Monday, February 28, 2011

Island Creek Oyster Bar, Kenmore, Boston

Some restaurants are just home runs.  Each dish is an exploration of flavors and techniques, the service is friendly and accommodating, the drinks are well prepared, and the ambiance is welcoming.  These are the restaurants that one returns to over and over again knowing that a wonderful evening is almost guaranteed.  There are not many restaurants that I would state have this reputation, however, Island Creek Oyster Bar, opened just about six months ago, located in Hotel Commonwealth in Kenmore Square, is one of these.  

I have dined at Island Creek Oyster Bar a couple of times now, and have enjoyed beverages at their bar several times as well, each time I have been greeted and welcomed, made to feel at home, and generally have had a fabulous time. I dined there again on Saturday evening, and had a fantastic time once again.  

The thing about Island Creek is that its incredibly popular, so the first reservation that we could get, seated us at 6:00 pm.  Now, I'm not in love with super early reservations, but happily took this one.  We were seated immediately, and left to peruse the menus, drink and dining.  I love the menu at Island Creek.  Nothing more than a folded piece of paper, its unassuming nature masks the treasures it describes.  I recently perched at the bar with a friend in "the business" visiting from out of town, and he remarked on just how incredible this menu is.  Not only is it well put together, and lists amazing entrees, the extreme care taken with the raw bar offerings is clear. Island Creek Oyster Bar, possibly as expected, pays great attention to their raw bar, and notates this on their menu by including not only where the oysters were harvested, but the name of the person who completed the task.  As someone who reads menus to an almost obsessive degree, this is something I have never seen before.  However, it comes as no surprise.  Jeremy Sewall, part owner and executive chef who also has Lineage ins Brookline and Eastern Standard to his credit, is known for his care with seafood. His cousin is a lobster man off of Gloucester, so you know that when you order lobster from Sewall, you're only getting the freshest possible.  Obviously, he applies this principle to his entire menu.

We had some difficulty deciding what items to order, but with my dining companion not being a big oyster fan, we elected to choose the sweet Maine Shrimp Crudo as our appetizer and then to split two entrees- the lobster roll and their cod, served with potatoes, artichokes and a spinach "fondue".  If there was a hiccup to point out, it was that despite clarifying the order to serve our dinner in, the lobster roll arrived ahead of the shrimp.  However, this was not a major issue, and the incredible deliciousness of the roll more than made up for it.  Delicate chunks of fresh lobster meat, lightly dressed in mayo and herbs, jam packed into a buttery rosemary roll.  Served with potato chips and cole slaw- it was the perfect dish to emulate summer.  The roll, stuffed to the brim, was difficult to eat without using a fork, which recalled perfect memories of messy eating during those hot summer months by the ocean.  The chips and coleslaw were a nice complement, however the real star here was the lobster.

The shrimp crudo came to the table next.  Crudo, in case you aren't 100% of the definition of the preparation, refers to a similar form of serving seafood to ceviche.  In this form, seafood is mixed with olive oil, an acid, and sea salt.  The idea is that light fish can be "cooked" by acid, like a citrus juice, and this procedure almost cures it.The shrimp at Island Creek were mixed with olive oil, lemon juice, sea salt and tarragon.  The flavors were really fantastic.  Each shrimp exhibited soft lemon flavor, a beautiful bright feel, and wonderfully savory tarragon.  Preparing shrimp in the crudo way does result in a texture that is unlike conventionally cooked shrimp. It is a bit softer and perhaps a bit more "slippery".  I would have enjoyed a bit of a crunch served with these shrimp just to keep my palate awake.  

The cod, was absolutely perfect. Poached to a creamy perfection, the inherently light flavored fish was buttery and delicious.  The spinach fondue, which I feared would be heavy and cheesy was a simple, elegant puree of spinach, served as the base of the dish which allowed every bite to be dragged through it.  The spinach had been pureed with thyme which gave it a beautiful, natural flavor. The potatoes, perfectly cooked cubes of starch, gave a beautiful toothsome texture to the dish, a wonderful contrast to the fork tender cod.  Similarly, the artichokes provided the same texture contrast, but with a more tart flavor, they added a beautiful addition.  I cleaned my plate with this one.

We finished off our meal with a shared piece of their Rosemary, White Chocolate Bread Pudding served on top of caramel sauce and with a lovely scoop of vanilla bean ice cream.  I am not a huge fan of white chocolate- I often find it too sweet for my taste.  However in this application, paired with the ever savory and wonderfully earthy rosemary herb, it was perfection.  The bread pudding was firmer than I normally enjoy, but it's sturdy-ness I felt actually battled down some of the over sweetness as well, and that rosemary.  Like a welcoming hug coming in out of the cold, the rosemary greeted each bite with vigor, and then faded to allow the white chocolate and yeasty-ness of the bread to shine forth. 

I must note the wonderful assistance of the servers. We had a difficult time deciding what entrees to order, and Island Creek's willingness to split each entree into our own portions made it easy to share, and to taste a fair amount of the menu without juggling plates and having awkward table space. While I'm sure that the request made it a bit tougher both on the servers and the kitchen, they suggested it without any hesitation and made it appear effortless.  

With fresh seafood, inventive preparations, and welcoming and attentive staff, I know I will soon return to Island Creek Oyster Bar            

Island Creek Oyster Bar on Urbanspoon

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares Visits Boston's Own Davide: 2/25 @ 8:00 on Fox


Photo courtesy of FOX
 Gordon Ramsay. The name itself evokes admiration, some fear, and discipline. Ramsay has widely been considered one of the best chefs in the world with literally hundreds of restaurants to his name, and an incredible TV empire. Kitchen Nightmares, originally begun in the UK, is, in my opinion, one of the crown jewels of this empire. With the basic premise of saving a failing restaurant, Ramsay's skill and expertise are called in at every turn. He spends time correcting menus, decor and attitudes when needed. The show is crafted with the perfect amount of heart warming stories and the Ramsay charm. You can imagine my excitement when I heard that the show would be visiting Boston to help one of our own North End institutions, Davide.


Davide has been a part of the North End for two decades, serving traditional Italian fare. However, over the past several years the restaurant has hit hard times suffering from internal family problems, economic hardship, and location concerns, all resulting in badly damaged business model. An email to Ramsay and he showed up to help.


