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Cafe’ ArtScience

I joked with Jerry that he picked a theme for this month with “art” being in the name of the last two restaurants we have gone to, but Liquid Art and Cafe’ ArtScience couldn’t be more different! While Liquid Art focused on actual art on display, ArtScience was all about the art and science of the food.

The restaurant itself fits stealthily on a first floor of a business high-rise in the heart of the medical and science district in Cambridge – just around the corner from MIT.  On their website ArtScience describes itself like this:  “ArtScience is a cafe and culture lab committed to great casual drinks and dining alongside art, science, and design experiences that express audacious frontier dreams of tomorrow. ArtScience is a place and cultural movement where art experimentation and expression combines with science to pioneer a sustainable human future.” In other words, if you are a meat and potato type of person, this place is not for you.  Everything about this place is creative and imaginative.

The restaurant is very sleek and modern.  Molecule shaped lights hang from the ceiling and that honeycomb hexagon design is on the walls and there is a mirrored version that hovers over the bar.  A glass wall divider is framed in white and made to look like a giant iPad.  Even the bathroom is lab like with its white and stainless steel.  Rather than piped in music there was some sort of science lecture being played.

This is definitely a place where the millennials go to gather after work.  The bar was hopping this Friday at about 6:00 while the dining room was fairly quite until about 7:00.

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We started with the drink menu.  This menu is what I expected from liquid art.  There was a list of 10 drinks.  Each drink was named after an endangered species.  The animals of the sky were the lighter drinks and the closer you got to earth the heavier the drink.  I ordered the Tasmanian Devil (endangered since 2008).  I wish I could tell you what was in it but the picture I took of the menu was too blurry.  I remember something about dried cherries.  It arrived at the table in a “IV” blood bag complete with the little plastic clip to close the “straw” which was actually a plastic tube.  It was in a metal specimen bowl with dry ice so that it came smoking.  It was so realistic looking, I was a little scared to drink it!  I definitely felt like I was in a Twilight movie!  Jerry ordered a Rhino which they were out of – really was extinct!  Instead he got the Pika which was served in a something like a miso soup bowl.  We both thought the drinks got better as we sipped them but weren’t anything we would order again.  It was a fun experience.  If you were looking for just a beer, they had 4 to choose from plus one hard cider.  Of the four they had a lager, pale ale, porter and a pilsner all from small breweries. No Bud here. The wine list was a little larger and if you asked, they had a wine by the bottle menu.

The menu is set-up to be a four-course meal.  The one page menu had four sections and each section had four options.  The first was a cool appetizer.  The second course was warm appetizers.  The third course was your protein section and fourth was dessert. We decided to share the first and second courses.  For our “cool” appetizer we opted for the Beef Tartare.  It was prepared with preserved lemon, sun gold tomatoes and quail yolk.  This dish was full of flavor and easy to share.  It was served with freshly made potato chips that were much like Cape Cod potato chips only sliced thinner and waaaay better.

Next we shared the Fried Brussel Sprouts plated with aged cabbage (Side note – how do you age cabbage? Like cheese?  I don’t know but it wasn’t half bad.  I thought it was much like a pickled version without the punch of pickling), pickled mustard seeds (who knew this was something you pickled?), and black walnut.  The Brussel sprouts were fresh, tiny and tender with some of the leaves crunchy from frying.  The black walnuts added flavor and crunch.  The mustard seeds tended to cluster (like molecules) and added a pickle flavor.

For our protein, I went for the Rib Eye mostly because the waitress told me the parmesan churros that were served with the steak were like Fritos only more amazing. I was intrigued.  While they were good, I think our generation gap made them more amazing to her than to me.  The dish was also served with golden marjoram and carrots.  The steak was cook perfectly and seasoned just right.  There was a bit of fat around one end and I would have like a little bigger piece to make up for the fat that needed to be cut out.  Jerry opted for the Hake a tender white fish similar to cod.  It was cooked and seasoned perfectly, so moist and flakey!  It was served in a kombu dashi broth that tasted very similar to miso soup.  Along with the fish was toasted purple barley and hakurei turnip.  If I were to do it again, I think I would get this dish over mine, it was that good!

For dessert we had Ants on a Log.  Remember when you were a kid and you had a snack of celery with peanut butter and raisins?  This was their take on that.  The log, which was actually shaped like a log, had two layers.  The outer layer was a puree of celery, Granny Smith apple.  That puree was wrapped around hazelnut ice-cream which might have had a bit of peanut butter too.  They must have used a sushi roller to make this.  It was plated with another dollop of hazelnut ice-cream.  Sprinkled next to this was powdered peanut butter which reconstituted as the ice-cream melted.  The plate was garnished with paper-thin slices of Granny Smith apple – so thin they curled, a paper-thin swirl of celery and was sprinkle with dried champagne grapes. This was an imaginative, light and delicious dessert.

We finished the night with an espresso and cappuccino that were worthy of any native Italian, really, really good!

Parking was easy with two garages within a block (no valet).  I imagine, given the neighborhood, that during the day the garages would be packed but at night there was plenty of parking.

If you are up for an adventure in dining, I would highly recommend this experience.  I would give it 4 out of 5 cheers!

cheerscheerscheerscheersartscience

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Liquid Art House

liquid art house

Ahh fall, the cool crisp air, the Patriots, the new school season, apple picking and the return to Date Night!  We kicked off our date night with a really unique place.  Liquid Art House in Boston is a restaurant blended with an art exhibition.

Valet parking is really not needed, even with this Boston location, as there are two parking lots immediately after the restaurant on Arlington Street.  One on the left and one on the right (we chose the one on the right as it was bigger, had more spaces.)

