Saturday, August 21, 2010

Craigie on Main in Cambridge (food)

For my final dinner in Boston, we (SS and CDM again, but no kid) went to Craigie on Main in Central Square. While the food was quite good, the overall experience left much to be desired. I will get to that part at the end, but I know most of you want to see pictures. We ordered the 10 course "Ultimate Craigie Experience" tasting menu, which costs $115+t/t. I asked about the kampachi kama (yellowtail collar) that I had the last time I came, and our server mentioned that they still do preparations of fish collar, and that he would ask the chef for me. Our server also mentioned that with the entree course to our tasting menu there would be sides, and we had the option of bone marrow or vegetables, so we opted for one of each. One good thing was that water was refilled quickly and often, but bread came with butter and no salt, a pet peeve of CDM's.

A direct view of the open kitchen, right off the entrance, which bridges the main dining room and the bar room.

Our first course was a trio of chilled seafood preparations. Starting from the left, noodles made with squid with asian flavors, a striped bass tartare marinated with citrus, and smoked arctic char. Our favorite was the squid noodles, which had both great flavor and an amazing, tender texture.

Our second course (of which I can't find a picture) was a salad of hiramasa sashimi with green tomato-red onion salsa, avocado, lemon-caper vinaigrette, shiso, and fried tempura batter bits. I remember that we enjoyed this and liked the flavors and the crunch added by the batter bits, but remarked that the portion was on the small side.

Next was Australian sea trout cooked a la plancha with clams and tomato. I found the tomato a little too tart for my taste, but the fish was cooked beautifully.

Fried frogs' legs. This was not particularly special, but it was interesting in that they served it whole, so that you could see the webbed feet as well.

Snail ravioli with broccoli puree, squash blossoms, and paprika oil. This was my favorite dish of the night. I would describe the flavors as earthy and green, and the pasta texture was terrific and worked with the puree.

Pork belly. I don't remember what went with it. I mean, it's delicious, but it's not that hard to make pork belly taste good in my opinion.

At this point, I realized that there was no kama coming and I asked about it. Only at that point did the server tell us that the chef couldn't fit it into the 10 course menu. I find this completely unacceptable. If that were the case, come tell me before we start, and I'll just add it a la carte. It's not a hard thing to do.

Our entree consisted of duck leg confit and a piece of smoked duck breast. I found the smoked duck breast to be extremely flavorful, while my friend SS preferred the duck at AKA Bistro.

Our roasted vegetables side.

Our bone marrow side. This was an obvious thing for us to order since SS really likes bone marrow.

For our pre-dessert, we each had a different flavor of sorbet. There was yogurt, raspberry, and blackberry. Refreshing and nice, but nothing special.

I can't believe I can't find the pictures of our main desserts, but there were also 3 different ones. One was a white corn grits brulee with lemon verbena ice cream. Another was a sour milk panna cotta, and finally a sheep's milk cheesecake. Our favorite by far was the sheep's milk cheesecake, which was incredibly light, followed by the panna cotta and the grits.

Our final dessert course was a rhubarb hibiscus mousse with buttermilk foam that came with a pisco punch with herbs. We liked it, but again I didn't find it particularly special.

I also vaguely remember some almond rocher types of chocolate which were very good.

Let's start with the meal in general. While there were certainly some terrific hits on the menu, I found the tasting menu to be expensive. $115 for ten courses, of which three were dessert courses (and not all full ones) and relatively small portions just felt to me completely devoid of value, especially in Boston. I think a better choice would have been if we ordered a bunch of stuff a la carte and ate family style. A pig's head they were sending out looked particularly inviting. For the same price, we would have enjoyed ourselves much more I imagine.

Then there was the front of house issue. Not coming back to me to tell me that the kama wouldn't be in the 10 course menu was just poor. To resolve the situation, they decided to comp the sides. That was nice, except that we didn't even know we were getting charged for the sides! I guess they were "optional" when we heard the word "options". Again, another front of house gaffe. And the last person to come apologize to us was the hostess. In her nice red dress and high heels. Unless her official role is maitre d'/manager, I don't know how I feel about that. I personally feel that none of this is acceptable at a place that charges these prices. There should be a heirarchy of servers, captains, and a manager. The front of house and back of house disconnect felt so egregious that we wondered if the front of house had much say in anything at all. There is a reason why on every season of Hell's Kitchen, Gordon Ramsay brings along his maitre d' and drills the importance of front of house into the contestants.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

AKA Bistro in Lincoln MA (food)

I was out in Lincoln for a couple of days of my Boston trip because my friends SS and CDM were gracious enough to let me stay with them. They had been talking about AKA Bistro, a restaurant that did innovative Japanese fare along with French bistro fare. This was not a fusion place, as they had separate Japanese and French menus, and I was very intrigued by the fact that the Japanese side was run by the former executive chef at Ken Oringer's Uni in Boston.

