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

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Spotted Pig

Met up with the girls for a post-Thanksgiving dinner last weekend at The Spotted Pig.  It gets crowded in there, fast, and you can rest assured you’ll be rubbing shoulders and getting polite but firm nudges in the back all night.  I actually like the feel and layout of the restaurant; it’s got a rustic tavern, maybe ski lodge vibe, with lots of odd angles and intimate nooks.  There’s no main dining room, as the bars on each floor really dictate how the space is arranged and filled.  If it weren’t so relentlessly congested, I would like it much more.  Worth it once, not twice, at least not during the dinner rush.

“Devils on Horseback” — pears wrapped in dates wrapped in bacon.

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More pics after the jump!

Craigie on Main: Je t’adore

My radar zeroed in on Craigie on Main soon after I moved to Cambridge.   Scouring websites and magazines like a devout and dutiful f-blogger, the restaurant name reappeared wherever I looked.  Among its heap of honors sits a string of “Best of Boston” awards; but perhaps most impressive of the accolades amassed is Chef Tony Maws’ nomination for a 2009 James Beard award (Best Chef Northeast).  The restaurant relentlessly focuses on local, fresh, and seasonal, and this bistro’s cuisine takes those ingredients and delivers the goods.  My Sunday brunch here was hands-down the best dining experience I’ve enjoyed, probably since returning from my travels in July.  Despite the miscommunication between J and the maitre d’, resulting in a 20 minute wait, her friendliness, the lovely service and lively atmosphere, the promptness of the kitchen, and of course the execution of the food blew this initial hiccup into oblivion.

The exposed kitchen that greets you as you enter.

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A weekend in NYC

The thankfully not so impressive line at Shake Shack.
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My first Shake Shack burg.  Satisfying but not worth the hype or the wait, yet another thing about New York (and New Yorkers) that perplexes me. The vanilla frozen custard with toffee and Valrhona chocolate chunks, on the other hand, I want a deja vu of that mouthwatering stuff. Loved the variety of textures and the strong presence of vanilla in the base (rather than a generic sweetness).

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Latte from Joe the Art of Coffee

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Momofuku cookies.  L to R blueberry cream, cornflake chocolate chip marshmallow, and compost. Again, unimpressed with the much-hyped Milk Bar. My favorite of the trio was the cornflake one b/c of the unique texture from the interplay of the crunchy-chewy cornflakes and melted marshmallows, but they were all toothnumbingly sweet, unnecessarily so (and L concurred). Will definitely keep your sweet tooth in check for a long while.

My foot in union square on a picturesque Sunday afternoon. That, a Giants win, and a home-cooked meal with friends = a happy day.

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Dinner at Nicks Pizza.  Homey but sophisticated ambience with solid thin-crust pizza. Would not make a trip up to there just for the pizza, but would definitely go back if I am in the neighborhood.

Pokemon creature in the bread basket..

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A stellar portobello, parmesan, and wilted spinach salad.

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Small Margarita pie and a large 1/2 eggplant 1/2 sausage pie. That the Margarita was clearly not straight out of the oven was my only main complaint. The pizza had a crisp, flavorful crust and tasty toppings (both the eggplant and sausage were prudent additions).

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Nosh nosh.

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Going private kitchen

All I had been thinking about for much of last week revolved around planning and preparing for my first private kitchen event.  I began entertaining the notion of doing such a thing about a month ago, when I discovered that there were a number of private kitchens in Hong Kong.  Dinner parties have always appealed to me; a lowkey, well-cooked dinner in a cozy atmosphere over one or several bottles of wine, in the company of people one enjoys, makes for an ideal evening any day of the week.  Since my experience with cooking is spotty, I thought hosting a private kitchen would be a great challenge, especially without my own kitchen space.  But I figured that the experience would also grant me a new perspective on food and a richer appreciation for it. And mostly, I just get a huge kick out of sharing my passion for food with others: of spreading the foodie love.

