Thursday, October 2, 2014

Boston Bucket List

Before we move from Boston at the end of this year, I'm determined to get through my culinary bucket list for dining out in Boston (and surrounding New England, for that matter.) Here are some of the places I've crossed off the list:

1) Brunch in the South End: Gaslight
Sunday brunch is a city institution, and what better place to enjoy such a trendy tradition than Boston's hip South End? Gaslight Brasserie is a French bistro with an excellent brunch menu, ranging from classic egg dishes to decadent waffles and French toast. The tough question for every brunch goer: do you go savory or sweet? I opted for the croque madame, which was, well, ridiculous:

2) Dining al fresco on Newbury Street: Itadaki
Strolling down Back Bay's fashionable Newbury street is a favorite pastime of Boston summers, and there are plenty of restaurants to choose from that offer outdoor seating, so you can enjoy a meal while people-watching. From Indian to tapas to Italian to upscale American, you have a range of options to suit almost every mood. I went for sushi at Itadaki, which may be just as famous for its absurdly large dragon punch bowls as it is for the food (they're just vats of blue alcohol). The rolls were creative, not bad, and surprisingly not ridiculously overpriced considering the restaurant's prime real estate on such a frequently trafficked city street.

3) The new hotspot: Washington Square
Over the past few years Washington Square has transformed from a quiet residential area of Brookline to the Next Big Place to Eat. I've been to Ribelle, the Fireplace, enjoyed the exquisite desserts of Athan's Bakery and the nightlife at Golden Temple (a Chinese restaurant that turns into a dance party - so bizarre), but I'd passed The Abbey countless times before I got to eat there. The tapas-style dishes were all great, but the truffle fries were to die for.

(Sorry for the blurry photo, but you get the idea.)

4) Maine Lobster
We went up to Maine to get some fresh lobstah by the lighthouse, but if you don't have the time to get out of the city, there just happens to be a fantastic lobster shack on. OUR. STREET. It's called Alive and Kicking, and it's the real deal. Line out the door, smells strongly of seafood, sit at a picnic table in the yard and pick your lobster by a pile of crates. That's the whole experience right in Cambridge.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Garden to Table

In my opinion one of the most underused parts of vegetable plants in the U.S. is the zucchini flower - I'd bet that many Americans don't even realize that zucchinis are flowering plants, let alone cook with them. Over in Italy they have the right idea, stuffing and frying squash blossoms galore, and they are just. heavenly. (I mean really how bad is anything when it's stuffed with cheese and deep-fried?) So when I saw the unpicked flowers at my work's kitchen garden, all alone and abandoned among the weeds, I knew I had to take them home with me. And stuff them and devour them. Here's how I did it:

1) Pick the blossoms. This is the obvious first step in the process, and you may ask, "really how hard can that be?" But it's important to know which blossoms to pick: apparently there are male and female flowers, the female being able to cross-pollinate to create more plants, so if you pick them all then no more zucchinis. Which would be sad. You can tell the difference between the two because the females have little bulbs sort of bulging at the base of the blossoms, where the petals connect with the stems. So I picked only male bulbs (though I heard a rumor that the females taste even better), careful to avoid the little prickles on the stems as I cut the flowers. It's best to store the blossoms in the fridge immediately and cook them that day, to best enjoy their freshness.

2) Clean the blossoms, rinsing and drying them gently, and then fill the petals with ricotta. I made a mixture using a cup of part-skim ricotta, lemon zest, fresh thyme, salt and pepper - simple and easy. Getting the mixture into the flowers was a little trickier, requiring small utensils to spoon a few teaspoons of cheese into each, closing the petals gently with fingers to keep it from spilling out.

3) Heat some frying oil in a heavy skillet - I used canola - and make the frying batter. Again I kept it really simple, whisking some all-purpose flour into beer until the batter was about the color of peanut butter and the texture of a wet paste. I used my friend's homemade lager, which gave the batter a nice subtle flavor - I probably used about a cup of flour to half a bottle of beer, whisking out the lumps, but I didn't measure it exactly. It's more about getting the batter to the right consistency, which I find is easiest to just eyeball it.

