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Les Sablons

Every once in a while Jerry and I torture ourselves and drive into Cambridge on a Friday night.  Tonight was one of those nights but when you are rewarded with a meal like the one we experienced tonight, it makes the trek worth while!

Tonight we ventured into Harvard Square to Les Sablons a French restaurant located on Bennet Street across from the Charles Hotel in the old Conductor’s Building.  No valet parking but there are a couple of parking garages near by.  The building itself was constructed by The BERy (Boston Elevated Railroad) to serve as the headquarters for its 7th division.  It is a narrow two-story brick building – 144 feet long by just 20 feet wide.

You will have to look hard for the restaurant itself – the signage is discreet to say the least (but now that you know it is an old skinny building you should be able to pick it out).  You enter the building on the first floor, home to its wine bar.  The maître d’ station was on this floor with several people ready to help us.  We were 20 minutes late for our reservation but the staff didn’t bat an eye, they must be used to people fighting the traffic.  After taking our coats, we were escorted upstairs to the main dining room where our table was waiting.  As you can imagine, from the dimensions mentioned above, the diningroom was long and narrow.  The bar situated on the right was made of marble.   Both levels of the restaurant used smart dropped panels to lower the ceiling giving a more intimate feel.  The subtle lighting complimented that feeling.  As we walked in, we noticed a lovely pastel wall at the far end, as we got closer, the wall revealed itself as a display of different colored play-dough containers that formed a large frame around a picture of David Bowie.  The dining room palette was clean and modern as was the background music.

Water – sparkling or still – were brought to the table, no extra charge for the bubbles.   Hearty wheat rolls with essence of citrus were also brought to the table with a whipped butter made with goat’s milk.  If you like goat’s cheese you will like this butter but if you are not a fan of goat’s milk this will not be your thing.

We started our meal with the Salmon Lox appetizer.  This was served with deviled eggs – made more like a sauce than something you would pick up and eat- caviar, cress (an edible herb related to cressnut) and finely diced pickled red onion.  The lox was sliced oh so thin.  It was served with croutons that were light as air. The combination created a party in your mouth – light in textures but full of flavors.

For our main course I got the Persillade Cod served with du puy lentils (Du Puy lentils are the small, blue-green marbled lentil grown in the volcanic soil of the southwest of France) parsnip and lobster.  The cod was cooked well and was moist and tasty.  The bountiful lentils were delicious.  This was served with lobster – a small scattering of mostly knuckles.  This was a really tasty combination but left wanting a bit more lobster to accompany my lentils.

Jerry opted for the Braised Rabbit Ragout.  I think he felt compelled to compare this to the other french restaurant we visited this month, Bastille.  This rabbit was served with chanterelle mushrooms a slippery oyster type mushroom and quail egg raviolo; hint the quail egg is inside the raviolo.  It was also accompanied by celeriac which is basically celery root cut into cubes.  I tried Jerry’s rabbit in both restaurants and this one blew away Bastille.  The other was somewhat mushy and needed the other things on the plate to complete the flavor but this rabbit could stand alone being moist, tender and full of flavor.

The service here was superior – attentive but not intruding.  My water-glass never went empty, we never had to pick up the wine bottle to refill our glasses.  More importantly, they didn’t clear the plates until we were both done.  We never felt rushed.

For dessert we tried the Salted Honey Tart topped with fresh figs and coffee ice-cream.  This was a delightful dessert with a perfect contrast of sweet from honey and figs and salty from sea salt.  There was also something crunchy on this dessert but not sure what, perhaps hazel nuts?  Whatever it was it was really good.

The wine menu was well stocked with varietals of all price ranges.  This is a French restaurant so if you are drinking wine, be prepared to drink a French wine, they stayed true to their them.

Seating was pretty tight together and waiters had to be quite strategic in order to clear the table next to us without out giving us a faceful of butt! It would have been nice to have just a bit more space but I’ve experienced worse.

If you go here, give yourself extra time to walk the neighborhood.  Harvard Square has lots of fun shops to go to and across the street from the restaurant in the Charles Hotel was a cool little wine bar called Noir that looked and sounded like it was bumping!

