Parsons Table: American Classics with an Upscale Twist

13 Sep

For the last post in my Boston series, I decided to go a little closer to home. Literally.

Parsons Table  is in the Boston suburb of Winchester, which happens to be my hometown. But I swear I’m not biased—this relatively new restaurant has garnered glowing reviews, and even draws Boston dwellers to the suburbs for dinner (to be fair, it’s only about 15 minutes away).

Parsons Table

The menu is somewhat of a greatest hits list of classic American fare, reinterpreted in a relatively upscale way with lots of locally sourced ingredients and interesting accompaniments. The Parson’s Table Burger, for example, features a slow-roasted portobello mushroom, balsamic onions, house pickles, a brioche bun, and homemade kettle chips. Meanwhile, the Hand-Cut Fettuccini features house-made ricotta, and the Organic Pennsylvania Chicken is served with brown-butter risotto, native English peas, and maitake mushrooms.

The décor is a reflection of the menu: homey, but classy. Beautiful wood tables are lit with a tea candle in a Mason jar, and the kitchen is completely visible in the back of the room through a dramatic archway behind the bar.

I was slightly concerned about the prevalence of nuts on the menu, but the server assured me that she would inform the kitchen about my serious allergy. She did her job well because I had no problems, even though my mom got a dish that contained nuts, which I would assume they prepared at the same time as mine. The bread is from a local bakery, Iggy’s, which does make a good number of breads that contain nuts, so it should probably be avoided.

We ordered exclusively off the daily specials list, unintentionally but with great results. We started with the heirloom tomato salad with grilled octopus, salsa verde and an olive cracker. The octopus was tender and flavorful (it’s easy to turn grilled octopus into a chewy nightmare), and you could taste the grilled flavor. The dish was really light and delicious, drizzled with olive oil and oregano.

Grilled Octopus and Heirloom Tomato Salad

For my entrée, I got the slow-roasted top sirloin, with Wards Farm corn succotash, Wright-Locke spring onions, maitake mushrooms, and baby tomatoes (Wards Farm is located in another Boston suburb, and Wright-Locke Farm is in Winchester itself). The sirloin was perfectly cooked, and the corn succotash lightened up the dish and added a really great summer flavor.

Slow-Roasted Top Sirloin

My mom got the Atlantic salmon with Wright-Locke squash, English peas, oyster mushrooms, and pistachios. Of course I couldn’t taste this one, but she told me it was delicious.

Atlantic Salmon

Since the portions are pretty reasonable, we got dessert. We split the profiteroles, as they assured me that both the ice cream and chocolate were nut-free. They were good, but the pastry was a bit dry, so I don’t know that I would order them again.


With entrée prices ranging from $18-$25, the restaurant may not be an everyday choice, but is definitely worth making a trip to the suburbs.


  • Food: 8.5
  • Presentation: 8
  • Menu: 8
  • Service: 8
  • Ambiance: 7
  • Allergy-friendliness: 6.5
  • Cost: $$

Overall: 4 out of 5 stars


Parsons Table
34 Church St.
Winchester, MA 01890


Best of Boston’s North End: Pomodoro

12 Sep

A trip to Boston wouldn’t be complete without a night in the North End, Boston’s Italian neighborhood. It is vibrant and quaint, and a fascinating hybrid of old and new—one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods (filled with tenements during the surge of Italian immigration in the late 1800s and early 1900s), it has been dragged into the 21st century but is still holding tight to its heritage and traditions. The main street, Hanover St., is lined with restaurants and bustling with both old- and new-world Italians, while the alley-sized cobblestone side streets look like they have been left untouched by the past two centuries. The neighborhood regularly features octogenarians sitting at café tables or in lawn chairs, smoking cigarettes and speaking (often yelling) a unique Boston blend of Italian dialects and English. Old North Church, the focal point of Paul Revere’s Ride, is at the center of the neighborhood, and you can feel the history and age in each cobblestone.

In addition to its cultural and historic appeal, the North End has some of the best food in the city. Sure, it has its share of Americanized Italian rip-offs, but fewer than in New York’s Little Italy, in my opinion. And since Boston has one of the largest Italian populations in the country, you’re bound to find some great, authentic food, if you know where to look.

One of my favorite restaurants in the neighborhood is Pomodoro (which is Italian for “tomato”), a tiny space with lots of big flavors. It has probably six or seven tables at most, accepts only cash, and doesn’t even have a functional website—making for an intimate dining experience that perfectly fits the true atmosphere of the neighborhood. Even the napkins convey the restaurant’s tone—they look like (and very well may be) dish cloths, like what you would find tucked in your grandmother’s apron, used to wipe the flour off her hands as she makes pasta.

