I was just reading more about the tsunami and I can’t believe it. The photographs are devastating. The New York Times has ariel photographs of idyllic island towns that were completely wiped away.
30 Dec 02004
29 Dec 02004
14 Dec 02004
my latest stir-fry attempt is quite good. Stir frying hasn’t failed me yet. If you don’t have a wok, I highly recommend getting one and get into the habit of using it. The stainless steel ones are $15. You just start with sesame oil and fast fry everything on very high heat— it’s so quick. Right now I’m really into making stir fry-turned-fried rice. I’m going to eat it with rice anyway, so why not always add the rice right to the wok and get it nicely coated at the end of the cooking time?
today’s was, in the order added to the wok:
2Tbsp sesame oil
1 onion/2 garlic/0.5” ginger/pinch of crushed red pepper
1/4c coarsely chopped walnuts
10oz sliced mushrooms
and 1c rice, cooked
with teriyaki sauce (like Veri Veri Teriyaki) and scallions added at the end.
I think it only cooked for 5 minutes, max: 2 mins for the onion, 2 more for the mushroom, everything else at the very end.
I don’t use that much oil, maybe a couple tablespoons?, so toward the middle-end of cooking, things tend to dry out a little. That’s when I throw in a spash of soy sauce and it all works out.
8 Dec 02004
My cousin Ethan, an industrial designer in San Francisco, just opened the doors of his new sexy accessories shop called jimmyjane. Their flagship product is a compact, waterproof metal vibrator available in steel, gold, and platinum, all with optional personalized engraving. I don’t know if he’d describe Jimmyjane “sex toy company” exactly; they also sell fragrances, jewelery, clothing, etc. His is the first US company doing high-end accessories like this, though UK-based Myla has been successful at Selfridges and Liberty in London, and they’re now selling their wares through some of the bolder Nieman Marcus stores here.
6 Dec 02004
I’ve been eating out a lot lately, for one reason or another. Last Thursday I felt sick and worn out, there was no food in the house, and I didn’t want to cook. I craved one of the incredible bowls of Japanese udon noodle soup with tempura shrimp from the family-owned Ittyo, right down the block from my house, that costs $8 and cures all ailments. But I started to wander through the Porter Exchange mall/bazaar where Ittyo is located, and I found the Rustic Kitchen that opened a few months ago.
Rustic Kitchen is a chain originally owned by Todd English that he gave to one of his original partners to settle some lawsuit between them. I’d never been to a Todd English restaurant, but I had a gut feeling that this place, and any other restaurant currently or formerly associated with English, should be avoided. He has always seemed like the celebrity chef who cooks for Boston tourists and others who have primed themselves to believe they’re having a good dining experience. That’s why I think his restaurants are mostly confined to Quincy Market (the Boston tourist Mecca) alongside places like Legal Seafood that have a great reputation only among people who don’t live here. I should’ve listened to my gut, but Rustic Kitchen’s menu spoke louder with the lush adjectives of faux high end cuisine.
So I ordered, to go, a $19 seafood stew with saffron that sounded great. My rationale: I feel gross, I’ve had a long day, I need this more expensive soup, because somehow it will be better. Fifteen minutes, she said. Ittyo takes five, but okay, this is slow-cooked French food we’re talking about. They’re probably out back picking the herbs right now… in the parking lot.
But I wouldn’t know, as there’s no view into the kitchen at Rustic Kitchen. I did notice right away that the dining room was not exactly rustic. It felt more like someone’s idea of what rustic feels like. It’s rustic in the same way that The Cheesecake Factory is rustic. In other words, not at all. It is engineered rusticity: too clean, too perfect, too new, too well lit. No restaurant with a TV—especially a plasma TV—behind its bar should have the word “rustic” in its title.
Ittyo, on the other hand, is a rustic kitchen exemplified. Its kitchen takes up most of the stall that it’s located it, leaving enough room for maybe five tables. Peering over the counter into the kitchen, you might see big pots of broth on a huge gas stove, tempura frying, a little radio tuned to slightly off of an AM station, noodles flying all over the place, and a couple cooks who are totally absorbed in what they’re doing. While you wait, you can see, hear, and smell your dinner being prepared. There is no plasma TV, nor is there a bar for it to go behind, but it’s totally visceral. And totally rustic. Charmingly simple and unsophisticated.
