Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Best. Review. EVER.

Okay, okay. I haven't eaten here. I don't even eat steak. But I found this Times review to be HILARIOUS.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

What time is it? It's Valentimes!

Once again, it's V-Day, perhaps the most overrated food day of the year. Besotted (or perhaps just obligated-feeling) couples trek to fancy restaurants, where they are forced to order inflation-priced tasting menus full of expensive ingredients like caviar and truffles. When I'm out for a special meal, I want to be able to pick what I want off the full menu (or at least have the option), not have what the restaurant thinks is "romantic" forced upon me. But oh well. I like the chance to try somewhere new. I'm pleased that Adam made time to have dinner with me on a random Wednesday, which happens to have been the worst weather day of the winter so far. We awoke to a blanket of fluffy, white snow (yay!), only to have it turn into wind-driven, freezing rain by the time I headed to class around 1:00 (pain!), only to turn once again into rain and the accompanying slush by about 4:30 (gross!). Perhaps the most romantic thing to be done on a day like this is to curl up somewhere inside, but that's not really celebratory, is it?

Anyway. Adam and I made a last minute reservation at Craigie Street Bistro, which we've been meaning to try for awhile. Typically, their regular menu was replaced by a $130, "5-course" menu. Although some of the courses only had one fish course (we checked the menu online), I assumed before going that they would also have a vegetarian alternative. What restaurant, in this vegi-friendly day, doesn't? Craigie Street Bistro. The chipper waitress informed me vaguely apologetically that they no, they didn't really. She seemed momentarily worried that this would be a problem for me, but since I'd eat the fish, I let it go.

I listed the number of courses is quotes because this count included the amuse (who does that?), which the waitress did not warn me (after having told her I didn't eat meat!) was sliced duck breast and lardo. We discovered this when someone else put it down on our table, and we sent it back. No effort was made to apologize, substitute something we would eat, or discount the cost of our meal for the missing course. The glasses of wine we'd ordered both arrived too cold, though Adam's red was noticeably less cold than my white, as though an attempt was made to chill them differently. Weird. My white was fine, nothing distinctive (though it was described as similar to a Reisling w/ a hint of nutmeg), but Adam actively disliked his. Not off to a great start.
The "second" course was the only one in which there were two seafood dishes. Adam ordered the "Pastis- and Citrus-Cured Salmon: baby potatoes, fennel, preserved lemon, mache." The combination was good but nothing at all original. I would have preferred something light and creamy in the dish to lighten the flavors. If you're going to serve me a cliched combination of flavors, go for all the elements of the cliche. In fairness, Adam thought it was fine as is. I ordered the "Just Warm Wiley Maine Oysters: oyster and oyster mushroom veloute, American Osestra caviar." This was probably my favorite dish of the meal. While that's not exactly high praise, this was genuinely very enjoyable. I normally don't love oysters (except for Keller's heavenly Oysters and Pearls), but this was essentially a lovely, smooth, rich mushroom soup w/ an appropriately salty, sea flavor from the oysters and caviar. We wiped the bowl w/ the bread.

The next course was "Curry-Poached Dayboat Cod Cheeks: fresh Maine shrimp, celery cauliflower, blood orange emulsion." I think I liked this one more than Adam, though neither of us loved it. I'm just not a fan of poached fish in general (it's a flavorless texture thing, I think), unless the sauce is really something special to compensate. This combination reminded me a bit of a sort of sour, citrusy relish. Eh.

The final savory dish was "Butter-Poached Nova Scotia Lobster: pink peppercorns, radishes, Macomber turnip puree." I enjoyed this dish, as it was as rich and buttery as one would expect. It was very classic French, nothing new there. While it was delicious to eat, it was disappointing in its lack of any originality. When we'd first ordered, the waitress had extolled the virtues of the black truffles (available on this course for a $25 supplement), which apparently had been flown in from Italy, having been collected the day before. Adam ordered the supplement, and his lobster arrived with three or four slices of black truffle on the top. The truffles were disappointingly mild, having almost no discernible aroma or flavor. Emblematic of the overpriced blahness of this meal, perhaps?

