Friday, September 30, 2011

Blue Inc.

It would appear that I have some unfinished business to attend to. Once upon a time when it was summer, I had Friday's off from work and I went out to lunch! You remember those days? Long gone are they now, but not forgotten. I can't start something and not finish it, so without further a due, the final installment of my beloved Summer Lunch Series.
The opening of Blue Inc. in the Financial District had my interest peaked long before it even had a name. Chef Jason Santos was set to display his eclectic twist on traditional dishes in a funky, modern space located at 131 Broad Street, minus this one small detail. Since naming his new restaurant proved such a challenge, he announced a contest to the public. His affection for the color widely recognized thanks to his signature dyed-do, the winning submission aptly fits the bill.
I began my afternoon at the bar where the spirited bartender was more than welcoming and highly engaging. She took interest in my photography, which then led to a discussion of our favorite Boston restaurants. I happily conversed with her, sipping my Blue Inc. Sangria ($8) until Megan arrived and we sat for lunch. The signature red wine sangria with aloe vera and tangerine was a striking presentation with juxtaposing colors, animated further by a touch of blue in a test tube. I'm not sure the squirt of blue liquid added much taste wise to the already successful sangria, but frills and fun and blue fit right in, so it worked. Megan ordered The Anorexic Model ($11), this wildly named martini blends pierre ferrand cognac, lychee bubbles and St. Germain, and garnishes it with "twiggy & berries" an eye catching bunch of mini grapes. For lunch, we decided to share a couple appetizer plates and a salad. The chef's creative tweaks paid off in some dishes, but failed to impress in others.
Perhaps the appetizer I was most looking forward to trying (which ended up being one the waitress initially forgot) were the Mini Kobe Corn Dogs ($9). A half dozen short and fat hot dogs in an onion and cheese batter come with three dipping sauces - honey mustard with a kick, chipotle aioli and homemade ketchup. I wanted to love these as much a I love my carnival fare staple, but this version did them no justice. The batter was much too greasy for what was only a paper thin coating of it, namely the ratio of dog to corn tipped completely off scale in the dogs favor. The fluffy enveloping exterior I craved (which is certainly allowed to be somewhat greasy) was completely a miss. Twists on classics can succeed straying even far off the beaten path, but I fear corn dog lovers will experience the same level of disappointment we did. The Three Lobster Tacos ($14) followed up on a much brighter note, pairing finely chopped lightly dressed lobster with mango salsa, shredded lettuce, cilantro and lime. I wished there were more mangoes, and ripe ones at that, present in the taco, but otherwise I enjoyed the dish. Black Truffle is a recurring ingredient on the menu; I favored mine in finely shredded strands atop Tater Tots ($6) which were soft mashed potato mounds of pure comfort, stuffed in the center with Gouda cheese and wrapped in a thin crispy skin. The Hell's Kitchen Wedge Salad ($8) incorporated black truffle in vinaigrette form, drizzling it over a lettuce wedge studded with red grapes, candied walnuts and crumbled goat cheese. I wasn't blown away by this salad.After finishing off my sangria I was enticed by our waitress to try another cocktail. I'll give it to them - the bartenders at Blue Inc. sling some gorgeous looking libations. The pretty in pink and green Strawberry Fields Forever ($9) muddles strawberries with house infused basil vodka, lime and bubbles. This drink was balanced and refreshing, just as easy on the taste buds as it was on the eyes. For dessert, we fancied ourselves a mid-day milkshake in the flavor of Rootbeer & Toasted Marshmellow ($8). Made with liquid nitrogen, a mystical whoosh of tingling, cold, bubbly air swarms around you and before you know it, you've got a shake that's anything but - it's frozen solid! The kitchen was kind enough to split the shake into two glasses for us and return with additional liquid nitrogen to enhance the effects. Once the mist clears and the shake melts enough to be pierced with a spoon - a thick, smooth, clay like substance is flooded with liquid lying underneath and within, proving this milkshake that strays far off the beaten path, works.
Megan and I were witness to what looked like a media demonstration where Chef Santos assumed a spot behind the bar to whip up a milkshake for a press photographer. Fun!Accompanying the check in a shot glass is your classic childhood bank teller treat:
A blue lollipop! Proving a convivial experience; the atmosphere, cocktails and food at Blue Inc. all exude a unique fanfare. While not all of the dishes I sampled during my final summer lunch outing won me over, I was more than happy to accept an invite to check out the dinner menu with friends this past Tuesday. How did the Greenway hotspot fare on my second venture? Hopefully my next review won't take as long as this one did!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Madrid | Eat Like a Local

Our time spent eating out in Madrid was defined by humble tapas bars as opposed to high end dining rooms. Before departing we were fortunate enough to receive restaurant recommendations from a co-workers niece who resides in the city. Having a locals insight was one of the most helpful aspects as far as exploring from a culinary standpoint goes, and we could not have been more appreciative. This post details the three of my favorite spots we might never have stumbled upon otherwise; which I am highly inclined to recommend to future travelers.
We visited the taberna lined Calle Cava Baja on more than one occasion, this popular curvy street that lies just south of Plaza Mayor in the La Latina neighborhood quickly became one of my favorites.
I read that it actually has the highest number of bars per square meter in of all Madrid; no wonder I was a fan! The area looks to offer a solid mix of both traditional and modern tapas and cuisine.
The rustic yet sophisticated Taberna Tempranillo for dinner is an excellent place to start. 
We felt immediately welcome, greeted by both the bartender and the waiter when we entered the cozy, semi-crowded tapas bar. We were seated right away at a table for two in an earth toned atmosphere of exposed brick and weathered wooden beams. Trendy low hanging light fixtures highlight the bar backed by an impressive wall of vinos españoles. It seemed we had just dodged the real crowd, as more clientele poured in and the bar grew three people deep, many onlookers waiting for a table - a sure sign we were steered to a quality spot! Adam and I discovered early on that usually three tapas plates (after the bread and complimentary olives, of course) were enough to fill us up. Especially when we're ordering Placa de Quesos like this one. A medley of the finest Spanish cheese varying in firmness, texture and taste, graced our palates. I wish I could remember the names, but this was a month ago now and our waiter spoke limited English. I can tell you that all of them were excellent. We also filled our bellies for what was sure to be a late night out on the town with Codorniz with salmorejo - which is grilled quail with a tomato and garlic spread on baguette slices. I loved this simple preparation with quality ingredients. And since this was one of our first meals in Spain, we couldn't pass up the coveted Jamón ibérico - deliciously tender cured ham which comes from free-range black Iberian pigs. The jamon was nicely complimented by toasted baguette slices and a generous drizzle of olive oil.
Another visit to the beloved Cava Baja saw is in for an afternoon delight at Casa Lucas. The modern airy space was home to a lively crowd of regulars and maintained a minimal yet tasteful decor. Most of the patrons were larger groups convened at tables, so we lucked out with two stools at the small bar. The male duo behind the bar were not overly attentive but still pleasant, they seemed eager to please a string of familiar faces that swept in and out, some with young children even. Adam sipped on Mahou (the official beer of Madrid) while I enjoyed a copa de cava. In addition to a bowl of small olives and some thick slices of jamon over toasted bread, we snacked on a Pinchos Frios (cold tapas) and a Pinchos Calientes (hot tapas) each. The Junilla consisting of pastel de espsinacias y puerros con gambas or a spinach and leek pie with roasted red pepper and shrimp, was a distinctive and flavorful preparation. I didn't know what to make of the square "pie" of spinach and leek at first, but I definitely enjoyed the interpretation lending a soft and velvety texture. I only wished the shrimp was a little more substantial. The Alella pollo en salsa de soja con cebolla morada y mousse de maiz con aceite de sesamo or chicken with soy sauce, purple onion, corn mousse and sesame oil was a standout. A decent sized piece of juicy chicken intermingled with complimentary soy and sesame flavors, and that subtly sweet corn mousse was innovative and enticing. Casa Lucas was one of those situations where I felt like we were forced to get comfortable with the uncomfortable, in the sense that we were unfamiliar faces in a neighborhood haunt. The staff isn't going to hold your hand, but they are going to serve you some remarkably unique tapas. Another fantastic neighborhood to dine out is the Barrio Malasaña located at the metro stop Tribunal. La Dominga on Calle Espiritu Santo was actually our first meal in Madrid, and easily one of the most memorable of the trip. Beautiful Spanish dishes are served in an ideal atmosphere by a friendly and attentive waitstaff. They have a great selection of wine, I enjoyed a glass of Rioja Blanco.We got a kick out of the snifter the size of my head containing Adam's go to drink - Dewars on the Rocks. Side note - Dewars is known as White Label and only White Label in Spain (and elsewhere in Europe too - a British couple we met had no idea what Dewars was, but "ohhhh while label, yea we know that!") Light bulb moment! No wonder bartenders have no idea what Adam's been ordering unless he points it out on the shelf. Thank goodness we cleared that one up. We were served a tasty shooter of gazpacho before some of the most attractive looking plates of food I've ever seen came out of the kitchen. Adam raved the entire trip about his Carrilleras de Iberico al vino tinto which are Iberian pork cheeks in red wine. Simply unparalleled, these were tender, succulent and fully coated in a rich red wine sauce with side of the smoothest, creamiest potatoes bathing in a bright green herbal emulsion. I was just as enamored with my Canelones crujientes de confit de pato y setas acompanado de chutney de mango or Crispy confit of duck and mushroom cannelloni with mango chutney. The preparation of the duck meat encased in a slender flaky shell was remarkable, its flavor profiles complimented by both a light, clean salad of fresh greens and cherry tomatoes and a heavenly mango chutney. La Dominga felt like the epitome of a local secret, exuding laid back charm with just a touch of hip minus any pretentions, I'd most certainly frequent this restaurant if I lived in Madrid. In fact, I'd frequent all three of these delicious destinations. Food (and wine!) this good are worthy of seconds.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Cape Cod Wedding

