Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Restaurant Review: Max Brenner (CBS Boston)

I feel like I should be led into Max Brenner by an eccentric man in a purple coat, swinging a cane and singing about imagination. There is no chocolate lake here, but there might as well be. It’s chocolate, chocolate everywhere, and all of it to drink and eat and slather on as body lotion. Max Brenner — “chocolate by the bald man” — is a rich, sweet heaven for chocoholics (and hell for dieters). Dine in, buy gifts, or just stare in awe. There’s something for every sweet tooth.

Part store and part restaurant, Max Brenner offers an extensive dessert and drink menu that will make you gain weight as you flip through the pages. Many of the cocktails are actually “chocktails” — chocolate-based. If you’re in the mood, go for the “chocolate aphrodisiacs” section of the drink menu. Based on the waitress’ recommendation, I tried the Satisfaction Guaranteed: peanut and caramel liqueur and milk chocolate served in a stemless martini glass balanced in a bowl of ice, accompanied by a tiny beaker of more of the same drink, plus a little dish of chocolate-roasted peanuts. (Satisfaction? Achieved.)

Read the rest of my article over on CBS Boston.

More photos:

Max Brenner on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Restaurant Review: Floating Rock (CBS Boston)

When I was in grad school, there was a nearby cheap pan-Asian noodle place where we’d often grab lunch between classes. It was fast, inexpensive, and… mediocre. One dish, though, became an addiction for me: something called Cambodian-style sweet lime soup. A sweet and sour broth with pineapple, tomato, shrimp, and fried bits of garlic on top, it was a perfect pick-me-up between long lectures, and I’d never seen it elsewhere. I don’t get out to that neighborhood much anymore, but I still think of that soup. Now, two years later, I’ve finally found it, and it’s closer to home and tastier than the one I remember. It’s at Floating Rock in Central Square, the new Cambridge location of an old Revere gem.

Reviews of the former Revere spot raved that the hole-in-the-wall had truly authentic Khmer cuisine, a wonderful experience despite the dingy exterior and through-the-kitchen route to the unisex bathroom. The Cambridge location is completely revamped in a way that makes me wish I’d made it out to Revere while it was still there. Now, it’s a glossy lounge with televisions at the bar, trivia and karaoke nights, and dishes that seem much closer to Americanized Thai food than true Cambodian.

Read the rest of my article over on CBS Boston.

More photos:

Floating Rock on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Restaurant Review: Church

Where can you find strong cocktails, pool tables, rock ‘n’ roll, and gargoyles? Church. Yes, really. Not exactly the most religious of places, Church is a combination restaurant and music club in the Fenway area, tucked just far enough away to avoid being part of the cluster of loud, packed sports bars.

The gargoyles are part of the slightly medieval ambiance. Heavy red velvet curtains and candles help round out the theme. Large windows let in the sun during the day, and at night Church becomes moody and romantic.

Read the rest of my article over on CBS Boston.

More photos:

Church on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 12, 2011

Video: Lambapalooza

I used to avoid lamb. It fell under the "too cute" category - a distinction which now makes no sense to me. If I'm going to eat meat, I'm not going to pick and choose based on an arbitrary scale of adorability. This awareness has helped me appreciate the meat I do eat while also helping me start to cut back on meat, an ongoing process that I'm thinking about more and more.

The first time I ate lamb, I was at a dinner party with my then-boyfriend at his relatives' house. When I saw that the main course was lamb, I panicked but quickly decided that the best route would be to take the smallest portion possible to avoid being rude and maybe take a few small bites.

Next thing I knew, I was asking for seconds. So much for cute.

Lamb Supper Club? Yes, Please.
Fast forward to now. I was recently contacted by the Tri-Lamb Group, a "collaborative initiative between United States, Australia, and New Zealand lamb producers to enhance demand for lamb in the United States." They wanted to know if I'd be willing to host a series of three lamb supper clubs for groups of friends: they'd provide the lamb, a recipe, and other necessary ingredients, and I'd take it from there. I realized that I'd never actually cooked lamb before, so it seemed like a good opportunity.

I rounded up the boyfriend, the roommate, and an assortment of blogger and non-blogger friends, set a date for a meal I dubbed Lambapalooza #1, and asked everyone to bring a dish they thought would go well with lamb.

Irene Keeps Us Indoors
I desperately wanted to grill the lamb outdoors and eat under a leaf-covered trellis in my yard; I've never eaten under it, and I hoped the final days of August would provide a good opportunity. Unfortunately, Lambapalooza ended up occurring the day before Hurricane Irene, so we expected heavy rains to begin right during dinner and opted for indoors instead. I obsessed a bit over decorating and ended up settling on picnic-style checkered tablecloths and a few other accoutrements, including an adorable lamb print by Alyson Thomas. (I also have one of her fantastic "cheeky meat" prints.)

Irene Also Inspires a Drink
Yep, hurricanes. How could we not? I'm not going to bother providing the recipe because, honestly, it was pretty much the entire liquor cabinet. There are tons of variations online - find one that looks good and play around with it if you really want to drink this. Our first attempt included blue curacao, which gave it a gray color - definitely hurricane-like, but certainly not appetizing. After some tinkering, we came up with a nice pink version (without the blue curacao). Think Long Island Iced Tea meets the sketchy jungle juice from a frat party, and that's pretty much what we drank. Keepin' it classy.

