Taste of the Nation, Boston 2012

Before I dive in to this post, I just wanted to get a few logistics out of the way. The winners of the ThinkThin bar giveaway are Katie, Carol B, Leah, Krlock, Lara, Marcie, Ashleigh, Rene and Maryz. Ladies, please email me your addresses to elina@healthyandsane.com!

Also, if you live in the Boston area and are still looking for a special Mother’s Day gift, I’m now offering gift certificates for private cooking lessons. Maybe you can even join your mom for the class? I think that would be crazy fun!

Ook, now that we got that stuff out of the way, can I tell you about my favorite foodie event of the year? Yup, it’s that time again – Taste of the Nation recap time that is!

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[Yup, this was an ice sculpture.  I definitely thought it was the coolest thing since sliced bread.]

I rave about how much I love this charitable event (see 2010 and 2011 recaps here in case you’re bored) but this year given my involvement with Cooking Matters which is part of Share Our Strength, I was even more excited to attend! Btw, before I forget – I did receive press tickets but I am always honest (just ask all of the friends that we convinced to purchase tickets this year and join us!) – it is a fantastic time, every time, and is such a great way to raise money for a fantastic cause!

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Sliders galore

Compared to previous years there were definitely fewer tables (although still plenty; it’s still pretty much impossible to try every single thing) and the theme of the evening appeared to be sliders – meat + pickled veggie type combos and straight up slowly braised meat between soft little buns. Pretty much all were delicious although it got a bit tiresome at the end, especially when nearly identical dishes were presented. I felt a little bad for the restaurants because on a stand-alone basis, they were all stars.

Lucky’s Lounge pork belly sliders with pickled vegetables, diakon sprouts, and kung-pao sauce

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Del Frisco’s steak sliders

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Myers + Chang korean bbq sloppy jo

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Whole Foods smoked pork hum bao

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Cambridge School of Culinary Arts – least favorite of the bunch

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Favorite restaurants I’m now even more in love with

Trina’s Starlite Lounge tomato soup with grilled cheese – so simple yet so perfect!

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Trina’s was on my 30 by 30 list so I already had the pleasure of checking out the restaurant (love the decor, the service and the fabulous cocktails). This made me really want to go back!

The Franklin Café crispy pig ear chicharrones – were a fun change from all the sliders

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Flour Bakery milky way tartes. I’m obsessed with these guys- they are sweet, light and creamy!! The recipe is in the Flour bakery cookbook (Bridget was actually the one to get me hooked on this stuff when she made it for Megan’s party one day).

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Places I really need to make sure I visit now!

Meatball on crouton from Jodie Adam’s of Rialto & Trade

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The crouton was super crunchy which shocked me but this was playful and delicious!

Slow cooked beef over corn bread from Gargoyles

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Scooped to order whoopie pie ice cream sandwiches

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To die. For.

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For some reason I can’t find them online now Sad smile

Thirsty Thursday

Some booze was consumed. It’s open bar so we had to do “a little” tasting Winking smile We won’t name any names but someone (not me) was a bit slow the next morning. We didn’t get to NY until 7:30pm the next day, despite all the original plans to leave early in the AM and spend the day in the city (my sister was getting married the following day).

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Local hard cider. A little dry with a hint of honey. Yum! Smile

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Like I said, there was a bit of drinking ;)

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Randomness

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Made by Mr. Hamersley himself

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Everyone loved this mac & cheese. I’ll stick to their usual leek free kind though (Church is pretty awesome!)

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Bianca and Meghan

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There were so many other blog friends at the event. I loved seeing familiar faces and of course comparing notes on the dishes not to be missed! :)

Katie – the pastry chef at Tremont 647 (we volunteered together with Cooking Matters!)

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I think they served a deconstructed caesar salad sandwich with house cured bacon. Does this look right to you? I was in a food coma by about this time…

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Shady Oaks Organics sells locally cultivated specialty mushrooms (sold at local farmers markets and online). The founders also happen to be from Newburyport where Adam is from Smile

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Meh

Tavolo lobster cream lasagna – pretty bland for such a promising dish

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Jason made a passive aggressive remark about everyone being a food blogger these days. Way to make me feel special, Jason! ;)

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Craigie on Main made hob knobs again! They are crazy delicious but they’ve served them at every food fest I’ve been to. Can we see something else, please?

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Surprise

Brasserie Jo pork belly pate with pickled carrots was actually surprisingly delicious, despite the fact that I don’t love the place (I’ve been there several times since it’s one of the closets places to my condo, and found their brunch to be great but dinner a waste!). I liked the mustard bite of these little babies!

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And there you have it. Despite a bit less variety this year, we still had a really fantastic time. I hope you check out the SOS website to find a Taste of the Nation event near you!

Which dish would you want to try first?

 

Wasabi sushi in Natick

Hi friends! How’s life? Mine is good. In an attempt to get out of the house daily (yeah, I started going a little stir crazy early last week), I’m currently at the library catching up on computer stuff. I noticed some pictures of the lunch Adam and I had at Wasabi in Natick a few weeks back and thought it’d be fun to do a quick post to introduce you to this spot… if you haven’t already been Smile

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Wasabi is newish kaiten dining sushi restaurant located inside the Natick mall. There is a conveyor belt that runs through the entire space with plates of sushi (and other Japanese dishes) on it. You watch them pass by and grab what you like. At the end of the meal, the waitress adds up your bill based on the empty plates. Fun and fast! Open-mouthed smile

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Oh and the plates are color-coded, with each color representing a price category. The most expensive plate as you see below is $5, so you really can try a whole bunch of dishes. Love it!

