Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Boston Common Coffee Co.

Last Friday my camera was tucked safely away in my suitcase and a 12pm departure time to Falmouth for a friends wedding was fast approaching. Perhaps the shortest Summer Lunch series to date, there was no time for a leisurely meal so I opted for something quick and reliable.
Boston Common Coffee Co. is a cozy North End coffee shop located at 97 Salem Street. I've mentioned them quite a few times before; their coffee, baked goods and paninis are top notch. Their cozy living room space offers free wi-fi, so often I'll head over with my computer when a change of scenery from my own living room is in order. One of my favorite paninis, basically a glorified grilled ham and cheese is the Hanover ($6.75) which satisfied as the second to last (ah where did summer go?!?) lunch. Black Forest Ham is paired with sharp cheddar cheese and bacon, which gets topped with an apple chutney and pressed between 7 grain bread. All paninis come with a free side salad, of either mixed greens, white bean, tabouli or tortellini. I chose the white bean, a lightly dressed mix of chickpea and kidney beans. It was noon after all, so I had already sufficed my coffee craving with a cup or two at home. I washed lunch down with a favorite sparkling citrus beverage, Orangina, just in time for our ride to the Cape to arrive. It was a weekend full of wedding festivities, which I'll be sure to recap once I have a moment to go through all the pictures!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Fruit, Whole Fruit and Nothing But Fruit

In ice pop form! Power of Fruit Bars are a healthy summer snack or dessert made with 100% whole frozen fruit.
The company provided me one box each of their five signature bars, which are blended using various combinations of fresh strawberries, blueberries, cranberries, mangoes, pineapples, bananas and more, with a dash of all natural juice concentrate and water.The iced fruit bars are tart, sweet, juicy and inherently fresh as a result of immediately freezing the fruit right after it has been picked, washed and chopped. No artificial colors, sweeteners or preservatives are added, resulting in a summer snack that contains less than 10 grams of sugar and under 36 calories per bar.
In essence, Power of Fruit steps up to the plate as a refreshing, healthy alternative to sugar packed pops or dyed gel snacks. Bonus: one bar is equal to half a daily fruit serving.
The medley of flavors in my freezer that I have been working my way through are Original All Fruit, Tropical, Banana Berry, Orange Tango and Cherry Berry.
Initially, the pure, unaltered flavors threw me for a loop. When they say no sugar added, they mean, no sugar added. It took me a minute to adjust to the fact that these are not going to be sticky sweet like those old school neon ice pops that come in similar "push up" plastic packaging. Not even close.The first bar I sampled was the Orange Tango which left me wanting more. I felt like it was trying too hard to be wholesome - resulting in extreme tartness. Basically, it lacked the contrasting element of sweetness one might crave from an ice pop. (Which could be argued as entirely the point, so I though these bars were going to be a bust!) But then I tasted the Tropical with luscious pieces of mango and banana, which was much sweeter in comparison. This ended up being my favorite of the five. Yellow pop for the win!
The Cherry Berry, Banana Berry and All Fruit bars like-ability factor fell somewhere in between.

Flavor preferences aside, I can totally embrace this product as a whole for keeping it real. This is fruit as it should be, the fresh chunks laced throughout the icy bars are undeniably my favorite part.
To find a retailer nearest to you, head to the website and type your zip code in the space provided at the bottom of the page.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Restaurant Week @ Grotto

Summer Restaurant Week has been good to me; so good, in fact, that I find myself looking back on restaurant weeks past, wondering if certain meals were deserving of as much praise I gave them. All comparisons aside, the two weeks of prix fix menus are a great reason to check out new prospects and old favorite dining establishments throughout the city. I'm not sure how any RW appetizer, city wide, could stack up to the Chilled Local Corn Soup that kicked things off last Monday at Mistral. That meal went unphotographed, but the sheer brilliance of that first course can not go without mention. Over a week later, I'm still savoring the velvety smooth with just a hint of cream soup, which was ladled atop a mountain of shredded lump crab surrounded by thick bites of soft avocado. A finishing swirl of Jalapeno oil lent a slow heat, in lovely contrast with the sweet corn flavors. It was truly a standout of soups I've tasted. The rest of the meal continued in fine form (Mustard Glazed Salmon, Chocolate Cake with cappuccino sauce) and tonight, the meal at Grotto, an unassuming subterranean spot located on a quiet street on the back side of Beacon Hill, was just as poignant.As I descended into the tiny cave like space where exposed brick and stone walls are met with black shelving housing rows of wine bottles; I spotted my dining companion, Lindsey of Beantown Eats sipping Chardonnay at a cozy two top. The cavernous dining room is characterized by sweeping floor to ceiling red curtains and industrial ceilings with exposed piping, dangling from them two small ornate chandeliers. After soaking in the atmosphere, I turned my attention to the wine list. Lindsey remarked the Chardonnay was a little sweeter than she expected, which was helpful since I was in the mood for a crisp, dry white wine. I opted for a Quartino of Sauvignon Blanc ($12). I appreciated the reasonable price point of this small caraffe (about two glasses worth.) Why settle on one when you can get two for just a few dollars more? With soft bread and a plate of olive oil served shortly after, we were off to an impressive start. Grotto's Restaurant Week menu presents you with nearly all the same dishes as their regular menu, surpassing the typical three choice dishes that most restaurants are accustomed to offering. It proves for some difficult decision making, our waitress happily weighed in on her favorites. For the Primi course I settled on the Mare, essentially a grilled calamari salad, while Lindsey chose the Fontina Cheese Foundue served with beef tenderloin, aged balsamic, truffle oil and portobello mushrooms. Drastically different appetizers, mine light and summery, hers exuding a cold weather heartiness; both were solid. Under a bed of lemony dressed greens specked with red peppers laid tender coils of grilled calamari, elevated by a smooth white bean puree. The calamari preparation exhibited a level of finesse akin to the avocado corn soup at Mistral, I'll be savoring it for days to come. Off all the secondi courses listed, the Potato Gnocchi with Short Ribs, Mushrooms and Gorgonzola caught both of our attentions first. This also happened to be one of the waitresses top recommendations and neither of us could pass it up. A generous portion of smooth as silk, fluffy as clouds, grooved potato dumplings were paired with fork tender shortrib cubes in a deeply flavorful brown sauce laced with slippery shitake mushrooms and just a dusting of sharp gorgonzola cheese. Trusting our initial instincts paid off. This was absolutely phenomenal. Lindsey and I both agreed we had to spare a few bites for leftovers to take home to our significant others. Aren't we thoughtful?! For dolce, I chose one of the lighter options to follow up a hearty entree, one of my all time favorites, Panna Cotta. Grotto's lemon version is bright and refreshing with a decadent balsamic raspberry sauce and a crispy pizzelle cookie. Lindsey chose the Banana Bread Budding with a double dose of caramel in ice cream and sauce form, with a finishing touch of candied spiced pecans. Restaurant week dessert courses sometimes feel neglected, leaving a lot to be desired; but at Grotto, that is entirely not the case. Both of our desserts were outstanding and especially so because we paired them with a dessert wine, the Falchini Vin Santo ($9) which offered a balanced sweetness and pronounced nuttiness with a sharp clean finish. After reviewing the website, I realized Grotto serves a restaurant week-esque menu all the time. A three course menu option is available seven nights a week for $34. No wonder they excel at this. I'm just happy to have finally discovered this neighborhood hidden jewel. An intimate and cozy space tucked inconspicuously underneath a Beacon Hill brownstone at 37 Bowdoin Street, I highly recommend Grotto for comforting, contemporary Italian dishes at a reasonable price point.
Grotto on Urbanspoon

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Joe's American Bar & Grill

The second Summer Lunch post this week - that must mean I'm catching up! I spent last Friday afternoon lunching and bridesmaid dress shopping on Newbury Street. The bride-to-be, one of my best friends from college, celebrates another task checked of the wedding to-do list with a giant goblet of Sangria from Joe's American Bar and Grill. We were starved as we strolled down Newbury Street, bypassing longer waits for outdoor seating before deciding on Joe's at its new Back Bay location on the corner of Dartmouth Street. We scored a table in the coveted patio dining area, adjacent to the upper bar. The sunken sidewalk patio is cozy and features a retractable roof. It's perfect if you're not looking to bask in the sun, but still want to enjoy an outdoor ambiance.
Joe's boasts an extensive drink menu, I decided on a Dark N Stormy ($8), with Goslings Rum and Ginger Beer, always a dependable choice. To begin the table shared a Maryland Lump Crab Cake ($10.99) - they do it up right with quality crab meat and barely enough breading to hold it together, and serve it with lightly dressed cole slaw and zesty tartar sauce. Lunch options delighted the group as a whole, everyone cleaned their plates. I was impressed with my Ahi Tuna Salad ($16.99), the inherent freshness and overall execution was spot on. The sashimi tuna graced by a sesame seed crust achieved a perfect sear and was drizzled with just enough spicy aioli. Fresh salad greens were lightly dressed in an herb vinaigrette, topped with ripe avocado and red onions. Joe's American Bar and Grill is a local chain with nine locations in the greater Boston area. Serving straightforward comfort food in an upbeat all-American atmosphere, the Newbury Street location is likely a safe bet for lunch if you're in the area.
Joe's American Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

En l'honneur de St Germain

As lasting friendships formed among the lovely ladies I have met thought blogging, so did our love of a certain artisianal french liqueur, St Germain. St Germain is an all natural product, made from fresh handpicked elderflower blossoms which are harvested annually during springtime in the Alps. The resulting taste is subtle and delicate, yet curiously complex. It suggests flavors of lemon and grapefruit, pear and passion fruit, melon and cherry, without settling on one. This hand crafted elixir pairs well with a variety spirits and in numerous cocktails. We decided to celebrate its versatility and elegance with a late summer cocktail party. Emily offered to host on her spacious Cambridge patio and a Horizon Beverages rep (who we connected with at an event last month) graciously supplied her with carafes, stirrers and other St Germain media. This generous gesture added festive touches to the already picturesque ambiance. Megan's Chocolate Lab, Gunner and Emily's Black Lab, Sadie joined the party, too!Each of us crafted a drink with the ingredient du jour in addition to providing savory and / or sweet appetizers to pair alongside. Emily's Peach Germain Spritzer with homemade peach simple syrup and seltzer was a hit, in addition to her crostini topped with Trader Joes goat cheese and blueberry spread and some delicious lemon tarts. Megan's dry white wine and fruit filled carafe of fresh blueberries, nectarines and strawberries blended to create a refreshing Sangria Flora. She baked some Parmesan crisps and served them alongside a beautiful heirloom tomato dip. And she made Elderflower, almond and lime teacakes with St Germain infused frosting. Yes, they were even better than they sound. Elizabeth's savory cucumber and ricotta filled crepes and her non-alcoholic blueberry topped ginger peach juice were equally creative and delicious. Bianca paired St Germain with Limoncello, brought some spicy Sopressata and made incredibly addictive chocolate chip cookie dough truffles! Inspired by a favorite cocktail on the menu at Bricco; I made the Left Bank which blends St Germain with Hendrick's Gin and Sauvignon Blanc. I purchased some fancy Italian cheeses and an olive antipasto at Salumeria Italiana. A classic pecorino as well as a moliterno al tartufo, which is a rich sheeps milk cheese infused with black truffles were an excellent pairing with Bianca's Sopressata. We ate and drank well into the evening, still I sampled more inventive cocktails from Meghan's zesty herbal vodka, lemon and basil concoction to Amy's St Honore 75 adorning the coveted liqueur with bubbles and lemon. Relaxing and listening to music while catching up over inventive cocktails in this plush garden patio, I can't think of a more perfect way to spend a Thursday evening. Harmoniously blending with a variety of spirits and delighting the most discerning of palates, the sophisticated, exquisitely balanced St Germain not only makes truly lust worthy libations, but proves an exciting guest of honor!Have you ever thrown a liqueur themed party? Should we make this a tradition?