Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Aquitaine French Bistro

For our one year anniversary Christopher and I decided to treat ourselves to a good French meal, choosing the South End's Aquitaine as our place to dine. Neither of us had been before, so of course it was very exciting to try something new together.

First walking in the place looked adorable - quite cozy but not overly cramped by any means. we were seated immediately at a table for two in the back. I had a hard time deciding on a cocktail to start out with, so when Christopher ordered his French Manhattan I was still undecided. Finally I chose a Sidecar, which I had never had before. shortly my sugar-rimmed glass arrived and it was quite delicious. While i am not a fan of cognac-type liqueur by itself, my drink was delicious and light and refreshing, perfectly chilled.

For starters there was no question in my choosing the Chicken Liver Mousse Terrine with Cornichons, Whole Grain Mustard & Warm Levain. He decided on the Frisée et Lardons Salade with Chèvre & Croutons Grand-mère & Champagne Shallot Vinaigrette. Being perfectly honest, I wasn't in love with my chicken liver mousse. While the flavors were very nice, I found it quite salty and had trouble finishing all of it. I nonethless somehow managed ;-) The warm levain was delicious as was the whole grain mustard. I didn't try the salad but he said it was very good.

For dinner I chose the Lamb Provençal with a sort of ratatouille with artichokes and Rosemary Jus Lie. It cooked nicely and a good portion, but nothing to rant and rave about. The lamb could have had a little more flavor, but the ratatouille was quite nice. Christopher had the Filet au Poivre with Cognac Cream, Grilled Scallions, Green Peppercorns & Pommes Au Gratin. While he had it cooked too much for my liking, the pepper crust was phenomenal. I may have to get that the next time we dine there. We had wine to accompany our meal, but were far too full, not to mention bankrupt, at the end of the evening.

Overall I was definitely pleased with my meal, but I think it was a bit too expensive for me to not have thoroughly enjoyed everything.

Aquitaine on Urbanspoon

Fantastic Fin's

We had a staff meeting today, and for lunch, we like to order from Fin's Sushi at Cleveland Circle. Originally, Adam and Peter were quite distressed when Chef Choy's House closed for "renovations" and ended up not reopening. Kathy has her own ideas about that, but that'll have to wait for another time.

The point is that this new place called Fin's opened. Boycotted by A & P at first, we finally checked it out, and I for one have been a huge fan ever since. I know Kathy, Dani, and Jeff will agree (especially since the latter two and I would gorge ourselves on sushi during our seemingly endless paper on negation across the Romance languages. I don't think we'd have finished otherwise.).  As usual, I digress.

So, we ordered lunch today. Aside from great sushi (the Idaho Maki--a Sweet Potato Tempura roll--is a fun one that Dani and I had never had before), Fin's has a wonderful selection of Lunch specials--including various Bentō lunches.

The Bentō are not only delicious and nutritious, they are also a GREAT deal. For around $8, you get your choice of main dish, plus rice, salad, 2 gyōza, miso soup, 2 pieces of california maki, and fruit. It's great!

Kathy, Peter, Natalie, and I all had the Chicken Curry Katsu Bentō (thanks to Natalie's recommendation). Rob got the Tempura Bentō.

Kathy is back from another meeting and having some of her leftovers now (yes, there's enough food for leftovers--even though I ate all of mine.) Let's see what she has to say....

B -- "Kathy, Please decribe your Bentō."

K -- "Have you told everyone what comes with the Bentō special?"

B -- "Yes."

K -- "Oh. Well, I'd say the Chicken Curry Bentō has a little bit of a kick, but not too much. The curry smell is enticing, and even though one might think that a Chicken Curry Katsu Bentō would be a heavier meal, it is refreshingly delicious with the salad, fruit, and California Maki."

B -- "I agree."

K -- "I just love this dressing that they put on the salad."

B -- "Mmhhmm. It's ginger dressing."

K -- "Ginger and Mango?"

B -- "Perhaps, I'm not sure.

Natalie has just chimed in to inform us that Fin's has opened up a number of additional locations across the city. So, check out the other locations at Symphony and Kenmore.

Fin's Sushi + Grill on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 28, 2008

Cucumber Ice Cream?!

So, having read Boston Chomp's posting on the cucumber ice cream at J.P. Licks, I decided I had to try it.
Wow!  It sure did taste like cucumbers. "But, cucumber ice cream?!," you say?  "Yes!," I respond. It worked and was nicely refreshing on a hot summer day.

Also enjoyed that day was the fresh peach flavor (a seasonal flavor along w/ fresh cucumber, et al.) and mint chocolate chip.  No Complaints.

Actually, while I'm on the topic, on another hot summer day last week, I stopped at Picco for my all-time favorite ice cream in the South End: Cinnamon.  If you've never had Picco's cinnamon ice cream, you must stop reading this and go now! That day, I actually had them fill my cup with half cinnamon and half coffee. Their coffee might as well be my 2nd all-time favorite ice cream in the South End--it's like sweet frozen espresso and is not for those of you who drink decaf! 

Picco on UrbanspoonJ.P. Licks on Urbanspoon

Les Gourmands go international!

Les Gourmands have gone international!

