Tag Archives: adventure

Coppa!

Coppa is one of those restaurants that I kept meaning to get to. Chef/Owner Ken Oringer is legendary on the Boston food scene, with restaurants as diverse and well-loved as Clio, La Verdad, Toro, and KO Prime to his name. The other Chef/Owner, Jaime Bissonette, has not only worked with Oringer at several of those restaurants, but he’s the sort of young, funky, tattooed chef who gets profiled all over the place. All signs pointed to Coppa being a great dining experience. So what took me so long to get there?

I’ll admit it, location was a huge factor. Coppa is tucked away on a little side street in the South End that just isn’t that convenient to my nightlife. I’m in the neighborhood once a week during the school year to volunteer, but the middle of a work day isn’t the best time to visit a restaurant that calls itself an enoteca – while it’s not literally a wine shop, there is a very serious Italian wine list. I was also concerned that this would be a splurge meal – something I have no trouble doing, but I needed an excuse for said splurge.

One finally came in the form of my third marathon, which I ran with two friends with similar attitudes toward good food and drink. We would celebrate our accomplishment with wine and meat!

Because that’s Coppa’s specialty – a marvelous selection of Italian salumi, cheeses, and meaty delights. This is not a restaurant that vegetarians would enjoy. Thankfully, I am no vegetarian. So, did it live up to my great expectations?

DID IT EVER.

We started with pretty much our only vegetable dish of the evening, little crostini topped with sunchokes and marscarpone cheese.
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(apologies for the blurry picture – it was quite dark in the restaurant. Eventually I caved and used my flash.) This little bar snack is seriously fantastic. If you’ve never had a sunchoke, imagine a cross between a chestnut and a mushroom – nutty but earthy at the same time.

Our other non-meat dish was the burrata, which is type of insanely buttery mozzarella cheese made right in Somerville, MA.
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If it had been acceptable to lick the plate, we would have.

Similarly warm feelings were had about these:
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These are pig’s tails, roasted in a wood-oven and glazed with mostarda. They are tiny nuggets of pure joy. If I could eat them every day, I would be extremely happy for the rest of my incredibly shortened life span.

Naturally, we couldn’t visit Coppa without getting a salume plate. Regrettably, I forgot the name of nearly everything on this platter the minute she put it down, but I DO know there’s some lardo on that piggy, because we asked for it, and it was amazing. Also, how adorable is that tray?

Adjusted Salume Plate

This was an entree special of an extremely decadent rib. Though just one, the meat was plentiful.

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Finally, we did try one of the wood-fired pizzas – bone marrow with beef heart pastrami and horseradish. If, like myself and the ladies I was dining with, the combination  of beef heart and bone marrow on your pizza tantalizes, GET THIS. It is outstanding, meaty and silky and cheesy and wonderful.

Untitled If, on the other hand, like the young couple on a date next to us you are in fact a pair of very confused vegetarians, DO NOT EVEN ASK what is on this pizza. You will be sorry you did.

The atmosphere in Coppa is jovial and close – the space is teeny tiny. Everyone seems friendly and the wait staff is lovely, but if you’re in Boston and want to go, I’d get (I did in fact get) reservations, because there’s really not the space to wait. Since they call themselves an enoteca, a note on the wine: I thought it was fabulous. I also really love Italian reds, so this seems like a no-brainer, but I felt like Coppa carries interesting grapes for a reasonable by the glass price. They don’t have a full liquor license, so the cocktails are all cordial-based (Boston has some weird liquor laws). That’s not really my scene so I didn’t try them – but if you have I’d like to hear about it!

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A Continued Journeyman

When last we left our intrepid heroines,their senses had been tantalized by two of their five-course Journeyman meal (with a little, delicious lardo interlude). Tune in now for Journeyman, Part II: The Entree Initiative.

Fish Course

Our next course was the fish (no shells!: bluefish atop salt cod, with sea beans, a muscadet foam, and more of that heavenly lardo. There are people in the world who don’t like bluefish, finding it too oily. I am not one of these people, perhaps because I’ve only ever eaten bluefish in nice restaurants, where they know what to do with this oiliness – basically use it to make the crispiest, most delicious fish skin of all time. The sea beans and cod added a pleasant saltiness to contrast with the sweet muscadet foam and the fatty lardo. I put a little heart next to the lardo in my notes, because I loved it so.

