Thursday, May 21, 2015

Touring The North End

We were invited by the website Vimbly recently to try out their service which aggregates a number of local tours, special events and mini-courses taking place in and around the city.  We perused the offerings mostly involving food and selected a tour of the North End and a three hour photography course on Boston Common designed to help you learn how to use all of those buttons and settings that you haven't mastered yet.

The Boston Politically Incorrect Little Italy Tour turned out to be very fun.  There was a group of about a dozen people of all ages mostly from out of town and we met just off Hanover Street.  Our Tour Guide, Anthony Gesualdi, is a lifelong resident of the North End and a former restaurateur (who also appeared on Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares).  He seemed to know everyone in the neighborhood including quite a few colorful characters, not to say he wasn't one himself.

We visited some of the small shops filled with spices and imported foods and candies.  We heard stories about the mob and how it at one time thrived in the area when he was a boy.  We walked with the residents who still maintain traditions and have an ethnic flair they are proud of.

A childhood friend of Anthony owns a few restaurants and when we bumped into him he insisted that we try some of his homemade cavatelli.  It was delicious.  We also tasted an Italian Sub Sandwich from one of the small takeout places.

We stopped at a local park to enjoy the views of Boston and learned how important the public spaces are in this tight knit community where people gather to play bocce and reminisce, walk with lovers or just sit and rest for an hour outdoors on a sunny day.

The younger participant in our tour really enjoyed the colonial chocolate making demonstration in the shop near the Old North Church where we all got a sample but the focus was more on the culture of the North End than US history for us.

We walked the side streets and took in some of the colorful spots created by unique local residents.  It was all part of the lifestyle that makes the area special, gives it an old school, old world, European feel.  Sure, we're in a big, modern, beautiful city but on some of these side streets you could be in a village in Italy.

The absolute highlight of the tour was when Tony invited us over to his Mama's house for a bite to eat.  Mama Maria, a resident for well over 50 years, welcomed us into her home graciously.  We brought pizza from Regina's and wine from the local wine shop and she served us homemade eggplant parmigiana.  Many said it was the best they'd ever had.

I loved the tour and learning about this part of our city with the insight of a "politically incorrect" local rather than just another bland tour guide.  It was often quite comical but also heartwarming and real.  It made me realize, once again, just how much I love the North End and really should spend more time there.  The restaurants were full.  So many people were dressed elegantly in the middle of the day.  It was so alive and refreshing to see all of these places full of people really enjoying life. You would not be disappointed at all stopping by.

For more detailed information please visit North End Tours.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Babbo Pizzeria

We all know him and maybe even some of you have his cookbooks.  With his bright red hair, orange Crocs and a larger than life personality, Mario Batali is hard to miss.  His new place in Boston has been open for a while now so we decided to head on over and check it out.

As we drove there I began to ponder:  with all of the great pizza we have in Boston, how good could it be?  The last time we went to the Seaport District it was difficult finding a parking spot and very crowded.  Plus, with all of the new restaurants there it seems to have reached the tipping point.  I did not have high hopes.

There are several seating areas.  If it had not been occupied, we would have selected the counter seating where the pizzas are actually being made.  It was easy to see this young man's talent as he masterfully threw the pizza dough and used the paddle to briefly push it into the very hot, wood burning oven.  Quite entertaining to watch.

Of course, we had to try the pizza.  We went with the Meatball, which comes with Pickled Chili, Tomato and Fontina cheese.  Anyone would be hard pressed to say that it was not excellent.  The crust was perfect and the meat and cheese flavorful and satisfying.  Great pizza.

We also had a salad:  Spinach, Ricotta Salata with Truffled Honey.   The ricotta was great, not runny but drier, and the honey wasn't overly drizzled on top of the fresh baby spinach leaves.  So, we had to agree that the salad was also great.

The space is large, over 8,000 square feet, with a long bar for sampling wines and cocktails.  What I have to say sets it apart from other places is the excellent service.  Both of our servers spoke fluent Italian and were happy, indeed eager, to share their native language.  And they were funny and warm and gracious.  I guess the team of Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich don't have all of those successful restaurants in New York without knowing exactly what they are doing.

We also tried out a few of the desserts.  The Pistachio Tartufo:  Pistachio, Valhrona Chocolate, Guanaja, Chocolate Crumble, Sour Cherry and Zabaglione Crema.  Very, very good.  Then we sampled the Gelati and Sorbetti.  I absolutely loved the Olive Oil gelato, creamy and subtle.  The Lemon and Basil Sorbetti did not quite pack the flavor punch I was expecting, however.

