A Love For All Thaime

*For the record, I am alive (mostly), I was just in a food/chocolate coma for most of the weekend as my brother was home from school & it was my mom’s birthday…you know how all that goes. As for the chocolate coma…to be blogged about. Stay tuned. You really want to know more about that.*

I would also like to apologize for the intense cheesiness of this post’s title. It took me a long time to come up with. And it’s really quite mild in comparison to my other brainstorms.

Now back to your regularly scheduled programming…

I don’t really remember when or where my love for Thai food began. I wish I could pay my respects to a certain restaurant or chef, but alas, I was not always the food-trend-stalking foodist that I am today. I know, perish the thought. I have, however, always loved 2 particular activities that led me to my first taste of Thai: trying new foods, and eating at restaurants.

No, I have no idea when or where that first hot plate piled high with pad thai landed in front of me, with those crisp, crunchy sprouts, luscious bits of egg and that uniquely sweet-and-savory peanut sauce just begging to be eaten and enjoyed. But I do remember it, the burst of new and exotic flavor combinations and textures…man, eating is fun.

While like most children, I ate pad thai pretty exclusively at any Thai restaurant we tried, I also discovered that I am HUGE fan of curried things. And mango things. And many other things typical to that cuisine. Those fresh summer rolls with the vermicelli and veggies and rice paper are a particular fave of mine. Obviously, I’ve branched out a bit. And while classic Thai places with all the staples on the menu are fun, my favorite places are the ones that take a creative (and seasonal!) spin on traditional dishes. They’re not called culinary arts for nothing, people!

When my mom and I found ourselves alone for dinner on a weekend, going out seemed to be the only logical option. We have wanted to try Phu Ket in West Roxbury for ages, so it was decided upon pretty quickly.

I really liked the ambience: very quiet, but relaxed; white tablecloths, but it didn’t seem too fussy. Very decent wine list, AND when I asked for seltzer water they brought me one of those adorable baby bottles of  the good stuff – San Pellegrino. We were off to a very good start.

We split the steamed shrimp shumai appetizer, because I have never met a shrimp shumai I didn’t like and order it whenever possible. If you’ve never had the pleasure, fix that. Now.

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[Ahem, as I was saying about the ambience…lovely for dining, less so for photographing. You understand.]

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YUM. And very prettily presented!

As for entrée, the minute I saw pumpkin curry on the specials menu, I knew there was no turning back. Sure, I perused the rest of the menu for good measure, but it was over with those 2 words. Pumpkin. Curry. They were meant to be.

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Pillowy chunks of pumpkin with fresh squash + carrots in an perfectly sweet & just-a-tad-spicy curry sauce with shrimp. Yup, this was a very good decision. The pumpkin was so soft & rich it was almost buttery, and the portion was ideally sized. This goes down in my book as one of the best dishes for a cool fall evening. It was a tad high in salt, but the flavors were so well matched, I didn’t much care. I would recommend this time and again – but it’s a special, so you’re better off getting up and going right now before it leaves.

Mom got a duck + spinach pasta which was, again, very tasty:

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I was far too distracted by my plate of pumpkin goodness to really focus on the small bite I stole of this, but I can say with absolute confidence that duck fans would be quite happy with this. The portion was very large which of course meant lunch the next day. Love it when that happens.

You may notice that the pumpkin was skin-on, and the skin is where a TON of fiber is stored. Suffice it to say, there was no room in my tummy for dessert. Until I got home and the chocolate chips in the cabinet started calling my name. You think I’m kidding. They beg to be eaten. BEG, I tell you.

I swear I’m not schizo. At least, not for the most part.

To sum up, I would most definitely recommend checking out Phu Ket – wonderful food, lovely atmosphere, really convenient location, and the prices are very very right.

A very satisfactory dining experience, indeed. There is just something about the whole dining-out experience that I thrive on. It’s such a unique opportunity, I think, to try new things, stretch boundaries, all while having good conversation in great company – to me, it’s the best kind of escape. Mostly because it’s an event that is completely about food. Those are the best kind of events.

