Saturday, October 18, 2014

Mohegan Sun Brewfest 2014

If you're going to have a craft beer fest then quite possibly the best place to have it is Mohegan Sun. So, we threw a few things in the Armani overnighter and headed out of town for a relaxing, fun weekend away at Brewfest 2014.  We were not disappointed.

We spent the afternoon meeting with brewers and sipping some very nice beer.  Shiner Beer was there with a great Oktoberfest, Blackhog had a Granola Brown, Yuengling gave us their Black and Tan, Victory Brewing Company featured Old Horizontal and then there were our perennial favorites such as that Thomas Hooker Brewing Company Watermelon Ale.

I'm an IPA kind of guy and we sampled some great IPAs from Grey Sail Brewing, Mayflower Brewing and good old Long Trail.

As if all that wasn't enough we had heard in advance that one of our favorite bands, Everclear was slated to appear in the Wolf Den that very night.  For those who may not be familiar with Mohegan, this is the spot where free concerts are held nightly.  We met lots of new friends from around New England, fellow fans, as we gathered for the show.  The concert was great, Everclear playing all of their big hits as well as some new songs from an upcoming album.  

After a bite to eat and some prerequisite people-watching we were exhausted so went up to relax in our room.  Impeccably clean and invitingly comfy, we flipped channels on the large flatscreen, our legs up on the foot pillows of the huge beds.  Ahhhh.   We've never had a room yet that did not boast a gorgeous view of the countryside and Thames River, rain or shine.  That night a thick fog had rolled in as the new arrivals snaked their cars around to the valet entrance.  We rested, feeling spoiled that there was plenty of dining, clubbing, things to do and people to see all without even having to take a step outside.

The next morning we awoke to a tray of fresh coffee. We snoozed and relaxed more, reading the Sunday paper delivered to each room and catching up on all the social media on our tablets and phones from people near and far, including other attendees. Eventually we prepared and dressed for the Brew Brunch.  This year it was held in the Uncas Ballroom as the smaller venue where it usually takes place was under renovation being turned into, so we hear, a mini palace of magical modernist cuisine.  We can't wait to go back for that!  Mohegan is also undergoing a major addition that will feature a 14 theater multiplex due to premiere in January 2015.  We've often thought that maybe it would be fun to catch a new movie while there for the weekend.

Needless to say, the Brunch was appropriately decadent.  Just look at that Schnitzel Benedict drenched in Bearnaise Sauce.  There was also a carving station and some great pastas with brew-based sauces and brew-braised meats, fresh pastries and rolls along with all the coffee and juices one could want.

So far, we've attended every Brewfest and it remains one of the great Fall events we look forward to each year.  Hopefully, we'll see you there next year.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The 50th Head Of The Charles Regatta

It's an event that's a Fall tradition with us, when hundreds of thousands of participants, spectators and visitors descend upon Cambridge, Boston and the surrounding communities for not only THE largest rowing event in the world but also a spectacular New England weekend during what many consider to be the very finest time of the year: The Head Of The Charles Regatta.  This year, the event turns 50 years old and the largest ever crowd is expected to attend.  There is an impressive international contingency each year which particpates as well as the many thousands who visit to cheer on their alma mater or country of origin. 

We love roaming about Harvard Square and Cambridge and chatting with visitors, taking in the competition and enjoying the atmosphere.  As most people, we will visit the Regatta for a few hours but usually not the entire day.  Afterwards, we go in search of food and/or a place to meet up with friends for drinks and a bite. 

Typically, we are inundated with emails from readers who would like to know where to go for a great meal, a few, perhaps, celebratory drinks, a nice cup of coffee and fresh pastry, or just a great burger or pizza.  So, this year we're posting all of that information here for some of our favorite spots in and around Harvard Square, Kendall Square and Boston.  Keep in mind that the closer you are to the river, the more crowded all of these places will be and they will be exceptionally busy during peak times.

Restaurants:  Alden and Harlow, The Sinclair (also has live music events), West Bridge (a fave) and Eastern Standard.

Drinks:  Charlie's Kitchen, Meadhall, Beat Hotel (also features live music), Grendel's Den (a bohemian legend) and Park.

Cafes:  Tatte Bakery (European style), Flour Bakery, Crema Cafe (a fave) and Starbucks (Massachusetts Avenue location has a great second floor view of the Square). 

Burgers:  Mr. Bartley's Burger Cottage (a legend), Shake Shack, Flat Patties and Tasty Burger.

Pizza:  Pinocchio's (a Harvard student fave), Oggi, Otto (our fave), Cambridge 1 and Emma's (a legend).  Special note:  Emma's has informed us that they will be delivering all weekend by courier to any street corner in Cambridge!

Please feel free to leave comments if I have overlooked or forgotten your favorite local spot.

