Monday, January 31, 2011

Deuxave, Back Bay, Boston

It isn't often that I write a "re-review", especially when my dining experiences occur within less than a year of each other.  However, in this case, I felt it was necessary.  Deuxave opened last fall, with Chris Coombs, one of my favorite Boston chefs, at the helm.  I couldn't contain my excitement at it's opening, and so dined there within weeks of it opening.  Now, it must be noted that it usually takes a few months for restaurants to get all of their kinks worked out.  There are always a bunch of little details to iron out and challenges to overcome in the beginning, and so I must admit- it may not have been incredibly fair of me to review so early on.  Now my experience was largely positive on my first trip, but I had spent some time wondering what could be when the kinks were worked out.  Which is why, when my mom suggested it as our dining location for a little ladies night out this past weekend, I was excited to give it a try again.

Though Deuxave has been open for many months at this point, it is still incredibly difficult to get a reservation, so we ended up just popping by the location, at the corner of Mass Ave and Commonwealth Ave near 6:30 on Saturday night.  We were excited to find that there was a table available in the lounge section.  Once seated, we were greeted by our charming waiter, drinks were ordered and our evening was off to a lovely start.  

We decided on the Melange of Heirloom Beets to begin our meals.  Since I was little I have disliked beets.  My mother loves them.  Trying to open myself up to new things, I suggested that we split this dish as an appetizer.  I can say that I am slowly beginning to like beets.  Deuxave served golden and red beets, cooked to a fork tender perfection, paired with an herb ed chevre, spiced pecans, pear slices and red and green frisee.  Visually it was a beautiful dish, the contrasting colors of the beets pairing with the cheese and the greens.  Taste wise it was just as wonderful. The poignant, earthy flavor of the beets was offset by the tangy chevre, it's herby-ness providing relief.  The sweetness of the pears and the spice and crunch of the pecan lent their own variations, keeping the taste buds intrigued to the very end.  

I selected their Duet Of Giannone Farms Organic Chicken as my main course.  Coombs paired a perfectly cooked chicken breast with a disk of thigh meat which had been heavily seasoned with savory herbs, and complemented them both with creamy polenta, sauteed kale, and chantarelle mushrooms.  The chicken breast was flavorful and juicy, with its crispy skin providing great contrast to the meat.  The thigh meat, rich and gamy by nature was perfectly offset by the fresh herbs Chef Coombs had paired with it.  The perfection of the duet was nothing without its supporting cast- the creamy polenta, the kale and mushrooms, some of which had been cooked to soft and supple textural bliss, and others pushed beyond that stage to a crispness rivaling the chicken skin.  Both were full of beautiful smoky flavor, and each provided wonderful contrast to the soft polenta, and the study chicken.  This was a perfect duet of flavors and textures, bringing out the best of chicken.  

I was too enraptured with my own meal to spend too much time picking at my mothers- she had ordered their scallop dish which looked delicious, and the bite I had was fantastic as it was paired with black quinoa and a citrus salad.  I just did not spend enough time on it.

We did however find some room for dessert and elected to split Deuxave's interpretation of Tiramisu.  This is what I love about Chef Coombs- he walks the perfect balance between molecular gastronomy and the familiar foods that we all know.  He blends the two together with such precise perfection that his food is both approachable and fascinating, and never touches on the science experiment cooking that is so chic now.  Tiramisu was served completely deconstructed.  Hollowed tubes of chocolate filled with Madeira wine flavored Marscapone cheese, rested on a single rum soaked lady finger.  Ground chocolate cookie crumbs lay like sand providing a satisfactory crunch when paired with the cheese, or the alcoholic cake.  A scoop of chocolate glace, and delicate circles of coffee foam accessorized the dish creating the ability for us to sample each taste on its own, and combined with several different options of flavor.  Each texture complemented the others, creating a perfect mouth feel experience.  This was a perfect dessert both aesthetically, and by taste.  

Deuxave has created a perfect "neighborhood restaurant" feel in one of the more trendy zip codes in Boston.  Chef Coombs has brought forth all of the wonderful flavors of what could be "generic" comfort food, and has combined them with the perfect flair of molecular gastronomy and beauty to create dishes that are truly remarkable.  Deuxave, I am excited to say, has taken one of my "favorites in Boston" spots.  

Friday, January 28, 2011

Comfort Food: Dissected

With all the bitterly cold weather we've been getting and crazy amounts of snow, I think it is safe to say that the people of Boston are looking for some serious amounts of comfort food. Mmm comfort food. The very mention of it makes me smile. When the wind is blowing outside, or a day has been especially difficult there is nothing that compares to sitting down to a big serving of whatever your favorite food is.

I think that is one thing that I really love about comfort food-everyone has a different definition of what it is, and it completely depends on mood. The way I see it though- there are several categories for comfort food: cheesy, hearty, and sweet.

The cheesy group is full of all those great foods like nachos and pizza. The cheesy goodness, melted and oozing, elicits smiles almost immediately. When I am feeling low, I have to say, pulling a chip free from a pile bound together by melted cheese, I feel better instantaneously. Perhaps it's just the concentration on keeping the remainder of the pile in place, or maybe it is the sheer anticipation of the delicious tastes I am about to enjoy, but it is a wonderful thing.

The hearty category may include things like beef stew, chili, heaping bowls of pasta, and burgers-mmmm. These indulgent treats are warming. And filling. They settle into your stomach like a satisfied sigh, and spread their steaming decadence like a fluffy comforter.

Finally the sweet group. Now this, to me, includes many many options- starting, of course, with a warm straight from the oven chocolate chip cookie. Honestly is there anything that can transport you back to happy places than a delicious, soft, chewy, warm and chocolatey cookie? Maybe a gooey hot fudge Sunday, whipped cream piled on top, ice cream melting into the fudge creating a river of deliciousness is more your speed. Or warm apple pie, the perfect combination of spice, sugar and tart apples.

