Archive for the ‘French’ Category

L’Espalier – Armies of Amuses, A Whole Duck, Desserts in Chocolate Vessels, and Tea Sommeliers

Monday, April 8th, 2013

www.lespalier.com

Location: Boston, MA (See on Map)

The Foodie: Strongly Recommends

At long last – I managed to eat at L’Espalier. A culinary pilgrimage for Boston area food lovers, one of the best high-end French restaurants in town, and a time-honoured etablissement of fine dining in this great city.

As we boarded the elevator up to the restaurant (complete with well-upholstered sitting chair), I couldn’t help but wonder – does this place live up to all the hype?

Up until now, I had only heard mention of L’Espalier through hushed whispers and quick glances…Mark took Sally-Joe there to propose, the sales team at XYZ Corp. gathered here to celebrate that big multi-million-dollar deal, Jay-Z took P-Diddy, Beyonce, and the entourage here to pop open Moet & Cristal…OK that last one was a lie (or was it?).

You enter into a sitting room and are greeted by a glass-encased spread of pungent cheeses just begging for you to slather them on a baguette and pair them with a fine bottle of bublay. Sadly, we skipped ahead and went straight to our table to get the party started.

Then, happily, a bottle of very good champagne was ordered and an assortment of little amuses were scattered across our table – and they did not stop. A veritable panoply of small treats kept arriving – both sweet and savory. A refreshing shot of hibiscus, mini-French macarons, and a delightful bite-sized éclair filled with gooey cheese were among the lineup.

None of these items were ordered, but the kitchen generously festooned our eating space with them throughout the meal…quite a treat.

And the foodstuffs we did order, pray tell? I thought you’d never ask.

I, feeling particularly carnivorous this particular evening – decided to basically devour an entire duck…roasted Hudson Valley foie gras with citrus, mushrooms and other goodies I can’t remember commenced the quack quack Armageddon, followed by the whole roasted duck for two – carved at a separate table and served with beluga lentils, spiced jus and celery root puree. A rhubarb soufflé was presented to the side of our dish as well. Bomb-diggidity.

Duck, Duck Baby

Before you peg me for some sort of glutton – I did share the whole duck with another meat-lover and still got a generous helping of bird.

The others in my dining party feasted on things like:

  • Beef tenderloin with short rib, bone marrow custard, Jerusalem artichoke and spring garlic.
  • Slow poached and roasted guinea hen with black truffle-turnip “risotto”, pear puree, and foie gras jus
  • Seared sea scallops with braised pork jowl, little clams, English peas and roasted garlic
  • Salad of Fresh lettuces that incorporated some crazy flavors of ice cream
  • Some seared leek with cauliflower, egg, peas and sauces that looked lovely and was ordered off of – get this – a full vegetarian menu. Take note, herbivores.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dessert was a whole separate event in itself and well worth ordering here. The Bananas Foster with caramel pots de crème was a really unique treat – the server literally cracked open a (presumably) white chocolate tube on the plate, sending a river of warm caramel flooding the ice cream and honey roasted pecans that lurked below. Jiho’s chocolate banana macadamia bread pudding similarly involved the ‘cracking’ of a chocolate vessel to expose the goodness that lay within – inventive and tantalizing.

Before I close this review I should mention the service. We ate here on a Monday night and the place was practically empty – consequently we had a small army of servers attending to us. A well-spoken commander-in-chief deftly articulated the menu items as if rehearsed for hours, while separate representatives filled water, consulted on wines, served the plates, cleared the plates, and fanned away unpleasant odors with a napkin (sorry, guys…my bad…must have been the foie).

A delightfully upscale dining experience that does indeed live up to the hype. Save up your pesos and hit L’Espalier the next time you want your dinner to say ‘I’m one of a kind.’

For the Ulta-Curious: Other Things About L’Espalier:

  • If you are rich enough to just ‘swing by’ here for an impromptu meal and find the place crowded, you can eat in the salon to enjoy caviar, oysters, cheese flights and small bites.
  • This place actually has their own Tea Sommelier! Come for the Saturday and Sunday tea times to enjoy awesome food paired with some fine featured tea selections…or just sample the tea alone for only $15 bucks.
  • As mentioned before – L’Espalier does indeed have a vegetarian menu…just ask and you shall receive at this type of real classy joint.

–Fin–

West Bridge – Pure Magic.

Friday, June 15th, 2012

http://www.facebook.com/westbridgerestaurant

Location: Cambridge, MA

The Foodie: Recommends

Watch out David Blaine, David Copperfield, and Michael Caine in The Prestige – there’s a new illusionist in town, and they rolled in with chef’s knives instead of a deck of playing cards.

Having opened their doors just a few weeks ago, West Bridge (which takes its moniker from the former name for the Longfellow Bridge) is really on top of their game right out of the gate without any smoke and mirrors.

I went into their sleek, modern, hip [insert another superlative from the food blogger’s dictionary] locale on a weeknight with a certain set of preconceived notions about another Cambridge spot serving up modern French cuisine with “a twist.” I had no idea what I was in for…sort of like when a magician says “I’ll need a volunteer from the audience.”

Here’s how West Bridge had me asking “How the f*ck did they do that?”

  • Crispy fried chicken skins with aioli were the first item to hit our wooden table…at first glance you think some yuppie thought like “ooohhh, some new type of flatbread?” but in reality nicely-seasoned, crispy and (amazingly) flat thick crunchy slices of chicken sheath.
  • Appetizer of red quinoa, favas, goat cheese, and what you’d think is bacon essence (but in reality soy-treated crispy shitake mushroom bits that will blow your mind). The vegetarian dish every meat-lover has always wanted.
  • Radish Toast. If the quinoa was the meat-lovers vegetarian dish, this appetizer is the vegan’s prelude to hell. Just think…some unassuming leaf-eater orders this dish without realizing what “lardo” is. They bite into really nice sourdough toasts topped with baller butter, thin-sliced radish, wild mushrooms, some electron-sized greens, and this nice herby richness they can’t quite put their finger on…that’s right – you just sank your teeth into a nice layer of kingly pig fat.
  • A Sancerre that was…get this…RED. Forget that crisp seafood-friendly white you gulp down with your fruits de mer…this was a pinot noir from the same region. Absolutely delicious.
  • Duck liver terrine that was smooth as hell with a nice chutney and what I thought were chickpeas done in a way I’d never tasted before – salty and nicely crispy.
  • Duck breast with hibiscus beet vinaigrette, black rice, and rainbow carrots. This sumptuous entree was like when you think you know how David Blaine did that card trick before he pulled your card out of his ass cheeks. Duck was nicely scored and treated very simply with just high-quality salt and pepper…perfectly succulent. But then carrots the color of the rainbow? Rice that was neither white nor brown? “Hibiscus beet vinaigrette?” Where am I? Outstanding dish.

The menu at West Bridge is sorta structured as follows:

  • Hey, we know you’re probably coming here to get plastered on great beer and wine after work…but while you’re at it choose from at least ten amazing and generous-portioned appetizers to share amongst your project team.
  • But if you’re here with your honey and want to bring some game – we’ve got four solid mains to choose from (plus a special of the evening)…whether you need veal, fish, or duck…we’ve got you covered.
  • And if you just got a raise, announced your engagement, or lost your virginity, we’ve got some humungo “share-for-two” plates like cote de bouef, lamb shank, and (what’d I’d assume is) whole roasted chicken.

The staff at West Bridge has trained with the greats and learned from the masters. Co-owner Alexis Gelburd-Kimler was a former GM for Tony Maws at the old Craigie Street and the Exec Chef/Co-owner Matthew Gaudet learned his chops in NYC. Both hail more recently from Aquitaine Bistro, another excellent restaurant. The service was of course stellar – so good that you’d think our waiter (James) went to culinary school himself.

All these forces came together to give us the show of our lives. A fanstastical crew, a superb evening, a magical experience.

P.S. My duck breast levitated before I ate it.

Tatte – Finally, the Right Way to Say “Tart”

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

http://www.tattecookies.com

Location: Cambridge, MA

The Foodie: Recommends

Much to the chagrin of places like Woburn High, this place is actually pronounced Tah-tuh.

But damn can they bake. After opening right smack in Kendall Square on Third Street in early May, these guys have been packed to the brims with pharma jocks, medical device bandits, MIT babes, start-up engineers, and latte-carrying yuppies.

Business has been good. And Tatte deserves it. With a pimped-out line-up of sweet and savory, crusty and creamy, chocolatey and buttery, cheesy and meaty, green and soupy – the menu here features the following:

  • Fresh baguettes
  • Croissants
  • Brioche
  • Quiches (cherry tomato ‘n feta, potato ‘n thyme, zucchini ‘n mozz)
  • Soups (sweet pea, tomato basil bisque, mushroom)
  • Sammiches (think mozz, tomato, basil and pesto on toasted foccacia and pan roasted meatballs and san marzana ‘matoes on baguette with provolone)
  • Salads (vegetarians will delight in a full array of salads that come herby and green, loaded with ancient grains, or classically spinach and feta)
  • A Legit Breakfast Spread (brekkie sandwiches, muesli, bread baskets galore, shakshuka, and other assortments worthy of the Sunday Brunching crowd)

There are no pictures of these items in this review because the snapshots I took did not do them justice. On top of all this, Tatte tips their hat to nearly all my favorite food havens in Europe:

  • The shop looks unmistakably French and customers are greeted with a hearty “bonjour” from the full selection croissants, brioche, and baguettes behind the pastry window
  • The sandwiches, bread items, and full Illy Coffee setup scream “Viva l’Italia!”
  • The name Tatte conjures up images of an apron-and-rolling-pin-wielding-stocky-German-woman plus they serve Schnitzel for lunch

There is a fine patina of Eastern Europe and Mediterreania here as well with your eggplant purees, tahini, and yogurts.

Oh, and any bakery would be incomplete with a big slice of Americana – yes, they have a bacon, egg and cheese breakfast sandwich.

I guess Tatte really does speak Baaaston after all…But I am glad that they bow to European technique.

Marliave – Boston, Under New Culinary Management

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

http://www.marliave.com/home/

Location: Boston, MA

The Foodie: Recommends

Boston. An historic town under modern cultural management.

Sure, we’ve got lots of stuff that’s been around for over 100 years – Fenway Park, the T, the Bell in Hand Tavern, Mayor Menino, and a strange accent to name a few…but we’ve really tried to keep up with the times. We ditched an ugly raised highway in favor of a nice greenway, we finally constructed a proper modern art museum, we’re educating lots of smaaaht kids each year on the latest academia has to offer, and we are growing a solid base of world-class eateries that are following food trends on the frothing edge.

What does all this have to do with Marliave? Patience, young grasshopper.

This Boston mainstay has been around for ages and has to be one of the oldest dining locations in the city, but under the management of Grotto chef/owner Scott Herrit, they are still slingin’ some very well-executed grub that spans Italian and French-inspired dishes that are worthy of the 21st century.

Typically you’d expect that restaurant established in the 1800’s that is downtown right smack in the tourist action to be mediocre at best, but Marliave is a welcome exception to the rule.

The restaurant really is a hidden gem that had remained more rumored than real to this native for several years. I’m glad I picked up my britches and gave it a try. It’s a beautiful space with a laid-back bar area on the first floor and gorgeous intimate dining room above street level.

I’ve waited long enough – here are the menu highlights:

  • “Sunday Gravy” – pillow-y gnocchi (yes I’m a fouchebag) and delicious creamy San Marzano tomato sauce laden with tender lamb, pork and beef. Down-home comfort, upscale technique.
  • Seared scallops with pumpkin ravioli and wild mushroom risotto. Beautifully-plated, inventive combo, perfectly-cooked scallops. Terrific.
  • Chicken breast seared ‘under a brick’ over risotto with mushrooms and roasted garlic. I don’t know if it’s just clever marketing, but I typically drool over chicken under a brick. Marliave’s take on this dish was outstanding.

