Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Kensington, Theatre District, Boston

A brand new apartment building has opened in the heart of downtown Boston, and is taking luxury city living to new heights.  Located just steps from the Common, Downtown Crossing, Chinatown and the Theatre District, The Kensington is offering their residents the ultimate in location, but their amenities stretch far beyond just their physical space.

I had the opportunity to join into the opening festivities a few days ago, and
found that as soon as I entered the building, my mood calmed, as my surroundings changed from the hub bub of the city, to a peaceful, spacious entry space.   As I wandered to the elevators to begin my exploration of the common areas and a few sample floor plans, I found the mail room, complete with a TV panel tracking resident packages, T schedules, the weather, and ticket prices for events in the area.  Conveniently located to be seen as residents leave the building, this information is definitely a helpful tidbit.

I started my tour on the 6th floor, where the common areas for the building are housed.  The Kensington houses multiple function spaces, each with their own unique feel.  There is a conference room for those days where residents can leverage their home to host colleagues or simply escape to a quiet space to work on a presentation or hold a conference call.  Beyond the work spaces there are multiple social spots.  Intimate rooms outfitted with comfy lounge furniture, as well large spaces for big groups complete with a pool table.  And then there's the patio on the 6th floor...the patio that that includes a gorgeous pool with plenty of sunning seating around it.  Beautiful views of the city abound as residents can splash their cares away.

Of course if you want a harder work out, the
6th floor also contains a full gym, with studio space for classes.  I have toured a fair amount of residential gym spaces, and hotel gyms, and I'm a pretty picky gym user over all, I can very honestly say that this was a great gym space.  A variety of equipment, and a host of both free weights and kettle bells made this a place where a very complete work out could take place. 

I rode up to the 23rd floor to check out the model units that were open for touring.  Every unit I toured was impressive.  Beautiful floors, kitchens with appliances a cook like me swooned over, ample space for entertaining, washers and dryers in every unit and big closets.  The most impressive however that I saw was the studio.  Now I've lived in a studio and hated every minute of it.  With my bed on display from every spot of the apartment it made me shy to entertain.  The Kensington however eradicated this problem completely.  Here the studios have a bed space all it's own.  Four walls and a pocket door separate
the space from the rest of the unit, however the walls are partial which allows light to enter the bed space creating an open and airy feel.  Oh, and the bed space can fit a king bed with room to spare and has a closet.  Doesn't really seem too "studio" like to me. 

I walked into The Kensington expecting to be underwhelmed.  I've been to other luxury apartment buildings in the area and they've seemed cold, and cookie cutter.  However, The Kensington I could move into immediately.  It seemed that they have thought of everything from jumbo size washing machines on every floor to a guest sweet for those overnight guests you want staying closer to you than a hotel but not too close. ;-).  If you're in the market for a new pad-definitely check out The Kensington.  Beautiful spaces, gorgeous views and great amenities. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

2013 East Cambridge Rib Fest

I'm not going to lie to you- there are few better smells than the smoke that comes off of a charcoal barbecue.  There is something about the smoke that immediately makes my stomach grumble and I know that whatever is going to come off of those trivets will be incredibly succulent.  This was the smell that greeted me as soon as I got near the East Cambridge Rib Festival last week.  My nose picked up the scent and I knew I was on the right path.  

For the past three years the East Cambridge Business Association has been bringing together restaurants from the area to come together for one afternoon and showcase their best rib creation.  Variety is the key here with each restaurant putting their own spin on their ribs, creating an entrant that embodies the personality of their restaurant.  18 different restaurants were represented, and 18 completely different ribs were tasted.  

There were definite highs and lows throughout the competition.  There were ribs
that were perfectly seasoned, ribs that had full smoke flavor, ribs that were tender and fell from the bone, and then there were ribs that fell far too short.  There were ribs that were pure gristle and fat, ribs that didn't stuck to their bones as though they were glued on, ribs that were so wet they were inedible, and ribs that didn't taste like much of anything.  

Let's concentrate on the stand outs:

#3:  the CRLS Culinary School:  Sweet and Sour Chili ribs.  These were the first ribs I tasted that day that were completely spot on flavor wise.  Every bite held a deep smoke and hickory flavor and were then coated in a sweet and spicy sauce.  The combination of flavors was the perfect contrast of heat with
delicate sweetness and then the savory beauty of smoke.  I did wish it was a bit more tender, but over all a great offering.

