Sunday, April 12, 2015

Earth Hour Dinner at Miel Brasserie

We were recently invited to attend the fourth celebration of Earth Hour at the InterContinental Boston's elegant brasserie, Miel.  The dining room was set to go dark at precisely 8:30 pm for one hour and all diners would enjoy their four course meal dining only by candlelight.  We arrived early as the dining room here is so beautiful we didn't want to spend the whole night not seeing everything.

We began with the signature Earth Hour Cocktail, the Blue Tahoe:  Tequila, Blue Curacao and Champagne, as good as it was colorful.

We eyed our wristwatches waiting for the appointed hour and at precisely 8:30 pm the lights went out.  We watched as diners around us not in the know glanced about.  Welcome to Earth Hour.

Actually, the lighting made for some stunning pics, the food seeming to absolutely glow in the low lighting. This Butternut Squash Soup with Roasted Hazelnuts and Pecorino was a hearty bowl but not overly dense, as some can be, flavorful and well-seasoned.  This was not just a taste but a full tureen of welcome warmth on a raw spring night by the Seaport.  We glanced out the windows, across the water at the Boston Tea Party ship bobbing in the waves.

Crisp Apple, Pear and Fennel Salad With Baby Kale.  As fresh as it looks with a vinaigrette that lent a perfect balance, just beautiful.

Georges Bank Cod, Roasted Cauliflower, Sweet Pea Puree and Creamy Honey Emulsion.  Excellent layers of flavor and, again, just gorgeous on the plate.  The cod was dense and mild, prepared expertly.  The honey used at Miel (the French word for honey) is harvested on the roof of the hotel.  We were assured that the bees would be returning soon.

Wild Mushroom And Faro Risotto with Asparagus Sweet Potato and Parmesan Cream was the vegetarian option. An excellent risotto.  The Parmesan Crisp was just an extra added attraction.

The White Chocolate and Pecan Tart was, of course, very fresh and of the quality that Miel is known for. Dining here is really very close to a European dining experience, certainly on par with any dinner we've enjoyed in Paris where the whole approach to food is different in the States, less quantity and a total focus on quality when it comes to ingredients and preparation.  Nothing will come out of the kitchen less than perfect.

That perfection carried over to the Creme Brulee.  Not always an easy dish to master as we have seen in other restaurants, this was a classic, just the way it should be.

A great night.  A great meal and very fun, indeed, while bringing attention to a commitment to the planet and our resources.  We've visited Miel several times as both guests and paying customers and have never been disappointed in the quality of food and service.

Miel Brasserie Provencale
InterContinental Boston
510 Atlantic Avenue
Boston, MA  02210
Telephone:  617.217.5030

Tuesday, March 17, 2015


It didn't open to a large fanfare and may still be quite under-the-radar, something we liked.  The Japanese Hotpot experience may not be the next big wave in dining nor do I believe that it will proliferate (like the cupcake or more upscale fast food burger spots) but it is fun nonetheless and this new venue offers a slightly different take in a sleek, modern space with a cool vibe.  So, when we were invited to dine here and having limited hotpot experience, we thought we'd give it a try.  It is Shabumaru.

The Hotpot meal is just what it sounds like, a boiling pot of broth into which one dips a variety of foods to steam or cook.  Typically, there would be one, large communal pot so it is often a favorite with groups of friends or family.  Here, each diner gets his own pot.  One begins with the choice of chicken or vegetable broth, most likely dictated by what you will choose to dip.  Next. pails of fresh veggies and condiments like garlic and green onion are brought out to add to the broth, to your taste, and get things going.  The staff is very helpful and more than willing to walk the newbie through it.

A choice of appetizers is offered.  This Japanese Sausage was quite good.  In addition to the condiments both ponzu and sesame sauces are served for additional flavor.

Shumai was another appetizer that we sampled and also quite good, not too firm or gooey with a flavorful filling.

We went with the Ribeye, thin, flaky slices of highly-marbled meat, to dunk into the chicken broth for literally a few seconds, less than a minute at most but it's quite fun to experiment.

We also tried the Seafood Platter, dipped into the veggie broth, which I really loved.  Shrimp, Lobster, Salmon, Scallops and some very nice Fish Cakes were all included.  It may seem like light dining, especially for one who is chopsticks impaired, like me, but it was actually quite filling and I loved the fact that one can use the condiments and broth to play with the flavors.

