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Me, Me, TV

26 Feb

A few exciting announcements this week. I’m going to be heading back to Yankee Magazine as senior lifestyle editor covering food, home, and garden. This is a really happy development. I was food editor at Yankee from 2002-2005 and it was one of the best work experiences of my life. The people are great, the setting is gorgeous (I’ll be working up in Dublin, NH once a week), and I love that Yankee tells stories that very few magazines tell. I’m also excited to be able to cover all of New England — lots of road trips ahead.

Second, I made my (brief) network TV debut last night. Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares came to town in December to remake Davide restaurant and they asked a group from Boston mag to come and weigh in on the remade menu (verdict: It was very good. Go check out the new Davide). We show up in the last 10 minutes or so.

Funny thing is, that’s not the only show that was in town that week. A few days later, Throwdown! with Bobby Flay came to Boston do a vegetable lasagna cook-off with Christine and Carla Pallotta of Nebo and they needed a couple of local judges. Donna Garlough, BMag’s food editor, wasn’t available so she sent them my way. My fellow judge was Marianne Esposito, host of Ciao Italia. I’ve watched her show for so many years—it was a treat to spend time with her and hear  stories of her travels to Italy and what it’s like to produce a show on PBS for so many years. I think the taping went well, but the producers had us do these staged introductory shots that are probably necessary for television but completely embarrassing. “Try to look intimidating!” they said as they panned the camera up my body like this was some sort of workout video. Oh my god, are you kidding? I tried to be tongue-in-cheek about it, but I’m sure I’ll just look like a complete goofball. So if you watch it, my apologies. This one airs on Wednesday at 8:30 on the Food Network.

And thus ends my one-week splash into the waters of television.

10 Random (but useful!) Summer Food Observations

1 Jun

1. Ice cream and fro-yo taste better on a plastic spoon.

2. Lately, I prefer Korean fried chicken to American. Especially with that pickled diakon. Great examples: Roppongi in Allson, and Bon Chon, moving soon to Harvard Square.

3. Favorite summer cocktail: The Backyard at Gargoyle’s on the Square. Light, a little flowery and grassy, a little sweet.

4. If you’ve never tried Indian ice cream, sample the Khulfi at Christina’s or the saffron and pistachio falooda (like a multi-textured milk shake) at Dosa Factory.

5. The creamiest low-fat tangy frozen yogurt, IMO, is at Ufood Grill, but I also love the tamarind flavor at Berryline.

6. If you want to try your hand at DIY barbecue, you can’t go wrong with this Mexican-inspired variation: Achiote-and-Orange Pulled Pork from Sunset Magazine.

7. No Cape house? Have a waterfront picnic on the Esplanade docks near the Arthur Fiedler sculpture, or on the steps of the ICA.

8. It’s cherry season!! Whole Foods has the best ones, and they’re on sale for $4.99 right now.

9. According to a recent UCLA study, hamburgers made with an antioxidant-rich spice mixture consisting of cloves, cinnamon, oregano, rosemary, ginger, black pepper, paprika, and garlic powder, had 71% less malondialdehyde (a reactive and mutagenic oxidizer = BAD stuff) after cooking than regular beef-only burgers. I guess my mom was really on to something with her Surprise Burgers.

In other words, if you like it then you shoulda put some zing on it. Ooof.

10. If you have kids, Kimball Farm in Westford is as good as it gets: mini-golf, bumper boats,  batting cages, fried scallops, barbecue, and good ol’ maple walnut ice cream.

Behind the Scenes at Scampo

17 Dec

Took these snaps last night. It’s amazing how calm a professional kitchen can be, even as dinner service is entering full swing.

Sweet nothings?

5 Nov

On Athan’s in Washington Square, Brookline: Love the coffee, like the cafe , don’t get the baked goods. Am I missing something? An appreciation of the finer points of butter cookies and balkava?

Sea Worthy

27 Oct

seagrille_photosI just finished reading Corby Kummer’s mostly thumbs-up review of the Rowes Wharf Sea Grille in this month’s Boston Magazine (which, incidentally, includes my profile of Seth Greenberg). I had the opportunity to visit the place last week at a press lunch, and was encouraged to see that Boston finally has a solidly good, non-chain seafood restaurant with a water view. Funny that such a seemingly emblematic restaurant category was so scarce.

