Saturday, July 30, 2011

Forgive or forget?

When a new restaurant opens up I get very excited.  If the new restaurant boasts a great concept, I am even more so. When I heard about The Salty Pig; a casual dining spot with a focus on seasonal charcuterie and small batch cheeses, I was all in a dither and could not wait to get myself up in their business.
I was finally presented with an opportunity this Thursday evening and a group of 8 of us ventured into the butcher's.
The inside is actually quite appealing with neat lighting, high tables and chairs and a nice outdoor seating area. The walls are like chalkboards covered in graffiti, very minimalist, but effective.
The meal actually started off quite well. I ordered a delicious Vinho Verde and we got a board of four meats and two cheeses.  There were no really interesting options, we opted for Jamon serrano, speck, bresaola and saucisson sec. The presentation was nice, and the quality was up to par even though I found it a bit pricey, the total cost was 37 dollars, which split between all of us was fine...but it didn't amount to all that much food.
This being their second week since opening, glitches in the service are to be expected and I fully understand.  When our drinks all came out of order and certain items were forgotten or added as an after thought (the fig jam arrived once we had finished out charcuterie board...) I did not hold it against them.  What I cannot accept however, is what followed... no matter how new you are, the food coming out of the kitchen is the one thing that should not disappoint.   
My friend and I decided to split a pizza, it sounded truly promising with local clams, speck, parmigianno, arugula and olive oil. What showed up was hardly a step up from generic store-bought frozen pizza. I know this sounds harsh, but it honestly was. The crust, which there was far too much of, was so tasteless even the left over fig jam couldn't remedy the situation.  There were a total of three miniscule clams, no speck and barely any cheese. We were basically presented with tasteless dough topped with arugula.  It was such a disappointement I had to let the waitress know.
To their credit, our waitress was most gracious and apologized saying that usually the pizzas were really great.
I wondered if she would have said the same of the carbonara and the pea risotto, both of which were also very bland.  
A slight salvage were their pork and garlic meatballs which came smothered in a delicious tomato sauce with generous amounts of Guanciale.
Because it is a new restaurant, I will give them the benefit of the doubt. However until they get their food sorted out, the only thing I would go for is a glass of wine and an assortment of meats and cheeses - the other dishes are clearly in need of some major tweaking.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Bubbles and more in the South End

The independent café movement in the South End is truly incredible.  There are so many different places and yet each one is special in its own way. The Buttery has amazing espresso, I love Francesca's wraps and Flour is an all round hit.  You would think that with such a great array, there would be no room for another.  Well, you can think again, because Jaho, the new- ish café which opened about two months ago on Washington street has managed to find its own style and quirk amidst a very competitive neighborhood.
So what makes this place special? The sheer size and range of their coffee and tea list.  It goes from your regular cup of coffee to some very interesting sounding blended drinks like their maple soy chai latte.  They also boast 100 plus varieties of tea and...wait for it...bubble tea!!!!!!!

Three guesses as to what I chose....:) I went for the mango green tea, semi-sweetened with boba.  It was very tasty, however I would have preferred much more boba...apparently they were just in the process of making a new batch.
Jaho also has a great sandwich and salad menu as well as some pretty tasty looking treats. I will be going back in the not too distant future to try some of these guys out. In the meantime, I can't tell you how excited I am to have found a bubble tea fix in the area!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

And now...for Montreal's finest!

A week in Montreal sure flies by - and yet, I know already that I will not be able to write a piece about every single place I would be a task altogether too daunting!
Instead, I have decided to put together a compilation of the best spots I went to, from the yummiest taro bubble tea to the most surprising bathroom encounter...enjoy:)
A wild night in Montreal would not be complete without a Sunday morning trip to China Town for Dim Sum...and bubble tea! 
Three cheers to the fab crew who made it through a night to remember...and then some:)