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[There are a few other dishes you can order straight off the menu, including soups, salads and some hot appetizers.]

I’ve seen this conveyor belt concept in airports in London. I’m glad they finally brought it to the U.S. (or should I say… Boston area since Wasabi appears to be a chain).

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Which one is it gonnna be?

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Adam and I tried a few plates as a light lunch. This guy was my favorite:

Tyson’s Roll

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It was sort of like a deconstructed California roll (with the crab on the outside) topped with seaweed salad and wasabi cream. It tasted super fresh and delicious.

The seared salmon with red pepper coulis was pretty boring.

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Adam got the crunchy salmon. It was pretty fun dipping the maki in the panko mixture for some extra crunch Smile

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These two rolls were sort of forgettable. Solid but nothing special.

Eel cucumber maki

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Lucky roll – mango, salmon, green and red tobiko (and wasabi cream)

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Our bill was about $20 for all of this. Definitely the perfect spot to refuel at during your next shopping spree in the Natick mall. Open-mouthed smile

Have you ever been to a kaitan sushi place?

Dinner at Sportello, Boston

This past weekend, Adam and I attended the Boston Local Food festival. It was supposed to rain on and off all day so I was happy the weather actually held up for the most part of the afternoon. I think the fear of rain put off some people (or maybe how crowded it was last year!) so while it was still pretty crowded, at least you could see the end of the line to the vendors (and in many cases there was no line at all!). Anyways, I’m telling you this because snatching up a grilled pork belly with apple chutney sandwich from the Sportello booth was no problem at all. The sandwich was pretty nice but my favorite part was getting a little token for a free chocolate chip cookie, which we could get a few blocks away from the actual restaurant. Of course I made sure to stop by and claim what was rightfully mine!

Standing in front of the bakery counter, watching happy brunchers enjoying their meals, reminded me that I never actually blogged about our experience at Sportello back in July.

sportello Photo by Boston Photojournalist Erik Jacobs

Our wedding anniversary happens to be on the same day as my dad’s birthday and also the weekend of 4th of July. Needless to say, there is a lot of eating happening during those few days. Since we went to Italy for our honeymoon, we also have a tradition of celebrating somewhere Italian. Keeping all of this in mind, this year we decided to keep things relatively casual (read: not too pricey) and Barbara Lynch’s Sportello seemed to fit the bill perfectly. [Last thing going for it is that it happens to be on my 30 by 30 list Smile]

On a Tuesday night, around 7:30pm, the restaurant was pretty deserted. I’ve seen pictures of the space before but in real life (possibly partially because it was empty), it seemed like we just came to a bakery to celebrate our anniversary dinner (there is in fact a bakery section to the right of the above picture). The large windows flooded the space with light, which made the space seem that much more casual. I did say we wanted things relatively casual. Casual we got.

It’s all right, I had high expectations for the food and was excited to finally try it. We hopped on the bar stools right by the open kitchen and made our beverage selections.

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Whipped ricotta and stewed fruit with Italian bread

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The whipped ricotta was rich and creamy but the bread did not excite me. I felt like I could get that at a supermarket. I saved room for what I hoped would be better things to come.

Salumi plate – robiola, peperonata, olives

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A simple plate of fantastic salami and what I thought at the time was the best brie of my life. Looking at the description now I see it was in fact robiola, which wikipedia tells me is a softened Italian cheese (of course!) made with varying proportions of cow’s, goat’s milk and sheep milk. I loved how soft and creamy it was without any stink that I’ve experienced with stronger brie. Even the little breadsticks (grissini) seemed more flavorful that usual (house-made?).

Adam ordered the spicy tomato soup with caraway grilled cheese

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He enjoyed the flavorful soup (I tried it, good stuff) but the cracker on top does not grilled cheese-make. I’m all for creativity but that’s just false advertising Smile

For my entrée, choosing the ricotta gnudi with tomato, basil, black olives croutons was a non-brainer.

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I’ve only had gnudi at Pazzo (which has since closed, tear) and was shocked at how fluffy and airy those pillows of ricotta-goodness were. The gnudi at Sportello did not resemble those at all. They were a lot smaller in size and in fact seemed pretty firm – a lot heavier than even my homemade gnocchi which I made just days prior (too much flour?). I’m going to cut to the chase here – I wasn’t that impressed. My favorite part of the dish was the tiny olive croutons you may be able to spot in the pictures. I picked every one out and thought it was a really fun and creative twist on an otherwise very classic dish.

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Adam pretty much licked his plate clean (he got the polenta bolognese of sorts – sorry I don’t remember the details, it’s obviously been a while) but I once again thought this was too classic and unexciting for a Barbara Lynch spot (with prices to match!).

Ice cream sandwich – chocolate gelato, chewy chocolate cookie

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Classic. Solid.

Overall we left the dinner pretty disappointed. I think a very large part of it was the ambiance, which just did not match what we need for an anniversary night (totally our fault although most online pictures make the space look cozier than it is) and then high expectations for a hyped up spot further just lead to unmet expectations. I loved the open kitchen concept and think that on a busier night the space could be buzzing with more excitement and perhaps take a life of its own (like at Barbara Lynch’s B&G Oysters). What we experienced was more fitting for a brunch/lunch spot. Simple food with quality ingredients in a modern space. Don’t expect anything beyond that.

Ever been to a place that was just wrong for the occasion? Have you been to Sportello? Any other Barbara Lynch restaurant? Thoughts?

PS – Adam and I are going to New Orleans this coming weekend. Any not-to-be missed dining spots or any other suggestions for us?

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