La Brasa

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There was a period of my life where I relished trying the newest restaurants, and being “in the know” about every new place, and every new dish. It was, however, exhausting, and while I did manage to eat many a phenomenal meal, I also found myself with quite a few duds, and then I got sick of eating out. It happens, okay? Even to a food blogger. It might have had something to do with working for a dish review site – unlimited delicious meals out felt like both a blessing and a curse. These days we’ve become early bird special type of people, making it out to the same restaurant every week, so often that we’re very much so regulars. Admittedly this has it’s perks. The occasional hot cider donut with salted caramel sauce on the house is one of them.

And I don’t want to sound like a sob story here, because sometimes we actually get out of the house and try new things. Tonight we ventured out into the wild world of Somerville in order to eat at La Brasa, the newest neighborhood restaurant by chefs Daniel Bojorquez and Frank McClelland. I may have made a mistake by describing it to Devon (the Southern Californian) as a Mexican restaurant, but after eating here, I’d call it neighborhood local and seasonal with diverse culinary influence? I suppose you can throw around “hipster” in there, but only if you’d take that to mean people who are a little alternative and very passionate about food.

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We managed to get in without a reservation (okay, so it was 6:00 pm), huzzah! and set forth ordering from their family style menu.

Beet pickled egg with dill and micro greens.  ($2) First of all, you should know that the interiors of the restaurant are totally welcoming. The tables. The mismatched cutlery. The custom lighting, the wide open seating (the space is quite large, and the kitchen fairly open). The Bose sound system hanging from the ceiling makes the music sound great. And how cute are these plates? That beet picked egg, my first bite of the evening did not disappoint. And it was pink!

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Insistent on something green for dinner, we shared this Little Gem salad with buttermilk poppyseed dressing, preserved lemons, and almonds. ($9) For some reason I thought they were pistachios – maybe I’d make this with pistachios in my own kitchen – but this was a nice salad! It always feels good when you order a salad and it comes well dressed, but not overly so. The lemons were chopped into tiny cubes, and gave just enough of a tart and salty hit to make this quite charming.

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We then split an order of Tacos de carnitas. Slow roasted pork shoulder with salsa verde + chile de arbol ($7). These were solid, with good mingling of rich pork with bright salsa verde, although truthfully, while I worship the pork, I’m never fully satisfied with carnitas.

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Now for our meals. I’ll preface this by saying that for a while I was loathe to review restaurants because I didn’t want to have to write anything negative. But that’s part of the fun of a review now, isn’t it? Forgive me kind folks at La Brasa, but our meal had a low point, and it was, alas, the pork sandwich. While  it sounded delicious – roast pork loin sandwich with rapini, chorizo & fiddlehead tomme ($14) – I would not recommend, unless you’d like a dry salt lick for your meal. Perhaps it was a fluke, but the dry pork, bacon, chorizo in combination was difficult to get through even with the nice mustard and cheese in there – so much so that my dining partner suggested that we name the sandwich “The Oscar Wilde“. Truly though, I *really liked each individual ingredient*, but together, alas, no.

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Fortunately, my meal (the top picture of the post) was no less than excellent – lamb liver with summer squash pupusa ($14) – although I felt a little sorry that I was the one with the better choice of the two. It’s never fun to have a slightly discontent dining partner, and alas, for him, he doesn’t love liver, so he didn’t share in my gustatory delight. I believe the description mentioned wild mushrooms, but they must have been chopped finely in a tart little sauce, because I couldn’t quite taste them. The squash blossoms were a lovely touch!

Now, as our meal was finishing, we noticed that there was a cart with a massive piece of meat being rolled around. Yep, meat on a cart, and I couldn’t help but think regretfully that I’d never made it to the House of Prime Rib in San Francisco. So it turns out that they sell rib roast with chimichurri for $3.50 an ounce. Because we’d already eaten, I went for a single restrained ounce. There was a brief moment as she was cutting our steak and I was taking my first bite that Akinyele’s “Just Put it In My Mouth” the erm… non-radio version (yeah, there is no radio version, and please don’t look this song up) started blasting on their Spotify soundtrack. Somehow it was an apt music choice for this buttery steak, but ahem, perhaps not for the majority of the patrons. I did however laugh out loud. Someone noticed at some point and we got a new song.