I ordered the "CSB Profiteroles: maple sugar ice cream, red chile-Valrhona chocolate sauce," mostly because I figured it was a waste not to try both options and it generally falls to me to order the chocolate option in such cases w/ Adam. I couldn't taste any particular flavor in the ice cream, despite my efforts to isolate the maple flavor. The chocolate sauce did have a discernible hint of chile, which was a welcomed contrast to its otherwise overwhelming richness. Fine as profiteroles go, I just don't tend to love them (or really any overly chocolate dessert). Adam got the "Organic Sour Milk Panna Cotta: blood oranges, candied fennel, raspberry coulis." The panna cotta, while lacking the normal elegance of presentation (rather than a nicely-shaped sloping cone, it was a square cut out of a larger pan), was very delicious. I do like a nice berry coulis.

After some unmemorable "mignardises" and the presentation of a single red rose w/ the check, Adam and I headed back to Gannet. Sadly, class work doesn't respect Vday. While this whole post might make it seem as though I had a horrible Valentine's Day, I actually didn't. I love having dinner with Adam. The food and service weren't bad, just disappointing in its expensive uncreativity and the general feeling of lack of eagerness to accommodate, respectively. It just goes to show how disappointed expectations can leave a bad taste (no pun intended) in one's mouth w/ regard to what's otherwise a perfectly adequate experience.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

I miss NYC!!!

Dean Kagan refers to Harvard as the "New York of law schools" so often that it's become something of a campus cliche. While HLS has been pretty great so far (caveat: I have not yet gotten any grades, so we'll see if I revise that opinion), my new town can't hold a candle to NYC food-wise. Cambridge has a couple of good restaurants (Rendezvous and Oleana are two faves), but in general the variety and quality leaves something seriously to be desired. So, when unhappy circumstances led to a last minute trip to New York yesterday, we decided, at the very least, to take culinary advantage. Korn is always game for a good meal (at least since he started having money to burn) and we convinced Chilton to come along with promises of red meat on the menu. Anyway, we finally got around to trying Scott Conant's Alto! Seeing him on the Top Chef finale* recently had reminded me that I wanted to try Alto, and it's been awhile since we've had really good Italian, so ended up there for a 9:15 reservation on Friday night.

Our table wasn't quite ready, so we clustered around the smallish bar, ordered cocktails and generally (apparently) made asses of ourselves. Adam got some slight variation on a Negroni, which was done in the classic style, singed orange peel and all. Andrew and I ordered the zenzero, which had white tequila, honey, ginger, and lime (I think?). Very delicious, but when the indecisive Chilton decided that he wanted one, the bartender told him that we'd gotten the last of his ginger. Since it was pretty obvious that Chilton was looking for an easy-drinking cocktail, the bartender offered to make a unseasonable cocktail that was currently off the menu. Gin, sugar, lemon, and lots and lots of fresh basil! The G&B Combination (or something like that) was fantastic! Apparently it's so popular that he keeps the ingredients around all year, because people will ask for it even when it's off the menu. Anyway, here we were--the guys all in suits since we came straight from the wake--making jokes about unsavory (i.e. potentially disease-ridden) ex of Chilton's current gf, and generally questioning whether it would be wise of us to share drinks w/ Chilton as a result, when the bartender asked how we all knew each other. After the moment of slightly sheepish silence that always accompanies this question, we said that we'd all been debaters. The bartender sort of chuckled as though this was what he'd expected...apparently he'd gone to Stuy years ago and had known the debate coach/team there. Here's to fulfilling stereotypes so many years after graduating from high school...oy.

Anyway, we're seated soon after, and quickly decide that the four course prix-fixe is the way to go. Andrew looked enthused over the tasting menu, but as all but one course had meat in it, Adam and I were not so keen on the idea. In the end, because we ordered two raw fish dishes and one cheese course a la carte, it was functionally a six course meal. So, finally, to the food...

