Monday, March 31, 2008

Cheap Eats: Oggi Gourmet

Surrounded by Harvard University offices in the Holyoke Center Arcade, Oggi Gourmet offers a change of pace... and taste. Oggi serves up fresh pizzas, salads, and sandwichs in a hip and comfortable atmosphere. A variety of tables spill out into the concourse, where the wide windows let in plenty of light, and the chairs are comfortable enough for leisurely lounging over your meal.

At first look, Oggi seems like a regular pizza joint - you can watch one of the cooks in the open kitchen as he works dough into a perfect circle before topping it with sauce and cheese. The pizza is delicious and extremely fresh. A basic tomato, basil, and garlic slice ($2.50) screams of bright tomato and earthy garlic, with just a hint of spice. The unexpected sesame seeds on the crust were an added bonus, lending a nutty flavor to the sauceless, cheeseless crust.

Oggi's menu is not all pizza, though. Burgers, pressed sandwiches, and salads abound. Bostonist enjoyed the pan-seared baby brie salad ($6.75), with a large chunk of grilled brie topping a huge mound of mixed greens and cherry tomatoes. It is served with a balsamic vinaigrette and toasted bread, perfect for enjoying every last scrap of cheese.

Make sure you save room for a cookie ($1.25), though. They're huge and come in unusual flavors, like butter pecan and chocolate coffee.

Another plus about Oggi? It looks like the employees enjoy working there. They joke around with each other and with the customers, making for an even more inviting and relaxing atmosphere.

Originally posted at Bostonist.

Oggi Gourmet in Cambridge

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Boston Tea Stop, Harvard Square

Let me preface this post by saying I know very little about boba tea - only what I like. I tend to favor more floral flavors, and I can't stomach an entire serving of the little black tapioca pearls. When I first tried the stuff during college, the pearls were too rubbery, and all I could taste was a fake-sweet fruitiness that turned me off.

Luckily, it didn't take me too long to find some better places for bubble tea. During college, it was Tapicha in Porter Exchange - I would walk over to Porter Square on nice days to grab a lychee tea with half pearls/half coconut jelly.

Not too long after, Boston Tea Stop opened in Harvard Square (first by where the busses sit before starting their routes, now on JFK St, across from the Staples). I was enamored by their name and their quirky version of the MBTA's train map done with tea flavors instead of stations (this used to be on their website, which no longer exists). And then, I found out they stock rose-flavoring, and I was in love.

So my standard order at Boston Tea Stop is a black tea with rose flower and half pearls/half lychee jelly. They have so many choices that it can be hard to decide, but I hate to waver from my favorite. They offer teas in black or green, with or without milk, hot or cold or frozen. In addition to the bubble teas, they also serve dumplings (which I haven't tried, but about which I've heard good things) and a wide variety of mochi ice cream (or flesh balls, as my friend April termed them).

Sadly, I'm not in Harvard Square very often, but when I am, I try to fit in a visit to Boston Tea Stop.

How do you order your bubble tea?

Boston Tea Stop in Cambridge

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Better Than Most of the Food Network

Cutest. Child. Ever.

I think I learned more from this video than from some of the stuff on TV.

**Thanks to 10Thirty for pointing this out.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Fake Meat, Soy-Free

Meat, particularly lamb, plays a pretty big part of Armenian cuisine. Roast lamb, kebabs, as the topping on lehmajun, and in it's most primitive form, as kheyma.

Kheyma consists mainly of raw, ground lamb and softened bulghur wheat, with plenty of parsley and onion in there for flavoring. My brothers still talk about watching the old men at our church in the 1970's, hairy elbows-deep in the kheyma as they mixed it for a picnic or bazaar. It's a very traditional dish, but it can be hard to come by in today's world, where raw meat is not usually the first choice for dinner. Personally, it's not my first choice either.

Surprisingly, there is a meat-free alternative that tastes pretty similar to the real thing (even better, I think). It's a really simple recipe, and the hardest part is just making sure all the ingredients are chopped up fine enough. Just make sure that all of your friends or family eat it at the same time - there is a LOT of onion in there.

