Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The Butcher Shop - Restaurant Week #2

Barbara Lynch is pretty much the queen of the Boston chefs. She's opened a couple more casual places in the past few years, and as luck would have it one was participating in restaurant week.

The Butcher Shop is a small restaurant, with table seating for 19 and a long bar. In the back there is a refrigerated section with a selection of meats and accompaniments. I will admit, that I walked out with a bag of meat, cheese, honey and cornichons. The set up is a bit weird, in that there is no real waiting space so it gives a very bar-like atmosphere. Our table was shared with another couple, I'm not a fan of the communal dining, so luckily I wasn't on a date.

My dining companion (B) and I planned on splitting everything, so we got to taste the whole gamut of restaurant week offerings. Instead of the usual bread and butter, here we were served Irish Soda Bread and butter with Fleur de Sel (man that salt is good!) and a giant side of their unfiltered honey. We both ended up buying jars of that and B doesn't even like honey!

I needed to try the chickpea fritters off the regular menu, so we started with those. They had a yogurt and mint sauce with them, the yogurt was a thick greek style and the mint flavor was very mild, perhaps dill would have worked better? The fritters themselves were good, very dense, but a bit dry, so that after 2 I had enough. Good to share for a table of 4, where everyone just gets one.

Watermelon gazpacho with honeydew, prosecco, and mint: I love nothing more in the summer than a chilled melon soup. I believe it's just the lightest starter for a meal. This was no different, although it had an ingredient that wasn't listed - avocado. I liked this addition, it gave the soup a bit of substance. B wasn't a fan of the avocado, and tasted something that "tastes like redhots" in the aftertaste. I kept eating more and also tasted it, but it wasn't cinnamon. There also was some oil in the soup, which I couldn't quite figure out the purpose of.
Arugula Salad, Goat Cheese, Pickled Onions and Tomatoes: Straightforward salad with a light vinaigrette dressing. The tomatoes were yellow and red grape tomatoes, and when plated they were hidden under the arugula. There was a good sized serving of goat cheese on it, which we both fell in love with and I had to buy half a pound of to take home. I did ask the waitress 3 times what kind of goat cheese it was, but never did get the answer to that. B loved the onions.

Given the name of the restaurant is Butcher Shop one option was Hanger Steak, Great Hill Blue Cheese and Radish. I had a few issues with this dish, we asked for it medium, and it was a bit too pink for me, plus it came out cold. I asked if it could be cooked a bit more, and it was (rather, it was a whole new plate). But it was still cold. I think, they had prepared a bunch ahead of time and so they weren't fresh out of the broiler/pan what have you. The other being, that it was served not with radish, but with arugula. So if you had ordered the salad appetizer, you were essentially getting two of the same salad, one with blue cheese and one with goat. But the meat was good, not the best slice of steak I've ever had, but again that could be the cold factor. The Great Hill Blue was VERY strong. So much, that I opted to only eat the tiny crumbs. If you have a deep burning love of strong cheeses, this is certainly the one for you. Again, we had the plater who likes to hide things, the cheese was in the middle of the arugula.The next option was Crispy Chicken Breast with Corn and Shitake. Seeing as this was my lunch yesterday at Radius, I was curious as to how it was done here. This was GOOD! Although, not chicken breast. There was a drumstick and some thigh. It wasn't breaded, just skin on lightly fried with some herbs. B exclaimed that the corn was "da bomb" and she was sooooooo right. Neither of us could get enough of it. Fresh, crisp kernels with I have no idea what. The shitake was very garlicy. This plate was wiped clean with only the drumstick bone left on it. Desserts: My favorite part of any meal.
Fruit Salad with Chantilly Cream: Other than dessert in general there is nothing I love more than fresh cream. And this came with a GIANT MOUND of it. Underneath we had blackberries, raspberries, blueberries and a sliver of apricot. All delicious, light and a good end to a meal. B felt like the berries could have used something more, maybe sugar. The other dessert was Chocolate Almond Cake with Peaches. This was one dense piece of cake. A small piece, but anything more would have been a waste. Topped with a cream (possibly almond flavor?) that was weird. I couldn't put my tongue on exactly what was weird about it, but it was something in the texture. The peaches, I am fairly sure were apricots, sliced and just amazing in this heavy sugary sauce. I could've eaten a plate of those alone! Lucky for me, they didn't sell those in the retail shop. Service: Very good the first 2/3 of the meal. Our waitress was friendly and prompt with everything, until after the entrees. There was a 20-30 minute or so lag between those and the desserts. The only thing we could think of was they ran out of desserts and had to make new ones? She even came over at one point to mention the desserts were coming. I suppose us looking around wondering if maybe she thought she had already brought them may have fueled that comment. But other than that time lag, it was flawless.

