ladysprite: (steampunk)
Dear LJ,

I am so, so very sorry that I've been avoiding you. Stress and depression make it hard to write, and then not having written makes it even harder. But I miss you, and I need to get back to you. So, here's starting on my backlong.

So, way back when, [livejournal.com profile] bess and [livejournal.com profile] cristovau had claimed M, when we got around to it, telling us that they wanted to take us to Moonstones. Aside from the fact that it looked like an awesome restaurant, there was no way we were going to turn down dinner with friends - especially ones we don't see often enough - so we said yes, and made plans.

The first thing I noticed about Moonstones is that it was big, and easy to find, and that there was plenty of parking. (Most of the restaurants we can find for this project are in the Boston area, where those are extreme rarities.) We went in, and the staff was incredibly friendly, and everything was huge and spacious - while there were other tables, they felt far enough away from ours to be in another zip code.

Their menu has a combination of tapas/small plates and regular-sized dishes; in the interest of science and experimentation we felt we needed to try some of both. We started out with a handful of tapas for sharing. The marinated olives and hummus (mostly enjoyed by [livejournal.com profile] cristovau and myself, both of us rejoicing in finding someone to share our olive love) were delicious - the olives were both mild and deliciously salty and briny, and the hummus was light and lemony instead of dense and grainy like it sometimes is. The seared scallops with truffled potato was perfect in every way - the scallops were moist and sweet, and the potatoes were not too earthy (I am generally not a fan of truffled anything, but even I liked this). And the chianti-glazed meatballs with mascarpone polenta were excellent as well. The meatballs were good, though they were very mildly seasoned, but the polenta was, again, perfect.

For a main course, I ordered the Catalan-style braised chicken with tomatoes, pine nuts, and spanish dumplings, and it was awesome. The chicken was meltingly tender, and the flavors of the sauce and the meat just blended together into a spicy rich meaty tangy smoky marvel. The dumplings - little cornmeal balls - were wonderful for soaking up extra sauce.

[livejournal.com profile] umbran ordered the smoked pork chop with polenta and spiced apples, and loved it thoroughly; it was smoky and sweet and properly done. [livejournal.com profile] bess ordered the butternut capellaci, which were my second-favorite dish of the night - sweet, creamy, smooth, luscious ravioli-like things that just hit the perfect blend of texture and flavor. [livejournal.com profile] cristovau ordered the steak frites with rosemary fries and braised romaine, which was also surprisingly (to me) good. I'm usually not a fan of Slab O Red Meat, but this was crisp and charred just right, and the texture on the meat was good. The fries were crisp and not-greasy, and the braised romaine was unexpectedly good, for hot lettuce.

Luckily, the restaurant offers a dessert sampler plate, making our decision there even easier - tiny tasting portions of a handful of truly excellent-sounding desserts. The zeppoli was a pleasant surprise for my Jersey-girl heart; it was just a perfect mouthful of hot-crisp-soft-cinnamon-sugar-yum. The bread and butter pudding was rich and buttery with a good crust. Their chocolate pate was, in essence, like a flourless chocolate cake, but a little lighter - bittersweet, not too rich, and felt a lot like eating a mug of cocoa. The truest standout, though was the guava pudding. Sweet and tangy, fruity and smooth, and amazingly balanced; I would go back for that alone.

All in all, it was an amazing success, both in company and in food. Each dish left me thinking, 'no, THIS one is my favorite!' and there were so many others on the menu that sounded wonderful that I didn't get the chance to try; I can't wait to go back.

And now that it's written up, we can get back on track. Any thoughts for N?
ladysprite: (cooking)
All right - I'm way the heck behind on writing these up, but the project is still ongoing, and with any luck I'll get caught up over the next few days and be able to move on to new and shiny restaurants.

So way back in October we went to Rome. And we ate in a lot of restaurants and the food in them was invariably delicious, and I had a half-hearted idea that I wanted to try to hit a Project restaurant, but I was mostly just picking and choosing whatever places looked tasty and interesting. And so by our third day I had rather resigned myself to the idea that it just wouldn't happen.

That was the day that we went wandering by the Spanish Steps and dawdled at the fountain at the bottom before deciding to look for a place to eat lunch. We wound up heading slightly off the beaten path, ducking into alleys and piazzas, until we found a little square with a handful of cafes and food shops. We picked one with a decent-looking menu, took our seats outside on the plaza, and it wasn't until I looked at the full menu our server placed in front of me that I realized that we were at the Leonardo Ristorante, making this a perfect choice for L.

We never made it inside the restaurant - this was true of most of the places we ate in Rome. The weather was gorgeous and every place had an outside terrace, so there was no reason to come in from the glorious sun and breeze. And the plaza here was quiet and shady and peaceful, and the people were polite, and it was just perfect.

We started out with an antipasto plate for the two of us to share, and, like the restaurant itself, it was perfect. There were artichokes that were rich and buttery, and olives that made me swoon, salami and prosciutto that were thinly sliced enough to be delicate but not chewy or tough, and slivers of gouda and swiss and balls of mozzarella (I think Italy in general spoiled me for mozzarella - I've never had any that good before).

[livejournal.com profile] umbran ordered a panino with turkey, avocado, and tomato, which was decently good. To my surprise, at least, it wasn't grilled - I'm used to panini being hot, pressed sandwiches. But all of the individual ingredients were incredibly high quality, and the flavors were well-balanced. The bread was rich and flavorful, and though there were no condiments on the sandwich, it was still tasty and refreshing.

The true winner of the meal, though, was my lunch. I ordered bruschettoni with tomatoes, mozzarella, olives, capers, and tuna. (Bruschettoni, as far as I can tell, is a single large piece of bruschetta.) This amounted to, functionally speaking, an open-faced Italian tuna melt, and it was seven kinds of heavenly. The bread itself was crisp and rich and a little sweet, brushed with just enough olive oil to balance the flavors, the tuna was high-quality, chunky, and strongly-flavored, and the olives and capers were salty and sharp and the tomatoes were fresh and the whole thing was just exactly what I needed on a sunny afternoon after walking across half of Rome.

