Archive for the ‘Boston – South End’ Category

Coppa – Where Cured Pork Neck Meets Fennel Pollen

Friday, January 24th, 2014

www.coppaboston.com

Location: Boston, MA

The Foodie: Strongly Recommends

According to the authoritative source on cured Italian meat, Prosciuttopedia (no joke), coppa is derived from a hock of pork neck and is dried according to a secret blend of tradition and spices.

The Coppa I’m talking about here is brought to you by Chefs Ken Oringer & Jamie Bissonette and is carefully formulated to be:

  • One part neighborhood wine bar
  • One part salumeria
  • One part wood-fired pizzeria
  • One part fine Italian dining

Indeed, this intimate enoteca and more is tucked away in the South End and keeps a relatively low profile despite churning out some eye-poppingly well-curated culinary delights, like what we ordered:

Fennel Pollen

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HOUSE MADE PASTA

Castagna Campanelle con Coniglio  $18/$27

Little bell chestnut pasta, rabbit, kabocha squash, cranberries, bianco sardo

WOOD FIRED PIZZA

Salsiccia   $16

Tomato, pork sausage, ricotta, roasted onion and fennel pollen

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Coniglio

When scanning menus, my eyes immediately shoot laser beams at descriptors that hint at things like rabbit, oxtail, wild boar, beef short rib, pork belly, game birds, mutton – all the stuff your average medieval kitchen would have served.

So true to my form, I zeroed-in on the fancy-sounding Castagna Campanelle con Coniglio which was utterly fantastic. The chestnut pasta was unique and earthy, the rabbit succulent (probably braised), the squash finely diced into little cubes, and the cranberries creatively sliced paper-thin as if through a mandolin slicer (meaning the raw berries were not too overwhelming). All was adorned with an extremely flavorful sheep’s milk cheese from Sardegna. A fitting winter menu item. Take a bow, Coppa.

The sausage pizza was another dish dressed to impress. Delicious perfectly-fired pizza dough served as a fitting platter for a delicate mix of ground sausage, ricotta, good tomato sauce, and…fennel pollen? That was a new one for me – I zoned out thinking about the poor schmuck collecting pollen floating through the fennel fields to deliver for hungry hungry hipsters dining at South End restaurants. But it added a little complexity for the Foodie which was appreciated.

As a bonus, I can sound like a real douchebag when I tell people I ate fennel pollen.

In summary, Coppa is a solid establishment that has altered my worldview of Italian dining in Boston (which has had it’s rougher moments). Foodie-approved.

Cinquecento and Deep Italian Thoughts by Nick

Monday, May 13th, 2013

www.cinquecentoboston.com

Location: Boston, MA (See on Map)

The Foodie: Recommends

The Aquitaine Group (masterminds behind Union Bar & Grille, Metropolis, and Gaslight) have breathed a limoncello-laden breath of Italian air into the location that once was Rocca. This brings their resume of south end restaurants up to five as they apply their formulaic approach of superior service, snazzy restaurant design, and solid food to another location.

Before I go on, I present to you a few notes on the Italian food scene in the greater Boston area:

In short, we are not quite nailing it yet – but there are promising signs of change in the right direction.

  • Let’s start with the North End to get it out the way. Our most famous neighborhood for Italian food presents a sad assortment of overpriced tourist traps that are better off avoided. There are a few bright spots in the form of authentic little salumerias, bakeries, and coffee shops but none of these establishments have me jaunting over there on the reg.
  • On to haute cuisine. Spots like Rialto, Via Matta, and more recently Giulia deliver very respectable dishes and a dose of authenticity but with a heftier price tag.  I have not tried Sportello or Coppa but would guess they both sit right here as well. These guys are taking steps in the right direction and I give them a swagger and a nod – I just wish they were more accessible.
  • Then there are the down-home joints. I’ve become enamored with a smattering of more low-key joints over in Cambridge and Somerville like Pescatore, L’Impasto, Gran Gusto, and Posto that really do great things with an authentic, home-cooked unpretentious flair. Pescatore assembles sexy seafood dishes, L’Impasto bakes amazing fresh bread, and Gran Gusto and Posto are cranking out some outstanding pizza. Though you have to expect a little less consistency from these spots – they have earned my respect along with a half-smile and a twinkle of the eye.
  • What about pizza? Sigh…this is an area where I am currently very upset, stomping, and mad that I’m not getting my way. We are not doing pizza well enough in Boston. Slices range from tasteless to overly inventive (Salvatore’s) to scandalous (Upper Crust). Though there are some mentioned in this review who make an effort, we need a complete makeover in this important food group. In fact, I’ve recently made a resolution to learn how to make respectable-enough pizza in my own oven to avoid ordering out – recipes wanted!
  • Other random bright spots in somewhat unexpected places. Marliave actually is a hidden gem with some nice Italian fare. I possibly had the best gnocchi in my life at Salts in Cambridge. Dave’s Fresh Pasta is selling off excellent paninis, pasta, sauces and more…plus their recent child Spoke Wine Bar (see previous review) looks poised for great things as well. Every once in a while Area Four in Kendall will dish out a pizza that simply blows my mind, and their food truck intrigues me as well. The Butcher Shop in the south end will supply endless plates of outstanding antipasti and cured meats for you as well.

So with all that said, where does Cinquecento fit in?

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is all a very long way of saying that I liked Cinquecento, but feel that as a city we really need to raise the bar on our Italian cooking. The Aquitaine Group is definitely among those taking steps in the right direction – as evidenced by:

  • My braised rabbit gnocchi with green olives, parmesan, and a heavenly little pink sauce
  • Our Sardinian wine that wowed me from sip one
  • The burrata special that was imported creamy goodness inventively paired with rhubarb in pickled and crystalized form. Pretty dish too.

All this in a legitimately cool setting that is designed to power out hundreds (or probably thousands) of dishes each night to a hungry mass of Bostonians.

Bunny Taste Yummy

Nick, o ye wise food sage, tell me – what is coming in the future?

Yes, young grasshopper. I sense that the best Italian cooking is a little further afield. I intend to survey Medford (AKA Meffa) for this genre and already have a few good leads. The best slice of pizza in New England lives in Portland, ME…so there must be more hidden secrets out there in the woods beyond the route 128 belt.

Next, celebrity chefs have taken an interest in us. Mario Batali is planning on opening a Babbo Pizzeria in Fort Point. We are receiving Italian food aid from other states to assist with our dire situation.

Where do I think the Italian food scene in Bostonia should go? People are trying to do too much. I say enough of trying to be all Roman things to all people. Pick a specialty and do it right. How about a classy salumeria with house-cured meats and a bangin’ wine selection? How about a few authentic, small pizza joints pulling the real deal out of wood-fired ovens? Shit, how about a shop that just serves frickin’ awesome meatballs? How about a spot out on the docks of Fort Point serving the freshest-possible Cape Cod & MA-state seafood wrapped up in fresh-as-hell pasta?

If an enterprising chef out there happens to stumble across these words – either a Boston native or a small-town Italian chef from afar…please…make my dreams come true.

The Gallows – A Brief History of the Gastropub

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

www.thegallowsboston.com

Location: Boston, MA

The Foodie: Recommends

§  A Brief History of the Gastropub  §

A portmanteau of the words gastronomy and pub, the term gastropub originated in the United Kingdom in the late 20th century.

Like when the first Cro-Magnons discovered fire by rubbing two stones together, two Londoners stumbled upon a concept that would forever change the human race when they found you could please Englishmen with the drunken munchies by rubbing a pub and a kitchen together.

According to culinary beer lover’s lore, the first gastropub was born in Clerkenwell, London with the revolutionary “Steak-over” of the Eagle Pub.

The concept quickly spread far and wide when restaurateurs and pub owners alike stumbled upon an equation that puts Einstein to shame:

Dressing up a bar + employing a real chef + good beer + putting manly food on a menu =  Scrooge McDuck-like Riches

Because words and trends travel quickly across the anglo nations of the world, the gastropub movement hit the United States at the turn of the 2nd millennium.

Today, you can find a g-pub in nearly any American city worth their salted fish ‘n chips, including that ever-historic town where our forefathers first raised their middle fingers in unison to the British empire – Boston.

I suppose us grizzly, bearded New England patriots have come to a point of compassion and forgiveness with our better-mannered cousins across the pond, because the gastropub is the biggest food phenomenon to hit the Bean since clam chowder.  

In what has seemed like an explosion, Boston has witnessed the opening of Citizen Public House, Meadhall, Foundry on Elm, Saloon, Stoddard’s, Russell House Tavern, Five Horses, Lord Hobo, JM Curley, Park, and the Tip Tap Room. As I pound out these words, there is likely another gastropub under construction.

Today we turn our attention to the Gallows – a SoWA (South of Washington) South End destination that is one of the pioneers of the g-pub trend in the area. These guys are among the group of restaurants getting it right…

When Urrg and Gruurg first found fire, their cro-colleagues must have banged rocks together without success. Modern man suffers from the same issue, and too often gastropubs end up hitting the beer side without paying enough attention to the quality of the eats.

Unfortunately, most Boston g-pubs (think Russell House, Foundry on Elm, Park, Saloon) end up being simply snazzy places to drink a craft beer along with a nibble or two rather than propelling the food to the forefront.

The Gallows definitely joins Citizen Public House, JM Curley, Stoddard’s and Lord Hobo by successfully copying a technique that will someday lead to the next iteration of human kind.