We'd highly suggest trying the risotto.  You may be thrown off your regular dining routine by the fact that it comes at the end of the meal, after the veggies, meats and seafood have been dredged and devoured.  The remaining broth is roiled to a frothy heat, the rice is thrown in and within minutes a thick, porridge like dish is served.  It was absolutely delicious, the best part of the meal.

I'm sure that the flavor is different every time but ours was infused with an umami richness that seemed to coat every grain of rice.  At least one person at the table should order this.  Everyone should try a taste.

The Mochi dessert left us wanting more, as well.  Cheesecake is also on the menu, leaving us curious.  Perhaps next time.

Wagyu Beef options are available at a hefty $30.00, not outrageous, and there are no mixed drinks, only beer and wine, simplifying the beverage choices.  The eclectic soundtrack is chosen by the staff and added to the fun. A small venue, beautifully designed, it offered a very fun, quirky, cool oasis.

10 Huntington Avenue
Westin Hotel
Boston, MA  02116
Telephone:  617.437.8888

Friday, March 6, 2015

Post Road Soap Co.

We met up with Vanessa Mascaro of Rhode Island based Post Road Soap Co. recently at the Boston Wine Expo 2015 and chatted for a few moments about her products.  Much to our surprise we received an email shortly afterwards, followed by a sample box of some of the products.

As readers know, multiple packages arrive here on a weekly basis with goods for us to try.  Rarely do we feel they are worthy of a mention.  These samples, however, were so unique and appealing that we instantly knew we wanted to be regular customers.  All of the products are short on chemicals and long on natural ingredients. The fragrances are both clever and unique and since opening the box bath time has become something to truly look forward to.

Take that Guinness and Patchouli Soap, shown on the left.  Did you know that the ingredient hops, found, of course, in beer is known to soothe irritated skin and contains polyphenols which act as an antibacterial agent? That was new information on me.  Don't, however, think that you will smell like stale beer afterwards.  The scent is far more pleasant than the cheap commercial soaps in slick packaging that overpower one and announce to everyone that you are using, well, a cheap deodorant soap.

Then there is the Chocolate and Lavender Soap, pictured in back.  Sounds strange, right?  Not at all. The hints of rich chocolate and floral notes are subtle and I absolutely love the food-based nature of the products.  It's not just the olfactory nerves that are pleased, however.  My exterior shell of rough skin felt more comfortable.  And people noticed.

I remember once receiving a test pack for a bath salt scrub from some faraway land promising healing properties. While it certainly had a great exfoliation factor, the commercially produced (as opposed to these hand-made products) left my skin so red and itchy that I had to shower again and rub down with aloe.  The huge salt crystals never seemed to dissolve and felt like coarse sand under my wet feet.  I was skeptical about trying another product even remotely similar. The hand-whipped sugar scrub from Post Road Co., however, scrubbed well but then instantly dissolved, melting into a rich coconut oil base.  The whole bathroom (and I have a rather large bathroom) was filled with a clean, natural track.  I loved this product.

The Body Butter For Men was like a jar of stiffly whipped cream.  It looked too solid, like a candle. Couple this with the fact that in the winter season my skin is extremely, flakingly dry, like, back-scratching, mummified dry. After a recent sports massage the masseuse even noted that my skin was so thirsty that he used twice the oil he would on any other client.  My skin was "drinking in" the oil. After maybe twenty seconds in my hands, this shea butter, coconut oil and butter, avocado and olive oil recipe was turning into a liquid that this epidermis was craving.  I know, all of this may sound "girly" but you could easily use this after a workout at the gym and level it up to your buds who reek of Axe. Graduate, my friend.

The other products that I have tried are just as satisfying.  I cannot rave enough about this stuff. Five stars all the way.  In fact, of all of the same, old, useless junk sent to me over the years and sold as new, exciting or improved, this is THE best line of products I've ever tested and can heartily approve and endorse and I don't think that it's because it's not actual food or kitchen equipment.  I know I sound effusive but there really is something to be said for hand-made goods put together in small batches with loving care.  Congratulations Vanessa!  I hope that everyone who reads us will try these extraordinary products.  I promise you will be instant fans.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Boston Wine Expo 2015

We braved yet another threat of an impending blizzard recently to attend the Boston Wine Expo 2015 and spent the better part of the day at the Seaport exploring new wine trends and lots of food and new products.  We didn't see any real new trends emerging.  The Rieslings from the Finger Lakes region continue to be very hot with an emphasis on less sweet varieties.  

You'd never know that another wintry storm was brewing by the size of the crowd.  As usual, the place was packed and we staked out our seats in the front row of one of the two culinary demonstration stages.

