Thursday, September 27, 2012

Marco

I lived in the North End for four years and I have been recommending restaurants to friends and strangers ever since. In fact, it was one of the main reasons I started this blog, teemed with the fact that I enjoyed photographing good looking plates of food, just because. (Before it became so trendy that it wasn't - or more likely is I jumped on a bandwagon unknown to me at the time.) I digress. Even though I moved over the bridge to Charlestown, those tourist laden streets of Little Italy still beckon. I miss them. And I'm strangely, fiercely loyal to this neighborhood in all its classic Italian glory. It is a shame that I couldn't recommend Marco, Chef Marc Orfaly's intimate roman trattoria, sooner.

I have known about Marco all the while, it sits quietly unassuming on the busiest section of Hanover Street, perched on the second floor above Caffe Paradiso. As we made our way up the discreet staircase for the first time, entering the cozy nook of a dining room anchored by a working fireplace with elegant hardwood floors, exposed brick walls, antique rustic beams and only a handful of tables, I couldn't believe what I had been missing out on. Our window side table was romantic in its simplicity, set with white lilies in a Sanbitter bottle vase, a flickering tea light, and lending an ideal people watching view.
At a glance, their cocktail menu wasn't particularly intriguing, I noted standards (cosmo, bellini, mojito)  and decided to stick with a glass of Prosecco ($9). They don't have a full alcohol licence but make do with flavored spirits and liquor. Adam ordered their version of an Old Fashioned ($11) (think meets Negroni, with a Cherry flavored Whiskey) which made me think twice about passing one up, it was excellent! The small Italian wine list focuses on family run and boutique wineries. To pair with our entrees I chose the house Nero d'Avola ($26) a great value (about four glasses worth) offered by the carafe. 
After the atmosphere and the first round of drinks impressed, in swoops the bread course, a delightful gesture of bite size rosemary and garlic dusted foccacia squares served with house capponata containing olives, eggplant, onions and peppers, and the obligatory side of olive oil for dipping. 
The Antipasto di Marco ($18) is a revelation of handsomely presented, simple delicacies on a heavy wood board. A top a trio of delectable imported salumi consisting of sopressata, mortadella and salami sits neatly spooned heaps of a chickpea and carrot salad, marinated roasted red peppers, shredded eggplant, mashed tuna and tangy anchovies draped over white beans. Even more perfect bites, hot peppers stuffed with hunks of mozzarella, slices of creamy burratta and grilled bread. Finally, piled in the center is a mash up of pickles, olives, caperberries and pickled cauliflower. There is a tiny bar across the dining room which is mostly empty, and I immediately pictured myself returning just to sit there and snack on this. 
The pasta dishes are superb, elevated by house made meats. In my Orrichiette Alla Salsica ($25) with peas and favas, it's free form house made sausage, while Adam's Rigatoni alle Polpette di Maile ($25) features Berkshire Pork Meatballs in tomato gravy. We both went with full portions, I took plenty of leftovers home so depending on your appetite, or your next destination, you might consider a half for $14. 
We opted to move on for dessert, I was even feeling too stuffed for a cappuccino and tiramisu, which is so not like me.

Where simple romance is matched with exquisite Italian cuisine, Marco is the true definition of a North End hidden gem. Bravi! 
Marco Cucina Romana on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Hotel Allegro

    Happy Travel Tuesday!
I was enamored with our accommodations when we visited Chicago this past August. The Allegro is a vibrant boutique hotel with a great location in the Downtown Loop. 
While the standard rooms are tiny, they are well appointed and manage to ooze with character. The jewel toned decor leans toward art deco, with details in the reflections, like gold and silver clustered drawer handles on a desk made entirely of mirrors, add to that a paneled floor to ceiling, nearly wall to wall mirror on the opposite side. Then you've got uniform geometric pattered wallpaper, a plush carpet underfoot that zigs and zags, and wonderfully fluffy king size bed loaded with pillows backed by a blue velour headboard.

The reception and lobby are spacious and soaked in rich colors in one corner and earth tones in the next, decorated with funky shaped couches and over sized circular benches. They offer a complimentary beer and wine happy hour for guests every evening from 5-7 pm, apparently all Kimpton Hotels do this. I though it was a pretty nice perk. Additionally, I had a fantastic breakfast at the adjoining restaurant 312 and the attached bar and lounge Encore isn't a bad spot to grab a drink. I felt relaxed, I slept well, and I appreciated being centrally located among the hustle and bustle of Chicago.

Hotel Allegro - A Kimpton Hotel
171 W. Randolph Street
Chicago, Illinois 60601

Friday, September 21, 2012

Bunker Hill Monument

    So we finally climbed the Bunker Hill Monument. All 294 steps.
I love living immersed in all this history. The Bunker Hill Monument is actually located on Breed's Hill, the site of the first major battle of the American Revolution in 1775. It's free to climb! And if you've never done it, it's always a good one for the bucket list.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

John Harvard's Brewery & Ale House

Descending below the bustling streets of Harvard Square, this expansive brew house which first opened in 1992 greets guests with eclectic stained glass windows set against exposed brick and stone walls. John Harvard's underwent a makeover this summer, it appears shiny and fresh faced, outfitted with 11 plasma TVs and a new sound and lighting system. (I have no past visits with which to compare, but the space certainly looks great.) Mahogany pub tables and a 20-seat bar overlook the now visible brewery, while the dining rooms expands backwards into cozy nooks met by original wood pilings.  

The re-opening kicked off with a three course meal paired with their signature craft beers. My sister and I started with some 16 oz suds, their hoppy West Coast Pale Ale and their copper colored JHBH Pale Ale, along with a plate of Point Judith Calamari. The rings were a little tough and overly crisp, though the spicy tomato sauce, green onions, cherry peppers and Parmesan cheese added some nice flavors.

Our Caesar salads were tasty, perfectly dressed and thoughtfully paired with a pour of the Tripel Bottom Line. This sweet belgian ale is fermented at elevated temps and aged in American Oak. The creaminess of both the caesar dressing and the tripel played off one another for a well rounded pair. 

For our entrees we both went with the Bourbon and Ale Salmon, a hearty piece of fish, flame grilled (those grill marks!) and served with french green beans, roasted red peppers, English peas and tendrils and a chili glaze. 

Despite being slightly overcooked, resulting in a dry and less flaky piece of fish than I had hoped, it had terrific flavor where the char grilled smokiness was accented nicely by the sweet and tangy chili glaze. The accoutrements were all excellent and only worked in the dishes favor. Paired with this course was the West Coast Pale Ale, where a mash up of Amarillo and Columbus hops produce a complex and satisfying beer.

We ended with a moist and gooey Flourless Chocolate Torte served with fluffy whipped cream and blueberries, alongside a dark and intricate Monticello Porter, a colonial era Baltic brew. 
At this subterranean neighborhood Brewery and Ale House, classic american dishes meet superbly crafted beers. Live entertainment in the form a doo wop acapella group making the rounds, plus our all around awesome and engaging waiter added up to a really enjoyable evening. Welcome back, John Harvard's!
John Harvard's Brew House on Urbanspoon
I attended this dinner as media, the food and beers were complimentary.