Next, the main course – lamb two ways:
Lamb 2 ways
The two ways the lamb came were braised in barley milk, served atop a little bed of bulgur wheat, and roasted, simply but perfectly. The accompaniments were blackened pistachio puree and autumn olive puree. (Our server helpfully explained that autumn olive is not really an olive, but sort of a berry. I helpfully explained that I was well aware of what an autumn olive is. I fear I have not totally mastered the gentle art of smiling and nodding.) There were also black trumpet mushrooms on the plate, which were pleasantly chewy, but unexciting. Unlike the rest of the dish, which was VERY exciting. The braised lamb was very tender and its little bed tasted, fascinatingly, of almonds. The roast lamb, while it sounds boring, was divine. Tender, cooked to perfection, everything a little lamb should be, and the purees just enhanced it. A lovely fall meal.

Prior to dessert coming, we were informed, a palate cleanser would be served, and after dessert there would be a surprise “thank you.” We asked if we could try the milk punch with dessert, since we’d not selected a dessert wine (it was actually what sounded like a very good vermouth) as part of our beverage pairing. Alas, we were told, the milk punch was nearly gone, but there would be enough for us to sample it. Huzzah!

Palate Cleanser - Greek yogurt ice cream and watermelon gelee
The palate cleanser was delightful, a greek yogurt ice cream atop a watermelon gelee. Watermelon is not the most aggressive flavor, which I suppose is appropriate when cleansing the palate, but it was sweet, which partnered nicely with the tart ice cream and a wee bite of chiffonaded mint.

The milk punch arrived:
Milk Punch!
The beverage fellow was the most enthusiastic I saw him all night when we asked about the process of making the punch (he was perfectly lovely the rest of the night, just a bit soft-spoken. This brought him out of his shell.) For those who don’t know, milk punch is made by combining liquor (traditionally brandy or rum), milk, and citrus. The citrus curdles the milk – you then strain off the solids and are left with a clear, but still creamy, liqueur, which can then be flavored how you like. This one was meant to taste like a root beer float, and the root beer taste was very clear. I smell a project coming.

Desserts

Our dessert proper, the “Three Apples,” came next. That’s a brioche filled with Scotch cream, a caramelized apple with Madeira creme anglaise, and an apple sorbet atop house-made graham cracker crumbs. I think I liked this last the best – it was intensely, purely apple. The others were pleasant, and I liked the smoky Scotch cream, but if I’d had my druthers I’d probably just as soon had another plate of lardo. In the battle between sweet and salty to win my heart, salty takes every round.

That said, our surprise was quite nice, and perhaps just more up my dessert-alley:
Surprise!
Housemade marshmallows, super-dark chocolate brownies, and the teeniest little creme brulees you ever saw! Isn’t it cute? The marshmallow tasted of lemon, and the brownies were barely sweet and intensely fudgy, which love. Since I am not a huge fan of custard, but a GIANT fan of burnt sugar, this was also just about the most perfect helping of creme brulee I can imagine.

All told, Journeyman did not disappoint. It’s definitely not an everyday sort of meal – it’s expensive, and the presentation is all about theater and lingering over your meal. But if you have something, or several somethings, to celebrate, I can’t think of a more intimate and lovely way to so!

Also, they’re working on building an attached bar, called Backbar, to open sometime soon. You better believe I’ll be checking it out!

Taza Tour

What better way to spend the day before Valentine’s Day then touring a chocolate factory? No, we didn’t see a chocolate river or a single Oompa-loompa. Nor did we see a single red-foil heart-shaped box. On the plus side, we could eat as much chocolate as we could manage, and I daresay it was better than most of the typical Valentine fare out there!

Taza Chocolate is one of only 18 bean-to-bar chocolate makers in the US and they happen to be located right in my backyard – Somerville, MA. Once upon a time, the area was a candy mecca – NECCO, Schrafts, and Brach all made there home here.  Once, the smell of melting sugar, roasting nuts, and thousands of pounds of chocolate perfumed the air.  (If you’re interested in learning more about the hey-day of candy making in Boston, I highly recommend Steve Almond’s book Candyfreak. It covers other old-timey candy as well, but Steve’s a local boy, too, and appropriate time is given to our glory days.) However, it’s been quite some time since those glory days, so it’s exciting to see Taza bringing it back and in such a sustainable and exciting way.

