Monday, April 30, 2012

The Avon Walk and Bloggers Bake for Hope

As some of you may know, I have committed to participating in this years Walk for Breast Cancer, the two day Avon Foundation walk raising money to help find a cure for Breast Cancer.

I signed up because it seems that every few months I walk through this disease with countless friends and family who have been stricken with a diagnosis.  Did you know that 1 in 8 women has a chance of developing breast cancer in their lifetime?  1 in 8...Sadly the statistic that follows that number is even worse- every 13 minutes someone (man or woman) passes away from Breast Cancer...every 13 minutes... the statistics are more than daunting- to be frank they are terrifying. 

More terrifying to me though was sitting back and doing nothing.  It was sitting, safe in my home, praying for friends and loved ones, but being powerless to do anything. So this year I am joining my friend Jen, a two time veteran of the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer and walking almost 40 miles on May 19th and 20th here in Boston.  

Not only have we accepted the challenge of walking those miles, but we have both pledged to each raise almost $2,000.00 to be donated directly to the Avon Foundation. 

To help us reach our financial goal, we are hosting an on line bake sale, starting today.  Bakers from all over the US have, out of the kindness of their hearts, committed to baking some amazing treats with no profit to themselves, and all funds raised being put toward Jen and my fundraising effots.  I hope that you will all click here to view the amazing baked goods up for sale, and if something strikes your fancy, please donate- the money is going to an incredible cause and one that desperately needs funding.  If you would like to donate directly, please click here.

Thank you kind readers of A Boston Food Diary!  

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Bridlewood Winery at Harvest, Cambridge

Wine makers are a breed of person completely of themselves. They are some of the most passionate and romantic people out there. Their trade is one of complete love-it is one that must weather every storm and keep strong during the down times do it can flourish during the ups. It is one of faith and love and character. Each time you pour a glass of wine, it is hours of blood sweat and years that flows forth from the bottle-those of the always interesting wine maker.


Recently I had the good fortune to join David Hopkins owner of Bridlewood Winery for dinner at Harvest Restaurant in Harvard Square to learn about his vineyard and the varietals and vintages of which he is most proud.

We began our evening sipping glasses of their Chardonnay-a 2008 varietal with a lovely floral scent, slight acidity and a very subtle taste of oak. Hopkins attributed this delightful twist to the utilization of stainless steel tanks with the traditional oak barrels. The result was a clean wine through the finish with subtle flavors of green apple. This lovely wine was paired with our first course for the evening, an appetizer of scallops. Harvest is nothing if not a leader in bringing to the table the most beautiful seasonal produce. Our opening dish that evening was no different- a duo of large sea scallops sat atop a vibrant green pea puree, bedecked with early spring rhubarb and a single strand of candied ginger. This was a perfect celebration of fall flavors- the green peas and the rhubarb which are so often the first signs of life after a harsh winter, and the spicy ginger really allowed these flavors to shine forth. The chardonnay was a great pairing here as its own flavor was gentle, it allowed the dish, and all of its flavors to shine forth.


Our next course was a lovely heap of fresh tartar dotted with crispy shallots, caper berries, cornichon and pickles. The plate was decorated with both a spicy siracha and a violet mustard to accompany the crostini and tartar. This dish was paired with Bridlewood’s 2010 Pinot Noir. The Pinot began with an earthy entrance, a lighter bodied wine, I tasted strong notes of smoke followed quickly by dark berries. This was not my favorite wine of the evening, a bit more acidic than I typically enjoy, but when it was paired with the fatty beef, the result was a beautifully round tasting wine, and a much lighter tasting dish. The acid from the one cut through the denseness of the other, and the luxury of the other dulled the acid of the one. It was a perfect pairing and allowed me to truly enjoy the wine despite my opposing palate.


