Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Tico, Back Bay, Boston

Michael Schlow opened Tico, a Mexican themed tapas spot (in its basest description) just about a year ago.  It opened around the same time as several other Mexican style restaurants but has been standing over many of those since opening.  It comes as no surprise really, Michael Schlow is no novice in te kitchen.  His other ventures, notably Radius and Via Matta have been garnering acclaim for years.  Last night was my first opportunity to check out Tico, and it didn't surprise me at all that each dish was unique and well thought out. In the true Tapas style, Tico's menu has a long list of small plates to choose from, encouraging diners to sample many dishes rather than being regulated to one or two.  My friend and I set out to find the standouts on the list.   We began with the tuna tartar, diced raw tuna gently mixed with Serrano peppers and xxx served with marinated spiced cucumbers and large taco chips.  The tuna was spot on.  Luxurious in its natural flavor but enhanced with spicy notes from the pepper and lime.  The cucumbers, a pleasant addition, added their own heat from their marinade with chili pepper flakes, brought a refreshing contrast to the dense fish.  As the first dish of the night, Tico showed heir ability to bring not only a well prepared dish, but their ability to incorporate heat in a pleasant way. Next to arrive at the table, lobster and avocado tacos.  Two ingredients listed and I was sold, what could be better than fresh succulent lobster paired with creamy avocado?  Apparently the addition of pickled onions and fresh cilantro could knock it up a level or two.  Every bite of this soft shell taco varied the taste palette between the sweet lobster, the fresh avocado, and spicy tangy onions.   My fork then found its way to the BBQ shrimp served under a small mountain of diced mango salad.  Halved shrimp sat in a little pool of sweet and spicy BBQ sauced, perfectly cooked and well seasoned.  The little heat that was present was broken up nicely by the fresh fruit creating a wonderful flavor and texture variation.    Next up shrimp avocado and bacon tacos-yup that happened.  While I enjoyed the more complete palate in the lobster tacos, these were definitely tasty.  Well cooked shrimp, more of that perfectly ripe avocado all combined with just enough smoky bacon to make its presence known without overpowering the other more delicate flavored.   Our last savory dish of the night was the one I would have overlooked-cheese and mushroom quesadillas topped with a black truffle dressing.  Crisp on the outside from their pan fry, their outer hell broke way to pillowy and gooey cheese stuffing, packed with tender mushrooms.  The truffle dressing didn't disappoint either lending just enough true truffle flavor to bring an incredibly luxurious vibe to an otherwise simple dish.  I loved the flavors here and even had a little difficulty remaining polite and not taking them all for myself. Somehow there was a little room left for dessert, and one we couldn't resist sharing was their "chocolate gelato peanut butter mousse over the top banana split".  Three scoops of chocolate gelato surrounded by a beautifully caramelized banana and swirls of peanut butter sauce, chocolate ganache and covered in crushed peanuts-this was an incredibly fun and playful dessert.   As Tico is "another Mexican spot" in town with so many others that fail to hit the mark, I had some reservations walking in.  Schlow more than surpassed my expectations by providing a diverse menu with food that was full of bright flavors, authentic seasonings and unique twists on the classics.  Tico joins a short list of truly delicious Mexican food in Boston!  

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Giacomo's, North End, Boston

There are those restaurants that you just have to return to…normally again and again and again. Giacomo’s, North End location, is one of those restaurants for me. In fact, I’ve even written about it here before, and now here I am repeating an entry. That’s just how much I love Giacomo’s- it deserves another entry, a check in years later to assure you that yes-it is still every bit as fantastic as before.

As though by design, I was awarded my favorite seat last night, two chairs placed at the end of the high bar that wraps around the exposed kitchen. The vantage point the perch gives you allows full viewing of the full restaurant, and open access to the kitchen as the chefs and cooks prepare pastas and seafood, taking orders from the staff and pushing out entrees to the hungry patrons. The vibe in Giacomo’s is timeless, the wait staff treats their customers as family, in for a ribbing where needed, a joke and a smile where appropriate, and efficient service over all. I sat back in my seat last night, watched my friend be harassed by our waiter, and enjoyed every minute of the evening.

We started with their special appetizer for the night, a large sphere of Burrata cheese, set atop a small pile of tomatoes, roasted red peppers and basil and drizzled with balsamic vinegar. The Burrata, one of my all-time favorite cheeses was wonderful, with the firm outer casing, breaking through to the creamier inside; the flavors were wonderfully creamy and salty at once. Despite the cold temperatures of winter, Giacomo’s located some fresh, red, flavorful tomatoes for their appetizer. What might be considered a “simple salad” it is the beauty of the fresh, pungent flavors that makes it sing.

Now Giacomo’s gives serious options when it comes to entrees. Beyond the normal preset meals, they also have a list of seafood that can be paired with linguine and then a sauce matched with it of your choice. I knew exactly what I was craving when I walked in last night, and quickly settled on linguine with shrimp and their homemade Fra Diavlo sauce. I was given a platter of pasta. The steaming dish was loaded with thick linguine noodles, well sauced and dotted with shrimp. Fra Diavlo sauce is one of my favorites. The translation (loosely) is “from the fire” so traditionally it is supposed to pack a little heat. However too often I find minimal spice in variations around town, and I’m left thinking that there isn’t much difference between it and a standard Marinara sauce. This does not apply at Giacomo’s. Their sauce is well spiced, full of flavor and basically plate licking good. Paired with tender shrimp and a noodle that can stand up to the full flavors, it is pasta perfection.

