On The Menu

Union Bar and Grille (JP Review)

Comments (0) | Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Last night a friend was in from out of town and we grabbed some dinner. I've never gone to Union before, and seeing as it's a couple of blocks away, we decided to give it a try.

I always thought Union was a long and narrow restaurant, but once we entered I soon realized I was wrong. It's a decent size place. The bar area was mostly full, which is pretty good for a lazy Monday night. The dining area had a few open booths and we were promptly seated even though we didn't have any reservations. (Not that I thought we would have troubles, but you just never know, ie, BBC.)

Union apparently is extending restaurant week so we were all going to go with that menu. There was also a special tonight, a steak tare tare appetizer that sounded really good. My buddy Joey and I looked at each other, trying to decide if we would get it or not. I decided no after I was told I couldn't switch it out with any of the appetizers in the restaurant week menu, but he went with it anyway.

My order was:

Deviled Eggs with Spiced Toasted Pecans, Spinach and Arugula Salad
Grilled Wild Striped Bass Sweet Corn Succotash and Smoked Paprika Vinaigrette
Black Bottom Cupcake Sundae Hot Fudge, Fresh Whipped Cream, Walnuts

Luckily everyone else ordered differently so we were all able to snack on the other items of restaurant week.

My deviled eggs came out and I was pleasantly surprised. Deviled eggs aren't normally something I see on a restaurant menu...usually it's for picnics or catered affairs. It's also an item that I feel should probably taste the same no matter who is making it, and these were no exception. The salad was also nice, with the pecans adding a nice sweet touch. I tried some of Joey's tare tare and it was pretty good, but not mind-blowing in any way. Abby's soup wasn't very good at all. It was a watermelon gazpacho soup and I don't think I could have more than 1 spoonful.

We then waited quite a bit for our main course. And the appetizers really made us more hungry. It's one of the few times I've had an appetizer and completely finished the plate and was immediately wanting the entree. I guess it was an epidemic because Nabeel, Joey and Abby all felt the same way. Maybe we were just extremely hungry that night...who knows. My striped bass came out and it looked like it was perfectly cooked: a nice brown, crispy sear on the skin and flaky to the touch. The bed of veggies it was lying on top of were very good, especially the corn. (This must be a good season for corn, because any corn I've had has been really freaking good.) The bass itself was, while perfectly cooked, a little under seasoned. The crispy skin had decent flavor, but the flesh was slightly bland. There sauce/vinaigrette provided some nice flavor, but I'd rather have the fish speak more for itself. Abby and Nabeel both got the cornflake crusted chicken and that too was slightly bland. Maybe the chefs ran out of salt...

Again, we waited a long time for our desserts. Right now we were all tired from a long day of work (or in my case still recovering from Vegas) and wanted our dessert immediately. Finally it came...and I'd give it a meh. It wasn't bad, nor was it great. Just a nice simple cupcake sundae. I ate it all and it pleased my sweet tooth, but it wasn't anything memorable. Joey's pineapple upside down cake had a very strong rum sauce, that was basically straight rum.

Overall not a bad place, but nothing special either. Looking at the prices (which weren't too bad) Union seemed like the classic place to try restaurant week. You get a little of everything, and it seems to be from a selection not far removed from their regular menu. I give it a 3 out of 5.

***Pics will come soon. We forgot our camera, so Nabeel used his blackberry to take pics and will email it to me when he has a chance.

Union Bar and Grille on Urbanspoon

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Bouchon Vegas and Il Mulino Vegas (JP Review)

Comments (0) | Monday, August 25, 2008

Eating dinner with a large group of guys is tough. We are loud, make bad jokes, and probably extremely offensive. Seeing as this was Vegas and a bachelor party, multiply all of that by 1 million. Why, oh why, did we choose to eat so nicely, instead of choosing the Hooters or ESPN Zone or some other cliche spot? Who knows.


I first went to Bouchon with Abby for an Oyster meal a couple of years ago. It was incredible. Everything about the place, from having to enter through an elevator behind the main lobby to the clean marble bar that stores all the fresh seafood, is so unbelievably classy. That experience was limited to only the oysters and a few items that included the greatest sandwich of all time (Croque Madame). Bourdain mentioned that the fries were the best he's ever had and was pissed that they were better than his own restaurant's frites. Well, I've had both Les Halles and Bouchon's fries, and it's a tough call, but Bouchon barely wins.

This time I was going to dinner with 6 other guys. (The rest of the bachelor party crew haven't arrived yet.) I was nervous because I was hyping Bouchon up like no other, explaining that the food, at their prices, were a great bargain and that the fries were to die for. I kept telling them how great the steak frites were suppose to be and how it's the greatest on the strip. (I would have said how I was surprised how the restaurant didn't even get a sniff of a Michelin star, but not sure if I wanted to food-geek myself that much.) I think I hyped the restaurant a little too much.

We arrived a little early and sat in the parlor room and had a drink. $10 belvie and tonics aren't a bad start. (Side note: apparently our bar waiter looked like Adam from The Office. I don't watch The Office, so I had no idea if this was true or not, but the bar waiter seemed to find this humorous.) We were seated and explained that our menu was also our napkin wrapper. Neat...but probably one of the reasons this didn't get a Michelin star.

Bread was just thrown onto the parchment paper on the table and was joined with the most amazing homemade butter ever. Also, there were two containers of pistachios and some mustard. While the bread was crispy and warm, and the pistachios were a nice addition, I began to see why this glorious bistro struck out with the stars. 4 of us ordered the steak frites, while the others ordered the Gnocchi a la Parisienne, Gigot d'Agneau (roasted leg of lamb) and Plats de Cotes de Bosuf (prime beef short ribs). Jim splurged and got the caviar as starter (he never had it before and wanted to try it out.) Jason and Jobby got the sweet corn soup as a starter as well. The caviar was very good, if not pricey, but that's to be expected. It came with some very nice accompaniments in ground up egg yolk, egg white, and creme fraiche. Tasty, though not everyone at the table enjoyed it. The sweet corn soup had a great consistency and seemed to be a nice palate starter. Jason wished it had more salt though, while the couple of spoonfuls I had could have used a little pepper.

Now we waited....it seemed to take a very, very long time for our dinners to arrive. For someone who's enjoyed the service at a Thomas Keller restaurant, I was very disappointed by the service here. His restaurants are notoriously known for how much attention to details their waiters have. I noticed other tables getting asked if they wanted pepper in their soups and other waters being refilled promptly. Food seemed to be coming out of the kitchen, but not to our table. Every time the waiter came by he looked like he came from a sauna with sweat coming down off his face.

JJ and I had a long talk about how to cook steaks, and how he was trying to perfect the art of cooking a steak on the grill. I never met JJ before (he's going to be my boy's Jason's new brother in law) but this confirmed the fact that he was cool as shit. Gotta love steak lovers. Our food finally arrives and everyone seemed happy. The steaks were perfectly cooked, but not to the doneness that everyone was expecting. They were all medium rare, but I was the only one to ask for medium rare...the others asked for medium. Syam and JJ weren't blown away from the fries, but I still thought they were damn tasty. I love the fact that the side of fries you get is equal to nearly two extra value fries from McDonalds. It's a lot of fries. The steaks had this layer of garlic and onions over it with a nice slab of butter melting onto the flatiron steak. (Side note from wiki: "The flat iron steak is a cut of steak from the shoulder of a steer, also known as the Teres Major.") The first bite, the sauteed onion and butter were a great addition to the steak...but after a few more bites, it was a little overwhelming and I had to scoop the onions off. Overall...a really great steak, but not the best on the strip probably. I have a feeling craftsteak has a great steak and fries on their menu.

Jason's short ribs were insanely good. I'm gonna get that or the famous chicken next time I'm at Bouchon. The beef just fell right off the bone and were so very moist and tasty. I didn't try Jobby's lamb or Jim's gnocchi, but they seemed to be very pleased with it.

Service was nice enough to split the bill by 6 credit cards with no hesitation. Roughly $80 a person, and I think it's a great price. I'll always go to a Thomas Keller restaurant when I can have the chance and afford it, but a little of Bouchon's mystic wore off on this visit. Maybe it was because I went with a bunch of dudes instead of a nice romantic dinner with my lady, maybe it was just a off Friday night, who knows. That being said, it was still a great, great meal. I give Bouchon a 3 1/2 out of 5. (I'm sure it'll get back up to the 4 or 4 1/2 after my next visit though.)

