Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Beacon Hill Chocolate Tour

          I’ve wanted to do a Chocolate Tour for years, and was excited when I had the opportunity to attend the Beacon Hill Tour on a recent Sunday afternoon. Prior to this event, I had thought there was one chocolate tour of Boston. Now that I know there are several in different neighborhoods of the city, I hope to eventually try all of them!

          We met outside of boYO, a frozen yogurt shop near Mass General Hospital. Before heading inside for our first taste, our tour guide gave out a list of stops with the discounts and promotions available at each, a bag of pretzels to cleanse our palettes, and bag to take home any samples we couldn’t finish. She also gave us our first bit of chocolate trivia, what our favorite type of chocolate says about us, and continued to provide more fun facts like this throughout the tour.

          We sampled a mini hot fudge sundae at boYO - chocolate yogurt topped with chocolate sauce and chocolate chips. While we enjoyed these, we learned that the yogurt is all natural and that each flavor starts with the original base and the toppings are mixed in.

          Our next stop was Beacon Hill Chocolates, a shop that supports local chocolatiers, and sells a wide variety of conventional and not so conventional chocolates like bacon and beef jerky flavored. We tried two chocolate truffles. The first was a chocolate ganache covered in tempered chocolate, and the second a dark chocolate praline truffle filled with a gianduja (hazelnut) filling. Both were delicious, but my favorite was the ganache.

          We headed up the street to Twig, a gift shop that sells flowers, chocolate, candles, and other great products. We sampled the chocolate covered orange peel from Rechiutti, and learned that Twig is the only place in Boston that carries Rechiutti chocolate (they’re based in San Francisco). We also tried out their sweet berry lotion by H20, which smelled amazing!

          We continued on Charles Street to Isabelle’s Curly Cakes, a cupcake shop run by Isabelle English (Todd English’s daughter). Here we got to try a chocolate cupcake with chocolate buttercream frosting, and chocolate sauce. This was one of the best cupcakes I’ve had in Boston, and I will definitely be back to sample the red velvet (my favorite flavor)!

          Our next stop was 75 Chestnut, where we tried the Swiss chocolate and almond soup. This was rich and creamy, and very chocolaty! The soup is normally part of the sinful chocolate trilogy dessert, which I would love to go back and try along with several other chocolate desserts on the menu!

          We headed toward the theater district for our next stop, Finale. I’ve tried several of the plated desserts at Finale, the molten chocolate cake is one of my all-time favorites, but had never tasted any of the bakery items. I was excited to try one of their most popular items, the dark chocolate decadence. This was a flourless chocolate cake made from Valrhona chocolate, with a hint of coffee. It was incredibly rich, and definitely lived up to its name!

          Our last stop was Maggianos, where we tried the chocolate zuccotto cake. This was a chocolate cake layered with sambuca chocolate mousse, chocolate frosting, and finished with cocoa powder on top.

          I ate a lot more chocolate than I thought possible on this tour, and learned a lot about the whole chocolate making process from our very knowledgeable tour guide. It was a fun way to spend an afternoon, and I would love to check out some of the other neighborhood tours!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Smuttynose Brewing Company: My First Assignment for the Boston Local Food Festival

          You may have heard me mention (or seen on Facebook and Twitter) that I’ve been selected to cover the Boston Local Food Festival (BLFF) as a blogger. Check out my bio here.

          The festival takes place in October in Boston’s Fort Point, and as a blogger I’m writing pieces on three vendors that will be featured on the BLFF’s website and serve as PR for the festival.

          My first assignment was Smuttynose Brewing Company, and addition to interviewing my contact at the brewery I decided to head up to NH and take a tour!

         I love craft beers and discovering new brews, but knowledge is somewhat limited. After the tour, I had a greater understanding of the brewing process and was successfully able to identify hops!

          I sampled six beers during the tour; my favorite was the Strawberry Short Weiss, a light fruity beer with low alcohol content, produced by sitting on a bed of strawberries for over a month. This is a very limited production beer, and was only available for sale to the public for the first time this year.

          I enjoyed the Star island single, a Belgium pale ale made with coriander, and the Robust Porter a dark beer that was surprisingly light and smooth.

        The pumpkin ale was also very good. It’s a spiced beer with very little actual pumpkin. Due to demand, Smuttynose like most breweries, has to brew this beer too early to use fresh pumpkin (the flavor comes from canned pumpkin). Even though it’s only available for three months a year, the pumpkin ale is Smuttynose’s third most popular beer (second to the IPA and Old Brown Dog).

          I also tried the Finest IPA , which was very smooth and light for an IPA. This was hoppy but not as hoppy as the Shoals, which had more of a bitter finish.

          In addition to trying the beers, I learned that Smuttynose is moving to a new facility in late 2013 / early 2014. Check out the BLFF’s site where I discuss the new facility in depth, as well as the steps Smuttynose is taking to lessen the brewery’s impact on the environment.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Guide to Boston's Chinatown

          As a foodie, I’m often asked for restaurant recommendations and on more than one occasion have received and email or text from a friend of a friend asking where to go for x or y. One of the most common requests I get is for a recommendation in Chinatown. Boston is known for having one of the largest Chinatowns in the country (although not quite comparable to NY or San Francisco) but people who don’t live in the city or eat there regularly find it intimidating and aren’t sure where to go or what to order. My hope is that after reading this, you will!

The Chinatown Newbie:

          If you’re completely new to Chinatown and can sympathize with being intimidated or not knowing where to go, Penang (a Malaysian restaurant) would be a good place to start. It’s located on the corner of Tremont and Washington Street, a very main intersection just on the border of Chinatown. The atmosphere feels a little more upscale, rather than some of the hole in the wall type places you’ll find when you venture in further. There are plenty of adventurous items on the menu, but Malaysian has some similarities to Thai food, which is generally more familiar to people and there are some items on the menu like pad Thai and chicken satay. See the full review here.

Dim Sum:

          Dim sum, is traditional Chinese brunch. It is typically eaten family style, severs come around with carts to your table and you choose what you’d like to try. There are usually several varieties of dumplings, fried rolls, and buns, and lots of pork, shrimp, and tofu. My two favorite places for dim sum in Boston are Hei La Moon and Emperor’s Garden / Empire Garden (click either for full review). The options at both are similar but my favorite dish at Hei La Moon is the fried shrimp and taro, and at Empire Garden is the roast duck.

Soup Dumplings and Taiwanese:

          When most people think of Taiwanese food, they really mean soup dumplings (also known as juicy dumplings or steamed juicy buns). The dumplings are prepared with a bouillon cube in the middle, and when cooked, the bouillon turns to broth. Eating them is a little tricky (you don’t want to spill the broth or burn yourself) but so worth it! Gourmet Dumpling House is the most well known in Chinatown, and there is almost always a line out the door. While I’ve eaten there and loved it, I don’t love waiting in line and when searching for an alternative I discovered Taiwan Café. The food is just as good, but it’s lesser known and therefore less of a wait. They are temporarily closed for renovations, but definitely worth a visit when they reopen. See the full review here.


Ginza is one of my favorite sushi places in Boston. They serve fresh, high quality sushi at a reasonable price. They are also one of the only restaurants in Boston that does the stone grill, they bring this to your table and you can cook meats, seafood and vegetables yourself.


          Pho Hua is my favorite place for Vietnamese in Boston, and feels a little more authentic than the chain restaurant around the corner. The pho (noodle soup) is delicious and also great for a Chinatown newbie. The chicken pho isn’t terribly different than American chicken noodle soup if you skip the garnishes, but if you’re brave the hot sauce, fish sauce, lime, and mint add some great flavor. If you’re more adventurous, the curry dishes are also really good!

Authentic Chinese:

          East Ocean City might be my favorite restaurant in Chinatown. They have several huge menus including traditional Cantonese dishes, seafood so fresh you can pick your own fish right out of the tank, and a few standard American – Chinese staples. When people want to try Chinatown this is usually the first place I recommend or bring people, and no one has ever been disappointed. See the full review here.

          The places I've mentioned are my go-to spots, but if you try all of them and want something new this blog is a great place to start! I've also found Yelp to be a reliable source, and sticking to Beach Street (Chinatown's Main Street) you can almost never go wrong!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Boston Brunchers Tour of the Jewelers Exchange

          Earlier this week I had the opportunity to attend a Boston Brunchers Event at the Jewelers Exchange in Downtown Crossing. In true brunchers fashion, there was food involved but the focus on this event was on the jewelry buying and designing process the history of the building.

          The tour began at a café in the building where we sampled drinks and appetizers from Scholars. I started with the wine, tasting both the red and white options, a Chianti and Pinot Grigio. Normally I prefer red but on such a hot night, the Pinot Grigio was perfect.

          I moved on to the appetizers, my favorite being the pastry shells filled with tuna tartare. The tuna was fresh and topped in a slightly spicy Asian style sauce.

          The Scholars Rockefeller (baked oysters with spinach artichoke stuffing, and hollandaise sauce) was another favorite. I found this dish, essentially oysters topped with spinach dip, a creative way to combine oysters with more casual pub fare.

          I also tried the vegetable spring rolls, pastries filled with lobster salad, and asparagus wrapped in proscuitto, which were all very tasty.


          While we ate and sipped our wine, the owners of several of the stores we were about to visit spoke about the history of the building and some of their experiences. We learned that most of the businesses in the building are family owned, many third generation, and that they are divided roughly into one third retail, wholesale, and repair / design.

           Our first stop on the tour was Harry Gigian Co, where we were invited into the back workshop to learn about the whole jewelry making process.

          Next, we headed to Boston Platinum where I saw a three karat ring I would almost be too nervous to wear every day, and what might be my dream ring!

          Then to Paul Duggan and Company a reseller of high end watches, where we saw several vintage pieces including bright colored retro Rolex’s from the 40s and 50s and a diamond studded Hamilton from the 1920s.

          Our next couple of stops were to wholesalers not open to the public, including the self described “guy you’re never going to meet on the streets” who many of the jewelers in the building go to for their diamonds, and Boston Gems a gemstone wholesaler specializing in rare stones including unheated stones and moonstone.


          The next stop was really two stops in one, Dubin Inc. and Pearly and Girly. Dubin Inc. is run by a mother – daughter team, and the daughter also has her own store within the store Pearly and Girly. Both stores sell to the public as well as do design and repairs, but Pearly and Girly caters to a younger crowd. The merchandise is more trendy and affordable with necklaces in the $40-$50 range and several convertible pieces. They have also done local events such as Shecky’s girls night out.

          We continued on to Bernard's, which focuses on repairs and more recently started selling finished jewelry. There we looked at walls and shelves filled with watch bands, earing backs, pearls, beads, just about anything you could think of! We also learned that buying jumbo backs for heavy earrings that tilt forward will counter the weight and help hold them up.


          Next we visited Suzanne Pearl and Beads, which specializes in custom beading and all different types of pearl jewelry (from traditional to modern). We saw looked at several pieces made with stick pearls, which was something I’d never seen and learned that the traditional pearls we imagine when we think of our “grandma’s pearls” are a Japanese round variety.

          Next was Forever Diamond, where we admired some beautiful pieces and learned that they even rent high end jewelry.

          Our next stop was Serjeo, a custom designer available by appointment only. He talked to us about the design process, and when we stepped into his back room I saw one of the most unique and impressive pieces of the night, an authentic Rolex clock he received as a gift for finishing a project for a high profile, VIP client.

        Our next stop was Santisi and Bove, which was Kim’s (our main guide) store. We saw some absolutely gorgeous rings, and paused for a group picture to be featured in Foodie’s of New England!

          Freedman Jewelers was next; we learned they do retail and custom design, and  sell Samantha's charms. Samantha is a former attorney turned jeweler who created a line for mothers and daughters that has been featured on the Today Show and American Idol. The line includes matching animal charms, a smaller one for the daughter and larger charm for the mother.

         Next was Mouradian, where we saw even more rings including diamonds and other stones.

         The last stop was Brag, a seventh generation family owned jeweler with some beautiful pieces we got to admire before heading back to the café.

          We finished the night with gifts (giant diamond paperweights) and more food and drink from Scholars. Thanks to the Boston Brunchers, Scholars, and all of the Jewelers for a great night!