Saturday, August 27, 2011

Restaurant Week is up and the verdict is in!!

After much back and forth on where to go for Restaurant Week this summer, my friend and I decided on Gargoyle's On The Square.  Why this restaurant and not one of the many others participating in Restaurant Week? Well, it adhered to most or all of my criteria: firstly, it has been about three years since I have wanted to eat here (embarassing...I know!), secondly, there were quite a few of their regular menu items on their RW menu...always a good sign! Third, the RW price for three courses represented a good bargain compared to their usual prices, (which are pretty steap) and finally, it's in Davis of my all-time favorite squares:)
After a really long, hard day rehearsing at the Ballet, I was absolutely ravenous and in the mood for some major eating.  When we got to the restaurant, our hostess took our reservation and showed us to a nice table right by the far so good!  I had already decided what I was going to order about three days prior so I was good to go. Unfortunately, even though we were by the window, the restaurant was so dark that I had to resolve to using flash...yuck:(

For an appetizer, I ordered their 'signature' Hawaiian Tuna Poke, which came with thuck cubes of tuna mixed with hijiki, nori oil and red ginger.  I was really impressed with the size of this appetizer although I found it to be too heavy on the sauce...and sodium. The tuna however, was superb.

My friend got their Cast-iron Baked Vermont Cheddar complete with crispy pancetta and granny smith apples.  The lightly toasted bread was just the right complement although I thought the cheese could have been more lacked that crispy finish...this had me wondering if maybe they were on a RW time constraint? The restaurant was busy and things were arriving quite quickly...apart from the lighting, the alarmingly quick pace with which one dish was replaced with another was the second thing that irked me.

For main courses, I got their Crispy Natural Duck Confit, with herb-roasted potatoes, bacon-onion jam and watercress. This dish was a perfectly constructed meal, a bit too heavy for summer, but still very tasty. My friend opted for the vegetarian option, Chickpea Fritters with roasted eggplant and a summer vegetable salad. I did not get a good photo of this dish however it was exceptionally bland...particularly next to the duck.  The temperature of the dish was also way off...again, I have my reservations as to how well orchestrated these RW dining experiences get the feel that you are being rushed and not genuinely taken care of...

Moving onto dessert we also moved away from their regular dessert menu which is a real pity as some of their usual desserts sound truly amazing. I opted for the double chocolate cake with raspberry coulis and pretzel brittle.  Although not on their regular menu and fairly standard, it was rich and decadent, just the way I like my chocolate:) I would have preferred a larger piece though:(

The Key Lime Tart, also not on their usual dessert menu surprised me as well. The Key Lime filling, albeit a little skimpy was not too strong and the extra whipped cream I asked for was much welcome.  I was not a huge fan of the mint syrup they had along the just reminded my friend and I of mouthwash...
All in all, most of the food was good although I would have preferred to see more of the regular desserts on the RW special. 
I do however maintain my reservations regarding the way many restaurants orchestrate their RW.  I genuinely feel as though you are rushed through your meal, with servers practically grabbing your plates out from under your nose as you are still enjoying your last bite.  If RW is about getting the feel for a place and potentially coming back, it should be a full package deal.  After this experience, I wondered if we may have had a more relaxing time at the bar with their burger...

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

O Ya? Oh yes!

Ok I know what you are can someone who calls themself the 'frugal foodista' manage to end up at one of Boston's most expensive spots? To set things straight right from the get go, I was treated to dinner by a couple of friends of mine who are big time foodies.  O Ya happens to be on the top of their list of favorite places in Boston and they decided that I needed to at least experience it, if not for frugal purposes, for the food itself...and I was not about to put up a fight:) 
Part of O Ya's appeal is it's modest and understated look.  You would expect something grandiose and intimidating, a place no doubt that would have you feeling small and (if you are frugal) way out of place.  Let me tell you that this is absolutely not the case.  With a tiny sign on a brick wall, O Ya's entrance boasts nothing more than a large wooden door. It's interior is set up Japanese style; deep reds and wooden accents - it is very comfortable and just the right size for proper attention and intimicay.
Now, enough with the décor descriptions let's get down to the food!

Ordering at O Ya may be quite intimidating. Luckily, I was with two people who had an amazing handle on the menu and they took care of the ordering. I just made sure we had an order of their signiature Fois Gras Nigiri...more on that later!
The first item we had was their Kumamoto Oyster with watermelon pearls and cucumber mignonette.  This was my first taste of O Ya and consequently, the first time I have enjoyed watermelon in a dish.  The oyster was meaty and full-bodied, the pearls of watermelon were somehow strong enough to add a fruity essence while the cucumber mignonette added a welcome tang. The whole thing went down an absolute treat, no awkward slurping with this little guy!

Next up we had the Hamachi with spicy banana pepper mousse.  Another revelation albeit more traditional.  Although this was only our second item, I was coming to notice part of O Ya's infamous appeal: little bites of potent pleasure, each piece is prepared to the nines with flavors that compliment and evolve.  Each different plate is an experience in itself.
So as not to overwhelm you, I will go in quicker succession (or wait...will that be even more overwhelming??) The scarlet sea scallop(right) came outlined in red with white soy yuzu sauce and yuzu tobiko (fish eggs).  Below we have the Peruvian style bluefin Chutoro Takati topped with aji panca sauce and cilantro pesto.  The great thing about this one was the different tones you got out of the pesto and cilantry, Bluefin is also one of my recent was a hit!
Their rendition of a diver scallop toyed with genius as it was topped with sage tempura, olive oil bubbles (I love this technique from molecular gastronomy!) and meyer lemon.  Here, the softness of the scallop contrasted perfectly with the crunch of the fried tempura and the olive oil bubbles gave just a hint of decadence.
Around this point in the meal I noticed another fascinating characteristic of O Ya's restaurant.  Their style of dining, which is obsivously focused on ingredients and innovations of the highest quality also manages to promote conversation flow.  I find that sometimes carrying on conversation is difficult when you have a plate of food in front of you. At O Ya, this is not an issue.  They have somehow managed to strike the perfect balance between focus on food and the fact that you are out to enjoy the company of others. In other words, their food is not a distraction, rather, it is a complement, something upon which relations bud.
Moving right along we come to one of my favorite pieces: the Fried Kumamoto Oyster.  The same oyster I had tried earlier with the watermelon party was now presented fried with yuzu kosho aioli and squid ink bubbles.  When I first saw this I thought there was a little rock on top.
Here is a close up of the squid ink bubbles, just so you can be sure I didn't swallow a pebble:)

O Ya also serves some larger, more traditional fare, for instance, here we have their take on 'pork and beans'. In O Ya fashion, it is Okinawan Braised Pork with boston baked heirloom rice beans, house kimchee, soy maple and kinome...pork and beans? Hardly! This dish was hearty and full-bodied, and there were more than a few bites:)
And now...for the pièce de résistance! The Foie Gras nigiri, complete with Balsamic chocolate kabayaki, claudio corralo raisin cocoa pulp and served with a sip of aged sake is one of the more expensive pieces (at 22 dollars) and has been feature in the Improper Bostonian as a splurge on multiple accounts. 
I am actually not going to go into further detail with this tribute to indulgence.  Suffice it to say that after I had finished this relatively small combination of ingredients, I didn't quite know what to do with myself.  It took me about five minutes to compose myself at which point I had to battle against the urge to bombard into the kitchen pleading for more.
In all honesty, I would go to O Ya and spend 22 dollars on this item alone. I know I am frugal, but I also recognise a phenomenon when I encounter one. It is without a doubt one of the most incredible experiences.
The desserts came and went without much fanfare (how could they after the Foie Gras symphony?)
We finished off our meal with some green tea and satisfied banter.
Various members of the O Ya team came by and inquired as to how we liked our meal.  By the end of the evening, we were all apart of a big, happy family.
O Ya embodies many of the important things I look for in restaurants: it is inventive, delicious and comfortable.  The fact that each of its dishes takes you on a sensory journey is truly what sets it apart, that and the friendly and attentive service.
If you are looking for a place to celebrate something significant, or just to experience something rare and special, O Ya is the place to do it...this is one splurge even I would take:)

