Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Pho & I, Symphony, Boston

I have had the very good fortune to visit Symphony Hall in Boston a couple of times over the last few weeks and have stumbled on a little gem tucked away on Huntington Ave.  It all started in early January when we traversed over towards Symphony Hall to enjoy the comedic rants of Mr. Louis CK.  I had done some research ahead of time (read: asked the wondrous folks of Twitter) on where to eat and heard Symphony 8, a small gastro pub, over and over.  So we set off, and then, in the bitter cold, we found Symphony 8 boarded up, closed forever.  We looked at each other a little blankly, knowing that the area around the hall isn't known for great, easy food, and knowing that it was already 6:30 on a Friday evening and we didn't have time to wait.  We ventured over to Huntington, joked about the Uno's lit up across the street and then, quite literally, stumbled on Pho & I.  Long time readers know of my extreme love affair with Pho, there was no way I was going to pass up an opportunity to have a steaming hot bowl of Pho placed in front of me.  

Pho & I has quite a large space once inside, with an enormous bar area (serving only beer and wine folks- no liquor license here), and an extensive restaurant.  The menu focuses on Vietnamese and Thai style dishes, though nods at other parts of Asia as well.  To be frank- it looked pretty run of the mill.  My radar was anticipating pretty run of the mill fare, but was very glad that they had open seats and Tsing Tao on the menu.  

We started with their Chicken Satay and were presented with six skewers of char grilled chicken, accompanied by the traditional peanut sauce and a refreshing cucumber vinegar sauce.  The chicken was pleasantly well cooked, cut thick enough that it was still juicy and had soaked in just the right amount of their marinade.  Dipped into the rich peanut sauce, it provided a showcase for the thick sauce, in the vinegar it was clean and light.  While I did wish that the vinegar sauce had a bit more bite to it- I enjoyed it overall.

Soon after our plates were whisked away with the remnants of our chicken satay, a steaming hot bowl of Dok Biet Pho was placed in front of me.  I dipped my nose down to breathe in the fragrant broth, and was pleasantly surprised with the clean bright scents that rose up to me.  I added the traditional accompaniments of Thai basil and lime juice, a healthy dose of Siracha sauce and a drizzle of hoisin for good measure.  The scents I had smelled resulted in an incredibly clean tasting broth.  Slight hints of lemon grass, the lime, cilantro, sweet onions...all contributed to a delicious bite.  Beneath the broth was a big helping of rice noodles and decorating the top were pieces of beef round.  I would have enjoyed the beef being a bit more rare, but found them to be well seasoned and tender.  

Since that fateful night we have returned again, making it the spot to hit pre events at Symphony Hall.  Pho & I has a solid offering and is obviously taking the time and paying attention to the dishes that they prepare. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Koru Yoghurt

So it's apparently yogurt week here on ABFD but today were turning from Greek Yogurt-the hottest item on grocery shelves, to classic yoghurt- a real return to creamery style yoghurt made with real ingredients.

Koru is brand new to the market, and is launching with five flavors:  mango, passion fruit, peach, pomegranate cherry and strawberry goji.  They sent me two of their flavors the peach and the passion fruit and I thought that they were absolutely delicious.  Rich and creamy don't even begin to explain the decadence that was in these little cups.  The fruit was added in the right amount and with its big chunks the texture was pleasant.  The drawback to these however lay in the very decadence that made them delicious.  Koru is definitely not a "diet" option.  These are made with mix of milk and a bit of cream which makes them wonderfully real, but also, in my opinion, a treat more meant for dessert than for breakfast in my world.

Either way though-Koru Yoghurt is a delicious throw back to a real product, artfully crafted and thoughtfully prepared.  Score them when they reach your local store!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Chobani Greek Yogurt Launches New Lines of Yogurt!

Greek yogurt has definitely become the rage over the past few years-and you know -its really of no surprise.  It's thick and creamy texture makes it filling and satisfying -with more health benefits than regular yogurt.  Greek is made by a more rigorous straining process which results in a thicker consistency, a richer flavor, less sugar and more protein.  With all of that goodness packed in-its no wonder the grocery store shelves are lined with options.  There is one however that has risen above the rest though in my opinion-Chobani.

Chobani yogurt is wonderfully tart with a rich creamy offset -and they have a wide variety of great flavors to choose from.  Recently Chobani launched a few new options to their already wide array of both non fat and low fat yogurts, even expanding their options into the stir in varietals.   I immediately dove into the Honey Bee Nana-low fat honey flavored yogurt with a corner of pureed bananas sealed in to be added at the consumers discretion.  I've personally never dabbled into the add in yogurt world but as an avid player with food-this was just a fun way to start my day-not to mention delicious.  Other add in flavors include the decadent Almond Coco Loco-coconut flavored yogurt with a mix of almonds and dark chocolate chips ready to stir in, which I ate as dessert one evening, but enjoyed the Vanilla Golden Crunch (Vanilla non fat yogurt, with corn flakes, oats and pralines) for breakfast.  For those persons who claim not to like yogurt for textural reasons or boredom- check these out!  The stir ins add a great pop of texture and make for a delicious treat.

Also new to Chobani are their "Bites" - small 3.5 oz snack size servings in incredibly creative flavors.  My favorite- the Fig with Orange Zest which was sweet and refreshing in every bite.  Other great flavors in this new line are Raspberry with Dark Chocolate Chips (exactly), Coffee with Dark Chocolate Chips (mmmmm) and Caramel with Pineapple Chunks (as if you had any doubts).  I enjoyed these as little midday snacks- a nice dairy compliment to my standard lunch of soup.  