Bouchon (Venetian) on Urbanspoon

Il Mulino Vegas

Tucked up on the 3rd floor of the immense Ceaser's Palace Mall is this highly regarded Italian restaurant. New Yorkers rave about their flagship restaurant, saying it's the best Italian in all the 5 boroughs. That's some high praise in a city known for their Batali's and Rocco's, etc. The Vegas location receives some of the same praises, but some critics claim that this is another watered down branch of a brand being stretched too far. Regardless, they accepted 11 guys for dinner on a Saturday night and we were all hungry.

Once we were seated, we were served bread, salami, fried zucchini and everyone had a piece of Parmesan cheese on a small plate. This is a great start and a crowd pleaser for sure. Free food will always make a group of 11 guys happy. We hear the specials and I was going to get the gnocchi but once the waiter said "homemade pappardelle bolognase" it was done and done. I won't repeat what everyone else ordered, but once the meals arrived no one's plate was unappetizing at all. We used small plates and passed around what each other had...and the meals were really, really good.

My homemade pappardelle was incredible. I love homemade pasta, and you can easily tell when pasta is homemade or not. It's so good that you don't need any sauce at all, but I was very please mine came with bolognase. I think I make an incredible bolognase sauce, but this put mine to shame.

Jason started recalling the Italian places he visited when he came to kick it with me a few times in Boston. This was when I lived in the North End and this restaurant reminded me again how great the North End is. While Il Mulino Vegas hit on nearly all cylinders, give me a small mom and pop Italian place any day. When I think Italian, I don't really think ultra fine dining. I think Mario Batali has this same issue when he tried his hardest to get one of his restaurants in NYC a 4-star rating. It's tough to get people to get over pasta and sauce...such a simple dish that when done right, is still a very simple dish about great ingredients. This however did not take away from the food at Il Mulino, which again was top-notch. I also have to say that the whole fish I saw being delivered to another table looked to die for....I'd like to give that a try one night.

So what wasn't working at Il Mulino? I didn't like the service one bit. Again, maybe we shouldn't have been so drunk before we came. Sure we might have been screaming obscenities out in such a fine-dining establishment...sure we might not have ordered as much wine and food they might have expected from such a large group. But damned if I didn't see other tables get offered shredded cheese or a grind or two of pepper and we didn't get any of this. Damn if I didn't see the waiters giving us dirty looks as they talked near the cash register. I dunno...maybe it's just me who thought this, but it still leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Would I go back? The prices were actually really good. There is a balcony that has many tables and a great romantic view of the strip. The food was really, really good. I might give Il Mulino another chance, but there are so many other places in Vegas I'd like to try first. I give it a 3 out of 5.

Il Mulino at Caesars Palace on Urbanspoon

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I'm Back

Comments (0) |

Back from Vegas and am now broke. Will post review of Bouchon and Il Mulino soon.

Found this Good Eats fan page while trying to find smoking points for oils today. It has some good info that the fan created from Good Eats episodes.


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5 North Square - Happy Birthday Annie!

Comments (0) | Friday, August 22, 2008

Thanks to Abby and JP for letting me guest blog. Also, many thanks to Abby for an amazing birthday dinner!

We started off the evening at a free concert at Government Center. It was the English Beats, a very fun band that my boss likes. There was so much awesome old white people dancing, I mean, they were just letting lose, shakin' it with abandon. However, they didn't start until pretty late, so 3 or 4 songs in, Abby and I were STARVING so we had to say goodbye to my boss and leave. We headed to the North End.

Now, I have a very big problem with making decisions, so Abby and I strolled the North End for awhile checking out menus. I knew I wanted seafood/Italian. I had in my head a dish called cioppino. It's like a stew of seafood in a tomato broth, so I kept my eyes open for that, but didn't see it on the first 4 or 5 restaurants we checked.

Then we happened upon 5 North Square and the creepy old man/maitre'd standing outside told us to check out the menu. They had cioppino on the menu, and it said it was their specialty, so I was sold. We went in and were shown to a cute table for two. The service overall was very friendly and relatively attentive. It was strange, because they were absolutely not rushing us. We weren't exactly sure what we wanted at first, so we ordered an app, and then it wasn't until after we got our app and ordered wine that they even took our entrée order.

For the appetizer, we got the pomodoro. Thick slices of tomato topped with prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, and basil, on a plate of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, with roasted red peppers on the side. Just…wow. Everything was very fresh and very tasty.

We ordered a bottle of Chianti, which was very good. I don't remember what it was called, but we enjoyed it. We had to wait awhile for our entrees, but luckily I had good wine and good company, so it wasn't that big of a deal. The restaurant is small and quiet, and very conducive to conversation. A little too quiet almost, since sometimes our conversation can border on the inappropriate!

Finally our dishes arrived. Now, before when I've gotten cioppino, it's been a bowl of seafood and broth, with maybe some rice on the side, or a piece of bread. Now, this time, they set a bowl of heaping seafood in front of me. On the menu, it said that it came with a side of linguine. I imagined a small bowl of pasta on the side that I would ignore. I didn't expect a whole other platge of pasta also topped with seafood. It was like two meals in one! A veritable bounty of seafood: mussels, clams, scallops, shrimp, calamari, and a crab leg. The seafood was AMAZING. Everything was perfectly cooked and tender (especially the calamari--just spot on texture-wise). The broth was just extremely flavorful, slightly spicy, and amazing. I have to admit, I ate almost the whole thing! There was some pasta and maybe a few mussels left. I felt kind of bad since Abby probably has 2 days of leftovers from her puttanesca! But not that bad. It was amazing.

After our plates were cleared, and we sat finishing our wine, we were brought a complimentary tiramisu since it was my bday. This too was very good. Moist and tasty, and either semisweet or bittersweet cocoa powder sprinkled on the plate kept it from being too sweet. All in all, I couldn't have been happier. Granted, we were a little taken aback by the pace of the meal, but I think this was just a matter of NOT being rushed as opposed to poor service. I would definitely come here again—I left completely satisfied. Good portions, nice staff, nice atmosphere. Thanks again, Abby!

5 North Square on Urbanspoon

I'm at work right now, but when I get a chance this weekend I'll upload our pictures! ~Abby

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Blog Update and Vegas

Comments (0) | Thursday, August 21, 2008

Updating the look of the blog and it's kinda going slowly. Hopefully it'll all be settled and finished soon.

JP is heading out to Vegas today, with reservations for Bouchon on Friday. Pics and review will follow.

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Sel De La Terre ...ible (Abby's Review)

Comments (1) | Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Sorry this has been delayed, but I really just didn’t want to remember my meal at Sel De La Terrible. To be fair, it definitely wasn’t worse than the British Beer Company. Also, I wrongfully assumed it was a seafood restaurant. So sue me, it’s right by the aquarium and there are fishies on the building.
Since it’s been a few days you’ve all probably read JP’s posting. We walked in and were greeted by no less than 6 people. I was actually overwhelmed. And stated so. They laughed. I’m not sure why. Seriously. When I was a server we were never allowed to stand around together looking not busy. Cardinal sin. We walk away and are seated. Immediately our waiter comes over asking us if we’re ready to order. Now this isn’t cool for a few reasons. One, he was one of the 35 people standing at the front door so he knows we’ve just been seated. And (B), he followed us over and I actually watched him watch us sit down. He clearly knows we didn’t even have time to open a menu. Dude. Relax. I know you guys want to turnaround a huge crowd tonight, but let me at least take off my coat.
We order drinks and food. I get the tomato soup with grilled cheese, the blue fish, and the puff pastry with caramel ice cream. John Paul ordered the oysters, steak, and some chocolaty dessert.
Loud dude has since left and now JP and I can talk about him. Dude, what was with him? Was he wasted or just that loud of a person? I feel bad for his date. Yikes. A little bit further into our conversation I notice something funny…our waiter is counting money on a table near ours…like actually ON the table. Eww. Dirty money does not belong touching a table! Also, why are you counting it in front of patrons? Take it in the back. This is supposed to be a nice restaurant!
Food comes. Tomato soup is delish. Finished it and craved more. Was very creamy and I was able to taste basil. There were also scallions cut up and sprinkled on top for garnish. They added a nice bite. Hopes are now high. If the rest of my dinner is as fantastic as the soup, I’ll be the happiest girl.
Sadly, the fantastic meal ended with the appetizer. My blue fish came out. The fish had at least 3 bones in it. Eww. Yes that happens every now and then, but three? Ick. Also it was in this nasty broth. The broth actually made me feel ill. Yuck. There were two positives about the dish, the portion of fish (HUGE!) and the corn. The corn was amazing. I tried JP’s steak and wish I had ordered the same. It was perfectly cooked and melted in my mouth. Damn I hate ordering wrong.
Dessert arrives and I notice our ice cream is melted. John Paul thinks it’s because the pastries we have it with are so warm it’s melting the ice cream. Unfortunately his assumption is incorrect. Our pastries are cold so that means our food has been sitting out for quite some time. Man that always makes me sad. I like when my food is served at the correct temperature. Points off again…or shall I say dollars off our waiters tip…that’d be a more appropriate statement.
Finally it’s time to pay. Now if only we could find our waiter…don’t you love it when your waiter is up your arse the entire night, until it comes time to pay the bill. Yeah I love that too.