You see, bean-to-bar means that Taza makes their chocolate in a very different way than most chocolate makers (yes, redundant-sounding, but they are NOT chocolatiers – they make chocolate, not chocolate confections). Most chocolate makers buy chocolate mass – cacao beans that have been crushed into a paste – and make their chocolate from that. The problem Taza had with this method is that the steps to get TO chocolate mass, namely fermentation, roasting, and the actual crushing, have a lot to do with how the final product tastes. Overdo any of those steps and the product loses quite a bit of the flavors that make chocolate great. So Taza buys beans directly from a cooperative in the Dominican Republic (offering he farmers more money than if they purchased from a middle man!), and they do the whole process themselves.

The harvesting and fermentation part all takes place in the Dominican, but the tour starts with an example of what the cacao pod looks like:
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along with a pretty thorough description of the harvesting and fermentation process. Basically, chocolate is made from the seeds of the big old fruit above, but in order for them to taste right they need to cure by being heaped together and fermenting. You see, the seeds are covered in a sweet pulp, called baba (literally, spit or drool in Spanish). When this pulp is allowed to ferment on the beans, it creates acids that cause enzymatic changes in the beans – this creates the chocolate flavor we all know and love! Now the beans can be shipped to America, to be processed into tasty chocolate, and we could finally move out of the anteroom/hallway into which we were squeezed, and into a room where the magic happens!

Before we could move on to see Taza’s bean-roasting room, we had to don hair nets. Hilarity ensued:
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I was wearing a hat, which proved…challenging:
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C’est la guerre – the things I do to bring you all the inside scoop on the exciting world of chocolate!

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I know, I know, it looks like a feed store, but really, that is just chocolate waiting to happen!
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That’s a cacao bean, prior to roasting. It doesn’t look like much, and quite frankly, it’s not, yet. While much of the flavor comes from fermentation, the rest comes from the roasting. Here’s the giant roasting machine:
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Basically, this is a gigantic convection oven. Taza gives their beans a light roast – enough to caramelize the sugars in the beans, without creating bitter, burnt flavors. From here the beans are put into a winnowing machine:
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This machine shakes and sorts the beans, removing the husks and shells and generally breaking down into what are called “nibs” – the final step before being turned into what we know as chocolate. Taza’s winnowing machine holds the distinction of being brought into the factory by hand. Considering that it weighs close to a ton this is no mean feat!
We were invited to sample both unadorned and chocolate covered nibs:
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Plain nibs have all of the fruity tones of finished chocolate, but without added sugar they are what some might dub unpleasantly bitter.
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The chocolate covered are undeniably tastier, but have an unfortunate resemblance to rabbit pellets:
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Once the nibs are obtained, we’re finally ready to make some chocolate! To be fair, on the tour this was NOT the room we saw next, due to simple logistics. But I’d rather do it in proper order, because that’s how my brain works. SO! The nibs are taken to grinders, called molinos, to finally be made into the chocolate mass essential to making a bar of chocolate you could eat and reasonably enjoy (although secretly I quite like the bitter nibs).
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Inside of these machines are stone wheels that grind the nibs together with sugar into a paste.
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(this is a poured stone sample, but it gives you the gist.) Currently, only one of Taza’s founders has the ability to cut the stones properly so that they line up and grind the chocolate instead of creating friction and burning it. We got the sense that he would very much like to teach someone else to do this task, though to be fair that could just be our tour guide’s interpretation of things.

Once ground in the molino, the chocolate mass moves though pipes in the ceiling
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to either another set of stones, this time rollers:
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or to the giant holding tanks you see to the right of them. To keep the chocolate moving through the pipes, the room is kept at a balmy 90°+. Since the stone rollers can slip and damage the chocolate, a lucky Taza worker spends six hours a day baby sitting this process! It’s like working in a chocolate-scented sauna, I guess.

Next, the chocolate is tempered, a cooling process to create the snap and gloss of all good chocolate bars:
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Finally, it travels to another room, to be wrapped. Taza does this BY HAND, apparently employing a team of women known as “the ladies” who do this with astonishing speed using a hand-made contraption:

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(no, he’s not a lady, but he’s demonstrating the technique for us!)

And with that, Taza has chocolate ready to ship all over the world!
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The taste of Taza’s chocolate is remarkably complex, proving that the great amount of care and gentle handling they put into it pays off. It’s also a bit gritty, thanks to the stone grinding, but I personally find this extremely enjoyable. Since I tend to like the flavors like salt and pepper, which would have a bit of crunch anyway, it’s not a big deal, anyway.