Mock Kheyma

  • 1 cup fine bulghur wheat
  • 3 cups Hunt's tomato sauce (my mother assures me that it MUST be Hunt's, but any sauce that's pretty much just tomato puree should do)
  • 1 medium red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 bunch scallions, finely chopped
  • 1 bunch parsley, minced
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil (olive oil is too strong a flavor)
  • dash of cayenne pepper

Mix bulghur with tomato sauce and let it soak. Add chopped vegetables, lemon juice, oil, and cayenne, and mix well. Cover and refrigerate overnight for flavors to blend. Serve with crackers or parag hatz.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Half Way There!

It's been less than 3 months, and my Bruegger's mug is half way* to paying for itself. I'm actually surprise at the stats: 34 coffees, 11 teas, 6 lemonades, and only one diet Coke! I suppose, though, that I've been out (sick, on vacation, or at my internship) quite a bit, and that's all cut into my coffee consumption - plus, there's no Bruegger's near my apartment, so it's a weekday-only thing for me. And apparently I've been better at my resolve not to drink as much soda than I thought I had been!

I'm still not a fan of the physical mug, though. It's much too narrow, so you get less coffee per serving (forget about anything with ice - then it's only a few sips) and it's a bitch to clean. Does anyone have the drink card instead of the mug?

*If you include the free dozen bagels per month, I'm actually at 68%, but I didn't buy the mug for that, so I'm not including it in my totals.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Restaurant Week: Rocca

I went to my last Restaurant Week dinner on Friday night with friends at Rocca in the South End. I arrived wicked early and ended up spending plenty of time in the bar, where my roommate and I spent about an hour discussing how there were too many shades of gold going on in the decor. The drinks, however, were much better than the clashing golds - the Scandalo al Sole is like a margarita with the sharp bite of ginger beer, and the Vino Francesca is a rose wine infused with sage, lemon, and honey, which all blend together to form a very unique flavor.

What grabbed me about the Rocca RW menu online was the farinata appetizer. I love farinata (and the similar socca), crispy pancakes made with chickpea flour that are popular in southern France and all of Italy, especially in Liguria (Rocca is focused on Ligurian cuisine). This version was delicious - thicker than I expected, but crispy on both sides and slightly creamy in the middle. And while I'm not a big mushroom fan, the mushrooms incorporated into the batter were tender and flavorful. The farinata was paired with spicy arugula tossed in a bright and lemony vinaigrette for a very well-rounded taste. Yum!

For my main meal, I really wanted beef, so the options were hanger steak or short ribs. Since I had also been craving tender and slow-cooked meat, I had to go with the ribs. They were just what I wanted - rich and tender and meaty and delicious. The dish was served with polenta, brussel sprouts, and a horseradish gremolata. The polenta was perfect - creamy with butter and just a bit of cheese. The gremolata was tasty, but there wasn't much horseradish flavor there. The brussel sprouts were a big loss for the dish; they were undercooked and rather forgettable. Overall, though, the dish was very satisfying and filling (and warm, perfect for a night with 50+ mph winds).

As with the rest of the menu, dessert included some unique and fresh ingredients that sounded delicious. I opted for the pine nut custard tart with fresh figs. The tart was very good, especially the custard. It was served with whip cream that I thought must have included some egg whites; it was too stiff to have been only cream. I really enjoyed the tart, but it was very rich - I could have used a smaller slice.

As a note, I've read a lot of complaints about the temperature of food in the second floor dining room after its trip from the basement kitchen. I had no issue with this and was quite happy with the temperature of my dishes.

Overall, the food at Rocca was very good. I would gladly go again, especially to try the handmade pasta. It is, unfortunately, very out of the way for me, but the free parking at the restaurant is a big help (so at least I can go with friends with cars).

Rocca in Boston

Have a Gooey Easter!