It was my extreme honor to dine at Davide the evening they reopened after a superficial makeover and the menu redesign. I dined with Ramsay on the premises, and watching every move of the kitchen, the dining room and every member of the staff.



Photo courtesy of FOX
 On a personal note, I cannot put into words the thrill of entering Davide and being greeted by Chef Ramsay himself (complete coincidence). No words. After the initial shock wore off, it became very obvious that the entire evening was going to be amazing-we were sitting in a live television set. Camera men, microphone operators, and lighting specialists were running around the room, they were stealthily recording conversations for use on the show. My dining companion, the great Chris Haynes, and I had a fabulous time trying to provide helpful quips for the camera, which you may get to see during the episode. I have no idea what footage they got, but there is a distinct possibility that A Boston Food Diary will make her television debut courtesy of Gordon Ramsay. We shall see...


After speaking with the wife of one of the owners, I learned that the new menu for the new Davide had just been finalized that morning at 7am. Due to that detail, I won't review the food here until I've had the opportunity to return. I will say that it was a very long meal, around three hours for three courses. However I am more than convinced that the length of the visit was due entirely to the circumstance.


I will say that the air in the room was of nerves, but it was also of relief and joy. Every staff member seemed to see the show as the a chance to regain their restaurant, it's glory and their life.


I am thrilled to see the show in it's entirety tomorrow, Friday, February 25 at 8:00 pm on Fox. If you can-tune in or DVR it and let me know what you think. No matter what, I am so proud of Boston, and the owners and staff of Davide for all of their dedication and hard work.


Oh, and Gordon Ramsay is just as impressive in person as you might think...















Naked Pizza, Brighton & Brookline

Pizza-how geat does that look?
Mmmmmm pizza.  I swear- the world over- if anyone asks the question "How about pizza tonight?", the answer is always a resounding "YES!".  Honestly though, its no big surprise right?  I mean who can turn down delicious crispy crust, topped with melted cheese and a limitless amount of toppings?  I feel that anyone who claims to "not like" pizza- is lying to themselves.  I can't blame those souls though, for all intents and purposes pizza is not particularly healthy.  I often have to talk myself out of it because of its lack of nutrients.  So what if there was a pizza place, offering the delicious qualities of a pie, but loading it up with those nutrients I crave?  Enter Naked Pizza.

Naked Pizzas Crust Dough- full of nutrients
I was invited to check out Naked Pizza, a small pizza chain just entering the Massachusetts fray, earlier this week.  I walked into their first location, located on Washington Street in Brighton, without any pre-dispositions.  I had not researched the company, and I was waiting for it to wow me.  Boston is a tough town for pizza, there just isn't a lot of good pies out there.  There is definitely a need for good, quality pizza, and I entered my evening with the Naked Pizza team hoping for just that. 

Tim Doherty- General Manager
Walking through the door, I was immediately hit with not only a blast of welcoming warm air, but welcoming energy as well.  Each staff member I met was excited about their job, and excited about what they are doing for pizza.  I had the opportunity to chat with Tim Doherty, the General Manager, and to be frank, the passion that he brought to his description of their company was nothing short of remarkable.  Naked Pizza starts their pies with a unique dough.  It isn't white flour, and it is a whole lot better than wheat flour. Packed with Pre Biotics, Pro Biotics, and a whole host of grains (think nutrient rich Quinoa), the base for their pizzas is chock full of ingredients designed to promote good health. However, its not just what IS present that makes it a healthier option, it's what ISN'T present that contributes.  Naked Pizza has removed the sugar, they are using skim milk mozzarella cheese, and they have removed butter from their list of ingredients.  These little changes seriously affect the health benefits of the Naked Pizza experience.

Heading into their oven- a quick ride to flavor town!
I can imagine you, dear reader, following along and thinking- "great if its healthy, but if it tastes gross, or like any type of diet pizza I've had before, I'm not eating it".  I cant blame you- I wouldn't either.  This is no "diet pizza".  The flavors are rich and powerful, the cheese is gooey and delicious, and the crust is crisp.  They also have a wide variety of toppings to choose from, ready made specialty pies, and the options to come up with your own creations.  They don't just have your run of the mill toppings though- how about some healthy black beans added in?  Fresh spinach?  Artichokes?  Of course they have the old stand bys too-like black olives, pepperoni, ham and pineapple...They also have a gluten free dough available.

Naked Pizza opened in Brighton just a week ago, and their next store in Coolidge Corner Brookline is slated to open within the next two weeks. So if you're looking for a tasty pie with some healthy benefits, give Naked Pizza a try-I think you'll be pleasantly surprised!   

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Soapbox Response: The Public Humiliation of a Hostess

Please excuse this interruption in our regularly scheduled programming. 

I have never been one to sit "idly by".  Oh no, from the moment I could form opinions I formed them, and I defended them.  Memories of my strong stance on issues of note come from the youngest days of my childhood-from being completely insulted at a joke of my fathers implying that I was a smoker, something which was completely out of the realm of possibility for me (I was 5-it was clearly a joke, and yes I cried hysterically at the thought for a good 20 minutes), to yelling loudly at the opposing teams at soccer games (to my mothers chagrin).  As I got older, my pension for defending ideas, making my opinions known, and putting my thoughts out there only grew.  Im sure this is of no surprise to you, I do write a rather opinionated food blog.  So here I sit, fuming, and, with a keyboard at my finger tips, I am armed to discuss the cause of my anger.

The Phantom Gourmet is somewhat of an institution in this city.  Created by the sons of a beloved sports personality, their show weekly runs through reviews and commentary on restaurants in the New England area.  There is much critique over the creators of the show and the huge part these brothers play in hosting the show, and over the restaurants they choose to promote.  Often, The Phantom Gourmet is regarded as nothing more than an in depth advertisement for less than great restaurants in area, who are often featured during the actual commercial segments.  It is noted that the brothers are annoying in their presentation, and that their taste in "culinary" selections leaves much to be desired.  However, they have pushed onward and created a mini empire including their show, several food based festivals, and a radio show.  It was on this radio show recently that the following discussion took place discussing a recent experience at Grill 23:

"Mike Andelman: We walk in and the hostess who’s the typical hot woman, rude, cold- as-ice, never would talk to me in high school-type girl…So she goes, “Two?”, and I said yes, and she looks at us and says, “I’m sorry, we’re not open until 5:30, so there’s nothing I can do.”