The tour is immensely informative and filled with ample opportunities for free chocolate! If you happen to be in the Somerville area, I highly recommend it. If not, check out Taza’s site for a more complete version of their process, and for heaven’s sake, order some of their chocolate! The flavors they offer are complex and compelling, and you’re supporting a small business that works hard to be sustainable and responsible – a win-win, in my book.

Babka! Or, A Trip to Cafe Polonia

Actually, unlike my first post about Polish food, very little in this post is about babka, though it makes an appearance eventually. It’s just that, by the end of the night, babka became a bit of a slogan, a rallying cry, if you will, for our little band of food adventurers.

I’d been wanting to visit Cafe Polonia for quite some time – it’s the only Polish restaurant in Boston proper, or even in the immediate area (although they’ve added another location in Salem, MA, for our friends in Witch City to enjoy.) In addition, I’d been to the deli owned by the same folks across the street (to buy babka, in fact, in the days before we started making our own!) and had been impressed by the selection, particularly of the meats and sausages. The deciding factor to finally get me to South Boston, however, was the voice of the people – the members of the Adventures in Food Facebook group voted for it as their top dining destination. Never one to ignore the will of the crowd, I made a reservation and we were off!

When we arrived at the restaurant (after a brief detour at the deli, where we bought assorted goodies for later) the first thing that struck me was how homey it felt. It’s small, but it’s bright, clean, and warm, with blond wood tables and matching chairs that look incredibly sturdy, and decor that ran in the vein of copper pots and bright fabrics on the benches and walls. We’d originally come intending to start with some Polish beer, but Kasteel Rouge, a Belgian fruit beer, was being offered as a special, and how could we refuse? This beer is a brown ale steeped in cherries, and it shows. It’s quite red, and quite delicious as long as you’re cool with your beer tasting more like fruit than beer (which I am, when that’s what I’m in the mood for.) It was also served in branded glasses, which were rather fun:
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With our drinks came the bread basket, and the first nod to traditional Polish cuisine – in addition to butter, the bread came with rendered pork fat!
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Spread on the sourdough bread and studded with bits of roasted pork, this “pig butter” as Elise called it was incredibly tasty – rich and meaty while keeping the delicious fattiness that butter provides. I don’t think I could chow down on a whole basket, but it was a nice treat as an opener.
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While we pondered over the “traditional” portion of the menu (in a clear nod to American tastes, you can order some chicken fingers or a Caesar salad in addition to your golabki, which we were NOT interested in) we ordered a couple of appetizers for the table.
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These were the kielbasa twists, our less adventurous but still quite delicious appetizer. Basically they’re just little links of kielbasa cut into the amusing shapes you see there and served with brown mustard, but they were exceptional kielbasa, very smoky and salty without having the heaviness some kielbasa does. The little “twists” provided some textural contrast since they got quite crisp while the middles remained juicy.
We also ordered:
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This is kishka, or blood sausage, one of the surprise hits of the evening. I say surprise because while 5 of our crew of 6 are jaded, hard-core organ meat lovers, 1 of us is a little less bold with his food choices normally – but he loved the kishka! I’d never had blood sausage of any kind served without a casing before and it was a revelation – soft and tender, almost like a porridge. The caramelized onions on top and the delicate, crunchy pickles served with it were perfect accompaniments.

Finally, we settled on our entree choices, trying as much as possible to maximize our exploration of the menu. I went straight for the Polish Plate, a sampler platter of pierogies, bigos, kielbasa, and golabki with tomato sauce:
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The Goog joined me in this order, which meant we had pierogies for the whole table, luckily! I’d had most of these items before, but eating them homemade from folks who know what they’re doing is very different than grabbing some pierogies (the little dumplings!) at the fair. The bigos, a hunter’s stew that is the Polish national dish, was the one thing I’d never eaten before and it was outstanding. The name means “big mess” in Polish and it is indeed a hodge-podge of ingredients – cabbage, of course, stewed with meat and caraway seeds and assorted other goodies. It made a lovely bed for the kielbasa. Golabki, which is a meat and rice stuffed cabbage roll, is a dish my Nana used to make at home sometimes. Sadly, I hated it as a kid – the smell of cabbage cooking was vile, and the idea of all of my food being mixed together was unappealing. I wish I’d been more open-minded back then, because I really enjoy it now!

Elise got the golabki with the mushroom sauce, which was a take I’d never seen before. The sauce was delicious and did not skimp on the mushrooms!
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Gary, our more particular eater, ordered the potato pancakes with goulash and apple sauce, and Matt did the same but with sour cream in lieu of Gary’s favorite condiment. The pancakes were wonderfully crispy and surprisingly light.
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Finally, Valerie ordered one of the specials on the menu that evening:
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Those are pyzy, little glutinous potato balls stuffed with meat and served with pickles and beets on the side. While everything was delicious, this might have been my favorite dish – as I’ve mentioned, I’m a sucker for a dumpling.