Enjoy!  The weather is predicted to be spectacular and hopefully we will see you around town!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Tuscan Kitchen Burlington

Owner Joe Faro says his dream was:  "To create the Disneyland of genuine, Italian artisan foods and scratch cooking."  A dynamic personality (as one would imagine) with a passion for great Italian fare, Mr. Faro greeted almost every one of his guests personally to explain his food, sourcing and the the mission of Tuscan Brands.

We visited the original Tuscan Kitchen and Market in Salem, NH a few years back and were quite impressed.  So, we were anxious to see what owner Joe Faro would do with the space he occupied in Burlington, part of an office park near the Burlington Mall.  Could it hold up to the original location?  

When we were invited to the soft opening for media and guests, we quickly accepted.  We were greeted at the door with a sparkling glass of prosecco and freshly-sliced chunks of parmigiano reggiano drizzled with an aged balsamic vinegar.  We knew instantly that the experience was going to be every bit as good.

We sipped and nibbled as we wandered the cavernous rooms.  The place is huge, with seating for 543 guests.  Some rooms are intimate, elegant, with roaring fireplaces on this cool, damp evening.  Others are geared more toward small dinner meetings and events.  

The large bar area is comfortable and intimate at the same time with an extensive wine collection including wines on tap.

The Affetati Misti buffet including House Made Porchetta, Fig Jam, 24 Month Prosciutto di Parma, more Parmigiano Reggiano, Local Truffle Honey, House Made  Burrata and loads of freshly-baked Artisan Stone Hearth Breads, Cheeses and Grilled Vegetables..  The quality of everything was top drawer.  My favorite was that Porchetta.

Our Antipasti Course:  Crostini Di Granchio - Wild Caught Jonah Crab, Grilled Ciabatta, Semi Roasted Tomatoes and Pickled Mustard Seed.  The Tonno Crudo - Navel Orange, Calabrese Peppers and Crispy Prosciutto with an Extra Virgin Drizzle.  Again, the very top level of flavor and consistent quality in every bite.

The Primi course consisted of a Canneloni Di Vitello - Thin sheets of Rosemary Pasta stuffed with a Slow-braised Veal Breast, Wilted Spinach and Tuscan Bean Mista.  The Truffled Mascarpone Gnocchi (my favorite) included Wood-roasted Mushroom, Fava Beans and Shaved Pecorino Tartufo.

I opted for the Cod as my Secondi.  Although Cod can be hit-or-miss, including downright terrible in the hands of the wrong cook or chef, I had a feeling this was going to be fine.  And it was.  Pan Roasted Cod Steak with Rock Shrimp, Sweet Pea Saffron Risotto, and Herb Leek Butter Crust.  It hit every note right, including the creamy-yet-al-dente risotto and the fleshy, tender consistency of the cod - without a trace of oily, old fish taste.

The other Secondi option was Filetto Di Manzo:  Aged Wood Grilled Filet, Caramelized Garlic "Riduzione", Truffled Parmigiano Fingerlings and Brussel Sprout and Pancetta Slaw. Every bit as satisfying and delicious.

For the Dolci course we had the very special treat of being invited into the Tuscan Market area (the shop that marks the restaurant entrance) to wander about and taste as we pleased.  The cafe seats 30 people and all of the pastries and gelatos are freshly-made.  We snacked on amazingly fresh lemon cookies, gelato made in the machine right beside the case and sipped coffees while letting our eyes feast on the goods and prepared foods in the case. Sumptuous!

Although there are spots where the faux, Disneyesque veneer is apparent it is overall the real deal and the absolute quality of all the foods is truly impressive.  I would have no qualms at all about bringing euro friends visiting us, even Italians, here for a great, memorable meal.  Congratulations!

Tuscan Kitchen and Market
24 New England Executive Park
Burlington, MA 01803
Telephone: 781.229.0300

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Newport Mansions Wine And Food Festival

We were lucky enough to be invited to the Newport Mansions Food And Wine Festival 2014 and what a grand affair it was!  It is no exaggeration to say it was one of the best events we have ever attended.  From the flawless organization and the ornate splendor of Marble House to all of the food (think plenty of salmon, blue fish pate and lots of artisinal meats and cheeses) and hundreds of wines it was just incredible.  The weather was picture perfect, the crowd was exceptionally well-behaved but very fun.  We were steps away from the Cliff Walk with sweeping views of the water plus we got to meet one of our all-time favorite TV Chefs, Sara Moulton.  Saturday was a sellout crowd this year keeping our record of every event we promote and attend selling out intact.  We could not have imagined a better day spent out-of-town and will, without question, be back next year.  Enjoy the pics!  We are already looking forward to 2015!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Bar Boulud, Boston

It was terrines, aspics, pates and all of that glorious charcuterie that made the press opening for Bar Boulud at Mandarin Oriental Boston THE party of the week to attend.  Throw in dozens of media personalities and some of Boston's top Chefs, including Barbara Lynch, Chris Coombs, Ken Oringer and Lydia Shire to make it an electric night of food-lovers in Boston.

