Monday, November 9, 2009

EventBite: Meat Meet

This will be brief since I'm saving the details for part of a larger piece I need to write, but this Saturday, I bought meat from the back of a van in a random Central Square parking lot.  Sounds pretty sketchy, doesn't it?

JJ Gonson (Cuisine En Locale) teams up with Stillman's at the Turkey Farm to bring wonderful local meat to hungry local carnivores a couple times a month throughout the winter.  (Stillman's also has a meat CSA program, but Meat Meets are a bit more random, last minute, and non-membership-requiring.)

Ah, the wonders of Twitter.  I'm grudgingly accepting that it has some good qualities.  I wouldn't have known about the Meat Meet had JJ not tweeted about it earlier that day, and I happened to be a very quick T ride away from the random parking lot, so I figured I'd go for an adventure.

I arrived at the parking lot a few minutes early and spotted the Stillman's van, but I didn't see anyone taking meat from it, so I stood awkwardly in the parking lot until some other people showed up.  Then, out came the coolers of meat - lamb chops, ribs, pork butt, chicken, even pigs' legs.  While the other customers seemed to be stocking up for many meals, I figured I'd just try something small since I was new to this strange buying experience.  I got four lamb chops for $13.  (I've actually never bought lamb before - how does this price compare to lamb chops at the supermarket?  Feel free to leave a comment!)

I quickly headed back to my dining companion's apartment in nearby Porter Square, and we let the lamb defrost while we prepared a rosemary garlic paste for the chops (recommended by JJ.)  Ok, that "we" in the previous sentence is a lie.  He did all the work while I studied for an exam.  Anyway, the end result was delicious - see the slideshow below for some photos.  (To see captions, expand the slideshow to full size by clicking on the button with the four diagonal arrows (bottom right hand corner of the slideshow) and then click "Show Info" in the upper right corner.)

Check out JJ's blog for more info on Meat Meets.

Friday, October 30, 2009

MiniBite: A Pumpkin-y Post

...just in time for Halloween!  Or, early for Thanksgiving!

Pumpkins, pumpkins.  I've tried to acquire a taste for them, but I'm just not there yet.  Once, I did have a pretty good pumpkin soup - served in a pumpkin! - on a Rochester dinner cruise along the lovely Genesee River.  (I'm using the term "lovely" loosely here.  When I rowed on the crew team at the University of Rochester, rumor had it that if you dipped any limbs in the water, they'd come out infected or mutated.  A giant mutant fish did jump in the boat once, right behind my seat, flopping against my back.  I had to stop rowing to toss it overboard.)

Anyway, back to pumpkins.  I wanted to give them another chance this year, so I gladly accepted an offer of a sample* of Pumpkin Pie Fudge from Phillips Candy House, "Boston's Oldest Chocolatier."  Phillips also sent me some chocolate-dipped jack-o'-lantern-shaped Peeps. YES! I'm a big fan of Peeps in moderation, but if you eat too many in a row, they start tasting pretty gross.  I had never tried chocolate-dipped Peeps, so this was an exciting sample to receive!

First, the fudge:
Look, it's in the shape of a pie slice!  Cute :)  And I liked it!  Made of pumpkin puree, it actually tasted like real pumpkin, and it was very nicely spiced.  The chocolate crumb crust balances out the pumpkin nicely.  Pumpkin alone probably would have been too much for my taste, but I'm still on the fence about pumpkin flavor in general.  I'm sure all you pumpkin lovers out there will really enjoy this fudge.

Next, the Peeps!
I shared these with my bandmates before a rehearsal a few nights ago.  "Peeps suck, but these don't suck so bad," said Andy.  So there you have it!  The chocolate is an improvement over regular Peeps.  It was a very mild milk chocolate, so it seemed to tone down the obnoxious sugary Peep flavor that so many people dislike.

According to the Phillips Candy House website, they "continue to make artisan chocolates and other confections by hand and in small batches, using only the finest and freshest ingredients," which is pretty awesome, so I'm happy to report that I really enjoyed these samples.  If you buy anything from Phillips, I'd encourage you to consider a Yoouukk! Bar as part of your order.  Phillips is donating 100% of the net proceeds from this chocolate bar to Kevin Youkilis' "Hits for Kids" charitable organization, which supports charities and organizations focused on kids' health and well-being.