4) Dredge the stuffed blossoms into the batter and then drop into the frying pan, submerging them in the oil. They only take a few minutes to cook, the petals are so delicate and fine, so once the coating turns a light golden brown they're ready to come out and drain on a paper towel. Then sprinkle with a little sea salt and serve warm!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Bramble & Brine

Bramble & Brine is a pretty new restaurant in culinary-filled Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, and now my favorite spot to dine there. The atmosphere is both cozy and classy, combining adorable shabby chic decor with great service and excellent food - it was an incredible dining experience.

To start, that interior (not to mention wine selection):

Table touches:

Incredible food:

Juicy lamb, sure. But that whipped cauliflower puree!

Perfectly cooked lobster ravioli - note this is no tiny bit of lobster inside doughy pasta; those are huge chunks of fresh lobster meat on top of fresh ravioli in a delicate but flavorful sauce. 

Tender halibut with pearled couscous and vegetables shaved paper thin.

Top it all off with Prohibition-era cocktails and decadent desserts, and it was easily the best family dinner out of the year!

Four stars.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Italian Food by Region

Italy is a country steeped in rich culinary traditions that span generations of home cooks. But it's key to understanding "how to cook Italian food" that cuisines vary drastically by region. The typical dishes local to each geographic area are often driven by the ingredients available, and shaped by the region's history. (Remember that for centuries the Italian peninsula was broken up into many city states, and only became unified in recent history.) Italian cooking traditions are strong, with loyalty to certain dishes and recipes almost or equally as powerful as soccer loyalties. Here are a few of the Italian regions I've been to, and the food that I ate:

1) Tuscany: Meat, Meat, and more Meat
This is the part of Italy nearest and dearest to my heart, since my partner is from Florence, and his family from the Chianti region of the Tuscan countryside (such a terrible place to go visit my in laws, I know.) Tuscan food is a tradition from years of necessity, many typical Tuscan dishes descending from peasant's food that utilized what was available, rather than elegant. For example pappa pomodoro, tomato bread soup, and ribollita, came from peasants repurposing stale old bread, adding what leftover vegetables they had around, and creating soups from them. This food is hardly pretentious, but it is delicious. Here are some dishes I had in Tuscany on my most recent visit.

Let's start with Tuscan meat. Traditional peasants' dishes lampredotto and tripa (yes, that's tripe) use the animal innards, stewed in savory broth, until palatable. (Well that's still debatable, but it's classic street food there.)

 Butchery at the Firenze Mercato Centrale (central market), which has been recently renovated:

We took a day trip to the Tuscan countryside and stopped to have lunch in Greve, the sister city to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, where my family has a beach house (see post on Rehoboth dining). There is a famous macelleria (butcher) there:

Among the meats we tried was the soppressata, a type of salami:

But the best was the steak tartare:

I used to be a vegetarian, but that raw meat was drool-worthy.

Tuscan food is very simple, with minimal seasoning and quality ingredients. In addition to the variety of interesting meat that Tuscan cuisine has to offer, are the incredible pastries:

Breakfast of champions, in my opinion.

2) Umbria: Truffle Country
The region of Umbria, landlocked in the interior of the continent between Tuscany the Marche, has the perfect climate for growing truffles. We stopped at a hilltop village in Umbria and sampled some local cheeses crusted with earthy truffles:

Cheese selection with jam and honey: lunch for two.

3) Marche: Seafood Fare
The region of Marche, on the coast of the Adriatic (directly opposite Tuscany) is most famous for seafood in its cuisine.  Fresh fish, prawns, you name it, Le Marche is all about the frutti di mare:

We had dinner at a tiny hole-in-the-wall trattoria that served only the day's catch:

Pasta typical of the region, with mussels and clams.

Fresh fish, grilled with lemon.

And of course, like all parts of Italy that I've been to, Le Marche had delicious gelato!

Adorable gelateria in Urbino.

Another region of Italy famous for seafood is of course Veneto. But one of the things that struck me the most about Venice, aside from the delicious pasta, were the markets filled with fresh produce:

Whether in Lazio (where Rome is), or Campania (on the Bay of Naples), fresh, local fruits and vegetables were to be found everywhere!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Anniversary Dinner

For my parents' 35th wedding anniversary my sisters and I threw them a dinner party to pamper them in style. Here's what we did:

First we Pinterested the sh*t out of their backyard. My sister made the menu cards, complete with his and hers cocktails.

 (For the record, those flowers were from Costco - great deal, and so gorgeous!)

