Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Grand Omakase Chef's Tasting at O Ya (CBS Boston)

Five hours and twenty-two courses after arriving, my dining companions and I staggered through O Ya’s heavy wooden door, already reminiscing about some of the earlier courses that seemed to have been eaten days ago. One of Boston’s most extravagant and exorbitant dining experiences, the Grand Omakase Chef Tasting at O Ya is certainly one of the most memorable as well. It is an endurance exercise of near-epic proportions. While the courses are fairly small – many consisting of a single piece of sushi – it is an intense meal that shows off a selection of O Ya’s standard menu as well as some favorites of the chef that can’t be ordered apart from the Grand Omakase.

Read the rest of my article over on CBS Boston.

More photos:

O Ya on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Restaurant Review: Blue Inc. (CBS Boston)

After five years as Executive Chef at Somerville’s now-defunct Gargoyles on the Square, as well as a few months earning a second-place finish on Fox reality cooking show “Hell’s Kitchen,” Jason “Jay” Santos has opened up Blue Inc. in the Financial District, bringing over his signature duck dish and his recognizable bright blue hair. In its early months, Blue Inc. has already gained substantial buzz for its hints of molecular gastronomy – culinary magic tricks – and whimsical menu.

Read the rest of my article over on CBS Boston.

More photos:

Latkes and Sufganiyot for Chanukah (Tasted Menu)

Chanukah began Tuesday. While many celebrants focus on the eight days of gift-giving, food is a meaningful part of the holiday as well. In fact, tradition dictates that fried foods are to be eaten in celebration of part of the Chanukah story in which a tiny amount of oil miraculously kept the special Temple lamp burning for eight days, much longer than expected. It’s a bit of a stretch, I suppose, but hey, it’s a good excuse to chow down on fried food! In celebration of the holiday, we’ve pulled together a list of the highest-rated, Chanukah-related, deep-fried dishes around town.

Read the rest of my blog post over on FOOD=LOVE, the blog.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Tasted Menu: Now I can think about food even more often.

I'm very excited to announce that I've somehow finally landed myself a day job that involves food. Now I can ponder Boston's best roast beef sandwich* on the clock, without guilt. Jackpot! I've joined the Tasted Menu team as Community Manager, a position which basically allows me to play on social media all the time and think about food all the time. Needless to say, I'm pretty thrilled.

Tasted Menu is a website that breaks down restaurant reviews to what many would consider the most important piece: the food. You can post reviews, ratings, and photos for individual dishes on current menus. This allows everyone to easily discover the best dishes at a given restaurant as well as the restaurants to get the best ____ in town. Pretty sweet, right?

Let's say, for example, that I want to find the best pizza in Boston. Currently, the top three pizzas are Brussel Sprout Pizza at Posto, Mushroom Pizza in Sonsie, and Sausage and Vidalia Onion Pizza at OTTO. (Disagree? Sign up for an account and start adding your own rankings!)

You know what? I'm actually somewhat of a pizza purist. I generally stick to cheese or a simple meat topping, like pepperoni. I wonder where the best pepperoni pizzas in Boston can be found. Looks like Emma's and OTTO make the cut:

These rankings change constantly, of course, as more people add reviews to the site. Everything is weighted by a super snazzy algorithm, the TM Rank, which takes multiple factors into consideration. I'm a nerd. I love super snazzy algorithms.

The site recently launched publicly in Boston; I actually participated in the private beta earlier this year and built up an embarrassingly large number of site contributions. (You can see in the screenshot above how my reviews of pepperoni pizzas #2 and #3 are included in the ranking.)

There are plenty of other fun features to explore; sign up and give it a try! Don't hesitate to reach out if you have any questions or feedback about the site. Find us on Twitter (@TastedMenu) and Facebook. And you can continue to find me right here; I'll still be blogging.

*As for Boston's best roast beef sandwich, my current vote is for Jimbo's in Union Square, Somerville. Tasted Menu users currently like All-Star Sandwich Bar, Cutty's, and Roast Beast. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Restaurant Review: Cafe Polonia (CBS Boston)

Snarled Saturday morning traffic on 93S caused us to abandon a plan to visit relatives for lunch in Canton, a disappointment which ended up leading to an amazing food discovery. We exited the highway somewhere in South Boston, and while we were navigating back towards Somerville, I noticed a fork-and-knife icon pop up on the Google map (Ah, the era of smartphones). We were just a street away from Café Polonia, a restaurant I’d heard friends rave about as one of the only places to get good Polish food in Boston. A minute later, we snagged a parking spot right in front of the tiny, signless restaurant and headed inside to find seven tables, most of which were filled. We were seated, but several parties that arrived right after us were turned away. Reservations are apparently a good idea at Café Polonia.

