Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Science Behind Pixar

Did you know that in the film Ratatouille none of the toes of any human character are ever shown? Or that filmmakers created over 270 pieces of food in the computer?  Every food item was prepared and styled in a real kitchen, then photographed for reference AND eaten.

Those are just a few of the fun facts you'll uncover at the Museum Of Science in their new exhibit: THE SCIENCE BEHIND PIXAR.  There are lots of interactive sets, life size characters for photo ops and a short film that explains all the basics.

During a recent press dinner and preview we had the chance to meet with Pixar executives and learn all about animation, lighting, modeling and rendering, among other things.  Needless to say, it's a very fun way to spend a few hours and enlightening to see all the work necessary (a single frame can take up to 17 hours to produce) behind the scenes to create some of our favorite film characters.  The exhibit opens today and runs through the end of the year before it begins a national tour.  You will not be disappointed.

Museum Of Science, Boston
1 Science Park
Boston, MA  02114
Telephone:  617.723.2500

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Touring And Tasting At Tuscan Market

We were recently invited up to New Hampshire for a tour and tasting at Tuscan Market, the emporium for all things of quality imported from Italy and foods prepared for take out or eat in, all from scratch.  It was well worth the thirty minute drive from Boston.  There's really nothing like it on this scale in the area.

We toured the gleaming, new expanded kitchens were all of the food is prepared from fresh pasta to pastries and desserts.

We got a first hand view of the chefs at work and having worked in a commercial bakery I can say that the level of quality and cleanliness is impressive.

Then we sat down for lunch served by Chef David Crinieri which included this beautifully fresh burrata with a truffled honey drizzle.

Several pasta dishes and a glass of wine followed one of our favorites was this butternut squash and brown butter pasta with pecorino romano cheese.  Top notch but, really, so was everything else.

The just-stuffed cannoli was also excellent with a surprisingly light cream filling.

And the tiramisu was equally good.  As were the selection of gelatos and sorbettos we sampled.

After purchasing a few take home treats to enjoy later, we left with every intention of heading back for more. The prices?  Surprisingly affordable.  We found the pricing to be less than that of Whole Foods for superior quality foods.

Tuscan Market
63 Main Street
Salem, NH  03079
Telephone:  603.912.5467

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Power Dinner At The Palm

The Palm is well known as a dining spot in the financial district but, as in the business district of most major international cities, it gets quiet on the weekends.  Which is all the more reason to go.  They've recently introduced a special dining option called the "Power Dinner." We were invited to try it out.

We went on a Friday night, sitting on the patio as a light fog rolled in over the Greenway, that Echelman sculpture practically hanging over our heads, thinking what a beautiful spot it is.

We began with the Beer Steamed Prince Edward Island Mussels.  One just can't go wrong with the PEIs, succulent and free of any grit.  And the broth was not bad either.

Shredded Kale Salad with Strawberries, Feta Cheese, toasted Walnuts and Raspberry Vinaigrette. Any salad with fruit and feta just says summer to me and this one did not disappoint.

Veal Malfata with Baby Arugula, Shaved Fennel, Red Onion and Burrata.  Yeah, we know, you're not a fan of veal.  Too bad.  It also made for a great leftover breakfast with mimosas on Saturday morning.

Filet Mignon and Nova Scotia Lobster Oscar:  Butter-poached Lobster Meat, Asparagus and Bearnaise Sauce.  I mean, really, what's not to like?  Classic surf and turf protein sopped in butter. It's a financier's dream.

We also tried a few sides.  This is the Four Cheese Lobster Mac and Cheese with Bacon Crust.  If maybe we were 1950s magazine style restaurant critics we'd be searching for words in our thesaurus. As if the words "bacon crust" can be improved.

Creamed Corn Au Gratin with Lime and Roasted Jalapenos.  At this point we cannot help thinking that this is male food on a pedestal.  This is the midnight snack of frat house dreams and, of course, another doggie bag delight.

Salted Caramel Vanilla Bean Cream Cake.  Going with the minimalist theme, it's sweet.  It's good.

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Bean Sauce.  It's heavier.  It's less sweet.  It's also good.

If you choose to dine inside the space is date impressive and far less noisy and crowded than during the week. This would be the absolute perfect date night dinner for suburban couples who have not experienced the beauty of the Greenway, steps away from the Seaport, the super fun and outrageously popular Lawn on D, and and area pulsing with millennial club-goers and international visitors.  It's a very interesting and cool new section of Boston.

And, of course, there's that after dinner stroll under the massive Echelman sculpture that floats above and changes shape and color moment after moment. Well worth the visit.  Three courses for a mere $49.00 per person.

