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Il Casale, Lexington

Il Casale in Belmont is one of my favorite Italian restaurants in Boston, so I was excited to try the new outpost in Lexington which focuses more on the "Neapolitan street food, baked pasta and authentic seafood dishes that are prevalent in the Campania region"

Steve's college friend Chris and his wife Tracy were visiting for the day. Tracy generously agreed to take our engagement photos, so we spent the afternoon snapping shots around MIT and Boston. Afterwards, we enjoyed a nice meal at Il Casale. The Belmont location is situated in an old firehouse, with brick walls and lanterns for ambiance; the Lexington site has less original character – but does boost an open kitchen. We also read that a childhood friend of Steve's was the head chef, but it turns out that he was only consulting during the opening.

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We started with fried calamari ($12), mussels ($12) and bruschetta ($5). The calamari was excellent, as it always is at Il Casale – lightly fried, crisp, tender and flavorful. I expected the mussels to come in the shell, but this "cozze al marsala" preparation was shelled and sautéed with cured lemon, pancetta, cured tomatoes. I liked the flavors and it was less messy to eat, but I missed the trough of mussels. The grilled bread was a nice accompaniment. The bruschetta was topped with crushed cherry tomatoes, garlic and oregano; it reminded me of the pan con tomato I enjoyed at Jaleo in Vegas.

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Steve and I shared the gnochetti alla Sorrentina (little potato dumplings, tomato, basil, smoked scamorza, $16) and the slow roasted pork shoulder ("maiale agli agrumi," citrus, celery root, $25). The gnochetti was inconsistent in size and therefore, in texture as well. Scamorza is an Italian cow's milk cheese, similar to mozzarella. The tomato sauce was simple and bright.

The pork shoulder was excellent - meltingly tender, no knife required. The celery root puree was creamy and smooth and the orange supremes added a nice acidic note. It was my favorite dish of the night.

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Tracy got the gnochetti alla Sorrentina for her entrée and Chris got the eggplant and swordfish special. They both seemed to enjoy their meals.

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For dessert, we shared the torta al cioccolato (chocolate mousse cake, $10) and the bocconcini di San Giuseppe (cream filled fritters, amarena cherries $10). The cake was good, but the fritters were amazing. They were fabulous little bites of fried dough that were filled with a luscious pastry cream. Yum.

Our service was good, and parking is easy. I think that I would probably pick the Belmont location over Lexington for the ambiance reason alone.

http://ilcasalelexington.com/

Crave Mad for Chicken, Boston

I don't understand the name, so don't ask me to explain it to you. Crave is a part of a small chain of restaurants originating from New York. The website states they use "fresh, never frozen and all natural chicken," for their Korean fried chicken.

I remember the first time I tried Korean fried chicken (KFC) in 2009. It was glorious - (http://gltsoi.livejournal.com/73257.html) I waxed on and on about how delicious it was. 5 years later, I am still chasing that chicken from my first KFC encounter, as none have lived up to the memory.

Leslie and I went to the BCAE's opening of their The Mood of Food photo exhibit - 50 lovely shoots, celebrating food in all its glory ( http://education.bcae.org/themoodoffood.html ). There is one shoot of grilled sardines that made me particularly hungry. Afterwards, we took a short walk to Chinatown to try Crave Mad for Chicken. Although it was 8pm on Friday night, there was no wait and we were seated immediately. The space is modern and sleek, and it was filled with mostly young Asians at tables topped with wings and scorpion bowls. The music was a tad too loud and too clubby for my (old) tastes.

We shared the sushi pancake ($11) to start. It was pretty to look at. The crispy rice base was a little too thick, but added a nice contrast to the salmon, tuna, and octopus on top. It was topped with spicy mayo and another sweet brown sauce. I thought the fish got lost in the myriad of ingredients and Leslie thought it was too sweet. That said, we both liked it enough to finish it.

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On to the chicken: the menu offers wings, drumsticks, boneless or some combination thereof. They offer 5 sauces (mad - soy garlic, angry - spicy garlic, furious - extra spicy garlic, BBQ, Buffalo) and will do a half and half. We got a medium combo (10 wings + 4 drumsticks, $19) with half mad and half angry. They warn you that the chicken can take up to 30 minutes, which was about how long ours took. The chicken was good, but not transcendent like that first time. I thought the wings were obscenely small compared to the drumsticks, but the chicken was tender and the skin crispy. The mad glaze was very garlicky and too sweet. I had a bite of Leslie's angry wings and regretted it, but I'm a spice wuss. Thank goodness for the pickled daikon to temper the heat; the side of corn slaw was forgettable.

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The service was fine until the end and our waiter disappeared; we had to flag down another one for the bill. The prices are reasonable, so if you are in the area and are craving chicken, it is a decent option.

http://www.cravemadforchicken.com/

Hei La Moon, Boston

The wedding planning is in full swing – we have booked the Church and have decided to host a traditional Chinese wedding banquet for the reception. The options for a large banquet are few: China Pearl, Emperor’s Garden and Hei La Moon. Emperor’s Garden still looks like a dilapidated old theater that smells of urine, so that was out. I have been to China Pearl dozens of times through the years, but I’ve never tried Hei La Moon, despite all the great reviews. Steve and I stopped by for dinner to check it out. I was a little concerned that the restaurant was completely empty, even if it was 8:30pm on a Monday evening.