Ambiance: As I said before it has a definite local bar feel. Which means I would be very likely to go back with a group of friends, rather than a date. There is a large butcher block area in the middle of the restaurant where when the wait got to be an hour and half a lot of people congregated. Besides, that is a good location to have a place to put drinks while waiting for a table.

Rating: 8/10. I would recommend it, and would take friends. And next time I will be sure to order the antipasto platter the table next to us had. It looked amazing. The $14 hot dog on the other hand, still seems a bit much to me.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Radius - Boston Restaurant Week

Coming from SF where restaurant week lasts a month, and generally the theory behind it seems to be "let's give customers the real restaurant experience to make them want to return, even if we are a 4 star restaurant and don't need to beg for customers" my first foray into Boston's restaurant week (really 2 weeks) seemed to be a tad different. I was warned by a friend that the theory behind Boston's is "let's get people in and out fast and not really put our best foot forward because we don't need the additional customers".

Lunch today was at Radius. This being one of the city's celebrated restaurants I was expecting food that stands on par with it's regular prices. Sadly, I would give it a 5/10 and most of that being for the service.

Both my dining companion and I opted for the Salmon tartare. What we got was not really a tartare. Cooked salmon mixed with mayonnaise, topped a scallion paste and kumquats, sitting on top of cucumbers drizzled with chili oil. I felt like there should have been some sort of companion to eat it with. Basically, it was what I would call salmon salad (in the vein of canned tuna salad). I ate a few bites and left the rest on the plate, the waiter did ask if everything was ok and I told him that to me tartare generally is raw and not mixed with mayonnaise. He agreed and said they should have called it something else as it isn't tartare and the label is misleading. My companion was also not a fan, but being more polite and hungrier than me, she did eat her entire dish.

Here and at dessert my companion and I opted for different dishes so as to taste all the options.
Hers: Grilled swordfish, sauteed squash and zucchini, potato confit. The swordfish should have been topped with a tomato and caper "salad" but it was left off the plate and we had to send the waiter back to the kitchen to bring a side of it. There was a dash of a basil puree streaked across the plate. The swordfish was very tender and well grilled. I wasn't sure I would like swordfish, but it was good. The tomato and capers added a good flavor to it. The potato "confit" was an utter disappointment. No flavor, just boiled potato taste.

Mine: Crispy chicken paillard with wild mushroom and corn succotash and bacon tomatillo sauce. This translated to fried chicken breast, not pounded thin as paillard tends to be, but a thick chunk of chicken breast. Luckily, it was very deeply fried and so very tasty for fried chicken. There was no bacon tomatillo sauce anywhere on my plate, unless they consider the very tiny slivers of bacon mixed in with my corn and mushroom to have been it. I didn't taste any tomatillo flavor at all.

Hers: Chocolate Pilon with Fenugreek Ice Cream and salted peanuts. I admit, I wanted her to order this because I was curious as to the flavor of fenugreek in ice cream and as part of a dessert. Fenugreek has a very strong and distinct flavor, not one I would ever think of using in this context. The dessert was a giant explosion of contrasting flavors and textures. The dense chocolate mousse core was delicious, but the almost curry like flavor of the ice cream was odd next to it. There was also some golden raisens and what we determined to be black currants involved and a very sticky strongly flavored not really caramel but the same consistency sauce. When deconstructed, the dessert was good, but as a whole, while interesting and the most memorable of all the dishes, it just didn't work for us.

Mine: Mango and Raspberry Tart with Pistachios and Hibiscus Ice Cream. The tart was just a giant shortbread cookie with raspberry sauce squirted on it and some sliced up mango a couple raspberries and pistachios. The cookie was very buttery and yummy and I had to control myself from eating it all. The hibiscus was a sorbet that my companion described as very flowery. Hibiscus always has a tart taste to me and so I was expecting a bit of that, but she was right, it was very flowery. Regardless, it was a light and summery companion to the dense cookie.

