Saturday, September 29, 2012

A couple fall festivals in Boston

 After a great summer, fall seems here to stay.  Monday is the first of October and although I am sad to see summer end, I so love autumn in New England.
Seasonal favorites return in many restaurants and cafes, drink and menu specials accenting fall ingredients abound - the colors change all around and there is a fresh, crispness to the air.
Although this would be enough to look forward to, there are a few upcoming events that really have me excited. 

On the 6th of October, from 11-6, the Boston Fisheries Foundation will be holding their first ever Boston Fish Pier Seafood Festival.  At the Bank of America Pavilion, the day will be be filled with seafood related endeavors from oysters, lobsters and clambakes to chef demonstrations and educational seminars.  The best part? It is all in the name of generating awareness for the sustainability of Boston's fish pier, whose fish populations have increasingly come under more pressure both from growing consumption rates and real estate development throughout the seacoast of New England.  Everyone loves Boston's seafood, so why not come out and learn a thing or three while enjoying a day of fish related events on the Seaport? 

Also next week, one of my all-time favorite events will take place at the Greenway.  Sunday, the 7th from 11-5, head over to this beautiful part of the city separating the financial district from the Seaport for a day celebrating local food purveyors at the Boston Local Food Festival
For three years now the BLFF has been an opportunity for New England farmers to get to know their clients and for clients to put faces to the delicious food products they enjoy on a regular basis.  It is also a fantastic way to discover some of the newbies making a name for themselves in Boston's local food scene. 
Another fun aspect of this festival is of course the Local Craft Brewfest which kicks off the festivities on Friday the 5th at HarborPark.  As the name portrays, it is the beer drinker's equivalent to the BLFF.  The latter is open and free to the public, however the Brewfest requires tickets which you can purchase here.  Whether you are into food or beer (or both!), stop by at some point for a snack, or better yet, make a day of it and you will not be disappointed!
Many other fun events will be happening as we edge our way deeper into fall.  Keep an eye on my blog and I will be keeping you on pointe with what's up:)

Monday, September 24, 2012

Boston Brunching at the Burro

 After a much too long hiatus from my favorite blogging group, the Boston Brunchers, a last minute invite got me a spot at this month's eating extravaganza.
Once or twice a month, a group of Boston bloggers get together over a brunch (or other food-related activity), to experience different menus, enjoy each other's company and spread the word.  This past Sunday, the meeting place was in Somerville at The Painted Burro.  I had already been here for dinner earlier on in the year, but their brunch was a first and I can tell you, it will not be the last:)
 Along with a group of 9 others, we were seated at a lovely wooden table in the middle-right section of the restaurant and shortly thereafter, an order of their specialty Iced Coffee Horchata was placed in front of us.  This delicious refreshment was light and sweet, with an orange-infused sugar rim.  As you can tell, it was HUGE, but I somehow had no trouble finishing it off.
 To get our palettes warmed up, we ordered a few of their goat empanadas which came two to an order, perfectly fried and filled with delicious, tender local goat's meat and covered in a red pepper and tomato-chipotle salsa.  Lucky for Renee and myself, we managed to get a whole order to ourselves:)
 Guacamole was a must, however, there was a brief discussion about which of the three kinds we should get.  After a slight nudge from my part, guacamole with pork belly and roasted tomatoes was the winner.  There is always the question of whether adding pork belly to something as classic as guacamole is necessary, and although the guacamole itself would have been just fine, pork belly on anything is usually my preference:)
 For the entrees, I teamed up with Renee and Liz in a three-way sharesies.  We could not resist their Yucatan Meatloaf - a monstrous portion of spicy sirloin, ground with chorizo, ham, chicarron, green olives and almonds (which made for an amazing crunch every other bite).  The whole thing is topped with two beautifully fried, sunny-side up eggs and placed on a thick cut piece of toast.  Oh - and the best part? Their red mole sauce.
The meatloaf itself was so delicious that I could have done without the bread, just serve me up the meat and the sauce and I would be perfectly happy.
 Our second dish was 'El Montanero' - a lovely mess of burro rice, beans, chicharron, chorizo and best of all, fried plantains.  Again, two eggs topped off the dish and turned the whole thing into a fantastic concoction of textures reinforced with a crispy crunch from an underlying corn tortilla.
Third was their braised pork and kale hash which was a huge fan favorite and I definitely appreciated the greenery from the kale.  Although all the dishes were tasty, they were mostly pretty heavy and left my craving something a little lighter.
 To finish off, I figured it would be a good idea to order a taste of their homemade ice creams.  On for the morning was a chipotle chocolate which I found to be an excellent digestif, and a coconut-avocado ice cream, which to me, was a refreshing palette cleanser.
All desserts have a purpose:)
These ice creams were fabulous, with real, honest flavors.

By the end of the meal, all of us bloggers were ready for a nice nap, one last surprise woke us all up however and that was their corn popsicle.  Richard, the Passionate Foodie, was the one who put this little guy on our radar and I am sure glad he did.  It was basically like eating a cold corn on the cob, which may sound crazy...but - well, it is crazy actually.  Crazy good to be clear:)
If you are looking for something different, interesting and tasty to change your brunch (or dinner) pace, The Painted Burro is a definite go:)

(A special thanks to The Painted Burro for hosting our group of bloggers and being so informative!)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The art of drinking progressively - The Urban Grape

Wine is very often an intimidating beverage...the sheer quantity of different varieties, qualities and regions is enough to require expert Sommeliers in restaurants, and to send many of us into fits of exasperation. 
Although I have been slowly developing my palette, I still have trouble going into a regular wine store and not feeling a bit overwhelmed. 
(Photo Credit - Randy Gross)
 Enter The Urban Grape, a new breed of wine store that offers an alternate approach to familiarizing yourself with wine.  
The Urban Grape, originally in Chestnut Hill have just opened their new South End location, I attended the Sneak Preview this Tuesday and can tell it will become a huge part in my future wine education.

(Photo Credit: Randy Gross)
To start, I should present their motto - drink progressively.  This embodies the concept behind the store and its arrangement.  The owners, TJ and his wife, Hadley, are dedicated to dismantling the intimidation some people feel towards wine and replacing it instead with a system that allows even virgin wine drinkers to discover the wonderful world of wine.

The 760 bottles of wine they carry, range from major brand names to small batch, organic bottles, are organized based on a scale from 1-10, according to the level of body and overall strength of taste.  For instance, if you wanted to try something red, with bold flavors that can stand up on its own, you could try anything in the higher numbers of red wine.  The numbers are all clearly propped up on the section indicating the level as well as the color...(R = red, W = white).  
Having worked with creative and leading architects, the store is expansive and clean and has a minimalist style that puts all the wine bottles on showcase.  If you stand at a particular spot, it almost looks like the wine bottles are floating - which was the exact inspiration behind the design.

 So you may be asking, how do you know where your palette stands in a subjective 1-10 ranking?  Well, this is where things get really fun! In the middle of the room, there is a 'taste station', which looks quite like a satellite about to be launched into space.  In it you will find a bottle of wine which the owners think exemplifies each number on the scale.  The station is self-serve, so up you go to try the different numbers and then head to your favorite section(s).
TJ and Hadley were positively brimming with excitement at the Opening and little wonder why, they have developed a brilliant concept as well as a way to bring community and fun into a milieu which is often unfairly shunned as being pompous and snobby.  
The Urban Grape does more than wine, you will also find beer, sake and other kinds of interesting liqueurs and once they are really up and running, you will be able to taste pretty much anything they have on hand.
Oh and with a space as cool as this one, how could they not host the occasional pop-up event? In fact, October 14th will be their first Pop-up event, Two Chefs and a Microphone.  From 7-9, Chefs Seth Morrison (The Gallows) and Michael Scelfo (Russel House Tavern) will present a five course menu with wine pairings.  Grab a ticket while you still can here, for $35.00, they will go quickly!
Pop-up or no, Urban Grape's new location is a perfect fit for any level of wine connoisseur, stop by anytime now that they are open to the public and get drinking...progressively of course:)

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Breakfast in the most comfortable beds:)

Still readjusting from our Helsinki Tour, this week has been a bit tough.  By about 4 o'clock in the afternoon, I am turning into a zombie and the copious amounts of choreography I have had to get caught up on only added fuel to the fire. 
This said, things could have been worse, for instance, we may not have had the day after our arrival off.  Most importantly, this would have prevented my friend and I from attending a lovely Breakfast in Bed collaboration at the Natick Mall between Tempur-Pedic and Barbara Lynch.

Early Tuesday morning (the jet lag worked in our favor for this!), the two of us set off in our Zipcar for the Natick Mall to be greeted by an array of breakfast goodies in a store filled with the world's comfiest beds...not bad for the first morning back in Boston eh?
During the visit, my friend and I were treating to a personal tour of the store, which happens to be the very first retail store for the Tempur-Pedic brand.  We were invited to test all the beds - an invite we gladly accepted - and to check out the neat videos and montages they have promoting their various products.
My favorite was without a doubt their 'Grand Bed', which is basically the most heavenly mattress compilation I have yet experienced. In fact, I think I may have dozed off for a moment while I was fulfilling my testing duty...

Naturally, all the bed-testing really worked up an appetite, which took us to the breakfast buffet set up by Barbara Lynch and her catering team.  Included was an assortment of muffins and scones (my favorite!), vegetarian quiche, bagels, smoked salmon and heirloom tomatoes.  There were even to-go boxes available for those who had to rush off to work.  
Seeing as we had the day off, my friend and I were able to enjoy the treats at our leisure.

It was really great getting to meet the director of retail from Tempur-pedic as well as Barbara Lynch, I am sure both ladies had a very taxing morning....:)
By the time we managed to tear ourselves away from the baked goodies and heavenly mattresses, it was noon time.  Shops had opened and we took advantage of being at the Mall to do a bit of grazing.  Lucky for our purses, the Zipcar reservation limited us to one stop at lululemon and so we only did relatively minor damage. 
It was a great start to our first day back in Boston.  I am a bit upset that I just bought a bed for my new apartment...because it really has nothing on the ones made by Temper-Pedic...maybe I will be really lucky and win the drawing we entered for a free Tempur-Pedic bed! I relly have nothing to complain about though, because all attendees of the event walked away with a complimentary Tempur-Pedic neck pillow...too bad the event had not been prior to our Helsinki trip...:)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Highlights of Helsinki

 Last week, part of the Boston Ballet went on tour to Helsinki, Finland.  Although I traveled quite a bit while I was competing as a Rhythmic Gymnast, going on tour with a ballet company is very different.  From point A to B and back again, all logistics are taken care of. It is amazing! Of course, you have your responsibility as a performing artist while you are there, but within that, you get to visit countries you might not otherwise have a chance to see.
  As a foodista, I love experiencing a country's culture through food.  I knew hardly anything about Finnish food before this trip and although it was fairly short, I did manage to learn a thing or two...

Seeing as this was a performance tour, the building we got to know the best was the Finnish Opera House (Spelt 'Oopera').  I believe it has been quoted one of the most beautiful and well designed Opera Houses in the world...a few days in this place and I completely agree! 
The entire company was blown away by the size of the stage...what a treat to dance on it in front of sold out houses!

The Opera House is located right by a river and park that runs alongside one of the main streets.  At this time of year, everything is so green and beautiful. Looking out of the Opera House to this view is an inspiring setting in itself.

As I mentioned earlier, I did not know much about Finnish food culture prior to my arrival.  I was very surprised and excited when I saw a 'cold smoked reindeer' pizza at one of the Italian restaurants near the hotel....of course I had to order it!
It had an interesting flavor, subtle and almost sweet when prepared this way. Unfortunately I did not manage to have true reindeer breast which they traditionally serve as a stew over boiled or mashed potatoes...but that I can save for next time:)
 As with many European cities, one of my favorite things is the way they do bread. In Finland, they have this fantastic pretzel-like bread which was served to us in a huge basket, each piece drizzled in olive oil and big chunks of salt. This meal we had on our first night in Helsinki, after a long, long travel day...needless to say, the whole basket disappeared in no time:)

One thing I had heard about the Finnish however, was that they love their Saunas, with a population of around 5 million people, they have 2 million saunas...those are pretty strong odds!  In our hotel, the sauna quickly became a hot commodity (pardon the pun!) and a daily ritual.
My friends and I made it a habit of going down for a contrast between the hot and dry sauna and the freezing  bath of water they had by the pool. As awful as that may sound, it does wonders for your circulation and inflammation:)
The Finns also love their berries, which they use in many things, including as an added layer of complexity to salads. This goat cheese salad made my night as I had spent the evening walking around the City Center with my dad, who was visiting.

I love checking out regular grocery stores in new places, it is always so interesting to see what locals make a part of their everyday eating routines.  Apparently, in Finland, Angry Bird sodas and gummies are commonplace...:)

I would be amiss if I did a whole blog post and neglected a special mention of their baked goods and licorice-like spices.  Although two things you would not usually pair together, most Finnish bakeries produce these incredible pastries that are sweet with cinnamon, but with a hint of cardamon.  This may sound strange, but I can assure you, that paired with a fresh cappuccino it makes for the perfect treat, anytime of the day. 
There are so many other interesting things I encountered in Helsinki, from Donkey Salami at Muru, a Michelin Star restaurant, to the most extensive selection of licorice and gummies, which I came fairly close to depleting:)
The trip was a success from all angles, from the interesting and welcoming city we visited to the performances we gave and the standing ovations we received.  There are few thing I love more than exploring new places, particularly places that are so rich in color, culture and taste:)
As we near our 50th Annivesary Season at the ballet, I think we can expect more tours to come our way!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

A Buttery Expansion

Throughout the summer, rumors of some 'buttery' expansion have been circulating the South End; a new location on Clarendon, an addition to the original on Shawmut and Union was enough to have me on the tips of my toes with anticipation! 
I am very happy to say that this past Thursday, half of my wait is over as The South End Buttery has officially opened its new cafe space.

 A beautiful open space with a view right into their kitchen is adorned with a whole variety of interesting and tasty selections from bread to prepared take-away items and specialty condiments.
 In case you are in the area, or looking for something fresh and delicious, here are some things you might want to get in on:

As mentioned above, a whole slew of freshly baked bread from Iggy's and Clear Flour Bread tempts even the most ardent carb avoiders, the same can be said about their pastries and other sweet or savory treats prepared daily in their open kitchen. 
For lunches or dinners, an array of their prepared foods some of which are taken directly from their restaurant's dinner menu (ahem...mushroom mac' and cheese please!?) are a fantastic option.

If you are in the mood for a bit more indulgence, I highly recommend some of their frozen treats like their small batch pints of ice cream.  These guys are small, but packed with intense and unusual flavors like pistachio honey and goat cheese cherry...both of which I have tried and both of which are sure to send your taste buds on a journey. The milk cows are strictly grass fed...perhaps that makes for the especially rich and decadent quality?
Do note however, a pint comes at a bit of a steep price...10.99 a pint. Fortunately (or unfortunately) they are totally worth it:)

  Every time I have been, there is something new to try or look at.  I am especially fond of their Coconut Jam, something else I would suggest looking out for...and they are the only ones to sell it!
The South End Buttery has always been a quintessential characteristic of the neighborhood, with its relatively new dinner service, this addition as well as its soon to open location on Clarendon, they are proving themselves able to evolve, hopefully with the added space, lines will not be so long!  
This new place has been open a total of four days and I have been in three times....I am sensing a dangerous, but oh so tasty trend:)