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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Productive

Wait…what could this be…an update???? Surely thine eyes deceive!
Nope. I’m here, and [mostly] in one piece. What prompted a sudden revival of posting, you ask?…a weekend of blatant procrastination. I am none too proud of it, but the past 3 days have been painfully unproductive. And with 6 1/2 weeks still left in the semester, it’s not making me happy.
Today, however, for the first time in two months, I actually read blogs. I blew the dust off of my Google Reader and read. And I’ve decided, it was possibly one of the more productive things I’ve done yet during this absolute hell ,ahem, busy semester.
As I’m sure any current college senior can attest, that ubiquitous question “so what are you doing next year?” is the hot topic of the moment. And I will say it is quite a relief to a) know the answer and b) be able to ignore the GRE-mania that has taken over my friends and fellow tormented classmates. But, I can’t say I’m immune to my own self-questioning of is this what I really want. As I’ve been running around, making arrangements for gaining my 6 months of food prep experience required by the CIA, I can’t help but hear that very teeny voice in my head saying “oh, but this could be BAD. WHAT do you think you’re doing?” etc, etc – that same voice that held me back before Florence figuratively slapped me in the head.
One of the blogs I depended upon in Florence for restaurant recommendations had been left ignored, like all the others. I caught up on it today, and it all came hurtling back to me. Everything I learned – everything that Tuscany taught me – about food, and food as something inexplicably more, flooded my senses. Oh right – this is why I love it, why I want it. Duh.
I really do miss those yellow apples.
BUT, a number of other exciting things have happened in those few & far apart moments when I’m not metaphorically [usually] bound to my desk chair researching recipes from the 1940s. (My thesis and I….it’s a love/hate relationship. Not sure if I’m the love or hate…but that’s another post for another time.)
Fall Break was last weekend, and I spent it with my aunt & uncle in Georgia. Not only did I get to hang out with these adorable faces for 4 days:
Bosco, Banda, and
Buster!
…but I am also hoping (planning? let’s not jinx it just yet.) to spend the summer with them while getting the aforementioned food prep experience at a restaurant just down the street from their house. We went there – Three Blind Mice – for dinner and a little good-natured schmoozing with the owner/chef to check out that possibility.
My initial reaction to the restaurant itself was something to the tune of “too good to be true.” And I hadn’t even tasted the food yet. The decor is pretty perfect – you walk in and there is a wall of wines ordered by country of origin in front of you; a look to your left is a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf filled with culinary literature*.
*Side note: As a result of my thesis, I now have a venerable wealth of knowledge concerning what to call “food writing”: this includes, but is not necessarily limited to, ‘culinary literature,’ ‘culinary writing,’ ‘cookery books/literature,’ and ‘gastronomical literature/writing.’ Just in case you thought I was only trying to use fancy words…I wasn’t. That’s just a broad enough title.
But let’s get to the menu, right?

 

Now, I don’t know if you can see it, but if you look under appetizers, you will see a affettati board, which is Italian for literally ‘slices’, usually referring to meat. Look a little further down. Any die-hard Gillianasana fans remember finocchiona???  (Hint: here and here!) Only my favorite.sandwich.EVER. from my beloved sandwich shop/wine bar, Casa del Vino!! Y’all, I just about had a heart attack. I have not had the pure unadulterated joy of finocchiona since my last day.second-to-last sandwich in Florence.
…and then our waitress brought out the bread.
Ok, no olive oil & balsamic, but it is in middle-of-nowhere suburban Georgia. Let’s not push it, shall we?
I was seriously torn come decision-time, but I went with the Nicoise salad. I’m a huge fan of tuna in salad – but I hate ‘tuna salad’ (mayonnaise makes me gag. and shudder. and then gag again.). I actually make it all the time at home. That, and when my family and i were having lunch after touring Pompeii, my mom and I got this salad with tuna, corn, olives and arugula that blew our minds. Italy kinda does that.

 

Loved it. Especially because it was over arugula, my love for which knows no bounds.
My aunt ordered the Panzanella after I had another mini spaz attack over it (another fave of my mom’s & mine), but I actually didn’t love it. In another appeal to its audience, it included chicken and that was just kinda wrong to me. That and my pescatarian ways are slowly taking over. My uncle got the shrimp & grits (you see how awesome this restaurant is – it had rigatoni abruzzese just under shrimp & grits…genius.) and near licked his plate clean.
But, I will never forget the sage words (haha, get it? sage? like the spice…oh, never mind.) of my Italian cooking professor when he told us that the way to judge a restaurant is by its appetizer menu – CHECK – and its dessert menu.
We ordered 3.
My uncle ordered a chocolate-raspberry fontaine, a pastry of deep dark chocolate and raspberry filling enclosed in a flaky phyllo dough
I had a bite or two, but found myself a little distracted by the meringue-topped key lime pie…
…was amazing, mouth-watering, and basically exactly what I think of when key lime pie comes to mind, only maybe a step above. Even my aunt who hates key lime pie – and really desserts in general (I don’t know how I’m related to her either) – had a couple forkfuls. It was so light and perfectly tart, and didn’t have any of that icky gelatinous artificial mouth-feel that waaay too many key lime pies do. My fork was momentarily panicked when it could find nothing but a few graham crust crumbs left. Of course, then it found…