Service: As expected in a good restaurant the service was prompt and smooth. Napkins were refolded when I stepped away from the table. Fresh utensiles with every course.

Decor: Large space, but warm wood tones, beautiful molding, and a very cool dash of red across the top of the walls.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Mare - Organic in Boston's North End

With a name like Mare you already know the majority of the menu will be seafood oriented. What I didn't expect was a restaurant in the North End that is organic, right down to it's wine list, they also have wines that use sustainable farming methods which is pretty damn cool.

The space has the feeling of being really large, perhaps because it's on a corner and two walls are all windows. Clean modern lines let you forget you are in the North End. The only complaint is the noise level can get loud, and that does not make it a good place for an intimate meal.

We went in thinking 5 course tasting menu, at $75 it's not a bad price (you get a hot appetizer and a cold one, a primi, an entree and dessert) it is not a set menu, the chef picks it as he goes along, but if you want to try a certain dish be sure to let the waiter know and they will include it.

In the end none of us ended up with the tasting menu, because we decided we would just share all our plates.

Our amuse bouche was a crostini with fennel and onion. Good, but not supremely memorable.

Three appetizers started us off:

Kobe beef tartare was fantastic, topped with a quail egg I immediately mixed it all together and we went to town on the plate of raw meat like lions! Our waiter forgot the crostini and so the plate looked rather empty.

For our vegetarian appetizer we opted for the ricotta stuffed zucchini blossoms with melon and prosciutto. Lest you think this will be the traditional proscuitto wrapped melon, it of course wasn't. The zucchini was beyond stuffed with melted ricotta. It actually squirted as we cut it, but that didn't mean any of the filling went to waste. The cantelope and proscuitto was light and full of flavor!

And our seafood appetizer was the fried clams, not terribly original on our behalf, but fried sure sounded good. And it was! Not overly greasy with horseradish. I liked the presentation in the cone, very pomme frites-like. I placed this strategically closest to me so I could eat more than anyone else.All our entrees were seafood, it was a warm evening and lamb or steak sounded too heavy. Plus these were the three we all couldn't decide between.

The first thing on the menu that caught my eye was the lobster stuffed paccheri. So that was destined to be my entree. I have a huge dislike for mushrooms, but luckily chanterelles are one of the few I do like, so it was a bonus that they were the ones in my dish. The red currents added a nice bit of tanginess to the dish, and a good splash of color. The lobster stuffing was amazingly melt in your mouth good. I only wish there had been more of the lobster stuffing in the pasta. Our heartiest entree, and the one that half of got packed up and taken home was the shellfish risotto. Full of calamari, mussels, shrimp the result was shellfish in every bite. Fantastic! Do not be deceived by the big plate, there is plenty of food in this dish.
Our most carb-conscious dish was the tuna mezzo crudo. Perfectly seared high quality tuna, polenta (or possibly mashed potato?) wrapped in proscuitto and wilted spinach in onion cream decorating the plate. We all wanted more of the proscuitto canneloni. They should seriously consider making this an appetizer.
As a side dish we got the Gorgonzola potato gratin. It was dee-lish-ous. The gorgonzola flavor was very very mild, but I will definately entertain this idea the next time I make a potato gratin at home. Serving it in an all-clad pan was a nice touch.
By the end of the meal, no one wanted to order dessert. But my personal philosophy (stolen from a good friend) is that you must always try all a restaurant has to offer the first time you go. So I ordered the bread pudding with amaretto gelato and caramel swirls (per the waiter's recommendation). I must say, the gelato was good, but the bread pudding was a bit dry and not very flavorful, even after dipped in the caramel sauce.
The table next to us had ordered the ricotta pie with coconut sorbet and left half of it as well. So I'd say skip the desserts and just head to one of the many cafe's lining Hanover Street and pick up dessert there.

The service overall was just ok. Initially our waiter was very rushed in explaining menu options and specials, which I found a bit irritating. Tack on to that the forgotten crostini with the tartare, and not being very good about refilling our empty wine glasses, it took away from me wanting to give the service fine dining status.
I'll be back though for the food was good and original for the neighborhood. And except the dessert there wasn't a single dish I wouldn't order again.