Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Restaurant Recession Deals

Click here for a list of deals from restaurants all around Boston from L'Espalier to 28 Degrees.  Looks like the recession's beginning to hit hard!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Brunch at Union

Yesterday we made the long (one block) trek to Union for brunch. Union is located on Washington Street in the South End and is owned by the same group that owns Aquitaine. Union is a relatively small restaurant with a sleek metropolitan feel on the inside; black leather booths, tall ceilings, and the feeling of airiness all contribute to the great atmosphere. Union's brunch menu isn't very large but I have a feeling, most things on it are very good.

I ordered the $9.95 Early Riser All Inclusive Brunch Special, which included:

Cinnamon Swirl Sour Cream Coffee Cake

Choice of:

Chef’s Special Omelet
Served with Homefries & Choice of Toast

Smoked Salmon Scramble
House Cured Salmon, Crème Fraiche, Scallions, Homefries & Choice of Toast

B-52 French Toast
Orange Marmalade, Maple Syrup and Smoked Bacon

Served with:
Fresh Squeezed Orange or Grapefruit Juice
House Coffee and Tea

I chose the B-52 French Toast. While the coffee cake was just so-so, the French toast was awesome. Not too soggy and just the right thickness, the toast was battered in Frangelica, Kualuah, and Bailey's Irish Cream. The toast dipped in maple syrup and orange marmalade was a perfect combination. I also have to note that the coffee they serve at Union is really great. To me it had an almost chocolate taste to it. I asked the waiter what brand they brew and he told me it was Lavazza. I'll have to pick some of that up to try at home.

Bryan had the Huevos Rancheros. A crispy tostada with two eggs any style, black beans, cheddar cheese, home-fries & Salsa Ranchera ($11), Bryan liked it a lot. The tostada was nice and crispy, the eggs perfectly done (he asked for them over-medium) and the home-fries seasoned well.

Overall, we had a great experience at Union and will definitely be back for brunch and can't wait to try it out for dinner.

Union Bar and Grille on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Educating Peter

If you don't know much about wine but are interested in getting informed you should pick up the book: Educating Peter: How Anybody Can Become an (Almost) Instant Wine Expert. Educating Peter follows Lettie's attempt to teach famous Rolling Stone movie reviewer Peter Travers that there's more to wine than just a "fatty Chardonnay". The book discusses everything from the different types of grapes, to each wine region in Bordeaux, to meeting up with some of Napa's top wine producers. Lettie provides the information while Peter provides the wit and humor. The two together make for a very enjoyable story. The best part of the book is that you can take away very useful tidbits of information that are easy to remember that will help you pick out wine next time you go to the store or out to eat. At the end of each chapter, there is a list of the top wine producers of the region you just read about. I enjoyed the book a lot and can't wait to try out my new-found knowledge.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Smith & Wollensky

To celebrate the historical inauguration of our new president, Bryan and I decided to go to Smith and Wollensky to celebrate. We've both been to S&W's before for restaurant week and both had good meals so we were anxious to return for some good steak.

Smith and Wollensky is located inside an old castle structure in downtown Boston that used to serve as an armory as well as a medical hospital before it was refurbished for the 21st century. The atmosphere is very nice, a gentleman's club feel with oak booths and dim lighting (not sure if I would consider it romantic, but it's cool nonetheless).

Our reservations were for 6pm, and when we arrived, we were taken right away to our seats. Flipping through the menu we both decided on ordering some wine. I ordered a glass of the St. Michelle Riesling (which I enjoyed a lot) and Bryan ordered a glass of Syrah (the brand escapes me) which he thought was too "hot" (a wine term meaning the wine has an excess of alcohol). After receiving our wine and looking through the menu, we were handed another menu for a prix-fixe 3-course meal for $50. It was being offered due to the recession, and we opted for it since it was such a good deal (compared to the other steep prices on the menu). Bryan started with the Wedge salad. He enjoyed it, commenting that the tomatoes were relatively more fresh than usual for this time of year. The best part were the chunks of bacon covering the wedge. I started off with the split pea soup. I've had it before and it is good, not stellar but good. I would recommend getting some crushed pepper on it when they offer it. We also were given bread and fresh butter. Bryan and I thought the bread was excellent. It was a small pan of pull-apart yeast rolls covered in sea salt and rosemary; they were truly delicious. I don't know if this is a new addition to the restaurant but during restaurant week we were never served it.

