A Yummy Dish

Eastern Standard - January 10, 2007

Eastern Standard is the red-bannered bistro holding Kenmore together. Located in the Hotel Commonwealth, and featuring the best bar in the city, ES is guaranteed to impress.

Before we go in, lets chat.

What do you expect from a restaurant?  Do you want to be waited on by efficient, quiet service?  Are you looking forward to talking about the food and asking questions?  Have you looked at the menu and made basic assumptions on what you might be interested in?

I very rarely eat in a restaurant that I have not heard about.  With careful perusing of individual restaurant sites (compiled on pages like BostonChefs.com), occasional checking of Chowhound and eGullet's regional boards, and conversations with other like-minded individuals, I manage to at least hear about most of the restaurants that I end up eating at.

In a city like Boston, however, its nearly impossible to know every single restaurant, especially if you include hard to find gems such as Coriander in Sharon.  For every Coriander, however, there are ten crappy chinese places and twenty sub shops.  Now, americanized supervalue chinese has it's place in my diet, but thankfully not a big one.  As for sub shops: I'd take a Publix sub over any sandwich in this city.  (With the possible exception of Super 88's Bahn Mi's and the Parish Cafe...)

There are very successful restaurant chains out there that appeal to the majority, and succeed in doing so.  "The Cheesecake Factory : Something For Everyone!" is a great example: their menu has more variety than an international food festival.  Unfortunately, they end up sacrificing taste for perceived "value" (cheap, overflowing dishes) and service speed.  If I wanted a crappy, giant bowl of edible food-meal at bargain-bin prices, I'd find everything I was looking for in the frozen section of Shaws.

A Boston-specific chain that commits to this same mantra is Sunset Grill/Cantina/Big City.  While I think their beer selection is great, I think they should drop some of the dead weight off the menu, and focus on making a small selection of excellent dishes.  You are not selling enough swordfish to convince me its anything less than long-frozen.  I don't even want to talk about the crab cakes.

Anyway. . .got a little distracted there.  Back to the good stuff.

Let's have a look at the Eastern Standard website for a moment; you can often learn quite a bit about both the quality and the feeling of a restaurant from their website.

Wait, where is it?


Oh, it must be this first one here.  Well, I guess this is their website:

"Eastern Standard offers casual fare breakfast, lunch, dinner and pre/post Red Sox games. It also features the only al fresco dining experience in Kenmore Square!"

Pretty standard: lets have a look around for more info.

Chowhound:  Seems to have fairly good general reviews all 'round.

"Everything on the menu that I have tried has been great. The mussels are wonderful, as is the salmon. My husband enjoys the porkchop. The raw bar is always very good. Truth be told though, they have one of the best burgers in Boston. Not exactly what you want to have on your anniversary I imagine, but it is DELICIOUS." -mem53

"Oh yes - that was DEEEEEEELISH! I don't recall having it on other charcuterie plates in the past, just at Eastern Standard. I really liked it." - lisa13

"Extraordinary bartending: learned, passionate, skillful, creative. Get there early enough to have a drink and a conversation with the staff at the bar." - MC Slim JB

Now, I know it may seem strange listening to the reviews of people with names like "MC Slim JB," but I find these reviews to be the most candid and honest than the ones that appear in magazines and newspapers.  While most people wont always go online to talk about a good restaurant experience, bad ones tend to make their way to the surface.  In addition, people are forced to defend their opinions.  MC Slim JB criticised ES for being "not especially high on technique or presentation."  Another member of the boards, fullbelly, called him out on it, "It's rare I disagree with MC Slim above, but I have to disagree on his comment."

And whaddya know: Slim came back to elaborate:

"My comment probably came across as more dismissive than intended. I mean to say that ESK's food is comparatively unfussy, with fairly simple preparations and sauces. It mostly eschews rarified ingredients, complex sauces, and elaborate platings. That's mostly a virtue in my book." - MC Slim JB

Let's look at another page, comparing ES to Petit Robert Bistro, located just down the street (and certainly competition for ES):

Christina had a strong (but unsupported and second-hand), initial reaction, "I've heard nothing but disappointing things about Eastern Standard from friends who have been there."

Interestingly, the following posters had differing (and more well informed) opinions.

"Au contraire!! I've been to Eastern Standard about 5 times, and totally love it. The service has been super friendly (I've sat in the bar area), and the food right on the mark. Cod fritters - delicious. I've had a couple of the daily plats du jour, all have been very nice. I also really like the vibe of the room, you can really relax. Desserts are a bummer, if that's your thing, but the rest outshines most. Give it a shot." - Lilyliver

While I will agree about the desserts (often beautiful and always tasty, but never mind-blowing -- but I'm spolied.  Come back to Boston, Stupak!), I'll save my comments for the food section of this review.


I think it's time we move on to Eastern Standard's official site.  In my opinion, ES is suffering from a lack of web optimization.  I have eaten there dozens of times, and even google them occasionally to see what people are saying, which is how I found the Chowhound reviews.  Until writing this post, I actually had no knowledge of their website.  Their official site (separate from the hotel's) shows up 8th in a google search for eastern standard.  Since the hotel website shows up higher, and doesn't link to the restaurant site, I assumed it doesn't exist!

Now that I've found it, I want you to compare it to the websites of your favorite go-to spots.  Are they as well-designed, easy to use, and most of all as beautiful as theirs?  The only critique I can find for it is that it certainly needs a non-flash version to access the menus.  The photo shoot looks fantastic though, and makes some of my photos look less than spectacular by comparison.


Let's talk about the food.  Of all the people I have gone to Eastern Standard with, the only regular complaint I get is that the food can occasionally be too salty.  While I have only had one dish ever taste overly salty (a late-lunch burger), I think it has more to do with the people eating being overly sensitive to salt than the people cooking overly salting.

Basically: do you put salt on your food?  If you do, than theres no way you'll find ES salty (unless you salt it before you taste it).  I adore salt, and everything at ES comes perfectly salted.  Salty martinis, salt on chocolate, pass the salt please!

Even if salt isn't quite your thing, I guarantee you can find something you like on the menu.  From Mac and Cheese to Marrow and Charcuterie, it runs the gamut.  When I go to Eastern Standard, I have a serious problem: there are far too many "must-order" dishes on the menu.  When I first started dining there, they included the short ribs, the calamari, the burger, the mussels (not pictured), the raclette and the tartare.