So on another chilly evening, the end of a long week when comfortable weekend apparel is calling- what is your favorite type of comfort food?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Dorado Tacos & Cemitas, Brookline

If I have one gripe with Boston, it's the lack of tasty, authentic Mexican food.  Save for a few spots around town, I find Boston's answer to Mexican cuisine to be flavorless, and covered in cheese.  Now, obviously I have nothing against cheese- but everything in moderation here...I am about to add another favorite to my list of good Mexican in Boston however, let the drums roll please..............the newest addition:  Dorado Tacos & Cemitas located on Harvard Ave, just outside of Coolidge Corner.

As you approach Dorado, it doesn't look like anything special- a normal corner store front, nothing flashy about it.  However, when you pull open the doors and breathe in the aromas of fresh ingredients circulating in the air, you begin to get the notion of what awaits you.

I have been to Dorado several times, and normally stick to the same order- the taco plate.  Two soft shelled tacos served with rice and black beans.  The tacos I prefer?  Carnivore that I am, I tend to stick with the house made chorizo and the grilled and marinated sirloin steak.  The first is served with guacamole and salsa fresca, and the second is paired with a roasted tomato and habanero salsa, guacamole, and queso fresco. 

Between these two, I'm not sure I could pick a favorite.  The Chorizo is absolutely wonderful- smoky and full of spices, free form (meaning non confined by casings) and perfectly paired with the fresh and light salsa, and the wonderfully creamy guacamole.

The steak is fantastic as well- marinated in a tangy sauce, paired with a wonderfully spicy tomato and habanero salsa- this stuff doesn't pretend to be spicy- it actually is!  The guacamole cools the burn just a bit and that queso fresco give a salty contrast.  Delicious!

The rice, to my taste, is a little dry, but when mixed with the saucy black beans-the provide a perfect balance, and are full of flavor.

Dorado is a great, inexpensive option in the Coolidge Corner area with Taco Plates coming in at just $6.25.  They also have creative freshly made teas juices, as well as several beers and usually a house made sangria.  For the price, and the quality- you just can't beat it! 

**Special thanks to Katie from The Small Boston Kitchen for sponsoring my addiction!!!***

Dorado Tacos & Cemitas on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Dumpling Cafe Open- AND Celebrating Chinese New Year with a Deal for You!!!

I have been slacking a bit lately!  There are some great food events going on around town and I haven't had a chance to post some of them!  Well fear not- I'm getting back on the ball now and kicking it off with one heck of a great deal!

You may have heard, Chinatown welcomed a new restaurant earlier this year- the Dumpling Cafe!  Owned by Pete Wang (also owner of the Taiwan Cafe) the Dumpling Cafe specializes in the fresh dumplings, but also offers other Taiwanese specialties and regional dishes from China.  The dumplings are obviously their focus however, making them fresh every day. 

To celebrate their grand opening, and celebrate Chinese New Year, from now until the end of February diners can indulge in a great deal!  Dumpling Cafe is offering: Two Entrees, One Appetizer (includes their famous Dumplings) Fried Rice, Soup and a Drink (plus Tea of course) for only $20.95!  That is an amazing deal- figuring out to just over $10.00 per person for two people!

Dumpling Cafe can be found at 695 Washington Street seven days a week from 11:00 am to 2:00 am. For reservations please call 617.338.8858.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Peanut Butter Banana Breakfast Pudding

It's not really any big news anymore- it is very (VERY) cold here in Boston.  Yesterday I believe our high temperatures were around 11 degrees...brrrrr.  Yesterday was definitely our coldest day, however the last few haven't been too much better.  So, on Sunday morning after dragging myself to the gym, I wanted a hot breakfast.  I wanted a hot, cozy, comforting breakfast that would make me feel energized and ready for the rest of the day.  I looked around my kitchen and spied a long over ripe banana.  Knowing that I would never eat it as it was, and pulling inspiration from a recent Top Chef Masters episode I had watched, I decided to make a quick and easy banana pudding for breakfast. 

I heated a small sauce pan over medium heat and then added the banana (whole 'cause I'm crazy like that) to the pot, and then added about a 1/4 cup skim milk.  I whisked the banana and the milk together, and then added a teaspoon of vanilla, a teaspoon of honey, and a big spoonful of peanut butter (mmmm peanut butter!).  More whisking, and soon the lumps of banana were gone, and a warm "pudding" closer consistency to soup had formed.  I topped it off with a great trail mix from Trader Joe's containing almonds, and dried cranberries, raisins, golden raisins, and blueberries.

The result?  Tasty- though a little sweet.  I didn't take into account how sweet bananas get after sitting around for a while, so the addition of the honey was probably not needed.  Otherwise though, this was deliciously filling, and spread a wonderful warm feeling through my chilled body.  One for the books when my bananas are (way) past their prime!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Charley's, Newton

There is just something about the very idea of a lovely hamburger that gets my heart pumping.  Picturing a thick mound of ground beef, artfully spiced with seasonings to enhance the true flavor of the beef, but not overshadow it, grilled til the inside is a perfect pink may be one of my "perfect foods". I like then when they are grilled using gas or good old fashioned charcoal and they get all smokey, and I like when they are griddled on a flat top and a beautiful crust forms over the meat.  I like them with cheese, without cheese, with lots of toppings, and simply with just some lettuce, onion and tomato.  Honestly-I can't think of a burger I don't like.  So, on Saturday, when the mood struck for a burger, I jumped right on board.  As we were running some errands in the Chestnut Hill mall around dinner time, Charley's seemed like just as good a place as any to grab a quick dinner, and to indulge my burger craving.