In other pumpkin-y news, I just picked up some bottles of Dogfish Head Punkin Ale, "a full-bodied brown ale with smooth hints of pumpkin and brown sugar," to bring to a Halloween party.  I've never had it, so I'll update this post once I've actually tasted it, but I'm a big fan of several other Dogfish Head beers (60 Minute IPA, 90 Minute IPA, and Raison d'Etre) so I have high hopes for this one.

Some other local pumpkin finds (Except for the last one, I have not tasted these; I've just heard about them or found them online):

-Cinna Punk vegan cupcake at Kickass Cupcakes (Davis Square, Somerville) - "sassy pumpkin spice cupcake with cinnamon frosting"

-Pumpkin Spice Frappuccino at all Starbucks locations (Sorry, I know Starbucks hardly counts as local.) - "a delicious blend of pumpkin and traditional fall spice flavors combined with the finest coffees, blended with ice and topped with whipped crème and pumpkin spice spices."

-Pumpkin and pumpkin pie cupcakes at Sweet (Harvard Square and Back Bay) - Pumpkin: "Sweet's fall classic, fresh moist pumpkin cake topped with traditional cream cheese frosting and topped with a cinnamon sugared pumpkin seed" and pumpkin pie: "Graham cracker crust, rich pumpkin cake and a dollop of homemade whipped cream topping sprinkled with nutmeg complete the Sweet cupcake version of this favorite autumn pie."

-Kaddo at The Helmand near Kendall Square - "Pan-fried then baked baby pumpkin seasoned with sugar and served on yogurt garlic sauce, topped with ground beef sauce."  I've had great food at The Helmand before, but I've never tried this dish.

-Pharsi Ko Tarkari at Mt. Everest Kitchen in Allston - I went to this restaurant with a bunch of friends back in January, and it had just re-opened under new management, so our server kept bringing us delicious free stuff to try in addition to our meals, including a wonderful pumpkin dish that sort of looked like baby food but tasted really good.  "Pumpkin sauteed in veg. oil, ginger, garlic, spices & coriander."

Happy Halloween!

*I accepted a free sample from Phillips: a slice of fudge and some Peeps.  On occasion, I do receive free stuff, and I will always disclose when I'm writing about something I received for free.  I am in no way obligated to write about free stuff I receive, and if I do write about it, I'm not obligated to write a positive review.  This review, along with everything else in my blog, is my completely honest opinion.

Monday, October 26, 2009

EventBite: Fair Trade...and Sea Urchin Cappuccinos?

Ed. note: This post originally appeared on, which no longer exists. There was a delicious slideshow to go along with it! I'll migrate the slideshow here soon.

I bet you've never had a sea urchin cappuccino before...unless you attended Green Mountain Coffee's Eat, Drink & Be Fair event this past Wednesday at the Artists for Humanity Epicenter. The event was a celebration of Fair Trade Month, and organizers aimed to raise awareness of the importance of buying Fair Trade products. (Fun fact: October is also Vegetarian Awareness Month and National Dental Hygiene Month, so it seems like a good month to be conscious of what you're putting in your mouth.)

The event centered around a cook-off among four top Boston chefs: Richard Garcia of Tastings Wine Bar & Bistro in Foxborough, Will Gilson of Garden at the Cellar in Cambridge and The Herb Lyceum at Gilson's in Groton, Peter McCarthy of EVOO in Somerville and Za in Arlington, and Jay Silva of Bambara in Cambridge.  This wasn't just any cook-off, though.  All chefs made extensive use of Fair Trade ingredients, especially coffee.

Several of Green Mountain Coffee's Fair Trade partners were in attendance, including Arcadio Daniel Galindo, the president of the Association Chajulense Val Vaq Quyol, a Fair Trade co-op in remote Chajul, Guatemala.  Galindo spoke of the importance of all members of the "chain" of Fair Trade coffee - the producers, the roasters, and the consumers.  After a few quick speeches, though, the focus was on the food.  The four chefs and their sous chefs served up tiny plate after tiny plate of their signature dishes, and a catering company was on hand to serve several other hors d'oeuvres and dishes featuring Fair Trade ingredients.  Cocktails included Moroccan Tea Mojitos and Apple Cider Martinis, and Long Trail Brewery beer was also featured.