We tasted as much as we possibly could.  The roasted suckling pig was probably the highlight of the night but everything was a notch above just about any charcuterie experience we've ever had.   Of course, the wine selections were excellent and the desserts also impressive.

A magnanimous Chef Daniel Boulud was on hand to lavish praise on his entire team, share the food, speak about his local connections and how he jumped at the chance to come to Boston and talk about using local and superior sources to make his new venture a cut above.   No doubt that this will be a popular destination for those seeking an authentic bistro experience when searching for that extra touch of sophistication and elegance.  Just like Boulud himself, it's already a classic.

Bar Boulud, Boston
776 Boylston Street
Boston, MA  02199
Telephone:  617.535.8888

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Donnie Wahlberg At City Senses

We have a pretty full calendar but when Donnie Wahlberg calls to invite you to a Boston event he is hosting you just have to go.  So, we headed over to South Boston to meet up at the Artists For Humanity Epicenter for an interactive photography exhibit:  City Senses.  Sponsored by Canon, (the camera we have always used for our mouth-watering food photos) the exhibit featured beautifully unique city scenes photographed by pro photographers Josh Andrus and Scott Nobles, as well as shots by Wahlberg himself.  Each photographer was assigned the task of using the senses to inspire images.

Wahlberg insisted on taking selfies with us himself and provided us with signed copies of three beautiful prints as well as a very fun evening of sips, nibbles and catching up with old friends.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Earl's Kitchen At Assembly Row

We were lucky enough to attend the Grand Opening of Earl's Kitchen at Assembly Row in Somerville recently and it was quite the event.  With a sprawling 8,800 square foot layout, large glass windows that open onto outdoor seating and water views and plenty of intimate nooks for dining, it was more than impressive.

There is a lively bar area where you can relax and enjoy a cocktail, grab a bite and enjoy the game with plenty of comfortable seating in the upscale, casual environs.  Other areas provide benches and tables for larger group dining and smaller, more intimate spots meant for couples.  Along one entire wall runs the open kitchen.

All of the food and drinks we enjoyed were excellent, including the seafood, desserts and popular burgers.

There are some impressive cocktail creations including this:  The Mad Hatter.  Poured from a cartoonishly steaming teapot the drink includes Smirnoff Vodka, Pear, Black Tea, Lime Leaf and Coconut Water.  The teapot serves 4 and is $26.00.  Very fun.

Of course, Cameron Bogue, who we met earlier in the summer for a cocktail program preview is helming the beverage program.  Yes, the Bee's Knees and Cabin Fever cocktails are on the menu!

Ideal for a group of friends looking for a place to meet up at a new, popular spot after a long day, there is plenty of free parking in the area.  It has the feel of being in the city that those north of the city have been waiting for.  The whole Assembly Row area is really shaping up nicely.

Earl's Kitchen At Assembly Row
698 Assembly Row
Somerville, MA

Friday, September 19, 2014

Patron Tequila

We recently had the opportunity to visit with the folks at Patron Tequila who were in town promoting their new Roca product.  It was the chance to taste some of their high end products, learn more and see a quick competition between some local bartenders in creating a new drink (more on that later when we have the winner).

As one who has been to Mexico and is fascinated by the whole Aztec and Spanish Conquistador history, it was informative.  I never knew, for instance, that agave was used for many years by the Aztecs but it was the Spanish who taught them how to distill the drink, resulting in Mezcal.

We were even treated to a sample of Grand Patron Burdeos, a luxury anejo tequila that retails for something in the neighborhood of $500 per bottle.  Not a bad neighborhood!

Of the drinks we sampled our favorite was that pictured above, the Siesta.  And it's pretty easy to make.  Here's the recipe:

2 oz Roca Patron Reposado
1 Chamomile Tea Bag
1/2 teaspoon Honey Simple Vyrup
1/2 Teaspoon Lemon
3 ounces Water

Not overpowering and refreshing, the longer the drink sits the more tea flavor is infused.

Happy sipping!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Blue Ox

We recently took a trek up to Lynn because we'd be hearing so much about a small place called Blue Ox and were totally caught off guard by the cosmopolitan feel in this little neck of the woods. Honestly, Lynn would be the last place I'd think of as a fine dining destination but part of the fun in doing all of this is discovering fantastic new places and Chefs in surprising spots.

We stepped in the door to a modern, clean space with a packed house.  Across the street we'd noticed a fairly large urban garden sprouting fresh kale that stretched across the field of other vegetables.  It was easy to park.  Not a bad start.