As you enter the building, light sticks light the two story windows. The spacious round bar that seats about 25 patrons is the center piece as you walk into the restaurant.  Over the center of the bar is a magnificent chandelier created in Venice, Italy (think Murano) and along the walls are various art pieces.  Behind the bar is a large wall with a multitude of art pieces.  We thought this would be a great first date place. You could sit at the bar and talk about the  art pieces.  You can learn a lot about a person by their taste in art.  We had a lively conversation on the way home about what could actually be considered art.

When we arrived, we were escorted to a small table for two in a dining room off the main bar area.  This place had a really cool vibe.  The lights over the side tables were blown glass tear drops.  Art, again, lined the walls.  Each has a little business card stating the artist’s name and where to find more information.

Although the hostess sat us with all sorts of papers, the actual menu was quite simple.  The one page featured appetizers, dumplings and entree’s.  There were only a total of six entree’s. There were two fish options, one chicken, one steak, a burger and one other option that I can’t remember. The on-line menu has a few more options but not all were available – I’ll explain why later.  I was told that the menu could change often at the whim of the chef.

We decided to try the dumplings as an appetizer.  We opted for the Himilayan Chicken Momo dumplings seasoned with black pepper and charred tomato sauce with sesame seeds.  You must like cilantro to enjoy this dish.  Fortunately we do!  A second dumpling we sampled was the Pork and leek dumplings with a kabayaki sauce, gyoza cheese and scallions.  This was my favorite.  Absolutely delish!  The sauce was very similar to a hoisan sauce, definitely a soy based sauce.  The dumplings themselves were cooked firm but tender.  

While we were waiting for our dumplings, the waitress brought us some amazing Tuscan style bread, with a thick crust and soft center.  It was served with a soft creamy butter and a side of salt.  I have never added salt to my bread and butter.  Why did nobody tell me this was going to be so amazing!?  This could be a very bad new addiction!

For our main course I opted for the halibut (I can never resist halibut!).  The halibut was served with tiny medallions of hearts of palm, mango and pineapple.  It is served with a coconut broth. The fish was cooked to perfection with a thin outer crust and a moist center.  The bitterness of the hearts of palm were countered by the sweetness of the mango and pineapple.  There was a seasoning included with the broth that I cannot pin down but OMG, this dish was loaded with flavors!  At the end of the evening, Jerry and I both concluded that this was THE dish to order.

Jerry went for the Peruvian rotisserie chicken.  The aji amarillo cheese sauce had a bit of heat – enough that your felt it but not enough to make you lunge for the water bottle.  It was served with purple potato, huacatay (an herb that is like a cross between mint and basil) and corn.  The purple potatoes were amazing – actually better than the chicken.  Even still the chicken was flavorful although the one bite I had I thought was a bit dry.

I caught a glimpse of the burger on more than one occasion.  It looked awesome but for $16 it should be!

With a name like liquid art, you would have thought they would have a large selection of specialty drinks but the drink menu only had six options.  The wine list by the glass was limited but the by the bottle section had a better selection. Saying that, our first two choices were not available but the waitress brought us a third similar to our second choice and gave it to us for the same price ( a $30 savings for us!).  This wine, from Sicily was fabulous!

The food was so amazing, as is chef Johny Sheehan renowned chef of both Clio and Uni restaurants, that we felt compelled to share a dessert.  Our first choice was not available so we opted for Breakfast in a NYC Hotel Room.  This was a bagel chip (more of a thin crisp slice) served cream cheese mousseline, coffee milk ice cream and a peanut butter mousse.  This was an unusually light dessert.  The finishing touch of an espresso and cappuccino was a perfect end to a near perfect meal.

If after reading this review, you want to give this place a try, you better hurry.  LAH recently went into partnership with a Turkish restaurant group, Doğuş Restaurant Entertainment and Management, which will help make major changes to Liquid Art House and eventually expand beyond Boston. That is why the menu is severely pared down and the wine bottles scarce.   That beautiful chandelier over the bar. . . gone, the bar. . . relocated, the art displays . . . who knows?  The good news is the chef will stay on and has helped create a new menu.  I know we will definitely try out the new restaurant.

This restaurant has earned 4 out of 5 cheers.

cheerscheerscheerscheers

 

 

Island Creek Oyster Bar

I’ll admit, I was a little hesitant about date night tonight simply because we are coming off a week-long vacation in Italy.  How could we possible top the amazing prosciutto, cheeses, wine, pasta, gelato and other amazing dishes that we ate all week?  Fact of the matter, we can’t so maybe it was good that we tried something not even close to Italian.  Tonight we ventured to Burlington, MA to the Island Creek Oyster Bar.  This is the second location for ICOB with their first location on Commonwealth Ave. in Boston.

This is part of a new development in Burlington, just behind the mall.  This is becoming a hotspot for restaurants which now include the Tuscan Kitchen, the Tavern in the Square, Pressed Cafe along with ICOB and it looks like there will be more to come!

First impression of ICOB is that it is large and very modern.  There are very sleek lines and the color scheme is grey – you could almost say 50 shades of grey!  Even the brown wood floors and furniture seem to be have a grey wash.  The ceilings are high and are accentuated with 3 stalls of 12 huge grey pendulum lights which actually help to define the space.  Those along with acoustic tiles helped to keep the noise level down so that you could actually carry on a conversation.  The back wall is a wall of oyster shells.  I can’t imagine how many oysters were shucked to fill the space provided for all those shells!  As you enter you will see an oyster bar to your right and a clean and sophisticated alcohol bar to your left.  There was some patio seating outside.

We had made reservations but at 6:00 it looked like we could have walked in and been seated.  Our maitre de told us she had us seated at a low table for two or we could sit at a high top.  We chose the low table – bad choice.  This one row of table-for-two seating was tightly packed.  I was actually embarrassed as I tried to squeeze past the table next to us, taking care not to knock over their oysters!  The rest of the restaurant looked decently spaced.  They really need to get rid of just one set of these table and give the tables a little more room.  It was seriously so close together that the waitress couldn’t put anything on my side of the table without reaching over Jerry!