We dined outside because we brought along SS and CDM's young baby boy. It was a beautiful early evening. The weather was absolutely gorgeous. The sky was a calm, light blue and the clouds moved slowly across it. Things moved slower out there. I would have been perfectly happy sitting out there reading a book and meditating. However, we were out there for the food so we ordered the "taste of AKA" tasting menu which featured both Japanese and French dishes, and each added a dish as well.

Another busted picture where I only remembered after eating it. Like I said before, this happens when I dine in groups. Anyway, our first course involved a Kusshi oyster with lychee granite, chives, and a yamamomo (a Japanese mountain peach). It was clean and refreshing, and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the yamamomo.

Black seabass in an amarillo sauce in a ceviche style using orange citrus. The fish was fresh and the sauce was refreshing, with a little kick from the red jalapenos.

Scottish salmon belly with a hakka soy sauce. The belly was nice and fatty, but I was not impressed with the sauce.

Soft shell crab tempura with AKA curry sauce, cucumber, and papaya. This was an amazing dish. The crab was fried beautifully, and the somewhat sweeter yellow curry was flavorful and fragrant. The use of the cucumber wrap enhanced the textures while providing a refreshing foil to the fried goodness and made it a joy to eat.

This was the first of our individually added plates. A hamachi kama (collar) in a sweet soy sauce was very tasty with a good mixture of fat and meat.

Traditionally prepared escargots. Nice and earthy, but nothing particularly special. The photo was taken by CDM, because she ordered it and also because when I'm in the presence of professionals, I defer.

My friend SS loves bone marrow so it was obvious that he was going to order this. I didn't think there was anything special about the preparation when I tried some, but he said that there was a salt/pepper mixture that they provided that enhanced the flavors.

Seared scallop with cauliflower puree, saffron-infused oil, braised bok choy, and a tomato chip. The scallop was cooked nicely, but I thought the sweeter braised bok choy flavor didn't really go with the rest of the dish.

Duck breast with potatoes, olives, mushrooms, greens, and jus. The flavor was quite nice. I thought the olive flavors worked well with the duck and the jus. However, parts of my duck were a little sinewy, which I was not pleased with.

I can't seem to find my notes but this was a chocolate mousse. It was so-so.

Overall, I thought there were very promising moments. I mean, it's an amazing restaurant to have just sitting out there in the suburbs, but I don't think I would travel to eat there. The Japanese part of the menu was definitely more creative, but the portions were very small. The French part of the menu was more filling, but it was more standard bistro fare in my opinion.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Extraordinary Dinner at O Ya in Boston (food)

It's been almost two years since I last visited O Ya, and while some of the dishes were familiar, I feel that much has been improved and this meal was quite extraordinary. In fact, my friend MN, with whom I've eaten at many top restaurants including Kurumazushi in NYC (my most expensive meal ever), thought that this was the best place I've ever taken him to (although there could be a recency effect). I would put it tied with my meal at 15 East right now for the best meal I've had this year.

Since we were going all out on this dinner, we had to have some sake. This was very good and we finished two of these bottles.

KUMAMOTO OYSTER WITH WATERMELON PEARLS AND CUCUMBER MIGNONETTE This was a terrific start to the meal as you get the briny flavor of the oysters along with the refreshing flavors of the watermelon and cucumber. A good combination of textures that you can still shoot back with ease.

DIVER SCALLOP WITH SAGE TEMPURA, OLIVE OIL BUBBLES, AND MEYER LEMON The scallop was fresh and the textures were good, but I couldn't quite grasp the flavors, especially of the olive oil bubbles or any of the meyer lemon.

SEARED HAMACHI WITH SPICY BANANA PEPPER MOUSSE I originally didn't order this, but I'm glad our server brought it to us. The seared hamachi was deliciously melty while the banana pepper mousse provided a great kick to finish it off. This was also a great combination because you need a fish as strong as hamachi to not get overpowered by the pepper.

SALMON WITH UNFILTERED WHEAT SOY MOROMI, YUZU, SCALLIONS AND SCALLION OIL I don't know much about the moromi, but the flavors all went together really well. The soft (between melty and meaty) salmon was enhanced by the crunch of the scallions as well.

WILD CAPE COD BLUEFIN TUNA MAGURO WITH REPUBLIC OF GEORGIA HERB SAUCE I remember trying this last time and was amazed with the herb sauce and how it went so well with fish. I'm even more amazed after hearing some of the ingredients in the sauce. There's tarragon, basil, and walnut pesto along with a splash of citrus and the sprinkling of sesame seeds. Another good match as the lean, robust maguro was a good canvas for the sauce.

