Archive for the ‘Boston Area – Cambridge’ Category

Alden & Harlow – Another Reason Why Our Food Scene is Heating Up

Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

http://aldenharlow.com/

Location: Cambridge, MA

The Foodie: Recommends

I don’t know exactly when this started happening, but the eating scene at Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville restaurants is beginning to look a lot like the dining dynamics in other major food meccas across the U.S. – think San Fran, Chicago, and NYC. Case in point:

  • Reservations at an increasing number of HOT spots are required at least a week in advance, and then the only available opening is at 9:30PM for two
  • The house on Friday and Saturday nights is packed to the gills
  • Kitchens run out of things that are very special and handcrafted in small quantities…”We only make 30 of those, and they’ve all been eaten.”
  • The food truck revolution has struck the city hard
  • Many places have “secret,” “limited,” “exclusive,” items that are only order-able in certain seats
  • Small plates, small plates, small plates
  • Hipster beards, ‘staches, tattoos, flannel and garb from the early 1900s
  • Reclaimed wood, vintage x, exposed y
  • Speakeasys, burgers 1000 ways, fermented everything, and innovate vegetables
  • Celeb chefs have their eyes on opening new outposts on our soil

Indeed, for those who haven’t noticed, our food game is coming up in the world.

Slowly but steadily, this area has amassed a strong cohort of excellent chefs and restaurateurs who are doing it and doing it and doing it well.

Michael Scelfo and his team at Alden & Harlow are a shining example of the good things happening across the local food scene. This is fun, exciting, pretty, and interesting food at it’s best. Sure, there are a few dishes that fail to launch in the process, but overall A&H is killing it.

Let me elaborate:

UBIQUITOUS KALE SALAD, FENNEL, CREAMY PISTACHIO

It looks like the Grinch in this picture, but might just possibly be the best kale salad I’ve ever had. The fresh kale, fennel, citrus, and pistachio come together beautifully. Our server even snatched the recipe for us upon request – this isn’t a cooking blog, so I don’t have to share it!!!

ROMANESCO, FIDDLEHEADS – with Other Goodness

Besides being a simply beautiful dish, this homage to cool-looking vegetables most people haven’t heard of was simple, refined, and refreshing.

Pretty Veggies...

BUTTERNUT SQUASH SALAD – Raisins, Pecorino, Hazelnuts, Brown Butter

This was one of the dishes that didn’t quite do it for me here (and other critics have agreed). The squash in nearly-raw shredded form – though inventive – was far less flavorful than the roasted version and came off a bit bland.

BURRATA, ENGLISH PEA, & RADISH – Mint & Peperoncino Honey, Garlic Crostino

Burrata is a long-standing fixture that has been popping up on menus for a few years now and is one thing I am always compelled to order in an instinctual purely amygdala-driven primitive decision-making reflex. Alden & Harlow’s version was creamy, fresh and paired nicely with the accouterments.

Burrata

CHILI & HONEY GLAZED OCTOPUS – Pistachio & Spring Onion, Chick Peas, Pickled Lamb

The A&H octopus was killer, perfectly cooked, and so flavorful with the chili, honey, and…pickled lamb? Somehow they pulled it off. Damn-skippy.

SECRET BURGER – 8oz House Creekstone Grind, Faith, House Made Roll

Remains a secret – they were all out! Maybe I’d have a better shot at accessing one at brunch?

CHICKEN FRIED LOCAL RABBIT – Celery, Apple, Blue Cheese, Chili Oil

Though very well-marketed and alluring, the chicken fried rabbit is the other dish that didn’t wow me. I love rabbit in all its traditional forms but the version here failed to come together – the rabbit got lost in the picture and the celery, apple, and chili oil adorning the plate was not a flavor combo that sung for me.

Chicken-Fried Hopper

ENGLISH PEAS & WILD MUSHROOMS – 60 Degree Egg, Pine Nut Crumble

I have no idea what a 60 degree egg is – or all those fancy eggs cooked in delicate ways. I guess I should have asked (being a food blogger and all) but instead I just enjoyed.

Egg Dish with a Number

SLOW ROASTED BEEF NECK – Parsnips, Vinegar, Radishes

Beef neck – new part of the cow for me. Not too different from the cheeks though – little fatty, though succulent and tender when cooked with chef magic.

