Archive for March, 2013

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.

Tavern Road – Animals of the Day, Lardo, and (Drum Roll) Porchetta

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

http://tavernroad.com/menu/dinner/

Location: Boston, MA (See on Map)

The Foodie: Recommends

The Brothers DiBiccari just nailed a medium-rare skirt steak in the ground on Congress Street in the burgeoning Fort Point ‘hood.

It tastes good.

THE LOOK: I don’t usually dwell on the décor or ambiance of my chosen feasting grounds, but Tavern Road sports a ‘smart,’ ‘modern,’ ‘clean,’ ‘stylish,’ joint with a l’ull artistic flair.

THE COOK: Louis DiBiccari has an impressive resume that includes L’Espalier, Sel de la Terre, and the Herb Lyceum. He is also the secretive mastermind behind the infamous “Chef Louie Nights” that are one part Iron Chef, one part Pop-Up, and one part Awesome.

THE FOOD: My friends, the menu here reads like a carnivorous foodie’s last meal.  There are small tasting dishes of charcuterie items that include lardo, duck prosciutto, and smoked ham. The “first courses” take on the small plate format and feature pork, lamb meatballs, steak tartare, and smoked fish belly. There are a few dainty greens thrown in here and there as well.

Mmmmm....Lardo.

A feature called “Today’s Animal” includes one meaty dish ginned-up on the chef’s whim. When we ate here, said animal was a house-made sausage of duck, veal, and pork that made my heart skip a few beats (now and when I turn 65).

The main events include duck legs with lavender and honey, beef short rib with cinnamon and cashew, and one particular item that holds a special little space in my heart: porchetta.

=======Dramatic Porchetta Monologue=========

Let me pause right there for a moment. Porchetta is a skin-on slab of pork belly wrapped around a trimmed center-cut pork loin and seasoned with herbs, fennel, and citrus. Done properly, this masterpiece is first assembled before resting 1-2 days in a fridge, and then slow-roasted in the oven. The beautiful porchetta served at Tavern is a generous round slab of herbed-crusted, crispy-skinned, tender-as-hell pig that will linger on your taste buds and strum on your soul strings for weeks (nay months) after entering your food zone.

Where Pork Belly Meets Pork Loin

=======Fin======

Back to the menu. Innovatively, the main events are served without sides and the diners are left to choose between an assortment of dishes to share amongst the table. Sides include braised kale with raisins and pine nuts, spaetzle, and creamy grits with an egg on top (my favorite).

As if all that wasn’t enough, Eater Boston reports that Tavern Road will soon have a take-out operation hitched to the side of the restaurant that will be serving plates on the go that are inspired by street foods of the world.

MY MOOD: After enjoying a hearty man’s meal and washing that down with craft beers, I felt happiness, tightness in the stomach region, subtle glee, good cheer, and slight fogginess in the brain area at the hand of Pretty Things Baby Tree.

A nice addy to Fort Point as this corner of the city becomes more of a destination for food lovers. Come to Tavern Road for the porchetta, today’s animal, lardo, beer and creamy grits. Feel like I did.

Astrid y Gaston – #35 on the List of Top 50 World Restaurants

Thursday, March 14th, 2013

Alas, we come to Part Tres in my trio of reviews on the great culinary capital of Peru. For those eager to hear about Boston restaurants – we will return to our regular programming shortly. For those swept up in a fantastical food romance about Lima and dreaming of choclo, ceviche, and pisco each night – you will be pleased with this segment.

ABOUT THE CHEF: Gaston Acurio is a gifted chef-cum-activist. He is the culinary ambassador of Peru. He is also a pretty darn good businessman with a food empire that spans television, books, a host of restaurants around the world, food festivals, and associations.

ABOUT THE RESTAURANT: After studying the culinary arts in France and meeting his German schönheit Astrid, the duo went back to Peru and opened this phenomenal restaurant bearing their names in Lima.  Astrid y Gaston is one of the finest examples of “Novandina” cooking, which is essentially a fusion of traditional Peruvian ingredients and dishes with global influences and techniques. The service is perhaps the best you will receive in Lima, the atmosphere is unpretentious luxury, and the price tag is formidable but worth every centavo. These days Gaston is tied-up in his many other ventures and is not actively involved in the kitchen here, but he hired an El Bulli alum to head the cooking operation and redesign the menu. That’ll do just fine for me. In 2012, A&G Lima was honored with the #35 spot on the San Pellegrino Top 50 Restaurants List. Rumor has it they are also in the running for some coveted Michelin stars.

ABOUT THE PRIX FIXE TASTING MENU: The prix-fixe tasting menu at Astrid y Gaston is a one-of-a-kind dining experience that recounts the main tenants of Peruvian history and culture through 17 marvelous plates. The menu is formulated on a seasonal basis and leans molecular based on the El Bulli influence, and transports the diner through five major time periods:

I.         Nature

II.         Man

III.         The Encounter

IV.         The Haven

V.         Today

Every minute detail of the experience has been attended to with care and artistic appreciation. The dishes are served in vessels rather than plates, their forms ranging from “nests” to smooth rocks, to hand-made bowls. The menu is accompanied by a hand-made booklet with tasteful photographs and a 2-minute DVD that introduces the restaurant concept.