I settled, almost immediately on their Au Poivre burger, described as being topped with caramelized onions and aged cheddar cheese.  I requested that it be served medium rare.  Au Poivre, in case you are curious, refers to the practice of dipping the formed burger patty into crushed black pepper, and cooking the burger encased in the pepper.  The result is a lovely spicy flavor on the outside, and a very satisfying textural crunch with each bite. 
Our waiter returned with the food, and he requested that we each cut into our burgers to be sure that they were cooked properly.  I am actually not a fan of this practice.  I understand the logic behind it- if the dish is improperly cooked than the kitchen can replace it.  However, that can take forever, and it can just be more of a hassle to ask them to recook the entire meal. Additionally, if only one person at the table has an issue, then the entire table has to either proceed with their meal, or wait.  I think its just messy.  Finally, I am just not that picky-especially when it comes to burgers :-).  As the case may be- I cut into mine, and it was over cooked.  The beautiful bright pink I was hoping to see in the middle was faded into just a thin line of "kinda pink" and the gray surrounding it was much too thick.  No bother, I decided to "muscle through".

The burger, was actually very tasty.  Served on a poppy seed bun, the bread was soft and fresh, perfect for soaking up the excess juice as it ran free.  The meat was flavorful, well complimented by the ground pepper corns, and thankfully not over salted.  The cheese was delicious- a perfect sharp contrast to the pepper and decadence of the burger, however it wasn't completely melted atop my piping hot burger.  Sadness for that, though it didn't affect the over all flavor.  Finally, the caramelized onions were just ok.  Many had not yet reached the "caramelized" stage and were left in a weird pale white, almost translucent, greasy limbo.  I missed out on the beautiful sweetness that onions turn into when left long enough, which I think would have paired perfectly with the spice of the pepper and the sharpness of the aged cheddar. Now that isn't to say that the burger as whole wasn't delicious, because it was, there were just some oddities as well.  

As for accompaniments, the burger was served with french fries (thick cut), two onion rings, and a pickle.  Thick cut french fries are not my favorite. I like a lot of crispness to my fries and these were much too soft for my taste.  The onion rings were delicious golden brown circles of deliciousness.  The pickle though- oh the pickle.  I am forever disappointed when served a poor pickle- a limp stalk, oddly tasting metallic, or some other terrible let down.  Charley's though, this was crisp and fresh tasting- almost a lovely little pallet cleanser.

Overall, I feel that the misses on my burger were probably just mistakes that I would hope wouldn't occur again, and the flavor of the burger far outweighed them.  I would definitely return to Charley's for another burger.

Out of curiosity- what is your position on the "please cut into your burger/steak to check if it's done to your liking" practice?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Breaking News: A Boston Food Diary Turns 3!!

Big day 'round these parts: A Boston Food Diary turns 3 today!!

I remember when I decided to start the blog-early January 2008. I was obsessed with The Food Network, reading any and every book about food, cooking, and culinary endeavors, and spending hours pouring over looking for scoops on the latest restaurants openings and closings. I was dying for a way to get more involved with food-literally- and finally one of my more tech savvy acquaintances (probably tired of hearing me endlessly drone on about food) suggested a blog. I felt like I was in a cartoon and a giant lightbulb went off over my head- a Blog!! And so the idea was born. I spent some time thinking about what I wanted my concentration to be, and then, on the way home from a ski trip, I started envisioning my first post.

My intent, which I hold firmly on today, was to "make a great meal last longer". It was to capture every taste, every flavor, and every texture and document them. It was to be the diary of a woman obsessed with food, containing the extreme details of the remarkable, and, let's face it, not so remarkable, meals she indulged in.

As I look back on these three years, I never dreamed how much I would enjoy the blog, and how much it would push me out of my comfort zone. Every day I scour cook books to find new inspiration, and guidance on new methods of cooking. When I dine out now I am more thoughtful and adventurous in my choices, wanting to educate myself as much as possible, and share as much as I possibly can with the fantastic readers of A Boston Food Diary.

I now scour the Internet, and religiously read email to find the newest happenings that I can share with you all, and I welcome all of the amazing suggestions and ideas that you all have sent into me. I have a growing list of restaurants I need to check out that you guys have suggested, and I can't wait to get started on them!

I am really excited to celebrate the past three years, and Im even more excited to get started on the next chapter!

So on this awesome day, I have to ask you -What do you want to see more or less of on A Boston Food Diary? Please send me any suggestions-places to eat, methods or recipes to try, or ingredients to use and I'll get cracking on them!

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Friday Look into A Boston Food Diary

I gotta say -there are some pretty fantastic bloggers here in Boston, and one of my favorites is Beantown Baker.  Jen's photos are ridiculously gorgeous, and her recipes are killer.  Whenever I need a sweet recipe I head on over to her blog for incredibly tasty treats. So when she invited me to write a piece for her Friday Favs feature- I jumped at the chance.

I have to say though, as honored as I was to be invited, I loved writing the piece even more than I thought.  It gave me the chance to really think about A Boston Food Diary, some great memories from my early days in food, and I got to look back at my favorite restaurants around town. 

I wanted to include a bit of it here, but please head on over to Beantown Baker for the full post.

"Food has always been my passion. I remember, as a small child, I would spend hours planning the restaurant I would some day own. I had everything picked out- the floors, the drapery, the china, the silver…of course I imagined myself to be executive chef, owner and front of the house manager as well. I had big dreams as a kid. Making it worse, one Christmas my parents surprised me with a make believe restaurant game. The kit included menu mock ups, order forms, chefs hats, etc- everything you would need to set up a restaurant in the comfort of your own home as a 6 year old child. My poor family, and countless stuffed animals I’m sure, dealt with make believe dinner after dinner of me taking their orders and then running off somewhere only to bring back plates full of air. Ahhhh childhood. As time moved on, I moved into different career paths, but my heart has always been in the food scene, both in cooking and in dining out. Of course after “owning” my own restaurant as a child, I now have tons of opinions on the real ones of today. Three years ago I started A Boston Food Diary as an outlet of my opinions (because they are awesome) and as a place for me to document my own culinary adventures."  (Continued)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Tashi Delek: A Journey to Tibet?

