Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Across the universe on a Sunday evening

 Sunday evenings are generally low key for me. I like to feel like I can take the time to get myself prepped and ready for the rigours of the week that is to follow.
Of course, there are always those times when you break from tradition and this past Sunday was one such occasion.  On Sunday evening, from 7-9, Zagat held its Blog re-launch party at Catalyst in Kendall Square.  A few Boston bloggers were invited and I was happy to be among them - we were set up in a cozy corner of the restaurant, right by the fire. I had consistently heard good things about the space at Catalyst, and with a quick look around, the salvaged old barn wood and a couple of fireplaces, it is no wonder! Seated in our corner, we were then treated to a humble collection of some of Chef William Kovel's dishes.

 It is always nice to reconnect with some of my friendly food enthusiasts and to meet new ones!  Three guesses as to what we talk about:) It's even better when in between conversations, you get a little tid-bite to taste. My favorite bites were the seared scallops with bacon relish...
and the Parmesan-truffle fries:)

 Unfortunately, the little tastes we had were just enough to stimulate our appetites, and so, with the sweetness of their butterscotch puddings still on our tongues, Rachel, Holly (my two foodies in crime) and I headed over to Veggie Galaxy for some more substantial grub:)

This was my second time at Veggie Galaxy, a greasy vegetarian and vegan diner (if you can imagine that!). They are most known for their all-day breakfast and veggie burgers and sandwhiches...not to be confused with their vegan pizza stint at Veggie Planet.

During my first visit, my friend and I occasioned the bar overlooking the open kitchen where chefs are busy flipping, chopping and dressing away. It was a very appetite-inducing experience! 

We each ordered a sandwich, I chose their spicy veggie melt, a mixture of  tofu, carrots and other veggies topped with cheese and pressed between two slices of rye. It was a spicy, vegetarian rendition of a tuna melt and I LOVED it! On the side, a simple red cabbage salad.

My friend got their burger. I know what you are thinking..why on earth would you go to a vegetarian diner and order a burger!? Well, this is no ordinary veggie burger.. the patty is made of mushrooms and lentils and is then smothered in a delicious red pepper sauce and topped with two fried onion rings...tempted? The burger is enough to satisfy any meat eater, every last bite was finished.

Not quite as successful was their baked Mac and Cheese. The first time it arrived it was very soupy, we sent it back and upon the second attempt, it was much, much better. We think the first time it did not get its due time in the oven...
For my second visit, we sat in the main area of their dining room, set up in true diner fashion with booths and high top tables. 

Holly got their burger and was completely satisfied by the end of her meal. Rachel ordered a grilled cheese which came nice and buttery with a deliciously seasoned and grilled tomato - no need for ketchup with this baby! 

I myself, was having a huge indecisive moment, but landed on their breakfast sandwich, with egg, arugula and cheese. I asked them to serve it on their home baked, pepper biscuit and what a delight that was! Their hash browns were alright, although I could have used a bit more seasoning...

We did not have enough room for dessert this time around. But I can testify from what I have tasted previously, (above is there peanut butter chocolate cupcake with coconut whipped cream:) )  that all of their desserts are delicious and will absolutely amaze anyone the least bit skeptical about vegan delights. Other visits are definitely necessary, my belly was just not big enough to fit anymore.
Veggie Galaxy successfully manages to mix authentic diner qualities (including very affordable prices) with completely vegetarian fare.
Thanks to Holly and Rachel for making the evening such a nice break from tradition:)

Saturday, January 28, 2012

A4 does it again...this time for Brunch!

Since they first opened their doors, only mere months ago, Area Four has managed to hit the nail on its head.  Beginning first with their Cafe and Bakery, and then opening up their Full restaurant serving lunch and dinner, Area Four is seeping with the attention to detail so essential in a good, solid restaurant. 

With quirky decor decisions like the upturned chemistry and measuring cups used as hanging lights, huge open windows and a menu that evolves alongside the seasons, Area Four achieves excellence without a hint of pretension.  When I heard they were about to launch their much-anticipated Brunch service....I could barely contain my excitement. Lucky for me, I got to try it out this weekend - and lucky for everyone (although I had no doubt in my mind!) brunch falls right in line with the quality of the other facets of the establishment.

It was a beautiful Saturday morning in January, my friend and I settled in at a table with the open kitchen bustling away on our left and a view of the park to our right. We quickly ordered some espresso beverages, I went for a soy latte - I can never resist espresso-art! Didn't I say they pay attention to detail here!?

