Little Donkey, Jamie Bissonnette, and musings on food writing…

Its always fascinating to me to watch the organized chaos of a restaurant kitchen, the constant flow of runners bringing out plate after plate to a sea of hungry diners, and the hustle of servers trying to ensure that each one of those diners leaves happy and full. In these moments, I always feel a draw to start writing about the restaurant industry again.

So, why now? Its been almost 2 years since the last time I published something on Behind the Pass. There have been plenty of night’s out in that span. What made August 25th, a Thursday night dinner with friends at Little Donkey in Cambridge, matter more than others? The answer is simple… memories.

On this particular night, some of the stronger memories that I have when it comes to writing about food were jarred loose. So, if you’ll indulge me a remembrance, I’ll take you back to the beginning of Behind the Pass, formerly known as The Foodie Journal.

“Starting a blog is easy, keeping it going is harder…”

Everyone and their uncle seemed to have a blog at the time, and even more so now. I believe it possible that, if her fluency with the written word in English were better, my 73 year-old Portuguese mother might just have a blog herself (She has 3,500+ followers on Pinterest. Seriously.) So, starting a blog wasn’t an issue. Figuring out how to keep it going was the hard part.

When I started The Foodie Journal, I knew I wanted to write about two things: food and restaurants. While my love of food is sincere, my know-how pales in comparison to the myriad other food bloggers that exist. In that aspect, I felt there was  minimal way to set myself apart. Similarly, with respect to restaurant reviews, I felt I didn’t have the authority (I must be missing the ‘Yelp’ gene that so many others have).

After a few fits and starts, my attention shifted to restaurant kitchens and those in the thick of it. The chef. Individuals who have made the conscious decision to stand on their feet hour after hour in blazing hot kitchens, working their hardest while everyone on the other side of the pass is feasting and wining (or whining, depending on the individual). But, where do you start? How do you get a foot in the door?

On April 12th, 2012 I read an article about a rising star Boston chef by the name of Jamie Bissonnette. It was the first time that Jamie had been nominated for a James Beard Award (he would go on to win Best Chef – Northeast in 2014). I thought, ‘It would be wicked cool to maybe interview him and talk a little about the whole ‘getting nominated for a Beard award‘ thing.’ So, given that I had absolutely ZERO connections in the food industry, I went the only route I could think of to reach out to him.

I sent him a tweet asking for an interview. About an hour later, I received a direct message response back on Twitter:

… I had zero writing cred. I wasn’t affiliated with any of the relevant food sites at the time – just a knucklehead wanna-be blogger. My expectation wasn’t for a negative response, but simply NO response. Instead, I got a ‘Love to. Email me’.

Jamie was the first chef I ever interviewed in any way. To this day, I still view that interview exclusively as a kindness on his part. Obviously, any type of interview leads to some level of exposure. Even if only 5 people read it, its good attention for the person being interviewed. But, that interview was a boon for my writing if for no other reason than having given me the courage to reach out to more and more chefs. Months later, Jamie went on to give me more of his time for a second interview, and the opportunity to spend a day kicking around the kitchen at Toro in Boston. I owe him quite a lot, even if he doesn’t realize it. Thanks, Jamie.

Little Donkey

The night of our dinner at Little Donkey, Jamie was working the pass. Shortly after being seated, we were greeted by the incomparable Katy Chirichiello, general manager extraordinaire (Katy was the assistant GM at Toro when I hung out there forever ago). Halfway through dinner, I ran in to food & lifestyle photographer Huge Galdones (if you frequent food sites or read Food & Wine, you’ve seen some of Huge’s photographs, I guarantee you). Dinner was rapidly becoming an unexpected game of ‘This is your (blogging) life’! As if all that wasn’t reason enough to get me in front of my computer to do more than my typical 9-to-5 shenannigans, the food (my God the food) clinched it.

Little Donkey has only been open a few months. In my experience, most restaurants don’t really hit stride until they’ve been open for several. I state this opinion for no reason other than to marvel at the meal we had. If my count is correct, I believe we had 13 dishes (or roughly half of the available menu that night). Thinking over each of those dishes, I have yet to pick out a single thing I disliked. The only complaint I could express is that by the final plate, a dessert of mango curd on Ritz crackers (obviously), I was too full to steal everyone else’s.