Gallows presents a chill, classy, dimly-lit setting in which to enjoy good food and beer. With a nice menu that features several meat-and-cheese-laden “boards” (we’ll cover the charcuterie trend in a separate post), a few versions of the Canadian Classic poutine, sandwiches, burgers, and slightly more dainty dishes like grilled octopus and ginger soy tofu – the Gallows has something for both beer-bellied gluttons and vegetarians (good thing beer is plant-based).

I specifically ventured here for one item and one item only – the Our Way burger. A simple affair that is cooked in the West Coast thin tradition and topped with cheddar, griddled onion and pickles, the Our Way burger is a commendable thing that should be tried by any burger enthusiast. In fact, I have named it to my closely scrutinized and ever-evolving Top Ten Burgers in Boston List. I was equally pleased by the Pretty Things IPA and Duvel I enjoyed on draft.

Gastropub Done "Our Way"

As mankind continues to bang pubs and kitchens together to form sparks of frothy pints, fried food, and griddled meat parts, let’s keep learning from our less coordinated cave dwellers and really whip up flames with some decent food coming out of the kitchen.

Aquitaine – Frenchified Fantasy Food

Thursday, February 16th, 2012

http://aquitaineboston.com/

Location: Boston, MA

The Foodie: Recommends

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“All great deeds and all great thoughts have a ridiculous beginning. Great works are often born on a street corner or in a restaurant’s revolving door.”

So decadent and unique a creation it must have been conceived during some French Master Chef’s REM sleep after a night of heavy boozing, Aquitaine’s Oeuf en Cocotte is the compressed marriage of Truffles, Pommes Purée, Egg and Marinated Chanterelles in a petit glass pot with toasted brioche on the side. When you order they say it will take a while to prepare, which to me always signals greatness and care.

”A man’s work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened.”

Just when I thought I knew braised short rib and all that mouth-watering creation could be, Aquitaine helped me rediscover this dish with their chermoula-inspired take (chermoula is a North-African marinade). I didn’t quite get the inclusion of pickled radish and carrots on the plate but the pommes purée were a better touch.

“I know of only one duty, and that is to love.”

That last Albert Camus quote really sums up the experience at Aquitaine, a very well-run French restaurant owned by the Aquitaine Empire that has given Boston other culinary gifts likes Gaslight, Union Bar and Grille, Metropolis Café, and the coming-soon Cinquecento in the former Rocca space.

Aquitaine is a good example of why this restaurant group has enjoyed so much success: nailing food scene trends (remember the French bistro explosion?), focusing ho-heartily and genuinely on service, and most-importantly cooking up some real legit grub (can you say steamed mussels in Sancerre and shallot?).

The “A-team” shows a love for both the food and people that they serve, and for that these guys deserve some real cred. No wonder their other three restaurants are all on my short list of Bean-area spots to try.

 

 

The Salty Pig – Homage to Pig

Friday, October 14th, 2011

http://thesaltypig.com/

Location: Boston, MA

The Foodie: Recommends

In a few words: Pork, pork, and more pork. Homage to Pig. Come hungry.

Man, it’s been a while since I got so pumped about a restaurant based solely on the name.

Might as well call the place “The Truffle Cottage,” or “The Rare Ribeye,” or “The Crispy Duck.” Marvelous.

Once I was able to get past the name and onto the menu,  we sampled the following lineup of “salty pig part”goodness:

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Beer: Pretty Things Magnifico (obvi)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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First Eats: Personalized charcuterie board. They’ll basically let you customize your block of meat and cheese by picking from a wide selection of offerings. We settled on a local VT cheddar and a euro fromage (believe it was a Robiola) as well as something called porchetta, which is essentially the fast roadster of ham products.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Second Eats: Wood grilled pizza. A creation called the Tony Rocco that was house-made spicy sausage, onion, tomato, ricotta and mozz. Heavenly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Third Eats:  Pork belly. Nicely crispy, very succulent. Great dish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, this culinary homage to porky is really a great addition to the downtown scene. In the end, the food was fairly solid and I’ll be returning to their spacious laid-back slaughterhouse shortly.

B&G Oysters – There Are Lobster Rolls in Heaven

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

http://bandgoysters.com/ 

Location: Boston, MA

The Foodie: Recommends

Lord, if I go tomorrow, take me to an immaculate oyster bar in the sky. Let there be good fresh oysters from Wellfleet, Duxbury, Maine, and the West Coast. Let there be a nice selection of white wines that include an amazing Sancerre not to mention some baller beers. Let there be prompt service, friendly smiles, and a classy- upscale-neighborhood-but-not-snobby-and-still-chill vibe.

And upon entering the “pearly” gates into oyster bar heaven, drop this plate in my arms:

The cold Maine lobster roll at B&G is well worth it’s price tag and delivers amazingly succulent lobster meat in a soft bun along with amazing tarragon fries.

It’s as if Jesus hand made it himself.

Here’s praying I make it to the bright side of the afterlife and that they don’t knock me for a diet high in meatfat.