January 28, 2009
Any restaurant that has a special section of the menu devoted to offal holds a special place in my heart. And there were few items on the KO Prime menu that didn’t look good, so when we went there for dinner on a recent Friday night, I had a little trouble zeroing in on my dinner. Fortunately, when in doubt I order more.
To start, my dad and I shared the following four appetizers:
Baekoffe of alsatian tripe, lamb and chorizo stew, and gnocchi
Bone marrow with blood orange salad and beef tongue marmalade
Calves’ brains quiche with pancetta hazelnuts and fiddleheads
Seared foie gras with french green lentils and quince
We followed the appetizers up with a porterhouse for two with a side of the frites with ricotta salata and rosemary, and creamy spinach with Wisconsin mascarpone (due to my discomfort with flash photography in nicer places, cell phone pics are all we have)
the remnants of a delicious porterhouse for 2
I liked but didn’t love the appetizers. The baekoffe was the best of the bunch. Flavorful and hearty, this is the perfect winter dish. The foie gras was good, but forgettable. The brains and the bone marrow were also tasty, but they were overpowered by the rest of their respective dishes. The quiche tasted predominantly of whatever cheese was included, and it just so happens that the texture of a quiche is remarkably similar to the texture of brains, rendering the brains difficult to identify altogether. I understand that brains aren’t going to be flying out of the freezers in a Boston restaurant, and that this is a good entry level brains dish for the initially squeamish, but for those who have had a brain or two in their day, this dish will disappoint. You simply won’t know they are there. Similarly, the bone marrow was upstaged by the delicious but potent tongue marmalade. Even the blood orange might be too powerful a flavor for bone marrow. Again, what I was left with was a tasty dish, but one that tasted nothing like bone marrow. I am beginning to believe I will never find a better bone marrow dish than the St. John’s version – parsley salad, sea salt, toast. It’s simple, delicious, and perfect (much like St. John’s in general. The world’s greatest restaurant. There, I said it. I would kill to have it in Boston. Lots of people. Like, plunder and pillage and raze suburban towns).
Returning to KO Prime, the porterhouse was delightful - perfectly cooked (rare), presented nicely, and certainly more than enough for two. It went very well with the crispy and salty rosemary frites and the creamed spinach. Indeed, everyone at the table (group of 6) enjoyed their meals, which included a foie gras burger, cassoulet, and some sort of mystery fish. The desserts were hit or miss: Liz loved her coconut sorbet with roasted pineapple, but I ended up with a dry brownie topped with an artificial-cherry-spattered scoop of vanilla ice cream. Despite the somewhat steep prices (as you can see from the menu above), I would happily go back to KO Prime for all the food I missed the first time around (short rib mac and cheese? come on). Ken Oringer is creeping his way up my list of favorite chefs in Boston – it makes me want to try his taqueria La Verdad. If nothing else, I dig the song on the website.
January 27, 2009
Beacon Hill Bistro
Carlo and I were pleasantly surprised by our dinner at Beacon Hill Bistro over the weekend. We needed a table for 7 without much notice, and so BHB was selected out of convenience more than out of a desire to go there. I’ve been there several times for brunch, which is not bad and certainly the best weekend breakfast in Beacon Hill (sorry Paramount). I’ve been there a couple times for dinner, which was fine, but certainly not memorable. After a very satisfying meal there this weekend, BHB might move up my list of go-to neighborhood places for a meal with parents or to catch up with friends, particularly since there wasn’t really anything on that list before.
For those who have not been, BHB has a relaxed neighborhood bistro feel–the dress is casual (the waiters wear black black button-up shirts and pony tails), everyone is friendly, people talk loud if they feel like it. I’m probably not the best judge of this, but I find it to be very unpretentious, though not cheap (entrees run from low to high $20′s). The food is bistro-style, but not as heavy as the food at a typical Parisian bistro. The wine list was varied in price and varietal. We have been trying to go a little cheaper on the wines lately, and I’m finding that I like bottles in the $30′s as much as I liked those in the $60′s. We ordered a 2007 Alois Lageder Pinot Grigio from Alto Adige. Nothing special, but very quaffable and the table unanimously agreed to get a second bottle rather than order a red.