 

…the sticky toffee pudding.
Ok, now I am well aware of the reputation – or perhaps infamy – of British cuisine. That being, in layman’s terms, that it sucks. But I had heard of this dish before and being the dessert aficionado that I am, I was curious if nothing else to see what it was.
I did not expect it to be one of the fluffiest, most moist and caramel-y cakes ever steeped in a heavenly bath of liquid toffee. My aunt – you know, the one who “doesn’t like dessert” – and I dueled over the last toffee-soaked speck like two cats over catnip. I promptly texted my brother to inform him that his birthday present this year was going to be my recreation of this. It will be done.
The prospect of working here for a whole summer? Exciting is a sufficient but mundane word to describe how I feel about that!
And on the summer, I just might have a life again. A thesis-free life, at least!
I’m also writing a weekly blog for Converse (my college) – because, you know, I need something else. But it’s pretty fun 🙂 And the next post (up tomorrow I believe!) is all about my favorite topic – Florence!
Ok, back to…Henry James, a paper on Emerson, or chemistry problems. Gosh, what thrilling prospects.
Here’s to being productive.
~Namaste~

Restaurant Review: Red Lentil

When my aunt and uncle left to go home to Atlanta, they took my brother with them so he could have a vacation down there. My anti-fish/anti-“health food” brother. What’s the big deal, you ask? My parents and I can go out to fun, interesting restaurants the doorways of which my brother couldn’t be paid to darken. Naturally, the first on the my must-go-to list was a relatively new vegetarian/vegan restaurant in Watertown, near Cambridge, Mass: The Red Lentil.
My mom and I met my dad there, who arrived before us and much to our relief and delight (we were starving), had already ordered the eggplant caponata appetizer and was sipping on a ginger brew – like ginger ale, only with much fresher ginger and very refreshing. I’d never tasted anything quite like it; I stole several sips! 
[Word to future diners – no wine list!]
First of all, I really liked the feel of this place. It wasn’t too loud, despite the fact that every table in the small dining area was packed. The walls were a funky lime green that gave it a hip – not 1970s nightmare – aura. The clientele were, well, as expected in Cambridge – in every size, shape & color! For any non Mass readers, Cambridge is where Harvard is located. ‘Nuf said.
So, about that appetizer…
One of the best things about this place hands down is their presentation. Every single dish we saw was beautifully and artfully placed on the plate. You eat first with your nose & eyes before your mouth, and it was lovely that the chefs take this into consideration.
As for taste? Well, I really enjoyed this. The sundried tomato spread was tangy (although a tad pasty, like it had been spread on too soon) and the crusty slice of bread was wonderful. The eggplant was mixed with tomatoes, capers and olives and went perfectly with the sundried tomato spread. My parents felt it was good but still missing something; I agreed, it wasn’t the most amazing thing to pass my lips, but it was tasty and made my empty tummy happy.
After LOTS of deliberation (so much looked good!), my mom chose an appetizer & salad:


Beet-potato latkes

Arugula salad w. beets & golden beets, walnuts, and herbed goat cheese.
The latkes were very interesting, and enjoyable, but perhaps not to die for. It was also a lot of food! It was a little too big; by the time you get to the middle, we found our tastebuds a bit bored. The salad was great, very fresh, and a delicious combo of flavors. And the goat cheese was de-LISH!
My dad got the special:
Tamale filled with tropical fruits, black beans, and spiced soy chorizo
Again, a bit underwhelming. And again, we couldn’t put our finger on why! Tasty but nothing particularly *wow*.
I ordered the Macrobiotic Platter – a choice of tofu, tempeh, or seitan with pinto beans, fresh veggies (broc, squash, zucchini, sweet potato) and a brown rice-sea vegetable mixture.
I really enjoyed this. The tempeh was perfectly cooked and had that great grainy texture I adore so much, even if it was a tad on the salty side for my taste. The pinto beans were, well, pinto beans, but what I was really impressed with was the sea vegetables! They had the coolest flavor – I’ve had & love seaweed salad at sushi places, but never had this particular kind of sea veggie before. It tasted like, um, the sea? I know, specific; I suppose it was salty with a pleasant bitterness not completely unlike kale, but with a hint of vinegar in there. (Is that better? 😉 It was nothing life-changing, but I did very much like my entree.
We were debating dessert…and then the table next to us ordered. And then my dad reminded me of the “always judge a restaurant by its dessert” rule set forth by my beloved Italian cooking professor. And it was done.

