Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Bacco Ristorante

Inhabiting the quiet corner of Salem and Parmenter Street, the two-story Bacco Ristorante seems a world away from the exuberance of the North End’s main drag, Hanover Street, which is just a short, narrow block away. In a neighborhood that hardly allows for sideways sprawl, Bacco maximizes real estate with a chic bar downstairs and a candlelit dining room upstairs. Full of glossy hard wood and brick, the dining room features large Renaissance-style paintings that almost clash with the downtempo house music and otherwise modern ambience, but the odd pairing works.

A moody hostess in red stilettos brings us to our table, which looks out onto a small balcony covered with flower boxes – certainly a nice view on a spring day, but all we see is the torrential downpour of an oddly warm winter evening. A large pew-like bench offers seating for the tables along the other side of the dining room. Our waiter greets us warmly, making up for the hostess’ disinterest, and tells us about the irresistible specials.

Two of us start out with cocktails – a refreshing but overly sour mojito and a martini named Donna, a mix of Stoli Blueberi, Prosecco, cranberry juice, and pineapple juice. The Donna is done well in the tradition of girly martinis – fruity, but not overwhelmingly sweet. We share an appetizer of jumbo shrimp perched atop a salad of shaved fennel, cherry tomatoes, and lemon olive oil. The succulent shrimp are plump but not filling, an appropriately light prelude to the hearty entrees to come.

The daily specials are tempting, so we order both, along with a pasta selection from the regular menu. The seafood scampi special offers generous portions of lobster, shrimp, and scallops served over spinach linguine, artichoke hearts, and tomatoes. The scampi sauce, though creamier than expected, pairs satisfyingly with the thick green linguine. Artichokes are an unexpected gem amidst the pasta and seafood. A fried, airy cheese crisp balances precariously on top of the dish and almost steals the thunder from the other ingredients.

The second special also features a delectable seafood trio. Jumbo shrimp top a pan-seared salmon steak, which sits on a bed of ample lobster ravioli. The dish is finished off with a thick piccata sauce, a flavorful mix of lemon and butter with capers sprinkled throughout. Three asparagus spears lean against the tower of seafood, adding an agreeable crunch to the dish.

From the regular menu, we try the orecchiete (“little ears”) with sweet Italian sausage, broccoli rabe, garlic, and olive oil in a lightly tangy tomato sauce. A more traditional dish, it holds its own against the more daring daily specials. The delicate sauce bridges the gap between the bitter broccoli and mild sausage, and it makes this brimming bowl of pasta feel like a demure version of comfort food, warming your stomach but leaving room for dessert.

And it’s a good thing to leave room for dessert at Bacco. Even though gelato and pastry shops tempt the masses throughout the North End, Bacco’s ambiance is so relaxing that we pass up the nearby cannoli offerings and stay put. All desserts are made in-house, so the selections vary. We share a molten chocolate cake, a sweet ending to a surprisingly light meal.

It’s rare to leave an Italian restaurant without having to loosen your belt, but Bacco’s offerings satisfy without stuffing.

Bacco on Urbanspoon

Saturday, February 21, 2009

MiniBite: Margherita Pizza with Vodka Tomato Sauce

I was watching "Ask Aida" on Food Network the other day, and she baked four pizzas, the first of which looked both easy and delicious. I'm a pizza purist; I generally only like one topping, and it has to be meat. I hate veggies on my pizza. The first pizza she made was simple but with a small twist - vodka sauce. Since I love simple pizza and I love pasta dishes with vodka sauce, this seemed like a great recipe for me to try. You can view the recipe here.

First, I started the sauce so that it could simmer while I worked with the dough. The recipe said to cook it long enough so that the vodka smell cooks off, but mine didn't really smell like vodka at all even at the beginning...I guess I didn't use enough, but it didn't seem to hurt the taste. (I also used a really cheap sketchy vodka.)


While the sauce cooked, I started rolling out the dough - just a bag of plain fresh pizza/bread dough from the grocery store.  Maybe in the future, I'll try making my own dough from scratch...that might be beyond my kitchen capabilities, though!  My dough seemed to think it was still Valentine's Day.  Try as I might, I could not get it into a circle.  It kept bouncing back to a heart shape.