All in all a great night. The review Jerry read stated that if Julia Child was still alive, this is the place she would eat.  I believe him!  I would give Les Sablons 4 1/2 cheers!

cheerscheerscheerscheershalf-a-cheer

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Tempo

Friday night date night was pushed to Saturday this week, giving a little space between Thanksgiving and another dining experience.  Tonight we ventured to Waltham to Moody Street to try out a new restaurant and spend some time with a favorite uncle.  Tempo is part of a very active Moody street.  Moody street has, I thought, a very funky vibe.  Every other retail spot is a restaurant.  If you can’t find a place to scratch your hunger itch, you’re not looking hard enough.  Mixed among the restaurants were little stores that didn’t seem to go with the trendy eating spots.  Stores like a family dollar, Amazing (intimate essentials), global thrift shop, and outer limits comic book store.  There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of neighborhood planning.  Street parking is a commodity too.  We drove a couple of blocks past the restaurant, went up a side street two blocks and then back toward Moody with no luck.  We went across to Chestnut Street and found a public lot that was free after 6:00 p.m.  We got lucky and found a spot in there.  There were no street signs directing you to the parking.

Tempo has a warm, contemporary feel, with a window that overlooked the kitchen.  There was plenty of dining space as well a large bar with additional table seating.  We were welcomed by our server who took our drink orders and brought rolls?muffins?  not sure what there were, whatever they were, they were tough.  The butter? that came with them was very spicy but not very tasty, not worth the calories.  Drinks were brought to the table and Uncle sent his martini back – he asked for it to be “very dry” and it was not made properly.  My drink was a tasty Cosmo – although our server never asked if I had a vodka preference.

For apps we had the calamari with hot cherry peppers and served with “Shanghai’ Dipping Sauce”. They were also served with a pesto sauce.  I liked the pesto sauce but thought it was an unusual paring.  I was not a fan of the Shanghai’ sauce.  The Calamari however, was fresh, light and delicious.  Uncle got the oysters served with the traditional Champagne Mignonette and Cocktail Sauce.  These were fresh, local oysters and were slurped back with ease.

For dinner I had the pan roasted Scottish salmon served with butternut squash, cranberry and sage risotto and wilted kale served with and apple cider beurre blanc. I was told by the waiter that they usually serve this medium-well.  I asked for medium instead. I thought the salmon was a little overdone.  It was still tasty and well seasoned but just a little too crispy and dry especially on the outer edge.  The risotto was amazing.  I am definitely going try to recreate this at home.  The kale was cooked just right with a wonderful flavor.

Jerry had the fish special of the evening, mash potato encrusted haddock served with shrimp risotto and spinach.  The potato formed a thin crust on the haddock.  This place definitely knows how to do risotto!  The spinach was a nice side. His fish was cooked perfectly.

Uncle and his wife had the pan seared New Bedford sea scallops served with turnip and leek mashed potatoes, local mushrooms, roasted tomatoes and baby spinach seasoned with white truffle oil. The scallops were served over a “log” of mashed potatoes.  I personally thought that was a lot of potatoes for the dish.  The scallops were cooked correctly and the mushrooms and spinach were a nice side.

Uncle also ordered a roasted beet and goat cheese salad made up of local red and golden beets, baby arugula, puffed quinoa topped with a maple vinaigrette. I never detected the quinoa.  Jerry sampled it and stated it was not very good.  This is hard to judge since neither of us like beets but it didn’t look like anyone was eating it.

A sundae was ordered for the table to share.  Ice-cream was made in-house and was served with some sort of brownie (texture of brownie, taste of Oreo). While it was good, let’s face it, we were coming off of Thanksgiving and you can’t beat home-made pies.

Tempo has a list of wines that were half price for the evening.  There were several rose’s, and whites but only two reds.  We chose a red from Sicily that was light and delicious.

Service was good;, attentive but not overbearing.

