Sunday, August 23, 2009


In just a few short hours, Abby and I will be boarding a plane to Rome. We're calling this vacation our honeymoon (nearly one year after our wedding), but it could also be a one year anniversary trip or Abby's "bar trip" (I guess it's so common for young lawyers-to-be to take a nice vacation between the bar exam and the start of employment that the vacation has its own name. It's like a high end version of spring break.)

We've planned a whirlwind trip, which is exactly what most people recommend not to do. Italy, it is said, is the type of place where you want to spend time in each location to savour the local customs (food). That's not how we like to travel, though. If any particular location deserves more attention, we'll be back. For now, though, we'll make due with a couple days in each of the locations on our itinerary. Here's where we'll be going:

-Florence (where we hope to fit a cooking lesson)
-Cinque Terre (where we'll spend our one year anniversary) 

Hopefully we'll have a number of "blog-worthy" meals and nice pictures that we'll post after we return in early September, and I'm sure the trip will inspire a several Italian meals, not that there's been any shortage of those on this blog. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Clam Box

When you think of New England regional food, you think of seafood, and fried seafood is shacks are ubiquitous on the New England coast. One of the oldest, and best, fried seafood shacks, the Clam Box, actually isn't located on the coast, but don't let that keep you from trying out this historic little roadside stop.

The Clam Box is a short drive north of Boston in Ipswich. While they offer a number of different items on their menu, it would be foolish to come here and order anything other than the fried, big belly clams.
One of the things that I don't like about a lot of fried seafood is that it usually comes out being a bunch of fried batter that completely dominates whatever it surrounds. Not so here. The Clam Box has achieved a harmonious balance between batter and clam. The big belly clams are dipped in evaporated milk and corn flower and fried to perfection. The batter is crispy and light, and the big belly, Ipswich claims are juicy, briny, and full of flavor. I'm glad we were able to fit this in on our farewell to Boston food tour. It truly is a New England classic.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Farewell Savenor's

For the last three years, I've been fortunate enough to live about 500 feet from Savenor's. I've raved about Savenor's in numerous blog posts, and I'll miss their fantastic, friendly staff and amazing selection. As their motto proclaims, they truly are "The Best on the Block" and then some.
Living next door to a place like this was the height of convenience. I never really had to plan meals ahead of time because I knew I could always just run around the corner and get anything I needed. I hope I can find a comparable butcher somewhere in Chicago, but, unfortunately, I won't be living right next door to one.

At Savenor's you can get the standards like beef, chicken, and pork (all locally raised, if you like), as well as more interesting meats like muscovy duck breast,
kobe beef and a number of different types of sausages, including the buffalo sausage picture below.
Savenor's also carries a number of different meats that you will never see at your local Whole Foods. The selection varies, but here's a sampling of some of the weird meats available the last time we went into the store: wild boar and yak
kangaroo loin and venison rack
bear shoulder roast
and even python fillets

This place was once a favorite shopping spot of Julia Child, whose "Bon Appetit-JC" inscription greets customers on the sidewalk by the entrance, and it was certainly a favorite of mine that will be missed.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Alive & Kickin' Lobster Sandwich

The Lobster roll is a New England classic, but they don't serve these at Alive & Kickin' Lobster's in Cambridge. Located off of Putnam Street in the Cambridgeport neighborhood, Alive & Kickin' is a small lobster shack filled with tanks of, well, alive and kickin' lobsters. In addition to selling fresh lobsters, they make an awesome lobster sandwich.
The lobster sandwich is pretty simple. It's just big chunks of lobster dressed with a small amount of mayo, served between two slices of buttered, toasted scali bread. I think that lobster rolls usually include too many other things that detract from the main event, the lobster. To me, this lobster sandwich is perfect. There's nothing here but bread and lobster, and the bread is pretty unobtrusive. It's pretty much there to ensure that you aren't just eating chunks of lobster with your bare hands. Not that there would be anything wrong with that.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Brunch @ East Coast Grill

The brunch at East Coast Grill is famous for their DIY bloody mary bar. In my experience, this doesn't always translate to great bloody marys (I often over do it on the habanero sauce), but it sure is fun. This is my favorite place to get brunch in the Boston area, so we decided to go here with some friends for our last day in Cambridge.