The Palm
One International Place
Boston, MA  02110
Telephone:  617.867.9292

Saturday, June 6, 2015

The Lincoln Inn Restaurant

We were invited to visit Woodstock, Vermont and The Lincoln Inn and Restaurant at the Covered Bridge recently.  We made the scenic trek from Boston to Woodstock, a beautiful drive where the traveler is surrounded by lush mountains in every possible shade of green.  We arrived in the late afternoon and toured the gorgeous six acres that surround the Inn then settled into our rooms complete with the creaky wooden floorboards one would expect at an historic New England home. But more on that later.  We were here tonight to sample the four course prix fixe dinner that the place has already built a reputation on since adding a new owner and chef all within the last year.

Clearly, a lot of thought has gone into this.  The tables in the small dining room were set, ready to welcome about the twenty or so diners that would soon  fill the space, soft music playing in the background, candles lit. There is one seating for dinner, promptly at seven.  It is intimate yet casual with attentive, personalized service.

The group gathers in the Tavern Room for drinks, then heads into dinner together.  We mingle and sip wine as we select our main course from the menu.  Chef Jevgenija Saramova arrived from Europe in the Autumn, after having garnered much experience in several Michelin-starred restaurants.  Chef and new owner Mara Mehlman have a vision to build the Inn as a dining destination, a welcome respite for the urban-weary in search of comfort and rest ... and excellent food.  "We like to think of it as a restaurant  with rooms," says Ms. Mehlman.

We select a bottle of Julius Treis Riesling, 2013, from the well-curated wine list, an impressive balance, fruity but not overly sweet. Our first course arrives:  Maple Farm Duck, Prawns and Prosciutto Ballotine Duck Confit, Port Celery, Mango and Pineapple, Blackberries and Juniper Duck Au Jus.  It is beautiful on the plate. The rich, salty flavors are balanced with the sweetness of the mango and pineapple.  It bursts on the palate, a perfect starter.

Dill Gravlox and Baby Arugula with Bloody Mary Sorbet.  A refreshing, different take, the sorbet, which manages to be both icy AND spicy, will be the talk of the evening.  Indeed, at breakfast the next morning guests still mention it to us with the greeting:  "Oh, you must be the food writers." News travels quickly in small towns.

Poached Monkfish, Seared Squid, Capers, Asparagus, Grilled Zucchini, Turnips, Snow Peas, with Lemongrass and Lobster Consomme.  It looked like a green and white sculpture.  The textures were playful, some firm, some softer, and the flavors subtle.  The consomme added a layer of stronger seasoning to elevate the dish.  I dip a spoon in the broth, tempted to drink it all.

Angus Beef Sirloin Steak, Spinach, Baby Carrots, Leek and Endive, Grilled Tomatoes, Roasted Garlic Puree and Shitake Mushrooms.  That big curl you see is potato, again, playful but not to detract from what is clearly a dish of classically, beautifully prepared vegetables.  The steak was good.

Citrus Panna Cotta with Orange and Saffron Reduction, Coffee Ice Cream and Dark Chocolate Tart with Sesame Seed Cannelloni.  Chef will later tell us that her theory is never to go too heavy on the dessert.  The goal is not to push the diner over the edge, into feeling stuffed.  She was right.  We had been served a flourless chocolate cake at another recent dinner that was just too heavy.  This was markedly different and a welcome finish to an exquisite meal.

With Chef Jevgenija and our host, Innkeeper and owner Mara Mehlman.  We consider ourselves very lucky to have experienced dinner here before it becomes what we predict will be a legendary New England dining getaway.  Bravo!  This is a landmark that deserves a prominent spot on your fine dining dashboard.

The Lincoln Inn and Restaurant at the Covered Bridge
2709 West Woodstock Road
Woodstock, VT
Telephone:  802.457.7052

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Farmhouse Dining Club

We were invited to a Farmhouse Dining Club popup dinner recently, featuring local food creatively prepared and enjoyed by an eclectic mix of adventurous eaters.  The food is sourced and prepared by Chef Matt Cunningham who we met last year when he helmed the kitchen at The Sinclair in Cambridge.  We were particularly intrigued, at that time, with Matt's penchant for fermented foods and didn't really know what to expect but were pretty sure it would be good.

The setting for this popup was a private home, a beautiful Victorian set in the hills of Somerville on a shady lane. The table was simply but elegantly set.

We grabbed a cold beer and headed straight to the kitchen where Matt was preparing our meal.  The Fried Chicken was being prepared with Maine Buttermilk and Chive for the brined breasts, Cola and Birdseye Chili for the fried legs and wings.  The aroma teased the hunger pangs.

We met our dinner guests as they arrived.  MIT grad students, fellow food writers and MFA Curators made the conversation both lively and interesting.