Despite all of that, we couldn’t walk away without trying a few desserts. In the name of science, of course.
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Strawberry blintz!

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Apple crisp – this was warm and the apples were wonderfully tart.

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Chocolate babka – also warm and our inspiration for battle cry of the evening – this was Gary’s favorite dessert! The chocolate was excellent, with just the right amount of bitterness to keep from being cloying.

I also enjoyed a terrific cup of coffee (check out the cute little dessert forks, too!)
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All in all, this was a wonderful experience – enhanced, no doubt, by the terrific company!
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Guest Post: Hooray for Beignets! And Other Gastronomic Adventures in Downeast Maine

Today’s post is extra-special, because it’s not written by me! The fabulous words and images come from the witty and talented “Easy Bake.” If you’re not starving after this post – and eager for a trip to Maine – you’re a better person than I am. – TRM

I was trying to think of what would be a good blogger name for myself. I thought since I am guesting for The Red Menace, I could be The Brown Menace, since I have brown hair. But that sounds more like something you deal with in Mexico than a blogger. I think I’ll go by “Easy Bake”. It describes both my affinity for the childhood toy that cooks by light bulb, as well as baked goods. I’m sure there are a lot of other meanings that can be extracted from the moniker, but I’ll stick with those two.

So, I am here to report on my recent excursion to and throughout Maine with my boyfriend, let’s call him Lieutenant Funyuns. This trip was planned as a birthday present for me. I was told about it last September and had to hold out until May, which was very difficult as I am a fan of instant gratification. But hold out I did. Our trip took us from Cambridge to Acadia National Park, and back. Of course I was excited to see the scenery and explore the wilderness that Maine is famous for, but really, I was in it for the food.

We left the wilds of Cambridge on Thursday with the goal of stopping in Ogunquit on our way to Portland. We pulled into Ogunquit without a plan. This was unlike me. For those who know me, know I am a planner. As a child, I started planning my Halloween costume for the next year on November 1st. I always have a plan. This time I did not, and it worked out for the best. We strolled around Perkins Cove looking for a place to eat, almost enticed by the kitschy, touristy vibe of Barnacle Billy’s. But then we saw MC Perkins Cove with a small sign on the door that read: Home of 2010 James Beard Foundation Best Chefs of the Northeast: Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier. Um, yes please! If this place didn’t have spectacular food, it would be worth going to just for the view. But Lt. Funyuns and I both in the Mainey mood ordered fresh, local fish. He ordered fish and chips and I ordered fish tacos made from local Cod. Perfection in a taco! This is on the list to go back to, and visit their sister restaurants.

Fish Taco

Bellys full, Lt. Funyuns and I made our way to Portland where we were staying in the Old Port district – lovely. My first stop, after dropping our bags in the hotel room, was a quick walk to Two Fat Cats Bakery. A local told me that this was the place to go for cupcakes. I am a sucker for cupcakes. I know cupcakes are so “in” right now. But I am a cupcake purist. I don’t need bacon (no offense bacon) or any other exciting ingredients in my cupcakes. Give me some chocolate cake and some buttercreme frosting and I am like Augustus Gloop in a fudge river. Two Fat Cats delivered. It is a very small establishment across the street from a meat packing facility that apparently just burned down. Had a very pungent smell. But that didn’t matter. I walked in, there was one chocolate cupcake left, and I knew it was meant to be. My mother has this process when she eats Sanders Hot Fudge Sundaes – it’s a Detroit thing – she closes her eyes, and doesn’t let anyone speak to her, that was my experience with this cupcake.

Heaven

We did some other stuff around Portland that day, but really it was all just trying to waste time before our dinner at Fore Street Fore Street is the type of restaurant that I love. They take pride in their food, everything is local and fresh, and if it isn’t, it isn’t on the menu. They change their extremely extensive menu daily. I have to say, I thought Fore Street was good and not great. I think part of this was because I didn’t do a great job ordering. I started off with a salad with shiitake mushrooms – good, and my main was salmon. I always have a hard time with salmon in restaurants, I don’t know why, it just is never that good. That said, Lt. Funyuns really enjoyed his meal. He started with mussels, he actually made me eat two of them, my first two mussels ever, and his main was the duck. He was impressed, and Lt. Fun. is a tough boy to impress. The ambiance and service was grand, so overall, recommended. PLUS, our homeboy (waiter) Lance gave us the inside scoop on what to get for breakfast the next day, so to him I am eternally grateful.

