Monday, April 30, 2012

Grilled Cheese Sundays at the Met Back Bay

 After a whole week of performances, Sunday evening rolls around and I find myself quite exhausted.  When I get very tired, my ability to make decisions disappears and I become a very difficult person to make plans with.  A good friend of mine always seems to be at the receiving end of this indecisiveness...and so, lo and behold, this Sunday, after completing our first week of Don Quixote, it took my friend and I about two hours and a billion text messages to figure out where we were going to go for dinner.
I wanted to try something new, but I did not want to walk or take the T, I wanted something casual and relaxed, nothing too fancy and certainly nothing pretentious.  Area Four came to mind, but that was too far, Citizen Public House in Fenway was another idea, but I was not all that fond of the meat-heavy menu.  Out of nowhere it seems, I got the idea of trying Met Back Bay, located on Newbury and Dartmouth.  

 With its proximate location, simple, but enticing menu and a bar with a decent reputation, it seemed the perfect fit for a particularly indecisive Sunday evening.
At The Met Bar, you can opt for a finer dining experience in their upper-floor dining area, you can settle down for a whiskey in their Library Bar, or indulge in their bar menu on the lower level.  The great thing is that you can actually order from any menu wherever you are, the only thing that changes then, is the type of atmosphere you choose.
We opted straight away for their bar and lounge area, which even on a Sunday evening, had a nice buzz going.  We started with some drinks, I tried their 'Tantric', an interesting and subtle blend of gin, ginger, ginger beer, cucumber and passion fruit.  The drink was delightfully refreshing, with no ingredient overpowering the whole.  
  On top of its various menus, this restaurant also has a few nightly specials and by some stroke of good fortune, Sunday nights happen to be their Grilled Cheese Night.  For 5.95, you can choose from a selection of delectable grilled cheeses and for 2 dollars, you get three shots of soup.  It is an insane deal and the grilled cheese selection is really quite impressive.
We opted for their 'El Amigo' - Queso Fresco, shredded short rib and jalapenos grilled between their house bread.  It was spicy and sweet with a generous amount of short rib.  I was duly impressed with the sandwich and for 5.95, it is a steal.  We also tried their roasted tomato, ginger-carrot and chicken and pecorino soups.  I loved the first two, they were thick and rich and perfect complements to the sandwich. I was not a fan of the chicken and pecorino, which I thought lacked flavor and intensity.
Just to add a component of 'lightness' to our meal, we ordered their tartar duo - salmon and tuna.  I was worried that it might be a bit 'sauce' heavy, but both were incredibly well executed.  The tuna was a fabulous deep-red color, the salmon was also vibrant and fresh.  The duo is served with salty, taro chips which can never hurt;)
All in all, it was a gem of a meal and I plan on not only returning for future Grilled Cheese Sundays, but I also hope to experience their Taco Tuesday soon.
The Met Back Bay is an interesting space with a wide range of dining experiences - I would particularly recommend it if you are accompanied by an indecisive individual:)

Monday, April 23, 2012

Saved by a team of Food Trucks:)

So it's been a dismal couple of days, and alas, the world kept revolving and Monday morning arrived with buckets of rain to test everyone's level of dedication.  As far as I could tell, it seemed that more than a little rain is needed to keep Bostonians from coming to work and luckily, this applies to the Food Truck population of the city as well.  From about 11-3 pm today, a cluster of tasty treats were parked at Stuart and Trinity Place, just waiting to provide that much needed midday, pick-me-up. 
I gathered a few glum friends and together we ventured out into the gray, because when the weather is shot, all the more reason to give your tummy some extra loving:)