My favorites on the night included the BLT lettuce wraps, the burger, and the Texas smoked short rib. Even as I typed that, my brain was basically yelling, ‘OH, AND THE SILVER QUEEN CORN. THE CHOW FUN AND THE KIMCHI FRIED RICE TOO. THAT WAS AWESOME! OH, AND THE OCTOPUSOKLETSGOTHERERIGHTNOWI’MSTARVING!!!’

It was a good night.

On Food Writing

By most accounts, writing is a very lonely act. Granted, the act of sitting at a keyboard or with pen and paper in hand is singular. When writing about food, however, I personally have never felt that way. My version of food writing always involves memories. Remembering who I was with on a given night, what we ate, what we talked about. I’ve always been a proponent of the idea that food is never really ‘just food’. More often than not, its an experience. Experiences that stay with you long after you’ve paid the bill, or moved to the couch and unbuttoned your pants. Its in those experiences that I feel it. The draw to start writing about the restaurant industry again.

To Jamie Bissonnette and the whole team at Little Donkey: Thanks for the reminder.

The Future of Junk Food: Part two with Chefs Samuel Monsour and Mark O’Leary

If ever there was a pop up dinner that would be in my wheel house, The Future of Junk Food, a six-part pop-up put together by Chefs Samuel Monsour and Mark O’Leary, would be it. When thinking about my eating habits as a kid, it brings to mind an intriguing question: What if junk food wasn’t junk? It’s the question that Monsour and O’Leary are aiming to answer.

If ever there was a pop up dinner that would be in my wheel house, The Future of Junk Food, a six-part pop-up put together by Chefs Samuel Monsour and Mark O’Leary, would be it. As a child and teen growing up in the 80’s and 90’s, I was a part of the junk food generation. We’d gladly stuff our faces with cheeseburgers made with meat of highly questionable, and sometimes unidentifiable, origins. Carcinogenic coloring to make those reds über red? Hell yes! So what if one of the ingredients has 18 syllables? I just bought 5 tacos for a nickle! Continue reading “The Future of Junk Food: Part two with Chefs Samuel Monsour and Mark O’Leary”

A little kindness goes a long way: An interview with Josh Cole of Puritan & Company

Food wise, I can hold my own in a conversation amongst laymen. My knowledge of anything libation related, however, be it wine, beer or cocktail? Kind of pathetic, really. For that reason, I depend on those who know a hell of a lot more. Enter Josh Cole, beverage director and assistant general manager at Puritan & Company in Cambridge.

Food wise, I can hold my own in a conversation amongst laymen. My knowledge of anything libation related, however, be it wine, beer or cocktail? Kind of pathetic, really. For that reason, I depend on those who know a hell of a lot more. Enter Josh Cole, beverage director and assistant general manager at Puritan & Company in Cambridge. I had a chance to interview Josh a while back, just prior to Puritan launching their new cocktail program. We discussed the responsibilities of a beverage director, how he got his start in the industry, and his favorite food memories.

Continue reading “A little kindness goes a long way: An interview with Josh Cole of Puritan & Company”

The epic-ness that was Cochon 555 Boston

Cochon 555 in Boston went down on March 24th. A fantastic evening filled with porky goodness saw Michael Scelfo of Russell House Tavern was crowned the Boston King of Porc.​ This year was also the first year for “Punch Kings”, a cocktail competition featuring Breckenridge Bourbon. Taking the Punch King win was Kevin Mabry from jm Curley.

I’m a little late to the party on posting a follow up to the Cochon 555 event held on March 24th at the Revere Hotel Boston Common. But, when an event turns out such incredible food from some of the most talented chefs in the city of Boston… better late than never.

The over 500 attendees were privy to all sorts of porky goodness from Chefs Colin Lynch, Jody Adams, Michael LaScola, Michael Scelfo, and Brian Young. Only one of the chefs, though, would be crowned King (or Queen) of Porc. That honor went to Michael Scelfo of Russell House Tavern (full menus from all the participating chefs can be found just below the photos).

This year was also the first year for “Punch Kings”, a cocktail competition featuring Breckenridge Bourbon. Taking the Punch King win was Kevin Mabry from jm Curley.

