Wednesday, July 30, 2008

I'm a Buttercream Machine

Or at least that's how I'm feeling these days. With four challenges under my belt and three of them involving cake and buttercream, I feel like I'm well schooled on buttercream and that actually being well schooled came in handy for this challenge.

The recipe called for quite a bit of hazelnuts and when I went to my Ghetto Shaws, there were only three measly 1/2 cup packages of hazelnuts. Arugh. Okay, I already knew I wasn't going to make the "hazelnut praline" hooey but I still grabbed a bag of pecans just incase.

Being that I don't own a food processor, I decided I would try pulverizing my hazelnuts for the cake in my blender. Um not the brightest move. (Sorry that the picture isn't flipped for your viewing pleasure).

The parts of the nuts that got chopped started to get a little gummy in the blender and some parts didn't really get chopped at all. Plus, I got a supreme case of the lazies and didn't toast the nuts (I really should have!) so that meant the big chunks of nuts later got filtered out when the dry mixture put sifted thru the mesh sifter. Whoops!

However, for all my hazelnut mishaps, the batter came together nicely.

It seems light and frothy and I was excited about what sort of cake it would produce.
The cake came out perfectly golden and springy to the touch. I was very, very pleased with the results. Onto the buttercream. Alright, so it wouldn't have been a "drama" if my Granny's hand mixer hadn't died in the middle of making the frosting. Drats!

There was no way I was going to be able to beat the semi soft butter into soft whipped buttercream by hand. What was I going to do? Luckily I remembered that the buttercream recipe from my first challenge, the Dorie Greenspan party cake of March was different in that the butter was melted. So I knew I could melt the butter, allowing me to stir it in by hand and end up with a fantastic buttercream.

And you know what? It worked out great! I had a split second of doubt as I poured the melted butter in and started stirring but it quickly came together.
It was shiny and beautiful if I do say so myself ;)

I started on my ganache. The recipe said use a very good quality chocolate. Hmm...personally I'm a nestle's choco chip girl!

The ganache was so easy to make, and I loved pouring it over the cake. I was suppose to smooth it out and make it look all pretty and uniform but I liked how the cake looked with the ganache dripping down the sides. And since I already knew I wasn't piping out hazelnut praline cream all over it, I left the cake be as is.

Actually, I'm very pleased with how my cake ended up looking. I happened to have friends over the night I was ready to serve it. All agreed the cake was very good. Moist and pleasant enough but not near enough hazelnut flavor. Drats! I really should have toasted those darn nuts. Damn my laziness. Oh well, at least I know now for next time ;)

Saturday, July 26, 2008


This week has been a very sad one for me and fine dining. Yes, I had great success with my return to India Quality. But the other three nights I went out for dinner this past week, I was incredibly disappointed in my experiences.

Being that I'm a small business owner myself, I try to keep my whining about other small local businesses to a whimper. If I had a bad meal, eh, it happens. But all three times I went out this week I was left feeling not only disappointed but also a little embarrassed because it was I who suggested we all go to these places.

I use to think Boston was ok with sub par food but some places made me really differently about that. One of them being Oleana and another one being Rendezvous, back when it first opened. I found dining in Boston wouldn't ever be in the stratosphere of New York but it would be fresh, decent and well executed food. But lately, my theory about Boston dining has been challenged and I'm left feeling a bit cheated. So it's with a heavy, heavy heart I offer up my most recent opinions on these places. I won't go on yelp or foodbuzz with these negative criticisms, but I do want to air them and so I will keep them here.

Our first dining experience this week happened at Tremont 647. I had heard about a "grilling social" that was suppose to occur and I had two friends and E pony up $40 each. The chef Andy Husbands has a rep of being a great BBQ-er and so I was excited to think that maybe we'd get a sampling of his work. Nope. Not even close. I won't go into excruciating detail on this one because E already did a very comprehensive overview of the evening on her food blog. Here:

All I will say is that since it was my idea to go, I felt responsible for how much the event/food/experience sucked. Needless to say we're not going back anytime soon for dinner.

My next dining out experience happened on Wednesday. I talked E into going to dinner at Burton's Bar and Grill downstairs from my apartment and around the corner from one of my shops. She agreed to give it a shot. I had gotten a recommendation from customers of mine who said they even liked Burtons better than Eastern Standard. Whoah!