Read the rest of my article over on CBS Boston.

More photos:

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Fractal Broccoli for Miss Lima

Miss Lima taught 10th grade geometry. At least I think it was 10th grade and I think it was geometry, but to be honest, high school memories are starting to get a little hazy. I can't even remember the names of all my teachers anymore. It's strange to think I used to have my entire week's schedule memorized to the minute. In any case, I do remember vague bits of a field trip Miss Lima organized. We went to a day-long fractal conference. A day. Of fractals. It was either at BU or MIT, and my dad was one of the chaperones.

Fractals are complex shapes made up of self-similar parts, which in turn are also made up of self-similar parts, and so on, theoretically to infinitely small self-similar parts. The Koch snowflake is a common visualization. Fractals occur in nature, but not quite as neatly as the theory dictates, of course. 'Infinitely small' is hardly possible in practical application. A few natural examples: ferns, lightning, blood vessel systems...and Romanesco broccoli (also called Romanesco cauliflower), a member of the broccoli and cauliflower species Brassica oleracea.

Two years ago, I learned that Miss Lima, who had since married and had three children, had died of breast cancer at only 39 years old. This post is dedicated to her. I'm still amazed that she was able to get a whole class full of high schoolers excited about a math field trip. I've hardly encountered fractals in an academic setting since then, but the memory has stayed with me.

I first stumbled across Romanesco broccoli somewhere on the Internet last year, probably in a blog post, and I was intrigued by its approximate fractal beauty. I scoured the farmers markets, but it seemed that I had missed the season. Finally, this weekend, I spotted it at the Somerville Winter Farmers Market. I can't remember the name of the farm - too excited about the find to notice, I guess - but they recommended roasting it with some goat cheese and balsamic vinegar. (They also recounted the story of a passerby who commented that looking at Romanesco broccoli was probably much like what you'd see on acid.)

We stopped by the Foxboro Cheese Co. stand to investigate whether they had goat cheese. They didn't, but we ended up with asiago (my favorite cheese) and a lemon honey fromage blanc, which seemed like a perfect accompaniment to the broccoli (instead of goat cheese). Yes, it was perfect.

Lightly season the broccoli with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast it at 425 for about 15 minutes. Remove it from the oven and add cheese (fromage blanc, goat, or your choice) and balsamic. We used a store-bought balsamic glaze rather than straight balsamic vinegar. Put it back in the oven for another three or four minutes, and then broil for a minute or two. Voila: cheesy roasted Romanesco broccoli with balsamic glaze. The flavor was a perfect mix of broccoli and cauliflower, fairly mild. Delicious, beautiful, and fleeting.

And then it was gone.
Even nature's not infinite, but it does a good job of convincing us otherwise.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Restaurant Review: Central Kitchen (CBS Boston)

Central Square’s eclectic, grungy charm makes it a strange environment for pricey restaurants, but a few of them make it work – particularly Central Kitchen, which carves out a narrow and elegant space underneath the Enormous Room on Mass. Ave. The restaurant’s opening thirteen years ago was wrought with difficulties, particularly with the renovation of the space, a former take-out place featuring wings, but since then, it has blossomed into a popular neighborhood gem. The intimate space features dimpled copper tables, dark wooden booths, and sparse decor.

Read the rest of my article over on CBS Boston.

More photos:

Friday, November 25, 2011

Video: Blogger Dinner at the Bokx 109 Chef's Table

On November 2, 2011, Bokx 109 invited a group of bloggers and guests to enjoy a complimentary six-course meal with wine pairings at the Chef's Table. Chef Jarrod Moiles treated us to everything from goat cheese brulee to a dish we dubbed 'inception pork' to cotton candy.

The always-full wine glasses were quite literally as big as my face.