I share Corby’s love of one dish in particular: swordfish with jasmine rice and a coconut curry sauce. I tend to assume the worst of Asian fusion flourishes—previous experience proves that they’re often mangled—but this sauce was light and aromatic and the fish was so delicately cooked. It was a far cry from the bone-dry chops that tend to pass for swordfish steaks at too many oceanside restaurants. You know the type—the ones that serve their swordfish with mango salsa, yellow rice dotted with red pepper cubes, and a side of sauteed spinach, and seem to have just discovered the fruity martini craze, even though they’d long ago crossed the $30 barrier for entrees. I hate those restaurants.

Another Sea Grille standout: the deconstructed Nicoise salad, served only at lunch. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more perfect slab of seared tuna, and the dusting of Chinese five-spice powder makes it sing.

The Sea Grille’s clubby, nautically-themed dining room is designed more for business types and tourists than urban regulars—the tables are spread wide apart and surrounded by big upholstered chairs. It’s very comfortable, but I generally prefer hotel restaurants that feel a little less hotel-y. Still, I suppose you can’t fault a restaurant for knowing its audience, and this one is a stone’s throw from the financial district.

One last thought: Daniel Bruce is the executive chef at both the Sea Grille and at Meritage, and I think he’s one of the undersung talents in town. Not that he hasn’t earned praise, but he just doesn’t hog column inches like some other chefs. Seems like he’d rather be out foraging for mushrooms or working in his garden, which I  respect. He also single-handedly programs the Boston Wine Festival, now in its 21st year. So if you haven’t tried his food lately, you’re in for a happy rediscovery.

My one bone to pick with him (and it really is nitpicking)? His restaurant names: I’d prefer to lose the extra “e” in “Grille.” And then there’s the matter of Meritage, which his team pronounces, incorrectly, with a soft “g.” The word is actually an American invention, used to describe California Bordeaux-style blends. It’s cross between the words “merit” and “heritage,” and rhymes with the latter.  I was kind of embarrassed to learn this fact in Napa, after spending an afternoon raving about the wonderfu Meri-tahj blends. Someone finally corrected me. So take it from me and avoid superficial humiliation: Meri-tedj.

Where to Find: Soul Food

17 Jul

Q: Do you have any tips about where to find soul food African-American style in Boston? I have eaten at Poppa B’s  but I’m not sure its still open. Been to Chef Lee’s but he has closed down shop.  Thanks. — William the Webmaster.

A: Hi William! First of all, Poppa B’s is still open, and they’re still doing their legendary fried chicken, fabulous bargain breakfasts (don’t miss the biscuits), and homemade desserts.

My other favorite spot for soul food is the Coast Cafe in Cambridge. Have you heard of it? The fried chicken there is very good (notsides quite at Poppa B’s level, imo, but definitely in the top five—just order legs and thighs instead of breasts, which can be dry), as are the classic sides like collards and black-eyed peas. I’m also partial to the old-school banana pudding.

I haven’t yet been to Mrs. Jones in Dorchester, but my friends over at Boston’s Hidden Restaurants are fans.

Finally, while Inman Square’s Tupelo isn’t doing soul food—it’s more pan-Southern—there’s some overlap: fried catfish, greens, and red beans and rice.

Tweet n’ Eat

16 Jul

Andrew Teman’s blog has a nice compilation of Boston restaurants on Twitter. And as you probably know, following these tweets is a great way to find out about last-minute specials and deals.

Come to think of it, more restaurants should offer deals along the lines of “mention this tweet and get two-for-one appetizers.” Great way to build a following and quickly fill tables on a night when reservations are slow.

UPDATE: Boston’s Hidden Restaurants has an even more comprehensive list.

UPDATE 2: Aaron Cohen, aka @eatboston directed me to this excellent list, which looks like the most thorough one of all. Thanks, Aaron!

Where to eat: North End of Boston

15 Jul

Hi Amy-

Love New England Eating. Saw that you like “Where should I eat boston-northendrequests,” so here we go: I’ve been working in the North End for seven years, and I’ve been eating at the same places for far too long (Jeff at Neptune has slapped a restraining order on me). What are some of your favorite hidden gems in the North End that I might have overlooked?—Scott Cohen

Hi Scott!

