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Posts Tagged ‘restaurants’

Now with better burgers

I love my neighborhood.  I live in Jamaica Plain, more commonly referred to by locals as JP, a neighborhood in Boston that has a bit of a small town feel, which really appeals to me, since I am not really a city girl.  It has a main street with shops and restaurants, quiet streets with historic homes, and lovely green spaces.  When I first moved here in 2006, the restaurant options were fine, but not much to write home about.  There were some respectable ethnic eateries, a few pizza joints, and some Irish pubs.  The notable exception was Ten Tables, which I discovered after its vegetarian tasting menu was featured in Boston Magazine as a best value. My older brother, who is a vegetarian, and I decided to check it out and I fell in love with the restaurant. I still remember the main course from that first vegetarian tasting meal, which was a supremely comforting and flavorful dish of polenta with mushroom gravy and a poached egg.

Since that meal, Ten Tables has been my favorite Boston restaurant. I could go on and on, but this post isn’t really about Ten Tables. In recent years, Ten Tables’ proprietor, Krista Kranyak, has opened outposts in Cambridge and Provincetown, along with a bar expansion of the original JP location. Her latest venture, though, is not another Ten Tables branch.

Blue Devil and truffle parm fries

Recently in JP, Kranyak opened Grass Fed, a counter service burger place. I love a good burger, so I was eager to try it out, but the first week or so they were open the place was chock full, and I like to be able to sit and relish my burgers. Finally the crowds thinned a bit, so on a sunny Saturday, I headed in. Grass Fed is only three doors down from Ten Tables, and they have some things in common: small size, brick walls, blackboard menus around the top of the walls. The menu has a number of beef burgers, of course, but also a chickpea burger and a chicken burger.

I ordered the Blue Devil, which is a beef burger topped with stilton, bacon, fried onion strings, and aioli (but I skipped the aioli, since it seemed decadent enough without.) Continuing the decadent trend, I also ordered truffle-parm fries and a glass of red wine. Then I grabbed a stool at one of the counters that line the walls and are stocked with condiments (housemade ketchup, mustard, and A10 sauce, which is Kranyak’s version of steak sauce.) It wasn’t long before my food arrived. You can see it in the photo above. Man, it was delicious. They seem to cook the burgers to medium to medium-well, and I was worried that would be too done, but the burger was still juicy and flavorful. The bun was buttered and grilled and the bacon, onions, and stilton added saltiness, crispiness, and more flavor. I think my only quibble was that the bleu cheese flavor didn’t come out as much as I would have liked.

Meanwhile, I could smell the truffle oil on the fries, before I even picked one up. Yum! The fries had the crispy, golden exterior and light, smooth interior of perfectly cooked french fries. In addition to the truffle-parm fries, you can get regular fries, spicy, or beet fries, plus poutine with traditional or mushroom gravy, onion rings, or housemade potato chips. My first meal at Grass Fed was so yummy that I went back less than a week later.

Cheeseburger and beet fries

This time I decided to try the beet fries (aren’t they gorgeous?), and I got a burger with cheddar and grilled onions, which I topped with some of the A10 sauce. Even without the punch of bacon and bleu cheese, there was plenty of flavor. The beet fries were a nice change from plain old roasted or boiled beets, but don’t go there if you don’t like beets. I found they were quite good with a little mustard, and I bet honey mustard would be really nice. Or maybe if I get them again I will try them with the cilantro lime aioli on the menu.

Besides the burgers, the menu includes soup, salads, and a few other sandwiches. Plus, there are milkshakes, both traditional and “adult”. I am dying to try those! So you know I will be back.

I’d say Kranyak has opened another great place, and I am glad to have a burger joint in the neighborhood. Life in JP just seems to get better and better.

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My second day in London was largely spent wandering the turrets, keeps, and walls of the Tower of London.

jumble of towers

While it may not be the most charming fortress, it has so much history and drama that it was a must-see for me.  My first order of business was one of the guided tours by a Yeoman Warder. The Yeomen Warders, also known as Beefeaters, mostly serve as ceremonial guards and tour guides and live on the Tower grounds. The Warders give a tour that hits the high points of the Tower’s history, and the tour is the only way to gain access to the Royal Chapel of the Tower, St. Peter ad Vincula.

Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula

The chapel, built around 1520 during Henry VIII’s reign, is a pretty little space, but you aren’t allowed to take photos. Several famous Tower prisoners are buried in the chapel, including Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, Lady Jane Grey, and Thomas More, and during a renovation in the Victorian era approximately 1500 unidentified remains were found under the chapel floor. Yikes.