The server was very friendly but stretched pretty thin, as it seemed she was covering all the tables in the restaurant. She brought basket after basket of great bread (we were hungry) accompanied by an assortment of olives sitting in a dish of extra virgin olive oil. She also checked with the kitchen about nuts on everything we ordered, including the bread. She gave the disclaimer that the bread may contain traces of nuts because they don’t make it on the premises, but added that she has never seen anyone have a reaction to it. I ate it at my own risk (and was fine).

The menu is notably nut-free, for the most part. The pasta options seem to overshadow the entrée choices, which are mostly Italian favorites like veal scaloppini but also feature less tired ideas such as baked cod in a rustic plum tomato sauce. We decided to split two pasta dishes: the tiger shrimp tossed with linguini in a white sauce with garlic, extra virgin olive oil and fresh herbs (you could also choose a plum tomato sauce), and the P.E.I. mussels marinara tossed with fresh herbs and linguini.

While both dishes were outstanding, the tiger shrimp stole the show. The white sauce was buttery but still light, and the garlic was subtle. The shrimp was well-seasoned and the fresh tomatoes were a great addition. Overall a very flavorful dish, satisfying but light enough to be a great summer choice.

Tiger shrimp with linguini

The P.E.I. mussels marinara was also delicious, and definitely more hearty. The marinara sauce was thick and flavorful, and the mussels were fresh and not fishy. [Fun fact: did you know that in authentic Italian cuisine, a marinara sauce is a fish sauce, not a red sauce? The root of the word is “mare,” which means “sea.”]

PEI mussels marinara

One of the best features of this restaurant, aside from the stellar food and cozy atmosphere, is the free dessert. That’s right, I said free. At the end of each meal, the server brings a slice (albeit a small one) of tiramisu, which is as delicious as you would expect. It’s also nut-free, made without any nut-based liquors like amaretto.

Free tiramisu!

The restaurant is not cheap, but it’s not unreasonable. After a bottle of wine and two entrees, the total came out to about $50 each, after tip.

I recommend making reservations ahead of time, because the restaurant is so tiny. And remember to bring cash, because it’s never fun to run to the closest ATM when the bill comes, especially when you get hit with $5 in fees. But as far as the North End goes, it’s one of the best restaurants there is.


  • Food: 8.5
  • Presentation: 7
  • Menu: 7
  • Service: 7
  • Ambiance: 8
  • Allergy-friendliness: 8
  • Cost: $$-$$$

Overall: 4 out of 5 stars


319 Hanover St.
(between Bennet St. & Fleet St.)
Boston, MA 02113
(617) 367-4348

Check out Pomodoro’s Yelp profile

Blue Inc.: A Whimsical and Delicious Addition to Boston’s Restaurant Scene

11 Sep

Sorry for the long hiatus, everyone! I’ll kick off the fall with one of my favorite dining experiences in the past few months: Blue Inc.

My family and friends know that I don’t mess around with birthdays—and definitely not with birthday dinners. When my birthday approached this year, I spent a good 45 minutes researching and vetting potential spots for that night’s dinner—reading reviews, looking over menus, etc. And I ultimately landed on Blue Inc. in Boston.

At just eight weeks old, this restaurant is a newborn, but its credentials are not. The restaurant is owned by Chef Jason Santos, the former executive chef at Gargoyles on the Square in Somerville, Mass., and a finalist in season 7 of the FOX cooking competition “Hell’s Kitchen.” A molecular gastronomist, Santos favors Asian, French, and traditional American flavors, and combines all of the above in very unexpected and unique ways. His style is certainly whimsical, which is reflected in everything from the bee pollen in the Lobster & Summer Truffle Soup to the cocktail list (which features drinks such as the “Anorexic Model,” the “Chilled Chocolate Afro Puff” and the “Study Au Broad”). Most importantly (in my mind at least), he doesn’t force his molecular gastronomy techniques down your throat (no pun intended). His use of foams, emulsions, dehydration, espumas and the like are quite restrained, used as sparing accents.

At this point I should apologize to you, readers, because I did not intend to review this restaurant—with it being my birthday, I wanted to focus more on enjoying the food and the company than snapping photos and writing down flavors. But after dining there, I felt compelled to write something about it, as it was incredible. So I apologize for the lack of photos!

The restaurant is at the end of Broad Street in the Financial District, with a small patio for outdoor dining. The décor is clean and almost beachy, with white-washed walls and blue accents.

The menus are dazzling. As mentioned before, the cocktail menu is intriguing and sardonic, the bar menu has some great options and the dinner menu is small but has many tempting dishes.

Since I couldn’t decide, I got the hand-rolled potato gnocchi from the dinner menu to start (house-made lamb sausage, charred broccoli raab, piquillo peppers, and shaved parmesan), followed by the buffalo duck drumettes (celery, blue cheese crumbles, ranch dressing) and the crunchy lobster tacos (chipotle crema, mango salsa, habañero pipette), both from the bar menu.