Since we tried Sel De La Terre during restaurant week I admit I have some concerns. I wonder if it would have been better if we had tried it when it wasn’t restaurant week. Yet, I also wonder if it would have been just as crappy and now we’ve saved ourselves some money by getting it at a restaurant week price. The world may never know, or at least I won’t because I don’t plan on returning any time soon.

I give Sel De La Terre 2 out of 5.

Sel de la Terre on Urbanspoon

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Not Food Related, But So Me

Comments (0) | Tuesday, August 19, 2008


This comic strip describes me perfectly!

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Ca Ri Recipe and Other Notes

Comments (2) | Sunday, August 17, 2008

A few quick bullets and a recipe of Ca Ri (Vietnamese Chicken Curry).

- After our disappointing dinner at Sel De Terre we went and had a quick beer at Tia's on the waterfront, then met our friends Issac and Meghan at 4 Winds. 4 Winds is a great bar in the North End near the waterfront. They didn't have the "tan" portion of Black and Tan, but instead, had "blue", which was Blue Moon. A pretty good combo actually. A couple of shots of soco and lime and watching Phelps win by .01 seconds really made up for the poor dinner.

- Saturday we went around killing time and trying to not spend too much on tax-free weekend. After being roped in with 0% for 12 months for the home theater system I really don't need, we drove to Dorchester to find some good Vietnamese food. Abby was feening for some curry and the place we ended up going to didn't have it on the menu. She got pho tai instead and I got Bo Luc Lac (cube cut beef tenderloin and rice) at a very good price.

- Because we didn't get curry on Saturday night, I promised Abby I'd cook it for her on Sunday. The recipe is as follows:

1. Get 2-3 lbs of chicken. We normally use drumsticks, but traditionally it's a whole chicken cut up.

2. Rub Ca Ri powder, some salt and pepper over the chicken and let it rest.

3. Put a large pot over high heat and saute some diced onion until translucent.

4. Add in some garlic and some Ca Ri powder and saute for a minute or two.

5. Add in the chicken and try to get as much of the chicken in contact with the bottom of the pot to get a great sear.

6. After searing both sides of the chicken, add 2 cans of coconut milk and 2 cans of water. Taste and add as much Ca Ri powder as you like to get the correct flavor.

7. Add cubed potatoes and sliced carrots and halved cherry tomatoes.

8. Bring to a boil and then lower temperature to medium-low for 45 minutes.

9. Serve in a large bowl with toasted bread or over rice.

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Sel De La Terre (JP Review)

Comments (1) | Saturday, August 16, 2008

Sel De La Terre means "Salt of the Earth"...but a better translation could be "The Big Disappointment". As our choice for restaurant week, we had some high hopes for getting a great meal from this restaurant. As I described in my review of Hen House, restaurant week can sometimes provide one with an experience that is not common to the restaurant during normal times. The portions are small, the service is geared towards quick turnover due to the increase in reservations, and the menu might be altered to fit more for the masses (ie steak or common fish) than to showcase what the chef can really do (ie sweetbreads and foie gras).

As we entered Sel De La Terre, escaping the rain, we are greeted by not one hostess, but by two or three hostesses and 4 or 5 waiters...quite a large group of servers just milling around the host stand. I give my name for the reservation and we are lead to a four-top in the middle of the back room. I notice a smaller two person table along the wall and ask if we may be seated there instead, not wanting to be the center of attention for the small back room. There were no objections, so we sat down. Immediately as we sit down, the waiter comes out of no where asking if we were ready to order...not our drinks mind you, but our dinner. We haven't even opened the menu yet! We tell him no, and he starts to list off the restaurant week menu for us hoping we would make a decision. We tell him we need a few minutes to look over the menu and decide. The restaurant week menu didn't seem all that bad. There was a choice of tomato soup or oysters, blue fish or strip steak, chocolate cake or puff pastry with caramel ice cream. The regular menu had some very interesting items that sounded really good, such as the plate of goat cheese and the confit of goat.

(Oh I forgot to mention that sitting next to us was a young couple that was finishing their dessert. The guy might have been the loudest talker in Boston. As we were walking to the back room, we could hear him talking. Luckily they left soon after we sat down, or I'd be writing a whole long rant about shutting your god damn trap.)

Anyway, we got our order in (I went with the oysters, steak, and chocolate dessert, Abby went with the entire opposite) and we looked around the restaurant. The crowd was diverse, a mix of tourists in shorts, some older clientele in nice blazers, and some young professionals coming for the restaurant week experience. Abby witnessed our waiter doing some unprofessional stuff, like counting cash directly at the table he just collected the bill from, and we start discussing the job of a waiter. (I'm currently reading "Waiting" by Debra Ginsberg...a book I thought would be the equivalent of "Kitchen Confidential" but for servers...I'm not really enjoying this book much. It's all about her whining about being in and out of love and getting pregnant and other womanly things...I just wanted to know if waiters really do put their penis in our food, if chefs spit on our entrees. The cover of the book even states that this book will "revel that when pushed, a server will spit in the food", but other than one line in the book about this very fact, there is nothing else about this bad behavior and the author just goes on and on about her late hours and loneliness...kinda boring.) So Abby, having worked as a waitress before, usually empathizes with servers, saying how there are many things that go on in the kitchen that is not the server's fault, but the customer takes it out on the server anyway. I, who tends to treat servers as my personal slave for the duration of our meal, thinks this is crap. Yes it maybe other people's fault, but since the server is the face of the restaurant and my only liason to the kitchen, of course I'm going to take my frustration out on them. They are working for my tip, something that I wish we as Americans can change in our culture from being mandatory. I hate the fact that I have to tip any type of service. Oh, these people make less than minimum wage you say? Screw that, they chose to be in this profession, knowing that tipping should really be based on their service, not just a plain given that they should get 20% each and everytime. I follow a couple of strict tipping guidelines myself: If the service was exceptional, I'll tip normally over 20%; If the service was horrible and the food sucked, I'll try to leave 5%, but Abby will force me to give at least $15%; If the server is a man, no tip; If the server is a young lady with a low cut top and at least a C cup, a large tip. Very simple and easy to follow rules. So you say that at my job, whenever I do exceptional work I get a bonus? You obviously have not worked in my field at all...where I am nothing more than a glorified grunt. There has been times in the past where I've busted my ass, working late nights and weekends, just to get a project done in time for my company to win millions of dollars in award fees, and I hardly get a pat on the back. It sucks, but that's life...I don't expect my bosses to walk by and drop a twenty off at my desk...it's my freaking job and I do it to the best of my ability. Waiters should be acting in kind as well. None of this, "It's busy, sorry for the delay" crap...of course the place is busy, any good restaurant is busy on the weekend. You should be prepared for it. (None of this applies to our dinner tonight really, the service wasn't great except for a bus boy that was really a lady who did a wonderful job, but we got our food in a timely manner.)

Back to the food. My oysters arrive and I'm a little disappointed. I only have two oysters and as you can see by the large empty space on the right of the picture, I believe they have misplaced my salad. A fact I was not aware of until after I've already had the two oysters and noticed other similar dishes being served at a table next to ours...I say similar because on there plate was a large salad located in the large open space of my plate. The oysters themselves were very good. There was a truffle-sea salt laid in a pile under the oysters that I sprinkled over the two medium-sized oysters.

My steaks came out next, and I could tell immediately that they were cooked well. (Actually medium rare, but you know what I mean.) A very nice pink center with a good seared pepper crust with no exotic butter or sauce...which is all I ask for in a steak. (Please, oh, please, let the meat speak for itself! I cringe when my dad puts A1 on his steak. When people ask for well done, I want to know why they want to absolutely destroy such wonderful cuts of meat.) Along with the steak, there were "summer vegetables" and this consisted of mashed potatoes, some squash, green beans, and corn. All good in a typical restaurant way, the exception being the corn was very good.

Finally for our desserts. When they came out, my loving dining companion stated that these must have been sitting out for a while because both our ice cream were melting rapidly. I said it's probably because our pastries are really warm. But I was wrong about that. My chocolate cake was chilled, so there was no way that was causing my coffee ice cream to be leaking all over my plate. This was just an OK dessert...nothing fancy other than the raspberry/blackberry fruit that was on my plate. Some cross bred berry that was really sweet and juicy. I wish they made juice out of this fruit because I'd bet it'd be wonderful.