With a menu that is just the right size...not too big and not too small, we started with Kastrie's basket of goodies: light and fluffy banana bread, croissant and a duffin...aka donut muffin...aka heaven coated and protected in a delicious crispy layer of sugar and butter:)
On special today was a cinnamon roll...however just calling it this does not do this bad boy justice. Chef Michael Leviton has managed to create a caramel and icing smothered (and seemingly infused) swirling roll of dough topped with more of the icing (for good measure) and whole pecans.  As crazy as this is going to sound...I think I would place it on par with the famous sticky buns from Flour Bakery...(gasp)
I would have been quite happy to demolish the whole basket of goodies, however I saved myself for the next two dishes. Although many people might skip over this item, the A4 granola with Sophia's Greek yogurt (the creamiest Greek yogurt I have tasted) and drizzled with local Honey is a great addition to the table. The three simple components come together beautifully.
 The piece de resistance I would have to say however, is their 'Hot Veggie Mess':
2 Sunny Side Up Chip-in-Farm Eggs placed atop Home Fries, Caramelized Onions, Mushrooms, Baby
Spinach, Cheddar, Scallions & Pickled Banana Pepper Relish.  Because no brunch is really brunch without bacon, we decided to add it to this mess...and make it even hotter.
The eggs were perfectly cooked, the balance between all the ingredients provided for a 'mess' that somehow kept its form and within each bite, you experienced each individually and yet in harmony...don't ask me how this is possible...you will just have to try it for yourself!
After this meal, my friend and I were really ready to get the rest of our day going. There is no better way to start your weekend, than with a brunch like this. Area Four is casual and comfortable, everyone from the hostess to head Chef Michael are there and happy to be, the entire team's positive energy is palpable...maybe this is part of why everything tastes so good!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Tea time at L'Espalier!

 L'Espalier has long been known as the pioneer of 'haute cuisine' in Boston.  Since 1978, it has been at the forefront of New England/French cooking, bringing fresh, local ingredients to the table with classic french technique.  
L'Espalier is, by reputation, not the most affordable restaurant.  This is because they are known for their multi-course dinners. What most people do not realize however, is that their lounge area is a very affordable option for a light snack, drink and most importantly, a sampling of their phenomenal cheese cart.
Making the lounge an even more exciting place to visit, L'Espalier has just recently appointed a 'Tea Sommelier'.  So we have all heard the term 'Sommelier' and we know it has something to do with wine and pairings.. but a 'Tea' Sommelier?
This term is synonymous to 'tea whisperer'...ok, so maybe that term does not exist either. But you get the idea!
Cynthia Gold, recently of Park Plaza, has just accepted the position as Tea Sommelier at L'Espalier.  She will be in charge of their in-house tea program which would include brewing new and exotic teas, cooking with tea, creating tea-infused cocktails and pairing teas with cheese, or desserts.

Lucky for L'Espalier, Cynthia Gold is also a chef, so her combined knowledge of tea and food will really take this part of the restaurant to the next level. 
How great would it be to come in on any given afternoon for some cheese and tea? Apparently, their Gloucester Street Blend pairs beautifully with any of their pungent cheeses...something to keep in mind:)
Whether you go just to relax with a drink or a bite in the lounge, or the whole nine yards in courses, I can assure you that from the minute you walk in the door, to the second you leave, you will have a quality experience.  Apart from the culinary artistry applied by Chef-Owner Frank McClelland, the staff themselves have been at the establishment for the past 30 years.  Their loyalty and passion for all that goes on at L'Espalier is clear in everything they do.  It is this that makes it so special and such a long thriving gem in Boston's restaurant scene.  Just remember that there is no reason to be intimidated by this restaurant and with Cynthia Gold and her bright future, the team at L'Espalier continues to flourish in Boston!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Eat Frites!

About a year has gone by since Boston's first true Belgian Frites shop, Saus, has been in business. This means that it has taken me just as much time to finally get myself over to its niche in the Faneuil Hall area...embarassing...I know. But hey - better late than never:)
I must admit up front that if it wasn't for the combined forces of some other keen food bloggers, most notably Jacki and Meesh of justaddcheese.