#2:  Bambara:  Sweet and Sour Chili ribs.  It really wasn't until I sat down to write this article that I realized that two of my top three held the same descriptor, I attribute that to the unique twists the chefs prepared them with.  Bambara had a wonderful orange/citrus flavor to their sauce along with a gentle heat in the background.  The standout portion of this rib though was the incredible smoke ring it had, signifying the depth of the smoke penetration.  The combination of the two made for a fantastic rib.

#1:  ArtBar:  Baby Back Ribs with an Apple Cider BBQ Sauce.  Plain and simple- ArtBar nailed it.  As soon as I tried to pick the rib from my plate, the bone we all use as a holder cleanly tore away from the meat and left the most tender meat behind on the plate.  I knew right then that we had a serious contender on our hands.  The flavor did not disappoint.  The BBQ sauce was classic, but the meat itself
seemed to be enhanced with an herbal rub which created an incredible extra layer of flavor beyond the smoke and sauce.  There was no doubt- this was the rib to beat!  

No matter your preference when it comes to ribs, the East Cambridge Rib Fest is the place to be!  The smoke hangs in the fall air like a delicious cloud, and with the live bands, beer gardens and general merriment -there is nothing quite like it!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

AmtrakEats- Riding the Rails to Portland, Maine

Portland, Maine was my go to spot.  For years when I wanted to get out of the city, relax and have an incredible weekend of food and drink, Portland was the spot that I craved.  As life twists and turns however, I recently realized how long it had been since I'd wandered through the Old Port.  How much time had passed since I'd breathed in the fresh, salty air of the city on the water and enjoyed the hospitality of the town.  As luck would have it, around the same time I received an invitation to join Amtrak in a new initiative they are launching known as Amtrak Eats.  They offered to send me on a day trip to a destination of my choosing to explore, and to eat.  It took less than 20 seconds for me select Portland.  With direct service between Boston's North Station and Portland, the choice was simple.  The kind folks at Amtrak made my travel arrangements, sent me a little fun food money for my trip and I was off.  

I boarded the Downeaster train early one Saturday morning, and I have to say- I was shocked at how many other adventurers there were climbing aboard with me.  It was a packed train but no matter for me, the conductors were friendly and kind, and kept us all in order for easy boarding.  Right on time, the train pulled away from the station and we were off to watch the land pass us by as we barreled north.  I settled into my comfy seat, plugged in my iphone to the convenient electrical outlets at every seat, and opened my book.  Just over two hours later we were pulling into Portland and I was fresh and ready to explore.

First on my list this time, a change from my old routines, was a stop at Duck Fat.  
Specializing in Belgian style cuisine (think waffles, fries and poutine), Duck Fat made a name for itself when it opened a few years back making it a must stop on every visitors list.  I had somehow missed it on previous trips so I made sure to make it this time.  Of course, arriving there around noon on a Saturday may not have been my best laid plan.  The line for a table stretched ahead of me, but I gladly waited my turn in the golden sun outside the restaurant.  Once seated, I knew exactly what I wanted- the most indulgent thing I could think of- Poutine topped with a fried egg.  French fries, fried to a crisp perfection in duck fat, tossed with cheese curds, smothered in gravy and topped with a fried egg- paired with a local Maine beer, this was going to be my brunch of champions.  Good for me?  No.  Delicious?  Yes.  

After my brunch was settled in my tummy, I took to the streets, meandering over to
the waters edge and encapsulating myself with the other tourists who clamored through the streets.  I stumbled on a trolley tour that was leaving in just moments so I quickly purchased my ticket and hopped aboard the open air trolley car, ready to learn the secrets and the culture of Portland Maine.  The tour did not disappoint as the car meandered the streets of Portland, showing off the gorgeous water views, beautiful architecture and showing off the incredible history of the city.  Were you aware that the city had to re build three times after fires?  How's that for a strong city!  The tour included a stop at the Portland Head Light, whose land was used as a perch for our military to watch for incoming British soldiers in 1776, before a lighthouse was built in 1787.  We were given about 20 minutes with which to explore the area, and as wonderful as the rest of the tour was, that made the trip for me.  

After returning from the trolley tour I decided (somehow) that it was time for a lobster roll.  Despite being from Boston and having easy access to lobster rolls, its impossible for me to go to Maine and not indulge.  So I headed on over to DiMillo's on the Water, this funny restaurant located in the water in an old ferry ship.  I love this place, though it tends to be a mecca for tourists.  I was served a traditional lobster roll, with huge chunks of lobster spilling out of a toasted hot dog roll.  A bit of lace layered the bottom of the roll and the addition of a squirt of fresh lemon juice made this a delicious, simple, lobster roll.