Bokx 109 is located in the Hotel Indigo in Newton, Massachusetts. The menu for the evening:

Seared day boat scallop with house-cured pancetta, truffle, wild mushroom, baby Brussels sprout leaves, cranberry gastrique

First Course
Roasted beet timbale with goat cheese brulee, pistachio brittle, and balsamic onion jam

Second Course
Lobster-stuffed Dover sole with braised Swiss chard and roasted shallot cream

Third Course
Homestead farm pork tenderloin, bacon-wrapped, with house-made mostarda, pickled tomato relish, and corn cake (We dubbed this one 'inception pork.')

Fourth Course
Braised beef short rib from Brandt Farm with fall vegetable ragout and bordelaise

Triple creme brie panna cotta with caramelized figs and spiced hazelnut praline

Bonus Dessert!
Cotton candy! I also fell in love with this wine pairing, Banfi Rosa Regale Brachetto d'Acqui (2010), a sparkling red (bright red!) wine.

A big thanks to Bokx 109, Chef Jarrod Moiles, and Joanna of Regan Communications for invited us to this feast.

Special thanks also to my trusty dining companion Joel Edinberg, who composed and recorded the music for this video. The song, "Fokxy Bokxing," is available for download here.

Disclosure: Joel and I attended this dinner with a group of bloggers for free. By accepting the invitation, we were not obligated to write a blog post or produce a video about the experience. All opinions expressed are our own. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Tale Of Two Sandwiches: Must-Try Roast Beefs In Boston (CBS Boston)

Sandwiches are the ultimate nostalgia food. One bite can bring you right back to that daily brown bag lunch packed by your mom, or the squished sandwich pulled out of the cooler on the annual beach trip with the family, or your favorite guilty pleasure greasy food truck sandwich during late night study-a-thons in college. 

Nostalgia led me to two of my favorite Boston-area roast beefs.

Read the rest of my article over on CBS Boston.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Fall Menu Tasting at Brasserie Jo

As life gets busier, it’s harder to keep up with the blog. I’m more interested in creating infrequent videos and in-depth posts, and I’m funneling most of my restaurant reviews to paid freelance assignments. For those gigs, I never write about complimentary meals I’ve received. While I’ve covered a number of free blogger meals here on the blog in the past, in general, I prefer to use events like those as a chance to scout out restaurants for future (anonymous, non-wined-and-dined) coverage. Meanwhile, many of these events have begun to welcome us to bring along a guest, so Joel’s been freeloading off of my freeloading...and understandably loving every minute of it. Time to put him to work - I’ll let him cover some of these events that I’ve been neglecting. In this latest guest post, Joel writes about a fall tasting we attended at Brasserie Jo. You can view his past guest posts here. Without further ado, here’s Joel.  ~Rachel Leah Blumenthal

Dating a food blogger definitely has its advantages. Granted, I have to hear about all these awesome events that Rachel goes to and the amazing food that she eats while I'm sitting at home eating store-bought mac and cheese, but occasionally I do get to reap the benefits when I’m allowed to join her for some very fancy and fun meals. Plus, as I now venture into the world of becoming a full-time musician, I’m willing to do a lot of things for a free meal.

A few weeks ago, I was able to join Rachel for a tasting of the fall menu at Brasserie Jo in Back Bay. Having visited France for two weeks one time a few years ago, I would definitely consider myself to be an expert on all things French, including the food and the three or four words that I know in French, so it makes sense that I would write a nice recap and review of our meal. They started off the night by showing off their new collection of martinis as well as some hors d'oeuvres. Because I wasn’t driving, I made sure to get a full taste of most of the drinks they had to offer.

Cucumber Rosemary Cocktail: Effen Cucumber Vodka, Fresh Rosemary, Lime, House-Pressed Cucumbers
The drink that really shined for me was the Cranberry Cobbler, which is made with Bulleit bourbon, cranberry-brown sugar syrup, cranberry juice, and lime. The drink was very well blended and had a hint of sweetness in the aftertaste. (I'm a sucker for cranberries and have been a big cranberry juice addict since I was really young, so my opinion might be a bit biased.) At the same time, I’ve never had a kidney stone, and I’m sure this drink will help keep it that way. The hors d’oeuvres were gourmet takes on childhood foods: a peanut butter and jelly finger sandwich with foie gras and peanut brittle, mini ham and cheese sandwiches, and salmon tartare with caviar on a potato chip.  The favorite of the group was definitely the chicken and honey skewers, perfectly fried chicken in a sweet sauce. There was no way any of us could resist it when the waiters walked by.