So we gave it a whirl. Burton's is a local chain and it was pretty much chain style food. Everything was fairly bland and over buttered or oiled up to taste good. Even the sugar snap peas that came on the side of E's crabcake dish were bathed in oil. And sugar snap peas are so sweet and tasty on their own that to coat them in butter or oil with no sort of seasoning was kinda unnecessary.

My tuna dish was perfectly cooked with a rare middle. But the tomato sauce surrounding it did little to enhance the flavor of anything. And the artichokes, capers and peppers were sparse and yet again did nothing to help up the flavor ratio. Luckily E was able to turn our leftovers into great little salad fixings for lunch the next day. Another place crossed off the list of possibilities.

And lastly, one of my friends (and future Maid of Honor) Mark was in town for the weekend. So yesterday we had dinner at the Franklin so Mark would have a chance to meet E. We opted to sit at the bar and eat there. The drinks were great and the falafel appetizer E and I shared as we waited for Mark was very nicely executed. Since none of the main dishes appealed to me, I opted to get two appetizers as my entree, but I couldn't choose between the scallops or the mussels. E persuaded me to get both and she's help me eat it all. So I got the fish taco, mussels and scallops. Both Mark and E got the trout.

The first sign of problems was when they wouldn't let E switch her side of spinach to asparagus. Hmm...yeah we're finding that more and more restaurants in Boston refuse to be accommodating to side swap requests. Even if one offers to pay more, no dice. It's not only strange but a little frustrating. From now on I might have to resort to my Mom's line of "I'm allergic to tomatoes".

The second sign of issues was that the kitchen messed up and put my mussels out first. Our bartender, Nathan (who seemed like a nice enough guy) covered the mistake by telling us he thought we'd like them first because that way there wouldn't be too many dishes at once in front of us. Hmmm.....

The mussels were smoked and decent. They were served with melted butter and since I like butter I was okay with this on the side. The salt and smoke were great on the mussels and I kinda wished that they had done a little broth on the bottom to really utilize both aspects of what made the mussels good.

Finally the mains/rest of my appetizers came out. I was really bummed out by both of my dishes. The fish taco was really a deep fried fish quesadilla. The taco shell had been deep fried and it was still a bit greasy. The filling was covered in cheese. E commented, "I can't taste the fish". And she was right. Everything that I love about a fish taco...the light summer feel of it. The crisp cabbage, the freshness of the fish wasn't there. It was kinda awful.

The scallops were overcooked. E had them sent back for me. I hate sending food back but on this one it was the right call. With only three scallops to have all three overdone seemed more than a bit lacking. The dish came back and the scallops were perfectly cooked this time. I don't remember much about the accompany salad on this dish or anything else so I guess it was okay or perhaps forgettable. I like scallops a lot so I liked this dish but would I ever go out of my way to order any of the dishes from that evening. No. No. No.

E gave me a bite of her trout and while it was well cooked, it was still kinda bland. It seemed under seasoned and uninspired.

For a meal that was an important meeting of two people in my life, I was hugely let down yet again. The dinner wasn't great. It was okay but certainly not something I'd come back for anytime soon.

Sigh. Looks like I'll be cooking a lot more at home these days. Certainly not a bad thing but still it'd be nice to have a reliable mid range dining experience.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

India Quality finally learned to look me in the eye and it was delicious.

About a year ago I stopped going to India Quality around the corner from one of my shops. Actually I stopped going to quite a few places around the store. Ankara, couldn't deal with the grumpy 'ttude and they increased the price on my usual sandwich even though I had been getting the same sandwich every week and the price on the board was less as well. Petite Robert, an employee from that place bragged and announced that she had gone to an industry party in pants she bought at the shop and wanted to return them after she had worn them out to an event.

India Quality was a place I stopped going to because of what happened to me the last two times I went. Both times it was late in the afternoon (I don't eat lunch until around 3pm on most days) and all the servers tend to congregate by the bar where one picks up his/her take out orders. In I walk and as I wait for my change, I feel three sets of eyes on my chest. I'm wearing a tank top, sure but it's certainly not that skimpy and I'm less than an A cup. It skeeved me out and I quickly dashed out with my food. When it happened a second time, I decided I couldn't go back. Even standing there waiting for the 3 minutes to get my lunch and change is kinda agonizing when your chest is gawked out.