We started our night with cosmos that were shaken perfectly!  The bread served at the table was hearty whole grain and was served with a salted butter.

Since we were at an oyster bar, we thought we would start with oysters.  That was until we saw the price per oyster!  The cheapest was $3 a shuck, most were more than that.  So for each of us to have 4 – you do the math – but that is the price of an entrée.  Instead, we went for the Narragansett lager steamed little neck clams with thick diced bacon and scallion butter.  For half the price of the oysters this was a tasty dish served with crostinis for soaking up the broth.

We decided to order a bottle of wine with dinner.  The wine list was limited and leaned toward more expensive choices.  There were three rows of white varietals to choose from but only one row of reds.  There was only one Pinot noir on the menu at a smooth $98!  We chose a Rose’.  They did not have our first choice so they recommended another and gave it to us for the same price.

For dinner, Jerry chose ICOB’s version of a surf and turf.  He had the lobster roe noodles served with grilled lobster, braised short rib, mushrooms and topped with pecorino (a romano cheese).  This was a well-balanced meal and surprisingly the lobster and short rib complimented each other.  The fettucine noodles did not have a strong lobster flavor.  They were not skimpy on the chunks of lobster and Jerry had plenty to share.  The short ribs were tender and moist and fell off the bone.

I chose the monkfish schnitzel with mustard spaetzle, spinach and ICOB tasso ham.  The fish was cooked perfectly, moist on the inside, crispy on the outside. I have a soft spot for spaetzle and this version with a mustard sauce did not disappoint!

For dessert Jerry chose a mocha semifreddo chocolate streusel with mascarpone cream.  Semifreddo is a class of semi frozen desserts. There was a layer of chocolate through the middle.  This was not heavy and the perfect amount of chocolate to end the meal.

Our only mistake – having just come back from Italy – is that we ordered an espresso and cappuccino.  Under normal circumstances these would have been fine but I don’t know why but the Italians have it all over us on this one! So, too soon, making them just o.k.

Our waitress showed us just the right amount of attention without hovering.  She just needed a little more space to move around.  You could tell the staff works as a team, meeting the needs of diners as they arose.

All in all, this was a great dining experience.  Perfect choice post vacation.  We will definately be back!  We give this 4 out of 5 cheers!

cheerscheerscheerscheers

Gaslight

Friday night date night brought us to Lynnfield and Gaslight this weekend.  Located at Lynnfield Market Street, it is a great place to eat and then stroll around to the various shops.

This was not our first time to Gaslight.  The first time we visited we hated it! The restaurant had just opened and it felt like we were on an episode of Bar Rescue when they have one of those “stress tests”  and of course the restaurant (bar) fails.  We saw that the restaurant had potential but needed to work out the kinks so we were willing to give it a second go.  We had 6:00 reservations and had an option of sitting either on the patio or inside.  We chose inside, it’s not like we have a nice body of water to look at and I really didn’t care about seeing the cars roll by.

When we arrived, the restaurant was not that busy.  The restaurant itself is lovely, with high ceilings, massive chandeliers and accent lighting that reminded you of the old-fashioned gas lights on the streets of France long ago.

To start things off Jerry and I both ordered Gin and tonics.  The weather was starting to feel like summer and that craving  for a good G&T was present.  It took quite a few minutes for our drinks to arrive.  In the mean time a hot section of baguette was brought to our table with butter.  It is the type of bread that is so good and fresh it is hard to resist!   Once the drinks arrived to the table a toast to Friday was made.  Our drinks were mixed well – in that the proportion of gin to tonic was good – you would be surprised how many restaurants screw this up!  Unfortunately the tonic was somewhat flat.  Note to all bars, if you want to make a good gin and tonic have those mini bottles of tonic water so that it is always fresh and bubbly.

We put in an appetizer order of avocado lobster toast which is served on a baguette, topped with pickled chili & lemon vinaigrette.  Now it can’t take much to make this app and yet it took nearly 20 minutes to get to the table.  In the mean time we ordered a bottle of wine.  The empty drink glasses were taken away, the water glasses were left empty and we waited.  Finally our toast arrived.  The serving consisted of two slices of baguette lathered with the avocado and lobster.  It was a perfect app for sharing.  The flavors were perfect and we were able to forgive the wait.  And yet we still waited for the wine.  Our waitress stopped by to let us know that our meal would be out soon and asked if we wanted her to bring the wine to our table now.  Well ya, we’ve only been sitting here for 40 minutes, that would be nice.

Finally the wine was brought, Josh – a reliable label.  A few minutes later our dinner arrived.  Meanwhile, water glasses still remained empty.

For our main course Jerry ordered cod poele.  This brothy concoction was created with spanish chorizo, mussels, clams, oysters & sauce americaine.  Crustinis lined the bowl to absorb the flavor.  This dish was well constructed and served piping hot.  It would have been nice to have had a bowl for the shells.  Jerry had to use the bread dish for this.

I chose pan seared diver scallops served with cauliflower mousseline, foraged mushrooms, red wine butter and some roasted cauliflower chunks.  Again, the meal came out piping hot.  The scallops were cooked perfect, firm but still juicy. The mushrooms and cauliflower were a perfect side.

Still the water glasses remained empty.

For the finale we ordered an espresso, a cappuccino and an order of periferole sundaes.  Jerry’s espresso arrived hot but was just o.k. as far as an espresso goes.  My cappuccino arrived cool.  I’m not quite sure how a hot drink topped with steaming milk can come to the table so cold but it did.  I sent it back and when the second round came the waitress said she let it sit in hot water before she brought it????? So o.k it came to the table hot but really?  They obviously don’t know what they are doing as far as their esspresso machine goes.

