Friday, December 28, 2012

DRUNCH - at West Bridge

 Congratulations! You have successfully made it through the mad dash to Christmas. 
Although the excitement (and for some people, stress) of Xmas has passed, next on the list is New Year's.  For us at the Boston Ballet, we are in the midst of our final nut cracking stretch...
I admit, I have not yet solidified my plans for New Year's eve, however, I can proudly say that I have my plans set and ready for the morning after, and they involve a hearty feast, drunken lunch...or Drunch, at West Bridge restaurant in Kendall Square.

I think it is a comfort to know that regardless as to where my plans take me on New Year's Eve, I have a very solid plan to catch me on the 1st, and I cannot think of a better way to kick off the New Year than at one of my favorite restaurants.  I have been multiple times since it opened last spring and have enjoyed every one of my visits....especially seeing as each visit includes one of their infamous 'Egg in a Jar' numbers..pictured below.

For Drunch, West Bridge will be holding three seatings; 1 pm, 3 pm and 5 pm.   With the very reasonable price of 36 dollars a head, guests will be treated to a whole selection of exciting and delicious options.  The main attraction will surely be the carving stations featuring whole hay roasted sirloin and maple and bourbon goose.  Alongside of these beauties will be confit potatoes and pickled slaw.  On top of that, guests can select one more entree dish from a menu created specially for the occasion.  Think biscuits and sweetbread gravy..or ham and cheese waffles with whipped bechamel and maple syrup perhaps?

Bar manager Josh Taylor will also be serving a signature New Year's day remedy, and this in particular has me very intrigued. A cocktail remedy? Sounds a bit like an oxymoron...
For me, a Drunch date at West Bridge will be a celebration of more than just the first day of 2013, it will be a cheers to a successful Nutcracker run, the start of a much deserved two weeks off and most of all, it will be an introduction to West Bridge for my dad, who will be visiting me from Liverpool, UK!
Call 617-945-0221 to reserve your spot now:)

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Staff Meal - After Dark @District

When you are in the 5th week of a 6 week Nutcracker performance run, you get certain things down to a fine art. Any kind of routine, like for instance, my pre-show preparation or post-show wind down, I have pretty solid.  What becomes less apparent and in fact a bit of a challenge, is stepping outside of that box every now and then when the circumstances warrant, to shake up that structure.
As any one of us who is subject to the 'routine act' know, shaking things up, though hard, can often prove to be just the thing you needed, both mentally and physically.
Lucky for me, Staff Meal, one our prominent Food Trucks in Boston, has been working after hours to make such an 'outside the box' adventure in cuisine possible.  With a kickoff this weekend, the guys from Staff Meal have been popping up at District, a nightclub in the Leather District with a menu as interesting as the choice of venue.
When my friends and I first showed up, around 10 o'clock, the club had already been pretty packed with other dinners experiencing the special menu. Starting at 6, they serve food until 11, but guests can linger until 2 a.m. when the club itself closes.
It was a very curious thing, walking into a nightclub in search of food.
For a moment, I actually thought we were at the wrong place, but then one of the staff whispered to us, 'they are here', and the whole thing became even more shrouded in intrigue:)

Being friends of  Adam and Patrick, the two minds and bodies behind Staff Meal, and being the last reservation, we were treated to their whim and presented with an assortment of delicious and pretty crazy plates. Uncharacteristically, I didn't even look at the menu.
We started off with stuffed, fresh sardines, followed by the Chinese sausage steam buns with a spicy mayo.  
An especially exciting moment was the arrival of our slow cooked eggs with roasted mushrooms.  A friend of mine has a fascination/obsession with eggs and he was over the moon - I only wish I had had some bread to sop it up!

Another surprise came with the slider platter that showed up just before the main courses. You might think a burger on such an eclectic menu would be amiss...but that is a misjudgment - because a great burger goes amiss nowhere!
The meat had a strong, peppery/spicy taste, caramelized onion and mushrooms added a sweetness and blue cheese balanced the whole thing out.  The bun also had that 'feel like a kid again' squishy feel. 

The moment we had all been waiting for arrived shortly thereafter, just as the club itself was starting to transform, i.e. the lights continued to dim and the wait staff shed their jackets to done more 'club appropriate' gear.  A huge platter of Cantonese porchetta and Peking's pig head barely landed on the table before we dove right in.  Steamed buns and hoisin sauce were also served on the side, but honestly, the meat was so deliciously tasty and juicy that it needed no accompaniment.