The burger was my original fixation there.  I would be sitting in class, attempting to pay attention, but all I could think about was the juicy, tender, cooked-to order (for real -- you want it rare? you get it rare.), crispy delicious burger.  Eventually, I weaned myself off, and got hooked on other things.  This was a good thing since it's hearty, and filled up space that could be occupied by so many other dishes.  Whenever anyone else order it, however, I always attempt to barter a bite.

Let me walk you through a meal at Eastern Standard.  Ride the T to Kenmore and come up on the Hotel Commonwealth side (towards Fenway).  Look for the bright red awning.


Speak to one of the lovely hostesses, and decide if you want to sit in the lounge, the dining room, or the patio.  I generally prefer the lounge or patio, but the truest dining experience is only to be had in the dining room.

If it's crowded, you wait perhaps a few minutes for your table, but you'll have a chance to look at all three of their menus.   In my opinion the most important one warrants the most time, but the wine list and cocktail list are quite interesting in their own rights.  Perhaps a fine South African Rose will catch your eye, as it did to this lovely lounge patron.


As is the trend these days, you'll be asked if you want sparkling or still water.  This is a choice that I appreciate, but scoff at restaurants who have gone so far as to hire a "water steward."  That is some serious tomfoolery.  What I like about ES is that choosing tap water is completely acceptable, even normal; something I tend to feel is looked down upon in other restaurants.  I drink a lot of water, and I can't afford to be paying $7 for half a liter.  Just doesn't work for me.  I appreciate not having virgin-harvested glacial moon-rock water pushed on me.

After you finally figure out the menus, and start to get hungry looking at all the delicious choices ahead of you, you'll be presented with a bowl of house-pickled fennel.


I believe they used to served pickled veggies, but I far prefer the current iteration.  Crisp and slightly sour, it's a perfect way to pique your appetite with some of their bread and a signature cocktail:



Now you need to select your food.  Make sure you check the daily specials at the bottom of the menu (the Saturday Beef Wellington and Meatloaf are both perfectly executed), and ask your server about the ceviche and the offal of the day.

Monday? Make it meatloaf! (freakin awesome meatloaf, and look at the portion size!  I enlisted the aid of my tablemates to even make a significant dent.  Honey glaze + creamy mashed potatoes + succulent ground beef + seasoning = pure satisfaction)


Unless they're very new, all the servers know the food and wine lists fairly intimately, and are not shy about telling you their opinions.  What I love is that they are just as eager to explain bone marrow to a newbie as they are to discuss the finer points of tripe-preparation with a offal connoisseur.

Have you ever had bone marrow?  Do you agree with Emeril that pork fat rules?  Well let me tell you that bone marrow is the ultimate unctuous delicacy. 

"Bone marrow is a source of protein and high in monounsaturated fats. These fats are known to decrease LDL cholesterol levels resulting in a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, prompting some to make bone marrow a dietary staple." -- wikipedia.org

It's not even sinful!  I have ordered the marrow every single time I have eaten at ES in the last year, and loved every plate of it.


Bone Marrow Breakdown:

1) Pick up the little spoon

2) Scoop some of the mustard

3) Apply to a piece of bread

4) Scoop marrow

5) Apply marrow

6) Top with parsley/shallot/grapefruit salad

7) Take blurry photograph


8) Devour with glee

While many restaurants in Boston are known for their seafood (Legal, Union Oyster, McCormick etc), the raw bar at ES is always extremely fresh and satisfying.  Until recently, a selection of half a dozen oysters was my appetizer of choice.  Then one day a few weeks ago I was introduced to the Alaskan king crab legs they carry regularly.  Now I have to convince myself to avoid the rather expensive ($7/leg -- but these are the "Deadliest Catch") crab to indulge my other obsessions.





My most recent obsessions at ES have been the Baekoffe and the Frisse aux Lardons.  Now, the Baekoffe (which i find nearly impossible to pronounce. . .Bee-coffee? Bay-koe-fuh?  I still don't know.) has tripe in it.  I do not like tripe, have not liked tripe, and did not think I ever would like tripe.  The stomach lining of a cow both did not appeal to me, and did not taste good to me when I had it elsewhere.  Somehow, when Chef Jamie Bissonnette puts tripe in his Baekoffe it becomes delectable; tender, mild, and perfectly at home in the stew.  This is, to this day, the only restaurant in the world in which I have enjoyed tripe, both in the Baekoffe and the offal special that he runs from time to time.  Jamie, I don't know how you do it, but I'd love to learn the secret.




Chef Jamie Bissonnette

The Frisse Aux Lardons was voted the best salad in Boston, but I didn't care.  I didn't used to order salads in restaurants.  This salad changed that.  The bitter frisse, the acidic vinaigrette, the salty, chewy, crispy bacon, the oozy perfectly cooked poached egg, the hazelnuts and the sweetbreads all combine to form the ultimate balanced-contrast salad experience.  I'm not joking -- this is the best salad in Boston (that I've had).


Beef Heart Salad -- This is the BEST VALUE IN BOSTON.  Let me say that again; for your money, you will not get more effort and ingredients anywhere else than you do with this dish.  Beef heart (tender, extremely beef-y), blood orange, shaved black truffles, AND foie gras. . .for $9.  N.I.N.E. D.O.L.L.A.R.S.!  I can spend nine bucks at Wendy's without blinking an eye.  How can you turn this down?  Even if you don't like it (which would be hard, cause foie + truffles + beef = winning combo), you just paid under ten bucks for a dish that probably would cost you fiteen to make yourself.  The Beef Heart Salad is occasionally to be found as a "Daily Offal" and is not available on the regular menu.  Ask about the offal!


Charcuterie (char-KOO-tuh-ree) Plate: this may or may not be for you.  If you like housemade proscuittos, terrines, pates and sausages, Chef Jamie will not dissapoint you.  Some people need a bit of warming up to some of the pates (especially the liver varieties), but will eventually be piling it just as high as the rest.  My current favorite?  The duck proscuitto -- the fat dissolves at mouth temperature, in the same way that $100/lb iberico ham does.


Go to Eastern Standard, let them feed you.  You will be glad you did.  If you're not, come back and tell me why.  Try the bone marrow, the tripe and the beef heart salad (if you're lucky enough to find it) and if you like it, good!  If you don't like it, think about why you might not like it, and tell me.  I want to know these things, Jamie wants to know these things, and most of all, ES wants to know!

