Friday, December 30, 2011

Follow The Honey to Crema!

After a period of worrying about being alone for the Holidays, I ended up with visits from both one of my younger sisters and my mother. It is always so nice to have your family around, especially when you can show them some of your favorite spots, or explore some place new!
On Wednesday, my mother and her friend's last day in Boston, I decided to take them on a little tour of the Harvard part of Cambridge and we got to explore both old and new:)

We first ventured into one of Greater Boston's newest novelty stores, Follow The Honey. And what might this novelty store novel in? Well, ok, so it's obvious, but the sheer range of products, gizmos and treats that are on display in this tiny little ground level store on Mass Ave is remarkable.

 Of course, they have an endless collection of honeys, both local and exotic. Luckily, they also have a tasting bar where you can sample any product you are curious of...which for me was many! I tried some delicious whipped bumbleberry honey, some 'gritty' honey collected from rare killer bees, and of course, I had to sample their pungent truffle oil honey - my mother was not as enthused...but hey, it's an acquired taste!

The way the store is organized is part of what gives this place its quality and charm.  It is organized in a homely, cottage-like way with vintage furniture displaying things from specialty honey, to honey infused spreads, honey beauty products, books and more.  

In one cupboard, I found some of their unique honey spreads, from a chocolatey-honey spread (like Nutella...but maybe better!?) and the whipped bumbleberry honey that I sampled. Things like this are so versatile and can be used in teas, on toast, over ice cream...or on their own:)

Some of my favorite items were held in a cabinet of cubby holes; honey inspired mints, throat lozenges and simple but genius sticks of honey for a sweet snack on-the-go. And yes, that is a bee-hive inspired tie you spy;)
Other novelties within the novelty would be the self-serve honey tap set up in the back and a little mini fridge with a small but specialized selection of cheeses.
The staff are also just about as sweet as the product they peddle, walking into Follow The Honey is indeed like finding a little pot of sweet gold at the end of...well an avenue:)

After our stint in the hive, I brought my guests into the square where, defeated by the powerfully chilly winds, our ambling brought us to refuge at Cream Cafe, a favorite espresso hub for students and residents of the Square. I have always wanted to try it because it receives rave support from my fellow food bloggers.

On a cold day, it is a busy place, but we were lucky enough to snag three spots at their espresso bar and despite the little slips in the specifications of our order, once we were all set up, it became a great rest stop.
I am always happy to show off parts of Boston to visitors and I am even more happy when I end up finding a new gem.  Follow The Honey will be revisited..and with Harvard Square just round the corner, a nice little excursion is easily justified...with or without out-of-town visitors!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Dazzled at The Bristol Lounge

 Being away from my family and not able to go home for the holidays, I was worried that I may be spending this Christmas on the lonely side.  Fortunately however, I managed to pry one of my sisters away from home in Toronto and she came to spend a solid few days here with me:)
Of course, after boasting about all that Boston had to offer, I could not afford to disappoint! Having a food blog certainly lays on a bit of pressure! Lucky for me, I had just the treat to introduce Rosie to a solid food scene in Boston - The Bristol Lounge located across the Boston Commons in the Four Seasons Hotel.
As it turned out, this was in fact the only meal we ended up eating out - all others were spread out among various different homecooked dinners and holidays parties.
Before heading to the restaurant, we had to make a pit stop at the complimentary beverage station offered by the Hotel...with our faces practically frozen solid, this was much appreciated!
Now before I get started, I must admit that part of what made this Christmas Eve breakfast so special, was that it was a prize I had won earlier this year through a Twitter contest. So the whole thing was orchestrated as though we were VIP and with pricing not being an issue, my sibling was easily impressed:)

I started off with a deliciously creamy soy latte made with freshly ground Illy coffee. It was essential after such a freezing trek over.

As suggested by The Bristol Lounge themselves, (and other guests of the restaurant), we ordered their Lemon Ricotta hot cakes. They come drizzled in a plum sauce with plump blackberries and candied lemon rind as a garnish.
 It is essentially a pancake, but made with ricotta cheese, so apparently it is much healthier than your average pancake. The inside is gooey and delicious with a subtle taste of lemon.
We also ordered a side of fruit and the two together made for a perfectly fresh, zesty and very tasty start.

