Thursday, September 29, 2022

Greek Cuisine Surging in Boston: Xenia Hospitality Group

From Demetri Tsolakis and Stefanos Ougrinis, owners of Krasi Meze + Wine, Hecate and Greco truly Greek fast casual concepts, have announced the launch of Xenia Greek Hospitality, a new restaurant group. This is exciting news as I'm a huge fan of these excellent Greek restaurants, with Krasi, with its superb food and wine list, being one of my Top Three Favorite Local Restaurants. Krasi even has the largest Greek wine list in the country, and you can even purchase their wines at the restaurant to take home. 

As their website states: "At Xenia Greek Hospitality, we are inspired by the ancient Greek concept which is built on guest-friendship. Today, we often forget how important not only the food being served is, but most importantly how it is being served. With a single visit to any of our concepts, you can experience the highest level of hospitality, with care and attention to all our guests, so you feel welcomed in our home."

Xenia Greek Hospitality will also be expanding with additional Greco locations in Boston and beyond, as well as a new restaurant concept, Bar Vlaha, to open later this fall in Brookline. Xenia states: "Bar Vlaha is dedicated to the largest group of nomads in Greece who are called the Vlachs. They are shepherds who wandered and laid the foundation and roots of Greek cooking. This new concept honors the nomadic dishes and hospitality that originated from Central Greece, specifically the remote areas of Epirus, Metsovo and the Pindus mountains. It is to the Vlachs that we owe the ancestry of Greek food."

Xenia Greek Hospitality has also announced the most recent addition, in June, to their team, Culinary Director Brendan Pelley. Pelley has over a decade of experience at the helm of kitchens throughout the local area, including the Webber Restaurant Group, Doretta Tavern, Pelekasis at Wink & Nod, and Zebra’s Bistro & Wine Bar. In addition, Brendan’s has deeply rooted familial connections to Greek cooking. Brendan has already added some new dishes to Krasi and the Greco locations:

At Krasi, on their new Brunch menu, you'll find:  
Yiaourti Me Meli - Greek yogurt, honey, sour cherry spoon sweet, candied walnuts
Rizogalo - coconut milk rice pudding, chia, almond and apricot granola
Tsoureki - merenda (Greek nutella), kataifi crumble, spice roasted plums, whipped cream
Tost - sourdough, seasonal mushrooms, maidanosalata, mizithra
Solomo - smoked salmon, lemon-dill manouri cream cheese, boiled egg, caper berries, hallot toursi, koulouri
Halloumi - shishito, snap peas, radish, fermented green garlic sesame dressing
Spanakopita - 100 layer phyllo, spinach, leeks, feta, egg, dill oil, dehydrated kalamata olives
Omeletta - eggs, potatoes, herbs, kasseri, cured loukaniko

Krasi's new dinner menu items include:
Mavromatika - black eyed peas, roasted peppers, broccoli, turmeric pickled cauliflower, tehinas
Manitaria - paleokerisio roasted mushrooms, smoked paprika yogurt, farro
Lahano - spicy tomato sauce braised cabbage, golden raisins, almonds, puffed black rice
Skordostoumbi - baked eggplant, garlic, tomato yiahni, feta poulenta
Lavraki - sea bass crudo, nerantzosalata, dried Kalamata olives, pepperoncini gel
Xtenia - seared scallops, roasted corn kritharoto, cherry tomatoes, maidanosalata
Pikantiko - chicken, hot and sweet peppers, chickpea revithada

This weekend, on October 1, Brendan will unveil a few new seasonal dishes at all four Greco locations (Newbury Street, Pier 4 Seaport, Milk Street and Hub Hall), including:
Halloumi Pita - grilled Halloumi, skordalia garlic spread, onion, tomato, hot honey, hand cut potatoes (This sounds delicious!)
Naxos Salad - baby kale, pickled red onion, radish, crispy chickpeas, golden raisins, honey vinaigrette
Greco Bowl - crispy Brussels sprouts, cumin yogurt, lemon pilaf, baby kale, pickled onion, radish, skordalia garlic spread (crispy Brussels sprouts with cumin yogurt also available as Greco Side)

I strongly recommend that you check out Krasi Meze + WineHecate and Greco truly Greek. And I look forward to the opening of Bar Vlaha, to experience another aspect of Greek cuisine. Best of luck to Chef Pelley in his new position and it will be interesting to see what he brings to these restaurants.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Waffle Love (With Perogies) In Halifax

On one of the days in Halifax, we spent some time walking around the city, with several planned stops for our wandering. For breakfast that morning, we decided to stop at Waffle Love. The small restaurant, which opened in 2019, is owned by a husband and wife team, Matt Webb and Ania Benko. It's a casual and unpretentious spot, dedicated to the waffle, but with nods to the perogie.

