Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Boston's Best Date Place

As my days in Boston slowly come to a close, I am on a frantic restaurant spree, desperately trying to sample and check off all of the restaurants I have been dying to try. Currently, my list is as follows: Addis Red Sea, Toro, Banc, and Lala Rokh. I will be sure to post about any or all that I successfully try.

Although I am focusing on restaurants that I have not tried, I decided to treat my accomplice and I to one of our absolute favorite Boston restaurants---Neptune Oyster. This little gem is tucked away on the bustling Salem Street and is romantic, charming, and most importantly, absolutely scrumptious.

I recommend sitting at the bar (the place is intimate, read: small and crowded) and starting with my go-to; sparkling white wine paired with a few oysters (they shuck right in front of you and have a dozen options, with prices and tasting notes listed for additional guidance). Then try the flash grilled yellow tail served beside a bed of greens and sprinkled with a pomegranate glaze. If you're lucky, they will be serving the blue fish special--roasted fillet, served over crispy polenta with chorizo, and sauteed fennel. Most likely, the striped bass served with pancetta and sweet corn succotash will be offered on the menu, if so, order it. Other dishes that have been recommended to me are the lobster roll and fried clams. I once had a fois gras tuna dish (don't knock it 'til you try it), that knocked my socks off.

I plan on visiting Neptune as often as possible.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Finding a Calm in the Storm: Greek restaurant in Midtown

Last evening in New York, I had the lovely fortune of dining with my aunt and cousin at midtown's Greek Mecca, Ammos. I found Ammos to be quite delicious, welcoming, and aesthetically pleasing. Located right next to New York's hub, Grand Central Station, Ammos is a breath of fresh air with its accommodating large white walls and light stoned-pillar interior, floor-to-ceiling windows, beautiful hard wood floors, and umbrella-like light fixtures that provides the diner with an authentic sense of the Greek Isles. In addition to the enjoyable atmosphere, the food, presentation, and service were all excellent.

For appetizers, we started with the KRYA OREKTIKA, a fancy way of saying mezzes. Five little squared white dishes appeared with dollops of kalamata-chick pea, garlic-ground almond, Greek yogurt, roasted pepper-feta, eggplant spread accompanied with grilled pita. Although all were good, our favorites were the roasted pepper-feta and garlic-ground almond spread. In addition, we sampled the KOLOKITHOKEFTEDES, fried zucchini balls with fresh mint, Greek yogurt-like cheese, and tzatziki. These were delicious and different from anything I ever tasted. I think the fresh mint added a nice zest to usually bland zucchini and tzataziki sauce. We also ordered the marinated olives, and I was pleased to see the vines still attached--it is safe to say that I have never feasted on better olives in my life. We also couldn't give up ordering the traditional SPANAKOPITA, and were pleased that we did. The crust was flaky and chock full of fresh spinach and feta--again, one of the best traditional Greek dishes that I've had in a while.

For our main course, we agreed to share. We ordered risotto with spring peas, feta, tomato, and mint; tuna herb crusted, fava beans, cauliflower puree, yellow tomato, black salt; and tile fish, that was pan roasted in a cast iron skillet, accompanied by sweet potato, guanciale , blue crab, lemon, and poblano. The risotto was surprisingly light, despite the creaminess, perhaps the vegetables gave it a springier flavor. The tuna was good, although difficult to cut. I believed they used a cut of the fish that we weren't familiar with, but the herbs paired nicely and fish tasted great. The tile fish, which is a white fish, was perfectly cooked and the odd addition of sweet potatoes proved to be an excellent choice. For dessert we all shared baklava with pistachio ice cream, which was quite good.

As mentioned, the service was excellent. Our waiter let us taste our wine choices (even though they were by the glass--I chose a lovely Rose “ Akakies”, Estate Kir Yianni, Naoussa, Amyndeon, Greece) and as each dish was presented, he made sure to address any questions and pointed out all of the ingredients--very informative. Although the restaurant is not by any means cheap (appetizers ranged from $10-$19 and main courses $22-$48), the whole package is such a treat--I'd recommend going back, sharing one order of the mezze and a few appetizers and then splitting a main--and don't forget the baklava!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Panzanella

Last evening, I decided to make Panzanella, an Italian vegetable and bread salad. It is reputed as a very light and flavorful summer dish. Although traditionally served as a side dish, I decided to simplify my meal and just serve as a main course. In the past, my father and I have used Ina Garten's recipe and love it for its simplicity and tastiness: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/panzanella-recipe/index.html.

That being said, I used Garten's recipe as a template and chopped tomatoes, orange and yellow peppers, cucumber, red onion and fresh basil. Then I whipped up a vinaigrette of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, minced garlic, a spoonful of capers, and s&p. For the breadcrumbs I used a fresh ciabatta loaf courtesy of Whole Food's recent 99cent special and sauteed the torn up pieces with olive oil, salt, and Herbs de Provence. I tossed all of the ingredients together and allowed them to sit and blend flavors. To make the meal more protein/main course worthy, I added marinated mozzarella balls.
As an added bonus, I served the leftover bread with a marinated antipasto from my favorite mercato, Monica's, and paired the meal with a 2006 Jean-Luc Colombo Cotes du Rhone. The meal proved to be delicious, relatively health- conscience ( I like to think of it as vegetable-based) and full of fresh summery flavor thanks to the basil and garlic.

