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Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Last weekend, Van Hammersley and I went to New York City to eat too much, drink too much, spend too much money, and look at all the beautiful people.  I’m happy to report we succeeded wildly on all counts.  On our first night in town we hung out in the East Village and the Lower East Side.  We endured bad service, overly loud jazz, and wonderful French food at Jules Bistro on St. Mark’s.  I had the mussels and pommes frites – predictable and tasty – and VH had hanger steak with a shallot sauce and asparagus risotto, which was also delicious.

Jules Jazz

We wandered around a bit after dinner and eventually found ourselves in the back room at Piano’s watching Wolff, slack jawed in utter amazement.  Wolff is, as best as I can describe it, an indie electronica/technorock tuba player.  He uses loops of tuba and vocal samples to create rich, layered, innovative songs that maintain a real sense of accessibility and beauty.

Wolff and Tuba

Wolff and Tuba

The lush music, combined with amazing background visuals from the movie Koyaanisqatsi (a precursor to the stunning Baraka, as well as the Planet Earth series), removed us completely from the frenetic Friday night city.  We found ourselves wrapped up in a totally visceral multimedia moment.  I could have watched for hours, but the night was still young at 1:00 a.m.

We moved on to the Back Room, a 1920s speakeasy style bar, complete with comfortable couches, fireplaces, and drinks served in teacups.  We were actually able to get into the exclusive back room of the Back Room due to VH’s little brother’s endless social connections and general awesomeness.  It was extremely exciting:

Rachael Ray's husband was here.

Rachael Ray's husband was here.

VH and I, used to our Boston 2:00 a.m. bedtime, headed back to Ft. Greene shortly afterwards.  We spent much of the rest of the weekend wandering around Williamsburg.  We especially enjoyed The Main Drag, a fantastic music store in which the friendly and helpful employees basically let us fuck around for well over an hour (me on keys trying to understand the intricacies of a rack synth, VH in a private practice room with an assortment of badass pedals and a beautiful guitar), and the (relatively) new riverfront park.

Play time!

Play time!

Information.

Information.

Hipster love.

Hipster love.

We had a beautiful South African dinner on Saturday night at Madiba on DeKalb in Ft. Greene after deciding to get adventurous.  VH had a mutton curry served in a hollowed out loaf of bread, and I had bobotie, a traditional beef meatloaf-like dish with a baked custard topping and sliced almond crust.  Both were served with an assortment of transcendent sauces, including marmalade, raita, fresh salsa, and my favorite, a creamy banana coconut.  It was easily our favorite meal of the trip.  Next time perhaps we’ll try the steak with monkey gland sauce.  Or not.

ny-exterior

The best part of the trip, though, was finally purchasing my dream umbrella at the Mini Mini Market on Bedford Ave in Williamsburg:

Nothing will ever be the same.

Nothing will ever be the same.

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20090516toastopener
Cambridge/Somerville is the AL East of New England brunch. There are titans like East Coast Grill (maybe the greatest brunch ever), the Neighborhood, the Blue Room, City Girl Cafe, Henrietta’s Table, and on and on. Not to mention the mediocre-yet-popular S&S, its jazzy sidekick, Ryles, and Brookline Lunch.

Now an expansion team has been thrown into the mix – beloved Portsmouth, NH, diner The Friendly Toast [official site, Yelp] has opened a new Cambridge location in Kendall Square. For these young upstarts, the future is uncertain – will they achieve near-instant success, or wallow for years in a constant state of epic fail? On Sunday, I went with Sophie – senior TLOS food critic / high quality baked goods expert – to find out.

The Friendly Toast has 150 seats and a full bar. Its retro-1950s-diner-meets-Spencer’s-Gifts decor (Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew book covers + Garbage Pail Kids-style novelty ads) is bit much, but it gives you plenty to look at. A sign on the door urged patience as they trained 37 new employees at once. The staff did look kind of frazzled – the place was packed and buzzing with a new restaurant hysteria. There was a 45 minute wait, so we ordered coffees and drank them outside before snatching up two seats in the first come first serve bar area.

The menu stated only two-thirds of the usual items were featured due to training issues, but we weren’t short on options. I ordered the Costa Rican (“black beans & plum tomatoes under melted smoked provolone; 2 sunny eggs and sour cream on top with homefries and homemade toast”). It was tasty, but nothing soul-shattering. The best part, unsurprisingly, was the wheat toast – two obscenely thick slices, crisp on the outside and warm on the inside. Sophie had the Belgian waffle; it was delicious, but pretty much standard fare. We had a few critiques – my eggs came sunny side up when I had specifically ordered over medium!! and the strawberries on the waffle were half frozen – but no deal breakers.