Giacomo’s, though a tourist trap, is a piece of Boston tradition for me. It is a place where the wait staff recognizes the repeat offenders, and everyone is treated like family. The food is comforting, classic and hearty. The wine list is short, but incredibly affordable, and all combined- Giacomo’s remains my favorite in the North End.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Fat Tuesday Tasting at Forum (2/21/2012)

One of those sure signs of Spring is once again upon us - Fat Tuesday!  The traditional practice of consuming rich, sweet, or "fatty" foods before the Christian Lenten Season, a season of sacrifice and reflection, has been adopted the world over and makes for one food filled fun Tuesday!

This year Forum, located in Boston's Back Bay area is celebrating in style by offering a special Fat Tuesday Tasting on February 21, 2012.  Passed appetizers including Mini Fish Tacos, Mini Chicken and Waffles, Beef Tar Tar, Chicken Sliders and the ever popular Agnolotti will be plentiful, and special cocktails will be available, sponsored by Ketel One.  The night will begin at 6 pm, and continue til 8 pm, tickets cost $19.

For more information, or to purchase tickets in advance please visit

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Starbucks Reserve Blend: Organic Ethiopia Sidamo

It has been a whirlwind the last few weeks!  I have made some pretty major changes in my personal life, and last weekend I jetted off to LA for a little R&R and to spend some time with some pretty incredible people I'm lucky to have in my life.  I won't lie though- the back and forth and the daily tasks I've been knee deep in as I get my affairs in order to turn the next page have left me a little on the sleepy side.  My norm of bounding out of bed in the AM, raring to go, has been eclipsed by an "ugh" attitude as that early alarm bell rings.  Enter Starbucks.

A couple of weeks ago the incredible folks over at Starbucks sent me a bag of their latest reserve blend- Organic Ethiopia Sidamo to check out.  Might I just take a moment to tell you how thankful I am to those lovely people?  Starbucks saves my life.   Now, when I'm running on E, obviously a good cup of Joe is what I reach for, but normally it isn't to taste its flavor, it's to get it's energy boosting qualities in me. When I sleepily poured my cup of this treasure, I couldn't help but taste the flavor of the Organic Ethiopia Sidamo.

The Organic Ethiopia Sidamo is a single farm coffee, grown by a man innately aware of his crops, and one who is cultivating true flavor.  When I read the PR for the beans it stated notes of Gingerbread, Graham Cracker and Meyer Lemon sweet acidity.  I tasted every note of these.  Ginger and the delicate acid of lemon prevailed, creating a harmony of flavor that immediately roused my taste buds.  This was a coffee for which I sat back in my seat, paused from my spreadsheets and fully appreciated the flavors as they mingled.  It was bold and spicy, rich and clean tasting.  It's flavor alone woke up my mind, and brought a new pep into my step.

This is coffee folks...real, true, coffee...

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

CalNaturale Svelte Protein Shakes

Over the last eight months or so I have stepped up my work out routine.  As this blog concentrates mainly on the things that make a pretty religious gym routine necessary for me, I don't talk much about it.  However, in June 2011 I realized that "going when I can" was a ridiculous attitude to have towards the gym, and I started looking at my schedule to see where I could make going a priority.  I finally bit the bullet and started going in the morning before work.  Since then I have been able to hit the gym 6 days a week without any problem, and, to be honest, I love it.  I love getting up when it's quiet out, the sun is still sleeping, and I am alone with my thoughts.  I push myself to work harder, lift heavier, and all around get a better work out daily.  I love the gym community now.  I have my routines, the classes I cannot miss, the trainers who have kicked my butt...I really enjoy it now, something I never could have said before.

Of course, very little happens in my life that doesn't directly relate to food, so because of this new found push, I find myself starving on my way into work.  I crave food to make up for the loss of early am calories and I'm constantly trying to figure out the best way to find fast nutrients in the morning as I push into work.  Enter CalNaturale Svelte- a line of protein shakes.  A couple of weeks ago the folks there asked me to review their product, and I jumped at the opportunity.  A few days later I received a package full of shakes, ready for my enjoyment.

Photo provided by Svelte
Each shake (available in Chocolate, Vanilla, Chai or Cappuccino) contains 16 grams of protein from organic soy milk, 20% if daily recommended dose of fiber, complex carbs, and only 9 grams of sugar.  This combination makes for a filling shake, in what are honestly tasty flavors.

I started taking them in my gym bag with me, to drink as I zoned out on the T on my way to the office.  My first sips of the French Vanilla was reminiscent of vanilla ice cream- rich and delicious.  Now, the shakes do also contain the flavor of Protein which is still a bit chalky to me, however for the amount of nutrients I found these really quite delicious.

This past weekend I took the opportunity to blend the chocolate with a few other ingredients and take it as a real meal replacement- before a gym session.  I blended together banana, frozen raspberries and the shake and ended up with a delicious, truly similar to a real milkshake drink.  It filled me up and powered me through my work out.  

If you would like the opportunity to try these shakes out for your self, representatives will be available with samples and coupons for samples at:

Boston Common Frog Pond
Boston, MA

Devine Rink
2/5 22-4PM
Dorcester, MA      

Definitely give them a shot and see for yourself! 

Svelte Created Recipes:
·         Svelte Smoothies
o   Chocolate-Banana Bliss: 1 CalNaturale Svelte Chocolate shake blended with 1 banana and 1 cup of ice
o   Cappuccino Crush: 1 CalNaturale Svelte Cappuccino blended with 1 cup of ice (so easy!)
·         Svelte Coffee Creamer
o   Simply use Svelte in French Vanilla (or any flavor for that matter) as a natural flavored creamer for your coffee in the morning
·         Svelte Cereal
o   Pour 1 serving of Kashi GOLEAN Crisp! cereal in a bowl, substituting regular milk with CalNaturale Svelte in French Vanilla 

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...