I wanted to create a menu inspired by my own palate, one that made honest attempts at coherence and creativity.  Disparate foods kept popping up in my head (salmon head and blue cheeseburgers, for example), but they all stood firmly on common ground as foodstuffs I thoroughly enjoy.  Slowly, ingredients, random ideas, and recipes came together, and in gratuitously circuitous fashion, I committed myself to this menu for the night:

appetizer: steamed salmon head over buckwheat noodles, served with soy-sesame-scallion dressing
course 1: bulgogi-rice patty ‘burgers’, served with sugared tomatoes and japanese cucumber relish
course 2: a variation on asian lettuce wraps, served with sweet potato noodles
course 3: classic blue cheese burgers
dessert: rice crispy treats with coconut milk

To my delight, I ended up with something that reflects my trifold fondness for Western, Asian, and somewhere-in-between cuisines. And while I hadn’t made a single one of these ‘dishes’ before last week, I felt relatively confident that my culinary genius (more like my heavy hand with seasonings and a generous dose of luck) would, at the very least, not flat out embarrass me.

On the big day, I managed to escape a potential predicament or two (rice stubbornly resistant to binding) and had a wonderful time with my private kitchen guinea pigs. It helped tremendously that they were an encouraging and supportive bunch, and I thank them heartily for their daring in agreeing to subject themselves to my experiment.

Here’s how the dishes turned out (thanks to g for being the fill-in food pornographer 🙂 ).

I wanted the appetizer to feature the absolute deliciousness that is salmon head, so I simply seasoned the heads with some salt and pepper and steamed them, then stripped off the meat and served it over a bed of buckwheat noodles. The dressing was equally simple: I heated until boiling a mixture of soy sauce, scallions, and sesame oil, and threw in a dash of ground ginger.  See that piece of meat sitting on top?  That’s the fish cheek — in my humble opinion, the best damn part of the fish.  It’s soft as a baby’s bottom, tender, and insanely succulent.  For me, this dish was all about channeling Mark Bittman’s minimalism, and I was extremely pleased with the outcome.

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The bulgogi patties were my Asian interpretation of the classic American burger, and though the execution on the rice patties was lacking, the bulgogi received thumbs up all around.  I loosely followed this marinade recipe, which served me well. I also think the sugared tomatoes, a traditional Northern Chinese preparation, were a strong complement to the bulgogi, as was the cucumber relish.

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For a riff on Asian lettuce wraps, I minced a bunch of oyster mushrooms and cabbage, some preserved Chinese sausages, and dried turnips. I also wanted to use bean curd skin, as I am partial to its chewy texture, so I threw some of that in as well. All this was sauteed with soy sauce, chinkiang vinegar, brown sugar, and sriracha. I originally used the brown sugar to dull some of the heat from the hot sauce, but it ended up being a bit overpowering. Nevertheless, with some tweaks, I think this one is a keeper.

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Then the BURGERS!!!  One food I have been consistently craving since coming to HK.  Though I wasn’t able to taste one, my guests robustly approved, which was good enough for me.  Again, I channeled some of MB’s minimalism, and just seasoned the beef with s&p (here I realized that high quality ground beef does make a difference) before tossing it with some mustard and an egg.  Having no grill, I opted to cook them over high heat on the induction cooker while the buns were toasting, and then finished it all off with a few minutes in the oven.  These ended up more cooked than I would have liked, as I was being overly cautious, but they looked and smelled fantastic.

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Finally, I decided to serve a classic American dessert, rice krispy treats, but substituted some coconut milk for butter to keep things interesting.  I tested out this whim earlier in the week, and ended up with soggy and overly coconut-y rice krispy treats, so I adjusted the proportions, and this time ended up with glorious results. The finished product is topped with toasted coconut and peanut m&ms.  Rice krispies are ridiculously easy to make, and at the end of a busy night, they really hit the spot.  I would just make sure to give them at least a couple hours to rest before digging in — your tastebuds will be duly rewarded.

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However time-consuming and draining it was, the evening far exceeded my expectations. I pestered my diners for suggestions (and got some compliments along the way), experienced a genuine sense of accomplishment, and felt deeply connected to both the people and the food in a new way. I am currently planning another private kitchen session in two weeks, and my hope is that this evening was only the first of many of its kind.

A burger craving meets a happy end

I’ve painfully nursed a burger craving for the past two weeks.  Funny, considering that I rarely used to eat burgers in America.  I’ve also experienced a multitude of other cravings for foods that I don’t normally eat but are readily available, though I realize such things come with the territory of being culturally dislocated.  However, there comes a point when enough is enough, so a few days ago I took the opportunity to righten my gastronomic ship.  A and I headed over to simplylife for a ‘tea time’ burger.  Tea time in HK is a vestige of British rule and a particularly desirable time to eat because restaurants often have tea time specials (from 2-5pm).  After being notified that simplylife had 1) a tea time menu 2) containing burgers, I could feel my body readying itself for a burgergasm.