And speaking of dining out, I am currently in the process of selecting a restaurant for my birthday dinner in 2 months. I am very excited because, though dearly did I love my college, the dining options around were slim and dim. Now that I’m back in a food-tastic city, I feel almost overwhelmed with options. The forerunner is Rialto, because…well, it’s Rialto! Best of Boston several different years, 4 stars from the Globe, and it’s Italian food. Definitely can’t go wrong. But then there is Bondir, recently named #10 on Bon Appetit’s 10 Best New Restaurants in 2011 (yes, in the whole country!). And Bergamot, another Boston classic, has to go on the list – although the menu didn’t tempt me like the other 2. Of course, there are also all the restaurants that were Chefs Collaborative event – especially Mary Dumont’s Harvest. I am STILL dreaming about that pizza. Holy local squash, that was good.

My main requirements are that it have a focus on seasonal & sustainable food, and be more on the fine side of dining. Not pretentious, but not picnic-tables-and-plastic-cups either. While fame & reputation isn’t exactly a requisite, there is a big part of me that feels like as a young foodie I have a LOT to catch up on in Boston and I need to start with the classics, ya know? I am, of course, ALWAYS open to recommendations! I want to decide soon so we can make the reservation because some of these places are hip-hop-happenin’ (and better be for good reason!).

I love, love, love eating out. I have countless memories, of food & other bits of nostalgia, of wonderful, delicious, and eye-opening experiences in restaurants all over the world, and I only get more excited with each new adventure. Cheers.

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Do you have a favorite dining-out memory? Do tell!

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Shall We…Recap?

A lot has been going on over here. I think a solid recap may be in order.

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1. Last week, I got the Development & Communications Outreach internship with Chefs Collaborative, a nonprofit based in downtown Boston that works as a nation-wide networking resource for chefs to aid in the shift towards a more sustainable food world. I will be tweeting, FBing, blogging, and administrative-detailing my heart out, and I’m VERY excited about it!

2. We also took our house guests (our last au pair  – still talking/visiting us 14 years later, so my bro & I must not have been total demon children!) downtown to eat. The plan was Legal Seafoods Harborside – a Boston classic, after all – but lo and behold, you need to make reservations 2 weeks in advance. After a few too many minutes of walking back and forth in the cold wind & rain, we settled for an upscale sports bar, Salvatore’s, with an Italian-inspired menu. They had good wine, very tasty bread, and local scallops in a limoncello sauce. It was a rocky beginning and a happy ending. [Sox game? What Sox game?]

3. I am one of eight interns helping food52 retag all of the recipes on their site. We’ve got a tight deadline – conveniently enough, this internship ends almost exactly when my next one starts. However, the aforementioned guests paired with my other internship (food prep work here) twice a week and several nights of poor sleep seriously impaired my progress. Hence, I read, categorized and [in some cases] salivated over 471 cocktail & assorted drink recipes…in 2 days. 670 to go!

Just for the record, I have very much enjoyed this particular internship. For the hard-core recipe nerd that I am, being able to read through all of these recipes & the cook’s story behind it has been a lot of fun and completely fascinating! A big thanks to food52 for the opportunity [though I fully recognize that the probability of them reading this is 0 to 1.]!!

4. Incidentally, this weekend I learned the true power of free wifi and espresso. Good stuff.

5. Oh yes, and I changed the blog theme. Again. I think this is the 3rd change in 6 weeks? But I really do like this one. With the sole exception being that I can’t change the font size – but overall, yay!

6. You might also notice a few other small changes:

  • New pages! (Above the header.) I am always in editing mode with those, and if you know of any links I should add or information in general, let me know. Perhaps a dog page is in order…
  • I’m on the Foodie Blogroll! (See widget, down on the right.) Woohoo!

