Tag Archives: Boston

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

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

cochon555

31 Jan

Cochon 555

Chef Matt Jennings and his wife Kate of Farmstead in Providence, RI are heading to the Grand Cochon spectacular at the  Food & Wine Classic in Aspen this coming June after taking first place in the Cochon 555 event in Boston held at the Fairmont Copley Hotel.   Jennings and his team have won the Boston leg of Cochon 555 three years running.  This year he was competing against some of Boston’s best chefs, including Chef Lydia Shire of ScampoLocke-Ober and Towne Stove and Spirits, Chef Barry Maiden of Hungry Mother in Cambridge, Chef Mary Dumont of Harvest in Cambridge, and Chef Will Gilson of Garden at the Cellar, also in Cambridge.

Stage lighting being tested prior to the event

Bacon, bacon and more bacon!

Part of Chef Will Gilson's set up

Founder Brady Lowe greeting VIP's

Cochon 555 is a one-of-a-kind traveling culinary competition and tasting event that celebrates and promotes sustainable farming of heritage breed pigs.  It brings together  five local chefs, five locally sourced pigs and five wine makers and gives everyone in attendance a chance to sample more pork then they can imagine.  The brain child of Brady Lowe, Founder of Cochon 555 and President & Creative Director of Taste Network, it is his passion for increasing awareness of the sources that support a more natural, sustainable food system that brings it all together.

Brady Lowe speaking to the judges table

Will Gilson's mise en place coming together

Chef Barry Maiden of Hungry Mother checks his prep sheet

Chef Jennings drawing up his signage

Chef Lydia Shire of Scampo shows a student from Johnson & Wales the ropes

Fairmont Copley Executive Sous Chef William Lukas takes bacon out of an oven

In addition to the friendly competition between the five chefs, various local industry heavy weights were on hand to make the evening complete. Island Creek Oysters, Formaggio Kitchen – the South End branch, and Smuttynose Brewery out of New Hampshire showcased the local flavor of the evening, and provided samples and insight to their products on hand.

C.J. of Island Creek Oysters giving an impromptu shucking class

Kurt Gurdal, left, of Formaggio Kitchen explains some cheese

St. Germain was on hand with sparkling wine and strawberries

Wine tastings from West Sonoma Coast Vintners featured several different lovely wines

The evening also featured a butchering competition between Tom Daly of Savenor’s Boston and Rick Lemay of Lemay & Sons Beef in New Hampshire. The event intrigued the curious, inspired the casual and proved bountiful for The Food Project, a local non-profit that has built a national model of engaging young people in personal and social change through sustainable agriculture since 1991.  Raffle tickets were sold through out the evening, and everything from the butchered hogs, heads included, was awarded to individual winners, and the cash from the ticket sales was donated to The Food Project.

Pigs heads on the table

Rick Lemay explaining gives a tutorial on meatloaf

The main reason for the evening was a celebration of all things swine and the head to head competition between the five local chefs.   Each chef received a 150-175 pound heritage breed hog, and the task at hand was to use it from head to toe and wow the judges, and some 400 plus guests, with succulent morsels to delight their taste buds.

Chef Lydia Shire was presented first to the judges

Blood sausage, or Boudin Noir, was on her menu

Chef Mary Dumont of Harvest had a Large Black Pig, a heritage breed, as her swine

Mary explaining her offerings to the judges table

Chef Will Gilson of Garden at the Cellar presented complete in pig head

Judging was a serious affair

Chef Barry Maiden of Hungry Mother presented Rocky Mountain Oysters to the judges

Chef Matt Jennings was last to present, his team putting the final touches on his plate

Chef Jennings explaining his method of working with locally sourced products

Chef Jennings pièce de résistance was a pigs head and a bottle of maple syurp

In honor of his canadian heritage

Judges Kurt Gurdal, of Formaggio Kitchen, left, and Michael Scelfo, of Russell House Tavern

Although judging was complete and ballots were being counted, the eating didn’t stop there.  In the main ballroom, Chef Robert Grant of The Butcher Shop prepared Porcelet de lait from St. Canut Farms & D’Artagnanr., and the piglets were wheeled onto the main floor for everyone to share “Family Meal” style.