Beef Neck Meets Chef Magic

OLIVE OIL CAKE PANZANELLA – Rhubarb, Harry’s Strawberries, Fennel & Frozen Crème Fraiche

Olive oil desserts are all the rage right now, and this one was outstanding. Loved every bite and found this dish to be crisp, fruity, and soothing to the core.

Yum.

On the whole, A&H delivers well-crafted food that is worthy of being included in the wave of Boston restaurants that are putting this city increasingly on the map for good eats.

Three cheers for Alden, Harlow, and Scelfo. You are destined for greatness.

Message to the Secret Burger: I’M COMING TO GET YOU – HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!

Commonwealth – Wiggling Into Multiple Mealtimes

Friday, April 18th, 2014

http://commonwealthcambridge.com/

Location: Cambridge, MA

The Foodie: Recommends

Restaurants usually come to occupy a certain space within ourselves – we file the place away in our gullet and food funnels within our brain (yes, that is a term from the field of neuroscience). You know, there is that part of us that wants:

…this type of food

…at that time of day

…with those people

…and for that price tag.

Let me illustrate.

  • Olecito: A quick meal when I have cash in my pocket, a long ride ahead of me, and a hankering for pork and spices on my tongue.
  • Bronwyn: Beers and pretzels with friends any night, weekend dinner with anyone, or the Bronburger…alone.
  • A4: Friday night dinner, good red wine and a movie with me’lady – meow.
  • Ribelle: When I know my schedule 3 weeks ahead of time, I want to be guaranteed a memorable meal, and I just got paid a boatload of $$$
  • Simon’s: Triple medium cubano latte. Every single Friday.

Commonwealth is starting to wiggle its way into my subconscious in a way that has them coming top of mind at multiple mealtimes.

For example:

Sunday Brunch: With a spacious, chill, sunny vibe and a wicked fun menu filled with sinful fat-laden things and good coffee – there is not much more to think about when considering Commonwealth for an 11:30am double meal.

ORDER THIS: “Ginormous Sticky Bun with Crispy Bacon” – Serves 4, but can easily be eaten by a single hung-over glutton.

ORDER THIS: “The Dirty Jersey” – Yeah, it’s a ham, egg, ‘n cheese sandwich…but on steroids. Super delicate bun, baller ham, gooey egg, and pimpin’ queso. Homefries on the side are actually amazing.

Weekday Lunch:  Starting at about 12:15 every weekday, a small army of tech geeks, high-powered consultants, pharma phriends, and INTP software engineers descend upon the luncheonettes and café cars of Kendall Square for their midday intake. Without disclosing which one of those suspects I am, I have found myself flocking here with the rest of the crowd for some lunching.

ORDER THIS: “Pork Belly Banh Mi” – A respectable take on the epic BLT sandwich from the East.

Oh, and I’ll have you know that I do eat my veggies in addition to large quantities of pig and carbs.

That’s right folks – Commonwealth has just the thing for you on that front too. Think spinach and strawberry salad, lush green salad with watermelon radish, asparagus and faro, and a beet/goat cheese salad with pistachio pesto and dill. Bounty of the earth.

Randomly, they also have an insanely good oatmeal raisin cookie. So they also occupy the “snack time” part of my brain too.

So – if you have empty spaces in your meal schedule – I’d recommend you hit up Commonwealth, stat.

State Park – Tobacco Onions & Shuffleboard Lure, But Foodie Unimpressed

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014

http://statepark.is/

Location: Cambridge, MA

The Foodie Says: Cosi-Cosi

I will resist all temptations to reference a popular cartoon featuring a dude named Cartman.

I will descend into a faux dive bar engineered by the good people over at the Cambridge mainstay restaurant Hungry Mother.

I will select “Gin & Juice” by Snoop Dogg from the Jukebox and order these things from the menu:

TOBACCO ONIONS – Best tasting dish we ordered, served in an ashtray (and no, there is no real tobacco in these to my knowledge)

Most Appetizing Ashtray Contents I've Ever Seen...

FRIED PICKLED OKRA – An appetizer that always sounds fun and tasty but manages to be a bit of a let-down everywhere.

Ehhh...

FRIED CHICKEN – By New England standards, not bad. By U.S. standards, not good.

I've Had Better...