The gnocchi was impossibly light (it almost melts in your mouth) and the lamb sausage had a lot of flavor. The buffalo duck drumettes—an instant hit with me since I haven’t been able to find proper buffalo chicken in San Francisco, and am a sucker for duck—arrived as three drumsticks about 8 inches long. I wouldn’t exactly classify them as buffalo, as they weren’t very spicy and had more of a barbeque flavor to them, but they were still crispy, tender and delicious. I didn’t even use the side of ranch dressing because the crumbles of fresh blue cheese on top perfectly balanced the sauce. Finally, the lobster tacos (without the mango salsa, as mango is in the nut family) were great, heaping with lobster and not too much mayo. The habañero pipette was quite literally a pipette; it looked like a tiny test tube. I think I still prefer a traditional lobster roll, but this was a really unique spin.

My dad got the spicy P.E.I. mussels to start, which were delicious—really flavorful and fresh, without being too fishy or salty. The garlic bread accompaniment, dipped in the broth, was amazing. For his entrée he got the pan-seared scallops (crispy farm egg, chorizo emulsion, shallot-radish salad, fresh & freeze dried corn) which were fresh and perfectly seared, with lots of flavor. The crispy farm egg was a poached egg that was lightly fried, so when you cut into it the yolk came oozing out. Delicious.

My mom got the braised veal cheeks (with green peppercorn syrup, potato purée, frisée salad and watermelon tartar), which just melted in your mouth. The potato purée was a lighter take on mashed potatoes, and the watermelon tartar was an interesting addition.

For dessert, we got the Chèvre Cheesecake (with graham cracker tuile, compressed melon and lemongrass ice cream), which was impossibly creamy and delicious. It was the perfect portion—a few sweet after-dinner bites that don’t tip you over the edge into uncomfortably full—and was presented beautifully, even down to the “Happy Birthday” in chocolate.

The Chèvre Cheesecake (birthday edition)

From the level of service, you would have no idea the restaurant was only eight weeks old. Our server, Stephanie, was wonderful—funny, helpful and attentive. When I asked her about nuts, she was very understanding, and checked with the kitchen on everything (and even reminded me between courses that she was doing so). But here was the most amazing part of all—my brother was supposed to join us, but got out of work very late and didn’t end up making it there until after we had finished our entrees. When he told us he was on his way, we put in an order for the boneless buttermilk fried chicken (with celery root mousseline, habañero bbq syrup, wilted greens, avocado salad and farmers cheese), and the food arrived before he did. After about five minutes, Stephanie asked us if we wanted it under the heat lamp, and we said not to bother because he wasn’t picky and should be there any minute. She kept coming back and urging us to put it under the heat lamp, and we kept refusing, until the manager came over and we assured her as well that it wasn’t a big deal. She insisted on taking back the dish and making it all over again right before he got there, so it would be hot and ready to go when he arrived. Now that is service.

The restaurant is a bit on the pricier side, but not outrageous, and definitely worth it for the delicious food. If you find yourself in Boston, I highly recommend you find your way over there!


  • Food: 9
  • Presentation: 9
  • Menu: 9
  • Service: 9
  • Ambiance: 7
  • Allergy-friendliness: 8
  • Cost: $$-$$$

Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars


Blue Inc.
131 Broad St
(between Wharf St & Wendell St)
Boston, MA 02110
(617) 261-5353

Sushi Groove Adds California Twist to Stellar Sushi

24 Jul

Sure, you can get your California rolls and Spicy Tunas and call it a day. But if you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, Sushi Groove has you covered.

Even before I lived in the city, Sushi Groove was one of my favorite spots. Hiding behind the trees of Hyde Street in Russian Hill, the small space has a limited amount of tables, plus eight to 10 chairs at the bar—where diners get a front-row seat to all the sushi-making action.

Photo credit: OpenTable

The restaurant’s décor is pretty minimal, but the lighting gives it a soft glow. The music genre varies depending on the night, but last night we were treated to upbeat top 40 hits. And because the restaurant is designed to be a cozy neighborhood joint, you often find yourself making friends with your neighbors. Last night, my friend Maureen and I were seated next to a lively group of people celebrating someone’s 30th birthday, and they would not rest until we tried some of this:

Photo credit: Yelp

That’s sea urchin, or uni. And when I say they would not rest, I mean the birthday guy grabbed my hand, pulled me over next to him, and held a pair of chopsticks in front of my face until I picked them up. Uni is definitely an acquired taste—the texture is akin to a tongue, and to me it tasted like a combination of soap and clam bellies. The somewhat inebriated birthday guy attempted to eat the urchin spines before his friends stopped him.