The perfectly turned out Fried Chicken was served with no less than six different sauces including the most popular Roasted Garlic Ranch but also Fermented Long Pepper, Thai Basil Hot Sauce, Burnt Lime Nuac Cham and another favorite, Togarashi Blueberry-BBQ Sauce.  The selection made for interesting taste combinations and discussion.

My personal delight was this Mac and Kim-Cheese With Pork Rind and Funyan Topping, bursting with flavor and texture.  Then there was the Pork Belly and Chopped Pickle Stuffed Baked Potato and Sweet Onion Ash Mini Biscuits drizzled with a local honey butter.  All were good.

The best part of the meal, however, was the sharing and talking, the laughter and insight that can only happen when you throw a group of people together for a family style meal and everyone has an avid appreciation of great food.  They call us foodies and we love it when people deride the term for something more snobbish.

Our pre-dessert assignment was a coloring contest, taken quite seriously by most.  I watched, rapt, at the MFA end of the table, hard at work.  Of course, the winner would be found here.

Dessert was Chocolate Chip Miso Cookies, rich and gooey and unique.

So, if you're looking for something refreshingly unusual and enjoy dining leisurely and comfortably with, perhaps, some new and very interesting friends, this is the place for you.  You can bring your own beer and wine and the menu (mostly) is available in advance.  It was certainly a new thing for us and a step toward the growing trend of dining-as-an-experience, very different from the standard restaurant fare and much more intimate and fun.

You can also follow Farmouse Dining Club on twitter at @FDCpopup for advance notice and information on upcoming events.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Touring The North End

We were invited by the website Vimbly recently to try out their service which aggregates a number of local tours, special events and mini-courses taking place in and around the city.  We perused the offerings mostly involving food and selected a tour of the North End and a three hour photography course on Boston Common designed to help you learn how to use all of those buttons and settings that you haven't mastered yet.

The Boston Politically Incorrect Little Italy Tour turned out to be very fun.  There was a group of about a dozen people of all ages mostly from out of town and we met just off Hanover Street.  Our Tour Guide, Anthony Gesualdi, is a lifelong resident of the North End and a former restaurateur (who also appeared on Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares).  He seemed to know everyone in the neighborhood including quite a few colorful characters, not to say he wasn't one himself.

We visited some of the small shops filled with spices and imported foods and candies.  We heard stories about the mob and how it at one time thrived in the area when he was a boy.  We walked with the residents who still maintain traditions and have an ethnic flair they are proud of.

A childhood friend of Anthony owns a few restaurants and when we bumped into him he insisted that we try some of his homemade cavatelli.  It was delicious.  We also tasted an Italian Sub Sandwich from one of the small takeout places.

We stopped at a local park to enjoy the views of Boston and learned how important the public spaces are in this tight knit community where people gather to play bocce and reminisce, walk with lovers or just sit and rest for an hour outdoors on a sunny day.

The younger participant in our tour really enjoyed the colonial chocolate making demonstration in the shop near the Old North Church where we all got a sample but the focus was more on the culture of the North End than US history for us.

We walked the side streets and took in some of the colorful spots created by unique local residents.  It was all part of the lifestyle that makes the area special, gives it an old school, old world, European feel.  Sure, we're in a big, modern, beautiful city but on some of these side streets you could be in a village in Italy.

The absolute highlight of the tour was when Tony invited us over to his Mama's house for a bite to eat.  Mama Maria, a resident for well over 50 years, welcomed us into her home graciously.  We brought pizza from Regina's and wine from the local wine shop and she served us homemade eggplant parmigiana.  Many said it was the best they'd ever had.

I loved the tour and learning about this part of our city with the insight of a "politically incorrect" local rather than just another bland tour guide.  It was often quite comical but also heartwarming and real.  It made me realize, once again, just how much I love the North End and really should spend more time there.  The restaurants were full.  So many people were dressed elegantly in the middle of the day.  It was so alive and refreshing to see all of these places full of people really enjoying life. You would not be disappointed at all stopping by.

For more detailed information please visit North End Tours.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Babbo Pizzeria

We all know him and maybe even some of you have his cookbooks.  With his bright red hair, orange Crocs and a larger than life personality, Mario Batali is hard to miss.  His new place in Boston has been open for a while now so we decided to head on over and check it out.

As we drove there I began to ponder:  with all of the great pizza we have in Boston, how good could it be?  The last time we went to the Seaport District it was difficult finding a parking spot and very crowded.  Plus, with all of the new restaurants there it seems to have reached the tipping point.  I did not have high hopes.