There are always those key items you have to get when you go somewhere. Poutine in Montreal is one of them and I am really embarassed to say that this is one of the things I did not manage to do...and this is with their 24hr Poutine restaurant - La Banquise... All things considered, I did have some great Frites from Frite Alors - complete with two of their house made dipping sauces.
After a few nights of Japanese cuisine, my friend and I decided we needed to try some other culture out for size..Indian food really hit the spot...
As did our Vietnamese stint with their Pha - or three layered coconut milk drink complete with red bean and live worms...(or that's what I always tell people:))
Montreal streets are all fab, especially when one is named after you..I told you Montreal does things right!
Speaking of doing things right...what city has a bar called Candibar that serves alcoholic slushee drinks with gummies and ring pops? Oh - and their menu is a giant lollipop!
On thursday, after a whole lot of anticipation and celebrity build-up (i.e. 'Anthony Bordaine ate here last week!') We headed to Joe Beef, a locally sourced, menu-changes-daily restaurant.  The food was phenomenal, with the dessert (and house made rhum flavoured soft serve) taking the cake :) The service was abysmal but there was a bull in the bathroom..what can I say? You win lose some!
A personal weakness of mine is the Bilboquet, a delicious artisinal ice cream and sorbet house. I dragged my little sister here on the hottest day during a heat wave and I can tell you right now that the mango sorbet with their 'Cacophonie' (dark chocolate ice cream with white chocolate chunks and cashews) was heaven on earth.
Finally, what would a trip to Montreal be without a good crepe? My last stop had a sweet finish at Juliette et Chocolat.  My fruit covered crepe was beautifully slathered in a semi-sweet dark chocolate with a lump of vanilla ice cream to help things along.
It was the perfect way to top off a perfect week.
I would like to send a shout out to my bestie, Clara, who showed me all her favorite places while trotting along to most of mine:)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Une Soirée Culturelle

In my last post I raved about the city of Montreal being a mecca of great food and diverse culture. I figured it would be a good idea to shed a little light on one of many summer evenings you can enjoy in Montreal that incorporate the two.
In the summer, you can enjoy free evening performances at the famous Theatre de Verdure, an outdoor theatre located in Parc LaFontaine.  On Wednesday, Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal, a very small but very well-known dance company in Montreal, was in the spotlight.  After a slight logistical error (on my part...) we realised that we had come two hours a place like this however, this is not an issue.

Dinner reservations set for after the show were cancelled and replaced by a spotted (literally) whole in the wall Japanese/French restaurant, Toroli.
Once inside, our 'botched' evening became an evening of culture, both alimentary and artistic. As you can tell from the outside, Toroli is a tiny little place, on the inside, you feel as though you have walked right into someone's kitchen.  There is one waitress/hostess and one chef - that's it.
We decided to order a few of their appetizers, correctly labeled 'entrees', which means 'entering'. (Everywhere else, main dishes are called 'entrees' which is completely wrong). My friend got the miso soup and I got their seaweed salad - pictured above.  Two very standard dishes managed to become delightful surprises made with utmost attention to colour, contrast and flavour, compliments of Chef Takashi Sakurai.  My seaweed salad came loaded with different kinds of sea weeds, very fresh vegetables and a delicious balsamique vinaigrette. The miso soup was also far superior to anything I have yet seen.
Another hit was their salmon and scallop tartare, served over a bed of grapefruit salsa and topped with jelly and caviar. It was a revelation in a martini glass.
The appetizer of the day ( only the freshest in-season ingredients) was a seafood salad with salmon, white fish, tuna and squid over a bed of many colours and topped with raspberries.
My dish was a BBQ eel crepe topped with spicy tuna and caviar. I chose this dish because it seemed to be the epidomy of French and Japanese fusion...a rendition of sushi, without the rice and seaweed but with all the attitude! I thoroughly enjoyed both the appeal, the look and the taste of this work.
Although I was quite satisfied already, we decided to try out one more item, called the 'Jewels of the Sea'.  By the description; a fried rice cake topped with house fried fish and tuna, it sounded like an upscale sushi pizza.  These little guys did not disappoint, they came four to an order and once popped in your mouth, can be described as....well...orgasmic really.
With such satiated bellies, our minds were in need of some attention so off we trotted back to Theatre de Verdure where we were comforted to see all the other people who had gotten the time right filling the theatre. (This theatre has a capacity of 2500 spectators). We proceeded to spend the rest of the evening cultivating our minds and spirits as our bellies quite were quite content to sit and digest a delightfully fresh and innovative meal. Chef Takashi Sakurai is a master and an artist...I have a feeling my friend will be frequenting this place many times to come!

Monday, July 18, 2011

A good food and friendship roll...yum:)

For some (or a few) very good reasons, Montreal is my favorite Canadian city. Other than the fact that most of my impressionable years as a teenager were spent in this city and that many of my most valued friendships were made here, Montreal is also an amazing mecca when it comes to food. I like to think of Montreal as the best of New York and Europe combined; it has no shortage of amazing restaurants along with a cultural diversity that is really unparalleled throughout the country.
I have been here for two days and have already stocked up on many foodista adventures!

