March 2009


Franklin Cafe

Franklin Cafe

Carlo and I have had a visit to Franklin Cafe on our to-do list for quite some time.   What has been holding us back is my uncanny inability to wait for anything.  Franklin Cafe does not take reservations and unless I’m on vacation with no place to go on a nice day, I cannot stand to wait for a table for more than 15 minutes.  So to circumvent my disability, we went early on a Saturday evening, arriving at 5:45pm to find a single unoccupied booth in the back.  Phew.

We started the evening with cocktails.  This is not our usual habit, but FC is known for their drinks list so we thought we’d throw caution to the wind and have some liquor.  It was a mistake.  Carlo ordered a blood orange martini with Charbay Blood Orange, Vodka, OJ, Campari, which he found overly bitter.  He liked my Spiced Pear made with Grey Goose Pear, Fresh Apple Juice, Ginger, which was reminiscent of cider and would have been more appropriate as a warm drink by the fire after a day of skiing.

Part of the problem was that we had barely made a dent in our drinks when (tasty) bread and the wine and appetizers showed up.  Spiced pear and short ribs just don’t mix.   I’ve been trying to promote (in my mind) the dissemination of half bottles of wine so we ordered the only red they had, which was a Guigal Gigondas Rhone.   It was very pleasant table wine, but probably should have been $23 for a bottle, not for a half bottle.  The appetizers were pretty good, nothing remarkable.  I got braised short ribs with turnip greens and sweet carrots and Carlo inexplicably ordered mac and cheese gnocchi with roasted tomato, sausage, and goat cheese.  I say inexplicably because it’s pretty clear that Carlo is not going to like baked gnocchi made in an American bistro in the South End.  I tried them too and they were okay but kind of mushy and covered in below average tomato sauce.

The atmosphere at Franklin Cafe is great. It’s casual with nice dim lighting, good background music, an attractive bar, friendly people, but it was increasingly evident throughout the evening that FC wanted to turn over as many tables as possible as quickly as possible.  Undoubtedly this is the goal for most restaurants, but some hide it better than others. I also felt significant pressure from all the beady-eyed staring diners-in-waiting that I had trouble enjoying my meal, which is another reason I do not like reservationless restaurants. Our waitress was amicable and not pushy, but our entrees came out as she was clearing the appetizers.   It was unpleasant to go from mac and cheese and short ribs to steak frites and roasted chicken so quickly.

Again, the food was decent.  The frites were good; the steak was slightly overcooked (granted Carlo thinks any steak that doesn’t moo is too done).  The Roquefort butter was tasty.  The roast chicken I ordered was a strange choice.  I am not sure I have ever ordered chicken in a restaurant, but nothing else on the menu excited me and I thought grapes and chicken sounded like a strange combination.  They were.  Not exactly bad, but there was no relationship between them.  It reminded me of something my parents would make in an effort to get me to eat more fruits and vegetables.  We also ordered brussel sprouts for a side; they were good.

Here is where things took a turn for the worse.  At this point in the evening, I realized just how sick and twisted this world can be.  What happened is this:  I asked for the dessert menu, and the seemingly friendly waitress revealed her true colors.  She said, without a flicker of remorse, ‘we don’t have dessert.’  What the hell kind of “restaurant” does not serve dessert?  When I walked into the Franklin Cafe, an American bistro, I had dreams of bread pudding and fruit crisps with homemade ice cream.  Maybe even something with Meyer lemon in it?  But instead, they left us high and dry, a bit empty and sad and wondering where to go.

Luckily, we were very close to the South End Buttery, a cafe and now restaurant, known for their cupcakes and for the fact that their name has the word ‘buttery’ in it.  The new cozy-looking restaurant would not let us in for desserts-only so we sat in the empty closing cafe and shared the only cupcake available, the Red Velvet with Cream Cheese frosting.  It was spectacular.  Of course we were still reeling from the catastrophe back at FC, so maybe we were under the influence of oppression, but it was a really good cupcake.  The cream cheese frosting contrasted beautifully with the bite of vinegar in the cake.  So not all was lost in the evening.

Though the Franklin Cafe had a nice atmosphere and decent food, I think that we will be more likely to return to the Buttery for cupcakes and maybe dinner than we will be to the long waits and rushed dessertless service of the FC.