Posted at 1:35 AM in Dining - Boston | Permalink | Comments (1)

East Coast Grill; Hell Night - December 15, 2006

A buddy of mine who works at East Coast Grill had been hounding me for months to give Hell Night a try at ECG.  He knew about my weakness for hotter-than-hades peppers and the like, and encouraged me to get a reservation.  Hell Night is basically a niche-market promotion/party/sweatfest that encourages diners to eat some really, really spicy food.

About a week ago, he mentioned to me that a couple early tables were still available for this go-round and I decided to give it a shot. After checking out some reviews of the hell pasta and insane drinks (one guy passed out on the way to the bathroom after taking a nuclear tequila shot -- scotch bonnet peppers left in a vat of jose cuervo for a week), we decided that proper attire would be in order.


Decked out in sweatbands, we made our way out to Cambridge.  We arrived early (reso at 5:30), and there was already a line forming outside.


The entire restaurant was decked out in hell-o-ween festiveness, topped off by voodoo-santa.


In order to both maintain our budget and sample as much food as possible, we decided to order every single appetizer.



Scortching Crispy Sparerib with Molten Guava Lava BBQ Sauce (5 Bombs)  These were awesome -- one of the highlights of the night.  Really, really excellent beef ribs.


Hokkien Fried Noodles with Shrimp, Duck & Sambal Kancang (2 Bombs)  Not enough flavor to stand out from the other dishes -- I would probably enjoy this by itself, however.


Folsom Prison Chili "Ring of Fire" Style (7 Bombs)  Really great chili -- big chunks of beef, helluva kick.


Acar's Carnitas Tacos with Jalapeno Sour Cream, House Guacamole and Rippin' Hot Rojo Salsa (4 Bombs) -- Spicy, meaty, delicious.  If Anna's carnitas could hold a flame to these, I'd be happy.


Mussels Mozambique with Piri Piri (3 Bombs) -- Second besh dish after the ribs.  These were the biggest, plumpest, most delicious mussels  I have ever had.  Would return for just these.

Sizzlin' Shrimp & Scallop Ceviche with Mango, Avocado, Chipotle-Lime Dressing & Damn Good Tostones (2 Bombs) Delicious and refreshing, but hard to taste with so much other spice going on.  And the tostones were in fact damn good; so damn good that I forgot to take a picture.


The Jamaican Connection, with 1/2 Dozen Hell Oysters with a Scotch Bonnet Sausage Link --  Very fresh, very tasty oysters.  Wasn't as hellish as I might have liked, but still very good.  No pic of the sausage, which was slightly overcooked but deliciously meatalicious.

Baked Stuff Crab Diablo, with Lump Crab, Corn & Avocado with Puya Mayo & Yuca Chips (4 Bombs) Lots and lots of crab, served in a crab shell.  I would have preferred something other than the yucca chips, but that's just me.  Again, forgot to take a picture, and I'm pretty sure it had to do with the fact that the next dish kicked me square in the face.


The Infamous Pasta from HELL, with Sausage Bolognese (You Must Sign The Release Form!) (9 Bombs) Now, this pasta is where things started to get serious.  It was the last thing we recieved, and immediately I could tell it was in a whole different ballpark.  You can see the slices of peppers just sitting on top (what I believe are either scotch bonnets or habaneros....or some crazy south american superpepper), and the entire sauce was little more than chili paste and meat.  What made this dish so difficult for me to eat was the fact that the pasta was slightly underdone, meaning I really had to chew each bite.


I can honestly say I have never had anything spicier than that pasta.  It made my face flush, my nose run, my voice quiver and my spirit shake.  Seriously -- finishing that bowl not only took willpower, but a tolerance for pain and hellfire.  My tablemates took a few bites and wallowed in agony while I plodded on, deaf to their cries for me to stop.


Ike Sway was hurtin.


  Chris Schlesinger (the chef/owner) came by a few times during the night, and awarded me with a Hell Night t-shirt for conquering the pasta.  It was worth it.


In all, I'd say that Hell Night is awesome.  The food was, on the whole, delicious.  I would absolutely return to Hell Night, and would definately return to East Coast Grill.  While I might not ever order the hell pasta again (except for serious wagers), everything else succeeded mightily.  Thank you Chris for such a wonderful (and Boston-unique) event!


Posted at 12:06 PM in Dining - Boston | Permalink | Comments (4)

Soto (Now Closed) - December 15, 2006

This is the sushi timeline of the Baber family:

Growing up in Atlanta, my loving parents taught me to enjoy sushi at an early age at the (at the time) far away Hasaguchi restaurant. We then moved to Hasaguchi Junior, when it arrived at Lenox, and we stayed there for a while.

After Hasaguchi we spent a decent amount of time patronizing RuSans, but found it lacking. (I was quite the fan of the flaming, crispy, sickly sweet tempura ice cream, however.)

After a damned decent Harada moved in basically across the street from our house on Peachtree, that became our quick sushi fix, which we obviously needed at least 3 times a month. If not more. By the time I left for college, they had ordered each of us our own personalized set of lacquered chopsticks [I]from Japan[/I] and we used them every time we went.

A co-worker of my father happened to mention to him Soto, a sushi restaurant in Buckhead that he said was his favorite, and recommended we try it.

Now, Soto was an intimidating place. It was not tremendously more expensive, probably the difference between going to, say...well I can’t think of a good example, but it was maybe $15 more per person. (Let me say that when my family eats sushi, we eat a LOT of sushi, so $15 more per person wasn’t that much.) We have gone to Soto so many times now, that we actually have our own waiter, Ferdy. He knows all of our tastes, recommends specials with an unnerving knack, and even gives us all the latest gossip. (The hostess can even recognize my father and my voice when we call)

Anyway, here’s the deal at Soto: not only is it by far the best sushi I have ever had, it is also the best Japanese food I have ever had. Soto has a full menu of appetizers and entrees that are just as good, if not better than the sushi that they serve.

Let me start by talking about the sushi. Since just about anyone with money can buy the highest quality fish available, that was not what made it great. What made it great was the fact that he imported the most perfect sushi rice from Japan, and cooked in absolutely perfectly every time. In addition to being cooking perfectly (so that it broke apart just as you put it in your mouth, while each grain retained its perfectly cooked doneness), it was also served at the perfect temperature.

Sushi rice should be neither cold nor hot at all. It should be perfectly room temperature, or, more accurately, "hand temperature." Soto and his two sous chefs were masters of this. One interesting thing to note about Soto is that if Sotohirosan is not there, the restaurant is not open. Soto does all the special sushi plates, one of his chefs does all the nigiri, and the other does all the rolls. Once, my dad showed up to for dinner and there was a small sign on the door:


This dedication absolutely shows through in his food.

Now on to the rest of the menu. Sotohiro Kosugi has created one of the most perfect dishes that I have memory of: ceviche of salmon. Now I know, you're saying to yourself, "but Andrew, ceviche is South American, not Japanese!" Cool your pants, hotshot. When I said that it was the best Japanese food I've ever had, I didn't say that it didn't take influence from anywhere else. What is basically is, is Salmon Sashimi with a very light lime marinade. When my family goes, we without fail always order two of them, and greedily hoard our portion, including the small shaved cucumber that nearly always disappears while my parents eyes are closed in ecstasy.

Now that I have you thinking that you must absolutely try this new restaurant, I have a confession to make. This entire review is one great big tease. Soto has been closed for about 8 months now, due to the temporary loss of, shall we say, "edge" by Sotohiro. Evidently one night (and this is second hand information, so we're going to call it a rumor...I really don't want an angry Sotohiros on a plane to Boston, knife in hand, looking to turn me into a tasty ceviche.)...I was saying...Evidently one night, he informed his staff that they would be "Closing in two weeks."

About a week later, evidently (<- see? very vague!), during a busy night, a waiter returned a plate to Soto that had gone to the wrong table. I have been told that Soto grabbed the plate and viciously reprimanded the waiter in front of everyone, "I TOLD YOU table 3. [b]I TOLD YOU[/b] table 3!!" I even heard rumors of plate smashing, and kitchen crashing, egads!


A new day! Soto reopens!

Well, let me say first that I have been absolutely spoiled by Ken Oringer's restaurant in Boston, Uni. I believe it is one of the best sashimi bars in the country, and I recommend it to everyone I meet.

So, I was sitting in my dorm room one night when I decided to make my weekly call to Soto to check on their re-opening progress. (Yes, I did call about once a week).

But this time, instead of the usual recording, someone picked up!! For the first time in 8 months!!! I nearly fell out of my chair, and by the time I had confirmed that they were opening the next night, I ended up running up and down the hall shouting gleefully. (When questioned about my happiness, I responded "My favorite sushi place in Atlanta reopened!!" and was met with dubious looks.)

Anyway, I was able to return to Soto at the beginning of summer break. The room had been re-arranged a bit (a few less tables), and the menu had been slightly cut back.

Nonetheless, it is still utterly amazing.  The rice is still perfect, the composed plates are still outstanding.

To anyone who doesn't mind spending slight more on their sushi, please, take yourself to Soto.

(as a side note, Ferdy is not working there any more, but we're working on acquiring a new acquaintance)

Posted at 12:05 PM in Dining - Atlanta | Permalink | Comments (7)

Waffle House - December 15, 2006

For those of you not familiar with the term Waffle House, let me explain. Waffle House is the place people go after 2 AM when you have been out all night, and need some good down south greasy food. The food isn't classy, but damn, it's good. They even have the best fountain coke anywhere, ever.

I always order one of two things. I either get a triple order of their famous hash browns (the shredded, not the cubed kind), scattered, smothered, covered and chunked. (For those of you not down with the lingo, thats smothered with onions, covered with cheese, and chunked with ham.)

If I don't get that, I get the Texas Cheesesteak Plate (Texas cause they use good, thick Texas toast, which soaks up all that good grease), and a double order of hash browns, in the same fashion as I get in my triple order.

Always with a Coke.  And a smile.

Now, Waffle House servers are a tricky bunch. Sometimes young college girls lookin to make some money, but usually it's older, black women who call ya "suga" and "hun" and are quick with their wit. More than once I have had servers who not only knew my name, and my order, but would also know exactly what was goin on with me. "Hey there hun, looks like you've had a rough night. Here, lemme getcha yah Coke."

It's the best.

Did I mention that it's dirt cheap?


And amazingly delicious?


NOTE: Do not, under any circumstance, use the mayonnaise that they give you. It is there so they know what your order is, NOT to consume.

Posted at 12:04 PM in Dining - Atlanta | Permalink | Comments (0)

Bazzaar - December 15, 2006

We pulled up next to the fabulous Fox at around 7, but the crowds had already formed for Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat, which made it trickier than normal to get a parking spot. The hostess, upon hearing the name of the reservation, leaned in close and mysteriously said, "Ah, yes, the Babers, I....have a question for you." I was waiting for a query about this site, or an eGullet post, or perhaps even a question relating to how I managed to stay so lean despite my horrible eating habits. (Foie gras sauteed in Normandy butter? Yes please!) Turns out that she really only wanted to know if it was OK if we sat in the lounge downstairs for dinner, since upstairs was entirely blocked off for a private party. There wasn't actually an option really, either the high table or the couches. We chose the comfy looking couches.

This decision proved to be a damn good one. We were seated at a coffee table with two armchairs and a couch, located literally an arms length away from the pass. Chef Blais was standing not three feet away from our table all night. My mom thought for most of the time that the Chef was the grumpy lookin guy in glasses in the kitchen, but I knew better. The young, energetic guy who was dressed in waiters clothes was the genius behind all the food.

One thing that Bazzaar allows tables to do that I haven't really seen anywhere else is to let any number of people at the table order the tasting menu. Now, I'm not sure if they usually do this or not, and I don't want Chef Blais sending me angry emails, but at least that’s how it was when we went. My dad, Kristen and I all got the tasting menu, and my sister and mother just ordered a la carte. They later admitted that their decision had in fact been a faulty one, but they ended up nibbling on all our dishes anyway. By the end of the meal, we had eaten every since item on the menu at least once, and a few of them twice or three times. (With the exception of the steak for two, which we were informed was just on there for the boring folks.)

The menu is broken up into three parts on a single page. The first four or so are all little tidbits or "micro" plates. These include:

Beau Soleil Oysters
Green Tomato, Speck Ham, Coriander Ice
I thought these were delicious oysters, but the speck ham kind of degraded them in my opinion. I always end up getting a little piece of shell about once every dozen oysters, and it ruins it for me. The ham was fried crispy, and it crunched just like a piece of shell. In two of the oysters I pulled it out thinking that’s what it was. Once I got over that, I enjoyed the combination.

