Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Royal Sonesta & ArtBar

This weekend marked a joint bachelorette party in Boston for three of my best blogger pals getting married this fall. The Royal Sonesta hosted Megan, Michelle, Alicia, Meghan and I in their luxurious and contemporary art infused accommodations. We dined at their restaurant, fittingly named ArtBar, relaxed in their pool and jacuzzi and stayed in the "Artist Suite" with sweeping views of the Charles River and Boston's skyline.
The suite captivated with modern art installations and cohesive decor points. The paintings and drawings popped against a neutral toned room, while the bathrooms sleek fixtures (really love that vanity) provided us with ample space to get ready for a night out at nearby Cambridge spots Abigail's, The Blue Room and Naga. (More on those later!) 
Upon arrival to our room we were greeted with bottles of ArtBar's Clandestine Absinthe Corpse Reviver and an over-the-top fabulous cheese and charcuterie spread complete with tiered bowls of grilled crostini, fresh and dried fruits and nuts. It felt great to relax in such a calming space while catching up and enjoy each others company. I was truly enamored with the artwork, including the boldly framed Campbells soup dress. Other vibrant statement pieces added unique character, tastefully accenting the chic furniture. This is actually some of the most thoughtful hotel decor I can recall, serious props to their interior designer.
We enjoyed a light lunch on Saturday and brunch on Sunday on ArtBar's riverfront patio defined by shiny steel tables with vivid orange chairs matched by beautifully composed dishes in every instance.  
My Clam Chowder ($9) was exquisite, with a thick creamy broth lending peppery notes highlighted by tender potatoes and sweet chewy clams. I was also a big fan of their house vanilla vodka, sasparilla, salted cream and CO2 infused Root Beer Float ($11), on a muggy day this treat really hit the spot! And after a night of drinking and dancing, their perfectly prepared bacon was a dream alongside fresh, fluffy Blueberry Pancakes ($11), the really good kind where plump berries explode in every bite and plenty of powdered sugar dusts the top. The other dining establishment located inside the hotel is Dante, while we didn't eat there this time around, definitely check out my review from a past visit here
We received a small discount on our room, and the in room goodies as well as a champagne toast (lunch) and mimosas (brunch) were complimentary. Otherwise, we were paying customers, and I felt we certainly got our monies worth. The location provides easy access to downtown Boston and Cambridge, the area is walkable in either direction and the green line (Lechmere or Science Park) are only steps away. A huge and incredibly special thanks to Amanda Hurley for booking our accommodations and going the extra mile to make our stay so memorable!! If you're traveling to Boston or even planning a staycation - definitely consider the Royal Sonesta, a bright and breezy meets modern luxury riverside retreat.
Artbar at the Royal Sonesta Hotel on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 24, 2012

What Happens in Vegas...

...get's posted on facebook. (Bet you didn't see that coming!) This past weekend friends flew in from every corner of the U.S. (Boston, New Hampshire, Milwaukee, Denver, LA, Florida and Delaware) to celebrate Tricia's last days as a single woman. I left the Canon Rebel at home, shot some disposable film tbd (to be developed) and I took three, (three?!) photos on Instagram, a record low. This being my second time in Sin City (I was enamored when Adam and I visited way back in 2008) it goes without saying, round two with the girls was an absolute blast. The desert heat was good to us. From sipping Miami Vices, a boozy strawberry daquiri meets pina colada concoction at Mandalay Beach while floating around the lazy river or dancing to DJ club beats in an infinity pool; to hitting the town for some wild nights (cue the "stays in vegas" end of the cliched title), it was one awesome bachelorette party. Take.Me.Back.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Chocolate, Meet Beer

Equal Exchange (fair trade goods from small farmers) recently teamed with Harpoon (local craft brewery) to host a chocolate and beer tasting at their adorable cafe near North Station on Causeway Street. Surrounded by vibrant teal walls and tall windows among an open, airy floor plan, guests mingled with representatives from both companies while sipping on the Harpoon beer of our choice and enjoying tasty sandwiches provided by the cafe, before we were seated at tables set in casual floral linens to begin the tasting.
As we were lead through the pairings, we were encouraged to share our own tasting notes, depicting the aromas and flavors of the beer and chocolates individually and together. This prompted a mindful discussion among a great group of people, complete with remarkable combinations, ah-ha moments and new favorites discovered. We tasted Dark Chocolate Almond with UFO White, Dark Chocolate Orange with Rye IPA, Milk Chocolate with Catamount Maple Wheat and Caramel Sea Salt Crunch with Harpoon Dark. I thought all the combinations were pretty fantastic, my favorite was the last one.
I had recently become a fan of Equal Exchange coffee and teas (when I won a giveaway basket on Meghan's blog), and I can now say the same about their fair trade chocolate. I have long been a fan of Harpoon Beer, so any chance to sample new varieties and drink old favorites is a welcome one. This event was free and I'm not required to write about it, but I had a great time and I just thought you should know, chocolate and beer = match made in heaven!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Scallops O'Brien

I first learned to make the classic Irish dish of Potatoes O'Brien at a knife skills class, which was a birthday present from a friend of mine, we took the class together back in March! Kitchen Wares at 129 Newbury Street offers an informative hands on session of practicing how to properly cube a potato, dice an onion, slice a pepper and chop herbs. After class, I knew this simple vegetarian dish seasoned with fresh parsley, salt and pepper would make an appearance in my kitchen; Adam thought it needed a little something more. A topping of sauteed scallops later and our own twist on the original was created. We paired it with a balanced food friendly wine, Riff Pinot Grigio (Riff means reef in German), although the wine comes from Trentino Alto-Adige region of Italy, both German and Italian are spoken there. A minerality and bright acidity lent from the ancient soil teeming with the inherent fresh fruitiness of an Italian Pinot Grigio was a perfect accompaniment to the buttery scallops, soft potatoes and flavorful peppers and onions. 