Dan Andelman: And what time was this at?






Eddie: At the bar. It’s crowded.




Dan: How did she look from the back?

Mike: And so Eddie and I said this is the most ridiculous, rude treatment we’ve ever gotten in a restaurant.

Eddie: Well I said to her, Is it all right if we sit down? There’s not one person. The tables are all set. Can we sit down there and have some drinks ‘till 5:30? And she said, “NO!”

Mike: Yeah, she says no, and so we basically, you know, under our breath say F-you, and we leave, and we walk across the street.

Dan: I don’t get it…, the restaurant was open, she just wouldn’t seat you?

Mike: No…, the dining room did not open until 5:30.

Eddie: They don’t serve until 5:30. We were willing to sit at a table and have some drinks until 5:30, even if we had to get some drinks from the bar and walk over to a table.

Dan: Yeah, but they weren’t open yet.

Michael: The restaurant was open. The bar was open. Every server was there. You think it was going to make a big deal if Eddie and I sat down…?

Dan: Michael, I’m being completely serious…They are not open until 5:30. What the hell…Why do you think you’re so special that you had to be seated?

Eddie: If there were seats at the bar we might have done it, but there’s tables 8 feet away from the bar that we could sit at.[The dining room tables are behind a half wall separating the bar from the dining room.]

Dan: Maybe the servers are all in their pre-meal meeting; maybe they’re eating; maybe they’re doing side work; maybe they’re cleaning, maybe they’re getting dressed…

Mike: Danny, the fact that you consistently take the side of the restaurateur or just a really stupid maĆ®tre d’ or a hostess over your family time and time again, you just continually…(cut off).

Mike: The era is over of being able to treat customers like crap. It’s just over. I don’t understand.

Eddie: There’s 25 steakhouses in Boston.

Mike: And it’s not like this was 8pm on a Saturday night. It’s 5 o’clock, and guess what, if the owner of Grill 23 was standing next to this dumb hostess, this moronic hostess who was just getting her, uh, jollies off by sticking to the rules of her little brochure in a little binder, this little monkey, her only job is to look at this binder and say don’t let people in ‘till 5:30….

Dan: Although in her defense she was good-looking apparently. I’d like to see a picture. Was she wearing yoga pants? These are things I want to know. I have a thing for hostesses (laughing).

Mike: There’s not a hostess who’s not good-looking, because they’re incompetent and can’t do anything else in life. If you can’t model, when you’re good-looking enough and not tall enough to model, you stand behind a little box and say, How many?

(A few irrelevant comments have been omitted between quotes, including Eddie’s comment about not wearing underwear. Ouch.)"  As recounted on the blog I'm Your Server Not Your Servant. Full audio can also be obtained on that site.  

Ok lets look at this logically- there are several completely ridiculous statements made here- first that diners were owed a table in the closed dining room because the bar was full, and second any, and every, comment concerning the hostesses looks and intelligence.

Anyone who has worked in the food industry, or even the service industry in any capacity, knows how difficult those jobs are.  You take the brunt of your customers bad day, their stress, their tired feelings.  You are an unrelated person thrown into their world, and your tasked with the sometimes impossible job of making their day/night better.  The situation described above does not seem, at least to me, all that uncommon.  A customer looking for special treatment, angry becuase they are not granted their whim, and with little regard for the reasoning behind why the request is denied. 

This could easily be chalked up to a simple tirade, an over the top complaint from the mouths of spoiled men.  To be honest-had they kept it to complaining about the rules of Grill 23, the rules which I think most of us would agree with,  I'm not sure it would have caused any stir at all.  I am sure that the limited listener base to their radio program would have chalked it up as "those Andelman's" complaining about not enough cheese on their cheese fries, too much lettuce in their salads, and now not being treated as the celebrities they feel they are.  But they didn't stop there.  In fact- they didnt even really begin by looking at the rules of Grill 23, but instead placed the blame completely on the shoulders of "the typical hot woman, rude, cold- as-ice, never would talk to me in high school-type girl" hostess.  Might I ask- what on earth makes them think that this womans appearance has anything to do with their not getting to break the rules as they apply to EVERY patron of Grill 23? 

Of course they didnt stop there either, no they pushed on discuss her outfit, her and label her intellectually stunted.  And, of course, they didnt do this in the privacy of their own homes, or perhaps over a personal phone conversation, no- they announced this thought process, and degraded this woman on the radion, for all to hear.  Might I remind you that all of this is becuase she was unable, not that she wouldn't, but she was unable to satisfy a request that blatantly went against the rules of her place of employment.

I ask you Andelman's- would she have made up for your lack of popularity in High School had she broken the rules for you and gotten herself fired?  Would that have made it better for you?

Today, the Boston Globe addressed this very matter, and noted that at this time the Adelman's are claiming that the whole tirade was satire, and ought to have been taken as a joke.  Some sense of humor those men have.  Really we should all be ashamed that the public humiliation of a female employee of a prominent restaurant isn't taken more lightly.  Is that "satiracle" enough for you?

I used to watch the Phantom Gourmet as part of a Saturday morning ritual. No longer will I tune in to watch insane amounts of butter and cheese sprayed across my television set, I urge you all to reconsider giving them a place in your weekends as well.       
Mike: Great bar, but Eddie and I aren’t exactly going to saddle up to the bar and get hammered. We’re there for dinner. So she looks at us and says, “I can’t do anything for you,” and I said, Well can you just, and she turned her back on us and basically wouldn’t talk to us any more.
Dan: Great bar there, potato chips and everything.
Mike: There’s like 20 people standing at the bar. There’s no room at the bar.
Dan: At the bar?
Eddie: There’s no seats.
Mike: She said the bar over there, you can stand at the bar and have a drink.
Eddie Andelman: It was about 5:10.
Mike: 5:05.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Starbucks Reserve Coffee: Indonesian Blue Java

Coffee is just one of those things isn't it?  The word, escaping from the lips of the tired, the over worked, the stressed, is the sound of savior, of relief, of help.  But coffee isn't just a source of caffeine, it is the nectar of a bean that is carefully constructed and handled to produce a beverage unlike any other.  Now, of course, there are huge differences in cups of coffee.  You can't really say that a cup of coffee is just a cup of coffee.  No- there are huge differences between brands, makers, and the beans themselves.  Last week I had the opportunity to not only taste test Starbucks newest reserve blends, but learn how to taste coffee the correct way.