Franklin Cafe on Urbanspoon

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Liz and I met up at Gourmet Dumpling House in Chinatown for dinner over the weekend after reading good things about their scallion pancakes. It was one of the few busy places on Beach St. on a Friday night which was a good sign. The menu is staggering and there are many many things that I wanted to order. The different pork parts and interesting combinations of flavors made me want to come back even before I ate a thing: bitter melon with salty eggs, pork intestine with long horn peppers, pork kidney with sesame oil and chili sauce, pickled mustard with intestine and blood pudding, chilled spicy pork ears, roast pig heart, pig’s feet over rice… the list goes on. Eventually we settled on the following: spicy dried anchovies, sauteed pig’s blood with leeks, roasted pig tongue, scallion pancakes, Taiwanese style pan-fried pork dumplings, and mini steam buns with pork. As you can see, we like pork.

The dried salted anchovies combined thin pieces of anchovies with some sort of sliced pepper to create a wonderful combination of salty and spicy. The dish is cold, which surprised Liz, but it was a great way to start and it kept nicely through the next day as well.

I’ve been trying for a while to get fresh pig’s blood from various butcher shops around Boston to make sanguinaccio, a dish my mom used to eat growing up in Calabria, so I had to see what else could be done with it. The texture was almost like tofu, and on its own the blood didn’t have much of a flavor, but the sauteed leeks made this dish worth it. I wouldn’t order it again, though. I’d rather have those leeks on a tastier piece of meat.

The texture of this tongue differed from most other tongue I’ve had. It had more of that chewy pork chop feel than the squishier rubbery tongue. That was mildly disappointing to me and pleasing to Liz, but either way the sauce was quite tasty.

Liz and I agreed that these were the best scallion pancakes we’ve ever had. The dough was more like pastry than the typical pancake, and it was like eating a savory dessert.

The dumplings were solid, nothing special going on here…

Not too much difference in terms of taste between the buns and the dumplings, though if you’re in a dumpling mood I would go with these since they add the extra pleasure of a tasty broth inside the bun. Eat these in one bite or suffer the consequences. The juice will either splatter on your plate or on your shirt. It’s like the dumpling equivalent of Gushers.

Overall we were very happy with our meal and we plan on going back soon to try all the things that we couldn’t order this time around. The only negative, and this might be desirable in some circumstances, was the speed at which the food flew out of the kitchen. We got all our food in under ten minutes and in no particular order. The watchful eye of the manager also let diners know that table  turnaround was the primary goal here.

Gourmet Dumpling House on Urbanspoon

kingstonst

I had a “business” lunch at Kingston Station the other day, and though it was brief, I thought I’d write up a few impressions.  Overall, it’s a good place for a mid-week lunch with colleagues.  The atmosphere is casual and comfortable.  We sat at a long wooden table that my more familiar co-worker said only comes out for lunch.  I liked the table, though I might have liked it less if we had been forced to share it with others.  The service is extremely friendly though a little spacey.  And the food is pretty good to good.  I had a Nicoise Salad with seared tuna.  Though a little mushy, the tuna was good, neither the watery canned tuna nor the cooked til it’s gray tuna that one often finds on pub salads.    I wish the salad had more mixed greens; it was mostly frisee.  Other than that, I give it solid marks.  I would have preferred to order a burger and fries or fish and chips like my co-workers, but I had already spent my weekly quota of red meat and fried food.   The fried fish looked beautiful and I tried some fries, which were tasty, particularly when compared to my frisee.  The only significant disappointment was that I did not get a chance to order dessert.  It’s not that often that I am lucky enough to be offered both bread pudding and a banana split, but alas, we were not there to linger.  I will happily go back to Kingston Station to get a banana split, and next time I’ll order a burger.

Kingston Station on Urbanspoon

We went back to Angela’s Cafe (their website does not come up on Google for some reason) with five friends the other week. We arrived a bit on the early side (6:15) and were lucky to be seated immediately, though the owner suggested that we should make reservations in the future since they usually can’t accommodate such a large walk-in party on Saturday nights.  I was under the impression that they didn’t accept reservations. Who knew. On the whole everyone enjoyed their meal, and I can once again confidently endorse Angela’s. The guacamole and all the Antojitos that I’ve tasted (which I think is all of them by now) are delicious and I think it’s well worth the trip to just dine on that. But I do have a couple less than positive things to say. The meat used for the entrees is by far the worst part of the dining experience. Dry, dry, and dry. And tough. The first time I ate there I was willing to pass it off as a one-time mistake, but this time, having tasted at least three others’ meals as well, I’m leaning towards concluding it’s the norm. It’s such a shame since the sauces, particularly the mole, are so damn good. I’m hoping that my experience is an anomaly, so I look forward to proving my intuition wrong in the future. The other not so positive thing I have to say is less about the food and more about the direction I see the restaurant going. It seems as if Angela’s just realized that it’s the popular girl in high school. Puberty dealt it a winning hand and it went from that weird thing in the corner of the classroom to the confident and pretty center of attention. This isn’t all bad, as I’m sure a host of high school age boys can attest, but what ultimately is lost in such a transition is personality. Angela’s is getting a lot more attention these days and I hope that doesn’t translate into the metamorphosis of a charming and unique place to a shallow shell of its former self.