It seems that they have changed the menu since I went, so I wont be able to really give a play by play. Let me name some of the other dishes that were memorable. There was a lobster with blueberries that was amazing.

Prosciutto Ravioli
Whipped Parmesan, Figs, Micro Arugula was the first of the “im-pastas” that we tried. There was no pasta at all; the proscuitto was acting as the ravioli.

The “Scallop Cous-Cous Corn Chowder, Huitalacoche, Dried Hominy, Micro Cilantro” was amazing, and if I remember correctly was another “im-pasta.”

There was no Cous-Cous; the scallop was cut up to imitate it.  Brilliant.

The third dish that he did this with was the squid pasta, in which the squid was so perfectly cooked that it really did taste like well made noodles.

Other highlights included Salmon, Bathed in Lime Juice Watermelon, Avocado, Horseradish Foam (I think we got 3 of these.)

Crispy Calamari Exotic Spices, Harissa, Papaya, Spearmint that had an exceptional dipping sauce.


The only dish that I thought was in any way plain was the Chicken Fried Tofu with Inflated Edamame, Sweet & Sour Emulsion. It’s probably because I’m not a tofu fan.


An interesting note is the fact that there was no bread to be found. The “bread” was fried wontons with a spicy chili jelly (that I probably spooned at least a few ounces of into my gaping maw by the end of the night) and an “inflated” soybean mousse type thing that was a good anti-spicy-chili-jelly.

The famous burger with Foie Gras Milkshake was good.  The burger was actually good enough that we got two of em.


The cheese course was unbelievably outstanding. Every single cheese had an elaborate accompaniment. Even my dad, a guy who before this year scrunched up his nose at cheese plates ordered and devoured the one here.


The chocolate dessert that came during the tasting menu was good and rich with a delicious shell. The other desserts were phenomenal, but I only got little bites of them, as they were ferociously guarded by my dining companions.


Around the time we were getting dessert, the bar began to fill up with blond models and tanned underwear models, and the bass started booming from the resident DJ’s stand. Even so, the food came out perfectly just as before.


Deconstructed Key Lime Pie was delish.



The last thing that I need to discuss was the waitstaff. The level of service we received was far above what I am used to. The lounge was pretty eclectic, and the waiters were in T-shirts, but were still exceedingly professional. I feel absolutely horrible now, but it’s been too long and I can’t recall my waiters name. However, he was the most informative, most interesting, and most actually caring server I have ever had. We exchanged stories about Italy (we had both just been to Sorrento), ideas about food, quips about other restaurants (“Oh yeah, they do that at Trio.” “You’ve been to Trio? “Nah, just read about it on eGullet.” “Oh, eGullet? Chef Blais reads that all the time.” Et cetera). The single most impressive thing about him, though, was the fact that it was only his third or fourth night there, and he knew every single menu item down cold. I mean, dead cold. I would ask really obscure things like “Oh, what temperature was this cooked at sous-vide?” and he was all over it. Other than Nelly at Uni in Boston, this guy was the best server I have ever had.

The title says it all. If you can, get to Bazzaar as soon as possible. Hop, jump, swim, run, fly, drive, hopscotch, whatever. Go!

Posted at 12:02 PM in Dining - Atlanta | Permalink | Comments (0)

Harold's Barbecue - December 15, 2006

This meal sponsored by Kingandspalding_1**

When people think of food in the South, they almost always immediately think of barbecue. Now, this is a fair argument, since barbecue is made quite well in the South, but it’s not the only food we have. This is why I tried to stay away from doing a Barbecue review until now. I feel like I have shown the full spectrum, and can shine the light on the kings feast that is Dirty South ATL Barbecue.

If you ask someone where Harold’s Barbecue is, most likely you’ll get something like this;

“Hey, where’s Harold’s Barbecue?”
“You mean the place down by the prison?”
“Yeah, where is it?”
“Down by the prison.”

Basically, you have to smell your way there. No one knows precisely where it is, but every day for lunch it fills up with business men, workers, and local folks who are lookin for some good, old school, southern style, barbecue.

Once you get there, the menu is a relief. There are very few menu options, and your biggest decision comes when you order your pork chopped or pulled. (There are also some secret options, like inside/outside, which refers to the inside or outside cuts of meat from the roasted pig.) Clearly the most popular option is the large pork plate which comes with a big bowl of spicy, thin soup with huge chunks of meat, cole slaw, and about a suckling pigs worth of meat. On the side you get cracklin’ cornbread (cracklin’ referring to the pieces of pork skin in em), and any true Southerner washes it down with some sweet iced tea that has been poured by the same gray-haired woman for the last 20 someodd years.


On all the tables are two squeeze bottles. One is hot barbecue sauce, and the other; sweet. Personally, I like a lot of both, all over just about everything. Once you’re done dressing your meat to your personal preference, dig in. Once you feel like you’re about to burst, eat some more cornbread and take a sip of your iced tea. Pause. Dig back in. Repeat until finished.

All the meat is either chopped or pulled by hand, right behind the register. You can even see the roaster in the room behind. Everything is made on property, and it absolutely shows.


Don’t let the cars parked out front confuse you. Three quarters of the lot behind the building are either Lexus or Mercedes. The one thing you can’t forget about Harold’s is how to find it. Just follow your nose.


**This is a joke. I don't want to get any emails starting with "This message is being sent by or on behalf of a lawyer. It is intended exclusively for the individual or entity to which it is addressed. This communication may contain information that is proprietary, privileged or confidential or otherwise legally exempt from disclosure. . ."

Those emails scare me.

Posted at 12:01 PM in Dining - Atlanta | Permalink | Comments (0)

Mary Chung's - December 15, 2006

The location that I was on-screen for was the segment filmed at Mary Chung’s. Now, let me tell you an interesting tidbit about Mary Chung’s: it seems that it was the very first restaurant in the world to be on the internet. If this is accurate: http://boston.openguides.org/?Mary_Chung's "A major hangout for MIT geeks, and thus the first restaurant with a Usenet newsgroup, alt.fan.mary-chungs," then Mary Chung's was most likely the first dining establishment in cyberspace.


Mary Chung, the proprietor (not pictured) is an amazing woman. In one of my recent visits, I was so overcome with elation by the food, I stopped her as she was walking by. I told her, "Mary, your food is so good..." (I was at a loss for words, and looked her right in the eyes). "...so good." She stopped and gave me her full attention (something a restaurant owner/server/hostess/chef rarely gives), and said softly and almost bashfully, "I know... I know. Thank you." She gave me one last look, and whisked off to take care of a ringing phone.

Let me give you a little background. I had never heard of Mary Chung's restaurant before the filming of this show, and I'm kind of glad I hadn't. I say this because I was able to start my addiction late in the game. What addiction? Well, let me just say that Suan La Chow Show is without a doubt the best new dish I have had in months. Since the shoot, I have been there approximately 15 times. . .sometimes twice a day. Right now, they are closed (Mary's on vacation), and I'm going into some serious withdrawal.

So you don't know what Suan La Chow Show is, eh?  Well let’s check wikipedia -- I'm sure they've got something on it.

Well now, what do we have here?  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suan_La_Chow_Show

"Suan La Chow Show (suānlà chǎoshǒu) is a dish of Sichuan Cuisine that consists of a spicy garlicky peanut sauce over floppy steamed meat-filled dumplings similar to wontons. The name means sour hot wonton.

A popular restaurant in Cambridge, Massachusetts named Mary Chung's serves a dish called Suan La Chow Show, which are dumplings with a spicy soy ginger sauce on a bed of raw mung bean sprouts. This popular dish is slightly different from the authentic Suan La Chow Show."

Let me see if I can describe the dish to you, just in case that description doesn't work. Have you ever read about orlotan? The tiny bird, considered such a deviant delicacy that diners are encouraged to devour whole while wearing a blindfold to avoid being ashamed? Well, for those who can’t afford the outrageously expensive and seemingly cruel orlotan, I believe that Suan La Chow Show is the closest thing you can get to it. Listed under soups, the spicy, salty, sesame-y sauce in the bottom could easily be scrumptious orlotan “juice.” The fresh bean sprouts – the avian bones. Lastly, the tender, moist, perfectly cooked meaty morsels that are the dumplings obviously correlate to our favorite feathered friend.

Does this description discourage you? How about this one: these are the best dumplings in America. I challenge you to find better.

Like I was saying, I had my doubts about a Chinese restaurant outside of Chinatown from the moment Sean (the producer) mentioned it to me. When I arrived on the day of the shoot, I found an unassuming, 60 seat family-style, sparsely decorated dining room, and a fairly large packed and active kitchen. Mary immediately introduced herself, and offered me a beverage of choice.

After learning that I would be waiting for a while (and after five different customers had recommended it to me), Mary brought me a bowl of their world famous appetizer. I took one bite, and knew immediately that I was hooked. I get the same feeling every time I come across a dish that meets a few of my criteria for serious food addiction:

1) Unique
2) Cheap
3) Spicy or otherwise uniquely flavored

At just under $4 for a bowl, with a slow exponential heat and its hailstorm of flavor and texture, Suan La Chow Show is on the forefront of my mind nearly every time I get hungry.

Other favorites of mine include General Gau's Chicken, Dun Dun Noodles, Small Steamer Buns (Sat/Sun only), Crab Rangoon, Egg Rolls, and Scallion Pie.  If you don't know what to get, don't even open the menu -- just order from the front specials list.

Posted at 11:58 AM in Dining - Boston | Permalink | Comments (0)

Uni at Clio - December 15, 2006

These days everyone in Boston has access to extremely high quality fish. Chef Ken Oringer still manages to take a giant leap ahead of the other normal Japanese themed restaurants with Uni, his sashimi bar located in his French restaurant, Clio. Uni itself actually originated as Clio’s bar area, just off to the side and down a few stairs from Clio’s entrance. Now, the small bar has been turned into a one-chef, two server, romantic and luxurious sashimi bar. They do not take reservations, but even for how small it is (about 20 seats), I have never had to wait for a table. The décor is impeccable, the small black bar dominates the room while the soft white lighting sets everything in perfect illumination. Both the food and the service here are absolutely flawless. Since the wait staff is so minimal, it is very common to be recognized on the second or third visit. The menu may seem small until you realize that it is small for a reason; it is the only way to provide the absolute highest quality seafood from around the globe. From surf clam to poke (an absolutely outstanding dish of Yellow Fin Tuna), the solo sashimi chef does an excellent job both conversing with customers and getting orders out in a reasonable time. If fact, many of the items on the menu do not come from the sashimi bar. The dishes from the kitchen, such as the airy, crispy tempura, delicate foie gras and juicy and tender kobe beef (served with five different salts) are every bit as good. Uni remains more expensive then a casual sushi bar ($60+/person) but the quality of the food more than makes up for it.

Posted at 11:56 AM in Dining - Boston | Permalink | Comments (0)

Arnolfo - December 15, 2006

So the night after we ate at Pinchiorri, I noticed that there was a Michelin two star, Arnolfo, about 5 km from our hotel.

After a complicated reservation making process, we headed back to the hotel to change.

You aren't really supposed to park in the old city walls, but we did anyway, and headed up to the restaurant. One odd thing about this place, is that you can't open the door. You have to ring a buzzer, and the hostess comes up and lets you in.

I have to make note here that the guy who took our reservation came up with the most creative spelling for my last name that I have ever seen. Baber became Piler! Oh well, no harm no foul. We were seated as soon as this was figured out.

Now, this was much more like a regular restaurant than Pinchiorri, and because of that, it seemed almost pedestrian. There were 2 servers for 20 people, one sommelier, and the chef wandered around almost all night.

Again, we ordered the biggest tasting menu possible. (We decided not to repeat the last night's charades and only ordered 2 bottles of wine.)


We started off with the now-familiar cycle of breads.  The first set was good, small rolls with tomato, onion and garlic.


An amuse arrived quickly, the best of which being the goat cheese nibble, and the tuna tartare spoon. (I had been SERIOUSLY raw-fish deprived since I've been here, and it was a well needed hit for me.)


The next course is boggling me, I can't remember what it was. It looks tomato-ey, but I can't remember what it was. I don't think we had gotten to the menu items yet. Oh well.


Then we started with the first menu item. This was really good. The shrimp was crusted with almonds, the eggplant terrine was delicious, and the tomato “paste” echoed the one at Pinchiorri. The other two tidbits on the plate were good, but not really memorable.