The service was attentive and our food came out what seemed to be minutes after we ordered it. (Although our perception of time might have been distorted by the gargantuan glasses of wine, seen below.)

The menu is exhaustive and inventive, with a California cuisine spin to many traditional Japanese staples. The maki offerings range from your standard tuna roll (Tekka maki), to the Sake Kawa Roll (grilled salmon skin with scallions), the Oshinko maki (Japanese pickled radish) or the Shiitake maki (shiitake mushroom roll). Special maki rolls include the Wayne’s World (yellowtail, salmon, spicy sauce and cucumber, rolled inside out with tobiko and scallions) and the Pete’s Roll (spicy white tuna and scallions inside, layers of baked spicy salmon outside). The daily specials are particularly playful, as seen below (with apologies for the dismal picture quality).

We started with the Kamikaze roll (salmon with avocado, scallions and tobiko), the Spicy Tuna roll, and one of the special rolls, the Sunkist (avocado, aioli, and shrimp tempura, topped with fresh salmon and a slice of lemon). When I asked about nuts, she confidently assured me that I had no need to worry, they didn’t use any nuts in the restaurant at all. Those with sesame allergies should definitely steer clear though.

All three rolls were fresh and delicious, with a good balance of ingredients on the Kamikaze roll and a satisfying amount of heat on the Spicy Tuna (I could have used a bit more, but I think the level was chosen to suit the most people). Our favorite was definitely the Sunkist, with the crunchy shrimp tempura adding a great layer of both taste and texture. The salmon and lemon were a perfect combination, as the lemon was quite mild (a Meyer lemon, probably?) and added just enough acidity and tang to balance the salmon.

We weren’t quite full after those three rolls, so we went back for another small round, this time of the most Americanized sushi roll you can get—the Rollin’ Blues roll with smoked salmon, cream cheese, scallions and cucumber. This was probably my least favorite of the rolls, but still good nonetheless.

One of the best parts of Sushi Groove is that the price is pretty reasonable, especially for the quality of food. After four rolls and two glasses of wine, we each paid $35 after tax and tip.

So whether you’re in the mood to do sake bombs and dance along to some pop or reggae music, to spice up your sushi selection, or just to get some delicious, fresh rolls, Sushi Groove is a great bet.


  • Food: 8.5
  • Presentation: 7.5
  • Menu: 8
  • Service: 7
  • Ambiance: 6
  • Allergy-friendliness: 9
  • Cost: $$

Overall: 4 stars


Sushi Groove

1916 Hyde St
(between Union St. & Green St)
San Francisco, CA 94109
(415) 440-1905

1516 Folsom Street
(between 11th St & Norfolk St)
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 503-1950

Foreign Cinema: A Whole New (Delicious) Meaning to “Dinner and a Movie”

19 Jun

Foreign Cinema, a quiet and elegant spot seemingly hidden amid the loud chaos of Mission Street, takes dinner and a movie very seriously. Every night, starting just after sunset, the restaurant plays foreign, independent and classic films for the benefit of the diners sitting on the patio. (Currently the movie is “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”—click here for their movie schedule.) But even if you don’t make the movie—which can be difficult to do in the summer, when the sun sets as late as 8:30 PM—the dinner is well worth the trip.

I went with my family on a Monday night during Dine About Town*, which meant the reservation options were slim and the restaurant full. However, they were still able to accommodate us easily when we asked for an outdoor table instead of the indoor one they had set up.

Walking in through the giant steel doors, you are greeted with a long and beautifully lit hallway—red carpet and all—leading to the hostess stand. The indoor dining room is chic but understated, with a clean and minimal décor of mostly white tablecloths and chestnut wood. The outdoor patio looks similar but with strings of lights overhead, while heat lamps and a clear canopy over most of the ceiling made it comfortable even on a cool June night. Large, rustic windows separate the indoor and outdoor dining rooms, making both spaces feel bigger than they are. And for a nice bonus, a small modern art gallery off the outdoor patio serves as both an attraction while you are waiting for your food and a bar-equipped private party venue.

the patio

Our waitress was extremely knowledgeable and very nice, and was very accommodating when we asked about our nut allergies. The bread turned out to be nut-friendly (but my fellow allergic sister and I still chose the white bread over the wheat one just to be safe), and our entrees were as well. The only thing that was not safe was the calamari my father had ordered, but she offered to put the sauce on the side or to remove it entirely, and we chose the latter.

Two sweet, tiny Kumamoto oysters on the half shell with mignonette sauce were a wonderful start to the meal, followed by Indian-spiced calamari baked with romesco sauce (but without the sauce for us). The calamari was incredibly tender and flavorful, served in a great broth with slices of toasted bread. We waited about 20 or 30 minutes for our entrees after they had cleared our appetizers, but it was worth the wait.