On this particular evening, I ordered my meal very recklessly, and it could have gone badly. You see, Carlo has started this new [annoying] thing where we [actually he] “call” things on menus, sort of like how one calls shotgun. But we all know people that call shotgun two hours before you actually get in the car; Carlo is that kind of person. He looks at the menu before we go out to eat and decides what he wants. Then he quickly peruses the specials list before I’ve had a chance to set my purse down, decides whether or not to change his initial decision, and then he “calls” what he’s getting, which means that I can’t get it. And unfortunately, 80% of the time, I would have ordered what he ordered. So, when we got to BHB, I went sort of crazy and tried to read the menu and the specials in under 20 seconds, basically just reading for key words [ie, bacon, truffle, crispy pork belly, etc] and screamed out what I wanted as quickly as I could.
Luckily I did not injure anyone during this process, but I did order two specials without thinking, picking my appetizer because it contained the words egg and truffle and my entree because it contained the words chestnut and parsnip. I ended up with a farm egg on sourdough toast with shaved black truffle and chestnut crusted veal chop with baked apples and parsnip on the side. The farm egg was good, not spectacular, but good. I am not a huge fan of shaved black truffle; cooks get a little heavy-handed with it and it starts to taste like dirt to me. But this was pretty good, satisfying, if a little cliche. But my entree was delicious. There was a lot of stuff on the plate, as there was a huge portion of veal, tons of little parsnip discs, and an entire baked apple. Nonetheless, it looked very pretty with whole red berries and shredded greens garnishing the plate, and the veal was perfectly cooked medium rare and the flavors all went together beautifully. I enjoyed every bite of it. Others were equally satisifed with their dishes, though I was too busy eating mine to try them, which included French-style gnocchi and a duck confit for appetizers and scallops with wild mushrooms and an herb broth and lightly fried skate wing for entrees. It says a lot that Carlo enjoyed his meal since earlier in the day he had decided to go on a “wings crawl” (as opposed to a pub crawl) and wasn’t feeling so hot. My dessert was also great. It was a play on s’mores, which included a molten marshmallow chocolate cake with banana ice cream and graham crackers on the side. The graham crackers were pointless, but the marshmallow melting into the chocolate fondant was decadent and delicious.
I hesitate to recommend BHB unconditionally. As I said, I’ve had forgettable meals there in the past. Either we hit it on a good night or the food is genuinely getting better and more interesting. This meal probably took me from “skip it” to “worth a try” and hopefully after a few more visits I’ll be able to recommend it without caveat.
January 18, 2009
We didn’t know much about the Oishii in the South End before our dinner there over the weekend. We had been to the Oishii in Chestnut Hill, a very satisfying experience, and were expecting something along those lines with a bit more of that South End chic. We had a $200 gift certificate and were feeling quite confident that this tidy sum would stuff our swelling bellies with enough fish to slip us into mercury-induced comas. Little did we know.
Taro, broccoli, sweet potato, eggplant, and uni tempura (1 piece each)
2 pieces foie gras w/black truffle sushi, 2 pieces sea urchin sushi, 2 pieces freshwater unagi sushi
Appetizer of raw salmon and sliced strawberries in a watermelon sauce
Kobe Beef with red wine pear maki
White Tiger Maki
Sockeye Salmon covered Maki
Molten chocolate cake
A $35 bottle of Spanish Verdejo
I’ll start from the top. The tempura was tasty, but not noticeably different than the tempura I could get at any number of lower priced sushi restaurants. The sushi pieces were similarly uninspired. To be fair, the foie gras pieces were$15 each and certainly contributed disproportionately to the heavy bill, but they also didn’t impress. Sushi rice with a thin sheet of foie gras and a slice of black truffle. No seasoning (needed a little salt), no sauce. Meh. Certainly not worth $7.50 a bite. The unagi and sea urchin were good, but again, didn’t stand out from other cheaper versions. Same goes for the Sockeye Salmon and the White Tiger (Though I will say that I was having an incredibly difficult time tasting the fish all night. This could be due to the fact that Liz made me walk half hour to get there and the -5 degree windchill may have frozen my tastebuds) . The Kobe Beef with red wine pear maki was a waste of money, that is unless you really want to pay $30 for a mouthful of julienne pear. Maybe you do. Maybe you love pear, and paying more for it makes it taste all the better. I only like pear, so I was disappointed. Which brings us to the molten chocolate cake. This one’s our bad. Who orders a molten chocolate cake in a sushi restaurant? The waitress even had the audacity to commend us on our ridiculous selection. To justify our selection, I must give credit to the menu designers at Oishii for a clever little marketing ploy for which we certainly fell. The menu said that we would have to wait 15 minutes for the molten chocolate cake. Paradoxically, this has the effect of exciting the diner… Oooooo, you mean I’ll have to wait extra long for my food? That must mean it’s going to be extra good. The kitchen must have to temporarily shut down so the line cooks can concentrate on all the components of my complicated and time-intensive dish. We would have continued to operate under this delusion had our molten chocolate cake not arrived in 3 minutes, and so obviously been microwaved. There was a thin layer of not so warm crust surrounding a completely soupy and occasionally scorching hot interior. Nothing screams microwave like the totally unbalanced distribution of heat.