Fore Street Dinner

Friday morning we started our drive up to Rockport, our home for the next two days. However, not before we stopped at the other recommended bakery in Portland, Standard Baking Co., which coincidentally is directly below Fore St. Holy Macanoley, this place was the shiz. As I mentioned, Lance recommended the fougasse. He said this word like I was supposed to know what he was talking about. I did not. The fougasse is a bread product that is shaped in a ladder. Why? I don’t know. I suppose I could wikipedia it, but this post is long enough already. (Editor’s note: click the link!) It comes in different flavors, Lt. Fun. got the Asiago cheese and I got Sesame and Poppy seed. If there is a patron saint of butter, I would like to show some sort of gratitude in whatever way you do to saints (I’m a Jew, we don’t do saints). This was amazingness in a way I can’t describe. Just get one.

Fougasse!

We did some non-food related activities in Rockport, and then the next day made our way up to Acadia and Bar Harbor. Unfortunately I do not have food adventures to report from there, (Jordan Pond House was closed) but it’s a good place to go to if you’ve been eating your way across the state and might perhaps need a hike to burn some calories.

Saturday night we had reservations at Primo, back near the hotel in Rockland. I learned about Primo from the New York Times, said it is one of the best restaurants in the state…I concur! First of all, it is beautiful. Primo is in an old house, that feels welcoming and warm. The staff feel like they have been your best friends since second grade, but just went to school for food instead of Mason-Rice Elementary School. The bread – delicious, but then…then an AMUSE BOUCHE! Of course I know what this is from all my years of studying Top Chef. I casually explain to Lt. Funyuns it is a precursor to the appetizer, literally to amuse the palate, a gift from the chef. I swear to god this one bite is the best thing I have tasted all trip. It is a potato croquette with short rib marmalade. It tastes like the lightest, fluffiest, cheesiest tater tot you can image. Then I got the farmer’s salad which comes with a poached egg and bacon – perfection. Lt. Funyun ordered olives stuffed with sausage breaded and fried for his starter. For his main he had the Pork Saltimboca, which came with garlic, mashed potatoes. This man is a mashed potato fanatic, and when he says “Judas Priest, these are damn good potatoes!”, I know they’ve done something right. I got a pasta dish with fried eggplant, fresh tomatoes, some sort of salty cured pork, and other sorts of deliciousness. I wasn’t going to order dessert, but my best friend, waitress dimples, convinced me (she was good). I ordered the Zeppoli, which is basically Italian Fried Dough balls covered in cinnamon sugar – commence drooling. I did this even knowing I was planning on getting the Beignets the next day, but I was unstoppable, and once I took my first bite, I didn’t regret it for a second.

Amuse Bouche

Saltimbocca

Zeppoli

Lt. Funyuns and I often like to go through our many experiences at fine eateries and compare them. We did that again on this night. Primo unexpectedly shot to #2 on our list of Best. Meals. Ever. Second only to Craft in New York, which can only be explained by divine intervention. If you are ever, anywhere near Rockland, Maine, go, go, a thousand times, go.

So that brings us to our final day in Maine. The day I saved my jeans that are one-size too big for, but on this day felt surprisingly snug. One of my goals had been to get an authentic Maine Whoopie Pie. On our drive back down Route 1 we stopped in at Moody’s diner and snagged a cream filled wonder. I am actually snacking on it now as I write this. You would think I would have had enough, but no, Easy Bake is insatiable. Our final stop in my quest to raise my cholesterol 50 points three days before my yearly physical (not kidding, the weigh-in should be fun), was at DuckFat in Portland. Two of my best pals, Fred and Baby Panda have been raving about this place for years, it was only fair to them that I check it out. We got a table outside, again across from the burned down meatpacking plant, and ordered up a large fries with truffle ketchup. Those people know how to do fries! They were perfectly cooked, some crispy, some soft, but none undercooked which really is my pet peeve when it comes to fries. And here comes my confession…I did not have the Beignets! After the cupcake, and the fougasse, and the Zeppolis and the Whoopie pie waiting for me in the car, I just couldn’t do it. But the way I look at it, now I have a reason to go back.

Whoopie!