House Baguette
Well, as much as you want to read about all the free drinks and fancy appetizers I got, I’m going to now make you jealous by talking about the meal that I got to eat.  It started off with a very flashy appetizer. On top of a special cup that had a blue light shining inside, there was a spoon of pressed lamb belly with olives and riette on top of a bed of seasoned salt. This definitely got everyone’s appetite going; even Rachel liked it, and she usually hates olives. The lamb belly was very soft, and the saltiness from the olives and salt bath really complemented the taste of the lamb well.

Amuse Bouche
The first official course was a seared scallop in a vanilla beurre monté with butternut squash and confit fennel, paired with Francois Villard Viognier. This pairing worked very well; the wine had the right amount of body so that it didn’t overpower the scallop. I’m a huge fan of scallops, and this course didn’t disappoint me. It was cooked just right so that it was really juicy, and the beurre monté had a very warming flavor. I was about to try out this awesome idea of dipping the house baguette in the sauce, but the waiter took away my dish as I was tearing off a piece of bread. It was a very sad moment, and I might have cried about it like a little girl when I got home (well…no, not really), but Rachel said it was really good. I learned a lesson that night: Always take a good opportunity when it’s available. If you miss it, you may never have a chance to make up for it.

Pan-Seared Diver Scallop: Vanilla Beurre Monté, Butternut Squash, Confit Fennel
Wine Pairing: Francois Villard Viognier
Before I shed a tear over that lost sauce, let's move on to the next course: a salad with a poached quail egg, brioche, and wine-glazed lardon. I know what you’re all wondering: a quail egg is just like a small egg. Though nothing else here probably needs to be explained, I should point out that the lardon is awesome. It’s like a really fancy form of bacon. So take really good bacon, keep it thick cut, and make it more awesome. That’s pretty much what it was.

Frisee Salad: Poached Quali Egg, Brioche, Banyuls-Glazed Lardon
Wine Pairing: Louis Boillot Cremant de Bourgogne Rose
We were then served a dish with sablefish (also known as black cod according to the infallible Wikipedia) served in a saffron fumet with mussels and pommes boulangère, which are very similar to scalloped potatoes but cooked with oil instead of butter. The fish was cooked perfectly: light, flaky, and a little bit crispy on the outside. It was paired with Domaine Ferret Pouilly-Fuisse, which was a very good balance with the light flavors of the sablefish while still carrying through over the saffron sauce. These first four dishes were spectacular, leading to very high expectations for the main dish, beef en croute (beef wellington).

Sablefish: Saffron Fumet, Mussels, Pommes Boulangère
Wine Pairing: Domaine Ferret Pouilly-Fuisse
These expectations weren’t met. Not to say that it was bad, but it wasn’t as good as it could have been, and the bar had been set pretty high by the other plates. I personally believe that really good quality red meat basically shouldn’t have to be cooked. I love my steaks rare and my duck raw, so I was expecting this dish to be medium rare, maybe medium at most. But it came medium well and was pretty dry as a result. I also would have liked a crispier pastry coating, but this was my first beef en croute so I have nothing for comparison. Luckily the chef provided some sauce in a really cool shot glass type of dish that really saved the beef. Anyways, for the menu price of this dish, it really should not need the sauce. It was served with wild mushrooms, parsnip puree (my favorite), potatoes, and mustard greens, which were a little overpowering. Everything else was done well, especially the parsnip puree, and the wine pairing was spot on. We had a glass of bordeaux (my favorite red wine to have with steak) - Château Greysac. Apart from its inappropriate name, it was great: a little bit of a black pepper flavor along with rich dark berries - without being jam-like. I made sure to finish this glass.