Sipping on a glass of Prosecco, we looked over the menu.  The Spicy Tuna Tartare had come highly recommended:  cucumber, cilantro, scallion, chive cream, Ox chili sauce and house made potato chips.  Delicious.  The surprise ingredient is mascarpone cheese, which Chef Matt O'Neil (a graduate of both Bates College and the CIA) tells us was used one night as a substitute and delighted diners so much that they decided to keep it.

Lobster Tacos:  grilled flour tortillas, avocado, diced tomato, scallion, chipotle aioli and  lime.  The lobster meat was generous and the creamy avocado added to the texture.  Nice.

This Duck Breast appetizer is not on the menu but was exceptionally good.  Cured in coriander and brown sugar then followed by a cold smoke and served with a turnip puree and feta cheese, the plate drizzled with olive oil and balsamic reduction, it was a rich, layered plate of flavor.  Ask for it.

This small charcuterie plate, also not on the menu, was packed with flavor and done in a few, small bites, unique in presentation but full of salty, rich goodness.

Roasted Faroe Island Salmon, summer vegetables,fingerlings, prosciutto and grain mustard-lemon crème fraiche.  A huge fan of salmon, as readers know, this did not disappoint and it was great to see the skin left on the salmon, as it should be, the most potent source of all those heart-healthy oils.

Pan Roasted Cod, grilled corn and lime risotto, arugula and heirloom cherry tomato salad and red wine vinaigrette.  The cod was also excellently prepared and that creamy risotto with a hint of lime and corn was yet another inventive addition.

Bar Manager Charlie Gaeta was on hand to recommend several wines including an excellent JJ Prum German (2011) Riesling that we enjoyed.

For dessert it was Molten Chocolate Cake with house made cinnamon ice cream and glasses of a sweet, coffee-flavored sauce.  The only dessert on the menu it's well worth the splurge even if you split one for the table.

As we often find, it's the attention to small details that make the dining experiences special.  The maple butter served with the fresh, warm bread.  The exceptional service (and ours was beyond reproach), the different flavors and delicate preparation.  Head to Lynn.  You'll be pleasantly surprised.

Blue Ox
191 Oxford Street
Lynn, MA 01901
Telehone: 781.780.5722

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Wow Barbecue

Part of the fun of being a food and lifestyle writer is the opportunity to learn and being open to new ideas, cultures and, of course, foods.  When we heard that large crowds of young, Chinese nationals relocated to greater Boston to work or study were flocking to a small, hole-in-the-wall restaurant just a short drive away, we were intrigued.  So, we decided to visit Wow Barbecue in Malden.

We'd seen their food truck, quite popular in Chinatown, which serves authentic Chinese street food, basically food on a stick.  Street food is hugely popular in China.  It's cheap, good, plentiful and is central to the social experience whenever friends get together.  In Chinese culture people tend to eat much smaller amounts of food but more often.  So, a quick, small bite is almost always part of getting together with friends.  The vendors are everywhere.  People stop for a little bowl of fresh noodles like we stop for coffee.  This is not anything like the Americanized versions of Chinese takeout.

We decided to visit on a warm, summer Sunday afternoon, exactly the time and place in our area when most people are not around, busily heading north or south to the beaches and clam shacks.  The place is funky and cool with bright colors and fun murals.  It appeals to the child within. After a few moments of our arrival a posse of young Asian guys fill the table next to ours.  Laughing and animated, they immediately order up a storm of platters, drinks and skewers which they are all happily sharing.  Our server smiles at us and says:  "They're regulars."  And there are a lot of regulars.  When we begin to chat we discover that this place is a taste of home for them, a comfort spot  that features the foods they just can't get anywhere else in Boston.  And popular it is, filled to capacity with a young crowd every weekend night right up until closing at 1:00 am.

We order up skewers of lamb.  It's succulent and flavorful and certainly the kind of quick,  casual treat one would enjoy when out on the streets of the city.  Next was mushrooms, grilled and sprinkled with finely diced peppers, smoky, simple, clean.

The Spicy Pot is filled with stir-fried veggies and shrimp.  It doesn't sear the palate, as I expected, but fills the mouth with crunchy, healthy tastes and a bit of heat.  In fact, this place is a veggie-lovers dream.

We try a bowl of noodles in a salty/sweet broth thicker than we've experienced.  We see a guy with this can of Chinese tea and ask what it is, smitten by the bright lettering.  He asks us if we want to try some of his.  It's not like a restaurant.  It's like a group of new friends just hanging out, watching a soccer game but not really keeping track of the score, enjoying laughs and having some great food.  

We've been in a lot of restaurants.  The fine dining, the great service, the artistic presentation is all part of the experience but rarely have we been to a place where everyone seems so genuinely happy to be there. Perhaps it is the experience of displaced people finding the foods that remind them of home but, still, it's infectious.  And fun.  Really fun.

184 Salem Street
Malden,  MA 02148
Telephone:  508.826.3192
Twitter: @ilovewowbbq