Our next wine was the 2010 Central Coast Blend 175, a wine made up of mainly Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel. The scent elicited thoughts of cream in my brain, and once on my tongue I felt similarly. I fell in love with it immediately- for its creaminess and its complexity- it was a bit of a mystery. Chef paired it with Giannone Chicken, served with vanilla scented carrot puree, mushrooms and the very first fiddlehead ferns I’ve seen this season. While every element served on this dish was delicious, the standout was the carrot puree. Hints of vanilla elevated those orange roots into something exciting, something entirely new from the carrots we found in stews and soups all winter. Hinting at something sweet, without fulfilling that idea, these carrots were completely delicious. In addition, as a sip of wine was savored with the carrots the flavor of vanilla lingered as well bringing forth more complexities in the wine.


As much as I enjoyed the carrots, the next dish was a plate cleaner. Tender slices of duck, served atop a pile “sinful” dirty rice enhanced with soy beans and fennel, and then accentuated with a generous portion of bing cherry sauce, every element here was fantastic. The duck was juicy and nicely seasoned as it bore a little crust of salt on its fatty skin, and when dipped into the rich cherry sauce, a wonderful harmony was found- salty to sweet, game to fruit. Chef paired this dish with Bridlewood’s 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon which was a deep wine, full of red berry flavor and enhanced with a note of crisp green pepper, and finished with a clean note. Hopkins discussed the notes of chocolate found in this wine, however I am sad to say those didn’t speak to me. Others at the table however agreed that chocolate was a prevalent flavor. When paired with the duck the salty savory combination blended into the berries and enhanced the pepper flavor, when mixed with the cherry sauce the acid drew out more.


Our final course was the dessert course a hazelnut cake, topped with frozen sheep’s milk yogurt, the zest of oranges, and enhanced with lovely caramel dotted with a mead flavored gel. This was served with Bridlewood’s 2010 Viognier, a light crisp wine with strong notes of honey, but rounded out with a slight acidic bite. It was a beautiful dessert wine, especially when combined with the tart yogurt and vibrant citrus notes of the dessert.


The evening was not only delicious, but also highly educational as David Hopkins took us on a tour of his life as a wine maker, the ups and downs, and all of the particulars that go into it. His words gave me a clear picture of this world, and I was filled with an incredible desire to visit Bridlewood in the flesh. I will say this much- if you are looking to go on a wine tour in California but don’t want to engage in the hubbub of Napa- check out Bridlewood and the surrounding places instead.


That said- Harvest never fails to deliver a beautiful, well thought out, artfully presented meal, and one that I considered myself lucky to indulge in. If you’re in Cambridge- eat at Harvest; if you’re in California- go to Bridlewood, if you’re anywhere else- buy Bridlewood wine, especially the Central Coast Blend 175- it’s as simple as that.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Craigie on Main, Cambridge (Burger only)

Years ago, as I was just starting to dip my toe into this whole world of food blogging, I spent hours pouring through the boards on Chowhound.com looking at what the Boston food "experts" were recommending to go.  The boards were full of debate over the best restaurants, the best dishes, the best underground establishments, the up and coming chefs...anything you needed in the food world was there.  I relished every word and found that time and time and time again these people would exclaim that the Craigie Street Bistro was the best for...well everything it seemed.  The years passed and Craigie moved locations and names now known as Craigie on Main.  I missed the original location completely, but the other day, in almost hallowed silence I entered their "new" location on Main street in Central Square.  I was there for one thing and one thing only- their burger. See the boards, and numerous others, have often exclaimed their burger to be simply the best in Boston.  I was beyond excited to finally have a chance to check it out.

For the record- it doesn't really come as any surprise that Craigie would receive such accolades.  Executive Chef Tony Maws is basically a Chef God.  He is often given the coveted James Beard nomination for Best Chef Northeast.  His restaurant concentrates, basically religiously, on sourcing their menu with only the freshest local ingredients.  Each menu item lists where the different components were found, and it is that dedication to detail that can be tasted in their dishes.  Now much of their menu isn't for the faint of heart.  The menu often contains dishes that include true "nose to tail" dining, a practice that can either excite or disgust.