Starbucks Indonesian Blue Java is special from its very start.  They are processed via the "wet method" meaning that they are washed, laid out to dry, and then the external hull is removed via washing as well.  What does this mean for the taste of the finished coffee?  Lower acidity.  This is a magical coffee.  I am a girl who, as hard as I try, cannot drink coffee without even just a splash of skim milk.  Indonesian Blue Java is the first coffee I can drink completely black, from its hottest temperature, right on through as it cools in my mug.  The flavor is earthy, full of sage, with just a hint of caramel as it the liquid settles on your tongue.  It is a clean coffee, smooth to the finish, with no acidic burn as it washes down your throat.  I loved the Galapagos blend that I sampled from Starbucks during the early fall, but this Indonesian Blue Java is quite possibly the best cup of coffee I've ever had.

Clover machine-coffee filtering
Our tasting included a look at Starbucks own Clover Machine as well.  Now I have long been interested in the Clover coffee.  It isn't available in all Starbucks shops (just adding to the mystery) but when I have seen it and requested a cup of coffee from it, I have always been pleasantly surprised.  My Starbucks coffee, always strong and rich, comes out cleaner tasting, fuller even.  Whenever I brew coffee for myself at home, I always used
The cup on the left has some French Press sludge left behind
my french press.  I feel that the coffee has a deeper flavor to it, and I really do love a good strong cup of coffee.  Apparently the
Clover brew only improves upon the french press idea.  In a normal french press the coffee is pushed through water, in the Clover, water is pulled through the coffee and the filter- sort of a reverse vacuum.  This change results in a much cleaner cup of coffee free of any "sludge" that is sometimes left behind from pressed coffee.  


During the tasting we also got a sneak peek of the new Kona blend coming out March 8, 2011.  This was a sweeter, more citrus like blend, delicious, but my favorite was the Blue Java.

Keep an eye out- Starbucks is celebrating their 40th Anniversary this March, I'm sure good things are to come!!       

Monday, February 21, 2011

Event Alert: Mothers Day in March!

Over the past year and a half or so we have heard about the incredible long range benefits of local food. The support of local agriculture, the reduction of ill effects on the environment, and of course the health and flavor benefits have been touted both here in this blog, by the First Lady, and by food professionals all over the country. It has become almost chic to "eat local", but we shouldn't allow the idea that it is a current "trend" influence us away from recognizing not only the benefits of local foods, but also the extreme amount of work that goes into it's production. Agriculture is one of the most grueling industries, especially here in the North East where are winters, including this one, can be so brutal. Because of this, there is no doubt that the resources for local produce are somewhat limited and need to be protected. Therefore, when news that a local woman's greenhouse, housing a livelihood of potted plants, was ruined by the weight of the extreme snow of this winter, it isn't surprising that the food community of Boston is jumping to help. Of course it doesn't hurt that the owner of the greenhouse is none other than the mother of beloved Boston chef, Will Gilson. Gilson is the executive chef at Garden at the Cellar, and is the responsible party for bringing Boston into the Pop Up Restaurant craze sweeping the nation. Gilson has also started a blog which has outlined the complete devastation and ramifications of the destruction found here.

As one of the leaders of the local food movement here in Boston, Gilson is asking for your help to assist his mother get her feet back on the ground before her busy season begins, and all is lost.

The chefs of Boston are coming together to put together an event to raise funds to help the Gilson family. On March 5 a dinner will be held at the Boston Center for Adult Education celebrating the moms of the Boston scene, with each chef contributing a dish of their own mothers, served family style.

Tickets range in price and information can be found here. Gilson and team are still looking for volunteers for the evening, as well as donations for the auction to be held. Information to get in touch with him can be found on his blog listed above.









Thursday, February 17, 2011

Four Seasons Hotel Boston Cooking Class

Chef Vosika
No matter how many books I read, shows I watch, or questions I ask of friends, I am always ecstatic to learn more about food.  So when I received an email inviting me to partake in a cooking course at The Four Seasons in Boston, well I leaped at it.  Being in a kitchen, a professional one at that, surrounded by people as obsessed with food as I am- there is just nothing better in my mind. 

We met last evening at the base of the grand staircase in the Four Seasons, and were soon led up the stairs and into the space which once held the highly regarded, now much grieved Aujourd'hui.  Closed during the peak of our recent financial recession, I have often lamented the fact that I never had the opportunity to dine there before its demise.  Walking through it's space, the name still hung proudly next to the door, I was thrilled to be there.  We were led through the restaurant, and into the adjoining kitchen.  Here, of course, is where my inner food dork really started to take over.  There is something so wonderful about the stainless steel sterile environment that is so wonderful to me-esp as it becomes littered (neatly of course) with vegetables, proteins, herbs, spices, eggs....the vibrancy of the colors just pops within the walls of a professional kitchen.  

Bay Scallop Chowder coming together, watchful students observe
Executive Chef Brooke Vosika greeted us and began our journey of learning some of his prized recipes, namely Bay Scallop Chowder, and Chicken and Truffle Dumplings.  Executive Pastry Chef Tim Fonseca also joined us to show us his Warm Chocolate Cake, as well as his tricks for Fruit Crisps.  Hearing the menu, I knew we were in for an incredibly bounty of knowledge, as well as some incredibly tasty eats. 

Bay Scallop Chowder, garnished with chives
Learn we did.  Chef Vosika spent some time chatting with us about his own career and the path that brought him to us here in Boston, and also spent some time stimulating our minds delving into our impressions of what food really IS in the US- what it encompasses and what types or items our minds first jump to when presented with the idea.  It was a really interesting discussion of broad images, IE Melting Pot, menagerie, etc, to more specific items attributed to areas- fusion on the west coast, boiled dinners here in the North East, Tex Mex etc.  This all occurred as he cleaned scallops and readied them for his Bay Scallop Chowder.  Then he lead us to the stove, and the magic began-starting with a roux, adding the mire poix, bay leaves, thyme, cream, lemon juice etc- and his special ingredient- Gin.  Fashioned after the Gin and Tonics so popular on Nantucket in the summer months, Chef Vosika brings in the juniper flavor for a real twist on the traditional chowders.  The result was beyond lovely.  The gin was subtle, but when combined with the bright lemon flavor, and the wonderful thyme it was a wonderful taste, unique and special.  This chowder, in Crab version, is available on the Bristol Lounge menu- definitely check it out next time you're there.