Thank you so much to the Red Menace for suggesting I document this trip as a blog and graciously allowing me to post it on her fabulous Foodie blog!

Places mentioned:
MC Perkins Cove Restaurant, Ogunquit, ME – http://www.mcperkinscove.com/index.cfm
Two Fat Cats Bakery, Portland, ME – http://www.twofatcatsbakery.com/
Fore St. Restaurant, Portland, ME – http://www.forestreet.biz/
Standard Baking Co., Portland, ME – http://www.yelp.com/biz/standard-baking-co-the-portland
Primo, Rockland, ME – http://www.primorestaurant.com/
Moody’s Diner, Waldoboro, ME – http://www.moodysdiner.com/
Duckfat, Portland, ME – http://www.duckfat.com/

Fruit Queen

How often do you get try new fruit?

Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of fruits out there that I haven’t tried. The fabled durian and I are yet to have an encounter, and there’s always the ackee or breadfruit or a black sapote. Yet the very reason that I haven’t tried them is the one that makes new fruit exciting – they’re very hard to come by. Many fruits stop ripening once they’re plucked, and rot soon after they’re ripe, making them hard to transport over long distances. Throw in the danger of bringing exotic diseases and pests into the country, and it becomes difficult to get your hand on fruit that can’t be grown in your (relatively) immediate vicinity. (This is also why the fruits we do manage to haul over long distances – citrus, for example – are not nearly as good when you buy them where they don’t grow.) So, while I do believe in reducing your carbon footprint and eating locally where possible, I have to admit, I get pretty excited at the opportunity to experience new fruits. Enter Kam Man Food!

Directly after the Filipino food adventure in Quincy, my band of intrepid friends and I headed over to this impressive Korean grocery store and market. Both Elise and Valerie have shared some adventures in the home goods department – check them out. True to the spirit of this blog, however, my heart belonged to the grocery store, and in particular, to the large bag of hard purple fruit that we found there. Mangosteens!
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Mangosteens come from Southeast Asia and require ultra-tropical conditions in which to grow. This makes them a lousy crop for most of the United States. Throw in concerns around the Asian fruit fly and let’s just say that they’re not the easiest fruit to come by in these parts. I’ve had them freeze-dried from Trader Joe’s and enjoyed them, but here was my chance to try the real thing! So I bought them for a pretty penny and brought them home.

The dark purple outer skin isn’t edible – like the pomegranate, the edible part of the mangosteen is an aril – a fleshy coating to the seeds inside the fruit. Unlike a pomegranate the mangosteen arils are quite large and less numerous – they actually correspond to the petals on the little flower shape on the bottom of the fruit! There are always 4-8 of them.
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Should you ever have one of these in your possession, I’ll let you know they aren’t the easiest fruit I’ve ever tried to open up. That outer skin can be up to an inch thick and is rather tough, but I got through eventually and managed not to slice right through my prize! The fruit inside is white and soft, and looks like a bit like a goth orange.
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I plucked the segments out with a fork and dug in. The texture was very soft and pulpy, but not unpleasantly so. And the taste!

A mangosteen tastes like a peach and a banana had a baby, with a faint hint of citrus acidity on the finish. The fruit doesn’t have much of a fragrance, so the amount of flavor is a wonderful surprise. I found myself wishing they were much bigger! It’s said that the mangosteen is the Queen of Fruits, and it’s easy to see why. This treat is a bit too expensive to be enjoyed regularly (and sadly, all of the nutrition is in the inedible exocarp – some companies grind it into the juice to create an antioxidant-rich drink) but it was a wonderful coda to my Quincy adventure. Next up, for better or worse, I hope to experience the fruit king!

You Say Goodbye, I Say Halo-Halo!

Promptly after this Saturday’s 17 mile run I showered and hustled off for a date with some of my favorite adventurous foodies – Jess, Elise, Dan, and Valerie! All four of these folks have been on hand for several adventures, including chowing down on such delicacies as grasshopper and pig’s feet, so I knew I could count on them for the first true adventure of 2010 – Filipino food at JnJ Turo Turo!

The adventure begins with getting there, because JnJ is out in Quincy, the farthest reaches of the Red Line. Luckily, Valerie generously provided the use of her car, and after a bit of trouble with the GPS we were well under way.