The periferoles were three minis one with vanilla, one with chocolate and a third with black raspberry  ice-cream.  Any dessert described as a sundae needs to have enough hot fudge that you can taste the flavor.  This dessert was sorely lacking in that regard.  Oh and guess what – the water glass was finally filled!

So we walked away with mixed reviews.  When we arrived the place was not that busy.    There really was no reason for such slow service unlike our first visit in which they were slammed.  However, the food was excellent! But service is such a big part of the dining experience that I feel compelled to give just 2 and 1/2 cheers.  Having said that, I think I would still go back and give it another try.  Perhaps we just had a bad waitress.  And, like I said, the food was good!

cheerscheershalf-a-cheer

Bambara Kitchen and Bar

Friday night date night found us venturing into Cambridge.  Our timing probably wasn’t the best being both Friday night and a Red Sox game night but in we went.  We were doing great until we were just 2 miles away.  Those last two miles took us a little over 20 minutes!!  Fortunately, Bambara, located in the Marlowe Hotel, had valet parking and as luck would have it they had a spot within their courtyard so our car was close by.  The Marlowe is a cool little hotel with a cooler of maple water to hydrate as well as a bowl of doggie treats for your pooch.  It looked like the hotel had a wine reception for their guests with offerings of red and white wine as well as flatbread.  We just passed by this on our way to the restaurant which was right off the hotel lobby.

As we walked into the restaurant I had one of the best Mother’s Day gifts a mom could get.  I looked to the bar at our left and there was a guy sitting there that looked like my kid.  So I looked at the woman with him and sure enough it was my future daughter-in-law!  So date night turned into a double date night.

We started our evening with drinks.  Both types of drinks that were ordered, Cosmos and  Manhattans, were well made.

The dinner menu was unique.  We received what looked like a place mat that had all the offerings.  No specials were offered.  There were many plates for sharing.  We started off with two apps.  First we tried Wagyu Beef Tartar with red curry,‏ pickled mushrooms, fried shallots and finished with a quail egg.  This was served with several slices of toast. This was a savory dish, full of flavor and easy to share – or maybe hard to share since it was so good!  We also shared Thick Cut Fries served with harissa (a hot chili pepper paste) aioli as well as traditional ketchup.  The fries were hand cut and fried perfectly.  The aioli was delicious – so good that we never touched the ketchup.

For our main course Jerry and I shared the Seared Scallops prepared with a riesling, topped with mandarin orange and endive marmalade.  These were cooked perfectly tender and tasty.  These came just as described with 4 scallops, no side dishes for $18. While the dish was tasty, I thought it was a bit expensive for just 4 scallops.  We also shared a half order of Fettuccine prepared with Snappy’s lobster (Snappy’s is a local lobster pound), fines herbes and lobster jus.  This was a wonderful dish, with plenty of bites of lobster and a nice light sauce that was enhanced the flavor but never overpowered the dish.  The pasta tasted like it was made in-house.

Kathleen and Joe shared Giannone Chicken Breast (Giannone is a producer of organic, free-range chicken) served with Carrots, freekeh ( a healthy, whole grain), parsnip, and topped with salsa verde.  The chicken was a little dry but still really tasty.  They also shared Rigatoni mixed with finely chopped Italian sausage, wild rapini, marrow beans which was finished with white wine. The rigatoni was cooked perfectly and again, seemed like it was made on sight.  Another dish that was both easy and hard to share!

We all shared a variety of desserts.  We tried Red Currant Preserve Beignets which rested upon a rose water anglaise (a custard like sauce) and seasoned with ras al hanout ( a North African seasoning), Roasted Apple Tart served with vanilla ice‏ cream and caramel and Warm Chocolate Cake served with Passion fruit ice cream, macadamia and roasted white chocolate.  The Beignets were o.k. but just o.k.  The apple tart was our favorite, the perfect combination.  We liked the warm chocolate cake – it was light and melted in your mouth (similar to molten lava cake only somehow lighter) but the passion fruit ice-cream that had a tart taste did not go well with the chocolate.  The espresso and cappuccino were traditional and good.

We had a bottle of wine with dinner.  We had to ask for wine list.  The wine list had a descent variety of wines from as low as $32 or as high at $150 with many in between.  We had a nice Grenache from Spain that went well with our dinner.

For a high-end restaurant I did have a few complaints.  First, dirty dishes were left on the table for extended periods of time.  Also, when dessert was served we were not given fresh silverware.  We had to use the espresso spoons to eat the dessert.

The food was great, the service was just alright.  All in all I would give Bambara three cheers.

cheerscheerscheers

 

 

Phat Cats Bistro

There is nothing I enjoy more than sharing a meal with good friends so I didn’t mind giving up my Friday night date night for the YMCA youth basketball banquet in exchange for a meal out with some of my favorite people on Saturday! What I did discover is that when I don’t write this immediately after our night out it takes me longer to complete.  This particular writing has taken more than a week!

Phat Cats Bistro is located in a residential neighborhood just outside of downtown Amesbury.  Because of its location, parking can sometimes be scarce.  An April fools snowstorm made parking even more of a challenge.

When we arrived, a bit earlier than our crew, Adam was there to greet us.  Adam is both host and wine expert.  He makes you feel like Norm walking into Cheers.  It could be six months since your last visit but he always remembers you!

We were a party of six and our table was ready and waiting for us.  Phat Cats is a small restaurant with maybe 50 seats.  It is in an old building with brick walls and tin ceilings.  There is a small bar with about 15 seats. Weekend reservations are a must!

While we waited for everyone I ordered my favorite Phat Cat Cosmo made with muddled cranberries.  As usual it was prepared perfectly.  Did I mention that Phat Cats is one of my favorite restaurants?