I'm giving Sel De Terre a 2 1/2 out of 5. I was going to give them a 3, because maybe my experience was skewed due to restaurant week, but nothing of dinner really made me want to come back and give it another try. My meal was not bad at all, my steak being the highlight and it was a really good steak. But the atmosphere and overall dining experience really made me desiring more.

Sel de la Terre on Urbanspoon

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The Hen House Wings 'n Waffles (JP Review)

Comments (1) | Thursday, August 14, 2008

It's restaurant week and you maybe asking yourselves why the heck hasn't JP and Abby gone to any places and given their reviews? Well to be honest, we kinda have mixed feelings for restaurant week. Currently we are booked for a dinner at Sel de la Terre for Friday night. I would have loved it if Clio or O Ya were participating in restaurant week and I would have tried to have gone a couple of times to each place. While restaurant week can be a good deal (especially for lunch) and it's a great way to experience restaurants that you normally wouldn't go to, it can sometimes be a negative experience as well. Last weekend, after our great dinner at Metropolis Cafe, we went to Sage to grab a few drinks. I've never gone in there before, but the bar was wide open. Food was being brought out to customers and it looked fantastic. The guy sitting next to us at the bar was eating rabbit and was enjoying every single bite. We asked the bartender about the food and if they were participating in restaurant week and replied that they were, but to not come to Sage then. It would not be a great way to experience their food he said. The menu is limited and portions are tiny. Come during a normal time and order a couple of items, which would be seasonal dishes with local produce, and share the dishes together. That, he said, would actually be cheaper than the restaurant week prices and you'd get a lot more. This is not the first time I've heard waiters or bartenders tell me this about their own restaurants during restaurant week. Le Zygomates (at least a couple of years ago) actually has a 3 course prix fix menu every night and for a few bucks less than the restaurant week prices. So sometimes going out to dinner for restaurant week is not the best of ideas, especially since all these restaurants are going to be jam packed with customers, your food might not get the attention that you might desire. That being said, Abby and I have come to agreement that every restaurant week we'd try to book the most expensive restaurants in town (Oak Room, Excelsior, etc) and this time it was Sel de la Terre by the waterfront.

Anyway, none of this has to do with the fact that we hit up the Hen House last night.

(Sorry for no pics, we forgot the camera.)

The Hen House is on Mass Ave towards South Bay right by the great Liquor Land. I've had chicken and waffles before, at the famous Roscoe's in LA, to be honest all I remember from that experience is that it was kinda expensive and they give you a whole cup of butter on your waffles. (I also remember scaring the crap out of some Indian girls my buddies were trying to spit game at while we were in LA for the Rose Bowl by screaming out to them that we were wankstas going to Compton to get some chicken and waffles. To this day I still think those girls were lame and had no sense of humor and were ugly, so no big loss...and to my credit, later that night we met Jennifer Gardner and hung out in a VIP section of some swank LA club for New Years, where I ruined more of my boys' game when I offended some Vietnamese chicks...god I rule as a wing man.) To my pleasure, Hen House was neither expensive, nor did they try to clog your arteries with their butter. (I'm assuming they are leaving that up to the fried chicken.)

(A quick history lesson on chicken and waffles taken from wiki, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicken_and_waffles.

The exact origins of the dish are unknown; there are several versions of its origins.

One version:
"As unusual as it might seem, the marriage of chicken and waffles actually has deep roots. Thomas Jefferson brought a waffle iron back from France in the 1790s and the combination began appearing in cookbooks shortly thereafter. The pairing was enthusiastically embraced by African Americans in the South. For a people whose cuisine was based almost entirely on the scraps left behind by landowners and plantation families, poultry was a rare delicacy; in a flapjack culture, waffles were similarly exotic. As a result, chicken and waffles for decades has been a special-occasion meal in African American families, often supplying a hearty Sunday morning meal before a long day in church..."

Another version:
Some historians believe the dish goes back to the late 19th century, when Southern African-Americans, recently freed from slavery, began migrating to the Northern United States. According to author John T. Edge: "My guess is that it comes from the days when someone would go out in the morning and wring a chicken's neck and fry it for breakfast. Preparing a breakfast bread with whatever meat you have on the hoof, so to speak, comes out of the rural tradition."

Benny's Home Cooked.com notes:
"It is interesting to note that this combination and/or recipe does not appear in What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking, Abby Fisher, 1881. Mrs. Fisher was a former slave and her book is generally considered the first cookbook written by an African-American. These foods appear (but not together) in Mrs. Porter's Southern Cookery Book, Mrs. Porter, 1871."

Regardless of where this dish originated from, I'm glad it's around.)

There is an large outdoor area with 5 or 6 large picnic tables, and when you enter the restaurant, the first thing you notice is how much space there is inside. Large groups can easily be accommodated here. I have a feeling that most of the orders here are take out. The menu is actually quite large, with pizzas and sandwiches, but we were here for one thing: Chicken 'n Waffles! On the large chalkboard menu above the register is a step by step way of ordering. (At only $7.49!)

1. Choose your waffle: I went with multigrain.

2. Choose your butter: I went with hand whipped.

3. Choose your waffle syrup: I went with Clove Honey.

4. Choose your chicken: I went with whole pieces, which turned out to be a breast and a thigh.

5. Choose you sauce: I went with Jamaican Jerk.

There are plenty of sides one can order as well, but I passed on them tonight. They have Mercury Brewery sodas, and I went with the root beer. (I'm obsessed with root beer!)

We had a bit of a wait for our food, enough time for me to move my car which was parked in a tow zone along the street before the Hen House to a legal spot on Mass Ave. Once our food arrived, there were some confusion on the sauces but it was all worked out quickly, we sat outside and began to eat. The waffle had some melted butter in the center and was fluffy and hot. I accidentally poured way too much clove honey all over my waffle, and I kinda wish I didn't because the multigrain waffle was absolutely delicious. Next time I'll have to remember to go easy on the honey. The chicken looks like it was dipped in a light batter before being fried and was very juicy. The skin, which as many of you readers may recall is something I love, was flaky but not nearly as crispy as I would have liked. Our friend Joey, who was dining with us, said his chicken tender was good, but seemed to be more similar to battered fish (ala fish and chips) then to chicken tenders. This I can kinda agree with, since the look and texture of the fried skin was more similar to the fish than to say KFC or Popeyes. The Jamaican Jerk sauce was a disappointment, but there was enough flavor in the chicken that I didn't need the sauce much anyways. The breast was very good (as most breasts are, in any shape, form or fashion) but the thigh was a puny piece of meat. I kinda wish that it would have been a drumstick instead, because I love drumsticks.

I most definitely will come back, maybe to get a bucket of chicken or to try some of their sides. If you have never had chicken and waffles before, please come and try...it's well worth the $7.50 you are going to spend, and its a combination that works in spades. I give Hen House a 3 1/2 out of 5.

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Grilled Steak and Papaya Salad

Comments (0) | Sunday, August 10, 2008

Here's the recipe for what we had for dinner.


Instead of green papaya, we used bose pears and bartlett pears. Also, we couldn't find a whole piece of Chateaubriand for the tenderloin, so we used sirloin steak insted. And since we have no grill, we over cooked the steak on a cast iron skillet. (I claim to be the master of steak, but I slightly overcooked them tonight. Closer to medium, than medium rare.)

The drink we had was a mojito that was made with Bacardi Limon and 7-up instead of club soda.