The first one I would like to tell you about, is from last night, when my good friend took me to her favorite sushi restaurant - and she is a bit of a sushi snob:)
The restaurant is called Mikado and is praised for its fresh ingredients and interesting sauces.  My friend comes here so regularly that she is practically part of the family - which is what actually most impressed me with the crew at Mikado...the staff was very effecient and attentive and by the way they eased into various situations around the restaurant, my great experience must be the norm.
I started off with a Litchi Martini and was blown away right off the bat when my server, Darron, brought a whole plate of extra litchis...I did not even have to ask - amazing!
We then proceeded to order a few different things on the menu in order to get a well-rounded perspective. (I should note that we were given a bit of a discount because of my friend's status as a regular, but even still...this type of dining is not exactly frugal...)

We started with their miso soup and seaweed salad, all fairly standard apart form the large and meaty pieces of seaweed on the salad which I loved.  A major highlight was their take on ceviche or a 'Tuna Cup', with big chunks of vibrantly red tuna, avocado, shiso, onions, fish roe and some crispy seaweed layered in a champagne glass.  It went down an absolute treat.

My favorite sushi roll is a toss up between their Paradise - Tara sheet, grilled shrimps, asparagus masago, garlic and spicy sauce (pictued above) and their Hokkaido roll - Salmon Vodka Ponzu sauce, avocado, hom herbs, tempura rice paper topped with grilled scallops.  I also loved their Hanabi roll: eel, avocado, cucumber, tempura and pine nuts.
As mentioned before, Mikado really excels in the simple quality of their ingredients, I believe I had the best piece of smoked salmon last night...hats off!

There were a couple other items we tried, all of which were amazing and although I felt like a giant ball of sushi rice after this meal, there is always room for dessert. We were presented with a beautiful palette of home-made ice cream and sorbets with chocolate fondant in the middle. My favorites: their green tea, which is so creamy and their lemon - a perfect way to tie off a great meal.
I was very impressed with the meal, from start to finish however the highest tribute would be that I went in with very high expectations and was not disappointed...also, after such a full-bodied meal, the fact that I was jealous of the employees sitting down to sushi of their own at the shift's end is itself a major compliment to the restaurant.
It's a good thing I don't live in Montreal, because it would be difficult to keep away from such a fine display of food and friends.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

In on Red

Red Lantern is one of this summer's hottest new restaurants.  It opened about a month ago and boasts a seating of 250 people, open kitchen and sushi bar among its impressive Asian decor.
Upon arrival, you can already feel the different vibe that sets Red Lantern apart from other Back Bay/South End locations...petite and quaint do not fit into this place's vocabulary. Every thing is big and bold, colorful and ornate - it is more like a New York restaurant than anything in Boston.

My friend and I ventured in on a weeknight for a drink and dessert. The menu itself looked alright, a little pricey and only a few noodle dishes tickled my fancy. The drink menu however is great. They introduce different kinds of alcohols into fun sounding cocktails, like their Yin and Yang scorpion bowls, sake takes a prime position as well. I was actually lured in by their Tranquility Bubble Tea, which is, as its name indicates, a bubble tea cocktail. How ingenious! The drink is delicious and an immediate favorite - so long as the tapioca bubbles have been cooked properly - as I had to initially send it back for tweaking.

Red Lantern also had an impressive dessert list. It was not overwhelming, with only five options, but each sounded so tantilizing. In the end, we opted for their crème brulée trio which came with an assortment of espresso, passion fruit and hibiscus crème brulée.  Each was delicious, but our favorite was the hibiscus, which had a subtle floral taste while remaining more reminiscent of true crème brulée than the other two.
I was actually so impressed that I returned the night after and had their Sangria which was very tasty, but missing in the 'fresh fruit' department... always disappointing.
I would absolutely go back however, for dinner, more drinks and dessert. The place has a great vibe, lots of options and price ranges - oh - and it serves food until 1:30 am...what a novelty!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A snippet of glory:)

A few months ago I attended a food blogger event held at Ufood: the rapidly expanding healthy/fast food chain.
The event itself was a wonderful thing to be a part of as we were introduced to many of the brains behind the project, their mission and goals and a whole lot of their healthy and surprisingly, very tasty food. I did a blog post about it following the event: Healthy food, fast and surprisingly delicious!
I thought that was the extent of the adventure and was indeed very happy to have dipped my pen/camera into the whole shebang.  However, just today, I was alerted by a friend to a recent social media video posted on Ufood's website.  Lo and behold, the frugal foodista's webpage is up for a moment alongside other prominent boston based food bloggers.
I am very happy to see my blog up their contending with the other great bloggers of the area:)
Here is the video if you are so inclined as to take a peak!
Oh and don't worry, I will be putting up some posts more directly related to food shortly....:)

Monday, July 11, 2011

Something a little different...