All the desserts at The Red Lentil are vegan, gluten-free, and made in house. Gotta love that! We obviously went with chocolate – if nothing else, for comparison’s sake!


This was…a disappointment. The cake was super dry – I think the chef needs to meet Dreena’s blog! The ganache was lovely, and as for those peanut-butter-looking bits in there, I have no idea what they were, perhaps pieces of cake that got tiedyed? It was good, but not great. Of course, they could just hire me as their pastry chef and all their problems would be solved. Sounds like a plan to me.


And, another mark against them – my mother went to the bathroom before we left and, well, it wasn’t a pleasant experience. Dirty bathrooms in a restaurant? Come on, guys, that’s TOO easy to fix!

Overall though, it was a fun dinner. It was new and different, and I am so excited that vegetarian/vegan cuisine is gaining in popularity. I wish one would open up close to me! The biggest issue (food-wise) here is that the dishes themselves won’t make you say “whoa.” A lot of it would be very simple to make at home. I would, however, recommend it to everyone from strict vegan to the veg-curious. My parents & I truly enjoyed The Red Lentil, and I am more than happy to support veg-conscious places like this.
 Rock on, Red Lentil. Rock on.

~Namaste~

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~

Restaurant Review: Sagra

Thank goodness I have a family who can eat Italian food any day of the week.
Tonight, we decided to try out a brand new restaurant tht’s just opened up in my town (Dedham, Mass): Sagra.
[For anyone who lives farther away in Mass, there is another one in Somerville!]
Now, not gonna lie, part of the reason we went was so I could look into job opportunities – I want so badly to work in an Italian restaurant! If nothing else, to talk to patrons and use all my food-talk to explain the wonderful dishes. And wonderful they are!
No good Italian restaurant lets a table be without bread.
This was goooood. Garlic bread, light on the garlic. I actually liked that – it makes it more versatile, so anyone opposed to having garlic-breath (or just someone on a date) won’t have to worry. It was very much like focaccia, although the texture seemed a little denser to me than usual. Maybe it’s just their way of preparing though. The beauty of bread is that the same 4 ingredients can make SO many different things!
Oh, and also, that it goes with cheese.
This is not just any cheese. This is ricotta spiked with parsley and orange zest in a ring of olive oil. The olive oil was very light in flavor, which I didn’t totally dig, but this ricotta was pretty incredible. The orange and parlsey combo gave it such a wonderful, fresh flavor! It meshed really well with the creaminess of the cheese. Forget cream cheese – I will have this on a bagel, please!
To start, we ordered my absolute favorite – bruschetta tradizionale. I have been craving it lately – honestly, I’m surprised I haven’t made it sooner myself! Bread + olive oil + fresh veggies. Hard to go wrong.
And Sagra’s was no exception. I loved the grilled bread, and the added arugula underneath (I always eat the garnish!). Could have used a little basil, but that’s my only issue. I love the funky-shaped plate it came on, too! At this point, I was starting to worry that I wouldn’t have any room for my dinner…
But I can generally make room. Especially when goat cheese is involved.
I was feeling some greens, so I ordered the Spinaci Caprino salad – spinach, radicchio, goat cheese, Turkish apricots in a raspberry vinaigrette. I added grilled shrimp to it, because…well, it’s shrimp. That’s just a given.
This made so happy. Unlike SO many restaurants, the amount of dressing was perfect – enough to taste it and, well, dress the salad, but not so much that it was overwhelming [or caused soggy spinach….serious pet peeve of mine.]. The goat cheese was good goat cheese, and the sweetness of the apricots and raspberry complemented the bitter radicchio very well. It was massive, but I ate most of it 🙂