Other menu items that caught my eye included beef wellington, a sexy-looking burger, “Henry’s Soup” (French onion, gruyere, short rib, crouton, mouthgasm), beef carpaccio, and a nice duck confit app (coming to your iplate soon).

In the end, Marliave is a fine example of how Boston can marry old school colonial charm with new school culinary chops. Bravo.

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.

 

 

Hungry Mother – Oui-Haw!

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

http://www.hungrymothercambridge.com/

Location: Cambridge, MA

The Foodie: Recommends

Can a right-bank Parisian and a BBQ meat and potatoes American southerner get along?

In the world of people, probably not likely.  In the world of food – let’s just say oui-haw.

Hungry Mother combines the flavor, taste and spirit of two amazing culinary traditions and melds them perfectly and elegantly into a complete dining adventure. Reserve ahead as if you’re eating on the champs-elysées, eat like you’re at a Texas road side smokehouse, and still feel refined in the process.

My most recent meal here combined the flavors of both sides of the pond. Let’s take a quick stroll down Rue de Eatoli and I’ll give you a picture of the experience – hold hands?

 

 

Boiled salted peanuts and Brasserie La Rulles “La Grande 10” Belgian IPA. Both incredibly rare treats. Trust me on the boiled peanuts. Couldn’t stop eating them and were vaguely reminiscent of those salted edamame beans you love so much. La Rulles IPA was a 10% ABV bad-ass Belgian beer that knocked my socks off (and made the walk home interesting)

Crab and greens over fried green tomatoes. Sounded much more elegant as described on the menu, however I loved this dish and felt the flavor profile, presentation and technique really demonstrated how well Hungry Mother marries the Frenchman and Southern Belle.

Local Catch “En Papillote” – Amazingly succulent, perfectly cooked white fresh local fish cooked with maitake mushrooms, fingerlings, leek, kale, and a soy sherry beurre blanc. A forgasm wrapped in paper and cooked in its own juices.

If you love French food, you’ll like Hungry Mother. If you just enjoy yerself a good fish po’boy, you’ll also like Hungry Mother. The world of food unites us once again.

A tout a l’ho’down.

Craigie on Main – A Culinary Game-Changer

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

www.craigieonmain.com

Location: Cambridge, MA

The Foodie: Strongly Recommends

Dude, Craigie is like the Michael Jordan of the Boston food scene. Or Michel Jordain, in the French tradition.

They are what Tiger Woods (pre-scandalous) is to the golfing world, what Jack Nicholson has been the acting world, what Jimena Navarrete is to beauty pageants world-wide,  what Justin Bieber is to tweens everywhere….

Before you think that I’m some cyber-creep, let me gain some cred with a stellar review of the food spread over at C.O.M.

Craigie nailed it with an amazing V-day weekend dinner. Cue dish breakdown:

POTAGE OF JERUSALEM ARTICHOKE WITH CONFIT OF VERMONT CABRI.  Upon inquiring I learned that cabri was baby goat. Vegetarians shudder and run away. Man this dish pushed my taste buds to new heights. The mini-goat was incredibly tasty and reminiscent of duck confit swimming in a beautiful broth.

CHAR-GRILLED OCTOPUS WITH CHORIZO LOVE. Every time I’ve had octopus it’s been fairly bland and chewy. Craigie served up something that was nothing like all other sea-dwelling suction creations I’ve tasted before. It had such a nice soft meaty flavor that complimented the grilled char and spiciness of the chorizo perfectly. Beautiful.

NO B.S. COTE DE BOEUF. Dry-aged grass-fed bone-in ribeye the size of my head. Carved on our plates and served with oxtail ragout, tsimmes (oy vay) and steamed spinach. If I choked mid-bite, my life would have been complete.

We climaxed with valrhona hot chocolate…what better touch?

This review need not do more for a place that enjoys a five-star rating ratio envied by the world, but what the hell – all the celebs love that extra autograph. Never gets old, especially when we’re talking baby goat.