Overall, it was a good night with good food and great company.  I would give Tempo 3 out of 5 cheers.

cheerscheerscheers

The Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa

This weekend we didn’t have date night but instead we had a weekend away as we took care of rehearsal dinner plans for an upcoming wedding.  We were lucky enough to get a whole weekend at Atlantic City, staying at the Water Club at the Borgata Hotel.  We enjoyed many a great meal this weekend.  Rather than write a full-page review for each restaurant, I thought I would give a little synopsis of our dining experiences.

We arrived at the Water Club just after noon.  Leaving our car with the valet we checked into our room.  No need to wait until 4:00 p.m. – if your room is ready so is your key.  We decided to stay close by for lunch eating in the Sunroom.  The Sunroom is just that, with lush greens, waterfalls, a fire-place and comfortable seating.  We each ordered a quick sandwich.  Jerry also order warmed nuts.  I thought he was nuts for ordering nuts until I tried them! A variety of nuts warmed and slightly sweetened, they were worth the price of admission. My cuban was just o.k. but the truffle fries made up for that.

That evening we dined at Bobby Flay’s.  We thought it was a good choice since Bobby was in town for cooking classes (he was teaching not taking).  It also happened to be restaurant week in AC so we were in luck.  We (5 of us) ordered from the pre-fix dinner.  The salad was just a salad, not noteworthy not bad just not memorable – We ate here about 12 years ago and I remember the caesar salad from then so this was a disappointment.  The crab and lobster cake on the other hand was something dreams are made of!  Honestly, I have never had a crab cake that was that good!  Jerry and I shared entrees.  I ordered the filet, which melted in your mouth.  It was served with what I thought would be a steak sauce, it looked like a steak sauce but it tasted like cocktail sauce!  Either someone made a mistake or it was a really poor pairing.  Jerry ordered the shrimp scampi served with risotto.  I liked the combo of scampi with risotto in place of pasta!  The desserts were yummy but nothing spectacular.  What made our evening was our waiter Joe.  He was funny, attentive but not over bearing.   He made the night memorable!

Saturday night we dined at Izakaya a modern Japanese restaurant.  I was glad to be sober as we entered, the glass bridge that made you feel like you were walking on water really threw me and actually made me a little dizzy!  We started with a few of their specialty drinks.  Colleen had the Rising Tide made with tequila, peach cordial and lime.  It was a sweet drink where tequila was definitely the main feature.  Kathleen and I had The Sailers Garden made with vodka, lemon mitsuba and togarashi. Kathleen order hers first and after a taste I asked the waitress if they could make me one only not so sweet.  They could and it was much better.  The togarashi added just a touch of heat.  Joe (my son, not to be confused with waiter Joe) got the Nigai Smash made with rye and blueberry cordial.  It looked like it was going to be a thick, overly blueberry drink but the actual taste was enjoyable.  Jerry got the drink of the night, The Bakuto made with Whiskies, Vermouths and Barrel Stave Smoke.  Think a smokey Manhattan.  When the drink arrived at the table you could smell the smoke!  They light a fire, place the glass over the fire to collect the smoke and then pour the drink in the glass.  The smell was almost alarming but the smokey flavor was subtle.

This is the type of restaurant where you share small plates.  We each ordered a couple of things to share.  Some highlights were the oysters and the chicken wings.  The sushi and rolls were fresh and delicious.  The desserts – not something I would necessarily consider in a Japanese restaurant were over the top!  We shared three different desserts and we each had a favorite!  The S’more tart with Oreo, marshmallow and peanut butter was pretty amazing as was the chocolate layer cake with miso ice-cream and salted caramel but my personal favorite was the crispy rice sushi roll with toffee, chocolate and peanut butter – think rice crispy treats on steroids!

If you’re looking for a place to have breakfast, the Metropolitan offers a good breakfast with plenty of choices and good hot coffee.  They even have a breakfast menu for when you need to sleep late.

Overall it was a great get away.  A trip to the spa and winning $500 at 3-card flop was the icing on the cake!  The Borgata is the closest you can get to a Vegas experience on the east coast and if you can’t deal with the 7 hour drive, hop on a plane right in to AC and take an Uber to the hotel.