We didn't order dessert at the restaurant, deciding instead to save ourselves for gelato later, but all in all this was one of the best food experiences we had in Italy....
ladysprite: (cooking)
I'll be honest, [livejournal.com profile] umbran and I got hung up on K for a long time. There were plenty of interesting-sounding restaurants that we wanted to try, but a lot of them were just a challenge and a half to get to. It seems like just about every K restaurant in the area is in Boston proper, Brookline, or other areas that are equally unfriendly to parking and requiring of multiple buses, T lines, and/or other travel techniques to reach. And given how miserable work has been lately, by the time I get home most nights I've been frustrated, exhausted, stressed, and not quite in the mood to expend the effort to trek out to goodness-knows-where for experimental food.

But I was also getting frustrated at our lack of progress. So, one Saturday a couple of weeks ago, I informed my husband that, come hell or high water, we were going out for our K dinner that night, and that while I was at work he should perhaps hunt down a restaurant - any restaurant - that fit the bill. He responded with the suggestion of Khushboo, in Lexington. It was nearby, it was easy enough to get to, and we'd been looking for a decent Indian restaurant since Namaskar in Davis Square closed. I looked at their menu online and wasn't too jazzed, but I decided to go for it.

I cannot say enough good things about this restaurant. I love everything about it, and I can't wait to take everyone I know and like there. I fell in love with my first bite of food, and it just kept getting better.

As I mentioned, it's incredibly easy to get to, and, wonder of wonders, there's more than enough free parking to go around. The restaurant itself, though out on a busy street, is upstairs in a quiet, private space (even though the place is huge, it's laid out in a way that makes the tables seem secluded and set apart) that makes you feel safe and set apart from the rest of the world, and it smells like heaven.

I'm a fan of Indian food in general, but I'll admit I tend to rather stay in a rut with what I order. We tried to branch out a *little* bit for this experiment, though, and while we ordered a bunch of our favorite things, we also tried to vary from our standard at least a little - so we wound up sharing veggie samosas, lamb korma, saag paneer, and some plain naan, all of which was amazing.

I was even impressed by the papadums that they brought out for nibbling. While they suffered a bit from the humidity (it was one of the most egregious days of a particularly humid and hot summer), they were still tasty, and the plum sauce they served with them was the best I've ever tasted, tart and zingy and actually fruity. The chutney they served was more to [livejournal.com profile] umbran's tastes, but he liked it; I'm just less of a fan in general.

The samosas were good, though to be honest they were the weakest item of the night. The filling was very mild, and mostly potato, but the crust was delicious. It was tender and rich, and not at all greasy; I can't wait to try their non-veggie samosas and see how they compare. The dipping sauce seemed to be pure cilantro, so I just ignored it, though [livejournal.com profile] umbran thought it went well.

The naan was the best I've ever had. It was hot and steaming and fresh, and buttery and chewy and every possible positive adjective that one can apply to fresh bread. I would eat it every day if I could.

We ordered all of our dishes mild, since we didn't have enough experience with this particular restaurant to know their spice calibration - while I'm not afraid of spicy food, and have been developing more of a taste for it over the past few years, I tend to take my experimenting with heat cautiously, and I prefer flavor over burn. That said, mild seemed to be a good setting here. Everything had rich flavor, and just enough kick to have a little burn but not enough to wash out the other flavors. In some restaurants, "mild" can translate to "bland," and that wasn't the case at all.

The lamb korma was perfect - the meat was meltingly tender, and the sauce was sweet and tangy and rich with just enough spice to have a little bit of kick. And the saag paneer was smooth and delicate, and the paneer wasn't rubbery like it can be sometimes, and I just cannot say enough good things. The rice was neutral enough that it didn't register; I'll admit I'm not much of a connoisseur of the stuff, and for me it's mostly a vector for sopping up sauces.

We didn't wind up ordering dessert, having stuffed ourselves full of delicious meat and spinach; even with that, there were enough leftovers to make fabulous next-day bento lunches for both of us. End result? New favorite Indian restaurant, and I can't wait to go back and try everything else on their menu. I am SO happy we wound up trying it.

So. Recommendations for L? Or, anyone local want to go out for Indian food in the near future?
ladysprite: (cooking)
Finally, another installment in the project! At this rate, it'll only take us a few more years to finish....

Having finally reached J, I knew I wanted to go to Journeyman - it was nearby, and newish, and it sounded absolutely fascinating from what everyone had told me. I'll admit that I had heard mixed reviews, but they all agreed it was very, very different from any other restaurant I've ever been to, and that was interesting enough to make me want to try it.

Getting there was, in fact, half the battle. Over the past two months we've tried to go there at least half a dozen times. Once they were closed for a week while their chefs went overseas for training, another time they were closed for a private party, other times our plans to invite other folks fell through. Finally, last weekend I just put my foot down and told [livejournal.com profile] umbran to find a time and make us reservations, no matter what.

Then came the challenge of actually finding the restaurant (down a tiny, poorly-labeled alley, past a mostly-unmarked door in an industrial-looking brick wall). But we eventually found the place, and were seated. The restaurant itself is tiny, with about 26 seats total, so we were seated at the "chef's table" - counter seats, that look back into the food prep area. Luckily, for me this is a selling point instead of a detriment.

The restaurant has a tasting menu, instead of a standard menu; your only choices are 5 versus 7 courses and vegetarian vs. omnivore. We opted for the 5 course meal, since one of the extra courses was foie gras, which I don't eat, and in order to get the chance to try everything, I ordered the vegetarian while [livejournal.com profile] umbran ordered the omnivore dinner. We didn't order the wine pairing, obviously, but [livejournal.com profile] umbran did order one of the house-made sodas, which was utterly fascinating - they asked him for a basic flavor profile; he chose citrus, and was given an apricot-lime-lavender soda that was one of the best things I tasted that night.