Tea time menu!

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My apple tea was meh, but complimentary.

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A, also in a burger mood, ordered the beef burger with guacamole and sour cream, which came with mushroom soup. The soup was tasty and refreshing — certainly not heavy, as cream-based soups can sometimes be.

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I got a beef burger with…an egg!

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The egg is peeking out all dainty like a skirt. Food can be so comical. The all-important innards shot:

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I thought this burger wasn’t bad, and it definitely satisfied my craving. The brioche bun was solid (the bread at simplylife is simply superb), and the meat juicy and well-seasoned. At 4 oz, the girth of the tea time burger was one of the things I liked most about it — not overwhelming but still sizeable, such that one still needed two hands to eat it. I would have preferred the egg over-easy or even sunny-side up…an egg yolk dripping down my burger would have made my day, for sure. The ‘spicy’ fries were too salty and not fresh. Also, I really missed the crunch of lettuce and red onion that I can usually depend on from a traditional American-style burger. Overall, however, I left sated, and with my mission accomplished. The craving has gone underground again, though I’m sure it will resurface in good time.

Other random foodstuff I crave at the moment/really miss from home: New York-style pizza, pancakes, steamed fish, falafels, bi bim bab, my dad’s Chinese soups, brownies…sigh.

Week of 7 July 2008

Food-wise, a quite eventful week — a nice way to kick off this blog. A barbeque with the fam provided the perfect occasion for me to debut my balsamic and olive oil-marinated, inside-out cheeseburgers with sundried tomatoes, onion, and basil. I came up with the sumptious idea while lounging on the beach with a friend a few days before, and I could literally feel my stomach gnawing away inside me at the thought of them. I used Monterey Jack for my inside-out cheese, and the spiciness of the cheese cut through the burger and definitely added a pleasant kick to all the beefiness. Speaking of beef, these were ginormous burgers, though unfortunately, I failed to capture the girth of these bad boys. Here was mine, in all it’s glory:

I grilled some ciabatta for the carbs, and the bread complemented the burger well — I loved the crunch and the overall bready goodness. In addition, I also made a zucchini tort, the recipe for which I found in a Mexican cookbook. A relatively simple dish: just zucchini and onions seasoned and baked with some eggs and a bit of flour to provide the “tort” aspect. A dash of Mexican chili powder gave the dish some kick, although taste-wise, I was a bit disappointed with the results.

Dad also baked some sausages and served them with an Asian peppers and onions sauce on some whole wheat tortillas, but they all disappeared while I was manning the grill, so I didn’t get any shots of them (not a taste either).

The next day, a friend of my mom’s stopped by for the express purpose of teaching me how to make my favorite dim sum dish: loh bahk goh (turnip cake). i absolutely adore this dish — every time I go to the dim sum place where my uncle works, he always makes sure to grab me at least 2 or 3 plates of these suckers. The ingredient list went as follows: cured pork, a couple Chinese sausages, dried shrimp, shredded turnips, scallions, and the binding ingredient, which was something that literally translates into “wet flour,” though I was told that you must buy this ingredient and cannot just make it by combining water + flour. After chopping, shredding, stirring, and seasoning with some soy sauce, oyster sauce, and salt, we steamed the resulting product to achieve this:

I previously thought turnip cakes were relatively healthy, but as you probably guessed, they really aren’t. I’m not entirely sure what inspired such a thought in the first place. Regardless, I don’t think that will stop me from gorging on them when I get the chance. I suppose I could always try to make my own healthy version, but that would just ruin all the fun, wouldn’t it?

Mom’s friend and I also made some wonton and dumplings, which came out super delicious. Nothing but some ground pork, mushrooms, chive-like greens, and a handful of water chestnuts. Here’s a shot of our filling:

Our wonton, pre-boiled:

Dumplings, post-boiled:

Dumpling innards, cooked:

She also brought over a traditional Chinese dessert with which we ended the meal, a heavenly coconut milk-spiked cross between a custard and jello.