Sunday, February 27, 2011

A Night Out in Beacon Hill

Out and about on a Friday night....
My sister took me out for sushi at Ma Soba in Boston's Beacon Hill neighborhood. Afterwards, we made our way down the street to The Liberty Bar. We stayed at The Liberty Hotel back in December, and you can read all about the hotel, the bars, and our stay here. Besides a local overnight indulgence, it has become quite the nightlife scene to mingle over cocktails. We were carded at the door of the hotel and planted ourselves on an empty couch in the far side of the lobby to sip expensive cocktails (all $15) and take in the scene. Quite the people watching experience it is. And apparently a good spot if you're playing the field aka single and ready to mingle. Which we are not. But just throwing it out there, in case you are. We thoroughly enjoyed our corner of the lobby and our first round of drinks, a Sapphire Darling Bombay Sapphire, Patron Citronage, Vanilla Bean Syrup & Lime for me and a French Kiss Grey Goose La Poire with Cassis, Pineapple & Champagne for Leah. Drink envy prompted a second round, this time with Leah ordering the Sapphire Darling. It is quite a tasty drink, but I was content to move onto the Winter Sangria Calvados, Local Apple Cider & Red Wine at the waitresses recommend, who by the way was attentive and super nice.This was after our "we can only afford one drink here" statement. Seems we've made ourselves right at home.It was a slow start to my Saturday, but I managed to be productive and a post on the days adventures is sure to come!
Ma Soba on Urbanspoon

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Tico

Introducing Tico, Back Bays newest venue serving Latin American inspired food from renowned Boston chef, Michael Schlow. Already a fan of his French American cuisine at Radius and with two other restaurants (Via Matta, Alta Strada) under his belt, the opening of Tico garnered much buzz and curiosity.Would it live up to the hype?! Justin, Megan, Michelle, Tania, Meghan and I decided to find out. On Tuesday evening I arrived at the new space located at 222 Berkeley Street excited to meet the anticipation head on. I arrived first and grabbed a corner window seat in the dark tequila bar where a waiter approached me right away. Tico boasts a full wine and tequila list, the beer and cocktail menus are still non existent in printed form. However, a plethora of bottled and draft beer and margarita options are available. I began the evening with a draft Negra Modela ($6). A robust Mexican lager, it hit the spot. We settled into our spacious table for six in a window front alcove over looking St James Street and decided on eight small plates and three taco dishes. Waters were refilled promptly throughout the evening and service was pleasant and attentive for the duration.
Once I finished my Nerga Modela I ordered a Margarita ($10) deciding that I should honor National Margarita Day (how fitting!) while I had the chance. This one definitely honored the day, it was strong and brightly flavored despite the fact that I couldn't tell you what kind of tequila it was crafted with. In addition to the standard lime, Tico offers Blood Orange and Pomegranate Margaritas that were well received by my dining companions. The dishes were delivered promptly to start and well paced throughout, lending aesthetically pleasing presentations with food that was for the most part, well flavored and incredibly tasty. Crispy Fried Manchego Cheese ($9) was a warm gooey meets crispy bite served with an inventive spicy pomegranate honey sauce. A play on a classic mozarella stick, this small plate was an instant winner. A place in my heart remains for any which way a restaurant decides to prepare a dish of Brussels Sprouts ($8). Tico prepares them with bacon, kumquats, mint and jalapenos and as predicted, I adored this combination.
The first batch of tacos up were the Crunchy Fried Chicken ($10) with fennel slaw & spicy buttermilk dressing.These were an excellent choice, the chicken is indeed perfectly crunchy and the generous toppings add layers of flavor.
The Shrimp Toast ($8) with avocado, pickled jalapeƱos and lime were intriguing as described, the plate boasting attractive looking rectangles of crispy fried shrimp.
Greasy little morsels they were! As eye-catching as they sat, glistening with oil, the greasiness ended up overpowering the minimal dollop of avocado and pickled jalapeƱo. Perhaps adding more of the toppings would elevate the taste.The Crispy Sweetbreads ($8) tasted rather bland, although I have to admit this is my first time trying them. The masa harissa, endive, blood orange and hazelnuts somehow weren't enough to boost the sweatbreads to a memorable status in my eyes. All was forgiven when the Creamy Gigante Beans ($10) with chorizo and green onion graced the tables presence. Also new to me, but far more exciting and flavorful than the Sweatbreads were these tender smooth disks, flatter and larger than your average white bean - it's a Gigante Bean!Up next were the Crispy Fish Tacos ($9) served with pickled onions & red jalapeno. They were good, but not great. Standard, but no wow factor. That spicy buttermilk dressing on the chicken taco is a tough act to follow. Wow factor came in the next dish of Octopus ($11) with yellow peppers, citrus, and Aleppo pepper. By now you all know my love of octopus, this dish had an energetic presentation with bright flavors to match. The Snap Peas ($8) with orange zest, Tabasco butter and “crunchies” brought a good amount of heat. The pea pods themselves were crisp and fresh. This is definitely a standout plate. Close up, oh snap!The Spicy Shrimp ($12) rounded out the taco plates in fine form topped with bacon and avocado. Keeping it simple, these tacos succeed. The final small plate was one amazing dish of "Creamed" Corn ($8) with Bacon, Chiles and Thai Basil A lingering heat from the chiles, marking this as the spiciest dish of the evening left the palate extremely satisfied. But we weren't content to stop there. That's right, Tico is also doing desserts. And doing them well. We went ahead and ordered the first three on the menu, beginning with a decadent and rich Super Delicious Chocolate Tart ($10). With tres leche ice cream, this tart was in fact super delicious. Can't argue with their description on that one. A refreshing bite of citrus fruit custard topped with whipped cream and sweet sugary strawberries was the Lemon Sabayon Tart ($10). My favorite, though, was the Chocolate Gelato Peanut Butter Mousse-Over The Top-Caramelized Banana Split ($10) with Mexican chocolate sauce and crushed peanuts. Chocolate and Peanut butter always wins! That combination with the caramelized banana was what took it over the top for me.
Tico's breakout on the culinary scene brings enthusiasts something new. It's not a traditional tapas bar, it's not your standard mexican fare, it's American food with Latin and Spanish influenced flavor profiles showcased in beautiful plates of food. My hats off to the chef.