Sunday, August 21, 2011

An eclectic success

I think one of the keys to a successful restaurant is to be clear as to what you are trying to do. There are so many restaurant these days that suffer from an identity crisis. 'Authentic' mexican restaurants offer Fish and Chip dishes (ahem MASA...), 'authentic' french restaurants label their main dishes 'entrées' which should really be called 'plats principaux'...ahem...Petit Robert.
Another common mistake is to try to be too many things: Five Napkin Burger should really just stick to Burgers...
 This past Saturday, OM Restaurant, in Harvard Square put a group of Boston Brunchers up for a taste of their brunch offering. As per usual, I checked out the menu before heading out and was a little worried by the wide range of dishes offered: from Southern to Asian and classic American...I braced myself...was this going to be another case of identity mayhem?

This being my first time to OM, I had no past experiences to draw upon, I was at a clean slate.  I can very happily say however,  that OM impressed me through and through.
Being the sponsor of our get together of blogging brunchers, OM had a great welcome ready for us and a fabulous table right by the window.  The interior décor is Asian-styled with exquisite Buddha figures and beautiful wall designs.

Once everyone in our party had arrived, we were served their Lychee Bellini, a freshly blended Lychee puree with Prosecco.  I have always enjoyed anything Lychee, but let me tell you that something about the freshly blended fruit with the crisp champagne was really delicious and set things on a positive road from the get go.

Another brief look at the culinary range on the menu had me holding my breath...what was I to order?Luckily, we ordered in a way that allowed us to try many different items.
As a team, we decided to start sweet with their Banana and Chocolate stuffed French Toast and Lemon Pancake with orange maple butter.
The Stuffed French Toast, which is an upgraded version of your classic brunch item was absolutely delicious: the Challah was 'Frenched' and toasted to a perfect fluffiness, not too gooey but tasting of sweet egg.  The banana and chocolate filling was just the right amount, the thickness of the bread balanced it out perfectly.  The pancakes however, were not my favorite...I think the pancake on our side of the table was a bit over cooked...
Moving on to things more savoury, I tried some of their Kerala Scramble, which is eggs scrambled with chunky and fresh smoked salmon, ripe cherry tomatoes and green chilies.  It came with a nice side of greens and flat bread.  This dish was a nice light option, my only change would be to grill the flatbread.
Already though, my taste buds were liking what they were getting!
The next dish was the true champ. The Biscuits, egg and ham, a very southern dish, just seemed to out of place in writing.  Once it arrived in full form however, any qualms were eradicated and I proceeded to eat not only mine, but my fellow blogger's left over remnants as well. The country ham was salty and contrasted superbly with the tomato jam.  The biscuits themselves were buttery to the point where you couldn't really talk once you had a bite in your mouth. I would suggest getting runny eggs with this dish as you might otherwise be silent for the remainder of the meal:)
I also tried a bite of the Duck Confit Hash, courtesy of Bianca - my fellow chocoholic:).  This was an item I would have expected from Chef Patricia Yeo who is famous for her creative Asian/American flare.  This dish, with the spicy chili sauce was so distinct and yet so well done.
By the end of the meal, I felt as though I had been to three different restaurants each with their own specialty, and yet I had not left my spot at OM. It was a culinary adventure which began tentatively and ended with me being fully blown away and an advocate for future visits. 
With items priced around 10 dollars and generous portions, OM really delivers a great brunch.  An eclectic menu that delivers is a rare find...don't rule it out for a fine weekend morning or early afternoon!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Everyone needs a little Taza tour

In case this weekend didn't have enough going on what with all the Cliff Diving off the ICA, the Green Fest at Government Center and Italian Fisherman's Feast in the North End... Taza Chocolate Factory holds four tours daily on both Saturdays and Sundays.
Last Sunday, some fellow bloggers and I went on a guided tour of the Taza Chocolate factory in Somerville.  Tucked away amidst some pretty sketcky looking industrial buildings, Taza's location emits a smells from a mile away and I would highly recommend even just a visit to the store.

