Looking back on the Rosa Mexicano Boston Fall Harvest Dinner

harvest-dinner
Rosa Mexicano Fall Harvest Dinner – Photo by Travis Rubury

I’m late in writing this piece thanks to a very crazy November, and first part of December. But, I needed to take the time to write a little about the great experience I had at Rosa Mexicano in Boston.

In late October, the Rosa Mexicano family of restaurants held their first annual Fall Harvest Dinner, which they did as an opportunity to celebrate their commitment to utilizing hyper-local flavors and farm-fresh ingredients throughout the year. The menu, crafted by Culinary Advisor Jonathan Waxman, had the flavors you would clearly expect from a Mexican restaurant, with fresh local ingredients peppered in.

A favorite appetizer of mine, and amongst the table in general, was the Oyster Tartare. A very fresh oyster, served with shaved coconut, lime and guava with chili infused sea water was a refreshing way to open the meal! A friend of mine, typically not a fan of oysters, enjoyed it, which is always the sign of a good dish.

Oyster Tartare - Photo by Travis Rubury
Oyster Tartare – Photo by Travis Rubury

Mixed in with the appetizers we enjoyed that evening was a Rosa Mexicano staple: Guacamole en Molcajete. I’ve always been a fan of table-side preparations, and this is one worth ordering at each visit to Rosa Mexicano. The twist is the inclusion of pomegranate seeds and toasted hazelnuts. Since this dinner, it’s impossible to have any type of guacamole without my wife immediately saying, “Remember the Guac en Molcajete at Rosa Mexicano…?” I most certainly do!

Guacamole en Molcajete
Guacamole en Molcajete

The main was lavender, black pepper and honey marinated duck served two ways: Sliced breast with apples, pears, pickled walnuts and duck mole, and a braised leg served with wilted kale, brussels sprouts, fall root vegetables and serrano sage butter. My preference of the two was the sliced duck breast, which was very juicy and went perfectly with the accompaniments and the duck mole. If I could have changed one thing, I would have liked for the skin to have been a little more crisp, though this didn’t impede me from having two helpings. The more I eat duck, the more I realize how much I love it!

Sliced Duck Breast - Photo by Travis Rubury
Sliced Duck Breast – Photo by Travis Rubury

As is the case with any meal, it’s never complete without dessert. While I would always expect churros to be my favorite when dinning at a Mexican restaurant, I adored the pumpkin cheesecake. The churros, with a trio of sauces, including cajeta (think dulce de leche made from goat’s milk) came in a close second.

Churros and Pumpkin Cheesecake - Photo by Travis Rubury
Churros and Pumpkin Cheesecake – Photo by Travis Rubury

One aspect of the dinner that made the evening for me was the service. Rather than what you’d have during a traditional dinner service, the entire meal was served family style. It offered up the opportunity to speak with other liked-minded foodies that I otherwise may never have had the opportunity to meet. Amongst those was Travis Rubury, the photographer who took all but one of the photos I’ve included in this piece. It’s the second time I’ve had a chance to eat family style at a special event dinner, and personally I hope it won’t be the last.

The entire evening, start to finish, was an excellent and enjoyable experience. With delicious food and excellent conversation, it’s hard to go wrong!

I’d like to extend my personal thanks to Rosa Mexicano Boston Executive Chef Matthew Wool for a great meal, and to the whole Rosa Mexicano team, including Culinary Director for Rosa Mexicano, Chef David Suarez.

Rosa Mexicano Boston is located at 155 Seaport Boulevard in Boston, MA.

The ‘Venice’ of Lowell?

First, Foodie has blessed me with the privilege of guest blogging from time to time.  Be gentle with this one, as it is my first review.  They will improve, how could they not?  On to the restaurant…

Not too far from the ‘famous’ canals of Lowell (there is a sign that proclaims Lowell the ‘Venice of America’, Foodie, Jr kids you not) sits this little italian restaurant.  We tried it out on a recent Saturday night and found the food to be good, the wine to be reasonably priced, and the service to be on the slow side.

We had reservations for 8:30.  We arrived a couple of minutes early, were greeted by the owner, and showed to our table without delay.  It appeared that they filled a few tables at the same time, and with in our waiter’s section.  He came to the table right away, but the water, bread, and drinks. He was attentive throughout the night.  Overall the service seemed to just be set at a  more leisurely pace.  Ricardo’s is not the restaurant for a quick meal out.