The winning dish, as judged by a panel that included Lindsey Bolger, Head Coffee Buyer for Green Mountain, belonged to Chef Peter McCarthy: Green Mountain Fair Trade Dark Roast Coffee Marinated Hudson Valley Moullard Duck Breast with Verrill Farm's Parsnip Puree, Pete's Pickled Pumpkin, Royal Gala Apple and Espresso-Vanilla Chimichurri.  (By the way, it was delicious, although it didn't quite match the uniqueness of Chef Richard Garcia's sea urchin cappuccino, which was served with lobster beignets.)  Green Mountain donated $1000 to the charity of Chef McCarthy's choice, The Food Project, a Massachusetts organization whose stated mission is "to grow a thoughtful and productive community of youth and adults from diverse backgrounds who work together to build a sustainable food system."

The location, the airy and beautiful Artists for Humanity Epicenter, was well chosen.  In October 2005, the Epicenter was the first Boston building to receive LEED Platinum certification from the United States Green Building Council in recognition of its designers' commitment to sustainability and environmental responsibility.  Although Fair Trade and green buildings seem to go hand in hand, recycling was oddly absent at the event.  We asked a member of the catering staff where we should leave our beer bottles and were told that they would just be thrown out.

The chefs really managed to show that food can be more than delicious and beautiful: it can have a conscience, too.  Though Fair Trade Month is nearly over, the idea is worth keeping in mind year round.  And with Boston on track to become an official Fair Trade City in the near future, it will become easier than ever to find restaurants around Boston serving Fair Trade food.(And if you’re looking for a place to try those sea urchin cappuccinos, look no further.  Chef Garcia’s recipe is available online [PDF].)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Slice o' Vegan at a Peace o' Pie

Ed. note: This article originally appeared on, which no longer exists. I'll migrate the slideshow here soon, but for now, here's the text and one photo:

Allston's Union Square, already home to a vegan Asian restaurant called Grasshopper, welcomed a new vegan restaurant this month: Peace o' Pie, a pizzeria. Since October is Vegetarian Awareness Month, I decided to put my meat-eating ways aside for an evening and give vegan pizza a try. I brought along my friend Julia, a pescetarian, to get an opinion from someone more used to eating meat substitutes.

Despite the fact that we accidentally arrived a few minutes before opening, excitedly grabbed menus, and sat down, the staff was very friendly and let us stay. We scoured the menu for awhile, eventually settling on a medium pizza with an organic whole wheat crust, half topped with pineapple and half topped with vegan apple sage sausage, which is made from seitan. Peace o' Pie's standard crust is made from unbleached wheat flour, but the whole wheat substitute is available for medium pies. On Thursdays, a gluten-free substitute is also available. The standard cheese is Vegan Gourmet. In addition to pizza, we ordered cheesy breadsticks made with Daiya, a soy-free cheese made with tapioca flour. Daiya can also be ordered on the pizzas instead of Vegan Gourmet.

Peace o' Pie's pastel walls and shiny silver tables reminded us of a diner, although the service was at a much more relaxed pace than that of a diner. We waited nearly a half hour for our pizza, somewhat understandable since it was being made from scratch, but hopefully the pace will pick up a bit when it becomes busier. At 5:30 on a Tuesday night, it was already getting fairly full.

At last, our breadsticks arrived: hot, soft, garlicky, and wonderful. The Daiya was melted across the top. "You can barely tell it's not cheese," said Julia between bites. I was tempted to forget about the pizza and order more breadsticks. Soon after, we got our pizza. Visually, it looked just like non-vegan pizza. The cheese and sausage gave nothing away about their non-dairy, non-meat origins. The soft whole wheat crust was satisfying and neither too thick nor too thin. We both started with the sausage half of the pizza, the ultimate test. The texture was slightly different than meat sausage - a little bit more even and processed, missing those tiny globules of fat that make meat sausage so meaty. The flavor was very close, although rather mild. Julia found the sausage to be excellent compared to other meat substitutes that she has tried. The Vegan Gourmet cheese looked just like dairy cheese, and the taste was fairly similar at first, but as I moved on to my second and third slices, my stomach realized it was being tricked and the cheese became less satisfying. The sauce was tasty throughout, though. "It's a sauce made with a lot of love," remarked Julia. We both agreed that the pizza could use a little bit more seasoning. The ingredients all tasted fresh and healthy, but they lacked a kick. Also absent: grease. If you're used to pizza dripping with grease, Peace o' Pie's pizza might be unsettling at first, but your arteries will probably thank you.

Although as a non-vegan, I prefer the taste of dairy cheese and meat on my pizza, I would definitely return to Peace o' Pie just for those breadsticks. For those that don't eat dairy and meat, Julia found this pizza to be a good substitute for the "real" thing.

