a bounty of updates

*squeeeeeze* That was me giving my beloved blog a bear hug, as it’s been feeling a bit neglected of late, and not for lack of exciting food-related (and non-food-related) things in my life. For starters, L and I plowed through a stacked line-up of eats during her visit the weekend before last. It included lots of chocolate, lamb, and home-cooked love. Here are some of the highlights:

We took a Boston Chocolate Tour of the Back Bay on Saturday, weathering the cold to sample treats from the neighborhood’s chocolate purveyors. Here, a festively decorated Teuscher Chocolatier, where we tasted their specialty, a Champagne trufffle.

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The powdered one in the back:

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We also sampled a very olive oily chocolate-hazelnut spread at O&Co., a few bars ranging from white to 99% dark at DeLuca’s, four or five flavors of ice cream at J.P. Lick’s, and several varieties of Lindt chocolate. The experience wasn’t nearly as over the top as the chocolate buffet I went to at the Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong, but that was probably for the better. I enjoyed testing different chocolates side by side and savoring each bite of the morsels we were allotted.

After all that chocolate, we decided to go easy for dinner and cook at home. We experimented with this cooking method suggested by Modernist Cuisine’s Nathan Myhrvold. It guarantees perfectly cooked fish by broiling it on top of wine, which apparently facilitates a process called evaporative cooling. Myhrvold does not lie; the fish literally disintegrated in my mouth. I think sea bass would work especially well here.

We also roasted asparagus and sauteed scallops and green beans.

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On Sunday, we lambed out in style at the American Lamb Jam Boston. A tasting of 16 lamb dishes by some of the area’s best chefs, plus plenty of beer and wine and decadent desserts from Harvard Sweet Boutique is my kind of Sunday afternoon. Never mind the food coma that knocked me out later that night. Gargoyles on the Square chef Jason Santos took home Best in Show for his Poached Lamb Loin with black truffle, cauliflower espuma, bee pollen and fried garlic. My favorite (and voted overall fan favorite) was Oleana’s Lamb Cammama – spiced lamb shoulder with onions, Moroccan dates, almond bread, carrot salad, blood orange and cilantro. I thought the dish exuded fragrance and warmth that made it stand out from the rest. I don’t recall the carrot salad component but I wonder if it (jokingly?) referred to the saintly carrot and brown butter puree coating the bottom of the bowl. Salad it was not; but definitely the glue that brought the other elements together, bridging the sweet-savory divide. Oleana has a way of mingling sweet and savory flavors that makes my mouth tingle with pleasure; I’m also thinking of the sweet potato ricotta with bacon I had at the restaurant the last and only time I was there. Even though I shouldn’t have indulged in seconds, Oleana’s was one of the two dishes for which I made an exception.

Fast forward to earlier this week, when I ate at Bergamot for the first time and left very impressed by the overall experience. I don’t usually notice service unless it’s remarkably good or bad, and the service at Bergamot stands out in the best way possible; granted, my dining companion T works there, but I arrived first and was treated just as well before she arrived as after. There’s a¬†well-curated list of house cocktails, though I stuck with a bright, easy-to-like Cabernet Franc from the Finger Lakes, and could probably have finished an entire bottle. A $39 three-course menu is always listed on their house blackboard — on the night we went it was red beet salad, pork belly, and cheese plate — and a selection of bar eats is available aside from the main menu, which features seasonal American food with a twist. We sampled a couple appetizers, some bar items, and desserts (including Bergamot-scented panna cotta!). The vegetarian quesadilla and burger we ordered from the bar I found equally satisfying, in different ways. We scored a complimentary order of pork belly ravioli, tummies plump with pork belly confit and braising greens. They just seem to know how to treat food right, and I’m excited to go back for more. In case you didn’t know — I didn’t — bergamot is a citrus fruit that appears to be a cross between a lemon and an orange. Its highly aromatic skin makes it a popular ingredient in perfumery.

I’m also taking a month-long food writing class at the Cambridge Adult Education Center. I’m hoping it will keep me writing regularly and maybe help reorient my blog, and also expose me to topics and opportunities I hadn’t considered before. If all goes well, I’ll be posting weekly on what we read/discuss in class and stuff from my homework assignments. The class instructor is Sally Pasley Vargas, who wrote a vegetarian cookbook called The Tao of Cooking. She contributes regularly to the Boston Globe and has a lovely blog here (if you’re reading, hi Sally!). Last week was an introduction to the class, overview of the food writing landscape, and some basic first steps for getting started — things to think about for writing in general, like knowing your audience, creating an angle, etc. Among other articles in our reading packet was a profile on Grant Achatz, which you can read here. But the basic gist is that Achatz is superhuman. Between running one restaurant and planning another — the former having three Michelin stars and the latter being a high-concept, cajones-rocking endeavor — oh right, and recently recovering from tongue cancer, it’s clear Achatz has sold his soul to the devil. There’s simply no other way he could be doing what he’s doing without keeling over from exhaustion. I kid, but dead seriously, he’s running on something special.

Phew! There’s more, but I will stop for now. I read somewhere recently that readers lost interest after about 7 paragraphs, so I think I’ve just exhausted yours. More to come.

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