I will review the beer menu and see four respectable yet unexciting brews on tap, wishing I was at Cambridge Brewing Company or Meadhall instead.  I will search for other good beers and see pricey “top shelf” bottles stretching up to $40 a piece – no thanks. I will briefly contemplate a ‘gansett or a high life and order something from Smuttynose.

I will be moderately enjoying myself at this point, but not raving about the food and bev. scene here so far.

I will glance over at the pool table and check out the pinball machines and shuffleboard table. As cool as shuffleboard is (and looks) I will remember why I never play bar games – overcrowded, and perennially plagued by the village douchebags. Pass.

I will pick at the remnants of tobacco onions, sip something brewed by Harpoon, and want to like it here…unique joint, helmed by some pro chefs, a person can feel cool here…etc. etc.

In the end though, I will conclude that State Park is best enjoyed for tobacco onions and getting wasted on cheap beer. I would have enjoyed drinking here more about seven years ago, but probably would have felt the same way about the grub. Sorry guys.

In a few hashtags: #tobaccoonions #narragansett #shuffleboard #notfordinner #beersnobsdrinkelsewhere

East by Northeast – Pork Belly ‘n Noodles, But Something’s Missing

Sunday, February 9th, 2014

http://exnecambridge.com/

Location: Cambridge, MA

The Foodie Says: Cosi-Cosi

Long gone are the days when the only Asian restaurant around was the neighborhood Chinese American restaurant serving things like beef + broccoli, chicken and water chestnuts, and pork dumplings.

These days in the ‘Ville, the ‘Bridge, the Bean and beyond it’s all about the ramen, pork belly everything, dim sum, and scallion pancake sandwiches with *gasp* cheese in them.  Plus we’ve got sushi a million ways, Thai curries and banh mi, Vietnamese pho, and shabu shabu.

Indeed, there has been an explosion of excellent food from the East up here in our corner of the Northeast – some of my favorites include Yume Wo Katare, Mei Mei Food Truck, Hei La Moon, Sweet Ginger, O Ya, and of course the H-Mart Food Court.

So along comes ExNE – and no it’s not some hip new indie music festival. It is a tiny nouveau pan-Asian restaurant in Inman Square serving dishes in “small plate” format under these headings:

  • Small Bites
  • Vegetables
  • Breads and Dumplings
  • Noodles
  • Sweet

We ate the following dishes, listed in order of enjoyment level (1=best dish, 4= worst dish)

1. Red braised pork belly and kale stew, xo sauce, garlicky pickled cabbage.

2. Crispy pork belly sandwich, apple, sweet bean sauce, steamed mantou bread.
3. Scallion pancake sandwich, braised beef cheeks, roasted garlic chili sauce
4. Pork ragout, marinated radish, napa cabbage, chili vinegar

WHAT EXNE DOES WELL: These guys are really on top of their noodle game. The short rice noodles and thick cut wheat noodles were both absolutely delicious and house-made. They also do great things with pork belly and incorporate a few smooth moves into the dining experience with an amuse bouche, nightly specials, and a mini-cookie with your bill.

ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: At the end of the meal, I ended up feeling like these guys were putting out pretty inconsistent food. If you stick to stuff with pork belly in it you’ll be in good shape, but the scallion pancakes were burnt and lacking in flavor while the pork ragout with thick noodles was just a strange flavor combo. I was also a bit irritated by the “small plate” format and steep price tag given the quality of what we were getting.

It may be that I’m coming off of a recent trip to Momofoku Noodle Bar in NYC. Or it could be that Boston just has a lot of amazing Asian food and the bar is pretty high. But eating at East by Northeast was a little bit of a letdown [cue the sad music].

In the meantime, I turn my gaze onward in the direction of the next big innovations in the world of dumplings, noodle soups, and pork meat – while still making time for my local spot churning out that moo shu and fried rice with a smile.

Tasty Burger – The Back-to-School Burger

Monday, September 2nd, 2013

www.tastyburger.com

Location: Cambridge, MA

The Foodie: Recommends

I’m loving the retro-burger movement.

There have been many valiant efforts in recent years to deliver the promise of the quick-service burger joint without the side effects of McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy’s, and the other usual suspects. You may be familiar with some of the following symptoms after past experiences with said perpetrators:

  • Diabetes
  • Fast-Food Hangover
  • Slothfulness and general malaise
  • Muffin top
  • Wicked and sinful thoughts

One of the best-known examples of the retro-burger movement is Shake Shack, which failed to really wow me based on sampling the goods sold at their new Chestnut Hill location.