This brunch time visit however didn't bother with taxing ones adventurous side as both my dining companion and I had the burger on the brain.  After we were seated and drink orders were taken, we were served what could be billed as amuse bouche, however far more generous than that.  A small bowl of tangy yogurt covered in house made granola, and a perfectly fried cake donut covered in a warm caramel sauce were set in front of us.  The granola was crunchy and rustic in its feel, but had a unique citrus flavor that set it a part from all those other granola's out there.  The donut, as one might expect, stole the show, warm and sweet, with the ever so slight crispness one wants with a fresh donut.  The caramel sauce may have been a bit over the top, but I certainly wouldn't turn it down.  It was a delicious accompaniment to the cake like treat.

As much as I enjoyed these complimentary dishes, I was more than ready when my burger, with it's accompaniments, was set in front of me.  The burger was served with crisped potatoes, a light dressed green salad and then sides of mace enhanced ketchup, house made pickles and a celery root slaw.  And then, of course, there was the burger itself.  It was a tall presentation, a fluffy house made sesame seed bun encased a generous patty of grass fed ground beef, topped with a thick slice of Shelbourne Farm cheddar cheese, hearty strips of house smoked bacon, red leaf lettuce and a healthy dose of mace ketchup.  When I am in "review" mode I concentrate on finding those unique seasonings and herbs that are used to make the dish.  I took two bites of this burger and realized, in a glorious way, that those twists were absent and what remained was perfect mouthful of juicy beef.  The accompaniments were there, sure, but the predominant flavor, the one that I was looking for was pure, delicious beef-un adulterated by too much seasoning or salt.  The patty was wonderfully moist-its juices running into a stream on my plate below.  The thick bacon was wonderful, though with this burger, unnecessary as the meat itself contained all the flavor needed.  I know that the potatoes were very crispy, the way they should be, and the salad was very nicely dressed.  I know I enjoyed these, but that burger completely overshadowed them both. 

I am thrilled that I my expectations of an outstanding experience at Craigie were not out of line.  They were spot on from service staff, to ambiance to that amazing burger.  I wont go around awarding prizes for "Best of" but I will say that that was the best burger I've had in ages and I know now that when I'm craving one, that is what I'll be craving...

Monday, April 23, 2012

The New England Seafood Market, Zephyr on the Charles, Cambridge

If you aren't acquainted with good ol' Massachusetts, than you might not be aware that weather takes up 90% of our thoughts, and conversations.  I wasn't fully aware of this until a few months ago when I was planning a short visit to LA, a city I hadn't been to since I was a child.  I was conversing with my father, a long time resident, about my plans and he advised that when talking to the "locals"- weather really isn't a topic to be discussed.  The reasoning was that the weather is almost always gorgeous so why bother talking about it?  Massachusetts doesn't have the same curse.  The weather can swing from beautiful to awful in 15 minutes here, and we love to complain discuss it.  However, the last few weeks we have been getting a sneak peek into summer weather, warm temperatures, bright sunny skies, and it has been gorgeous.  Now when the weather cranks up, I immediately begin to dream of delicious seafood.  It's just the way my brain works- warm temps equals piles of oysters, shrimp and clams.  That said, it should come as no surprise that when I received an invitation to check out the New England Seafood Market at Zephyr on the Charles in the Cambridge Hyatt, I immediately said yes.

You might remember my last experience at a Hyatt.  I had the very fortunate experience to check out their newest banquet menu, a constantly changing seasonal display of local produce, all fashioned in a dizzying, seasonal array.  It was an evening that truly blew my expectations of "hotel food" out of the water. 

The New England Seafood Market at Zephyr is a Prix Fixe meal served only on Fridays that starts the diner off with an open run at their well stocked raw bar.  Limitless trips to these tables that are chock full of freshly shucked oysters, Little Neck Clams, Peel n' Eat Shrimp, steamed mussels, calamari salad, and, of course, New England Clam Chowder.  The night I attended I was able to indulge in oysters from Sunken Meadow in Eastham, MA (these sweet briny devils were my favorite of the night), the always popular Wellfleets from Cape Cod and the Cockenoe hailing from Long Island, NY.  Along with these oysters was a vast array of accompaniments, fresh lemons and limes, malt vinegar, multiple cocktails sauces, horseradish, and many different types of hot sauce.  Honestly- on a hot day, a perfectly chilled oyster enhanced with just a little sauce and slurped back in unceremonious fashion is one of life's little pleasures. 

