Friday, August 20, 2010

Cape Cod Roundup

Besides our amazing dinner at Blue Moon Bistro, we managed to explore a little more of the Cape on our vacation. Some of the highlights:

Cupcakes from Cupcake Charlie's in Mashpee - While doing a little browsing at Mashpee Commons (my favorite store there is Maiden Voyage, which sells all sorts of mermaid themed items), we picked up a few cupcakes to eat later in the day. We picked the Chocolate Mint Madness (chocolate cake with mint buttercream) and the Orange Dreamsicle (orange zest cake with orange buttercream). The buttercream frosting is damn near perfect - creamy and smooth without being too buttery or too sweet. The orange zest cake was also excellent - moist, not too crumbly, and with plenty of orange flavor. The chocolate cake was a bit off to me - it had that weird aftertaste you get from too much baking powder or soda. But that orange cupcake - just heavenly.
Cupcake Charlie's on Urbanspoon

Pain d'Avignon in Hyannis - We found Pain d'Avignon last year while exploring and have been waiting all winter to get back. It's a bit out of the way - you have to look for a sign that says "bakery" but doesn't have the shop's name - but so worth looking for. Since we went last year, the space has expanded from a storefront with a few tables to a much larger space with plenty of room to sit. We shared a turkey and brie sandwich and a croque monsieur, then a lemon tart with strawberries. But the real winner at Pain d'Avignon is their bread. They make some of the best bread around, stuff so good that it reminds me of Paris.
Pain D'Avignon on Urbanspoon

Pizza at Mezza in Falmouth - My parents had eaten at Mezza for dinner one night and enjoyed it, but they wanted to try the pizza sometime. So we stopped in for lunch on a weekday and were practically the only people there. I hope business picks up for this new restaurant because it has a unique concept (Armenian-Italian) and very tasty food. The baba ganoush ("Barber Ganoush" on the menu because the owners' last name is Barber) was delicious - different than typical because of goat cheese added to the mix. And while this picture of the pizza (Mezza Mix - mixed veggies with goat cheese and mozzarella) is pretty hideous, the pizza itself was fantastic. The crust was super thin and cracker-crispy, and the toppings were spread out evenly - a must with such a thin crust. Oh, and the pizza was HUGE - one was plenty for the three of us. I'd love to try more of their pizzas - guess I'll just have to visit again!
Mezza on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 16, 2010

Blue Moon Bistro, Dennis

I spent the week of my birthday on Cape Cod, which has become something of a tradition. On the weekends, we don't leave our neighborhood - it's not worth fighting the traffic - but during the week, we explore a bit afield. One day, we drove up 6A to the Cape Cod Museum of Art and a visit to my cousin's restaurant, Blue Moon Bistro.

Blue Moon Bistro has been open for a few years now, but I get to spend so little time down the Cape, I hadn't been able to stop by (although I have sent my blogging friends before). I'm glad we finally took the time, though, because it was an amazing meal that we're still talking about a couple of weeks later.

Note: My cousin Lisa usually does front of the house stuff, and her husband Peter is the chef, so I'm reviewing family here. But really, if I didn't like my meal, I just wouldn't write about it. While we were eating, the tables on both sides of us talked about how much they enjoyed the restaurant, and they were all repeat customers.

As we perused the menu, the bread basket was brought out. If I were to rank restaurants by how good their bread basket was (why don't I? This may be my new rating system), this would definitely be in the top five. Crispy breadsticks, crunchy cheese-topped crostini, and soft rosemary focaccia was served with a white bean dip and a duck liver pate with wine gelee. This and a cocktail alone would have equaled a pretty perfect dinner for me. But no, we made our choices and ordered our meals.

I started with a half order of lobster ravioli and would have eaten another whole order for my entree. I've ordered lobster ravioli at a lot of places, and I often find the actual lobster flavor lacking - not so here. I'm not sure what else was inside the pasta, but it tasted like lobster without anything getting in the way. It certainly didn't taste like filler. The pasta was lightly dressed in a lemony butter sauce that complimented the filling and that I sopped up with more bread.

My mother went with a goat cheese and beet salad, topped with candied walnuts, that she couldn't say enough good things about, and my dad ordered off the pre-theater menu, which is a great deal, and got a tomato soup.

Since we were on the Cape and Peter focuses on local ingredients as much as possible, I figured fish would be a good bet. I went with the local haddock, topped with olive tapenade and giant capers, and served with veggies and risotto-style wild rice. The fish itself was mild, so the olives gave it an unctuousness that would otherwise be missing. The vegetables were perfectly cooked and still had some body to them, and the rice - oh the rice. I'm not a big fan of rice (ask my mother how many times I've made pilaf, like the good Armenian girl I should be), but apparently cook it risotto-style and I'm in love. I scraped the plate clean. (My parents went with the sea bass and the beef tenderloin, but I was a little too focused on my own meal to pay much attention to theirs.)