Hidden, because this gets long..... )
ladysprite: (cooking)
So, in spite of our slow progress, the Restaurant Project proceeds apace. We had finally worked our way up to I - and, given that it was less than a mile from our house, and that it sounded different from anything we had tried before, and we had a $10 coupon, and that we were looking for somewhere interesting to go for [livejournal.com profile] umbran's birthday, we decided to go to Istanbul'lu.

Given that it's right in Teele Square, which is smack between our house and the nearest T station, I have walked past this restaurant more times than I can count. And I have never bothered to stop in there until now, mostly because it is a tiny little hole in the wall that looks to be smaller than my dining room. And, while that is not an inaccurate assessment, I now deeply regret never having eaten here before, because the food is truly, epically amazing.

As I said, the restaurant is tiny. Like, maybe 8-10 tables tiny. But it was warm, and friendly, and just felt welcoming in a way I can't quite describe. Neither [livejournal.com profile] umbran nor I had ever eaten Turkish food before, so, while the menu was intellectually interesting, we honestly had no idea of what to expect or what to order, and wound up picking a handful of items that sounded interesting - while we couldn't anticipate the flavors or seasonings, at least the descriptions were vivid.

While we were waiting for our food, the waitress brought out fresh bread with roasted red pepper dip - I would go back to the restaurant again only for that. The bread was rich and warm and buttery, and the dip was smooth and tangy and lemony and delicious; I had to bite my tongue to keep from asking for the recipe.

We started out with a couple of appetizers - Patates Kofte and Mercimek Kofta. The patates kofte reminded me of an alternately spiced knish - spicy and tangy and savory, filled with potatoes and meat that had an amazingly smooth texture, wasn't fatty at all, and went amazingly well with the yogurt sauce they served on top. The mercimek kofta was a kind of lentil patty, that wound up being much spicier and more peppery - it reminded me a bit of the spice profile at Addis Red Sea, with a faster and stronger burn. But the texture was good, and the ever-present yogurt sauce balanced the spice enough that I still enjoyed it.

For dinner, I ordered the Beyti Kebab, and [livejournal.com profile] umbran ordered the Tas Kebab. And, like everything else, they were both mouth-wateringly delicious. The beyti kebab was made of spiced ground lamb wrapped in lavash, topped with a tomato sauce that was almost a little sweet, with a coarse texture, as well as the yogurt sauce, and it was served with a salad of minced tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, feta, and vinegar. The kebab itself was juicy and savory and just spicy enough, and both of the sauces blended better than I could have imagined, and the salad was the perfect complement. It was an interesting blend of sweet and tangy; there was something in it that almost tasted like watermelon, but it wasn't enough to seem jarring in contrast to the rest of the meal.

The tas kebab was, in fact, a lamb stew with roasted peppers and tomatoes, served over buttered rice, and it was amazing in its simplicity. It was less spicy than most of the other dishes, but in a way that let the flavors of each ingredient shine. The meat was tender, the vegetables kept their structure and their flavor, and everything came together surprisingly well.

Since this was a birthday dinner we had cake waiting at home, and hadn't intended to order dessert, but when the waitress informed us that they had baklava, we decided to change our minds - baklava is one of my favorite things. And, once again, I'm incredibly glad that we did. The baklava was served warm, which was a new experience for me, and it was quite possibly the most perfect piece of such dessert that I've ever had. There wasn't too much rosewater (a common problem, in my experience), the nuts and the honey were integrated well and not too grainy, and the richness and the flakiness and the sweetness all were... well, perfect.

So. New favorite restaurant, again. If everything else we find winds up continuing in this vein, we will be lucky people indeed.

And now, recommendations for J?
ladysprite: (cooking)
And once again, I realize several weeks after the fact that I forgot to write up my latest episode of the Restaurant Project. Thank goodness I take notes - though I do need to realize that I'd probably get through this a lot faster if I remembered to write things in a more timely fashion....

After the last project, [livejournal.com profile] jadasc had strongly recommended Hungry Mother to me as my next restaurant - and since I both trust him and don't get enough chances to spend time with him, I promised him that the next letter would be his. As it turns out, a couple of weeks later [livejournal.com profile] umbran and I had the opportunity to spend an evening with him and [livejournal.com profile] gyzki, due to the last-minute cancellation of our semi-weekly tabletop game, and we decided to take advantage of the chance and make it a Restaurant Project night. Luckily, both friends seemed to enjoy the heck out of the chance to play along.

Hungry Mother is, in a word, awesome. It may well be my favorite of the restaurants so far - while the food may not have been better than Campagna, it is enough closer to our price range that it'll be much easier to get back there on something other than a once-a-decade basis.

The first thing I noticed when we got there was how warm it was - this was during the first cold snap of the season, and walking in was almost like being hugged - and how good it smelled. We were seated almost immediately after we arrived, too... and we promptly proceeded to order just about every dish on the menu, between the four of us. Luckily, the waiter was wonderful, prompt, courteous, and polite, asking about any food allergies before we could bring them up, answering all of our odd questions, and being extraordinarily tolerant of our eclectic behavior.

[livejournal.com profile] jadasc had mentioned that the boiled peanuts were a house specialty, so we started with an order of them for the table, and they were surprisingly delicious. I wasn't sure of what to expect, but what we got were a bit unusual, softer and squishier than I had expected, and very similar to edamame - just a touch saltier, and much more savory than I would have expected for peanuts. I could easily eat an entire bowl of them myself. The bread and butter they brought out to the table was merely good - cold, and nothing extraordinary - but that was the only let-down of the evening.