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With most of the neighborhood serving local favorites Barismo, George Howell, etc. or sometimes bringing in heavy hitters Intelligentsia and Stumptown, I was excited to try a coffee that I’d not yet had around here – a local espresso from Gracenote in Berlin, MA. I missed catching which one it was, but while I found it a little bit fruity for my taste, it was a very nice cup indeed. Espresso – Gracenote. ($4)

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Before deciding on dessert, I inquired about the market sweets (Taza chocolates, and such from their market), but we ended up fortuitously ordering the Butterscotch Pudding with cinnamon whipped cream and rice crispies. ($6) This, my friends, was a great end to the meal. Pudding is the best!

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Two final notes: everyone working here was cheerful and nice – and the service was quick, even as the restaurant began to fill up. Also, while we don’t do too much drinking, the drink menu here looks excellent, including a small selection of smoked! beers. And I regretted missing out on their paloma and boozy horchata.

La Brasa
124 broadway street, somerville, ma
617 764 1412
www.labrasasomerville.com

Healthy Balance

ShakeShackSweetGreen

For the past few months I’ve been hopping on the #FitFluential Twitter chats, looking to meet like-minded folks passionate about health and fitness.

Tonight one of the questions was about nutrition trends, a topic that always piques my interest. One person quipped “Now we say “clean eating” is a trend. When I was young, it was called, “eating at home.” And I’m not that old.” And isn’t it so true? Growing up, eating well meant eating wholesome, home cooked foods, free of junk additives. Treats were few and far between, but when we got them, they were savored.

I like to say that I’m not training for any particular race, I’m training for life. And to do that, I think about what I eat often – my goal in life is to eat sanely, well, and with delight. Sometimes it falls in line with trends, and sometimes it doesn’t. My eating is largely seasonal, heavier in the winter, lighter in the summer. At home I cook a lot of mediterranean inspired meals, and many of my home cooked meals fall squarely into the “paleo” or “primal” camp, which I was doing well before things became trendy. I just call it “eating”, and it’s something that I’m excited to do every day.

There’s always room for well-selected treats – tonight was no exception. I couldn’t help a trip to Shake Shack to celebrate National Burger Day. To balance it out, I crossed the street to the brand new sweetgreen in Chestnut Hill to pick up a “guacamole greens” salad to accompany it. Now that’s a good meal!

Del Frisco’s Grille

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For four years in college much of my world revolved around the short corridor of Route 9 outside of Boston. I spent all too much of my free time mall-hopping from Natick to the Chestnut Hill strip. The area’s heyday was really in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, when the first Cheesecake Factory opened in the Atrium mall. While my palate may be slightly more refined over the years, the opening of Cheesecake Factory was fairly momentous at the time – we were all in awe of the massive portions, hot brown bread, fresh lemonade, and their oreo cheesecake (which they have since discontinued, for shame). The last recession seemed to hit the area hard, and the Atrium (the original location of the Cheesecake Factory) is now completely boarded up – but rapid construction in the past three years has changed things dramatically. Instead of crumbling malls and shuttering retail, now we have a Shake Shack! Lululemon! Equinox! You can go for a glamorous cycling class at SoulCycle – and it’s awesome. TrueRunner and Athleta have a bunch of free fitness classes. Sweetgreen is about to open a location. And as of this week – Wegmans! While I’m generally sensitive to a dramatically changing landscape, replacing old empty stores with places that I’m actually excited to go to is pretty great.

This weekend I jumped at a blogger event in Chestnut Hill at the Del Frisco’s Grille with Blog and Tweet Boston – it’s been too long since I’ve been able to take pictures of people taking pictures of food, and I’m always craving a good steak!