Chef shows Megan from Delicious Dishings chicken prep
While we enjoyed our chowder, the class continued on to start the simple, yet delicious and comforting dish of Chicken and Dumplings, not a soup, but just beautiful pieces of chicken, broken down right in front of us, added to clean simple flavors, seared and then baked later topped with fragrant, fluffy truffle dumplings.  Chicken and Dumplings doesn't sound like anything special, that much I know.  It's base is peasant food, nothing complex, nothing crazy, but when done correctly it is perfection.  Hearty pieces of chicken, rich with the flavors of onion, carrot, wine and herbs, enhanced with hearty dumplings that were made a little more chic with truffle oil.  A dish that takes under and hour to prepare, but can be served with pride to your best guests.  I will be making this soon, Ill post the full recipe then.







Next we moved on to dessert, beautiful Warm Chocolate Cake, again- simple ingredients, but mixed together, and treated with respect into a beautiful molten cake. The beauty of a molten cake is the wonder of the gooey inside gushing forth when the external cake is broken open. It is like lava pouring forth, and the result is one of the most decadent desserts.  Again, this was not a particularly complex recipe, stir together the ingredients with care, melt chocolate under a watchful eye, and perhaps with indirect heat to keep it from burning, and then just under bake the cakes-serve with a palate cleansing sauce- think raspberries- and perhaps some ice cream and dessert is complete. 



Throughout our evening in the kitchen we were treated to quite a few decadent bites as well- many from the bar menu at the Bristol Lounge.  The round of Buffalo Brussel Sprouts served with a Blue Cheese dipping sauce were an immediate hit.  The wonderful flavors of buffalo sauce, together with the earthy wonderfulness that are brussel sprouts made this a perfect appetizer.  Later we were presented with crispy seared pork belly, seasoned with what appeared to be a combination of soy and hoison sauce, sweet and salty, and sitting atop potato cakes which provided magnificent texture.  Finally, after allowing us to view the room in which they dry age their steaks (name another restaurant in Boston who dry ages their own steaks in house), we were treated to slices of their steak which we agreed, are the best in town.  We were also served a Bearnaise Sauce and  Sauce Diane for our steak- and the Bearnaise was by far the best I've ever had.  Usually I can pass up Bearnaise as I realise that its extremely high in calories and normally it just isn't worth it- at the Four Seasons, it is beyond worth it. 

Buffalo Brussel Sprouts

Pork Belly-wonderful Pork Belly


Dry aging at its best

A perfect steak

The class that I was invited to attend last night was created for local bloggers, and it was incredible.  The beauty though?  These classes are available and open to the public!  So if you would like to join Chef Vosika and his team and learn some tricks of the trade, and enjoy an amazing meal at the same time (complete with some pretty wonderful wine pairings) check out the list below and sign up!

Four Seasons Hotel Boston Cooking Classes

All cooking classes are guided by Executive Chef Brooke Vosika and include hands-on instruction, demonstrations, food, drink…and fun! Dress is casual attire, and aprons and gift bags (including recipe cards) will be provided.

 
• Cost: $140 per person.


• Location: Aujourd’hui Kitchen (Hotel’s 2nd floor)


Schedule:
PERFECT PASTAS & SAUCES



Tuesday, March 1, 2011


Your culinary journey through Italy starts with house made ricotta and mushroom ravioli. You’ll then cook up mouth-watering orchietti with sweet peas, roasted peppers, basil and parmesan, followed by classic fettuccine alfredo. Chef Vosika may even divulge his secret bread recipe, to accompany the meal.






SUSHI & SAKE FOR COUPLES


Wednesday, April 6, 2011


If you like to entertain or have an adventurous streak, this is the class for you! Learn the secrets to making delicious, homemade rolls – and master just right sushi rice. Also discover surprisingly simple ingredient-slicing techniques...and of course, sip sake as you go!






PERFECT PASTAS & SAUCES


Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Your culinary journey through Italy starts with house made ricotta and mushroom ravioli. You’ll then cook up mouth-watering orchietti with sweet peas, roasted peppers, basil and parmesan, followed by classic fettuccine alfredo. Chef Vosika may even divulge his secret bread recipe, to accompany the meal.






SUMMER BARBE QUE


Thursday, June 16, 2011


Just in time for the 4th of July, learn to grill like the pros. Meats, corn on the cob, you name it…the grill and your taste buds will sizzle as you prepare all your summertime favorites! Under Chef Vosika’s tutelage, you will create savory marinades and rubs from scratch, in addition to the very best home-style side dish accompaniments."

Please contact kristan.fletcher@fourseasons.com to register for a class!

Event Alert: Celebrate Lineage's 5 Year Anniversary AND Help Support Lovin' Spoonfuls!

Months ago, I featured a fantastic organization here on A Boston Food Diary- Lovin' Spoonfuls.  As you may recall their mission is in food rescue- picking up pounds upon pounds of "unwanted" food from local grocery stores and restaurants and delivering it to shelters in the area.  It is amazing work that founder Ashley Stanley is doing, and I continue to be in awe of her efforts with every food drive she runs, and the deliveries she blesses the shelters with.  It is truly outstanding.

Of course, I'm not hear to wax on, again, about how amazing I think Lovin' Spoonfuls is.  I am here to let you all know about a great way that you can help them, and have a blast at the same time!  

Brookline houses an amazing little restaurant, committed to the freshest seafood, called Lineage.  You may be acquainted with the owner/executive chef Jeremy Sewall from his work at both Eastern Standard as well as the new and great Island Creek Oyster Bar.  Lineage is celebrating a big birthday this year- they are turning 5!  To celebrate this momentous occasion, they are throwing one heck of a party on February 28th, featuring Island Creek Oysters, Lobster Tacos (you can bet that lobster meat is fresh caught the morning of the party-that's just how Sewall does it), Wood Fired Pizzas, Butterscotch Pudding, Signature Cocktails and Beer & Wine.  Tickets to this event are $50.00 per person, and all proceeds go to directly to Lovin' Spoonfuls.

