Before heading out to see the fireworks along the river on Sunday, I had lunch with a couple friends at Miracle of Science near MIT. Some of the breakfast/brunch items looked tasty and I laid green eyes on some shrimp kebabs coming off the grill, but I settled for a succulent chicken breast sandwich, served with home fries and habanero mustard. Several aspects of this sandwich stood out to me. First, I was really impressed with the bun’s texture, although I was at first skeptical of its pale exterior. At slight pressure, the exterior crackled to yield soft, delicate innards that had a faint hint of butter (or was that me wishfully thinking?). Also, it gets props for smushing well while retaining burger bun integrity. For sure it is one of the top burger buns I’ve eaten. Second, the chicken was well-seasoned, moist, juicy, all the things a slab of grilled chicken must be in order to be worth eating (unless you smack your lips on dry cardboard, which I occasionally enjoy in cracker form, but not my chicken). Third, as you can see from the photo, the meat: bun diameter ratio was just about 1:1, perhaps a little greater, such that there was some nibble-licious chicken poking out the sides of the sandwich. Bun excess and/or undersized patties are a pet peeve; huge buns with not a lot of meat, and vice versa, don’t belong together on a plate.
Farmer’s markets! The perfect lunch hour activity.
No pictures but for those who asked, I had a glazed yeast donut for b-fast (from the divine Linda in Belmont, supplied by a donut angel-coworker), shrimp penne with pesto at Gran Gusto, a massive chocolate walnut cookie with my afternoon coffee, pretzels with cream cheese (an unexpected yum!), and a simple salad for dinner. Thank you all for the warm wishes in every form!
We all know holidays are excuses to eat, and to eat well. Throw in a couple visitors from out of town, and that pretty much guarantees a weekend of gustatory satisfaction.
After a morning of lattes, tax filing, and story writing, L and I made a pit stop at Christina’s before heading over to Davis. One of special flavors of the day was Taza Chocolate, and after I gushed earlier about the magnificence of Taza, we couldn’t have passed that up. I also got a scoop of carrot cake ice cream, which had all the makings of carrot cake minus the cake– chewy raisins, walnut chunks, carrot nubbins, and whiffs of cinnamon and nutmeg.
On the heels of an unsuccessful (for me) thrift shopping venture, we donned the deliciousness that is Dave’s Pasta.
So stupid for not bringing my camera with me on my inaugural visit to Gran Gusto, but I take refuge in the fact that I’ll be back soon enough. The inside walls are painted to draw you into a quaint countryside setting, and it was the perfect spot for lunch with the girls on a balmy spring afternoon. I zoomed in on the pizza section of the menu, planning to order the margherita for a first taste test, but a conversation on arugula turned the tides, and I ended up with the Arugola pie: tomato sauce, bufala mozzarella, prosciutto, arugula, and parmesan. And I didn’t look back. The pizza there is just about the way I like it. The dough is pliant and chewy and seasoned just so; toward the center of the pie it’s a bit soft with some noticeable sag, but the crust has a lovely crackle. The tomato sauce I honestly didn’t give much thought to, lost amid the silky mozzarella, salty prosciutto, and plentiful arugula. I think that’s a good thing, though, because it also means it didn’t get in the way of the other ingredients. I got dreamy-eyed when an entire pie of this stuff materialized before me, and it was just as delicious as it looked. It’s a rare thing in this world when something/someone does not disappoint, which makes me appreciate this pizza on a level beyond it being just a good plate of food.
The remains of the day, subsequently devoured in the night.
This place deserves a better post, as if I need an excuse to return.
90 Sherman Street
Cambridge MA 02140
Cheese 101 is billed as Formaggio’s most popular cheese course, and at $35, it’s a bargain. They offer it about once a month, and it sells out fast, so you’ll have to plan accordingly. I reserved a spot for the March class back in January. They have a generous 24-hr full refund policy, in case you realize you can’t make it as the date closes in.
The coworker with whom I had originally signed up unfortunately had to back out at the last minute. I went solo and had a great time, but I definitely recommend going with a friend if you can (most people were there in pairs).
Adam Centamore and Vince Razionale, two of Formaggio’s genial cheesemongers, led the class. I will not dwell on the frustration of my failed zipcar reservation, but it did make me a half hour late. I got there toward the tail end of the introduction on the history of cheese and the basics of the cheese-making process (the function of rennet, separating curds from whey, adding flavoring, aging). In a later aside, I was given the 30-second version of the history, and I will give you the one-sentence summary: a very long time ago, cheese was discovered by accident. I thought the intro provided a broad but scant overview, this impression colored by the fact that I missed some of it. The more interesting details came out over the course of the night via questions raised and by explication through the particular cheeses that we tasted.
I’ve complained to more than one person about the apparent dearth of Chinese food in Cambridge, which seems incongruous with the percentage of Asians in the area. While skeptical of the name choice, I had heard from a few people that Mulan, a Taiwanese restaurant between Kendall and Central Squares, was worth checking out. That’s how I wound up there Thursday night with L and M, for a night of Chinese food and catching up. We decided to turn a blind eye to the meat, instead ordering some vegetarian or almost-veg dishes recommended by M, a regular patron of Mulan’s. The food we had was great. The place is a semi-dump; not quite Chinatown Mott Street, not quite par. The service was uneven but the dishes came out fast. The waitresses were amused that I took photos of the food, huddled in the tea refill corner whispering among themselves. But yes, the food. I appreciated that the eggplant was cooked well, not too mushy, with a good kick. Fresh scallion a nice add-on. And important to me that it was not too oily. That’s often where “spicy eggplant” dishes run awry, in the excessive oil department. I would definitely order this again, Mulan.
Spicy eggplant with garlic sauce:
The meal of the week for me. Valentine’s Day work party with pizza from Upper Crust comes in a distant second. They make a mean pesto chicken pizza, but I would probably need at least half a large pie to feel sated and I didn’t want to pig out in front of the coworkers. Little Miss Piggy should not come out during the day, I say, so as not to scare the children or the faint of heart.
I had planned to have brunch at Cafe Luna a few times before but for whatever reason it didn’t happen until today. Shame on me, because the brunch there is fantastic. They thoughtfully offer the french toast dishes in full or half-size portions, thoughtful b/c while delicious, the full orders are enormous and you might think twice before committing to one. There must have been at least eight variations of french toast available, in addition to a delectable selection of pancakes, waffles, omelets, breakfast sandwiches, and paninis. M’s eyes honed in on the french toast section of the menu, and while she debated between the nutella & banana and the monte cristo, I convinced her we should split the nutella one “for dessert” so she went with the monte cristo as her “main”. Haha french toast for entree and dessert. I ordered a brunch special, the ham, spinach, and gruyere strata made with egg-soaked Iggy’s (!) bread (foccacia, think).
Major props to Iggy’s on their brioche, which is the base for all Cafe Luna’s french toast dishes. The topping combinations are pretty standard; it’s the bread that sets this french toast apart. In my mind, Iggy’s and Hi-Rise are the gold standard for European style bread in Cambridge. I hear Flour is first-rate too but do not have first-hand experience and so cannot compare. The french toast was eggy and super fluffy, with a rich mouth feel but light going down. If you eat too fast, you could easily down a couple thick slabs of it before feeling the gut check.
M’s monte cristo french toast: french toast, ham, swiss, mustard, served with syrup. Probably could’ve used some more time under a broiler to melt the cheese more. Sweet and savory is the ultimate taste combination.
Someone very pleased that her food has arrived:
The strata is a welcome riff on your average quiche — in composition it falls somewhere between a quiche and frittata. More delicious Iggy’s bread bound and baked with eggs and plenty of gruyere. Ham and spinach were the meat and veg of choice (I think they change it up daily). Served alongside a fresh salad, it was a textbook savory brunch dish that I would happily add to my regular rotation.
Generous portion of strata with a side salad: looks a bit like lasagna, no?
While small, Cafe Luna lends itself to studying/lingering, though maybe not for too long on early weekend afternoons, since lines tend to form and while there are a million other places to go study, there are a very limited number of places to go and eat french toast made with fresh Iggy’s brioche. There was a guy chilling there, just him and his laptop, and while he didn’t cost M and I a wait, he was definitely lingering at the expense of others. I wonder if the restaurant should have some kind of policy guarding against that type of behavior on weekends; it would be in their best interests to do so but good for them for holding out so far. Ooh, and I hear in the spring/summer they have outdoor seating, and the restaurant faces out on Mass Ave, which could lend itself to some pretty amusing people watching.