You can pair the feast with an excellent selection of booze that ranges from Andean Pale Ale to French champagne, to Chilean red wine, to a dessert wine from Uruguay. Highly recommended.

THE DISHES:

Warning – the images you are about to see may contain graphic food pornography. Viewer discretion advised.

NATURE

Dish #1: A “bird’s nest” with treats nestled within: 1) Achira, herbs and garlic 2) Kiwicha and seaweed 3) Cashew – sweet and sour 4) Apple begonia 5) Maracuya-granadilla sour

What's Edible Here?

Probably the only dish I’ve ever eaten that required a 5-minute tutorial on what the food actually was and which parts of the dish were edible. Good thing, because I may have started chewing on a twig and written it up as “nutty, tough, and a little hard to eat.”

MAN

Dish #2: Wild Tomato – purslane, toasted quinoa, tomato water

Tomato Essence.

A beauty of a dish that was one of our favorites. Toasted quinoa with tomato essence everywhere you turned.

Dish #3: Huamantanga Potato – rocoto pepper aioli, pine mushrooms

Potato #25 of 3800

Not one of the best dishes on the menu, but another taste of one of Peru’s 3800 varieties of potato.

Dish #4: Lima Bean – brazil nuts, red oxalis, broth

Oddly Phallic.

Definitely one of the most deliciously mind-boggling dishes of the night. Those “lima beans” were actually globules of excellent lima-bean puree. Amazing dish. Oddly phallic.

Dish #5: Peruvian Corn – sea scallop, coral oil, coriander

Two Types of Corn Duke it Out.

Two types of corn duke it out in corn meal form while a tender sea scallop and it’s friends chill out on top.

THE ENCOUNTER

Dish #6: Ceviche Carretilla – sea snail, clam, lime, chili, and traditional accouterments

Beautiful dish and another awesome ceviche. Really appreciated the sea snail worked in there.

Dish #7: Raw – catch of the day, artichokes, leche de tigre (parmesan), olive dust

Molecular taken a little too far. The raw fish was spectacular and I would have loved it on its own as sashimi. The nitrous-frozen puffs of parmesan and kalamata olive dush overwhelmed the dish though.

Dish #8: Blue Tumble – blue fish, mussels, yellow aji pepper, roasted onion, sea lettuce

And on the third day, God created the sea.

Wow. The tomato core itself blew my mind. The essence of the sea on a plate. Bravo.

Dish #9: Andean Ocean – shrimp, potatoes, cheese curd, broad beans

Very interesting dish – loved the inventive mix of ingredients and the subtle hint of mint hidden in there.

THE HAVEN

Dish #10: Dashi – toasted octopus, black sesame, daikon, avocado, red shiso

What's Up at Table 5?

Japan.

The restaurant collectively stopped and observed our broth being steamed before our eyes before we enjoyed what was my favorite dish of the evening.

Dish #11: Peking Cuy – guinea pig, purple corn tortilla, sweet and sour, pickled vegetables

Fusion Cuisine.

This was my #2 pick. Guinea pig was morphed into what looked like a thin slice of peking duck and served in a thin corn tortilla. True fusion at work here.

Dish #12: Carbonara – arracacha, egg yolk, guanciale, black pepper

Don't Be a Wise Guy...

Those “noodles” are actually thinly-sliced potato. Mind-blowing.

Dish #13: Secrets of the Pig – native potatoes, peanuts, chocolate

Tendor pork with a nice mix of African flavors.

TODAY

Dish #14: Chirimoya – caramel ice cream, crispy caramel cake, orange

Ohhhhh I love chirimoya. The “puffs”  were out of control good and that caramel ice cream should be sold wholesale.

Dish #15: Lucuma Popsicle – chocolate 60% native cocoa, Andean granola

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My favorite dessert of the night. That popsicle vendor trick was pretty cool and this was so much fun to eat.

Dish #16: Beso de Moza – camu camu, butter scotch, meringue, chocolate

After several drinks and 15 courses, I forgot to snap a picture of this one. But tasty nonetheless.

Dish #17: “Peruvian Candy Box”: Lucuma tuile, pumpkin cake, mango-basil camu camu jelly, algarrobina truffle, pisco cup.

Finale.

These were an assortment of little treats to finish off the meal. I made up the title.

City Snapshot – Lima, Peru (Part Dos)

Friday, March 1st, 2013

It’s your favorite world traveler here, back to tell you more about Lima.

Now that I’ve composed a loving testament to the food of Peru, I will get down to logistics and tell you just what (and where) you need to eat in the great city of Lima. Behold, a breakdown of my favorite items consumed.

1.     CEVICHE – AT LA MAR.

The Real Thing.

