Sunday, April 14, 2013

TRIP: Boston 2013 Day 3

We had half a day left in Boston and it happened to be Easter Sunday so our friends helped get seats at their favorite brunch spot near their place, T.W. Food by chef Tim Wiechmann. (The picture above was from our duck tour of Boston the night before)

The restaurant was a small 12 top labeled as a New American/ New French cuisine featuring local ingredients. The staff was very knowledgable and professional. The restaurant was tucked away right in the middle of the neighborhood.
I'll just dive into the food there's not much commentary to be had. I opted for the Charcuterie plate with Chicken liver mousse, mushroom pate, whole grain mustard and pickled vegetables.

I know I said New French, my wife got the Italian Wedding Soup, it's a very different style than we were use to. The poached egg was quite good.

Our friends got the sweet potato pierogi with cilantro pesto.

For my entree I got the Spring Lamb, slow roasted leg of lamb with braised shoulder over white corn polenta. The lamb was quite tender and flavorful.

My wife went with the Duck Confit with roasted cauliflower quinoa and yellow oyster mushroom. This is her usual pick if it shows up on the menu. We've had good and bad duck confit and this was one of the best. The skin was nice and crispy and the meat was very succulent.

Our friends went with the duck and the "Lasagna De Verdure", pesto based lasagna (versus tomato sauce) with spinach and asparagus. I really liked this, seems like a fresh healthier alternative to traditional lasagna.

Dessert round: My wife got the Cinnamon Panna Cotta it had some candied ginger and almond streusel on top. I really enjoyed this dish, there is just a hint of cinnamon which was perfect because cinnamon can be quite overwhelming.

Our friends got the Budino (I know an italian dessert) chocolate custard. Very rich.

Since i'm not a dessert guy I opted for the artisanal cheese plate that featured a gorgonzola dolce and the comtè les granges (the hard cheese, which had a nutty flavor to it.)

With that we left for the airport and our quick trip to Boston was over. It was a whirlwind of adventure and fun big thanks to our friends who took so much time out of their lives to show us around this fabulous city!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

TRIP: Boston Day 2

Day 2 of our trip to Boston, above is the famous Fenway Park home to the Boston Red Sox. I caught this shot during our first day viewing the panoramic scene on top of the Prudential building. 

That morning we were preparing for our segway tour and took a walk thru Quincy Market. Quincy market houses a huge "food court" (much like you would find in any mall just lots bigger) with every type of food you could imagine. Next to it was an open air farmers market. We didn't get a lot of time to linger here since we were heading out to lunch. There were lots of street performances and I could see this being a nice "make a day of" shopping eating and entertainment. 

We made our way to lunch at the Union Oyster house. It makes the claim to be "The oldest restaurant in America" and the plaque from the national park service (pictured above) confirms it.  As expected they had fresh oysters as well as littlenecks and cherrystone clams. Sitting in the wooden boothes one can get a real sense of history. The menu is fairly simple and straight forward raw, steamed or fried seafood and prices seemed reasonable.

If you have a party of six you can reserve the JFK table. Apparently the Union Oyster House was a favorite of the late president. The secluded booth is near the upstairs bar.The whole place was really dark so there's no real point in showing any pictures of food. 

After an eventful segway tour and a "duck tour" where we took a tour of Boston on an amphibious decommissioned military vehicle. We made our way to Helmand, a delightful Afganistan restaurant. An interesting fact: the owner Mahmoud Karzai is brother to the President of Afganistan Hamid Karzai. 

While we wait for our table we watched them prepare a Turkish coffee for some customers. Over the stove is a traditional coffee brewing pot where various spices (cardamom and clove are the only two I saw clearly). We had some for dessert, very strong, sweet and aromatic.  (sorry about the pics, the restaurant was pretty dark and my camera did it's best to compensate but some pictures were blurry)

We ordered a couple of appetizers this first one is called Kaddo, pan fried baby pumpkin served on a yogurt sauce. It reminded me a bit of a sweet potato.

Similar to the Kaddo was the Banjan which had panfried Eggplant instead of the pumpkin. I personally liked this one better because I happen to enjoy eggplant and for no other reason. 

For dinner our friends ordered the Theeka Kebab with lentils and rice pilaf. The Prime Rib  was marinated and grilled. The beef was exceptionally tender and well flavored. 

My wife ordered Qabalee a rice dish with carrots raisons and lamb. This reminded me a lot of an Indian Biryani. I liked the plating/styling. The lamb is hiding in the center of the pile of rice. My wife described it as, a sweet dish with a lot of flavor, the lamb was very tender and well seasoned. The carrots were steamed and there was slivered almonds.
I ordered the Lamb Lawand, which was a leg of lamb "curry" very reminscient of many curries of the area. Our friends commented that they usually stay away from lamb because of the strong flavors but this didn't have any trace of that "gaminess" the meet was fork tender. I really enjoyed the spinach, it was cross between an Indian saag dish and a simple sauteed spinach in that it was spiced like a saag but had more substantial (not mushy) texture closer to a sauteed spinach (but a little more broken down).

