Wine Bar @ Central Bottle

15 Feb

A crew from Island Creek Oysters

Wine, something to snack on and a beautiful space make Thursday “Wine Bar” events at Central Bottle a must on your to do list.   What better way to start off your week end than be stopping by Central Bottle, in Cambridge, just a short walk from the Central Square MBTA stop, and share a glass of wine with a friend or meet some new ones?  Last night, Valentine’s in case you missed it, Central Bottle kicked off the lovers holiday with a special treat of “Buck a Shuck” Oysters from Island Creek, and four different wines.

Six and one equals a bit more than a Hamilton

I tried a glass of the Valentina Montepulciano D’Abruzzo Rosato 2009 and six oysters, straight off the boat, so to speak. The wine was clean and fresh with a bit of flower to it, and it complemented the oysters well.   Six oysters and the glass of wine ran me just a bit over a Hamilton, and when you include the lively atmosphere, it comes out to a very good deal.

Lots of folks starting Valentine's Day at Central Bottle

I’d never been to Central Bottle – it’s been open for a year or so – and it was nice to have a moment to look around.   While I was there I ran into partner Nick, and he showed me around the place despite the crowd of folks hanging out.   Nick explained that in addition to wine they also carried beer as well as provisions for a perfect evening.   The space is well stocked with various wines from around the world, and they are slowly moving more American offerings to the shelves as well.

Close to the door, right were you need them

One of the nice features, if you are looking for a quick bottle that isn’t going to empty your pocket, is that they keep a table close to the door stocked with $ 15 and under bottles, which can be handy for last minute purchase.

For the moment it seems Wine Bar is every Thursday (check their web site for specifics) and I’m going to make sure I get a chance to get down there again soon.

Remember, Food is Love!

Cheers,

Justin

Advertisements

Russell House Tavern

14 Feb

Most amazing selection of house made charcuterie

Valentine’s Day is here, and again Susan and I will acknowledge its existence, but we won’t be buying flowers or going out to dinner.  I’ve never been a big fan of Valentine’s Day as it always seemed to be more of a greeting card holiday than anything else.  Susan and I came together eleven years ago now, and when February rolled around the first time for us, she expressed the very same feelings for the 14th day of the second month of the year.  “Everyday is Valentine’s Day” she explains, and last Thursday we shared our own Valentine’s dinner at Russell House Tavern in Harvard Square.

Some plans changed at the last-minute for Susan last Thursday night so we decided to take the opportunity to meet in the Square after work for a drink and some appetizers.  I follow Russell House Tavern Executive Chef Michael Scelfo on twitter, and I’d noticed that he had been busy all week preparing some new forcemeats and charcuterie.  With tweets like this, “foie gras, fernet, & duck terrine. country-style and wrapped in bacon @russellhousetav,” Susan and I were very excited.

Everything was amazing.

I arrived at the Russell House early and stopped upstairs at the bar for a drink and some oysters.  Nick was behind the bar and in short order I had a Last Word and six oysters, from Island Creek in Duxbury.  I was introduced to the Last Word, a prohibition era cocktail that has recently made a comeback, at The Russell House and it can’t be beat.  I plan on a full post on the Last Word soon.

Susan's Ozark Heritage Pork Trio with Grits and Sauce Vinegar

Susan had the Ozark Heritage Pork Trio, and it was a tasty plate of perfection.  Served atop grits, the pork loin, belly, and shoulder were prepared in three different manners that complemented each.  My preference was the smoked shoulder, but they were all pretty amazing.  To top it off, I even scored the left-overs for lunch the next day.

Duck Confit

I was going to pick the pork trio as well, but in the interest of sharing, I chose the Crispy Long Island Duck Confit.   It came with a stew of black figs, fresh sage, roasted chestnuts, and pork belly.  The duck confit was done to perfection, falling off the bone as I dug at it with my fork.  The crispiness of the duck skin and the depth of flavor was off the chart good.

Orange Creamsicle

We finished the evening sharing a dessert, an Orange Creamsicle.  A vanilla & orange mousse, with creamy caramel and orange candy on top was the perfect finish to one of the most lovely anti-valentine’s days ever.  Service at Russell House was outstanding, as good as we’ve ever had. We were greeted downstairs by Andrew and shown to our table. Despite the place being full, Steven, our server was efficient, knowledgeable and most helpful.

Remember, Food is Love!

Cheers,

Justin

Mise En Place – Italy 2010

14 Feb

Market in Rome

Fruit in a market in Rome

Prosciutto de Parma hanging in the window in Rome

The large indoor market in Florence

A little over a year go our family spent two weeks in the Tuscan region of Italy.   We visited Rome, Siena and Florence and had an amazing time.  These are a few images from that trip.  Enjoy.

Remember, Food is Love!

Cheers,

Justin

The Breakfast of Gods

13 Feb

Fresh Eggs

I love breakfast. I really love breakfast. Not on a daily basis mind you, as most days I can’t even manage a bowl of cereal.  Weekends, however, are made for it.  Crepes with Nutella, waffles and some warm maple syrup or freshly made scones are all on our family menu card, but my breakfast of choice is my wife Susan’s cheesy eggs.  Add pork sausages or some bacon slices it becomes literally The Breakfast of Gods.