Besides the religious meaning of the holiday, Easter is known for its candy. Peeps have unfortunately made the move to become year-round treats, while many other candies only dress up in pastel colors for the holiday. But Cadbury makes a whole line of egg-shaped goodies that are only available at this time of year. My personal favorite are the mini eggs with their sugary coating and velvety chocolate interior. I've never been a big fan of the Cadbury Creme Eggs.

Until now.

I'm still not interested in the too-sweet filling inside the eggs, but I think this marketing campaign is brilliant. YouTube is filled with videos of suicidal chocolate eggs coming up with new and creative ways to off themselves. The most dramatic, though, is the mass suicide finale:

But nothing made me laugh as hard as the alternate to that scene. I think it's the music that really makes it.

All of the videos, as well as games and some hilarious pictures, are available at the Creme Eggs website.

So Happy Easter, and try not to get too sick off all that candy.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Restaurant Week: Sage

My Restaurant Week meals continued last night with dinner at Sage in the South End. I had been meaning to try it forever, well before they moved from the North End last year. Luckily, my friends entrust RW reservations to me, so I put it on our short list.

I arrived well before my friends, so I took a seat at the bar for a drink and a little reading time. The Ruins is hard to read while perched on a bar stool in the middle of a room (although it does make T rides fly by), so I kept getting distracted by the Food Network on the TV. The bartender mixed me an excellent Tuscan Flare - gin, orange bitters, orange juice, and muddled rosemary. The rosemary paired beautifully with the gin, making it a little less pine-y and a lot more delicious. Mix me up another!

For my appetizer, I went with the gnocchi with sage and butternut squash. The gnocchi were soft and not at all gummy, but not quite melt-in-your-mouth either. At first, I was a little turned off by the slight crunchiness to the squash, but I began to appreciate the contrast in textures with the pasta. The seasoning was excellent, with the sage in a supporting role.

The Chicken Milanese was the weakest part of the meal, but still quite good. The fry on the crust was perfect - the crispy breadcrumbs sealed in the juiciness of the meat. The dish was topped with arugula and tomatoes and served with a gazpacho-like sauce, which added the right amount of enhancement for the dish. We also ordered a side of arancini, stuffed with braised beef - salty and so good.

I ordered the ricotta zeppole with berry compote for dessert. The little fritters had almost custard-like centers. They seemed small on the plate, but the taste was huge when paired with the warm and syrupy berries. I also snagged a few bites of the warm chocolate mousse and was pleasantly surprised by the orange undertones. We all thought that, had it been a slightly thinner consistancy, it would have made unbelievable hot chocolate (much like L.A. Burdick's). Of course, I'm always happy to see a chocolate dessert that is on the bitter side.

Regular prices at Sage would make a 3-course meal around $45 - higher than the $33 RW deal, but still pretty good for the caliber of food.

Another big plus about Sage? They were playing Morphine on the stereo when I went to the ladies' room. Definitely made me smile.

Sage in Boston

Monday, March 17, 2008

Cheap Eats: Restaurant Week

Restaurant Week should be considered more of a sport than a dining occasion. As The Food Monkey has already pointed out, different restaurants handle Restaurant Week in different ways. With some work (and, ok, a little dumb luck), Restaurant Week can be fun and exciting and even cheap... in context.

The full list of participants is available on the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau website about a month before Restaurant Week. Some restaurants list their menus on that site, while still more menus can be found at Unofficial Guide to Boston Restaurant Week. Take some time to peruse those menus, as well as the regular menus at any restaurants you are interested in trying. If nothing else, it will get you salivating. And of course, try Googling the restaurant's name, along with "RW" or "Restaurant Week" to see if you can find some reviews of past Restaurant Week experiences. You can get a good idea if a restaurant is putting any effort into the event or if they're just serving whatever they can as fast as possible.

Now, there are plenty of websites out there that bemoan Restaurant Week, saying that you can't judge a restaurant - especially a high end restaurant - by a $33 menu served to the hordes. This Bostonist, however, feels that this shouldn't be the case. There are plenty of restaurants that do a great job with the event, despite serving smaller portions or using cheaper ingredients.