And so India Quality's fate was decided. I wasn't going back. But this past rainy Wednesday, the store was fairly quiet and I was in need of something delicious but I wanted something with heat as well. I wanted comfort and spice. Hmm....the options were limited for sure. I decided that since a year had passed since Chestgate 2007, I should give India Quality another shot. The food there is so damn tasty. They're known for having great Indian food. Their goat dishes are fantastic and their vindaloo is plenty hot enough for the likes of me. I went ahead and placed my order for chicken curry with a side of raita. What's a little sexually inappropriate behavior when there is hot and well seasoned curry to be had?

I made my way over and found the place to be very busy even late in the lunch service. There wasn't the usual gaggle of servers at the bar. Infact, the man behind the bar was an older gentleman and he smiled and looked me IN THE EYES when I spoke to him. I was shocked and didn't want to press my luck too much. I tried to get in and out as quickly as possible, shouting over my shoulder "have a lovely day, thank so much, bye" before I left. Afterall, I wanted to try and be polite still.

Once at the store with my lunch, I unpacked everything. The picture on the post of this post (minus the limeade big gulp) is from my lunch special! What I love is that they are thoughtful enough to put a disposable plate into the sturdy white lunch bag. And the plate is pretty darn sturdy too. I got a huge container of rice...white basmati mixed with saffroned basmati and tiny specks of fennel seeds too. And the chicken curry is a very good sized portion too. I asked for it hot and it was the perfect amount of heat for me. My nose was good and runny by the end of my meal and that's a good sign to me. The chicken was tender and moist and there were huge chunks of it in the container. The meal comes with complimentary little papadam crackers. India Quality has nice ones. They don't skimp on the course ground pepper baked into the crisp wafers.

The meal was perfect and exactly what I wanted. By the end I was a bit stuffed and probably should have saved some of it for a snack for later but it was all just too good. It made me want to go back again for dinner sometime soon and get the lamb vindaloo and goat dishes. It made me really happy to know that perhaps they went thru sexual harassment training or that there is at least one person there not fixated on boobs, because it's nice to have a fantastic Indian restaurant back on my food roster.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Circa 1999

When I was younger, straight out of college, it was important to me to connect with other queer Asian folks. Thus I had what I called an Asian queer posse. Now that I'm older, I don't really seek out friends based on sexuality or race but I definitely understand the necessity and the desire to do so. Because not everyone understand it when I say I'm so over being asked if I'm Chinese or not. Or the assumption that I need a man in my life. Anywhoo...

One of the best things to come out of that stage of my life (besides some very important and profound friendships) was the great belief that food is much better shared and the seasons for food are somehow honored. Hot pot parties were held in the winter and summer roll parties were always in the summer.

A lot of my Asian posse is gone now. Many have moved away from Boston and well even though I stayed here, my life is supremely different than even I could have imagined. I'm happy and in love and most days I love what I do for work. But did I ever see myself discussing what fashion styles are "trending" with most people? Did I ever see myself telling someone that their ass looked amazing in a pair of jeans? No. The answer would be an emphatic no.

So a lot of my immediate friend circle in Boston isn't Asian or even gay for that matter. But that hasn't put an end to my longing for summer rolls. My lust for them begins around this time every year and often I find myself satisfying my summer roll needs on my own. Since I wasn't raised with a ton of Asian culture, I never felt quite up to task for hosting such an event. What if I bought the wrong rice roll wrappers or tofu. Would I know which chives to buy? And rolling the suckers???!!!! Omg, don't even get me started.

I am, perhaps, the worst summer roll wrapper on the face of the earth. Sheer greed and laziness take over as I pile more and more things onto my poor little rice wrap. In the end, I'm always left with something resembling a fat burrito from El Pelon (no offense to El Pelon). I say I like to make them big because I don't have to get up for more very often, but the truth is, I'm a complete glutton. And out of shame for my fattie summer roll technique, I've never hosted a party on my own. I mean, what kind of Asian would I be if I showed non-Asians how to roll summer rolls and they all looked like over stuffed burritos. Nevermind that I'm Korean and raised by white folks, still, the shame, the shame!!

