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!
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
We arrived, a party of three, on Friday night around 8 pm. We were resolved to sit at the bar, knowing that it was prime dinner time. However to our surprise, the host was more than willing to accommodate us in the main dining room. After a short wait, we were seated. This type of service continued throughout the rest of meal. Each person who we encountered was warm and friendly, more than willing to help, and solving each task with a smile. Huge kudos to the staff of Spiga.
The food did not disappoint either. We started with an appetizer of white pizza-beautifully cooked crust topped with mozzarella, greens, and Mortadella. I feel that Mortadella is one of the least used Italian meats, at least here in Boston. Perhaps because it is so close to Bologna that people think its a less than quality cold cut, but i have to be honest- it is really quite tasty. Prepared as pork sausage enhanced with hard fat, as well as spices and usually even pistachios, it is an interesting mix of flavors and textures. On top of gooey mozzarella, and crisp greens the mixture was a really fun play in textures. It was a perfect start to the evening.
I chose handmade ravioli filled with spinach and ricotta, topped with a duck ragu for my main course. That was not an easy decision. I had extreme difficulty narrowing the decisions down, though that is a problem that I really do love to have. I definitely made a delicious choice. The raviolis were soft and pillowy-perfect texture, and their filling was wonderfully seasoned. The spinach shown through with that great flavor it has, but was cut so beautifully by the creamy ricotta. The ragu though...now that was beautiful. Dark and rich, perfectly spotted with shredded duck. Wow. Now I realise that too much of that could have been too rich, too heavy, too much without a lot to change it up. But then, as I continued to eat...I detected small amounts of citrus. Though I couldn't see it, I have a hunch that lemon zest had been added to the ragu to lighten it-and that it exactly did. It added another dimension, a slight change that made it all that much better.
Dinner was a success. I loved every bite of my meal, and the piece of Veal Milanese (served thick with the bone still in) was perfect-moist and flavorful. I have not much to complain about. Service was spot on, prices incredibly reasonable, a well done wine list, and incredibly delicious food. I will definitely be back....SOON!
Monday, November 2, 2009
From now until January 18th, 2010- log into http://www.mayorsholidayspecial.com/ for tickets to all those wonderful holiday shows that visit town this time of year at a serious discount. Want to see the Nutcracker? A Christmas Carol? Sing-a-long Mary Poppins? A Tribute to Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley? Tickets to all of those are right on the site- at 50% off!
Hungry? Want a bite before/after the show? Tons of restaurants in the city are offering free appetizers or percentages off of entrees with vouchers from the site as well.
But it doesn't stop there discounts on hotels, shopping...Mayor Menino really has gotten into the spirit of giving this year!
So check out the site, get into the spirit, stimulate the economy and please- have a VERY happy and safe holiday season!