Whisk Boston

I'm back!

Mostly because I have an important message to share with local foodies: run - don't walk - over to Boston's North End and experience the city's latest dining pop-up, Whisk Boston, before it closes sometime in September.

For the uninitiated, pop-up restaurants are temporary operations that "pop up" in private homes, retail locations, or other available space so that [usually] new chefs can test out a concept without making a huge investment in a permanent space. They are typically small, allowing for fewer staff and more frequent menu changes than in a traditional restaurant. 

Whisk has popped up in the Volle Nolle space at 351 Hanover Street (conveniently closed while its own chef is on vacation) after occupying spaces in Cambridge and Jamaica Plain previously (all to rave reviews). I actually hadn't been to Volle Nolle before, and was pleasantly surprised by the chic decor - white subway tiles, rustic woods, low lighting, punched-tin ceiling and chalk board menus. Plus, a wall of wine bottles. Very Napa-esque.

Whisk Dining Room

But the highlight of the place is the tiny kitchen manned by chefs Jeremy Kean and Philip Kruta. Kean serves as Executive Chef, having previously worked in the kitchens at AquitaineGarden at the Cellar, and Rialto (all excellent in their own right) while Kruta honed his pastry skills at L'Espalier. Together, they deliver an eclectic mix of savory & sweet delicacies in a choice of three-, five-, or seven-course tasting menus ($45/$65/$75) with optional wine pairings (ranging from Burgundy, Sauvignon Blanc, and Cider with the main courses to White Port and Moscato with desserts).

Kean and Kruta
I visited Whisk twice this month (!), at first opting for the five-course with wine pairing which was so good that I went back a week later for the seven-course. The chefs bring something totally different to Boston's Little Italy: non-Italian cuisine for starters. While using French cooking techniques, they rely on local, seasonal ingredients to develop the menu (which changes weekly). Also, each plate at Whisk is a work of art, with all of the ingredients - and their presentation - carefully selected to create an experience. And Kean presents many of the courses himself, eager to explain his dishes and solicit feedback from guests. 

Kean and Steph

Both meals started with a delicious date, thyme, and lemon bread baked fresh on the premises, accompanied by a miso butter. The first night proceeded as follows (all course were great but dish #1 was my favorite!):

Squid ink
1) Squid Ink Pasta with Glazed Calamari Miso
Sea Scallop
2) Sea Scallop with Truffled Corn and Pancetta
Hanger Steak
3) Hanger Steak with Gorgonzola Gratin and Chanterelles
Pork Belly
4) Pork Belly with Corn Shortbread and Collards
Chocolate Cake
5) Chocolate Cake with Orange and Cherry

And the second night (where I think the gnocchi  and filet tartare were my favorites): 

Tomato Salad
1) Peasant Tomato Salad with Mozarella, Corn, and African Basil
Sea Scallop 8.55.22 PM
2) Sea Scallop with Truffled Corn and Pancetta (repeat!)
Filet Tartare
3) Filet Tartare with Tomato Jam and Quail Egg
Gorgonzola Gnocchi
4) Gorgonzola Gnocchi with Oxtail Marmalade, Pickled Apple and Apple Butter
Foie Gras Creme Brulee
5) Foie Gras Creme Brulee with Strawberry and White Balsamic
Chocolate Praline
6) Chocolate Praline Mousse with Hazlenuts
Cherry Cheesecake
7) Cherry Cheesecake with Carmelized White Chocolate and Pistachio

Phew! I'm full just reliving it all. But it is so worth a visit. Check out past menus, sign up for their mailing list or follow them on Facebook and Twitter for the latest.  If you plan to go, reservations are recommended.

And as an aside, Whisk partners with the Transitional Employment Program at Haley House, a local nonprofit that helps people who were previously incarcerated transition back into society through work experience. 