Happy Friday, friends! Enjoy the weekend. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Baked Polenta w| Tarragon Bechamel

There's something about stirring a huge pot of Polenta, as I recently learned when cooking it for the first time, that is both relaxing and intense. A singular motion is as simple as it gets, but lumps form quickly and you have to stir firmly and often. It's pretty straightforward then, to form the cooked polenta into a baking pan and layer it with a mixture of garlicky sauteed mushrooms, onions and spinach that have been seasoned with lemon zest and hot pepper flakes. A creamy tarragon bechamel gets poured over top before the outer layer of polenta can be squished firmly (or messily, as my pictures would prove) into place. A fresh grated cheese blend of assiago and sharp cheddar tops off the dish, melting until gooey and crisping until golden brown for 30 minutes in the oven. I adapted this recipe from Herbivoracious, you can buy the cookbook here or find other awesome polenta recipes on author Michael Natkin's blog here.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Dim Sum Brunch at Moksa | Herbivoracious Cookbook

Recently opened in Central Square, a contemporary Izakaya brought to you by Chef Patricia Yeo, Moksa, serves Japanese small plates for lunch, dinner, late night and weekend dim sum brunch, with a strong focus on the cocktail program, run by bar manager Noon Inthasuan. Located at 450 Mass Ave with a small unassuming exterior consisting of a black awning shaded by leafy trees meets a shiny industrial doorway, the interior beholds a sprawling concrete floored space.
The bar and cocktail lounge (where we were seated) is illuminated by red and green LED lights while an eye catching white origami fixture parades overhead. Zebra-wood table tops adorned with Asian tea tins holding chopsticks add character. The dining room in stark contrast is darker and more intimate, almost cavernous with rich black ceilings and slanted walls to match the tables, but it still retains a causal vibe.
Sunday afternoon marked my first visit to Moksa for their dim sum brunch as part of a Boston Brunchers outing with popular Seattle based blogger turned author Michael NatkinAt this event we received signed copies of his vegetarian cookbook, Herbivoracious
(published by local agency Harvard Common Pressand had a chance to chat with Michael about everything from signing a book deal (out of the blue, the folks at HCP contacted him!), to his whirlwind US tour (he's been to San Fran, LA and Austin, and after Boston was onto Providence and NYC), to family life (he has two young children who are also vegetarian and love to cook). As the conversation flowed among our intimate group, so did the shareable pan-Asian plates, where everything from dumplings and noodles to pancakes and pho elicited praise. Dim Sum was not without boozy breakfast drinks made table-side and a number of Chef Yeo's daily dessert creations.  
It all started with a Sake Mary, a robust house made mixture perfectly spiced with peppercorns and laced with a generous amount of ginger and horseradish. Then, a parade of dishes, notably inspired by Asian street foods begins. It's all about the textures in the Duck Confit Shao Bing ($7), the flavor packed shredded and lightly crispy confit teamed with a soft griddle marked English muffin is an excellent beginning point. 
The Miso Eggplant Bao ($8) had a notch up on the Char Siew Bao ($8), the clam shaped buns were irresistibly fluffy and slightly sweet, but the eggplant, soft and steeped in miso flavor was unbelievably good. The Char Siew, which is Cantonese style BBQ Pork marinated in a honey hoisin sauce was a little chewy and dry side.

The Tea Smoked Duck ($6) was another standout, elegantly prepared and sliced to a pristine thinness, the smokey flavors were matched with a well dressed cucumber and carrot slaw. There was tender Vegetable Dumplings ($5), fantastic Edamame Potstickers ($8), and both the Five Spiced Chicken Spring Rolls ($6) and Five Vegetable Spring Roll ($6) with accompanying dipping sauces were comforting, crispy bites.

Perhaps the most intriguing item for their unusually chewy and overall astonishing texture were the Silver Pin Noodles ($14). Surprised to learn these are vegan, the bowl comes brimming with tofu, mushrooms and snap peas. We happily slurped a bowl of Vietnamese Beef & Rice Noodle Egg Pho ($14) though I wish it brought more heat, and dug into the Kim Chee and Shrimp Pancake ($8), that actually did thanks to the addition of sriracha sauce.
I'm noticing a trend where more and more chefs lately opt out of printing a dessert menu and leave this course to spontaneity. Chef Yeo's creativity excels in the sweet treats department, much to our surprise and delight. Homemade daily, the ice creams are a revelation, particularly the pistachio where the flavor of the nut is clean and authentic, while the traditional green tea is lovely, too. However, a five spice ice cream sundae is the best of the bunch, I wanted that entire bowl to myself and I don't doubt everyone else felt the same.
I was content to share a just okay plate of strawberry rhubarb meets lemon jello cake (yes, apparently, there is lemon jello infused into that cake) and an plate of hot churros.

I had a wonderful time getting to know Michael and I was thrilled to dive into his cookbook, where his personality, well written and enticing recipes and vibrant photos fill the pages. As you well know, I'm not a vegetarian, but his recipes (I can't wait to share what I've made!!) still translate as flavorful, hearty, and adventurous. Since I'm on a constant hunt to spice up my weeknight chicken or pork staples, his recipes have me excited about forgetting the meat all together. While I don't plan on becoming a vegetarian, Herbivoracious has truly inspired a change of pace in my kitchen. 
Additionally, I find Moksa to be a welcome addition to Central Square's dining scene. Yeo's concept is well executed start to finish, it brings flavorful food and an overall fun experience!