 I had yet to try out any of the three Food Trucks parked here today which were Red Bones, Staff Meal and the much anticipated newcomer, Mei Mei.  We decided to go for a mixed batch of goods from Staff Meal and Mei Mei and it was definitely the tastiest lunch I have had in a long while:)
 Staff Meal is a food truck run by two knowledgeable gents with an affinity for an array of different foods.  Their inspiration comes from many of the 'staff meals' people in the restaurant industry are served just before shifts start, which often involve chefs' experiments. On the Staff Meal menu today - tacos!
We tried one of each as well as a helping of their homemade tortilla chips and garlic guacamole.
My favorite was without a doubt their Shrimp Kabayaki, foie gras kewpie (!!!), rice krispies, jicama and togarashi.  Yes all that in between two layers of corn yes please! 
I also enjoyed their sweet Chinese sausage, fried rice, black bean and fried garlic taco.  
It is amazing how something so fresh, tasty and inspired can come out of a tiny little truck - someone is working the genius card here:)
 While we waited for our order at Staff Meal, we sauntered over to Mei Mei (ok, so I ran and pushed a bunch of people out of the way...but whatever), and put in an order for some of their tantalizing numbers.
 Mei Mei, which just showed up on streets in and around Boston this past Friday, is run by three siblings who all share a passion for fresh, locally-sourced food.  From their Chinese heritage, they add modern and personal charm and come up with incredible combinations, with everything made from scratch.
 We put in an order of their Chinese Spiced, Pork Mac & Cheese which definitely ranks as one of the best interpretations I have found around Boston yet. The Chinese spice gives it a subtle kick, the cheese is sharp and strong and the bread crumbs give it another layer of crunch - divine.
 We could obviously not go without a taste of their hand-crafted dumplings.  Our favorite were their 10 hour braised beef and blue cheese dumplings which my friend described as 'an explosion of taste in your mouth', and she is not one to compliment lightly! Although the dumplings pretty much stole the show, I also loved the watermelon radish and carrot pickles served on the side. Their Kale salad was a nice palate cleanser as well:)
 What I loved most about both Trucks was their underlying mission - to bring healthy, but delicious, fresh and different options out and across the city.  From the siblings at Mei Mei, who travel to each of their partner farms individually to ensure the best quality ingredients to the guys down at Staff Meal with their vast archive of food us 'normies' don't usually get to experience, the streets of Boston are on the road to becoming a wealth of flavor. 
Do your bit to support not only local farmers and Food Truck entrepreneurs, but to support a much inspired lunch program - it's all there for the taking - Enjoy!
Find out which trucks are near you Here.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

My Midnight Marathon

 After much agony and anticipation, this past Marathon Monday, I made it to my first Midnight Ramen.  Since January of this year, a team of talented and innovative chefs, headed by Mark O'Leary and Yukihiro Kawaguchi of O Ya, have gotten together about once a month to serve up 60 bowls of hand made ramen.  The real intrigue? The location is always changing and the ramen is not served until late into the night. 
The whole concept is exciting and has generated an uproar in Boston's food scene. Tickets are exceptionally difficult to come by, selling out a mere two minutes after they are released.  
So you can imagine my excitement in snagging a seat at the most recent Ramen event, this one being held right in my neighborhood, at The Gallows.

 A midnight ramen feast is not exactly how one might begin the week, but I could not pass up this opportunity! So I spent most of my Marathon Monday preparing for a marathon of my own: how to stay up until midnight...
In actuality, it ended up being a non-issue, a combination of my cat nap at 7 and our seating time at 11 p.m. made for a fairly do-able circumstance. 
The Gallows, a spot that is always brimming with people and vibe was full of ramen enthusiasts feasting on bowls of steaming ramen and hand fashioned pork belly buns.  I arrived the first of my fellow ramen companions and had a moment to take it all in.  Being in a restaurant at such a late hour on a Monday, when the rest of the city is deserted, is something different in and of itself.  
As if in accord with this theme, the restaurant was entirely lit by candlelight, providing for an atmosphere of being 'in the know' that hovered over the tables.