For our main course, we both chose the Filet Mignon. I've had the filet there two other times and both times, it was good. Last night however, it was not. At a high-end steak house, you normally would not use the words "horrible" to describe any type of meat but that's exactly what both of our filets were. First, the cut of meat was not good. We couldn't cut through the filet without hitting a tendon or some white gristle. The meat was too charred on top and way too chewy. A good filet mignon should practically cut itself and melt in your mouth, I struggled with a steak knife to cut through my meat as did Bryan. The meat was not flavorful and quite bland. We asked the waiter about the cut of meat since neither of us had filet mignon with white tendons in it. The waiter asked the chef who said that it was the same cut of meat given to people who ordered off the regular menu (a thought that did go through our heads but never expressed to the waiter) and if we weren't happy with the cut, we could send it back. Neither of us did because, quite honestly, if everyone got the same cut, what was the point? Normally a regular filet costs about 40 dollars. Based on this experience, I would never pay that amount for a filet there. I should mention that we also ordered a "side for two" of the Truffle Mac & Cheese. It was good, but how can anyone mess up mac & cheese covered in truffle oil?

For dessert, Bryan ordered the Crème Brûlée, which was very good (second best thing we had-- first was the bread), and I ordered the chocolate cake, which was too dry and crumbly for my liking.

Overall, based on last night's experience alone, I would not return to Smith and Wollensky. I've had many better meals at Capital Grille and Fleming's to risk getting another horrible one at S&W. Again, We have been there in the past and have had decent meals so perhaps this was just an off night? My official recommendation though is to not take the risk and get a great meal at Fleming's right across the way.

Smith & Wollensky on Urbanspoon

Sunday, January 18, 2009

647 Pajama Brunch

Braving the snow storm this morning four of us trekked pajama-clad to the South End for a delightful Sunday pajama brunch at Tremont 647. While I'm a big fan of 647 for dinner or drinks, I had never actually gone for breakfast. We got a round of applause from the staff upon walking in thanks to surviving the cold and snow in pjs, a nice start to our meal. It was definitely hopping at 1pm when we went, and it was fun to see all the staff and (some) patrons all dressed down and scrubby.

After caffeinating ourselves, it was time for our food. I chose one of the specials for the morning, a scramble with steak and caramelized onions along with toast, hash browns, and applewood bacon. It was a ton of food, very tasty, and not overpriced at $12.

Chris had the gingerbread pancakes, which according to him were really good but not very ginger-y. I didn't taste them, so it could just be his being sick that inhibited his taste buds. I might have expected more than 3 small-ish pancakes for $9.

Melanie kept it on the lighter side with her fruit and yogurt parfait with a side of poached eggs. The parfait looked good, but for $7 I would have wanted something more substantial.

Kristen was the only member of our party somewhat disappointed with her meal, that being the cinnamon french toast. She said that it tasted overly-bready, like toast with cinnamon, as if it hadn't been given enough time soaking in batter.

Overall we had a nice time all cozy in our pajamas and for the most part satisfied with our food. I would definitely do this again, and pending not feeling so hungover, I would love to taste some of their fun brunch cocktails and other food items.