The next item we ordered was their famous lobster Eggs Benedict. We felt especially spoiled with this entree as it was not listed on their menu...but the Chef made it up special just for us!
And lucky he did too, the lobster meat was succulent and topped with two poached clouds...or I suppose they technically are called eggs.
It was served with a half of an avocado, breakfast potatoes (which I could have done with more of they were so yummy), a roasted tomato and this tangy-sweet corn salsa. The Bristol Lounge managed to make this dish, which, traditionally is quite heavy, go down a treat:)

After our meal, with our bellies and eyes quite satisfied, we couldn't help but ask for a picture in front of their amazing Christmas tree. At first glimpse, I thought it was just a very large, very decorated tree....

But upon closer examination, I found it to be a gigantic tree made of all different sized Teddy bears!
Rumour has it that they even had a Teddy Bear Mascot ramping around a couple days earlier...too bad we missed that!
This first initiation into Boston was a perfect treat for my sister, she was thrilled with everything from the minute we walked in. Being a prize winner certainly helps as we were taken care of with such attention that we felt as though we were the only ones in the whole restaurant! This is no easy feat as the BL is always booked when it comes to Holiday weekends...with the spot on service and food, it is no wonder why!

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Christmas Alert

It is very difficult to get into the 'Holiday Spirit' when it is practically tropical outside.. I realised yesterday that most of my gift shopping is not done and the reason I have felt little to no pressure is largely that Christmas feels at least a month away...surprise! It is the day after tomorrow, making matters even more pressing is the fact that many of my friends are off home for a quick Merry trip home so I need to get them their gifts tomorrow!

At least there are reminders around me in terms of festive culinary specials...Eggnog Lattes from your local coffee shop are always a plus, as are gingerbread truffles conveniently available throughout the holiday season from Godiva...Yumm! (If you have not picked up your free truffle, there is still time this month to sign up as a Rewards member :) ) Oh and the overwhelming presence of gingebread house making kits from Whole Foods  and Trader Joes. (Note to self - must pick one up for Sunday festivities!!)

So there is really no excuse for me to be so behind on my holiday shopping.
I hope most of you have not let the weather keep you in a strange no man's land in terms of seasonal orientation. If it has, let this be a reminder to you! A mayday of sorts to get out and finish up what's left..or at the very least, indulge in some Holiday treats!

And with that, I wish you a very Merry Christmas:)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

When blogging and publishing collide

As some of you may know, Boston Brunchers is a group of avid bloggers who get together about once a month to try out different brunching hot spots.  I have been lucky enough to attend quite a few of these brunches and over the past year, it has grown both in number and in reach.  From more traditional brunches like last weekend's excursion to Temple Bar to bottomless brunches like the one we enjoyed at Local 149, the Brunchers have expanded going to see the Boston Ballet, hopping aboard the Odyssey and just last Sunday, a group of us were invited into the headquarters of the Harvard Common Press - a leading publisher of Cookbooks across America.
This was an extra special treat as what goes on within this warehouse on Albany street is not something you can just walk into. For our visit, they had prepared a couple of cocktails, and some great treats from various of their published cookbooks.

Their festive Cranberry Punch from edible Rhody was sweet and delicious...and dangerous:)

A series of baked goods, like their Raspberry-cream cheese coffee cake (A Real American Breakfast) and some delicious spinach and cheese casserole waited for us as well and it was so nice to see the recipes and origins of each item displayed.  
The folks at Harvard Common Press had really done things up for us, they even finished decorating their beautiful workplace with authentic Mexican woven carpets and figures..something which apparently had been a project in the making for a while:)

We all filled our plates and were taken to an adjacent room which actually serves as Bruce's wife's art studio. There was a big group of us, and I got to meet many new blogging faces.
That is another thing I so enjoy about these events, putting faces to blog names and twitter handles...
What was most interesting for me however, was what came next - which was a discussion led by Adam on the future of bloggers in the cookbook, publishing world. There is a huge place for some of these talented and enthusiastic writers and the discussion that followed was on of innovation and inspiration.

As my blog does not focus on recipes (I would never subject anyone to my cooking...), this discussion did not readily apply to me, but it was still interesting to see the inter-connectivity between the publishing world and the work my fellow bloggers put into their sites and creative archives.
After a stimulating morning of yummy treats and intellectual banter, we all went our separate ways. However, I am fairly sure we were all renewed with a sense of community, an appreciation of the family we have found through Boston Brunchers and the potential to really build something special.
I myself am proud to be a part of such a great group and am already looking forward to the great collaborations we are likely to see as the publishing and blogging worlds collide.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Smoked Meats and Southern Treats!

Boston's food scene has been an exciting place of late with an impressive number of celebrity chefs bunking down with top chef positions or their very own visions of what's needed next.  From Jason Santos and Blue Inc. to Jaime Bisonnette's head honcho position at both Coppa and Toro, all areas of Boston are flourishing.  
Just a couple of weeks ago, Tiffani Faison, who placed second during the first season of Top Chef, opened her first ever solo restaurant project in Fenway: Sweet Cheeks. Hers' is a challenging concept in Boston - traditional, Texan BBQ, focusing on smoked meat and all the usual accompaniements.  When you think about it..there is definitely a lack of good ol' southern food up in here. 

I was a bit nervous heading into the restaurant this past Tuesday because there had been so much hype around this opening...that's what you get when a celebrity chef opens a restaurant!  However, once I stepped inside and was met by the smell of sweet and smoking meats, I somehow knew I would not be disappointed. 

The interior layout does justice to the laid back, casual feel of any true smokehouse. A bar on the left is mirrored by an open kitchen to the right where Chef Faison herself can be seen bustling around setting orders straight. The restroom can be found at the end of make shift hallway lined with old and empty giant tin cans.

My friends and I plopped down pretty quickly and ordered some drinks. I did not order any of their cocktails...but I did go for a 'sprecher's' ginger beer which - at 5 dollars - was a bit pricey, but once placed in a big mason jar full of ice really is a perfect libation:)
As far as food goes, first thing is first....order a bucket of Buttermilk Biscuits served with honey butter. These arrived an followed shortly by the most tantalizing smell. The biscuits were gargantuan and although 4 for ten dollars made for a good deal, I think it would be better to price them individually...I shudder to think how many of these beauties get tossed...
As for the meat, there are a couple ways you can navigate the menu. I would opt for the meat by weight option. At 19 dollars a pound, you can order by the quarter lb.  My friends and I ordered a 1/4 lb. of each type of meat: Great Northern brisket, Berkshire pork belly, Berkshire pulled pork and pulled chicken. Everything comes served in delightful tin trays and the meat is served alongside traditional fixings..aka white bread, pickles and onions.  The meats were all delicious, so tasty and tender - they must have been smoked with gentle, tender, loving care for days! (then again, they probably are!)

Sides must also be considered and one cannot (and should not) resist fried temptations such as the Fried Green tomatoes and Okra. We also ordered their mac and cheese and coleslaw (you know...for some vegetables...) The latter two did not show up at the table however, having been forgotten by our waitress. This actually ended up being a blessing as we found we could not have done them justice anyways!
We decided to skip dessert - no matter how tempting the Giant nutter butter looked, I could not even begin to image getting through it without ice cream...something they unfortunately did not have on the menu or in some secret nook of the kitchen. 
In the end, despite the little slips of memory and menu shortcomings, what we did have was absolutely incredible. We finished our meal feeling full and warm, ready to venture back into the cold outdoors...

Although I did see a couple gallant young fellows test their post-Sweet Cheeks selves on this ominous friends and I steered clear of it - no need to associate such a delicious experience with any degree of moderation:)
I am already very much looking forward to my next visit...lucky for me, I also have some leftovers in my fridge at this very moment...second dinner anyone?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Above Par at Temple Bar!

Temple Bar, located at 1688 Mass Ave in between Harvard and Porter Square, is a spot known for its bar and drinks scene this side of the river. It's little wonder then, that it's brunch is not as well known. However! What is not well known does not mean not well done, and I am very happy to say that brunch at Temple Bar is worth the mid-morning trip.

After a brief hiatus in gatherings, the Boston Brunchers gathered for the first December brunch event. (The second as it so happened...was the very next day!) Meeting up at 11 oclock, we had a great long table and it did not take too long before all the hungry brunchers had assembled.

I always show up with an appetite and it is such a pleasure (and a relief!) to see some little tid -bites waiting for us. Temple Bar had some deliciously moist banana bread and some slightly less impressive double chocolate muffins.  I ordered a latte, and it came out hot and rich using LavAzza coffee..just the way I like it! It even came with a little cookie - I was already feeling quite settled.
 What I noticed right off the bat was the attentiveness of the staff. Little details that usually go unwonted like extra plates appearing out of thing air just when you need them, empty plates and cups being cleared with a flourish and detailed answers to any questions. (And believe a group, we ask some pretty specific questions!)