I had the king salmon with black rice, asparagus, carrots, sweet onions and microbasil. The salmon was buttery, flaky and light, while the black rice was cooked perfectly—tender, but still tough enough to have a great contrasting texture. The asparagus was sliced into half-inch pieces, and the onion and carrots were chopped finely, adding another subtle layer of flavor (the asparagus was amazingly sweet and flavorful). I would have loved a slightly larger serving size, but I was still satisfied after finishing it.

king salmon

My brother and father had the bavette steak with endive and butter beans, while my mother and sister had the sole, and both dishes were very well-received. I hadn’t checked about nuts for the steak so I had to take my brother’s terse and non-helpful words for it, but I can attest to the fact that the sole was delicious—light and flaky, it had a beautiful golden crust and a smoky flavor. It was served with an aioli-style sauce of eggs, Dijon mustard, chives and parsley, which complemented it wonderfully. The dish also included roasted potatoes (confirmed to be roasted in grape seed oil), which had a seemingly impossible combination of crispy skin and an inside so tender and soft it just fell apart in your mouth.

bavette steak


Unfortunately we didn’t have room for dessert, but did have some great coffee. The meal was definitely not cheap (thanks, Dad!), but everyone agreed it was delicious. Definitely recommended! But if you’re watching your spending, it may have to be relegated to the special-occasion list, at least for dinner. I hear they have a great brunch, so that’s always another option.


  • Food: 8.5
  • Presentation: 8
  • Menu: 7
  • Service: 7
  • Ambiance: 9
  • Allergy-friendliness: 7
  • Cost: $$$

Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars


Foreign Cinema
2534 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 648-7600

See a sample menu here

*I can’t speak to the Dine About Town experience here because we did not order off that menu. Sorry!

“The Town” Favorite: Figs in Charlestown, Mass.

7 Jun

This week I’m back in Boston to attend my little sister’s high school graduation (congrats, Kristen!) so I made sure to hit some of my favorite places. Stop number one: Figs in Charlestown.

Charlestown used to be my neighborhood, so it will always have a special place in my heart. (Yes, I’m talking about the same Charlestown that inspired the 2010 Ben Affleck movie “The Town” but it is far nicer and more quaint than the movie depicted! But that’s a different story for a different day.)

Figs is a Todd English restaurant (one of his first, I believe), the casual cousin to his more famous Olives, which is just a few blocks away. (For my money, having tried both, Figs comes out the winner—for your stomach and your wallet!) Figs is tucked away on tree-lined Main Street in Charlestown’s gaslight district. It’s pretty tiny—you certainly get cozy with your neighboring tables—but the dark wood and even darker lighting lends a slightly upscale look to what otherwise feels like just your typical beloved neighborhood spot. The pizza station and brick oven are open so you can watch them making the pizza, but no one seems to notice, instead chatting with their dining companions and diving into the huge pizzas.

My friend and fellow “townie” Ashley joined me a little before 7 PM on Monday and we had our pick of tables, but it started to fill up towards 7:30. Later in the week, reservations during peak hours are advised.

The menu is overwhelming, not for its size but for its array of tempting options. The pizzas are definitely the specialties, though I’ve heard good things about the pasta. Pizza options range from the traditional—bianco, crispy eggplant, four cheese—to the more unique, such as the shrimp scampi pizza (spicy gulf shrimp with caramelized leeks and tomato sauce), the “Red Sox” pizza (caramelized onions, roasted red peppers, sweet sausage, mozzarella, tomato sauce and mustard aioli) and the calamari pizza (crispy calamari, tomato sauce, arugula, hot peppers and lemon aioli).

The staff is always very attentive and friendly, and the service timely. Our server brought over focaccia bread topped with carmelized onions, with a side dish of various types of olives sitting in olive oil for dipping. When I asked if the bread had any nuts, he assured me that it did not; he seemed very well-versed in the restaurant’s allergy-friendliness, going on to tell me that they are very aware of the rising prevalence of food allergies and have even made their pesto nut-free, calling it “basil aioli” instead.

When we ordered the pizza—half “Portobello” (portobello mushrooms, wild mushroom purée, roasted red onions, fontina cheese and truffle oil) and half “Fig & Prosciutto” (crisp rosemary crust with fig and balsamic jam, prosciutto & gorgonzola cheese)—and I asked him about again about nuts, he said there were no nuts in the pizzas but would make sure to inform the kitchen so they would be aware. After eating, I had no allergy incidents to report.

The large pizzas are huge—served on a flipped-over baking tray, they hang over the sides. The crust is really thin and crispy, allowing the toppings to take center stage.