 

Giumarello’s

Our dining adventures continue, this week in the great state of New Jersey while visiting family.  Our little group of 6 went to Giumarello’s in Haddon Township.  As we drove up the parking lot was packed (the start of a three-day weekend).  It was interesting that you weren’t allowed to self park, valet only.  We didn’t have reservations but that was not a problem and we were seated within minutes.  As you walked in the first thing you notice is a huge glass display with hundreds of bottles of wines of all varieties.  The stone walls were warm and inviting.  There was a long bar to our left with seating all along the wall and a large dining room with dark leather seating and a fireplace was to our right.  We were seated on the patio.  The overhead heating provided plenty of warmth even on this cold evening.  It was a thoughtful place to seat us as we had a three-year old that needed a little extra moving room and this space allowed him to get up and move around with disturbing others.

As water was brought to our table, so was a large bowl of breads which included both plain Italian bread as well as bruschetta.  Along with the bread we were served a bowl of peppers that had been heated.  We seriously could have stopped right here, the bruschetta was delicious and paired with the peppers – mama mia!

We started our evening off with a couple of appetizers.  We ordered some of “Giumarello’s Famous Mussels”.  They had mussels served in four different types of sauce. We opted for the Saffron Mussels prepared with Shrimp, thyme and roasted tomato served in a saffron cream broth.  The mussels were firm and fresh.  The sauce was amazing with a light saffron flavoring.  I wished this dish had been served with a spoon.  We were soaking bread in the sauce as well as using the empty shells to scoop the sauce.  I need to learn how to make this sauce – or maybe I don’t since I probably would end up to be about 400 pounds if I did!

A second appetizer served was fried calamari. It was true to the menu description, crisp and light and served with a traditional red sauce.  Both offerings provided enough for us all to share.

The kids menu had plenty to offer.  Tanner opted for the chicken fingers and fries.  I have to tell you, those were the best damn chicken fingers I have ever had! No exaggeration!  The were light and crispy, not an ounce of grease.  The fries were crisp and yummy.  We all sampled Tanner’s chicken and couldn’t believe how good they were. Troy went with the cheese ravioli.  He was served three large ravi’s with red sauce.  They were cooked perfectly, the pasta was firm but tender enough to cut with a fork.  Just the right amount of ricotta filled the center.

CalamariThe adults opted for some of the specials.  Trish and I tried the Chilean Sea Bass served with shrimp saffron risotto.  The fish was cooked perfectly, crispy on the outside, moist and tender on the inside.  The risotto was crazy good, with generous amounts of shrimp and that light and lovely saffron flavoring.  It was served with some sort of red sauce on the bottom – it was not a traditional tomato sauce – it wasn’t my favorite but it wasn’t awful either.

Jerry went with the honey mustard salmon served with a sweet potato puree.  The perfect amount of honey mustard flavored the fish but the fish itself was slightly overcooked – not enough to ruin the dish and the flavors were splendid.  Jerry would claim to not be a sweet potato guy but he loved the mashed potatoes and together they made a wonderful dish.

Steve went with the Chilean Sea Bass that was part of the regular menu, grilled, served with with shrimp, jumbo lump crabmeat and shiitake mushrooms in garlic & olive oil.  Once again, cooked well with the right amount of crisp and tender.

All of our meals were served with a fresh, crisp green salad, not overly dressed, which few restaurants get right!

We ordered a couple of bottles of wine to go with our dinner (how could we not after seeing that wine display!).  The first wine was a Coppola and was served room temperature if not a little warm, the second, another pinot, a Gloria Ferrer was served at the correct temperature. We really enjoyed the Ferrer.

We were all too stuffed for dessert – except for Troy who went for the brownie with ice-cream.  This was a huge dessert that could have been shared with four people.

We topped off the evening with cappuccino for me, espresso for others and one plain coffee.  I found it interesting that my cappuccino was served with a biscotti but no one else was given a treat.  The biscotti was chocolate chip with sea salt.  It was nice and hard, the way a good biscotti should be, and not too sweet.  It was large enough for me to break in two to share.

All in all I would give them four cheers out of five.

cheerscheerscheerscheers

Bastille Kitchen

Last night’s date night brought us to the Seaport district of Boston.  Tucked away on a cool little side street, Melcher Street is the site of many a converted factory, Bastille, a French restaurant, being just one example.