I have pledged to try more new things.  I like to think of myself as a pretty adventurous person, especially when it comes to food, but I find that I often get stuck in a rut-making the same things, using the same ingredients, eating at the same places, ordering the same can be pretty bad.  So, I have started to cook new things, and try new foods.  Last night, to really expand my horizons, I traveled over to Brookline Village with Jen from Beantown Baker, and Katie from The Small Boston Kitchen to try a "new to me" cuisine- Tibetan!  

I cannot express how excited I was to try Tibetan food.  I envisioned all new flavor combinations, exotic meats and pairings...I was thrilled.  We embarked on this journey to Tibet at Tashi Delek, an intimate restaurant that opened four years ago.  The restaurant itself was lovely and our waitress, who I assumed was actually one of the owners was amazingly pleasant, patient and kind.  Other patrons, though they were few, seemed to know her well, and shared stories about their lives as they sat and ate, or waited for take out.  It was an amazingly homey atmosphere.

We three indecisive food bloggers poured over the menu for ages, wanting to try everything, and finally choosing to split several appetizers and each have a bowl of soup.  This decision seemed to give us the greatest ability to sample a fair amount of the cuisine.

I began my meal with the hot and sour soup.  As you know, I love hot and sour soup, and it is a staple to me when I eat Chinese food.  I was excited to try the Tibetan version.  I would say that I was disappointed to find that this soup was exactly the same as its Chinese peer, however it was one of the best bowls of hot and sour soup that I have had in ages, so disappointment doesn't really fit here.  Served piping hot with the standard chunks of tofu and mushrooms in the mix, and garnished with fresh green onion, the soup was thick, flavorful and spicy!  So often dishes are marked spicy and spice doesn't even touch the dish, so here I was thrilled to actually taste the hot pepper in the soup and feel the warmth of its burn as the liquid poured down my throat.  The flavors were crisp throughout and each of the additions to the broth were well proportioned and cooked.  Delicious.

Prior to arriving, we each had done some research and had learned that Momo's, basically dumplings stuffed with a variety of fillings, are one of Tibet's most well known staples.  We decided to order two helpings of the appetizer sized portions, one order chicken, and fried, and the other beef and steamed.  We also ordered servings of their spring roll, and their vegetable fritters. 

Not surprisingly, I found the Momo's to be the highlight here.  The first, the steamed, was a mix of ground beef mixed with garlic, ginger, scallion and other spices which created a really fresh tasting filling.  The dough encasing it was lovely, thick and doughy, just a bit gummy from their steam bath, and perfect for allowing the flavors of the beef to shine forth.  These were lovely little pockets of flavor.  The chicken fared similarly, ground chicken mixed with similar ingredients resulting in an even fresher taste, though I didn't feel that the fried exterior added to the experience.  I love fried just as much as the next person, but with these Momo's I actually enjoyed the lighter flavors, and the textures of the steamed buns.

The spring rolls were nothing remarkable, fried rolls of cabbage and carrots mixed with spices, rolled and fried.  The ingredients were incredibly fresh which was lovely, making them a bit better than average, however here I didn't taste anything too much different than an average spring roll.  One note, the sweet sauce drizzled over the rolls tasted as though it had been mixed with a heavy mint flavor, which added an interesting note to the sauce, but was a rather odd combination.

I had envisioned the fritters to be pancake shape, but instead what we were served more resembled haystacks of vegetables, a welcome surprise.  The mix consisted of potatoes and broccoli, battered with gram flour and flavored with curry, and fried until golden brown.  These had wonderful textural contrasts, but again nothing really popped here as "fantastic" or "out of the ordinary". 

All in all I'd say that I enjoyed my meal at Tashi Delek, but I am not entirely sure that it counts as trying something new.  

As a side note, I'm not entirely sure I should be surprised by the fare last evening not breaking any barriers.  As I dine out in varied restaurants of different backgrounds I am consistently disappointed that they don't "bring it".  The food is, more often then not, dialed back and shadows of what is true to the nation from which it stems.  Case in point- as we dined last night one of the regulars asked the owner about a certain dish that he had had of Tibetan origin, she said that they make it all the time at home, but couldn't make it for the restaurant because no one would order it.  I feel that that may be one of the saddest statements- if we are dining in a restaurant of a foreign land- don't we go there to try their cuisine?  Why do we force these restaurants into serving less than authentic dishes?

Food for thought today...   

Tashi Delek on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Lyndell's (Cupcakes), North End location, Boston

In my family, when there is an occasion (anything from birthdays, anniversaries, and promotions to the simple "its Friday", "I've had a bad day", "I've had a good day") it is celebrated with cake.  Based on this, it really comes as no surprise when, out of the blue, I get a craving for cake.  

It hits every so often.  I'll be sitting quietly, minding my own business, and all I can think about is a piece of nice soft, moist cake topped with sugary icing.  My mouth starts to water at the very idea, and soon I'm consumed by the desire to indulge my desire.  Luckily I know that my mother is often up for satiating the need as well, so when I realised that I couldn't resist any longer, I called my mom and we decided to check out Lyndell's for some cupcakes.

Lyndell's, now with three locations servicing the Boston area, opened in 1857, and thereby has a long standing history of supplying the city with sweet treats.  When they opened, long over a century ago, they began with a commitment to freshness.  They made their wares daily, and have kept that tradition going, adhering to the "old" way of doing things, keeping their recipe for success going strong.  I have heard about Lyndell's for years, and when they opened their North End location a few years back, I made a mental note to visit and finally check them out.