I also relished the peel n' eat shrimp which were steamed in a healthy dose of Old Bay seasoning.  One of my favorite girl friends hails from Atlanta and whenever I visit, peel n' eat shrimp has been on the menu.  There is something just so satisfying about getting your hands on a warmed shrimp and using your hands to remove its shell just to get to the sweet meat inside.  The addition of the Old Bay brings in that wonderfully herby savory note.  These are a true favorite of mine, esp as they always bring me back to evenings spent in Hot-Lanta so I piled a few on my plate.  The Hyatt did a fantastic job with them, using just enough seasoning and cooking them to bright pink perfection.  This is a simple treasure and one that really can't be overlooked.

Our server heartily exclaimed that the Steamed Mussels served in a Coconut and Lemon Grass broth were "life changing".  Now when something receives that high of an endorsement- I try them.  Mussels, as much as I love their own unique savory flavor, tend to really be all about the broth that is served with them.  I'm not sure if its their small size or their delicate flavor, they serve as a dainty vehicle for delicious broths and sauces.  The Hyatt created a wonderful, Asian inspired flavor profile here with their coconut milk and lemon grass combination.  The coconut milk of course creamy and rich and then paired with the light citrus flavor of the lemon grass the result was truly lovely.  

Finally, I found that I couldn't resist a small bowl of their New England Clam Chowder.  Clam Chowder, especially in these parts, is highly subjective.  Every person I've spoken to finds different elements to the chowder to be important.  The Hyatt's version was thin, plentiful with their chunks of clam and potato and had a deep smokey bacon flavor.  Due to the amount of debate out there concerning clam chowder I can say this much- this was not my favorite version of chowder.  I prefer mine to be thick and creamy, with more of a flavor of the sea and fresh herbs than predominantly bacon.  

The New England Seafood Market, after the Raw Bar excitement, also comes with an entree and dessert.  The entree selections have a great range of both surf and turf options and the night we dined we were able to choose from a list of about five different entrees.  I wasted very little time reading through the list as my eyes were immediately drawn to the one I wanted- 1 1/4 pound steamed Maine Lobster.  Served with the traditional accompaniments of grilled corn, roasted potatoes and a wonderful lemon drawn butter- I couldn't imagine straying from this classic choice.  Now it has been eons since I have sat down to a whole lobster.  Honestly I cannot remember the last time I donned a bib, armed myself with claw crackers and went to town on a lobster-but man I will say it felt great to do it again.  Succulent meat filled the lobsters claws, legs and tail, and every dunk into the citrusy butter made me long to hear the waves crashing at an ocean side stop.  The accompanying corn and potatoes, though vastly overshadowed by my highly interactive meal were well cooked and seasoned, but I can't say they received a lot of my attention sadly.

Finally I ended my meal with their Roasted Pear Tart served with a Honey Ginger Syrup.  The tart was made from a really well put together patee sucre crust, dense and sweet, perfect to hold the roasted pears.  I love the use of this simple crust, it adds more flavor than a typical pie crust, and I feel it holds up well to fruits that aren't super sweet on their own.  It adds a  bit more luxury to the tart.  The real joy here was the honey ginger syrup which had the perfect blend of true, natural honey flavor and the gentle spice of the ginger.  It was a lovely end to the meal.

The New England Seafood Market at the Hyatt Cambridge can be found on Friday evenings, and is available for $43.00 inclusive of the Raw Bar, an entree selection and dessert. Once again, the Hyatt chain bunked the idea of "corporate" hotel food and delivered on a truly regional experience bringing the flavors of New England together with some classics from other parts of the world and working to source their ingredients from local suppliers.  The combination resulted in deep flavors, undeniable freshness and a wonderful look at our part of the country here for both visitors and locals a like.  

I must also thank my wonderful companions for the evening who served to be incredible company during the meal- the great Will from The Boston Foodie, and the wonderful Brian from The Gringo Chapin

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Looking at Food Blogging

We're going to take a little detour today from our normal itinerary of eating and cooking and reviewing.  Instead I've decided to pull out my soap box again and stand on it.   Over the past couple of months there have been a few articles written in well known publications (IE The Boston Globe and The Amateur Gourmet) discussing the very idea of food blogging-and, for the most part these authors have pointed at fame (and free meals) being the biggest motivator for this little craft.