Once everyone was there it was decided that a couple of bottles of wine would be ordered.  Adam asked a few questions and came back with several bottles.  He described each including what each cost.  We chose two different varieties.  The first was decanted immediately the second was opened to breath and wait.  I won’t tell you what brands they were as Adam buys just a few of special wines that aren’t on the usual wine list.  Once they are gone, you probably won’t be able to get them again so no sense getting your hopes up.

We ordered a couple of appetizers for the table,  a cheese plate with hand picked cheese plated with olives, pepper crackers, fruit chutney and crostini.  There were three types of cheeses, one blue cheese – I am not a lover of blue cheese but this was mild on the mold flavor and rather enjoyable.  The gouda cheese was amazing and melted in your mouth.  The third, a hard cheese, was delicious.  I have ordered this plate several times in the past and have never been disappointed.  We also ordered a plate of oysters. The oysters themselves were tasty with just the right amount of brine.  It was served with some sort of frozen accompaniment that was not so good.  We asked for cocktail sauce and horse-radish which was brought to the table immediately.

Our dinner choices varied.  Jerry and I chose the same dish, an ahi tuna on orecchiette pasta with a puttanesca sauce.  Individually we loved the pasta and sauce and we loved the fish, which was cooked perfectly but together the flavors fought each other.  We both agreed we liked the tuna as a traditional asian dish, it just didn’t work well with the strong flavor of the puttanesca sauce.

I solicited the others for their opinions of what they were served.

Christian had the Bistro Steak.  It was a hanger steak served with a mushroom truffle sauce.  He reports that the steak was tender and the sauce was flavorful but not overpowering. Potatoes and other vegetables accompanied the meal and were cooked to be crisp and fresh.  He notes that while his dinner was good he’d really go back for the cheese plate “mmm!”

Kathy had the whole grain risotto with fresh vegetables and shrimp.  She comments that it was delicious.  She too loved the cheese plate and enjoyed a Phat Cat Cosmo.

Elena has the veal cutlet with fettuccine with a mushroom sauce – “delicious!”

Dave had a steak that he noted was a terrible cut and very tough but didn’t send it back because all the flavorings were delicious.  It wasn’t because of the cooks, they did their part to make it delish.

Several desserts were ordered and passed around.  All desserts are made in house.  My absolute favorite thing that they have is a lemon/ginger ice-cream with chunks of candied ginger.  If I lived close enough, I would probably walk over nightly just for that.  Other desserts included something carrot, something coconut, something chocolate and probably something else, I don’t remember – I told you I needed to do this right away to remember these things and guess what, I didn’t!  Regardless, I don’t think there was a crumb left of any of the desserts!

There was mixed reviews concerning service.  Drinks were slow in coming to the table although everything else seemed to come in a timely manner.  There was a lot attention paid to the wine, presentation and follow-up.  Some of us enjoyed that, others thought it was a little overbearing.

We spent almost four hours eating and talking.  We were never rushed and in fact were told to take our time, no one would be using the table after us.  (Another reason why this wasn’t written right away, we got home late!)

All in all it was a great evening.  We satisfied our hunger and our need to catch up with grown-up conversations!  I would give Phat Cats Bistro 3 cheers!

cheerscheerscheers

Post Script: We learned that Adam was leaving Phat Cats to move to Maine.  This could dramatically change the vibe of this restaurant.  When my father-in-law was alive, we would take him out to dinner, wheel chair and all.  I called Adam the first time we visited to make reservations and to be sure they were handicap accessible.  He made sure the ramp was out.  He called us just before we were to arrive telling us that the parking space in front of the restaurant had opened up and he put a sign there so no one would take it and to make sure we knew we could park there.  That night he went out of his way to make sure we were comfortable.  His service and care for my father won me over and we put Phat Cats on our regular rotation.  We will miss Adam but wish him and his family well in their new adventures!

 

Woods Hill Table

Friday night date night found Jerry and I heading south on 495 to Concord.  Usually this drive is easy but the promise of good weather must have inspired everyone to head to the cape making our drive more of a challenge.  We were headed to Woods Hill Table located in West Concord, next to the train station and tucked into a cute little downtown.  Parking was very limited but we caught a break with a metered spot directly in front of the restaurant opening up just as we approached.  Even better, as I was squinting in attempt to read the parking details, the meter changed colors to indicate free parking! Score!

Woods Hill Table is the first restaurant in the US and the only restaurant in Massachusetts to attain a 3-star rating from the Sustainable Restaurant Association.  There motto is Organic, Sustainable and Thoughtful.  The protein from the menu (lamb, beef, pork, eggs) are raised on their own farm (located in NH, don’t expect cows to be wandering near by).  Vegetables and even alcohol are sourced locally when possible.  When ordering a drink, Jerry’s Manhattan had Rye from New York.  The Vodka in my Cosmo was also sourced locally.  In fact, none of the names of liquor were ones we knew.  None of the usual name brand liquors were available.  Wines were more regional including other countries.

When you arrive at Woods Hill, you enter through a center door.  Immediately on your left is a cozy waiting area next to a comforting fire.  Along with several tables also to your left, you’ll find the open kitchen.  To your right is additional seating as well as a not quite a U-shaped bar with 25-30 seats.  The restaurant itself is reminiscent of a barn with exposed beams and leather and cast iron chandeliers.

We arrived about 15 minutes late (did I mention that traffic was a bitch!) but our table was still waiting for us.  A nice little table for two overlooking the street.  There were all types of people dining.  Parents with teen or tots, friends and lovers, it was a mixed bag come as you are type of restaurant, both welcoming and yet still up scale.  Once we sat down I had a flashback of the last time we were there.  We sat near a window that time too.  I remember it because I immediately felt the draft.  I don’t know why, because the windows look new but when you sit near the window in the winter, and your thinned blood like me, you will be cold.

Bread and water were brought to the table immediately.  The bread was whole grain and home-made.  The drinks were slower to get to our table.  In fact it took quite a bit of time.  I heard a waitress tell another table who complained that the tickets got backed up but with four bartenders behind the bar you would think they would be able to push out the drinks a bit faster.  Perhaps they were training new tenders for the summer?