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British Beer Company (Abby's Review)

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I can’t remember the last time I actually had to wait to be seated at a restaurant. Nowadays JP and I are so open-table savvy we just make reservations and then head out at our designated time. Also, we rarely eat at chain restaurants, or chain-like restaurant in this case. I’m suddenly remembering why this is such a rare occasion. I think JP mentioned this in an earlier blog, but when we first started dating I used to LOVE Olive Garden. My friends and I would travel far and wide for their amazing, never-ending breadsticks and the reasonably priced “authentic Italian food” (they learned from real chefs in Italy!!). I’d never had Italian food so yummy. I, of course, was wrong. Very, very wrong. I’ve since changed my opinion about my formerly beloved O.G., along with all the other chain restaurants. Now British Beer Company, or BBC as I’ll call it from now on because I’m too lazy to type out the entire name, is not a chain restaurant. At least I don’t think it is. Which is good. Because if there is more than one of these around, I’d be worried. This is not a restaurant one wants duplicated in various areas. To put it plainly, it sucks. It’s not a good restaurant. It could be because they’re new and not used to crowds and how to properly turn over a restaurant, I’m not sure. All I know is, I would never eat here again.
We walk in and we’re told the wait is 45 minutes. Fine. I can see that there are 40 + people waiting, so 45 minutes seems reasonable. However, about 15 minutes in (and half a beer later) I notice 2 tables open in the bar area. Wtf? Why aren’t people being seated there? JP and I converse a little longer and still, no one is sitting there. Again, wtf? I’m impatient, this I can admit. So after 15 mins of the tables being left open, I go to the hostess stand in the other room and ask if I see open tables in the bar area, if we’re allowed to sit there. She says no, but they’re working on filling them. Working how? By leaving them open for 20 minutes? You have how many people waiting you should know exactly when tables are free so you can seat people quickly. Duh. I, head back to where JP is standing, sad that the two tables remain open…for ANOTHER 5 or 10 minutes.
Right around the time when we’re trying to figure out if we should get another beer, a beer drops, I scream, JP yells, white people laugh at the funny Asian man. Maybe he’s right, maybe he should do stand-up. He’s definitely funnier than Dat Phan.
Heading over to the bar we meet random men from, what I assume, is North Carolina. They have funny accents. They actually use their “r” too. Huh. Strange. Anyway, we chat with them for a while. Trying to figure out how long they’ve been here waiting. Their answer: 3 beers. Crap! We’re only starting on beer number 2; it’s going to be a long night in the ‘burbs. Taking a look at the beer menu, JP notices they do have Boddingtons (why was that bartender such a liar?). He decides on that. I decide on the Fullers Golden Pride. Now we wait. Why, because now no bartender will take our order. Again, wtf? Finally our NC friends flag down a bartender. We order. The guy gets the Boddy for JP. I, on the other hand, have to repeat my order…2 more times. Wft? No wonder you’re a bartender at restaurant in Framingham. Nice try buddy, but maybe you should start off with something easier, perhaps “would you like fries with that?”.
We go back to our waiting area and notice that the table on the stage has been open as long as those other two tables, so going on 25 mins now. The table is clean, set up, and waiting. After a few sips of our new beers, our pager goes off. Guess where we’re sitting? Oh yes, the table that’s been open for 25 mins. This is frustrating. Why have we been waiting for 45 minutes to sit at a table that’s been open for over half the time we had to wait?
Menus are presented. Goi cuon is on the menu. $8.99. WTF? I can go to Dorchester and get 3 for $3 and they probably taste better. Other than that, everything else is quite reasonably priced. JP gets the fish and chips and I order the shredded pork “poggwhich”. It’s called a “poggwhich” because “pogg” means HUGE in British slang. Our food comes. “Pogg” does not mean huge, it means average. My fries are cold. JP’s “panko-crusted” green beans are cold too. And kind of nasty. My sandwich is okay. The pork isn’t really shredded and I can hardly taste the gouda. I wonder if it’s my fault. Did I order wrong? I ordered American BBQ not something British. Would I have been better off with bangers and mash? Wait. This isn’t my fault. It’s their fault. Why should I place blame on myself? They put it on the menu, they should be able to cook it well. If you suck at making it, take it off the menu. Oh and the claim that your pickles are "the best on this side of the pond" is a complete lie. They're gross.

I think I’ve figured out why the wait is so long. They make sure you’ve had a couple beers so the buzz you have makes the food taste better. Guess what, it doesn’t.

I give BBC 2 out of 5, and that’s only because when the old people tried to take open seats, the staff made them wait like everyone else. And the crowd. The suburbs people were pretty funny.

Side note: that girl’s dress was WAY too short. I should never have to know that you prefer to have a lightening bolt. Gross.

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British Beer Company (JP's Review) or The Revenge

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Last week I complained about these freaking dudes from the suburbs coming into my town and trying to ruin my night. Well, I figured it's time for some revenge. How would these people like it if I came into their town and made a ruckus at their restaurants? (In actuality, we spent the day trying to find clothes for a wedding at the Natick Collection, then went along route 9 in Framingham to the Wal-Mart for some Totino's pizza, and then to Natural Sound to listen to some home theater systems. I've decided I'm going to save up some money to equip the condo with the B&W 686 series of speakers.)

So it was 6pm and we were just about to head back to Boston. Last time we were in the area, we noticed the British Beer Company being built with a sign saying they are opening soon. We were kinda hungry and thirsty, so we thought, "Hey, a brewery, lets grab a nice micro-brew and have a snack." As we drove into the parking lot, it was bad news immediately. Why they hell were there 20 people waiting outside? Why the hell was there no parking space available anywhere? This is the god damn suburbs at 6 freaking PM!!! The only people who should be eating here are geriatrics and Boston-folks who came out of the city to do shopping. As we finally parked and walked in, past the people waiting outside, the inside waiting area was twice as bad. This did not look good...maybe the bar will have a spot. Abby went to go check it out while I waited in line to add our name to the list. Just as Abby came back shaking her head, I was putting our name down and was told it'll be a 45 minute wait...45 freaking minutes? In Framingham? I felt like I was in Bizarro world. Oh well...we can easily kill 45 minutes having a few beers, so we walked into the extremely large bar area and tried to find a spot to stand and get a beer.

I was disappointed to find out that this place was not a brewery at all. Oh, well, I'll just have myself a Boddingtons. Wrong again JP. The bartender said that they didn't have any, so I went with the Tetleys...and that was out, so the Monty Python Holy Grail was my next choice. We paid for our beers and then went to a large open area in front of the stage. (Oh yes, there's a stage here...apparently live music acts will come play out here to play. I believe it goes: garage => high school party => British Beer Company => Boston Garden.)

So now we had time to wait and people watch. (The pager they gave us also had various forms of tetris on it that you could play...clearly we were in a classy place.) Well, the crowd was as diverse as any restaurant could be: there were the old, who were grumpy and angry that they weren't seated first and that there was no early bird special, there were the families, who were showing their kids what a fine dining experience really was, and there were the younger crowd, clearly dressed up for a night in Boston after their wonderful meal at the BBC. As we were talking amongst ourselves, this girl apparently walks by in a slinky dress that is way too short. At least that's what Abby says. I couldn't see this girl because her larger, uglier friend was blocking my view. I guess Abby was right, because a group of people next to us started making comments about how short her dress was and why was she dressed that way, this is Framingham, not Boston. Now I had to see what this young lady was wearing, to judge for myself if it was too short. The circled the bar, and finally was in my view...and I gotta say, I don't think it was short at all. In fact, if anything, it wasn't short enough. I mean, this young lady clearly had a different opinion about herself that what the truth actually is, but as my mom used to say, "Go ho or don't go at all." (My mom never really said that, in fact she rarely speaks English, and when she does her main phrase is "No money, no honey." But I'm sure if she would have saw this girl, she would have made some sort of snide comment...gotta love mom for being mean.)

As we were waiting, there were not one, but two tables (high tops as those in the industry call them) empty as can be. Every time people sat in them, they were promptly told to get up and put their names in at the front. An old, grumpy (and fat) couple decided they had enough and sat down. A waitress came over and asked them if they were seated here, and they flat out lied and said they did. Well, the hostess was brought over, and she clearly did not sit this couple and they were told to get up and put their name into the list. Now, there wasn't much to like about the service tonight, but that was very nice to see. This group definitely didn't understand how to work turnover, but boy could they stop an old couple from getting their way.

Now we were 30 or so minutes into our wait, and something exciting happens. No, the pager does not start beeping indicating we have a table, but the group next to us drops a pint glass shattering it on the ground and getting Abby's back a little wet. Talk about excitement! This must be what they do in the suburbs when there's an awkward pause in the conversation. The group apologizes profusely, we say it's no problem at all, and I decide to use this opportunity to voice my displeasure about waiting so long for what will surely be crappy food. "And we'll keep throwing glasses on the ground until we are seated!" I scream out loud. That really got the suburbanites laughing...I should see if I could book the BBC for a stand up routine.

Anyway, this is a review of the food, not the people. After we ordered another beer (this time I did get a Boddingtons...that young blonde waitress should really know what beers they stock) our beeper goes off and we get seated at a 4-top that's on the stage that has been empty for over 20 minutes. We sit down, order some water, and look over the menu. What the hell is "Vietnamese Fresh Rolls" doing on a British menu? (Why it's priced at $7.95 is an entirely other question.) There were other Asian-inspired dishes on this menu as well...clearly, British food is not what I thought it was. I asked the waitress what's the deal with all the Asian-styled dishes, and apparently the chef is some sort of Ming Tsai wannabe and he made a menu that is England meets Southeast Asia. Interesting, I think I'll stick with the British side of the menu. After debating between the bangers and mash or the fish and chips, I decided on the latter. It comes with french fries, onion rings, and cole slaw, but I switched out the cole slaw for "panko crusted green beans" which caught my eye. Abby got the Pork PoggWich, which sounded really funny.