Beef Tenderloin en Croute: Wild Mushroom, Parsnip, Fondant Potato, Mustard Greens, Thyme Jus
Wine Pairing: Ch
âteau Greysac
The night didn’t end there. After the beef, we had a light cheese course consisting of a bleu d’Auvergne pot de crème, a tomato marmalade, and marinated pear pearls. This was paired with a French riesling (Pierre Sparr). The pears were particularly amazing because each pearl had to be hand-scooped by the sous chef! There were a lot of these pearls in my portion, and there were a lot of us at this dinner. This was by far my favorite part of this course as you could taste the suffering and hard work of the sous chef. I was not as big of a fan of the cheese and tomato marmalade though. These were made well, but for my tastes the marmalade was a bit too sweet and the cheese was too pinching, like a radish. I wasn’t really prepared to have such bold flavors after the main course. I was also not very happy with this wine. I lived in upstate New York for five years, where rieslings are a very popular wine. The Finger Lakes have a similar climate to areas of Germany, where these grapes grow very well, and so I quickly gained a taste for good local and German rieslings.  A dry riesling should not be very acidic to balance the lack of sweetness. Similarly, a well-made sweeter riesling should have more acidity to not let the sweetness overpower your palate. They chose to pair this course with a French riesling, and I can only imagine they did so to maintain a French atmosphere, though I think they would have made a much better decision to let the Germans pair up with the cheese plate. This was a dry riesling that was too acidic and didn’t help soften or complement the flavors of the cheese or tomatoes. Still, though, those pear pearls were so good, and I feel bad for the sous chef because he or she will have to make many more of those for everyone I’m telling about Brasserie Jo.

Bleu d'Auvergne Pot de Creme: Tomato Marmalade, Pear
Wine Pairing: Pierre Sparr Riesling
The dessert - a caramelized pumpkin tart with salted caramel ice cream and almond brittle - was a very happy ending to the meal, providing the right climax to the build-up from all the dishes prior to the beef. I’ve recently become obsessed with salt and chocolate, and this gave me a new flavor pairing that I can appreciate for the same reasons. I’ll give you two words to describe this dish: Epic Win. Plus, the wine pairing was spectacular. This was actually the only non-French wine they gave us. It was a muscat from Renwood, a California winery.

Caramelized Pumpkin Tart: Salted Caramel Ice Cream, Almond Brittle
Wine Pairing: Renwood Orange Muscat
Overall I was very happy with this meal. Though I was disappointed that the main course didn’t live up to the standards set by previous dishes, I still think it was a great meal. Also, the wait staff was very friendly and helpful.

Disclosure: As indicated above, this meal was a complimentary tasting held for a large group of bloggers and their guests. I was not obligated to write this review, nor was I monetarily compensated for it, and all opinions are my own.
Brasserie Jo at the Colonnade Hotel on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Review: Cafe Rustica (CBS Boston)

Somerville’s best little slice of Europe is hidden fairly well; unless you live in the neighborhood, you’ve probably never noticed it. Tucked next to a laundromat where Oxford St. meets Beacon St., Café Rustica is a cozy spot for breakfast, lunch, or some quality time with a good book and a hot cappuccino. Even more hidden? Its tree-shaded patio out back, reminiscent of the surprise courtyards nestled within packed stretches of buildings in places like Brooklyn and Quebec City.

Long church benches, exposed brick, mini cafe tables, and chalkboard menus make up the quaint ambiance. The space is tiny but never feels uncomfortable, probably because everyone inside is in such a great mood.

Read the rest of my article over on CBS Boston.

More photos:

Cafe Rustica on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Pig Party at Pizzeria Posto (CBS Boston)

Whole Pig Roast
On the day of Hurricane Irene, my neighborhood was lucky; we were virtually untouched, aside from a few branches scattered across the road. As dinnertime approached and we contemplated leftovers, I took advantage of still having electricity by killing some time on Facebook, where I noticed the following message pop up on my newsfeed, courtesy of a nearby restaurant that is quickly becoming a favorite of mine:
“TONIGHT! We’ve got a little piggy named IRENE and she is all yours! First 12 people to call Posto and book a spot can help devour her! It will be one large table so come prepared to have fun and meet new peeps! $25pp. Piggy, Salad, Sides and Dessert.”

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

How Sweet It Is: Follow the Honey (CBS Boston)

Follow the Honey

When I first walked into Follow the Honey, a new bee-themed boutique in Harvard Square, I expected a simple selection of honey and related knick-knacks. What I found was much more than that: plenty of honey and trinkets, yes, but also a staff so full of knowledge and enthusiasm that I left almost wanting to become a beekeeper myself.

Read the rest of my article over on CBS Boston.

More photos:
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