After the Warder tour, I spent quite a while wandering on my own. First I checked out the Crown Jewels, which are housed in the Waterloo Block and, of course, carefully guarded.

Waterloo Block
guard

I didn’t expect to be as interested in the Crown Jewels as I was. For one thing, I was amazed at the size of some of the stones, like the Cullinan I in the Scepter with the Cross, which, at 530 carats, is the second largest diamond in the world. It was also neat to see the ways the style of crowns has evolved over the centuries.

After viewing the jewels, I headed to the White Tower, which was built by Williams the Conqueror in the late 11th century and is the oldest part of the Tower of London.

White Tower
corner tower

The outside of the White Tower is distinctive with the light stone trim around the windows and architectural details. It was designed to be defensible, so the entrance is on the second floor, reached by wooden stairs that could be knocked down so that attackers could not reach the door.

White Tower

Inside the tower, there was a big exhibit of arms and armor. I got to see several sets of Henry VIII’s armor, horse armor, ceremonial armor for a child, etc. The variety of the armor was really impressive and interesting, and many had gorgeous inlay, engraving, and other decorations. My favorite pieces were the child’s helmet with a little dragon on top and a very intricate ivory saddle.

articulated armor
intricate armor decorations
Henry VIII's armor
dragon helm
ivory saddle

After seeing the White Tower, I wandered the grounds, walls, and several of the towers.

grounds

The Tower is home to a number of ravens, and legend has it that the kingdom is only safe so long as the ravens remain at the Tower. Until I saw them, I wasn’t really sure I could tell the difference between a raven and a crow, but there’s something regal and mysterious about the ravens. But it could just seem that way because crows are more familiar.

Tower raven

In addition to ravens, the Tower of London has had many creatures in residence in its long history, and an exhibit called Royal Beasts gave some intriguing facts about them. Lions were kept at the Tower for over 600 years, and James I designed a bottle nipple for feeding sick cubs. The royal menageries also included tigers, kangaroos, elephants, and even a polar bear. Apparently, the polar bear belonging to Henry III was tied to a rope, so it could swim and fish in the Thames. And I also spotted a couple more fantastical creatures around the Tower.

Gargoyle

In various structures there are placards and displays relating to some of the stories from the Tower’s history. The Beauchamp Tower has carved graffiti left by prisoners, who were kept in the Tower in varying degrees of comfort. In the Bloody Tower there are interactive exhibits on the mystery of the Little Princes. In the Wakefield Tower you can see torture devices. And in the Medieval Palace you can see the royal living spaces built for Edward I.

private chapel
chapel stained glass
Chapel

As you can tell, there was plenty to see! I think I spent over six hours at the Tower. Before I left, I visited the gift shop and snagged a wee, silver Tower for my charm bracelet. Then I headed out to Tower Wharf, where there are lovely views of Tower Bridge and London’s South Bank area.

Tower Bridge illuminated
South Bank

That could have been enough for one day, and I was pretty tired, but I was determined to have authentic fish and chips while in London. I had read that one of the best places for fish and chips is the Golden Hinde. So, after wandering a bit through the streets of the City of London (including the eerily lovely garden of St. Dunstan in the East, which grows among the ruins of a Wren church that was bombed in the Blitz), I headed to Marylebone for dinner.

fish and chips!

Yum! I enjoyed my crispy, flaky fish and rested my feet a bit before hitting the streets again, this time to take in the lights and do some shopping.

holiday lights

Without meaning to, I ended up at the Liberty of London store, which was beautiful, inside and out, from the window displays to the merchandising.

Liberty of London
Liberty window display
fabrics for sale
rug room

As I recall, I pretty much fell into bed that night, happy and exhausted from a full day of drinking in London’s past and present.

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Dinner and a show

Rather than make excuses about why this is my first post in months, I am just going to say hello and dive back in to tell you about the awesome night I had yesterday.

My friend, M, snagged us tickets to seeLe Vent du Nord, a Quebecois folk group, at the Somerville Theater. We decided to have dinner before the show at Posto. At a friend’s birthday dinner the week before, we’d been talking about the space Posto occupies and how businesses seem to come and go there, so maybe that’s why I was inclined to check it out, beyond the fact that I’ve heard good things about the food.

The space is still industrial and modern, but it manages to be somewhat cozy, too. The brick, concrete, glass, and high ceilings make the dining area a little loud, but not so much that you have to shout a conversation. A wall of wine shelves, the wood oven, and sleek, light wood chairs help offset the harder elements. But you should visit Posto for the food, not the decor.