The Verdict: The Friendly Toast has no control over how biased I am, brunch-wise, towards East Coast Grill and City Girl Cafe. But non-IHOP diners serving breakfast all day are something that Boston – hell, the world – could always use more of. While we weren’t exactly blown away last Sunday, TLOS thinks the Friendly Toast has a quirky charm (and a perfect location), and that once they work out the kinks, they’ll be a player in Cambridge/Somerville breakfast scene for years to come.

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As this Monday morning welcomed me with the horror that I’d forgotten to stop at the store and pick up more coffee, it also welcomed me with this article from the Boston Globe that, contrary to popular belief, several new studies have concluded that while coffee may not quite be a magical health food, it does have many more benefits than detriments.   These would include conclusions that it may actually help prevent diabetes, liver cancer, cirrhosis and Parkinson’s disease.

Those who know me know how excited this makes me (almost as excited as the london telegraph’s glowing report on bacon that I posted about here a few weeks ago ), as I am known to regularly consume between 4-8 cups a day.  This is on a normal day.

The funny thing about my coffee obsession is that I came to it much later in my life than most folks – I was practically 30 before I willingly drank my first cup of coffee all the way thru, and then repeated it, if not right away, then the next day.    I’d been a caffiene junky for years, but hated the bitter taste of coffee and refused to consume something who’s flavor I would have to adjust to, or become used to.   You know, like I did for dark beers (used to hate Guinness, now it is one of the most refreshing beverages I can drink), scotch, japanese food, etc.

Still my coffee and coffee-beveraged obsessed girlfriend would drag me to Starbucks, to Peet’s, to all sorta of coffee places, get some dark beverage, go on and on and on about how wonderful it was and bug me to taste it.  Occassionally I’d grudgingly oblige her, take a sip and immediately make that face a dude makes on those rare occasions that ya smell an otherwise nice smelling  gal breaking wind, and exclaim how awful it was and no matter how many times she made me try it, it would always suck.

Of course, reflecting on it I realize there was more to it than that.   It was, in fact, on a Mother’s Day in the late 70s that my initial aversion to coffee first appeared.   My parents, long addicted to the stuff, were especially avid drinkers then, requiring not just coffee in the morning but after every dinner as well.    So on this Mother’s Day, being the dutiful son I once might have been, I was preparing the obligatory breakfast in bed.   But they had a new coffee maker I wasn’t used to (or maybe it was the first time I’d used it), so I couldn’t figure it out at first.    Took me a while to sort it out, but somehow I got the coffee made.   And it must have been good enough to drink.  Or at least good enough in that the junkies really crave it so no matter how bad it is, it’s needed so they’ll drink it way.

This last part is an important point, for the rest of the day went on without nary a hitch.  Then came dinner (which I don’t really remember, but I’m sure my old man and I made some horrible barely edible delicacy for us all to enjoy) and the need for the after dinner pot o’ joe.   But something was wrong.  They stared at the machine, but nothing came out.  At least nothing came out resembling the precious java, and my parents became more tense.  Or they must have.   All I really remember is suddenly being subjected to the grand inquisition and, under the threat of waterboarding, revealing how I made the coffee:  it turned out my brilliant 8 year old brain had sorted it out in that the water was poured where the coffee went, and the coffee grounds were dumped where the water went.  And it was this last part that seemed to trouble the machine.   Troubled to the point of no more coffee.   This being Massachusetts in the 1970s – when the blue laws were still active and almost nothing was open on sunday – there was no way to purchase another machine.

So, inexplicably – to me at least – my parents evolved into these crazy, ranting and raving maniacs, screaming at me and sending me to my room.  I had no idea what I’d done – I just made breakfast in bed for my mommy is all – and couldn’t figure out how my parents had morphed into these gila monsters right before my eyes.

Years later, when I realized I needed caffiene but couldn’t handle coke anymore, let alone coke in the morning, and it was getting harder and harder to find caffeinated water (during that brief Water Joe/Crank 2O “craze” in the late 90s), I took the plunge.   And then my parents freak out from a couple of decades earlier made total sense to me…

So here’s to you Ma, and here’s to Coffee!

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delicious and elixir-like

delicious and elixir-like

Yes, I’m sure it’s news to none of you that bacon is the finest, tastiest food known to mankind. (and if it is news, well, now you know.)

But news out of Northern England last month, from Newcastle University’s Center For Life, is that it has scientifically been proven that bacon is a miracle cure for a hangover.  Or so says the London Telegraph.