The 'uh-oh' moment came after that last dish, when I was sure we were done and then the boys came out with a whole monkfish. I love monkfish  but have never, in all my dinners, been served a whole one. Perhaps it is not the prettiest fish on the block, but boy is it yummy. That evening, it was served with a spicy, Chinese flare and I could only manage a couple of bites before I had reached my capacity.
(No worries though, I had the rest packaged up to enjoy later:) )
It took a while to muster ourselves out after this performance.  By this time, the Latino night remixes had long ago started up a storm, and dancing was well under way. 
Surprisingly, it made for such an interesting and enjoyable experience, exciting, different and all-around thrilling.  And the best part? We had a major dance walk out of there;)

Catch another Staff Meal After Dark on one of these dates:
Sunday 23rd, 27th, 28th 29th and 30th.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Get your 'Gozi' on at Piperi

1 Beacon Street, a space which has seen many different themes over the past couple of years, was last known as Dore Creperie, a pop up crepe cafe headed by a team of young business entrepreneurs.  To this day, they served the best crepes in Boston, but, as is the nature and intrigue of all pop ups, they do not last forever.
I would have been quite crushed about this had I not the thought that the vacancy could lead to some other food related venture.  Happily, as of a couple of weeks ago, I can say that this silver lining has become reality. 

 1 Beacon street is now the home of Piperi, a Mediterranean  grill serving signature Turkish dishes from 'Gozi' sandwiches, to falafel bowls and more. 
Last week, a friend and I went to check the new space out.

The team at Piperi, headed by chef/owner Thomas John (formerly of Mantra) and his partner, Tim Oliveri  (CFO of Au Bon Pain), have done wonders with the inside, combining warm colors and rustic wood paneling for an inviting atmosphere.  The space is open and conducive to quick drop ins or longer, more leisurely lunches.
My friend and I were very fortunate to get a low down of Piperi, its inspiration and goals by Tim.  Having worked together for nearly a decade at Au Bon Pain, they have become a dynamic duo and their passion for serving excellent food as well as their desire to create a community and family around fun, fresh and interesting food were the inspiration behind Piperi.
Importantly, the care and attention provided by Tim and Thomas, is shared throughout their entire team, with a group of friendly people behind the line waiting to help you make your decision and take your order.

As one might expect after this description, the food at Piperi is absolutely delicious.  No corners are cut, the vegetables are delivered fresh from a partnering farm everyday, and roasted 'a la minute',  chicken is antibiotic-free and organic and get this, there is no freezer at nothing nothing is ever frozen:)  Their falafel, hummus and other accouterments are made in house according to a secret (and most delicious recipe) and above all, their 'Gozi', inspired from traditional Turkish bread 'gozleme', is made in house by the hour.

The menu is simple, with three structural options; Gozi sandwiches, salads and mezze plates (with rice pilaf).  To your style of dish, you add whichever signature toppings and sauces you like from an array of options.  
My friend and I stepped up to the plate and ordered a Gozi sandwich with chicken and vegetables ( a seasonal medley including cauliflower and butternut squash).  Once you order, you go on to choose your toppings.  I went for their red cabbage slaw, which was crisp and tangy, hummus (creamy and delicious), feta cheese and their spicy tomato sauce.  All rolled up in their Gozi bread, this was the most delicious, interesting and colorful salad I have had in a long while. Apparently, statements of that nature are not rare at Piperi, and I truly understand why:)
With the Gozi bread being so delicious, the Piperi kitchen team took it a step further and make their own pita chips. Choose from sweet and cinnamon to savory, with salt and a touch of heat. These paired with their delectable hummus makes for a perfect snack...just a thought:)

With the array of freshly made toppings, a salad or plate can provide you with a more visual presentation of each element.  The falafel is fried just right, not too crispy or thick, the olives are plump and juicy.  Everything complements together so well and yet I would be quite happy ordering a tub of any one of the toppings just to eat on its own.  A half portion of their Gozi bread is also served with their you don't have to worry about missing out:)
All in all, Piperi is a fantastic spot to enjoy something different, authentic and deliciously fresh.  It is in a prime location for Beacon Hill residents, Emerson students and those who work in the vicinity of the downtown/government center areas.  Lucky for us at the Boston Ballet, during our performance season (ahem...right now!), we are also very near and I can't think what would be more comforting than a Gozi sandwich before a show:)
Hours are: Monday-Friday, 7 am - 6 pm and Saturdays, 11- 3 pm.  Extended hours are currently under discussion:)

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

2nd visit to Puritan & Company - even better than the first!