So in sum, we will not return to Oishii in the South End. One caveat. It may very well be that I am not sufficiently familiar with sushi to be able to discern its relative quality from establishment to establishment. It could be that what tastes good to me in Chestnut Hill is of a lesser quality or conception than what tastes good to me in the South End, and that I’m not just paying for the neighborhood. But here’s what I do know. O Ya in the leather district is a lot better than Oishii. A lot better. And the price tag on a dinner for two at O Ya is only marginally higher. So if you’re in Boston and looking to pay $250 + for a great sushi dinner, you’d be a fool to go to Oishii instead of O Ya. Skip buying the second Starbucks latte for a week and you’ll have saved the difference.
January 16, 2009
I just don’t have a lot to say about Henrietta’s Table. It’s okay, not too exciting, not bad enough to get worked up about. I ate there a few times when I lived in Harvard Square, and I remember it as a good place to take a mixed group of eaters (e.g. allergies, vegetarians, meat eaters) because the food is pretty inoffensive and the menu is varied and the bread and desserts are good and it’s not too expensive and the service is decent and so on. I guess some of that’s still true, but I was disappointed to find that in my three year hiatus from Henrietta’s, the food has declined slightly. Not significantly, but the bread is more generic than I remember and the Barbeque Stout Braised Elysian Field Farm’s Pulled Lamb Shank with bacon and feta, which has a promising, or at least long, description, was underseasoned (though Carlo thought it was seasoned well, I disagree) and the House Smoked and Grilled Free Range Duck Breast was slightly overcooked. And finally, I was extremely disappointed to find that my dessert was bad. I got chocolate bread pudding, and considering that I love all desserts, especially chocolate, and especially bread pudding, this should have been great. The ice cream that came with it was pretty good, but the bread pudding looked like a cow chip and, though it didn’t taste as bad as I imagine manure would, I’m not sure it was significantly better. It was dry and not very chocolatey, and may have been scraped from the bottom of a pan.
The mediocrity of the food was all especially disappointing in light of Henrietta’s claim that its “mission” is to “deliver the freshest available food, through proper cooking techniques and excellent service” and it has farmlike scenes and fresh vegetables all over the website. The first part of the mission might have been achieved, and the last part is true, the service is good. The food is just a bit boring. The highlight of the meal was actually the wine, a 2006 bottle of Seven Deadly Zins, which was one of the cheaper selections on the red wine list, coming in at $38. I generally don’t like Zinfandel, but this one was special, with a finish that tasted exactly like cinnamon toast. It’s not a particularly complex wine, but definitely a delicious one.
In sum, Henrietta’s Table is fine. You probably won’t have a great meal there but you certainly won’t have a bad one. It’s generally inoffensive, that is, unless you find it offensive to spend $20 on a plate of food that is just okay.
