible in shapes, but tasty none the less. The asparagus had been grilled simply and tasted of springtime.

My companions had all ordered different things, one the Veal Parmesan, another the Lobster Ravioli, and the birthday girl had Linguini Fra Diavolo. The Veal Parmesan looked delicious, but was scarfed down-literally- before I was able to steal a bite- however it got rave reviews. To me though, it looked very much like a typical Parmesan dish. The Lobster Ravioli was well reviewed by its recipient, and the bite I had was full of lobster and a really rich and creamy sauce. Finally the Fra Diavolo was chock full of seafood-scallops, lobster tail, and clams. It was definitely enjoyed, and it had tasty flavor, though personally I would have liked to have seen a bit more spice in it. With a name literally translated to Brother Devil- I think a little devil is needed.

Though we did experience some hiccups in service, as the waiter continued his disappearing routine throughout the meal, I am able to almost forget about all of that because my meal was so outrageously delicious. The Florentine Café is a place that I am excited about going back to at some point. I wonder if I ordered extremely well, or if their menu includes a lot of winners? I will happily return to test it out.


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