A few months ago I was catching up with one of my oldest and most favorite friends and we got on the topic of food blogging.  His reaction was one I've received a thousand times, an eye roll and a mention that "everyone has food blog now".  He isn't wrong-the food blog "market" is saturated.  Despite knowing this, I immediately took umbrage at the remark, made some hoity-toity retort about him "crapping on my dreams" and moved on.  I'm so lady like sometimes.  However as I reviewed the conversation later, and then read and re-read the aforementioned articles, I reconsidered my response.

The articles blatantly portrayed food bloggers as Julie Powell wanna be's. The hobby was portrayed as being filled with 20 something's and recent grads who have nothing better to do with their time and hope that by writing a little blog they will reach the type of stardom that Julie Powell achieved in 2004.  It is viewed as a fad, a new craze like slap bracelets in the '80's or grunge induced flannel ensembles in the '90's.  I won't try to hide it-I indulged in both of those fads (thankfully not together and even more thankfully both were short lived).   Fad though it might be, I can, with certainty, say that most food bloggers are not dedicating the hours that go into each and every post to hopefully find some sort of fringe fame.

Food blogging is a labor of love.  A Boston Food Diary is the product of having too many thoughts about food in my head and needing some way to get them out.  It is the product of passion.  Five years ago I spent my time playing in my kitchen, reading cookbooks, learning everything I could about food and dreaming of one day turning my hobby into something that I could commit to fully.  I started writing to organize myself-to have a place dedicated to my food meanderings, to keep track of recipes, to inspire myself to push harder, and to hopefully lead me to a path of certainty.

I can't hide that I've been unbelievably fortunate in this journey, I have received multiple press passes (something that still sends shivers down my spine to think of myself as "press"), I've been selected to review products, I have been fortunate to receive perks.  However, even so, I have to refute the articles that claim that it is for these perks that I have dedicated so much of my time to this craft.  Food blogging, though it has struck gold for some, is my creative outlet, it is something I can put my whole heart and soul into, but rarely the return, purely monetarily speaking, is worthy of the effort. 



So to those who believe that the entire population of food bloggers (and there are MANY of us) are out there just searching for the next Julie Powell breakthrough, I ask you to look into our blogs a bit further.  Look past the dozens of carefully created, tested and documented recipes, look past the reviews of restaurants (often written after multiple visits), and find the true back bone of the writer-I would put money (or a 7 course tasting menu) on it being love, and passion.  


**To my friend who I called upon here as my example-thanks for making me think-sorry for the 'tude**

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Umami, Brookline

Those of you who have spent any time reading A Boston Food Diary know that I have a serious problem finding anything spicy in Boston.  Every once in a while I feel a little zing of some heat and I get excited, but truly spicy, burn my mouth, make me wonder if I can finish the dish spicy?  That doesn't happen often.  With that said, let me introduce you to Umami, located just outside Washington Square in Brookline.

Umami opened a bit over a year ago to little acclaim.  Billed as an Asian Bistro, the menu incorporates Asian flavor into classic bistro fare, and incorporates herbs and spices not normally found in Asian cuisine into their dishes.

We started our meal with a couple of appetizers- the Black Tiger Shrimp, which were sauteed with peppers and onions, in garlic butter with smoked cayenne and lemon thyme, and the honey ginger glazed chicken wings served with an Asian slaw.  The shrimp were large and plump, well cooked and well seasoned as they swam in the garlicky sauce.  What I really loved here was the addition of the thyme.  The other flavors in the dish screamed typical Asian, but the thyme was an unexpected pleasure. 

The wings, were another delicious take on a classic Asian appetizer.  The honey flavor made them reminiscent of the chicken wings often found at an average Chinese food spot, yet far better version.  However the unique twist here was the Asian slaw they were served with, julienned spicy peppers, tossed in vinegar created the perfect tart contrast to the honey glaze.  