Tasty Burger, however, definitely drilled a sustainable, high-quality, hormone-free, responsibly-sourced mouthful of retro-burger directly into my soul.

Walking out the door after eating my Tasty Burger, I felt like I had just wrapped-up a swell date spent making out with my steady girl three-years my junior at the drive-thru neighborhood burger-and-fountain-soda place in our small town of Plainville, Indiana.

HISTORY LESSON:

Tasty Burger is a local burger joint with three locations in Harvard Square, Fenway, and Southie.  The enterprise responsible for this grand establishment is the Franklin Restaurant Group, which runs both Citizen Public House and the Franklin Café – two other beloved local restaurants.

MARKETING CLASS:

Tasty Burger features a selection of retro-burgers, chicken sandwiches, hot dogs curiously called “shafts”, sides, shakes and draft beers. Burgers are made from a 1/3 lb. of certified all-natural beef derived from cows that were never, ever, ever fed growth-hormones or antibiotics.

The signature burger here is called the “Big Tasty” and consists of a classic beef patty, cheese, diced onions and pickles, tomato and ‘tasty sauce’ which is the standard mix of ketchup, mayo and secrets.

You can also choose from a wide variety of other burger variations such as the Spicy Jalapeno, BBQ Onion, Kahuna Burger (complete with pineapple, grilled red onion, and teriyaki), and, yes, Veggie and Turkey Burgers too.

What differentiates us here at Tasty Burger from the pack? Besides our delicious selection of burgers, sandwiches and snacks, we offer a full selection of dank beers on tap including Left Hand Milk Stout, Brooklyn Lager, Ommegang Belgian IPA, and Lagunitas IPA. We also may be the ONLY thing open in the greater Boston area until 4AM.

Come on down today, tonight, or tomorrow morning!

COOKING CLASS:

The Big Tasty burger sends forth a perfect mouth-feel that combines the following:

  • Plentiful melty cheese
  • Tender, juicy, well-seasoned thin-ish burger patty
  • Salty kick of onion and pickle
  • Flavorful punch of special sauce
  • Cool massage of tomato and lettuce
  • Soft caress of pillow-y seeded burger bun

The Big Tasty

HOME ECONOMICS SEMINAR:

One burger not enough? Try the Sack of 5 deal that will get you five hamburgers for $20 bucks.

Tuition costs got you down? Try the Starvin’ Student deal: one hamburger or cheeseburger, a can of beer, and fries for 10 bucks.

CONCLUSION:

Tasty Burger is mighty good. I will be adding the Big Tasty to my Top 10 Burgers in Boston List (stay tuned for the latest rev. later this year).

Students, I hope you’ve enjoyed this pre-reading for the Fall semester. Long-live the retro-burger and wishing you much fun and success in the academic year ahead.

Tupelo – Southern Roots Planted in a Northern City

Monday, July 15th, 2013

http://tupelo02139.com

Location: Cambridge, MA

The Foodie: Recommends

Like Northeastern college kids pre-gaming on a Saturday night, New Englanders have always been into southern comfort.

For as long as I can remember, restaurants in the Boston area have been pounding out grits, smoking BBQ, and mixing up gumbos trying to introduce a little drawl into the dining scene around here.

Some have tried (and in my opinion) failed, while the successful few have lived on as beloved neighborhood staples that inspire the hearts and minds of local occupants.

Tupelo is one of the latter, y’all.

Over the years I’ve had my fair share of dry and burnt fried chicken, bland attempts at roasted trout from out the ‘crick, and bad deep-fried things of all sorts (with the gut to prove it).

But one brave pastry chef-cum-genius, the owner behind Petsi Pies, decided a few years ago to open a spot that proudly served the food of ‘Nawlins and the deep south with an eye for authenticity and quality.

This is a review of her flagship Cajun-seasoned enterprise a few years into operation.

HINT: Oh, it’s still on in the Tupelo kitchen.

They’ve kept the core menu items basically the same, but added some twists over time along with nightly specials that’ll make you want to say “I wish I was born in the Bayou.”