Two dishes then came at once. One, a hot tomato soup with a bit of fried basil and fish. This was very good. The other “soup” was actually more of a tomato jelly. Unexpected, but good as well. Very refreshing and both very tasty.



Now, I’ve had lasagna before. In fact, the lasagna that Donatella makes at the castle is my favorite lasagna in the world, especially the next day when you overcook it in the oven and the edges get all crispy…..but this wasn’t really lasagna. Even if it wasn’t what I was expecting, it was still good in it’s own right. The sauce was potato-saffron, and it was smooth and perfectly strong. It matched very well with the shrimp. There was a tempura fried zucchini blossom on the back side. This was the second or third tempura fried item we had seen so far, which we both thought was a bit odd, but they were all perfectly light and fried.


It really just isn’t fair to compare the lamb at Pinchiorri to the lamb at Arnolfo. Pinchiorri blew me away so much, that the lamb at Arnolfo almost tasted dull. It was clearly a properly prepared piece of meat, and everything worked well, but I just couldn’t get my mind off the previous night.


I actually really liked the cheese course at Arnolfo. For some reason, at Pinchiorri they had forgotten to give us the little marmalades and such with our cheeses, and we both forgot to ask. At Arnolfo, I got prune, honey, and other that I can’t recall. There was no cheese selection, it was just brought from the kitchen. I really liked the selection, mostly cow and sheep, but the softer cheeses were really excellent. In fact, it was so good that I totally forgot to take a picture till I was half done. I got distracted by the little dishes of honey and jams.


Some madman came flying into the restaurant and demolished my intermezzo before I got a chance to take a picture.

I was pretty pissed.


I was able to take a picture of the real dessert, though. There were mini-panna cottas, a mint sorbet, and a bunch of gooseberries(?). The berries were a bit too sour for my taste, but my dad scarfed em all down.


Afterwards came the mini-after-dessert-tidbit-tray.  This is not something I should get used to.  These things are really good.


I had talked with the chef a couple times during dinner, and he invited me into the kitchen after I had expressed interest in seeing the paco jet. It’s really a pretty cool piece of machinery. Its basically just a really fancy immersion blender thing. You put a cylinder of whatever you want blended, and an arm with a blade or whip or whatever you want, comes down and mixes it really fast. He says it makes great sorbet, and he let me try some freshly made peach. It really was quite fresh and light, moreso than regular sorbet.


I took a couple more pictures of the kitchen, talked with the chef for a bit, and headed back to our hotel.




It really was not fair to compare Arnolfo to Pinchiorri. They are in two completely different worlds. Here’s a fairly complicated analogy. Arnolfo is to airplanes as Pinchiorri is to space shuttles. Lets say that chefs like the one at Arnolfo are like pilots. Just about everybody flies on planes. Some are better than others, some are longer, and sometimes you fly first class. Pinchiorri is on a whole level entirely. Only really, really rich people can go up on space shuttles, and even then, they don’t do it often. The chefs have to train harder, longer, and often just have something inside them that just makes them one cut above the rest. But once you’ve seen space, it’s hard as hell to go back to just normal flying. (This is the extent of the analogy. The “traveling” part of flying doesn’t equate to eating. Blah blah blah)

Posted at 11:55 AM in Italian Restaurants - Reviews | Permalink | Comments (0)

Enoteca Pinchiorri - December 15, 2006

I have been irrevocably spoiled for life.

Two nights ago, I dined at the three star Michelin rated restaurant, Enoteca Pinchiori. This was not just a restaurant. This was a food temple.

Not only was the food absolutely incredibly unbelievable (much more on that in a minute), the service was as good as it could possibly get. It seemed at times like every single employee was your personal server. All the employees with either in tuxes, or impeccable suits. Since I didn't bring a jacket (which was "recommended," but really meant you had to sit on the patio, which was really hot) they provided me with one, which was a bit short, but hey, I ain't complainin.

Let me set up the scene for you:

There is not really a sign. You see these two huge green columns, with the maitre 'd hotel standing in the entrance. He gives you his card, and directs you to the free parking lot that has lots of incredibly beautiful (and fast) cars in it.


As you enter, everyone greets you. You are escorted to a sitting room, where you await the person who will take you to your table. I had to wait an extra minute while they tried to find a coat that I could at least get into.

Once seated in a small dining room (of which there were many, so I didn't really get a chance to see how many people could actually eat there at once), you start to notice just how different things are here.

For women, there is a small side table behind your table for your purse. The lighting is soft, but bright enough to see clearly, and appreciate the beautiful food that is about to come.

First you are offered an apperitivo. I chose some Champagne. A double magnum of Krug champagne was brought, and poured into our waiting glasses. There was no silverware or plates on the table yet. They would come….oh God would they come.

While you enjoyed your aperitivo, you were presented with the menu. You can choose either a la carte, or tasting menu. I had already decided that no matter what, we were going to do the tasting menu. We informed one of our servers of this decision, and embarked on the best meal of both me and my fathers life. (At this point, it was around 7:40. This will make sense later.)

Almost immediately after ordering, we were given a “gift from the chef,” which was actually one of many gifts from the chef. Evidently the chef is a really nice guy.


Now, I have a confession to make. I didn’t take a picture of the menu, and it isn’t online. Now, I have emailed them and asked for it, but I am incredibly sorry to report that it’s possible that I won’t be able to tell you what everything was. Please, however, feel free to enjoy the pictures and pretend you know what everything is.

Next, we got another gift from the chef. A sardine, perfectly preserved in vinegar, split in half, deboned, and rolled up on top of a geleed cube of strawberry and tomato. At this point, we both knew that this was a bit different than anything we had ever eaten.


We then got the first course from the menu. I honestly can’t remember what kind of fish it was, but the fish really isn’t what made the dish amazing. Underneath the fish was sautéed sea cucumber. It was so good, that when I couldn’t get the last little piece on my fork, I made sure no one was looking, and picked it up with my fingers. In a 3 star restaurant. It was THAT good.