Pork Breakfast Sausages

Eggs have been eaten by people since the beginning of time.  They are simple, provide protein and vitamins, and are one of the few foods that naturally contain vitamin D.  And they taste so good, and Susan, my wife, makes the best eggs ever.

Adding Land O' Lakes American Cheese to a pan of eggs

The key ingredient to Susan’s cheesy eggs is Land O’ Lakes American cheese.  Cubed and added to a pan of scrambled eggs cooking in a non-stick pan, the cheese melds with the eggs as the eggs begin to solidify and the cheese starts to melt.  Stirring continually at the beginning and then intermittently once the curds begin to form,  the consistency becomes large curd scrambled eggs with an invisible but ever-present cheesy flavor.

Large egg curds and cheese coming together

The Breakfast of Gods

Cheesy eggs, breakfast sausage and some toast, and Sunday morning is complete.

Remember, Food is Love!

Cheers,

Justin

Outstanding In The Field

11 Feb

Outstanding In The Field

The Farm to Table movement has been afoot for some time now.  One of the early adopters to this movement, and one who has taken it on the road so to speak is “Outstanding in the Field” and its founder Jim Denevan.  The idea that Jim brought about, with the help of  his brother Bill Denevan, a pioneering organic grower in California, was to bring farmers and regular producers out of the field and to Gabriella Cafe in Santa Cruz, California, where Jim was Chef, and to have them explain the food they raised.   These “farmer dinners” began back in 1998.

In the field at Allandale Farm, Brookline

After a number of seasons of successful farmer dinners, the realization that the experience could be turned around and brought to the farm directly came in 2003 when a red and white bus was purchased and the show was taken on the road.

Jim Denevan, in cowboy hat, and Allandale Farmer John Lee

Outstanding In The Field (OITF) came to Boston in 2008 under dark skies and a storm watch for the region.  The group visited the last farm within the city limits, Allandale Farm in Boston, where Chef and founder Jim Denevan partnered with Chef Mary Dumont of Harvest in Cambridge, and farmer John Lee.  Apparently Chef Dumont worked at Gabriella Cafe with Jim before leaving the front of the house to pursue her passion in the kitchen, and the event was a great success despite the dark skies.

Island Creek Oysters started out the night

The boys from Island Creek Oysters came up from Duxbury and did some shucking, and a tour of the farm was organized.

Touring Allandale Farm

Table seating outside at the farm

Chef Jim and Chef Mary Dumont of Harvest go over the menu

Chef and Founder Jim telling farm stories late into the night

And walking away at the end of the night

Susan and I had a great time, despite the fresh striped bass (Susan isn’t much for fish, though I enjoyed it).  It was a great way to feel connected to the farm community and to meet and speak with locals who share the same love of food and the outdoors as I do.

Tour dates and tickets for Outstanding in the Field 2011 go on sale March 20, 2011, but you can sign up for a newsletter/email blast on their home page, or following them on twitter.   Think about it while you contemplate shoveling snow for another couple of months.  Spring will come.

Remember, Food is Love!

Cheers,

Justin

Check please …

10 Feb

Less Meatarian

“Check please … ”

We say it all the time.   Often sitting at a diner counter after finishing up a couple of eggs over easy with a side of bacon, or after a nice porterhouse and potato dinner at a local steak house.  And at that point the server, if they have any experience, understands that the “tip-o-meter” starts counting down with each moment that passes.  Tonight at The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, well-known New York Times writer, and most recently Opinion columnist, Mark Bittman asked for the check because, according to him “the bill is due.”

In front of a sold out crowd of mostly aging folks, it was the MFA after all, Bittman delivered an address as part of the The Ruth and Carl J. Shapiro celebrity series, titled “America’s Home Cook.”   Those familiar with his Minimalist column in The Times, may have expected a dinner recipe or two, but this night Bittman came out from behind the stove, past the sink, and may have even broken through the threshold of the kitchen.

Mark Bittman taking questions from the crowd

“Few of us have ever known a day or even a meal without the availability of an incredible array of unrealistically inexpensive food,” he said, “but the bill has come due.” Bittman informed and amused those gathered with sometimes simple, oft-times insightful visuals during his presentation, all the while walloping away on the dead horse on the floor, pun intended, that the state of our food system, or as he said, “the so-called food system” is simply “profit driven.”

Detailing the perceived cost of what we eat, he said, “We, I’m talking about Americans, spend less of our income on food than anyone else,  7%”  he said with slight indignation.  He continued to explain that  “in much of Europe it ranges from 10% to 15 % but in poorer countries like India and China, Ukraine and yes, Egypt, it’s over 30% and even up to 40%.”