Chef Ming Tsai of Blue Ginger and Blue Dragon just down the street opened the show, mixing up a delicious pineapple smoothie type drink.

Chef Chris Coombs of Deauxave demonstrated a Duck Breast dish which was absolutely delicious. One of  great things about this particular wine event is that the chefs share all of their dishes with the viewing audience so you get a great taste of what one can expect to find in their restaurants.  Plus, you get an unlimited supply of wines to go with it!  It's simply one of those events in Boston (and the biggest wine expo in the country) that every food and drink lover should attend at least once in their lives.  Don't miss it next year!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Aussie Lamb Brunch At Tremont 647

It's snowy.  It's freezing.  The roads are barely passable and the MBTA is even worse.  Yet, When Chef Andy Husbands and the people from Aussie Lamb invite you to Sunday Brunch at Tremont 647 you make the trek.  In town to introduce Bostonians to the wonders of Australian Lamb, we enjoyed a butchering demo and some delicious food.

We began with this Aussie Lamb Pastrami Amuse with Mustard, Brussels Sprouts and Kraut all on Rye Toast. Tangy, salty with delicate melt-in-your-mouth lamb.

I chose the Croissant Breakfast Sammy for my breakfast.  House-made maple Aussie Lamb sausage, American cheese, fried egg roasted garlic-herb pistou and hash browns.  Very good.

We also learned quite a bit about Australian lamb.  The shipping process all that way from Oz actually helps the lamb wet age making for a much more tender, flavorful meat, for instance.  The biggest news, however, is that Chef Andy will soon be opening a new restaurant!  We are sworn to secrecy as to location and cuisine but, believe us, it is going to be very different.  It was a great way to get out of the house and enjoy a meal with fellow food writers and friends.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Kennedy's On The Square

There are large, black and white posters of a young and vibrant J.F.K hanging everywhere, familiar images. Tufted, red leather banquettes, high-top walnut tables and a very well stocked, large bar fill in the comfy look and space reminiscent of a bygone era clinging to tradition, yet redone for Generation Z.  As we sit to dine at the invite of Kennedy's On The Square in Harvard Square it is early, snowy and cold outside.

Before long, a crowd of Harvard types will stream in, including a gaggle of Prepsters in button-down and tweed wrappings, with excellent haircuts, Andover Shop all the way, who look like they could easily be the sons of Senators or members of the Porcellian Club, just around the corner.  They slip into the exclusive vault room, once an actual bank vault, for a private dinner.

The most popular drink is also called The Vault:  Gin, St. Germain, ginger liquor, fresh lemon & lime juice with muddled mint.  Very nice.  We also tried the Moscow Mule, the first time we've ever seen it not served in a copper cup, forgoing tradition with little discernible effect on taste.

Meanwhile, we tuck into the P. E. I. Mussells, served sizzling on the cast iron platter and with hickory and sea salt, a sun-dried marinara and grilled sourdough to sop up the delicate juices. They've burst open, clean and fresh and perfect for a freezing night.

Smoky Meatballs arrive next, an aged ground beef, pork and veal combination with the same marinara and cast iron.  Covered in a grated Parmesan, the meat is soft and chewy, full of flavor.

The Seared Wild Salmon with Crab Parmesan Couscous, Roasted Corn Cream and Bitter Greens. Flaky and flavorful, the salmon falls in chunks onto my fork, thoroughly seared but not overdone inside and with one side of  the nutrient-rich skin still on, just the way I love it..  The larger beaded Israeli style couscous is packed with the cheesy flavor.  Instant hit.  Great dish.

The Dunster Street Classic is a house-ground burger blend of shortrib and sirloin, meaty and moist. The fries are very good.

The Bread Pudding dessert is underwhelming but the ice cream topper is good.  This is, after all, the former home of Herrell's legendary ice cream.

Overall, a nice spot, seemingly an Harvard enclave, with a good selection of beers and wines (the Coppola wines seemed to have grown beyond a hobby for the famed filmmaker) and solid gastropub food.  The desserts, always elusive in a setting such as this, need a helping hand.  And we loved the clubby, 617, old-school atmosphere.