If I were to do this over, I would have used a day-old loaf. I think using fresh loaf made the bread mushy, but it still managed to taste great nonetheless.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Icarus or Ick R Us?

So last evening, for my Boston Restaurant Week Summer '08 indulgence, I sampled South End's "gem," Icarus. The phrase I can't put my finger on it sums it up well. Although the service was very good and the menu was quite varied, my dining partner and I did not love it.

Let me start with the ambiance. The main dining area in this subterranean restaurant is dimly lit, crammed with bulky, wooden tables (no white, crisp linens here) and some padded/unpadded chairs that resemble a dining set from Friendly's. Scattered statues of Icarus and Victorian and Art Deco lamps decorate the large, open room and high
windowless ceilings do nothing to alleviate the acoustics. It is as if someone just took their grandparent's dining set, (times 40) and set up shop. However, I appreciate the "funkiness" vibe that was presented, as opposed to the overly trendy atmosphere that we are normally bombarded with.

In terms of food, I enjoyed some of our dishes, but was not overly impressed. For our starters, my dining partner and I chose the fresh field greens salad with orange sherry vinaigrette and the grilled steak salad noodles with ginger and sesame. Perhaps it was my fault for ordering the salad and expecting wonderful things such as crystallized nuts, chunks of fruit and perhaps a dollop of cheese, because I was immediately disappointed when my salad arrived as just greens. Oh, and one cherry tomato for kicks, ouch. I tired to hide my disappointment and immediately set myself up for another let-down, the dressing. My chopped up greens might as well as been served au natural, because not a hint of orange or sherry or vinaigrette, for that matter, was even detected. Just some crunches of sea salt and the fresh black pepper I requested. Next. However, the Asian steak salad was much better. Tender strips of medium rare steak rested upon peanut soba noodles and a nice blend of ginger sesame dressing. For wine pairings we were served a Bordeaux Blanc and R
osé respectively.

For the
entrées , we chose the pan roasted chicken with Provençal vegetables and roasted potatoes and the grilled bluefish with smoked shrimp butter and roasted Poblano pepper, corn and quinoa. Both were actually quite nice. The chicken was cooked perfectly, moist and dripping with flavor. The bluefish was excellent, with a nice Southwestern kick, calmed by the mild quinoa. Each was paired respectively with a Cotes du Rhone and a husky Cabernet.

As for desserts, we decided on the decadent chocolate cake with caramel swirl and the peach cobbler with vanilla ice cream. For pairings, a
glass of Banyuls and Sauternes, which were a great complement to the rather simple desserts.

All-in-all, we were not in love. Granted it was Restaurant Week and quite packed, but we were not blown away as much as the menu enticed us.

Friday, August 1, 2008

There's Nothing Like Ocean Air



Ever since it opened seven months ago, I have been tempted to try Boston's Oceanaire, the new seafood restaurant that has moved into an old prominent bank space downtown. I am so pleased that curiosity got the best of me--I loved it. Although Oceanaire has several locations country wide, do not think of this as another Legal Seafoods chain. It is quite the contrary.

Upon entering the colossal restaurant, I wasn't sure what I was most impressed with: the fantastic service, the actual space, or the menu. I was immediately greeted by a lovely host, who helped me find the perfect seat at the bar. After he left, I was showered with warm, attentive service. Once settled, I had time to get a feel for the interior. Their space is quite impressive: story-high ceilings, wide windows, Art Déco décor, and a curvaceous bar that resembles a modern wave. Their menu was also varied. They had about 20 wines by the glass (prices ranged from $7 - $16), a dozen appetizers and so many seafood entrées, my head hurt by just glancing at the menu. Oceanaire prides itself on offering only the freshest of seafood, so the menu changes day-to-day.

As for the wine, I started with a glass of the Spier Chenin Blanc and was pleased by the generous pour. Immediately after, our kind server brought over a crudités dish of pickled herring (don't judge, it's good), radishes, olives, pickles and carrots and a freshly baked bread loaf with salted butter. In addition, we were each presented with a "compliments of the chef" plate that consisted of squid and shrimp ceviche on a crisp cracker with dollops of spicy red pepper sauce. It was excellent.

As for our main courses, we were in a conundrum- the choices were endless and our waiter was extremely helpful with answering all of our questions. In addition, he was also knowledgeable when it came to the wine list and was kind enough to let us sample a few choices before making the ever so challenging decision. (For the record, I went with a buttery Heron chardonnay, surprise). Since we had already snacked on the generous offerings, we decided to have the chopped Greek salad that is advertised as large enough to share and the special tuna sashimi.

Oceanaire did not let us down. Our Greek salad was chock full of fresh crab meat, baby shrimp and was not overly dressed. The tuna knocked our socks off. We paired our sashimi with dollops of wasabi and a pepper relish served with sides of ginger and seaweed salad. Everything was presented beautifully. It is safe to say that we turned our heads at every other dish that was passed by. We also made mental notes to try the ever-popular grilled calamari and splurge on the jumbo shrimp and seafood platter (one day, we hope).

Whether you are looking for an after work spot with a chilled glass of prosecco and a few oysters, or a three course meal and bottle of wine, Oceanaire will hit the spot.