One of the additional takeaways from the event, for me at least, was the impressive amount of culinary volunteers, mostly culinary students coming from Cambridge Culinary and Johnson & Wales. Through a raffle that was held, the winners walking away with a variety of pig parts butchered on site by Michael Dulock of M.F. Dulock, Cochon 555 was able to raise $1,000 which would be donated to the culinary schools in attendance. 

Chef Scelfo will go on to represent Boston at Grand Cochon at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen on June 16th. 

If you like the photos and care to use any of them, please just give me a shout!

Michael Scelfo (WINNER) – Russell House Tavern

Golden raisin & apricot mostarda, rye
Pig’s Face Pierogi
Smoked apple butter, home made yogurt, caraway shallot pickles
Crispy Earl Grey Pork Belly
Smoked Anson Mills grits, cherries
Charcuterie Duo
Morcilla, romesco, preserved lemon & Mortadella, pistachio butter, gremolata
Chicken Fried Trotter & Kidney Steak
Pork fat ranch, sweet pickled ramps
Candied Pig’s Neck Bread Pudding
Brown sugar & bacon crumble, maple

Jody Adams – Rialto

Braised Pork Shoulder & Sausage Lasagna
Eggplant, sun choke, spinach, ricotta, harissa tomato sauce, rosemary
Bacon & Oysters
Crispy pork belly lardon, IC oyster, macadamia nut, pickled cabbage, mint
Date & Almond Porchetta
Belly, shoulder, spring onion, jus, fennel fronds
Spicy Zampone
Grapefruit, Aleppo, pecorino, salsa verde
“Fifth Quarter” Bruschetta
Liver, kidney, heart confit, tongue, artichoke, roasted peppers, olives, parsley
Tortello di Lastra
Cured smoked loin, mortadella, ginger fig chutney, pig’s head fritter, dijon aioli, chives

Colin Lynch – Menton

Blood Sausage and Onion Macaroon
Dijon mustard
Chicharon and Jowl
Pad thai, peanuts, cuttlefish
90% Horse Ikea Meat Balls
Huckleberry, crème fraiche
Carnitas Taco
“al pastor”
Pastrami Reuben
Our Ode to McMillan and Morin’s Ode to KFC

Michael LaScola – American Seasons

Pork & Liver Meatloaf Sandwich
Smoked tomato & blood ketchup, onion marmalade
Pig Head Pastrami
Rye soil, Russian dressing
Boudin Noir Perogi
Smoked pig confit, mustard & pork broth, pickled apple
Breakfast Pork Sausage
Maple ham, cinnamon toast, cracklins 
Lardo Carrot Cake
Candied pig crunchies

Brian Young – Citizens Public House & Oysters

Jello Shot
Gordon & Macphail 1999 Caol Ila Single Malt Scotch The Citizen’s Single Barrel, natural gelatin, maple
Fried Bologna Sandwich
Mortadella, brioche, kumquat mostarda
Nose to Tail Terrine
Sweet & hot pickle relish
Rice Crispy Treats
Chicharones, blood, bacon caramel
Inside Out Pig’s Head
Chocolate, head cheese mousseline, luxardo cherries, citrus

East End House: Cooking for a Cause 2013 on Friday April 12th

East End House is a fixture in the Boston area. It is an organization that has been in existence for well over a century, supporting their community by reaching out to those in need, young and old. On Friday, April 12th, the East End House will be holding it’s 10th Annual Cooking for a Cause event. 

East End House is a fixture in the Boston area. It is an organization that has been in existence for well over a century, supporting their community by reaching out to those in need, young and old. On Friday, April 12th, the East End House will be holding it’s 10th Annual Cooking for a Cause event. It’s a great opportunity for any one that considers themselves to be a fan of delicious food to support a brilliant organization! I checked in with Rebecca Gallo, Senior Director of Evaluation and Development, to get to know a little more about the organization and the upcoming event.





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Foodie Journal: Can
you tell me a bit about East End House and what the mission of the organization
Rebecca Gallo: Our
focus is really on children, youth, and families although we do have some
services for seniors, as well as a food pantry that serves all low income folks
in the community, but our core programs are really our childcare program for
kids from 15 months through 5 years, and our after-school programs for grade
school students. Overall, though, we really try to holistically support our families
and help them to get to the next level.