I had planned on ordering dessert even though I was getting pretty full, because hey, it was my birthday! My father's prix fixe meal came with two little chocolate tarts. But just as we were discussing dessert, Peter sent out a cheese plate for us. I don't usually think of cheese as a dessert (unless we're talking about Fiore di Nonno's fig burrata, which is totally a dessert), but this was completely satisfying. As with most of the meal, many of the ingredients were local. The aged cheddar (back) and the goat cheese (black rind next to the flowers) were not too challenging, as cheeses go, but were just perfect. I loved the gooseberries (still in their husks) and the honeycomb that served as garnishes. This cheese plate was a main topic of conversation for two days after this meal. I don't know if there is normally a cheese plate on the menu, but there should be - the presentation was gorgeous and allowed the local ingredients to shine.

If Blue Moon Bistro were in Boston, they'd be getting their fair share of buzz, especially in the use of local ingredients and work with local farms, but the food scene on the Cape is much quieter. If you find yourself mid-Cape anytime (they're open year round), definitely make a stop for dinner.

Blue Moon Bistro on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 13, 2010

Farm to Fork Dinner at Wilson Farm

Growing up in Lexington meant frequent trips to Wilson Farm for fresh veggies (and somehow, I'd always manage to get a honey stick too). No autumn was complete without a trip through their haunted house and a big, fat caramel apple with peanuts. Wilson Farm has been operating in Lexington since 1884 as a family-run farm, and they work 33 acres in Lexington (probably some of the most expensive farm land around, considering the price of houses in town) and 500 more acres in Litchfield, New Hampshire. So when I heard through Twitter that the farm would be hosting a farm-to-fork dinner in the fields, complete with over 50 items grown on the farm, I jumped at the chance to attend.

My friend Melody came with me, and we arrived to quite a crowd gathered next to the store. Turns out this was only about half the night's crowd - there were 100 people at the dinner! Farmer Jim Wilson walked us through the field, explaining their state-of-the-art greenhouse and their Integrated Pest Management (IPM) techniques in abbreviated form (every two weeks in the summer, Jim leads a much longer tour that is worth attending). Right smack in the middle of the field, three looooong tables were set up along the rows, and we headed for seats at the end of the table nestled in amongst the tomato plants. While the attendees were a good mix of ages, our table was skewed a little older - we just happened to take the seats across from a sweet and funny couple our age, though, so I didn't have to spend too much time talking about why I was taking pictures or what the purpose of my blog was. The tables were decorated with beautiful arrangements of not just flowers, but also radishes, beans, kale, basil, and dill.

Fresh bread was passed around (the farmstand has a pretty fantastic bakery), as were herb olive oil and a tremendous roasted eggplant dip (recipe here). There was also red and white wines, and carafes of water with sprigs of salad burnet, an unusual herb that tastes a bit like cucumber, a bit like melon. Chef Todd Heberlein introduced each course as it came out, but since we were at the end of our table, it was a bit hard to hear.

The first course, "Prosciutto and Melon," was brought out in shot glasses - always an interesting way to start a meal. The amuse bouche turned the typical salty-and-sweet combination of melon and proscuitto on its head - it was served as a chilled honeydew melon soup with crispy proscuitto bits on top. I'm not usually a chilled soup fan, but the saltiness of the bacon (as well as the crispy texture) added a lot to the dish.

As the second course was passed out, the chef joked that a lot of people thought it was risky of him to serve not one, but three types of beets to the crowd. He insisted that he would convert some people into beet fans with this dish, and he won over quite a few with his mixture of Chioggia beets tossed in creme fraiche on a bed of beet greens, served with purees of red and golden beets. Walking around the table to say hello, though, he did jokingly scold me for not finishing my plate - what can I say, I can only eat so many beets at one time, which is about a million times more beets than I would have eaten even a few years ago.

Course three featured a little patty of corn and chorizo pudding, as well as an heirloom tomato gazpacho salad and a grilled Athena melon salad. The pudding (recipe here), featuring sweet corn and spicy chorizo, was a great match for the lighter salads alongside it. The tomato salad was amazing, filled with more kinds of tomatoes than I could count, cucumbers, and peppers - it's easy to forget what a tomato really tastes like over the long winter, which is why late summer should be filled with big bowls of tomatoes just like this. Heavenly. The grilled Athena melon (similar to a cantaloupe) was served on a bed of salad greens tossed with a roasted tomatillo vinaigrette. I loved this dressing - light and tangy - and it paired beautifully with the supersweet melon. I'd love to make a dressing like this with all the tomatillos that are coming in in my own garden.

By the time the main course came out, everyone was pretty full, but of course we had to try it all. The protein was striped bass from Martha's Vineyard, served over an amazing crunchy vegetable slaw with Thai basil pesto. I wanted to eat more of that slaw, I just couldn't fit it in! There was ricotta and swiss chard stuffed pasta, topped with a ratatouille sauce, that was hearty without being heavy, and the ratatouille, which can often turn out mushy or even slimy, still had a bit of firm texture to it, and the flavors of each of the vegetables was pronounced. The sides were Beans, Beans, and More Beans (a crispy green and yellow bean salad, tossed with roasted tomatoes, feta, and olives) and Cranberry Bean and Corn Stew (sweet corn, creamy and perfectly cooked cranberry beans, a little tomato, and some kale and collard greens). Both of these sides would be perfect as a light lunch.

Of course, we were all really stuffed by then, but dessert was yet to come. It was the only course that Chef Heberlein didn't have a hand in, as the bakery department had made it. When the menu said "Stone Fruit Tart with Our Own Berries," I figured we each get a little slice of tart with a handful of berries - more than enough dessert after such a big meal. But no, the plate we were served could have been a meal on its own, with a delicate puff pastry topped with a variety of stone fruits (peaches, nectarines, plums), ginger whipped cream, deliciously ripe berries, sesame tuile cookies in big fat curls, and underneath it all, a whole almond macaroon. Four of us could have shared one plate and been happy - instead, I put the dessert shelf in my stomach* to good use, eating more than my fair share.

It was dark by the end of the meal, and we walked back through the fields, lit by small candles, full and happy after such a wonderful meal. This is the second time Wilson Farm has hosted a Farm to Fork dinner, and hopefully they will continue this tradition next summer. Keep an eye on their Happenings page for other great events, like their upcoming tomato festival.

*Melody and I had a teacher in elementary school that taught us about the dessert shelf. Think about it - even when you're full, you still have room for something sweet. It can only be because there is a shelf in your stomach that ONLY dessert can fit onto.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

All Star Sandiwch Bar, Cambridge

OK, this review is a little late, but better late than never, right?

"Sandwich" is a pretty vague term, encompassing just about anything put between two pieces of bread. You could put a gourmet meal in between that bread, and it would still be given the name "sandwich." And yet, when people say "let's go out for lunch and grab a sandwich," I'm left cringing. I am greatly adverse to cold cuts, which is the staple of most sandwich shops.

So when I was asked to try out the All Star Sandwich Bar in Inman Square, I wasn't sure what to expect. The restaurant was started in 2006 by Chris Schlesinger, of the nearby East Coast Grill, so it was clear that there would be something a little nicer than cold cuts in the kitchen. Two years ago, brothers Kosta and Johnny Diamantopoulos took over, and they're doing a hell of a job. The space is brightly painted, and everything is made fresh on premises.

I pored through the menu, trying to decide what to order. I really wanted a hot dog (they serve Pearl dogs, the best around), but I figured that wouldn't be a fair assessment of what the restaurant serves. The menu is only roughly half of what is available daily - specials are always available. I ended up going with the (poorly-named) Cheese sandwich, which includes not just Monterey Jack cheese, but also bacon, avocado, roasted tomatoes, watercress, and spicy sweet corn aioli, all on scali bread. It sounds like a lot of clashing flavors, but everything went very well together (even if it's not the most photogenic sandwich thanks to the mushing of the avocado, aioli, and tomatoes). I was really impressed with the quality of the ingredients - this is no sandwich slapped together by the guy behind the sneeze guard at Subway.

Kosta wanted to make sure we bloggers (who included Jackie of Leather District Gourmet, Rachel of Fork It Over, Boston!, and Rich of The Passionate Foodie) tried their cornbread, which had just come out of the over. It's amazing how many variations of cornbread are out there, and I'm happy to say that this is one of the best cornbreads I've had - soft with a crisp exterior, moist, and actually tasting like corn. The cornbread comes with the chili, but I'd be happy to order a piece for dessert.

Sandwiches at the All Star Sandwich Bar run around $9, which seems a little steep when you think of it as "just a sandwich place." But when you think about the amount of ingredients that go into these sandwiches, and the fact that they're about 10 times tastier than something you could get at any sub shop, the price is more reasonable. Plus, there's a jar of oreos on the counter, so dessert is free :)

All Star Sandwich Bar on Urbanspoon

Full Disclosure note: My lunch at All Star Sandwich Bar was provided free-of-charge.