Peace o' Pie also offers salads, calzones, and delicious-looking home-made vegan desserts (that we were unfortunately too full to try.) And in addition to using 100% vegan ingredients, most of which are organic, Peace o' Pie makes an effort to recycle or compost as much as possible. They also used eco-friendly materials when remodeling the space, including a sustainably-produced bamboo counterfront and a countertop made from recycled office paper.

Visit Peace o' Pie's website, become a fan on Facebook, and follow on Twitter.

Peace o' Pie on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 16, 2009

Prezza: Rustic Tradition Meets Fine Dining

I reviewed Prezza, an Italian Restaurant in the North End, for North End Scene Magazine.

Rachel Blumenthal - Prezza

Prezza on Urbanspoon

An Underground Dining Adventure in Union Square

This piece originally appeared on, accompanied by a slideshow. The site no longer exists. I'll migrate the slideshow here as soon as I can track down the photos on an older computer.

The cryptic invitation arrived in my inbox a few weeks ago and was promptly snatched up by my spam filter, where I almost didn’t notice it. “You are most cordially invited to dine,” read the subject line. It was from JJ Gonson, a personal chef and locavore whom I had met once at a food blogger dinner many months ago. Upon opening the email, I realized I had received something any food enthusiast would be thrilled about: an invitation to an underground dinner. Not literally taking place underground, although that would be an interesting experience, these secretive dinners occur at random times and in random locations, operating in a way that is somewhere between a large dinner party and a small restaurant. Diners find out the actual location shortly before the event begins, bring their own alcohol, pay a suggested donation, and often find themselves seated at a table of strangers, being served endless courses over many hours.

This particular event, part of a series Gonson calls ONCE – One Night Culinary Events, was autumn-themed, featuring local, seasonally appropriate ingredients. It took place on Friday, October 9th, a gloomy, rainy night. As my dining companion and I arrived at the mysterious location near Union Square in Somerville, we had no idea what to expect. We entered the loft-like room which had been rented from a local woodworkers’ co-op for the occasion, and we were immediately hit with the rich smell of hearty autumn foods being prepared by a busy army of five or so chefs, including Gonson. Nearly forty place settings were spread out across a collection of dining room tables, desktops, and small TV tables. As the chefs put the finishing touches on the first course, diners found seats, got to know each other, and started opening up the wine they brought with them.

As the chefs began plating and serving the first course, an amuse-bouche consisting of two savory profiteroles, Gonson warned us to pace ourselves, because we would be served a total of nine courses over the next three hours or so. The first course featured local maitake mushrooms, also known as the “hen of the woods.” The mushrooms were the only major ingredient to make a repeat appearance elsewhere in the dinner, hiding in the thick base of course three, a potato leek soup featuring locally smoked bacon, served in a charmingly mismatched assortment of bowls and mugs. The other early courses were a beet salad (featuring all parts of the beet) with Bayley Hazen blue cheese and a creamy radish risotto with crispy kale. The rice in the risotto was one of the only non-local ingredients of the dinner.

Instead of feeling painfully full after the first four courses, we found ourselves in another kind of agony. The fifth course, simmering and bubbling quietly in the kitchen area, had a smell almost too delicious to bear, and our table watched hungrily as the lobster ravioli in butternut squash puree was finally delivered…to each table before us. At last, the raviolis arrived on our plates and disappeared quickly. The butternut squash was almost dessert-like in its sweetness but paired perfectly with the lobster filling. The notes I jotted down during this course are brief and to the point: “OMG.” The next course was the largest and most traditionally entrée-like. Beef short ribs which had been marinated in local wine and were cooking since 11am that morning were served with root vegetables and sautéed Brussels sprouts that even the most stubbornly anti-Brussels sprouts child would happily eat.

The last three courses all had elements of dessert, although courses seven and eight were sneaky about it. The seventh course was a traditional-looking flan with a big surprise – it was made of turnip. Gonson described it as “savory custard.” It was certainly an interesting combination. The eighth course was a buttery puff pastry pinwheel stuffed with arugula and a young local cheddar cheese. Course nine, a true dessert, was a sweet apple and cranberry crumble.

Although some consider underground dining dangerous in the sense that these dinners operate almost like restaurants but without the licenses and inspections, dinners like ONCE feel more like a large dinner party with friends that you just don’t know yet. They also tend to offer incredibly fair prices for large amounts of delicious food, asking for a suggested donation that just barely covers the groceries. For information about future ONCEs, which aren’t quite as secretive as others out there, check out Gonson’s website. For information about other more speakeasy-like underground dinners, start befriending some foodies, and maybe one day you’ll get that cryptic invitation.