We got our food, and I was in fried-goodness heaven...no wait, heaven is too happy of a place...I was in fried-goodness purgatory. Not truly bad, nor truly good, but right in the middle searching for a way to be better. The fish was cook well, and had decent flavor, especially when I scooped the tarter sauce onto it. The fries were fries, nothing more, same for the onion rings. The panko crusted green beans weren't bad, but tasted more like onion rings. Also, on inspection, the green beans seem to not be panko crusted at all, but just battered in the same onion ring batter.

All in all, the prices were what you'd expect from a place that is more like Chili's or Appleby's than a microbrewery which we thought it was. It's a place worth going to once...just once. I give it a 2 1/2 out of 5.

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Metropolis Cafe (Abby's review)

Comments (1) | Saturday, August 9, 2008

I walk by Metropolis Café every night on my way home from work. More often than not, I see this adorable old man sitting in a seat in the corner with an M on his hat (for Metropolis, duh), watching people pass by and waiting for the dinner service to begin. I’ve wanted to try this place for a while now; assuming it was a café filled with yummy Greek and Mediterranean food (surprisingly, there’s more of an American influence). Last night when we were trying to figure out where to eat, I brought it up. JP seemed interested so we did what we always do: we “yelped” the restaurant. I’m always curious about what others think of restaurants; trying to make sure I’m not eating at the latest health code violation (cough, Yum Mee …which is not, in fact, yummy, at all). Anyway, the reviews were all very positive (I didn’t read them, I just looked at the star ratings) and we decided to check it out.
We leave the house early for a few reasons, we’re starving already, I have cute shoes on so it will take me a little longer to walk, and it’s pouring out. Note to self, buy a second umbrella-ella-ella-eh-eh when we’re at the mall today-ay-ay.
We arrive and get to our table quickly. I had already looked at the menu so I knew immediately I wanted the “Horseradish Crusted Salmon with warm cucumber crème fraiche and salmon roe”. We decide on the app (“Gnocchi with duck confit, Vermont brussels sprouts, rosemary jus and parmigiano reggiano”) and it comes out almost immediately (but not so fast that you’re wondering if it’s been sitting in the kitchen for a while). It’s heaven. Amazing. Warm. It’s how I wish chicken noodle soup always tasted. The brussel sprouts weren’t very flavorful (thank god), but they provided great texture. The duck was very tasty; I just wish (like I always do with duck) that there was more…like an entire duck more. Good God I love duck. I’m not a huge fan of rosemary, but it wasn’t too bad in the dish.
Now it’s time for dinner. Oh.my.God. I ordered the most amazing dish. My salmon came out and, I’m not gonna lie, it was probably the best salmon dish I’ve ever had. The salmon was perfectly cooked, and the skin was crispy (which is just the way I like it). The “horseradish crust” was something I’ve never seen before. It was a horseradish cake. Picture a crab cake. It’s seared on both sides, with the consistency of a crab cake. It wasn’t overpowering at all, and tasted amazing with the salmon, salmon roe, cucumber and the crème fraiche. I never would have thought crème fraiche and cucumbers go with salmon, but man, now I can’t imagine them not being there. I now consider it one of the great pairings in the food world, peanut butter and jelly, lamb and tuna fish, and now, salmon with crème fraiche and cucumber. I gave JP a bite and he loved it too. I tried his hangar steak and it was okay, the mashed potatoes were awesome, but I was definitely glad I ordered the salmon. I have a feeling every time we return to Metropolis Café I will be ordering the salmon.

At the end of the night we received one of those “how did we do” cards. I filled it out and told them, feel free to send me to send me the recipe for the duck gnocchi. I doubt they will, but a girl can dream.

I give Metropolis Café 4.5 out of 5 (which will be bumped to 4.75 out of 5 if they send me that recipe!).

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Metropolis Cafe (JP Review)

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We had nothing going on for Friday night and no plans for dinner. After deciding we didn't want to cook, Abby suggested trying a place she walked by every day to work, the Metropolis Cafe. We tried going here a couple of years ago for brunch, but every time we went, there was a 30 minute or more wait and we were never patient enough to try it.

I quickly opentabled the restaurant at 5:30, and there was an opening at 7:30. (There were openings all night long in fact, but that didn't deter us from making the reservation.) We walked over in the heavy rain, sharing one small umbrella, both our arms on either side got soaking wet. We arrived a few minutes early, but that wasn't a problem at all.

Metropolis Cafe is a small restaurant located on Tremont St, between Clarendon and Dartmouth. For some reason I always thought that the restaurant had a huge dining area that stretched well beyond the large center bar, but I guess not. As you walk in, you see the large center bar that can seat 10-12 people and running along the right side are booths and along the left side a few tables. That's it. The high ceilings really made the place seem that much bigger, and even though the center bar took up a lot of square footage, the servers and guest could walk easily around it and not bump into anybody.

When we arrived, all the booths were full, there were a couple of diners at the bar, and a couple that was having dinner in the corner. It seemed empty for a Friday, but it was early on in the night, and the weather might be affecting people's choices to go out. They only serve beer and wine here, but that was fine by us. We both asked for wine tips, and the waitress quickly answered our questions with no hesitation. (I asked her about the two Spanish reds on the menu, and she immediately suggested to get the Rioja.)

The menu is small, which I like. There were a couple of items on the appetizers list that sounded really interesting. We had a hard time deciding between the asparagus tare tare or the gnocchi with duck confit. (This normally would be a no brainer, since we are avid duck fans, but brussel sprouts were somehow incorporated on the dish and neither of us are that fond of brussel sprouts.) We decided on the gnocchi, damn if we didn't make the right choice!

The gnocchi was served in a soup-like fashion, with the potato filled goodness swimming in a brown broth. I'm assuming it's duck broth, or stock, but I didn't really know. The brussel sprouts and confit of duck were shaved over the top of it, as well as some thyme. I highly recommend this dish. We used up all the bread trying to soak up the broth, and had to restrain ourselves from licking the dish clean.

We had a little bit of a wait for our entrees, as the restaurant began to get full. We sat near the front window and could see a large group entering as well as a few couples. Guess we came at the right time and beat the rush.

When we ordered, I had a hard time deciding between the Tagliatelle Bolognase (made with veal and beef) and the Hanger Steak (with whipped truffle potatoes and endive salad). Again, the waitress came through quickly and with no hesitation and said get the steak, so I did. Abby got horseradish crusted salmon with a cucumber creme fraiche sauce...that sounded absolutely yummy.

My hanger steak was cooked perfectly, with a nice sear on the outside and perfectly pink in the middle. It tasted like most hanger steaks I've had recently at restaurants, which is not a bad thing. The steak was not overpowered by any special sauce or dressing, and the meat was allowed to speak for itself. The potatoes were very, very good and while the endive salad on time probably is meant to add some green to the dish, it didn't really do much for me. (Not that it was bad, in fact it was really good and offered a nice texture and some contrast when I paired it on the fork with a piece of steak and some potatoes, but it could have been left off and I would have been fine either way.)

Abby gave me a taste of her salmon, and WOW! As the Andelman brothers would say, "That is the dish worth driving to."

We decided against desert and just got another drink. Our bill wasn't that bad, considering we had 2 drinks each. Appetizers run about $7-9, and entrees were $18-$22, which I felt were about average for a place on Tremont St. At the end of the meal, I already knew I would be coming back to try to tagliatelle. I give Metropolis Cafe a 4 out of 5.

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Vietnamese People in Oklahoma? (or JP's Fondness For His Parent's Homeland Food)

Comments (0) | Thursday, August 7, 2008

People are always amazed that I was born and raised in Oklahoma, that it's highly unlikely that a person of Vietnamese descent could be raised where the Midwest meets the Southwest. But, there are actually tons of people of Vietnamese descent in Oklahoma City, enough to have a Little Saigon area, full of Vietnamese shops, restaurants and grocery stores.

