Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The economy takes its toll on Aujourd'hui and Great Bay

Earlier this week, Aujourd'hui announced its closing. This was a little sad for me, as Aujourd'hui is one of the few truly classy joints left in this city. As the restaurant for the Four Seasons, it catered to the rich and privileged, and not so much for me and my people, but it was still the kind of place where you could show up in a ballgown.

But the truly sad news came just a few minutes ago: Great Bay is closing its doors on Saturday. According to the Herald article, the statement was made today by Michael Schlow and Christopher Myers. This is really heartbreaking for me -- this is the place that spawned my love of real food and wine, and taught me everything I know about food. I made great friends there, and learned a lot about the industry and the difference between good service and excellent service.

While the current economic climate makes it hard to keep a restaurant like Great Bay open, at least it went out on top, as the best seafood restaurant in this city. What's shocking is how sudden it is -- Aujourd'hui is closing at the end of June, whereas Great Bay is closing on May 30. I can't imagine making the phone calls to cancel future reservations. So many good memories in that place.

I wonder if this is the beginning of other well-established restaurants beginning to fall from the economy...

Monday, May 18, 2009

Sel de la Terre -- Mandarin Oriental

As a surprise, my boyfriend took me to dinner at the new Sel de la Terre on Boylston Street, in the Mandarin Oriental hotel (how sweet, I know).

I've been to Sel de la Terre before, but only the one on the Waterfront, and this one had a much cooler set up -- hostess greets you on the ground floor, sends you up to the second floor to get seated. The space wasn't anything special, but it was certainly nice. We were seated by the open kitchen, but weren't bothered by noise or heat.

To start, we had the rosemary pommes frites. If you've never had the french fries at Sel de la Terre, you need to go get them right now. They're cut extra thin and dusted with rosemary and salt. They are definitely in my top 3 favorite French fries in the city.

For the main course, I had pan-seared salmon with a fava bean and pancetta succotash, along with lavender honey cornbread. The salmon was perfectly cooked -- I do not like salmon cooked all the way through, and the center was perfectly cool and raw. The skin was crunchy and flavorful, and the fish basically fell apart as soon as I dug my fork in. The succotash didn't really seem to be a succotash. It was a couple of chunks of onion, with a bit of pancetta, in what I guess was a fava bean sauce. I expected REAL Southern succotash, with actual corn and fava beans, not this limp sauce with a few pitiful onions. It tasted good, but wasn't succotash.

The real highlight was the lavender honey cornbread. Oh. my. It was heaven in a cupcake shape. I don't think it necessarily fell under the category of real cornbread, as it was very dense -- it seemed more like a heavy pound cake, and wasn't as bouncy as I like my cornbread. I think the honey may have had something to do with that. But the flavors, combined with the fish, were excellent. I wish the succotash had been better, and it would've felt like a classy Southern set with a perfectly cooked piece of fish.

My boyfriend's red snapper was also delicious. The generous portion of pan seared fish was atop a bed of red peppers, chick peas, pickled onions and olives. The Mediterranean flavors really complemented each other.

The service was generally good. Our server was excellent. As I was draining my glass of the last few drops of ginger ale, she put down another glass, as if she could read my mind and knew I wanted another one. I suppose had I been drinking an alcoholic drink, this wouldn't have happened, but still, that requires a certain level of attention and care on her part. She was also very personable and knowledgeable about the menu.

The only hiccup in service came towards the end of the meal. I had taken a piece of my fish with some of the set and put it on a side plate for my boyfriend to try. He waited until he finished his meal to start in on the side plate. So picture this: two empty entree plates, but he's clearly eating from the side plate. Then the bus boy came by, and he started to clear the empty plates! The server came by and saw him and gave him a dirty look, but because he had already begun to do so, she had no choice but to help.

This may be my biggest pet peeve in nice restaurants. It is EXTREMELY awkward to either be the one who's still eating or the people who are finished if there are no other plates or anything left on the table but the person who is eating. Worse than that, the only plate left on the table was the small side plate! So my boyfriend is eating off of this tiny plate while all silverware, everything, is being picked up around him and the table is empty, save for this tiny plate.

All in all, it was a good night. For the most part, the service was good, minus that one hiccup. The prices were reasonable, entrees are in the high 20s and the quality of the fish was excellent. The pommes frites are infallible, and the location is great. We walked around the Mandarin Oriental after, and it was quite pretty. While I wouldn't say Sel de la Terre is the best restaurant in the neighborhood(being right next to L'Espalier will cancel pretty much anyone out), I would say it's one of the better values compared to the prices and quality at places such as the Palm or Turner Fisheries.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Cilantro! Yeah!

Cilantro is definitely one of the foods I love way more than I should. Cooked, fresh, whatever, you can put it on anything I eat. When I go to the grocery store, I always stop in the produce aisle to sniff the cilantro. There's something about the smell of freshly rubbed cilantro that makes my heart leap. Does anyone know of a cilantro perfume out there?

Anyone who's had my award-winning salsa (seriously, it won a salsa contest) knows that I load my salsa with chopped cilantro, along with other goodies. I'll put the recipe up here someday. I love cooking it with lime juice and onions and adding it to fish tacos. Or in noodle soups, letting it simmer in the broth before diving in. I love adding handfuls of it to guacamole. My favorite is perhaps my mom's use of cilantro -- she stir fries it with beef, so there's an amazing garlicky beefy cilantro gravy in it. Yeah, it's amazing.