7. The Emmy’s were much better than I expected! Jane Lynch was a fabulous host, the Lonely Island performance was random hilarity at its most wonderful, and the women of comedy standing together was such a perfect moment. And The Daily Show, Jim Parsons, and the SNL JT/Gaga episode wins were so beyond deserved! Of course, Maggie Smith goes without saying. And I thought Kaley Cuoco’s dress was to.die.for.

I think that’s everything. Oh! I’m taking a salsa dance class every Sunday. I’ve always wanted to learn formally, and this was convenient & quite cost-effective at $10 per class. With all of my to-dos, I really needed to do something on a whim – plus, it gave me an excuse to buy new shoes. And it’s in a Jewish Temple, which I find charmingly random. I could use a partner, though, so if you are or know any attractive, suave, twentysomething Fred Astaire and/or Patrick Swayze clones, do have them give me a call.

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Also, I am more seriously than ever considering getting my own domain for this blog. It seems pretty cost-effective, and the benefits would probably be worth it. I’d much appreciate any thoughts on the issue!

One Blind Intern, Part II: Chives and Chides

I think it started with the chives.

Have you ever had to shave chives before? Yeah, me neither. At least, I hadn’t — until I started working in the back of a small restaurant in middle-of-nowhere Georgia. Where,  apparently, chive-shaving is mandatory.

The tiny, near-translucent, paper-thin ovals of onion-y greenery are really only used as a garnish, and usually only on the iceberg “salad.” Salad here being a loose term referring to a quartered hunk of lettuce drowning under a liberal bath of gloppy bleu cheese dressing and freshly-fried bacon bits, with a few cherry tomato halves sprinkled around the edges of the plate desperately trying to avoid the white lumps that threaten to consume the plate itself. A little ground pepper and – yes, you guessed it – a small sprinkle of thinly slivered chives.

Now perhaps I’m just being overly cynical, but every time the short muscled sous chef came over to look disapprovingly over my shoulder as I butchered the chive, slicing them into rounds of far too large a width to be acceptable, I had to think that I’m not so sure those ordering this…salad are going to be focusing on how many millimeters thick the chives are. Actually, I’m pretty sure many of them were more likely to ask what those green things were doing on their bleu cheese dressing.

Unladylike thoughts aside, I do understand the need to maintain a certain level of consistency and the importance of the aesthetics on a plate of food. I am totally one of those people who think that pretty food tastes better, and I respect the chefs that have the eye for detail to look at something as small as chive width. I really do.

But I can’t say it didn’t elicit a few eye rolls. I’m only human.

After multiple attempts on others’ parts to correct my poor chive-chopping skill, and far too many chive corpses deemed unacceptable and tossed in the trash, the fun continued from there.

To his credit, the chef I worked under did introduce me to the resident pastry chef/only other female in the kitchen (4 days a week and only until noon). While I enjoyed working with her very much, it only became more evident that I was at best dispensable, at worst in the way. And more often than not, I felt the latter. I went from person to person asking what else I could help with, trying to maintain a balance between helpful and quiet, yet charming and well-suited to the job. The fact was, I was none of those things.

The fact was, I had just graduated college valedictorian of my class, was suddenly completely isolated from my friends, and found myself shaving chives badly for free under a chef I was learning quickly to dislike. It was an increasingly unpleasant situation. But, one that I was ready to see through to the end. It was, after all, a means to an end – that end being culinary school. Which I wanted. Because…well, because that was The Plan. I would live with my aunt, get the necessary experience, move home for the holidays, and ship out to California to start my degree program in March. Solid, smart, stable.

What’s that saying about the best-laid plans? Something about how they always work out exactly as expected? They DON’T?

Huh. Well, that would’ve been nice to know.

Somewhere between the constant remarks about being overstaffed, the perpetual feeling of hopelessly in the way, and the general lack of patience with an intern who had been very up front about her total lack of restaurant experience, I decided enough was enough. I was miserable, unpaid, and done.