We decided to start the evening with an appetizer special – osso bucco ravioli.  The meat in this dish was tender and delicious.  Some of the mushrooms, served raw on the top, were paper thin I don’t know how they were able to slice them that way! There were other mushrooms quartered and cooked in the sauce.  Ironically the one thing we didn’t love about the dish was the ravioli.  Not that they were bad but they were mushy.  I think keeping them aldente would be difficult as the dough was so thin.

The dinner menu is varied and unique.  Where else will you find heirloom carrots on the entre’es menu?  It also meets the varied dietary needs of individuals with little symbols to show that they are gluten-free or vegan.

Jerry decided on the Woods Hill Farm Tamworth Pork which is a pressed pork.  It actually looks like a meatloaf when it arrived at the table.  It was served with roasted chestnuts, maiitake mushrooms, pearl onions, kale and apple fritters.  The apple fritters were very unique.  We actually had to look up the menu to see what they were.  They tasted like an encrusted mashed potato with a soft, semi-crusty exterior and a mashed potato texture interior.  When I hear the fritter I think deep-fried and sweet.  Not so.  This must have been pan-fried and there was just a touch of sweetness.  Jerry didn’t like the chestnuts but I wasn’t opposed to them and the mushrooms were fresh and delicious. The meat itself was flavorful and juicy.

I went for the Smoked Woods Hill Farm Beef Brisket served with whole wheat spätzle, broccoli leaves and oyster mushrooms.  The beef had that wonder smoky flavor and was moist and tender.  The wheat spätzle was amazing.  I could have had a big bowl of that and been satisfied! Just writing about it now makes my mouth water and crave more. I have to say I wasn’t a fan of the mushrooms.  For me, they had a funky flavor and that is saying something because I love mushrooms.

20170407_1937141.jpgFor dessert we shared the Chocolate Hazelnut Custard with tangerine and grapefruit served with date ice cream – this was both paleo friendly and gluten-free. The custard arrived looking like a powdery ring ding and the ice-cream looked like an egg.  If you were to try the custard or the ice-cream on their own you might not like it.  The custard was somewhat chalky.   BUT if you had a bit of everything on your spoon – custard, ice-cream, and a bit of fruit – the flavors all worked together to create a wonderful party in your mouth.

I am glad we went back for a second try at Woods Hill Table.  The first time we went I was not impressed – I was freezing – we went in the middle of winter and were seated near the window – good to remember if you go in the winter or just wait for the nice weather and sit on the patio.  Also, I was expecting steak on the menu since this place was known for raising its own beef.  In fact, there is only one steak and one burger on the menu. There is nothing worse than going to eat at restaurant with a preconception of what will be on the menu and having a hankering for that.  (I did notice the table next to us ordered the burger and it looked awesome!)

Service was good.  My water-glass was filled often and our waitress was attentive yet not overbearing.  All in all it was a lovely date night.  We would give Woods Hill Table 3 and a half cheers and look forward to returning.

cheerscheerscheershalf-a-cheer

 

Juliet

Date night was also a birthday celebration and as such called for a special location.  Tonight we ventured to Union Square in Somerville to a cool little place called Juliet.  From the outside Juliet doesn’t look like much.  It almost looks like a continuation of the dry cleaners.  The sign on the window is so suttle you could almost miss it.

Once inside you experience something different. The restaurant is small, it seats about 25 tops  and about 8 of them are counter seats.  The open kitchen takes up about two thirds of the restaurant and is so open you almost feel a part of it.  Juliet has almost a cottage feel with white wood walls, funky art work lining the walls, fresh flowers and candles scattered across the rail boards.  The tables were close together and the chairs were a bit wobbly.  I almost wanted to introduce myself to the table next to me as we were only separated by about 8 inches. Even the dishes and cultery were funky, like they went to an antique shop and bought up a  bunch of different pieces.  Some matched, some didn’t but each was a bit unique.

Juliet serves breakfast and lunch, Monday through Friday, brunch on Saturday and Sunday but dinner is served just Thursday through Saturday.  To sit at a table you need to make a reservation.  Dinner is served in seatings.  It seems that they have seatings on the hour.  Our seating was for 6:00.  They asked that you arrive on time as the dining room is served together and if you arrive late you might miss some of the meal.  I had this vision of a bunch of waiters descending on tables all at once with each serving but in reality, it was a bit more discreet.  There were four tables for the 6:00 seating.  We were allowed to eat at our own pace and while we were served about the same time, we weren’t required to be served all at once.

For dinner, you have a choice of a 3 or 5 course pre-fix meal.  Their menu states, “Our goal is to serve excellent meals with great service, and do our part to build fulfilling careers.  Starting with a supportive work environment and fair wage practices, and creating a profit sharing system for the entire staff.”  Thus, prices include service – gratuity is not expected at Juliet!

I had read some Yelp reviews the night before we went and the biggest complaint was the serving sizes.  Some even suggested that they felt compelled to stop for a bite after their meal.  With this in mind we opted for the 5 course pre-fix for $83 pp.  (Remember you are not tipping).  frankly I don’t know what these people were talking about.  When we were done with our dinner we were sufficiently filled.

When we first sat down we were offered a literal bite of a little something – brought to us on a spoon.  It was some sort of root vegetable that was supposed to taste like an oyster.  It had some fresh herbs and chili paste as a base.  It was fine but nothing that wowed me.  Next we were offered a piece of wheat bread with molasses and corn meal. You could tell that it was homemade and arrived at the table hot and with fresh churned butter with cream that was locally sourced.

To accompany our meal we chose a montepulciano from the very limited wine list.  There was literally only 12 wines total on the list.  There were also about 6 special drinks and 3 beer choices.  (It’s a small restaurant, no room for storage!)