I'm a little irked I didn't think of it myself, but there is in fact a blog about how amazing cilantro is, at http://fuckyeahcilantro.tumblr.com/. I could almost smell the tangy sweetness of the cilantro looking at the pictures.

What are some of your favorite uses of cilantro?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Red Sox Nation has to eat too...

As any good Bostonian, I love the Sox. I spent my college years living right outside of Fenway Park and loving the smell of the Sausage Guy emanating from Lansdowne St.

But before you head to Fenway Park to catch a game, it makes sense to stock up on food and drink in your belly, rather than shelling out $20 to get a snack and a drink at the park. Here's a rundown of some Fenway Park restaurants and bars:

Cask 'n Flagon. Man, I can't stand this place. Overpriced, crappy food, always filled with too many people. Great place to hang out if you're a "ya dude."

Game On. The yuppie's answer to the Cask 'n Flagon. While the big screen TVs are pretty close to unbeatable, the food and drink are most certainly beatable. Adding blue light to a bar does not make it any nicer, and you'll meet plenty of "ya dude" guys here, but with chips on their shoulders.

Eastern Standard. I've said it before -- I LOVE this place. When I worked next door, I closed out every night with a cocktail and a burger at ES. (I gained 15 pounds over those years.) The employees are absolutely fantastic and the drink list is the best in the city. I've spent many a penny here, and each one of them completely worth it. However, it gets VERY crowded before a game and after a game.

Lower Depths. This place is really great. Great beer (they sell 40s, which, by the way, I take credit for. When it first opened, I was sitting at the bar, and drunkenly told the bar manager that if he really wanted to get the college kids in here, he should sell 40s. Lo and behold, they now stock Colt 45), and $1 Fenway Franks with all sorts of awesome toppings. It's not the best hot dog I've ever had, but for $1, you can't really go wrong. I personally am a sucker for bacon and baked beans on my dog, or bacon and cheese, or baked beans and cheese, or guacamole. The sweet potato fries are also awesome -- thick, steak cut fries with a maple sour cream. Definitely a fantastic pre-game location. If you get here early enough, you'll beat the crowd.

Great Bay. I hate to talk too much about it, as I have often said that I worked here and this place actually launched my love and knowledge of food so I'm quite a bit biased, but I can't mention Fenway without mentioning the only really nice restaurant in the area. Delicious drinks (nothing like a Fenway Streaker before a game), friendly people, amazing service, and what I firmly believe is the best damn seafood in the city. And not everything is pricey -- the Sand dollar bites menu includes $1, $5, and $10 snacks, and the Island menu includes sashimis, tartares, and the best fish tacos you have ever had for under $20. Of course, the dinner menu does come with a somewhat hefty price, but you also have to keep in mind the quality of the seafood and what you're getting. It's also not suffocatingly packed in the bar area at night, an extra plus.

Cornwall's. This was my college hangout to start with, but it's also great for before and after a Sox game. Excellent beers on tap, pool tables, a juke box and darts... how can you go wrong? It also has decent food, such as the burger or any of the sandwiches. All for a reasonable price. I think you can actually see Cornwall's from the picture I uploaded. It's not a nice bar, but it's a nice place to hang out.

And my personal favorite... drum roll please...
Audubon. It's one of my favorite restaurants in Boston to begin with, and will get its own review up here one of these days. For now, I'll touch upon the highlights: Good beer selection (they carry the giant bottles of Saison Dupont -- who doesn't want beer served in a wine bottle size?!), awesome food, low prices, and it doesn't get very crowded before or after a game. Do yourself a favor and get the white bean puree. I have dreams about it. I'll write a full review in the next coming weeks.

There really are SO many more that I could've listed on here, but I'd like to hear what you have to say. What are some of your favorite and most hated pre-Sox game hangouts?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Chowdah! Chowdeur... however you say it.

One of my favorite Simpsons moments ever, involving one of my favorite foods ever.

I really love New England clam chowder. Don't give me this Manhattan crap. It's gotta be rich, creamy, and flavorful. Last night, while waiting for my boyfriend's plane to arrive, I decided to treat myself to a cup of clam chowder at Legal Seafood in the airport.

Now, understand that I don't love Legal. I think it's overrated, and the chowder just isn't that great there, but it's still nothing to sneeze at. I don't love it, but I enjoy it. Unfortunately, memory must have served me incorrectly. I had what was possibly the worst clam chowder of my life.

The clams had no flavor. This usually means the clams were boiled off into the broth to sap the flavor into the broth. A big no-no, but usually bearable, except that in this case, the broth had no flavor either. Where the hell did the clam flavor go? It might as well have been chicken chowder. On top of that, the broth was gritty and you could taste the flour or corn starch that they used to thicken it -- another big no-no in chowder. People mistakenly believe that the thicker a chowder is, the better it is. But when you add things like flour and corn starch to a chowder while it's boiling, all it does is make it chalky and deaden the flavor of the clams.

I'm not saying I like a very thin chowder, but that's why restaurants need to use heavy cream and simmer it for the right amount of time. I'll be the first to admit that I am slightly biased, as I used to work there, but I truly believe that Great Bay in Kenmore has the best clam chowder in the city. I've seen the painstaking detail put into each bowl of chowder. To prove to you that the clams in the chowder are NOT the same clams used to make the broth, the clams are arranged with potatoes and bacon and all sorts of good stuff at the bottom of the bowl. Upon serving, the yellowed cream broth (read: full of flavor) is poured on top of the display. Go give it a try and tell me if I'm wrong.

What are some of your favorite places for clam chowder in Boston?