Why yes, I am going to dedicate a post to the wedding I attended about a month ago. I've been traveling, you understand. Plus, this was one amazing wedding that could not go un-blogged. Enjoy!

On August 27th at 4:30pm our good friends Mike and Trisha were married at the historic Highfield Hall in Falmouth, MA. Narrowly escaping Hurricane Irene - my heart goes out to the couple whose wedding at this very same venue for Sunday, August 28th, was canceled. Can you imagine? (Understanding, the devastation of Irene proved much worse for many, I'm not discounting that fact for a second.) But back to the blissfully happy, incredible fun weekend at hand. Adam and Mike are childhood friends, so since Adam was in the wedding we arrived on Friday afternoon in anticipation of the rehearsal dinner. We checked into our downtown Falmouth hotel - The Inn on the Square, settled into our room,and explored our quaint surroundings on North Main St. Even though I grew up on Cape Cod, the extent of my visits to Falmouth were high school soccer games and track meets. It is a good 30-45 minute drive from my hometown of Yarmouth Port and typically, if I do any additional travel during my visits to Cape Cod, it is to the Lower Cape. (Orleans, Nauset Beach, Wellfleet, Truro, Provincetown.) As you can see, Falmouth is a lovely town, highlighted by a sunny, blue skied afternoon (no doubt, the calm before the storm.) We woke up on Saturday to a thick blanket of fog and impending rainstorms. After a swim in the hotel pool, a hearty breakfast at Persy's Place and few relaxing hours in the room, it was off to Highfield Hall!The ceremony and reception were already moved indoors, where special touches adorned the space, like the bride and groom's initials hanging on the wall above them and a happily ever after banner strung below.The bridesmaids all wore a different shade of blue and varying styles of strapless dresses. I loved how they all looked unique yet cohesive. And the bride was stunning. The ceremony was personalized and touching. Aww. Happily ever after indeed!Cocktail hour was held on the back wraparound porch.It proved to be a quintessential Cape Cod Wedding through and through. From the tastefully done beach themed table locators and decor, to the raw bars freshly shucked oysters, clams and shrimp cocktail.There was a lobster bake dinner complete with clam chowder and a whole lobster each with all the fixins. Were talking a mesh bag full of briny steamers, plump mussels and fork tender red bliss potatoes with a side of crispy, lightly dressed coleslaw and the sweetest late summer corn on the cob. Plus a slice of bread and lots of warm melted butter. You just cant beat a feast like this one. (The wedding officiator to my right, is allergic to shellfish - so I think that explains the face.)We tied on the traditional plastic lobster bibs and dug in. The rest of the evening was filled with joyous wedding festivities as they go. The bride and groom cake was adorned with golden sprinkles to look like sand, frosting seashells, classic Adirondack beach chairs and a white picket dune fence. Vanilla cupcakes with a citrusy orange frosting topped with gold sprinkles and candy starfish for the guests, were divine. There was a photo booth - one of the most amusing I've ever taken part in.
And of course, dancing. Lots of it.......late into the evening after the reception ended at Liam Maguire's Irish Pub downtown. We had such a blast that night, and the next morning as we dodged falling trees and narrowly escaped the hurricane. Luckily, it seemed everyone had already evacuated or buckled down, as we were one of the few cars on the road proving the quickest ride off Cape all summer.

Where was the last wedding you attended?