JnJ is tiny – just two six-tops and three tall bar tables that are meant for two, but around which four people could squeeze, if they were determined. Luckily we were able to snag one of the six-tops fairly quickly. The restaurant is family-run and very informal; orders are made by going up to the register and finding out what’s available. The young man behind the counter was great – he asked if we’d ever had Filipino food before, then helpfully told us what was in every dish without trying to discourage us if it had something in it that was not to traditional American tastes. We ordered nearly everything on the menu between the five of us, deciding to eat family style.

Before I go into what we had, a few notes on the cuisine of the Philippines. As the restaurant itself says, Filipino food is truly fusion – the influences range from its own Malayo-Polynesian origins to Spanish, Chinese, Thai, and American. What’s amazing is how well everything works together – unlike many fusion cuisines where the parts still feel disparate (ooh, the coconut milk is Thai, the spices are Spanish) everything here melded into a unique cuisine.

Everything came largely at the same time, so here’s the breakdown by what’s roughly appetizer-like, what seemed to be an entree, and our final and delicious dessert. Warning: large amounts of pork product ahead!
First up are the barbecue pork sticks. These were what satay wishes it could be – sweet, a little smoky, and amazingly tender:
BBQ Pork Sticks

The liempo, or grilled pork belly, was also barbecued, but not as smoky. I could have happily eaten this little bits of fatty goodness all day long.
Liempo - Grilled Pork Belly

In another take on pork belly, the lechong kawali is fried and served with banana ketchup. This is like the plumpest, meatiest pork rind you’ve had in your life, and the sweet ketchup only makes it better.
Lechong Kawali - Fried Pork Belly

The Lumpiang Shanghai is similar to the spring rolls it’s based off of – thin dough wrapped around meat and vegetables. The main difference was in the thickness of the meat – it was almost as if it were filled with pork meatballs – and the chili dipping sauce they came with.
Lumpiang Shanghai

For main dishes, we were all excited to try the Sisig, a mixture of finely diced pork, pig ears, and liver, seasoned with hot pepper, ginger, and lemon and topped with something amazingly crispy that I could only guess was chopped peanuts. The textural contrasts were fun – soft liver, chewier ear and tender pork bound together with the slight sourness of the lemon.
Sisig

We did order the pinakbet, a lovely vegetable stew filled with okra, eggplant, squash, and string beans, so do not be concerned that this was an all-meat meal. Alas, I somehow neglected to take a picture of it. Be assured that the vegetables were cooked to perfection.

That said, we ate more meat still! The Bicol Express was another pork dish, a stew of coconut milk, shrimp paste, and green beans. The pork was extremely tender and the combination of coconut and the fishiness of the shrimp paste was unlike anything I’d ever had before – I’m so used to Thai coconut curries that the shrimp was pleasantly surprising.
Bicol Express

The shrimp paste came into play again in the kare kare, a stew of beef (ha, NOT pork!), beef tripe, and bok choy in an incredibly thick peanut sauce, with the shrimp paste on the side to stir in as you please. While I’m normally not a fan of tripe – I find it slightly chewy and pointless – in the peanut sauce it was just exceptionally tender, a good counterpoint to the beef. To be honest, though, I think you could have coated my shoe with that peanut sauce and I would have told you it was amazing.
Kare Kare

My favorite entree of the evening, however, was the item I came to Quincy specifically to try – the dinuguan. This another stew, filled with bits of pork – traditionally snout, ears, and other entrails, served in a savory sauce of garlic, chili, vinegar and blood. I know that the more squeamish of you are probably a bit skeptical of my enjoyment, but seriously, this stuff is amazing. The meat is really secondary to that sauce – salty and garlicky, with the vinegar providing enough acid to cut through the richness of the blood. The big bowl of steamed rice they provided us was a perfect bed for it.
Dinuguan

After all of that, you’d think we’d be finished, but dessert was calling our names. Specifically, we were determined to try the halo-halo, a mixture (halo means mix in Tagalog) of crushed ice, milk, sweet beans and fruit. I’d had it once before, but JnJ adds a secret ingredient that blows the other kinds I’d had out of the water – purple taro ice cream.
Halo Halo
In addition to how visually stunning that purple is, the ice cream oddly reduces the sweetness a bit – the other ingredients have a syrupy quality that can be overwhelming, and the creaminess of the ice cream tones it down appealingly.

All in all this was a tremendous experience – the family who runs the restaurant was incredibly friendly and helpful, and the prices are very reasonable. It’s well worth the trip out to the ends of the earth – a good thing, as it’s the only Filipino restaurant in the Boston area! After we all went on an Asian market adventure, but that’s a story for another time. In the meantime, be sure to check out Elise’s blog for her take on our trip!