Not only do we gourmands hail from different parts of the US, we now have correspondents from around the globe! We welcome S. from our India bureau and D. from our Taiwan bureau! :o)

Now, you can visit us for what's hot in Boston and also get the locals' scoop for your travels abroad as well.
Flag images are public domain courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

The Red Fez

always looking for someplace less run-of-the-mill, it came to no surprise that i wanted to try out Red Fez, a south end establishment offering "Boston's finest authentic Middle Eastern cuisine". and so we departed on our merry way to the restaurant which was a wee bit off the beaten bath for a non-south end resident.

the restaurant itself is divided into two parts - the bar and dining room. the bar was filled with people at their tables enjoying their cocktails and delicious looking starters and entrees. apparently on friday and saturday nights there is live Turkish, Armenian, and Arabic music and the bar area turns into somewhat of a dance floor. we were there on a weeknight, so unfortunately cannot attest to this spectacle.

we were seated at our table for two in the main dining room, which almost had a red glow to it with the subdued lighting. once i had absorbed the atmosphere sufficiently i decided it was cocktail time, ordering a peach mojito concoction with Absolut peach and crushed mint leaves, among other things. it was very refreshing and just what i needed. christopher's margarita was standard, but very tasty.

we started out with the Muhamarra, a hummus-type dip made with roasted red peppers, very flavorful and light. in addition we were provided with oil sprinkled with herbs and lightly drizzled with a dark, tangy sauce of unknown origin. both were devoured within minutes.

for my entree i chose the Red Fez Lamb –lamb cooked in neapolitan sauce, wrapped in fried eggplant and served with light garlic yogurt. it was truly outstanding, and it was a shame i was unable to finish it because it was so delicious. i would have gladly smothered just about anything in the neopolitan/garlic yogurt combo.

christopher was somewhat underwhelmed with his entree, the lamb shish kebab, but only because he was expecting hunks of grilled meat as opposed to the balkan-style kebab meat that is first ground and somewhat on the greasy side. we both has the beirut couscous as our side, and christopher could not stop raving about how good it was, laden with vegetables and spices and oh so good. i definitely concurred.

the only negative part of the evening which wasn't really negative at all was the fact that christopher had to open our bottle of Argentine red for the waitress, for no matter how hard she tried, just couldn't open it. the manager walked by and saw the ordeal, so we were hoping something would be removed from our bill, but alas, it wasn't. we could hardly finish the bottle we were so full.

all in all it was a wonderful meal, and i look forward to my next opportunity there.

Read about a subsequent visit: Red Fez - Redux

*photo is courtesy of the Red Fez website, as I forgot to bring my camera

Red Fez on Urbanspoon

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Oliviers & Co.

This summer, I’ve been a bit obsessed with all of Peter Mayle’s books. You may know Peter Mayle as the author of A Year in Provence. I was reading the third book in the series and came across a chapter about olive oil. It seems our author traveled to a well-known olive oil producer in Provence and got le grand tour. The way he describes the olive oil tasting was so taste-bud provoking that I had to show Bryan. Bryan astutely noticed that the company he went to go tour in Provence has a store here, in Boston, on Newbury Street! And so, on Saturday, we headed over to Oliviers & Co. to see what all the hype was about.

My run-ins with olive oil have always been casual at best. Some oil for cooking here, some oil for bread dipping there but, to be honest, although the taste always seemed okay to me, it was nothing ever to write home about (I hid this fact due to the almost religious sanctity that cooks speak of the substance) and therefore, I was a bit skeptical that the oil I would be buying/tasting would live up to Mayle’s descriptions. Boy, was I wrong.

Oliviers & Co. take their oil seriously. The employees know the product well and are happy to share their knowledge with you. We were helped by a young friendly woman who offered to take us through a petit voyage of the different types of oil the company offered. She handed us two small plastic spoons and off we went. The first, and most subtle of their flavors was an olive oil from Sicily called Pollichino. Pollichino is made from olives planted at an altitude of 2,132 ft. which benefit from the “purity of the air and mild Mediterranean climate”. She poured a dollop on our spoons and I swooshed it around my mouth and pretended like I knew what I was doing. Now, my idea of a good eats is usually not to spoon down pure olive oil with nothing to accompany it but with this oil, I didn’t much mind. The taste was pure, light, and, well, amazing. This is what olive oil is supposed to taste like (what the hell were they serving me at Bertucci’s all these years!). The Sicilians do it right! The next oil we tasted (again from Italy) was a bit stronger with a saltier taste. Our third, from France, was a bit stronger then the previous one and an even saltier aftertaste. Our last dollop was an oil from Provence called Moulin Des Penitents. It was rich and smooth going down. It had such an intense floral taste to it that almost made me taste the bees still buzzing in the lavender. The website is a bit more elegant in describing the smell and taste: a young, green oil, full of sap, which blends together the sweet flavors of exotic fruit and baked apple…elegant and distinguished. These first four oils we had are called “finishing oils” and are typically for bread dipping, etc. but not everyday cooking. The prices run about $42 for 16.8 fl oz.

After our small tasting, we were like two kids in a candy store, picking up everything in sight and longing to taste what was inside the clear glass bottles. We did get to try two other oils that were under the “specialty oil” category. Specialty oils are infused with other herbs at the same time as the olive pressing so the oil picks up on their flavor. We were lucky enough to try the mint and basil infused oils. The mint oil was delicious. I had an upset stomach that day (see previous posting) and just a small drop of that oil helped sooth my stomach for a few hours. The basil oil would be perfect on sliced mozzarella...there would be no need to use basil leaves when serving the classic dish since the oil replicated the taste of the leaves perfectly.

After spending about 30 minutes in the store, we picked out a few choice oils (including white truffle oil!) and headed home, satisfied and dying to go back soon.

Vermont's so cheesy!

I love cheese! I also love good Farmers' Markets. Can you imagine how I felt when, on our most recent trip to Vermont, we stopped at the Dorset Farmers' Market and found not one but FOUR cheese makers selling their goods?! It was awesome. 