Lobster Ravioli in Butternut Squash Puree

Cuisine En Locale on Urbanspoon

Sportello: An Italian Diner in Fort Point

It's possible to find great Italian food in Boston beyond the borders of the North End. Head out to Fort Point, just steps from the Financial District, and you'll find the lunchtime mecca of the local businesspeople and artists. Sportello is a tiny restaurant offering simple yet gourmet Italian food in a minimalist diner-like setting. Located at 348 Congress Street above the innovative bar named Drink, Sportello is sleek and modern. Seat yourself at a gleaming white counter or head straight to the bakery corner, where you can stock up on cupcakes and cookies or pick up $6 boxed breakfasts that include tea or coffee, granola, a scone, a hard-boiled egg, and house-made preserves.

From your counter seat, you can watch the chefs cook calmly in the tiny, spotless kitchen. The ingredients seem to appear from thin air; everything is tucked neatly away. Everything about Sportello is clean and shiny, a grease-less version of the classic greasy spoon. While you peruse the menu, which doubles as your place mat, your friendly server will arrive with fresh, soft bread and a mix of olive oil, ricotta, and preserves for dipping.

The stars of the lunch and dinner menus are the soups, which will set you back about $9 but are large enough for a light meal. The most popular winter dish is the spicy tomato soup (see photo to the left), rich and creamy with a swirl of chili oil, accompanied by a grilled cheese crostini. Now, in warmer weather, it's replaced by a chilled tomato soup with poached shrimp and piperade. Also on the summer menu: a chicken and summer vegetable soup with basil pesto.

Salads and paninis are also available on the lower end of Sportello's somewhat pricey menu. For $13, try the broccoli rabe panini with pecorino, prosciutto, and cherry peppers. The crispy bread is buttered just enough to be delicious without greasiness, and the bitter broccoli rabe helps tone down the saltiness from the cheese and prosciutto. At night, the paninis disappear, so be sure to head over at lunch time if you're in a sandwich mood.

If you're willing to ignore the diner-style ambiance and spend more for your entree, try a pasta, meat, or fish dish. The papardelle with sauce bolognese and fried basil is an Italian spin on diner comfort food: mild, filling, and a little bit oily. At $17 for lunch or $22 for dinner, you might initially wonder if it's worth the price, but the sauce - a mix of veal, beef, and pork and finished with a bit of chicken liver - will win you over. Unfortunately, the fried basil, which is delicious, only makes an appearance as one measly crispy leaf on top of the mountain of wide noodles. Other entrees include salmon with summer beans and bacon; farfalle with clams, mussels, and radishes; and swordfish with tomatoes, capers, garlic, and parsley.

Desserts like the chocolate budino tart with sea salt and olive oil or the warm bread pudding with house-made jam and honey caramel may tempt you, or you can head over to the bakery across the room for a cupcake or pastry. Or, if you're bothered by the fact that you've already spent too much money in what is essentially a diner, head downstairs to Drink and have a drink. But for a neat little restaurant on the edge of the Financial District, perhaps the prices aren't really that unreasonable, and the quality of the food does rival much of what you can find in the North End.

Sportello on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Next Up: My Kitchen Ineptitude!

Wow, it's been two months since I've written here. I thought about just abandoning it, but instead, I'm renewing my efforts with a new focus for the time being. I still might throw in some restaurant reviews here and there - in fact, I still have lots of notes and photos lined up from the last few months - but for the next few weeks or months or however long, I'll be writing about my kitchen adventures.

My long-time roommate/chef/dining companion has moved out, leaving the kitchen in my potentially dangerous hands. Let's just say I managed to set a bagel on fire in the microwave the other day. I'm capable of basic pasta dishes, an excellent Passover brisket, and some other easy stuff, but I really don't have any background knowledge of the basics of cooking. This blog will chronicle my adventures as I start from scratch and see what I'm actually capable of in the kitchen.

My kitchen goals are also intersecting with my summer weight loss goals, so I'll be focusing on making healthy, lasting changes to my lifestyle - no fad diets or anything. I've always been on the picky side, so each week I'm going to add a new fruit or veggie into my menu, something that I've never really eaten or liked in the past, and see if I can diversify my diet. I'm also going to cut back a little on red meat and try to add more chicken and fish.