After leaving DiMillo's I spent some time perusing the shops of Portland.  Portland has an awesome mix of stores.  Home to a major art community, the downtown area houses some incredible galleries with gorgeous photographs and paintings of the surrounding area.  The streets are also home to clothing stores, cupcake shops, ice cream shops, pottery and home decor and, my favorite, the Le Roux kitchen store.  Two floors, every kitchen appliance, dish, condiment, aid...everything you could ever want for your kitchen all under one roof...it is heaven on earth. 

Once I had purchased far too many fun things from Le Roux, I made my way over to my last stop of the day before heading back to Boston-the Merry Table Creperie.  I have been in love with the Merry Table since my first visit to Portland.  Owned by a Canadian French couple, it excels in making French food accessible, and, even more so, delicious. I have always kept my orders savory and I finally decided it was time to indulge- and I settled on a Crepe Suzette which was a traditional, delicate Crepe with a beautiful mix of sugar, butter, Grand Marnier and orange.  Sweet with a tang, this was a perfect sweet note to end my day in Portland on.  

I hailed a quick cab from the heart of Portland and made my way back to the train depot.  I boarded with the other weary travelers to the cars that became incredibly cozy as the sun set, and we roared back to Boston.  I settled back into my seat, curled up, plugged back in my phone and picked up my book.  It was an incredibly relaxing day, filled with incredibly food, culture and a beautiful city.  The Amtrak made it a wonderful experience and I'll definitely be heading back up to my second favorite city soon!  Thank you Amtrak so much for a wonderful day!! 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Cinquecento, South End, Boston

I've realized, over the past few years, that there are restaurants that make a big splash within the food community, and there are restaurants whose opening just make a major splash throughout the community at large.  Everyone, food obsessed or not, hears of its opening and puts it on their list as a must go.  Last fall one of these places opened- it seemed that everyone I spoke to heard of Cinque Cento as it opened it's doors, and it was on everyone's list to check out.  

Adjacent to the famous SoWa market space, CinqueCento is a Roman Trattoria, meaning that it's food isn't your typical red sauce Italian, but instead focuses on authentic regional cuisine.  This means that Cinquento concentrates on fresh vegetables, utilizing full animals for all available meat, and home made pastas.  It's the type of food that is known for being rustic, it's known for being filling, it's known for being comforting.  CinqueCento delivers on all counts.  

Last week I got to check out their fall menu launch which features nine new dishes- we managed to check out quite a few of them.  We started our journey with Manzo Cuore Bruschetta con Giardiniera.  Crispy toast with shaved beef heart cured Pastrami style
and topped with that wonderfully acidic Italian condiment Giardiniera which so nicely cut the decadence of the tongue.  The flavors of the pickled vegetables with the rich meat was the perfect appetite wetter.  The second new antipasti we tried was the Baccala Mantacato.  I feel as though Baccala, which in its basic explanation is dried salt cod that has been re-hydrated.  Here, at CinqueCento, the Baccala is whipped to a beautifully spreadable consistency, topped with a bit of oregano and then served with crostini.  I have met Baccala's that I didnt like, multiples to be honest, but CinqueCento's version- I had second and thirds of.  The consistency was perfect, and the flavors were spot on- subtle cod, hints of salt, and the oregano made it fresh and floral.  

Next to our table was the Insalata di Barbaietole con Brassica.  Roasted beets, Ricotta Salata, red mustard greens and an herb vinaigrette.  Now, I have spoken to you all almost endlessly about my love of Ricotta Salata before- dehydrated ricotta cheese- it's salty and crumbly...it adds a little excitement to every dish its added to.  Here, when mixed with the earthy beets, it created that pop in every bite.  This salad was perfectly paired with the herb vinaigrette which made the entire dish feel fresh and natural.

We entered into the realm of main courses next, starting with their Fusilli con Collo d'Agnello.  Freshly made Fusilli, blanketed in a lamb neck ragu spotted with braised artichokes and spiced with oregano and Pecorino cheese.  One bite of this dish and closing my eyes I could picture being warmed and comforted while snow swirls outside the windows.  The lamb neck ragu was rich and hearty, with the lamb adding a subtle flavor enhanced with the floral beauty of the oregano.  Mention must be made though of the pasta itself.  Expertly made Fusilli, gentle cork screws cooked to a wonderful al dente both acquiesed to the sauce and presented it in a perfect showcase.