It was a beautiful day in the Seaport, not overcrowded, with people streaming in and out of the ICA and relaxing on the grassy green of the park between the two spots.  And the parking was easy! Overall, a great afternoon out and a lunch that really hit the spot.

Babbo Pizzeria e Enoteca
11 Fan Pier Boulevard
Boston, MA  02210
Telephone:  617.421.4466

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Dinner With Daniel Boulud

When Chef Daniel Boulud calls to say that he's going to be in town and invites one to dinner one would be a fool not to accept.  A top chef in the world with the James Beard and Michelin cred to prove it, we could not resist. So, we made our way to Bar Boulud at the Mandarin Oriental in Boston's Back Bay.

We began an evening of elegant, flavorful dining with amuse bouche.  Fresh shrimp in peas. Exquisite cheese in flaky puff pastry.  Such a tease.

Our initial dish consisted of First Of The Season Green Asparagus, Crispy Hen Egg, Pickled Ramps and Baby Lettuce With Dijon Egg Dressing.  As I've written a thousand times before, quality is in the details.  That perfectly runny egg in a crispy shell, the tender yet crunchy asparagus, the hints of flavor all perfectly prepared. This was paired with an excellent Hirsch Gruner Veltliner.

9 Herb Ricotta Ravioli With Porcini, Fiddleheads and Nettle.  The delicate cheese flavor was wrapped in a cloud of pasta then placed in a creamy bed of mushrooms.  That little, shiny crisp of green on top.  The tastes that dance across the tongue.  Wonderful, rich, simple, small portion typical of French cuisine.

When they brought a bottle of red wine to the table for my main course I asked the server if I did, indeed, decide to go with the seafood course, after all.  Oh, yes.

Sea Bass En Papillote:  Potato-Wrapped Sea Bass, Baby Leeks and Sauce Meurette.  The couple from Vermont seated next to us, who'd become instant friends, gasped.  They had traveled all the way to dine upon hearing that Boulud would be in the kitchen tonight.  Retired from New York, their son an NBC Sports producer, they now lived for the joy of food and conversation.  My ideal retirement.

My first thought was that I could do the bed of braised leeks, the bass, maybe, possibly with a few years of practice the potato papillote but the sauce, I doubt it.  That does not mean I won't try it.  A dish Boulud became famous for way back in his La Cirque days, the red wine and port reduction was absolutely stunning, rich and salty, the ruby juice floating on the plate.

DB Beef Duo:  Red Wine Braised Short Ribs, NY Strip, Charred Ramps, Fava Beans And Orchard Morels.  My scant taste of the strip and morel mushroom was enough to prove to me that it was every bit as satisfying as my plate.

Desserts were just as good and served with a strong, pungent Brovo Amaro Liqueur, Batch 1.

Grapefruit Givré:  Sesame Halva, Rose Lokum, Grapefruit Sorbet and Caramelized Tuile.  The topping had the feel of shredded coconut on the tongue and the balance of flavors delicate, tart and sweet all at the same time.

It's nice to be placed in the hands of a master chef, especially surrounded by people never met but enjoying and appreciating every moment of the experience.

Bar Boulud
776 Boylston Street (Mandarin Oriental)
Boston, MA  02199
Telephone:  617.535.8800

Monday, May 11, 2015

Derby Day With Bulleit

We welcomed the one and only Hollis Bulleit, sporting a dress and, of course, hat in glorious green, to the Intercontinental Boston to celebrate Derby Day this year.  It was a sunny afternoon, perfect for sipping a refreshing mint julep made with famous Bulleitt Bourbon.

"Why, Ms. Hollis, how kindly of you to receive us here today," we offered as guests gathered.  We saw a few tidbits of food pass by on trays as the crowd, rather, shall we say, anxious for libations pressed around the bar. We chalked up the zeal to the chilly breeze off the water.

The famous Woody Wagon portable bar was on hand with plenty of bourbon for all, thankfully. After listening to the live music and chatting with guests we were ushered inside for the most thrilling two minutes to witness American Pharaoh take the roses.  A lovely afternoon, indeed.

With fellow food writers Mr. Dan of The Food In My Beard and Miss Bianca of Confessions Of A Chocoholic.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Paul Downtown Crossing

We got a sneak preview of the new Paul bakery and restaurant in Downtown Crossing this week featuring the same little slice of European flair we have enjoyed at all of the other Paul locations, including London, where we first discovered them.  Paul USA President and CEO Paul Sanchez was on hand to welcome invited guests.