I chose 4 cheeses and spent under $20 for about a 1/4 lb. hunk of each. I couldn't wait to get back and try them all.

From Consider Bardwell Farm in West Pawlet, VT:

Cheesemaker's notes: An aged, raw-milk, washed-rind Jersey Cow’s milk cheese made in the style of Italy’s Taleggio region.

LGdSE's notes: When I tasted this at the market, I had to buy it. I love soft ripened cheeses, and this one had a great favor and wasn't "stinky," so I knew Peter might like it too. (Stinky cheeses are high on my list, but not so much for P.) Anyway, when we got home, I thought the particular wheel from which our cut came could have ripened a little further, but it was still delicious--and, yes, Peter liked it too.

Cheesemaker's notes: An aged, raw-milk Jersey Cow’s milk cheese inspired by European Alpine cheeses.

LGdSE's notes: I was particularly excited about this one, since Comté is one of my all-time favorite cheeses, and I thought it'd be awesome to find a local variety that was comparable. Rupert was similar in style with Comté, but was not as strongly flavored. But, it was a great Gruyère-style cheese.


From Dancing Ewe Farm in Granville, VT:

Prima Caciotta
Cheesemaker's notes: A unique rendition of a classic Tuscan style Caciotta. With its high content of butterfat and protein, Caciotta is a well-balanced table cheese that offers subtle complexities.

LDdSE's notes: The Caciotta was Bryan's overall favorite. This cow's milk cheese was nice and tangy with a good, strong (but not overpowering) flavor.

From Maplebrook Farm in Bennington, VT:

Cherrywood Smoked Mozzarella
Cheesemaker's notes: The delicious mozzarella cheese is made daily in the mountains of Vermont so that every bite is fresh, all natural and full of homemade goodness. Only our unique old-world approach of stretching and molding premium raw cow curd in small batches and using all natural ingredients with no preservatives can deliver such a smooth, moist and refreshingly distinct mozzarella cheese. Fresh cheese is held in the smoker for approximately 2½ hours after which it is wrapped and refrigerated.


I think it's important for many reasons to support our small, local farms and food producers, and delicious cheeses like the ones we bought in Vermont make it so easy.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Food Poisoning!

My first case of food poisoning last night (and stretching into today) has prompted me to add a quick informational post about the subject. If you have never been poisoned before, you are lucky. Food poisoning occurs when you eat something that contains bacteria, viruses, and/or parasites usually due to improper cooking. 

The Mayo Clinic online defines the symptoms of food poisoning as:
Watery diarrhea
Abdominal pain
Stomach cramps
Loss of appetite

Symptoms most often appear very soon after eating the contaminated food. I can also tell you from experience, these symptoms feel even worse than they sound. There's not too much you can do for food poisoning besides sitting around and waiting it out. It generally takes about 24 hours for you to start feeling better. Make sure to drink plenty of water or gatorade (or favorite) and stay hydrated! You should also contact the health department and inform them about your contamination so they can make sure it was an isolated embarrassing as this might be, one website claims, "It's your civic responsibility!". How can you argue with that?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Aroa Chocolatiers

Today, Adam and I made our way (in the pouring rain) down to Washington Street to hit up Aroa. Aroa is a café/chocolatier house that opened this year. I've been to Aroa before and snatched up some of their chocolates and homemade flavored marshmallows and
was not disappointed. The front case in the store is filled with a variety of chocolates on one side and jellies/pastries on the other. Pains au chocolat and madeleines adorn the white marble counter by the register. Blackboards announce the day's prices and treats and the atmosphere is warm and inviting--especially after being caught in the rain.

Adam had never been to Aroa, so I thought it would be fun to have a theme to what we tasted...and what better theme than alcohol?! We decided on 5 different types: Peach Schnapps, Champagne truffles, Stout Beer, Cointreau, and Port.

Now, I'm no expert chocolate taster, but all these chocolates were very good. Most had subtle flavors. The peach had a buttery texture, the cointreau was good... "orangey" and dry but not in a bad way. The port tasted a bit like cherries and had a smooth texture. The champagne truffle was what you would expect out of a champagne truffle; smooth, soft, and a lighter taste. I thought the cocoa powder around the truffle ball was a distraction but was necessary to keep the truffle from getting all over your fingers. The stout beer had a deep flavor and again was dry but not in a bad way.

As we were paying, Adam noticed the sugared jellies made from fruit. We decided to get those as well. We picked out: Blueberry, Raspberry, Green Apple, Pear, and Strawberry. All were good, (after all the chocolate a bit on the sweet side for us) and you could definitely tell fresh ingredients were used.

Our bill for 5 (1"x1") jellies and 10 chocolates came out to be just under 20 bucks. Not bad for the quality of chocolate and ingredients used. I would recommend Aroa if you are heading to a dinner party and want to bring something a bit different for dessert. There was a whole case of chocolates just waiting to be tasted...I can't wait to go back.

Aroa Fine Chocolate on Urbanspoon

The Chicken Sisters!

This is, perhaps, my favorite Julia scene in which she introduces her episode on Chicken by a roll-call of the different types of birds one can buy...

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Crazy Waiters, but a good atmosphere

Listen up my friends!
Fancy restaurants aside, no denizen of the South End can go without a local chain restauarant every now and then. It's good for the checkbook, and sometimes you just want comfort food. That being said, what's more comforting than cheesecake? And to celebrate their 30 yr anniversary, their having a sale on Cheesecake. How fabulous is that?

The Cheesecake Factory Serves Up a Delicious 30th Anniversary Celebration!; Celebrating “30 Delicious Years,” The Cheesecake Factory is serving up several sweet initiatives throughout 2008.