The menu, which you can link to here Menu, was reasonably sized.  It seemed to cover the basic italian fare.  The portions for the meals we had were on the size.  We had an appetizer of field greens with roasted pumpkin and gorgonzola cheese.  It had a very light, oil-based dressing.  It was ordered out of curiosity, someone had to see what roasted pumpkin was like.  It was, delicious.  The flavors were very complementary.  The other appetizer we tried was a shaved steak pizza.  Once more, it was tastefully done.  A minor complaint was the leaning tower of field greens that covered at least a third of the pie.  Both appetizers were larger enough to be shared.

For the entree, we had two meals, both specials for that night.  One was a haddock over a scallop risotto.  The sauce that was over it was a nice, well, not really memorable.  Seemed like a great idea that fell a little short. (we have had seafood risotto in Venice and it was fantastic.  Wait, that was in Italy, not the Venice of America, forgot) The other was a bolognese sauce over tube noodles that started with an f.  Hey, I had knee surgery two days after and have been ‘under the influence’, give me a break.  Whatever the noodle was, the meal was good.  Hearty, full of flavor, and reminds you of grandma’s bolognese, assuming grandma was second generation Italian.  You know, very good, something you could definitely have again, but not off the boat

We had a nice bottle of italian that ran about 35 dollars.  It was smooth and went well with the meals.  It was probably overpriced, but isn’t all wine at a restaurant?

Overall, we had a nice, slow-paced meal with good conversation.  Is it destined for Italian greatness?  Probably not.  Is it a good place to spend a leisurely dinner, absolutely.  Remember, Ricardo’s is not in Venice, Italy, just the ‘Venice of America’.

eat. DRINK. and be merry.

“Never cry over spilt milk. It could have been whiskey” – “Pappy” Maverick – 1957

I have to give you a bit of a disclaimer up front. I am not, and never have been, much of a drinker. My typical foray in to the world of alcohol is more often than not directly associated with my love of food. With me, think along the lines of, “What wine is going to enhance the taste of this steak?”

That being said, we made a pit stop the other night prior to making our way to Boston’s North End. That pit stop was at a place, simply called, Drink. For the record, this place has changed my opinions entirely about the merits of a well made cocktail.

Drink can be found in Boston’s Fort Point district, snugly located in the basement level of 348 Congress Street. The set up is simple – three U-shaped bars, with plenty of bartenders to keep all patrons happy. They have a bar menu that offers up bar basics with a twist, like spiced peanuts, or something a little more homey and comforting like a grilled cheese sandwich. While we were enjoying our drinks, our group enjoyed perfect steak-cut french fries with a garlic aioli. A must for the lightweight {insert grinning emoticon here!}.

But the star of the night is, without a doubt, the drinks. Would you expect anything less from a place by this name?

One of the many drinks that were a highlight of this evening is a variation of a Manhattan known as the Fort Point. The Fort Point is made with Rye Whiskey, Punt e Mes and Benedictine. Obviously, not everyone is a bartender, so some of those may sound foreign. Let me do the work of research for you and offer a hand.

Punt e Mes is an Italian vermouth. Flavor wise you can imagine it to be half-way between regular vermouth and Campari. Benedictine is an herbal liqueur, a mix of herbs, roots and sugars on a cognac base. A little bit of online research and a brief chat with one of the bartenders puts the brand of Rye Whiskey used as “Old Overholt”.

My personal favorite on the night — The Bee’s Knees. Made with gin, honey syrup and fresh lemon juice, this is one of the most refreshing drinks I’ve ever had. To say I would have two means I would have had twelve. In the words of a friend of mine: “You know what this tastes like? Another one.”

Drinks @ Drink
Drinks @ Drink

But, say you don’t know anything about drinks. If that’s the case, don’t worry. I’m right there with you. We’ll make it through together! Or, maybe you just aren’t sure which specific drink you’re in the mood for. It is EXACTLY at these moments when the cocktail wizardry of the bartenders at Drink comes in to play.

If you don’t know what you want to drink, just tell your bartender what flavors you like. Mint? Citrus?  Spicy? Whatever you can throw at them, the bartenders will find a concoction that you didn’t even know was your favorite drink. Guaranteed.

Drink is truly for anyone. Whether you’re a newbie to the world of mixed drinks, or a seasoned veteran, they will take care of you. Want to know what makes them even better? If you’re interested in trying to recreate your Drink experience without even leaving the house, they aren’t shy about sharing the “HOW” of drink making. Ask your bartender for the recipe, they’ll hook you up. Or, if your on Facebook (go on… pretend you aren’t), check out the “Notes” section of their Facebook page.

To sum it all up in five words or less: Eat. DRINK. And be merry.