January 10, 2009
Unless you’re craving clam chowder in a bread bowl, Faneuil Hall is one of the worst places in Boston to have a fulfilling dining experience. It is full of faux Irish pubs and tourists, and generally most locals steer clear of the place unless they have family in town or are cutting through to get to the North End. That is why it is to my great surprise that I have eaten lunch at Faneuil Hall 5 times in the last 4 months, including my birthday lunch with co-workers. I have even waited in line to eat there. I suffered all of these embarrassments for Wagamama, a pan-Asian, now international, chain restaurant where you have to sit at cafeteria tables elbow-to-elbow with people you don’t know, and where the servers bring your food at any time and in any order they feel like. And to be fair, it’s not even that good.
I initially went to the Faneuil Hall Wagamama out of curiosity. Some co-workers were going, and I wondered if it would be the same as the dozen Wagamamas I regularly patronized while studying in London. It was. It’s the same room, the same menu, the same tatooed and pierced servers (I’m convinced the Wagamama establishment requires them to wear 15 pieces of flare, which include these piercings and tattoos, as well as black skinny jeans and asymmetrical haircuts). During this inaugural visit, I tried to remember what I ordered at the Wagamamas in London, because there was definitely something I ordered. That’s another strange thing about Wagamama–everyone I know has a thing they order there, including myself. That was true in London and it’s true of my colleagues in Boston. And I don’t like anything else there except for the one thing I order. In any event, I couldn’t remember what I ordered in London so I got ramen, which I didn’t like. It’s supposedly their signature dish, or at least features in their signature picture of a child with his head in a bowl, but it’s bland and the noodles are mushy, and there isn’t enough meat.
I thought this disappointment would be the end of my Boston Wagamama experiment, but a month or so later, a friend from out of town called for a spontaneous lunch and she wanted to go to Wagamama (she also had fond memories of studying in London). And it was on this second trip that I found my new go-to meal: raw salad and duck gyoza, which actually are both dubbed “side dishes,” a territory I mistakenly never delved into in London. They would be called appetizers in other restaurants but Wagamama doesn’t believe in “order” so they are just side dishes that may come before, during, or after the rest of your meal. The duck gyoza are deep-fried and served with a cherry-hoisin sauce, and their aroma and flavor seem to get better every time I visit. The raw salad is basically just dressed greens with a few red onions and carrots and crispy fried shallots on top, but the house dressing is very tasty and the leaves are perfectly dressed, and I’m actually willing to wait in line for what is a lettuce salad. And to add insult to injury, some of the lettuce on yesterday’s salad was sort of slimy and mushy, but I doubt that’ll stop me from feeding my addiction. I am toying with the idea that Wagamama is actually adding addictive chemicals to the food (or maybe it’s fat and sugar), because I just can’t figure out what keeps bringing me back to this place that isn’t that cheap, isn’t that comfortable, and where the food is generally mediocre and inauthentic. Except for the duck gyoza, which is a triumph.
January 10, 2009
What better to way to celebrate the re-birth of our blog then by returning to its roots – the restaurant that started it all: Scampo. Enough time had passed since our first trip to Scampo that I was legitimately excited to go back. I had fond memories of the homemade mozzarella and my nightmares of the elephant ear bread – that absolutely absurd bread tepee that seemed more like the unfortunate product of a kindergarten art project than an actual piece of food- had finally begun to fade. This time we opted for the more sensible bread options of focaccia with robiola and the naan with prosciutto, both were damn tasty. Things got better when the mozzarella tasting arrived. Four different kinds of housemade mozzarella were served with some prosciutto, sliced pears, and some sort of honey/jam. Simple, delicious, even impressive. It is one of the best appetizers I’ve had in Boston.
Unfortunately, it was downhill from there. The pumpkin soup tasted and looked like butter soup, the duck and quince pizza was particularly oily and the entrees just didn’t make sense. Of the swordfish, the tagliatta (thinly sliced sirloin), and the beet ravioli stuffed with oxtail, the swordfish was the winner for no other reason than that it had the fewest components on the plate. The beet ravioli were smothered in horseradish “crema” and then drowned in broth, turning what might have been great, into a soup with some squirts of cream and red pasta leaking meat. Even the tagliata came smothered in some kind of cream. The meat was cooked well, but the kitchen was doing its best to hide it.
So Scampo hasn’t changed much. What would be good food is getting bogged down by bad ideas and it’s still not worth the price. But if you go, get a glass of wine and a plate of fresh mozzarella. Heck, get two or three and call it a night.