From there on out, we all shared our meals, more or less. For the first course [livejournal.com profile] umbran ordered the chicory salad, with radishes, nuts, goat cheese, and apple. It was delicious; the bitterness of the greens was cut by the sweetness of the apples and the richness of the cheese, and it wasn't too heavily dressed. [livejournal.com profile] jadasc ordered the curried squash soup with crab, which was sweet and a little spicy and not too salty, and managed to be a luscious blend of a lot of disparate components. I wisely decided that there would be heap plenty food about, and mooched off everyone else's plate.

The entrees were equally spectacular. I ordered the Catfish Pecan Meuniere with lemon browned butter and rice pilaf, and it was stellar. The rice was perfect, buttery and rich and well-made, and the fish was flaky and tasty and cooked just right, and surprisingly, the flavor came through in spite of all the toppings - they blended, instead of overwhelming the fish itself. [livejournal.com profile] umbran ordered the Barbecued Pork and Beans with mustard greens, which may have been the best dish of the night - the pork (both pork belly and pulled pork) was tangy and sweet but not cloying, and the beans were... I've heard properly cooked beans described as being creamy before, but never truly understood it until I tasted these. [livejournal.com profile] jadasc ordered the Steak Kentukiyaki with parsnips, and it was, unsurprisingly, good, with a sweet glaze; the meat was tender and done perfectly, and the parsnips were, in his words, acrid but good. [livejournal.com profile] gyzki ordered the Cast Iron Chicken, which was surprisingly excellent - it's amazing how much flavor simple chicken can have when it's properly cooked, and juicy and tender. The skin wasn't as crispy as I might have expected, but it was still delicious.

We also shared an order of grits with ham and cheddar, which I adored - I'm a fan of grits in general, in spite of being a New Englander born and bred, and these were rich and thick and the cheddar was strong and the ham was smoky and it was all so good; and cornbread with sorghum butter. I'm usually not that fond of southern-style cornbread, so this was a harder sell for me, but it was still tasty - dense, a little crusty, but not dry, and more savory than I'm used to, but the flavor was balanced by the sweetness of the butter.

And somehow, after all this, we still found room for dessert. (For research purposes, of course). My sweetie and I split the Chocolate Peanut Butter Torte, which was, as advertised, full of chocolate and peanut butter and deliciousness. The textures were great - no one layer squished out as we cut into it - and the flavors were strong, but well-balanced. [livejournal.com profile] jadasc ordered my other favorite, the Maple Pecan Upside Down Cake with Candied Bacon. This was the first and only time I've seen bacon work successfully in a baked dessert, mostly because it wound up acting as just little highlights of salty awesomeness in an otherwise-very-sweet dessert; this may have been the best thing I tasted all night. He also ordered the coffee with irish cream, which I didn't taste, but which he stated was "sparkly and strong." [livejournal.com profile] gyzki, being the bravest of us all, decided to try the pie of the day, which was some strange coffee-pear-chocolate thing. I didn't taste this either, being a fan of neither coffee nor pears, but everyone else described it as being surprisingly good.

So. Win, on every dish and every course and every metric I can think of. After a handful of ups and downs, it was very, very nice to have such a clear victory. The only problem is going to be finding a restaurant for I that can match it.

So - recommendations? Or, barring that, strangest pie you've ever eaten?
ladysprite: (cooking)
I have only just realized that, in spite of the fact that this happened several weeks ago, I never managed to get the chance to write it up - but I have a little bit of time now, and want to get it down before it completely slips my mind. So, without further ado, here we go - the 7th episode in the Restaurant Project, this time with special guest stars [livejournal.com profile] irseri and [livejournal.com profile] medeaschild!

I had gotten a lot of good suggestions for G, but life had been hectic, and finding time to go downtown for dinner was a challenge. (Though, incidentally, now that [livejournal.com profile] umbran is working near Newbury Street, that is likely to be much easier.) On the other hand, when we managed to eke out an evening for dinner and a movie with friends, they were good enough sports to be willing to play along and find a local G restaurant in order to get a Project dinner checked off the list as part of our time together.

We had originally picked out a Brazilian steakhouse that was supposed to be near the theater, but unfortunately when we drove to the site we found that the restaurant no longer existed, so we fell back on a second choice - Grassfields Steak and Seafood. I'm not normally a huge steak fan, and this looked a bit... mainstream, but the menu seemed decent, and at this point we were determined to do SOMETHING for the project, and it was what we had an address for in the area....

And it was a pretty darn nice restaurant. If nothing else, it rated head and shoulders above our first choice merely for existing. It was kind of generic, but nice. Decently lit, not too cold, and they managed to seat us immediately. And that was when the fun started - I hadn't expected any serious participation from our friends, but everyone decided that, in the interest of the project and research and science, it was imperative that we order as many diverse dishes as humanly possible, given that there were only four of us eating.

So we started out with appetizers of Zucchini Sticks and a Goat Cheese and Spinach Salad, both of which were, like the restaurant, pretty darn good. The zucchini sticks were light and crispy, and not at all greasy or heavy. They actually tasted like zucchini, and the peppercorn sauce they came with was decent and not too spicy. The salad had a good balance of dressing and spinach and cranberries and cheese, though it could have used more nuts. The bread they brought around was okay too, though nothing outstanding.

The biggest problem was when we went to order dinner - they were out of at least a few items that we tried to order. Ultimately, though, we all found food that was at least somewhat diverse and interesting.

I ordered Teriyaki Steak Tips (medium-well, because I am a heathen who likes my meat actually cooked), and they were good. Most importantly, they were done enough - I've gotten used to my food showing up either overdone or underdone, and that wasn't a problem here at all - and while the meat was done enough, it wasn't dry at all. The sauce was good, and not cloyingly sweet. And the veggies on the side were tasty, too - plain, but, like the meat, not overdone.