I thought I should start with the dish that Peru is most famous for internationally, and then crush any hope you had of tasting anything nearly this good and authentic outside the country. This is unequivocally the best ceviche I had during my brief stint in town, and during my brief stint in life. Some ceviche factoids:

  • Though you’ve likely had many variations elsewhere, in Peru ceviche is simply made with fresh raw fish, the juice of several tiny Peruvian limes, a little salt, and aji (hot peppers). The dish is typically framed by sweet potatoes, red onion slivers, and big fresh kernels of choclo (giant sweet white corn).
  • Cevicherias are only a lunchtime affair in Lima. In fact, you will be cautioned not to eat ceviche for dinner because the fish will not be as fresh. They literally catch the beast the morning of the day you eat it. And you can taste the freshness. Typically Peruvian sea bass or another hearty white fish will be used.

And why was it so good you ask? It comes back to the three reasons why Peruvians are culinary ballers. Those limes? They’re better than what you get at home. Those peppers? Varieties you don’t get elsewhere. That fish? Would make even a Japanese sushi snob proud. Finally, this is a dish that is in Peruvian blood. It’s theirs. They own the real thing. Gaston’s cevicheria La Mar serves up the best ceviche a Gringo from Boston will ever have (and we know our seafood pretty well too).

To see Gaston prepare a real ceviche, go here.

Other good ceviche can be found at Pescado Capitales and El Mercado.

2.     TIRADITO – AT LAR MAR.

Where Sashimi Meets Ceviche

You can tell I liked this spot. Tiradito is a style of Ceviche that borrows from the Japanese influence in Peru. The fish is sliced real thin like sashimi and smothered in a spicy light sauce. Outstanding. Another classic example of fusion gone right.

3.     PISCO SOUR – AT BACHICHE.

A Creamy Margarita

 

I was a little afraid when I first heard about Pisco knowing it is a high-octane booze made from grapes – I’m not a big fan of Grappa. But I frickin’ loved Pisco sours. Picture something that tastes sorta like a good margarita made with only lime juice that is creamier with a little more bite (courtesy of a lil’ egg white and bitters). I’m definitely adding this drink to my regular repertoire.  This one was at Bachiche (an Italian restaurant owned by – you guessed it – Gaston) but you’ll find good renditions of this classic cocktail all over town.

 

4.     MOLECULAR PASTEL DE CHOCLO – AT MARAS.

Booyah.

Pastel de Choclo is a very traditional dish that is difficult to compare to anything back here in the states. The classic version is basically cooked in a tiny clay dish and involves braised meat covered by a thick layer of fluffy cornmeal slightly crusted on top. I liked the more modern version we had at Maras – a supertastyfunkalicious restaurant run by Chef Rafael Piqueras (an El Bulli alum). Rafael serves up a big menu with many classic Peruvian dishes artfully prepared with a little molecular and gourmet charm. He applied this technique to our Pastel by serving it in a shape mocking a cake layered with braised oxtail and topped with a little foam. Call it fusion. Call it Novandina.

It was just really good food.

For the more traditional version of Pastel de Choclo, try a little café called Claribel in Miraflores.

5.     EMPANADA ESPECIAL DE CARNE – SAN ANTONIO.

You Make Me Want to Be a Better Man

Oh. mah. gawd. Every once in a while I will bite into something that changes my life.

Usually these experiences are accompanied by a slow moan, a delighted giggle, heavy eyelids, and more moans. This was one of those things. And a surprise it was too – I honestly did not expect to have the best empanada of my life in Lima. But ohhhh this bad boy was stuffed with flavorful ground beef, a little onion, and secrets. Most empanadas are crusty or hard on the outside – but not this one. The “crust” was more like a soft, thick, lightly-sugared corn dough. With a slight squirt of Peruvian lime – this empanada was earth-shatteringly good and so simple. I washed it down with a chicha morada (a popular sweet purple corn drink).

6.     “THE SANDWICH” – AT ZIMMERMANS.

"The Sandwich"

While I’m talking about surprises, I should mention “the sandwich.” Zimmermans sounds like a deli in Jersey and rolls out sandwiches that could impress even the most meat-headed shore-dweller. Zimmermans is a small shop with a few locations in Lima that sells goodness like herbed porchetta, pig neck, and other roasted meats sliced into juicy morsels and tucked into your sammie. And then there’s the sauce – a little aji, a little chimichurri, and a little creamy goodness to slather all over. One wasn’t enough.

7.     SEA SCALLOPS – AT MATSUEI.

Scallops 'N Sake-Butter

Remember when I said Nobu got his start in Lima? This is that place. And this is that dish. Seared sea scallops served in-shell swimming in a buttery sake liquid. Flaming salt in the middle of the plate. Flaming flavors in my mouth.

8.     CORTADO – AT TOSTADURIA BISSETTI & AT HAVANNA

Who knew? Those little espresso drinks served up at Simon’s and Dwelltime are also enjoyed liberally in Lima. Sipping a cortado overlooking the Pacific Ocean was one of the highlights of my time in this great country.

Keeps me awake 'till the next meal

I had originally intended this list to be a “Top 5” but got carried away. I haven’t even gotten to the third part of my Peruvian trilogy – Atrid & Gaston – which deserves a post of it’s own as one of the Top 50 Restaurants in the World.