For dessert we ordered Sheerberaing (rice pudding with pistachio and cardamom). This was pretty interesting since a lot of Middle Eastern cuisines have a variant of rice pudding that's fairly similar. In this version the rice was cooked down quite a bit more and the pudding was very thick. I was able take a spoonful and turn it upside down without any falling off (well it did after 30 seconds as I tried to fumble for a picture.) Since I was fairly full I didn't order dessert but I did find myself nibbling on this more than I should have.

Second dessert we ordered was the Feereney which was a simliar pudding to the rice pudding (without the rice but definitely milk based) topped with fresh fruit. The pudding again was very sticky and thick a perfect dish to consume with some strong Turkish coffee.

The restaurant was quite busy, we were a little peeved that even with a reservation we had to wait 30 mins to be seated. The wait staff patently avoiding the host area because of all the upset customers (not a great way to handle things IMHO). But once we got seated they were fast to take our order and the food came out very quickly. They had a neat wood fire oven where you could watch a bread maker large squares of flatbread.  We had a good time and the food quickly brushed away our annoyance at waiting.

It was definitely an action packed second day in Boston but still a good balance of seeing as much as we can without burning ourselves out. The segway was a lot of fun, yes you look like a dork on the contraption but it's a lot of fun to drive just make sure to pay attention to the "emergency" stop procedure in the training at the beginning. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

TRIP: Boston 2013 Day 1

My wife and I took a long weekend trip to Boston to visit some friends. We had a fabulous time visiting various historical sites and getting to try out some great food and experience "big city life". There's definitely a greater degree of hustle and bustle in Boston compared to Austin. The one thing I wish we could have in Austin is a mass transit system. The "T" was a wonderful way of getting around Boston and our friends told us that it was basically un-necessary to own a car. 

Warning, lots of pictures on this post but this unexpected find at the end of the day generated most of the photos and made me dump some of the other pictures. We saw a bunch of stuff, but I'm keeping it all about the food here.

We stayed at the Omni Parker House. It's apparently been a hotel with it's doors open continuously (this is what the clerk told me) since 1854. It definitely has a lot of that "ancient" feel. It's located right outside of the famous Boston Commons (as pictured above). Anyhow, I knew the very first thing I had to have was a bowl of New England clam chowder. So I managed to order room service right close of service. Delicious, the clams were very tender and the soup was creamy but didn't feel to rich. I'm sure there's better but it's a good way to kick off my trip and ease the blow of the airlines losing my luggage. (Technically the clam chowder was received at 12:30am so my actual "day 1" was just the 1/2 day of air travel to get in at 12:00am.) 

We went out to the Prudential Building and checked out the skydeck panorama it's a great view of the city and they had a neat audio tour talking about the history of the city. The cool thing was this big sign (I took closer pictures of the content) of "What's for dinner" showing some notable culinary contributors and "boston favorite" recipes. Clam chowder, baked beans, and of course Boston creme pie were all on the wall. If I can find a main entree that's bento friendly (re: no microwaved fish) I'll try to produce a Boston Bento here soon.

For lunch we went to Legal Seafood, which was a New England chain that we got some positive feedback on. I had the Anna's boston baked "scrod", which I was told was a young cod. My wife had the lobster bisque. They had a nice selection of oysters from various regions. 

This was the fisherman's stew, mussels, haddock, clams, chorizo in a saffron based sauce. All in all a tasty lunch, but not stand out. 

We took a walk and toured the MIT campus. They've got a designated "food truck" parking area. There were only two today (spring break) but we were told there were only a few more usually. This truck actually has a restaurant and upon check their website they seem to be doing some interesting stuff in education and local sourcing. 

Anyways, @cloverfoodtruck is a vegetarian trailer. The person running the trailer confirmed that the trailer/truck scene is still developing but she was holding good hope the 60+ universities and colleges in Boston holds great potential. If I had known how big and all the different things Clover was about I would have inquired a bit more about their operation outside the food truck. This was only a snack/coffee stop I had their lentil soup which was really good, nicely spiced and very hearty for the chilly afternoon. It was a good afternoon pick me up from all our walking around.