Having said that, here’s some of what we ate:

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Angela’s makes creamy and perfectly seasoned guacamole. The lime will ever so lightly tickle the back of your throat as the salt from the chip melts into the milky flesh of fresh avocado. Delicious. A perfect way to start the meal.

A perfect way to continue the meal is any number of the antojitos offered. I recommend a large number of them.

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In the front court we have the gordita with chorizo.  I loved it. I wanted to get to know it better. Take it out to cafe’s and movies, fight over it, sacrifice friendships for it, and ultimately live with its sweet and savory taste on my lips until I die. Fading back into the distance a taco al pastor and then something I don’t remember.

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Angela’s platter / Favoritas de Angela. I recommend sharing it with 1 friend as an appetizer. The menu says it serves 6-7 as an appetizer. Perhaps 6-7 dieting ballerinas.

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Above we have the enchiladas rojas y verdes.   Stuffed corn tortillas with shredded chicken, pork, or vegetables (onions, spinach, tomatoes, mushrooms, red and green pepper). Topped with sour cream, Mexican cheese, radish, onion rings, and a slice of avocado. Our friend Vicki thoroughly enjoyed it.

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The famous mole. The sauce was as good as last time, but the meat does not do it justice, as I mentioned. Below was another less than satisfying dish, again because of the meat. The  Adobo with pork. The sauce was tasty, though not as tasty as the mole, and it might be a bit overwhelming for an entree since it has a much stronger flavor.

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Below was the special of the night. A pepper stuffed with assorted chopped meat, nuts and fruit, battered and served over a light cream sauce and pomegranate seeds. It was very good, and quite unique.

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Angela's Cafe on Urbanspoon

During the 4 month span when Liz and I temporarily suspended our blogging, we visited a handful of restaurants that I would be reluctant to write about in full but I thought deserved  a brief comment.

In early December, Liz and I spent a long weekend in Maine for our birthdays…

Hugo’s in Portland, ME.  We were totally impressed by Hugo’s. Got the 12 course chef’s menu (you need to order this ahead of time – there is  also an 8 course blind tasting offered without pre-notification) and it was as good as if not better than the best tasting menus we’ve had in Boston (no.9, L’espalier, Craigie, Salts, Clio).  The chef, Rob Evans, is formerly of French Laundry and it shows. Innovative and  tasty, but in a comfortable, laid back setting. It’s a shame it’s so far away, but if you make a trip to Portland you really shouldn’t miss it. We did not try Fore Street, the other well known fine-dining restaurant in Portland, so I can’t recommend one over the other. Here is what we had:

Amuse:
SNACK TRAY (fried cracklins and other homemade chips)
OYSTER, beet, horseradish
COD RAVIOLI, fresh sage
WILD PIGEON CONSOMME, squash and foie gras agnolotti      (AWESOME)
Prosecco, De Faveri, NV, Veneto

1st
“CEASAR SALAD” coddled farm egg, iceburg leaves, white anchovies, bottarga
Pinot Grigio, Marco Felluga, Montgris, 2007, Collio

2nd
LOBSTER CARPACCIO, fine herbs, puffed spice rice, meyer lemon mousse   (ALSO AWESOME)
Pinot Blanc, Hopler, 2006, Burgenland, Austria

3rd
PAN SEARED MAINE SEA SCALLOP, truffle butter, sunchoke, preserved lemon, fried capers
Soave Classico, Inama, 2005, Veneto

4th
ATLANTIC HAKE “BOUILLABAISSE” aged chorizo, egg battered croutons, saffron & tabasco     (STILL AWESOME)
The Villager White, Oyster River Winegrowers, NV

5th
Mulled Cider & Calvados Ice

6th
SMOKED FOIE GRAS, acorn squash, kumquat, toasted brioche       (…..AWESOME)
Reisling Spatlese, Leitz, 2006, Rheingau