  Based on traditional chocolate practices from the Dominican Republic (with the 87 % coming from Bolivia), Taza (meaning cup in spanish), prides itself on presenting the public with only the truest technique, with the best quality.

In a bar, or rather, a disc, of Taza chocolate, you will never find more than four ingredients, all of which are natural and the least distracting to the pure taste of chocolate. In fact, Taza chocolate was originally meant to be melted and drunk!
Tours are led by knowledgeable members of their team and Tom, our fearless leader, was clearly as enthusiastic and passionate as we were.  There were no monotonous drones or glazed expressions at any point during our hour together!

Starting in the main shop where all of Taza's products are on display, we were able to meander around, sampling this and that until our entire party was assembled.

After a brief introduction that went something like this, 'Welcome...try some chocolate', we were brought to a wall mural and taken through the basic harvesting of a every little cocoa bean that goes from a tree in DR to the very factory we were about to enter. 
The next step (after we had put on our lovely hair nets of course!) was into the storage unit which contains some pieces of antique processing equipment.  Above we have their Barth Sirocco 200 (say that five times fast!) which is a roaster salvaged from a run down industrial building. 

Every step of this tour was accompanied with visual aids and interesting tid bits on everything from harvesting to the very final step of packaging.  Taza applies its same strict and honourable standards throughout every detail. Indeed, it currently does all of its packaging by hand (that's 3000 lbs of chocolate to wrap a week...) and only uses recycled products.

Near the end of the tour, we were shown the equipment used to grind the chocolate into its unique gritty-like state so characteristic of Taza products.  This stone is in fact one of the stars of the Taza factory and is a hand carved work of art.
At the end of the tour, we were brought back full circle, to the main shop.  We now had a much deeper appreciation for the chocolate we had earlier sampled and loved. 
Tom was there to ask our many questions (we are a pesky bunch...) and never once did he loose an ounce of the enthusiasm he started off with.  I found myself wanting to talk about chocolate in general and I would have kept going indefinitely but for the fact that our group was destined to move onto other Inman locations.
Before parting, we were each given a little goody bag and a wave. I can assure you that I will be visiting the factory again soon.
Oh and did I mention? Tours cost only five dollars a person...

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Boston's Annual Green Fest is just round the corner!

After generations and generations of overusing and abusing our environment, it's about time we stop for a moment to learn a thing or fifty about what we can do to help the environmental movement.

This weekend, Government Center will be the landing spot for many things green for the Boston Green Fest 2011. This festival abounds with eco-friendliness, from green products, to environmental non-government organisations and of course, lots and lots of delicious, organic and locally- produced food:)

Starting this Thursday at five oclock, you can puruse around the different vendors to the sounds of live music on the main stage. 
Some highlights will be Nancy's Gone Green EcoSalsa fashion show on Friday, Green Fireworks and Light Show and some enlivening performances from Native American Drummers and New England Sports Academy Gymnastics.

Oh and one more thing, to promote environmentally friendly travel, MassBike will run a Valet Bike Parking service all day Friday and save some fuel, get some exercise and support the environment:)

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Battle of two up and comers

Boston is a fine scene for healthy competition between friends. On Thursday of last week, Chef Louis DiBiccari, previously of Sel de La Terre and currently mastermind of underground dinner events, hosted another Chef Louis Night. The latter is a fine event, designed to spotlight up and coming chefs and their ability to cook en mass and under the friendliest sense:)

Held at Jerry Remy's in Fenway, the event started at 6 pm with an hour of mingling and hors d'oeuvres presented by Chef Jacqueline Kelly of Jerry Remy's.  Drink ticket in hand my friend and I picked our wine and eventually made it to our seat at a long table.
The evening is set around four courses, two by each chef.  The competitors: Jason Cheek of KO Prime and Brandon Arms of Garden at the Cellar.  The maker of each dish is kept secret and our menus serve as score sheets.
Up first, a delicious Striploin from Pineland farms accopmanied by corn purée, king oyster mushrooms and chimicurri.
This dish was really phenomenal, the tastes of everything melded together in perfect unison, each supporting the other. The meat itself was delicious, tender and juicy, cooked to perfection.  I gave it a four, but if it had been later in the order...a five could have been easily justified.