Next, I chopped up some fresh mozzarella.  According to Aida, the key is to get low moisture mozzarella.  Otherwise, it'll sweat all over the pizza.  I was afraid my slices were too thick (about a half inch), but they actually melted down pretty thinly as the pizza cooked.
Here's the dough on the oily pan...still heart-shaped...
The recipe didn't call for pepperoni, but I like meat.
Here's the pizza, ready to go in the oven.  Toppings include vodka sauce, pepperoni, fresh mozzarella, and fresh basil.
And the final product!  The basil got a little scorched.  In the future, I might add it on in the middle of the baking so that it stays a nice green.  The crust expanded nicely (and nearly formed a circle, not a heart.)
Overall, this was a quick and easy recipe, and it tasted great!  Next, I might try Aida's dessert pizza.  The next day, I used some of my leftover ingredients for lunch - ziti with pepperoni, basil, and mozzarella.  Too bad I didn't have any vodka sauce leftover.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

PodBite: Absinthe Tasting, the Arrival of Wegmans (or not), French Comfort Food, and More

Listen to today's podcast by clicking here!

It includes news about food events going on this week around Boston and an update on the Wegmans planned for Westwood Station.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

MiniBite: Restaurant Week Is Coming!

The countdown begins...

Boston Restaurant Week (Winter 2009) is taking place from March 15-20 and March 22-27. Over two hundred Boston restaurants are offering special three-course prix fixe menus during that time period ($22.09 for lunch, $33.09 for dinner.) Some restaurants are also offering $15.09 two-course lunch options - I think that's a new feature this year.

During last summer's Restaurant Week, I visited 33 Restaurant & Lounge, STIX, Sibling Rivalry, and The Fireplace. I highly recommend going to Sibling Rivalry during Restaurant Week. They offered a huge menu - probably the size of their usual menu - rather than just three or four options for each course. Some restaurants seem to participate because it may be bad publicity not to take part in Restaurant Week, but they grudgingly offer the bare minimum. Sibling Rivalry, on the other hand, goes all out, enthusiastically welcoming diners who probably won't return to pay normal prices other times of the year. There are many delicious choices, the portion sizes are large, and the service is friendly.
Caramel Chocolate Mousse Cake
Caramel Chocolate Mousse Cake at Sibling Rivalry, Restaurant Week (Summer 2008)

The BostonChefs.com Unofficial Guide to Restaurant Week Boston is a great site to find out what restaurants are participating. You can also view menus for many of them, see what days they are participating (some exclude lunch or Sundays; some extend the menu for another week or more), and make reservations via links to OpenTable.com.

Have you participated in Restaurant Week before? Which restaurants are good choices, and which shouldn't even bother participating? I look forward to hearing your Restaurant Week tips and tricks! Leave a comment :)

Some interesting links:
*Don't Get Shafted New York Restaurant Week Tips - This was written for NYC Restaurant Week, but the tips certainly apply to Boston as well (book early, choose newcomer restaurants that have something to prove, don't choose super-expensive restaurants that won't be serving you their usual food, etc.)
*Yelp.com Discussion Board - Yelp members talk about where to go this year
*How to Enjoy Boston's Restaurant Week - Tips on EHow.com
*Official Restaurant Site - Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Minibite: Valentine's Day Cupcakes!

Happy Valentine's Day!  I baked some cupcakes for the occasion.  I looked up a bunch of interesting heart-themed recipes on Martha Stewart's website but they were a little too ambitious for me and would have required a trip to the store.  I already had cake mix and frosting just waiting to be used.  I would have liked to make something heart-shaped and/or pink, but these cupcakes were delicious anyway, so it doesn't really matter.

 Do you want to make these?  Here's your recipe...

*1 box of cake mix (I used Betty Crocker's SuperMoist Yellow Cake Mix) - You'll also need butter, water, and eggs.  The mix I used required one stick of butter and three eggs.

*1 container of frosting (I used Pillsbury chocolate frosting with funfetti)

*Cupcake pan and baking cups

Follow the instructions on the cake mix box, let cool, add frosting.  That's it!  It's embarrassingly easy, but they taste great :)

Click photos to enlarge...
Valentine's Day Cupcakes
Valentine's Day Cupcakes
Valentine's Day Cupcakes
Valentine's Day Cupcakes

If you're feeling more ambitious, check out Martha Stewart's ideas.  She goes far beyond basic cookies and cupcakes.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Podbite: Valentine's Day, Salmonella, and the Mediterranean Diet

Today's podcast has Valentine's Day info, health news, and more.

Click here for today's podcast!

(To subscribe, click on the orange icon on the left side of the screen that says "Subscribe to reader.")

Monday, February 9, 2009

Fork it over, Boston! now has a Podcast!