Juliet considers dinner as something of a performance.  Tonight Juliet “presented Bouchon”.  Bouchon is a type of restaurant found in Lyon, France, that serves traditional Lyonnaise cuisine, such as sausages, duck pâté or roast pork. Compared to other forms of french cooking such as nouvelle cuisine, the dishes are quite fatty and heavily oriented around meat.

Act 1 featured 3 small plates.  The first was a beet terrine, with cloumage, wild rice and soft herbs.  Think scalloped potatoes only beets, that are served cold.  It was made of thin sliced beets all packed together.  Cloumage is a type of cheese similar to ricotta.  The wild rice was not cooked and added a crunch and the herbs added great flavoring.  It was topped with pickled mustard seeds that really made the dish (who knew!?)  Now I am not a fan of beets – not since I was forced to eat them as a kid – but the beets had a very mild flavor and the cheese was creamy and delicious.  Wasn’t my favorite of the night but I didn’t hate it like I thought I would.  That is actually saying a lot when it comes to beets!

The second serving was a consommé with oyster and mussel (one each per dish) green olives, croutons and lemon.  The olives were fresh, firm and sliced.  This was light and subtle in flavoring.

Next came Quenelle lyanaise with hake, lobster and gruyere cheese (a mild swiss like cheese). (I really need my niece Julia with all this french!) Quenelle is a small quantity of a mixture of creamed fish (or meat), sometimes combined with breadcrumbs, with a light egg binding.  Lyanaise refers to the fact that it is cooked with onion. This dish was combined with breadcrumbs, at times I thought too much breadcrumbs.  I think Jerry got the better spoonful of this dish with most of the fish and I had most of the crumbs.  Still it was tasty and was rich without being heavy.

Act 2: Local roast pork with root vegetables, mirepoix and topped with a demiglace.  This serving was rather large but the pork slices had much fat that you had to carve around.  Now you might be turned off by the fat but that fat kept the pork moist and tender.  Mirepoix simply means chopped vegetables (sounds so much more sophisticated in French doesn’t it?)  Some of the vegetable included baby brussel sprouts that were oh so good. The demi glace was smooth and delicious and really helped to pull the dish together.

Act 3, the final act was interrupted with an entremet – a lovely little salad of greens finished with a very light vinergarette, a cleansing course.  It was really yummy and the greens were oh so fresh!

O.K., act 3, the final act, was a buttermilk panna cotta.  It was accompanied by dried cherries and grapes that have been “plumped” with wine and candied nuts.  This was a perfect ending to the night.  The panda cotta – a custard type dessert was light and refreshing.  The plumped cherries and grapes were divine and we were nuts for the nuts they added just the right amount of crunch and sweet!  They did not have a decaf cappaccino to go with this but they did have my favorite Rooibos tea and Jerry did get a really good espresso.

Service at Juliet was excellent.  Our waitress was efficient and friendly without being overbearing.  When we needed attention we got it but we didn’t feel like she was hovering.

We really liked our experience at Juliet but the prefix left no choices.  If you didn’t eat pork, tonight you would have been SOL.  Usually prefix meals give you a choice of A or B.  Here there were no choices if you chose the prefix.  (If you were lucky enough to get one of the 8 bar seats you will have a few more choices).  This makes great sense business wise, you know exactly what you are going to serve and how many – great to help them plan and most likely makes for less waste.  But, as a consumer, I would have liked to have a choice, although . . . if I had a choice I never would have tried the beet dish so I guess if you are open to new foods, and have no food restrictions, this is o.k.

All in all, we really enjoyed our meal.  We would give Juliet 3 1/2 cheers!

cheerscheerscheershalf-a-cheer

The Gasparilla Inn

When you step into the Gasparilla Inn, you step back in time, somewhere around 1959.  It is like walking into a scene from dirty dancing.  You almost expect Patrick Swayze to stroll in and exclaim that “No one puts baby in a corner!”

Date night was pushed to Saturday night and shared with Elena and Dave in Boca Grande, Florida.  The Gasparilla Inn takes up significant acreage in downtown Boca. The main dining room at the inn is one of several eateries throughout the town owned by inn. It is a place that hosts the likes of President George Bush and family.  It is a place that is steeped in old school money.  It is a place where men (and boys) must wear a jacket.

The decor is old school Florida with palm covered cushions on wicker chairs, candle lanterns that hung throughout the dining area and white linen table cloths.  Even the staffing looked like it came from the 50’s.  It made us wonder what they will do for staffing should trump’s restrictions on visa’s come to fruition.

As we were seated, a small relish plate was placed on the table.  It consisted of a few veggies, olives, marinated artichoke hearts and a little cheese spread.  The cheese spread was a little thick for veggies, I would have preferred more of a dip.  Once we were settled our waiter came to take a drink order.  I had wanted to repeat a drink that I had two nights before at their sister restaurant, The Pink Elephant.  The waiter had no idea what I was talking about.  We asked if he had a drink menu – he said yes but didn’t go and get it right away instead he took everyone else’s orders.  Rather than wait for the menu, I just ordered a cosmo.  Around the table there were four different drinks.  All were well made.

As we perused the menu, a young lady with a variety of breads stopped by our table.  You had a choice of olive, garlic, sesame bread or focaccia.  Bread was not left on the table but rather a piece was placed on your bread plate.  Apparently your allotment was one piece as she never came by to see if anyone wanted a second.

saladjpg.jpgWe all started our meal with the caesar salad.  This was a very artistic rendition. It was a wedge of romaine, placed on a crustini, topped with circle of parmesan crisp and garnished with anchovies.  The dressing was equally distributed throughout the leaves but seemed as if it had been made much earlier in the day making the leaves a little too soft and soggy.  We had this salad last year and were wowed by how good it was so although the presentation was beautiful, the end result left us wanting more.