Chobani has always been my go to for Greek yogurt- its always fresh, chock full of fruits and balances nicely between the creamy and texture line.  These new additions to their offering definitely jazz it all up and keep what could be a boring snack lively and adventurous!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Salty Pig , Back Bay, Boston

If you had asked me my opinion on The Salty Pig, a little restaurant in the heart of Boston's Back Bay district, I would have said many things.  I would have said that I love the ambiance with its clean tile, chalkboards and tin sconces.  I would have said that I think its the perfect place to catch up with friends over glasses of wine.  I would have said that its a great place to warm up in front of their wood burning oven on a cold night.  I would not, however, have said I loved their food.  Visits had always left me reaching for glass upon glass of water due to over salting, that is, until tonight.  One evening last week, as I sat perched at my table filled with other food writer types, I loved every course more than the one before it, and reached for my water glass only to cleanse my palate. 

The difference, as it often does, lies in the chef.  Just back from a stint in Paris, Rhode Island Native Chef Kevin O'Donnell took the helm at Salty Pig just a few months ago and is now shaking things up and creating a name for himself and the restaurant.  We were invited in to check out what will be their "chefs table" a cozy section of the restaurant that sits over looking the wood fired oven and a chef station where a tasting menu will be offered.  We were treated to a sampling of dishes that may appear on that menu.

We began our tasting with crostini topped with a pulled curd cheese and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.  As far as first bites are concerned- this was a wonderful awaken er for our taste buds- fresh soft, salty cheese topping a buttery crisp toast and then finished with a rich sweet and tangy balsamic.  Every flavored played off of each other with compliments, the salt to the tang, the butter to the sweet and the textural contrasts of the soft cheese to the crisp toast made this a perfect start to our meal.

Next dish to arrive at our table was a toasty fried ravioli, wrapped in Prosciutto, and topped with a thin shaving of pungent salty cheese.  Here again, we were delighted by a great pairing of both flavors and textures.  The crispness gave way to soft interior of creamy ricotta, the Prosciutto added that decadent yet hearty feeling.  We had a bit of a fight over the last few of these wonderful little bites- they were very quick to disappear.

Just as we finished those ravioli, shot glasses full of hot potato and Swiss soup topped with shaved chorizo were set in front of us.  I loved this soup and would have enjoyed a giant bowl of it.  The potato was pureed with the swiss cheese into a thick, creamy base, full of earthy flavor from the potato and lightened with the nutty cheese flavor.  The really special angle here was the shaved chorizo- spicy and and perfect with the creamy soup.

Rounding out our small bites for the evenings, they brought us their own head cheese, a lovely blend with cherries, apples, grain mustard, red wine and fruit mostarda.  The combination of these flavors were lovely, a little spice, great sweetness from the fruit, a richness from the wine.  This was a lovely bite.

Our first course of our meal was an artfully designed roasted beet salad topped with beat chips, frisee, citrus segments, and feta cheese. Beets have such a particular flavor.  It took me a very long time to fully accept these root vegetables into my diet, but now I realize how they must be appreciated for their unique flavor, especially when paired correctly.  Here it was a wonderful mix of slightly bitter frisee, salty feta and wonderfully juicy citrus.  I loved the addition of the citrus- it added a unique twist that freshened the starchy vegetables.

Chef presented our next dish and we knew immediately that this was one of his favorites.  Wanting to bring his home of Rhode Island into a dish, but putting his own unique twist on it, he grilled the beautiful tubes of calamari so they were smokey and tender.  These were dressed with a Myer Lemon aioli, and a kalamata olive vinaigrette which together rounded out the smoke with bright lemon, cream and a salty offset.  I loved everything about this dish.  Each component added something different, and each combined together created a harmonious bite.  

As I finished off the calamari, I felt quite certain that nothing could be better.  I set myself up assuming that the next dishes wouldn't measure to the calamari- and then a piping hot bowl of ever so light, pillowy gnocchi dressed with rich lamb neck and root vegetable sauce.  The gnocchi themselves were impossibly light, creamy and the perfect vehicle for the tender lamb.  The sauce was deep and rich, but was brightened with the zest of an orange.  The contrast of the citrus with what could have been a very heavy, dense dish was incredibly welcome and elevated this far beyond even a "good" gnocchi dish.

In celebration of the pig, which O'Donnell breaks down one of in house in each week, he presented us next with a plate of different parts of the pig, paired with silky smear of butternut squash.  Rich pork belly, fried orbs, smokey ham....each component of the pig was artfully prepared and bursting with flavor.  It was a simple plated dish which allowed the different components to each stand on their own.  I think it's very safe to say, after thoroughly enjoying every piece of this dish, that Chef O'Donnell knows his way around a pig- which is a very good thing at a restaurant named The Salty Pig.

We finished our meal with a vanilla bread pudding, bedecked with maple walnut ice cream and bursting cranberries.  Once again, O'Donnell created a well rounded dish countering the sweetness of the pudding and the ice cream with the tart berries.  The pudding itself was well prepared, creamy and sweet without being overly so, and warmed through.  While it may not have been the most elaborate dessert, it was comforting and provided just the right amount of sweetness at the end of a savory meal.

This visit to The Salty Pig puts it in a whole different category for me.  No more will I regard it as simply a place to stop into to have a quick drink on my way somewhere else.  No more will I frown when someone mentions eating there.  No more will I consider how much water Ill need to drink after a meal there.  Now I know- The Salty Pig, under Chef O'Donnell, is creating inventive dishes, full of true flavors and delicious pairings.  The staff is as warm and accommodating as always and with reasonable prices, The Salty Pig is a don't miss.    


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