This afternoon, I'm going to put together a menu for the week and then head out to Whole Foods (and possibly the Container Store, which is almost like a giant playground for me) to get some food and get organized.

Stay first kitchen adventure will take place tonight.

Any suggestions for my summer of health/not burning the kitchen down/trying healthy new foods? If you know of any useful websites or books about cooking and healthy eating for dummies, please let me know :)

One site I'll be using a lot is Still Tasty, a giant database of foods with information about how to store them and for how long.

I'll be back later...we'll see if my kitchen survives the day!

Edit: I forgot to mention that I'll be hitting the Farmers Market circuit too, and I don't have much experience with that, so leave some tips for me :) To haggle or not to to find the freshest produce...etc.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

EventBite: Food Blogger Dinner at Petit Robert Bistro

The last three weeks have been a whirlwind of schoolwork, internship searching, and some pretty awesome food blogger events, so I have some catching up to do! Today's post is about the first food blogger dinner that I attended. It was at the newest Petit Robert Bistro location, which is in Needham. (Disclaimer: As this was a special event, I received free food. I'll of course review the food honestly, but keep in mind that this wasn't a typical dinner experience.)

Just like the first two locations (Kenmore Square and Columbus Ave), the Needham Petit Robert Bistro has a distinctive mini Eiffel Tower out front. When you walk inside, you come to the bar area first - a cozy, welcoming bar that had a decent crowd despite the draft that the curtained vestibule couldn't keep out. Beyond the bar, Petit Robert Bistro is long and narrow, decorated with Eiffel Tower themed art and large dark wood shelves full of wine bottles. It was a chilly Tuesday night, and nearly every table was full.

Other food bloggers in attendance were Jennifer of Palate to Pen, Chelsee and Susie of We Are Not Martha, and JJ from Cuisine En Locale. JJ's friend Melina, a photographer, also came to the dinner, and our wonderful hostess was Chris Lyons, who does PR for a bunch of restaurants around Boston.

We started out with plenty of wine and delicious bread (which is trucked in all the way from Montreal.) The bread had a nice light crust on the outside and a perfectly soft inside.

For appetizers, we got a whole table full of dishes that were very French, and I was too picky to try most of them, but here are some photos:
Trio of Homemade Patés with Condiments - I don't eat pate, but the others really liked these.

Green and Red Vegetable Paté, Basil Oil and Tomato Concassé - Same as above.

Moules Marinières - These were great.

Old Fashion Fish Quenelle, Lobster Sauce - The French version of gefilte fish. Not my thing (I'm of the gefilte-hating minority of Jews) but the lobster sauce tasted great on the bread! Others at the table described the quenelle as very rich.

For the main course, I went the simple route and ordered the Steak Frites, a generous portion of steak with a mountain of fries. It comes with a choice of bordelaise, bearnaise, or poivre sauce; I chose bordelaise. The skirt steak had a hint of spice and a lot of juiciness, and the fries were reminicent of McDonald's (and I mean this in a good way) - thin, floppy, and delightfully salty.

Other entrees on the menu included venison with blueberries and foie gras, calf's liver sauteed with carmelized onions and bacon, and pan-seared sweetbreads in a creamy leek-mustard sauce. These wintery items are on the way out though; a new spring menu is on the way.

There's really nothing to say about dessert except that it was spectacular and decadent, so I'll just post the photos. I didn't manage to get a picture of my favorite, the mousse au chocolat with a langue de chat cookie, but here are the rest of the desserts that we devoured:
Crème Caramel with Palmier

Five French Cookies

One Giant Profiterole with Vanilla Ice Cream and Fudge Sauce

White Chocolate Bread Pudding

It was nice to get out to Needham, not a typical food destination for me. I haven't been to other locations of Petit Robert yet, so I'm not sure how this one compares to its older siblings, but the Tuesday night crowd was a good sign for this location. The menu is ambitiously French, and even if you're picky about French food like I am, you'll certainly be pleased with the dessert selection. As far as the main course goes, there are a few classic entrees, like steak frites and coq au vin, that'll satisfy almost anyone. If you do like French food, you'll find plenty of authentic gems at Petit Robert Bistro.

Petit Robert Bistro on Urbanspoon

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 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

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.)
* Discussion Board - Yelp members talk about where to go this year
*How to Enjoy Boston's Restaurant Week - Tips on
*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 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

Pho Lemongrass on Urbanspoon
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