Our group was intended to be a little bigger, but January tends to be a month of awful colds and so it ended up just be the three of us...no worries, we definitely had a handle on the situation!
Saus takes up a small store front on the stretch of Union street facing Government Center. Amidst many historical pubs, it is a simple but thoroughly clever concept...their menu focuses on classic Belgian street food like Frites (what we would normally call 'french fries', which in fact have nothing to do with the French...contrary to popular belief!) and waffles. 
 We started off with a poutine. As a Canadian, I have very rigid expectations. This poutine had all the right components; the cheese curd, the salty/peppery gravy, nice and crispy fries....unfortunately, our poutine came practically drowning in gravy, and so, despite their valiant effort, the fries had to succumb to their soggy fate.
We also ordered a batch of their regular fries and it was just as well, because we needed reinforcements for the poutine..but more importantly, we needed a plain batch with which to try some of their dipping sauces...an important part of their claim to fame!
We tried their 'Ole Chipotle', a homemade mayo spiced with jalapenos, (this one was my favorite), their Bacon-Parm (I could have done with more bacon...just a personal preference:), the Bost-onion (creamy onion mayo - also very good!) and their Andalouse.
 Saus has recently expanded to 'Frikandel', which refers to a minced- meat or 'burger' sausage, very popular as a snack on-the-go in Belgian. We tried their 'Speciaal' - curry ketchup, mayo and chopped onions. This is your Belgian standard. It was quite good, the burger sausage was really impressive as it was slightly crisp on the outside and crumbly and tasty on the inside - a very pleasant surprise!
 However the real winner for me was their Spicy Frikandel - Ole chipotle sauce and house-pickled jalapenos to which I added regular house-made pickles. I LOVED the crunch from the pickles and the kick from the jalapenos.  The creamy Ole Chipotle sauce was also a great compliment as it allowed everything to meld together in delicious harmony!
Although we were sufficiently stuffed, we could not leave without trying one of their 'Liege' Waffles, baked with pearls of sugar inside. The recipe itself was created by Shira Melen, the pastry sous-chef from Sofra Bakery.  Fresh off of the iron, this baby was crisp on the outside (I am sensing a trend here!) and moist and light on the inside. Every now and then you would get a crunch of sugar that would really send your taste buds in a whirl.
Following their saus-y theme, you can select from different sauces, we went for their homemade nutella and salted caramel - both of which were quite delicious.
For a cold winter day, frites and waffles are the perfect comfort food. Just having these few well executed items would be a home run, however better is yet to come! Starting this Monday, they will add a whole slew of sandwiches, salads and snacks to their menu...looks like I need to plan another trip...hopefully it won't be a year from now!

Monday, January 16, 2012

No better way to heat things up than with a burrito competition!

For the second year in a row, Poe's Rattlesnake Kitchen and Bar will host the Burrito Bowl event. On the 4th of February, when the winter blues will no doubt have started to settle in around us, Chef Brian Poe will gather some of Boston's greatest culinary talents under one roof to put their burrito making capacities to the test.

From 1-4, the chefs will be presenting their very own burrito creations inspired by their favorite NFL team, all in honor of the Super Bowl XLVI. Creations will be served in 'bowl style' and attendees along with guests 'referees' will decide who takes the title the contest.

Here is the poster from the press release:
Not a bad line up eh?
If you think you have what it takes to stomach the genius these guys will bring to the field, get yourself a ticket now because this event will sell out fast. With tickets priced at 15 dollars...it's my kind of Super Bowl!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Hungry for lunch? Head to Foumami for some Pan-asian Flair:)

What to have for lunch...it is something many people think about as soon as breakfast is over..I know I do!
Lucky for those who work in the Financial District, there are many places that serve breakfast and lunch specifically.  Most options fall under the 'healthy, fast food' concept that has really taken off in the past few years. 

On the corner of High and Oliver St., Chef/Owner Michael Wang has taken this concept to the next level with Foumami, an Asian Sandwich Bar.  At Foumami, you can experience a world of flavor and innovation stemming from Michael's roots in Chinese cuisine.  From delicious sandwiches to salads and rice bowls, you really can't go wrong. On Tuesday, the last day before we began rehearsals for our winter/spring season at the Boston Ballet, I was able to get myself over to try out the menu - and I was pleasantly blown away:)

Foumami is a great space, open and inviting.  I went a little after the lunch rush and it is just as well, apparently there is quite a line that keeps up during the day...and small wonder why!
Amidst a menu full of tantalizing sandwiches and salads as well as daily soup specials, my companion (who thankfully knows the menu quite well) and I decided on two different salads and sandwiches. I also ordered a hot Ginger tea, brewed with fresh ginger shoots.  It was probably the most delicious and soothing beverage I have had in a long while.
The first is their Sprouts and Tofu salad, full of crisp and juicy romaine lettuce, spinach, bean sprouts, flash-fried tofu, seared-steamed chicken, kirby cucumber, red radish, cilantro and a sweet and tangy mustard vinaigrette. My first bite of Foumami, even with something as simple as a salad, was delightful!
 The second salad was their Wasabi Caesar. I admit I was tentative at first, simply because I was unsure how the wasabi would be used in the dressing. Chef Michael has managed however to strike a fine balance between all the ingredients. The wasabi is beautifully incorporated, allowing for a hint of the hotness, while still allowing the vegetables to remain refreshing. I could not get enough!