Kennedy's On The Square
15 Dunster Street
Cambridge, MA  02138
Telephone:  617.497.0900

Monday, February 9, 2015

5 Napkin Burger

We recently headed on over to the Back Bay where we'd been invited to a blogger dinner at 5 Napkin Burger located in the Prudential Center.  Lots of fellow writers were talking about the "burger bubble" being ready to burst just on the heels of the "cupcake bubble".  My opinion is that in 2015 there is going to be a more widespread burst in the restaurant bubble across the board.  To me, there just does not seem to be enough diners to support all of the new restaurants (many of which are great) that have opened.  I think downtown will be hurt the most as new dining destinations such as Assembly Row and all of the new options in the Burlington area push large, upscale, casual dining out into the suburbs, with the added attractive benefit of plenty of free parking.  It's now quite easy to find food on par with the level of quality one could only find in the City just a few years back without having to go into the city.  Of course, that's just my opinion but we'll see how it plays out over the next year or so.

A stack of thick-cut panko-encrusted fried onion rings were just one of the appetizers that we enjoyed.  These were very good, full of flavor, with a delicate crunch.

We sampled several flatbreads as well, all of which were very good.  For those not familiar with 5 Napkin Burger, it is not just another upscale, fast food burger spot with counter service.  Here, one sits at a table with linen and china and table service as one would at any other restaurant.  In that way, it has set itself apart from the plethora of burger-and-fries upscale eateries that have ensconced themselves on the Greater Boston food landscape.

This Edamame Hummus with miso-tahini, sunflower seeds and warm flat bread was excellent and my favorite of all the appetizers served.  It may sound odd but I enjoy having a vegetarian option before I tuck into a juicy, meaty burger.

I went with the Asiago Turkey for my burger.  With seasoned ground turkey, asiago cheese, roasted tomato, pepper relish, arugula and pesto mayo on a sesame brioche.  The bun was nicely grilled, a very important part of a great burger, the meat was well-seasoned and moist.  As turkey burgers go, it was great.  My side of Macaroni And Cheese was, however, quite dry.  I prefer my Mac to be creamy and cheesy with a generous dusting of crunchy bread crumbs.  It needed at least another ladle of sauce and less time under the broiler.

The Cheddar Tots were very creamy.  Almost too much so.  The potato seemed to be pureed.  I do like a little more bite to the potato but these were definitely worthy of a try.

We all tasted the original 5 Napkin Burger, which began the whole thing.  Using the best European-influenced ingredients this gourmet burger featured at the owner's Mediterranean restaurant proved so popular that it launched the chain.  Ten ounces of fresh ground beef, Gruyere cheese, caramelized onions and rosemary aoili all served on a soft white roll.  An absolute standout of a burger.  I fail to see how any burger-lover could be disappointed.

I had skipped the wine served for a Black And White Malted Shake much to the envy of my fellow writers and diners who wished they'd thought of the idea.  It was rich and deliciously malty.  They were not to be left out, however, when the Smores Shake was brought out for dessert.  Again, creamy deliciousness.

In all, fine burgers, great shakes, fun atmosphere, excellent service and with a bit more attention to the details of some of the sides, a great, casual dining experience and certainly a place to take friends in search of a greater burger find.

5 Napkin Burger
105 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA  02199
Telephone:  617.375.2277

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Mohegan Sun Winefest 2015

It was snowy and cold but we had a great view from our room at Mohegan Sun for the Sun Winefest 2015.

Who doesn't love it when the daily paper is delivered to your door?  It's so relaxing to just fall into that comfy bed with room service coffee and read a real paper, quiet and slow.

When we weren't taking pictures we just wandered around having our pictures taken.  The extravagant Dine-Around event was probably the best way to have dinner with Jasper White, Andy Husbands, Will Gilson, Jason Santos and a symphony of other great Boston Chefs all in one room.

Look serious.  Don't look serious.  And that was a theme with the wines, too.  The trends continue to be sweeter wines: Rieslings and Moscato blends to which the millenial enthusiasts flock and the vinters are okay with that. Surprisingly, the wines of summer 2015 seem to be less fizzy and darker, more full-bodied.

Michele Ragussis gave up the most fun on the demo stage, preparing a great scallop, corn and prosciutto dish that was beautifully simple, classic and delicious.

We also spent some quality time bonding with Michele and were lucky enough to hear Jasper White comment on how great her chowder dish was.

Chef Chris Coombs of dBar, Deauxave and Boston Chops let us in on the exacting preparations for a 23 ounce ribeye.  Heat that pan until it is smoking!

And, of course, Dean got a very closeup interview with Chef Georges Mokbel.  From Lebanon, his refreshing book EVERYDAY TO GOURMET is a new perspective on how to approach the joy of food in your life.

As always, the Sun Winefest is a great winter getaway and one of our favorite events of the year!