 By the time Sunday rolls around and I have completed 6 shows of The Nutcracker, there is really no messing around when it comes to dinner.  Usually, my friends and I do something really easy and simple in the South End, where most of us live.  This past Sunday however, I was meeting up with non-dancer friends, which is always refreshing, who just so happen to have access to a car:)
We decided to take advantage of this fact and head over to Inman Square for another visit to Chef Will's
The three of us had already tried the restaurant (my friends happen to be very 'on pointe' with the food scene as well:) ) and with our first trips being so successful, we were excited to try it again, this time, all together.
I am happy to say that my second visit was even better than the first!
With each course, Chef Will proves that his restaurant is an establishment that respects every detail, every ingredient and every angle of each item on the menu.  Taste and composition marry together to produce plates that are both aesthetically appealing and incredibly well balanced.  All the while, subtlety is provided through simplicity and the knack for showcasing exactly what the dish is intended to be - honest, natural and fresh.

We started with their duck liver mousse, which is a prime example of Will's approach.  Many restaurants have great duck liver mousse, but few would think of presenting it in such an interesting and logical way; a thick spread on the plate with toasted brioche and elements of tang, fruit and pickles accented throughout.
Their bluefish pate was also perfectly done, this time simply presented, with no frills, and somehow, just as effective.

For my main meal, I ordered the chicken.  I never do this at restaurants because I am so often disappointed or presented with a dry or over-sauced rendition.  Not at Puritan! 
Chef Will presents an earthy dish, with moist chicken breast and crispy chicken confit atop a bed of farro and blackened onion puree with brussels. 
The chicken was so juicy and tasty, not overwhelmed by sauce or other flavors...I had forgotten how delicious chicken can be:)

We also tried their chicken soup, with a robust chicken and duck broth and their lamb sausage.  Both, again, were beautifully presented with every ingredient having a purpose. (So many restaurants go overboard and their dishes become confusing and over seasoned).

For dessert, we split their quince tart, which came in a buttery crust with almond tuile and sharp, sour cream ice cream. It was a perfect way to finish our meal, I especially like the presence of fresh herbs and little sprigs which come directly from the herbs planted in pots at the charcuterie bar.
With a second visit being such a success so soon after the opening, I think Puritan will continue to grow, with service becoming more and more smooth.  This is certainly a rave review and my own opinion...might I suggest you go and see for yourself?  I do not think you will be disappointed:)

Monday, December 10, 2012

Giulia brings Italian to the table in Porter Square

With the slew of new restaurants sprouting up in and around Boston, Chef Michael Pagliarini and his wife, Pam, have added one more for the books on the Cambridge side of the river. 
Their restaurant, Giulia (pronounced, 'Julia), joins Chef Will Gilson's Puritan and Company for late November openings.
Like Gilson, Chef Mike worked at various kitchens in various positions, including the top position at Via Matta, before taking a step away in order to plan for a brick and mortar of his own.
Also like Gilson, I first met Chef Mike at a popup dinner thrown by a friend about a year ago.  One taste of his cooking and I was hooked and absolutely thrilled to hear about his restaurant in the works.

All this considered, it should come as no surprise how happy I was to be invited to the soft opening a couple of weeks ago. I brought a friend along and between the two of us...and the group of friends we ended up joining mid-meal, we managed to try almost everything on the menu:)

Unfortunately, the lighting, though great for atmosphere, was not conducive to taking pictures and the last thing I wanted to do was disturb other diners with obnoxious flashes (which tend to do no justice to the dishes anyways).  I did get a decent picture of their clam appetizer (pictured above). Spinach, chick peas and thick cut pancetta accompanied juicy and plump clams dressed in a light but oh so tasty white wine-based sauce. 
Of the appetizers, the burrata (imported from Italy) was another favorite, so fresh and creamy.