Lambapalooza Begins
The guests arrived bearing wine and food. Molly (Cheap Beets) and her husband Rich brought curried potato latkes with curry yogurt sauce (also a delicious topping for the lamb!) Lindsey and Jon (the duo behind Beantown Eats) brought minted orzo with peas; you can view their recipe here. My non-blogger friends Lauren and Cindy brought an excellent chickpea salad. I also prepared dinner rolls - I'm using the term "prepared" loosely here as I actually only added seasoning to Pillsbury dough - and brie and fig cups, part of my new obsession with wonton wrappers. The cups are ridiculously easy to make; check out the video above for a demonstration.

Lambapalooza Hits a Snag...
The recipe we were provided was rather vague about when to slice the lamb. Since we were using the alternative oven- and pan-roasting instructions rather than grilling, and since the recipe didn't specify otherwise, we thought we were supposed to keep the lamb whole and in the netting as we roasted it. Turns out the 25-minute cooking estimate applies if you butterfly it before grilling; for our method, it was a good 90+ minutes. Oops. In the end, though, it was still delicious.

In Case You'd Like to Try It
Here's the marinade recipe from the Tri-Lamb Group:

1/3 cup low-sodium soy sauce or tamari
1/4 cup honey
2 teaspoons ground ginger
3 to 4 red Anaheim chilies, thinly sliced (ribs and seeds removed if you'd like less heat)

Mix them all together, and marinate the lamb overnight if you can.

As far as cooking goes, you can try butterflying and grilling it (about 25 minutes, supposedly). We ended up doing a chaotic combination of searing on the stovetop and oven-roasting...and searing some more...over the course of about an hour and half. While it ended up great, I'd recommend checking some other sources to figure out what you should really do with a giant hunk of boneless lamb.

Lamb Thoughts from My Dinner Guests
"Why do I love lamb? It's never tasted gamey to me. I just think it's really tender and delicious. I love that it's even a little more meaty than beef sometimes. It tends to show up in the types of food I love, too: Indian, Greek..." -Rich

"My mom never really cooked lamb. It's been one of those meats that was kind of intimidating for me to cook for myself, maybe because I was never really exposed to it. The first time I think I really had lamb was with Jon. He made it really, really simply - a small rack of lamb, pan-seared in a cast iron skillet. I realized how easy it was in that kind of set-up. He just seasoned it with garlic and rosemary and it was so good." -Lindsey

"I love lamb to the point where Rachel should get jealous." -Joel  [Ed. note: Hmmmmm. -Rachel]

"I'm really excited for this lamb" -Lauren

Disclosure: As mentioned above, this meal was sponsored in part by the Tri-Lamb Group, who provided the lamb, the recipe, and ingredients for the marinade. By accepting these items, I was asked only to host a lamb dinner party and provide feedback on the event. This video and blog post were my own idea; I was under no obligation to complete them.

Gallery Review: Voltage Coffee & Art (CBS Boston)

It’s not so unusual to find coffee shops decorated with the works of local artists, but at Voltage Coffee & Art, it’s part of the name and part of the mission. Not even a year old, this Cambridge cafe/gallery has already made a name for itself in the bustling tech heart of Kendall Square.

The layout is a maze of white walls, floor-to-ceiling windows, and a mix of high tables and standard tables. Bright light and clean lines make it a perfect home for art exhibits – and not the timid landscapes and skylines you see in many coffee shops.

Read the rest of my article over on CBS Boston.

Voltage Coffee & Art on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 9, 2011

2011 Chocolate Buffet at The Langham

A little bit of food porn for your Friday - some photos from last night's complimentary press sampling of the 2011 chocolate buffet menu at The Langham's Cafe Fleuri. (We were also given a tasting of some of the non-chocolate brunch options; I'll post those tomorrow.) I stand by what I said last year; it's on the expensive side. While I personally would not be likely to go here for $40/person, I can see the appeal for something like a bridal shower or fancy girls' afternoon out. Without further ado...chocolate:

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Food Truck Review: Momogoose (CBS Boston)

Momogoose is absurdly fast, cheap, and filling. Don’t let the huge line scare you: within seconds of ordering, you’ll be walking away, food in hands. Momogoose, a pan-Asian food truck, is parked closest to the main street in the mega-row of food trucks near the Kendall Square T station in Cambridge, so it tends to draw the biggest crowd of all the trucks, but they certainly know how to handle the hordes. Food trucks like Momogoose are a fun adventure; items are constantly running out, so you have to be a bit flexible – and keep an eye on the daily specials, as those are often the most exciting choices. If a menu item is covered with tape, it’s out. Quick – pick something else.

Momogoose’s service is amazingly friendly, particularly for a team cramped in a blindingly fast- paced, tiny kitchen with no end to the customer line in sight. You will always be greeted by a smile. (And how can you not smile in return? You’re paying less than $6 for a gigantic container of hot food – really enough for a second meal.)

Read the rest of my article over on CBS Boston.

More photos:

Momogoose Food Truck on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Scenes from a Blogger Dinner at Lil Vinny's Ristorante

Since I'm pretty sure my stomach is about to explode, this one is just going to be photos. Special thanks to Boston Brunchers for organizing and to Lil Vinny's for the extremely generous complimentary dinner. Now I'm going to go sleep off six courses of Italian food.

I can't believe this place is less than a 20-minute walk from my apartment, but I'd never heard of it before. My favorite dish of the night was the housemade fusilli in bolognese, although I had already consumed about a metric ton of food before that one landed in front of me. The panna cotta with candied lemon zest was also a highlight.

Lil Vinny's Ristorante on Urbanspoon
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