To kick-off the anniversary celebration and in commemoration of National Cheesecake Day on July 30th, 2008, The Cheesecake Factory restaurants will offer every delicious slice of its more than 30 varieties of cheesecake with a dollop of nostalgia by featuring all cheesecakes at $1.50 per slice, limit one per guest, dine in only, on that dayas they were when the restaurant first opened in 1978.

In addition, a special, limited edition cheesecake, the 30th Anniversary Chocolate Cake Cheesecake, will be introduced on July 30th with $0.25 from the sale of each slice sold this year benefiting the national hunger-relief organization, America’s Second Harvest The Nation’s Food Bank Network. Additional activities will be announced throughout the year.

Cheesecake Factory on Urbanspoon

Longhorn Steakhouse

There are those rare occasions when you must throw your taste buds to the wind, moments when you don’t have the time to seek out that new chic café and fawn over their fresh baked bread or time to search around for that culinary diamond in the rough. Moments, when all you have time for is a quick bite at a local chain restaurant (Gasp! Yes, I said it!). While the chain restaurant has received bad press over the years, there’s no denying that it is a good staple to have around, much like the can of soup in your cupboard on a wintry day when the grocery store seems miles away.

It was a day like this (minus the snow) that made us suck up our culinary snobbery and hit our local chain restaurant, Longhorn Steakhouse. We chose Longhorn due to its close proximity to the Fenway Regal Theater. We had a mission to see Mamma Mia! And we didn’t want to be late.

We arrived promptly at 6pm. The restaurant was not crowded yet and we were seated near the bar. The bar room does not have the best décor (drop ceilings punctuated by antler chandeliers) nor did it have the best smell (a distinct musty beer smell…just faint enough to remind me of those mornings after a big party in college). I should point out though that in the few other times I have been to Longhorn, the smell of the joint has never been an issue.

For the food, I ordered a cheeseburger with bacon (Medium was the rarest they could cook it). Adam ordered the steak tips, and Bob ordered the Sierra Chicken. After we ordered food, our bread arrived at the table, a nice healthy loaf sitting squat on a small cutting board with a knife stuck right through it. It was an amusing way to serve it and the bread was soft and chewy with a hard crust on the outside, just the way I like it.

My cheeseburger was cooked just fine and it tasted really good. It hit the spot (I’d been craving a burger all day). Adam’s steak tips were a bit bland he said as well as a bit rubbery, not the best he’s had but alright for the price and place. Bob’s Sierra Chicken was the most impressive in presentation. A large plump grilled chicken breast was presented to Bob smothered in a huge pile of tomato chunks (quite like the tomatoes on bruschetta). Bob said the chicken was fine, it tasted grilled but he didn’t have much else to say. Again, decent food but nothing to write home about (which is a bit ironic since I’m writing about it on this blog).

We had a few more minutes to kill and Adam and I decided to get dessert. Adam picked out the ultimate brownie sundae and I picked out the caramel apple goldrush. While the brownie sundae was indeed large and deserving the title “ultimate”, the winner of the evening was, hands-down, the apple goldrush. The menu describes the goldrush as:
Sweet, sliced apples tossed with cinnamon, butter and brown sugar, baked into a golden pastry shell. Served warm with vanilla ice cream and Maker's Mark whiskey-caramel and raspberry sauces.

Sound good? It tasted even better. Gooey, crisp, sweet, with a quick taste of whiskey at the end to round it all out, the dessert was worthy of the praises it received from around the table.
We were in and out of Longhorn in about an hour after everything was said and done. Our meals, including tax and tip, were all under 20 bucks. The food was just fine for the money and the price was too. Longhorn turned out to be a good place for a quick satisfying bite before a fun summer flick.

Longhorn Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Oven-toasted flatbread sandwiches at Dunkin Donuts? Oh my!

Being a foodie centers around one thing - food - so why let a fine establishment like Dunkin Donuts remain outside the foodie domain?

As I frequent Dunkin Donuts a few times a week for my morning or afternoon iced coffee fix, I've begun to accumulate coupons from their 'Bases Loaded' campaign that offers savings and game codes on a little sticky that you peel off of the cup. The first one I got entitled me to one free oven-toasted flatbread sandwich with no additional purchase necessary, and today was the day I put it into use.

My choices were between 4 sandwiches - ham & swiss; turkey, cheddar, and bacon; 3-cheese; or Southwest chicken. Since the southwest chicken was a new promotion and also the most expensive at $3.99, I figured I'd give that one a try and get the best deal.

About a minute after placing my order I had a grilled chicken "filet" topped with cheddar cheese, grilled peppers and onions and a maple-chipotle sauce sandwiched between two pieces of flatbread. It smelled very good from the start, and I was rather excited to take the first bite of my free lunch.

Looking inside of my flatbread the chicken patty/filet/whatever looked a bit unnatural, but I trusted Dunkin Donuts to make it taste good, and, indeed, it did. I very much enjoyed the maple-chipotle sauce, which added a nice sweet and tangy flavor to every bite. There weren't too many onoins and peppers, but I wouldn't say it was overly lacking. As to the flatbread, it wasn't overly delicious, but there was definitely nothing wrong with it. Perhaps had I not waited until getting home to eat it the flatbread would have been more crispy or something. Portion-wise I was pleasantly surprised, though that's not to say I couldn't have inhaled 4 of them.

Overally I was definitely pleased with my free lunch. Though tasty, I'm not sure if I would spend $3.99 to try it again. Good thing I have a $1 off coupon for my next one!

Donuts Dunkin on Urbanspoon

Gathering at Mela

Last night, one of my best buddies in undergrad was up in Boston with her husband. Indian food was decided upon for dinner, so we headed to Mela, which is on Tremont Street in the South End. 