FJ: Are
there any special plans for this year’s Cooking for a Cause since it is a
milestone 10-year anniversary?

RG: Yes.
We are holding it in Cambridge for the first time, which is huge. We are
honoring one of sponsors at the event. We’re also excited to have William Koval
as our honorary chair from Catalyst Restaurant. 
He’s been wonderful, and had a bunch of classes with the kids, taking
them over to Catalyst, and showing them more about food, about food preparation
and where food comes from.
FJ: That’s
really cool. Seems important to get kids to understand where food actually
comes from these days.

RG: Yeah,

FJ: Now,
you’ve been around the organization a few years now. Is there a particular
moment that stands out to you from a previous event that you’d like to share?

RG: I’m
trying to remember some of the actual food, because I’m usually just running
FJ: [Laughing]
will say one of the unique things about the events is that all the chefs
actually come to the event. So it really are the top chefs from the restaurants
that will be there representing their food, so people at the event have the opportunity
to really talk to them and have that back and forth. I think it’s kind of

The proceeds from this years Cooking for a Cause will be used to help East End House expand youth science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programming; Offer a skill-building service
learning initiative for high school students; Launch a social-emotional health
program for middle school youth; Support more than 3,000 children,
youth, adults and seniors with a continuum of need-responsive programs and
services that nurture families and draw together a vibrant community.

To see the full list of participating restaurants and chefs, and of course to buy tickets, visit the East End House Cooking for a Cause event page. Support a great cause. Your tastebuds will thank you for it!

A love for teaching others to cook: My conversation with Chef Jody Adams of Rialto and Trade Boston

I suppose its funny that I saved this interview, the third in a three part series on lineage and teaching in the kitchen (Part 1 | Part 2), for last. But, I thought it to be the most fitting conclusion. After all, speaking with the student always gives you a glimpse of the teacher. In speaking with Chefs Andrew and Brian, it’s clear to see that Chef Jody Adams is, in fact, exactly that. A teacher.

The key component to any lineage, any strong legacy, is a passionate and knowledgeable teacher. Someone who can take that passion and knowledge, and transfer it to others. While its obvious that we could go much further back in time, for the sake of this discussion, it all starts with Chef Adams.

Jody Adams
Jody Adams

Foodie Journal: When was it that you discovered that you had a love for food?
Jody Adams: I can’t remember a time when I didn’t. When I was in high school, I cooked a lot. I didn’t just bake. I know baking is something kids do a lot, but I actually cooked. I spent a month in Morocco when I was 14, and I spent a lot of time in the kitchen there. Then, I spent a summer in Guatemala when I was 16, and spent a lot of time in the kitchen while I was there as well. My mother was a good cook, so by the time I got to high school I found that I was very comfortable in the kitchen. I didn’t have any expectations that it would become a profession for me, though.

FJ: Was there a favorite dish that you enjoyed cooking?
JA: I loved cooking an elaborate couscous. I also liked to make moussaka, or gnocchi. All kinds of things, really.

FJ: You mentioned that you didn’t have expectations that food would become a profession for you, something evidenced by the fact that you have a degree in anthropology. When was it that a career as a cook became an option for you?
JA: I was 25 years old. After graduating from Brown, I spent some time trying to decide what I wanted to do. I thought maybe I wanted to be a nurse practitioner, so I was back in school taking some science and nursing courses so that I could apply for a masters program. As I was doing it, though, I started to realize it wasn’t really compelling for me, you know? And, I just couldn’t start a life wondering, “Well, maybe.” So I ditched that. I’d been working at a gourmet food store, and for a catering company. I’d been working with food almost my entire life, and suddenly I realized, “Oh my god! There it is, right in front of me. This is what I’m supposed to do.” So I sent a bunch of applications out, and managed to get some interviews at some places around Boston. I was lucky enough to get hired by Lydia Shire at Seasons.

FJ: Was working in a professional kitchen different from what you had experience up to that point?
JA: It was a bit of a roller coaster for me in the beginning. Working for a gourmet food store, or a catering company, or at home is all very different from cooking in a fast paced restaurant. I didn’t cook fast, so I had to learn how to cook fast fast!