 The menu is simple and starts with a hand made, steamed, pork belly bun.  The bun itself was very interesting and you could taste the care that went into each one.  I have had better pork belly though, notably, the pork belly buns presented at   Uni's Late Night Ramen.
 For the ramen, you have two choices, a traditional salt-based broth or soy-based..both are obviously nice and high in sodium:)
I went for the traditional salt base and am very glad I did.  The broth was fantastic, not too salty, but enough to make you crave more with every slurp.  However it was definitely the noodles that took the cake.  Again, the handy craft that goes into these is exquisite, it makes for slightly thin but dense noodles, perfectly cooked.  As per usual, a soft-boiled egg adds complexity and texture.
I really enjoyed this bowl of ramen, it was nothing fancy, but honest and true, just like something you would find anywhere on the streets of Japan.
For dessert, two simple macaroons are served to settle the sweet side of things. 
Guchi's Midnight Ramen is an exciting step out of your ordinary food routine. It is a great concept, mixing tasty, fresh and hand-tailored food with intrigue and excitement.  Still in its early stages, I think this pop-up has a lot to offer and will continue to grow and offer late night appetites a satisfying end.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Marathon Madness

 The weekend of the 14th means one thing in Boston...Marathon Weekend! The arrival of masses of marathoners and their supporters descend upon the city and throngs of people from all over the world are out and about.
As with every year, the John Hancock Sports and Fitness Expo is held at a convention center somewhere in the city.  In past years, it has been held at the Hynes Convention Center, but this time round, celebrating their 35th year, the expo was held at the World Trade Center by the Seaport.

 There are loads of things to do at this expo; runners go for number pick-up, you can create a cheer card to egg on your favorite runners or write your name on a big wall, filled with the names of runners, messages from fans and other such enthusiasts.
 I have a couple of friends running and although I did not make a cheer card, I did put in a shout out for each of them on the 'Big White Board'.  A foodie friend of mine, Amanda Lakowski, aka Kitchen Misfit, will be running for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.  I am so proud to support her, what a beautiful thing to do!
I plan on being at the finish line to cheer everyone on for the last pun intended:)

 Of course, no Sports Expo is legitimate without hoards of supplement bars and powders.  I must admit, it was this part that attracted me the most:)

And I certainly got my fill of samples:)

The Seaport is such a fantastic area of Boston and on a nice day, there is no place quite like it - even with the hoards of people floating around, there is still so much space to saunter around by the water.  Of course, I can rarely go to this area and not make a pit stop at Flour Bakery...even after all the power bar samples, I could easily find room for a Chunky Lola:)
I always love seeing the city of Boston come alive and there are few other occasions that present such an influx of people from all walks of life, here to witness one of the world's most prestigious marathons.
I wish all the best to everyone and please, please, please is going to be a scorcher!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Stir Girls

On my daily walks from my apartment to the Ballet, I usually walk along Waltham street. This happens at least twice a day and so I walk past a certain doorway located right behind The Butcher Shop the same number of times.  This little nook on Waltham is actually home to Stir, a cook book shop by day, and a cooking-demonstration dinner space created by Barbara Lynch.  For many years I have been walking past this little spot and for just as many years, I have wanted to check a class/meal out.  It was not until just a few months ago, January 2012 to be exact, that a friend of mine was able to snag a few seats at one of their classes.
The first class I went to was en lieu of the infamous Occupy Wall Street movement and called, wittingly, Occupy Gastronomy.  Every class at Stir, and they hold these 7 evenings a week, has a theme, whether it is a cook book, the chef's inspiration, or seasonal ingredients.  You walk in to find a replica of Barbara Lynch's own kitchen, with a demonstration stove top surrounded by about ten seats for the guests. Stir is run by a small team of chefs and managers, the two main chefs, known as the 'Stir Girls', work together in creating and cooking the different menus.
The Occupy Gastronomy class, just happened to be an ecclectic array of dishes, ranging from Greek tatziki, to Korean Bi Bim Bap and a Vietnamese Bahn Mi - it was all a tribute to different countries coming under occupation...great idea - even greater food:)
And from this class onwards, my friend and I have become hooked...
Since that class, I have been to two others and each one has been so drastically diferent I am continually amazed by Chef Kristen and Chef Stephanie's phenomenal talent and diversity, these girls can do practically anything! My all-time favorite dinner was the one inspired off of the Joe Beef cook book...which happens to be one of my absolute favorite restaurants in Montreal - it was an evening of meat...bacon and...well, what else is there?

