Friday, July 17, 2009

Tavolo in Dorchester Quite a night

When I received an invitation for a Blogger dinner at Tavolo in Dorchester my initial response was, "Oh it's in Dorchester, maybe not." I don't usually head out that way and the thought of traversing the dreaded I93 was not a pleasant one, and I would hate to find a new favorite restaurant in a place I never frequent. But I figured good food and fun with good people was worth the hike.

Of course it took me a week to get around to writing about it but whose counting. If you're not paying attention you might miss Tavolo as you drive down Dorchester Ave it is inconspicuously located in a huge brick building that feels more like a home of offices than a fine dining restaurant. In fact I almost drove right past it. The inside feels like a comfortable family eatery with a slightly avant garde decorator. The the room we were seated in had floor to ceiling chalkboard walls covered in awesome doodles from a local artist. Every time I looked up I saw another thing to make me smile. And the lighting fixtures hanging from the ceiling were so interesting that they kept coming up as topics of conversation all night long.

This dinner was meant to be a showcase of the non-pizza fare that the restaurant has to offer as it moves away from a simple pizzeria and into the realm of fine dining. One awesome thing about dining with food bloggers is that I was not the only person taking pictures when the food arrived. It was really nice to be among others trying to get the perfect shot and swapping picture taking tips.

But I digress, onward to the food!
We started with a watermelon feta salad which was refreshing and accented by chopped mint and basil leaves. Now I'm not normally one for watermelon salad but this was stupendous. The feta was a perfect salty accent to the watery sweet melon and the mint and basil were surprisingly good fresh accents.
Next we were treated to some of the tenderest lightest gnocchi I have ever had with pancetta, pecorino, and local fava beans. The gnocchi was a perfect texture, not too chewy or hard and the chewy salty pancetta really went well with it. This was also a great showcase for the fresh beans and definitely gave me ideas for the future. I think this was my favorite dish of the evening I was really sad when I had finished this dish I could have kept eating it all night.
They brought out some house meatballs to accompany the gnocchi and these were stupendous. I am seriously picky about my meatballs and these passed all of my tests. They were mouthwateringly good. Salty and meaty with the right amount of umami and a clearly superior blend of meats combined with the simply succulent tomato sauce made for the perfect meatball. You can get them as a side order, with pasta or pressed in a panini (something I would really like to sample) If you don't try anything else on Tavolo's menu give these a try!
The next thing on the menu was a swordfish involtini. I really like swordfish though I forget about it from time to time and this was definitely a reminder of the amazing things you can do with swordfish. I've never thought of swordfish as a light and delicate dish. The only way I've ever seen it served is as a steak, so when they presented me with a thin cut of fish rolled around a mash of fontina cheese, garlic and parsley and adorned with a light sauce and sliced tomatoes, I was sceptical. But it was love at first bite. This was amazing, the cheese and garlic really brought out the meatiness of the fish while the delicate cut made it surprisingly light and the flavor combination was unforgettable salty, rich and meaty with the slight tang of tomatoes to cut any possibly fishiness. This was really a wonderful dish and yet another instance of me wanting to eat an entire plate of just this. I was finished with the tiny portion before I even realized it and I kind of mourned the loss of the that amazing flavor.
I got over my disappointment pretty quickly when I noticed that duck was the next thing on the menu. I adore duck, it is really one of my favorite things so I was really excited to see it on the menu. It was perfectly cooked and served with a little bit of current jam, currents tartness always go really well with the rich meatiness of duck and this was no exception. I disagreed with the faro and green beans that were served with it though. The faro was an odd texture to go with the duck and it had an overly earthy aftertaste. The green beans were fine, but not quite cooked enough or salty enough for my taste.

We ended the evening with coffee and a grilled blueberry pound cake with whipped cream and blueberry sauce. I actually split a coffee with a friend because it was late and I wanted to get home but then be able to get to sleep afterwards. I have to say this was great coffee, well balanced and not bitter at all. Though pound cake and blueberries aren't my favorite things. This was a nice light end to the evening and the grilling of the cake was a stroke of genius. There was a light caramelizing of the sugar around the edges of the cake that gave it the perfect texture and flavor, and the light flavor of blueberry cleansed the palate and left me feeling full and satisfied but not over sugared.
Overall I would recommend Tavolo, if for nothing other than the meatballs. I did notice that almost nothing on the menu we sampled was indicated on the regular menu, but I would definitely go back and sample anything on their regular menu. This was a really fantastic meal and I would recommend this place to anyone.

Stuff to Eat in the Suburbs: Cambridge—Stone Hearth Pizza

Sometimes it can be hard to take a gluten-free friend out to lunch or dinner. Pubs usually deal in foods that are fried with some sort of flour-based batter, any kind of sandwich is automatically off the menu, even salad dressings can sometimes be a dicey prospect and almost all Italian food is right out. Yet this Bostonist recently accompanied her gluten-free friend to a little pizzeria in Cambridge called Stone Hearth Pizza and discovered a new world of deliciousness, with a side of tasty gluten-free fare. Stone Hearth Pizza has locations in Cambridge, Belmont, and Needham; and is dedicated to providing customers with organic and local fare whenever possible. If you download a menu from their website you can see all the local farms they support, even their beers and wines are local.

Their dedication to local businesses spills over to their customers. What originally brought us to their door was the promise of their gluten-free pizza crust, which it turns out is crispy and light, without a hint of the grittiness that can sometimes accompany gluten-free bread products. Clearly, someone worked hard to get the consistency of this crust just right.

The restaurant's Neapolitan style fire-grilled pizzas are both inventive and well put together without an overabundance of any one ingredient, which creates a nice balance of flavors. The cheeses are fresh and well blended, and in this Bostonist’s opinion, their sauce is just right: not too sweet and not too salty.

There are several pre-imagined options available on their menu, or if you’re in the mood to be creative, just go ahead and make your own concoction from their extensive ingredient list.

The sandwiches at Stone Hearth are just as noteworthy as their pizzas. While the restaurant does not carry gluten-free sandwich bread, these sandwiches really prove that a good sandwich is all about the ingredients. Wraps are not normally this Bostonist’s thing, but it looked so delicious that she had to give it a try, and the chefs were very accommodating when we wanted to add fresh mozzarella to our California wrap. And wow, was it worth the risk!

The California wrap is a simple enough sandwich with romaine lettuce, grilled chicken, avocado, shaved red onions, and lemon Dijon dressing. Somehow the food artists at Stone Hearth Pizza managed to make this simple sandwich into something spectacular; all of the ingredients were chopped very finely and then mixed together with the dressing so that every bite contained a little bit of everything. The wrap was fresh and chewy; it (thankfully) lacked that slightly stale taste and texture that often afflict wraps. The most amazing thing was the avocado, clearly cut fresh as the sandwich was being made because it didn’t exhibit any of the watery loss of flavor that can happen with a pre-cut fruit. Somehow they managed to mush it just enough so that it still maintained enough integrity to not dribble out of the wrap but instead to cling perfectly to every other ingredient to hold the sandwich together. Every bite of this huge wrap was a joy and we kept eating it long after we were full just for the flavor of it.

Stone Hearth Pizza also offers baked pastas, both standard and gluten-free, and some very tasty salads with amazingly good homemade dressings.

The Stone Hearth Pizza in Cambridge delivers to areas of Cambridge and Somerville, so check in with your local Stone Hearth Pizza to see if they deliver to you. We highly recommend this gem to everyone and are happy to be able to suggest a gluten-free pizza option to our gluten intolerant friends who are missing their pizza fix.

This post originally appeared on the Bostonist

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Ricotta, Peas, and Bacon Oh My!

I found the idea for this dish on tastespotting. But once I started playing with it I definitely made it my own. This is quite possibly the easiest dinner I have ever made and one that my annoyingly critical husband actually really liked on the first try. I added in the hazelnuts after my husband proclaimed that it, had a nutty flavor, it gives the pasta a nice added crunch.

5 pieces of bacon
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 cup peas
2 tsp lemon thyme
3 handfuls of arugula
1/4 cup toasted hazelnuts (chopped in a food processor)
1/2 a package cooked penne pasta
grated Pecorino Romano cheese

fry up the bacon until it is to your preference ( both crispy and chewy works) remove the bacon so that it can cool for a minute. Pour off about half the bacon fat and add 1/4 cup of water. Add in the peas and simmer for about 5 minutes. Crumble the cooled bacon into smallish pieces and then add the bacon, ricotta, thyme and hazelnuts stir until thoroughly mixed, then add in the pasta and stir until incorporated. Finally, spoon into a pasta bowl and mix in the arugala, sprinkle with the romano.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Stuff to Eat in the Suburbs: Newton—BOKX 109

Ask for a steak recommendation in Boston and people will be climbing over one another to tout the virtues of their favorite steakhouse. From downtown favorites like K.O Prime and Grill 23 to slightly more out of the way options like the Capital Grille in Newton and Natick’s Metro 9 there’s no shortage of great steak options in Boston or the suburbs. Nestled on the ground floor of the Hotel Indigo, located just off I-95 in Newton, BOKX 109 is a fun steak house with a curious name. The first perk of trying this suburban gem is their free valet parking, simply let the nice gentlemen park your car and only worry about the tip. The restaurant is very comfortable, furnished in rich browns and oranges with soft lighting and lots of windows. The kitchen is open with a long, tall chef’s table located right next to it where larger parties can watch all the action. On the other side of the dining area is a small lounge and bar which provides access to the luxurious pool and patio. While BOKX 109 certainly maintains a sophisticated feel, the stuffiness that is often the trademark of a good steakhouse is happily missing. Instead, BOKX 109 offers a fun, chic option for people interested in getting their steak in the suburbs.

BOKX 109 has an innovative way of presenting their menus, printed on brown paper bag material and then folded around their napkins which are super-absorbent dish towels. BOKX’s starters come in three options, Snax, BOKX of greens, and sides. While the sides are clearly meant to go with the steaks, one side is more than enough for an appetizer. Among the actual appetizers, the crab cakes are the standout; three large crab cakes are served atop an apple and a celery root slaw which is divine. The salty, crispy crab cakes are filled with lots of chunky crab meat seasoned to perfection and topped with a light mustard sauce. The slaw was a pleasant surprise and its fresh, sweet taste was a truly different complement to the exemplary crab cakes.

The pear salad was a well balanced light starter with plenty of soft grilled pears served cold, which was surprising but quite good. The sprinkling of pecans added an occasional spicy crunch complimenting the simplicity of the greens and sherry vinaigrette dressing.

BOKX offers entrées in two ways, BOKX cuts with a la carte sides, and American Prime meals with meat and sides included in the price. For her BOKX cut this Bostonist tried the 189, a 10oz tenderloin with sides of truffled potato tots, mac and cheese, creamed spinach, and lobster risotto shared among fellow diners. The chefs at BOKX 109 really know how to cook a steak! A perfect medium, the juicy succulent steak arrived topped with delightfully crispy onion strings. Slightly crispy and salty on the outside and tender on the inside, this is one steak that doesn’t require extra sauces or seasonings; though BOKX 109 does offer a selection of additional sauces for two dollars each.

The sides are a little smaller than usual for a steak house, but at seven dollars apiece they are reasonably priced accompaniments for the steaks, and four sides is definitely enough to feed three people. The mac and cheese is very different; a stringy cheese layer on top conceals pasta sitting in a soupy cheese sauce underneath. This is not your traditional mac and cheese but this lighter version goes really well with the steak and keeps you from getting too full to finish your entree. The spinach was delicious, the shallots and fennel compliment the creaminess of the spinach to give it a very balanced and rich flavor. The lobster risotto was unremarkable, though filled with big chunks of lobster, the flavor is bland and the dish is very heavy. The tater tots, while an interesting idea and the side dish this Bostonist was most interested in tasting, were bland, not salty enough, and too hot to eat for most of the meal, additionally, the ratio of mushiness to crispiness was way too high.

For her second visit, this Bostonist tried the hanger steak with garlic butter and frites. The steak was tender and juicy and the addition of the garlic butter was amazing. Each bite was better than the last as the butter melted a little bit more to blend with the natural juices of the meat. But the real surprise on the plate was the frites. Instead of your standard thin fries, these were shoe string thin pieces of salty, crispy potato, like canned potato sticks only fresh and delicious; we simply couldn’t stop eating them.

Desserts are clearly not the strong suit at BOKX 109. The best things on the dessert menu are the shooters, and even they aren’t great. The dessert shooters are small shot glasses of desserts for three dollars each. It’s an interesting idea that allows people to finish their meal with a little something sweet without stuffing themselves or breaking the bank. The mud pie was by far the best of the four and the only thing we can really recommend on the dessert menu.

However, if you aren’t in the mood for dessert, just ask your waiter for your complimentary dish of cotton candy. The delivery of the cotton candy seems to be a little unclear, on one visit it was brought with our check like a giant fluffy after-dinner mint. Our waiter informed us that they do it every night with every table. However, the next time no cotton candy was forthcoming until we asked for it. We do highly recommend asking for it because BOKX 109 actually has a cotton candy machine on the premises and they make it fresh for every table. This novelty added greatly to our appreciation of this restaurant and their dedication to being a slightly different steak house.

While the prices at BOKX 109 aren’t cheap, they’re not bad for a steak house. And portions of most items are large enough that sharing is possible.

If you’re looking for a more casual dining experience grab a bite at the bar/lounge and enjoy one of BOKX’s inventive and tasty cocktails. For example, the Pineapple Caipirinha is a delightful summer drink with imported rum and pineapple. For those of you who like your martinis, be warned they do have blue cheese stuffed olives, so be prepared to indulge.

For larger groups looking to indulge in a little outdoor dining, make a reservation at one of BOKX 109’s outdoor cabanas. You can enjoy the full menu in the comfort of your own private poolside cabana. The cabanas seat up to eight people and are open all summer long, weather permitting.

Finally, as a nod to these economic times, and in celebration of summer, BOKX109 is offering a three course pre-fix menu for $20.09. You can find the menu on their website, along with directions and some other summer deals.

Overall, while BOKX 109 is not our absolute favorite steakhouse, it is definitely worth regular visits for the food, the drinks, and of course the cotton candy.

This post originally appeared on

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Stuff to Eat in the Suburbs: Arlington—Mr. Sushi

Eating sushi in the suburbs can be a harrowing prospect. People tend not to want to try new sushi places because of the potentially disastrous results. For some reason, eating sushi downtown feels safer: perhaps the big awnings and plethora of other restaurants we know and trust makes the risk seem smaller.

Mr. Sushi in Arlington is more than a safe bet for dining in the raw; in fact, it’s by far this Bostonist’s favorite Japanese restaurant. Mr. Sushi offers options for every appetite. Classic maki rolls (with the rice on the outside) are small enough to be eaten in a single bite, but not so small that you feel cheated. The less common nori maki rolls (wrapped with seaweed on the outside) are crisp and never rubbery. Mr. Sushi also offers a great variety of nigiri sushi—or, as this Bostonist likes to call it, big slabs of fish laid on rice. These staples are accented by several interesting specialty rolls, like the Caterpillar (an eel maki roll with avocado laid over the top) and the Dragon (a California roll draped with slabs of eel), to name a few. Mr. Sushi also offers several vegetarian rolls, so the place is great for accommodating a large group with different eating habits. The sushi is always fresh and tasty, and nothing that we've tried has ever had an overly fishy flavor.

Even the cooked sushi shines. The shrimp tempura roll, which can suffer from sogginess in the hands of a lesser chef, is always crispy and never greasy or overcooked.

If sushi isn’t your thing, Mr. Sushi also offers a great variety of Japanese dishes. The chicken teriyaki is tender and sweet with salty undertones and topped with crunchy sesame seeds that add a slightly nutty note. The dish comes with an abundance of vegetables and is served with plenty of sauce to pour over the rice. If you’re feeling hungry, try the dinner plate, which includes with rice, miso soup, and a small salad. The chicken Katsu is a crispy delight with a uniquely flavored sauce that is mostly salty with just a hint of sweet.

Overall, the prices at Mr. Sushi are decent: meals like the chicken teriyaki and the chicken Katsu come in under 20 dollars and leave you satisfied. The sushi is reasonably priced, and the rolls are decently sized in addition to being well balanced and delicious. While the décor is nothing special, Mr. Sushi has plenty of space to accommodate big groups, as well as small, cozy tables and booths for more intimate dining. The wait staff is always courteous and knowledgeable, and the service is swift and pleasant.

Located in Arlington Center (691 Massachusetts Avenue), Mr. Sushi is open seven days a week for both lunch and dinner. Parking can sometimes be a problem on weekend nights because of the Mass Ave. location, but circling the block a few times will usually land you a space. If you aren’t in the mood for dining in, Mr. Sushi delivers within the immediate area and provides take-out, which this Bostonist can tell you generally survives the trip very well. Mr. Sushi also has a location in Brookline at 329 Harvard Street.

While Mr. Sushi doesn’t have a website, the restaurants provide mostly standard sushi and Japanese fare, so you can guess your options until you’re able to drop by and pick up a menu. Don’t forget to check out the weeknight sushi deals; you can often get a free maki roll with the purchase of a specialty roll, and Mr. Sushi has even been known to host all-you-can-eat sushi nights!