Saturday, after a long wait, was the day to head to Lyndell's.  We ventured over to the North End and selected a few cupcakes to share- a vanilla with strawberry icing, a vanilla with vanilla icing, and a chocolate with a peanut butter icing.  Visually I was excited.  These were not the enormous cupcakes that you see a lot places doing now.  These were average sized cupcakes, with a heap of hand applied icing, the strawberry frosting even had flecks of real strawberry in it!  I felt as though all of these were positive signs.  

Sadly, my visual excitement was soon to be dashed.  The taste test did not hold up its end of the bargain.  I began with the vanilla with vanilla icing- nice and simple.  The cake was dry and rather flavorless, though the icing was sugary and sweet, the type of icing I was hoping for.  The strawberry icing, oddly enough, though showed evidence of strawberries in the mix, contained very little, if any, actual strawberry flavor.  I tasted very little variation from the all vanilla frosting.  The cake was just as dry and lifeless.  The chocolate cake did deliver a bit better, a moister cake with good dense chocolate taste.  It had been topped with a chocolate ganache, and then peanut butter icing had been piped on top of that.  The peanut butter flavor could have been stronger in my book.  I just didn't feel as though it was enough of a contrast between sweet and that nutty goodness I was seeking.  

Suffice it to say, we split three cupcakes, I had less then my half of each and the remainders hit the garbage.

So these go down in the disappointment column, a long standing tradition for sure, but perhaps one that could use some updating?  Stronger flavors and a less dry cake would do wonders for Lyndell's.  

Monday, January 17, 2011

Boston Food Bloggers Launch Party: A look at the Boston scene

I started this blog almost three years ago. I started it as a way, basically, to explore my passion and to live closer to food. When I wrote my first post I never dreamed of the places it would take me, or of the amazing people I would meet along the way. I am constantly astounded by some of the incredible food bloggers, all over the country, but especially here in Boston. Tonight launched the Boston Food Bloggers website, a site which brings together all of us who have found writing as the outlet for our passion.

It was an incredible evening in which 100+ bloggers gathered at The Gallows in Boston's South End. I stole some bites of food as they passed by, and each that I tasted were delicious, however it wasn't the food that stole the show this evening. It was the amazing people who crammed into the restaurant who upstaged it all. The group of people that were gathered this evening just remind me of an incredible journey that we've all started on.

Every person in that room comes from a different background, but we are all bonded through the love of food. It continuously amazes me how much passion we all have for culinary pursuits, despite where our past has been. I love that I can walk away from an evening among such a wonderful community with a renewed love of the blog world and full of inspiration from my fellow bloggers.

Rachel, you did an amazing job organizing with Christine from Urbanspoon.

I am so pleased to be a member of such a group of fantastic people!

Spicy Hot Chicken Wings, with a Sweet and Smoky Glaze

It's that time again- time for playoff football.  My beloved Patriots suffered a very sad defeat last yesterday, but football continues until a final team is crowned Super Bowl champs.  Now football of course means a great game, long time rivalries, true competition, and some serious snacking! 

One of my favorite game time snacks is buffalo wings.  I love the spicy and tangy sauce resting on the crispy fried chicken, all cooled off with rich and creamy blue cheese dressing.  They are a perfect combination of flavors, and so much fun to eat since you really have to use your hands for them.  They are sort of primal in their own right I suppose.  I decided to make my own version to snack on for the game yesterday, full of spice and sweetness. 

I started by making a dry rub for the chicken wings to instill a lot spice into the meat.  Rubs are great because you can really customize them to your needs.  I wanted these to be really spicy so I started with about 2 tbsp of cayenne pepper.  I added to that smoked paprika, chili pepper, ground dried herbs, salt and my secret ingredient- cinnamon.  I love adding cinnamon to spice, I feel as though it really rounds out the other flavors, and adds great depth. Now, 2 tbsps of cayenne sounds like a lot.  It is a lot- I burned my tongue (several times) as I taste tested it- but that was the affect I was going for.  That's the beauty of the rub-try it out see how the flavors meld- if they taste good dry- they will impart great flavor into your meat.  Once the dry rub was complete, I rubbed it into the chicken and let the sit for a few hours.  When it was time to cook them up for kick off, I melted about three tbsps of butter, tossed the chicken in it, and then laid them out on a cookie sheet and baked them at 400 degrees for about 40 minutes. 

While they baked, I put together a nice glaze, because what would a wing be if not saucy and messy?  I combined honey, 4 tbsps or so, with the liquid from small can of chipotle peppers in adoboe sauce, a tsp of cinnamon and a tsp of tomato vinegar.  I whisked them together and when the wings were fully cooked, I tossed them into it. 

The final step was make a creamy sauce to pair with the spicy and sweet wings.  In a small bowl I combined 1/4 cup of sour cream, two tbsps of chopped chipotle peppers and two tbsps of chopped chives, and a pinch of salt. 

The result?  Smoky sweet wings, spicy enough to make your nose run and your eyes water, with a delightfully cool dipping sauce to dull out the heat. Honestly these little doozies were a great way to mask some tears of disappointment when the Pats lost last night.  And they nicely satisfied my craving for a delicious and hot treat. I see these getting made a lot- wings go with basketball and baseball too right?

Friday, January 14, 2011

Australia Day at The Bristol Lounge

G'day mate!

Oh that's right-I whipped out the old Australian accent for this one! Turns out that the country from "down unda'" has a national day. That's right, January 26 is the declared day to celebrate all things Australian (snakebite anyone?). The Executive Sous Chef at The Bristol Lounge, Aaron Brooks-a native of Australia, is inviting you all in to help him celebrate!

Between January 24 and 30, 2011, have dinner at the Bristol and if the fancy suits you, select to take the journey to Aussie land with the chef by selecting to dine on the Ace Aussie Menu!