Here’s a run-down of some of my favorite dishes here:

  • Pan-fried catfish – a well-seasoned cut of meow-steak over creamy grits and accompaniments that I’ve ordered many a time and always enjoyed thoroughly
  • Fried oysters – the perfect snack to enjoy with an Abita brew while waiting for them to clear your table and seat you.
  • Pork belly corn-dog – Dear arteries, I’m sorry for accelerating the process through which you will eventually clog up and writhe in pain, however, the organ further south in my abdomen (belly) and taste buds up north schemed with my brain to order this amazing creation. My taste buds said that the slab of pork belly was ever-so-tender on the inside and coated with sweet, soft goodness on the outside with a l’ull kick added by some nice spicy aioli. My stomach willingly received the calorie-laden treat and broke down the glutens and proteins with glee. Yes, it’s true, one Guy Fieri was right when he dubbed this bad boy a “Perfect Storm” on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.

Corn Dog of the Future...

  • Crawfish etouffee – A more recent add’y to the menu, this deep rich stew is jumping with the slightly meatier, smaller cousin of the shrimp. This dish is complex, spicy, and a joy to eat.

Remember those things you kept as pets in 4th grade science block?

  • Cajun gumbo – Have I mentioned that Tupelo is best enjoyed with an appetite? If your pork belly corn-dog appetizer isn’t enough, the etouffee and gumbo will offer generous bowls of goodness that will warm your soul. Tupelo’s gumbo includes pulled chicken, Andouille sausage, and okra.
  • Desserts – This is one joint where you will not want to skip the sweets…the post-dinner treats here usually feature goods from Petsi Pies and local ice-creameries.

For my money, Southern-inspired food doesn’t get much better than this in the metro Beantown arena.

So as freshmen hammer down shots of  SoCo in their dorm rooms across the river, I’m digging in to my version of down-home comfort – at Tupelo.

Toscano Cambridge – Basta!

Saturday, June 22nd, 2013

http://www.toscanoboston.com/

Location: Cambridge, MA

The Foodie: Does Not Recommend

Uh oh.

In case you missed my recent rant about the quality of the Italian food scene around Boston, now might be a good time to read it, because Toscano Harvard Square supports my thesis nicely.

My concerns and gripes specifically about Toscano are as follows:

  • The menu is too large. The dinner items alone number over 70, not to mention three to five specials each night. Some people like variety, but I start getting very worried when I see a menu this big – I mean, what are the odds that the kitchen does all of this stuff well? I’m just sayin’.
  • Price to quality ratio is off.  Sure, you’ll see fancy words like burrata, wild boar, saffron risotto, and osso bucco on the menu (for a steep price tag no less), but in reality the execution is a far cry from the tantalizing images that run through one’s mind at first read. A few examples:
    • Salmone Asparagi. A simple pan-seared filet of salmon with a few tough sticks of asparagus on the side. 23 greenbacks for something I can cook better in my own kitchen.
    • Burrata with beefsteak tomatoes. For nearly $14 bucks, just a lump of somewhat average cheese with three lazy slices of tomato and some balsamic on the side. Phooey.
    • Wild boar gnocchi. An OK dish, but somewhat disappointing presentation and a half-assed Bolognese-like attempt at a classic.
    • Capesanti. Sea scallops with leeks and spinach. Sounds good doesn’t it? For a rich $27 dollars you receive four generous sea scallops with a large clump of spinach. Buy a pound of scallops at your favorite fishmonger, score and season with good salt and pepper on both sides, then cook on high heat with butter in a cast iron skillet for 1-2 minutes on each side and you’ll have better for less. Oh snap.
    • Calamari in Gratella. I love grilled calamari, but this version left me wanting. The squid was a little rubbery, and the accompanying mustard sauce was too overbearing. No.

 

 

 

 

 

I was excited by this opening because I’ve had a couple good experiences at Toscano Beacon Hill, but left location #2 convinced this was my first and only time eating here.

I’ve never been too pumped about the dining scene in Harvard Square either (that could be a separate rant in itself) and Toscana adds another line item to that debate as well.

I’m sorry to lay the smack down on these guys because I did have high hopes, but I owe it to you, my dear pack of loyal readers, to steer you away from any less than the best.

Bon Me – It’s a Restaurant, Not a Truck, Silly.

Sunday, March 31st, 2013

www.bonmetruck.com

Location: Cambridge, MA (See on Map)

The Foodie: Recommends

Breaking news, America.

In a shocking turn of events, Boston-area food trucks are trading in their wheels for solid foundations. Just in time for the spring selling season in real estate, folks.

