Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Restaurant Review: Thelonious Monkfish in Central Square (CBS Boston)

Thelonious Monk: jazz pianist, composer, showman… and now 7/9 of the punny name of a restaurant in Central Square? True jazzophiles may bristle, but Thelonious Monkfish makes me chuckle, and with a less curious name, I might have passed over Cambridge’s newest addition to the ubiquitous “Asian fusion and sushi” genre.

Thelonious Monkfish brands itself as “jazz for the palate,” and thematically, it’s right at home amongst the record stores and music venues of grungy, bubbly Central Square. A narrow space on Massachusetts Ave., it feels spacious and Zen-like, relaxing even as noise levels rise. Relaxing, that is, except for the several long minutes I spent trying to get out of the bathroom, unable to figure out the complicated lock.

Read the rest of my article over on CBS Boston.

More photos:

Thelonious Monkfish on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Lazy Lunch: French Bread Pizza

I worked from home yesterday, recovering from the final bits of some kind of virus that gave me three or four days of excruciating muscle and joint pain. (Sounds fun, right?) Lunchtime rolled around, and my kitchen was virtually devoid of groceries. I wasn't in the mood to drag my sick self seven minutes to Shaw's, so I analyzed the pantry. Pretty much all that I had were some leftover accoutrements to last night's pasta: a little bit of vodka sauce, some shredded Parmesan cheese, and part of a baguette.

Alors, voilà! French Bread Pizza!

Bread + Sauce + Cheese + Toaster Oven = Lazy Lunch!

The best part? It's infinitely customizable. You can use whatever bread, sauce, and cheese you have on hand, and you can add any toppings you'd like!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Dude! Newton's 51 Lincoln: Local, Organic, and Classy...with a Touch of Fun

I tried head cheese last week, and you know what? Despite the off-putting name and ingredients, it was actually pretty good. Kind of like fancy bologna. (This was a thinly sliced version; I don’t think I’d be able to handle it in the usual terrine. Something about that texture disgusts me.)

This is what I love about blogger events: I try new things. I re-try old things I thought I hated. And I often discover that some of it is very good!

Last week I was invited to a complimentary blogger dinner to try out the spring menu at 51 Lincoln in Newton, and it was a pleasure, as always, to spend some quality time eating and drinking with other bloggers! I had not been aware of 51 Lincoln before receiving the invitation; now that I live on the Red Line, I rarely find myself eating as far out in Green territory as the Newton area.  A look at the restaurant’s website was enticing, though: lots of talk of a focus on local and organic food.

Upon arriving, I was told of Chef Fournier’s rooftop garden. I’ll admit it: rooftop gardens immediately boost my perception of a restaurant. I love imagining a chef, in sparkling white and freshly ironed chef garb, climbing up a precarious ladder to a tiny collection of herbs on a city roof, picking the freshest and figuring out how to incorporate them into the day’s menu. Also impressing me before the food even came out: Chef Fournier painted all of the artwork in the restaurant (and it looks good!)

A few of my favorite parts of the meal:

Pan-Seared Watermelon Steak
Eggplant Chicharron, Confit Cherry Tomato, French Feta, Fried Parsley
I loved every aspect of this dish – even the eggplant, which I usually dislike! See, there’s that blogger dinner magic again. Whenever I attend things like these, I try to drop all preconceived notions and try whatever is served to me. I'm often surprised by the things that turn out to be delicious!

Polenta Fries
Truffle Parmesan Dip
I would probably give up my firstborn for a big plate of these. Probably.

And for dessert…

“Where’s the Cake Lebowski”
White Kahlua Cake, Cocoa Powder Dust, Toasted Coconut
Well, that one was unexpected. I love that this restaurant doesn’t take itself too seriously!

The rest of the food was enjoyable. Would I make a special trip out from Somerville to eat here? Probably not; I think there are places more convenient for me that fill the same niche. However, I’d definitely recommend a visit if this is a convenient destination for you. From the art on the walls to the art on the plates, Chef Fournier’s vision is bright and classy with a touch of fun. Plus, this place was totally packed on a Tuesday night in Newton Highlands; all the other storefronts had been dark for hours. I guess this is the place to be!

51 Lincoln on Urbanspoon

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Tour: The Recap

This is a long one, but don't worry: there's plenty of talk of vajazzling, anatomical graffiti, bodily functions, and more excitement ahead.

A couple weeks ago, I set off on one of my most exciting adventures so far: a band tour. 3000 miles in a 15-passenger van with 11 other musicians (three bands total), driving out to Iowa City and back to Boston over the course of a week. I guess it was a mini-tour as far as tours go - it wasn't months long and we didn't travel the whole world - but it was a good starting point for our band, which is made up largely of people new to this kind of musical experience.

A few days ago, I showed you what I ate on tour. Today, I'm bringing you the full recap. I promise some of it will be food-relevant; in the video I'm going to share with you in a moment, I do discuss my tater tot obsession and intention to plan a Beer and Tot Hop.

Around Day 7 of the tour, Michael J. Epstein, who lends his name and mustache (and music, guitar, vocals, leadership abilities, immense patience etc.) to our band, The Michael J. Epstein Memorial Library, decided that we should all get on camera discussing our tour experience. Tanya Palit, possessor of quite a convincing NPR voice, asked the questions. You can view my video below, if you'd like. (Thanks Michael for picking the most awkward thumbnail ever.) Warning: sorta NSFW. I discuss anatomical graffiti in detail. I'm also pretty spacey from lack of sleep.

There you have it! This Beer and Tot Hop will happen. Do you know of any other places to get tater tots in Boston? (In case you didn't watch the video, the ones we already have on the list are Cambridge Common, Garden at the Cellar, Grill 23, 5 Napkin Burger, and Lower Depths.)

Before I get to the day-to-day recaps, here are some of my favorite tour quotes and discussion topics:
  • Vajazzling (or is it vagazzling? Based on the two words that make up the portmanteau, it should be a g, but based on pronunciation rules, it should probably be a j.) At some point, we decided to turn it into an adjective. (This tour is making me feel vajazzled.) Oh, here's a link to the Urban Dictionary definition if you've never heard of vajazzling. Apparently Jennifer Love Hewitt is totally into it.
  • Animals who are, ahem, doubly endowed: sharks, rays, koalas (two-pronged. Lots of them have chlamydia. Coincidence? I think not.)
  • "Are you alert enough to drive? No texting...or sexting." -Shawn's mom
  • "I don't want people to take it personally if I vomit." -Tanya
  • "It smells awful; it must be made of babies." -Susannah
  • "Any band that's fun - I hate them." -Mike
  • Poopstruation: kind of like when women's cycles allegedly align, but with men. And poop.
  • "I don't want to touch your hot beef sandwich, Dad." -Tanya
  • "I don't have terrible taste in movies. I just like terrible movies." -Sophia
  • "This is the kind of hotel Dexter murders people in." -Tanya
Now I'm going to break it down day by day. Skip down to the cute animal YouTube videos at the end of the post if you're already bored.

Day 1 (sort of), 4/20/11: Boston
Venues: Club Passim and Brighton Music Hall (sold out!)
I guess this counts as the first day of tour, although we still got to sleep in our own beds. Some of us actually played two shows this first night. MJEML won a grant from Club Passim's Iguana Fund a few months ago, and they were showcasing grant winners that night, so four of us (plus Sophia quite literally acting as a getaway driver) loaded in and sound-checked at Brighton Music Hall for our main show, sped across town to Club Passim to power through three songs promptly at 8 (except that 8 really meant nearly 8:30), and sped back for an 8:45 downbeat. With some careful ZipCar-ing, this actually worked (because the ZipCars already have designated parking spots), although due to a slight mistake in planning, Sophia did have to drop us at BMH, park about a half mile away, and sprint back with just minutes to spare. (Upon our return to BMH, we might have leaped out of the car from the left lane at a red light, instruments dangling and costumes partially on, but we made it!)

During our set, Joel beer-bribed a friend of a friend to yell that he was hot for flute, a carry-over joke from my encounter with a creepy fan at one of our first shows last fall. That one just doesn't go away.

Neutral Uke Hotel

Day 2, 4/21/11: Boston to Brooklyn to Drums, PA
Venue: Cameo Gallery
On the road! We made a dollar! (Ok, we found it in the grass at a rest stop.)  The vajazzling talk began. We also discussed an interesting apparatus, a "portable urinal."

If Sophia had a mustache...

After a few hours of driving, we arrived in Brooklyn and got all our stuff out of the trailer and onto the sidewalk, only to be told by nervous-looking employees at the venue that we'd have to stay outside for awhile. Surprise! The health inspector was there. What followed was several frustrating hours of standing in a narrow hallway, standing outside, standing in a dark basement, not being allowed to unload, not being told what was going on. At one point, it seemed like the place might actually get shut down...so much for our first show on the road! Finally, the inspector left - after all the drama, they got an A - and we loaded in, starting the show an hour or so late.

Aside from the not-so-wonderful start to the evening, the venue was pretty decent. It had an interesting decoration dangling from the ceiling. The crowd was on the small side; I think a lot of people who were turned away at the original start time just didn't come back.

