Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Meritage- Boston

This post was suppose to make its way onto the blog several weeks back but I completely forgot to post it so here it is now. Always better late than never :)

Housed in the opulent Boston Harbor Hotel, Meritage, is an inviting, elegant establishment serving up fine food, wonderful service and a romantic view of the waterfront. From the dimly lit candles to the ornate red tablecloth coupled with the theme of beige, brown and deep red hues present, Meritage is definitely one of those restaurants reserved for special occasions. The environment is upscale but quite upbeat as evidenced by the lively level of noise and chatter from fellow diners. 

From reading reviews, I got a mixed bag of responses. Some forewarned that diners are paying for the overpriced view because the meal itself is not that impressive. Read on for my opinion.

Steamed Maine Lobster Tail on the Half Shell
I was so amazed with the menu offerings of Meritage, especially in light of the fact that it was Restaurant Week and most places serve up sub-par items to compensate for the low prices. Serving lobster on the menu is seriously unheard of for Restaurant Week. And it wasn't any old frozen lobster that spent hours thawing from the freezer. The meat was succulent, fresh, plump and cooked perfectly without overdoing it. The light tangerine broth was an invigorating contrast to the sweetness of the lobster. And did I mention, the portion was extremely generous for an appetizer. It could honestly be an entree.

Pan Roasted Atlantic Swordfish Medallion
The broth is a carrot ginger essence containing bok choy, peas and sprouts. Unfortunately, I felt there was quite a bit of overlap between my first and second course, both in presentation and also in taste. Both dishes contained peas, sprouts and seafood in a light broth. Also, more is definitely not always better. I was overwhelmed by the size of this swordfish steak as it was indeed a huge hunk of fish. Despite the quantity of the seafood, the quality was not up to par since the fish was seriously overcooked and under-seasoned.

Chocolate Tasting Plate
From left to right: white chocolate and vanilla bean semi-freddo, dark chocolate espresso brulee, and coconut cocoa bar.

The coconut cocoa bar was extremely dense and filled with shredded coconut flakes. To escape some of the bitterness of the dark chocolate, there's the sweetness from the vanilla semi-freddo. I must point out that the "brulee" was hardly a brulee since it was missing that candied shell on top (how could they have forgotten the best part?). Overall, all three samplings were decadent and made for a gorgeous end to a delicious meal.
What my dinner date ordered:

Pan Seared Diver Scallops
So I learned from Cat Cora during an episode of The Best Thing I Ever Ate, that diver scallops are duly named diver scallops because divers actually handpick these jumbo lumps of deliciosity and so they are larger and meatier than normal scallops. In the middle, there's a white turnip puree and the scallops sit in a light butter bath. Although there were only two scallops on the plate, each one of them was extremely fleshy and really moist. It was a perfect-portioned appetizer.

Wood Grilled Filet Mignon
As I'm quite scared of undercooked meat, my dinner date sliced a piece of the outermost (and obviously most cooked through) part of the steak for me to try. I enjoyed the smokiness of the steak and the whipped potato side was extremely buttery and velvety.

Fruit Tasting Plate
From left to right: apple pie cake, Mascarpone cheesecake, and green apple sorbet with gingersnap cookie.

We got the best of all worlds with this sampler. The sorbet touched upon the element of tartness while the cheesecake and apple pie cake provided a sweet end to the meal.

Ambiance: 5 out of 5
Service: 4 out of 5
Food: 3.5 out of 5 (based solely on my meal)
Verdict: Although the food is good, the ambiance and view of the harbor may indeed be more noteworthy.


Saturday, April 23, 2011

Muqueca- Cambridge

Yes, this place still has blue holiday lights hanging up. Yes, there's tacky decoration of fish and nets on the walls. And yes, this place is inconvenient and out of the way. But does this place serve up a mean seafood stew? You bet.

When I searched the location, I was expecting Google to come back with a "closest T-stop" to the restaurant but none were to be found. That's when I called the restaurant and inquired about directions but all I got in return was "sorry maam, I'm not sure how you get here. I don't take the T to the restaurant." So with a little more research, we decided that Central Square on the Red Line was in fact our best bet. No wonder Google didn't return with any results. That's because the restaurant is located on some far off street that required an additional 10-15 minutes of walking after getting off the train. At any rate, if you are a seafood aficionado like myself, you will love this little restaurant that serves up authentic (well as far as I can tell) Brazilian fare at ridiculously reasonable prices.

Fried Frog Legs
As you can tell, we got a little carried away with appetizers and ordered 3 to share between the two of us girls. Frog is nothing new or foreign to me as I've had it quite a few times in Chinese restaurants as well as in Louisiana when I was down in New Orleans a while back. These frog legs were tasty but truthfully, over-fried. I liked the seasoning and the crunch on the outside of the little drumettes but the inside was dry.