Menu consists of:
"To Start
Shrimp off the Barbie!
Barbecued Shrimp, Tomato-Shallot Vinaigrette, Saffron and Black Kale
"Most Australians live near the water, so we always have fresh seafood. We love shrimp in particular, hence the common phrase: 'chuck a shrimp on the barbie.'"

"Fair Dinkum" Aussie Lamb
Roasted Rack of Lamb, Mushroom and Bacon Fricassee, Celeriac Purée, Lamb Shank Gravy
"The best, most flavorful lamb in the world."

Mum's Pavlova
Crispy Meringue, Mango Fruit Salad, Coconut Pearls, Spearmint
"Every Aussie mom makes this. Crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, it's a choice treat."" ~$65.00

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Defending Boston's Honor as a Great Food City

The new year is here- 2011 is upon us.  It dawned (ok it struck and was cheersed) a week and a half ago, and I allowed it to pass without posting a relfective post for 2010.  I welcomed it heartily without a list of goals and resolves for its passing.  I did this purposefully, resolving to be content with every day, as I am when I eat a delicious meal- savoring every bite.  However, now, as I sit contentedly in 2011, the newness starting to wear off, I feel remiss in not addressing an article that was posted as 2010 was waving goodbye.  Esquire Magazine printed an article (found here) ranking the 10 best food cities in the US.  In this article, Boston ranked 9th.

Let's let that sink in for a minute- in the United States, Boston ranked NINTH in great food cities.  As if that isn't appalling enough, the supporting information that they provided was shoddy, missing vital points.  They referenced our revered chefs, of course, those who we all hold near and dear to our hearts.  Here, I say well done, as they listed such icons as Lydia Shire, Gordon Hammersley, and Ken Oringer.  These are absolutely some of our great culinary giants.  They made mention about us shaking our "beantown" persona (and not a moment too soon if you ask me).  However, anyone reading any old Boston guide book could pick up on these, and if these were our only credits, than I would agree with our 9th place rating.  So much of our colorful culinary landscape was missed however, and thus, I feel I must expose what Esquire left out.

  1. Culinary Stage:  Boston, is, despite being overshadowed by the Big Apple, a cultural mecca.  We have far reaching arms into art, theatre, music, and, of course, history.  The beauty of this is that each of these attributes extends itself into our food.  Our chefs have the beautiful opportunity to appeal to our senses completely, implementing aesthetically pleasing dishes, with perfectly finished flavors.  Chefs here have a wide palate to draw from, our region rich in agriculture, cattle and seafood.  Boston is not dominated by one genre of food, but rather incorporates and plays with different ingredients to make dishes as rich and exciting as our sports teams.  

  2. The Players:  Esquire mentioned some of our most legendary chefs, however they are far from the only players on our stage.  Names like Barbara Lynch, Chris Coombs, William Kovel, Jeremy Sewall, and Andy Husbands have taken the city by storm the past few years.  These chefs are from the new school of culinary practice.  They take risks, they incorporate new ingredients, they use new forms of cooling. In this way, they, working in conjunction with Jody Adams, Jasper White and the others, constantly walk the line of new and vintage, straddling the fence between classic cuisine and modern flair.  It isn't just in the high end hemisphere that Boston has come into it's own in recent years.  Area "foodies" (yes I despise the term but see its merit here) constantly revere small, family businesses, often ethnic in their products, as having some of the best food in the city.  We celebrate all those who move here and treat us to the food of their native countries.  We embrace each cuisine and bicker over which reall is the best.  Boston incorporated food trucks for the first time in 2010, finally allowing the working business man to enjoy culinary creations on their lunch break without breaking the bank.  Surely our players are more than "diverse".

  3. The Passion:  If the Boston food scene was a black and white canvas waiting for color, todays chefs are adding their touches with heart and passion.  From the high end to the trucks, chefs are embracing the bounty of our region whole heartedly and splashing it on their menus.  Here it is a badge of honor to showcase which farm the arugula came from.  Here it is pride that has our chefs name the cattle hands who raised their meat.  Jeremy Sewall, in perfect example, has listed in painstaking detail, who harvested the oysters on his menus.  He has taken oysters beyond just their region, and has included his customer in knowing his purveyors.  He is committed to serving the freshest product he can, and he knows the best way to do that is to be intimately involved with his suppliers (he purchases his lobster from his cousin daily).  Here, our chefs take infinite pride in their creations, wearing their passion for their visions on their sleeves, and on their menus. 

  4. The Applause:  As a food writer, and infinite enjoyer, I feel that one of the greatest assets that makes Boston a great food town, are the diners.  Boston is unique from other cities in our extreme pride.  We cheer for our sports teams, our American Idol competitors, our spelling bee champs, and our chefs.  We stand behind them as they compete on Hell's Kitchen, or Chopped or Top Chef.  We flock to their establishments to show our support when their episodes air.  Love us or hate us, Boston has one of the biggest food blogger communities, full of us self important writers picking apart and dissecting every morsel of a chefs creation.  Citizens of Boston flock to sites like Chowhound and Yelp to review every restaurant, to discuss new dishes, to build hype for not yet opened establishments.  Twitter ignites as celebrity chefs are sited around town.  The people of Boston are food lovers, occasionally food snobs, and some of the biggest cheerleaders for our most revered chefs.