So what exactly do these two power girls do? On an evening where they are both working, they do all the prep work for the evening's meal throughout the day, Stir classes usually consist of 5 course meals, so there is some preparation involved.  Each course is then put together and explained in front of the class - you get general cooking knowledge, insider tips and they will answer any question you have for them. 

One of the best things at the Stir classes, other than getting to hang out with Kris and Steph, is seeing something go from scracth to a beautiful dish, right in front of your eyes. This herbed chicken breast with carrot puree came from their 'Duck, Duck, Goose' class (which I was at last night...Stir experience # 3:) ). We got to see them go through all the stages and finally get presented with this delicious tasting.

The same goes for each and every course.  Dessert is always interseting at Stir as the chefs try to incorporate their main ingredient even into the final course of the evening.  You can imagine how this might be tricky with a poultry class..again though, the Stir Girls amazed everyone with their Duck Liver Creme Brulee...
Can't imagine how that would taste? Well, neither could I at first, but then I took a spoonful of the freshly bruleed savory 'dessert' and I think my eyes popped out of their sockets. The taste was so decandent, rich and meaty, and yet it had all the texture and subtlety of a true, creme brulee.
There are always surprises to be had at Stir, you learn so much and get to eat a whole lot of fresh, inspired food.  It is a sound idea and something I think people with any interst in either cooking, eating, or socializing would enjoy.
Oh..and here's a tip towards getting into a class...follow them on facebook to get advance notice of when they will be releasing the next batch of classes, then jump on the wagon and reserve yourself a spot to whichever tickles your fancy:)

Sunday, April 8, 2012

A work out for you brain and your tummy:)

 When people think of going to a restaurant, they usually think of going out to enjoy a meal, a good chat or serious gossip - but there is so much more that be can done within the framework of a restaurant.  
 Common Ground Bar and Grill in Allston has the right idea, offering a different event every night of the week, from Stump trivia on Mondays to their Millennium party on Saturdays. (Check out their weekly schedule of events here.)
 My friend and I went to check out their Monday night Trivia last week and from about 8-10, the bar was packed with eager trivia gurus...and then some pretty fresh faces..aka, my friend and I:)
Although the trivia certainly helps draw in the crowds, Common Ground also has a recently re-configured menu, drawing on seasonal items, hand-picked and created jointly by Manager Bob Oguin and Chef Jaime Suarez.  Everyday, they set off in search of the freshest ingredients from local markets that incite their makes the world of difference!

 My friend and I arrived a bit before 8 and got started with an array of food...aka brain fuel, because we were ready to give this trivia a real go. On the board above the bar is a list of daily specials, whatever Chef Jaime Suarez and Manager Bob Oguin create from their collaborative morning trips to the markets.  

 We started with some chicken wings with Sweet Asian glaze.  Knowing we were going to have some serious pub fare, we figured we should get some greens...something people don't usually associate with a neighborhood bar.  Again, Common Ground knows what they are doing and serve up a delicious, roasted duck salad, with Gorgonzola, dried cranberries, green apple malt vinaigrette, all on a bed of delicious mixed greens.

 Deviled eggs, an item I usually skip over, came topped with house-cured bacon which sparked our interest.  Turns out the bacon was a delicious crispy pork belly...these little guys did not last long:)
  Of their daily specials, and upon Bob's recommendation, we tried their 'Sticky Chicken'.  It was a juicy chicken thigh, covered in a sticky, sweet glaze and on a bed of chopped fennel, carrots and cabbage.  It was similar to the chicken wings, but so much more fun because there was more meat...and consequently - so much more mess:)

 We also (yes there was more:) ), ordered their buffalo mac and cheese which is, understandably, a crowd favorite.  Served in a skillet, the casserole is cheesy and creamy, mixed with the sweet and spicy kick from the buffalo and a traditional sharp cut of Gorgonzola.  It was a fantastic rendition.
Only their fig and prosciutto sandwich disappointed, but it was largely because it was a bit light on the house-made fig jam...the fries however, were prime! (Apparently some people travel from quite a distance just for these fries...and I consider doing the same shortly:) )

We were completely stuffed, and come to think of it, our food coma probably did not help our trivia situation...but I refused to leave without dessert.  Again, as recommended by Bob, we gave their Chocolate Grand Mariana cake a try. It was a glorified molten chocolate lava cake - crispy on the outside, warm and lava-like on the inside.  With the side of whipped cream, I somehow polished off an entire cake...