We all quickly decided on the Vegetarian meal for 2--what a great deal! For $35, you get Mulligatawny soup, veggie samosas, 2 choices of veggie main dishes, 2 naan, raïta, and a bowl of basmati rice--plus dessert and tea or coffee. They also give you an amuse-bouche as you sit down. I mean, this was a feast! (For $45, you can get the non-vegetarian meal for 2.)

Since there were 4 of us, we decided to get 4 different main dishes and share. (How nice!) We got Malai Kofta, Mattar Paneer, Palak/Saag Paneer, and Aloo Choley. The whole table agreed that every one of them was fantastic. 

For dessert, I got the kheer, and Peter and Katie got the kulfi. The kheer was very nice, and apparently so was the kulfi--I didn't even get a chance to taste it, it was gone so fast! David got a molten chocolate cake with cardamom, which he seemed to enjoy.
Completely stuffed, we journeyed back out onto the streets of the South End to walk-off all that we'd just eaten--raving the whole time about what a good meal it was. (I know my parents will be jealous upon reading this since they always want to go to Mela at least once every time they visit...)

Since Mela moved into the neighborhood, we've never had a bad meal there--quite the contrary. Their concept is "Modern Indian," but to me it's still got that traditional comfort-food feel. The atmosphere is also really cool with walls adorned with shaped copper reminiscent of the copper vessels often used to serve Indian food. This contemporary décor is juxtaposed with some traditional sculptures as well, lending to quite a unique experience.

Mela receives top ratings from this gourmand!

Mela on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 21, 2008

La Verdad Taquería Mexicana - ¿Numero uno? ¡No es la verdad!

So, the March 2008 issue of Bon Appétit lists La Verdad Taquería as "#1 in the USA." 

The whole lot of us went last week to try it out. I hate to say it, but "#1 in the USA" can't be true. Yes, our tacos were good, fresh, and were made well; but, they were not spectacular. For me, they lacked flavor.

I was really excited when I saw the menu. They have a lot of really interesting tacos, and among us, we sampled quite a few of them. Everyone made the same comment: they were good, but not fantastic--missing something. 
Plus, we felt that the price was a little steep for what we got, which made it even less appealing. With an average of about $10 per taco plate at La Verdad, we know that we can go over to Anna's or Felipe's and get the same amount of food for much less AND they'd be really delicious. 

Marco got the Chicken Milenesa Torta and loved it. It did look really good.

The pièce de résistance for me (and Adam might agree) was the grilled corn. For under $5, we got two ears of corn grilled, topped with a bit of a mayonnaise, sprinkled with cojito cheese, and dusted with a bit of powdered chili.  They were also served with some lime on the side. It was delicious! Peter and I got a similar dish at Toro (also a Ken Oringer restaurant) once, and it was as good, but I think twice the price!

Yes, I'd go back to La Verdad--I  just hope then, that they could convince us of their #1 status. 

Stay tuned...

La Verdad Taqueria Mexicana on Urbanspoon

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Exploring in Chinatown

I've been really into China lately. Because of the upcoming Olympics, I suppose, there have been a lot of great documentaries on TV about China, and I've tried to watch every one of them. The Chinese have a fascinating country, culture, language, economy...and of course, cuisine.

With this on the mind and a free evening's dinner to be planned, Jeffrey and I decided to go to Chinatown for a little culinary exploration. It's so close, and I've only eaten there once, so it was high time for a visit.

By the way, Chinatown in Boston doesn't only offer Chinese cuisine. We did an initial round through the neighborhood looking at all the different options, and somehow, our goal became bánh mì, a popular Vietnamese sandwich on a baguette with crudité, your choice of meat, and often fresh cilantro.

We came across Lu's Sandwich Shop and decided to try it out. We got bánh mì xíu mại and bánh mì bì. 

Bánh mì xíu mại is made with these yummy pork meatballs in a kind of sweet and sour sauce.

Our bánh mì bì had the traditional shredded pork skins as well as something called "sour sausage." This particular sandwich was heavy on the fish sauce (nước mắm), which, I'm sure is traditional; but, it took us by surprise (quite!) at the first bite. (Personally, I would have liked it much better with less fish sauce.)

I did prefer the pork meatball sandwich, which was--due to the cold cucumber and carrots and fresh cilantro--nicely refreshing on such a hot day.

The best part about these sandwiches: they're only $2.50 each!  Next time I'm in the area, I'll definitely go back to try some of the other varieties on the menu!

More on our Chinatown adventure later...

Lu's Sandwich Shop on Urbanspoon

Friday, July 18, 2008

Salsa a la Frontera

For two years I lived in the crossborder community formed by the cities of El Paso, Texas and Juárez, Chihuahua. Most Fridays I volunteered an eight-hour shift at Casa Vides, an immigrant shelter in the Annunciation House network. Aside from a few staples, all food was donated. Most of the house's fresh fruits and vegetables were overripe offerings from a local produce market. I quickly became accustomed to wrinkled peppers, partially fermented bananas, and dimpled avocados. Paring away undesirable parts often revealed a substantial portion of beautiful, tasty food. So good stewardship goes.

Not being a culinary whiz myself, yet interested in the resourcefulness of Vides' guests, I often observed the women and men whose turn it was to prepare la cena, or dinner, for the house that evening.