So with that said, it continues to boggle my mind as to how we were assigned 9th place in the US, but Boston know that to me you are the best food city because you have the heart to stand behind it!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Golden Temple, Brookline

Sometimes you just need to give in to those cravings.  Over the past week or so I have been craving BAD Chinese food.  You know the kind- completely inauthentic, greasy, salty- and of course, utterly delicious and indulgent Chinese food.  Every so often I get this craving.  I think it stems from the first few years after I graduated college when I was constantly experimenting with "diets".  Believe me when I say that the quotes are completely necessary.  One of my friends and I would come up with new forms of diets every couple of weeks- the sandwich diet, the soup diet, and my all time favorite- and the beginning of the Chinese food obsession- the Five and Two diet.  We had convinced ourselves that if we were really good during the five day work week (Monday through Friday), then we could cheat on Saturdays and Sundays.  I might have abused this a bit, but it allowed for Sunday night cheat nights of take out Chinese food.  In some strange respect- it made Monday morning better, and I think that now I always attribute it to happy memories. 

So finally, on Saturday evening, I got my wish.  We headed over to the Golden Temple, located in Washington Square area of Brookline, to dine on some American Chinese food.  I suppose it isn't completely fair to compare Golden Temple to your basic take out place.  Golden Temple is a very large full service restaurant.  It is clean and modern inside, and the waitstaff tirelessly pleasant.  They also have a fantastic drink list full of fun cocktails just crying out to taste tested.  Each that I have tried have been rather potent as well as delicious. 

As is my tradition with Chinese food- we started with some beautifully pan fried pot stickers.  These little purses of doughy goodness are stuffed to the gills with well seasoned ground pork, full of the flavor of soy, green onion, and ginger.  One side is seared golden brown and contrasts the opposite soft texture of the non seared side.  I love these little guys- I could eat MANY of them- many.  I always pair them with a nice mixture of sweet duck sauce and that lovely spicy mustard that is served. The duo is a perfect match.

I love that Chinese food is meant to be eaten family style so we ordered several dishes, counting on sharing, and taking the leftovers home.  Saturday evenings selection included Curry Chicken, Ginger Spiced Pork and Spicy Hot Green Beans. Curry is a flavor that I am just getting into, but this dish was a lightly spiced, heavily sauced presentation of diced chicken and large spears of broccoli.  The curry was not overwhelming in the dish, and rather gave just hints of its flavor rather than dominating.  The flavor was delicious, though both the chicken and the broccoli appeared to be drowning in the thick sauce.  The Ginger Spiced Pork contained a much lighter douse of sauce which was tasty, sweet and full of ginger, though lacked any actual spice to it.  The pork though was tender and well cooked, paired with much fresher and lively looking broccoli than the Curry Chicken.  One interesting side note, this dish seemed to have been lightly tossed with iceberg lettuce.  I am unclear as to why.  Finally, the Spicy Hot Green Beans.  Green beans, in a slightly hot sauce, tossed with delicate wisps of pork.  This may be one of my favorite dishes on the menu- especially when I mix in more of that spicy hot mustard that always seems to clean out my sinuses.

Golden Temple serves its purpose. It provides fast, delicious food, utilizing the spices you would want in Chinese cuisine, in a sit down environment that is better than take out.  The servers and hosts are very friendly and always ready to answer a question, or four.  The drinks are delicious, and include all those wonderful fruits and frozen mixtures you might want.  Golden Temple is not, by any means, authentic Chinese fare.  Though sometimes you don't want authentic- you just want easy and tasty.  Then Golden Temple is your place to go.

Golden Temple on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 7, 2011

Salsa Verde

I am a chip and dip girl.  I cannot deny it- I love the combination!  A salty crispy chip, maybe a little greasy, plunged into a bowl of delicious dip-is there anything better?  I love how many types of dips there are too!  There are creamy, acidic, spicy, good for you, BAD for you, cheesy, creative and old stand by's.  As much as I love every combination of the above types, there is one that always towers above the rest for me.  It's light texture, pretty color, unique acidity, and inherent spice picks me up and shoots me into rapture with every bite.  What is this heavenly dip you ask?  Salsa Verde, of course!

The primary ingredient for Salsa Verde is the Tomatillo- a funny looking fruit, in the same family as the tomato, but a personality all it's own!  I'm sure you've seen tomatillos in the store- they may look a little alien with their brown flaky husks covering their bright green skin.  These guys, a staple in Mexican cooking, sit, all stacked together, like a fruit from a different land, and very often have been abandoned by a less than attentive store clerk and bear no indicator as to their identity.  Fear not though, select a few of these fun fruits and a delicious salsa can be yours in moments.

1 lb Tomatillos (husks removed, washed and quartered)
3-4 cloves of garlic (roughly chopped)
3 jalapenos (tops discarded and bodies sliced into thirds)
1 small yellow onion (quartered or eighth ed)
Olive Oil
Cayenne Pepper
Smoked Paprika
Salt and Pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, and line a lipped baking dish with tin foil.  place the Tomatillos, garlic, onion, and jalapenos on the dish, in a single layer.  Drizzle olive oil over the top, sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss to coat.  Roast in the oven for about 15 minutes or until the Tomatillos are soft and the ingredients fragrant. 

Transfer the contents of the pan, including any drippings (not including the tin foil) to a food processor.  Add a handful of fresh cilantro, a pinch of cayenne and a pinch of paprika, blend until all of the chunks have been pureed.  Taste, season to your liking with more spices, cilantro, salt or pepper.  Blend, taste and add until the flavor is perfect for you- to me this is bright, acidic, spicy and garlicky all at once. 

Serve with your favorite tortilla chips, or as a topping for tacos, enchiladas, burritos, and omelets.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Braised Pork Belly Tacos

As I alluded to yesterday, I have decided to challenge myself more during this year.  Recipes and techniques that I've always wanted to try, I'm breaking them out this year and mastering them!  Well-thats the plan, anyway.  I kicked it all off on New Years Eve by making braised pork belly tacos.  The idea here was two fold, first I don't think I have ever formally braised before though I'm sure I've done similarly without acknowledging it, and second, I got to use pork belly, an ingredient I've been meaning to work with!