Finally, this summer I decided to own my internal summer roll issues and hold a party of my own. I got up early and went to Super 88 in Chinatown. There I found everything I needed. Infact I was so impressed with myself, I knew what tofu to get based on what I remembered the label looked like from years ago. I would like to say that getting all the stuff wasn't a hassle and in a way it wasn't because everything I needed was right there but it was kind of a pain. If you haven't been to the Super 88 in Chinatown on a busy Sunday morning, you might not understand. But it got to the point where I became okay with mowing down old ladies in the aisles. I know, I know, but dude, seriously, they were shoving me and cutting me off first! I'm just sayin'.

I got pretty much everything I needed and everything you see on the table picture above and guess how much it cost? $15 bucks! Woohoo, I was wicked excited. I need to start buying my veggies someplace other than the ghetto Shaws. That place really is expensive and horrible.

Anyway, I got home and prepped the veg. I triple washed everything and trimmed it all up, which took me a good hour to do. I took a cast iron pan and after wrapping the tofu in a tea towel, placed the pan on the tofu and left it there for a couple hours. This ensured that the tofu would be firm and not watery in the rolls. I prepped the shrimp and noodles and made the peanut sauce (1 part peanut butter, 1 part hoisin, 1/2 part soy, water to thin to whatever consistency you like).

It turned out to be an easy, cheap and fun way to entertain. My guests enjoyed the experience and some of them turned out to be summer roll rolling masters (I'm looking at you E) or least better than their host.

I was so happy to share my love of summer rolls with a new batch of friends and in turn realized that sometimes it's not about being "authentic" with the food when you host a dinner party but it's about being "authentic" with your desire to make sure everyone has a great time.

My Big Fat Greek Dinner

Saturday I worked in the store all day and had a sudden and instantaneous craving for some Greek food. Tzatziki, grape leaves, feta... I quickly hopped into Chowhound and was kinda disappointed in the recommendations I found on the boards. Nothing new or mind blowing. Greek Isles (close to me but expensive), Greek Corner (far from me but good), Steves (average but cheap), Cafe Jaffee (again cheap, but not as cheap as Steves and not quite as good even). I debated all day calling in a take out order over to Steve's and going after work to pick it up.

But as I ended my day, it started to look like rain and I didn't want to get take out food and have it and myself end up being soggy from getting stuck in a downpour. I had to go to the grocery store for ingredients for this month's DBC anyway so I stood in front of the "Greek" aisle of my ghetto Shaws and pondered what I should do. I grabbed some grape leaves, pine nuts and feta. On my way out, I passed by some pita bread and picked that up too, along with some tazaki. I had every intention of making my own yogurt cucumber sauce, but I got really lazy while shopping, plus I had a DBC to get started on that evening.

Once home, I cut up a pita, tossed the pieces in a cake pan with olive oil, Italian seasoning dried mix and a little sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. Into the already prepared tzatziki, sauce, I added mint and a squeeze of lemon juice. I had leftover brown rice that I had made earlier in the week and rolled a few of the grape leaves I had purchased earlier around the rice. Once the pita chips were crispy, I topped them with feta, my juiced up tazaki and some pine nuts. On the side I placed my make-shift stuffed grape leaves.

I was pretty pleased with the results. Okay, okay so it wasn't exactly "Greek" food but it was certainly Greek inspired. My grape leave rolling technique definitely left a lot to be desired and I'd like to experiment in the future with actually making true Greek dolmas. But overall, it was a nice, quick easy meal and a fast way for me to ease my craving for Greek food.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Pearl Oyster Bar

I have something very bad to admit. Every summer I don't get my lobster rolls from places in Boston. Instead I wait until it's time for me to head to New York. Once there I treat myself to a blow out meal of Caesar salad, Salt/Pepper jumbo shrimp, a lobster roll and blueberry pie a la mode.

I'm sorry Boston for being such a cheater. I know. I suck. But Pearl is just so damn good. And I'm a purist. I need a hotdog bun and mayo for my roll. None of this new fangled hot buttered lobster roll crap.

Sadly, my trip to NYC this month has been canceled. A tragedy for sure. I think I'll have to try some of the lobster rolls in Boston. I already had a B&G one. I reserve the right to remain silent on that experience. So summer shack and kingfish here I come!