So what did we learn? Among other things, that 'Mac and Cheese' was apparently a special edition Crayola color introduced in 1993, the LA Lakers were originally from Minneapolis and Oakland is the 4th highest ranked 'place to visit' as stated by The New York Times...We also learned that Trivia takes some practice and although my friend and I had some shining moments...we did not perform as well as we had hoped.  Common Ground seems the perfect place to fine tune our trivia skills - and even if that doesn't end up panning out -  we are sure to have a great meal:)

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Beer and Burgers - a match made in heaven

5 Napkin Burger, a Nation-wide chain specializing in the art of the burger, opened it's first location in Boston last March.  Since then, it has taken the concept of 'the burger', redressed it, and presented it as something more than your average pub grub.  
Part of 5 Napkin's mission, includes creating fun, social events around the burger.  One of their more popular dinner series is their Beer Dinner Series.  These dinners, priced at $45 a person, are inspired by a specific brewery that works with the chef to create a four course dinner, with each course expertly paired with a beer.
On the 2nd of April, I was invited to experience the Beer Dinner featuring  dinners, and any excuse to visit 5 Napkin Burger is fine by me:)
The dinner began at 6:30 with a reception and although my rehearsals at Boston Ballet had me running a little late, the team at 5 Napkin were kind enough to bring us a plate of what we had missed out on. Unfortunately, we could not catch up on the socializing part, but I was really happy to see a very large group of beer and burger fans:)

Of the appetizers, my favorite were the cheddar tots - like tater tots but with a creamy cheesy goodness on the inside. I also quite enjoyed the tuna wontons that were light and fresh, with a generous portion of avocado, which can never hurt.
The beer paired with the appetizers was a Levitation Ale and was actually my favorite beer of the night. It was a great way to start off: light and refreshing.
The first course was a small taste of Peel-and-eat Shrimp served in a beer boil with butter sauce.  Again, it was a nice way to begin the meal, especially when you know a burger is coming! The beer paired with this was the IPA (or Indian Pale Ale, for any non-beer drinkers out there). I was not as much of a fan of this beer, but it did work well with the buttery flavors of the dish.
Th piece de resistance was in the next course...aka, the burger. You could choose between their veggie burger or a Mushroom Blue burger. Although I do love their veggie burger, I was going big or going home and went for the Mushroom and Blue.  5 Napkin really knows burgers and they get a 10 oz. hunk of prime ground beef, always juicy and delicious and the bun they use is a perfect compliment. (So many places have too much bread!) The mushrooms were sauteed, adding a slightly sweet component and the whole lot was cut across with the sharp blue.  A strong burger like this was naturally paired with a strong beer, the Arrogant Bastard Ale, which, not surprisingly is known as one of their most aggressive...I admit, I could not drink much of this one...
To finish off an already successful meal, we were given a Smores Pie; a layered symphony of graham cracker, chocolate ganache and marshmallow.  I was duly impressed - so many dinner events like these neglect the dessert course, thinking most people will be too full to enjoy much else. Well I beg to differ! The dessert is the last impression! It could easily be the most important part of the least for me:) The sweet ending of 5 Napkin Burger's Beer Dinner Series really put the bow on top, and left me wanting more...
As far as multi-course dinners go, 5 Napkin's is well done and at 45 dollars (all-inclusive) it makes for a fantastic Tuesday evening. The next one is set for the 24th of keep your calendars open!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Diamonds (and chocolate) are a girl's best friend...