Fried Yucca
I've never had yucca before so I was excited to try this root vegetable for the first time. It's comparable to potatoes but perhaps a little venous or stringy in texture. The yucca was probably pre-fried ahead of time in a large batch so they weren't remarkably hot nor fresh. What made this starter such a great success was that little cup of secret sauce in the middle. It's got a bit of a tang to it and tastes almost like cream cheese but way better. If I wasn't trying so hard to be slightly health conscious, I would've gladly drank the entire cup of sauce by itself. It was THAT good.

Brazilian Patties- Half Chicken, Half Cod
Continuing with the apparent trend of fried foods, we said why not order one more unhealthy item when we've already ordered two. Although these "patties" are similar to the Spanish croquettes in outside appearance, the inside is quite different. Instead of the moist, mashed potato-like, creamy filling found inside croquettes, the filling in these balls or "patties" was dry. The chicken was shredded and reminded me more of canned tuna than anything else (I do like canned tuna). The cod filling was also quite good but leans towards the saltier side.
Essentially the same picture below, but since I took another shot, I might as well post it.

Muqueca Completa- Fish, Shrimp, Mussels
Now for the star of the show and the dish that the restaurant is named after, muqueca. As yelpers forewarned, the muqueca does take a while to prepare so if you arrive famished, make sure to order something else to snack on first. The soup is a light tomato base with onion, cilantro, herbs and spices. Like I said, it's a light broth so the soup doesn't overpower the seafood and really allows the seafood to shine.The shrimp was thankfully not overcooked or rubbery and the fish was extremely tender. Along with the stew, they served a side of rice and this goopy orange colored sauce (obviously not a fan of the sauce). They are really generous with the amount of seafood they cook into the soup. The portion size is more than enough for sharing between two people, especially if you've order sides or appetizers.

Ambiance: 2 out of 5
Service: 4 out of 5
Food: 4 out of 5
Verdict: Seafood, seafood, seafood and more yummy seafood!


Friday, April 15, 2011

Sportello- Boston

Walking into Sportello's, I was a little confused by the setup of the restaurant to say the least. There's not much space and the quarters are tight. In one corner, it looks like a pastry bar or cafe. In another corner, it looks like a gourmet grocery shop selling fine pastas and jarred honey. Then there's the rest of the dining area which is set up countertop-style. As if this imbalanced arrangement of furniture wasn't strange enough, there's also huge white support beams in the middle of the restaurant. Two of the three of us had the misfortune of being seated right behind one of these columns which obstructed our view. We stared at this lovely white column for the duration of dinner. Given all of these aspects that Sportello failed in, I will credit them for having the open kitchen. It's always fun to be able to see how your food is being prepared. After dinner, the manager led us through the back entrance (through the kitchen of Sportello) downstairs into Drink where we enjoyed a few delicious cocktails.

Ricotta Spread with Olive Oil
The bread here is really good. It's extremely fresh and soft. The ricotta cheese with the olive oil was a great spread- creamy and smooth with just a dash of salt for seasoning.

Vongole Misto
We all shared this appetizer of assorted shellfish which consisted of snails, mussels, razor clams and purple potatoes. The mussels and clams were cooked just fine but the razor clams were terrifyingly raw and I could not stomach eating crude shellfish. This was sadly an unsuccessful start to the meal.

Pork Osso Buco
Chowing down on this pork reminded me so much of the monstrous turkey legs that they serve up at Disney World. If you know what I'm talking about, these turkey legs look more bats/ clubs than they do the bird. I am by all means a huge lover of meats but the size of this entree was a little ridiculous. My girlfriend comically pointed out, "I think you got full just looking at that huge hunk of meat." It was true and I ended up sharing at least half of it. In terms of the pork itself, it was rather dry on the outside but had a few succulent and moist pieces towards the middle. The meat was seasoned with just a bit of salt and thus could've really benefited from some herbs for flavoring. It also wouldn't have hurt them to add a little more jus to keep the meat moist. And lastly, I'm usually not big on sides but I would have really liked a little extra garnish besides the sour artichokes to take away some of the severity and heaviness of just pork.

It's been mentioned a few times that I start giving ratings so I guess I'll start with Sportello.

Ambiance: 3 out of 5
Service: 4 out of 5
Food: 3 out of 5
Verdict: Its saving grace comes in the form of the bar downstairs, Drink. Otherwise, I have little to no reason to return.


Saturday, April 9, 2011

Neptune Oyster- Boston

On an early afternoon, we paid a visit to Neptune Oyster in the North End and thank goodness we arrived just after they opened because the place filled up in no time. I had a sudden desire to come here after hearing great reviews from a couple friends and so I decided that although I wouldn't be able to touch half the menu (the raw bar), I would go and try out their famed lobster roll. And just to show you the extent of this menu item's popularity, everyone sitting at the table to my left ordered the rolls, everyone sitting at the table to my right likewise ordered the rolls. I think it's safe to claim that 8 out of 10 diners ordered these rolls and I don't blame them!