Photo by Lisa Richov of Paul USA.

It's the same quality of fresh breads and pastries and excellent coffees and teas one would find at any of the locations throughout Europe in the traditional chain that has been operating for 126 years.  We are lucky, though, to be the very first spot stateside with full restaurant service.  So, now in addition to those sumptuous snacks and journal doodling one can enjoy a sit-down meal off the menu.  The new shop will be open to the public on Monday May 11 for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

201 Washington Street
Boston, MA  02108

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Happy Birthday Boston Chops

We recently stopped by the Boston Chops Second Anniversary party to wish Chef Chris Coombs and owner Brian Piccini congratulations on what has become the South End's number one choice for a great steak.  There was plenty of food and champagne and lots of media types on hand to join in the fun celebration.

There was also live music and the restaurant has announced that they will be participating in the Acoustic On Main program, bringing more live music to the City of Boston as a way to say goodbye to the worst winter on record.  Live music will be featured at Boston Chops through May 10, including an evening with Mr. Piccini himself, a classically trained pianist.

Boston Chops
1375 Washington Street
South End
Boston, MA  02118
Telephone:  617.227.5011

Saturday, May 2, 2015

With Daniel Boulud

Having fun with Daniel Boulud.  He's only one of the top Chefs in the world with the cred to prove it: James Beard Awards and Michelin Stars galore.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Pyara Reopening

Chef Chris Coombs of Deauxave and Boston Chops was there serving up some mouth-watering bites as we joined a few hundred beautiful people sipping champagne chilled in salon tubs filled with ice at the Pyara Salon re-opening recently.

The old Mass Ave space has been totally redone with two floors of spa treatment rooms, including a water therapy chamber like we've never seen before, and enough Aveda products to make one think one is in aromatherapy heaven.

Get your chakra on.

Pyara Salon and Spa
1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA  02138
Telephone:  781.270.9200

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Banned In Boston

Once Spring hits Boston (even if the weather does not cooperate) the social season kicks into full force with a plethora of events to choose from on any given night of the week.  For us the kickoff began at the House Of Blues for the annual Banned In Boston event to benefit Urban Improv, the group which does so much great work with urban youth.  Politicians, media types and socialites all converged.  Oh yes, and Chefs!  Andy Husbands was there serving up some spicy plates and Mary Dumont provided us with a delectable duck dish.  A very fun night for all.

With iconic, award-winning photojournalist Bill Brett.  Mr. Brett's exhibit "Boston:  Irish" will be featured as part of the Flash Forward Festival 2015 and may be viewed through May 4th at 2 Battery Wharf, Main Floor.  A celebrated photographer and absolute gentleman, Mr. Brett's images of great Boston personalities are unforgettable.  It is always a true pleasure to spend even just a few moments with him.  Oh, the stories.

We also caught up with three of our favorite media ladies:  (l to r) Heather Unruh, Jenny Johnson and JC Monahan.  News, sports, dining, they cover it all and, of course, watching Chronicle while cooking dinner is a nightly routine at our house.

Yes, even Governor Charlie Baker joined the chorus for a reworked version of legendary Boston folk song "Charlie And The MTA" after getting his locks shorn for charity.  Maybe you didn't vote for him but you have to admit that he's a great sport.

As thousands were raised for this great cause we couldn't help hearing chatter about how all the best social events in Boston always revolve around charity and fundraising, more so than other cities.  We couldn't agree more and hope that this is a Boston tradition that continues.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Earth Hour Dinner at Miel Brasserie

We were recently invited to attend the fourth celebration of Earth Hour at the InterContinental Boston's elegant brasserie, Miel.  The dining room was set to go dark at precisely 8:30 pm for one hour and all diners would enjoy their four course meal dining only by candlelight.  We arrived early as the dining room here is so beautiful we didn't want to spend the whole night not seeing everything.

We began with the signature Earth Hour Cocktail, the Blue Tahoe:  Tequila, Blue Curacao and Champagne, as good as it was colorful.

We eyed our wristwatches waiting for the appointed hour and at precisely 8:30 pm the lights went out.  We watched as diners around us not in the know glanced about.  Welcome to Earth Hour.