The prosciutto and fig is one of my favorite pizzas, not just from Figs but from anywhere. Big chunks of sweet fig jam are balanced out by thin, salty slices of prosciutto, scattered with green onions. Though the patches of gorgonzola lend another salty layer to the slice, the balance definitely still falls on the sweet side. The subtle drizzle of balsamic really rounds out the flavors and ties it together nicely. It may be slightly too sweet for some, but to my taste buds, it’s perfect.

The portobello pizza is another favorite. Despite the fact that the mushrooms are the most represented ingredient, the standout flavor is really the truffle oil, lending a buttery overtone to the otherwise earthy pizza. The mushroom flavor is not at all overpowering—the portobello slices are roasted or perhaps even carmelized and are considerably spaced out, and the wild mushroom purée seems to be mixed with the fontina cheese and baked into the pizza itself.

[Sources also tell me that the bread pudding with drizzled caramel is amazing…  and by sources I mean my memory.]

We each had a large slice of both pizzas and were too full to attempt another one, leaving us each with another two slices to take home. After the large pizza and a glass of wine or beer each, we each paid $20 after tip. Not too shabby!

All in all, a delicious, relatively economical, reliable, allergy-friendly spot. They also do take out! If you find yourself in or around Charlestown, definitely stop by.


  • Food: 8
  • Presentation: 7
  • Menu: 8
  • Service: 8
  • Ambiance: 7
  • Allergy-friendliness: 7.5
  • Cost: $-$$ ($.5?)

Overall: 4 out of 5 stars


67 Main Street
Charlestown, MA 02129-3738
(617) 242-2229

RoliRoti Porchetta Sandwich: Yes, It’s That Good

29 May

Last Thursday was one of those days so beautifully sunny that it’s actually painful to go back into the office after picking up lunch. Especially because it was a Thursday, when the farmers’ market transforms the Ferry Building into even more of a food paradise than it usually is. I could just wander around the tents all afternoon, sampling food and enjoying the sun… working next to the Ferry Building is a foodie’s paradise, but so financially and calorically dangerous!

Beautiful day!

I decided to try the RoliRoti truck, whose porchetta sandwich I have been longing to try. It regularly gets rave reviews, including a spot on the Men’s Health magazine list of the Top 10 Best Street Eats in America and 7×7 magazine’s 100 Things to Try Before You Die (2010 list).

The only reason I was able to feasibly get a RoliRoti porchetta sandwich on my lunch break was because I went at 1:45 PM—otherwise the line is up to 45 minutes long.

[Side note: I came across a 7×7 interview with the owner of RoliRoti, Thomas Odermatt, asking for his comments about the legendary line. One of his more notable responses was, “People are happy to stay in line in SF. We are relaxed about lines, people don’t regard lines negatively. They regard them more as a necessity, versus in New York, it’s a turn off. You don’t wait in lines in New York. On the West Coast we are very orderly and passionate. I don’t know why people are more passionate about it, but I would literally call it a passion about lines. They know where the lines are, it’s good food.” I have to agree with him—people in San Francisco seem to almost seek out the lines because it’s validation of the quality of the food, and usually wait patiently. Case in point: Off the Grid.]

Fortunately for me, I only had to wait less than five minutes. Though the rotisserie chickens looked and smelled so wonderfully tempting, I had to stick to my original mission.

Love how they put the rosemary roasted potatoes below the chicken to catch all its rotisserie goodness...

When I got to the front of the line and asked what the porchetta sandwich was, the man behind the counter told me it was pork loin wrapped in pork belly, stuffed with herbs and roasted. It’s then sliced and put between pieces of French loaf, with some arugula.

When I asked about nuts, he very confidently said, “no,” and I didn’t have any problems after eating it. But I would have felt much better had I known the exact ingredients of the herbs and spices, not to mention where the bread was from. This is an even more important reason to go on off-peak hours—you can spend a little more time asking about allergens without holding up the line.

The sandwich, which was $8.50, was worth every good word written about it. It was packed with so much flavor, thanks to the crispy pork belly skin layered into the sandwich. It had just enough salt to have that delicious, sea-salt-esque flavor, but not enough to be overwhelmingly salty. The spice mix rubbed into the skin was impeccable… If you love eating the fatty, crispy, salty skin of a roast chicken, you would be in heaven (as I was). The pork was really tender, and there was just enough of it to be satisfying but not too much to make the sandwich difficult to eat.

I was torn between wanting some kind of chutney, mustard or sauce on there, but not wanting to distract from the amazing flavor of the pork. It really was that simple—pork, arugula, bread. But it punched far above its weight.


I would gladly wait 45 minutes for that sandwich again!