One great night- amazing food, a wonderful celebration, and giving back to an incredible organization who does beyond amazing work-I cannot think of a better way to spend a Monday night.

Details:
Date: February 28, 2011
Time: 5:00 - 10:00 pm
Cost: $50.00 per person
RSVP: please RSVP by 2/23/11 to  617.232.0065 

 

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

SeamlessWeb Online Order: SoulFire BBQ, Allston, Boston

Several weeks ago I was invited to the Boston launch of SeamlessWeb.com, a a new (to the Boston area) online restaurant ordering system for delivery and take out.  Actually, the people over at SeamlessWeb are pretty fantastic and invited the whole city of Boston to their launch- if you work in the city you may have received a free cup of coffee from them during your morning commute!  They set up coffee trucks all over town and warmed up some very chilly walks!  Back to my original point, during the launch party I attended, I was given a $20.00 gift card to use towards an order on SeamlessWeb.  Now, if you follow ABFD at all, you might realize that I very, very rarely order take out.  My reasoning is three fold a. the food usually takes forever to arrive, b. the on line system is confusing, sketchy or difficult to customize, and c. I prefer (obviously) to cook.  However on Monday, I decided, for reasons far more appropriate for a humorous blog on dating then a blog dedicated to food, to order myself some BBQ. 

I immediately remembered my fortunate gift card, and logged into the SeamlessWeb site.  There it was, towards the bottom of the long list of restaurants able to deliver to my address: Soul Fire.  Soul Fire is a small BBQ spot located on Harvard Ave in the Allston neighborhood of Boston.  It prides itself on making their own dry rubs, their own pickles, etc, and taking the time to smoke their meats for the perfect length of time- upwards of 16 hours.  I clicked into the menu on the SeamlessWeb site and was immediately impressed by both the options available from Soul Fire, and by the layout and detail provided by SeamlessWeb.  It seemed each item had a detailed description if hovered over the word, making it easy to order the best items.  Clicking on the item provided you with easy customization options, and possible complimentary items.  I clicked away to get to my $25.00 minimum order, and ended up ordering a combination plate including ribs, pulled pork, brisket, cole slaw and pickles.  Then I got a little crazy and added a few of their specialty sauces to the order and a container of collard greens.  I entered my gift card number, my credit card number for the bit that I went over, and hit submit.  The website informed me that delivery would be about 60 to 75 minutes.  I groaned a little, but started in on some yoga to help pass the time. 

I was mid plank (ugh) when my phone rang and the friendly delivery person informed me that he had arrived with my food.  It had been 20 minutes since I place the order- that was FAST! 

After finishing my yoga practice (albeit begrudgingly), I immediately tore into my BBQ dinner.  Starting with the good:  the pulled pork was delicious.  It was tender, smoky and full of beautiful pork flavor.  I heavy handed the addition of Soul Fires Fiery Sauce described as "We take a traditional South Carolina mustard sauce and kick it up a couple notches with our habanera devil relish. Best on pulled pork!". This sauce lived up to its name providing a perfect tangy kick to the pork, a wonderful contrast to the rich meat.  The pickles were also great- nice and tart without that metallic taste that I often find pickles get "infected" with during the curing process.  They also served as a perfect compliment to the pork.  They sent a long a chunk of corn bread that I didn't place an order for, but happily accepted.  It was perfectly grainy, while containing lovely corn kernels and giving off a sweet taste.  It was very tasty corn bread. 


On to the "Ok" items.  The Brisket had great flavor, deep and meaty, but I felt as though the smoke ring fell a little short, and therefore the meat just didn't have the deep smoke flavor I was looking for. Otherwise though it was tender, and delicious, especially when paired with the SoulFire Sauce.  SoulFire Sauce is described as: "A Kansas City style sauce that has a strong tomato base complemented by a vinegar and pepper kick. Best on beef brisket!".  As you can see- I took their suggestions to heart.  The cole slaw was also ok.  It had a lot of lovely carrots in it which I often find lacking in cole slaw, but there wasn't anything remarkable about it.

Rounding out-the very "Meh" items.  The ribs are the downfall here.  I found them very dry. Somehow dry meat on ribs just ruins them for me, four were included in my order, I had one and was done with them. The flavor was there, the texture was not.  The collard greens were also a disappointment.  They were very tender, however the predominant flavor was very sweet.  Even the pieces of bacon that they had cooked the collards with were somehow sweet.  Very odd.

Overall, I found Soulfire to be pretty decent BBQ, especially here in Boston where it is really lacking. If the urge strikes again, I can definitely see myself ordering from them again, or stopping by their restaurant location.

SeamlessWeb I loved.  Fast, efficient, and easy to use- that is a great ordering system.  When I do order, as rare as that might be, SeamlessWeb will be my go to! 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Event Alert: A Spoonful of Ginger Fundraiser for the Asian American Diabetes Institute

If there is one thing more impressive in Boston our food, it is the incredible hospitals and medical staff that we are so blessed to have within our area.  Bostonians have access to some of the most incredible facilities, brilliant minds, and groundbreaking medical techniques the world over. Whether we sprain an ankle, or are facing something much more difficult, we are in close proximity to some of the best care imaginable.  We are incredibly lucky.

One of those amazing facilities located within the Boston city limits is the Joslin Diabetes Center.  Each day they seek to better understand Diabetes, explore preventative methods, research treatments, and educate on the dangers and warning signs.  While stories concerning Diabetes linked to childhood obesity have come to the forefront recently, the Asian American community is suffering a rapid rise of primarily type 2 Diabetes as well. It has been found that approximately 10% of all Asian Americans has been diagnosed with Diabetes.  Responding to this increase, the Joslin Diabetes Center founded the Asian American Diabetes Initiative in 2000. 

The goals of the AADI, as referenced on their website, are:

"* Study diabetes in the Asian American population and disseminate Joslin’s research findings to health care providers and Asian American communities.
* Provide diabetes education through innovative and culturally appropriate materials and outreach programs

* Design and implement clinical treatment programs for Asian Americans

* Collaborate with local, national and international organizations to raise diabetes awareness

* Incorporate diverse community voices to promote health equity"

For over ten years now the AADI has been dedicated to assisting with the prevention and the treatment of this disease, but they do need your help to continue their work.