Second came the poultry, Roasted Quail with beets, farro and garden tomato.  For a large party, this is a challenging dish and I found it to be a bit dry and not altogether that got a two.

Third was a grilled pork tenderloin with summer ragout, squash and bacon.  This dish was very tasty, I am not a pork person and quite enjoyed it. The two types of pig definitely met nicely between the summer tastes of sweet corn and fresh yellow squash.  There was a bit of inconsistency between the plates. I tried one piece from one plate and was disappointed whereas a second slice from another plate was far superior. I gave it a three.

Finally, and the true pièce de résistance was the all-beef slider. This little guy came almost as an afterthought to most people, who thought that a burger could not possibly compete with the other dishes thus far presented...I think we were all proven wrong. This slider was powerful in every sense of the term. It was juicy and cooked to a beautiful medium/medium rare.  Atop the burger came onions, chicarrone, arugula and a foie mayo. 

Here's a look inside...I really loved this dish and as anyone can attest: there is really nothing like a good burger. I could have eaten seven, but unfortunately, there was not much in the way of extra food...or what extra there was was destined to Lovin' Spoonfuls, a fabulous organisation that redistributes food to local crisis centers and soup I suppose that's alright:)

Here is the final outcome of my meal.  I think I was pretty fair. In the end, Jason Cheek won.  His dishes were the first and third and I think he definately delivered two consistently strong items, whereas Brandon blew everyone out of the water with his burger but slipped up a bit with the Quail.

The dessert, provided by Cakes by Erin was the only thing that really disappointed.  They were tiny and dry...pity.
All in all, it was a great night of enthusiastic foodies all coming together to support two up and comers in the Boston food scene.  Visit either of these chefs at their restaurants for some great takes on food and stay tuned for the next Chef Louis these will quickly become more and more popular!

Giving Restaurant Week a run for its value

The 2011 Summer Boston Restaurant Week is about to kick off with 12 days worth of opportunities to experience some of those off- the-budget restaurants for a special, low prix-fix. 
From the 14th-19th and the 21st-26th, at participating restaurants, you can choose from a two course lunch ($15.11), a three course lunch ($20.11) or a three course dinner ($33.11).

Now, although I do love the whole idea behind restaurant week, I have yet to have an experience that lives up to my anticipation...As can been seen by my last RW review, I have some major qualms...
Fortunately, I am one who likes to learn from mistakes and so I am quite prepared (and have recovered enough from my previous experience) to give it all another go:)

This time around, I will make sure to choose a restaurant that offers either an exceptional choice of menu, or better yet, their full menu. There is nothing worse than feeling as though you are being igven a sub par menu designed especially for the 'restaurant week crowd'.  If you check out the following link Restaurant Week, a complete list of participating restaurants and their menus can be found.  Peruse this with care and select a menu that suits your needs.
I will also not pick a restaurant that looks as though it is about to fall into a crumbling heap...aka Stay away from Anthony's Pier 4.

Ideally, I would like to combine location with acutal menu pricing and the breadth of choice.
Then again, maybe I go a different route and go for a place I have actually tried out (albeit on a much smaller appetizer sized scale) and would like to invest more into...I am thinking something along the lines of Top of the Hub...or Mistral?

As you will soon see, the decision is not an easy one to make.  Luckily, Restaurant Week comes about twice a year so I am hoping that I will eventually get it right.
For more tips on Restaurant Week, check out: How to get the most out of Restaurant Week

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Five for five

Tremont 647 is a South End neighborhood spot that keeps on giving. As you may know, I am a strong advocate for their Taco Tuesday - I have practically gone every other week this summer - and their brunch is one of the strongest in the area.
I had yet to try their dinner and just recently, a fabulous opportunity arose to try out their tasting menu.  Five courses with an 'amuse bouche' on a weekday evening sounds pretty appetizing to me!

Let's get right into the details shall we? After the 'amuse-bouche', a deep fried dumpling with hot sauce and a dressed up soy sauce for dipping, we were served some greens atop a bed of thinly sliced beets with candied orange pieces and a cashew crumble.  This dish was a nice start, nothing too bold, just a teaser trailer.