The bloody mary bar starts with a choice of tomato juice, ECG's house made bloody mary mix, and clamato juice. You then move on to a dizzying array of pickled vegetables and peppers, hot sauces, chutneys, salsas, and spices to add to your bloody mary.
When you order a bloody mary, the server brings you a large cup filled with vodka and ice. This time around, they included some beef jerky that they had made out of a brisket that had been served as a special the previous evening. The East Coast Grill always has great specials, and they often do some really cool theme dinners, such as Hell Night, and the previous night they had done a whole roasted pig. The leftover pork was used in the next morning's brunch menu with a carnitas plate served with fried plantains, cole slaw and grilled corn...
...and pork tostadas.
Both were good, but by far, my favorite dish on the brunch menu is the tortilla relleno. The tortilla relleno is a large tortilla stuffed with shredded duck and monteray jack cheese and topped with a red enchilada sauce. All of this is served over sauteed garlicky greens and yucca fries.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Dave's Fresh Cubans

Between Darwin's, All-Star Sandwich Bar, Hi-Rise, and Dave's Fresh Pasta, the Cambridge-Somerville area has an amazing number of great sandwiches. One of my favorites is the Cuban at Dave's Fresh Pasta. Dave's used to be a small storefront selling pasta and other select Italian groceries, and they would occasionally offer sandwiches. Every so often, they would offer their version of a cuban sandwich, which happens to be one of my favorite types of sandwiches. Dave's version is one of the better Cubans I've tried. Fortunately, you can get this sandwich anytime now thanks to their recent expansion.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


Our friends Leann and Josh gave us a gift certificate to L'Espalier for our wedding last year, and for some reason, it took us until one of our last nights in Boston to actually use it. I can honestly say that I would never have gone here without the gift certificate (this place is expensive. We spent $70 on a juice tasting for 2....juice!) So, in that sense, it was a really great gift. It was something that we really enjoyed that we never would have bought for ourselves. The previous two nights we had eaten at Prune and Oleana, so this just continued our excessive "Goodbye Boston" week.

Abby and I both decided to try the summer tasting menu, which consisted of the following dishes:
Butter poached Maine Lobster, Apple Street Farm brocolli with comte cheese sauce, black truffles, and a dehydrated fennel chip. This dish was really, really good. The lobster was perfectly cooke and the fennel chip was a nice complement to the sweetness of the lobster.
Torchon of foie gras with black truffle, Muscat gelee, stone fruit, red wine pickled shallots, and toast points. This dish was pretty good, but, honestly, I wasn't blown away by it. Foie gras and truffles are decadent, but they're also something that I've had a number of times before. I also can't say that I'm crazy about foie gras pates. If I'm going to eat foie gras, I much prefer it seared.

Roasted wild striped bass with black trumpet mushrooms, cauliflower puree, truffle emulsion, fried squash blossom, and dill. This was the highlight of the meal and may very well be one of the best seafood dishes I have ever had. The fish had an amazing texture to it, nice and firm with a crispy skin, and combining a little bit of each element on the dish into one bite created an incredibly complicated, yet well balanced flavor that was unlike everything I had ever tried. Usually I think of seafood dishes as light and delicate, but this was a full flavored, rich dish.

Loin of Colorado lamb with eggplant chips, roasted beets and carrots, and wild greens. This dish was a big let down after the bass. Loin is one of the most insipid cuts of any animal, and one of the things I like about lamb is its big bold flavor. The salad was good, but the lamb was just OK.
Cheese course. The cheese course they serve varies depending on the whims of the server and the requests of the customer. I don't recall the different cheeses that we had, but they were all fairly good and represented a nice variety of textures and strengths. By this course, we were pretty stuffed, so I don't think I was able to enjoy it properly. This was one of the things the surprised us about this restaurant. Usually when we get a tasting menu, the portions are so small that, while I may not be hungry after the meal is over, I'm certainly not full. Not so here. Everything was so rich that by the time we were done I was entering a food coma.

I don't recall the exact names of everything in the dessert dishes, but here are the if we needed more food.

All in all, I thought eating at L'Espalier was a great, but pricey experience. The final bill was jaw dropping, and we didn't even order wine. That said, you get what you pay for. The setting, service, and presentation are all top notch, and while our dishes were not consistently awe inspiring, the high notes really were amazing. My only complaint was that we were seated next to a really, really annoying couple that, at the beginning of the meal could not stop talking about their trip to France and, by the end of the meal were trying to avoid each other because they got in some stupid argument about who knows what, but that's a different story.


If I was going to recommend one nice restaurant to someone visiting Boston, I think Oleana would be near the top of the list. You can find fancy French, Italian, Japanese, and New American restaurants in any city, but I think top notch, innovative Mediterranean food is much harder to find. This the niche that Oleana fills, and it does so exquisitely. Abby and I had been hear a couple of times (including the day we became engaged) and it was one of the few restaurants we absolutely had to go to before moving to Chicago. Our previous trips to Oleana were in the fall and winter, so we opted for the dining room, but, being a nice summer day, we were able to get a table outdoors this time around. Oleana's patio, pictured above, is really nice and I would recommend asking for a seat out there if you go here on a nice day.

Again, Abby and I followed the strategy of ordering a number of appetizers and splitting an entree. We both agreed that the highlight of the meal was our first appetizer: shrimp cocktail and cucumber spoon salad with sorel ice.
This cold dish came served in a mason jar the contained the cucumber salad and the sorel ice with three large shrimp draped over the edge. All of the flavors worked together perfectly, and between the shrimp, cucumber salad, and ice, there was an interesting mix of textures and temperatures that combined to make a perfectly refreshing starter for a warm summer evening.

Next, we had fried mussels with hot peppers and Turkish tartar sauce. This was good, but nothing to write home about... I'll just cut to the next dish, which was another home run: heirloom tomato kibbeh with heirloom tomato dolma and hot pepper labne. As with the shrimp cocktail, this was another dish that was perfectly matched to the season. The tomato for the dolma was lightly stewed, but not so much as to lose its firmness and fresh taste.
For the fourth course, we ordered one Oleana's signature dishes, Sultan's delight. This dish includes a smokey eggplant puree with urfa chiles and pine nuts and a tamarind braised short rib.
Our fish and sixth courses were Oleana's takes on two staples of mediterranean street food: falafel and shawarma.
I usually don't order falafel because it tends to be too dry, but that was not a problem here. The falafel were served on a thin flat bread with house made pickles. The shawarma sandwiches were filled with duck and served with fried potatoes and broccoli.

Prune, round 2

Of all the restaurants Abby and I went to last summer in New York, Prune was one of our favorites. Abby was fortunate enough to get a spot in Manhattan for the New York Bar Exam (most out of staters get stuck in Albany or Buffalo), so we went back to Prune to celebrate the end of the two day ordeal. In addition to the bone marrow dish that we had on our last trip, we ordered and octopus salad with celery and chile flakes
fried sweet breads with bacon and capers
green beans with crab broth and almonds
and the special of the night, which was roasted suckling big with black eyed peas in a spicy broth.
As expected, everything was really, really good. Of the new dishes that we tried, I thought the suckling pig was the standout. It included bits of crispy cracklins, and the broth that it was served with was nice and spicy. It had a familiar, Sunday dinner feel to it, yet, at the same time, the spicy broth made it completely unique. It's too bad this was just a special. It would have made a nice addition to the permanent menu.