Edited to add my review of Pearl Oyster from Foodbuzz here:
Pearl Oyster Bar is a darling little gem located on a darling little street. Whenever I have to go to NYC in the summer, I make sure I make time to come here. Typically I come early, right when it opens for dinner. Believe me, it's a place that fills up quick.

I sit at the bar and begin an intense gorge fest...Caesar salad, salt/pepper shrimp, lobster roll and blueberry pie a la mode. It's a lot of food and I can barely eat all of it but I feel like I need to store up until the next time I can make it down from Boston. Pearl Oyster Bar is almost dear to me. I can't really explain the draw very well. All I know is that when I sit at the bar (even just sipping my diet coke) and watch all the action in the kitchen, I know all is right and good in the world! Believe me this place delivers.

It's good enough to make this Bostonian dismiss lobster rolls more local to her and become a true traitor!

Don't worry, I haven't forsaken the hometown team. And I'll take this opportunity to say, "Go Sox!".

Koreana (or Me Pretending to Keep Its Real!)

I'm Korean American but was adopted and raised by a pretty fantastic family. White, middle class and living in the 'burbs, they didn't know much about Korean culture, let alone food. The closest I ever got to "my roots" cuisine wise was the occasional meal of sweet and sour pork at the local Chinese restaurant with my family. At the time, these poor little places had to appeal to a very pedestrian palate and so dishes were often of the egg foo young genre. Even the sweet and sour pork came with canned pineapple on top. Don't get me wrong though, I ate it up and love it. I mean, really can anything that is pork and fried be so very wrong?

It wasn't really until college that I even had Korean food. The first time I ever tasted kimchi, it was like a little light bulb went up over my head. I always loved pickled foods and here was the ultimate in pickles, plus in Korean culture kimchi can appear at every meal if you want. Omg, I had found my people! Later I would slowly be introduced to other Korean dishes but the one thing I really adored, besides kimchi, was Korean BBQ.

Korean BBQ crossed into so many food cultures. Who doesn't understand beef or pork sizzling away on a grill? I mean, really now?! So Korean BBQ was my ticket to the familiar and the new. It reminded me of my Dad at home grilling Tbones that had been marinated overnight in terriyaki but the notion of grilling at the table was a new one for me. Even so, I find myself sometimes craving Korean style BBQ so badly and so deeply that I swear it's something that flows through my blood.

In order to get my fix in Boston, there are very few places to go. And even less great places. Even in my limited Korean BBQ experience, I know great BBQ when I see it. A couple of places in New York's tiny Korea town (aka street) fit the bill. Sadly, I don't know their names but I know them by sight and by location on the street. But here is Boston Korean BBQ hasn't really ever caught on. I don't understand why not. A lot of Koreans and Korean Americans come to Boston for school but eh, who am I to dissect the Boston restaurant scene.

So it was one these cravings that led me and my finacee (the spelling on that word looks odd to me, but oh well, I'll chock it up to being newly engaged.) to Koreana for a date after work. Of course we had a couple of friends in tow. Korean BBQ is better with others.

We arrived around 8pm on a Tuesday night and it was packed! We got handed a buzzer, much like the ones one gets at the Cheesecake Factory, and went to sit at the bar for a bit. That proved to be a comedy of errors.

At first glance, the bartender seemed to be in the weeds getting drink orders for the dining room. But actually he was pretty unresponsive in general. At one point, out of shear frustration, E said to the young man "look up, eyes up, hello?". It was pretty ridiculous. The bar was only big enough for 6 stools and there was only 1 other man sitting there besides ourselves. Um, a rule of thumb at any bar should be acknowledge people when they sit down there.

Finally, after a good 30 min wait, we were seated. We ordered three dishes for all four of us to share: galbi, spicy pork bulgogi and bibimbap. We thought if it was too much food, well the leftovers would be tasty the next day.

Our waitress was very sweet, patient and attentive (they should put her at the bar!!). Often when I go out for Korean food with others who aren't Korean, I am looked to as the guide for what to do. Seriously, being that I was raised by white folks, I haven't the foggiest idea. So it was kind of a relief when our sweet waitress just started cooking the meat for us. Maybe my pronunciation of our order was a dead give away.

Everything was very, very tasty! The short ribs were left on just long enough to get charred and sweet caramelized bits to them. And the stone pot for the bimbimbap produced the perfect crunchy rice crust. Yum! I really liked that they brought over a huge squeeze bottle of the chili pepper paste because I really like to go to town with that stuff. Heck, if I could squeeze it onto toast I would!