Sandwiches are made on their house-baked Shao Bing bread which is baked fresh every day on site and truly sets Foumami apart. Crisp and flaky on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside, I could have eaten a fair amount just on its own! Add a grilled Rib-eye steak with garlic-soy marinade and sauteed onions and you have yourself a Champ! 
The Rib-eye sandwich is slightly sweet, but the heat is turned up in their Spicy Pork Loin. Now when an Asian eatery declares something as 'spicy', it is within your best interest to believe it. This sandwich, complete with kirby cucumber and seasoned carrots, has quite a kick. The spiciness stopped short of being too spicy however and in fact took on the same addictive quality normally associated with salt;)


The salads and sandwiches had already impressed enough, however it was what ended our meal that really blew me out of the water. This summer in Singapore, I was introduced to one of their popular desserts - Ice Kachang. When I saw it on Michael's menu, I knew this place was a gem. Although not a popular item in the cold winter, Michael offered to make a couple especially for us - and during the entire five minutes it took me to devour mine (ok...so maybe a got a little brain freeze), I felt like I was back in Asia.  The contrast of flavors and textures from the sweetened condensed milk poured over the shaved ice, the fresh mango and clementines, mochi and of course, red bean is pure genius.
When summer comes around, I think this 'piece de resistance' will really take off.   By this time, Foumami will most likely be the hottest place to grab lunch downtown.  With Michael's drive and business savvy, I am secretly (and very openly) hoping for another location a little nearer to the Back Bay area...what I wouldn't do for a quick Shaved ice treat or an inspired sandwich during a long day of rehearsals...

Friday, January 6, 2012

Saved by a Lamington

This past week, it seemed the city of Boston had made a New Year's Resolution to freeze everyone. When it gets that cold out, there are few things that make me feel better...I know, I know...I am Canadian - so shouldn't I be used to the cold!? Well, the answer is NO - I really have a bad relationship with it.
Luckily, one thing that makes me feel better is a big bowl of Pho, which, my friend and I found tucked away in Chinatown. The speedy service traditional in most Vietnamese restaurants did not allow us enough time to catch up and my friend, who happens to be Australian and who had another fellow Aussie in tow, had the brilliant idea to check out KO Catering and Pies - Boston's one and only Australian food shop specializing in meat pies.
With this new mission, entailing hot meaty pies at the end, suddenly the cold became all that more bearable. Bearable that is, until halfway through our quest (for some unfathomable reason we decided to walk...), I got an emergency tweet saying that KO was actually closed and would reopen the next day.  Upon receiving this news, I was perhaps not the most gracious guide.

Seeing as we were half way there, we decided to at least get a good look of the place, maybe snap a sad pic and then head to a bar along Broadway in South Boston.
Something in my companion's blood must have told him this would be worth it...and it was. With a stroke of luck and a bit of Australian spirit, KO was closed to the public, but still full of a bustling team, getting ready to open its doors after its holiday hiatus.
Baby - it was Pie Time!

 Once our faces had thawed enough to allow for talking, Sam, the owner and genius behind KO, graciously invited us to sit down and enjoy a cup of steaming hot tea - It saved me!
Just getting ready to re-open the following day, there were no fresh pies, but their freezer full of the frozen ones you can purchase for between 5 and 6 dollars to defrost and enjoy at home.
 They did however, have some freshly made 'Lamingtons', a curious cube covered in what looked like toasted coconut. I had never heard or seen such a thing, but my two companions were all in a dither the moment Sam brought them out. So what is a Lamington you ask? (Much as did I at the time) Well, they are simply pieces of yellow cake smothered in chocolate and then coated with coconut.  So simple, and yet soooo delicious.
They went down an absolute treat with the tea! It felt as though we had just stopped by our neighbor's home for a little chat, a little reminisce over the land Down Under. It was so interesting!
Australia has always been a place I would love to visit, but it is quite far away.  With KO Catering and Pies offering up fresh and assorted meat pies (when they are officially open of course!) and many other traditional Australian accoutrements, aka Lamingtons, Tim Tams and Vegemite, at least I know I can swing by for the real deal - which I will certainly do soon!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Presenting the Foodista Archives!

I am very proud to announce my new 'Foodista Archives' page, just launched yesterday. This page (which can be found along the line of tabs near the top of the site), lists all the restaurants and eateries I want to try out as well as many of the restaurants I have knocked off my list already.

The restaurants with one * represent my 'to-eat at' list while the ** signals a spot I have already experienced and indeed, one I have written about. By clicking on a * restaurant, you will be directed to the restaurant's homepage and by clicking on a restaurant with **, you will be redirected to the post I published about my experience. (Don't worry though, I always include a restaurant's website link in any post I write!)