FJ: You obviously picked up a lot of what you know about cooking while working in kitchens. Do you feel like you missed out on something by not getting the chance to go through culinary school, or was jumping right in to the mix the best education for you?
JA: I think there are many ways to skin a cat. I don’t regret the liberal arts education that I went through. In fact, I think having the degree I have let me think about food a bit differently. Where it comes from? Why it evolved the way it has? I think it has served me very well in my style of cooking. I definitely have learned a lot on the job. [PAUSES] I don’t know how to do ice sculptures.
JA: I don’t know how to do fancy garde manger work with gelatins and all that stuff, but I don’t miss that. I think that when you go to cooking school you get a foundation, sort of a toolbox of skills. I think for me, I just had to find that along the way.

FJ: It sounds like learning, and teaching in a kitchen is a really important thing in the industry. Is that something you enjoy?
JA: I’ve been at this for 30 years now, and that’s not how long I’ve loved cooking. That’s just how long I’ve been working in the industry, but for me it really holds the same excitement.  I actually went to visit my son in New York recently, and he had some of his friends over. So my daughter and I took some food, and we cooked at his apartment. We made short ribs, and mashed potatoes, and bok choy and kimchii. We drank lots of beer. It was just fabulous for me, being able to cook with these young people and teach how to put things together. So, it still really excites me at that level. I’m very connected to it at its core, how exciting it is to teach people how to cook. I teach cooking classes once a month at the restaurant, and my husband and I have a blog we do to teach recipes for the home cook called The Garum Factory. So, I stay very connected to the whole idea of teaching.

FJ: My final question for you, Jody. Everyone that loves food typically has a particular food memory that they love as well. What’s yours?
JA: Many, but I can tell you one. I was in Palermo. I was alone, waiting for a friend of mine that was flying in that evening, so I had the day to myself. I looked down an alley and saw a guy leaning over a little grill. He had this little tiny grill set up with artichokes in the coals, and he was grilling sausages. So we started talking a little. My Italian is not great, and he didn’t speak English, but we still managed. I asked him what he was doing, and he tried to explain it to me, and suddenly it was like I was in a movie. The window shutters across the way opened. This woman leaned out, clearly his wife. Then three of his adult children popped their heads out the window, and there was all this conversation back and forth. Out of nowhere they brought out a chair and made me sit down. They brought out a plate. They got me some warm Coke, and they fed me right there in the alley. He was obviously cooking dinner for them! They were about to have their family dinner. I was a perfect stranger to him, but there it was. Those are the kind of memories that I have. My memories are always of very simple expressions of hospitality, with delicious, simple food. The artichokes were unbelievable. They were charred, and they were yummy, and all it involved was just artichokes cooked in coals. Simple.

Jody Adams is chef and co-owner of restaurants Rialto, and Trade. Rialto is located at 1 Bennett Street, Harvard Square, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Trade is located at 540 Atlantic Avenue in Boston.

Teaching is a necessity: An interview with Chef Brian Rae of Rialto

In the first part of this interview series, we got to know Andrew Hebert, the Executive Chef of Jody Adams’ newest restaurant in Boston. Trade opened to much fanfare, and went on to be voted Boston Magazine’s Best New Restaurant of 2012. The award serves as testament both to the team responsible for the work that goes on day-in and day-out at Trade, and also to just how strong a factor lineage can be. Chef Adams established the ethic; the way to get things done. Chef Hebert carries that torch, and with much success.

Long before Trade, there was Rialto. Helping to keep the home fires burning is Chef de Cuisine Brian Rae.

Rialto has become an institution in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Not only can you sit down to enjoy a meal, a mix of local ingredients prepared with traditional Italian culinary techniques, but you can learn to make your own. Rialto offers up cooking classes, open to anyone wanting to learn. Teaching is in the fabric of this restaurant, and those that work there. It is one of just a few things that came up during my conversation with Brian Rae.

Brian Rae
Brian Rae

Foodie Journal: At what point did you discover that you had a love for food, and wanted to turn it in to a career?
Brian Rae: Well, I went in to culinary school straight out of high school. So, I guess it was in high school, really. I used to work in delis, restaurants, and catering companies when I was in high school. So I think it just developed there.

FJ: And, you went to the Culinary Institute of America, right?
BR: I did, yeah.
FJ: Can you speak a little about how you think culinary school can be beneficial for someone making the decision to get in to the food industry?
BR: Well, I feel like culinary school is great for someone just coming out of high school. They’re used to learning in that classroom environment, and culinary school really can expose you a large variety of things in a very short amount of time. I don’t think it’s the only way to become a cook, but it’s a good option.

FJ: What do you think are the differences between someone that just jumps in feet first, learning while they work in a restaurant, versus someone that went for a more formal culinary education?
BR: I think that eventually you have to jump in, regardless. It’s a process you have to go through. Even when you’re coming out of culinary school, you’re still very, very green. Going to culinary school does expose you to a lot of things, but its not like you’ve had the opportunity to do them so many times that you can say you’re an expert in something. You’re still very much a beginner. But, going to culinary school can at least help to expose you to what all the possible options are in the industry and really help you decide which direction you want to take your career.
FJ: So rather than mucking about, unsure of what career path they want to take in the industry, a culinary student might have a better sense of direction. Know where they want to head?
BR: Yeah, exactly. It gives you a little perspective.

FJ: Once you graduated from the CIA, where do you get your start restaurant wise?
BR: I went to Nantucket, and ended up working at a place called the Straight Wharf Restaurant for several summers. After culinary school I actually went on to a regular college, believe it or not. So while I was doing that, I would work at the Straight Wharf during the summers.

FJ: In reading a little about you, I saw that you went out to Las Vegas and actually were named Las Vegas Rising Star Chef.
BR: Yeah, that was a few years ago.
FJ: Does winning an award, any award, change how you approach being a chef?
BR: Well, any award, I think, increases the pressure. It increases the expectations people might have when they’re coming in and are going to try your food. So, you do have to kind of up your game. The more recognition, the better you have to be. That’s ultimately what people expect. But, I really love the scene. I loved Las Vegas.

FJ: What was the lure to bring you back to New England having been there?
BR: There were a couple of issues, really. My wife and I are both from New England originally, so being away from family was tough. The economic downturn, though, really played a big part. There was a lot of belt-tightening going on in the casinos, and by extension in the restaurants as well. So, things kind of started to get a little weird. It just made sense at that time to come back east.

FJ: When you made your way back to the New England, you ended up work at Rialto. Can you talk a little about the team there, and having the opportunity to work with Chef Jody Adams?
BR: When I got back east, I was real happy to be somewhere that had so many local farms and producers. Las Vegas has some, but not nearly as many as we have here. So, it was really nice coming in to Rialto where Jody already had connections with so many different local vendors and farmers. It was really easy to find my way in getting all these great local products. The team at Rialto is great. We have a 20-year history, so there are a lot of people that have come through the restaurant that respect and love it. The team we have right now is really great. We’re all friends that get along, and are there because we love food. It’s not a job so much as it is something that we just love to do. I think we do a good job of reflecting Jody’s love and passion.

FJ: I know that Chef Adams loves sharing her passion for food with others, teaching them how to do things in the kitchen. A great example of that are the cooking classes that are held at Rialto. As a person at the head of a kitchen, how important is it to be a teacher?
BR: It’s one of the keys to running successful restaurants. You have to train your cooks. Teaching is a necessity. You also have to hire people that are willing to be trained. I just don’t think there is any other way to do it. You have to do things that way, or else you’re not going to be successful.
FJ: Is it something you enjoy?
BR: Yeah! I love putting a cook on to a new station. They might be nervous, some might be confident, but its fun to work with them during those first few days. Then when they make it through a busy night on their own, it’s a great thing to see. Reminds me of when I was a bit younger. I love talking about being a line cook. So, yeah, it’s a lot of fun.

FJ: Final question for you… do you have a food memory that you really love?
BJ: I always look forward to Christmas Eve dinner. My family kind of always does its version of the Italian ‘Feast of the Seven Fishes’. It’s always my favorite meal of the year with my family. We have all sorts of things, like lobster, it’s just a great meal. It’s course, after course, after course. It goes for at least 3 hours. That’s probably one of my favorite food memories. It’s actually possibly the best kind of memory since it keeps repeating!