Then on our way to dinner our friends took us to this local honey shop. I think global honey might be more accurate description. This awesome shop had honey from all over. (yes that is a blurry picture of a very cunning hat to the right)

I ended up blowing $90 here a few of the pictured honey definitely made the shopping bag. We did taste everything in the picture. It's amazing how different the flavor profiles can be. I always suspected but until you get a chance to start tasting stuff side by side PLUS have a guide to lead you around all of the different products you have no idea. Some of the differences between the honey are pretty subtle but others are "smack you in the face" different. It's amazing how different pollen can produce such a variety of flavors. Being a novice in Apiology (the study of honey bees) I asked how the honey producers guarantee that the honey is produced with the given pollen on the label. The answer was that given an ample enough food supply next to the hive the bees will not venture any farther than necessary so put enough of a given flower and you get that kind of honey (seems pretty obvious why you put it that way).

Now we hit the "sleeper"/totally unexpected highlight. I say unexpected but I really should have known better, my wife's friends are Japanese (born and raised in Japan) and they took us to this sushi restaurant that they really liked. We rolled up on this place, "Cafe Sushi" in the upstairs of a non-descript shopping building, it would easily be located in any "college drag". I didn't have any expectations, I mean Austin has well renown and award winning restaurants Uchi and Uchiko we've got some of the best of the best (Such hubris! I hang my head in shame). Our friends ordered Omakase translated "I'll leave it to you" where the chef gets to show his artistry and skill. This is when the fuse to the awesome rocket got lit and since I didn't buckle in, I was gripping on to try to keep up with every awesome dish.
Massachusetts sea scallops sunomono, the scallops were incredibly fresh almost creamy, the sunomono salad itself was very light in the dressing not at all overwhelming in either sugar or vinegar. 
Left: Tobiko (flying fish) fresh ginger, Spanish Mackerel with sliced kumquat, baby squid, Tuna with fermented tofu, Japanese Snapper. Visually very appealing but flavor wise delightful. Each sashimi (and I didn't take notes) was treated with a different sauce ranging from a citrus yuzu to a wasabi infused oil. I especially liked the baby squid, which I've never eaten before in this preparation. Usually these little morsels are smoked and eaten as "drinking snacks" here they were very tender and the flavors were very rich and delightful (at that size they weren't cleaned and the hard "shell spine" hasn't developed)

Shidido (sp?), can't remember the rest partly because I haven't heard of some of these fish. Each bite was unique and delicious. The rice was perfectly prepared both texturally and flavor. Not a drop of soy sauce was used all meal (which is tradition) each bite was perfect. I'm quite well known for my wasabi paste that I tend to mix when eating sushi but typically I only do this when I'm putting away a quick lunch with salmon and hamachi sashimi when the buttery flavor of the fish isn't overwhelmed by my need to open my sinuses (and my glutton for punishment). Here the delicate sauces and fish would have been lost if I used any condiment.

Uni from two regions: Left Maine Uni, right Santa Barbara Uni. The Santa Barbara seemed to have a sweet finish and my wife commented the Uni from Maine seemed richer and more firm. Both were among the freshest I've tasted. I never considered a flavor difference (although it makes sense, like everything else, sea urchin are what they eat) but I'm thankful to have had a chance to see the difference. I don't even think there's a place I've eaten that offers two different Uni.

I'm missing a photo and I can't honestly remember what I that course contained. There was just so much awesome food. So here's a random photo of the Tea Party Museum, they have a portion of the tour that lets visitors throw "boxes of tea" into the river. (the boxes are tethered to ropes to be pulled up and thrown again)

Summer vegetable roll (pickled eggplant, avocado, cherry tomatoes and cucumber) which was a refreshing pause to the fish. This was followed up by Salmon belly over ikura (salmon caviar), the "battleship" style sushi had a large layer of salmon roe between the rice and the Salmon belly, this was a play on roe and the fish that is usually right next to it. The salty roe (which I usually like to eat on it's own) was perfect complement to the fatty belly. Next to the Uni this was my favorite bite.

Umeboshi yellow tail hand roll. The sour note of the umeboshi and the flavor of the shiso leaf imparted this a very "clean" taste to end our meal. Despite being pretty full, I managed to put this away. I say pretty full but actually I have to amend that to say "comfortably" full. Dinner lasted three hours and it was a delightful time and perfectly spaced out.

I got to say goodbye to the Chef (I didn't get his name). I thanked him for a very memorable excellent meal. Our friends mentioned I was a foodblogger, which I apologized to the chef that it really doesn't mean anything, only that I intend on raving about and hoping great success to him and his restaurant. He went on to ask where I came from and when I replied Austin he cringed, "oh yeah uchi and uchiko" and in all honesty I told him that I enjoyed my meal every bit as much as I had in Austin. And as always, I'm not anything more than a food enthusiast, mine is just an unlearned opinion. My dinner experience that night was truly remarkable and memorable, with excellent pairing and flavor and new fish and flavors I've not had before.  I'm very thankful to our friends that shared this place with us.

Ok, I've got a "Day 2" hopefully I can get that done in a timely fashion.