We went on to try most of their entrees, with a lamb sausage surprisingly being my favorite dish.  Above and beyond however, are Chef Mike's pastas.  All are made fresh in the kitchen daily and range from Maine lobster stuffed agnolotti to a delicious bluefish puttanesca with ripe olives, capers, anchovies served with maltagliati (long and wide pasta).  The pasta came out perfectly al dente with every dish and Mike gets extra brownie points for cutting his pancetta extra thick:)

The desserts were equally impressive and let's remember, this was all on one of their first nights serving to the public!!!! I loved their Italian cookie assortment, but was again taken by surprise when my favorite dessert was their panna cotta, light and creamy, and yet with a world of substance. 
The space is warm and welcoming, right near Porter Square.  As with most things on 'the other side' of the river, it may seem a bit far, but after the meal I had, which was wonderful, friendly and professional from the moment I walked in to the minute we all walked out, I will make the trip as often as I can...and you should as well:)

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Pre and post-Nutcracker treats at Back Deck

This evening marks the beginning of  the 3rd week of Boston Ballet's new Nutcracker production at the Opera House.
With two weeks down and the month of December under way, Nutcracker shows will become more and more numerous.  It is just as well the Theater District and Downtown Crossing area has a growing number of options for both performers and spectators before or after a performance.

Newer to the area (as of this summer that is), is Back Deck, located a couple steps away from the Opera House on the corner of Washington and West st.  This grill-savvy restaurant offers show go-ers an array of options for before the performance with any of their dinner menu items.  Head here for a something light like their fresh and colorful Grilled Scallop and Bartlett Pear salad or a skewer or two of grilled meat or fish, or something more substantial like one of their Back Deck burgers.

Back Deck is also a fun and easy option for after the performance and to our delight, chef Paul Sussman has come up with a way to continue the Nutcracker magic long after the curtain has come down.  
Introducing the Nutcracker Suite: a platter of three desserts made up of a caramel pecan pie topped with a decadent chocolate ganache, three chocolate and espresso-filled macaroons and two sugared plums. 

My friends and I could not resist coming by to try it out for ourselves after a show last Saturday evening. Our favorite by far was the sugar plum rendition.
With Back Deck changing up their menu to correspond to the arts and holiday scene around them, they make for a perfect pre- or post-show (or both!) addition to your evening out at the ballet.
Come by and try them out on your way to the ballet...or after:)

Monday, December 3, 2012

Will Gilson's Puritan and Co. - a fine addition to Boston's growing restaurant scene

Boston's restaurant scene is frequently compared to that of New York City. I have always believed this comparison is unfair and disillusioned. Perhaps New York excels in terms of its incredible diversity, high level of competition and sheer quantity of food service options available, however, in the past few years, Boston has begun to stand out for its celebration of local, seasonal New England fare.  
Boston's restaurant scene breeds a tight scene of community and is largely based on the incredible work of a few great chefs and their restaurant empires: Barbara LynchLydia Shire and Ken Oringer all come to mind. In recent years, a fresh crop of young chefs, many of whom were trained in these kitchens have strung out on their own and really begun to take Boston's food scene to the next level.
Nowhere is this fresh and exciting energy more apparent than with the fresh opening of Chef Will Gilson's very own restaurant in Inman Square, Puritan and Co.

For many years now, Chef Will has been planning this venture, holding popups in and around town ( a few of which I had the opportunity to attend) to experiment with dishes and ingredients and otherwise going over every single detail in order to make his first opening everything he wanted.  Puritan and Company was going to be something more than just another restaurant, it was going to be a place to share his cooking and vision of seasonal, modern American-New England cuisine, but also and perhaps more importantly, a tribute to his farm The Herb Lyceum  and family in Groton, Mass.

Last Wednesday, I was able to make a visit amid the craziness of The Nutcracker and all the anticipation as well as my high expectations were met.

Walking into Puritain and Co. is like finding yourself in a New England kitchen, many elements of the restaurant are refurbished or vintage pieces from Will's farm (the host stand is in fact an old oven from the Herb Lyceum dating back to the 1920s) and the menu reflects hand picked, seasonal ingredients and ideas.
Everything my friend and I had was delicious.  From an assortment of charcuterie options, the hand-carved cured ham was the best I have tasted (and I have been all over Spain).  Chef Will serves it in irregular cuts to add variety and extra taste to each piece.