Lately, I have been living it up during the weekends - what with great taco adventureslocal dance performances and sushi and of course, last weekend's Jazz Brunch at TW Food.  You would think I could do with a weekend off...but when you are loving what you are doing - that's the last thing you want;)
If it is possible, this weekend continued the trend of fun and tasty treats and, as you will see, made me feel very much like a young child again - but who wouldn't with a chocolate bar in the morning and a Grand (diamond themed) Ball in the evening!?

The chocolate bar at Cafe Fleuri in the Langham Hotel, is something I have always wondered about, but which has seemed somewhat surreal to me.  How could you possibly have a brunch of just chocolate? I figured there must be some catch.  When I arrived on Saturday morning to meet a friend, I quickly surveyed the scene and was able to surmise in under 10 seconds, that the team at Cafe Fleuri, had gone and created a paradise of my sweetest delights.  When you walk in and the first thing you see is a beautiful chocolate fountain...things have obviously been done right!

After a first tour around, I quickly realised that I had a challenge on my hands...and it takes a lot to challenge my sweet tooth - so you can imagine my euphoria.  Luckily, my friend had a fantastic idea and we agreed to divide and concur, trying not to get two of anything so as to try the most, and waste the least.
The buffet is organized with stations in the middle going from milk to dark chocolate and then surrounded by specialty stations. Everything is done with care and precision, there is no sloppy buffet display at Cafe Fleuri! Above we have one of their milk chocolate cremeux and if is possible to imagine, it was as delicious as it was pretty...and every piece was presented in like form.

It was impossible to decide where to start.  The create-your-own cupcake station?  Or maybe the coldstone-esque ice cream bar with an array of different toppings folded into your ice cream right in front of you?

Of course you could also go for the sweeter side with their cotton candy station..but I steered clear of that one, my mission was purely chocolate related:)

In the end, we assorted various bits and bobs and ended up with a first collection of goods as picture above. (Just so you know, we made about three more trips of this size...needless to say, I was on quite a sugar high!).  Our favorites from this first batch was without a doubt the flourless chocolate stack (so gooey and rich) and the bourbon and peanut crunch cake (because when do peanuts and chocolate not go together!?) I was not a fan of their chocolate brulee, which, in fairness is difficult to pull off in a buffet where it will be sitting around and lose its crisp, torched topping and the right temperature altogether.

My personal favorites, and indeed, the only thing I went back for seconds of, was their banana, bacon tart.  I know, what in the world is that!? Simply, it is a banana cream with a big chunk of banana, topped with thick meringue and a piece of bacon, all held together in a 64% extra bitter guayaquil shell...ummm yes please! Everything about this little bite was perfect, the salty bacon made well with the sweet meringue and the smooth texture of the banana came together with a crunch from the was really something:)

My favorite station was definitely the 'chocolate crepe station' - pick your crepe (vanilla or chocolate) and your filling (white, milk or dark chocolate, bananas, coconut, mixed berries or almonds) and then, if you wish, pick your poison (aka liqueur), to have flambée-ed as a finishing touch.  I went with a vanilla crepe, with milk chocolate and mixed berries and a St Germaine flambée. It was expertly put together and the fire from the alcohol (which I tried my best to capture), was spectacular.

By the end of our time there, although I had been drinking copious amounts of water, my head was starting to feel the effects of the sugar, but that did not mean I was incapable of enjoying one of their warm, chocolate bread puddings.  I was absolutely taken away by the quality of this dessert. I got their right as the station had been filled.  The pudding was moist and rich, with the perfect strike between a crisp top and gooey center. I was delighted to finish off my meal with a bite of this. (And then some pretzels for MUCH needed salt...)

After this trip to paradise, I had to hydrate quite a lot because I was due to attend Le Bal du Diamant, which is the Boston Ballet's annual Black Tie benefit. I was in one of the performance excerpts that are a tradition for our ball, and some of my friends were modeling a gorgeous line of jewelry and fashion-wear from Tiffany's.  I think we can safely say we were all in a dither:)  After that, we get all dressed up and saunter off into the scene where, after a drink and a mingle, we generally dance the night away.
I felt like a princess the whole day, flitting from chocolate castles to diamond castles.  A day like this is pretty near perfect for a foodista on pointe:)