We then dipped our forks into a reappearing old favorite to the menu- Gnocchi al Sugo di Cinghiale.  Tender potato pillows, wild boar shredded into a sauce, mixed with sweet golden raisins, pine nuts, and a bit of Pecorino cheese.  This mix of ingredients created the perfect contrast in flavors and textures.  The boar was rich and decadent, the raisins added a sweet pop and the pine nuts brought in a change in texture from the soft potato pillows and also brough in a wonderful earthy feel to the meal.  A shower of Pecorino over the top brought in just a little salty enhancement.

We rounded out our tour of the new for fall 2013 pasta dishes by indulging in
Tortelli con Zucca e Salvia.  Ripe with flavors of the harvest, I feel that squash ravioli have become an absolute stape on autumn menus.  Cinquecento is creating theirs by caramelizing squash with ricotta cheese and stuffing them into fresh pasta sheets, forming delicate ravioli, and then dousing the cooked product with a delicate brown butter and sage sauce.  To be frank- there is nothing wrong with this dish. Creamy sweet squash, browned butter, earthy sage...its a timeless combination of flavors that rarely fails.  Very simply -order this dish.

We turned our attention to the Carne side of their menu next and tried out their Maiale alla Griglia e Zucca.  Tender and perfectly seasoned pork loin was perched atop a medley of acorn squash and braised greens, and then drizzled with a robust sauce of sour cherries.  This was one of the more tender pork dishes I've had in recent history.  I loved how simply the pork was prepared, with limited seasoning, which allowed for the beauty of that sour cherry sauce to shine.  Every bite was true pork flavor mixed with just a little salt to make it addictive and then the sweet and sour tang of the cherry sauce.  

As if that wasn't enough, we decided to check out just a couple more items on
the menu- two dishes that I love to see restaurant variations on.  The first was the Linguine alla Vongole (Linguine with clams) and the Saltimbocca di Vitello con Cavolo (Veal with Proscuitto, cabbage fondue and a Marsala wine sauce).  Linguine alla Vongole is one of the simplest dishes that when done well can be absolutely perfect.  Cinquecento is excelling.  Clams perched in their open shells atop al dente linguine bathed in a light white wine sauce and then sprinkled with toasted garlic and chili flakes.  The clams had maintained their salty sweetness from the ocean and then paired against the light acidity of the white wine and the gentle heat of chili flakes.  The veal
was cooked in the same expert style as the pork of the previous dish.  Simple seasoning, executed well, created a perfectly flavored, tender dish.  As delicious as the veal was however, the cabbage fondue, which I determined may just have been cabbage cooked incredibly slowly with butter, salt, peppper and onions was so incredibly decadent and a perfect, gentle compliment to the hearty meat.

Plain and simple, Cinquecento is executing.  Their flavors and ingredients are true to the Roman style they invoke and every dish is cooked with intricate technique to make for simple dishes perfectly done.  Definitely head on over, even now a year after opening, Cinquecento is still making a splash.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Harbor Sweets, Salem, MA

You know what I'll never turn down?  A good piece of chocolate.  Now, Im not one of those chocolate freaks who will eat any old piece of chocolate.  I love the cocoa bean, but if your chocolate is full of wax or watered down with milk, I'll leave it right where it sits.  Chocolate however that is deep, rich and dark, chocolate that tinged with natural bitterness, chocolate that can satisfy my craving in just a few bites- that's what I'm searching for. So when I was contacted by Harbor Sweets, a chocolate maker in Salem, MA  who is celebrating their 40th anniversary this year, I was excited to check them out! 

I had the extreme delight of being introduced to Harbor Sweets first new
product line since 2001.  This much anticipated launch encapsulates Salem so well- called Salt and Ayre.  It is the company's first truffle line and they are kicking things off on the right foot with a Chai, a Cafe Au Lait, a Toasted Hazelnut and an Espresso truffle each decadent interior encapsulated in rich dark chocolate.  They pair these with three confections all topped with delicious sea salt- Caramel with Himalayan Sea Salt, Crystallized Ginger topped with a Thai ginger sea salt and Almond Buttercrunch with a sprinkle of Chipotle Sea Salt.  

The flavors of the truffles were spot on, the Chai was warm and nurturing like a hot cup chai should be.  The Cafe Au Lait was perfect for a coffee lover like me, and the Espresso gave me just the boost I wanted.  I loved the salt topped confections even more.  Combining savory salt with the deep chocolate twists and turns the flavors enhancing both the sweet and bitter.  Love at first bite.

These treats are available for sale at their store at 85 Leavitt Street in Salem or online at http://www.harborsweets.com  

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...