flying solo

sometimes a lady needs a decadent midday meal to herself, you know? ideally, it starts with some crusty bread and eminently spreadable butter.

perhaps it moves on to some very sweet seared shrimp and frisee dressed in a lovely honey-citrus vinaigrette.

eating this, she imagines a bacon vinaigrette would turn even the coldest frisee hater around, especially when it's paired with a poached egg and duck leg confit. the lady may have been tickled by the pickled shaved walnut slices that adorned her second frisee salad. for a second, she mistook them for truffles, until she tasted a piece and asked the chef to please clarify. the woody texture pleased her, as did the fruitiness, which complemented the duck's...duckiness.

a side of roasted brussels never hurt a figure.

The Blue Duck Tavern
1201 24th Street Northwest
Washington, DC 20037
dinner menu
(202) 419-6755

Bergamot

[I started this post over a month ago, when the dinner was only a week or old. Since then, some details have escaped my memory, but I think the essence of the meal has been preserved.]

Several weekends ago, L and I shared a very special meal at Bergamot. Since opening last summer, Bergamot has received a continuous stream of rave reviews. Most recently, Bergamot earned a spot on The Improper Bostonian’s 2011 “Boston’s Best” list, making its mark as the best new restaurant in Somerville. I don’t agree with some of the Improper’s other choices, but Bergamot was definitely a good call. Working there for the past few months, I can personally attest to the ocean of blood, sweat, and tears (my own included) that go into making that place–though don’t get me wrong, we at Bergamot know how to have a good time. I think the restaurant strikes a great balance between holding itself to a high standard and not taking itself too seriously. It prides itself on being a neighborhood joint, albeit one with outstanding food and service, both of which people seem to agree is among the best in Boston.

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Bartley’s Burger Cottage

Mention Mr. Bartley’s and you’re bound to get a strong reaction from anyone who knows burgers in Boston. For me, the combination of cutesy burger names, long lines, and meat patties that are shaped more like baseballs than hockey pucks leaves much to be desired. Around Harvard, I would prefer to get my burger kicks from b.good or from Oggi a couple doors down, where you can get a a flavorful, juicy burger (with toppings of the day) minus the wait and bun overhang, for half the price. But sigh, Bartley’s is a Cambridge institution after all, so E and I decided it would be a fitting place to celebrate his farewell. I sure will miss the kid. My own time in Cambridge is winding down fast; mixed feelings about that, of course, but that’s a topic for another day.

Sipping his orange creamsicle frappe:

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My iphone burger (better than any app. anytime) w/ boursin cheese, grilled mushrooms & onions w/ sweet potato fries.

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Mr. Bartley’s Burger Cottage
1246 Massachusetts Ave
Cambridge, MA 02138

Ten Tables

Last week, L and I had a very special dinner at Ten Tables in Jamaica Plain. It’s a cozy (okay, small) space partitioned into a bar/waiting area and the main dining room, which I think really does only have ten tables. The feel of the place is parts rustic, romantic, industrial. Both sections exude a sophisticated warmth absent pretension. For the occasion, L secured us front-row seats for the main attraction:

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Taste of the Nation

A couple of weeks ago, I volunteered for the second time at Taste of the Nation Boston. Taste of the Nation events occur all across the country and are sponsored by Share Our Strength, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending childhood hunger. All proceeds from the event support Share Our Strength’s mission, and the event is made possible through the generosity of local businesses that donate their time, resources, and goodies to the cause.

Many of the Boston area’s most popular fine dining establishments presided: L’Espalier, Hamersley’s Bistro, Rialto, Gargoyles on the Square, Craigie on Main, Hungry Mother, Church; as did more casual places like Trina’s and Redbones. Shops specializing in desserts were also there in full force: Kick Ass Cupcakes, South End Buttery, Glutenus Minimus. The Cambridge School of Culinary Arts also decided to go the pastry route this year, donating an impressive pastry display filled with lots of colorful little treats.

Each restaurant served a small plate of its choice, and the offerings ran the gamut in size, daintiness, and flavors. But I pick up on some trends: hors d’oeuvres served on house-made potato chips, tartares, house-cured meats and homemade sausages, and pulled meats served slider-style. It seemed like there was a pretty clear split in thinking between restaurants who decided to go the comfort food route and those who decided to serve more refined plates. I thought one that bridged this gap beautifully was Brasserie JO, which served the most unctuous braised Kobe beef cheek on brioche:

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NYC eats

It’s rare for me to feel like a weekend trip to NYC is worth it. The commute is a lose-lose proposition; the idea of shelling out $250 for round-trip Amtrak tickets I find gut-wrenching, and at the same time, my gut is often literally wrenched by the alternative: the cramped, congested, motion sickness-inducing bus ride. And when I get there, I always end up trying to do too much, see too many people, go home to NJ, so that I never quite get a chance to sink my teeth into the city before I have to leave it again. When I make plans to go to New York, I expect to function like a chicken with my head cut off.