During this next dish, something happened that has never happened before to me. I took a bite, and instead of just thinking “wow, that’s amazing,” I actually felt tears welling up. It was so good that I nearly cried. Right after that emotion, though, I started to laugh. It was really just absurd. This was food like I had never had before. It was so pure, so intense. It was a terrine of foie gras, with a gelee of somethingorother, but the foie gras was so incredibly perfect. It was all at once creamier, more flavorful, and more intense and amazing then any other foie gras I have ever had. When I dragged the bits through the salt and pepper, and they crunched in my mouth with the foie gras, it even elevated the salt and pepper to higher standards. I really, honestly, couldn’t believe it. It was served with bread with prunes in it, but I had eaten most of my liver before I got to it, and I thought it was good.


Oh, I have neglected to mention that up until that course, we had gotten a different type of bread with every course. Around the 4th course or so, the rotation started again.


Here’s an ok view of our dining room. I was playing with the camera trying to adjust light settings, and I snagged this picture without really disturbing anyone else.


I really am feeling bad now, because I don’t have the item descriptions. This next course was very, very good, but did not illicit the same emotional response. It was a fried piece of fish, with a pureed vegetable which tasted like the best mashed potatoes I’ve ever had. I really need the menu. Argh.


Next up – lobster two ways. On the left is fried lobster with a avocado puree and on the right is sautéed lobster with fresh mango. The reason I remember this course is because 1) it was very clean and amazingly good, and 2) because there weren’t many ingredients. Sometimes in fancy restaurants, they do too much to lobster, and really muddle the flavor, but here it was perfect. The avocado went very well with the crispiness of the meat, and the mango really brought out the freshness in the lobster.


This course looks simple to the untrained eye. To put it simply, it is spaghetti with olives, tomatoes, and some tuna. If you were to put it in your mouth, however, you would not be able to speak for at least a few minutes. This course, I honestly have no idea how the accomplished. I thought I had eaten the best pasta to be found. I was absolutely wrong. This pasta was so far and away better than any pasta I have ever had before. It was absolutely tender, unbelievably flavorful, and just unreal. For the second time, I was nearly moved to tears. For someone who has never cried during a movie, play, opera, or listening to music, it was a new experience. At this level, it really is an art. For the most part, making food is a craft, a trade, something you can learn. I don’t know how anyone learned how to do the food that I was eating. It seemed like something sent down from heaven. Honestly, it felt like a religious experience. If I had to find a place to be Mecca for my to date food experiences, Enoteca Pinchiori would no doubt be it.


Once I had recovered from the spaghetti, we moved on to a pasta stuffed with meat and topped with shavings of reggiano (I believe). It was great, but did not move me in the same way.


Just when I was starting to believe that I was not going to have another experience like the spaghetti had given me, the lamb came. Now, it’s hard to tell since I took the picture so close, but these two pieces of lamb were less than the size of a quarter each, and about a mm thick. Even so, they were bar none the best pieces of lamb I had ever had. To say they were cooked perfectly would be an understatement. I now believe that there is no other way to correctly cook lamb. What really made this dish as good as the spaghetti, though, was the red blob that the lamb was leaning against. This “blob” (which some might call a quenelle) was tomato. Not just tomato, but the best tomato flavor I had ever even conceived of. You know the tomato that I wrote about? The perfect Umbrian tomato? Take the flavor of the best tomato you’ve ever had, and multiply it by about 50,000. Then make a sauce out of that flavor exactly. Just like the sea cucumbers with the fish in the second dish, the tomato really made the dish unforgettable.


I really was thinking that at this point it couldn’t get any better. I had drank enough amazing wine (which actually warrants a separate post, which will come later), that I was just in a food induced haze. I remembered that the next course was supposed to be pigeon, and was expecting the same type of pigeon that I had eaten before. I was wondering how they were going to take this gamey, tough, dark bird, and turn it into something worthy of the name Pinchiorri. I’ll tell you now, I have utterly not a clue how they did what they did with this dish. I thought I had gotten a piece of beef. This was not bird. It was tender, meaty, rich, and ungodly good. Again, the sides really enhanced the whole experience. The gravy was, oddly, made with a mix of crack and codeine, since it was utterly impossible to resist the temptation to lick every inch of the bowl clean. The toast was covered with a sweet molasses-type coating, and seemed to vanish all too quickly. I’m sure it was quite a sight to see me gnawing on the bone like an animal, to make sure that every single atom of flavor was sucked from the pores in the bone.


This concluded our savory portion of the meal, and I was getting full. A cheese cart, the size of which I have never seen outside of a specialty cheese store was rolled over, and we were instructed to choose whatever we wanted. I absolutely love goat cheese, and chose 5 different types. (There were about 10 goat cheeses in all, in fact, they took up the whole non-pictured tray that stuck off the close side of the cart.) All of these cheeses were at the same time different and similar. They were all clearly goat cheeses, but the method of production was so incredibly varied that I thought I was eating cheese from completely different planets.



We were then presented with about 15 different desserts. There was a main plate with one side that was all chocolate and the opposite all vanilla, there were cones of sorbetto, a watermelon shot, a citrus sorbet, and various other little nibbles. I was about to die, I was so full.







To give you an idea, and a preview of the wine post to come, these were all of the wines we had tasted. Note: these bottles were not just ours, we probably had 3-4 glasses from each.


Click to enlarge to see lables better.

After this, we drank grappa that was made just for the restaurant.  Grappa = kerosene + amazing flavor.


I pondered slashing my wrists with the grappa glass and dying happy.  Then I drank more grappa.


Now is a good time to note that there was a table next to us with a couple that was simply phenomenal. John was from DC, and Grace was from California. We had actually talked for a moment in the sitting room, when they went to get me a coat. When I started taking pictures, we struck up some more conversation. It turns out that Grace had gone to BU (for a year, I think), and was seemingly impressed with my food taste. I really enjoyed talking with them, and would like to see them again. Hopefully they’ll find this site since I gave them the address, but they, like us, had drank many bottles of wine. If you’re reading this, Grace and John, email me!


Ah, that break was refreshing.  We head on!

I asked for a tour of the kitchen, and was promptly given one. At this point, it was about 11:45, and they were cleaning up. The kitchen was spotless, and the guy I talked to seemed like a nice guy, even if he did want me to get out of his kitchen.


I posed for a group photo of our sommelier on the left and one of the servers on the right.  Notice the coat length.


We then drove back, slowly, to our hotel in Monteriggioni.  This is not recommended.  Get a driver.  I’m serious.

Coming up next, why I shouldn’t have had that meal, the wines, and the next night’s meal!

Posted at 11:54 AM in Italian Restaurants - Reviews | Permalink | Comments (0)