When the necessary ingredients were available the assigned cook would usually prepare salsa as a condiment to be put on each table during the meal. I've taken to making it as a dip for social functions. The following recipe includes the original preparation method, as I learned it, along with a couple of variations noted at the end. The beauty of the recipe is that it is easy to alter according to your own tastes and ingredient preferences.

ingredients (all fresh)

6-8 tomatoes
1 red bell pepper
1 white onion
3 jalapeños
8-10 cloves of garlic

1-2 limes (or 5-6 key limes)

salt to taste

1. Wash the fruits and vegetables. Peel the onion and garlic. Quarter the onion. Halve the limes and remove their seeds. Fill a large pot halfway with cold water and place on a large stovetop burner. Place whole tomatoes, pepper, jalapeños, and garlic cloves, and the quartered onion into the water. Bring to a boil.

2. Cook uncovered. Every few minutes, stir and submerge vegetables into the boiling water with a long-handled wooden spoon to ensure that all surfaces cook. Once the water comes to a boil, the following process will take approximately 15-20 minutes. When the tomato skins split, carefully remove the tomatoes from the pot and place them in a colander in the sink. When the jalapeños change color, remove them from the pot and place them in the colander. When the red pepper skin splits, remove it from the pot and place it in the colander. Turn off the burner. Then remove the garlic penultimately and the onion lastly and place them, respectively, in the colander.

3. Be careful. The vegetables will be hot. If too hot to handle, you can rinse them in cold water or wait 10-15 minutes until cool enough to handle. Peel the skin from the tomatoes and place them in a blender. Split the jalapeños from top to bottom and remove the stems (note: most of the jalapeños' heat comes from the seeds--for mild salsa, remove veins (ribs) and seeds from the jalapeños; for medium salsa, remove seeds only; for hot salsa, leave veins and some seeds intact). Place the jalapeños in the blender with the tomatoes and do not touch your face until you wash your hands. Remove the stem from the red pepper and place it in the blender with the tomatoes and jalapeños. Place the onion and garlic in the blender.

4. Purée the vegetables in the blender until smooth. Add salt and lime juice, by squeezing the limes over the salsa, to taste. Pour the salsa into a large serving bowl, cover, and chill in a refrigerator at least one (1) hour. Stir, sample, and serve.


Chunky--Although salsa is served as a purée on the border, it is also possible to prepare it chunky, as is popular in other regions of the country. To prepare chunky, dice or chunk the tomatoes instead of blending them with the other ingredients. Then mix the puréed ingredients and the cut tomatoes in the serving bowl before adding salt and lime juice to taste.

Green Chile Salsa--El Paso's proximity to New Mexico makes Long Green Chiles (a.k.a. Anaheim Chiles or California Chiles) a popular ingredient in many dishes. For Green Chile Salsa, substitute 8-10 long green chiles for the tomatoes and omit the red pepper (mostly used brighten the color of the tomato salsa).

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Bagel Rising - Allston

after alex and i dragged our behinds home from the south end, i decided that i needed a bagel slathered in cream cheese to help ease myself into the morning. i had picked up the latest Improper Bostonian, the "Boston's Best" issue, and as i paged through it i noticed that none other than Bagel Rising, the little establishment a mere block or two from my apartment, was listed as best bagel place. and so it was settled.

at just before 8 in the morning the place was already bustling, and one of the guys behind the counter warmly greeted me. i was a bit of a mess and had trouble forming sentences, but I managed to order an everything bagel with the lox cream cheese spread. i was quite excited seeing how plump and fresh all the bagels looked in the baskets behind the counter. it came to a little over $2 - perfect.

it was just my luck that they were out of the lox spread, so bageltran9000 offered me actual lox instead, free of charge. now normally the real lox knocks the price up to around $6 from what i recall, so i was quite excited to be the recipient of such a bargain.

the first bite was divine - the bagel was still warm, and the cream cheese was, well, creamy! the "everything" part was just as i liked it - nice chunks of onions both crunchy and caramelized, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, etc. i had just the right amount of lox so i could eat the bagel in 4 parts, yet still have enough lox for each piece. i must say i do not plan on getting a DD's bagel anytime soon in my neighborhood.

Bagel Rising on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Coca de Recapte

Part of my obsession with Catalan extends into Catalan cuisine, hence I decided to try out a simple recipe for flatbread with eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes from a cookbook Christopher got me. The recipe is as follows:


1 red bell pepper
1 green bell pepper
1 eggplant

1 2/3 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tbsp olive oil
1 egg yolk
3/4 cup water

1 clove crushed garlic
12 black olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 large, ripe tomatoes cut into thin slices
4 tbsp olive oil

1. Preheat the oven to 450. Roast the peppers and eggplant on a baking sheet and roast, turning several times to cook evenly, until the peppers are blistered and blackened all over and the skin of the eggplant is wrinkled and shriveled, about 45 minutes. Transfer the peppers and eggplant ot a paper bag; close the bag and set aside until cool enough to handle, about 15 minutes. Leave the oven on.

2. When cool enough to handle, peel off the charred skins fo the vegetables. Slice each bell pepper in half lengthwise and discard the seeds, ribs, and stems. Cut the peppers and eggplant into thin strips.

3. Make the coca dough. Sift the four, salt, and baking powder into a bowl. Make a well in the flour and add the olive oil and egg yolk. Gradually add the water, mixing the wet ingredients into the flour little by little with a wooen spoon. Knead the dough on al ightoy sloured board until soft, smooth, and elastic; about 1 minute. Form the dough into a ball and place in a large, lightly oiled bowl. Cover wiht a kitchen towel and leave in a warm place until the odugh puffs slightly, about 30 minutes.

4. In another bowl, combine the eggplant and bell eppper strips with the garlic and olives and season generously with salt and pepper.