Case in point – Bon Me. Once a truck. Still at truck. But now also a sandwichery and noodle-shop at One Kendall Square? Bonkers.

They are basically churning out the same goods as their roving kitchens, but with slightly extended hours.

The ordering process is about as simple as that new iPhone app you downloaded for free:

CHOOSE DELIVERY MECHANISM:

  • Bread (banh mi sandwich)
  • Rice (bowl)
  • Noodle (salad)

CHOOSE PROTEIN:

  • Spiced-rubbed chicken
  • Chinese BBQ pork
  • Roasted soy and paprika tofu
  • Miso-braised pulled pork
  • Other specials du jour

CHOOSE SIDES + DRINKS:

  • Edamame
  • Asian greens
  • Asian slaw
  • Thai basil limeade
  • Thai iced tea
  • Vietnamese iced coffee

Regardless of your delivery mechanism or filling, your meal will come loaded with veggies and extras. Add some sriracha sauce or really really spicy chili sauce (if you are man enough).

Bon Me definitely assembles a respectable banh mi sandwich (pork recommended) that comes with an assortment of veg and a little spicy mayo. All packed into a long slab of French bread.

It’s good.

This is The Foodie reporting from – you guessed it – Boston. Keep chomping, Beantown.

The Sinclair – Where Food Isn’t the Only Thing Taking Center Stage

Monday, March 25th, 2013

www.sinclaircambridge.com/

Location: Cambridge, MA (See on Map)

The Foodie: Recommends

Here on Nick The Foodie Boston, my meals are typically the main form of entertainment that I speak of. When dining out at Metro Boston restaurants, the small plates or appetizers serve as my opening act, the main plates my main show, the dessert the encore.

But this time, my compatriots, things are different. I actually will write about something other than food.

***GASP***

Oh no I di-int. Yes I did. I spent an incredibly fun night at the new Sinclair restaurant and show venue in Harvard Square. The Sinclair sports a good-sized “Kitchen” and an intimate space for concerts. Here’s a snapshot of upcoming shows that look worth attending (and aren’t sold out yet):

  • Kishi Bashi
  • Patrick Watson
  • The King Kahn & BBQ Show
  • Daughter

We saw the very first comedy show here and were cracking up the entire time – I haven’t laughed this much since Seinfeld, Something About Mary, It’s Always Sunny, Billy Madison, and the Chappelle Show…speaking of which – the main comedy act of the night was Neil Brennan – Dave’s co-creator for the show and co-writer on the stoner classic Half Baked. Brennan’s opener was a local act named Jenny Zigrino – who is a legitimate rising talent and one of funniest female comedians I’ve ever seen.

So there you have it – I led a review with a subject other than food. I’m sweaty, my hands are clammy, and I’m a bit light-headed. I’ve gotta throw some grub in here to revive myself.

So the Sinclair concert venue is housed through a separate entrance than the restaurant. The Sinclair Kitchen exists to feed hungry adventure-seekers prior to their music and entertainment next door. And they do a pretty good job at that. The menu delivers a solid lineup of pre-show supper items, including:

  • The Sinclair Burger – Thick patty, soft bun, watercress, basil aioli (nice touch), and secret sauce – could just make my Top 10 list of 2013, we shall see.
  • Steamed Mussels – with red curry and lychee (trust me, it works)
  • Pastrami’d Pork Belly Sliders – a gut and artery coagulant that is no doubt tasty
  • Crispy Fried Oysters
  • Shellfish Gumbo – with crispy rice and Andouille saucisse
  • Grilled Octopus – gigante beans and chorizo
  • Kale Salad – golden raisins, parsnips, sunflower seeds
  • Roasted Local Beets – honey, thyme, hazelnuts, goat cheese mousse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We sampled the roasted local beets, burger, and mussels and were quite pleased with all three. Though the Sinclair offers a pretty “safe” menu of time-tested, tried-and-true recipes and loses innovation points for things like Gianonne Farms Chicken, Steak Frites, and a Veggie Burger – they do pull all these things off with quality and a bit of style and flair.

So don’t expect something you’ve never seen before on the menu – but DO expect a well-executed and tasty munch pit before your mosh pit.

TIP: Ask your server to snag you some tix while eating if you plan to see a show after dinner and they’ll oblige.

