Archive for February, 2012
Location: Cambridge, MA
The Foodie: Recommends
In a court of food, a raw-yer (get it?) could argue that Ana Sortun is the chef to most successfully bring Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine to Eastern Massachusetts and the North Atlantic.
So a few years ago when I discovered she had opened a bakery and café in a remote corner of Cambridge to build off the success of Oleana I was particularly jazzed.
I’ve been over here several times and never left disappointed – they manage to squeeze fistfuls of culinary delights into a small space. Think amazing falafel and shawarma, a slew of baked goods, spices for purchase, and even fresh eggs (presumably from the farm that Sortun and family runs).
A recent trip here brought joy upon joy in the form of Turkish coffee, a little sausage and broccoli rabe sandwich, a nice quiche-like pastry and the ever-famous egg shakshouka (find out about that one on your own).
Sortun offers you all this and more in a well-designed (yet tiny) space. Sofra is best enjoyed in the following formats:
- Order a sandwich for take-out. Sip a Turkish coffee while you wait.
- Bring a slew of pastries home to gorge upon
- Come with a small crew and hover over people to grab a seat for weekend breakfast
- Experience Sofra in warmer weather and chill in a small space for outdoor seating
In any form of edible excursion here however – you will be found guilty of gluttony.
Nick the Foodie.
Location: Somerville, MA
The Foodie: Strongly Recommends
In the first episode of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s excellent sketch series Portlandia, a bohemian couple travels from the table they’re dining at out to a farm to see where the chicken they were about to eat came from.
When they arrive out to the farm they become mesmerized by the owner Aliki and lured into an organic farm cult, spending years entranced by his spell…
I felt the same way when I walked into the Somerville Winter Farmers Market for the first time, hypnotized by local treasures sold on Saturdays from 9:30 to 2:30PM November thru May at the Armory on Highland Ave.
Following is just a sample of what was available in this castle of homegrown New England delicacies:
- Valley Farm Natural Raised Beef (best breakfast sausages ever)
- Great Cape Baking Company (a killer rosemary loaf and a donut that has the addictive properties of crack)
- Local mussels, haddock and greysole from Gloucester and Maine
- Stillman’s Farm Meat
- Excellent seasonal produce from MA and NH farms (think celery root, parsnips, chioggia beets, exotic cabbage, etc)
- Fresh milk and vats of butter
- Fiore di Nonno Fresh Mozzarella and Burrata
Spending a winter morning here strolling from table to table sampling (and oogling at) all kinds of amazing goods while rubbing shoulders with the producers themselves is what food shopping was and is always meant to be.
So do your shopping here next weekend, feel like you’re walking into an episode of Portlandia, and allow yourself to be enthralled by the bounty of the earth.
Location: Cambridge, MA
The Foodie: Recommends
Long live the neighborhood restaurant.
Remember when it all had that home cooked feel to it?
Remember when they used to whip up specials based on the inspiration of the day?
Remember when you could walk in and say “the usual?”
Remember when you could say “hook me up with something special” and they’d throw a dish together for you on a whim?
Remember that thing called service? Sure, I know that between healthcare, the airlines, and Comcast, we’ve nearly forgotten the meaning of the word.
Here at 2nd Street Anthony and his team are keepin’ the dream alive by feeding all locals within a 10 block radius for breakfast and lunch M-F with a stellar lineup of fresh sammies and daily specials to boot.
Think grilled chicken with pesto, tomato and fresh mozz; a grilled cubano complete with roast pork loin, ham, swiss, and all the trimmings; curried chicken salad, and my personal favorite: MOM’S MEATBALL GRINDER.
[Cue Brief Grinder Monologue] – Wow. Holy shit. This hoagie is one of those “available ‘till it runs out type deals”…a marvelous combination of tender-as-hell meatballs in a light airy tomato sauce and loads of melted provolone. Wrapped up in tinfoil you joyfully cling to it on the walk back to your officle and then silently devour it accepting no corporate fire drill as a legitimate-enough emergency to break the deliciousness of each passing moment. See below:
We’re back. Sorry about that. I get a little heated every time the grinder comes up. Back to good food and service. The bottom line of it is that if you work within the reach of 2nd Street be sure to escape from the daily grind with a friendly grinder from the kind folks here.
Secret Food Track:
Remember Green Day? Remember Dookie? Remember how your level of cool was defined by your knowledge of the secret track? Here at Nick the Foodie, we remember, and we’re hitting you with a bonus track in case you missed the hip boat in 7th Grade.
I received a personalized cooking lesson from Anthony, the culinary mastermind behind the 2nd Street operation. He spent a good solid afternoon teaching me some killer technique in the kitchen and led our service of 20 ravenous other foodies with an orgasmic menu consisting of the following:
- Carbonnade a la Flamande (an amazing braised beef stew) with Chimay and Short Rib
- Baked squash rounds with triple crème brie, caramelized onions and chiffonade of sage
- Grill-toasted baguette with prosciutto and fig preserve
- Grilled squid salad with spicy vinaigrette
- Grilled asparagus and mashies
Anthony is a good chum and real professional gent to work beside in the kitchen. I learned a ton from him and his background and can say with insider knowledge that the man behind the magic at 2nd Street is going to treat you right.
Long live the neighborhood restaurant and the good people keeping them alive.
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.
OK, I know all you Nick the Foodie readers out there come here for the latest local food chummery and to discover good eats foraged from Bostonian soil. Believe me. I know…but every once in a while I’m going to magically sweep you off your crocs to a different food mecca.
Yes, the windy city certainly blew some amazing grub onto my red circular plate. I could get long-winded myself telling you about it, but I’m going to make my review of the food scene easier to digest than a slice of Gino’s deep dish.
TOP SEVEN THINGS THAT I CONSUMED IN CHICAGO (NOT NECESSARILY IN ORDER OF GREATNESS – THEY WERE ALL GREAT):
Why I loved it: Gibson’s has their own frickin’ grade of beef people…
2. Chorizo and medjool dates wrapped up in smoked bacon bathing in piquillo pepper-tomato sauce from Avec.
Why I loved it: Read above again and check the pic.
3. Quadruple latte zapped to me from the 80’s while caught in the Wormhole
Why I loved it: Locally-roasted beans, great technique, good machine, and a full-scale Delorean.
4. Chicago-style hotdog from Portillo’s
Why I loved it: The Chicago hotdog is transcendent glory on a bun. If this is how they did it back east I’d be eating one of these bad boys once a week (even if it meant knocking a few years off my lifespan)
5. Breakfast burrito from the Bongo Room
Why I loved it: Just a damn good breakfast burrito. Topped with spicy sour cream and melted cheese
6. Arctic Panzer Wolf “massive IPA” – an insanely strong, beautiful, earth-shattering IPA from a family-run operation called Three Floyds Brewing in nearby Indiana.
Why I loved it: Just one the most flavorful, crisp, unique IPA’s I’ve had in recent memory. It will put hair on your chest.
7. Everything devoured at Girl and the Goat – read sub bullets below:
- Confit goat belly, lobster, crab, and bourbon-infused sauce
- Mussels in a fragrant coconut broth and goat-infused croutons
- Hen of the woods mushroom ragout, sweet potato agnolotti, shroom creme fraiche, capers
Why I loved it: Needs a separate post. Stephanie Izard’s homage to goat and incredibly inventive dishes simply blew me away. This restaurant is worth every word of the hype. Reserve at least a week ahead.
TWO SHOCKING TRUTHS:
- Deep dish is not all it’s made out to be. At least not at any of the big chi-town joints I scoped out. It’s just decent food, but not life-changing in the world of pizza. Each spot had the piece of the pie they did well.If you want the best crust go to Lou Malnati’s, if you want the best sauce go to Gino’s, if you want the most baller toppings go to Pizano’s. But overall I found that these deep disheries made a perfect waste of all that cheese by slopping on average mozzarella rather than really making the most of the gooey stuff. Most of the crust is just overwhelming, hard, and not worth struggling to eat. I continue to search for deep dish that will wow me.
- I DID NOT go to Hot Doug’s. I know. Heresy. Travesty. Not for lack of trying though – the king of hot dogs was closed because the owner (Doug, I guess) was on vacation. But that gives me reason to come back to this city.
A PARTING BIT OF FOOD-RELATED RANDOMNESS:
- T-Shirt Deli.I stumbled upon an amazing custom t-shirt joint out in Wicker Park that was fashioned from a former deli. Coolest shit ever. Choose your decal(s), your lettering, and your knit and the friendly staff here will press up a hot t-shirt sub in about 20 minutes. They’ll wrap it in hoagie paper, and even stuff a pack of Jay’s chips in your baggie. Great gift (and they deliver).
Location: Burlington, MA
The Foodie: Strongly Recommends
- Fish and seafood balls of assorted sizes and colors
- Pickled radishes
- A super-size vat of kimchi
- Spicy squid
- Shabu-style beef
- Crispy dried salted baby sardine snacks
- Seven bags of frozen dumplings
- Huge sack of rice
- Udon and vermicelli noodles
- Bok choy
- Shrimp cracker
- Whole fish
- Legit green tea
Every time the words “H-Mart” have been uttered in conversation with Asian friends, their eyes light up with a sort of twinkle and they describe their experiences with this huge suburban market with fondness and glee. I have resolved for years to travel East by driving West of Boston to Burlington to see what the 幸福 was all about.
My first encounter with the Asian market started where most curious white people would go – Super 88. Grab a bubble tea and take a ride through another culture while picking up some cheap fruit and noodles.
But over the years I’ve expanded my culinary horizons to some of the items on the list above (though I’ve never fallen for the salty baby sardines) and loved every minute of it. My local Reliable Market in Union Square somehow manages to pack half the inventory of a large Asian grocer into a store 20 times smaller and for that I applaud them.
The all-powerful H-Mart really does take it to a new level though. Their parking lot is insane on weekends but once you navigate to a spot and enter the automatic doors you encounter Asian food heaven. They rock the following:
- A legit little bakery (red bean bun anyone?)
- A food court slinging all manner of Chinese, Korean, and Japanese cuisine (check my dumpling centerfold pic above)
- Huge fruit and veggie section with lots of shrooms, greens, bean sprouts and more
- A noodle aisle that stretches from here to Beijing
- Section of their “famous” BBQ beef
- One of the largest fish counters I’ve seen anywhere with everything from live lobster to whole monkfish head
- More sauces than you could count
- Think I saw an industrial-size rice cooker in there?
In the end, true to the word of many hungry mouths – I left H-Mart feeling like this: