January 28th, 2009

Estragon, South End

January is not yet done and I've already hit two of the restaurants I wanted to try this year. R and I had a great dinner at Estragon with our ever intrepid friends, Mj and Brian. It's a good thing they are adventurous eaters as some of the tapas we had would scare others.


The highlights:


Garbanzos fritos– they were fried and dusted with paprika. You would bite through the thin, crispy shell and there would be smooth, creamy, chickpea goodness. It was original and surprising. I love to be surprised by my food.


Patatas – sounds better than French fries, doesn't it? But that what these were: handcut, perfectly fried and seasoned and served with a garlic lemon aioli.


Fried calamari – served with the same delicious aioli as the fries. The calamari was tender and with a light crispy batter. My only complaint is that there were no tentacles.


Beef tongue on toast – I think this one was Mj's favorite. It was quite tasty, tender and flavorful.




Roasted eggplant with chorizo – this dish was universally liked on all the reviews and Chow.com postings, but I was letdown by the soggy texture and the oily flavor.

Cod Cheeks with pil pil – pil pil is a sauce that is an emulsion made with olive oil and the fish. I liked the cod cheeks themselves, but the sauce was not to my liking.


R and Brian really liked both the pork belly and the foie gras tapas, but I think Mj and I were underwhelmed. I did like the beluga lentils the pork belly came atop.


We had the cheese plate before dessert. It was a nice assortment with a blue, a sheep's milk and two cow's milk.


For desserts, we ordered a taza de chocolate, which was essentially a dark chocolate pot de creme and the pumpkin flan. Both were rich, thick and creamy with great flavor. Someone in that kitchen has mastered the art of custards. Ditto for whoever is on the fry station.


Service was attentive; there was only one other table when we arrived at 6:30pm on a friday night, but the place was packed by the time we left at 8:30pm. The bread is a small baguette that is great for mopping up sauces or for the great taragon inflused olive oil they give you (Estragon is spanish for taragon). Parking was super easy – lots of on street parking in the area.


Next time someone is trying to drag you to tried old Dali for some tapas, maybe you can convince them to go to Estragon instead.



Sichuan Garden II, Woburn

I was stuck in Woburn for jury duty last week, so I got to have lunch with Steve, who works nearby. I was skeptical when he suggested Sichuan Garden, but it was close by and Chinese food is usually speedy. If you know Woburn at all, you have seen this restaurant. It is in a large three story yellow house, visible from the route 38 rotary. The building is known as Baldwin Mansion and it was built in 1661. It was been on the National registrar of historic places since 1971. What a weird place to have a Chinese restaurant. It's sad really, because you still see some of the beautiful detailing and can imagine that it might have been quite nice in it's heyday. But now the building is in such disrepair; there is scotch tape holding up the falling, flaking plaster above patrons as they eat their sweet and sour chicken.


Anyways, on to what's really important, the food. The lunch menu was filled with the usual suspects (General Gao's, beef and broccoli, etc. etc.) and all meals came with the ubiquitous choice of soup (hot and sour or egg drop) appetizer (egg roll or chicken wings) and rice (fried or white). I went with General Gao's and I think Steve had the chicken with mushroom and pea pods.


The food was what you would expect for an American Chinese restaurant in Woburn. The soup was beyond gross, but fake egg drop soup always is. I don't know why I bother with it. My chicken was fine, fried well and coated with a sauce that wasn't too sickly sweet. Steve finished his chicken; he said it was fine. The one notable thing was the chicken wings. Instead of a normal dusting of flour, at Sichuan Garden, they batter them in the same batter as the chicken fingers, resulting in a lighter, airy crust. I don't know if I really liked it, but at least it was something unusual.


Sichuan Garden: perfectly adequate if you are stuck in Woburn on jury duty, otherwise, keep going.



Chinese New Year

New Year is a great holiday for us. In many ways it's like Thanksgiving, an excuse to gather with friends and family and overeat. My mother is a 5 foot tall ball of energy. I think I once nicknamed her “the hurricane.” I get my love of cooking, entertaining and bossing people around from her. My parents are always amused by R and his willingness to eat things that they don't believe non-Asians will like. He knows two Chinese phases: “ho ho bao” - very very full and “bao do si” - full to death. He uses them a lot.


Here's what was on the table:


Roasted Duck – she prepared it herself and it took 30 minutes to explain the 3 day process.

Chow fun – my favorite rice noodles

Choy sum – veggies sautéed with garlic

Stew pig's feet and taro – I love pig's feet

Braised bamboo shoots and pig intestines – I love pig intestines, too

Bamboo fungus with shrimp balls – Bamboo fungus is hard to describe; you just have to try it to understand it.

Fried tofu fritters - so good.

Fish with more vegetables

Bok Choy soup

White rice


All of the food has some sort of symbolism that brings luck, prosperity, health or fertility. Chinese people can get a little superstitious sometimes. Hopefully, we ate enough to bring us a healthy happy year of the Ox.