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Over the last several months, I’ve become a huge fan of Andrew Zimmern and his fantastic show Bizarre Foods. Tuesdays have evolved into a sort of Andrew Zimmern day in our household. “Where’s Zimmern tonight?”

If you don’t know, the premise of the show is that each week food critic/ chef/ culinary adventurer Andrew Zimmern finds himself in a new country or region, and he samples from the more outlandish, odd and downright weird menus of the culture. And you don’t know from weird until you’ve followed along on his adventures. Teriyaki-filled Madagascar hissing beetles? Check. Still-beating heart of various animals? Check.

Hell, one episode, they caught a yellow-fin tuna, and then cut it up right on the boat and had the freshest sushi you can imagine. Then he had the tuna’s still-beating heart. Then he and the ship captain starting gnawing on the tuna’s eyeballs.

Okay, it can be a bit gross at times, and the squeamish may be well-advised to tune elsewhere. But Zimmern is a charismatic, lovable host whose love of food is intoxicating, and his deep appreciation of the way each culture learned to use the food available to it enables him to be brought deeper and deeper into the cultures.

Tuesday nights on the Travel Channel there is usually a block of episodes, but generally the 10pm (est) episode is a new episode. Tonight he’s in Morocco, which must be new… I don’t remember seeing it, so I guess it’s new to me!

It’s a lot of fun, check it out.

host Andrew Zimmern, one of my new heroes

host Andrew Zimmern, one of my new heroes

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Last weekend, drvorhees and I had a gig at the Lucky Dog Music Hall in Worcester. It was a fun night and successful gig by most accounts. On the outside, the place looks quite a bit like PAs Lounge, but the interior reminded me of another lounge: Somerville’s beloved, recently defunct Abbey – except larger overall and with an absolutely massive stage. The club’s big claim to fame is that the Rolling Stones played a surprise gig there in 1981. 

Having a beer before the show, I noticed our bassist had a new haircut that resembled a faux hawk, though slightly different (a faux faux hawk?) – it sloped diagonally down the back of his head into a mini rattail. Seconds later I spotted the exact same haircut on a guy at on the other end of the bar, who turned out to be the guitar player from opening band Dental Plan. Is this a coincidence or a new phenomenon? Hair stylists in the audience today are encouraged to chime in now. 

At the Dog, the men’s bathroom is an experience in and of itself. The entire place is wallpapered with pulpy – and fairly graphic – vintage porn. Though this gave the room its own strange style, it wasn’t working for me. I get weirded out by images of naked people who are now either dead or elderly. I should also mention the urinal, which, rather than containing the standard deodorizing urinal cake, was loaded with corn. And that right there could very well be the grossest sentence I’ve ever typed. While putting on my “band uniform” before the show, I asked an older guy who had come in to use said urinal how he thought all that corn got in there (typical small talk). He replied, calmly “I don’t know, buddy, but when you get to my age, peeing is friggin’ impossible.” I had no reason to doubt him. 

We stopped at a service station on the way home, where, due to starvation and lack of options, I broke my 7-year McDonald’s embargo, ordering a chicken sandwich and fries. This, I begrudgingly report, came exactly one week after lifting a 5-year ban on Burger King. Both experiences served as a good reminder that I no longer enjoy the taste of poison. 

This post seems to have devolved into a bunch of random musings on haircuts, porn, fast food, and bodily fluids – i.e. everything that happened last weekend in Worcester besides the actual gig. Blogging, I’m starting to learn, can lead you down some dark and unexpected paths. 

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HUGE food day here at the Limits of Science. So huge, in fact, we’ve decided to make food (eating out and cooking) part of our regular programming. Don’t believe us? Look at our tagline; taglines don’t lie.

Jamaica Plain’s Ten Tables – one of my top two Boston-area restaurants (along with Oleana) – is expanding to the other side of the river. As a Cambridge resident, I couldn’t be happier. I think I even did a fist pump when I heard the news.

Ten Tables Cambridge opens today at the old Craigie Street Bistrot location and will nearly double the seats of the tiny JP restaurant, which literally fits ten tables. Chef David Punch will split his time between both spots, reports the Daily Candy.

Off the top of my head, here are some highlights from my many visits throughout the years: Sparkling watermelon juice, beet and blue cheese salad (made me a beet convert), garlic soup, “autumn” gnocchi with acorn squash, chestnuts, nutmeg, and glorious magical bacon (best meal ever). Oh and polenta topped with chocolate sorbet. They’ve also got unpretentious servers who know their stuff, and chefs who routinely bring free samples to your table and tell you about their newest creations. Nice ambience too.

You must go there. 

Ten Tables Cambridge, 5 Craigie Circle, Harvard Square, Cambridge, 617-576-5444 or tentables.net

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