Ever go out on a whim and turn out to be completely surprised by the outcome? Like entering to win a contest in which the chances of you winning are slim to none?
It's funny because many such contests and draws surround us on a day to day basis and I, like most of us, pass them up simply because we don't see a huge possibility of winning. It's interesting because it doesn't usually take much effort to enter and you certainly don't risk losing anything.
The other week, I came upon such an opportunity on my online university website.  It was a contest that involved writting a short essay about what brought you to enrolling in the distance education program and the iPad.
Unlike my usual passer-by attitude, I decided to enter. I compiled 'my story' and submitted it to the website and just put it down to a good exercise in self-realisation....or writting in general.
Lo and behold, I just received note in my inbox that I had been selected as the prize winner...
I was just so excited, I had to share it with you is my entry in case you are interested:

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Not quite the package deal

I have quite an extensive list of places I need to try out... When Improper Bostonian comes out with its annual 'Best of' edition with hundreds of amazing sounding places, I only get more antsy to experience all of what Boston has to offer. After an initial plan to check out T.W Foods, a foodie hot spot and a top priority on my list, a group of restaurant enthusiasts and myself opted for a trip to Rendezvous instead. (Lucky for me, this place was also on my list:)
As far as expectations go, I had a pretty clean slate. I figured it was a french restaurant just from the name, but it is actually a fusion of different food cultures ranging from North Africa to Italiy and some French.  It's an intriguing mix and not the easiest thing to pull off.
We tried most of everything on the menu and although some dishes were a great success, there were some little details which could hugely improve both the dishes and the experience. Here are the ratings from the evening:
On the whole, their appetizers were quite strong.  A charcuterie board was an in-house success with terrines, lardo and accompanients that each held their own.
Their vegetarian antipasto was less spectacular, but I still enjoyed the fresh vegetables (Rendezvous endorses the farm-to-table movement) and mediterranean spreads.
With both dishes however, I would have liked to see better presentation; an actual board was have served as a more authentic and rustic support for the offerings.

Also on the list of successful appetizers was the 'Little lasgna of Swiss chard' complete with salsa verde, fresh ricotta and salted almonds.  I was impressed by the pasta itself and the blend of ingredients made for a surprisingly light take on such a traditionally meaty dish. 
The chicken livers received mixed reviews. I personally enjoyed the dish as a whole, particularly the different textures in the liver. My fellow diners thought the mustard greens and bacon were the dish's true saving grace. 
Their seared scallop, gnocchi and turkish pizza were standard and forgettable...I suppose you can't have all your appetizers be winners...or can you?
Moving on to the entrées, we had less success.  The only dish we all agreed was a hit was their Duck prepared in three ways: sliced breast, garlic sausage (major crowd pleaser) and confit leg.  Other than that, we had very poorly presented Bollito Misto (Italian dish of boiled mixed vegetables - pictured above). As you can tell, the dish is really not up to par with restaurant presentation.

Where the Bollito lacked in presentation, the Crispy Chicken lacked in gusto, as did the Bluefish Fillet.
The Rendezvous cheeseburger, which had to be sent back once because it was initially over-cooked was actually very good. The meat itself was juicy and rich, the bacon - as always - a delicious addition and the vermont cheddar cut in splendidly. 
At this point, we had an average performance on our hands.  Unfortunately (and unforgivably in my opinion), the desserts, an integral part of any restaurant experience, were disappointing.
We ordered all of them and the only one that had anything going for it was the Lemon-buttermilk pudding. The polenta-olive oil cake seemed overcooked and quite unsavory and the chocolate cake was far too weak for my taste.
As a summary it seems that what Rendezvous does in house is done very well, there just needs to be more consistency throughout the menu. You can't have one knock-out dish followed by one obscured in mediocrity.
Much of the experience could have benefitted from a slightly more committed waitress who actually invested an interest in both the diners as well as the menu items.
I would go back, but only the appetizers pass the qualtiy/price ratio I try to adhere to.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Harvard through a wine glass

