Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Snappy Sushi


I have always put sushi in Boston into three categories:

  • High-end places like Oya and Oishii with ingredients like truffles, fois gras, and caviar
  • The next level down/typical Back Bay sushi restaurant – I used to consider these over-priced, trendy, and all the same but have recently started to rethink this
  • The smaller places with good quality sushi at a reasonable price
     
Snappy Sushi is one of my favorites in the third category. They have two locations (Newbury Street and Davis Square), and serve exclusively brown rice sushi. The Newbury Street location used to offer sushi by the piece for $1, and although the prices have increased, they are still very affordable.

The menu includes all of the basics (maki, nigiri, and sashimi) as well as some specialty rolls and appetizers. Some of my favorites include the tuna tartare (spicy tuna layered on top of fresh avocado and tempura flakes), avocado salad (mixed with crab, cucumber, fish roe, and spicy mayo), and the tuna gone wild roll (torched white tuna on top of an avocado / cucumber roll with flying fish roe and sauce similar to eel sauce). They will also torch any of their standard sushi on request, a preparation I had previously only seen at very high-end places. 

The Newbury Street location has been one of my regular spots for sushi for several years now (especially since they’ve expanded), but I just recently tried the Davis location for the first time. The menu seemed to be the same and I ordered some basic rolls along with the usual tuna tartare and was not disappointed. 

Tuna Tartare

Spicy Scallop Tempura and Tuna Avocado Rolls

See my favorite dishes at this restaurant on Tasted Menu Snappy Sushi on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Grafton Street


I went to Grafton Street in Harvard Square for drinks after work with some friends and expected a typical pub menu. When I arrived, I was surprised to see a good-sized list of wines by the glass including several American, French, Spanish, and Italian options. I also noticed an extensive beer list but didn’t pay much attention until I was already sipping my glass of montepulciano. When I looked more closely, I was excited to see the draft list included Rapscallion, a local beer and my current drink obsession which I've had a hard time finding. I made a mental note to return, since I  only planned to have one drink. 


My friends and I decided to share some apps and were equally impressed by the food menu, which included typical pub fare as well as some more gourmet options (pork belly, tuna tartare, truffle fries, duck breast, etc.) . We tried the braised pork belly with apples and cheddar polenta, and the cheese plate with apricot honey, walnuts, and toasted brioche. While the pork belly was not the best I’ve ever had (it lacked the crispy skin), it was very good especially for the price and bar location. 

Two apps for three people was a decent amount of food, but we were in the mood for dessert and decided to try the chocolate chip cookie sundae based on the bartender’s recommendation. It was huge, warm, and delicious, and I easily polished off half the cookie in minutes!  I’m not sure I’d make the trip to Harvard Square again solely based on the food (in all fairness it's sometimes hard to get me out of back bay), but if I was meeting friends in the area (or craving Rapscallion), I’d choose it over any other pub.
See my favorite dishes at this restaurant on Tasted Menu Grafton Street Pub & Grill on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 21, 2011

Piattini


Piattini is an Italian tapas and wine bar on Newbury Street. It’s a different type of Italian than what you’d find in the North End; it's more upscale and (for lack of a better word) more Newbury Street.  I’ve heard criticisms of Piattini (and similar places) for not being as good as the North End.  I don’t these are fair comparisons; it’s a different thing.  I would compare Piattini to Ivy, my go to spot for Italian tapas until they closed about a year ago. My friends and I were disappointed when Ivy closed, but agreed that over the years it had gone downhill. We tried Piattini recently because the concept seemed similar, but had low expectations. We were pleasantly surprised and agreed it was much better than Ivy at its best. 

The menu includes a mix of hot and cold tapas and entrees, each with numbers corresponding to pairings on the wine list. I went with two other people and we opted to share a bottle of the house red wine (Montepulciano) and five tapas. Our server let us sample the wine before ordering the bottle and gave us recommendations for some of the most popular tapas (mostly pasta dishes). 

After some discussion, we settled on the mixed olives and cheeses, prosciutto wrapped mozzarella, eggplant with mozzarella and truffle cream sauce, spicy calamari, and grilled Italian sausage. Each of us had a different favorite, which was a good sign. I loved the eggplant – it came breaded and fried, and was served in a tower layered with smoked mozzarella and sundried tomatoes. The whole thing was topped in the truffle cream sauce, which was delicious and not too heavy. My friends’ favorites were the Italian sausage with roasted red peppers and peas, and the pan-seared calamari in a spicy tomato sauce with olives, capers, and tomatoes. The portions were good sized and we had just enough food to be satisfied but not too full for dessert. 

We ordered the tiramisu and black forest cake, and one of our two complaints for the night was that our server forgot the black forest cake. We weren’t charged for it and had plenty to eat, so we never mentioned it. The second complaint was that there was no bar and we had planned to arrive early and have a few drinks. However, when we arrived 10-15 minutes before our reservation time we were seated and served wine right away. Aside from these two minor flaws, the meal was excellent and we all agreed we’d go back. Piattini is one of the better options on Newbury Street, the food is tastier than most and it’s not nearly as overpriced. Dinner and drinks for three people came to just over $100. 

Pan-Seared spicy calamari

Eggplant with smoked mozzarella and truffle cream sauce

Mixed olives and cheeses

Prosciutto wrapped mozzarella

Italian sausage with roasted red peppers and peas

Tiramisu
See my favorite dishes at this restaurant on Tasted Menu Piattini on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 18, 2011

El Triunfo

I was craving shrimp tacos after this weekend’s came out so well, but too lazy to walk across the street to Shaw’s in the rain. I decided to try El Triunfo, knowing only that they delivered and had once left a stack of menus in my building’s lobby. The menu didn’t include shrimp tacos, but I saw the cilantro shrimp with beans, rice, and corn tortillas and decided to make my own. I asked for guacamole and was told it was included, which was unusual but a great sign. 

Delivery took forty minutes, which is about average for Back Bay. The dish was loaded with baby shrimp and included fajita vegetables, black beans, rice, guacamole, and pic de gallo. I was a little disappointed there were only two tortillas, but the dish was not intended to be make-your-own tacos so I don’t fault them for it. I loaded the two tortillas as full as I could make them, and ate the remaining shrimp, rice, and vegetables separately. It was good, but not especially hot or fresh given the 40-minute delivery time. It definitely had potential and I decided I would try them again but eat there next time. I looked them up online and learned they also have a location in the north end near my office.  I’m hoping they’ll make the list of regular lunch spots and provide an alternative to Q’Doba, which is where I usually go for my lunchtime taco fix. 

The dish as it came
Makeshift shrimp taco with guacamole

See my favorite dishes at this restaurant on Tasted Menu El Triunfo on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Troquet


Troquet is an upscale French restaurant overlooking the Boston Common. It’s on the same level as L’Espalier or No 9 Park, but is a little less pricy and has more of a bistro feel. I tried it years ago when they first opened, and had been meaning to go back for a while. Last night I happened to be out in the area and decided to give it a try. We walked in around 9pm on a Wednesday night, and were seated promptly at a table for two by the window with an amazing view of the common.

What I remembered most from my last visit was the wine list - Troquet is known for an extensive list of wines by the glass intended to pair with the food. I was excited to try the wine now that I know a little more about food and wine pairing and I was not disappointed! The list included at least 50 varieties by the glass and was a good mix of French, Italian, Spanish, and American. The wines were all available in two or four-ounce pours for pairing, and each item on the dinner menu included a range of numbers corresponding to several glasses of wine. Any of the glasses within the range would pair well with the food.


We shared the Duck Confit Salad as an appetizer, which according to the menu came with a brioche crouton, smoked bacon, soft duck egg, and truffle vinaigrette. As soon as it arrived, I immediately thought it was a play on eggs benedict (thank you Top Chef for teaching me to notice these things)! The brioche crouton resembled an English muffin, was lightly toasted, and acted as the base for the dish. The second layer included duck confit and mixed greens, and it was all topped with a soft duck egg. Once the egg broke, the yolk mixed with the vinaigrette and bacon on the plate creating the hollandaise-like component of the dish. The flavors worked well together, all of the ingredients were prepared perfectly, and the duck confit was slightly crispy but still very tender and flavorful. I ordered a glass of pinot noir from the recommended pairings, and it went well with duck and without overpowering it. 

I ordered the roasted suckling pig as my main course, which was served three ways. The first was pork leg with crispy skin paired with spicy grits; it was extremely tender and tasted almost like pork belly. The ratio of crisp skin and the melt in your mouth layer of fat just above the meat was perfect, and made this my favorite preparation. The second was roast pork loin with carrots and a pork jus, and the third was a pork roulade with smoky BBQ sauce and celery root coleslaw. All three were excellent, and although each of the three preparations were very different the sides and sauces brought all of the flavors together. I tried the Tempranillo based on the server’s recommendation and the spiciness worked well, bringing out some of the spiciness of the dish. 


Dessert was the sticky toffee pudding with pineapple and rum ice cream. This was delicious, but I was so full I could barely eat more than a few bites. I did have room for the salted caramel that came with the check - a dark chocolate filled with a liquid, salted caramel center.

The meal at Troquet was the best I’ve had in a while, and I definitely plan to return soon.

See my favorite dishes at this restaurant on Tasted Menu Troquet on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Tomasso

     When people first hear of my interest (obsession) with food, they almost always ask my favorite restaurant. I often refuse to answer unless they narrow it to a type of cuisine (French, Italian, Sushi, etc.) and sometimes I ask for it to be narrowed even further within the category further (high-end, bistro, etc.). The answer will change and based on the degree of specificity but if I had to choose my overall favorite restaurant of all time, it would be Tomasso Trattoria in Southboro. I have dined here on many occasions, and attended countless cooking classes, wine classes, food/wine/beer tastings, and dinners featuring Italian wine makers and local farmers. With so much to write about, you may see several posts about Tomasso including a review of a standard meal plus any events I might attend in the future. This post will be an overview and general shoutout!

The concept is traditional northern Italian cuisine featuring local, seasonal ingredients, and wines to go with them. The entire staff is extremely knowledgeable about wine, and I credit much of my knowledge of Italian wines to them. After speaking with the owner, I learned he is a fan of Michael Pollen and tries to incorporate many of the principles discussed in his books (The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Food Rules, etc.) in his restaurant. He buys local whenever possible, and when listing ingredients on the menu often includes the farms they came from. Both the owner and head chef have traveled extensively and studied in Italy, which means the dishes and concept are as authentic as you can get.

I’ve never had a bad meal at Tomasso, but my favorites have been during white truffle season. Every year during the season, they feature white truffles from Umbria and serve them shaved over pasta. I’ve seen them been offered on Facebook auction-style when they’re down to only a few servings. According to Facebook it's that time again, so I will be back sometime in the next few weeks to try the latest preparation and post a follow up blog at that time!

The following pics have been taken over the years at various dinners and events:
Tuna steak with mixed greens

Pasta with rare tuna, jalapenos, capers, and olive oil

Spaghettini with well fleet clams
Fried squash blossom with ricotta and mascarpone
Chocolate hazelnut mousse
    Tomasso Trattoria on Urbanspoon

Mini Bar

     When I first moved to Back Bay earlier this year, my friend and I did a bar crawl one Friday night to check out of some of the spots in my neighborhood. We tried Champions (too crowded) and City Bar (too young) before finally settling on Mini Bar an upscale lounge in the Copley Square Hotel. We scored a spot on some comfy leather chairs and tried a few cocktails and apps. 

     I had a Prosecco split and truffle mac and cheese, my friend ordered truffle parmesan fries, and when everything came out we realized we could have easily split one app. The mac and cheese was my favorite, but they’ve since taken it off the menu (it changes regularly so I’m hoping it will be back). The cocktails ranged $9-$11 (average for the area) but the Prosecco was a great deal because it was a drink and half for the same price!

     While we were there, I noticed a special for $2 Kobe sliders 5-7 pm Mon – Thurs and decided I had to try them. I have since been back several times, and always order the sliders even if it’s after 7! They are some of the best I’ve had, juicy beef, sharp cheddar, spicy aioli, and buttery brioche rolls. I’ve brought several friends in to try them, and not one has been disappointed. 



     Mini Bar was my favorite bar / lounge the night of the bar crawl, and has remained a favorite after trying countless others over the past eight months. It has a great happy hour and late night scene, and I haven't tried them yet but I've heard they somtimes have chocolate chip cookies on Tuesday nights!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Weekend Recap (11/12/11-11/13/11)

HEI LA MOON

     The first foodie adventure of the weekend included dim sum at Hei La Moon in Chinatown. It was another late meal (breakfast at 2pm), and the second time I was so hungry I forgot to take pictures. Like Monica’s, I plan to return soon and will post pictures and a more in depth review.
I’d been to Hei La Moon once several years ago, and remembered it being the best dim sum I’d had in Boston. Having been so long, I worried that I’d built it up too much (as I sometimes do) and that it wouldn’t be as good as I remembered.  Hei La Moon did not disappoint. I’ve tried several restaurants in Chinatown for dim sum, and while I’ve never had a bad experience the food at Hei La Moon is the freshest, highest quality, and they serve many variations of shrimp, tofu, and taro, which are some of my favorites.

     Here is a complete list of plates I tried. The total came to $38 before tip and was enough for two people to leave feeling full for almost the entire day.
  • Shrimp Chung Foon (steamed rice noodle roll filled with shrimp)
  • Sticky Rice in Lotus Leaf (rice mixed with chicken, sausage, vegetables)
  • Fried taro cake stuffed with shrimp
  • BBQ Pork Bun
  • Sautéed Asian greens with soy sauce
  • Crispy tofu skin roll stuffed with shrimp
  • Soft tofu roll with shrimp and mushrooms
  • Baby clams in black bean sauce
  • Pork spareribs (bone in)

MAC & CHEESE
 
     After feasting on dim sum, the fellow foodie and I didn’t start feeling hungry until 10pm Saturday night. We decided to try the baked mac & cheese recipe from Mark Bittman’s cookbook How to Cook Everything. This is one of my favorite cookbooks and absolutely a foodie essential (we each have a copy). The recipe was straightforward and took about an hour to prepare. It included large shells, a sauce of milk, sharp cheddar, butter, and flour (optional parmesan), salt and pepper to taste, and breadcrumbs sprinkled on top. We included the optional parmesan, added some truffle salt, and chunks of sweet turkey apple sausage. Overall, we were happy with the results but agreed next time to use fewer breadcrumbs (our fault, not the recipe) and add a layer of cheese on top. The sauce was delicious and creamy, but with too many breadcrumbs it started to dry out a little. 


     The left over sausage and cheese made great omelets Sunday morning, and the mac and cheese reheated well.  I spent all morning looking forward to eating this for lunch!

SHRIMP TACOS
 
     The final meal of the weekend included shrimp tacos, which was a creative effort without any recipe at all. We used seasonings and toppings inspired by several types of cuisine (Asian, Latin, Creole, and Middle Eastern) ended up with a unique, global flavor we couldn’t have found in any restaurant.
 
     We started by coating and marinating the shrimp in a mixture of Israeli spices, olive oil, and lime juice for about an hour, and then steamed them in a broth of beer, onions, and garlic. We served the shrimp in soft flour tortillas, topped with black beans, seasoned rice (a mix from New Orleans), diced tomatoes, guacamole and vegan miso mayo (both prepared from Whole Foods) and the onions from the beer broth. 


     The tacos were delicious, the flavors worked well together, and the only thing I would have done differently is made enough for leftovers. It was a perfect ending to a weekend of great food, and will be difficult to top (although that won’t stop me from trying next weekend)!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Monica's Mercato


This will be a short bonus post, since I didn’t get any pictures. I tried Monica’s the other day with a coworker based on a recommendation. We got the name wrong, got lost, and didn’t have lunch until 3pm. Pictures and blog posts were the last thing on my mind as I wolfed down my sandwich, but it was so good I thought it deserved a mention and definitely a second visit! More to come, with pics when I try it again.

Monica’s is a tiny Italian market on Salem Street in the North End. They sell beer and wine, meats, cheeses, fresh pasta, sauce, and a variety of specialty and imported foods (truffle butter, Italian sodas, flavored olive oils, etc.). They also serve sandwiches, which I wouldn’t have realized if not for the recommendation. I didn’t see a menu, but ordered the sausage sub as suggested. I did a quick search on Yelp and it looks like they serve all of the deli standards, but are also known for their Italian and steak tip subs. The sandwich I tried included sliced sausage, provolone cheese, roasted red peppers, onions, and broccoli rabe on a toasted sub roll. It was not greasy, the ingredients were extremely fresh, and the sausage was cooked to order. $11 for a large sandwich seemed pricey at first, but it was the equivalent of two normal size subs and could have easily been two meals. I will definitely add Monica’s to my rotation of regular lunch spots, and may even buy some of the pasta and sauce the next time I pretend-cook dinner!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

L'Espalier


L’Espalier is one of my favorite restaurants, and possibly the best high-end restaurant in Boston. However, it took a couple of times before I was convinced. I tried the tasting menu on my first visit and enjoyed it, but the chef's menu is constantly changing and based on his whim. The night I tried it, the menu included things I wouldn’t typically order like unusual game birds and meats (pigeon, venison, etc.). For several years I thought of L'Espalier as a place worth trying for the adventure and experience but not somewhere I'd go regularly for my favorite types of food. However, after listening to enough of my friends rave about it I decided to give L’Espalier another couple of tries, and I’m now a convert. This is why:

THE BURGER

L’Espalier serves the best burger I’ve ever had. It’s not cheap, but it’s worth it. I like it better than the  $20 Prime Sirloin burger just across Boylston, better than the high-end award winning burgers recently featured on Boston.com, and better than any of the trendier places that have started popping up (think places with numbers in the name). As far as I know L’Espalier’s burger hasn’t won any awards, but it should. I’ve seen the preparation change slightly based on season and ingredients, but typically it’s prime beef, served on a toasted brioche bun, with blue cheese and crisp pancetta. It’s served with a side of greens and fried potato wedges, and even the ketchup tasted homemade and delicious.





 THE CAVIAR
           
            L’Espalier is also one of the only restaurants in Boston with traditional caviar service. They offer a few selections, with all of the traditional accompaniments (blinis, sour cream, onions, scrambled egg, toast points, etc.). I dream about this and a glass of champagne on a regular basis. 



            Unless you’re the 1%, L’Espalier’s prices make it more of a special occasion kind of place but if you’re a true foodie you have to try it at least once. The lunch and bar menus offer more affordable options, and if you make your reservations in advance there is always restaurant week!
See my favorite dishes at this restaurant on Tasted Menu L'Espalier on Urbanspoon