FRIED KUMAMOTO OYSTER WITH YUZU KOSHO AIOLI AND SQUID INK BUBBLES I really liked the warmth provided to the dish by the squid ink bubbles that was then cut by the light refreshing yuzu. The oyster was fried well, although I prefer my fried oysters to be meatier.

HAMACHI WITH VIET MIGNONETTE, THAI BASIL, AND SHALLOTS This was still absolutely delicious although not as mindblowing as when I had it two years ago. I thought there might have been just a little too much soy in the sauce this time. But another great example of using a strong fish and having a lot of things working together with it.

VENISON TATAKI WITH PORCINI CREMA, PONZU OIL, AND BEETS This was a great way to serve venison. I thought the porcini crema was delicious and the beets and greens rounded out each bite beautifully.

SEARED DIVER SCALLOP AND FOIE GRAS WITH SHISO GRAPES AND VIN COTTO This was easily our favorite dish of the night. We couldn't talk while eating it. And while the grapes were good too, this was not so much a dish about balance as it was about decadence and richness. The meaty scallop with the buttery foie gras was like a seafood version of tournedos rossini. Absolutely delicious and hearty.

GRILLED SASHIMI OF CHANTERELLE AND SHIITAKE MUSHROOMS WITH ROSEMARY GARLIC OIL, SESAME FROTH, AND HOMEMADE SOY Terrific execution showing how mushrooms can be just as meaty, tasty, and satisfying as a steak. I liked it better this time than the last time, probably because the sesame was not as strong (I think there used to be sesame brittle on this dish). I'm also not sure that I like it being served warm. I think I would enjoy this dish more if it came out hot.

SCOTTISH SALMON BELLY WITH CILANTRO, GINGER, AND HOT SESAME OIL DRIZZLE This was a terrific dish for me personally because it reminded me of the Cantonese style steamed fish that my mom would make. The flavors are all there and the fatty belly is always prized to go with that combination.

WILD CAPE COD BLUEFIN OTORO WITH WASABI OIL AND LOTS OF GREEN ONION The sashimi choices come 3 to a plate, but I couldn't help myself so I took this photo after eating a piece. The otoro was fatty as expected and I love the green onion, but what really made this dish for me was the wasabi oil. Wasabi just goes really well with delicious melty fat, adding just a little flavor and kick.

FOIE GRAS WITH BALSAMIC CHOCOLATE KABAYAKI, RAISIN COCOA PULP, AND SIP OF AGED SAKE This is the right way to end a meal like this. A rich and decadent piece of foie gras that is enhanced by the chocolate, balsamic, and cocoa flavors. Something that acts as both the entree and the dessert. All that richness just gets cut with the vinegar from the sushi rice. A terrific combination, and this time I felt that the sushi rice was much improved versus when I visited two years ago.

Our aged sake, aged 8 years and ridiculously smooth.

So that was our meal. The sake was $72 and the total for the bill including tax was around $540. We had one dish each of everything except for the venison, which was just one order that we shared. I certainly understand that it feels a little bit more exorbitant than usual because this is a restaurant in Boston and not NYC, but I felt there was very good value here nonetheless. The ingredients were top notch, and the flavors were creative and abundant. With so much going on in almost every dish, we ended up feeling like we ate a lot more than we did (which was already a lot).

SHISO TEMPURA WITH GRILLED LOBSTER, CHARRED TOMATO, AND PONZU AIOLI Oh wait, we're not quite done. Due to a kitchen error, they made one extra of this dish, and decided that the proper place to put these pieces of lobster was in our bellies. So we got this nice parting gift. I liked the textures put together here and the lobster was grilled pretty well.

O Ya is without a doubt my number one recommendation for Boston (you know, if you like sushi and money isn't too big a factor) and I dare say it might even be worth travelling for.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Boston Food (food)

Feeling really down today so figured I could post something to take my mind off things. Not quite ready to put up a full post, but please enjoy this.

When in Boston, even the supermarkets have lobster rolls. $5 for 1, $13.50 for 3. I was full but was intrigued.

So here's what it looks like. The bread is boring, but there's actually not much mayonnaise with the lobster, which is a good thing. More importantly, there's a good amount of lobster. If you look closely at the left part, you can see that there was a whole piece of claw meat there. The lobster actually had lobster flavor too. I thought this was a pretty good deal.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Taking a break of sorts

Just got back from Boston. I will still put up the food posts from the trip when I get a chance. However, with a new exciting opportunity at work and in life, I feel that I want to focus all my efforts on those. So the poker and even much of the eating, will be taking a back seat for a while.