Bastille claims to be a place where, “rustic charm meets spacious comfort” and they are true to their word.  Bastille is made up of two levels.  On the lower level is the “Chalet” a comfortable space perfect for a private party or in last night’s case, a Halloween Masquerade Ball.  Upstairs is the main lounge and dining area.

bert81361The bar and lounge area is open and inviting with large couches and comfortable chairs.  It is a great place to hang out with friends.  In fact small groups actually reserve a couch area for themselves in advance.  We saw a couple of little clusters of friends celebrating birthdays or just TGIF in that lounge area.  If I lived or worked near here this might be one of my favorite hangout spots!

The dining room was also spacious.  Even at our table for two we didn’t feel cramped.  If the restaurant had been packed, we would not have been on top of each other.

We started our evening with drinks, Jerry with a traditional Manhattan and me with one of their signature drinks; Paris Saint-Germain made with vodka, elderflower, lime and basil. As would be expected with elderflower, my drink was slightly sweet but light and delicious.  Jerry would tell you they made a perfect Manhattan complete with those little dark cherries.  After last week’s drink, for which I looked like I was getting a blood transfusion, it was nice to drink out of a real glass.

Shortly after our drinks arrived, a little basket of mini croissants arrived with a butter made with wine reduction, garlic and shallots.  What a way to start the night.  The croissants were light and flaky and the butter was ridiculously good, put them together and oo la la!

For an appetizer we tried the Duck Confit prepared with ivory lentils, pomegranate seeds and toasted pepitas.  The duck was actually a little leg which was very crispy but because of that was not greasy at all.  The lentils were rather bland but if you put a little of everything on your fork, the flavors melded well to create a mouthful of yummy!  In fact, as we made our way through the night we found that all the food was meant to be eaten in such a manner.  Unlike a traditional American meal where you have meat, potatoes and veggie that don’t touch each other on the plate let alone in your mouth, these meals and flavors were created to enhance one another.

For the main course I tried the Tuna Nicoise made with grape tomatoes, haricots verts (small green beans), olive tapenade, hard boiled egg, potato and sauce gribiche (a sauce made from hard boiled egg yokes, mustard and oil).  The potato was fingerling potatoes cut as small at the grape tomatoes.  Once again, the flavors alone were not anything special but together they created a delicious dish.  The tuna was cooked rare and the whole dish was served on the cool side (Nicoise is a cold sauce), nothing on the plate was hot not even the tuna.  Temperature did not hinder the enjoyment of this dish.

Jerry went with the Bacon Wrapped Rabbit (or as he would say, “Wabbit”.  This was prepared with grain mustard spaetzle, cider braised endive and rabbit jus.  The spaetzle is what made this dish along with the bacon.  The rabbit was mushy and bland, alone it would have been a disappointment but with the bacon and spaetzle, once again the combo of flavors and textures helped to make Jerry a member of the clean plate club.

To go along with dinner we chose a French (we are in a French restaurant after all!) wine from their extensive list.  We had narrowed it down to two wines and the waiter brought us two small glasses of each to sample before we opened a bottle of our own.  We opted for a Bourgelais.  I usually don’t choose a Bourgelais because I associate it with Bourgelais Nouveau (a new wine fermented just a few weeks before being released for sale) for which I am not a fan.  What a mistake in making this association!  The Bouregelais we enjoyed was light and delicious, very similar to a Pinot Noir.

For dessert we of course had to try the creme brûlée.  As we expected it was a light yet creamy version with that wonderful crisp top.  It was accompanied by fresh berries and a bit of raspberry puree.  The espresso and cappuccino both prepared perfectly.

The service was excellent, attentive but not overbearing.  We never felt rushed – the only exception to this was they did try to take Jerry’s plate twice before he was finished.  Other than that we were allowed to dine at our own pace.

Bastille had valet parking but it cost you – $18!  I thought that was a little steep but since the street parking was permit only your only other choice is find a lot and hoof it which would most likely still cost you since you are after all in Boston.

Bastille earned 4 out of 5 cheers!

cheerscheerscheerscheers

 

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

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