Unusually for me, I had my choice picked well in advance -the Cheddar-bacon Biscuit with house-made maple-sage sausage and eggs.  This dish had jumped out at me right from the start - this not meaning that the other dishes were not tantalizing as well - but I just have a thing for buttery biscuits:) As can be gathered by the picture.. this guy really did the job. It came out piled high (but not impossibly high) with delicious scrambled eggs, thick juicy and slightly spicy sausage, just the right amount of cheese all between a hot buiscuit . The latter was special in that it was embedded with cheddar and bits of bacon...oh and a pot of red jalapeno relish was served as an accompaniement...on the road to Temple Bar yet?

It was delicious.

The home fries were also a hit, crispy and seasoned just right. I also got to try some of the 'Croque' Eggs Benedict as well as the steak and eggs. Everything was executed with a masterful balance of stodge and is that even possible?

Oh - and the prices were right too. My dish, which I could not finish and now have enough for another meal in my fridge, was only 10 dollars! The most expensive thing was the steak and eggs and this came out to 16 dollars as well.

After all this eating, the pastry chef surprised us further with an array of desserts. You know how I like my sweets...we tried their cranberry orange cake..

Their caramel cardamon creme brulee, which reminded me of a delicious Chai Latte...
  My personal favorite was the pumpkin pudding trifle. I said and will quote myself, ' I would go back just for the desserts'.

So if this is not a success story I do not know what is. A place I was interested in for later in the evening is now one I would consider for earlier on in the day...there is nothing like being blown away before your day has even begun!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A five course dessert favorite kind:)

 Breakfast for dinner is always fun...but what about dessert for dinner? And then more dessert for dessert? 
Some may think it is too much, but with Chef Nicole Coady's expertise, Finale's Festive Holiday Dessert Sampling, it is manageable and enjoyable, taste after taste.
Finale holds a few of these samplers every year and this is the first one I have made it to. Starting at 6:30 pm, it runs about and 90 minutes.  My fellow sweet tooth buddy, @patrickyocum, arrived straight from the studios a little early...and impatient to begin eating...It did not take us long to order up their cheese platter...
 As well as their Seasonal Cornucopia as well...although it made sense to get some savory to start, I can't quite justify the additional dessert sampler..but I am sooo glad we did because where the cheese platter was slightly underwhelming, (only the robust Roquefort really held my attention), this dessert sampler really got us on the right track.
The item to the far right is the Raspberry and blackberry cobbler, loaded with delicious berries and a chewy, absorbent crumble and covered in a vanilla gelato. This dish was sublime. In the middle, the Caramel Nut Bar is a decadent take on a layer bar with assorted nuts, caramel and dark chocolate. To the left we have the apricot, cherry bread pudding which for me could have been slightly more moist. 
The event had not event started and I am already impressed...and craving more:)

 Each table was set up with five little glasses atop their paired dessert item. 

The desserts came presented with Finale's usual flare - little details adorn every piece making even the miniature tastes, works of art.
On the menu for this time of year were:
Apple Cranberry Crumble- this crumble fared as well as the first, it would of course have been even better with a scoop of that vanilla gelato:)
Pineapple Upside Down Cake - a deliciously moist sponge cake with a thin slice of pineapple and a bit of spiced gingerbread. Surprisingly, I loved this simple bite very much, as they say, subtlety is key!
Pumpkin Cheesecake - a crowd pleaser for sure, this cheesecake is characteristic of Finale's original: somehow light and creamy at the same time. The pumpkin taste stands out as not too sweet and is contrasted with just the right amount of spice. It comes adorned with a bit of dark chocolate, giving it added complexity.
Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie - A sweet rendition of a Derby Pie, Chef Nicole likes to have the pecans, chocolate and caramel/molasses meld together throughout the pie. The crust is a bit salty - a necessity to cut through some of the sweetness.
Peanut Butter Pie - This was my favorite. It is a very challenging dessert that comes out just right. A Peanut Butter mousse is lighter than expected, but enrobed with a rich and decadent, dark chocolate ganache. There is a middle layer of the stuff, as well as intermittent peanuts for a needed crunch to break up the texture.
Just these desserts alone would have been enough, but the real treat was in the pairings Chef Nicole came up with herself through trials and tribulations (lucky duck!).
A good wine pairing brings out certain flavors while sometimes creating new ones - it is an incredible evolution of taste. Chef was there every step of the way to explain her choices and what we might look out for. She was an enthusiastic and refreshing guide, passionate and attentive - after each little introduction, she came by the different tables and discussed reactions, opinions and questions.
As someone who has been to a fair number of like events, the Dessert Tasting at Finale is orchestrated at just the right pace, with just the right amount of wine and food.
At 20 dollars a person, you embark on a beautiful journey through some of Boston's finest desserts, presented with style and class, all under the expert care of Finale's head honcho.
I am already looking forward to next season's tasting...and so should you!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The name's Bondir...Jason's Bondir