Neptune is probably my single favorite restaurant in the North End, but it’s a tricky neighborhood. I lived there for years and had plenty of of bad gravy and overcooked saltimbocca. There are several bright lights, however:

Marco, Marc Orfaly’s restaurant with Lorenzo de Monaco is a great hideaway—it’s up on the second floor at 253 Hanover, above Cafe Paradiso—and a favorite for two things: the pastas, particularly filled pastas (ravioli, etc.), and the fireplace—a rarity in these parts, and a great option for a romantic winter retreat. Which, I assume is not what you’re looking for in an after-work hangout, but still…

As for lunch, have you tried the Porchetta sandwich at Artu? Or the Favorito, with fresh mozz, prosciutto, tomato, basil and olive oil (strike the prosciutto and it’s a Primavera—also good). Those are some fine sandwiches. This isn’t my favorite spot for dinner, but a great mid-day alternative.

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Where to Eat: Boston’s Theater District

15 Jul
Q: Hey Amy, Heading to the Colonial tomorrow to see Rent. Do you have any ColonialSideViewrecommendations in the theater district that might be fun and not too expensive?—  Brian Bell

A: Hi Brian! Yes, absolutely—I have four options for you.

Pigalle, which is right around the corner from the Colonial on Charles St.,  has a fantastic $40 three-course prix fixe menu with bistro fare like steak frites and seared sea bass with zucchini cakes and citrus vinaigrette. They’re also doing a $1 oyster deal.

If you like Italian, I think Teatro is one of Boston’s underrated  gems, and it’s practially across the street. Most of the pastas top out at $2o and the meat dishes average about $26. This restaurant is from the folks behind Mistral, Sorellina, and L’Andana.

Since you’re going out on a Thursday, you should know about the $1 tacos served from 5-7pm in the bar at Bonfire, Todd English’s steakhouse in the Park Plaza Hotel. The restaurant has had consistency problems since it opened, but those tacos are consistently excellent. Flavors like skirt steak with pico de gallo and avocado crema, crispy fish with picked cabbage and tartar sauce, and chile-rubbed pork with picked onion, cilantro, and plaintain-chile crema.

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Where to eat near Harborlights

14 Jul

First, an apology: I promised this post last week, and then our DSL went down. For days. Verizon sucks. Moving on…

imagesIf you’re a fan of adult contemporary or smooth jazz, you’ve probably enjoyed a gently rocking night under Harborlights’s big tent. I know I have. (And yes, this venue is technically identified by another name. It will not be used here. You can buy the naming rights, corporate behemoth, but you can’t buy our hearts!)

The waterside location is lovely, but a bit off the beaten track (less so now, though, as the Seaport District expands, amoeba-like, to surround it). So where to chow down before the big show?

Eat Here: Sportello, Lucky’s Lounge, Perspehone*, and the Pizzeria Regina stand in the venue.

Why: Sportello is Barbara Lynch’s idea of a Brighams-style lunch counter, only with perfectly made gnocchi and papardelle and an exceptional porchetta starter. Some people hate the backless stools, bolted as they are to the ground, making them more stylish than accommodating. But I love the sleek design, the quirky wine list, and the fact that it’s open Mon.-Sat., 7am – 10pm (takeout is available until 7pm, if you want to try a pre-show picnic on the steps of the ICA).

Lucky’s Lounge is fun and retro and does nice sidecar and a very respectable take on fried chicken and waffles. What more could you want? How about a sign to help you find the place? Here’s a hint: it’s at the corner of Congress and A St.

Persephone* is one an all-around Boston fave, and my go-to spot when I miss the food in San Francisco. Fresh ingredients, many locally sourced, cooked with skill and a light enough hand to let the actual flavors shine through. Hate to contemplate how rare that can be in Boston. Also, the bar menu is solid (don’t miss the gremolata-spiked fries) and affordable, with everything (including the squid salad, the burger, and homemade bacon and sea salt pretzel) priced at just $5 from 4-6pm daily.

Now, as both of the above choices are a bit of a schlep (15 minutes on foot, 3 by car), I’ll give a shout-out to the above-average-but-nothing-to-write-home-about slices at the Pizzeria Regina stand in the pavilion. It’s always nice to have an inside option if you’re running late.

Note: I left out two restaurants of note, which you might want to consider if the above options don’t grab you: Aura at the nearby Seaport Hotel boasts chef Rachel Klein’s inspired fusion fare, but has a slightly more formal feel than I tend to want before an outdoor concert. And the Barking Crab is my favorite waterfront spot to grab a beer and some fried calamari, but the food is too spotty for a full dinner.

* Confession: I’m embarrassed to admit that the original version of this post did not include Persephone, for no reason other than my own stupidity. Thanks to Alison Arnett for pointing it out!