Davio's is a prime example of a place doing Restaurant Week right. Although their offerings are not on their regular menu, the dishes are cooked and served with the same care that would go into a dinner on any other night of the year. The clams Casino, pictured above, are filled with savory clams, crabmeat, and chorizo. The gnocchi with tomato and mozzarella as a main dish is fantastic; the gnocchi are light and melt-in-your-mouth delicate, quite different from the leaden little balls that some restaurants try to pass off. If this is what they can do with potatoes, tomatoes, and cheese, what can they do with "better" ingredients?

Bostonist realizes that $33 may not seem like cheap eats, especially when this column has been focusing on $10-and-under places. This, again, is where some careful research comes into play. At some restaurants, the price of a Restaurant Week meal ordered a la carte may come out to roughly $33. Avoid the places where a regular meal would be less than $33. In the case of Davio's, a three-course meal would run about $50-$75 dollars, making the $33 Restaurant Week menu - and it's accompanying dose of attentive service - a steal.

We are currently in the middle of Spring Restauant Week. Reservations are still available at some restaurants, or you can put your name on a waitlist in case others cancel their reservations.

Originally posted at Bostonist.

Thyme for Awesome Nuts

I realize that it's been a while since I've gushed about something from Trader Joe's. And honestly, it's been a while since I've found anything there that was transcendent. The other day, however, I was taking a closer look at the nut and dried fruit section and came across the Thyme for Rosemary Nuts. Since rosemary is one of my favorite flavors, I couldn't possibly pass these babies by.

The verdict? AWESOME! They're a little sweet, a little salty, with a touch of rosemary and thyme, but not enough to overpower. These would be the perfect bar snack at a cocktail party (I realize I'm being fanciful here; I ate them out of the bag during my lunch break at work). They're also a little pricy - $4 for a 5 ounce bag. They probably won't be making it into my shopping basket too often, but I'll definitely pick some up for Easter.

Sunday, March 16, 2008


What is it about tortilla chips and cheese that make nachos the perfect food? It's something beyond the crunch and the grease and the salt... although those are all really good reasons. Nachos are definitely a case of "the whole is greater than the sum of the parts".

Chicken and Tomatilla Nachos

  • 1 chicken breast
  • 1 tsp vegetable oil
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp ancho chili pepper
  • pinch of salt
  • tortilla chips
  • Trader Joe's tomatilla salsa
  • shredded cheese (I used a combo of cheddar, mozzarella, and Jack... make sure there's some Jack in there)
  • 1 scallion, thinly sliced

In a small pot, boil chicken for 10-15 minutes, until cooked through. Allow to cool on a cutting board, then shred with two forks. Heat oil in a pan and add chicken and cayenne, ancho, and salt. Stir to make sure the spices are covering the chicken.

Preheat oven to 350°. In a glass or ceramic baking dish, put down a layer of tortilla chips. Sprinkle lightly with salsa, then chicken, then cheese. Repeat until the dish is filled (my dish took 3 layers). Bake about 10 minutes, until top begins to brown. Scatter sliced scallion on top before devouring...I mean, serving.

Speaking of culinary battle cries... Nachooooo!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Restaurant Week: Davio's

Restaurant Week is in full swing here in Boston. There are plenty of pros and cons to RW, and plenty of discussions over whether it's even worth eating out during this time period. Many restaurants do a miserable job, making bad impressions on diners who were using the $33 menu as a chance to experience a new place.

Some places, however, do an excellent job at showing what they can do. They either serve smaller portions of their regular dishes or make cheaper dishes in the style of their regular menu. Davio's goes off-menu with delicious and fresh ingredients, really showing off what they can do.

I started with the clams Casino were a great start to a great meal. The presentation was beautiful, with the clam shells perched on top of a little tangle of seaweed. The mixture of clams, chorizo, crabmeat, and breadcrumbs were savory and delicious. The smokiness and saltiness of the chorizo was well balanced by a squeeze of acidic lemon juice. The two clams were the perfect size to get me excited for the next dish.