The "Branzino Tartare: avocado, gremolata, and preserved lemon vinaigrette" was very good, nicely lemony, but the "Yellowfin Tuna "Susci": preserved truffles, baby watercress and sea salt" was amazing. The deep red tuna was rolled around the fillings, and it was so rich that it was practically meaty in its intensity. Even Chilton really liked it, and he doesn't generally like fish (much less raw fish).

For our real appetizers, I got the "Puree of Curried Butternut Squash Soup: whipped burrata and guanciale." I was assumed that the stock was vegetarian (which seems rare), but the soup was delicious. The "Seared Diver Scallops: caramelized potatoes, mushrooms and sunchoke puree" were also very good, basically as described. The boys liked the "Wagyu Beef Albese Style: shaved parmiagiano and picked baby mushrooms" and the "Slow Braised Short Ribs of Beef: vegetable and farro risotto," though obviously didn't try them.

For the pasta course, since I'd asked about vegetarian options, the waiter offered a polenta with mushrooms and some sort of semi-soft cheese which melted into the dish. It was absolutely fantastic! I have no idea why it wasn't on the regular menu. By far the best of the pasta course, in my option. The "Chanterelle and Braised Lumache Ravioli: truffled watercress puree" were good (didn't really taste snaily), but the watercress puree, though a lovely vivid green, could have been less intense...maybe something else in the sauce to cut the cress a bit? Adventure-averse Chilton ordered the "House Made Spaghetti: fresh tomato and basil" (the vegi pasta on the menu), which, while an excellent version of what it was described as being, was nothing more than that. The waiter had recommended it highly, but how could he think it could compare w/ the polenta? Korn got something with meat...can't remember...

For entrees, we got the "Imported Turbot: caramelized leeks, onions, endive, salsa verde and lentils" and the "Poached Dorade: caponata and golden raisin-pignoli mostarda." Both good, but weaker than the amazing tuna and polenta. Korn and Chilton both ordered the "Grilled Dry Aged Ribeye of Beef (18oz): hen of the woods mushrooms, fingerling potatoes, truffles and parmigiana." I'll admit, I tried the things underneath, which were sort of all stuck together w/ the melty parm, and it was sooo great. I'm sure it was soaked in meat juice or something, but I'm going to ignore this.

For dessert, I got the cheese, which included some sort of fresh cheese (a ricotta salata?) w/ figs, parmesan with truffle honey (SO GOOD), and something else...can't remember. Too busy remembering black truffles suspended in sweet, golden honey. Mmm...and the parmesan was good too. However, definitely enjoyed this board. I whined about two people wanting to get the "Apple "Tatin": muscovado gelato, dry fruit compote," convincing Chilton to order something else for variety, which was probably a mistake. This was the best of the desserts. The pumpkin creme brule with an espresso granita (I think) and the cardamum panna cotta with grapefruit (in sorbet, supremes, and foam) were both fine, but not nearly as good as the apple dessert. I can't remember anything in particular about the subsequent petit fours, except for one. Chilton (reaffirming his discerning palette) tried a chocolate one, said he liked it but couldn't identify the filing, so I tried it and discovered it was coffee-filled. I choked it down, unwilling to spit it out in my cloth napkin and making faces at Chilton the whole time. He was then like, "yeah, you're right, it was coffee!" Bad Chilton.

Anyway, a really fantastic meal, probably one of the best we've had in awhile. The service was friendly and attentive in the non-stuffy way we enjoy. Even if the dishes weren't all equally strong, all were at least enjoyable and some were outstanding. Definitely on the list to revisit! Why can't Boston have restaurants this good?

*Random side note: I love this show! Adam (and Korn) ate at Casa Mono about a month ago and saw Ilan still working the line, which led him to assume that this meant Ilan didn't win...but I guess he proved the old saying about what happens when you assume...Anyway, last week, Adam and I were sitting around Gannett w/ the gf of the VP, who told us that she's known Ilan since they were 14 and she's the one who, having been a big Season 1 fan, suggested he try out for the show! Now Ilan is Top Chef, I'm the VP gf, and Adam will likely become even more imaginary...
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