Here’s a fun bonus: Someone made a video of RoliRoti making the porchetta! Check it out:



  • Food: 9
  • Presentation: 6
  • Menu: 5 (just roasted chicken or porchetta sandwich, plus some rosemary potatoes)
  • Service: 8
  • Ambiance: not sure how to rate a food truck on this!
  • Allergy-friendliness: 6
  • Cost: $

Overall: 4 out of 5 stars


Ferry Building Farmers’ Market (Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays)
San Francisco, CA 94111
(510) 780-0300

Turtle Mountain Ice Cream: Thanks For Not Taking the Easy Way Out!

24 May

It happens all the time. You go to buy some item of food, or someone offers you something to eat, and the label says, “May contain traces of ___.”

You have no way of knowing if the company is saying that just to cover their behinds in case of a lawsuit when in fact there’s hardly any chance of cross-contamination, or if they really mean it and there is a large chance.

Some virtuous allergic foodies (like my little sister), stop there and walk away. Some dumber allergic foodies (me) then wage an internal battle. How lucky do I feel today? How much do I really want to risk it? How much do I really want those cookies? How close is the nearest hospital? (That last one is a joke. Kind of.)

The smart answer is never to risk it, we all know that. But with every other product you see these days carrying that warning label, it can get really frustrating.

Therefore, I was so excited to come across Turtle Mountain products. Instead of just slapping a “may contain” label on there, they go out of their way to make sure their products don’t contain any non-ingredient allergens.

Their package states, “Turtle Mountain applies strict quality control measures in an effort to prevent contamination by undeclared food allergens. To assure our preventive measures are effective, we sample test our products for the presence of dairy, gluten, peanut, soy, tree nut (almond, coconut, pecan, walnut) using state of the art testing methods.”

Their allergy page has a lengthy description of these state-of-the-art testing methods (check it out, it’s really impressive how thorough they are), which include validating the cleanliness of the processing line by collecting samples of the post-cleaning rinse water from each machine and belt, water which is then tested for allergens. “When the line is deemed to be free of allergens the product is produced,” the website says. The site also provides a comprehensive allergen chart for each product and each allergen.

As if that wasn’t enough, most of their ice creams are dairy-free—made from coconut milk instead of regular milk—so they have significantly less fat and calories than regular ice cream (½ cup of the vanilla bean ice cream has 150 calories and 8g of fat, while a ½ cup of Ben & Jerry’s vanilla ice cream has 230 calories and 14g of fat).

Their products range from milk and creamer to yogurt and “ice cream” (technically called “frozen dessert”), and they offer both coconut-based and soy-based versions, plus some gluten-free options. Check out the column on the left-hand side of this page for the full list of their products.

The flavor I tried, Vanilla Bean (coconut-based), tasted more like coconut gelato than vanilla ice cream. It was delicious, but very sweet—almost like it was missing a creamy finish and stayed with the same note throughout. When I left some in the bowl to melt a bit, it tasted exactly like a marshmallow.

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I paired it with Frog Hollow pear sauce, though, and it made a huge difference. (I’m guessing even chocolate sauce would do the same, it just needs a complementary flavor.)

To pick some up for yourself, check out their store locator.

On the Delights of Green Garlic (and BLTs on Brioche with Green Garlic Aioli)

23 May

Today I’m going to take a brief interlude from restaurant reviews to tell you about my new favorite ingredient—green garlic.

For those who have yet to discover its wonders, green garlic is essentially young garlic. When garlic plants grow, the bottom white bulb splits off into cloves and becomes what we know as traditional garlic, while the top grows into these long, scallion-like green stalks called scapes (which also have their own culinary merit). Green garlic is uprooted before it matures, before the bottom splits off into cloves. It looks like this:

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Green garlic has this really wonderful mild garlic flavor, which gives dishes a great depth but without the potency of mature garlic (I still love you, though, garlic!). You can even slice up a little bit and scatter it on a slice of ciabatta bread with butter and a pinch of sea salt, that’s how mild it is.

I discovered green garlic for the first time when trying out a CSA, and fell in love. It’s great for flavoring oil before you sauté vegetables, scattering on a sandwich with prosciutto and tomato, or in the following amazing (and super easy, and super nut-free!) recipe…

[Note: It’s nearing the end of green garlic season (this may even be the last week) so if you want to give it a try, hurry!]

For green garlic storage and selection tips, check out this article from The San Francisco Chronicle.

BLTs on Brioche with Green Garlic Aioli

Courtesy of the August 2006 issue of Bon Appétit magazine

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Makes 6 sandwiches


  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped green garlic or 1 regular garlic clove, blanched
  • 1/4 teaspoon fleur de sel or coarse kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise, divided [NOTE: This was way too much mayo for me. I would use your discretion about how much you want to add, observing the thickness of the aioli as you make it]
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice


  • 2 (3-ounce) packages thinly sliced pancetta (Italian bacon; about 30 slices)
  • 12 (1/2-inch-thick) slices brioche or egg bread, lightly toasted
  • 1 large bunch mizuna or arugula, torn into 2-inch pieces
  • 3 beefsteak tomatoes, cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds

For aioli: Blend olive oil, garlic, and 1/4 teaspoon fleur de sel in processor until garlic is minced. Add 2 tablespoons mayonnaise and blend well. Transfer to small bowl; whisk in remaining mayonnaise and lemon juice. Can be made 1 day ahead—cover and then chill.