For my entree, I chose the gnocchi alla Sorrentina. I have a hard time passing gnocchi up whenever it appears on a menu. The gnocchi were perfectly made little puffs of love. They literally melted in my mouth in little sighs of potato-y goodness. Mmmm. The tomato sauce was well-balanced, with plenty of oregano, and the fresh mozzarella was just stringy enough to serve as a chewy counterpart to the soft gnocchi. If this is what Davio's can do with tomatoes, I'd be curious to try their regular gnocchi dish with wild mushrooms and truffle oil. (Coincidentally, Davio's is the first place I really enjoyed mushrooms, so I know they do them well).

There was no choice for dessert on the RW menu, but instead, everyone received the same 3-piece sampler. I like this tactic, as it gives more of a chance to try the different offerings of the restaurant. My favorite of the bunch was a piece of puff pastry with custard, cream, and raspberries. The raspberries were very flavorful, not the crappy things you find in the supermarket at this time of year. Plus, I'm a sucker for anything with puff pastry. The carrot cake was also tasty and very moist. The "molten" chocolate cake, on the other hand, was no good. It was more like a dry mini-cupcake. Most likely, this was caused by scaling down the dish and serving it at room temperature - I'm sure a full-sized cake would be gooey and warm and much better. But then again, if there's puff pastry to be had, I won't be opting for the chocolate cake.

Overall, Davio's does an excellent job handling Restaurant Week. The chefs are able to prove their capabilities in the kitchen while the waitstaff shows exceptional courtesy to people dining below the price point of the restaurant. I definitely want to try Davio's regular menu sometime soon.

Davio's in Boston

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


I'm not much for eggs. The taste just sticks with me, and that's not a meal I want to be remembering hours down the line. Someone at Harry and David must be thinking the same way... how else can you explain gummi fried eggs?

Apparently, these eggs are only available as part of a basket online, but they carry individual bags at Harry and David outlet stores (these were found in Florida). They were the first thing I saw when I walked into the store, and I started obsessing over how weird they were. My friend bought a bag, probably because I wouldn't shut up about them or move away from the display.

The taste? Vaguely fruity, but nothing to write home about. Thank God they didn't taste like the real thing...

Monday, March 10, 2008

Yum in the Sun

I just got back from a long weekend in Florida, spending time with some of my best friends, watching the Red Sox, enjoying the beach, getting my ass kicked in mini-golf, shopping up a storm... and drinking the best damn orange juice ever.

I'm done with the crappy stuff from the supermarket.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Foooood Fight!

I saw this last week and kept meaning to post a link (mostly because I know my brother will love it). "Food Fight" is a brilliant look at recent world history portrayed through the foods of the nations involved. If you need a cheat sheet on what foods belong to which countries, look here.

I'm a big fan of the pickle projectiles and the Cold War segment.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

London Comes to Boston

My Blogging By Mail package arrived yesterday from the wonderful Antonia at Food, Glorious Food! She packed a box full of great stuff from London, and I couldn't be more excited to make my through all the items. All the pieces were very thoughtful and, for the most part, evocative of Britain. She also paid great attention to the kinds of things I post, and none of these gifts could have been more perfect for me.