Woohoo! Welcome to the new Fork it over, Boston podcast! This first post is just a test so I can get the feeds set up and make sure everything's working properly. Check it out and let me know what you think about the sound quality, and look for the first real post later this week :)  Once everything is set up, I'll let you know how you can subscribe. I'll probably be podcasting approximately once a week, discussing new Boston restaurants, hidden gems, and other food-related news.

(I'll still be writing in the blog as well - the podcast is just an extra feature!)

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Pho Lemongrass

I suppose I should start by admitting that I was a bit distracted during my dinner at Pho Lemongrass in Coolidge Corner. For the first half of the meal, I was trying to figure out if the man sitting across the restaurant was my cantankerous and somewhat frightening high school chemistry teacher. My dining companion Meredith (who brought me to Hanover and recommended I try Lou's) was nice enough to pose for pictures so I could sneakily get a photo of the mystery man and zoom in to analyze whether or not it was my old teacher. (Conclusion: I don't think it was him.) For the second half of the meal, I was succumbing to the high alcohol content of my Grateful Dead, "a Long Island Iced Tea with a touch of raspberry." Meredith, who really enjoys blue fruity drinks, got a Tropical Blue (rum, blue curacao, pineapple juice, and coconut nectar). Behind Meredith, you can see part of the very nice mural of Vietnam painted on the back wall (plus a suspicious waiter probably wondering why I'm taking so many pictures.) To the left of Meredith, you can sort of see how her side of the booth continues behind the wall. I guess that's where you stick your third friend whom you really didn't want to invite to dinner, but he or she tagged along anyway.

In the spirit of trying a little taste of everything so I'd have something to write about, we decided to start out with the Lemongrass Sampler, a plate full of treats, mostly fried: wings, spring rolls, steak teriyaki, shrimp toast, and something called a "Lemongrass star" - a fried wonton-ish thing stuffed with chicken, taro, carrots, and onions. The steak teriyaki and spring rolls were pretty standard, similar to most others I've had around Boston. The Lemongrass stars were nice and crispy and reminiscent of the golden triangles at Bangkok Bistro. The wings were huge - pretty much the whole wing was served as one piece instead of two or three smaller pieces. I was pleasantly surprised by the shrimp toast - the description ("grilled French bread with butter and shrimp mousse") weirded me out, but it actually ended up tasting like garlic bread topped with chunks of shrimp. Not bad.

For the main course, Meredith got a giant bowl of lemongrass chicken...I'm not sure what else was in there, but I think she liked it. I was on a mission to try the Vietnamese version of the Cambodian sweet lime soup I fell in love with at Noodle Street. The foodies over at Chowhound.com told me that Canh Chua, a Vietnamese hot and sour soup flavored with tamarind, is similar, so I ordered a small bowl of it along with an order of pan-fried Saigon Ravioli. Although the soup wasn't as close to sweet lime soup as I was hoping, it was still a very nice soup on its own. The tamarind flavor adds a special something to the hot and sour broth. The raviolis were a little on the soggy side but otherwise ok.
To be fair, I should probably hold judgment on Pho Lemongrass until I've tried the pho. Meredith and I did enjoy our meal, but the food wasn't anything out of the ordinary. The ambience, though a little dated, was relaxing, and the service was excellent.

Address: 239 Harvard St, Brookline
(617) 731-8600
Website: www.pholemongrass.com

Pho Lemongrass on Urbanspoon

Food in Unusual Places: Rolls Done Right at Beijing Tokyo Sushi Bar

For the 50,000 people who work and learn in the techie neighborhood of Kendall Square in Cambridge, there are several places to get a quick lunch. Few places are as quick as Beijing Tokyo, where if you don't have your order in your mind within one second of being asked, they will stare you down and make you feel uncomfortable. It's situated in a food court, connected to the Kendall T-stop and the massive MIT COOP, the bookstore for MIT operated by Barnes and Noble. The restaurant is 80% mall-style Chinese counter with the combos and everything and 20% hidden gem -- the sushi section. In addition to the sushi bar menu, there is a glass counter with colorful rolls, sushi and sashimi that was made "2-3 hours ago," the clerk said in my last 1pm visit. Since they don't keep sushi overnight, there is a discount later in the day, according to Yelp.com reviews. However, the prices during the lunch rush are definitely easy to swallow.

"Is this place okay?" I asked the person next to me in line.
"What do you mean, are you going to die from it?"
"No, it's just unusual to find sushi in a food court."
"I've been here a few times. It's pretty good, actually."
Reassured, I dug in.

