Monday, June 28, 2010

the friendly toast (cambridge)

My friend Emily and I had lunch at the Friendly Toast in Kendall Square last week. It was my first time at the restaurant, and I was blown away by the kitschy decor inside. It has a fun, diner-esque atmosphere with an all-day breakfast menu. They also have a location up in Portsmouth, NH that is actually open 24 hours on weekends.

We both ordered tea and I love the little pots that they arrived in (I'm pretty sure I've seen these at Davis Squared, right?), not to mention the plastic mugs that they gave us. So cheeky and retro, yet so cool! I forgot what kind of tea Emily had but I had the minty green tea and it was really good.

The sugar holder on our table reminded me of the kind of stuff we'd find at our Auntie Tita's house when we were growing up near Vacaville. She had something exactly like this in her house - and it was probably an ash tray - but just as quirkily cool, know what I mean?

Emily had the Matt sandwich which was made with anadama bread ( ),cream cheese, avocado, black beans, salsa, and cheddar. It was a huge sandwich! They serve sandwiches with your choice of either pretzels, homefries, or chips. Em went the healthier route and boy, did they pile on the pretzels!

I had an egg sandwich on a grilled croissant and goat cheese. It was a little surprising when the waitress asked me how I wanted the eggs done because I'm so used to egg sandwiches being made with scrambled eggs. I went with her suggestion of sunny something (why can't I remember?! sheesh! I know it wasn't sunny side up because she said they flip it over a little bit, otherwise it would be super runny ... sunny medium? is that what that style is called??) and it was perfectly done so that the sandwich held up enough but the egg yolk was still nice and runny. I know, not everyone likes their eggs quite that raw but it's so delicious to me!

I must admit that I had heard mixed things about this location and mostly that their non-breakfast items weren't that great. I hear they do awesome pancakes and waffles, so I might be inclined to go for something like that next time. It seems like a good family place and also good for small groups of people. It's located near a lot of the bio-tech companies in the square, so it's not wonder it was pretty full at lunch time. The service was kind of slow, but then again, I think she was one of two wait staff on at the time.

I have to say, the area that we walked through (by the Cambridge Brewing Company, Flat Top Johnny's, the Blue Room, and the newest restaurant called Think Tank) was boasting with crowds of people at lunch time, and seems like such a fun area to work near. There was a lot of outdoor patio dining - I think I may have to convince my coworkers to do lunch there a couple of times this summer!

The Friendly Toast
1 Kendall Square
Cambridge, MA

Sunday, June 27, 2010

F3 (cambridge)

The new Flour bakery is here!!

Joanne Chang's newest Flour location -- F3 -- is located at 190 Mass Avenue in Central Square, right next to Central Bottle. We stopped by Saturday morning (the day after it opened) to check out the new digs and get our favorite pastries.

I really like what they did with the decor. It's a little bit more modern than the other two locations, and it has a nice flow to it.

Oh yum!! The wonderful pastries are all freshly baked. Of course, we went with the usual suspects: brioche au sucre and a maple scone. So good!

The "quote of the week" board. I love how they utilize the chalkboard theme for their menus in all three locations.

We got there at a good time because the line was pretty long soon afterward.

We did kind of think that the seating area would be a little larger than this, but it's still a good space. Love the large windows and natural sunlight.

It's going to be so nice having a Flour much closer to Somerville. I think they picked a great location because it's really close to the MIT campus and many of the bio-tech company buildings in the Kendall Square area. Can't wait to stop by there for lunch later this week!

Flour Bakery
190 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02139

Friday, June 25, 2010

graham elliot (chicago)

My friend, Allen, is a world traveller. Or, at least to me, it seems like he has been around the globe. He is always venturing out to new destinations and takes AMAZING photos. He's also one of the most genuinely kind people I know who is generous at the same time: he gave me a free JetBlue ticket that he won, which was how our recent trip to Chicago came to fruition. (Thanks, Allen!)

In addition to our shared love for travelling and photography, I think we share a lot of the same taste in dining. So when he recommended that we try the Graham Elliot restaurant in Chicago, I looked up the address on their website and added it to my list of things to do during our trip. (You have to check out the website by the way - the intro page is pretty neat!)

After a whole day of walking around Chicago, we ended up in the River North section because I was determined to check out one of the original Paper Source store. It's a long story but basically I have a photo of myself in front of several of their stores over the past years ... would love to see them all! Luckily, the restaurant was on a street on the way back to our hotel, so we stopped in for a drink before we went on a river boat tour that evening.

We sat at the bar and Tony enjoyed a basket of popcorn that was seasoned with truffle oil and herbs. It smelled so delicious and miraculously disappeared by the time we left the restaurant. He had the Metropolitan Dynamo Copper Lager and I had a glass of the Charles Bove sparkling Chenin Blanc sparkling wine. Man, after walking what I could swear was at least ten miles that day, that glass of wine was so refreshing!

Since we had a late lunch we weren't starving so we ordered two appetizers to share. The deconstructed Caesar salad was made with romaine hearts and white anchovy. It was served with a brioche "twinkie" that was filled with parmesan fluff. Did you read that? Parmesan fluff. Ahhhhh. It was probably the best Caesar salad I've ever had. I could eat ten servings of that in one sitting, how sad is that?

We also had the carpaccio of beef which was served with arugula sprout, torpedo onion, horseradish custard and sea salt. Wow. Another excellent dish. The presentation was equally impressive.

For being not-very-hungry people, we did a good job of cleaning up both plates (and the aforementioned basket of popcorn ... ahem ...). If we lived in Chicago, I know we would be back there quite often. The restaurant had a great atmosphere but the music was pretty loud at the bar (nice speaker system set up though). There were a lot of couples there, and it looked like some business people were meeting there for drinks. I would highly recommend this restaurant to anyone travelling to Chicago, and can't thank Allen enough for the suggestion!

Graham Elliot
217 W. Huron Street
Chicago, IL

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

bergamot (somerville)

There's a new restaurant called Bergamot in the location that Evoo used to be on Beacon Street, a short walk from our apartment in Somerville. My friend, Jess, got two free cocktail coupons after trying to go there when they first opened; the restaurant and bar were full at that time so they gave her these as an incentive to come back. She was sweet to share one with me so we met there on a Sunday evening. One thing that's great about this place is that it's equi-distant between the two of us and within a short walk.

I have to admit that I had only been to Evoo once in the 9+ years I've lived in our Somerville apartment, and we didn't even eat dinner during that one visit years ago. We just sat at the bar and had some wine while gawking at everyone's plates, and said that we needed to come back some time for dinner. Well, now that it has moved over to Kendall Square, we'll have to make a trip out there some time to see what we had missed.

Unfortunately, I had already eaten a late lunch by the time Jess and I got to the restaurant so I wasn't really hungry. We decided to sit at the bar even though there was only one occupied table in the restaurant when we arrived. It's a nice space with a semi-open kitchen. They offer a bar menu with a variety of appetizers to choose from, and they have a pretty good list of cocktails and wines by the glass.

I was in a white wine mood so I had a glass of the 2008 Beaujolais Blanc, Terre Dorees and it was very good. I've taken a liking to drinking white wines lately, and I enjoy trying varietals other than the norm. In particular, I find viogniers and chenin blancs hard to resist. This glass was right up there, and quite refreshing.

What cracked us up was how the bartender constantly tried each wine he poured that night. I don't think I've ever seen that happen before. It was interesting to watch after the first couple of times he did it, but after the seventh or eighth time, we were pretty shocked and I told him that he had a fun job.

The amuse-bouche of the night was sauteed calamari served with fresh peas (don't worry, I transferred my peas to her dish). It was quite delicious and flavorful. And just really pretty to look at presentation wise.

Jess ordered the calamari appetizer dish and I think this won on presentation too. The batter was really light and it was served with a sweet and spicy glaze. She said it was delicious (I didn't want to risk breaking out because I could see the chili flakes), and it was a fairly large portion for being just an appetizer.

Neither of us had room for dessert afterwards, but the bartender brought each of us this cute little mini crepe with a cherry on top anyway. I don't think I can eat cherries (it's red and a fruit), but I couldn't resist trying it - it was so cute and smelled so good! The texture of the crepe was perfect and the cherry was not too tart. The presentation, again, was quite pretty.

And as if that wasn't enough, the bartender gave us these little gumdrop-looking treats when we asked for the check. They were plum flavored and oh-so-good! I had a glass of the 2008 Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise, Cotes du Rhone and they went together quite nicely.

Overall, it was a nice dining experience and we had fun. The restaurant filled up by the time we left, nearly three hours later. (I know! I couldn't believe we were there that long either!) It's not a very big restaurant in size but there are a lot of tables and the noise level did not get very loud. It's a great place for a date, to take your parents to, and for small groups. I can definitely see more trips there this summer, especially since it is so close to where we live.

118 Beacon Street
Somerville, MA 02143

Saturday, June 12, 2010

market (boston)

We celebrated our second anniversary last Tuesday by having dinner at Jean-Georges Vongerichten's Market restaurant in downtown Boston. It's in the lobby of the new W hotel on Stuart Street so it was easy to take the red line to Park Street from Harvard Square.

It had been so long since we've been in that part (the theatre district) of town so we didn't even realize that a W hotel had opened up there. I have to say, the W is probably my favorite chain of hotels, especially after we stayed at one in Seattle. The lobby of this one is really cool and so modern. They have a lounge area with big leather couches surrounded by sheer drapes. It would be a really nice place to hang out in after work for drinks some time.

The first thing that we both noticed and commented on after being seated inside the restaurant was the decor, more specifically the use of wood on the walls and on the ceiling. The atmosphere and ambience in Market is relaxed yet chic and refined. The decor was simple yet interesting at the same time. They had these cool rock vases holding daisies on each table. The rocks are real, believe it or not, with a hole drilled into them so they can hold water and the flowers.

We decided to get a half bottle of wine and enjoyed the St. Supery 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa. It was a really nice cabernet and went well with all of the food we had that night. (Note to self: definitely need to visit their winery during our next California trip.)

They had delicious sourdough bread for us to enjoy before our food arrived, which was a good thing because we were both pretty hungry. We shared the sea scallop appetizer dish and could not get over how delicious each morsel was. Seriously! I think we both could've eaten ten more plates of it all night. It's served with caramelized cauliflower and a caper-raisin emulsion.

I explained to our waitress that I am allergic to cracked red pepper and bell peppers. She came back to our table to let us know that the sauce for the scallops contained cayenne pepper so the chef put it on the side for us. I have to give them two thumbs up for this because I've had several experiences where wait staff and/or kitchen staff don't know/realize/remember what spices come from bell peppers. Things like paprika and Old Bay seasoning. The biggest one is whenever I order a burger and tell them to hold the tomato because of that allergy, yet 9 times out of 10, the waiter will bring me ketchup for my fries.

I had the lobster entree for dinner, and wow! Talk about a fantastic plate! I usually don't order lobster at a restaurant because, let's face it, it's usually quite boring if it's served with just butter. This was served with butter fried garlic over sauteed spinach and some julienned ginger. It normally has dried chili on it but they were omitted due to my food allergies. I couldn't get over how beautiful the presentation of the dish was for at least a couple of minutes, and then I couldn't stop talking about how delicious it was.

But my husband probably didn't hear very much of my ooohing and ahhhing because he was quite mesmerized by the grilled lamb chops that he ordered. They were served with a smoked chili glaze with King Oyster mushrooms and broccoli rabe. And he got them medium rare. He's not the type of person that likes to eat with his hands but believe me, he was using them to get every last piece of meat off the bones by the end of our meal - they were that delicious!

I have to say that that was one of our best dining experiences ever. The portions were surprisingly larger than we had expected for such a nice restaurant in the city, and the flavors were just unbelievable. We regrettably didn't get dessert here, so that can be our excuse for going back for another night out. :) I would highly recommend Market for a romantic dinner and for celebrating special occasions. It would also be a great place to sit at the bar and enjoy one of their pizzas or appetizers.

100 Stuart Street
Boston, MA 02116

Saturday, June 5, 2010

bar challenge

My friends Karoline, Jessica, and I drove to Northampton, Massachusetts a couple of weeks ago to check out the annual tent sale at Webs (a HUGE yarn store). On our way home, we stopped at a bakery and Jess got something called a "buddy" bar. It looked like it was made with a graham cracker crust, chocolate chips, walnuts, M & M's, and coconut. Jess enjoyed it so much so I took a photo of it (above) and made it a challenge to one day try to recreate it.

Fast forward a couple of weeks to the baking contest at work where we had a "bars" theme. What a good time to try to recreate that bar! So here is my creation:

I called it the chocolate chip, M & M's, coconut, caramel gooey bar. And it was super loaded with sugar! I forgot to include the walnuts but Jess said it was still an amazingly good bar and pretty close to the one she had on our trip. It didn't win the baking contest but they did disappear!

I have a bad habit of not writing down recipes so here's an extraction from my brain of how they were put together:

Crust ingredients:

- 1 stick of butter at room temperature
- 1 cup of flour
- 1/4 cup of sugar

Crust directions:

1. Mix the butter and sugar together until it's nice and fluffy, then mix in the flour.

2. Pour into an 8"x8" baking dish lined with parchment paper (the paper will make it much easier to clean up later, trust me!).

3. Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes, or until it's a nice light brown color.

Filling ingredients:

- 1 cup of light brown sugar
- 1/2 bag of M & M's
- 1 bag of sweetened coconut flakes
- 1 bag of chocolate chips
- 1 bag of little caramel balls (in the baking aisle; can't remember the name of the company that makes them -- or you can use little caramel candies but you'll have to unwrap each of them)
- 1 egg white
- 1 tsp of vanilla
- 1/2 stick of butter

Filling directions:

1. Beat the butter, egg white, vanilla, and brown sugar in a mixer until smooth.

2. Beat in the coconut flakes, then remove the bowl from the mixer.

3. Mix in by hand the chocolate chips and M & M's.

4. Spread the caramel balls on the crust, then top with the filling mixture.

5. Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 25 minutes or until the coconut is browned on top. Remove from the oven and let it completely cool down before cutting into it so that it has time to firm up.

6. To cut it, simply lift it out of the dish using the parchment paper.

So back to the baking contest ... we had some great competition this time! Here is a little plate of the contenders:

From top left, clockwise: banana oatmeal bar; coconut, M &Ms, chocolate chip, caramel gooey bar; brownie with mint and raspberry; Neiman Marcus bar; and rhubarb crisp. The rhubarb crisp ended up taking the trophy whisk.

P.S. The crust recipe is a good one to use if you just want simple sugar cookies to snack on. They turn out like shortbread cookies and are super simple to make!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

gaslight brasserie du coin (boston)

My friends Antoinette, Renee, and I attended the patio party at Gaslight restaurant last night. I saw a blurb about it on the Boston Chefs website and we managed to get our names on the guest list for the party which was celebrating the opening of their patio space for the summer. It's funny because they kept emphasizing how it was limited to 50 people, but there were nearly 200 people there after the first hour and so there was a shortage of passed apps going around.

We enjoyed complimentary drinks from Svedka Vodka and Harpoon Brewery, and freshly shucked oysters from Island Creek Oysters. It was a nice way to spend a summer evening and I can see the patio area becoming a popular destination this summer.

Renee and I stayed at the restaurant for dinner and had quite a feast. She had their halibut special which was served with a corn succotash and said it was quite good. It was a pretty large piece of fish and she asked for some of it to be wrapped up to take home. Unfortunately, we didn't realize until right before we left (and after dessert) that the waiter never brought it back to our table. :(

I had the duck confit ($17.50) which was served with an orange gastrique, citrus chard salade, and roasted garlic potatoes. It was absolutely delicious! It has been a while since I've had duck and man, it was finger licking good. Of course, we couldn't let any of the freshly baked (still warm) French bread go to waste, so I sopped up everything on my plate. No shame, no shame at all. It paired really well with my glass of Gamay Beaujolais wine too ($10).

We shared the molten chocolate cake dessert ($6.95) which was served with creme Chantilly (think sweetened whipped cream). It tasted wonderful but I have to say that the presentation was kind of a flop. Literally. I mean, look at this picture. Right??

Overall, it was a nice dining experience at the restaurant and the patio party was a lot of fun. I will say though, it is quite loud inside the restaurant and it was difficult to hear our conversation even though it was just two of us and we leaned across the table toward each other. I think they could turn the music down a notch and it would be a little better. A great restaurant for a romantic date (if you can deal with the loudness), and certainly good for a group outing if you don't mind spending more on an entree. Would not recommend it for a family with small children though. Great wine selection, nice bar, and a party atmosphere.

Gaslight Brasserie du Coin
560 Harrison Avenue
Boston, MA 02118


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