I know a lot of people who would say, “well, that’s what an internship is for!” And while there is truth to that statement, I think had I started out in a more accepting and pleasant atmosphere – or at least felt like I was even contributing something – I might not have had the sudden change of heart. But I think something else happened this year that I didn’t give enough attention to because, well, I had The Plan. I love baking with all my heart and the thought of spending 21 months with fellow food-lovers learning how to develop recipes and create the perfect chocolate buttermilk cake thrilled me, I was no longer sure that it was the right career path. I chose culinary school because I saw it as the only way to develop my passion for the food world, and I’d pick up a solid marketable skill as a sweet side effect (no pun intended). The problem was, it was no longer the career path I wanted to take. It just stopped making so much sense.

Please know that this restaurant is a perfectly respectable business that provides a truly unique and top-notch product to its customers. I met some real characters and even made a few of them laugh, which I considered quite a triumph. And I certainly got some good book material. All chefs have a reputation for being divas, and for good reason – they have to be to get anywhere in the biz! But at the end of the day, life is too short to be miserable. It just is. And when I walked in to the 3-foot wide office to tell the chef I was quitting and was promptly ignored, I knew I had made the right decision.

And that’s where the Italian school comes in. But that’s a horse of a different color.

One Blind Intern, Part I: The Walk-In

Imagine, if you will, a large white box the size of two upright refrigerators, sitting on a cement block behind a white brick building across from a generator and a dumpster.

 

The handle to the door is a silver bar that must be tugged with every available arm muscle to open. Thick plastic flaps hang down from the doorway to keep out the flies and must be heaved aside to reach the inside.

 

The contents of this box are dimly lit by one cheap, shivering bulb and sided with that metallic snake-skin texture, with a button the size of your palm that you must push to re-enter the world of light and temperature over –10 degrees. There is about enough room for one or two grown men to stand inside, though heaven help either of them if they actually want to move or, god forbid, inhale. Industrial black-barred racks packed full to the metal ceiling line the walls; at least, one assumes that there must be something holding up the various boxes and containers that look ready to avalanche onto the few visible inches of cement floor.

Multi-gallon plastic tupperware containers with a piece of tape indicating the date of preparation on the top are stacked on top of each other on the floor and wherever they will fit on the shelves. Huge pans of baked apple crisp filling, a couple pie plates of cheesecake and a few beige masses of scone dough all wrapped tightly in plastic wrap balance tumultuously on top of each other in the far left corner with only a layer or two of more plastic wrap between each other. Yesterday’s soups and plastic-wrapped hunks of deli meat ready to be sliced mingled closely with tomorrow’s creme brulee filling and fresh-made mayonnaise. Cardboard shipping boxes stuffed with heads of romaine, bell peppers, grapes and cherries fight for space on the left racks. To the right, wheels of gouda and cheddar cheeses the size of small pizzas (and the width of large dictionaries) are piled haphazardly atop cartons of heavy cream and tupperware containers of separated egg whites. Not even the eggs still in their shells are safe, sitting in their cardboard cartons with no tops to stop a rogue industrial-sized mustard jar from smashing several dozen and ruining their dreams of becoming a key lime pie or Spanish omelette.

 

It is a cramped, frigid little world of produce and plastic, cardboard and chaos.

It is an OCD nightmare, a hazard to humans and vegetables alike, and my personal version of hell.

It is the walk-in refrigerator, where I found myself running in and out of every ten minutes during the long four weeks of my internship at the restaurant.

And that is just the beginning.