The Menu primarily consists of various Waffle dishes, nine options priced about $12-$15, most which are sweet, such as the Sweet On You Waffle, made with bananas, nutella, whipped cream, and chocolate sauce, and the Oreo Lover Waffle, made with an Oreo-ice cream sandwich, whipped cream, crushed Oreos, and chocolate drizzle. With any of the waffles dishes, you can add scrambled eggs, fruit, maple syrup or vanilla ice cream. They also serve two types of Home-Made Perogies, Potato & Cheese (3/$5, 6/$8, 8/$11) and Potato, Cheese & Bacon (3/$6, 6/$9, 8/$12). 

I opted for The Classic Waffle ($14.75), which was served with two scrambled eggs, real maple syrup fresh fruit, and 3 bacon perogies. The dish is normally served with just the potato & cheese perogies ($14) but I chose the bacon ones instead for a 75 cent upcharge. A hearty breakfast and everything was delicious. The waffle wasn't the typical Belgian waffle, and was softer rather than crisper. I enjoyed its fluffy texture and taste, especially covered with some butter. The fruit was fresh and sweet, and the eggs were cooked just right. 

The perogies were excellent, and quite large, with a creamy and flavorful filling of potatoes, cheese and bacon. The exterior was crisp, with a nice texture, contributing to the quality of these items. Some of the best perogies I've had in quite some time. You don't often see breakfast perogies offered on local menus but maybe that should change. 

While in Halifax, you definitely should seek out Waffle Love, and be sure to enjoy some of their perogies too. Delicious food, reasonable prices, and the service was very good. 

Monday, September 26, 2022

Grand Banker: The Lunenburger (Lobster-Topped Burger)

While vacationing in Nova Scotia, we took a day trip to visit Lunenburg, which in the 18th century was founded as a British port. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage site, and a fascinating town to explore, from its waterfront to its colorful historical architecture. We explored the three-story Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic, visited a local distillery, and for lunch, chose to dine at the Grand Banker Bar & Grill.

The restaurant, which opened back in 1996, looks out over the water and is a casual spot, with a predominance of seafood on its menu. The menu is broken down into Appetizers (14 options, $9-$24), such as Potato Skins, Nachos, Mussels and Fried Calamari; Entrees (9 options, $13-$50), such as Acadian Cajun Seafood Stew, Fish & Chips, and Seafood Linguini (there are some non-seafood options too, such as Beef Tenderloin and Rack of Lamb); and Burgers & Sandwiches (7 options, $15-$29), such as Lobster Roll, Fish Tacos, and Gourmet Grilled Cheese.

I began with a cup of Traditional Maritime Seafood Chowder ($10.50), which is made with haddock, shrimp, scallops, and clams in a New England clam broth and accompanied by a warm biscuit. The Chowder was more thin than thick, although not overly so and still with a creamy texture. It possessed a delicious flavor, with a plentiful portion of seafood. Seafood chowder is definitely more prevalent in Nova Scotia than clam chowder, and they usually have at least 4 different seafoods in them. . 

I then opted for their famed Lunenburger ($29), which includes 6 ounces of "hand formed fresh local ground beef", smoked mozzarella, smoked bacon, baby spinach (which I had them omit for me), garlic aioli, Nova Scotia lobster (all knuckle and claw meat0, and a tarragon butter sauce. It was also topped by a toothpick holding a bacon wrapped scallop. As you can see from the second pic, there was plenty of lobster atop the burger. Yes, it all worked well together, creating a more decadent sandwich, which was only slightly messy from the butter sauce. Salty, smoky, sweet, beefy and cheesy. The burger on its own would have been excellent, but the addition of the lobster elevated it to a different level. Highly recommended.

The Blue Rocks Fish Cakes ($16.50) was another winning dish. It included two large fish cakes made from haddock, salt cod, salt pork, & potato, sand erved with rhubarb relish and a side salad. The fish cakes had a pleasant crispy exterior, and a great taste, with plenty of fish and not just filler. They were seasoned well, nicely balanced, and definitely something I'd order again. 