Not so last weekend, I’m pleased to report. A fortuitously scheduled parade of events–the 25th birthday of a wonderful friend, a newly born nephew, and a dinner party by one of the best pairs of hosts I know of–each exciting in its own right but even more scrumptious in succession, plus the fact that I needed a haircut badly, compelled me to come on down. I also ended up with plenty of downtime, most of which I spent with my mom on a windy Saturday afternoon in Chinatown and then in Soho on Sunday with one of my best pals. Without question, the meal of the weekend was a gorgeous spread prepared by a dear college professor and his beloved, and the highlight of the meal itself was Prof B’s freshly made bread. We enjoyed hearty slices of these corn-speckled loaves with expertly sliced smoked salmon from Zabar’s, ham, antipasti, salad, some gorgeous asparagus, and a platter of cheese. Plenty of wine as well, of course, as B introduced us to a wonderful everyday Pinot Noir.

L and I spent Sunday morning wandering downtown, enjoying the weather and getting in some shopping before she headed off to her exam and I to Grand Central. After grabbing coffee from The Love Truck, we stopped in at Financier Patisserie since L had been wanting to try some of their baked goods. She chose a madeleine and, unsurprisingly, a financier:
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Snapshots: Fore Street (Portland, ME)

Fore Street is a beautiful restaurant located a block off the docks in Portland. Along with sister establishment Standard Baking Co., it’s housed in a building that sits on a sharp incline, such that while the restaurant is technically on street level, the dining room feels elevated as a result of the way the building is situated. The bakery occupies the bottom half of the building that feeds directly out to the parking lot out back, which the rear windows of Fore Street’s dining room overlook (facing the water). The sense of elevation and the openness of the view that this unique setup provides I found really stimulating. The design of the place channels in equal parts that venerated New England trifecta: chic farmhouse (unfussy wood tables and chairs), sophisticated industrial space (gussied up warehouse), and warm, cozy home (well-placed adornments, like baskets with crusty loaves of bread poking out). Most of the seating forms a crescent around the open kitchen, which centers on a brick and soapstone hearth that features a wood-fire oven, grill, and turnspit. There is also a bar and lounge area out front and a smaller dining section off to the side.

The food: Fore Street was named one of the top 50 restaurants in America by Gourmet–twice–most recently in 2007. The menu changes daily, and unsurprisingly, the focus is on local and seasonal ingredients:

We believe that good food travels the shortest possible distance between the farm and the table. Our menu is founded upon the very best raw materials from a community of Maine farmers, fishermen, foragers, and cheesemakers, who are also our friends and neighbors.

We started off with a seafood sampler: lobster with fava bean puree, fish roe, raw sea scallop, a cured fish, and a ceviche.

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The cured fish and raw scallops were my favorite bites of the batch; while I’m (still) not a fan of raw fish, scallops have a smoother mouthfeel and less fishiness of the sort that seems to permeate one’s entire mouth.

In my excitement, I forgot to photograph the rest of our food. But our order otherwise mirrored this one: sweet, meaty mussels in a white wine and garlic-almond compound butter sauce (the almond lost on me, unfortunately), and the spit-roasted chicken with duck fat-fried sourdough bread and some wilted greens. Mussels are hit or miss for me, and these were a hit with an extra oomph from being roasted. But the chicken is what I would come back for. It’s just roast chicken, right? WRONG. They infuse their chickens with some succulent steroid juice (a salty, sweet, boozy brine) that, combined with the spit-roasting process, saturates the bird’s every pore with full-on flavor. One day I’ll conjure up an excuse to give Tony Maws’ roast chicken a try at Craigie on Main, as I’ve heard it’s also quite extraordinary. Better yet, I can make it! Dinner party, anyone?

Fore Street
288 Fore St
Portland, ME 04101

Hungry Mother and Harvest

I recently had two marvelous meals at Hungry Mother and Harvest, two popular fine-dining destinations in Cambridge. I won’t go into too many details on a lazy Friday afternoon, but parts of each dinner that stood out for me included the duck leg confit appetizer and sturdy cocktails at Hungry Mother; and the rabbit with vanilla carrot beurre blanc and assorted mushrooms worked into the menu at Harvest. Peas and mushrooms are among my favorite foods, so spring can’t come soon enough. Both restaurants had been near the top of my to-go list of dining destinations since I moved here a year and a half ago, and I’m glad I can finally check them off. Other places I still need to hit up: Ten Tables, Rendezvous, Bondir, Menton, No. 9 Park. And P.F. Chang’s 🙂

Pics from Harvest:

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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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