[livejournal.com profile] umbran ordered Steak Tips and Lobster Pie, which was fairly good. The steak tips were similar to mine, sans sauce, and the lobster pie was decent, if a bit heavy on the bread crumbs. He had rice pilaf on the side, and it was simple, but not bad. Buttery, mild, and not hideously salty or heavy. [livejournal.com profile] irseri ordered Steak Tips (yeah, kind of a theme, though his were medium-rare) and Scallops. The scallops were slightly overdone, but sweet and otherwise tasty, and the medium-rare tips were tender and not overdone at all. The only real failure for the evening was [livejournal.com profile] medeaschild's Petite Filet, which she said was over-charred and not that great. I am not enough of a steak connoisseur to judge, so I will take her word for it.

Then, of course, we had to order dessert. For research purposes. And dessert made up for any weaknesses in dinner. [livejournal.com profile] umbran and I split the Pumpkin Spice Cake, which was purely delicious - the cake wasn't dry at all, and tasted like nutmeg and pumpkin and fall, and the caramel sauce was rich and luscious and balanced the sweetness of the cake just about perfectly. [livejournal.com profile] irseri had Rice Pudding, which was thick and creamy and delightful, and [livejournal.com profile] medeaschild had the Avalanche, an ice cream sundae with caramel sauce and pecans and whipped cream which she pronounced to be Quite Good, and seemed to make up for the less than stellar dinner.

So, all in all.... okay. Not necessarily somewhere I'll be racing back to, but not a failure by any stretch of the imagination. Though it does leave me hoping for something a little creative and out of the ordinary for H. So, any suggestions?
ladysprite: (cooking)
Unsurprisingly, this project is going a lot more slowly than my previous one. We had decided on Flora for our F restaurant, after several strong recommendations, but unfortunately (as before) ran into an unlikely string of poor timing problems - several times we tried to make it there, only to be stopped by work emergencies, last-minute changes of plans, or getting there to find the restaurant closed for a private function. Eventually, we decided that it just wasn't meant to be, and moved on.

Last week, though, when we headed down to Mystic, I realized that since we'd be eating in restaurants by necessity, it might be a good opportunity to find something interesting and move ahead on the project. A quick internet search turned up the Flood Tide Restaurant, which looked nice, interesting, and, while not crazy expensive, better than a lot of the other pizza shack offerings.

The location was perfect; we were able to park nearby and wander around the little local shops for a while before eating, and they were actually quite helpful and accommodating when we decided to take a little more wander-time and called to push our reservation back by half an hour. And the restaurant itself was lovely, without being too dark or too cold (common problems, in my experience, in restaurants trying to be upscale - I'm not sure why shivering is supposed to imply refinement, but it always ends up seeming that way). The only oddness I noticed was that [livejournal.com profile] umbran and I were the youngest people in there by at least 25 years. I'm not sure why; the food was good and the menu, while not obnoxiously trendy, was plenty interesting.

The bread they brought out was warm and rich and tasty, and we started with an appetizer of Crispy Duck Spring Rolls that were, honestly, the best thing I ate that entire weekend. Not that the rest of the food wasn't good, but these were amazing. I'm a sucker for duck in just about any form, and these were crisp and smokey with tender, flavorful meat and a sweet/sour sauce that was not too gloppy or sugary... perfection.

I ordered the Sea Scallops with Parmesan Dijon Cream and Duchess Potatoes - scallops are another favorite food - and I wasn't let down. The scallops were sweet and tender and briny and wonderful, and the sauce was light enough not to interfere with the flavor of the scallops themselves (a heavy, cheesy sauce would have been way too much). The potatoes were good enough, I guess; they weren't that memorable, but they weren't bad. And the roasted vegetables that came on the side were amazing - corn, green and yellow beans, and purple and orange cauliflower, in an herbed butter. I hate cauliflower as a rule, but the combination of color and roasting were enough to convince me to try a bite, and it was actually good - and the rest of the veggies were delicious.

[livejournal.com profile] umbran ordered the Rack of Lamb, with Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes. Honestly, I liked my food better - the taste I had of his lamb was a little tough and gamey, though he said the rarer portions were better. (I am doing my best to cultivate a taste for rare meat, but ultimately not succeeding.) The gravy was excellent, though, and he said his mashed potatoes were excellent and had a good texture.

Alas, we were too full to order dessert; a failure on our parts, I know. All in all, though, while this wasn't a life-changing meal, it was definitely a mark in the 'win' column. So, thumbs up for a positive experience, and for trying a random new restaurant - that's a large part of why I started this project!

So - best vacation food experiences you've had? And recommendations for G? The only place I can think of locally is Gargoyles, and I've heard less than stellar reviews of them in general....
ladysprite: (cooking)
Apologies for the delay, in case anyone noticed - the restaurant project is still going strong; we just wound up stuck on E for a while because, to be honest, we had a devil of a time actually getting to the darn restaurant.

E was sponsored in part by [livejournal.com profile] new_man, who had repeatedly recommended that we go to Eastern Standard. He had mentioned this as early as B, and when we finally worked our way this far into the alphabet, took steps to make sure that we followed his advice.

The biggest challenge in getting there was just that I'm not used to going to restaurants that are so popular that I need to make reservations a week in advance. Once we figured that out, though, and once life calmed down enough that we could actually plan that far in advance, we got moving and made it there fairly easily.

The restaurant itself was easier to get to than I had imagined, being right next door to the Kenmore T station. And it's beautiful, too. A little dark on the inside, but since the weather was gorgeous we decided to sit outside. This was an excellent choice; the canopy overhead meant that we were shaded and cool, but not itting in the dark, and the wall of plants kept the road noise away while still letting us people-watch to our hearts' content.