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To start, we sampled a selection of their appetizers: their cheesesteak eggrolls with chili sauce – which I’d never think of ordering off of a menu, but ended up being totally smitten by the rich/spicy/sweet/crunchy thing they had going on. There were ahi tacos – little hard shelled tacos filled with tuna tartare and avocado in a nice ratio (the gluten free version was in lettuce wraps) which I’d definitely order next time! Stuffed deviled eggs came with a truffle vinaigrette, but I found the flavors a little heavy handed for the eggs, plus, I’m over anything “truffle” unless you are shaving the black mushroom directly onto my food. If you want to do so, please note that they are going for $999/lb. at Wegman’s. My birthday is in two weeks.

We were at the restaurant early, but the place starts filling up quickly at dinner time and during brunch – fortunately, the empty back space gave us plenty of room to shoot to our hearts desires without bothering other patrons. Being a mix of food, fitness, and fashion bloggers, I must say that the fashion gang kicks ass at cute outfits and food poses. {That’s Chloe shooting Semirah being adorable, with cake.}

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At lunch I sat with the two of them, along with Elissa (another style maven), and Kerrie – who I last shared an excellent meal with two years ago at Angela’s in East Boston, and haven’t seen since! Being the hermit that I am, it was nice to catch up. Although the blogging community in Boston is relatively small, I so rarely do blog events, that I ended up meeting a whole group of new people at lunch – some of which I’ve been Twitter stalking for a good long while, and it’s always nice to connect a real face to a handle.

The main courses were all things that I might order and eat: the seared Asian tuna salad came with a large mound of arugula and cabbage, over noodles that are hiding somewhere under there. In the background you can see one of their signature peppered steaks that has been sliced and perfectly cooked (rare, how I like it.). I managed quite a few slices and ended up taking home a whole filet to eat cold for breakfast. (My favorite way to eat steak.)

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There was a beef short rib stroganoff with pappardelle noodles, piled high with crispy onion strings; and two flatbreads – the wild mushroom with fontina, caramelized onions, and baby arugula; and the shaved brussels sprout with smoked bacon, caramelized onions, and mozzarella. Second to the steak, this was one of my favorite dishes we tried, and at $13 is definitely something I’d order for an inexpensive dinner during the week. (They also happen to have takeout.)

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While I found dessert, the layered lemon doberge cake, to be a little too sweet for my taste, I’ll come back to try their adult milkshake – a fabulous combination of nocello walnut liqueur, creme de cacao, and vanilla ice cream.

At the end of our meal, everyone was pleasantly stuffed – but being the glutton I am, okay, and the fact that bloggers are somewhat less restrained when it comes to meat eating than my CrossFit friends – I managed to score both a filet and the lobster and egg double cheeseburger to take home with me, getting three full meals worth out of this trip – a treat for sure.

Del Frisco’s Grille
33 Boylston Street, Chestnut Hill, MA
Design lovers note, this is right around the corner from the brand new Jonathan Adler store! Rejoice!

Disclaimer: I did not pay for this meal, all opinions are my own. 

So long, Sportello Mornings.

Tomorrow is a no good, very bad day: my absolute favorite morning ritual is coming to an end. Sportello, my “third space”, is no longer going to serve coffee and breakfast. They are ceasing morning operations, and  frankly, I don’t know what to do with myself. I’ve been going to Sportello several days a week for more than a year, and I’m just not ready for this break up.

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This past week I’ve been going through many stages of grief. First there was surprise – I assumed the renovations were just a tidy up – a refresh. And then horror. Then anger. Then self-blame. Now a little bit of self pity. But mostly, I have no idea what I’m going to do with my mornings. Do I bring my coffee to work? Find a new morning space? After tomorrow I have no idea where I’m going to find the calm white counter, barstool with my back to the window, facing the door so I could see people come in. No morning conversations to eavesdrop. And I had such a thing going – I was a regular. You don’t just become a regular – you have to earn it. Build it up slowly over time. It’s a special, warm, fuzzy feeling being a regular.

I’m going to miss the Friday bagels, with the perfect ratio of seeds and salt. Toasted, just lightly – really just warmed. I’m going to miss the Fazenda roast, that perfect coffee needing no cream or sugar. And ice coffee with two straws.

I’m going to miss the ethereal, buttery maple biscuit. I remember my first biscuit – it was on on a Friday, before I realized that I could reserve a bagel, on a busy morning when they had run out. I picked it up reluctantly – despite my love of bagels, I don’t really eat very much of these flour-laden things. And so that biscuit. I took it out the bag as I walked over the bridge, and I had to stop walking because I was having a biscuit epiphany and literally could not keep on going. This was one of the best things I had ever put in my mouth. I may in fact miss this biscuit more than any thing else.

I’m going to miss the hard boiled eggs (three) that I’d pick up for breakfast, and eat slowly throughout the morning.

I’m going to miss turning down the Thursday donuts. And the doughssant craze. And the cinnamon buns (which I never actually ended up trying!).

I’m going to miss Joanne (another regular). She’s the artist. She even painted one of the cows!

I’m going to miss the coffee refills.

I’m going to miss the regulars from the office across the street who’d put up a sign in the window announcing how many bagels they’d like to reserve on Friday.

I’m going to miss that guy with the really impressive Lincoln beard. Yeah, seriously great facial hair.

I’m going to miss those mini quiches that they stopped making earlier in the year. I already missed them for months, and was hoping that they’d return soon.

I’m going to miss the drinks that I rarely got – those stupendous ones with things like ganache in them. I didn’t even know you could put ganache in coffee.

I’m going to miss the croissant yesterday which I ate because there were no maple biscuits left and I thought that I might as well try it given that I’m not going to ever get to eat it again. Dear lord was it a delicious croissant.

I’m going to miss Kaylee, Megan, and Amanda – who saw me most of the time before my morning caffeine (yikes!) and made me feel at home.

Salmon Bagel and Coffee

Sportello Pastries

Sportello Donut Day

Quiche and Coffee

Mise

Maple Biscuit Sportello

Iced Coffee

Bagels

Bagels and Coffee

Bagels on the tray

Goodbye Sportello mornings, you will be missed.

Quick Beef & Broccoli

Last night was an unexpected night on the town, and since I’m a homebody most of the time, was quite the adventure! After leaving work a little early, we went hunting for goodies at the record store in Allston (we left with some Dave Brubeck), and then headed back to the Waterfront for dinner.

After taking part in the Lamb Pro-Am this summer (and winning! yep, I’m a lamb-pion), I’ve been pining to head back to the DiBiccari brothers’ Tavern Road for dinner  and finally got the chance to. The restaurant is a great addition to the Fort Point Congress street corridor of the Boston Waterfront, and it’s a shame that more people don’t know about it! The food is excellent, well priced, and there’s some forward culinary thinking going on. This time around, I had the bluefish pâté to start, which comes with these salty-crispy buttery homemade crackers that were the perfect spread vehicle. (Bluefish pâté is one of my favorite New England foods, and I try to treat myself whenever I see it on a menu. Theirs is a winner.) Devon had the duck prosciutto, which was a little small portion wise – only a few slices, but quite good. (If you get a chance, Ruhlman’s duck prosciutto is a great home curing project.) They serve these delightful warm rolls, with some unexpected whipped citrus butter, which I’d eat by itself by the spoonful. For dinner, our friend Allison got the citrus marinated smoked chicken, Devon got a bowl of meaty bolognese with perfectly tender pasta, and I went with the harissa-rubbed roasted lamb, with roasted hubbard squash, silky squash puree, and Marfax beans.

We left full and happy, and stumbled out across the street to Drink to assess our luck with the line. The wait didn’t seem too bad, and we happened to be in line in front of the Scott Caan/Ryan Gosling look-alike who works in the Waterfront, so I didn’t mind waiting for a bit. (Yes, seriously, this guy looks just enough like Ryan Gosling that I usually do a double take when I see him crossing the street.) By 9:15, I hadn’t ordered my Ramos Gin Fizz yet, and was starting to get a little bit cranky. Allison mentioned unbaked cookie dough in her freezer, and so we gave up our spot, and made a b-line to her apartment in Charlestown. The evening ended with warm cookies, Ghostbusters, and me passed out on her couch.