Chef Grant with the Porcelet de lait

Chef Tiffani Faison, of Top Chef season one fame, kisses the piglet

As the crowd slowly slipped into a porcine coma, the Chefs mingled and shared their experiences and wisdom with the gathered swine aficionados.

Chef Mary Dumont with Bacon Cotton Candy

Chef Lydia Shire sharing some wisdom with students from Johnson & Wales

Pig Bling was everywhere

For some, these Johnson & Wales student volunteers, the eating continued

In the end, judges votes counted, and the five chefs assembled on stage with cochon555 founder Brady Lowe and were toasted by the crowd for their passion and love of the hog.

Brady Lowe, left, toasting the chefs

And for the third year in a row, Chef Matt Jennings of Farmstead came out as Top Hog, though I think there were winners everywhere you looked.

Brady Lowe, left, announcing the three-pete winner, Chef Matt Jennings

Chef Jennings gives a shout out to his team

And walked away with the hardware and a date in Aspen

Cochon 555 moves on from Boston to Seattle, and Chef Jennings will be back at Farmstead serving up brand of goodness until a date in Aspen rolls around.

Remember, Food is Love!

Cheers,

Justin

Sportello

28 Jan

Last night our family celebrated a Christmas present by catching PSY at the Majestic Theatre.   PSY is an amazing show by a performance troupe from Montreal, Québec.  We figured since we would be downtown already, that we would get dinner prior to the show.  We are eating at The Butcher Shop next week, so we picked Sportello in the Fort Point Channel part of Boston, and as always, it was wonderful.

Kuri squash soup with pork belly

We started by sharing two appetizers, a kuri squash soup with pork belly and lamb tartare with artichoke.   The sweetness of the squash was balanced by the savory flavor that the pork belly brought to the dish, and the pumpkin seed oil added just the right amount of unctuous luxury.

Lamb tartare with artichoke

The tartare was slightly saltier than I expected, but the fresh lamb and artichoke was delicious spread on the croutons.  For our entrees Marina, our daughter, chose braised lamb colletto in jus, which was tender and came with the most wonderful carrot puree. Susan had day boat scallops with brussel sprouts and pancetta, and I chose trenette with braised rabbit and picholine olives and rosemary.

Braised lamb colletto

Day boat scallops with brussel sprouts and pancetta

Braised rabbit with trenette pasta

Dinner was amazing, and we all enjoyed our entrees.  The carrot puree that came with the braised lamb was sweet and wonderful, and the lamb was so tender that no knife was needed. My braised rabbit and pasta was perfect for a cold evening and the olives together with the rabbit and a touch of rosemary brought an earthy flavor to the dish that I love.   On top was shaved parmesan, which brought everything together.  Susan’s scallops were seared to perfection with a crisp crust on the outside that gave way to an inside that melted in your mouth.

Buttermilk tart, maple custard and roasted bananas

We ordered three desserts, but I only had a chance to photograph one before they were gone!  I had the buttermilk tart with maple custard, roasted bananas and cashews, shown above, but what wasn’t photographed was the orange mascarpone gelato sandwich and a banana cake and nutella frosting cupcake.  Needless to say, they were all amazing.

Dinner was great and our service the same.   As we were leaving we ran into Chef Barbara** and had a chance to chat with her.  It was great to see her and for her to see how much Marina has grown.

When you have a chance take a stroll down to the Fort Point Channel area and sit at the counter at Sportello and enjoy a great night.   After dinner head downstairs to Drink for a nightcap to top off your evening.

Remember, Food is Love!

Cheers,

Justin

** Full disclosure – I work for Barbara Lynch Gruppo as a freelance photographer, but that doesn’t change how good her food is!

Do you speak cheese?

24 Jan

This is from the Harvard Gazette on a group of students visting Formaggio Kitchen and making their own cheese!  Check out the audio slide show I created for my “day job.”

Remember, Food is Love!

Cheers,

Justin