Last year, there was a great article in the NYTIMES about this very such fact, and the great food that is found there:


I always took Vietnamese food for granted growing up. My mom was always cooking it for us, and I was always sick of eating rice every freaking day. How I longed for the exotic food that the other kids in the neighborhood were eating (except the neighbors to our left...they were Vietnamese too and were eating the same rice dishes): the tacos, the spaghetti, the meat loaf. I remember being in 6th grade, and waiting around in the school cafeteria for school to start, I was asked by a classmate what I had for breakfast. My mom, who was already gone for work, had left a big pot of Chao Ga (Vietnamese rice porridge, the Chinese call it Congee) for us. When I started to describe to this young, white, all-American girl what I had for breakfast, she just looked at me like I was some sort of psycho. (This was also the elementary school where I got called into the principal's office because I was reading a Dungeons and Dragons book and they were afraid I was teaching witchcraft to all the nice Christian kids...true story.) So this experience and countless others like it made me feel out of place, and for a kid that had issues trying to fit in for most if his teenage years up until college, this just added to my anti-Vietnamese feelings. (It wasn't just the food, I hated going to Vietnamese mass during Christmas, and I hated being yelled at by my parents in a language I didn't understand...actually, that wasn't a bad thing.)

When I moved to Seattle for college, I was amazed that along the stretch called the "Ave" (University Ave) in the University District, among all the homeless and street kids (Ave Rats we called them) there were 4 or 5 different pho shops. These came as a great comfort on rainy afternoon days, and this being Seattle these days were often. Suddenly I was no longer not wanting Vietnamese food for dinner, but was actively searching it out. Going for Pho became my staple 1st date. (Seeing as none of these 1st dates amounted to much, I probably should have had a better dating strategy.) The best part: my college buddies weren't afraid or seemed to think of me differently because of the food I ate...in fact, they wished they could have had this food growing up. Rob, tall white guy from the Portland area, told me once how he loved going to get pho with someone who never had it before, to see how they would eat it. And he was right, I never noticed how others ate pho, how it was a different eating experience for everybody. (Jason would put a little noodle, a piece of meat, a bean sprout or two into his spoon then he would add a touch of sriracha and hoisin sauce and so each bite had the same amount of seasoning and flavor. Vince would add so much sriracha that his beef broth would turn into a sea of blood.) This was when I realized how badass and amazing the cuisine from my parent's homeland actually is, how food that is so simple can be so good. Every summer vacation, even though my mom would offer to cook tacos or spaghetti (self-taught because of my constant complaining as a child) I would ask her to make my favorite rice dishes or her pho or her banh xeo (Vietnamese fried crepe dish). I quit complaining about what we were eating for dinner, and actually asked my mom for directions on how to make these dishes so that I can cook it while I'm at school.

Then in 2001, I got to visit Vietnam. As a graduation gift from my parents, my sister Suzy and I went to Vietnam to see my parent’s homeland. While not every part of the trip was enlightening or even fun (too much dealing with money-grubbing relatives that I would never talk to ever again in my life) I got a whole new appreciation for my parents and everything about them. Mainly, I got to eat a whole lot of good food for pennies! The best bowl of beef pho I’ve ever had was at the garage of a man outside of Saigon who, while serving pho, was also giving haircuts as well as washing motorbikes. An all in one shop so to speak. The best bowl of pho ga (chicken) I had was after mass in Hanoi, upstairs in a restaurant that my dad said he went to growing up. Then there was the banh xeo place in Saigon that had customers driving right through the dining area to park their motorbikes in the back, while little lizards would jump onto the table to try to get a bite. Needless to say, I’ve never had banh xeo as good again. (I could go on and on about how great the food is, but I won’t. Just watch any Bourdain episode, either A Cook’s Tour or No Reservations, and watch at how much he respects and loves the Vietnamese food.)

So now I no longer am ashamed of the food my parent’s forced onto me as a child. Thanks to the ever changing food culture in America, where different ethnicities are showcasing their homeland’s food, it’s not as strange now for people to eat sushi or other Asian food that is not Chinese. (I could write a whole blog about what is considered Chinese food in the states…and I probably will…as my brother Tino described it in one of his posts, the Chinese food you eat here in the great USA is nothing like the food they eat in China.) And while people may not agree with me for eating hot noodles in the morning for breakfast (there’s always some comment at work whenever I’m eating Nong Shim instant noodles at 7:30AM in front of my computer), they aren’t judging me for it, nor should I judge them for eating hot oatmeal with raisins (EW!!!...you white people and your strange food...).

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Banh Mi Ba Le Review (JP)

Comments (0) | Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Dorchester Ave has tons of Vietnamese places...tons...

Driving by one day, we saw Banh Mi Ba Le and I told Abby that from my experiences, any sandwich place called Ba Le is usually good. We decided to give it a try last night.

Immediately walking in, I knew I would like the place. They had all my Vietnamese favorites : banh cuon, goi cuon, banh bao, cha, etc. We went for dinner around 7, and everything behind the glass bar, where the sandwiches and other meals are made and served, was nearing an end. I had the feeling that it would be better to come to this place during lunch or earlier for dinner, when the items were just being made and refreshed. But, we had already arrived and were hungry. (Side note, there is no place to sit down and eat here, so you'll have to grab it to go.)

After looking around at what goodies they had in the refrigerators along the sides, we ordered our sandwiches from the owner. She was very nice and even understood my broken Vietnamese. Abby saw their BBQ Beef, and asked for a sample, and the owner obliged. Apparently it was tasty enough, because Abby got the BBQ Beef sandwich. I always get the same thing at any banh mi place: Banh Mi Dac Biet. This is basically the Vietnamese cold cut trio sandwich. After a slathering of home-made butter on the toasted french baguette, the owner then added the pate, cha lua (vietnamese spam) and some ham. After the meats were in, she added the pickled veggies and the hots. Abby also wanted some Goi Cuon (spring rolls) and I wanted some Banh Cuon. Banh Cuon's definition from wikipedia is:

Bánh cuốn is a dish from northern Vietnam. It is a crêpe-like roll made from a thin, wide sheet of rice flour filled with ground pork, minced wood ear mushroom, and other ingredients. Sides for this dish usually consist of chả lụa (Vietnamese pork sausage) and bean sprouts, with the dipping sauce called nước chấm.

As the owner was putting the banh cuon together, I knew I was getting a lot. There wasn't much left in the serving area, but more than enough for 1 serving...she decided to give me all of it. Maybe she was impressed with my broken Vietnamese, maybe she didn't think there was going to be enough left over for another order, whatever...she gave me plenty and I was happy.

Abby grabbed a soy bean milk and we paid our bill : $14.50. Not too shabby at all. The sandwiched range in price from $2.50-$3.00, which is a great price for a sandwich that more than likely will fill you up.

We get home and immediately start devouring the sandwiches. Mine was good, but not as hot as I would like it, so I put it in the toaster oven for a little bit. The sandwich as a whole was good, but not great. I think I would rate this sandwich below the banh mi at New Saigon.

I decided to steal one of Abby's goi cuon. This was very good. Unlike the goi cuon made around Chinatown, this had both pork and shrimp wrapped up in the rice paper. The accompanying peanut sauce tasted like every other Vietnamese peanut sauce, which is to say really freaking good.

All that was left was the banh cuon...which I didn't eat last night. I was so full from the banh mi and goi cuon that I decided to save the banh cuon for dinner tonight.

Overall...I'd give Banh Mi Ba Le a 3 1/2 out of 5. I have a feeling that if we went there for lunch, this place would be closer to 4 or 4 1/2. Vietnamese food is always better when it's made fresh and eaten right away. Though, having the final servings of the day of a friendly Vietnamese sandwich shop is still a better option than no Vietnamese food at all.

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Chicken Fried Steak

Comments (2) | Sunday, August 3, 2008

Chicken fried steak is one of my all time favorite dishes. It's probably not the healthiest meals around, seeing as nothing that is fried is considered healthy or good for you, but who cares...it tastes good. Doing a random search of chicken fried steak, I found out that it's part of the official state meal for Oklahoma. (Again, my Oklahoma roots come through.) The history of this dish is quite interesting. After watching the Good Eats episode on cube steak, Alton Brown explains that chicken fried steak came from German immigrants in Texas. It evolved from the German dish weiner schnitzel, which I always just assumed was some sort of sausage or hot dog, but I guess not. (I probably thought this because of the fast food chain of the same name that serves hot dogs.)

Anyway, here's the recipe taken from AB himself, with my own twists:

1 pounds cube steak
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 whole eggs, beaten
1/4 cup vegetable oil

1. Place the flour and egg into separate pie pans or serving platter

2. Season both sides of the cube steak with salt and pepper

3. Dredge the meat on both sides in the flour

4. Dredge the meat in the egg

5. Dredge the meat in the flour again

6. Let the meat sit for 10-15 mins before cooking

7. In a large fryer, or skillet with high sides (I like to use my cast iron skillet) cover the bottom with vegetable oil and set over medium-high heat

8. Once the oil begins to shimmer, carefully place the meat into the skillet, but don't over crowd the skillet if doing multiple steaks (Another way to tell if the oil is hot enough is to flick a little water over it...if it pops up quickly, then the oil is ready. You could also use a thermometer, but I don't know how hot it should be since AB's recipe doesn't say...probably 350 or so degrees)

9. Cook until golden brown and delicious on both sides (about 4 minutes per side)

10. Let it rest on a wire rack for a couple of minutes

Serve it with mashed potatoes and gravy and enjoy!