March 28, 2011 the AADI is hosting a food tasting fundraiser.  The fundraise, named "A Spoonful of Ginger" will bring together some of Boston's best chefs, including Ming Tsai, Jose Duarte, Joanne Chang, Wesley Chen and Jasper White among others, and will be held in one of Boston's greatest gemstones- the brand new Art of the Americas at the MFA.  The event, which will honor Dick & Deb Carlson, Eugene & Lai Wong, and Boston Chef Joanne Chang, will begin at 6:30 pm and wrap up at 9:30 pm.  Tickets for this incredible event are $250.  These are available for purchase at  www.events.joslin.org/ginger, or 617-309-2531.

All proceeds from the event will benefit the AADI.         

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Abbey, Brookline

Brookline may be my favorite suburb of Boston.  Basically enveloped in the middle of it, Brookline contains within its borders a wide array of culinary adventures- all different cuisines and price points included.  These are evidenced Here, Here, Here, Here...I could go on.  Oddly enough, the genre of food that I feel is almost uncommon in the town limits, is American Comfort Food.  Almost beaten to death at this point by culinary greats, comfort food has been a fad over the past few years.  However, as chic has it had been, it still holds a place for offering warming, comfortable food, that is easily enjoyed.  The Abbey, located in the Washington Square area of Brookline is serving just that- well executed comfort food, at reasonable prices, perfect for a chilly evening.

I have dined at The Abbey a couple of times now, and know that they do not take reservations, and if you arrive on the later side, the wait can be long, and a bit uncomfortable as there isn't a good area to wait without being in the way of busy servers.  We arrived on the early side Saturday evening (around 6:15 or so) and nicely just beat the rush, securing one of the last empty tables.  As it was pretty early in the evening, our stomachs hadn't begun to rumble too much, and therefore we decided to skip an appetizer and head straight to the main event.  This was even easier to do after our server placed a lovely basket of fresh bread on the table with both hummus and olive oil accompaniments.  It isn't often that I really take note of the bread basket, however, the hummus that The Abbey serves is truly delicious.  I'm not sure if they use an excess of Tahini, or if they use toasted Sesame Seed oil in it, but the strong, nutty flavor of sesame seeds comes to the forefront, and creates an incredibly interesting dip. 

It didn't take me long to choose my entree.  Still shivering from some chilly air outside, I went for the most comforting dish I could find- Bison Bolognese with fresh linguine, and Romano cheese.  Is there anything better to warm you up than a steaming plate of pasta?  My dining companion chose the cod dish, served over a scallion pancake with a shallot cream sauce.  I really enjoy bison as a substitute for cow beef.  It is substantially lower in cholesterol and fats, making it a healthier option.  It also, when served in its pure form has a sweeter taste to it. The Bolognese served at The Abbey was perfection.  The ground bison meat mixed with tomatoes, herbs and spices so that the flavors, between acidity, richness and spice were perfectly layered and each bite presented an array of flavor.  It was matched with fresh pasta that had a wonderful texture, obviously cooked to an exact al dente state.  The unique twist here? Around the outside of the plate lay a beautiful drizzle of balsamic vinegar.  At first discovery, I wondered if it was an appropriate accompaniment- balsamic being so sweet and definitive in its flavor.  However a quick dab of a forkful of pasta into the stream proved me ever so wrong.  The balsamic added yet another contrast of flavor, enhancing the sweet notes of the bison- I was quickly wishing that the stream of vinegar had actually been a river.

The cod, though for the first time in ages I didn't sneak a bite, was said to be fantastic.  The cod, light by nature, was a perfect canvas for the creamy sauce.  The real high point however was that scallion pancake.  It was touted as a perfect flavor accompaniment, and somehow defied all odds and remained crispy, even doused in the sauce, until the very last bite.  This was a dish worth returning to The Abbey for.

The Abbey, still in its infancy to Washington Square, is a more than welcome addition.  The staff is friendly and efficient, their food is fantastic, the selection is small but diverse, and their portions are well sized.  The Abbey is quickly gaining in my eyes as one of greats in Brookline!

The Abbey on Urbanspoon

Friday, February 11, 2011

Pho Pasteur, Chinatown, Boston

Not so long ago I talked about my growing love affair with Pho.  I waxed on about the delicious flavors, the spice, the herbal accompaniment, the idea of replicating this all at home...and failing.  However, due to my own laziness, I had only indulged my frequent cravings at a single place outside my kitchen, Pho Lemongrass.  Of course, I was doing myself a big disservice.  How could I know the real joys of Pho, my beloved broth-based soup, if I hadn't sampled others take on it?  I have finally rectified that problem by visiting Pho Pasteur, located right on Washington Street in the Chinatown district of Boston.

Pho Pasteur is a family owned operation, touting their message "Customer Commitment First" loud and clear.  I was excited to learn if those words were just easy to type on their website, or if they truly upheld the goal as stated. 

Larger than my beloved Pho Lemongrass, and with a more industrial feel to it, it was clear that turnover was high at Pho Pasteur, and they were ready for crowds.  The staff was organized and efficient, obvious that their concentration was fully on the task at hand, rather than more social activities like chit chatting, or laughing at the idiot requests that I had for them.  That was fine by me- I just wanted my Pho!

In keeping with my traditional order, I went with Rare Steak Pho, which was served with the usual accompaniments of Sriracaha Sauce, hoison sauce, and the undetermined secondary hot sauce that never seems to come with a name on it.  The wonderful plate filled with cut lime wedges, bean sprouts and beautiful Thai Basil was delivered, and the anticipation for glorious Pho mounted.  Finally the soup was delivered.  