After much debate I settled on the Fruitti di Mare for dinner, a traditionally Italian dish I was excited to see the Asian twist.  The menu stated that the sauce that was served slightly spicy, so I, as usual, asked that if they felt like cranking up the spice I'd be ok with that.  I often ask this, and normally I am served a dish that has just a twinge of spice.  I am forever disappointed.  Umami blew me out of the water.  A large, beautiful bowl of pasta was set in front of me, littered with beautiful shrimp, calamari and mussels.  Simply looking at the dish I could see the chili seeds littered throughout the sauce.  I deeply breathed in the scent rising from the bowl and began to pick up on the spice.  I twirled the long strands of spaghetti onto my fork and lifted it to my lips...As soon as I placed the forkful in my mouth- I felt it.  Spice.  Real true, fiery heat.  I won't lie to you- I didn't talk much during the rest of the meal- my mouth was on fire.  Every bite created more, delicious, wonderful fire.  The great part of the dish was that there was still flavor present beyond the heat, acidic tomatoes, earthy herbs, all paired with succulent shrimp, perfectly cooked mussels and delicious calamari rings. I was thrilled.

I have dined at Umami a couple of times now and each time have been more then impressed with the quality of the food and the creativity of the dishes.  This is a little star that is well worth the trip to Brookline to check it out.  

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Huntington at the Westin Copley, Brunch

The rain was still pelting down making the chilly morning that much more dreary as I walked through the gleaming doors of the Westin Copley Saturday morning. I was escorted to a sparkling table, and immediately my cup was filled with steaming hot of Starbucks coffee. My chill began to fade and I felt the warmth of the hospitality.
As the other guests filed in the Westin representatives began to tell us about the brunch we were about to be served. Available daily, the Huntington has both a buffet and standard menu service, both offering a wide array of both indulgence satisfying and energy providing options to get your day started off right. The menu also stipulates dishes that are known as Super Foods-items that are assured to power you through your morning with optimal energy.

We were treated to several options for our meal-with choices spanning between the menu, the buffet and the weekend only omelet and waffle bars. I began my journey at the buffet sampling the assorted fresh berries an melons, a buttermilk flapjack, and an oven baked vegetable frittata.
I'd love to say that I filled up on fruit, but that would be a blatant lie. The flapjack, warm and comforting sweet with sugar but balanced with buttermilk was fantastic. I went back up for another. The frittata had an ample serving of vegetables and was nicely baked to create a soft interior and a crisp exterior.


Others at my table had ventured to the omelet and waffle room and the single serve waffles served with fresh whipped cream and strawberries was too indulgent too pass up. The waffles were light and airy but full of that delicious sweet, slightly yeasty flavor that makes then so addictive. Topped with the homemade whipped cream, ultra thick and not too sweet and the lovely fresh berries, this was a wonderful treat for a wintry morning.
 
The table shared dishes of pecan waffles, poached eggs and hash.  Though I didn't indulge too much in these, each bite that I took was full of their own unique flavors.  I was most impressed with the hollandaise sauce.  I am not a fan of hollandaise- in fact I think it usually ruins eggs and I tend to scrape it off if I forget to ask them to serve me the dish without it.  However, the Huntington prepared theirs with a hearty kick of lemon flavor which nicely elevated the sauce out of its heavy depths and made it incredibly enjoyable.  
 
Overall I was really pleased with brunch at the Huntington.  Their options ranged from the typical to the creative and everything in between.  Each dish exhibited attention to detail from the chefs and delicious takes on tried and true breakfast foods.  It is a great option for in city breakfast and brunch- something that is shockingly hard to find.   

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Lone Star Taco Bar, Allston, MA

It doesn't seem like all that long ago when I was consistently complaining about the lack of good Mexican food here in Boston.  I remember it well- I believe it was a year ago.  I'm not sure what happened in that time, but all of a sudden restaurateurs got the message and casual taco places to sit down authentic Mexican eateries have been popping up all over the city. The latest to open it's doors is Lone Star, a tiny spot adjoining Deep Ellum in Allston.  They seem to share a kitchen, and Lone Star definitely seems to pilfer some of Deep Ellum's beers, but otherwise, the concentration of the two spots couldn't be more different.  Deep Ellum rests comfortably on its laurels of finely crafted cocktails accompanying re born American foods.  Lone Star is serving Mexican street food, tacos and torta's, corn on the cob and hot crisp chips, with a heavy concentration on tequila's. 