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We started with Steve’s favorite, scallion pancakes. He informed me that if the pancakes weren’t good, we couldn’t have our wedding there. Luckily, they passed the test. They were light and crispy, although I thought it could have used more scallions.

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Steve had the roast pork with vegetables and I was delighted to find out that they offer dim sum to order in the evening, so I got steamed BBQ pork buns, spareribs, har gau and shumai.


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The shrimp in the har gau was plump and tasty, but the wrapper was thicker than I like. The spareribs and buns were perfunctory, but good. The shumai was the best out of the brunch.

hei la moon

After dinner, we wandered to the downstairs space where our banquet would be. It is spacious enough to fit 300 people and a good sized dance floor. I envisioned our guests enjoying the 10-course meal and then dancing it off. I can’t wait.
Lyndell’s, Somerville

Lyndell’s is an old school bakery that has been around since 1887. They are famous for their half moon cookies, which are not actually cookies, but small rounds of golden cake, frosted with ½ chocolate frosting and ½ vanilla frosting.

Amy and I went for a cake tasting and it was out of control – they brought out 14 different confections to try:

The first tray had 3 cupcakes, all golden cake with 3 different frosting variants: strawberry, chocolate and vanilla, an éclair and a Bismarck (a cream and strawberry-filled pastry).

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The cake was tender and moist – very tasty, but the frostings were all too sweet. The second (enormous tray) came with (from the top left):

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Chocolate half moon with raspberry filling
Golden half moon with raspberry filling
Chocolate cupcake with vanilla frosting
Red velvet cupcake with cream cheese frosting
Marble wedding cake with buttercream frosting
White wedding cake with buttercream frosting
Golden cupcake with orange-pineapple frosting
Carrot cupcake with cream cheese frosting
Chocolate cupcake with chocolate frosting

After trying all of the cakes, I determined that the golden cake was the best, the chocolate was dry and the chocolate frosting was better than the vanilla which was too sweet.

The prices were surprisingly high: the cake is $4 per person, and the cupcakes are $2.50 a piece. They were super nice at Lyndell’s and when we finished I got handed a cake box with a fresh tray of all the samples we just tried. It was insanely generous.

http://lyndells.com/

Party Favors, Brookline

Perhaps, I have been spoiled by all the different tastings, but when I was served two merger slices of cake: red velvet with mocha filling and almond cake with chocolate mousse, I was shocked. The cake was good, but the mocha filling was so strong, it was bitter. The almond cake was too floral – almost like eating almond perfume.

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Their cupcakes come in three sizes: petite ($1.5), regular ($2.5) & jumbo (3.5). I got 6 petite cupcakes to try at home: key lime, peanut butter, salted caramel, lemon, oreo and carrot. I wasn’t impressed by any of them.

http://www.partyfavorsbrookline.com/
School may have started, but it is still technically summer till 9/21! I rented a lovely house in Sagamore Beach and we spent the weekend, cooking, eating, drinking and playing games. I arrived first on Friday and had a few hours to myself before everyone got there. Since nothing says summer more than fried clams, I went in search of a platter.

The Seafood Shanty is just that, a building on the side of the road with picnic tables to enjoy your food at and a view of the canal.

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I got the fried clam (with bellies) plate ($20). It came with a heap of indifferent fries, and cloyingly sweet coleslaw. But the clams were crispy, plump and briny and that's all the matters.

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http://www.theseafoodshanty.net/

I grilled steak tips and sausages (from MacKinnon's) the first night, but rain was forecasted for the evening, so we opted for pizza on Saturday. We picked Mr. G's simply because of proximity and delivery. They don't even have a website, but their Facebook page has pictures of their take out menu. We ordered a large pepperoni and mushroom ($13) and a white pizza (garlic, basil, oregano, $15)

The pizzas came quickly and were surprisingly good – far better than I expected random pizza to be. The crust was tender and flavorful and the mushrooms were fresh. I thought the white pizza was missing something (like tomato sauce and sausage/eggplant), but it was still good. Sorry, I didn't get a picture of the pizzas; we pounced on it and by the time I remembered, it was too late. But here we are enjoying it, while playing Settlers of Catan.

Catan

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Mr-Gs-Pizza/314619121898370

Beach
Sagamore Beach

Babycakes, Quincy

The cake tasting continues – this week's contender was Babycakes in Quincy, a small bakeshop specializing in "hand-made with only the best ingredients" cupcakes. I've been wrestling with the cupcake vs. traditional wedding cake decision and Babycakes is making a strong case.

I bought 7 of their cupcakes for our weekend on the Cape. The middle is lemon ricotta and then starting at the top, going clockwise: espresso, their signature "babycake", turtle, Oreo, salted caramel and Bailey's Irish cream.