Ya'll come back know, ya hear!!!

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JP's Favorites Part 2 (Pearl Jam Remix)

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Seeing Eddie Vedder last night at the Boston Opera House was absolutely insane. Being in such a great, intimate venue with only about 2500 or so other fans was something a lifelong fan such as myself should not ever miss. In-freaking-sane!!! In honor of Pearl Jam, I'll be referencing their songs in this post. I'll try to keep it food-related, but once I get started, who knows where my mind will lead us.

(BIG SIDE NOTE : Proof that people are the same everywhere you go in America, that there are douchebags in every city. There was only one thing wrong with the concert that put the slightest damper on the night, the freaking crowd. 95% of the crowd was great. Just like my buddy Vivek and me, they were happy to see Eddie in such an environment, not the jam-packed sports arena or concert hall that we have seen Pearl Jam in before. But the other 5%...the people that came in from Revere or Franklin or wherever these freaking New England Meatheads are from, they sucked major ass. Seriously. The Friday night performance the night before, Eddie got heckled by the fans in between songs. Screaming for him to play classic Pearl Jam hits instead of the Into The Wild stuff he was playing. I guess that really pissed him off and so they decided to cut the bar off at 8:30 to hope that the Saturday night crowd will be better behaved. Well, I guess Eddie didn't know that this tactic wouldn't affect the typical Boston douchebag, and would in fact make him/her more douchebagish. Sitting right in front of Vivek and me was this group of meatheads in their nicely pressed oversized button down white shirts, smelling of Old Spice and Axe, and they were not pleased about not being able to consume alcohol for the next 2 hours while Eddie performs. I don't understand the point in dropping over $70 to go see a show, and then scream out obscenities and mocking jokes at the person performing. Screaming out "I'm thirsty" after every song played is not funny. Neither is screaming out "Obama Sucks!" when a banner for Obama runs across the stage. I just don't get it...does this douchebag really think he's funny? Is this a tactic that works for meatheads to get laid? Is there some female two or three rows back that hears your stupid yells and thinks "There's the man I'm going to let bang me for the next 6 months while he beats me cause I'm in LOVE!" Is this mating ritual, that is completely unknown to me, the reason why there are so many douchebags being born everyday, to the point that they are overtaking all of us regular human beings that just want to go on with our own lives and not take away from other people's joy? Also, this rant goes to screaming d-bag's friend "dude who texts all night long at the concert". They turned down the lights at the opera house making it extremely intimate with Eddie. Then, every 30 seconds, a god damn phone flips open and the dull blue backlight lights up our view of the show. Seriously, even Granny McPhee who was sitting next to Vivek screamed at you to put your phone away. I mean, sure she was annoying with her "I love you Eddie" screams every other song, but at least she was enjoying the performance instead of texting and checking the time every 30 minutes. You are at a freaking concert dude! Your sister and your in-bred son can wait to hear from you after you get home from drinking and trying to get into fights with your buddies in the big city. I am reminded of the Patton Oswalt bit about watching Cops and enjoying the rednecks on the show knowing that no matter how bad things are going for you, that at least you will eventually get out of it, where as those rednecks will have to continue living their life until they die. I did a bad job of paraphrasing that bit, because how he says it is closer to hard-R and I tried to keep things PG-13 on this blog. If you want to listen to the bit, it's right below.)

Now back to the post...

It's nothing as it seems,... the little that he needs,... it's home

This goes to Vinny's at Night in Somerville. It's a little quickie mart by day, with subs made to order on the side. At night, the back opens up and it's a little Italian joint with a huge antipasto bar and tasty menu. I've only been once, but I remember being blown away by the portions we received and the prices being very reasonable. If you can't make it to the North End, give this place a try.

Who's got the brain of JFK?
What's it mean to us now?
Oh, it's sound insurance
But I can tell you, this is no lie

The whole world will be different soon
The whole world will be relieved

This goes to Toro in the South End. Before I moved to Boston in late 2004, I remember reading food magazines and seeing on the food network and travel channel that the next new wave of restaurants will be tapas related. I remember going to Spain and loving the idea of tapas. Going tapas-crawling in Madrid or Barcelona is a great way to sample various Spanish specialties in a night. Dim sum works well, so I guess tapas should work in theory in the USA as well, though I had my doubts. In Spain, these plates are given out free whenever you order a drink, or are only one or two euros. Here in America, I had a feeling that these new restaurants popping up all over the country would not survive charging $1-$2 per plate because these small plates are going to be showcases for the future Daniel Boulud's of the world. It'll be closer to $6-$10 per plate and this might make going to a tapas joint too expensive for a true dinner. And while I do think these places are slightly overpriced, I cannot deny the fact that every time I've gone to Toro, I did not regret a single thing. Ken Oringer's tapas restaurant on Washington St close to Mass Ave, is gorgeous. I mean that everything about this place is gorgeous, from the hostesses to the bartenders to the fireplace, and of course the small plates of innovative-twists on classic Spanish tapas. I love coming in here just to grab a drink and watch people eat and see there expressions as the food comes out. Some people say Dali in Somerville is the best tapas joint in the area, but I'm gonna stick with Toro. Everything from the garlic shrimp, ox tail, beef tongue, to the huevos rancheros at brunch is perfectly cooked and seasoned. I've never had a bad meal here, and I don't ever expect to. And yes, the tapas craze has hit all over Boston. I've enjoyed Dali in Somerville, the new Estragon down the street from my condo, and also Flatiron near North Station, and all three of these places are worth a trip or two or three...but Toro will still hold the spot of #1 Tapas in Boston for me.

and I listen, yeah,
for the voice inside my head
nothin', I'll do this one myself

Probably my favorite Pearl Jam song, from the Singles soundtrack...this goes to wings. I love wings, be it buffalo, Caribbean jerk, or plain. And I think I make the best wings in the world. My fry-o-lator is grimy and nasty and permanently stained with grease, but it cooks the best french fries and wings in the world. It's so cheap to make wings yourself. Hell, Abby's even gotten good at breading chicken tenders, and when those come out of the Euro-pro fryer, they are more golden brown and delicious than any chicken tenders from any bar in Boston. However, whenever I don't feel like making a big mess in my kitchen, I'll go to Wings Over in Somerville or Brookline to get the best restaurant wings in the area. Their boneless wings are large and all the different sauces available is sure to please everybody. If only they delivered to the South End.

I changed by not changing at all, small town predicts my fate
Perhaps that's what no one wants to see
I just want to scream...hello...

Whenever I think of small towns, I think of diners. I haven't been to many in the area, maybe because Boston really doesn't have the dinner atmosphere, though there are plenty in the burbs. I think the best ones Mike's Diner and Victoria's Diner. I believe they are owned by the same people, but I could also just be making that up. Good diner food done well. Nuff said. You know how you can tell a good diner from a bad one? The line outside the door on a Sunday morning, and trust me, if you catch either of these places during the "after-church" rush, then you will have to just be patient and wait for the goodness inside. Large pancakes, homemade sausage, perfectly cooked eggs await you once you get a table. The waitstaff is usually older and have been around for a long time. They know what it means to get turnover and still refill your coffee right when you finish the last drop in your mug. Never been to either for lunch though, since I hold by the adage of diners are for morning or late night eats. So I can't say much for the lunch menus, but I've seen their sandwiches and they look huge.

and I wished for so long...
I cannot stay
All the precious moments...
Cannot stay
It's not like wings have fallen...
I cannot say
Without you something is missing...
I cannot say

To R.F.O'Sullivan and Sons where you will wait a minimum of 20 minutes for your cooked to order 1/2 lb burger. And trust me, the long wait is well worth it. I've debated back and forth trying to figure out where the best burger in town is, and it's a closer between first and second between RFOS and Bukowski's Tavern in Inman Sq, but RFOS gets the nod. (For chains, I gotta go with Red Robin which includes bottomless steak fries and Ruby Tuesday for their sliders and great salad bar.) RFOS also has great pitcher prices and their fries aren't too shabby either.

So that's basically my top list for the area. Since Abby's not back from her trip to Vegas until after dinner tonight, I'll be making something completely unhealthy tonight: Chicken Fried Steak. I'll post later with pics of my dinner. Also, restaurant week is coming up so that means some reviews will be coming.

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