Maine Lobster Roll (served hot with butter)
Call me indulgent, actually, just call me gluttonous. The lobster roll is available hot or cold but I couldn't imagine any person in their right might electing the cold version when you could have a hot roll drenched in butter. Let's start with the bread- fresh, soft, and of course buttery. The lobster is extremely tender and sweet. As you can tell, the restaurant is super generous with the amount of meat they pile on. In fact, the roll was so overstuffed with chunks of lobster meat just falling off that I was forced to put it down and eat it like a civilized person using a fork and knife.

Now, if I had to criticize, I did wish that the lobster had some seasoning to it or even just a dash of salt for taste because aside from the butter, there was nothing else to flavor the meat. On the contrary, the fries had way too much salt (if  you can tell from the photo above). And at the risk of sounding like a crazed person, I actually wished that they would've added a little more butter to the lobster meat because the roll soaks up quite a bit of the delicious grease and the lobster meat was left a little naked. Lastly, I understand that this menu item is extremely popular and so the kitchen probably prepares several at a time or even preps them ahead of time and therefore, the roll could have been served a little hotter since it was just barely warm.

Overall though, the portions were huge, the ingredients were beyond fresh and the price a tad steep ($25) but so worth it!

Another shot of the succulent lobster meat sitting on top of a beautifully buttered roll.


Friday, April 1, 2011

Melting Pot- Boston

Monday night. 6 pm. We walk into the Back Bay Melting Pot and the place is dead. There was no one to greet us at the front desk so we wandered further into the restaurant where we came upon some attitudinal waitstaff that rudely directed us towards the front of the house. Finally, we were seated and our waitress for the night was actually quite nice, thank goodness. It's funny to point out that when I made the reservation, the website asked if I wanted to purchase roses or chocolates for my dinner date as this place is supposedly one of the more "romantic" places (though I beg to differ) to dine at in Boston. We did the four course meal and the two of us girls had to practically be rolled out of the restaurant given the size of our round tummies after dinner.

Spinach Artichoke Cheese Fondue
I would highly recommend this artichoke dip for your starter. They added quite a bit of garlic to the cheesy concoction which was absolutely savory. It comes with plenty of bread, chips, veggies and apple for dipping. And if you run out of dippers (most likely, you won't), they're happy to refill it for you. The cheese itself was great, not overly salty and perfectly melted.

California Salad
This is your run of the mill salad consisting of mixed greens, tomatoes and crumbled Gorgonzola sprinkled on top. What I really enjoyed was the raspberry black walnut vinaigrette. It tends on the sweeter side of most dressings but the vinaigrette was definitely the star of this dish. The Gorgonzola keeps the sweetness in check by adding that sharp, salty component.

Coq au Vin Broth (I apologize for these less than appetizing photos)
For the entree, we made the sad mistake of electing the wine broth. To the base broth (which I'm guessing is some chicken or beef stock), they added some chopped herbs, mushroom, garlic and red wine. As my dinner date pointed out, the broth smelled like the packet of powdered spice you find in instant noodle kits (and don't get me wrong, I love ramen but in this context, this comparison is not a compliment). The wine was far too strong and the vegetables that we threw into the pot soaked up an unwanted amount of the alcoholic taste. I would not recommend this selection for your broth.

Land and Sea Combo- Ratatouille-Stuffed Raviolis, Beef Tenderloin, Chicken Breast, Shrimp
As for the accompaniments, the chunks of beef were seasoned with way too much pepper. Even after taking a hot bath in the broth, the beef was still encrusted with pepper. My favorite was the ravioli, which was savory and creamy. The meats also came with a side of potatoes, mushrooms and broccoli. Following our waitress's suggestion for making a stuffed mushroom cap,  we cooked the mushrooms in the broth and then filled it with a heaping of the "Green Goddess" sauce (a blend of cream cheese, sour cream, onion and chives).

Chocolate S'mores Fondue
Milk chocolate, melted marshmallow, bits of graham cracker

Dippers- Cheesecake, Pound Cake, Brownie Bite, Coated Marshmallows, Rice Krispies Treat
Now for my favorite part of the entire meal and probably the primary reason why I revisited the Melting Pot, dessert!! The waitress flambeed the fondue table-side, which I think is more for show than anything else. The chocolate was so good!! It's the perfect amount of smooth, creamy chocolate. What a yummy end to a huge meal.

Overall, the meal had its share of high points along with some horrible lows. I would love to return again for the cheese fondue as well as the chocolate fondue but outside of that, I couldn't imagine why I would ever go back for an average salad and an even less-than-average entree.