Restaurant Review: Bella Luna

Instead of letting everyone in the house abandon me and leaving me to stalk the aisles of Whole Foods for dinner (not necessarily a bad thing, really), my mom invited me to her dinner date with a friend. And then put me on restaurant-search duty as the resident foodie of the fam. I was more than happy to oblige 🙂
I had read about Bella Luna, a funky restaurant/lounge in Jamaica Plain in a feature in the [Boston] Globe. It  was described as “satisfyingly groovy” and had a menu to match, so we figured, why not??
I couldn’t have described it better myself.  You walk in to a somewhat dimly lit space, most of the light shining out of big paper mache star lamps. The decor was funky, just shy of kitsch, and the service was great. Our waiter had an impressive knowledge of the wine list, too. Best of all, they have outdoor seating under bright red umbrellas. I love sitting outside. I think it totally ups the atmosphere and makes for an even lovelier evening meal.
If we weren’t charmed yet, each seat had a different plate with its own hand-drawn design:
Clearly designed by some aspiring artists. TOO cute!
And I loved the bottle the water was served in:
A restaurant I just went to recently did this too…maybe this a becoming a trend in the US restaurant scene?
To start, we 3 split an order of some seriously awesome fried calamari. For all you skeptics out these, I usually don’t like fried food because it tends to make me violently ill, but I couldn’t resist one golden, crispy bite – and it was SO good. Some of the best I’ve had.
We also split the Mediterranean Duet, warm pita bread with raw veggies and 2 dips: classic hummus and a spicy eggplant dip:
The hummus was only so-so, a little too creamy-chickpea-y for me. What can I say, I need my tahini and GAHLIC! But the eggplant dip was ca-razy good! Heavy on the ginger and with quite a kick of spice, and really tasty. The other two helped, but I pretty much dominated this plate.
For my entree, I just got a big salad – love me some arugula!
The shrimp was lovely and fresh, and the cheese was deliiisssh. Arugula and sharp cheeses like prmeggiano were basically made for each other. It also had pumpkin seeds, which I totally loved! Such a fun extra flavor addition. It was in a very simple lemon vinaigrette, which I felt needed a little work – it was a little too much like straight lemon juice. I think just a spice or two added to it could really make it incredible. But I was a very happy leaf-eater with this salad.

Mom got this beauty:
Arugula, goat cheese (!), cherry tomatoes, red onion and garlic oil.
Ok, I don’t know what kind of crack they put in their crusts, but this pizza was one of the best I’ve had. And I’ve had what I consider the best – fresh from the oven, in Italy, after making it myself. But this was up there. The crust was that perfect thickness and the arugula + garlic oil made it herby and delicious. I had a slice and then a couple more teeny tiny slivers when we brought it home. Whoa.
And Mom’s friend Barb (and just in case she reads this…HI!!!) got the wild mushroom ravioli:
I had half of a bite of my madre’s bite because it’s me and I avoid all things involving peas like they’re mosquitoes (and, actually, ravioli…but that’s another story), but the bite I had was some seriously phenomenal ravioli. The earthy mushrooms + creamy sweet cheese filling flavors were just spot on.

Dessert came in the form of lemon sorbet and tiramisu. Now, I will say that this is one restaurant where the “judge a restaurant by their desserts” rule does not work. We had great appetizers and wonderful entrees, but I was quite disappointed in the dessert. The sorbet, although refreshing and lemonade-like, had a very odd texture. It was almost like freezer burn-icy on the outside (which had a watery flavor) but then oddly chewy on the inside. Sorbet, to me, is supposed to be smooth and almost creamy, at least easy for a spoon to dig in. This was almost gummy, and there was nothing inventive about the flavor. The tiramisu was even more of a disappointment – I mean, I realize I’m horribly biased, but still. The sponge in the middle was watery and weak tasting, and the whipped cream on top tasted very artificial. And the chocolate syrup was no better than Hershey’s out of a bottle – not that that doesn’t have it’s place, but come on. That place is not tiramisu! I tried [multiple times] to take a picture, but the sun had long since set and LuLu wasn’t having it. Clearly they should just hire me to be the tiramisu chef! Haha, jk jk (sort of ;).
Dessert aside, it was a lovely meal with great conversation and company, and that is what a meal is supposed to be.
~Namaste~