Meanwhile, back at the “Rustic Kitchen”, I stared blankly at a muted ESPN News while waiting for my food. A full thirty minutes later, it finally came out. Five minutes after that I was home again, tearing open the package, only to be confronted by a pile of lukewarm, overcooked seafood in a puddle of broth. Ittyo’s soup comes in a huge bowl filled with a rich steamy broth and lots of goodies mixed in with the noodles, and I was expecting something similar here (sans udon). I knew a French “stew” implied a thicker broth and less of it, but this was ridiculous: there was maybe 1/4 cup of broth here. But even after accepting that I didn’t get what I’d imagined, this stew just wasn’t very good. The caper berries were way over-salted, the piece of bread on top was burned, and there was no detectible hint of saffron in anything. The seafood was just OK. Mostly cheap mussels. Two shrimp. A couple clams.
So next time you’re in the Porter Exchange mall, I urge you to visit the real rustic kitchen: Ittyo. In fact, it’s well worth the trip out to Porter Square next time you feel the cold-weather blues.
Yesterday was Karl’s birthday and somehow we ended up dining at four restaruants. I guess that’s what happens when you leave me to plan a birthday.
In the morning we took a trip out to Brookline to meet some friends at the Washington Square Tavern. It’s a smallish neighborhood place, home to the original chef from Matt Murphy’s Pub. A friend had a hunch that the Sunday brunch was delish, so we all met up at high noon, and the hunch was confirmed. The food was excellent. Their paninis were great: not greasy, lots of flavor, simple ingredients. The french fries were the best I can remember ever having in Boston. The eggs benedict was very tasty, perfectly cooked. At no point was there the hint of recycled Saturday night dinner that I’ve come to expect from brunches. And the price is right, with most items around $8-10. It’s a shame I didn’t go to the Tavern more often when I lived in Brookline.
Anyway, that tided us over until about 6pm, when we went to the El Salvidorian Tacos Lupita on Elm St in Somerville, about a block away from my house, for the best tacos I’ve had in New England: two corn tortillas, grilled chicken, loads of onions and cilantro, a big chunk of lime, and a bottle of Jarritos. Yes. $2.99, and way better than Anna’s Taqueria.
We followed it up with a cup of tea and a long chat at Café Algiers in Harvard Square. We’ll be going here more often, I think. It’s a quiet room with a nice window overlooking Brattle St. It has comfortably slow service that allows an entire conversation to take place over a cup of tea. There is no obtrusive music and, as far as I can tell from two or three visits, there’s no attempt to shuffle you along once you’re done. For Harvard Square, that alone is worth the price of $3.50 for tea.
At 9:30pm we had reservations at the tiny Craigie St. Bistrot. Some friends had worked there in the past, and I’d read this article about the Sunday night $35 prix fixe. There is no menu; you just know that there will be four courses. The restaurant is closed early in the week, so chef Tony Maws likes the clean out the fridge on Sunday nights. Even the wait staff doesn’t know what’s going to come out of the kitchen a couple minutes before itís done. It sounded like an adventure and a lot of fun.
And it was! Since I don’t know my exotic ingredients that well, describing what we ate will be a bit like a game of Telephone, but I’ll give it a shot. The entreé was a plate full of excellent seafood: crabmeat, shrimp, mussels, sea urchin, and more all peeled and shelled, then perfectly cooked in an incredible creamy sauce with some toast points for dipping. I thought this was the best dish of the night—though I couldn’t be sure, as every table was getting something different.
The second course was a sole fillet rolled up and served on top of a pureé of cardoons and some (fava?) beans. It had a salad of some little green bits and fried potato shavings on top. Very tasty.
The main course was a foie de veau (veal liver, as they explained) served with wild mushrooms in a rich, dark sauce. Karlís not into the taste of liver, and it’s not my favorite food either, but we forged ahead. Were I a big liver fan, I know Iíd be loving this dish. The preparation seemed perfect, as it kind of melted in my mouth as great sushi does. And anyway, I can’t complain when Iím at the mercy of the chef who’s practically giving away a great, spontaneous prix fixe meal.
I got grits for dessert, and Karl got a chocolate tart with bourbon ice cream. Both were excellent. My grits had fruit compote on the top, a dusting of Demerara sugar, and some handmade vanilla wafers on the side.
The service and atmosphere were all great; just what I would expect from a place like this. Friendly and not the least bit snooty or intimidating. Attentive, but not obtrusive. I would highly recommend the Bistrot, and I may return soon if the occasion arises.