Tico on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Fine Dining at Prezza

My birthday falls a week after Valentines Day, just long enough where another (as opposed to a dual) celebration dinner is warranted. I feel lucky for this week, appreciating that I don't have to share my day with St. Valentine. However, I'll gladly share my day with the likes of Presidents Washington and Lincoln. Allowed a day off work in their honor, my birthday saw lot of quality couch time wrapped in my bathrobe, leg warmers and fuzzy slippers. To get out of the apartment for a leisurely dinner was a much needed recess.Last year Adam and I ventured to Cambridge to experience Craigie on Main but this year the frigid temps kept us close to home. My North End restaurant of choice was Prezza, one of many places I have wanted to dine at for awhile now, but had not yet had the opportunity.
Chef/owner Anthony Catuano opened Prezza in 2000 at 24 Fleet Street, a quiet side location towards the outer end of the neighborhood just off of bustling Hanover. The restaurant was named after the ancient Italian village where his grandmother was born, a tiny town where they cooked with the local provisions of the land. Referred to as the old-world peasant style of Italian cooking; focused on creating robust flavors and hearty portions from scratch, Prezza uses this as their base of inspiration. The menu is refined to incorporate foods of the Mediterranean regions as well as fresh seasonal ingredients.

The wine list is extensive and the page long martini menu was terribly hard to pass up. Knowing a red would serve me better overall, I settled on a glass of Casamatta Sangiovese ($8), but am absolutely returning to the bar to enjoy a Black Fig Martini ($12) sometime soon.
We were started off with thick slices of bread served in an eye catching abstract tin, and just as Adam was noting his olive craving, fresh olives and oil accompanied.
The appetizer choices are robust, all of them set at a $15 price point. This is no bargain, however, I found the price to be reasonable based on our appetizer of choice. It was an easy decision for us to share the Wood Grilled Squid and Octopus ($15). You really can't go wrong with wood grilled, and stemming from a trip to Greece in 2007, octopus has long been a favorite Mediterranean delicacy.
The plate lies full of coils of squid and long tentacles of octopus in a light red sauce that served to compliment the wood grilled sea creatures without masking their beauty. The squid was briny and chewy, very tender with a smooth texture, while the octopus is tougher in comparison with its gristly tentacles and more delicate flavor. Braised white beans blend nicely in the sauce and toasted parsley accents the flavors.Extremely pleased with our first course, I'd definitely recommend this appetizer if you are a squid or octopus fan, or even if you are a first-timer looking to branch out.Veering slightly off the beaten path, forgoing the route of a standard entree, I was in the mood for soup. Being that it was 10 degrees outside, the Mushroom Soup ($12) beckoned to me with promises of porcini cream, white beans, roasted tomato and grilled bread. This was the only soup on the menu so I assumed it would be really good, especially at a $12 price point.My instinctual cravings did not steer me wrong. First of all, the portion was exceedingly substantial. A large bowl serving an elegant blend of roasted tomato and porcini cream garnered a rich and flavorful base. Mouthfuls of hearty mushrooms in every bite, warm and earthy, slippery in texture while diverse in shape and size, were balanced by the smooth and ever so versatile white bean. This soup was pure joy by the spoonful.
Two slices of crispy toast delicately balancing atop them a mountain of fresh grated Parmesan cheese laced with pops of parsley were the finishing touch. I allowed them to melt into the soup, becoming softer bites as they soaked up the hearty broth.
Adam feasted on the Crispy Pork Chop ($26) with vinegar peppers, potatoes, roasted red onions and red wine sauce. The bone in pork chop was huge and perfectly cooked. The vinegar peppers were what made the dish in Adam's opinion. Once I took a bite, I had to agree, pungent red and yellow peppers were a stellar accompaniment. I was full and content after the bread, appetizer and soup course, but upon placing my order opted in for the Ravioli di Ouvo ($10). I appreciated our waiters candid tips, he let me know this is "one giant ravioli" and suggested I might want to order two. I declined the second but felt good about being thoroughly informed on the fact that only one ravioli was going to be served. Could you imagine expecting a plate full only to your complete surprise, getting this:This jumbo rav was about six bites, stuffed with ricotta and an intact egg yolk tossed in a brown butter and sage sauce with shaved Parmigiano. Our waiter was prompt to offer fresh cracked pepper, which I accepted. Cutting into the ravioli, as you can imagine, was a feast in itself for the eyes. The brown butter with its complex nutty taste and crispy sage marrying the velvety egg yolk, was amazing. Admittedly, I wished for a thicker more doughy ravioli as I felt the amount of pasta wasn't as substantial compared to the intensity of the yolk and amount of sauce it was bathing in. I was too full to lap up the excess with any bread, but was content to scrape the plate, draping fork fulls into my mouth. Overall, I imagine this is a difficult dish to perfect, and I was still pleased with the outcome.
The concept at Prezza is one that customers can easily embrace, celebratory meal or not. While relatively expensive, they serve large portions of creative-without-being-overly-complicated dishes (besides the anomaly that is the Ravioli di Ouvo) in a refined and modern atmosphere. The ambiance is that of a dimly lit room done in neutral colors, with a long chestnut brown bar area surrounded by a dining room boasting white linen tablecloths backed by beige booths. Giving tasteful hints of color through art are unique statement pieces that line the walls. Featuring homemade pasta, a wood grill that is fired up daily and an extensive wine and cocktail list, be sure to detour off the main drag and visit them on your next trip to the North End!
Prezza on Urbanspoon