I headed over to check out Lone Star with a friend who gets a little shout out here.  Chris was my co- RA (oh yes I was an RA in college- doesn't that tell you more than you need to know about me?) my senior year of college.   We bonded over our "relaxed" methods of leading our floor, and he dealt with my severe senior slump.  Since then Chris has traveled the world, from Prague to Shanghai and is finally back in Boston now.  Here's the true plug- Chris has a blog of his own, and is an incredibly talented writer-check him out: http://baoziandthebund.tumblr.com/

We settled into a booth in Lone Star and placed our order- a serving of their house made to order Guacamole and a couple of tacos- the Carnitas Pork (confit pork shoulder, salsa verde, cilantro, and queso fresco) and the Grilled Avocado With Griddled Queso Or Braised Tofu (salsa verde and corn relish) for me.  The guacamole arrived first.  It was served in a large mortar, and was bedecked with small wedges of lime.  The guacamole itself contained large pieces of fresh avocado and a hint of onion from some scallions found peppered throughout.  The surprising component to this guacamole however was how creamy it was.  Of course the natural properties of avocados are often described as "creamy" and they are often used as a cooling agent in spicy dishes because of this attribute.  Here though, at Lone Star, it appeared that some sort of additional cream was added.  It appeared to be sour cream to me, but I'm willing to be wrong there.  The outcome was a bit diluted in terms of the avocado flavor, and a much denser dip all around.  I would have been thrilled with a bit more lime juice or the addition of a chili pepper perhaps to break up the subtle monotony of the dish.  The chips however were hot and fresh and readily refilled.

I began with the Carnitas Pork taco- a small mound of shredded pork piled into a fresh tortilla, layered on top of salsa verde and showered with cilantro and queso fresco.  The flavors here were spot on- the fatty meat was cut nicely with the acidity and heat of the salsa verde, with the freshness of the cilantro and the salty cheese punching up the profile.  Everything taste fresh, with good texture contrasts and all around a delicious taco.  

I opted for the griddled queso with my avocado taco.  I love grilled cheeses- there is something about the mix of the smoke from the grill combined with the salty creaminess of the cheese that just makes for a perfect combination.  Here they executed that perfectly, and the thick slices of avocado even proudly displayed prominent grill marks.  The corn salsa added nice textural contrast, though I found the salsa itself to be far too sweet for my liking.

Overall I really enjoyed my experience at Lone Star.  It was clear that the ingredients were fresh and thoughtfully prepared.  The dishes held authentic flavors and were artfully presented.  This is a great addition to the Allston neighborhood, an area that is truly blossoming in the world of good eats.       

Monday, April 2, 2012

Starbuck's Reserve 100% Kona

It's probably become pretty obvious that I have a real coffee obsession.  I'll even let you in on a little secret- whenever Starbucks sends me their coffees to test out-I do a little happy dance.  Its embarrassing- but true.  I rip open the package like a child on their birthday.  I tear through all the pretty wrapping and finally cradle the package knowing that it's contents would be both delicious and energizing.  It's a little spot of happiness :-)  Most recently I was sent their Starbucks Reserve 100% Kona.

I remember visiting my dad when I was a kid who had just recently received a bag of Kona coffee straight from Hawaii from a business contact.  I remember the way he took it from its safe place and measured it out as though it was the most precious treasure.  He educated me on the small area of the Kona district of Hawaii, a small area, just 20 miles long and two wide, lush and fertile.  He brewed us both a cup (I started my coffee addiction early) and I immediately felt the special vibe of the cup.

When I opened the Kona reserve from Starbucks I felt the same sense of treasure that I sensed that day.  After I brewed a cup I remembered why- the Kona blend invokes the island ideal, full of citrus and a base of nuttiness.  It is bold without being overpowering and has a gentle acidity making it delightful drink just on its own, or paired with with a delightful lemon square.

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