Alcohol flows freely at both the restaurant and show venue, which is cool. Beer selection is, again, safe (think Harpoon, Miller Lite, ‘Gansett) but with a little flair (Pretty Things Jack D’Or).

So there you have it – good reliable food and good solid shows. Two doors. One roof. The Sinclair.

Giulia – Don Carlos by Verdi, on a Plate

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

http://www.giuliarestaurant.com/

Location: Cambridge, MA

The Foodie: Recommends

Sooooo – It’s been a quiet month here on NicktheFoodie.com – but not for lack of eating. During this slow, cold month of January, your master of ceremonies has been patiently waiting to spring a deluge of fun filled food adventures on you.

In this short month of February, you will be magically swept off your feet to vicarious experiences of Italian dining in Cambridge, to our nation’s capital, and to the exotic culinary capital of Peru.

Let’s start with the first item on that list – Giulia.

After assembling a pretty impressive CV in Boston and Chi-town, former Via Matta Exec Chef Michael Pagliarini stepped out on his own to bring us a very solid upscale Italian joint. Thank you, Michael.

We managed to snag a table just a few short weeks after Giulia’s grand opening, and impressively the FOH (or Front of House for the laymen) were running the place like they’d been practicing with plastic kiddie toys and mannequins around the clock for a solid month before the first breathing customers arrived.

Which is to say, service was very attentive.

I could go on and on about an exposed brick interior and a “pasta table” while filling up this site with expertly-crafted photographs, but I will skip right to what you rely on me for – the food.

So enjoy my food blurb complete with poorly-taken smartphone snapshots:

FOOD BLURB:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Giulia has everything that an Italian expat nostalgic for the flavors of the motherland would want:

  • House-made pastas rolled out with nice technique into lovely shapes such as pappardelle, fusilli, ravioli, orecciette, agnolotti and linguini
  • A menu structured to facilitate several courses slowly devoured amongst family and free-flowing bottles of wine
  • Dishes that prominently feature a range of beloved meats, that when sung in an operatic fashion, sound like a classic tragedy set in a salumeria: mortadella, soppressata, pancetta, lardo, prosciutto and Finocchiona (a version of Tuscan salami made with fennel seeds)
  • The famous cheeses of Italia sprinkled, shaved, sliced, and diced up into your favorite dishes – think aged parmigiano, pecorino, ricotta, and grana.

I had the good fortune of sampling several delectable dishes here over a few courses – here are the highlights:

  • Warm Semolina Cakes with Lardo – Soft little circular slices of love slathered in a substance that is the subject of every segment of food porn – yes, lardo. That thin layer of fat under the pig’s skin that is wonderfully herbed and melts like butter onto a warm slice of good bread.
  • Pappardelle with Wild Boar – An amazing pasta dish from start to finish, this creation will meet and exceed every thought of mouth-watering anticipation once the order escapes your mouth and reaches the pen of your server. Beautifully thick strands of pasta with braised  wild boar, seared black trumpet mushrooms, juniper, aged parmigiano and a little spicy heat bubbling up from below.
  • Burrata – Another foodie buzz word that features prominently into full-length foldouts in Bon Appétit magazines and winds up posted on your favorite chef’s locker. That cream-filled mozzarella-like cheese is served up at Giulia with roasted peppers, pine nuts, and golden raisins.

I left still dreaming about a few dishes that I’ll be back for like an Arnie flick: Veal medallion with umbrian lentils, cippolini and pomegranate saba, house-made lamb sausage with broccoli rabe, pepperonata, and gigante beans, and the classic bucatini all’amatriciana (consisting of house-cured pancetta, tomato, onion, pecorino and white wine).

My beefs with Giulia are few, but I feel that I must step up onto my all-important soapbox to air them into the cybersphere:

  1. Wine list is too aspirational. When the cheapest bottle starts at $55, you are missing out on a wide market of drinkers who are happy to slug down an excellent bottle priced at $35.
  2. The “Small Plates” phenomenon taken too far. The way Giulia is priced, you will be dining on a miniscule portion of excellently cooked food for the price of a heaping portion at other places. Unfortunately, I thus need to file this spot in my ‘special occasion’ folder next to other restaurants that I spring out when in the doghouse with me lady.

Overall – a fantastic food experience, which is undoubtedly the most important thing. But like any good Italian tragedy, we need a little drama thrown in to make life a little more juicy.