Thursday, August 29, 2013

Taqueria El Amigo: The Best Kept Secret in Waltham (and maybe Boston!)

         This is a rare post without food pictures, but I loved this place so much I had to write about it and the pictures from my recent takeout just didn't do it justice.

         Tacos are one of my favorite thing, and I'm constantly on a quest to find the best and most authentic in Boston. Think the soft corn tortillas with meat, onion, cilantro, hot sauce, and some fresh lime squeezed on top. Aside from a couple of places in East Boston that do these really well, this is an area where Boston is surprisingly lacking.

         I moved to Waltham this past April, and expected to find a lot of places similar to East Boston. I asked just about everyone I knew for recommendations, but until recently was a little bit disappointed by the lack of good Mexican. Until last week, when a coworker who also lived in Waltham told me about Taqueria El Amigo. She said it was a tiny place, hidden in a mostly residential neighborhood. There were about six tables total, and she wasn't even sure there was a sign. But it was some of the best Mexican she'd had. I tried it that night.

        If I hadn't gotten the exact location from her, I would've missed it. The place is visible from a main road I'd been driving down daily, but the side street (Willow) did always appear to be completely residential. From the main road it does kind of look like a house, but there is a small sign. 

          On a Friday night they were packed, so the bf and I ordered takeout. I tried the four mini tacos and asked if I could mix and match. They told me I could do two and two, so I tried the beef cheek and pork carnitas. I also wanted like to try the beef tongue and al pastor, but after having tried the beef cheek, I can't imagine ordering anything else! The bf got a burrito and an order of chorizo nachos (of which I stole half). We both agreed it was some of the best Mexican in Boston.

          The tacos were traditionally done like the description above, with the addition of fresh avocado. I thought this was a great touch, and appreciated that the avocado was included since it's usually extra. The pork was good, but the beef cheek was outstanding - melt in your mouth tender, rich, and flavorful. The nachos were loaded with crumbled chorizo, lettuce, salsa, sour cream, cheese, and jalepenos.

          We barely managed to finish it all, and we were stuffed (all for about $20). This could easily become my go-to spot in Waltham, and I'm sure I'll be back soon. Check back for updates, as soon as I can get a table I'll include some pics!
 Taqueria El Amigo on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Book Review: It's All About the Guest

          I was recently sent an advanced reading copy of Steve DiPhillipo's book: It’s All About the Guest: Exceeding Expectations in Business and in Life, the Davio’s Way. Steve DiFillipo is Chef / Owner of Davio's Northern Italian Steakhouse, an upscale restaurant group that started in Boston and has expanded to Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, MA, Philadelphia, Atlanta, and New York. He also founded Avila, a modern Mediterranean restaurant in Boston's park plaza, and a line of frozen Davio's products sold in grocery stores in 40 states.

          I was excited to check out this book, since I used to dine regularly at the Foxboro location when I lived in the area. Although I've not been to the flagship location in Boston, reading this book made me want to go ASAP!

          What I liked about this book, was that it was a business book that reads more like a memoir. Each chapter focuses on lessons learned from personal anecdotes, with a story first and key points summarizing the lesson at the end of the chapter. I was surprised by the honesty in some of the stories Steve chose to share; he was very open about his mistakes including failed expansion efforts into Cambridge and Brookline, and misunderstandings that led to legal trouble. I appreciated the inclusion of these stories, without them it would be harder to relate or truly understand how the Davios brand became what it is today.

          Some of the stories were also very colorful (like what can go on in a restaurant after hours), which definitely keeps the reader entertained!

          The Davios recipes spread throughout the book were also a nice touch, and I'd definitely like to try some of them out.

          This book is great for anyone working in the restaurant industry, interested in starting a business, or just passionate about food. I would recommend it for both the entertainment and educational value! Get your copy here to have it shipped to you on October 15.

Victoria Albert

          On my recent trip to Florida with the bf, we had one night in Orlando and wanted to make sure we found the best restaurant to try. I was thinking somewhere in Epcot, but after asking around a friend recommended Victoria and Albert at the Grand Floridian Hotel. I did some research and learned that it was a recipient of the AAA five diamond award for the past fourteen years, and recently named by Zagat as Orlando’s most iconic restaurant.

          I looked at the menu in advance, but didn't read up on the ambiance or see at any pictures of the dining room prior to dinner. I was not expecting live piano music, servers dressed in old-fashioned clothing (think men in coat tails and women in long Pre-Victorian style dresses), or to be presented with personalized menus with our names printed on top… and this was just the beginning.

          We sat down and were given our first menu with several bottled waters from around the world. There were two pages of selections (one page of sparkling and one of still). Based on our server’s recommendation we tried a selection with a higher PH level for more minerality – a sparkling water from New Zealand.

          In the main dining room (where we ate) there were two dinner menus: a standard seven course prix fixe or a vegetarian prix fixe. Each menu was $135 per person with optional supplements like caviar and kobe beef ranging from $30 -$200. Wine pairings were available at $65 per person. There were several choices for each course, and you could mix and match between the two menus. We both opted for the standard menu with wine pairings, and our sever went over each of the choices in detail.

          We started with a glass of champagne and amuse trio which included a crispy ahi tuna roll, soba noodles with braised cabbage and garlic, and seared ahi with a soy glaze. They were all delicious, but we both enjoyed the soba noodles the most.

          The first course was a petit poussin with violet mustard and crispy skin, paired with a sauvignon blanc. I was surprised by the pairing since I tend to drink sauvignon blanc with seafood, but the fruit and minerality was the perfect balance to the acidity in the mustard.

           The second course was a black bass with yellow tomato bouillion, almonds, and grapes in a pesto broth. This was paired with an Italian white, Fiano di Avellino Dei Feudi di San Gregorio. I’d never had this wine before, but it reminded me of a lighter, unoaked chardonnay. It was an excellent pairing with the striped bass. When bass is done right it’s my favorite type of fish, and this was seared perfectly with just the right amount of crisp skin. The pesto gave it a hint of saltiness without being overpowering.

          The third course was a crispy squab with arugula angolotti and cherry jus. This dish was pure decadence, and the balance of rich and sweet flavors almost reminded me of a fois gras. This was paired with a syrah, Grenache, zinfandel blend from napa valley. When our server described the wine I expected it to be sweet or spicy, but the oak was what really stood out.

          The final savory course was Mangalista pork done two ways (pork loin and pork belly). This was served with roasted beets, bits of bacon, and a roasted potato cake and paired with the Ceretto Rossana Dolcetto D’Alba.I enjoyed both preparations of the pork, but the pork belly with a bit of potato in each bite was my favorite.

           The cheese course included four selections gouda, parmigiano, and my all time favorite cheese – sottocenere al tartufo. The bite sized portions were perfect, as was the glass of Quinta do Crasto late bottled vintage porto.

          Dessert was Tanzanian chocolate timbale with orange scented milk chocolate gelato. I'm not usually a fan of chocolate ice cream, but I loved this orange chocolate gelato. I was full at this point, but this dish was surprisingly light and I almost finished it!

          While the food was outstanding and on par with any Michelin starred restaurant I’ve tried, the service was what really stood out. I can say without question that Victoria and Albert was by far the best service I’ve had at any restaurant, anywhere. Everything from the personalized menu (which they package in an envelope at the end of the meal), to the single red rose presented at the end of the meal was perfect.

          We both agreed we’d make the trip back to Orlando just for this restaurant. If you’re a foodie and in the area, you absolutely cannot skip this place!

 Victoria & Albert's on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 23, 2013

East Somerville Foodie Crawl Winner

The winner of two FREE tickets to the East Somerville Foodie Crawl is Drew Starr!!

Congrats! Please get in touch with your mailing address!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Merchant's Row

          I never thought to make the trip to Concord (which is really a short drive from my new apartment in Waltham) until I was recently invited to an event at the Colonial Inn. The Colonial Inn has an old New England feel, and fits perfectly with Concord's quaint town center.

          The evening began in the bar of the Liberty (the more casual of the Inn's two restaurants). We sampled some wine and passed Hors D'oeuvres including deviled eggs, and housemade bacon with bits of roasted sweet potato. We then headed over to Merchant's Row for a delicious six course dinner, prepared by Chef Cassandra Pianowski.           

          The first course was a Peruvian Shrimp Ceviche with lime juice, avocado, grilled corn, purple cabbage slaw, and corn tortilla chips. The shrimp was poached perfectly, and I enjoyed the addition of corn which made this dish unlike any ceviche I've tried. 

           The second course was a potato gnocchi with sweet corn veloute, grilled corn kernels, applewood bacon, and asparagus. The gnocchi was delicious, and I loved the combination of sweet and savory flavors.

          The third course was a palate cleanser, a passion fruit sorbet. It was light, refreshing, and did the job perfectly!


          The fourth course was a duo of two seafood dishes: Diver scallops with cherry balsamic, parnsips, beets and meyer lemon, and Pomegranate salmon with mascarpone polenta, pomegranate, and orange fennel salad. The salmon dish was my favorite, I loved it with the polenta!

          The fifth course was a duo of beef. This included short ribs with housemade root beer braise, carrots, and horseradish mashed potato and the steak frites with arugula, truffle, and parmesan. These were both amazing, and my two favorite dishes that I tried that night!

          We finished with a dessert sampler with three different desserts; my favorite was the blondie brownie with caramel, vanilla ice cream, and caramel corn.

          If you're tend to prefer chocolate, the stout chocolate cake was also really good!

          The strawberry shortie was the lightest of the three options, and the fresh basil added a bit of savoriness, which was a nice balance to the sweet strawberries and cream.

          In addition to an amazing menu, Colonial Inn also hosts fun events like trivia night at Liberty and Sunday tea at Merchants Row. I would definitely go back for dinner, and think it would be fun to check out the tea (I've never been to one)!

 Merchants Row on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 16, 2013

Somerville Foodie Crawl Giveaway

Have you ever tried the East Somerville Foodie Crawl? I went the year before last, and it was a great time! I got to sample some of Somerville's little known authentic ethnic restaurants including Ethiopian, Mexican, Italian, and more!

If you're thinking of checking it out this year, here's your chance to win a pair of FREE tickets!

Enter to win using the following methods (each worth one entry). Please leave a comment here letting me know you did so. Winners will be drawn a week from today on 8/23/2013 and announced that evening.

  1. Like The Foodie Crawl on Facebook
  2. Suscribe to Urban Foodie Finds
  3. Follow Urban Foodie Finds on Twitter

Here is the complete press release with more detail on the Foodie Crawl, including how to buy tickets in advance for only $20 if you don't win.


The Somerville dining scene—which grows hotter and more popular every day—still has a few secrets. East Somerville’s restaurant corridor has some of the city’s most authentic flavors and hidden gems, and September 10th, the East Broadway Foodie Crawl will open the doors of fifteen local establishments to allow ticket holders to taste their way through the East Broadway Business District.

The East Broadway Business District is home to some of the city’s best restaurants, serving trademark authentic food: it has everything from Zagat-rated Vinny’s Restaurant--a Sicilian mecca for Somerville foodies--to Fasika Ethiopian—a spot so authentic the Ethiopian Marathon team dined there a few years back.

Alongside its ethnic favorites, East Somerville is also the home of a burgeoning new restaurant scene as well. Spots like the recently opened East End Grille promise to add more diversity of flavor to the evening. As East Somerville Main Streets’ Executive Director Carrie Dancy said, “Even after working here for years, there is always a new dish to discover!”

East Somerville Main Streets led 1,000 people on this cultural crawl last year – and this year promises to be even better with not only tasty bites but entertainment along the way. The 2013 crawl will include performances by professional magician Matias Legier, on site caricatures from Alejandro Yegros, and free local restaurant guides from Shape Up Somerville.

And the event has a mission to boot. East Somerville Main Streets is committed to building a safe, sustainable and prosperous multicultural community by developing a vibrant business district at the neighborhood’s heart – all proceeds from the event will forward this goal.

Topping off this tasty affair are three after parties with local desserts and live music. Other local businesses including local Mezzo Design Lofts, Assembly Row and the Holiday Inn will be on site as well. Crawlers can check out Assembly Row’s portable “MBTA car,” which marks the addition of an orange line T stop to the area, and tastes from the Holiday Inn’s new DRAFT restaurant.

Tickets for the Foodie Crawl are on sale now. You can buy them for $20 online and $25 at the door if there are still tickets. For more information, please visit their website.

About ESMS East Somerville Main Streets is a volunteer-driven nonprofit organization dedicated to the development of the East Broadway Business District as the thriving center and heart of the East Somerville community, and as a one-of-a-kind destination that reflects diverse traditions and heritage. Great places create great lives. ESMS is committed to improving the lives of the people in our community and beyond.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Dinner at Taberna de Haro

          If you follow my blog, you know that I recently attended an anniversary party at Taberna de Haro in Brookline. The apps I tried were so amazing that I had to go back for dinner, so last Saturday night the bf and I went in for the full experience!

          We sat in the original dining room (from prior to the expansion), which has a very cozy, authentic feel. We were directly across from the open kitchen and enjoyed watching the food come out - it definitely influenced some of our ordering!

          We started with the Jamón Serrano (Imported cured Spanish ham) and a plate of mixed Spanish cheeses. They were both great with the basket of fresh bread, and I enjoyed mixing and matching the honey and quince paste with each of the different cheese.

          Next we tried an assortment of tapas, some I'd tried before and others were new.  My favorites were still the croquetas and tortilla but I really enjoyed trying the other dishes! The chorizo had a great sweet flavor from the cider and just melted in your mouth. The beef hearts were so tender and flavorful, like a really good cut of steak.

 Tortilla espanola (potato-onion omelette)

Piquillos rellenos de txangurro (piquillo peppers stuffed with crab meat)

 Braised Beef hearts

Chorizo a la sidra (Chorizo braised in hard cider)

Croquetas de jamón (fried bechamel with jamón)

          We were stuffed, but couldn't leave without trying the flan clásico (milk caramel custard) for dessert. We were glad we did, and somehow found room for every bite!

          The meal at Taberna de Haro was just as good as I expected, and will definitely be my regular spot for tapas from now on. Next on my list is to try the Tuesday night roast suckling pig!
Taberna de Haro on Urbanspoon

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Chocolate Therapy

          I recently got to check out Chocolate Therapy in Framingham as part of a chocolate making class with the Boston Brunchers.  The Framingham location opened this past December, but there is also a Dedham store which has been open for about two years.

          When I walked in, I was greeted by the smell of delicious fresh baked chocolate...and owners Pam and David, who were so friendly and nice.

          Once everyone had arrived we headed to the private room for an overview of the night, and tasting. We learned this room was where they also hold children's birthday parties (I would have LOVED something like that when I was a kid)!

          We started with the basics and learned the proper way to taste chocolate: hold it between the roof of your mouth and let it melt slowly. Next we experienced first hand, the difference between good and not-so-good chocolate. The good stuff (made in house of course) was smooth and rich, the alternative (store bought) tasted sugary, grainy, and artificial. 

          Next, Rick the Chocolate Maker talked to us about the shop while leading us through a chocolate tasting. I was impressed not only by how good the chocolates were, but by the fact that many of them contain therapeutic ingredients (hence the name chocolate therapy).

 Our Chocolate Therapy flight included:
  • Chocolate Fix: The signature 63% dark chocolate truffle with nibs on top. Designed to get release of ganache and shell in every bite. 
  • The Cure: Dark chocolate with cayenne, cinnamon, and bay leaf. The cayenne gave it just a hint of spice on the finish.
  • Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramel: Tahitian vanilla, sea salt, and a hint of pink Himalayan salt. This was my favorite, and I could see why it's the number one seller!
  • Pon Balm: Dark chocolate truffle with pomegranate
  • Buzz Mallow: Another of my favorites, this included housemade marshmallow, raw honey and bee pollen
          Next we watched Rick demonstrate how he makes the Chocolate Fix truffle (with a little of assistance).

          After the demonstration we were able to try making chocolate ourselves. Our "Brunchers Bark" included cherries, pecans, lemon, and lots of other great toppings!

          The best part was the end where we got to sample everything we made, and pack up the rest to take home!

           I had a great time at Chocolate Therapy, and definitely plan to return the next time I need a chocolate fix. I can't wait to check them out in October once they have their beer and wine license and try some chocolate and wine pairings!

Chocolate Therapy on Urbanspoon  

*I attended this event as part of the Boston Brunchers free of charge but all opinions are my own.