Brian Rae is the Chef de Cuisine at Rialto Restaurant. Rialto is located at 1 Bennett Street, Harvard Square, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Review: Atasca (Cambridge, MA)

Despite my being born and raised right here in Massachusetts, my family comes from a rather small country at the edge of Western Europe: Portugal. Both my parents grew up in a small village north of Lisbon. Atasca MenuWhen they came to this country, they not only brought their hopes for the future of their family, but also their culture and their cuisine.

Typical Portuguese food is usually rich, filling and very full-flavored. It’s similar to Mediterranean cuisine, making heavy use of local olive oils, garlic, wine and herbs like coriander and parsley. If you prefer bland or lightly seasoned food, consider yourself forewarned. Portuguese food may not be for you.

Unless of course you decide to eat at Atasca ( in Cambridge.

I found my recent visit to Atasca to be hit and miss. As I mentioned above, typical Portuguese cuisine is full-flavored, something to be remembered. The appetizers lived up to that. The entrees, however, fell very short of the mark.

Hosting and Service

Upon arrival, we were promptly seated in the main dining room, which was mostly quiet due to the vast majority of diners choosing to eat outdoors. Our waiter was attentive, but made some very basic mistakes. The most amusing for us was his strange manner of splitting the check, but he was quick to redo it for us. If nothing else, he was entertaining (even though I’m sure that was not his intention), and extremely polite.

The decor of the main dining room was very simple with typical Portuguese tile, and vases on various shelves and tables. The whole restaurant was “spic and span” clean, well maintained, and very comfortable.

The Food

The night started off with such promise. First, we nibbled on appetizers accompanied by a white corn bread with Portuguese olive oil with garlic. For our appetizers we had Pasteis Atasca and Gambas Grelhadas. Both were quite tasty. The Pasteis Atasca, which are small fried cakes, some made with cod and others with shrimp, had an excellent breading, with well seasoned fillings. The Gambas Grelhadas, or grilled shrimp to the non-Portuguese speakers in the house, come in a spicy piri-piri sauce. Piri-piri is the name used for the African bird’s-eye chili which is native to Mozambique, a former colony of Portugal. Sauce of this kind is quite smooth, but has an excellent kick of spice and flavor. The one served at Atasca was excellent!

At this point, I was even more excited for the main courses.

I had the opportunity to try two entrees. First, the Bife a Alfacinha, is served with Portuguese-style fried potatoes (think potato chips, but thick cut and not crunchy) in a cream garlic sauce. While I appreciate the chef’s concern for my blood pressure, some kind of salt would have been welcome. This goes for both the steak itself as well as the sauce. Once I added a bit of salt, the plate improved, but in my experience with restaurants, the good ones don’t need ME to meddle with the dish for it to taste good. My other complaint, and this goes for certain other Portuguese restaurants as well, had to do with the cut of beef that was served It seems like the meat was not properly butchered as there were some extremely chewy, and almost tough, bits to get through. This despite the fact of having ordered the steak medium rare. Being a major carnivore, this is just a no-no for me.

The other dish I sampled was the Cataplana dish. A cataplana is a traditional copper Portuguese cooking pot, primarily used to cook seafood. As you would expect, that is exactly what this dish is. Seafood, including shrimp, mussels and clams, served in the actual cooking dish itself. The seafood itself was well cooked and served with a side of rice and vegetables. The broth, again, was a little low on seasoning. I was able to pick up the flavor of the wine and of garlic, but little else. Again, adding salt improved the dish a bit, but as the diner, should I really be the one to think about this?

Overall, the entrees were a significant disappointment.

Now, I have to say that this is the second time I’ve dined at Atasca. My first experience was much better than this one, but as is the case with all restaurants, it really has to be about “what have you done for me lately?”

Pasteis Atasca
Pasteis Atasca

Gambas Grelhadas
Gambas Grelhadas


Bife a Alfacinha
Bife a Alfacinha

Final Take

Meh Dining
Meh Dining

Dining in a Portuguese restaurant, for me, will always be like “going home” without ever actually having to leave my state. There are smells, flavors and emotions I expect when I’m dining on Portuguese food. Unfortunately, on this night, my expectations were not met… and in the end, I was just left to feel a little home sick.

50 Hampshire Street
Cambridge, MA 02139-1548
(617) 621-6991