For $4.50 on my first visit I had the eel tempura roll. It was delivered in a tightly packed takeout container, with a shiny brown glaze drizzled on top of all of the 8 pieces. The glaze was sweet and tangy, and I feel like it was teriyaki sauce. They also added toasted sesame seeds on top of it, adding visual appeal and crunchiness. Ingredients also included avocado and cucumber which tied everything together nicely. As would be expected with tempura, Japan's delicious style of fried food, if it's chilled, it won't be crispy. So, don't come expecting a crunchy roll. However, do come expecting fresh rice and a yummy flavor combination.

On my second visit, at the tail end of the lunch rush, the food was, as I expected, inexpensive and good. The Rainbow Roll, $8.25, had salmon and yellowtail, red, and white tuna wrapped around the roll. In the center was rice, crab stick, and creamy avocado, like a California roll. Mmm! The fish itself was creamy as well. It was much fresher than I would have imagined from a food court. I really liked the variety, with each piece presenting a different flavor. And, they know how to pull my heartstrings because the pieces were topped with those tiny orange specimens of flying-fish roe.

I learned that good sushi can be had in a food court. I just wish this was a cleaner establishment. They don't wash the tables after people are finished eating, and I didn't see any employees for the actual food court itself. However, it is near where I and thousands of other people spend 8+ hours a day, and it is a great asset to the neighborhood.

Address: 3 Cambridge Center, Cambridge (near Kendall Square t-stop on the Red Line)
Phone: (617) 252-0788
Website: www.beijingtokyomit.com (The information on the website is for their sit-down restaurant nearby on Main St.)
Bei Jing & Toyko on Urbanspoon

Friday, February 6, 2009


It's impossible not to smile when entering Color, a Korean restaurant on Harvard Ave. in Allston. The exterior "looks like an old TV shop," says my trusty dining companion, Ben. The interior is an explosion of bright colors, and the waitresses wear ruffly pink aprons that bring to mind I Love Lucy, except that our waitress had an apron that said "miao" with a picture of a cat on it. Lucy would be jealous...maybe.

We appeared to be the only non-Koreans in there - a hopeful indicator of the quality of the food. A large birthday party was taking place, filling up about half of the restaurant, and the rest of the tables were also occupied.

The menu was pretty large (and perhaps unsurprisingly, colorful) with "Korean-style" next to every item, just in case you didn't know it was a Korean restaurant. On the dessert section, whoever typed up the menu forgot to add "Korean-style," so it was handwritten in. The bottom of the menu reminds customers that Color is never open on Sundays because "it is the Lord's Day!"

While waiting for our food, we drank tea in glasses and shared a green apple bubble tea. I have an irrational love of tea served in a glass. It makes me giddy, and I don't know why. The bubble tea was also great - very refreshing. Grain bubble tea was also listed on the menu, and out of curiosity, I might order that one next time.

We ordered spicy fried dumplings as an appetizer, and I'm happy to report that they were, in fact, spicy. They were drenched in a thick, BBQ-ish sauce that burned long after each bite. They were served with a pile of what I think was coleslaw.

We were also given a flavorful soup and four banchan, including kimchi, bean sprouts, and an omelette-y thing. (If you know the Korean names of any of these items, feel free to leave a comment. I know next to nothing about Korean food, but I'd like to learn.)

Ben ordered fried chicken with a chili-garlic sauce and he barely made it through half of the mountain of chicken. It was delicious, but it was a huge portion. The sauce was nice - a little bit spicy, a little bit sweet.

I ordered what I order nine times out of ten at Korean restaurants - bulgogi. This one was nice and light (well, as light as a plate full of beef can be). My only complaint is that they mixed in mushrooms, and as you may have read in my Bangkok Bistro post, I am an extreme mushroom hater. The good news is that I probably accidentally ate a few and didn't notice because the dish was so well-made.

Although my lunchtime loyalties lie with Damoah due to the amazing bento boxes, next time I need a dinnertime Korean food fix, I'll definitely be returning to Color. It seemed like everyone else was a regular there, because our waitress asked as we were leaving if we had been there before. When we said no, she responded "I didn't think so...I didn't recognize you."