5. Lightly oil a 12x9 inch rimmed baking sheet. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough into a rectangle to fit the pan. Press into the prepared pan and trim away any excess dough.

6. Cover the dough base with the tomato slices. Drizzle 2 tbsp of the olive oil over the tomato slices. Arrange the eggplant mixture evenly over the tomatoes, and drizzle with the remaining oil.

7. Bake the coca (the flatbread) until the edges are beginnign to brown, about 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly. Cut into slices and serve warm.

My problem with this recipe pretty much only had to do with the dough, which I somehow screwed up. I could have probably just added more flour, but I was convinced it would all come out in the end. Had I been able to roll out the dough and get a nice thin layer I think the bread would have been nice and crispy like it is supposed to. Nonetheless, the bread was enjoyable.

Adrienne's Lemon Bars

Adrienne brought in these Lemon Bars today. The entire office was ecstatic because, apparently, Lemon Bars are one of everyone's favorite!

They were delicious. Thanks, Adrienne!!
Gourmet | March 1999

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Hot Shortbread Base

1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

Cut butter into 1/2-inch pieces. In a food processor process all ingredients until mixture begins to form small lumps. Sprinkle mixture into a 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking pan and with a metal spatula press evenly onto bottom. Bake shortbread in middle of oven until golden, about 20 minutes. While shortbread is baking, prepare topping.

Lemon Mixture

4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons confectioners' sugar

In a bowl whisk together eggs and granulated sugar until combined well and stir in lemon juice and flour. Pour lemon mixture over hot shortbread. Reduce oven temperature to 300°F. and bake confection in middle of oven until set, about 30 minutes. Cool completely in pan and cut into 24 bars. Bar cookies keep, covered and chilled, 3 days. Sift confectioners' sugar over bars before serving.


Adrienne said that she used to make the shortbread by hand, but that it is much more easily done in a food processor since the ingredients are better incorporated, yielding a less crumbly base for the bars.

Bon Appétit!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Pieróg Casserole

I was talking about this recipe yesterday, so I thought I'd share it here with everyone. If you are craving fresh pierogi but don't have a good source to get them, try this easy (and delicious!) alternative.

This recipe is attributed to Dr. L. K. Varn whose family of Slavic ancestry make this wonderful carb-ridden dish during the holidays--or whenever! I write it below as it was dictated to me over the phone in late 2004. (Quantities are missing, so I'll have to do a little research & development--i.e., cooking & eating--to get it in a normal recipe form!)

Pieróg Casserole

-Boil Lasagne & Rinse.
-Boil Potatoes (peeled & quartered) in water and broth.
-Sauté whole onion in butter until very soft.
-Mix together the cooked potatoes & onions, butter, and cheese.
-Butter a casserole dish.
-Create layers of lasagne, potatoes, Salt & Pepper, and herbs--beginning and ending with lasagne.
-Mix together 2 eggs and 1/3 cup of Sour cream. Spread this mixture on top of the last layer.
-Bake at 350ºF for 20-30 minutes to brown top.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Morning at the mahket

I can think of few places better to spend one's post-Estate hangover than downtown at the fruit and vegetable market. Since moving into my apartment last May I have made an attempt to, each Friday morning, venture out into the city to Haymarket for an abundance of über cheap and fresh fruits and vegetables from presumably local growers. When it's cool enough there is also fresh fish - my favorite part.

today's venture cost me a mere $14, and this is what I got

1 carton strawberries
1 bunch bananas
1 lb seedless green grapes
6 Valencia oranges
4 plums
2 broccoli crowns
2 bunches of Romaine
1 lb snap peas
2 eggplants
1 lb tomatoes
1 lb red peppers
2 lb yellow squash

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Stella's Not Stellar Yet

The perfect summer evening. The perfect dinner companions. It ends there. Peter called as I was leaving work and wanted to know if I wanted to have dinner. It was the perfect night to dine outside, so I thought, "let's go to Stella's!" I had never been and always wanted to eat there. Its upscale Italian. Fun yellow awnings adorn the large windows with lots of patio seating. Peter called an got a reservation. Oh Peter, he always knows how to get a reservation. He just made a call. Unfortunately, the outdoor seating is on a first come, first serve basis and is not subject to the reservations holding us a table indoors. On a whim, we agreed to eat inside. In retrospect, this was a mistake, even if we did have to wait a little while for a table. The restaurant was uncomfortably hot and there was hardly any moving air. The waitress, finally realizing how uncomfortable we were, apologized at the end of the meal, explaining that their AC wasn't working so well. It appears that Stella's is THE hot-spot for pregnant women. I counted at least 3.... Who knows how many other women in the place were knocked-up. The entire middle of the restaurant was occupied by a large table of women gathered for a baby shower (equipped with large cake made out of diapers). Who has a baby shower on a Thursday night at 6:30?

The Food 

Warm, stuffy rooms do not promote appetites. That isn't science, that's experience. I guess tough times has fallen upon Stella's as they only provided us with one small piece of bread (Peter and Bryan had been before and noted they used to provide an entire bread basket). P & B insisted we get this fried risotto ball (arancini) for an appetizer. Unfortunately, only 2 of these balls came in an order (again, Peter and Bryan recalled 3 being previously provided) so we had to split them in awkward portions (aka I took one whole ball and P & B fought over the remaining one). I had swordfish for dinner. Jean and I had been talking about it at lunch, so when I saw it on the menu it caught my eye. The piece of fish was very small. And I don't think I've ever said this, but the potato was the best part of the dish. Bryan ordered a pasta dish which was too hot for me to try and Peter ordered pork which made him want to puke (literally). The pork looked more like veal and was pretty much flavorless (I had to try it).