7th
BREEZY HILL FARM GLAZED PORK BELLY, pumpkin gnocchi, maple, quince and rutabaga mostarda        (Liz hit a wall here so I had double meat portions. AWESOME)
Syrah, Clos Mimi, Petite Rousse, 2005, California

8th
BEEF, BEEF, AND BEEF, horseradish-potato puree, charred onion, white miso
Cabernet Sauvignon, Tahbilk, 1999, Australia

9th
SHELBURNE FARMS AGED CHEDDAR PARFAIT green apple marmalade, allagash beer buggles, pumpernickel
Cotes de Gascogne, Dom La Hitaire, 2004

10th
LEMON SORBET FLOAT WITH THYME SODA              (again. AWESOME)

11th
RUM ROASTED PINEAPPLE, ginger cream, tamarind caramel, coconut sorbet, warm pound cake
Late Harvet Gewurztraminer, Aresti, 2006

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Duck Fat in Portland, ME.  Same owners as Hugo’s. The fries are SICK. So outrageously delicious. Sandwiches were solid (mostly of the pressed panini variety with some higher end ingredients e.g. duck confit) as well as the shakes. We went here for lunch on the same day as Hugo’s. It was a good day. There’s also a very cool food bookstore close by, Rabelais Books (and they have a blog too) . I highly recommend taking the time to sift through it.

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Arrows in Ogonquit, ME.  We had been wanting to go to Arrows for several years now so we knew we were going to try it out if in the area, but were concerned about the recent bad reviews it had been receiving. Chowhounders were making claims of its decline ever since the owners expanded the franchise and opened up a new place in Beverly, MA, called SummerWinter. This being our first time to Arrows we can’t speak to its quality relative to the past, but we were happy with our meal and I remember being particularly charmed by the setting. Very attractive structure and grounds.  Definitely several steps above the White Barn Inn in nearby Kennebunk, ME in terms of food, and several steps below in pretentiousness (i.e. you won’t pee your pants a little at Arrows if your fork clinks too loudly on your plate).

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Got this recipe from Stir, Barbara Lynch’s demonstration kitchen in the South End. It’s the recipe used at Sportello and The Butcher Shop and it is damn delicious. The unique contribution is the addition of chicken livers to the standard array of ground meats. A pox on you if you omit the chicken livers.

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Basically you make a battuto, soften it up in some oil, then add the chopped liver, some chopped sage, salt and pepper and cook it up until the livers just turn brown.

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Start adding the ground meat browning a bit at a time as you add. The recipe calls for veal, pork, and lamb which is a great combo, though I’ve used a number of varieties of meat and different combinations that work just as well (beef, buffalo, boar, all pork, all lamb, etc…). At this point I like to add nutmeg and cinnamon as well. I guess you’re supposed to “pour off the fat”  now too, though why I would do that is beyond me. All that delicious flavor that will thicken and incorporate into the sauce with enough time is exactly what I don’t want to remove. Next comes the red wine, crank heat up to high and boil until it’s almost gone. I’ve been told that you should cook with the same wine you’re drinking, but I’d like to meet the person who could tell the difference. I use whatever is cheap or been opened for a while. 100_0040

Next come the chopped tomatoes, chicken broth, and chopped basil…

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Simmer on low until it reaches your desired consistency. I like it extra thick. Like sloppy joethick. If you aren’t going to pout off the fat then you’ll want to give it a good long while (1:30-2 hours) to make sure you’re not ending up with an oily sauce. Don’t worry if it gets a bit dry, the wetness will come by either adding some cream (as I did below) or just a little pasta water.

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For a thick meat sauce like this fresh pasta is strongly recommended since the sauce will stick to fresh pasta far better than dried pasta. You will be surprised how little sauce you will need per serving. Once you cook the pasta just drop it straight into the sauce, mix around, and serve.Yum.

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I am counting the days until Liz and I go to San Fran in late May. I’m not sure that Incanto can possibly live up to my expectations, and videos like this just fuel my fire. The video also  clarifies what I did not like about the calves brain quiche that I had at KO Prime a while back. As Cosentino demonstrates, the key to good brains and eggs is not working the eggs too hard after adding them to the sauteed brains. Doing so will break the brains down, creating a uniformaly mushy dish as opposed to the one part mushy eggs, one part tender bits of brain that I imagine Incanto’s version of brains and eggs to be.