Where Hash Rules

You all know how I love a good meal, and a good bit of Boston history, so I was delighted to find a marriage of the two in George Cuddy's book, Where Hash Rules. It's the story of Charlie's Sandwich Shoppe, a landmark in Boston's South End since 1927.

Where-Hash-Rules-Cuddy-George-Aaron-EB2370004341637Simultaneously a rich historical account of a city block, and a love letter to the people who made history there, the book is full of personal anecdotes,  newspaper clippings, photos, recipes and blog posts that tell the story of the Manjourides family and their restaurant over the course of 85 years.

In that time, Charlie's has borne witness to a wildly diverse neighborhood that has played host to criminals and celebrities alike. Prostitutes and mobsters, politicians, performers and athletes – everyone from Sammy Davis Jr, Duke Ellington, Joe Lewis and Whitey Bulger, to Tom Brady, Nomar Garciaparra, Robert Urich and Al Gore - have dined at this 32-seat shop. It's cash-only, and offers communal tables, both telling attributes of the no-frills, genial experience you are likely to have there.

In its early days, Charlie's was the only restaurant in town that would serve African Americans. The Pullman Porters  -  men hired by George Pullman to work on the railroads as porters on sleeping cars  - established their Boston headquarters above the restaurant and admitted original owner Charlie Poulos as the only non-black member so he could play cards and shoot pool with them.

In the years since, all sorts of characters have crossed the threshold, including Cookie the bookie, Chapman the peeper, Richard the storyteller, and Biggie the bulldog. They've all contributed to Charlie's vibrant history.

But central to the story are the four beloved proprietors and siblings, Arthur, Marie, Fontaine, and Chris, who have been slinging hash – and stories – for decades.  Their immigrant father Christi was Charlie Poulos' first employee, starting out as a line cook and then through some shrewd business dealings becoming a partner in 1946.  This family's story, their hard work and dedication to the business as well as their community, has all the tenets of the American Dream.

Though I’ve yet to visit Charlie’s in person (despite living here for nearly 20 years…the shame!), I feel like I know them all. And like the author, I feel slighted that I missed out on so many of the memories.

And what of the food? Charlie's consistently gets rave reviews for its great meals at great prices, and it won the prestigious James Beard Award in 2005. I am dying to try the cranberry pancakes and the raspberry griddle cakes. And of course, the famous turkey hash.

You can purchase Where Hash Rules (ebook) at Amazon or Barnes & Noble, read more about it on Boston.com and Bon Appetit, and stay up-to-date with restaurant happenings via their Facebook page.

And perhaps I'll see you at one of their communal tables one day soon.


Da Conch Shack

We're loving all the fresh seafood on this island!

Last night we had dinner with another couple from Boston at the restaurant Coyoba, where I had a Corvina fish special.

Today, we travelled out to Da Conch Shack, a fantastic spot on the beach serving all manner of conch (deep fried, pan fried, stewed, curried...) and some really good jerk chicken.

The best part was seeing how the conch go from sea to table (and glossy souvenir shell, as well). Check out the photos below: (1) entrance to the restaurant (2) empty shells are plentiful in the water; below them are large nets full of live conch; (3) men cart buckets of conch up onto the beach and (4) give 'em a whack with a hammer to dislodge the conch from its shell; (5) another man then pounds it with a meat tenderizer before sending it into the kitchen. It was very tasty!

Da Conch Shack

Da Conch Shack

Da Conch Shack

Da Conch Shack

Da Conch Shack


Girl Scout Cookie Locator

It's Girl Scout Cookie time, and I have it easy: I get my annual Samoas fix through a coworker's enterprising young daughter (she's got a lock on all orders in our office).

But what if you don't know any Girl Scouts (who are in fact the sole distribution channel - selling cookies is part of the Girl Scout Leadership Experience, so they don't simply sell them online)?

Then the Girl Scout Cookie Locator app is for you! Using your phone's GPS, the app will show you cookie sales nearby, as well as information on flavors and some social media integration.

 

It's currently only available for iPhone (I'm Android, so thank goodness I have my contact!), and is reportedly rather buggy, but I like that the Girls have gone mobile.

 

 


Boston Wine Expo

We had a fun time at the Boston Wine Expo on Sunday (an alternative way to tailgate before the big Pats game!), and the best part was getting in early with the Trade crowd before doors were open to the general public.

There was a great assortment of wines - some of the more memorable ones were Banfi (Italy), Joseph Carr (California), Muscato di Limnos (Greece), Chateau Ste Michelle (Washington), and an assortment of Chateauneuf du Pape (France).

And let's not forget all the food accompaniments! Among them:

  • Serrano ham sliced fresh off the bone (eek)
  • 100% grass-fed beef jerky with garlic powder rub and brown sugar glaze from SlantShackJerky.com (YUM)
  • Pecorino cheese with white & black truffle oil from TastyTuscan.com (double YUM)
  • Brix chocolate (I love the milk chocolate, which pairs well with Port, Sherry, and dessert wines)
  • A chocolate whoopie pie from The Whoopie Wagon in the gift bag

Here are some pictures from the event:

 


Scenes from the Gala

The TV Diner Platinum Plate Gala was a fun event. Amazing people watching (e.g., women of a certain age showing lots of skin and sequins), good food, and fun music. But as with most of those events, it was pretty crowded, which meant long lines at the bar and tasting stations, and a need to juggle your food and drink. I'm glad we went, but probably wouldn't do it again.

What amazed me most was the amount of beef on display. Short ribs in particular. I'd say half the food vendors had some version of beef short ribs as their signature dish. Don't know if it's the cold weather, a down-economy (which tends to elevate comfort foods), or just good prices on beef short ribs, but everybody was offering it up. Not a good night for any vegetarians in the house!

But there were also some tasty tuna plates available (surprisingly, my favorite was the Teriyaki Ahi Tuna Wanton from Not Your Average Joe's), a couple of duck options, pork sliders, Caesar salad, pasta, and plenty of desserts (my favorite being Pete & Gerry's Heirloom Egg Custard with maple walnut topping).

You can view the full photo set here (taken with a smartphone so apologies for the bluriness and/or darkness):

 

Next up: the Boston Wine Expo!


A Delicious Year

This email I received recently from restaurant reservation site OpenTable made me chuckle: I sure do eat out a lot! And the funny thing is, it doesn't even include the nights out when I didn't use OpenTable or when someone else made the reservation.

Opentable

But it's a great tactic on their part, and a great walk down memory lane for me. I didn't realize I'd been using the site for so long - I registered way back in 2002! Back then, it was strictly a web-based solution, but now I primarily use their Android and iPad apps.

And look at all the fantastic places I've dined!

Opentable

Opentable2

Truly a delicious year decade.


Evernote Food

P1000776
There's a wildly popular productivity app called Evernote that lets you store notes and ideas - in the form of text, images, web pages, or voice memos - for future reference, list making, and archiving. I use it in its Web, iPad, and Android incarnations to note restaurants I want to try, wines that I like, travel ideas, and other random info that I want to remember. The beauty of it is that I can store info from all three devices (laptop, tablet, mobile phone) and it synchs for easy access from any of them.

So I was excited to read about its latest update: Evernote Food. You know how much I like to document great meals (as evidenced by yesterday's post and my Flickr feed dedicated to good eats), and this app promises to let you "capture, share, and relive your memorable meals." Sadly, it's not yet available for Android so I'll continue with my traditional ways. But I like where they're headed.


Oishii

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One of the most delicious and most artfully presented sushi in Boston, courtesy of Oishii in the South End. Above are two of their specialty rolls (Sockeye Salmon and Maki covered with Toro), below is an amuse-bouche of pureed edamame. We also started with the Tuna Mango with Baby Ginger and ended with the Chocolate Molten Cake. It's appropriate that the name translates to "delicious" in English. Oishii! おいしい 

IMAG0488