For the first course: seared scallops over salad with grapefruit, avocado and a citrus vinaigrette:

The main course: grilled mahi mahi over a jicama slaw with chipotle crema:

The dessert was rum cake, a tribute to my parents' wedding cake. I didn't take any photos of the cake because I was too busy eating it.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Commonwealth in Cville

Commonwealth in Charlottesville, Virginia may be known for its Skybar, but the restaurant is really top notch as well. We ordered off a pre fixe menu for graduation weekend diners and I still found a number of interesting dishes I wanted to try. Here's what we ate:

For starters, grilled shrimp over a radish slaw with berry compote:

It was an elegantly meager portion (though it was a starter,) and light flavors: the tart berry sauce offset the grilled shrimp nicely.

For my entree, the grilled portobello mushroom, truffled cauliflower puree, grilled asparagus, shallot jam, topped with pistachios:

This is how vegetarian entrees should be done. Too many times in even nice restaurants, the meat-free option seems to be an afterthought, far less interesting than the other menu items. Not this dish. The mushroom was grilled to perfect juicy "meaty" texture, the pistachios adding a nice crunch to finish every bite, and the cauliflower puree was to. die. for. It was hard to believe I was eating a vegetable-based food, it was so creamy delectably good. I seriously need to recreate this at home.

And for dessert we shared the housemade butterscotch pudding and chocolate ganache cake:

Decadently rich, of course. But perhaps the best part of the meal was our wine selection, recommended to us earlier in the day by a lovely wine server at Kings Family Vineyards:

Sexual Chocolate. I know, the name seems a bit ridiculous. It's not even a sweet wine - it's actually a full-bodied red, by SLOdownWines. And it was excellent. The wine went so well with every dish we tried, yet held its own, velvety and luscious. Visit for more info!

3 stars.

Sunday, April 20, 2014


Ribelle in Brookline has been hailed as the best new restaurant in Boston and it's just around the corner from my best friend's place in Washington Square so it seemed an obvious choice for a birthday dinner. It seriously did not disappoint.

We sat at a table by the open window looking out on to the street, or back at the cool interior that made for a great ambience:

Ribelle has a number of small plates, sort of tapas style, that you can choose from to share. We tried the caponata on grilled semolina bread:

The caramelized vegetables were like jam, the crunchy bread the perfect contrasting texture.

 The chicory salad with shaved egg, shredded so fine it was the consistency of shaved parmesan:

Then for the main we had the squid ink pasta topped with lobster and sea greens:

It was what I'd imagine mermaids eating at a banquet in Poseidon's castle under the sea, with sea horses pouring their wine. (If mermaids drank wine, which of course is ridiculous.) 

And for dessert the olive oil ice cream:

The saltiness of the rich earthy olive oil and the sweetness of the chocolate drizzled over top came together on such a high note to finish the meal.

The Boston Globe described Ribelle's chef as being on a "creative binge" - spot on, I'd say. The food was innovative, with interesting ingredients but still actually tasted good. Reasonably sized portions (though not cheap) - perfect date night restaurant.

Five stars.

Monday, March 31, 2014

West Coast Eats

California has great food; it's undeniable. On this trip to California (to friends' wedding in Santa Barbara) there were a couple of meals that really stood out:

1) Poke on the Venice Beach boardwalk (Los Angeles): is there anything better than a bowl heaping with buttery raw tuna? It's my favorite protein, hands down. We went back to eat it a second time, it was that good, and there were many options to choose from:

2) Sama Sama Kitchen (Santa Barbara): it's all fresh, local, farm-to-table with an awesome cocktail list to boot. We went there for drinks and appetizers and were so impressed. My munchies pick: the kale chips.

3) Luca (Carmel): this Italian restaurant tucked away on a side street of the quaint coastal town served, in the words of my Italian boyfriend, "the best meal I've had in the U.S."

First we shared the grilled octopus appetizer:

Tender grilled meat served over Israeli couscous with fresh vegetables, it was both light and filled with flavor. And not at all fishy.

For my entree I ordered the catch of the day, which was swordfish:

 Just a hint of char from the perfect grill marks, sitting in a broth of caponata-style vegetables, this was just how swordfish should be done.

For dessert we shared the cassata cake with pistachio gelato (all made in house, of course), and it was such a departure from the routine chocolate desserts that I've had at restaurants, it was excellent: