Sunday, March 27, 2011

No. 9 Park- Boston

I must have passed by this place a dozen times but never realized it existed until my recent dinner here. Aptly named No. 9 Park, the restaurant is a stone's throw away from iconic Bostonian landmarks such as the State House and the Boston Commons. Inside, the atmosphere is dim and cozy with bountiful slabs of mirrors decorating the walls. We were seated in one of the comfy, sofa-style corner seats. The rest of the dining space is populated with wooden tables covered in white tablecloth. The decor in general is rather minimal, yet refined and our waitstaff was formal but very welcoming and friendly.

Grilled Calamari Confit
What a tiny appetizer and it wasn't even that good. The plate consisted of a couple (there was literally only 2) of PEI mussels, cubed chorizo bits, almonds and of course, calamari. The calamari was far too overcooked. It was like they prepared the dish at the beginning of the night and had it sit under a heat lamp until they served it up to me. The mussels were scrawny and likewise, the chorizo was dried out. I had such high expectations for this place and so far, they've disappointed.

Crispy Pork Belly
For my entree, I revisited one of my good ol' friends, the pork belly. The green is a sweet pea veloute, the white is a sauce gribiche (which is a mayo-like eggy sauce) and the dark brown is a "bacon jam." The veloute was smooth, velvety and flavorful. Then, there was that odd "bacon jam," which was reminiscent of sa-cha sauce in terms of look and texture. As for the the pork belly, the skin was in dire need of a sear because it looked like a sad block of rubber. But once I tasted the meat, all complaints of mine flew out the window. Although the pork lacked that crispy skin on top, man did it make up for itself in terms of flavor. It was extremely savory, fatty (and I say that with all the best in mind), tender and luscious. YUM!!

Ginger Parfait
Finishing off a heavy meal, I opted for the palate-cleansing ginger parfait. The block of parfait along with the small mint leaves really delivered a blast of freshness. Also present, the citric component from the blood oranges and the tart clear gel underneath, really cut through some of the sweetness from the ice cream and the little sliver of moist cake.

Petit Fours
The little Boston cream square was really good but the yellow colored lychee jelly square was just too sweet to finish.
What my dinner date ordered:

Mixed Organic Lettuce
Clearly, my dinner date was far more health conscious than I. The bibb lettuce, as always, was very soft and buttery. The salad had a touch too much salt sprinkled on top. As for the dressing, it was creamy but light. My favorite part (though you can't really see it) was the chevre cheese, which was extremely fresh and had a texture identical to silken tofu.

Roasted Scottish Salmon
The fish was roasted to a perfect medium, leaving the inside moist and delicate. The skin was seasoned well and very crispy. Underneath the salmon is a bit of lentils, cauliflower puree and some beef jus (or juice/ sauce). I must say the lentils were a little undercooked.

Brown Butter Financier
Somebody explain the arrangement or presentation of this dessert please!! I'm telling you right now, this was how the financier was served. Perhaps I'm just not sophisticated enough to understand the plating of this dish but it seriously looks like someone just ripped through it. I wanted to like the cake but I didn't. It was unfortunately rather dry and hard around the edges. Even the center of the cake was far from moist. In fact, the little caramelized banana slices on the side outshone the star of this plate.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Miracle Berry Tasting

My school held a miracle berry tasting event this past week. For those unfamiliar with the fruit, here is an explanation from the facebook event's wall:

If you don't remember from last semester, the miracle berry, more scientifically known as Synsepalum dulcificum, is native to West Africa. When eaten, sour foods taste sweet! Chomping on lemons and limes will be a delicious indulgence after eating this berry.

How does it work?
The berry contains a glycoprotein molecule called miraculin which binds to the tongue's taste buds, causing sour foods to taste sweet. While this mechanism isn't yet well understood, it is thought that miraculin distorts the shape of sweetness receptors so that they become responsive to acids, instead of sugar and other sweet things. Don't fret for your taste buds, though- This effect only lasts 15–60 minutes."

I was certainly skeptical to start out. Does this thing really work? I was given an instruction slip on how to eat/ use the fruit. You put the frozen berry in your mouth and suck on it while attempting to strip away the outer skin without biting or damaging the inside seed. Move the seed around in your mouth for about 2 minutes. It states the longer you keep the seed in your mouth, the better the effects. I followed these instructions to the T. My friend who was with me didn't keep the berry in his mouth for as long as he should have so the foods still tasted a little sour to him.

 Here is the little frozen berry. It's about the size of a peanut.

It reminds me of the Goji berry.

They had a variety of foods to try with the berry.

Lemon/lime- still tasted like a lemon but it was like a lemon heavily coated in sugar. I still got a tiny spritz of sourness but the aftertaste was super sweet...almost like I just swallowed a whole packet of Splenda.

Pickle- tasted like the sweet pickles which I don't like very much.

Salt and Vinegar chips- tasted like salt and SUGAR chips (gross...i know).

Sour Patch Kids- they took all the fun out of eating these sour candies. They just tasted like sweet gummies.

Hot Sauce- hot sauce normally has that pungent tang from the sourness but the sauce turned into a sweet and spicy concoction, so strange!!

Cream cheese- just a sweeter, creamier version of cream cheese.

As the description mentioned, the effect did indeed only last about 15-20 minutes for me. I wonder what future uses will be derived from this fruit.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

EVOO- Cambridge

Frequently switching up the offerings on their "home-grown" menu, EVOO (or extra virgin olive oil) prides itself on freshness by using local ingredients that reflect the seasons. The restaurant was just opening when we arrived for an early lunch around 11:30am. The dining area glows with earthy but saturated tones such as warm browns, deep reds and oranges. The waitress served up a basket of freshly baked bread that was still warm from the kitchen. Since we were right in Kendall Square, we opted for just the 2-course meal over the 3-course and headed over to one of my favorite bakeries, Flour, for dessert after.

Cornmeal Crusted Fried Oyster
This was a great starter. The oysters were freshly fried and very crispy. I appreciated the light coating of batter and not the heavy cakey mess that I often find on fried items. The fresh, meaty oysters sat on top of a bed of apple-bacon salsa. The apple was tart and crunchy and worked really well in contrasting the creaminess from the goat cheese fondue. And not that additional seasoning was needed but the bacon bits added a little more salt to the dish (one can never have too much bacon). They were quite generous with the portion.

Shaved Lamb on Baguette
After such a great appetizer, the entree really underwhelmed. To begin, I ordered the habanero coleslaw as my side but was served fries by accident, but I didn't mind too terribly much. The sandwich included roasted red peppers, arugula, tomatoes, pickles and some sort of mayo or cream sauce. The lamb itself was tender and soft but really (and I mean REALLY) lacked seasoning. In fact, the sandwich as a whole was extremely bland and I really wished they'd use a more flavorful spread or sauce for the bread.

Parsley and Garlic Studded Beef Tenderloin
Ordered by my lunch date, this entree was far more exciting than mine. The beef was served with a fried ball of creamy whipped potatoes (sort of like a croquette) and doused in a delicious mushroom sauce. The meat was lean but tender and quite tasty. They could have withheld the unnecessary salad on top though.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Rum Cake from the Bahamas

On my recent trip to the Bahamas for Spring Break, I picked up coconut and pineapple rum cakes from Tortuga. I gave one to my roommate and she asked "am I going to get drunk from eating this?" Haha.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

L'Espalier- Boston

As the first restaurant I visited for Restaurant Week- Winter 2011, I elected L'Espalier, located in Back Bay. Recently relocated to this building on Boylston Street, the new space is a bright, open room with plenty of light. The decor is simple, clean and effortlessly sophisticated. As with many, if not all, of the higher-end restaurants, service is expected to be superb. However, our waiter was a tad inexperienced and fumbled in explaining some of the components of our dishes.

The presentation of all of the plates was the most noteworthy aspect of the dining experience. They say, you feast first with your eyes. This expression certainly resonates with L'Espalier as each plate is beautifully composed and painted like works of art.

Isn't the butter so cute?