Boston is a great city and part of what makes it so great, is the fact that it is a walking city; you can get pretty much anywhere by foot and enjoy the many pictoresque sights along the way. Of course, what makes a walking city even better is when some of the walks include wine..
At City Wine Tours, they do just this by combining wine with neat local restaurants, area landmarks and informative walks in between. It's a great way to connect with other people, or to further bond with old friends.
I was the lucky winner of four tickets to a Saturday tour in Harvard Square.  I took a few friends to scope it out.  The tour began promptly at three at the Hotel Veritas, a refurbished Victorian hotel. Jo-Ann, our wine guide for the day and Christian, owner and history buff, broke the ice with a chilled Gruet Brut from New Mexico. The style of City Wine Tours is unique in that it is unassumming, but still very classy and informative.  Indeed the first things we learnt were tips on opening a bottle of wine as I am sure we all get a bit nervous when we have to do this in a social setting:)
From the terrace we moved up to the rear patio on the 3rd floor where we were greated with an impressive array of cheese and crackers to match our second wine, a partially-oaked Morgan Chardonnay.  Here we continued our progressive lesson, learning how to get the full appreciation out of a bottle of wine. Jo-Ann was quite right in stating that from the very 'POP' of the bottle opening to the swallow of your first sip, wine can take you on an enriched sensory journey!
Following the Chardonnay, we were taken on a brief tour of the Harvard grounds and told interesting little tid bits of information which somehow all came back to the topic of wine..quite clever! Jo-Ann continued with important topics often neglected such as the proper ways to preserve wine, how to pair and even how to order a good wine at a restaurant. Next up was Casablanca, a little whole in the wall restaurant that has been in the Square since 1955.  Here, we tried our first red, a Nebiolo, Vietti from Piedmont.
To pair with the wine were delicious Mezzo appetizer platters, with some of the restaurants famous spreads.  These are always welcome, particularly when more wine is on the way:)

Our final stop was Harvest where we had two more wines waiting for us, a Primitivo and a Brochetta d'Acqui.  The latter was my absolute favorite, it is a sweet, sparkling red that pairs well with any milky chocolate...right up my alley!
During our last few sips, we were all quite content to sit back and enjoy the new company.  I took the opportunity to reflect on the tour itself and how impressed I was with the attention to detail. From the set up to the pace, the walking distance and wine selection, I thought City Wine Tours did an excellent job. As a relatively new company (they are 6 weeks into this project!) they will be soon adding a tour in the Back Bay and South End areas. 
I would highly suggest this tour for anyone looking to enjoy the city from an exclusive vantage point.  I would love to see how they incorporate their style within other neighborhoods of Boston. Rumor has it, they will be launching a deal on Rue La La sometime this week...I would keep an eye out an snaffle a ticket while you can!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Livin' la Vie da Local

Not many people associate locally sourced ingredients and deliciously innovative foods with hotel chains. Although this conception may be true for certain hotels, The Hyatt Regency and its restaurant Avenue One, is a case quite apart.  After an incredible brunch with fellow bloggers on The Terrace of the Hyatt Regency in the Theatre District, I can attest that executive chef, Kelly Armetta, knows a thing or fifty about MA's culinary highlights and especially on how to incorporate them into treats to fit any palette. 

The brunch, organised by Boston Brunchers in conjuction with Eversave, was a feast for food bloggers and I was fortunate enough to experience this soon to be enstated summer menu with other enthusiasts. Displayed on the outdoor Terrace were various stations ranging from ornate local meats and cheese (the Aged Grafton was an immediate favorite) to sweet french toast and omelettes.

An absolute highlight was the Lobster Eggs benedict.  This dish was an exciting part of the menu, truly highlighting the Bostonian specialty.  On top of having hearty chunks of lobster meat on each piece, the bacon had been wrapped around a cob of corn to be smoked...I just wondered where the tasty corn was at:)

Sharing the Meat and Cheese station we had an eclectic granola complete with cranberries, marcona almonds and salty pistachios.  I know many people skip over the 'yogurt and granola' menu Avenue One, I would suggest you do the opposite!

For the lighter fare, we were offered an arugula salad with sweet and juicy peaches, marcona almonds and crispy prosciutto, all topped with a poached egg. This dish makes for a nice light touch, perfect for a bright, sunny brunch outdoors.
Finally, we had a  fruit and pastry station; as any serious brunch place should. Here you find fresh-out of-the-oven croissants and tasty tartelets made with the sweetest hand-picked strawberries. My personal favorite was their yellow watermelon...something I had never seen before.
Suffice it to say that after this cornucopia of brunch items, there was no doubt in my mind as to the success of Chef Armetta's vision. The Terrace, operated by Avenue One is now open for the summer. Even more exciting is their Happy Hour, happening from 5-7, Tuesday to Friday (weather permitting).  Drop by after work for some of Chef's seasonal bites at 4 dollars.  Better still, if you come on Thursday of Friday, you will also be endowned with live music.
It seems this place has it all, now let's fill it with a good crowd!