For sandwiches: Preheat oven to 450°F. Arrange pancetta slices in single layer on 2 large rimmed baking sheets. Bake until crisp, about 10 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain.

Place toast on work surface. Spread with aioli. Divide mizuna among 6 toast slices; top with tomatoes, then pancetta, dividing equally. Top with remaining 6 toast slices, aioli side down. Cut each sandwich in half and serve.

H/T to and Love & Olive Oil

Darwin Café: Tiny Spot, Big Flavors

21 May

If you don’t work in SOMA (and you have a regular day job elsewhere), it’s nearly impossible to try the great restaurants the neighborhood has to offer, because most are only open for weekday lunch. One exception is Darwin Café, a great spot tucked in an alley off of Bryant St. (near South Park), whose creative menu and great flavors definitely warrant a dinner visit.

I stopped in at 6pm on a Wednesday for a quick bite, and the cozy, clean and well-decorated café was empty except for 2 people enjoying a cheese plate at the bar. The menu, which changes daily and for each meal, was written on an almost floor-to-ceiling-length piece of paper hanging on the wall.

Many of the options looked delicious—a salad of kale, radicchio, garlic, lemon, parmesan, prosciutto and aged balsamic, for example, or pork rillettes made with slow-cooked pork shoulder, Dijon grilled sourdough and house-made pickles—but I went for the Bristol Bay scallop ceviche with avocado, lime, cilantro, sweet onion, radish and tortilla chips.

When I ordered, she asked me, “bread, olive oil, olives?” and, guessing I was only supposed to pick one or two of the above but choosing to disregard that, I said, “yes.”

When I asked about nuts, they said that nothing on the menu that night (including my dish) had nuts, but that it was not a completely nut-free kitchen. I asked if they could just clean the knives and cutting boards and anything that might have touched nuts, and they happily agreed. I got the feeling it was more of a liability response than an honest concern about cross-contamination, since they weren’t preparing anything with nuts that night, but I appreciated the honesty. (Those with an extremely sensitive anaphylaxis might want to avoid taking the chance, or at least call ahead to see if the menu that day has nuts (or whatever you’re allergic to) so you can decide beforehand if it’s worth going.) I didn’t experience any allergic or cross-contamination symptoms afterward.

Very soon after ordering, they gave me a four-piece hunk of Acme sourdough bread, a dipping bowl of wonderful olive oil (really fresh, crisp and bright, reminded me of Frog Hollow olive oil—get some if you haven’t had it yet!), and a bowl of four or five green olives. As it was just me dining, it was more of a side dish than a starter, but you don’t hear me complaining.

The ceviche arrived in less than 10 minutes after I ordered, and was delicious. The flavors were bright and bold—it tasted like a really fresh, deconstructed guacamole, with the creamy avocados and tangy lime contrasting nicely and the radishes adding some great texture. The tortilla chips seemed to be just straight-up Tostitos, which was fine with me because the saltiness balanced perfectly with the rest of the flavors. My only complaint would be the scallops—since they were raw (which I knew I was getting, it being ceviche and all), they were pretty bland and didn’t really add much to the meal, in either texture or flavor. They weren’t off-putting in any way, they just kind of disappeared into the dish. Maybe another fish would have been a more interesting choice.

With the ceviche, the heaping (free) appetizer and a glass of Chardonnay, my bill was just $19—most of the dishes seemed to be between $8 and $10, which is extremely affordable but somewhat deceiving because the dishes are relatively small (I’ve sometimes seen Darwin categorized as “small plates”-style dining). But when you add in the bread and olives, I left perfectly satisfied.

Definitely recommended for non-allergics, and also for allergics but with the caveats mentioned above.

Note: I’ve been told they are known for their great lunch, so if you do work in SOMA and haven’t tried it yet, head on over! Apparently they even have a deli slicer to make each sandwich super fresh. However, the lunch rush may not be a great place to get a server’s undivided attention about an allergy, so take that into consideration.


  • Food: 8
  • Presentation: 6.5
  • Menu: 8
  • Service: 9
  • Ambiance: 7
  • Allergy-friendliness: 7
  • Cost: $

Overall: 4 out of 5 stars


212 Ritch St (at Bryant)
San Francisco, CA 94107

Also see this review from UrbanDaddy