Showing posts with label Boston. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Boston. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Alden & Harlow - Boston

The primary purpose of our trip to Boston actually wasn't eating, but college touring for Frod Jr. Our second day found us in the Boston U. neighborhood around lunchtime, during which we paid a visit to a sweet little Asian food court in the Super 88 Market just west of the campus. There were nearly a dozen different vendors here, and we had perfectly respectable banh mi sandwiches and bowls of pho dac biet from the Pho Viet stall.

Dinner, meanwhile, found us in Cambridge, where we'd made a reservation at Alden & Harlow. I hadn't heard much about the restaurant or the chef, but the unusual, vegetable-centric menu drew me in. (Then shortly after our visit, the restaurant was included in Bon Appetit's "50 Best New Restaurants" list.)

(You can see all my pictures in this Alden & Harlow flickr set).

The ampersand-ed name sounds like a lot of other restaurants that have opened in the past few years, and it looks like a lot of them too: the basement space in Harvard Square is clad in lots of reclaimed wood, subway tile, vintage signs and exposed bulbs. If only more of those places which looked like this had food this good.

One corner of the menu is devoted to "snacks" (a word I find almost irresistibly alluring), all priced at $8 each, while the rest of the menu comprises a couple dozen items, most of which are "share plate" type dishes in the $15 range. A good number of these dishes place vegetables in a feature role.

Frod Jr. can not resist chips and dip, and none of the rest of the family complains when he orders them. Alden & Harlow's "three onion dip" was a really good version, for which I now know the secret, thanks to BA publishing the recipe: a triple-blast of umami from anchovies, mushroom powder and worcestershire sauce. I don't have a recipe, but the appeal of the grilled broccoli served over squash hummus dusted with bianco sardo cheese and crushed cashews isn't so mysterious: it's the great interplay of charred, creamy and crunchy textures.

When was the last time you ate something so good you immediately ordered it again? Not "immediately" as in "the next time you went to the restaurant;" "immediately" as in "while you're still finishing the first order"? That's what we did with Alden & Harlow's seared eggplant with green sauce, sheep's milk cheese, crispy fregola and basil leaves. The eggplant is smoky and almost meaty in texture, the sauce is herbaceous and bright, there's a creamy, briny tang from the cheese, and crunchy contrast from the fried pasta balls. It was one of the best things I've eaten all year.

Many dishes follow the same winning formula, though the particular components differ. Sweet onions are roasted in butter til their edges blacken, paired with an anchovy and tahini crema and sweet-tart white and red currants for contrast. Crispy corn fritters are served over a silky crema, with a summer bean succotash infused with the smoke of Benton's bacon. A similar composition is played by sweet corn gnocchi in a zucchini ragout with crispy serrano ham croutons over the top.

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Monday, September 29, 2014

Uni Sashimi Bar - Boston

I knew once we'd decided to go to Boston that we'd have to visit a Ken Oringer place. He's a chef I've followed from afar for years, one whose menus I'd read and feel like I could already taste them. It was tough to pass on Clio and Toro, but I've been on something of a seafood kick lately and so Uni Sashimi Bar was the choice.

Our dinner at Uni didn't start particularly well, though. It took nearly ten minutes after being seated before our waiter even graced us with his presence, and then an equal amount of time before he could make a return visit to bring menus and pour water. It was an oddly ignominious introduction to the place, particularly given that the entire restaurant is about the size of a reasonably spacious living room, and we could see him rearranging chairs around empty tables as we anxiously awaited some semblance of service.

(You can see all my pictures in this Uni Sashimi Bar flickr set).

Fortunately, it was all uphill once the food started coming out. The menu at Uni is composed almost exclusively of small plates of raw fish, but the accompaniments and presentations are much more genre-bending than the "sashimi bar" in the name would suggest. As just one example, the namesake sea urchin roe is smoked, then folded onto a soup spoon together with a raw quail egg, a mound of osetra caviar, and a sprinkle of snipped chives for one luxurious, indulgent bite.

One of my favorite fish, silver-skinned shima aji, came cut into thick ribbons and paired with orange segments, goji berries and a black sesame drizzle, the sweet-tart fruit a nice foil for the oily flesh of the fish. Lubina (sea bass) was done in a Mediterranean inspired style, with green charmoula, plumped golden raisins and a sprinkle of preserved lemon gremolata. An elegantly presented razor clam invoked Catalan flavors: romesco sauce, Marcona almonds, crispy migas.

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Saturday, September 27, 2014

Neptune Oyster Bar - Boston

The "to do" list ("to write," to be more precise) keeps growing longer and more intimidating. In the interest of paring it down, let me try to catch up on some of our latest excursions.

In the summer, we tend to head north in the interest of finding cooler climes than our ninety degree, ninety percent humidity weather here in Miami. This July included a long weekend in Toronto, which will be the subject of another report (the twitter version: a fun place to visit and a fun place to eat). August found us first in Boston, from where we headed up the coast to Maine, then across the border to Quebec City before wrapping up in Montreal.

Our Boston visit started with a place that's been open just shy of ten years, and has all the feel of a classic: Neptune Oyster Bar. We had fortuitous timing, squeezing in to seats at the end of the counter before the lines started to form for lunch (the tiny spot has only a couple dozen seats at tables plus another fifteen at the bar).

(You can see all my pictures in this Neptune Oyster Bar flickr set).

I can see why they're lining up. The oysters, with a choice from among a dozen primarily east coast varieties, were excellent. This particular dozen included, working clockwise from the lemon wedges, Wellfleet, Island Creek and Bee's River from Massachusetts, Browne's Point and Pemaquid from Maine, and Beausoleil from New Brunswick Canada.

But the oysters aren't the only draw here. This buttermilk johnnycake, topped with a mound of smoked trout tartare wearing a sturgeon caviar hat, then doused in melted honey butter, was a fascinating mix of earthy, smokey, fishy, salty and sweet flavors. I would have never guessed that the savory/sweet sausage/pancake breakfast type thing could be taken in an aquatic direction, but this worked. A Spanish-inspired grilled octopus salad, with crisp browned nubs of roasted cauliflower and a ruddy orange romesco sauce, was another good combination, light but hearty and full-flavored.

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