Tremont 647 on Urbanspoon

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Sam Adam's Brewery

If you find yourself with a few hours to kill and only a couple of bucks, make your way over to the Sam Adam's Brewery located off the Stony Brook T-stop on the Orange Line. For a suggested donation of $2, you get a quick tour of the brewery (the Boston brewery brews beer only for kegs for Boston bars, beer shows, and the tour tastings) a free glass, and a tasting of three beers: Sam Adams Lager, a seasonal beer, and an experimental beer that probably won't ever see the shelf. While the friendly and funny tour guide goes through the beer-making process rather quickly the tasting is a lot of fun and by the end the whole room is chatting up a storm. Go early, since they "sell" out quickly. Doors open at 10am and tours are 45 minutes. Last tour leaves at 3pm.

Jacob Wirth

Jacob Wirth is located in an interesting (historical?) building sitting right between Chinatown and the Theatre District. From the outside, it looks like a pub from a Charles Dickens novel, with an old clock hanging out front. This weekend, we have company, L & A, and we decided to try out Jacob Wirth, which was great, since I've always wanted to go.

Jacob Wirth is a German restaurant that's been around since 1868. It has a wide selection of German beers as well as local American brews. The menu is filled with German specialties all served in generous portions. The inside is large and comfortable with a very cheerful atmosphere.

We started off the evening by going through their extensive beer menu and ordering some great beers. (Sorry for the image quality, we used a camera phone.) I got a Hacker-Pschorr Weisse, which is a really delicious wheat beer. It's slightly fruity, and reminds me of my days in Munich. Peter got the Paulaner Weißbier. He says "It was billed as having an aromatic and fruity taste, with a slightly bitter aftertaste. It was definitely very aromatic--my first impression was almost like a Riesling smell. It was delicious with no bitter aftertaste."

Peter and L got the Sauerbraten, which is described as "Melt-in-Your-Mouth Sweet 'N Sour Braised Beef Round served over Dill Spaetzle, with Gingersnap Gravy and Red Cabbage." P said, "The beef was very tender. I loved the Spätzle, which reminded me of, like, German gnocchi, and the Gingersnap gravy was awesome. They gave me a ton of meat, so for the price, it was a really good deal." L also liked hers and mentioned really liking the basket of cornbread every table seems to get. She also said that her mudslide, which she had for dessert, was good.

I felt adventurous and got the German Sampler (although, without the beer). It was a great deal. Normally, I would have gotten the Sampler with its beer pairings, but since I was impatient and had already ordered a beer while waiting to be seated, I skipped it. The Sampler was a 4-course meal, which included 1) a potato pancake with stewed apples and a cinnamon sour cream on top, 2) an appetizer-sized portion of Wiener Schnitzel served with dill Spätzle, 3) your choice of sausage from Knackwurst, Bratwurst, or Weißwurst, and 4) a German-style chocolate cake.

A ordered the Sweet Potato Raviloi, which he said were good, but I think he had a bit of buyer's remorse after seeing the feast I was having! (The Sampler, really was a great deal and delicious.)

All in all, we're really glad to have finally made it to Jacob Wirth, and I hope we get back there again soon. Oh! and on Friday nights, they do a "Sing-along with Mel," which was very fun.

Jacob Wirth on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Fantastic Reisling

I just had a fantasic Reisling.

Producer: Weingut August & Thomas Perll
Wine region:Mittelrhein
Vineyard: Hamm Feuerlay
Variety: Riesling
Classification: Kabinett
Vintage: 2007

I'm not sure what a bottle goes for in the States but in Germany it's about 4.5 Euros (that's about 6 dollars) and it's an incredible bargain at that price. It was refreshing and tasted like the most wonderful apricots but not overly sweet. If anyone sees a bottle, pick one up for me.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

House of Siam

House of Siam has a pretty solid reputation here in the South End. Many people I know like it and say it's really good Thai food. Even though Thai cuisine is not my favorite (although, Bangkok Bistro is pretty amazing), I've been to House of Siam a few times now so I feel I can write a pretty honest review of the place.

This particular night I went with Bryan, Bob, and Adam. The place was busy but not overcrowded. The atmosphere in the restaurant is good...not great, but good. The floor plan is split between two levels which makes it interesting and there are some nice pieces of Thai art around... overall, it's cozy.