Simply put, "Braising" refers to the method of cooking where the meat is seared on the stove top first, and then finished in a covered dish in the oven, about half way filled with liquid.  Pork belly, awww succulent pork belly, is the same cut that bacon is made from- with all of its fatty goodness.  You can see why I was thrilled to use it!

Not sure entirely what to do with the pork belly, I scoured the internet looking for recipes.  I finally decided on pulled pork belly tacos (served in lettuce wrappers) as this recipe sounded like a good introduction to the meat.  Sadly, the outcome was not as I had anticipated.  Rookie mistake I've been told.  The pork belly was heavy on fat and light on meat, so once it had braised for several hours, there wasn't really enough meat to be impressive.  Additionally, the recipe called for a full cup of distilled white vinegar- an ingredient I very rarely use in cooking because of it's very pure vinegar flavor.  I went against my better judgement and followed the instruction for the cup, and kicked myself after.  The meat,  absorbed much of the flavor and resulted in a highly acidic end product.  It was far from inedible, but it was also far from being the tasty treat I had anticipated.

I consulted with a chef friend and I found that my errors were multiple.  First, pork belly is not meant to be a pulled meat.  The location of the fat and meat render it to be a much better meat to be braised and then seared, creating a crispy fat crust topping the tender meat.  Pulling should be left for pork shoulder or butt.  Word to the wise.  Additionally, apparently there are two ends to the pork belly- one is fattier, one is meatier- I should have gone for the meatier.  Finally, though it wasn't spelled out for me, I just trust my judgement- it if seems like too much vinegar-it probably is.  

All in all the tacos formed well (especially with the addition of a black bean salald and some delicious salsa verde I'll be posting about soon), but ever critical, I was disappointed in the flavor of the meat.  I will be trying pork belly again (soon) as this was far from mastering my challenge! 

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Uni Sashimi Bar, Back Bay, Boston

Things have been a bit quiet here on A Boston Food Diary!  My winter vacation got the best of me and lulled me into lazy and slothful practices of sleeping too much and putting my brain on autopilot a bit.  Unfortunately that type of behavior do not make a great blogger and so dear ABFD has been a bit neglected.  Have no fear however, though I may not have been tapping into my internal writer, I was eating my way through my days, chowing down on tasty treats day and night.

Honestly- is there any better way to celebrate a new year than with delicious meals, and challenging yourself to try new items and flavors.  I kicked off what I am determining to be my year to "try new things" by making pulled pork tacos made by braising pork belly, as well as one of my all time favorite items- Salsa Verde.  My adventuresome spirit didn't end there though, and on New Years day I indulged in my first "Omakase" experience at Uni Sashimi.

Omakase is the sushi answer to the tasting menu, wherein the chef prepares a variety of dishes either drawing from the general menu, or creating on the spot dishes depending on what he has on hand.  Uni, a Ken Oringer restaurant run under the watchful eye of Chef Chris Gould, prides itself on making inventive and sophisticated sashimi dishes.  They utilize only the freshest seafood available and match each with a variety of textures and flavors to create perfect pairings for the palate.

It would be nearly impossible for me to recall each of the dishes sampled that evening, however I'd like to look at the highlights.  As we began the evening, we were served a tomato martini, made entirely of highly strained and manipulated tomato juice, and drizzled with basil oil.  The affect was a perfect flavor combination reminiscent of summertime salads.  This perfectly set off the evening of unique twists and takes on ingredients and showcased the staffs attention to detail.

Gould's take on Fluke Sashimi, paired with jalapeno vinaigrette, Thai basil and accents of cranberry was one of my favorites of the evening.  The slight spice of the jalapeno with the sweetness of the basil paired perfectly with the light fish, and both were then offset with the cranberry.  It was a combination I would never have imagined, but fell deeply in love with.

The Shima Aji was one of my biggest leaps of faith throughout the evening.  The fish, a striped bass, was paired with sea urchin, something I had not experienced previously.  Their combination of slick texture and pungent flavor was not easy for me to adjust to, however it was easy to see their appeal.  The beauty of this dish was its simplicity in allowing the flavors to shine through on their own and each take their own center stage.

Though I've never been a fan of tofu, it comprised one of the other more remarkable dishes for the evening.  A simple miso soup was served with a large portion of house made tofu in its center.  The tofu, even for a non lover like myself, was absolutely gorgeous.  As opposed to pressing out the excess water from the product, Chef Gould left it and the result was an almost custard like consistency.  When tasted with the ever light miso soup the two combined into a creamy, warm and lightly flavored dish.  While I could appreciate the amazing work that had gone into the dish, I cannot get over my dislike of tofu and therefore ended up leaving a bit behind on this one.  I'm a little sad at my decision now.  Next time I will push on.   

Other standouts were an incredibly refreshing Lobster salad, served on slices of perfect cucumber, fresh and sweet, and three perfectly fried oysters their crunchy encasing giving way to the Briny goodness of oyster.

We were served two desserts to close out the meal, and the first stole the show for me.  Coconut "snow" was served with a pureed black sesame sauce and raspberries.  I came insanely close to licking my plate clean.  The coconut had been shaved into small little crystals of icy perfection, and as they melted they mixed with the sweet black sesame and tart raspberries and perfection was attained. This ranks as one of the most perfect desserts I have enjoyed, I'm wondering if I can go back just for it??

Uni is a delight to the senses.  Each dish is artfully prepared to delight the eyes, and each possesses a beautiful combination of textures and flavors to enhance each piece of sashimi.  The staff members were efficient, kind and helpful with all questions, offering not only descriptions of the dishes as they served them, but their own preferences and tips for consumption.  Finally, Chef Gould, who we had the distinct pleasure of speaking to throughout the evening was approachable and easy to speak with, sharing particulars on the different ingredients, as well as his own techniques.  For a high quality sashimi experience, I would gladly return to Uni.

Uni on Urbanspoon

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...