With a nice number of starters, pastas, entrees, and pizzas on the menu, it took us a little while to decide what to order. For a large party, you can even order a whole pig! While M and I aren’t wine aficionados, by any stretch, we were both struck by the several types of wine we’d never heard of in their by the glass selection. M got a Sangiovese that didn’t impress, but I loved the Terre Primitivo I got; it was fruity and extremely smooth.

We shared the baby arugula salad to start. It was simple and tasty, just a nice mix of greens, endive, and creamy gorgonzola, perfectly dressed. Then we each ordered an appetizer sized pasta, carbonara for me and goat agnolotti for M. Both were excellent. The carbonara was made with pork belly and brussel sprouts, and was creamy and al dente. Even the appetizer portion was generous enough that I took some home. The agnolotti were filled with polenta, surprising but delicious, and topped with rustic, flavorful goat ragut. Overall, it looks like Posto does excellent Italian food with slight twists. I’ll happily return to try the wood-fired pizza.

The evening continued to be delightful. I was not terribly familiar with Le Vent du Nord, but M’s taste in music seems nearly identical to mine, and I liked the few songs I had heard. Without much in the way of expectations, these guys blew me away. There are four men in the band, and they are clearly all excellent musicians, and also a little quirky. The instruments involved in the show included a hurdy gurdy, fiddle, guitar, three different accordions, piano, jaw harp, and bouzouki. The fiddler provides percussion by stomping and tapping his feet (on an amplified surface, I believe), and in one song the bassist bowed his bass like a cello. And they have lovely voices, especially Nicolas and Simon, that they put to use in rich harmonies.

I adore it when musicians really get into their performances, and these guys are one of those groups that make you wonder how they keep that engagement and enthusiasm night after night, song after song. They clearly love what they do, and they are not only fantastic to listen to, but fun to watch. I was grinning through pretty much the whole show. It didn’t even matter that I couldn’t understand the lyrics – since they are from Quebec and play traditional Quebecois music, everything is in French, and my high school French only helped me pick out a word here and there. It was a fantastic concert, and now I just have to figure out what to download on iTunes.

It was such a lovely night, and now I think that leftover carbonara is calling me.

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I just got back from several days of vacation in Phoenix with friends.  In addition to enjoying baseball, Rock Band, and board games, this group loves to eat.   We ate a lot of ballpark food over the week, but we also got the chance to try some interesting area restaurants.

Chino Bandito This place is really hard to describe, so if you find yourself in Phoenix, you should just go check it out. Their menu combines Mexican and Chinese flavors, which sounds odd, but really works. You can get a bowl with a combination of two meats (from their list of 14), beans, and rice, like I did.

(clockwise from top) Carnitas, Cuban Black Beans, Jerk Fried Rice, Jade Red Chicken

Or try a quesadilla with a meat like Emerald Chicken. Or a Machaca or Teriyaki burrito. If you’ve never been to the restaurant before, they let you try a sample of pretty much everything before you order. And every meal comes with a wonderfully chewy and delicious Snickerdoodle. I love how wonderfully wacky Chino Bandito is! The original location (which is the only one I have visited) is totally no frills, but there is a giant, granite statue of Pancho Panda, the mustachioed, bandoliered, sombreroed panda, who is the face of Chino Bandito. Very wacky, very affordable, and very worth a trip.

Culinary Dropout There was a lot to enjoy at this restaurant in Scottsdale, right around the corner from the Phoenix campus of Le Cordon Bleu. The space has an eclectic, modern, hipster vibe, with rustic wood and iron tables, oversized chairs in graphic velvet and paisley, textural wall panels, and huge chandeliers with green crystals. If you don’t care about decor, the food and drinks will draw you in, though. For drinks, our party had the elderberry wine spritzer (a refreshing take on sangria), the Dirty Schoolgirl, Smashed Irishman, and Eric’s “Blue Ribbon” Rhubarb.  I tasted all of them except the Dirty Schoolgirl, and can vouch that they were tasty.  We had so many appetizers that I am surprised we had room for anything else.  The house made potato chips with onion dip and cheese fries were both yummy, but the soft pretzels with provolone fondue?  Whoah, were those good!  Deep brown, chewy, salty pretzel nuggets and a velvety cheese sauce – mmmmm.    We also had a sampling of the antipasti: the cheeses were nice, but not particularly special, the roasted beets were lovely, and the jamon iberico and prosciutto melted in the mouth.  I think we were getting a little overwhelmed at this point, so there wasn’t as much passing and tasting of entrees, but everyone seemed to enjoy their main dish.  I ordered the gnocchi with sausage and mushrooms, which was very good: pillowy and flavorful.  But we still weren’t done!  We just couldn’t pass up the apple monkey bread and salted caramel custard for dessert.  The monkey bread was like a lovely cross between bread pudding and cinnamon rolls, and the custard was so smooth and creamy with a nice hint of salt and crunchy caramel corn on top.  We could barely shove ourselves away from the table by the end of the meal.  The service was excellent, as well: attentive, informative, with a bit of humor.  So, Culinary Dropout gets two thumbs up, too.