The grilled oysters came out plump and juicy and the moxie-glazed lamb belly was unlike anything I have eaten.  Amazingly, one of Will's salads was my favorite.  A frisee topped with a fried farm egg, foie cubes, duck crackling and johnny cake made for an incredible mixture of salty and sweet, runny and crisp and deeply savory.
It was a magical salad!

Of their main entrees, we opted for the wood-roasted Muscovy duck.  Two pieces, perfectly roasted and crispy were served with quinoa, mushrooms and freshly picked thyme (literally, their is a herb garden set up along the charcuterie bar in the back ).  The duck was exquisite and that they could serve so many excellent dishes at this stage in their opening was astounding. 
We tried a few other items, none disappointed and I cannot wait to get back to relax in this familial atmosphere.  
With Chef Will's new restaurant, as well as the openings of other young and talented chefs in the coming weeks, there is no doubt that Boston's restaurant scene has entered into a new phase of its development, one which it can be proud of in its own right.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Boston Ballet's The Nutcracker...the sparkle and hair gel:)

 Following a day of gorging out on Turkey, we opened our very new and very fresh production of The Nutcracker.   Boston Ballet's dancers, artistic staff and production teams have been working on this new version for close to a year now; changing our most popular ballet, a token of tradition in the city of  Boston and indeed throughout the country, was a daunting task to say the least...
However, following the incredible opening night performance in front of a sold out audience, not to mention the endless applause and standing ovation we received, there was no doubt that our team, headed by Mikko Nissenen, was successful in building the road to a continued and respected tradition.

Of course, behind all the costumes, glitz and dazzle on stage, there are lots of perhaps less dazzling elements that keep us dancers pumping throughout the Nutcracker season.  Let's be clear, even though we just wrapped up week one, which for any regular production of our season would mean we were halfway through, there are 6 weeks of this baby...a total of 43 shows!
Here are just a couple things that become integral parts of our everyday lives in the dressing rooms:

Various kinds of goop to put in our hair.  Sure, hairspray is pretty common...but some dancers have stubborn bangs....or short curly hair..(ahem...ahem) and need a little extra assistance.  I would like to point out the yellow bottle in this instence, and is for all purposes, hair glue.  
The sentence that sums these products up is undoubtedly, 'whatever works':) 

 We are very lucky at the Boston Ballet, our company is like a small family and we are very supportive of each other. (It would be far too difficult if things were any other way!) In the corps ladies' dressing room, we have a 'snack space' where we set up various treats for the room to enjoy.  My personal favorite is the Sunday morning appearance of Stacy's Cinnamon Pita Chips, courtesy of Corps member, Sarah Wroth.
By the time Christmas rolls around, we have an all out buffet going on here...and it totally keeps us going:)

Throughout the 43 shows, the hair gels and snacks, Nutcracker performances become a routine.  Luckily, we have many different roles to perform, so we are not doing the same dances every single night.
With opportunities presented to us, The Nutcracker becomes a time of bonding and challenge.  Despite the length of the production, it would be difficult to image a Christmas time without it.
In the ballet business, we do not say 'break a leg', but instead, we borrow the eloquent 'merde' from the French.
So to all at Boston Ballet, MERDE for the Nutcracker Season 2012!
Purchase your tickets now!! You do not want to miss this Nutcracker Premiere:)

