Thursday, February 11, 2010

Caffe Graffiti: Lunch with the Wandering Foodie

I've spent the last couple days lounging around my apartment uselessly.  (Well, I haven't been entirely useless - I did some grocery shopping and cleaned up the apartment.)  But one job just ended and I start a new one Monday, so this has been a pseudo-relaxing week.  I was wasting time on Twitter this morning when I saw that Hagan Blount, the Wandering Foodie, was offering free lunch to someone in Boston who would dine with him at Caffe Graffiti in the North End.  I had been disappointingly planning on eating leftovers from yesterday's not-so-wonderful stir fry - and of course, it's hard to pass up free food - so I said yes.  And as a relatively new journalist who is still battling a good deal of shyness, I've been pushing myself to take any opportunities possible to meet new people, network, and push myself outside my comfort zone, so this seemed like a good plan.  And food.  (As it turns out, I may be getting too comfortable interacting with strangers, because it seems I've turned into a magnet for creeps.  Waiting for the T at Government Square after lunch, I was approached by a guy who actually winked at me, asked where I was going - "Uh...on the T" - and then asked if he could come with me.  When I said no, he asked if I had a boyfriend.  "Yes."  "Not bad, not bad" and another wink.  Huh?)

I bundled up, expecting it to be cold and icy from yesterday's "snowpocalypse/snowmageddon/(and my personal favorite) snOMG."  I was inside all day and didn't realize that the storm pretty much missed Boston.  Off went the hat and gloves.  It's beautiful out there today!  After about 45 minutes on the Green Line, I arrived at Haymarket, and Caffe Graffiti was just a short walk away, right on the Greenway and near the corner of Hanover.  I found Hagan outside, taking photos of the restaurant.  After initially trying the wrong door, which led to a disappointing "guess they're closed" moment, we found the right door and headed inside.

I had read some of Hagan's 93 Plates blog posts, as well as some posts - including a few pretty negative ones - by other bloggers who participated in it, but I decided to go in ignoring my preconceived notions as much as possible and just enjoy the opportunity to meet someone new and eat some (hopefully good) food.  Since I live all the way out in Brighton, I don't get out to the North End as often as I'd like, so this was a good excuse.  93 Plates is done, and this meal was part of Hagan's audition for Groupon's "Live Off Groupon" contest where the winner will have to spend a year quite literally living off of groupons.

Caffe Graffiti's lunch menu consists of salads (a Caesar and a house) and a variety of pizzas.  We split a Caesar salad with grilled chicken ($9) and a Sulmona sausage pizza with roasted red peppers ($11).  Sulmona is a city in the Abruzzo region of Italy and also a meat market in the North End, which is where Caffe Graffiti gets the sausage for the pizza.  Hagan described the sausage as "porky."  It had a different texture than other pork sausage that I've had - not as soft and squishy - but I enjoyed it and thought it worked pretty well on the pizza.  Let's back up a second to the salad.  We were both happy with it.  It was a little better than the average restaurant appetizer salad: the Caesar dressing was creamy and flavorful without being overwhelming, and the chicken was cut thinly and not overdone.  It seems like most places that serve salads with grilled chicken totally overdo the chicken; I'm not sure why.  Ok, back to the pizza.  We agreed that the crust was the best part.  It had that delightfully doughy scent that some pizza has, but it didn't taste too doughy or chewy.  The cheese and sauce were unobtrusive, and I liked the peppers.  (FYI: I'm a pizza purist and will very rarely order pizza with multiple toppings.  One meat and that's it.  I generally find that adding a veggie topping to a meat pizza is a grave sin.)  Yes, I actually liked the peppers.  I've been on kind of a veggie kick lately, and you may hear about last night's odd bok choy craving when Hagan posts his video.  Hagan wasn't as into the peppers.

We ended with cannoli.  I'm hardly a cannoli aficionado; I've had maybe two or three in my life since I'm not really a fan of ricotta.  But the filling in this one had a nice liqueur flavor that made the ricotta much more tolerable for me.  The chocolate-covered shell was tricky to cut into; it required some careful maneuvering so as not to send shards of cannoli shell over to the neighboring tables.  Once we broke up the shell a bit, I found it quite tasty.  Our waiter also brought us a couple free cappuccinos - the pride of Caffe Graffiti.  I'm also not much of a cappuccino drinker (sorry, I guess this paragraph is pretty useless) but I really enjoyed this one.  It was topped with a nice cocoa powder that cut the bitterness a bit.  Also, it was very strong caffeine-wise.  If only you could see how quickly I'm typing right now!    

Some 93 Plates participants have accused Hagan of being a media whore, only being in this for the website traffic and publicity, but since he openly admits that these are his motivations, I didn't have much of a problem with it.  Hypocrisy would have been a bigger problem, but he wasn't pretending that food blogging was part of some nobler goal - he was very straightforward about what he wants from this.  As such, I feel inspired to share my motivations for going to this particular meal: (1) free lunch, (2) fun adventure on a lazy day/an excuse to get out of the apartment, (3) content for a blog post.  As far as this blog goes, I'm still not really sure what my motivation is.  I love to eat and I love to write, so there's that.  But on some level, I guess it's also been about wanting some attention, finding a way of connecting with people, marketing myself as a writer and photographer, and yes, occasionally accepting free food.  That last one troubles me a lot, but one thing I learned in journalism school was that you can do anything you want as long as you tell the reader what you're doing.  I feel justified in accepting free food as long as I tell the reader I'm doing it and provide an interesting story that people will enjoy reading.  I've been invited to some food blogger dinners at restaurants where they wine and dine you and hope you'll write nice things about them, and though these experiences do seem kind of dirty somehow, it's given me a chance to discover new restaurants that I may not have checked out otherwise, and I've met some interesting people.  But the exploration of the ethics and motivations of food blogging is an ongoing and complicated process, so for now, I'll just end by saying that Caffe Graffiti is worth checking out, especially once they have their 40-seat sidewalk area set up in the summer.  Prime people-watching!

Check out Hagan's post here.

Full disclosure: Hagan paid for our meal, I left the tip, and the cappuccinos were comped.

Caffe Graffiti on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 1, 2010

Boston Gets a Taste of Clementines from Spain

The Trade Commission of Spain in New York wants the United States to eat more clementines.  Boston's own Deborah Hansen, chef and owner of Taberna de Haro in Brookline, was one of three chefs selected nationwide to take part in promoting the juicy fruit.  Along with three local food bloggers, Richard Auffrey of The Passionate Foodie and Susie Anderson and Chelsee Adams of We Are Not Martha, I got a chance to sample Chef Hansen's clementine creations.

Read more and view a slideshow here...

Edit: Sorry for the dead link. no longer exists, so I'll migrate the full text here soon. For now, you can view the slideshow here.
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