The food was okay. I'll admit I was a bit let down at first - the restaurant had been recommended to us in large part because they had an amazing selection of nonalcoholic cocktails (I refuse to say 'mocktails,' it's too cutesy and twee. I have enough of a problem being told that I'm not a Real Adult because I don't drink; I won't use demeaning words to draw attention to it). Unfortunately, their selection has apparently diminished significantly since that recommendation, and they only had 3 options. Still, I figured that I should try one of them as long as I was there. I ordered a Sophisticated Lady (again with the ridiculous names. It's not quite the Rooty Tooty Fresh & Fruity Breakfast, but still....), which was a combination of cucumber and cranberry juice. It was.... interesting. Ultimately, both cucumbers and cranberry juice are tasty, but I'm fairly certain those are flavors that should never blend. They do not enhance each other; they just combine in an entirely odd and not quite pleasant way. [livejournal.com profile] umbran was much luckier with his order of Abbey's Punch - orange, pineapple, and lime juice. It tasted mostly like pineapple, but was still very good. That said, neither one was quite as tasty as the mixed drinks that [livejournal.com profile] new_man himself makes for us.

The menu was interesting. I had a challenge figuring out what I wanted to eat, mostly because, while almost all of the food sounded delicious in theory, it was all heavy as anything. Baked pasta, steak, roasted chicken - all food that would be wonderful in February, but not quite appealing on an 80-degree summer day. Ultimately I wound up just ordering a salad and an appetizer, which actually turned out to be a good idea.

The mixed greens salad was very good. It was simple, just mixed greens, blanched almonds, oranges, and a vinaigrette, but it was nicely balanced, not too heavily dressed, and perfect for a hot, sunny day. I also ordered the salt cod fritters, which were good, if a little too heavy on the potato and light on the actual cod. They were, however, lighter than I would have imagined possible, and not at all greasy, and they came with a remoulade that was tangy and tasty. Not as spicy as it was advertised as being, but a nice complement for the fritters.

[livejournal.com profile] umbran ordered the Cubano, which has become one of his favorite dishes to test new restaurants with. I tasted a bite and thought it was very good; he is a bit more of a connoisseur than I am, though, and described it as being a little sweet (they used bread-and-butter pickles instead of dills) and a little light on the mustard. If we had one critique of the food overall, actually, it was that the seasoning was on the mild side. Understandable, though, for a place that prides itself most of all on its beverages.

Dessert was where the restaurant redeemed itself entirely, though. We ordered the profiteroles with wildflower honey ice cream and salted caramel chocolate sauce, and they were perfect. The ice cream was delicious, and actually tasted like honey more than anything else - it makes me want to try making ice cream at home with some of the varietal honeys we have, though I don't know if I could make anything quite that good. The pastry was amazing, and the texture was just right - and it was clear that they didn't preassemble and freeze the profiteroles; they weren't squishy like frozen/thawed pastry usually is. There were a couple of candied cherries in syrup that were delicious enough to make my eyes roll back in my head, and the caramel chocolate sauce.... they would have been delicious without it; with it everything was above and beyond awesome.

All in all, it was a pretty good experience/ I'm very glad to have tried the restaurant, and I'll definitely go back in the cooler weather, when I can order and enjoy their braised pork cheeks, or roast chicken and stuffing. And given how good the dessert was, if nothing else I *need* to try the butterscotch bread pudding.

Meanwhile, I am still on the lookout for a restaurant with a good selection of nonalcoholic mixed drinks, though I think that may be a bit of a unicorn hunt. And it is time to move forward - any recommendations for F?
ladysprite: (cooking)
Okay - this is backlogged a bit; we went out to eat over a week ago, but with all of the drama and adventure of the past week or so, I haven't quite gotten around to writing about it yet.

Actually, in some part, the incipient drama and excitement was what led to our restaurant choice for this round. While we had a lot of recommendations for Dali, I've eaten there before - and while I love it, part of the point of this project is to try new places as often as possible, so I wanted to pick out someplace new. And when we wound up with a weekend evening with a little bit of time and absolutely no desire to cook, I tasked my husband with picking out a "D" restaurant and taking me there.

He decided on the Deluxe Town Diner, a place where he had eaten before and mentioned wanting to take me to in the past. I grew up in the Tri-State Area, and diners were a huge part of my adolescence and young adulthood; they're one of the few things about New Jersey that I miss. I've been eager beyond belief to find something that fills that gap here in New England, and was fairly hopeful as we headed out to dinner.

Alas, my hopes were not fulfilled. While I'm sure that the Deluxe Town Diner is, as [livejournal.com profile] umbran reassures me, a wonderful place to get a sandwich, it is... not the best place to go for dinner.

It's a cute little place, that is very authentically diner-ish, with its chrome and neon and booths and front counter, but it didn't live up to the promise. Also, the service was just plain lousy; we were stuffed in a corner and our spacey waitress forgot at least half of our orders. (In my opinion, part of the Authentic Diner Experience involves having a waitress who calls you Hon, has a memory like a computer, and, in a perfect world, has your table set up, your diet coke poured, and a plate of disco fries on the way by the time you wander in at 1am after your tabletop game wraps for the night.)

I wound up ordering fried chicken, which came with mashed potatoes and broccoli. The chicken itself was not too bad - the coating was crispy and the meat wasn't dry, and it wasn't greasy, so that wasn't too bad. Unfortunately, the mashed potatoes were kind of gluey and bland, yet disturbingly sweet. Not as in sweet potatoes, but as in red bliss potatoes that someone had added a bunch of sugar to. And the broccoli was treated more as a garnish than a side dish.

[livejournal.com profile] umbran ordered the meatloaf, with the same sides, and said it was (quoting from the little pad where I took notes during the meal) "Okay." Not condemning, but not exactly a ringing endorsement, though he did also mention that the potatoes were much better with gravy. He did, though, wind up with the best part of the meal - a raspberry lime rickey that was quite possibly the best I've ever tasted. I spent a decent part of the evening trying to steal it away from him and sneak sips. (Yes, I could have ordered my own. This was more fun.)

Dessert was a little better. I ordered a vanilla cupcake, which was surprisingly good - the cake was rich and not dry, the icing was actual buttercream, and the entire package was adorable, at least in my opinion, though I'll understand that the fuschia-and-teal color scheme might have scared off lesser mortals. My better half ordered carrot cake, which was a little dry and stringy, but the cream cheese icing went a long way towards salvaging it.

All in all, not our best experience. I'll probably be willing to give the place another try, at least for lunch, but it's not going to join our regular restaurant rotation.

Meanwhile, while I have an idea of where to go for E, I'm always open to suggestions - and my quest for a decent diner continues....
ladysprite: (cooking)
So at our last Restaurant Project outing, as I was discussing where we might wind up going next, I was given a very pleasant and unexpected gift - [livejournal.com profile] jducoeur informed us that, as a belated birthday/holiday present he would like to sponsor C, and gave us a gift certificate to La Campania, thereby both solving the problem of where to go and answering the question of whether restaurants with "the," "la," "el," or some other lead-in counted as the first letter of the name, or the first letter of the first word.

I had never heard of La Campania before, but he described it as being pretty amazing, and the web page described a beautiful place with a tasty food, so it sounded like a lot of fun, and this weekend [livejournal.com profile] umbran and I decided to go.

This was an epic experience. Hands-down, no question, the best meal of my life so far. I cannot describe how glad I am to have gone, and how delightful it was.

La Campania looks tiny from the outside, but once you get inside it turns out to be much, much larger than it looks. The space is divided up into a bunch of smaller rooms and nooks and halls, so that no matter how big the restaurant itself is, the place where you're sitting seems private and cozy. It's all brick and old wood and beautiful, and the giant box of bright yellow tulips next to our table just made things even more cheerful.

And the food. Oh my god, the food. I started out with an Antipasta of Mozzarella di Bufala, Tomatoes, and Roasted Red Pepper, and this may have been the best dish of the night. The mozzarella was smooth and creamy, the tomatoes were surprisingly tasty for this time of year, and the peppers were bright and rich and tart and vinegary and everything just worked together perfectly. [livejournal.com profile] umbran had the Arancini with Speck and Parmesan, and those were excellent, as well - crispy and creamy at the same time, and the flavors of the speck and the cheese and the rice all stood out in their own way.

For the main course, I wound up ordering a duck dish - Duck Leg Confit, Roasted Breast, Mashed Sweet Potatoes, and Escarole Affogata (which apparently means cooked with raisins, olives, and capers). I am a sucker for duck in almost any form, and this didn't disappoint. The leg was good, and the breast was impeccable - a little on the rare side but juicy and delicious, with a balsamic vinegar sauce that just made it even better. The escarole was amazing, and the tartness of the capers and raisins balanced the bitterness of the greens perfectly. But the most amazing part was the sweet potatoes. I had always thought that I hated sweet potatoes - the cloying sugariness, the weird semi-sticky, semi-dry texture, and the nasty marshmallow goo. These were... I don't even know how to describe them. Like eating slightly sweet, caramelized, earthy clouds. I have become an utter convert, and if I can ever make anything that delicious I will die happy.

[livejournal.com profile] umbran ordered the Grilled Rack of Venison, with mashed potatoes and some sort of greens (he didn't keep as detailed track as I did), and a port wine reduction. I didn't taste the potatoes or greens, but he says they were tasty. The venison, though, was heavenly. It was, like the duck, much rarer than I would have ordered, but for once that didn't bother me. The outside was smoky and seared to perfection, and the texture on the rest of the meat was meltingly rich, not mushy and weird.

For dessert we shared an order of bread pudding. It came layered with melted chocolate, with a rum creme anglaise and butter pecan gelato, and, continuing the theme of the evening, was brilliant. The bread was rich and delicious and not mushy or too dry or too soggy, the creme was flavorful but not overpoweringly boozy, and the gelato was the perfect amount of sweet to balance the bitterness of the chocolate.

I was in food heaven. My only regret is that the restaurant is far enough outside our standard price range that we will not be able to eat there on anything like a regular basis; on the other hand, doing so would probably detract from the special-occasion-ness of the experience.

Everything else from here on out is going to have a tough time competing. So a thousand thanks to [livejournal.com profile] jducoeur for making this happen!

And now, on to D. Any thoughts or suggestions? And what's your favorite super-special-occasion restaurant?

Edited to add: Agreed, Dali is awesome, and I love it! Alas, I have been there before, and I'm trying to avoid repeating restaurants I'm familiar with. Anyone have any *other* D recommendations? :)
ladysprite: (cooking)
It's been a little while since the last round of Restaurant Project, both because things have been beyond busy for me and because, when I do manage to find free time, it's mostly because the weather has led to enforced sedentary-ness. But finally schedules and skies cooperated, and I managed to get out for food and fun with friends.

This morning [livejournal.com profile] umbran and I joined [livejournal.com profile] new_man, [livejournal.com profile] mermaidlady, and [livejournal.com profile] jducoeur at The Blue Room for brunch. Technically I've been to The Blue Room once before, but that was for a specific event with a pre-set menu, so I still count it as a restaurant I've never eaten at - I've never had the chance to explore their menu, at least. And, since brunch is one of my favorite things in the world, this seemed like an excellent opportunity to get to know a new venue with good friends.

I was not disappointed. The Blue Room is a place I really ought to visit more often - it's local, just a short walk from the Kendall Square T station, and while it's a little on the cozy side, it manages to avoid feeling crowded. And they're impressively set up for groups of all sizes; I loved the corner booth/table we had, in particular - no crowding, room for all the plates and teapots and mugs and what-have-you, and enough out of the way that we could chat easily.

The food was excellent. Their brunch is a buffet, and it's an interesting mix of foods, more lunch-y than breakfast-y. It's also set up in small, fresh platters from a kitchen that you can see, instead of sitting out in huge chafing dishes, so the food tends to be hotter and fresher than most brunch buffets (though it does mean that if your timing is off, you may miss some dishes). I'll admit I'm partial to breakfast foods, so I stuck mostly to the foods at that end of the spectrum, but those who tried the ribs and cabbage slaw and other things like that said they were very good.