Tonto Bar & Grill So, let me get the non-gastronomic item out of the way first. We saw javelinas as we were coming out of the restaurant after dinner, a whole group of maybe 8 of them! Javelinas are a wild, boar-like animal in the peccary family, and they are big. I was definitely intrigued by them, but also a little intimidated. I definitely didn’t want one of them charging at me. Sadly, I couldn’t get a good photo. Anyway, Tonto had yet another eclectic menu, largely Southwestern and Native American inspired. For an appetizer we got a couple orders of the three sister salsas and guacamole, served with both corn and flour tortilla chips and Indian fry bread. I was feeling a little under the weather that night, so I only tried the guacamole, which was great with all three types of chip, and judging by the noshing that went on around the table, the other dips were delicious, too. My companions reported that the Tontorita and prickly pear margarita were both satisfying, as well.

Tontorita and Prickly Pear Margarita

When it came to entrees, several of us opted for the compressed arugula salad with cherries, manchego, apples, and pecans, which can be topped with your choice of meat or seafood. It was a huge salad and pretty tasty, though I found the ratio of greens to other ingredients to be a little high. The big entree hits at the table seemed to be the onion crusted walleye and the pork chicharrones. The menu also has a cool “Vegetarian Nosh” section, that allows one to choose from a number of vegetable and starch dishes along with a sauce. The service was pretty good, and the interior of the restaurant, while a little overdone for my taste, suited the menu and style of the place. Also, the drive to Cave Creek, where Tonto is located, is pretty, especially if you arrive just at sunset, like we did.

Sonoran sunset

That’s it for restaurant reporting, unless you want a rundown on spring training ballpark hot dogs or my first experience of In-N-Out Burger.  Honestly, though, we ate so much at the three eateries above that our appetites were surprisingly subdued later in the week.

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It’s Friday evening, and I feel like posting something light and frivolous.  So here are a few things that have made me smile or ooh and ahh this week:

Absolutely adorable penguin cookies:
Learn how to make them at Diamonds for Dessert They are purple from purple sweet potato powder. How funky and cool is that?

A kitchen tool that just makes my day:

Seriously? I don’t think it gets any cuter than that. Then again, I have a thing for hedgehogs. I used to have one as a pet. If you want the grater version, you can get it at ModCloth.com

My current favorite American Idol contestant:

(If you just want to hear the performance, start around 0:55.) Holy. Crap. That is Casey Abrams. His voice is delicious, and he has exquisite control. He’s also totally charming. I LOVE that he performed with the stand-up bass. I have to say, I thought I was done with Idol, but Casey is just one of several ridiculously talented singers this season. And, surprising as it may be, I am finding the new judges refreshing, especially JLo. Go figure.

Prince William and his bride-to-be:

I know it’s a little bizarre that people obsess over royal, or other celebrity, weddings, but I admit I am just a bit fascinated by the upcoming big British wedding. But I don’t think anyone can deny that they are a cute couple. And what I love about this photo is that they seem genuinely happy together. That sort of glimpse at a real connection between two people living very unusual lives pulls me in. I see it often in photos of the Obamas. Also, Kate Middleton has done an impressive job of finding a balance between royal propriety and modern style. I am quite curious to see what her wedding dress will look like.

Speaking of clothes, how freaking cute is Hailee Steinfeld?!? She’s either got the best stylist out there, or at 14 she is a fashion prodigy. I haven’t seen her in a dud outfit yet, and she’s knocked it out of the park a number of times. I am eager to see how she looks on Oscar night.

Last, but certainly not least, my favorite local restaurant, Ten Tables, has a “Winter Warmer Special” on Thursdays in the bar. You get their gourmet mac & cheese and a glass of wine for $15, and the mac & cheese is divine. It comes in a little cast iron pan, which makes some of the cheese golden brown and crusty. Yum!

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