Some points during the meal, I tuned out everything going on around me and concentrated on getting my fillings into my red lettuce leaves. I think I went through three wicker baskets of the lettuce, pretty much on my own!

The traditional sides were very tasty and when requested, were quickly refilled. The one side that I noticed missing was potato salad. I was a little sad but I guess it isn't all the traditional. But I sure do like the excuse to indulge in mayo and potatoes.

We finished all of the food laid before us. I mean really, who can say no to freshly grilled yummy tidbits of meat? Surely, not me. Again, not an "I'm blown away meal" but definitely good enough to come back for when I need my Korean BBQ fix. I was very happy by the end of the meal. Craving satisfied! And once again, I got to pretend to be "down" with my bad Korean self. Um yeah.

Monday, July 14, 2008

I Concur, Well Sorta Kinda

While catching up on my Serious Eats reading, I stumbled upon the ultimate New England ice cream guide. It was a collaboration with, a website I hadn't ever checked out before. I was fairly impressed with the guide and definitely agreed with Sundae School sitting on the top of the list. A long, long, long time ago, when I was still in college, I spent a summer working in Orleans. The summer there was a food extravaganza for me! Besides the amazing and abundant seafood, there were other delights that were specific to Orleans. On rare days off we'd get tender, flaky (almost biscuit like) homemade scones from Fancy Farms and in the evenings hit Sundae School.

The Sundae School was always swamped with a line of customers that seemed to stretch out forever. People tended to be fairly anxious about getting their chance of some great ice cream but were never terribly chatting in line. I remember waiting in line, in anguish sometimes, because the wooded area by Sundae School was a home for gi-normous mosquitoes. But what's a couple 100 itchy bites on my legs when there is rich, creamy homemade ice cream to enjoy. I remember the sundaes (with real whipped cream) being fantastic (of course). But my favorite had to be the peach ice cream. Some nights it wasn't there and I'd pick something else. Honestly all the ice cream flavors were really great. But the peach ice cream was something different all together. Chunks of fresh peach with a ice cream that was peach deeply peach scented that sometimes it always seemed floral to me rather that fruity. It wasn't like eating a fresh frozen peach, it was 1000 times better because there was ice cream involved too.

Lucky for me I had two jobs that summer so I burned off most of what I ate. Even back then I was a total workaholic and foodie!

Anyway, the Sundae School definitely would top my list too. But the one rating I can't really get behind is Emack and Bolio. In Orleans, it tended to be our second tier ice cream place. If the Sundae School line got to us or if the mosquitoes were especially bad, we'd hit up E&B. It was okay, not great, but okay. Since moving to Boston, I've tried two other Emack and Bolios and both of them were pretty awful. I got a very grainy chocolate ice cream at the Newbury street location and an ice filled vanilla bean at the new one at Trilogy. Not cool, so not cool at all! So I can't really see how JP licks fell one star behind E&B. I have to say I'm a fan of JP Licks...okay, it ain't no Sundae School but their mint chip is decent and their waffle cones also come dipped in dark chocolate. Mmmm...

The only other comment I would make is that there might have also been a category for cost. Ice cream in Boston has become ridiculously expensive. Yet, when I get out to the 'burbs with a friend with a car and get ice cream, it's insane to me how cheap it seems. Are suburban cows just cheaper? Or is it that keeping a cow in the city is a bit too costly and expensive? Who knows but this is part of the appeal of certain places (i.e. Christina's) and part of the turn off (Toscanini's) for others. I'm just sayin'.

Maybe one day I can talk a friend with a car into driving me back to Orleans for a day....that's a thought.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Kippers, Baby Pickles, Beets and Hot Reuben Sandwiches

I have a profoundly deep love for fish stuck into tin cans. Yes, I know it's really odd. I love kippers, cans of tuna, even the "bad"anchovies packed in olive oil. I've yet to meet a can of fish I wasn't into. I thought about this odd adoration as I was tucking into my afternoon snack of canned sardines. I dressed them up a bit with lemon, chopped parsley and garlic and ate them directly from the tin. I can understand how the overwhelming fishy smell and even look of small silvery fillets would turn a lot of people off, but tins of fish are a pretty standard snack for me.