The house-made sausage was delicious. I'm used to pre-made sausage, that, while good, tends to be a little greasy and salty; this was meaty and spicy and the texture was amazing. The polenta was good, too - a little more savory than I had anticipated (I'm used to brunch being more breakfasty and sweet), but it went well with the other dishes. My favorite things, though, were the fried plantains and the pancakes topped with bananas and brown sugar.

There was a dessert table as well as breakfast and lunch food, but by the time we got to that I was too full to do more than nibble. The rice pudding was amazing, and I wish I'd had more room for it - cream and sweet, with a topping almost like creme brulee, and [livejournal.com profile] umbran says the chocolate chip cookies were great. I'll just have to go back again to try everything else....

I've got an idea already for C, but I still want to hear your ideas - any thoughts on brunch, or suggestions of where to go from here?
ladysprite: (cooking)
So last week, before the bubblegum hit the fan and I managed to catch every possible ailment passing through the area, [livejournal.com profile] umbran and I started out on the Restaurant Project.

We had a lot of incredibly interesting and good-looking recommendations for A, and I had a lot of fun looking through all of the places that were suggested, but we finally decided to go to Addis Red Sea for a handful of reasons. It was someplace new, it was a cuisine neither of us were familiar with, and it was fairly local and easy to get to.

I've had Ethiopian food once before, thanks to an outing with [livejournal.com profile] ausir, but my fella had never had the chance to try it, and part of the point of this project is to try new things. Plus, it feels like an accomplishment to finally actually set foot in a restaurant I've walked or driven past over a hundred times.

Addis Red Sea is a fascinating place. It's one of at least a dozen or more little store-front restaurants on Mass Ave between Davis and Harvard Squares, and I admit I tend to assume, because they're so small and unimpressive on the outside, that they're all going to be mediocre counter-service places. And in this case, at least, I was incredibly wrong. It's small, true, but the restaurant itself is beautiful. A little dark, a little close, but that makes it feel more like a place where you could share a secret than a place that's cramped and uncomfortable, if that makes any sense. It's all dark wood and red tones, and curled-up comfort.

Because we're both fairly new to the food, we decided to order a combination plate that offered a half-dozen different dishes - we've done this before when trying out new restaurants and cuisines, and it hasn't served us wrong yet.

The food came out on one big platter, served on a spongy bread that I can't find a name for anywhere on the menu, with more bread to use as both plate and utensil. And it was all very, very good. The first thing I tried was the Doro Alcha - chicken in a mild butter sauce with ginger and onions. It was a little more mild than I had expected, and a little sweeter as well. In general, the latter was true of a lot of the dishes. I always tend to think of onions as sharp or spicy, but most of the food here seemed to bring out the sweeter, rounder flavor of them. There was also another chicken dish, Doro Tibs, that was a lot stronger. it was in a red pepper sauce, with a sweet blend of spices that only kicked in and started to burn a minute or two after you ate it.

The Zegne, a kind of beef stew, was a little tough, but also good - a little oniony, with a delicious sauce that was somewhere between the two other dishes in spice level and flavor. But the best thing, by far, was the lamb dish - Lega Tibs, lamb sauteed with onions, pepper, and rosemary. It was incredibly rich, and spicy without being overpowering, and [livejournal.com profile] umbran and I did our best not to fight over the last bits.

There was also a salad of tomato, onions, and vinegar that made a good palate-cleanser, and a dish of collard greens, Gomen Wot, that was much better than I had expected it to be - bitter without being unpleasant, tart, and not at all waterlogged or bland.

All in all, it was a delicious dinner, and a fun experience. I was expecting the food to be a lot more similar to Indian in feel and flavor, and it was surprising how different it was, given the similarity of presentation. The spice blend was a lot sharper, and the texture and mouthfeel was very different. I'm glad we tried it, and I'd be happy to go back - even if this doesn't become an everyday restaurant, I think it's a place I'd have a lot of fun introducing friends to.

So, any thoughts of your own? Or any recommendations for B?
ladysprite: (cooking)
So, having spent the past two years with a project to push me and intrigue me and keep me thinking and excited, finishing the Cookbook Project left me feeling a little bit lost and bored. So when it was finished, I spent a little time tossing around new ideas. I thought about cooking my way through a book, but that didn't seem particularly interesting, somehow - no one book is all winners, and I know I'd get frustrated and give up about 3/4 of the way through when I hit a run of similar and boring recipes. I thought about cooking a recipe from every magazine that I own, and I'm likely to tackle that at some point, but it was a little too similar to what I just finished.

And then a woman I work with mentioned a project that a friend of a family member of a friend had taken on with her social group (how's that for tangential relationships?), and it just clicked, and sounded like a heck of a lot of fun, and enough of a change of pace to keep me entertained and interested.

So I am about to take on the Alphabetical Restaurant Project.

Over the next no-idea-how-long, I am going to go to 26 different restaurants, one starting with each letter of the alphabet, in order. No chains. For the purpose of this project, at least to start, I am defining chains as restaurants with more than two branches in more than two distant cities - I may need to revise this, but at the moment that's what seems to make sense.

I'm giving myself an open-ended time period for this, because it's going to be a little more expensive and time-consuming than the last project. But [livejournal.com profile] umbran and I don't go out to eat too often, and at the moment I think our funds are such that we can take on a challenge like this. Plus, it'll help us expand the field of restaurants we're familiar with beyond the half-dozen that we tend to wind up at most often.

And that's where I'm going to need help, in all of this. I'm not a restaurant kind of person; I don't know a lot of what's out there, even when "out there" is within five miles of my own house. I want to learn about new places, and try new things, with this project, so I'm going to ask you guys reading this for recommendations. Even if you're not local, please feel free to chime in - I never know when I might wind up traveling and want to find someplace fun to go. Besides, half the fun of a project like this is sharing experiences, and that goes both ways.

Right now, though, what I need is ideas for restaurants that start with "A."

Any suggestions?

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