Bittman’s conclusion? “Seven percent is ridiculous!  Food cannot be that cheap, and it isn’t!”  he exclaimed.  “The real costs of food are staggering!” and “The price you pay for a hamburger is the tip of the iceberg.”  None of this is new or surprising, but he proceeded to detail some facts that seem almost nightmarish.  That only one-quarter of Americans eat vegetables three times a day…  That only one in four meals we consume contains an unprocessed vegetable…  That we drink more soda than water…  We’ve heard them all before, even from Bittman himself.

What was interesting about the evening is the sense that Mark Bittman, combined with his recent transition from the Dining section of the Times to the editorial side, has a very clear agenda (he said he wasn’t running for anything) to help re-shape and re-form how we think about food and what it is we eat.

“The so-called food system that we have now” he explained, “which is not a system at all, is profit driven, and here’s where it’s gotten us,” he explained.  “Hundreds of millions of dollars, maybe a trillion, have been spent on selling us the wrong choices” he said.  “Another trillion, no exaggeration,” he went on,  “has been spent subsidizing food that is fed to industrial produced animals or turned into junk food” and that is what is killing us, and as he put it, what is unsustainable.

Bittman explained that although we are surrounded by cheap food, and have choices beyond our imagination, the “real costs, like those of all junk food, are subsidized, hidden and forestalled.”  Sort of like what my grandmother used to say, “You buy cheap, you buy twice.”   Because we rely on this cheap, subsidized food that is over processed and not much like real food, we end up paying for it two and three-fold down the road with health and other related problems.

The evening concluded with a few questions and answers, and a push from Mark Bittman.  “Veganism is one end of the spectrum, I see no reason to encourage people to become vegans, but I do see many reasons to try to persuade people to move in that direction.  To eat fewer animal products.”  A sort of “Less Meatarian” movement.  According to him we are going to get there one way or another, and we might as well enjoy the trip and try a little breakfast sushi along the way.

Off to grab a carrot or two.

Remember, Food is Love!

Cheers,

Justin

Sunday at Dorado Tacos

8 Feb

Brunch at Dorado Tacos at 401 Harvard Street in Brookline

The Boston Brunches is a group of folks who like to eat, take photos, and to talk all about it.  This past Sunday I was fortunate to enjoy Sunday Brunch with a number of Boston Brunchers at Dorado Tacos of Brookline.  Both brunch with BB and the visit to Dorado Tacos were firsts for me, and happily the food and company turned out to be equally exceptional.

Dorado’s is an intimate place located at 401 Harvard Street, between Commonwealth Avenue in Brighton and Coolidge Corner, Brookline. There are a ton of places in the neighborhood, but Dorado’s unique mixture of Mexican street food and Baja California-style offerings make it stand out in the crowd.

On the line inside Dorado's tiny kitchen

When our group arrived – an hour earlier than Dorado’s normal Sunday opening time of 11 AM, I made my way into the kitchen and met owner Doug Organ.  Organ, a transplanted west-coaster from California and a veteran of the restaurant industry explained that the inspiration for Dorado Taco & Cemitas came from the introduction of fish tacos to the menu at a previous establishment in Jamaica Plain.  “It just took off”, he said, and so far, it appears to be working at his current place as well.

Dorado's not only offers Mexican street food, but beer too!

Brunch to me is normally an extended period of  time where you linger and sample a number of different foods, typically spread out on a buffet table under heating lamps or on ice.  These would include items you would find on a breakfast menu or lunch card, but this is not the case at Dorado. Once I realized that and mentally made the switch to “breakfast mode,” I was excited to see Huevos Rancheros, among various other options on the menu.

Amenda of http://www.kitchenmisfit.wordpress.com, left, orders her brunch at Dorado's

I spent two years in the Peace Corps in the highlands of Guatemala, and a version huevos rancheros was a staple for me at that time. I also ordered a cup of English Breakfast tea, and was pleasantly surprised to see an electric hot water kettle behind the cash register.  As I’ve said in previous posts, it is often very difficult to get a good cup of tea at most places, but Dorado’s offers MEM Tea and the fact that they use an electric kettle is key.  There are numerous other things to drink including Mexican Hot Chocolate (a number of brunchers had this and liked it) as well as Agua Frescas, and, as I mentioned above, they have beer.

Aguas

My huevos rancheros were a perfect combination of two wonderfully runny, sunny side up eggs smothered in a spicy salsa, atop a lightly fried corn tortilla and topped with queso fresco and some fresh chopped cilantro.  Also included on my plate were black beans, spiced but not crazy hot, that complemented the eggs and salsa that reminded me of my time in the highlands of Guatemala.

Huevos Ranchers and black beans

Simple food, as it should be

My meal cost me a Hamilton, including a second cup of tea, and I left Dorado’s completely satisfied.  I’d shared a great time with new friends who share a love and passion for food that I understand well, and found a new local establishment that shares that same love and passion that I do.  Thanks to Dorado Tacos and my fellow brunche KimmyLaraBrianJoshAmandaMeganMeeshKatherineKatyNicoleJackiKathy,  EmilAthena, and of course Boston Brunchers organizer, Renee for a great time.

Thanks for taking a look.

Remember, Food is Love!

Cheers,

Justin