I have high hopes for this list, I think it will serve as a very concrete reminder of just how much work I have cut out for me this year! If you have any suggestions of places that are not on the list, please, please, please send them my way either by commenting on this post, or by emailing me at rachel@frugalfoodista.com

Monday, January 2, 2012

Not your Average Strip Joint :)

I have never been much good at sticking to my New Year's resolutions - but I am not one either to give up on the notion.
This year, I have decided to incorporate my blog into my NY resolution....this year, 2012, I will try to get to as many of the places on my ever-growing list of food spots as possible.  
We are off to a good start in 2012 with a great little gem, located off the beaten path in Watertown.  This gem is named Strip T's and is a peculiar spot I only heard about through SEgallows' recent tweets. 

Generally, any restaurant recommended by a a solid restauranteur in the South End is a spot worth trying and I somehow managed to get Strip T's on my list and checked off within 24hours. (Why not get that momentum going from day one!? )
After a few confused text messages from my partners in crime trying to figure out why on earth I would want to go to a strip joint in Watertown, three of us found ourselves seated in a small, understated sit-down area in Strip T's on School St.

What first appears to be underwhelming, soon turns into a deliciously surprising adventure and it is not wonder why this place has 25 strong years under its belt and is still counting!  Everything but the food is no frills, but there is no need to direct attention to decor when the food is so solid. The staff are professional and friendly, having come from impressive backgrounds such as stints at Craigie on Main, and the service was executed with attention and personalism.  We ordered a slew of appetizers and a few entrees and each was thoroughly enjoyed.
Up first and pictured above was their Pig's Head Toast, served warm and tender with a creamy aioli and a satisfying crunch from  freshly sliced radish.
Next we had their Japanese Eggplant Banh Mi, a traditional Vietnamese-style sandwich with crispy tofu, pickles and cilantro between crusty baguette.  I thought a bit more accent from a sweet or spicy/sweet sauce would have brought the whole thing together, but even so, the Banh Mi was light and fresh.
I was nervous to order the Poutine, being Canadian, I am always tentative and usually disappointed.  Strip T's poutine was on the verge of success with deliciously cooked and seasoned fries and a sweet and salty gravy.  As usual, it is with the cheese that true success goes amiss.  In traditional poutine, cheese curd is a necessity, and although Strip T's did indeed use cheese curd, they applied large cubes of it as opposed to smaller irregular ones...it was delicious, but did not meld together as poutines of my youth did. Still, a valiant and comparably acceptable attempt.
Among the appetizers that were so delicious I failed to get a picture before half of the dish was gone, were the Moxie sauced Chicken Wings (Sooo sweet, tangy and a tad spicy delicious!) and the charred (not fried!) baby octopus.
For entrees, we ordered their Grilled Skirt Steak topped with chimichurri, served over a bed of crunchy watercress, pickled peppers and fingerling potatoes. As many restaurants begin to fall short when it comes to entrees, Strip T's quite excelled. The steak was cut and cooked to a perfect medium rare. The sauce was an interesting choice but matched the presentation and bite of the pickled peppers. This dish was very well done and aesthetically pleasing with dashes of colour surrounding the pretty pink meat.
We were lucky enough to snag the last Rainbow Trout, served broiled and splayed with hen of the woods mushrooms (a nice, meaty contrast to the light fish), creamy roasted chestnut and jasmine rice. The dish was interesting and quite different from the steak, however the fish would have been more enjoyable had it been free of little bones:)
From Vietnamese dishes to American-Mexican and dishes with Japanese accents, Strip T's Chicken and Waffles is a true testimony to the eclectic mastery of Chef Tim (alumni of David Chang's Restaurant Group).  A staple in Southern cuisine, Chef Tim serves his Buttermilk Fried Chicken with kale and a choice of grits of waffles (the latter...duh!).  The chicken itself is delicious, not too heavily breaded and somehow maintaining a juiciness to write about, once everything is soaked in maple syrup, the bitterness of the kale cuts in as a mark of pure and simple genius!

Although we were quite stuffed (not surprising), the kitchen team brought us out some of their pine nut and lavender brittle. This dessert is light and tasty, the intention is both clear and subtle - each bit somehow manages to go through layers of flavoring.
From the start to the finish, this 'sirloin strip' joint will have you pleasantly surprised and incredibly satisfied.  Too bad it is out in watertown, the South End would die for a place like this - modest, true and an exceptional price to quality ratio.
Here's to hoping this foreshadows a year of culinary discoveries like this!