Actually, the lighting made for some stunning pics, the food seeming to absolutely glow in the low lighting. This Butternut Squash Soup with Roasted Hazelnuts and Pecorino was a hearty bowl but not overly dense, as some can be, flavorful and well-seasoned.  This was not just a taste but a full tureen of welcome warmth on a raw spring night by the Seaport.  We glanced out the windows, across the water at the Boston Tea Party ship bobbing in the waves.

Crisp Apple, Pear and Fennel Salad With Baby Kale.  As fresh as it looks with a vinaigrette that lent a perfect balance, just beautiful.

Georges Bank Cod, Roasted Cauliflower, Sweet Pea Puree and Creamy Honey Emulsion.  Excellent layers of flavor and, again, just gorgeous on the plate.  The cod was dense and mild, prepared expertly.  The honey used at Miel (the French word for honey) is harvested on the roof of the hotel.  We were assured that the bees would be returning soon.

Wild Mushroom And Faro Risotto with Asparagus Sweet Potato and Parmesan Cream was the vegetarian option. An excellent risotto.  The Parmesan Crisp was just an extra added attraction.

The White Chocolate and Pecan Tart was, of course, very fresh and of the quality that Miel is known for. Dining here is really very close to a European dining experience, certainly on par with any dinner we've enjoyed in Paris where the whole approach to food is different in the States, less quantity and a total focus on quality when it comes to ingredients and preparation.  Nothing will come out of the kitchen less than perfect.

That perfection carried over to the Creme Brulee.  Not always an easy dish to master as we have seen in other restaurants, this was a classic, just the way it should be.

A great night.  A great meal and very fun, indeed, while bringing attention to a commitment to the planet and our resources.  We've visited Miel several times as both guests and paying customers and have never been disappointed in the quality of food and service.

Miel Brasserie Provencale
InterContinental Boston
510 Atlantic Avenue
Boston, MA  02210
Telephone:  617.217.5030

Tuesday, March 17, 2015


It didn't open to a large fanfare and may still be quite under-the-radar, something we liked.  The Japanese Hotpot experience may not be the next big wave in dining nor do I believe that it will proliferate (like the cupcake or more upscale fast food burger spots) but it is fun nonetheless and this new venue offers a slightly different take in a sleek, modern space with a cool vibe.  So, when we were invited to dine here and having limited hotpot experience, we thought we'd give it a try.  It is Shabumaru.

The Hotpot meal is just what it sounds like, a boiling pot of broth into which one dips a variety of foods to steam or cook.  Typically, there would be one, large communal pot so it is often a favorite with groups of friends or family.  Here, each diner gets his own pot.  One begins with the choice of chicken or vegetable broth, most likely dictated by what you will choose to dip.  Next. pails of fresh veggies and condiments like garlic and green onion are brought out to add to the broth, to your taste, and get things going.  The staff is very helpful and more than willing to walk the newbie through it.

A choice of appetizers is offered.  This Japanese Sausage was quite good.  In addition to the condiments both ponzu and sesame sauces are served for additional flavor.

Shumai was another appetizer that we sampled and also quite good, not too firm or gooey with a flavorful filling.

We went with the Ribeye, thin, flaky slices of highly-marbled meat, to dunk into the chicken broth for literally a few seconds, less than a minute at most but it's quite fun to experiment.

We also tried the Seafood Platter, dipped into the veggie broth, which I really loved.  Shrimp, Lobster, Salmon, Scallops and some very nice Fish Cakes were all included.  It may seem like light dining, especially for one who is chopsticks impaired, like me, but it was actually quite filling and I loved the fact that one can use the condiments and broth to play with the flavors.

We'd highly suggest trying the risotto.  You may be thrown off your regular dining routine by the fact that it comes at the end of the meal, after the veggies, meats and seafood have been dredged and devoured.  The remaining broth is roiled to a frothy heat, the rice is thrown in and within minutes a thick, porridge like dish is served.  It was absolutely delicious, the best part of the meal.

I'm sure that the flavor is different every time but ours was infused with an umami richness that seemed to coat every grain of rice.  At least one person at the table should order this.  Everyone should try a taste.

The Mochi dessert left us wanting more, as well.  Cheesecake is also on the menu, leaving us curious.  Perhaps next time.

Wagyu Beef options are available at a hefty $30.00, not outrageous, and there are no mixed drinks, only beer and wine, simplifying the beverage choices.  The eclectic soundtrack is chosen by the staff and added to the fun. A small venue, beautifully designed, it offered a very fun, quirky, cool oasis.

10 Huntington Avenue
Westin Hotel
Boston, MA  02116
Telephone:  617.437.8888