If you ever visit Nova Scotia, you should stop in the historic town of Lunenburg, and dine at Grand Banker Bar & Grill. There are plenty of restaurant options in this area, and I wish I could have sampled the fare at some of these other spots too, but I can recommend Grand Banker, especially for their seafood dishes. 

Thursday, September 22, 2022

The Canteen: Chowder to the Crobster--Dartmouth, Nova Scotia

While in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, just across the water from Halifax, we stopped for lunch at The Canteen, a restaurant which has received many accolades. Chef, and co-owner, Renée Lavallée is very well known in Nova Scotia and even participated in the seventh season of Top Chef Canada. Located in downtown Dartmouth, it seats about sixty people and has a homey ambiance. Their website states they serve "honest, unpretentious food, made with love" and their menu is "influenced by classic French, Italian and traditional Nova Scotian cuisine - with a little bit of Renée's magic thrown in."

From their Tap selection, I opted for the Lake City Cider Neiforth Original Cider ($9). The cidery is located in Dartmouth on Portland Street. The Neiforth is made from 100% Nova Scotian apples, is semi-dry and has a 6.8% ABV. It was quite tasty, with a rich apple flavor, hints of apple pie pieces, and was mostly dry, with only hints of sweetness. 

The Lunch menu includes Sandwiches ($13-$23), such as the The Canteen Burger and The Haddock Burger; Salads & Soups ($13-$17), such as Heirloom Tomato Salad and Snow Crab Dip; and Not Sandwiches ($15-$17), such as Tuna Soba Noodle Bowl and Mussel & Frites. It's a relatively small menu but with plenty of varied options. The Menu is also subject to change, especially dependent on the availability of ingredients. 

I opted for a bowl of The Canteen Chowder ($17), which was made with haddock, smoked haddock, mussels, lobster, bacon, and fresh dill, as well as accompanied by a homemade biscuit. An excellent and complex dish, with fresh seafood flavors, a smoky element, and a delectable broth. Pure comfort food and perfect for all seafood lovers. 

The Crobster Roll ($23) is a blend of Nova Scotia snow crab and lobster, with grainy mustard, truffle aioli, and fresh dill, on a long, toasted roll. The addition of the snow crab was an intriguing extra, providing more seafood sweetness to the sandwich. The sandwich contained plenty of seafood, with only a slight addition of mustard and aioli. Another very tasty option.

My first impressions of The Canteen were very positive, and I'd recommend it to my readers, especially seafood lovers. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Steamers Lobster Company & Lobster Poutine: St. John, New Brunswick

On our recent journey to Nova Scotia, we drove and because of the length of that drive, about 12 hours, we decided to roughly break the trip into two days. So, we chose to stay the night in St. John, New Brunswick. For dinner that evening, we ended up at Steamers Lobster Company, which turned out to be an excellent choice.

It's a very casual spot, with a nautiacal theme, and most of the menu consists of seafood, although there are a few non-seafood options too. For Appetizers, you'll find items like Bacon-Wrapped Scallops, Wild Alsaka Pollock Wings, and Oven Crunch Buffalo Shrimp. Their Deep Fried Platters include dishes like Clams & Chips, Fish & Chips, and a Salmon Burger. The Captain's Favorites include choices like New Brunswick Snow Crab, Poached Salmon Dinner, and a Chilled Seafood Tower.

I began with a cup of tasty Seafood Chowder ($8--all prices are in Canadian dollars). It was filled with plenty of seafood, in a thinner and creamy broth, and was quite tasty. Seafood chowder seems to be a more popular item than clam chowder in these parts of Canada. 

We also ordered an appetizer of Mussels ($13), plump and flavorful mussels in a delicious and light broth, perfect for bread dipping. 

For me, the highlight of the meal was an appetizer which I enjoyed as my entree, the Lobster Poutine ($25) Crisp french fries, topped by a light gravy (likely chicken), cheese curds, and a plentiful amount of lobster meat. A decadent and delicious treat, the fries generally held up well to the gravy, maintaining much of their crispness, and the sweet lobster meat was a fine addition. This would have been an excellent poutine without the lobster, but the addition of the lobster elevated the dish and pleased my palate. Highly recommended!

Unfortunately, I didn't take a pic of the Lobster Roll ($27), but it too was excellent, cold with very light mayo and plenty of sweet lobster meat. 

Service was excellent and this would be a fine, casual spot for delicious seafood if you ever visit St. John.