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A 'Foodie' Story Slam

One of Harvard's quintessential spots is undoubtedly Club Passim, a non-profit organization that serves as a multipurpose venue.  Since 1958, this spot, located in the same space as Veggie Planet,  has been a place where artists of all genres have showcased their talents.  From acoustic music, to poetry, Jazz and folk artists to story slams.  This Monday night, Club Passim hosted a Massmouth story slam and I was asked to attend as a judge.   I had never been to Club Passim, or a story slam, and I don't think I have any officiated in the capacity of a judge... you can just imagine my excitement. 
A little research provided me with some background information not only on what a story slam is, but also on  the whole purpose of the evening at Club Passim.  Partnering up with and promoting The Food Project, another not-for-profit organization, the whole evening generates support and awareness for The Food Project.  By the end of the evening and through the fun and creative little 'minute-stories' shared by the Food Project team, the whole audience was well versed in what this organization stands for, which is engaging young people in sustainable agriculture through various avenues like hands on farming, community outreach and education as well as gaining experience and skills through their hunger hunger relief program.    
But what exactly is a 'story slam'?  It is simply an evening of storytelling usually based around a topic, with a number of individuals stepping up to the mike to present their personal 5-minute story.  With The Food Project in tow as well as me being asked to judged, it should come as no surprise that the topic of the night was 'Foodie'.
As judges, we were presented with ten score cards and told to evaluate according to three criteria:
A) The 'arc' of the story (does it have a clear begining, middle and end)
B) Story Presentation (voice, gesture, expression and clarity)
C) Does the story connect to the theme and topic
All of this had to be met in just 5 small feat! 
 Before the slam began and while we were receiving our instructions, we were also treated to dinner at Veggie Planet (sister to Veggie Galaxy) which is known for its delicious vegetarian food, most notably, their pizzas.
 I ordered their soup of the day, a delicious and warming turnip and squash soup.
 I also ordered a small (which was not so small!) pizza with roasted butternut squash, robust goat cheese, caramelized onions and rosemary.  It was all perfect for the blustery day.
Throughout the evening, we heard from 10 different storytellers, with stories ranging from a vegetarian in Siberia to a man's father and his favorite Falafel stand at a Market in Jerusalem.  My highest score, a 9.2 went to David and his story of the significance of food in keeping his family together, the lowest a 5.9, to a story about cheesecake that went unfinished because of a time penalty.  
In the end, we declared the three best storytellers (pictured above), and this time around, the judges' vote was the same as the people's vote (which I always find reassuring).
It was a wonderful experience, I was honored to be a judge and I hope to make it to many more like events.  Follow Club Passim on twitter or facebook to stay tuned in their different offerings.  My favorite part was hearing all the different stories, as well as the tidbits in between.  The space itself is also wonderful and being able to enjoy great entertainment with fantastic, healthful food is such a treat.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Business as usual at The Level Up offices

On Monday morning, I had the opportunity to swing by The Level Up offices to chat with Christian Sann, the Director of Level Up in Boston. He took me on a tour of their new and improved office space at 1 Congress Street and then we sat for a bit while I picked his brain about what makes The Level Up so special.
Originally a spin off from scvngr (scavenger), an initiative built to drive business and give out deals all while creating a sense of local community, The Level Up was born on the other side of the river, like many tech start ups. 
Now, about two years later, they are a quickly growing business and the great team, company goals and future visions attest to this success.

So what is The Level Up exactly? Well, it is a type of rewards program designed to benefit both business owners as well as the customers. Different from most of the other savings and rewards programs like Living Social or Groupon, The Level Up thrives on the concepts of community and loyalty, rewarding you, as a customer, for your returning loyalty at your favorite spots. Business get a kick from returning customers and the fact that The Level Up does not charge a processing fee for each transaction (like credit card companies) is hugely attractive.

Here is how it works: you sign up for The Level Up and get your own QR code (one of those funny looking square things) to use either through a smartphone app or, in the event you do not have a smartphone (like me!), they will send you a personal QR code card., this is then attached to whichever credit card or debit card you choose.  
When you pay at a store that takes Level Up, you simply align your phone to the docket by the register, and ba-da-bing! Your transaction goes straight to your card.
Apart from the convenience of paying with your phone, the very best part is that the first time you use The Level Up at a store, a small gift will be waiting for you in the form of store credit.  This gets automatically taken off of your total. The more you frequent that same store, the closer you get to unlocking even more credit.
Credit can also be found through their referral program, which gives both you as a Level Up user and whoever uses your code, 5 dollars of 'global' credit (which you can use anywhere that takes Level Up)!

 When I first found out about The Level Up about a year and a half ago, they were just starting out, now you can  find The Level Up in many places in and around Boston, and indeed all over the US, your Level Up code has effectively given you added access to places all over the country:)

While chatting with Christian in their fantastic kitchen space (where, just fyi, workers get catered lunch everyday...oh, and most workers wizz around the office on about efficiency:) ), I asked him what the future looked like for the company.  He said that apart from maintaining the products integrity and continuing to make the whole process as convenient for all parties, he believes the Level Up can become even more than just a way of paying.  For example, they have already managed to create a donation feature to The Level Up where you can decide to donate your credit to a charity of your choice.  This new feature can be found on the app and I sincerely suggest you try it out. The app also provides a list of places that take Level Up in proximity to your location at any given time.  
All of this feeds off of their local mantra and certainly helps when you are looking for a mid-afternoon treat in an unknown area of Boston:)
Whatever The Level Up plans for the future, I bet they will continue along the lines of community based support, loyalty and..just plain old fun:)
Sign up now and start saving:)

Monday, November 12, 2012

Fogo de Chao, open and full meats ahead!