In the box were:
  • a butterfly cookie cutter (a very intricate cutter to match the butterfly wrapping paper that I tore off all too quickly)
  • a teapot cookie cutter, which she deemed "very British"
  • crystalized rose and violet petals (I don't think I've mentioned how much I love rose, but she picked up on it anyway)
  • a Green and Blacks Maya Gold chocolate bar - I might use her suggestion of making brownies with this chocolate...
  • Shortbread (yum!)
  • Jaffa Cakes, plus a whole explaination of the "are Jaffa cakes a cake or a biscuit/cookie" question (reminded me of the "are burritos sandwiches" argument from last year).
  • Bouquet Garni sachets for red meat and for white meat (this is awesome because I'm not always the best at seasoning dishes correctly)
  • Freeze-dried Kaffir lime leaves (ideal for Thai food, but I had a great martini with a lime leaf as a garnish the other day, so I might have to try that at home as well)
  • Cadbury Caramel Egg (British Cadbury is so different than what you can get in the states, so I'm eager to eat this one)
  • "The Little Book of Chefs Tips" (every cook can use more tips, or at the very least, a refresher)
  • a mini grater (possibly the smallest one I've ever seen)
  • a french bean slicer, Antonia's favorite little gadget (I might have to go buy some beans just to give it a try!)
  • a rose-scented melt for the bath (because you need to relax a little after standing over a hot stove)
  • some food and wine pairing notes (so helpful, because I know close to nothing about wine)
  • BBC Good Food "101 Cakes and Bakes" (the recipes look awesome, and I'm sure you'll see some of my attempts soon)

Making the recipe book even better, Antonia stuck some post-it notes on some particularly interesting or typical recipes. It was great fun to flip through the book, looking for the next one.

As for the Jaffa Cakes, they have a very odd consistancy, but just from eating that small package, I can understand why people get so addicted to them. The cake is weirdly dense, and the combination of the orange jelly and the chocolate with the cake is fantastic. Definitely a unique snack. I won't be calling that number yet, but that's because there were only three in the package ;)

So thanks again to Antonia for all the thoughtful gifts and to Stephanie for putting together the whole Blogging By Mail event!

Monday, March 3, 2008

Cheap Eats: Spike's Junkyard Dogs

I tend not to eat at places with the word “junkyard” in their name, but when the food is as good as at Spike’s Junkyard Dogs, rules can be broken. Spike’s offers up hot dogs, chicken sandwiches, subs, salads, and wings (plus burgers at the Somerville and Boylston branches) that are quick, inventive, and delicious.

The obvious order is a hot dog, but there are so many toppings to choose from. You can order a named dog, such as the Junkyard Dog (mustard, tomato, pickle, hot pepper rings, and chopped scallions) or the Patriot Dog (mustard, bacon, and cheddar), or you can pick and choose from a long list of options. The all-beef hotdogs are well spiced and contain no fillers. They are not served on the typical white-bread buns, but on something closer to French bread – crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. With the heartier bread and loads of toppings, one hot dog makes a filling meal. Hot dogs are $2.75 to $3.45, or you can order a combo with fries and a drink for $5.69. Veggie dogs are also available.

And what meal isn’t made better by curly fries, the more playful cousin of the French fry? The fries ($1.79, $2.19) are crispy, with plenty of salt and a touch of pepper, and can be topped with cheese or chili as well. The onion rings ($2.99) are just a little sweet, and the crunchy coating is a nice contrast to the cooked onion.

Spike’s has three branches in Massachusetts – Davis Square, Allston, and Boylston Street. They are all open 11 am to 1 am (Boylston stays open until 2am on the weekends) and are perfect for a quick snack or meal.

Originally posted at Bostonist

Spike's Junkyard Dogs in Boston

Sunday, March 2, 2008

A New Battle Cry

The Tick has a culinary battle cry (although I was always a little more partial to Arthur's). Why shouldn't I have one of my own?

I was at a friend's house for dinner, and she suggested trying profiteroles for dessert. She had never made them before, and it's probably been 10 years or more since the last time I made them, so it sounded like a fun challenge. A quick search found Thomas Keller's recipe, and I fell to work.

Now, I know there are a lot of words in that recipe, and usually, lengthy recipes turn me off. But this recipe works beautifully, forming choux dough with little work. The hardest part was scooping the ice cream to fill them with.

So where do battle cries fit into the recipe? The word "profiterole" is similar to "profiteor," Latin for "to profess or declare publicly." (More likely, profiteroles derive from the French for "to profit.") Just say the word "profiteroles" out loud (a booming voice helps). Shake your fist a little if that gets you into the mood. Isn't it just a great battle cry?

I know it will be my battle cry the next time I'm fighting to open a jar or I'm angry at my oven.