There are several seating areas.  If it had not been occupied, we would have selected the counter seating where the pizzas are actually being made.  It was easy to see this young man's talent as he masterfully threw the pizza dough and used the paddle to briefly push it into the very hot, wood burning oven.  Quite entertaining to watch.

Of course, we had to try the pizza.  We went with the Meatball, which comes with Pickled Chili, Tomato and Fontina cheese.  Anyone would be hard pressed to say that it was not excellent.  The crust was perfect and the meat and cheese flavorful and satisfying.  Great pizza.

We also had a salad:  Spinach, Ricotta Salata with Truffled Honey.   The ricotta was great, not runny but drier, and the honey wasn't overly drizzled on top of the fresh baby spinach leaves.  So, we had to agree that the salad was also great.

The space is large, over 8,000 square feet, with a long bar for sampling wines and cocktails.  What I have to say sets it apart from other places is the excellent service.  Both of our servers spoke fluent Italian and were happy, indeed eager, to share their native language.  And they were funny and warm and gracious.  I guess the team of Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich don't have all of those successful restaurants in New York without knowing exactly what they are doing.

We also tried out a few of the desserts.  The Pistachio Tartufo:  Pistachio, Valhrona Chocolate, Guanaja, Chocolate Crumble, Sour Cherry and Zabaglione Crema.  Very, very good.  Then we sampled the Gelati and Sorbetti.  I absolutely loved the Olive Oil gelato, creamy and subtle.  The Lemon and Basil Sorbetti did not quite pack the flavor punch I was expecting, however.

It was a beautiful day in the Seaport, not overcrowded, with people streaming in and out of the ICA and relaxing on the grassy green of the park between the two spots.  And the parking was easy! Overall, a great afternoon out and a lunch that really hit the spot.

Babbo Pizzeria e Enoteca
11 Fan Pier Boulevard
Boston, MA  02210
Telephone:  617.421.4466

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Dinner With Daniel Boulud

When Chef Daniel Boulud calls to say that he's going to be in town and invites one to dinner one would be a fool not to accept.  A top chef in the world with the James Beard and Michelin cred to prove it, we could not resist. So, we made our way to Bar Boulud at the Mandarin Oriental in Boston's Back Bay.

We began an evening of elegant, flavorful dining with amuse bouche.  Fresh shrimp in peas. Exquisite cheese in flaky puff pastry.  Such a tease.

Our initial dish consisted of First Of The Season Green Asparagus, Crispy Hen Egg, Pickled Ramps and Baby Lettuce With Dijon Egg Dressing.  As I've written a thousand times before, quality is in the details.  That perfectly runny egg in a crispy shell, the tender yet crunchy asparagus, the hints of flavor all perfectly prepared. This was paired with an excellent Hirsch Gruner Veltliner.

9 Herb Ricotta Ravioli With Porcini, Fiddleheads and Nettle.  The delicate cheese flavor was wrapped in a cloud of pasta then placed in a creamy bed of mushrooms.  That little, shiny crisp of green on top.  The tastes that dance across the tongue.  Wonderful, rich, simple, small portion typical of French cuisine.

When they brought a bottle of red wine to the table for my main course I asked the server if I did, indeed, decide to go with the seafood course, after all.  Oh, yes.

Sea Bass En Papillote:  Potato-Wrapped Sea Bass, Baby Leeks and Sauce Meurette.  The couple from Vermont seated next to us, who'd become instant friends, gasped.  They had traveled all the way to dine upon hearing that Boulud would be in the kitchen tonight.  Retired from New York, their son an NBC Sports producer, they now lived for the joy of food and conversation.  My ideal retirement.

My first thought was that I could do the bed of braised leeks, the bass, maybe, possibly with a few years of practice the potato papillote but the sauce, I doubt it.  That does not mean I won't try it.  A dish Boulud became famous for way back in his La Cirque days, the red wine and port reduction was absolutely stunning, rich and salty, the ruby juice floating on the plate.

DB Beef Duo:  Red Wine Braised Short Ribs, NY Strip, Charred Ramps, Fava Beans And Orchard Morels.  My scant taste of the strip and morel mushroom was enough to prove to me that it was every bit as satisfying as my plate.

Desserts were just as good and served with a strong, pungent Brovo Amaro Liqueur, Batch 1.

Grapefruit Givré:  Sesame Halva, Rose Lokum, Grapefruit Sorbet and Caramelized Tuile.  The topping had the feel of shredded coconut on the tongue and the balance of flavors delicate, tart and sweet all at the same time.

It's nice to be placed in the hands of a master chef, especially surrounded by people never met but enjoying and appreciating every moment of the experience.

Bar Boulud
776 Boylston Street (Mandarin Oriental)
Boston, MA  02199
Telephone:  617.535.8800