Golden Bloom

As we were loading out and preparing for our longest post-show drive - 2.5 hours to Drums, PA - Tanya's toothbrush fell out of her suitcase and onto the venue floor. And thus began what we dubbed the "worst tour ever."

Somewhere in the range of 4:30am, we arrived at our first hotel, an Econo Lodge. It really wasn't bad (although the cleaning lady awkwardly barged in in the morning. "She told me you were gone," she said. Nope.) Our room also had a furniture placement fail:


Day 3, 4/22/11: Drums, PA to Cleveland
Venue: Grog Shop
Long drive after a late night. Unloading in the pouring rain. A sit-down dinner at a real restaurant. A visit to an awesome toy store. A green room full of impressive anatomical graffiti. Amazing energy from the crowd at this show; we even played the finale in a circle in the middle of the audience.


Day 4, 4/23/11: Cleveland to Chicago
Venue: Schubas Tavern (sold out!)
Power breakfast at Denny's (Baconalia!), followed by another long drive. Got creepy voodoo doll things from a vending machine at a rest stop.


Awesome venue - free and delicious dinner (with AMAZING tater tots!), a really cool green room, and an overall great vibe from the crowd.


Day 5, 4/24/11: Chicago to Iowa City
Venue: Gabe's
Somewhere on the road, we stopped at a rest stop and got a lot of snacks in the Flying J convenience store. We didn't need bags for our stuff. The cashier gave us attitude because this meant she had to put a sticker on every item. We contemplated going back and buying the smallest individually wrapped items and requesting no bags.

Easter in Iowa City...we weren't expecting much of a crowd, and our expectations were met. Coming off of an amazing, sold out show, this was kind of a let down. The venue had cool twinkling lights on the ceiling but no light in the woman's bathroom. One of the monitors wasn't working, so the right half of the stage couldn't really hear what was going on. The 15 people that showed up were into the music, though. And later that night, we went to the world's largest truck stop!


Day 6, 4/25/11: Iowa City to Rock Island, IL to Indianapolis
Venues: Daytrotter.com and Laundromatinee.com
A break from live performances today. Instead, we recorded a session at Daytrotter in the morning, drove about six hours, and videotaped a session in a beauty salon for Laundromatinee at night. This is our Daytrotter Polaroid:


We also witnessed massive flooding crossing from Iowa to Illinois, probably a result of the recent tornado. Tiring, amazing day. Highlights: Spaceballs: The Book. Old school Sonic the Hedgehog. Buying tons of Daytrotter merch. Massage chairs and beer. Tanya interviewing herself on camera. Lowlights: Probably the only drama of the tour. We had to resort to Taco Bell; not everyone was pleased. It was late, nothing was open, people were feeling grumpy and lightheaded. But we survived.


Day 7, 4/26/11: Indianapolis to Pittsburgh
Venue: Garfield Artworks
Best breakfast ever at Taste in Indianapolis. It'll probably get its own blog post eventually. The food porn below was someone else's meal; mine wasn't quite as exciting.


We also stopped by Luna Music, an awesome indie record store. Loooong drive to Pittsburgh. The venue was, well, kind of disappointing. We barely fit on the stage (and heels kept getting dangerously caught in the cracks between the platforms making up the stage). Sound was an issue. I thought we would all be murdered in the basement bathroom.


Sophia went snooping through the cabinets and found a bunch of water bottles full of water (?) with no caps on. Creepy. Also, as we were setting up, we saw this sign:


Since we're touring with Neutral Uke Hotel, this seemed, well, problematic. Turned out not to be an issue, though...

Day 8, 4/27/11: Pittsburgh to Philadelphia
Venue: World Cafe Live (sold out!)
Man, Pennsylvania is HUGE. This was one of our longest drives! At one point, we were actually 11 miles from an empty gas tank. 15-passenger van plus trailer? That would have required a lot of pushing.

The show - our last! :( - was wonderful (and sold out!)


We were down two people (not from the Library, but from the other bands): Andrew and Josh had to leave to tour...with Guster! 18-year-old me would be so excited to hear that 25-year-old me is now one degree of separation from Guster.

Another long drive to the hotel; we stayed in New Jersey so a few people could fly out or take a train out first thing in the morning in an attempt to get to work that day. We arrived at a horrifically terrifying Econo Lodge by the Newark Airport around 3:30 in the morning. Fortunately we didn't have to stay there too long.

Day 9, 4/28/11: Newark to Montclair, NJ to Boston
Last day...just driving. Bagels in Montclair.

Tour Food: Blueberry Bagel

Heart-shaped flowers!