To drink, I had a Sam Adams Summer Ale...hoping it would transport me back to the summer nights I spent outside at AriBar on Boston Harbor. Unfortunately (I seem to be typing that word a lot), the thoughts of enjoyable summer evenings lasted only for a fleeting moment, because then the music began. Halfway through the meal someone decided to turn on unbelievably loud music. It was so loud and inappropriate that almost everyone in the restaurant looked up when they turned it on. It was strange trumpet music and it was so brassy and harsh that it was hard to hear P & B who were sitting very close by.

The highlight of the meal was a near Andrew Keenan Bolger sighting. We decided, however, that the person we saw was far too tall to really be AKB....but this possibility certainly provided a needed excitement to a rather otherwise disappointing meal.

About the reviewer: Adam is editor of Adam's Blog, a unique look at decorating, food, culture, and other random occurrences. Join Adam for the premiere of his second blog season on August 8th (8.8.08).

For another view, check out Boston Chomps.

Stella on Urbanspoon

Bacon-wrapped, Roasted Walnut-filled Prunes

I made this recipe last night for a cocktail party. I love things wrapped in bacon, and one of my favorite things at our local Venezuelan joint, Orinoco, is their bacon-wrapped, almond-stuffed dates.

I got this recipe from a Greek mezé cookbook given to me by the dean. It was delicious, but I have a few things I would do differently next time.

24 large, pitted prunes
1 1⁄2 cups dry red wine
1⁄2 teaspoon cracked black peppercorns
24 walnut halves
24 thin strips of Canadian bacon or pancetta
6 slices whole-wheat bread, crusts removed, cut into quarters

1. Place the prunes in a bowl and marinate at room temperature with the wine and
peppercorns for 6 hours. Remove and drain. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a stain-
less-steel baking pan, large enough to fit the bread squares in one layer.

2. Stuff each of the prunes with one walnut half. Wrap one strip of bacon around each
prune and place each piece on one of the bread quarters. Secure with a toothpick.
Place the prunes in the pan and bake for about 15 minutes, or until the bacon has
crisped and the bread is golden.


First of all, not being forwardly looking enough, I only had 2 hours to prepare this, and if you read closely (as I didn't), you'll see that the prunes are to marinate for 6 hours in the wine. In order to speed this up, I zapped them for 1 minute in the microwave in the marinade and after soaking for an hour or so, I zapped them once more. In all, they probably marinated for an hour and a half, and I think they were sufficiently moist, but I didn't taste much of the wine flavor in the finished product. I'd like to compare this with the procedure called for in the recipe to see what difference the 6 hours make.

Secondly, I didn't use canadian bacon or pancetta. I used regular ol' American-style bacon (smoked poitrine, if you will). This is the kind of bacon I usually see "bacon-wrapped" dishes wrapped in, so I think this is a fine substitution. Unfortunately, I didn't notice that I had bought the maple "flavor" until after I had opened the package. I didn't even know such a thing existed. The maple flavor was quite strong (and this might also be a reason I didn't taste a subtle wine flavor?!). Anyway, I cut the strips of bacon in half and wrapped the stuffed prunes with that.

My last comment would be that--given I used a different kind of bacon--the prunes need to cook longer than the prescribed 15 minutes. I'd say it's closer to 30. I ran out of time and took them out earlier than I would have liked to, and I think the bacon could have definitely been crispier. They still tasted really nice, but crispier bacon would have definitely improved the dish as a whole. (I also didn't serve the bread with it since they had become soggy from the bacon drippings and did not get a chance to crisp up either.)

The Verdict: If you like bacon, dried plums, and nuts, definitely try this recipe! :-) It's easy to make and delicious. You might have to fool around with the oven times to make sure the bacon is crispy; but, if you do, I think you'll be making these anytime you have guests over!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Chef Chang's House

After a long day at Six Flags New England yesterday, a bunch of us decided to go to Chef Chang's House, which is a favorite among our friends. I enjoy this place for its good, fairly priced food and its attentive and friendly staff--PLUS, dinner comes with free hot tea for the table, which is always appreciated!

[ASIDE] Speaking of free beverages, this restaurant has staff whose sole purpose seems to be to make sure everyone's water glasses are filled to the brim. The more we ate here, the more noticeable it got, so a fun game we like to play is seeing who can empty his/her water glass before it's topped-off. It's hard to do, but I am happy to report that last night was my first time actually doing it! But anyway...

Back to the food.

We always start off with tons of appetizers, but the favorites seem to be the Crab Rangoon, Egg Rolls, Scallion Pancakes, Chicken Fingers, and Boneless Spareribs. (Wow, that's a lot, isn't it?! But I guess there is usually a lot of us when we go, so I should mention that they do well at supporting larger groups!)

For main dishes, our table seems to be partial to chicken dishes, e.g., the sesame chicken, General Gao's (Tso's) chicken. Our friends are General Gao's "connoisseurs," and they like Chef Chang's version because it seems not to be as fatty as at other places, and the coating is a nice chestnut flour breading.

I really like their Moo-Shi dishes and have enjoyed both the chicken or pork. The Lo-Mein is also very good.

The portions are quite sizable, so you usually walk out with a take-home box or two, making Chef Chang's an even better value!

One thing that we have never gotten is CCH's Peking duck, which is a house specialty. Each time we're there, someone in the restaurant gets it, and we get to watch as the crispy bird is carved table-side. We all decided to forgo the usuals next time and have the duck, so stay tuned!

All in all, Chef Chang's House is definitely recommended by these gourmands, so check it out the next time you're around Audubon Circle!

Chef Chang's House on Urbanspoon