For dinner I had the filet mignon with scalloped potatoes and sauted vegetables.  Jerry and Elena each had the Florida flounder served with wild rice, asparagus, lemon grass and a small amount of mustard sauce on the side and Dave had the mustard and herb encrusted lamb tenderloin. When dinner arrived it was delivered by several waiters so that we were served simultaneously. The presentation of all meals was beautiful, truly artistic. Gordon Ramsey would be proud.

Dave reports that the lamb was done correctly as these things can be over cooked very easily.  His lamb was served with a nice selection of root vegetables and a touch of sauce and a bit of spinach.

Jerry and Elena both enjoyed their fish but Jerry was disappointed in the temperature it was served at.  It should have been hotter.

My filet was cooked perfectly.  The vegetables were served with just the right amount of crispness.  The scalloped potatoes were served in a block one inch by four inches.  It was dense and compressed forbidding any creaminess expected with this type of potato.

We shared a couple of wines through out dinner.  The wine sommelier recommended a Willamet Valley pinot that was delicious and properly decanted.  I would have liked to have said it was good to the last drop but our waiter was awkward with his pour and walked away with much more than a swallow left in the bottom of our decanter.  Our sommelier or as he called himself, the wine guy described this wine as femine.  We questioned just what that meant and he made a good recovery with “provocative, sensual and bold” or something of that nature.  Our second wine was a something “a little more on the wild side” was a 2010 Spanish wine.  We enjoyed it but not as much as the first.  Sorry, but can’t remember the names.

We finished our meal by sharing a key lime pie – we are in Florida after all!  We also ordered cappuccinos and expressos.  The pie was served in a butter crust shaped in a rectangle – the same shape as my scalloped potatoes. It was served with a graham cracker ice cream.  The pie itself was just o.k., I like a real tartness when eating this type of pie.  The ice cream was interesting and actually a good accompaniment to the pie.  Our coffees would have been great had they been served with our dessert but they showed up at the table 15 minutes after our dessert.  Apparently they had a barista breakdown, which would have been fine if they held back our desserts for a few minutes so that they could be served simultaneously.

With the amount of pretentiousness and snobbery served up at this restaurant, this should have been a 5 cheers restaurant, especially given the prices they charge.  Unfortunately, they didn’t come close.  Even the little things like folding or replacing my napkin while I went to the restroom were neglected not to mention that they added a 20% tip to the bill.  All in all, we would give this experience 3 and a half cheers.

cheerscheerscheershalf-a-cheer

Bar Mezzana

Some of you made plans last Tuesday night for a romantic dinner, probably waited to be seated, chose from a limited menu, and waited a long time for your meal.  But when Friday night is date night, you don’t subject yourself to the Valentine’s expectations and restaurant disappointments.

Tonight we ventured into the south end of Boston for a fantastic Italian meal at Bar Mezzana.  Mezzana means to go between, it is also a font style.  The name works both ways as it is a culinary link between Italy and America as well as being located in the Ink Block, the former home of the Boston Herald.  Not too long ago it was a neighborhood that you did not venture into unless working for the Herald.  This neighborhood is in transition with lots of new restaurants, new condos and still more construction going on.

We made record time getting into Boston on a Friday night, slowing down just as we were trying to exit the tunnel.  Bar Mezzana is located on the corner of Traveler Street and Harrison Ave.  We did not see that they had valet parking until we entered the restaurant (better signage would have been appreciated).  We parked in the Whole Foods Parking lot – which had signs threatening to tow.  We asked the hostess who told us they aren’t too vigilant about patrolling the lot – except on Sunday mornings.  We gave it a shot and it worked out fine.

Bar Mezzana fashions its cooking after the Italian cooking of the Amalfi Coast. It is a contemporary gathering space with an open kitchen.  You could tell that many locals gathered here – there was much hugging and hand shaking going on.   At first look, the menu was a little overwhelming.  You wanted to try a lot of things but each individual item was expensive. We opted for the Piatti Della Famiglia, a progressive family style meal for $52 per person.  That may seem expensive but we tried so many different tastes that would have cost us a fortune had we ordered each one.

We started with three different Crudo (raw fish thinly sliced dressed with oils, citrus juice and seasonings) . The first was yellow tail tuna with grapefruit oil and fresno chili.  It was fresh tasting, with barely a touch of heat.  Next was the Kinmedai with tangerine and nori  which was very mild and needed the tangerine to add some pop to the flavor.  The third offering was striped bass with flavors of ceviche.  This was our favorite of the three as it had a bolder taste with just the right amount of heat.

Following the Crudo, we were treated to two different crustinis. The eggplant crustini was flavored with chili and honey.  We both loved the flavor but I was expecting the eggplant to be cooked like a parmegiana but it was more of a puree.  It took me a few minutes to get over the somewhat slimy texture.  The second offering was taleggio (pungent cows milk cheese), speck which is similar to a prosciutto with a smokey flavor and sliced oh so thin, and topped with roasted hazel nut.  If you were to taste the cheese on its own you might be repelled but served with all these flavors it was a little bite of heaven.

Our next tasting was of a root vegetable salad.  Honestly, this was something I would not have ordered on my own.  A cacophony of flavors included pepitas,ricotta salata, mint, apple, carrots, turnips and watermelon.  Lots of flavors and yet they all seamed to play nice together.

Our next samplings were two pasta offerings.  The first was a sweet potato cappelletti with roasted chestnut, sage and a touch of honey.  It had a smooth texture and the pasta itself almost tasted buttery.  It melted in your mouth. The second offering was orecchiette – little shell-like pastas – with sausage, fennel and radicchio.  The radicchio was almost like broccoli rabbi in that it had that bitter flavor.  The sausage was moist and tasty.  Again, alone these flavors don’t work but somehow together they are a perfect harmony.