An open trailer door; a (successful) rescue mission for the suitcase that had fallen out on the road. Home. Sleep, sleep, sleep.

The first week back in Boston, we actually had four more gigs. I haven't caught up on sleep yet.

Did you make it this far? If so, you get rewarded by a series of videos that we were obsessed with:

Cat flushing a toilet

Chimpanzee riding on a Segway

Baby monkey (going backwards on a pig)

Spaghetti cat (I weep for you)

This is the best burrito I've ever eaten

Also, this one (sNSFW - language):
Not my chair, not my problem.

My full set of photos is posted here.

Our bass sub, Kelly Davidson, also posted photos, and they are ridiculously awesome. Check them out here.

Tour lessons learned? Eat when you can and sleep when you can. There will often be long stretches of downtime, but these might be followed by a crazy rush to load in, sound check, and get into costume in the dingy bathroom of a venue that is minutes from opening the doors. Go with the flow: nothing ever goes as planned! Most importantly, though...have fun. And I did!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

First Impressions: Voltage Coffee & Art (Kendall Square, Cambridge, MA)

I recently started a job in Kendall Square. (Shorter commute! Food trucks! Awesome architecture! YES!) One day after work, I walked down Third Street to swing by the CambridgeSide Galleria. I needed to brave the roving hoards of teens long enough to search for a polka dot shirt for an upcoming band gig. On my way from the office to the mall, I spotted Voltage Coffee & Art out of the corner of my eye. I had read about in several newsletters - Thrillist and/or DailyCandy and/or some others that clog my inbox each morning - and I was intrigued. Since it's not between the T and my office, though, I promptly forgot about it for a couple weeks.

This Tuesday, I was scheduled to work a half day. I was also battling a miserable cold and feeling pretty gross, so my mind started to wander to lunch pretty early on. I wanted to eat something comforting but light. Something triggered a memory that Voltage was right down the street - a tweet, maybe - and I checked out the website.

I skipped over the fancy coffees - not really my thing. I could probably acquire a taste for it, but I try to avoid highly caffeinated things. I got addicted to energy drinks at some point in college, and it wasn't pretty. I hope my memory is exaggerating this, but I think there was one point when I was drinking two Monsters for breakfast. Ew. 

Spicy chai, hot chocolate...ok, the menu is looking good. And then...TOAST! Two slices of toast with cinnamon and sugar? I'm sold. Simple, sure. I could definitely make it at home. But something about sitting in a coffee shop, surrounded by art, sipping hot chocolate and eating cinnamon and sugar toast? Sounded like a nice way to cheer up my afternoon.

At the bottom of the first page of the menu, a category called "AND ALSO" contains one item: Ants on a Log ($3). I was in love with this place already.

Then, I scrolled down to find a second page, this one full of fancy lattes and hot chocolates. They all sound delicious. I want to try everything, but as a spicy addict, I immediately decided on Midnight Sun, hot chocolate with cinnamon and capsicum.

Finally, lunchtime rolled around and I headed down the street. Voltage feels wide open - the white walls, the light from large windows - although walls sharply divide parts of the seating area, providing plenty of space for art to hang. The baristas were friendly and seemed quite experienced. As you can see in the photo above, my hot chocolate came decorated with a heart of foam. I think this is the first drink I've ever had with a shape in the foam, except for a Guinness I got once at The Cellar that had a shamrock. I'm a sucker for fancy presentation. This hot chocolate made me smile. (Tasted great, too, although not as spicy as I'd hoped. I might have to bring along my own ghost chili powder next time to spike it...)

The toast was ridiculously thick and nicely coated with cinnamon and sugar - just what I needed.

Love at first sight. I was so excited that I repeatedly tried to tweet the above photo while I sat there, even though my phone didn't cooperate for awhile.

No doubt about it - I'll definitely be back, and I intend to drink my way through the lattes and hot chocolates.

Voltage Coffee & Art on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Tour Food

It's a good thing tour was only a week long. I'm kind of sad to be back - it was an amazing experience - but my stomach and arteries probably wouldn't be able to handle much more of the tour diet, a steady stream of rest stop fast food, only rarely interrupted by free or discounted meals at venues (sometimes delicious!) and the very occasional sit-down meal at a restaurant.

This slideshow includes almost every item of food I ate all week. A few duplicates are left out (some granola bars and chicken nuggets), as well as a couple quick snacks I ate when my camera wasn't handy (like that late night Frosty...), but these photos probably cover about 85% of what I consumed. Kind of disgusting. The stand-out meal was at Taste in Indianapolis, IN, and I'll probably write a post devoted to it pretty soon. For now, though, here's what I ate on tour:

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