Goat Cheese Curd with Rhubarb
I'm not even going to pretend I know what's going on with this plate. These were the thoughts flying through my head: what are these little crumbly brown bits, do I eat the foam, what's this blob of sauce doing over here? Without a clue as to what I was doing and even less of a clue as to what I was eating, I delved into this starter, tasting a bit of everything and my, what an explosion of flavors lit up in my mouth. There were so many layers of complex flavors from creamy to sweet to sour. This first course definitely plays up both tastes and textures. I got the crunch from the rhubarb and the endive, while experiencing a velvety softness from the goat cheese, followed by a grainy bite from the gritty crumbs, finished off with the lightness from the foam.

Slow Braised Short Ribs
For my second course, the meat was extremely tender and easily pulled apart as I ate it. The sauce was extremely flavorful and not overly salty. The parsnip veloute (close to a puree) was delightfully thick and creamy.   

Trio of Cheeses- Gouda, Manchego, Hartwell (left to right)
The cheese guide that accompanied our third course describes Gouda cheese as "crunchy, with a sweet caramel flavor. Eat it like candy." I can hardly say I agree with that description. Sure, the cheese was "crunchy" or hard, if you will. But sweet?...that was hardly the case. I thought the Gouda was quite sharp.

My favorite cheese was the Hartwell, which was semi-soft and buttery. It was very similar to Brie.

Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Guava Cream Cheese Mousse Gateau
Finishing off the lunch on a fruity note, the guava shined in this dessert. Again, there was a variety of textures. As expected, the panna cotta was decadently smooth but too bad I didn't pick up much flavor from the lychee foam on top. Also, a big complaint of mine regards the execution of this plate. As you can see from the photo, there's a ring of dried foam on the plate. I understand it's restaurant week and the food that's served is usually not the best that the restaurant has to offer but there's just no excuse in serving up a pre-made plate with dried foam, not from a restaurant of L'Espalier's caliber anyways.

What my lunch date ordered:

Mussels in Curry Emulsion
After the egg was thankfully removed and consumed, I sampled the mussels. The tabbouleh was packed with curry flavor and much more impressive than the little mussels themselves.

Herb-Crusted Arctic Char
I'm usually not a fan of under-cooking anything but the preparation of this fish was perfect. It was just slightly underdone and retained a buttery-soft texture, allowing the fish to melt away in my mouth. The skin of this fish was equally divine with a great herb rub and a tremendous crunch. The bed of pea risotto with a dash of lemon zest also spruces up the complexity of this dish. I also enjoyed feasting on the colors of this plate- the orange arctic char pitted against the vibrancy of the greens makes for a lively combination.

Dark Chocolate and Caramel Mousse Gateaux
It's a pity that neither desserts were as fresh as they could have been. The flavors were present, but not the freshness since the cake was a tad dry. The Chantilly cream was quite mild and not overly sweet, thank goodness!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Gary Danko- San Francisco

Where do I begin? I don't think I've ever come across a restaurant on Yelp with more reviews than this place right here (over 2,400 entries!!). Not even the super touristy eateries rack up this many reviews. And the most insane part? Gary Danko maintains a stellar 4.5 stars, not an easy feat! The space inside is relatively small and the windows are tinted super dark so you can't see the outside. I guess this aids in creating that dim, romantic ambiance despite the time of day but I much prefer bright, open spaces with ample amounts of light or at least a place with windows and a nice view. Besides, places with no windows (or super dark windows in this case) remind me too much of casinos. You never know what time it is.

I'll get to the food in a second but what absolutely wowed me about the establishment was hands down, the service and staff. Never have I ever (...sounds like I'm playing a drinking game) had such an impeccable dinner service. Their top-notch staff was knowledgeable and polite beyond belief. They were gracious and attentive but not overbearing or annoying. My glass of water was always filled and the waiters came around to clean off any crumbs on the table after each course. I seriously cannot say enough great things about the service.

So I started off with the dungeness crab salad (too bad I don't have a picture). The crab meat was served cold, which is unfortunately, not to my liking. But even so, I appreciated the large, luscious pieces of fresh crab claw. The crab was served over a bed of couscous and there was a bit of acidity from the yuzu (a type of citrus fruit), which refreshingly countered the sweetness of the crab meat.