Overall my eating habits are a bit odd. But the one thing I've come to notice is that my palate seems to mimic my Dad's. While it's true that you tend to love the food you were raised with. I was lucky enough to have a Mom who made almost everything from scratch and was/is a fantastic home cook. The odd thing is that these aren't foods I had growing up. I'm fanatical about the foods my Dad ate in secret or that my Mom would allow him to keep for himself in the fridge. My mom hated brussel sprouts, tinned fish (she said she could always only taste tin), pickled beets...things my Dad absolutely adored. He could make an entire meal of baby pickles with kippers in cream on crackers. He's pull his one jar of creamed kippers out of the far, far back of the fridge and carefully spoon it into wheat crackers. One taste of the kippers and I was hooked (no pun intended). And now as an adult, I adore brussel sprouts. And pickles? Dear lord, I can eat an entire jar in one sitting.

Dad wasn't much of a cook (except he did grill) but he enjoyed making one thing in the kitchen and was good at making it. Hot reuben sandwiches. Somehow he mastered the combination of of the pickled kraut with the sweetness of the 1000 island dressing and the buttery toastiness of the dark rye bread. The ratio of corned beef to swiss cheese was always perfect. Oh man, his hot reuben sandwiches were masterpieces! And since he and I were the only ones in the house who enjoyed reubens, it's truly became our thing. And so whenever I order a reuben sandwich I always hold it up to the Mt. Everest of reuben's...My Dad's. Clearly, nothing compares to Dad's.

And so even now as a 30-something leaning against the sink in my own kitchen snarfing down pickles and contemplating the various cans of sardines in my pantry, I'm clearly my father's daughter. He'd be so proud!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Go West!

This past holiday weekend found me on a plane to Denver. My very dear friend Mikey lives there and since it's been over a year since we last saw each other, we were long overdue for a visit. I arrived in the early evening. Mikey and I stopped off at Jet, this tiny boutique hotel in the downtown area of Denver to pick up his partner Fisher. Fisher manages the hotel, all 18 rooms ;) It's really cool and if you ever find yourself needing a swanky place to stay while visiting Denver, definitely look up Jet.

Mikey and Fisher had decided to take me for Mexican that evening. Fine by me! Being from Boston means that there is hardly any decent Mexican food. We lack that and Korean food, but that's a discussion for another day. Quickly, we arrived because it was just a short walk from Mikey and Fisher's house (a converted church btw). I wish I had remembered the name of the place but it was super cute and there was a mariachi band too!

I don't really feel very bad for not remembering the name of the place, because in Denver, there is a ton of fantastic Mexican cuisine. I had the standard fish taco, but it can with a sauce bottle filled with a slightly sweet sauce I wasn't accustomed to. I was expecting the usual crema but nope. The sauce was good with the fish at first but after a few bites, I found it too sweet for my taste. It was like a poppy seed dressing flavor but without the poppy seeds. However the fish was very fresh and the taco portion was super generous....five tacos on my plate and I couldn't finish the last one.

Walking back home, we passed by the local "ice cream" truck. A guy pushing a cart, with Spanish words on the sides, down the sidewalk with little Christmas bells strung on the handle. He was selling frozen fruit pops and other cool delights. It was a charming sight and so much more environmentally aware than an ice cream truck. Over the course of the weekend, I'd come to see those little sidewalk carts quite a bit. Sadly, everytime I'd spot one, I was already full from the meal I'd just consumed. Alas, next time!

The next day, we went to Winter Park and just had a quick breakfast of yogurt and coffee before we hopped on the 8am train. A day of sun, mountains and hiking meant we came home and crashed on the couch with take out pizza and movies.

Sunday, Mikey and Fisher suggested we go to Dozens and I was quick to agree. I was pretty sure it was the same breakfast place I had been to years ago with them as well. I remember having a really good breakfast there, something involving biscuits and gravy. Indeed, it was the very place I remembered.

The dish I ordered was called "how the west was won". It consisted of two homemade biscuits, white gravy, sausage and a side of hashbrowned homefries. I remember it being quite good and since I'm a sucker for anything covered in white or red eyed gravy, I ordered it again.