“Dessert”: half-portion of the nutella & banana french toast. Huzzah!
Luna, you have another convert. I’ll be back!
403 Mass Ave
Cambridge MA 02139
is the restaurant at the Hyatt Regency in Cambridge. It overlooks the Charles River, which on this night was frozen still. My parents came up for the weekend and managed to secure a reasonable nightly rate there, and mentioned that there was a $39 seafood and dessert buffet. Knowing how frustrating and time-consuming finding parking in Cambridge can be, we decided to check it out, sacrificing a little money in exchange for the peace of mind of hassle-free parking. By the way zephyr means breeze or a slight wind. You know you did not know that.
As I mentioned, the main body of the restaurant looks out onto the Charles, as the Hyatt sits right on Memorial Drive. The Boston skyline is not as spectacular as Hong Kong’s but there is something peaceful and subtly attractive about it. The view was worth the few extra bucks, especially since we could linger for as long as we wanted on a slow unharried night. The seafood and soup aspect of the buffet was supremely solid– the creamy clam chowder was slightly gritty but one of the more satisfying I have had in the city. I don’t eat clam chowda often so when I do I am a stickler for consistency and seasoning. They had plenty of mussels, clams, and raw oysters, but shame on me for not eating raw seafood so I cannot attest to the quality of the oysters. My uncontested favorite of the pickings was the shrimp cocktail. The shrimp were EEnormous, so plump, and cooked flawlessly, just so they developed that slight firmness that bursts blissfully as you bite in. The cocktail sauce tasted homemade, sweet and refreshing with a little heat. The only sadness was realizing I fulfilled my cholesterol quota for the month, sad especially because Christmas is around the corner.
They also had a self-service salad bar, which looked passable but I didn’t dip my fingers in. More appealing were the numerous prepared salad-type dishes, including a piquant potato salad with baby fingerling potatoes, a sesame noodle salad, and a Mediterrean-y eggplant dish with raisins that called me back for seconds. Can you believe after all this we still each had an entree (choice among prime rib, salmon, swordfish, and lobster) and unlimited desserts? We told the waitstaff to pack our entrees w/o even bringing them to the table, which drew an exaggerated roll of the eyes but whatever my parents are Asian and if they are paying you, deal with it. I was very glad we did that because the desserts there should not be passed over. The coconut macaroons were finger-sucking good, crusty and caramelized on the outside, soft and sticky on the inside. I have no clue if thats what a traditional macaroon is supposed to be like but to hell with supposed to’s b/c it was one delicious fist-sized treat (oh right, I succumbed to two). Also present were a trio of cakes, two tarts (one nutty and one fruity), ginormous gingerbread cookies, numerous bite-sized tartlets or mini-tarts (adding -lets makes me think of a smaller version even if it’s not a word). I could only sample so much without bursting, but I approved of all that I had and left very satisfied.
I have been a negligent food blogger of late as a result of a combination of things, though none being because I haven’t been thinking about food. I really have been considering how radically my outlook on food has changed since TLG was conceived. Writing changes, indeed shapes perspective, and I approach food in so differently than I did a year ago. My fundamental relationship to food has evolved into a downright obsession, which may or may not be healthy, as my life is dictated by food now more than ever– what I read, what I look at, what I talk about, who I commingle with, what gets me going. At a certain point, as with most relationships, I think it’s reasonable to question how viable one’s interests are, to evaluate your investments and re-adjust if necessary. This is what I have been doing recently, which has not been the easiest thing to food blog about– hence, my silence. But I don’t want my silence to be mistaken for a lack of engagement with food. Obviously I’ve needed to eat to live but I meant that it has been on my mind perhaps even more than usual, if that’s possible. I think the collision of new and old that takes place at the end of each year has put me in this especially reflective state.
I am leaving for NJ next week, then on to Philadelphia for a work conference that is conveniently located within walking distance of the Reading Terminal Market, where I’m told Amish bakers proffer their delicate sweets and cheap, tasty food abounds. I am excited and excited for the blog posts to come.