We got home sometime past midnight, and today ended up being quite the lazy Saturday, as I missed my alarm for the gym… Instead, we ran errands – the bank, the post office to send in Devon’s passport application, brunch, and a long nap. In the early evening, I went for a manicure at Miniluxe, had matcha at Peet’s, and headed home to cook this up for dinner:

Not your regular beef and broccoli – I’m always nostalgic for takeout style beef and broccoli, but I prefer a lighter, brighter sauce, more like what you’d find in Vietnamese cooking: meat flavored with lime, and fish sauce, rather than your average thick brown slurry. Poking around my fridge tonight, I found some beef stir-fry meat from the butcher that I needed to use, and some broccoli that was on the edge of leaving us. I steamed the broccoli for 6 minutes in the microwave, got my cast iron pan nice and hot, added a good glug of oil, tipped in my beef, and spread it about my pan so it wouldn’t be crowded and steam. I didn’t touch it for three minutes, so the bottom would get brown and crispy. While the meat cooked, I made my sauce – the juice of one lime, about a tablespoon of Red Boat Fish sauce, and a teaspoon of piloncillo (brown sugar), to round things out. I flipped the beef, cooked for another minute until it was just cooked through, added the now-steamed broccoli, poured on the sauce, and tossed. After tasting, I finished with just a sprinkle of Maldon salt, and we had a feast. The sauce was just enough for about 3/4 lb. of meat and a 12 ounces of broccoli, but I’d double it if you have any more meat and veg than that.

Tavern Road
www.tavernroad.com
343 Congress Street
Fort Point, Boston

Drink
http://drinkfortpoint.com/
348 Congress Street
Fort Point, Boston

Sunsets, leftovers, and a seal says hello!

Before I even bother mentioning any part of my day, isn’t this a glorious sunset? You can’t quite see it, but the moon was huge on the horizon tonight. As I took the long way back from work there were dozens of people stopped taking photos on the Harborwalk. Folks had iPhones, iPads, you name it directly in front of their faces to get a shot of this thing. Yes, yes, I know, why can’t we just stop and enjoy things with our eyes? But who will know that we saw it?!
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I hope you don’t mind that this blog has turned into a serial novel. Now where were we here? Oh yes, we left off last night as I was about to watch Broadchurch. And then I posted my little essay on the interwebs, and promptly passed out. Turns out that two hours at the gym has a soporific effect.

Today was a sad day at work, as a coworker who I’m particularly fond of left to move onto new things. We had a big team lunch across the Charlestown bridge at the new Papagayo location, ate massive amounts of guacamole, and witnessed said departing coworker’s first ever tequila shot. (I’m not actually sure how that one is possible, but there is video documentation) I ordered the shrimp and avocado salad with mango and jicama, and a little side of black beans. It was good, but I think I’d like to recreate it at home with slightly riper mango!

It pushed me right into nap time territory, but I think that could have been because I had been walking all morning long, rather than the food. I racked up 16,000 steps today, which I managed to track with my Fitbit, Jawbone, and several RunKeeper logged activities. Can’t have too many measurements! Here’s what the Jawbone app looks like – that’s my main page on the left. The purple bar is sleep time, and the red-orange is steps. You can zoom in on your daily step total (on the right), and see the breakdown of your activity time. Neat!

After walking over to the car, I met Devon and some coworkers at Atlantic Beer Garden, where I turned down burgers, fries, and a half a quesadilla, alas. When I got home tonight, despite my activity level, I was actually not very hungry. (Might have been the extra guacamole which tided me over?) Here’s dinner: a bowl of spinach and cherry tomatoes, and a leftover spicy chicken leg from Capitol Grille. There may… or may not be a small bit of ice cream in my future.

And before I go, here’s one last photo – the seal that caught me checking him out in the mirror at the aquarium tonight. I try to pass by the window on a regular basis, because, come on, these guys are too cute. (I decided to hold back from posting the screen shot of my mom as I FaceTime’d her seeing the seal, but, man is it great knowing that I have that shot on my phone.)

Because we’re going full circle here, I’m headed to attempt Broadchurch again. Goodnight all!

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