Sunday, October 8, 2017

Urban Hearth in Cambridge

Gail and I went for a celebratory dinner this weekend at Urban Hearth on Mass. Ave. in Cambridge. What a delight. They do a supper club on Thursday, Friday and Saturday each week. That's their way of turning the traditional sit down meal into something closer to a visit to the chef's home.

It's a little more traditional than described on the web site. We were seated right away at a private table. I wonder if the communal dining concept was difficult to implement with each party arriving at a different time.

After greeting us, our host went off to create a welcome cocktail for us. She brought back a Cava and rosewater cocktail with dried rose petals. It was lovely and elegant. What followed was dish after dish of wonderful flavors and textures, punctuated by pleasant descriptive interludes by the team of four in this intimate, storefront setting. The team included our host, the chef-owner Erin Miller, the sous-chef, and a helper/dishwasher.

The menu is prix fixe with either three or five courses. For the two of us, the five course menu let us have one of everything, and gave us an opportunity to honestly say, "We'll 'ave the lot." Our host got it.


I added the wine pairing, which was equally delightful. The owner seems to search out special and small batch wine selections. Each was nicely paired with our dishes. Since we were sharing each dish, we made the per-course pairing more difficult, but we watched the host and owner consulting over each course to find a match that worked with each pair of dishes on the table at each course. I was never disappointed, and particularly enjoyed the white vermouth pairing with dessert. That would have never occurred to me, and it was excellent.

Our first course was the duck and the halibut. The halibut was clearly not Gail's thing with both raw-ish fish and roe, but it was outstanding for me. It set a tone that we would be enjoying not just good flavors, but excellent textures with each tiny egg bursting with light saltiness. The duck was also quite tasty and topped with a treat of small cracklins of duck skin.





Next was the delicata squash and the stewed eggplant. The squash was excellent and also included perfect greens and dabs of goat cheese, cranberry, and a humous-like mixture, which went best when mixed together. The eggplant dish had dollops of parsley crema, but really starred the katailfi egg. There is a certain mastery in getting the egg cooked so perfectly while not burning the coating and delivering it to the table still perfect. Again, the texture contrasts enhanced the joy.



Between the courses, the sous-chef brought over some roasted peppers. He warned us that they were usually mild, but once in a while one would have a little heat. We didn't notice any heat. Look how perfectly seared they were.






The next course was beautiful bass and shrimp dish coupled with an equally beautiful ramen dish. Each was perfectly cooked to bring out different tastes and textures with each bite. We were starting to get full at this point, and some of the ramen came home with us for later.


The final savory course included "the best vegan dish we have ever had" and a wonderful pork and Brussel sprouts dish. The peanut butter-like smear was cashew and miso butter, and it was amazing. It  was specked by a crispy quinoa that played up the flavor and texture theme more than anything that preceded it. It was simply amazing. It made it hard to appreciate the wonderful pork sitting next to it. Of course, roasted sprouts are always delicious, but Brussel sprouts coleslaw was a surprising and delicious addition.


Before dessert, the chef brought over a small snack plate with a young manchego cheese, roasted pecans and some unusual grapes and offered us some coffee. Gail thought even the decaf coffee was remarkably good. The standouts with dessert were the fresh figs and the apple mille feuille, which tasted like the yummy goo along the edges of an apple pie.



Overall, this was an excellent meal in a lovely place, prepared and served by people who made us feel very welcome and cared for. We will be back.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Amazing Cambodian Food at Elephant Walk in Boston's South End

My wife and I have been working on a project with our niece to have a meal from each country alphabetically. You can check out our progress on Instagram with the hashtag #a2zdinners. We usually cook the meals ourselves. Cambodian meals are characterized by having a variety of contrasting textures, flavors and temperatures. We decided that if we wanted the authentic experience we would do better to eat out for a change,so we went to lunch at Elephant Walk in Boston's South End. It was a highlight of the project so far, which is saying a lot, since we have made some outstanding meals.

Our niece is gluten free. You would think that would make the project difficult. For most countries it hasn't been a burden at all. In most countries their starch is based on rice, not wheat. This is also true for Cambodia. Elephant Walk was notably careful to label the menu with the items that were gluten free or could be made gluten free. There was good range of choice with more choices on the dinner menu.

The staff was very friendly. If you are a beer fan, they have an outstanding beer menu. We were surprised to see that there was only one other group in the whole place. We can't see why this place wouldn't be packed.

We started out with an appetizer called Nataing. It was ground pork simmered in a thin sauce of coconut milk, garlic, peanuts and probably fish sauce. The gluten free version was served with rice cakes for dipping. The flavor pallet was like a savory Thai iced tea.

There were three soups on the menu that all looked good, so we ordered one of each. Each was excellent, and we all preferred one of the three. There was B'baw Mouan, listed as "the essential Cambodian rice soup." It had a thick rice base, like a potato soup and had chicken, fried garlic, and lime. It also came with cilantro, so if you don't like that, ask them to leave it off. The second soup was Somlah Machou with big shrimp and tomato slices. It was like a Thai Tom Yum soup, but tangier. It was delicious, but even better with a dollop of the red hot sauce our waiter recommended. Finally was the Soupe Phnom-Penh "Kuy Tieu." Our waiter called it the healthiest of soups. It had a slice of pork cutlet, rice noodles and bean sprouts.

 

That might have been enough for lunch, but we had came for variety, so we got two entrees: A chicken dish with a lemon curry sauce called Poulet À La Citronnelle, and a beef dish called Loc Lac. The chicken was served with sautéed vegetables and the beef with a bed of greens. Both were amazing with meat that was melt-in-your-mouth tender. It's hard to imagine better dishes, but our waiter said the non-gluten free version of the Loc Lac was even better.



Since everything was so good, we splurged on dessert. We got a traditional coconut custard and a flourless chocolate cake. Both were rich and tasty. The chocolate tasted like fudge and we tore through it. The custard was notably not overpowered by coconut flavor like we prefer and also had the right silky texture that is so hard to get in restaurant custard.

Overall, Elephant Walk gets five stars from us for both the food and the friendly attentiveness they showed to our gluten free needs. It is a place that deserves to be busier.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Cod Liver with and Open Mind

I wasn't so sure I wanted to try this. A colleague from Russia, who knows I am an adventurous eater, gave it to me. Cod liver oil has a reputation as the medicine a mean parent gives to their kids because its "good for them." It was difficult to try this with an open mind.

I steeled myself as I opened the can. I anticipated a strong iron flavor of calf's liver mingled with the over-ripe flavor of Thai fish oil. Instead I was delighted with a delicate tuna fish flavor with the silky texture of a perfectly seared foie gras.

Experiences like this are why I am an adventurous eater. This is simply delicious. If you get a chance, and can get over your fear, I highly recommend trying this.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Discovered Pig Rock Sausages

We went to Wilson Farm today where Art Welch, the owner of Pig Rock Sausages was grilling up samples with help from his son. We liked them so much we took home three packages; chicken & maple, chicken & apple, and chicken & spinach. Pig Rock does have pork sausages with a bratwurst, chorizo and both hot and sweet Italian sausage, strange that I just tasted the chicken.

The chicken was not the typically dry, healthy tasting sausages we are used to. They had the same richness and naughty flavor of any good pork sausage. My favorite was the chicken & spinach, which tasted like you might hope a mixture of good sausage and creamed spinach would taste. Yum.

Pig Rock Sausages are made in Boston, and it's always nice to find a new local product to support. These are going to taste delicious from our grill.