My mom ordered a verdi misti (mixed greens salad) to start [she needs her greens too]:
A truly excellent simple salad. The dressing was just a balsamic + oil, also very well proportioned. And the best part was the addition of fennel! LOVED it. Really added a nice crunch and fresh flavor (yup, I stole several bites ;).
Her entree was too pretty not to show off:
The special risotto: Golden Beet risotto
The risotto was very well done, with a very strong parmesan flavor – very much like mac & cheese with rice instead of pasta. You couldn’t really taste the regular beets – but you sure can see them! That yellow thing would be a bog ole roasted golden beet – and it was de-LISH. We’ve already decided to look for it at the Farmer’s Market (which opens next week – I’m.SO.excited.). It was a little sweet, with a nice smokey flavor from the roasting, and went so well with the strong cheese flavor and rich creaminess. On top are “hen of the woods” mushrooms – I’d never heard of that type of mushroom before, but they sure were tasty! I just love that deep, earthy tasty of mushrooms. Again, a perfect addition to this dish. A little fresh parsley and black pepper, and my mom was quite content. As was I to steal a bite or three.
My brother got a rigatoni pasta dish with broccoli rabe (which I always forget how much I like, but I do!), red peppers, and sausage. He was unimpressed, but I loved it – took my right back to Florence. AND, our waitress studied abroad in Rome when she was an undergrad and, well, I get really excited when I meet someone who’s had a similarly amazing experience in Italy. We bonded over mutual loves of Nutella.
Speaking of Nutella….
Nutella Bread Pudding. Boom.
I’ll be honest, it wasn’t as hazelnutty as just straight chocolatey, but that did not stop me from helping my brother polish the plate clean. This was lick-the-plate good (I refrained…but it wasn’t easy.). Although I have one teeny tiny criticism – that white scoop was supposedly “hazelnut semifreddo,” but it was really gelato/ice cream. Semifreddo is much more mousse-like, light and airy. It was definitely hazelnit though – it had big chunks of what tasted like caramelized hazelnuts in it and was heaven on a spoon. As was most of this. Cakey, chocolate, melty, moist…if you go and just get this, that would be acceptable. My cooking professor always told us that you judge a restaurant by its desserts – and in this case, Sagra gets a big fat 4 stars.
Why have I never made bread pudding before? Hell if I know, but I think it’s high time that changed. Mission: Bread Pudding is ON.
~Namaste~

Restaurant Review: Gran Gusto

What to do when you’ve just returned from a semester in Florence and are itching to go right back?
Go to one of the best Italian restaurants nearby.
Enter: Gran Gusto.
Located in Cambridge, Mass., Gran Gusto is owned and run by native Napolitani. Chef Giuseppe Castellano was generous enough to bring a taste of his home country to my home state, and boy am I grateful. Everything is homemade – from the focaccia slices brought in classy metal conical baskets, to the pasta and pizza, to the classic Italian dessert offerings. Oh, I was home!
After reading the menu and listening to our waiter (who spoke to me in Italian – I wanted to hug him!) list the specials with a certain flair that can only be described as veramente italiano, my parents each started out with a salad – and I stole plenty from each of their plates.
This is baby spinach, fresh asparages, roasted red peppers and a slice of what I am mostly sure was an aged pecorino (but might have been a good parmegiano reggiano…my tastebuds’ memory is failing me). It was all dressed up in a light oil-and-vinegar dressing and drizzled with a touch of balsamic. It was just lovely. The freshness and different flavors of the veggies, the sharp pungent taste of the cheese, and the sweetness of the balsamic was Italian simplicity at its finest. 
I should also mention the wine – my parents ordered a really nice red from Montalcino and gave me sips. YUM! Oh, I miss a glass of wine with dinner. It really makes the whole thing more satisfying.
For our entree, my parents and I ordered the same thing – boring, yes, but it sounded SO good!
Fresh fettuccine with morel mushrooms (some of the best funghi in the world), spinach, and baby squid called calamarelle. I heard squid and I was there! None of us were sorry, either. The pasta was perfectly al dente. The sweetness of the squid melded beautifully with the earthy mushrooms flavor, and I was just so happy. There’s just something about a wonderful plate of fresh pasta that gets me grinning every time.
No picture, but my brother ordered a pizza with ham, mushrooms, olives, artichokes, and the mandatory fresh tomato sauce and bufalo mozzarella. Though I’m quite sure no slice will ever top the pies we made in cooking class, this was as authentic as it gets. My dad said it really took him back to his childhood, when he could wander down to a pizza place that used the fresh tomato sauce and mozz. The boys at the table were quite satisfied 🙂
When dessert time rolled around, the words of my beloved cooking professor resonated in my head: “The true way to judge a restaurant is by its dessert list. The way the chef chooses to finish the meal is very important.”
Couldn’t agree more.
My brother went with the tiramisu – one of our mutual favorite desserts. The thing I love about tiramisu is that it’s always a little different every time I taste it. This was no exception. Though I still prefer our rendition, this was good with a thicker than usual layer of cocoa, giving it a really nice deep cocoa-y flavor. 
My parents, hankering for something lighter and fruity, went with the delizia limone:
A wonderfully light lemon sponge cake with a chilled lemon cream in the middle and a couple big fat slices of strawberries hiding!
I ended up helping them out a lot with this – I love that it was chilled! It turned the tart lemon, sweet cream and airy cake into a light lemony cloud of dessert perfection. And the strawberry slices in the middle were like finding buried treasure!
If you live anywhere in the vicinity of Cambridge and have a hankering for bell’ Italia, or even just want to brush up on your Italian language skills, take a trip to Gran Gusto. It certainly helped this homesick Florence-sick chick!
~Namaste~