Oooh, I almost forgot the best part - they gave us Dumdums with the bill :) If the bright colors, ruffly aprons, and delicious, filling food don't cheer you up, a lollipop will!
Address: 166 Harvard Ave, Allston (near Harvard Ave stop on the Green Line B)
Phone: (617) 787-5656
What do other bloggers think? Check out:

Color on Urbanspoon

Thursday, February 5, 2009

InedibleBite: Hell's Kitchen (Season 5)

I hope you don't mind a brief departure from the usual restaurant reviews that you find here.  I'm currently in an arts criticism class, so I suddenly feel compelled to write about TV.  I'm not really into reality TV - American Idol never appealed to me (aside from footage of the awful auditions...I find those strangely riveting), Survivor was fun for just the first season, and that Paris Hilton show...really? Who let that on the air? - but food reality TV is a whole different story.

I'm addicted to Gordon Ramsay's obscenity-filled diatribes towards the group of bumbling food industry peons that want to take over his next restaurant.  I've watched Hell's Kitchen on and off since Season 1, and this latest season, which started a week ago, shows some promise.  Last season was full of embarrassingly inexperienced contestants, many of whom were probably picked for sheer comedic value, but there's been talk that the producers wanted a more realistic competition this time around and looked for people who actually have talent.

Last week was probably the most promising premiere with about half of the contestants receiving compliments (or at least not getting yelled at) after cooking their signature dishes for Ramsay.  A few weaklings are already standing out, though.  Colleen, 41, from Nebraska presented Ramsay with enchiladas that he thought were diapers, and she responded that she feeds big Nebraskan boys (and offered to cut a piece for Ramsay).  She also revealed that she is a cooking instructor who has never been trained herself, and she somehow manages to charge $300 for 3-4 hour cooking classes.  Appalled, Ramsay spit out the food and asked if she seriously charges $300, and Colleen replied that she also teaches etiquette classes.  Another contestant who probably won't last long is Lacey, 24, a corporate buffet cook from Charlotte.  She wanted to watch her teammates at the various prep stations before attempting anything herself and ended up spending part of the morning upstairs moping instead of helping her team, claiming that she didn't know how to do anything.  Fortunately for Lacey and Colleen, the men's team as a whole seems like it might have trouble beating the women's team, at least for the first few episodes, so the weak men will likely get kicked off first.

There aren't any clear strong contestants yet, so I'm currently rooting for Ben, the 26-year-old executive sous chef from Chicago, just because he looks like my boyfriend who is also named Ben.  It's a silly reason to root for someone, but reality TV is all about picking irrational favorites anyway.

If you didn't catch the first episode, it's still available online.  Episode 2 is on tonight at 9 on Fox.  I'm predicting that the men will lose, but I'm not sure who would get kicked off yet...maybe Seth.  If the women lose, I think Lacey will be packing her bags.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

TravelBite: Lou's Restaurant

This weekend I spent a cold morning exploring Hanover, NH, the quaint town that is home to Dartmouth College and...well, that's about it. That, and the terrific diner I'm about to write about. Fortunately I got there around 7am, because apparently the line is out the door starting around 8. It wasn't too crowded when I got there, and I was definitely the only non-regular. The other customers were having extended conversations with the waitresses, reminiscing about mutual friends and such, but I was happy to find that the host and server were friendly to me as well.

I started out with hot chocolate because I had been wandering around outside and couldn't really feel my fingers or toes. There was probably more whipped cream than hot chocolate...just as it should be. I perused the menu and was almost tempted by the cruller French toast, but I figured it'd be a little too sweet for my taste, so I ended up going with one of the daily specials, something just as sweet - chocolate pancakes (chocolate batter AND chocolate chunks) with strawberries. I paid an extra buck or two for "real Vermont maple syrup" which came in its own little plastic bottle. Honestly I can't taste much of a difference between "real" maple syrup and the rest of it (fake syrup?) but I felt obligated to go all out.

I made an embarrassingly small dent in my meal, but it really was good. It was just a little too early in the morning for my tastebuds to be bombarded by chocolate, chocolate, and more chocolate. I had been out late drinking margaritas at Margaritas, so I was a bit on the tired, not hungry side. (Ok, it actually wasn't very late. I think I was home before midnight. I really have no excuse for not devouring the mountain of pancakes, which was, in fact, the small order. I could have asked for three instead of two.)

Anyway, if you find yourself in Hanover, check out Lou's for breakfast. There's also a lunch menu, and I think breakfast is served all day, but breakfast is the best time to experience a place like Lou's, even if you're not a regular. It's a shiny, spotless diner with somewhat higher prices than your local greasy spoon, but it's worth the wait and the price.

Address: 30 S Main St, Hanover, New Hampshire, 03755
Phone: (603) 643-3321

Lou's Restaurant and Bakery on Urbanspoon

Here are some photos that I took while walking around Hanover.
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