Before me was set a steaming bowl of beef broth, littered with finely sliced onions, cilantro and scallions.  In the middle of this bowl of goodness sat a pile of rice noodles and was topped with beautiful slices of rare steak.  This is what I love about rare beef Pho...when you shift the slices off of the pile, and dunk them beneath the piping hot broth they cook through, but remain tender and delicious.  While the accompaniments, and the ingredients appeared the same, the broth was what set this bowl apart.  Clear, rich in color, the broth was much cleaner tasting than other Pho I have enjoyed.   It was obvious to me that the chef at Pho Pasteur took special attention with his stock.  It had deeper flavor, and richer qualities.  The prominence of ingredients used to make the stock shown through, and it was one that I could have eaten alone.  It forever amazes me how the old saying that "the secret ingredient is love" makes itself clear time and again-a little extra time and attention can be the difference of a dish being same old same old- or really singing.  Their attention to detail held true throughout the dish I found, in placing the perfect amount of noodles in the bowl, to slicing the onions so paper thin they blended in with the noodles in harmony.

Pho Pasteur definitely made me even crazier for Pho, and excited to try even more new places for the piping hot bowl of soup.  They definitely hold true to their word, and are keeping their "customer commitment first".  Pho Pasteur, I will be back!   

Pho Pasteur on Urbanspoon

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Dumpling Cafe, Chinatown, Boston

A couple of weeks ago I brought you the news that the Dumpling Cafe, located on Washington Street in Boston's Chinatown, had not only opened, but was offering a tremendous deal to celebrate Chinese New Year (deal continues until the end of February!)  Last night I had the extreme honor of being invited to partake in their grand opening party, and celebration of the new year.  Never being one to turn down dumplings, I happily accepted the invitation, but had no idea of the wonders that would fill my evening.

Upon entering the small space, the cheery environment immediately envelops you, and the bright red colors warm you from the chill of the outside.  The sheer attitude of Dumpling Cafe welcomes you from the moment you step inside.  Last night, was a little extra special as within moments of arriving a beautiful Chinese Dragon puppet performed a traditional dance, symbolic of bringing both the new restaurant and the new year, power, strength and good luck.  It was a beautiful site to see and one that I won't soon forget.

The food, because lets face it, that's what we're there for, I won't soon forget either.  I sampled my way around the table laid out for the occasion taste testing pan fried pork and leek dumplings, pan fried seafood dumpling, pan fried vegetable dumpling, steamed mini juicy buns with pork and crab meat, and scallion pancakes.  On each of the buns the supple casings was well cooked, resulting in the perfect chewy texture, without that awful raw feel.  And even best, they were sturdy enough to encapsulate all of the beautiful juices escaping from the stuffing's inside, creating a beautifully runny waterfall of flavor with the first bite.  The ingredients stuffing each one were unique, possessing flavors completely different from each other.  Both of these facets I found to be a pleasant surprise in the face of the normal outcome of dumplings.  Too often they taste all the same- no matter the ingredients- making one wonder what actually is housed inside those little casings.  The pork and leek had beautiful light onion flavor throughout the tender meat, and the seafood dumplings were only lightly seasoned to allow the full flavors of seafood to shine through.

My favorites of the evening, the mini juicy buns, with pork and crab meat and the heavenly scallion pancakes.  The juicy buns, also referred to as "soup buns" were a literal explosion of delicious soup like liquid, spilling out of a beautifully steamed bun, and finally giving way to the patty of pork and crab inside.  Beautiful to look at, even prettier to eat.  The scallion pancakes, in a word, were just completely addictive.  I have always been a fan of these pan fried triangles of deliciousness, but last nights were some of the best I've had.  Made from un-leavened flat bread dough, with delicious scallions, these are pan fried to a light golden brown.  At Dumpling Cafe the dough was light and airy, more so than most, and not weighed down by the grease of the pan fry.

Browsing through their menu, Dumpling Cafe has a lot more than just dumplings, offering a wide array of familiar and unique dishes.  They have some fantastic specials it appears all the time, making them a really nice and affordable option for lunch or dinner in the city.  Act fast for their New Years celebration though- dinner for two just $20!            

Dumpling Cafe on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Chocolate Covered Bacon

Years ago, I headed out for a cocktail with a good friend of mine, and as we ordered our standard drink at the time, a Cosmo, I remember her very seriously looking at me and imparting words of wisdom.  "Fiona" she said, "Now that Sex and the City has ended, we can really only order Cosmos for another 6 months or so, before they are completely out of style." She was right, within 6 months if you ordered a Cosmo, the bartenders looked at you a little funny.  Of course I'm not here to talk to you about cocktails, I am however here to talk to you about food- and, more specifically, bacon.  2010 was the year of bacon.  It showed up everywhere, breaking free of its breakfast and the occasional BLT binds, it morphed into desserts, appeared more prevalently in salads, and basically be THE addition to any myriad of dishes.  However, as 2010 faded into its place in history, I think it can be said, with a fair sigh of relief, that the fad Bacon appearing in every dish also faded.  Of course that doesn't mean bacon has disappeared from menus everywhere, quite the contrary actually, but it does mean that it will be used in moderation much more effectively.  However, based on the aforementioned Cosmo rule, I decided that I could ride the bacon chic coattails for a little longer- and made the perfect dessert for Super Bowl Sunday- Chocolate Covered Bacon.

That's right- I said it.  Chocolate Covered Bacon in honor of the biggest pigskin match up of the year.  It seemed fitting, right?  Or I just wanted bacon...and chocolate. Honestly though, how could I go wrong?  Crisp, salty bacon slathered in sweet, silky chocolate...a duo made in heaven. 

Chocolate covered bacon was shockingly easy to make, which makes it incredibly dangerous as I now know I can have this delightful treat anytime I want.   I see the bright red "DANGER" sign flashing....

Ingredients:
5 strips of bacon, cut in half to create 10 smaller pieces
2 1 oz square of semisweet chocolate
Water

Lay the bacon flat on a rimmed baking sheet lined with tinfoil, bake at 400 degrees until crisp.  Remove from baking sheet, and set aside to cool.

You'll want to melt the chocolate over indirect heat.  To do so, find a glass bowl that will set fit about 1/4 to 1/2 way into a sauce pot.  Fill the sauce pot with water until it is just touching the bottom of the glass bowl.  Bring the water to a boil, and add the chocolate squares.  Monitor the water to make sure it doesn't boil over, or go too crazy.  The heat from the gently boiling will melt the chocolate into creamy perfection.  

Once the chocolate is completely melted, dip the pieces of bacon into it, using a silicone brush to fill any cavities and to brush off excess chocolate.  Place the coated pieces onto a piece of wax paper and allow to cool and harden.
Enjoy!  

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