Foodie Note: For those of you that doubt my opinion of Drink, I am not the only one who loves this place! Drink was recently named by Bon Apetite Magazine as one of the Top 10 Best New Cocktail Bars in the country. How do you like THEM apples?

Drink
348 Congress Street
Boston, MA 02210
(617) 695-1806

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 (http://www.atasca.com/) 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

Cataplana
Cataplana

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.

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

Belated Review: Chez L’Epicier (Montreal)

At the end of May of this year, a group of friends and I made our way north to Montreal in Canada. As far as dining is concerned we had a couple of fantastic experiences up there, but the best by far was a lovely Old Montreal restaurant called Chez L’Epicier (www.chezlepicier.com).

At the end of May of this year, a group of friends and I made our way north to Montreal in Canada. As far as dining is concerned we had a couple of fantastic experiences up there, but the best by far was a lovely Old Montreal restaurant called Chez L’Epicier (www.chezlepicier.com).

Small sign, but huge flavors.
Small sign, but huge flavors.

It is a very understated place from the outside. The day before dining there, we had walked Old Montreal and drifted right past Chez L’Epicier twice without even realizing it. Once we actually made our way there to dine and realized where the restaurant was, it gave us a a bit of a laugh. So many restaurants, with windows open and hostesses standing outside the door, seem to scream at you, “Hey you, come eat here!” Chez L’Epicier just sits there patiently and knows that true foodies will find their way there.

Hosting and Service

When we arrived, we were promptly and kindly greeted by the hostess. She was very polite and quick to help us to our table. We had a relatively early evening reservation (and yes, reservations are recommended) so that we could take advantage of the Montreal nightlife afterward. Due to the early hour, the restaurant was only moderately full, but still had a great vibe.

The only place Chez L’Epicier missed, and it was a slight miss, was that our server could have done a better job. He started off well, but as the night progressed his visits to the table were few and far between. At the time our entrees were served, a few of us wanted to order wine to have with our meals. We only managed to get an order in for wine about halfway through eating, then had to drag out finishing a bit longer to manage to actually have the wine while eating the rest of our dishes. Had service stepped up a bit more, our meal would have been flawless.

The Food

The winner of the evening was the food, and there really was no chink in the armor to speak of. There are plenty of times when you go to a restaurant and manage to find something, even just one element on the plate, that just didn’t really mesh with the rest or that could have used a bit more seasoning. For this mean, not one of us could find something to complain about. You can find a few photos of some of our dishes below.

We started off the meal with an amuse-bouche of beef tartare with a touch of green onion.

An amuse-bouche, which loosely translates to “amuse the mouth”, is a single, bite-sized hors d’ouvre that is provided by the chef. It doesn’t cost you a dime, and is a great glimpse into the chef’s approach to cooking. Plus, more often than not, it’s going to be something you wouldn’t necessarily have ordered for yourself, so be sure to take advantage and give it a try. You can look at it as a welcome gift from the chef!

My main dish was the Alberta Beef Filet Mignon. As the name suggests, the beef was from the Alberta province of Canada, a well known area for top quality beef. It was served in a decadent whiskey and cinnamon sauce with a sweet potato purée, and beef and cheddar fritter. The fritter in particular caught my attention as it was much lighter than I had expected considering it was made of beef and cheese. It served an even greater purpose as a sponge to soak up every last drop of the whiskey and cinnamon sauce. The meat was very fresh and cooked a perfect medium rare.

The other main dish I was able to try was the Variation of Mushrooms. This dish was basically mushrooms done four ways, and each way was the right way! The two that did the two-step on my tongue was a mushroom cake, almost like a meatloaf, that truly did taste like meat, and a cream of mushroom soup. Looking at their current menu, they seem to change the Variation dish seasonally, with the current Variation being of asparagus.

Dessert made it’s way to the table in the form of a medley of crèmes brûlées. The medley consisted of vanilla bean, chocolate, coffee and pistachio crème brûlées. Each was exceptionally flavored. Texture was spot on, including the perfectly hardened sugar topping.

Beef tartare
Beef tartare

Alberta Beef Filet Mignon
Alberta Beef Filet Mignon

Variation of Mushrooms
Variation of Mushrooms

Final Take

 

3 Forks - Great Dinning
Great Dinning

I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Chez L’Epicier to someone that will be visiting Montreal. The overall experience was great, with only a slight hiccup in the service. Had that been avoided, this easily would have been an excellent dinning experience worthy of a four-fork rating.

Chez L’Epicier
311 rue St-Paul est
Montréal, QC H2Y 1H3, Canada
(514) 878-2232