Babycakes

I had help in testing; Steve, Christine and Forest shared in the bounty and gave their opinions.
Lemon ricotta – the weakest one. I would have thought the ricotta would have added moisture, but this was dry and not enough tart lemon flavor.

Espresso (custom)– The owner, Kerri made this (and two others) at my request. It was a dark chocolate cupcake with espresso butter cream. I thought it was rich and delicious, but a little plain.

Their signature "babycake" is based on the classic Hostess cupcake. It is dark chocolate and cream-filled. I liked it a lot, but the fact they will write a custom message on top, makes it a winner. "G + Steve" cupcakes, anyone?

Turtle – It was a lighter chocolate (almost brownie like) topped with walnuts and caramel. Steve, Christine and Forest all loved it and declared it to be the best, but I thought it was good, but not amazing.

Oreo – there was not enough Oreo flavor.

Salted caramel (custom)– The dark chocolate cake was filled with a delicious caramel and the ganache top was sprinkled with salt. The ganache floret was a little too dense, but the flavors were awesome.

Bailey's Irish cream (custom) – This was one of my favorites: Tender yellow cake with a flavorful, light Irish cream frosting.

4 more places to go!

http://babycakesshop.net/
It was late last night when I decided to make a half batch of classic Nestle tollhouse chocolate chip cookies for the weekend. Since it was after 11pm, I decided to mix the dough together, let it rest and bake them off in the morning. Jacques Torres states that letting the cookies sit overnight makes a better cookie, but I seldom plan ahead enough to do it.

This morning, I scooped cookie balls out and baked them for 9 minutes and they came out flat as a board. I don’t have a problem with thin and crispy cookies, but I was puzzled why the rest overnight would do that to them. Something seemed off – did I forget the leavening baking soda? What the temperature of the butter too warm? I thought back to the night before and realized although I meant to half everything, I forgot to divide the sugar. So if you have ever wondered what twice-the-sugar cookies look like, here you go:

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Papagayo, Somerville

Assembly Sq., er, I mean Assembly Row has come a long way from the days of the Loews movie theater and Good Times. It's all shiny and new, with upscale stores and restaurants opening every day. My friend Peggi and I had dinner at Papagayo, the upscale Mexican restaurant that opened just 4 months ago.
I was inclined to hate it from the moment I walked in. The space is one large room, including an open kitchen and there are over 15 large flat screen TVs mounted all around the restaurant. I had a view of 9 TVs from where I was sitting. The restaurant has a too trendy, inauthentic vibe, like the Mexican version of P.F. Chang's.

The reviews have mostly dinged the restaurant for poor, inattentive service. It seems like they have read the reviews and are now going overboard the other way – our waiter came over 4 times to ask us if we were ready to order. I finally I had to tell him that I would flag him down when we were ready.
Despite all that, I ended up enjoying our meal.

queso

We started with the Queso Fundido (pan seared chorizo, Oaxaca, Asadero and Chihuahua Cheeses, $8.45). It was a generous dish of chorizo covered in a blanket of melted cheese. It came with soft flour tortillas, but we opted to eat it with the complimentary chips. The dish was a little salty, but satisfying.

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Next, we shared the fajitas and were able to get half beef and half chicken ($13.5). It was a large platter of re-fried beans, Mexican rice, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, sour cream and sautéed onions. I was surprised and pleased that the meats were not overcooked and everything was well seasoned.

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The shrimp tacos ($15 for 3) were pretty to look at, topped with pickled cabbage, verde sauce and avocado. The breading on the shrimp was heavy, rendering the shrimp indistinguishable from any other protein, but it was fried well and added nice crunch to the soft taco. I was surprised that they were flour tortillas, not corn.

plantanos

All the sides are reasonably priced at $3. We had the fried plantains were inconsistent – some were delicious, and some were too thick and undercooked.
taquitos

The banana taquitos ($7) was a generous portion of banana wrapped in a thin tortilla and deep fried. It was tasty, but filling. We wanted more ice cream and less taquito.

I think Papagayo achieves its aim; it is a comfortable, upscale Mexican restaurant that has margaritas the size of your head. The food is better than you would expect and they are working on the service. The price points are higher than your standard hole in the wall taqueria, but they need to pay for all the electricity for the TVs.

http://www.papagayoboston.com/
I had some buttermilk left over from the sage and parsley biscuits, so I decided to toss together some buttermilk scones. I used dried cranberries instead of currants and I added in some orange zest, as I really like that flavor combination. These were super easy to make (if you have a food processor) and tender and delicious.

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Buttermilk scone recipeCollapse )
I joined a cookbook book club through Meetup.com. We picked a cookbook (Flour, by Joanne Chang) and everyone picked a recipe to make. It’s a great idea and I had a great time meeting people and sampling recipes. Most of what was there was sweet (plum clafouti, lemon poppy seed bread, oat and cherry muffins) so I went with a savory recipe, and really, I will take any excuse to make a biscuit.

This recipe is easy to make and I liked the parsley butter that goes on top. The sage makes it a perfect Thanksgiving recipe.

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Biscuit recipeCollapse )

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