Located on a remote stretch of Broadway Ave in Cambridge is a culinary delight that will entice from the minute you lay eyes on it right until your next visit..which will surely be not too much thereafter!
Jason Bond's Bondir just celebrated its first year anniversary and they certainly have cause to celebrate. Only open for a year, this 28 seat restaurant has been dubbed 2011's best new restaurant by Boston Magazine - not to mention the other rave reviews that had placed this little hole in the wall at the top of my to-visit list.

On Monday, I finally managed to frequent Bondir and all the waiting was well worth it. Bondir is a top spot and Chef Jason delivers solid, tasty dishes without any presumption. 

At Bondir, the menu changes daily, allowing Chef to showcase any of the ingredients he himself has picked up during the day or earlier that week. Our meal started off with one slice of each of their homebaked breads. My favorite was 'The Sea', which was baked with swirls of seaweed, squid ink and speckles of dried was a challenge not to fill up on the bread before the real eating began!

I started with the Roasted Butternut Squash soup, a perfect balance of sweet and spicy. Complexity of flavor was added with the spiced homemade marshmallow, crisp shallots (for a nice crunch) and bee pollen. 
My friend had the hand-made burrata served alongside a shaved vegetable salad and spiced beets. This dish was fresh and colorful, although it fell well short of the killer soup.

We could not resist indulging in the Fresh White Alba Truffle shaved over handmade buckwheat cavatelli and raclette. Although the dish arrived in fanfare with the truffles being shaved right in front of your nose (the smell was rich and pungent), the taste of the truffles was a little lost amidst the strong taste of raclette. None of it was spared though!

Conveniently, with all of the dishes, you can opt for a half portion. This way, you can try many things for half the price..and half the stomach space!
Next was the Scituate scallop dish. This was one of my favorites, it was beautifully arranged with a pungent scent of dill wafting up as it was placed in front of you.  The scallops were nice and meaty, color and texture was added with bright red pickled cranberries, baby leeks, and a roxburry russet apple. A complicated dish like this is often hard to pull off, but apart from the foam (which was more for visual effect), everything held up nicely.

Chef Jason is known for his skill with pig, he thus had two pork dishes on the menu and to my delight, one was a roasted-pork belly served with beautifully charred brocoli and heirloom keener grits. I especially liked the contrast between the crispy-crisp top and the soft, smooth pork belly. It was delicious!

Last on the savory was the Roasted Tamworth Pork Loin.  The meat was tender and sweet, accompaniements were interesting with a honey-braised watermelon radish and red cabbage. This dish is perfect for a cold winter evening. Unfortunately, Monday was a beautiful 60 degrees...Boston temperatures are lagging behind the culinary scene!

To finish, we tried the dark chocolate sorbet, was rich and speckled with strong cocao nibs.

More to the point, we had their Roxbury Russet Apple Trifle. I LOVE trifles and apart from the cup inside a cup which kept sliding around, the layers in this trifle were delightful. A perfect cross over from fall to winter with brown butter genoise, vermouth and vanilla. A scoop of thyme-buttermilk ice cream and a meringue brulee topped it off.

By the time the courses had ceased to arrive, I was very disappointed - not because I did not enjoy them - but rather because all the eating was over...
Bondir was an experience that quite lived up to my expectations. The atmosphere is cosy and warm, the service is likewise - nothing feels pretentious and Jason Bond himself is the epitomy of a humble genius.
Every dish is constructed with thought and intention, this menu will do perfectly in the winter.
I can't wait to go back as seasons change and the menus along with them!