Archive | American RSS feed for this section

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.

Profiteroles

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.

RATINGS

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

Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

THE DEETS

Parsons Table
34 Church St.
Winchester, MA 01890
(781)-729-1040

Advertisements

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!

RATINGS

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

Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars

THE DEETS

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

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

sole

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.

RATINGS

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

Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars

THE DEETS

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!

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.

RATINGS

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

Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

THE DEETS

212 Ritch St (at Bryant)
San Francisco, CA 94107
415-800-8668

Also see this review from UrbanDaddy

Polker’s Gourmet Burgers: Good burgers, great go-to neighborhood spot

16 May

Courtesy of Yelp user A. C.

There’s nothing like a great burger. (Sorry, vegetarians…) Piled high with great toppings, with meat that’s so juicy it threatens to make the bottom bun soggy after the first bite, that’s able to hold its own distinct flavor no matter how many toppings it’s up against… you know it when you taste it.

Polker’s Gourmet Burgers doesn’t have show-stoppingly amazing burgers (nor are their topping options dazzling enough to call it “gourmet”), but their burgers are definitely not a waste of calories.

After Bay to Breakers yesterday, I was in need of a hearty meal, so I grabbed my friend Maureen and we stopped into Polker’s. It may be the first time I’ve seen it without a wait, so we were able to grab a booth by the window and observe all the drunken Bay to Breakers survivors in their costumed finest.

Continue reading