Much talk has been going around about the new Brazilian steakhouse (or Churrascaria) which sprung up a couple of weeks ago in the Back Bay. Fogo de Chao (pronounce 'shoun') began in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 1979 and has since expanded its concept and dining experience throughout the US.  Unlike many of the other restaurant openings we are highly anticipating in and around Boston, Fogo de Chao opened on time, as planned and with no glitches.  Truly professional service and delicious meat await anyone who enters this establishment.
Myself along with three friends went in on Friday evening to experience Fogo's 'Gaucho-style' of preparing meats.  The space, which is where the former Palm Restaurant used to be, is huge and open.  I was amazed at how busy they were (and at how well they handled it!)

Luckily, we had a reservation, and I would certainly recommend one. Before sitting down, I went round to check out some of their other for instance, their wine cellars containing 3000 bottles of wine from all over the world...
...or their incredible salad bar complete with fresh mozzarella and a hug barrel of Parmesan  brimming with excitement. As difficult as it may seem, I suggest you go easy here, there is so much more to come!
My friend went in big at the salad bar, trying one of everything they had to offer...*disclaimer* she is a loosely defined vegetarian, so although she suspended her non-meat diet for the evening, the salad bar was her heaven - just goes to show there is something here for everyone:)
Once we were seated, our waiter came over and gave us a run down of the fogo show and got us started with some drinks.  Despite their impressive wine list, I could not help but order one of their equally impressive Caipirinhas, a traditional Brazilian drink which is like a mojito, but without the mint.  I went for their classic, but they are willing to make it however you want, with interesting Brazilian flavors like passion fruit and acai.

With our drinks came another one of my favorite parts of the Fogo meal, their traditional Brazilian buns, shaped like cupcakes, crisp and cheesy on the outside with the most gooey middle.  They are made from yucca and baked with Parmesan right from the start...again, try to go easy on these guys:)
So how exactly does a Churrascaria works?  Well, as you sit down, you will notice a coaster-sized card with a green side and a red side, by your plate.  But don't be fooled! This is no ordinary coaster and in fact, it represents the whole system of service at Fogo de Chao. Instead of ordering from a menu, chefs walk around the tables with skewers of various cuts and types of meat that they themselves have just grilled.  You simply place your card with the green side up if you want what is going round at a particular time, and red side up, if you want to take a moment to breathe and enjoy the meat in front of you.
With 15 different cuts of meat, you will have to pace yourself, which is difficult because as soon as your card is turned to the green side...chefs with skewers of all kinds of different meats descend upon your table and the last thing you want to do is turn them away.

My first two cuts were their Parmesan encrusted pork loin and their roasted pork ribs.  What is so fantastic is that, seeing as the chefs have cooked the very meats they serve you, you can ask exactly how rare they are and you can request a particular part of the cut, depending on how you like your meat. 

Another favorite of mine was their bacon wrapped chicken and bacon wrapped sirloin.  It goes without saying that anything roasted and grilled with a bacony hug always comes out better;)
Although they provide you with a  guide to help you navigate through the different meats, it is always good to keep an ear out for those cuts not on the menu. My ultimate favorite of the evening was a T-bone lamb, grilled to perfection, juicy and slightly charred...yummm!
By the end of all this, and a few moments in between, the red side of my card saw the light. If you want to really enjoy all that Fogo has to offer, use your card wisely and don't feel badly about turning away the chefs.
After all, you want to save room for some of their Brazilian desserts, like their flan, or perhaps the Fogo de Chao signature Papaya cream dessert; a cross between a milkshake and a smoothie with a light but refreshing papaya taste.
All in all, Fogo is a fun and entertaining way to eat out, perfect for large groups.  It is also a great way to try out unusual cuts of meat without having to order a whole steak. I am happy to see Fogo make its first location in Boston such a success:)