The picture doesn't look like it was very appetizing, but let me reassure you it was very good. The biscuits are actually fairly light and even smothered in gravy and sausage, I could taste the butter and still see the flakiness of the biscuit. It was quite soul satisfying. Especially to be eating outside on the restaurant porch and be able to see the rocky mountains in the background.

My last morning in Denver, we went to this hip spot called Snooze.

It was done in a retro modern style so it looked part dinner and part new school. Anyway, once we sat down in our booth, I noticed the card display at the end of the table. It was all about the choice of coffee that the owner had made for the restaurant. Infact, it was a good 4 page dissertation on his trip to Costa Rica or someplace and how he chose the coffee. Um, yeah. My eyes glazed over after reading the first two paragraphs. But as Mikey put it, the coffee was very good.

Mikey, after seeing me all but moan from my breakfast at Dozens, order Snooze's version of biscuits and sausage gravy (which I think he very much enjoyed). I was still on a South West kick and ordered the Huevos Rancheros. I also got the extra meat (chorizo) and extra vegg added on. What came was quite delicious but part of me had to wonder how much the additional chorizo made it super tasty? I mean, chorizo is sorta like the bacon of the West. And we all know bacon makes everything better!

Overall, it was a very enjoyable visit to one of my favorite cities. Next time I gotta remember to try a frozen treat from the sidewalk cart guy and find a place to feed my chicken fried steak craving. I look forward to my next visit out to Denver. Thanks for hosting me, Mikey and Fisher. Look, even their pups are wondering when I'll come back! Never fear, I'm sure I'll be back to visit soon.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Bare Bones

I own a small shop in the Hotel Commonwealth. Soon after I opened my store, four years ago, plans got under way for a massive space in the Hotel right next door to me. When I say massive, I mean it really is the size of a stadium sized soccer field. The space was huge but it was also cavernous. I would ride the elevator up to just check out the space and stand in awe. It was kinda like looking into the Grand Canyon of retail leasing space. It was raw area and didn't have anything covering it's cement foundation or gray metal walls. It was truly bare bones and sometimes it's hard for me to still remember what that space looked like before it became Eastern Standard.

Before Eastern Standard opened, there was only Great Bay for dining in the Hotel. It was a fine place to have a good meal. It's still there and because the original chef is gone, some of the magic is really gone too. I've been told that they do a great brunch and only do it for big holidays. But I haven't been back since Jeremy (the chef) left. He was part of the charm. His food was simple, honest and good. He now owns Lineage in Brookline and I adore that spot as well. I'm sure I'll get around to reviewing it sometime soon. So the Hotel only had Great Bay and it was fairly good.

Eastern Standard opened and I won't lie. The first few times I went I was rather disappointed. The food seemed rather heavy, salty and boring. The cavernous space I use to sneak into to gaze upon was transformed into a dark walnut and burgundy leather sorta bistro with a beautiful marble bar and lovely over sized photo pictures on it's dark walls. It was lush and dark. It was lovely space. And so it happened that 9 times out of 10 my friend Caroline (who also owned a store in the Hotel) and I would opt to go to ES for comfort food after work. We kinda gave up on Great Bay and made ES our place. And maybe because we got so use to feeling at home at ES or maybe because the food truly got better, it began to top my list of places to eat/drink/meet friends. Perhaps I became more accepting that I wasn't ever going to have "diet" fare at ES but came to accept that the food would always be on the heavy side with salt and butter galore. And anyone who knows me, knows I'm not one to say no to either of those things!

I certainly became more trusting with my food choices. And the chef that opened ES, this really sweet tattooed kid name Jamie, certainly knew his way around offal and other random offerings. Liver, sweet breads and I think marrow were pretty consistent offerings on the menu. I had the marrow once and it was dreamy. Think butter but with meaty flavor and amplify that 100% over and you have marrow.

Jamie has since moved onto greener pastures and Caroline has moved away as well. But one thing stays the same. I still go to ES when I need comfort in the form of food and atmosphere. Before we ever even met, I think my fiancé already liked ES quite a bit. But her affection for it grew when she realized that the Sazerac was a regular bar offering. In fact, ES has become the place to go for amazing cocktails and our friends Ian and Garry are regulars at the bar. They are folks who enjoy a beautifully made drink. So ES will always be on my list of places to go. I know I'll always find something I like and I also know it will be sure to impress my cocktail guzzling pals as well.