Bryan ordered the Pad Thai ($10.95). Pad Thai is rice noodles pan-fried with eggs, chicken, shrimp, bean sprouts, and ground peanuts. Bryan thought the dish was delicious. He asked for it to be spicy and they delivered. The chicken was very tender and flavorful and it was just what he was looking for. Overall, a thumbs up on the Pad Thai.

Bob ordered the Crispy Pad Thai (11.95). The waitress asked if he had ever had it before, he said yes (from another restaurant) and she warned him that it was sweet and crispy. Bob was fine with that. When it arrived, I was surprised at how much food was on the plate! The noodles were deep fried and crisp but were a lot skinnier than normal pad Thai noodles (almost like french frites). Bob couldn't decide what to think of the dish. He liked it overall but was a bit weirded out by the texture or something. I tasted the dish and it was a bit sweet and I thought it tasted sort of like popcorn. Bob mentioned it looked like packaging material or something from Michael's Craft's (He ate the whole thing though).

Adam ordered the Yellow Curry Beef and I ordered the Yellow Curry Chicken (12.50). We both liked the sauce for the dish but honestly, the chicken and the beef were flavorless. The meat was prepared separately it seemed (with no flavoring) and then just tossed into the dish. The great flavor of the sauce didn't soak into the meat and it was really noticeable. We didn't care for our dishes.

Maybe it's because I'm not a huge fan of Thai food but I wasn't impressed with House of Siam this time or any other time I've been. I welcome you to go and try it out since it is consistently ranked well in Boston Magazine.

House of Siam is located on Columbus Avenue. A second location has just opened up where Thai Village was on Tremont Street.

House of Siam on Urbanspoon

San Francisco!

Jeff and I recently got to go to San Francisco for a conference; and, so of course, we had to add some fun restaurants to our agenda.

We asked friends and family for recommendations and checked-out Urbanspoon to see what was hot. We also read what Patricia Unterman had to say in her San Francisco Food Lover's Guide. We weren't steered wrongly in any case.

For our first dinner out, we decided to go to Bodega Bistro, a Vietnamese restaurant in Little Saigon, which wasn't too far away from our hotel. Wow! What a find! We both loved it.

For starters, we had an order of the cha gio, which are Vietnamese spring rolls. These were stuffed with mushrooms and pork and served with traditional lettuce, veggies, and herbs. As some of you may know, you take a leaf of lettuce, put some of the herbs (mint, lemon balm, etc.) and veggies (cucumbers and carrots) and wrap that around the rolls. You dip them in a yummy sweet/sour/spicy sauce, and it's just an amazing amalgamation of deliciousness.

The book recommended also trying the roasted squab, which it called a "must-order." We got it, and it was great. Here's what Jeff had to say about it: "It was a deep-friend pigeon served with the head and feet intact…the latter of which I of course ate." The meat was delicious as was the crispy skin; both were seasoned really well, and I'm definitely glad we ordered it.

We also had a Vietnamese beer each.

For mains, Jeff got something whose name escapes us. He describes it thusly: "some kind of shrimp/pork combo in a big pancake you wrapped in lettuce, mint, thai basil, etc." He seemed to like it. I had the Bistro's house Pho, and it was really good. It was a ton of food, and all for an extremely good price. We HIGHLY recommend Bodega Bistro!

Bodega Bistro on Urbanspoon


The next day, after my presentation, we had a nice chunk of time for lunch. We also saw a restaurant recommended as a "value" called Naan-n-Curry, and there was one right across from our hotel! Turns out, it's a chain, but it was still really good and was a nice value.

It just so happened that they have a lunch buffet, and the rest of the Linguists at the conference seemed to be there, too. For $10.95-ish, it was all you can eat naan, aloo gobi, chickpeas, tandoori chicken, lamb curry, palak paneer, etc. Oh, and drinks were included, both sodas and chai.

Our only problem was that it was a bit smokey in the restaurant (not cigarettes, but from the kitchen), and they ended up opening up a door, which happened to be right beside our table. We understood, however, when we got back to the hotel and noticed that we reeked of smoke--and did for the rest of the day.

I'd definitely go back, but they should really get that smoke issue fixed.

Naan-n-Curry on Urbanspoon


For dinner that night we had--you guessed it--Asian food!

We went to dinner with our professor, and, based on SG's tip, we made our way (through the Tenderloin, San Fran's historically seedier section) to Bang San Thai Cuisine.

In additional to good Thai food, this location also offers an Vegan menu.

We all started out with goldn fried tofu.

I got the Pad Kee Mao (Drunken Noodles) with Chicken; MT and Jeff got the Pad Thai; and SG got Pad Ka Na (Chicken stir-fried with Chinese brocolli and black bean sauce).

Everyone seemed to enjoy his/her meal, as most plates were practically licked clean. I actually thought it was the best drunken noodles I'd ever had, and Bangkok Bistro in Boston makes some darn good ones!

Bang San Thai Cuisine on Urbanspoon

I suppose I should stop here and save the rest of our trip for an upcoming post, so stay tuned!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Sparkle Eggs

My mother has a peep of chickens that we get a ton of fresh eggs from. I decided it might be cool to use their eggs to help decorate for Christmas! Getting the glitter to stick to the eggshell was a lot harder than it looks!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Tasty Moroccan in New York's East Village

Last weekend Christopher and I headed down to New York City to see Spring Awakening before it closes on the 18th, and naturally we had to go somewhere fun for lunch. He suggested we go to a Moroccan restaurant in the East Village, Cafe Mogador, somewhere he had dined at before and very much enjoyed.

After a little confusion with which way to turn on St. Mark's, we found the place nestled amongst a bunch of other cute and eclectic looking restaurants and shops. The place was hopping at 11:30am on a Saturday morning, more than likely thanks to it's brunch menu. The crowd was an interesting mix, mostly people in their late 20s, some hipster-types, a few middle-aged couples...a fun crowd.

We all started out with a round of Moroccan iced tea, which is simply sweetened mint tea- delicious. When I was in Morocco my host family made the hot version all the time and it was incredible. To accompany these we got a hummus platter with pita that seemed hot from the oven. We were all a fan - I like when there is oil in the middle, and in this case chickpeas scattered about the plate. The waitress also brought us extra pita free of charge.
For my main dish I chose the Bastilla, what I thought was the most interesting thing on the menu. The menu describes it as 'layers of crispy filo pastry filled with chicken, egg, almonds, an exotic blend of herbs and spices.' It was absolutely delicious - a curiously sweet but savory dish topped with powdered sugar. A side salad with beets and red onions accompanied it.

A friend ordered the Mixed platter, which normally comes with tabouli, hummus, babaganoush, and salad. She substituted the tabouli with roasted eggplant, which I think was a great decision. Everything on the platter looked fresh and delicious. Two others got the falafel plate with salad and tahini - a nice-sized portion of falafel nicely fried and not too greasy with a light and refreshing yogurt dipping sauce. The 5th person in our party got the chicken cous-cous, which was served alongside chickpeas, raisins, and vegetables. It came with a nice piece of chicken on the bone, and though I didn't try it it certainly smelled wonderful.

There are so many other items on their menu I wanted to try, including their tagines, meat grill items, and Moroccan-themed brunch items. With reasonable prices, an upbeat atmosphere, great service, and a fun location, I can't wait to eat here again next time I'm in New York and craving Moroccan!

Café Mogador on Urbanspoon

A Sad Day for Fenway Restaurants!

That whole block on Peterborough, which included our favorite taquería, El Pelón El Pelón Taquería on Urbanspoon, has gone up in flames!

Click here for video of the fire.

image source: