Monday, March 24, 2008

The Divine Burger Quest

I’ve decided to keep a running post on discovering the perfect burger and all that it can be. Now, my philosophy is that a burger can encompass a variety of desires, so this posting will research and reflect the discovery of a variety of perfect matches; the Gourmet Burger syndrome, the Burger Joint syndrome, the Most Creative Burger syndrome, so be it.
For instance, the Burger Joint hidden away in the Parker Meridien offers a perfect NY Burger Joint offering. Just simply hidden behind a curtain (follow the grease smell), you will unearth this cult classic-- a small dive with fake plaster graffiti-ed walls, tacky red cushioned booths and a line out the wazoo. It is greasy, rushed and slightly anxiety-inducing, but damn, their burgers are good. I like them with the works: mustard, mayo, ketchup, onions, tomato, lettuce and a pickle for fun. Their fries are even better and are served in a brown paper bag that really has the ability to show off the grease factor. You can also order a pitcher of Sam Adams, but only this. No thrills. Perfect. The food is more based on atmosphere, or lack there of. This isn’t an angus beef burger, it’s just beef, plain and simple with a tacky and crazed atmosphere to pump up the volume. But it’s fun and a great place to go with friends and colleagues, if you can battle out the line and get your order down to perfection.
A similar Boston counterpart would have to be Charlies in Harvard Square. Charlies is a lot less frenetic and hidden, but has that same basic burger joint idea. The main counter top bar is decorated with a marquis and surrounded by fake red leather stools. Plastic red booths are set up around the perimeter and the salt and pepper are served in corona bottles (nice use of recycling). The menu is pretty expansive and their specialties are of course burgers. Mostly double burgers as well, making my suspicion confirm that this was going to be a real burger joint, with mediocre meat, as opposed to the amazing kobe beef burger with crispy onions served at Harvard Gardens. I was right, well partially. My date ordered the double guacamole with cheddar, served with a side of chips (um...well I guess they're for guacamole bits). I had the regular burger with the works, plus bacon. It was pretty good. Thin patty-ed meat, decently crisped fries, but all around, a standard greasy burger joint.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Baccala, Anyone?

Now I may not currently live in Manhattan, but I still get to participate in Boston’s whirlwind version of Restaurant Week (Thank you Open Table!). Per usual, much deliberation and debating went into narrowing down our numbero uno choice, but lo and behold, my seven counterparts and I managed to opt for Avila, a Mediterranean restaurant in Back Bay.
Now I’m mixed about restaurant week. It seems like a great opportunity to gain bragger’s rights about top tier, high-end restaurants, but at the same time, I can’t help but feel like a pauper or a fake when the waiter asks me what menu I want to order from…”Um, restaurant week, please, and please don’t judge me,” I mumble. But enough, food is food. The only downsize is that some of these high end restaurants anticipate a flux of bourgeois so they “soften” their menu a bit to represent their new clientele. However, despite the aforementioned hesitations, Avila was quite good. I started with a baccala cake; a Mediterranean cod that is salted, rather than packed with ice during its trip over seas to retain freshness. That being said, the dish is salty. Quite salty. The fish was slightly breaded and presented similarly to a crab cake, with a mustard mayo dollop and dressed greens to cut the saltiness of the fish. It was still too salty. But at least I tried a new dish.
For my entrée, I chose the grilled swordfish with a chorizo aioli and served over paella. Swordfish can be tricky; often too dry and even a bit stringy. But these open kitchen chefs did a stellar job serving a troublesome fish that was moist, flavorful and also hot. That being said, the fish was good and I liked the paella, not loved it. For dessert, I ordered the gingerbread plated with a fruit and caramel glaze and topped with fresh Chantilly cream. This was delicious, but almost a bit too sweet, although the whipped topping did help cut the richness. So, Avila was good. Not stellar, but at the same time, they’re dishing out the same six dishes two weeks straight, so I will cut them some slack. I did like the setting; creamy walls, light polished food floors, floor-to-ceiling windows with textured cream drapes, extraordinary high ceilings, light wood accents to match the flooring and straight back wooden chairs that were surprisingly comfortable; modern and contemporary, but still managed a warmness. Next time, I’m sitting at the bar and ordering tapas.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Suburban Beverage Mall Phenomenon

For some unbeknown reason, my Beacon Hill counterparts and I picked In the Land of Women as our weekly film last evening. Maybe because Adam Brody stars in it. Maybe because Meg Ryan stars in it. Je ne sais quoi... the reasons are endless. But we were mesmerized, nonetheless. As we watched the cinematic masterpiece, a suburban phenomenon surfaced; the cult shopping mall beverage, Orange Julius. Now one person, who will go unnamed, was not even remotely aware of this classic American mall sensation. It got me thinking: How could I describe this tasty refreshing beverage, known as the Julius that is Orange? I mean clearly, someone named Julius created a twist on the juice, but what else did I have to offer my friend who stood so far into the darkness? Thinking back, I tried to remember my virgin encounter. Funnily enough, I discovered the classic treat in 6th grade Home Ec. Go figure. I guess I hadn't had my share of suburban shopping mall experiences (clearly, The Short Hills did not apply, think more of Charlotte Russe and Things Remembered). Frozen orange juice concentrate, milk, water, sugar, vanilla and ice cubes blended et voila; a frothy frosted concoction is created. I suppose adolescence distracted me, because it wasn't until I made a maiden voyage Freshman year in college to The Crustal Mall, c/o New London, CT, where I was re united with the real thing, tacky stand and all. Delicious. After vividly recounting my two distinct experiences, I decided to do some research on this tacky shopping mall staple. Thanks to the handy rollover time line feature on the website, I was able to learn that as early as 1929, Julius Freed had already opened up as many as 100 franchises, impressive.
I also learned that Johnny Carson and Alan Shepard and received the Orange Julius Lifetime Pass, something I hope to aspire to as a life goal. I'll have to revamp my schedule to make the schlep out to the tacky mall and divulge in the mid-America beverage phenomenon.
Just like Auntie Ann's and the cleverly titled Master Wok, Orange Julius is just a mall stand away...

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Risotto alla Tutti

Since I am recently on major budget mode, I decided to do some cabinet poking in hopes of discovering some forgotten, long- bought goodies. I was in luck! I found an entire box of Arborio rice( risotto, for you novices) that I knew could do wonders for my new financial plan. Once identifying my main ingredient, I immediately ran through an ingredient list compiling the basics: onion, chicken broth, veggies, etc. Considering that I had none of the aforementioned*, I knew I had to use a creative spin. But thanks to Blog Master M Dawg, I had faith that I too could veer from the universal and familiar style of the Italian staple dish.** I started digging, especially in the spice department, since I have recently returned from a favorable trip to Polcari’s. I decided to sautee some garlic and crushed red pepper, making the essence of my dish full of heat. Then, I added my rice and let the grains heat up and suck in some of that flavor. I just guesstimated and slowly started adding water, stirring constantly and waiting patiently until I reached the consistency that I desired. It worked. Then I went spice crazy—herbs de Provence, thyme, rosemary, parsley—some butter, a few cherry tomatoes I conveniently stole from my roommate and grated cheese. Voila! This is a fool-proof, ridiculously simple version of the dish that allows for creativity and cabinet restoration.

* Please don’t judge, I’m in a financial re-planning status, code yellow, and always have those basics in stock…no pun intended.

** Memories of Italian Made Simple, created by Chef Blog Master M Dawg & Fashionista K, NYU Dorms, summer 2005, dance through my head.

Cost of Beautification

Cost of beauty; remember the days of $1Wet & Wild nail polishes, or thick, chalky, dare-I-say lip liner that you could even casually try on if no one was looking at the local pharmacy? Those were the days. Now, as we age and our supple 20-something skin elasticity begins to fade (weep, weep, but seriously, a few subtle lines have begun to slowly creep on my face), and as our culture’s status quo shop-online-and-have-a-bagillion choices continues to cultivate (Hello Marketing Department at Sephora!), we are bombarded with expensive potions, lotions, make up and pills that claim to revamp nature’s course. Here is my question; why does cream of the sea NEED to cost $125 for 1oz? Is it really that great? Some say yes. When asked to comment on her favorite product, my dear friend, Ms. C. Brewer simply responded: “Oh my, was I spotted at Neiman’s stocking up?” Enough said—clearly this is a cult classic. But can the go-to, fraction of the cost, dermatologist recommended Neutrogena deliver the same results? And why is choosing a product confusing? Ok, we can go with the natural, cost friendly Burt’s Bees, but then I look to my right and there is another product with not only shea butter, but it has almonds AND helioplex. The choices are ridiculous. Lately, I’ve been trying to narrow in on Bumble & bumble and who can blame me? Cute packaging, great reviews and a nice price tag to match (the perfect equation for my consumer self to fall for the trap). That being said, I splurged on the B&b Styling Creme for $30 (ok, I lied, it was only $22 with my Extra Care Rewards Points from CVS, another consumer trend that I conveniently fell into). The bottle reads: “In a word-magic.” I was intrigued. After using the crème and my Bed Head Superstar Lotion for volume (half the price of B&b), I was impressed. My hair truly looked coiffed. Now I’m not saying Jackie O coiffed, but still, I noticed a real improvement. My affirmations were confirmed when I arrived to work where three of my coworkers complimented me on my hair (please keep in mind that I only work with four employees, so I have a 75% hair approval rate). Does money really buy good products? I guess the jury is still out for tomorrow’s result.
Now as we matriculate into more expensive products, when does it stop? What about Botox? Do we go there? By the time we’re 40 will it be an everyday routine, much like flossing (hardly) or applying an anti wrinkle eye cream? I’d like to think that by the time we actually need Botox, there will be a natural, non-poisonous alternative.
Let’s backtrack to the world “natural.” Let’s face it, we’re going Green these days. I remember when the three R’s, reduce, reuse, recycle were the big rage and in Grade School and we’d all take practicing shots into the blue bins with our tin foil balls. But like Grade School, we have graduated. Now we’re into non comedogenic, fragrance free, all naturally, organic products, which are inundating the market. Heck, they’re even building Green hotels with Zagat-like star ratings, judging the amount of “green” air. Funny, as I opened up Sephora’s website to research a few organic products, the home browser was dedicated to the Green movement, displaying the slogan: Be As Natural As You Want To Be--Natural, Organic, Paraben Free? Find Out What It All Means.” It’s not enough that Leo and Lori David are preaching it, even our prime make up supplier is shouting it from the rooftops. I guess our favorite intoxicating alcohol smelling hair spray is passé too. I guess I’m falling for the craze, but am I better for it? Good bye Cover Girl pressed powder foundation with orange greasy smears. Instead, I use a mineral-based face powder by FX for $30. Expensive, I know, but at least I’m more au natural.
Thanks for listening to my trite quips as I try to untangle my way through this complicated underworld of beauty products.
Just when did life get so complicated? But don't worry, I'll be sure to make up for this shallow commentary with an insightful look into Ahmadinejad's rule or the current state of the U.S. economy. Thanks for coming!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Panna, Vodka & Scallops

As usual, my weekend proved to be quite a gourmet experience.
Friday began with a little happy hour at, (gasp) The Living Room. Now don’t laugh, I had my reservations too, but honestly, if you come with low expectations, it’s not so bad. I can’t say too much since I only tried the half priced seared scallops over bed of frisee with mushrooms, balsamic reduction and shaved parm. Ok, the scallops were seared perfectly, so immediately, I was relieved. Then I was confronted with the confirmation of the Italian culinary rule: Do not mix seafood and cheese. Although I take this “rule” with a grain of salt-particularly when it comes to an Italian seafood stew, that I usually drench in cheese shavings, or that one time I made a creamy mushroom and scallop risotto so thick of formaggio, I could hardly stir--however; the true rule need apply to this situation. The cheese was too rich for the seared scallop. I liked the combo of the crimini mushrooms, parmesan and reduction sauce and I liked the scallop, but not the mélange of the two entities.
After our “amuse bouche” we went to Salumeria, the famous Italian grocer
to accomplish my mission of creating a homemade vodka sauce with thick pancetta. Salumeria had all we needed and more; we got a fantastic baguette, thick pancetta and panna, an Italian cream (where the gelato flavor Panna Cotta originates from); essentially it’s an Italian version of sour cream /heavy whipping cream. Needless to say, my mission accomplished. I made sure to preserve some of the pancetta pan drippings for the tomato sauce and I also added extra panna, vodka and kilos worth of cheese.
Another lovely, but much less economically friendly meal was held at Carmen’s, conveniently nestled in the Paul Revere triangle. Carmen's is sandwiched between Paul Revere’s house and abig Italian (surprise) monster of a restaurant, Limoncello; making it easy to miss. It is worth stumbling upon. Inside, exposed brick, small candle votives and dim lighting make the interior intimate and cozy. We chose a 2004 Montepulciano Abruzzo, which my counterpart was hesitant on, but I loved from the get go. For a first course, we shared a sweet grilled flat bread topped with caramelized onions, butternut squash and chunks of melting goat. My only criticism was that I wished the chefs had used larger shavings of butternut squash, rather than small diced cubes of butternut, but who knows, maybe they were going for a dainty effect. Also, the bread was tough to cut, but I’ll stop complaining. Our next two dishes were a scallop truffle oiled risotto (must have been on my mind) and homemade butternut squash ravioli (repetitive, yes, but it has a reputation of being a crowd pleaser; don't worry, I asked). The scallops were seared to perfection, with the perfect hint of rich truffle oil. However, the risotto was more root vegetable based and I think threw off the richness of scallops. In addition, the vegetables weren’t as buttery or cooked through as I would’ve liked, so it was a bit distracting. Although extra points rewarded for pretty the plating. However, we were much less disappointed with the ravioli: as I slipped my fork into the transparently thin homemade ravioli, pureed butternut squash oozed out. I knew I had made the right choice. The wide, flat ravioli was smothered with butter and herbs and topped with hazelnuts, this dish was right on the money; delectable and absolutely savory; a perfect meal to celebrate the end (hopefully) of winter. Carmen’s isn’t cheap, but the menu is a-typical of the tiresome Americanized Italian fare that we are bombarded with in N.E. It proves to be a great date place, but better yet, go with your parents, so your meal isn’t weighing in on your prized checking account.

Say It Slower, Say It Louder: A Night In Asia

Saturday was spent with great company in Newton for a much- anticipated DP.
After meticulous planning and relaying back and forth (read: 60+ emails) Lindy, Kelsey and I elected an Asian themed meal; the spotlight would shine on a miso glazed Chilean sea bass served on a bed of sticky rice, served with a side of cellophane glass noodles and a highlighted dollop of fresh colorful vegetables.
Kelsey and I were in charge of appetizers. We stuck with an oldie but a goody; the red pepper aioli. For our wild card, we chose a fig and balsamic spread to be paired with a mild manchego. The appetizers were served with a fresh baguette and a white Cotes du Rhone.
Now onto our main attraction… Our amuse bouche was an endamame and vegetable gyosha, lightly sautéed and steamed, served with a soy-based sauce, which definitely whet the appetite, as amuse bouches are famously invented to do. Our main course was the much anticipated Chilean sea bass that looked fresh enough to dig in raw. We whisked together a miso glaze and smothered the massive hunks of bone white fresh Chilean sea bass. The fish was perfectly cooked, chunky flakes fell off my fork, rich, buttery and fresh. We served the fish on a bed of sticky rice. We also made cellophane noodles with a sesame soy sauce, topped with red and yellow peppers, scallions and crushed peanuts. The texture was of the noodle dish was diverse; slightly aldente noodles accompanied by crunchy fresh vegetables and crumbles of peanuts, spicy tastes upfront*, yet surprisingly smooth flavors on the end note, thanks to the generous portion sesame oil I so heartily poured. (*Please note my hommage to snotty wine tasting remarks). Our vegetables were sautéed patti pan and mini zucchini with black sesame seeds, which added a nice base to the flavorful miso and spicy noodle sauce.
As for the wine selection, La Crema Chardonnay was the perfect accompaniment; a buttery, rich, crisp white that paired exceptionally well with our Asian flavors. Dessert was a Chambord infused chocolate mousse, paired with a wonderful California cab. A few rich-inducing stomachs aside, a decadent treat of an evening. I look forward to A Night In Asia, aka Say It Slower, Say It Louder, Round Deux.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Boston Cult Classic

Since today was so dreary AND a Wednesday, I figured I really could use a pick me up. That being said, I went to the Boston Financial District Cult Classic, Al's State Street Cafe. Novices beware, you have to be quick, aggressive, demonstrate great eye contact ability and be able to follow through in the end. Despite the chaotic atmosphere of this take out shop, the food is delicious, generous, simple and CHEAP. Their famous chicken salad is a basic recipe, but delicious all around. It will also make you feel like crap afterwards, so if you wish to go easy, I suggest not ordering red onions. My favorite sandwich, hands down, is the State Street Cafe Special; fresh mozzarella, proscuitto, basil and tomato with balsamic dressing served on a hot crispy baguette ($4.50 for small, $7 for large). Another great find is the salad. Four bucks gets your a huge, crisp salad, dollar extra for chicken or tuna AND a huge loaf of even hotter bread. I think Al's has really nailed it for the business professionals in this quirky city. Although seating is non existent, the place is booming and will be a nice place to take out and eat in PO Square when spring and summer finally arrives.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Returning from Paradise

First of all, my apologies for not congratulating and upholding Ms. Cahill's contribution to the Bloggidy Blog world! Your courage, humor and all around great commentary will be shared and appreciated amongst all avid readers. I look forward to future posts. I am even being honored with a Guest Post next week...the excitement continues to haunt me at great lengths.

For now, I don't have much to say. I just returned from Richard's 60th birthday celebration in Puerto Plata and am too depressed to hatch into details about my trip. However, I will say, I will miss stretching on the beach, tanning ( with 70 SPF), wading in aqua waters, drinking pina coladas at all times of the day and eating my heart out. Cheers to the DR!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The North End Continues To Impress

To me, Italian cuisine has a time and a place. Living in the North End, I often feel frustrated by the lack of variety that exists in Boston’s famously authentic Italian district. Here in the North End, we have 87 Italian restaurants, 1 Asian fusion, 1 vegan/ raw (I’ll take my time trying this joint) and half a dozen bakeries. C’est tout. However, despite frustration, my better half and I have decided to throw caution to the wind and really explore what my neighborhood as to offer. I must say, I haven’t been too disappointed either and still continue to constantly conjure different places to discover.
Now bare with, me as I describe the surprisingly tasty meal at AnticoFornos
After much debate, my better half and I decided to start with the Focaccina con Caprino. Let me elaborate: Imagine a piece of focaccia bread flattened, now picture the infused bread with olive oil, garlic and herbs. Ok? Now generously layer arugula over the bread with drizzled balsamic vinaigrette. Gently place roasted cherry tomatoes and zucchini. Top with a heap of goat cheese. That was our appetizer. Along with two orders of bread served with flavorful olive oil and olives. For our entrée we shared the Il Marinaro Pizza; smoked buffalo mozzarella with sautéed tender shrimp and generously coated with arugula.

Incredible. Thin crust, delicious cheese and arugula that cut the richness of the tender shrimp. A new favorite that was in our budget. I am looking forward to returning and sampling the Porcini Pizza with artichoke hearts, porcini mushrooms and drizzled truffle oil.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Mexican Gas stations

Imagine a Beacon Hill gas station, now look for the convenience store, go in and walk past the candy and power bars, and now discover the best burrito you’ve ever tasted. Burritos? Gas stations? Oxymoron, right? Wrong. Villa Mexico’s is Beacon Hill’s best kept secret, located in the back of a gas station convenience store. As you approach the counter, you will be greeted by this one-woman-shop owner; Julie King, proprietor, chef and producer of VM. Julia is just lovely, and tacks on her trademark phrase “my friend,” to all customers. “No sorry, my friend you cannot pay in credit card,” or “Yes, my friend, thank you thank you.”

The menu is basic; tostadas, burritos, tacos and some side items like traditional salsa and guacamole, and prices cheap ($4.50- $10.50), but don’t expect run of the mill Mexican. Everything is fresh and lively. The salsa is brown, almost like a mole sauce and has found fans in PA and NY who order it directly from Julie in bulk (only $6 for 16 oz). It was a toss up between the veggie burrito and mole poblano, so like an avid food appreciator (terrified of making a wrong decision), I inquired with Julie, who immediately claimed her favorites were the mole poblano and carnitas burrito. Perfect, we were all set because my counter part chose the carnitas. This is a perfect situations of why all foodies should stick together, especially in desperate times like this.

Since Julie is the only representative, a take out order can take up to 15 minutes, but it seemed worth it. As we peered over the counter top to watch Julie’s magic, we were mesmerized. You could tell Julie took diligent time and care to create the best possible outcome. Julie methodically spread guacamole, sauce, veggies, rice and meat onto the rounded cream colored canvas. She had her burrito roll perfected (a skill I have yet to master) and placed the stuffed burrito on a warming plate to crisp without any disastrous overflows. As a result of our patience, Julie even threw in complimentary chips and salsa, which I couldn’t wait to break into.

As we scattered to unwrap our dinner, a beautiful work of art unfolded; a mammoth, perfectly wrapped, overstuffed burrito. The first bite; orgasmic. The mole sauce was surprisingly sweet and flavorful. A lovely find! I devoured the entire thing (think 3 lbs. worth of food), while stuffing chips and salsa down my throat during quick respites. The carnitas burrito was a bit more basic and traditional, but still fresh and spicy. Twelve hours later, I am still craving my mole poblano; sweet, savory and rich in spice and tang. I can’t wait to return and savor the same dish; often a rare occurrence, even for me.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Land of the Preps

After weeks of anticipation, my Personal Assistant and I took a weekend away to the Land of the Preps aka Nantucket. Since the island is only a hop, skip and a jump away we decided to spend one night during the off season where we could explore and analyze this preppy little isle full of Lily’s, Range Rovers, fabric belts and the unmistakable “ACK” slogans. After our short commute, consisting merely of a 2 hour bus ride, 1.5 hour car ride, 2 hour ferry ride, 7 games of spit and a 15 minute walk), and wintry mix storm to boot, we landed the shores of the historic whaling village.
We stayed at the Jared Coffin Inn, recommended by several acquaintances and we were not disappointed. The Inn is a historic center-hall brick home in the heart of downtown, boasting 42 rooms. Upon arrival, we were immediately upgraded to the Grant room, a suite where President Grant supposedly stayed and offered some well-thought out dining recommendations. The room was adorable; four-poster bed, wide wooden floor boards, oriental rugs and a decadent plush white linen bed.
After settling in, we explored the quiet island, chatted with locals and savored the enchanting quality of the island. We dined at Queequeg’s, a small local bistro that was intimate, quaint and full of locals. We split a bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and shared the braised short rib that literally melted like butter and tuna tartar with spicy guacamole and home made tortilla chips. My PA ordered homemade lobster ravioli, with generous lobster stuffing and I ordered Nantucket scallops served over a generous portion of mushroom risotto. All plates were delicious, well thought out and nicely presented; simple, but tasty.
After a quiet candlelit dinner, we decided to hit the town, and check out the much-anticipated Lola 41; a hip sushi lounge/bar that has appeared to rev up the traditional casual bar scene that the locals are accustomed to. We were not disappointed by Lola. The place was hopping, drinks were stiff and the sushi was divine ( I couldn’t resist ordering a post dinner Volcano roll; tuna and salmon with spicy mayo, albeit 11:00PM). Sunday's meals included a pastry breakfast by the main fire place and a huge guilt-inducing sandwich from Stubby's, a local sandwich shop that I had enjoyed during a previous visit, much less civil.
I found the town to be absolutely gorgeous and captivating and lacking with the traditional floral garb that island is known for. Although the town was quiet, we were able to find fantastic sleeping and dining accommodations. We spent hours exploring the wharf and side streets. Although I am not sold on visiting during the peak summer season (read; too many fabric belts), I hope to return in September to enjoy warm weather and appreciate the lull of the season (neon pink and green clothing excluded of course).