Roasted Pork Belly and Tenderloin
For my second course, I selected the pork. To my dismay, I cannot say that this is the best pork belly I've had thus far (the best yet is credited to the wild boar belly at Perilla in NY). Food is as much about taste as it is about temperature. Therefore, I wished that the pork belly was served hotter and crispier since it was only warm. Pork belly cooked well has a nice sear on the outside creating that crispy outer skin while sealing in the juices from the fat. Unfortunately, the pork belly here felt a bit dry and the outside lacked that crunch that I was looking for. But not to fear, the tenderloin redeems the dish with its moisture and all-around tenderness.

Creme Fraiche Cheesecake
Finishing off the meal, I went ahead and ordered this super dense and moist cheesecake. The texture was very smooth and velvety. The pecans were candied and toasted to absolute perfection (I could easily snack on a whole plate of them). The sorbet was a balanced, sour counterpoint to the rest of the creaminess and richness on the plate. The delicate lace tuile atop the cheesecake was also very good and delightfully crispy.

Petit Fours
So I thought I was done my meal until they brought over this complimentary sampler of mini desserts. But seeing that I was already stuffed beyond capacity, we had these petite desserts packed. I tried them the next day and the little lemon pomegranate tart was by far the favorite. It was the perfect bite of sweet and sour.

In addition, they gifted another parting dessert, which was a delicious carrot cake and if I remember correctly, even when I ate it the next morning, it was still extremely moist and pillow soft.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Cuchi Cuchi- Cambridge

If it's personality you want, it's personality you'll get. From the "bling-ed out" mermaid who welcomes you at the entrance to the beautiful stain glass windows lining the wall at the bar, down to the wait staff dressed in costume, Cuchi Cuchi bubbles over with character. The decor can be overwhelming to say the least, some may even venture to call it borderline gaudy, but that's what makes this establishment so much fun. Bringing together a medley of fares from around the world (Russia, Guatemala, Spain, Italy, France, you name it!), Cuchi Cuchi embodies international cuisine in the form of easy-to-share "small plates." Our waiter, dressed as a Flamenco dancer, was very knowledgeable about the menu and we asked him to serve up the dishes at his digression.

Chicken Liver Pate
The pate was really rich and dense. My dinner date said it tasted like hummus. Haha, I can't say I agree with that statement. The fruits and syrupy sauce do a wonderful job at masking some of the gaminess of the liver. But between the two of us, this block of pate was far too much to stomach in its entirety. On a side note, there is something odd about the placement of the pepinillo (small pickle) that sticks out awkwardly and throws off the presentation of this otherwise beautiful dish.

Brie en Croute
Everybody who comes here must absolutely try this ball of heaven. That's not a suggestion, that's a command, and trust me, you'll thank me later. Encased in a light and crispy pastry shell is brie, walnuts and bacon. There is nothing I would change or criticize about this dish. It was served extremely hot and fresh and when you cut into the ball, the melted brie just overflows. The apple slices on the side perfectly complement the salty bacon and cheese, giving it that punch of tartness.

Duck a l'Orange Crepes
Whenever I think crepes, I think desserts and sweets. This is my first savory (and by savory, I mean salty) crepe. I was so busy scarfing down the brie puff that when I got around to finally eating the crepes, they were a little soggy from the citrus dressing. However, it was still delicious. The meat inside was tender and the light vinaigrette was refreshing without being overly citric. The minced fennel imparts a bit of crunch to the texture of the dish.

Grilled Eggplant Napoleon
Sandwiched between the layers of eggplant, the sour slices of tomato do a great job at cutting through some of richness of the dish. The goat cheese is extremely smooth and creamy. The grilling of the eggplants gives it that charred, crispy outer edge but the eggplant is nonetheless, still very soft and moist in the center. Although it added nothing in terms of flavor, I love the whimsicality of the fried leaf sticking out of the cheese on top.

Chicken Kiev
This is easily my dinner date's favorite dish (perhaps because it's the most normal and he's all about simplicity). The fried chicken breast is stuffed with a melange of herbs and diced mushrooms, and sits in a bath of melted butter. Talk about a heart attack waiting to happen. Although the chicken breast is deep fried, it maintains a great deal of moisture and is very juicy as well as flavorful. Likewise, the stuffing was tasty and seasoned well.

This picture doesn't do the place justice but everything about Cuchi Cuchi is over the top and glitzy.