The second course was a shrimp taco with cucmber slaw.  As you can imagine, this guy hit a home run.  The shrimp were perfectly cooked and the tang from the vinaigrette was balanced beautifully by the fresh cucumber.
Up next was a fish dish atop tomato rice with big plump raisins, sundried tomatos and golden figs.  The whole thing was coated in a subtle but marked dijon mustard sauce.  This dish was excellent, although the rice seemed a tad over cooked.

At this point I thought we were moving onto dessert and then out came this beauty - lamb with roasted potatoes and a mixed salad with heirloom tomatoes, corn, feta and a yogurt sauce.  The meat was tender and juicy, the flavours complemented eachother just right.

Here's a close up of the potatoes,  which arrived with little bubbles still bursting from the about nice timing!

The sweet ending, when it was time, was a cupcake served in a cup.  Layer of rich chocolate cake divided by rich cream cheese frosting and topped with fresh raspberries and a sweet syrup took the final bow. I absolutely loved it - I finished every last crumb and (I have to admit) licked the rim clean.
For a tasting, Tremont 647 provided great variety through harmony, large portions and an accumulating success with each dish somehow topping the previous one.
I fully endorse this restaurant for any and all of its meals, the South End is lucky to have it:)

Saturday, August 6, 2011


I have always had a thing for squares.  Not necessarily the shape, but the atmosphere they tend to create in neighborhoods.  This Saturday, my friend and I decided to take on a few different endeavours and, unbeknownst to us, each activity happened to be in a different square. First, we spent some time in Harvard Square as it was Bank of America's 'Museums on Us', a sponsored event that happens every first weekend of the month.  Our next stop would be the Hungry Tiger Festival in Union Square, bringing together the local cultures of the area for three hours of vibrant celebration and to top it all off, a stop in Inman Square, a culinary hot spot which is always hard to pass up.

First on our list was the Museum of Natural History in the Harvard Yard.  We figured we would get the most focus requiring activity out of the way early on...

It was my first time (embarassing...I know) but my enthusiasm definitely made up for it....can you see me in this dino's mouth!?

All the fossils, gems and mammals worked up an appetite and I can't seem to go to Harvard Square without making a stop for bubble tea.  Lucky for us, the Sabra truck was also there waiting with some handy dandy samples.

Hidden Sweets also called my name and their row of 'hidden' sweets certainly made for a fabulous pick-me up as we headed out of this square and into the next.

Union Square, a bit further out from Inman is a true mecca of ethnic cuisine from authentic Mexican, to Thai and Indian. Precinct's bar representing the neighborhood bar presented some top notch mousse concoctions that got us going...why not start with a sweet note?  All at one dollar a piece, the peanut butter tortes were by far the best.

After some grade A (and very frugal) taquitos and pupusas, from El Porto we tried some unique pastries and such from Kueh, a Singaporian pastry shop in Central.  These brought me right back to my Singaporian street fare and I had a brief moment of reminiscing....delicious curry pastries, glutinous rice and tapioca different and unique!

The reminiscing was short lived however because as we were enjoying our last bites our attention was brought towards the rings of fire being wrought in the middle of the square. The Boston Circus Guild was on show with rings of fire, fire whips and clubs. The Hungry Tiger festival has something for every sensory outlet.

Not that we needed any more stimulation, but it was too difficult to drive through our third square for the day, Inman, without making a stop.  We hopped out and headed to East Coast Grill for some great drinks and even better food.

Along with our margaritas and my East Coast Cocktail (Beefeater Gin, St. Germain, muddled peaches and lemon), we had fresh oysters, fried plantains with guava ketchup and a peel-your-own shrimp appetizer with grilled bread.
I made an important realisation during this meal.  I realised that no matter how full you are, you can almost always keep eating really good food.  This thought however, although momentarilly enlightening, did not last long enough for me to finish the last two plantains staring meekly at me from my plate.
All in all though, I would give my evening a three for three squares - each full of adventure, culture and tasty goodness.  One of the best parts of our day is that we enjoyed so much for a very small price... Next trip...Davis, Central and Kendall!