Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Brick Street Bakery & SOMA: Delights of the Distillery District

With only a short time to explore Toronto, I needed to be very selective as to my destinations.  I knew that I had to visit the Ontario Spring Water Sake Company, located in the Distillery Historic District. This district consists of restored Victorian Industrial buildings, with restaurants, art galleries, fashion shops, cafes, jewelry stories, theaters and more.  The streets also have some intriguing artwork, including some large and fascinating metal sculptures.  While waiting for the sake brewery to open, I wandered through the area, sampling a few of the district's delights.

The Brick Street Bakery uses many local, natural ingredients, producing a variety of breads, cookies, pastries, baked goods, pies, sandwiches and much more. Everything looked very appealing, and I bought an assorted bag of pastries, from Eccles cakes to croissants. An Eccles cake is a British pastry, a flaky cake stuffed with currants.  Everything I tasted was fresh and delicious, most items costing about $2-$3.

Various tarts, from chocolate to lemon.

A line-up of fresh loaves of bread, from Basil Parsley Sourdough to Corn Bread.

Cookies, including Butter Shortbread, Oatmeal and Eccles.

Overall, I was very pleased with the quality and diversity of the products, and I would return again. The croissant and brioche was both light and fresh, and especially good.

Brick Street Bakery on Urbanspoon

Another compelling destination is SOMA Chocolate, an artisan chocolate making shop which produces small batches from the cacoa bean. They use mostly Fair Trade and organic ingredients, and make a variety of products, including hot chocolate, chocolate bars, truffles, pralines, caramels, cookies, gelato, and more.

There are large glassed-in areas where you can watch them producing chocolate, though they were not making any chocolate at the time I visited.

These are but some of the individual chocolates available, and there are plenty of chocolate bars also available, from milk chocolate to dark chocolate, including chocolates of various origins.

I decided to try some of their hot chocolate, available as One Short Intense Shot, a Mug with Steamed Milk or a Mug with Hot Water. I got two types, the Spicy Mayan and Classic Dark Side, in the One Short Intense Shot size, $3.50 each.  Though both look alike, they are certainly different in taste, despite some similarities. Both are thick and rich, coating your throat and mouth with velvety chocolate. The flavors are very intense, with the Mayan having an intriguing spicy blend with hints of heat.  Out of the two, the Classic Dark most appealed to me, and due to its rich intensity, you really don't need more than a small cup. Definitely one of the best hot chocolates I have tasted in a long time and highly recommended.

I also had a small cup of Thai Coconut Sorbetto, which was smooth and creamy, with an intense coconut flavor.  Intensity of flavor seems to be a common denominator for SOMA's products, and that flavor seems natural and not artificial. Prices might be considered high, but then you are also receiving high quality products, made from top notch ingredients, so you should expect to pay more. To me, the items are worth the price as they deliver the taste you will crave. This should be a must-visit destination if you visit Toronto.

Soma Chocolate on Urbanspoon

The Cookbook Store: Toronto

Why isn't there an independent bookstore in the Boston area dedicated to food and drink? I think that is a gap which a clever, food-loving entrepreneur could fill. There is Stir, but its selection is relatively small and it is more dedicated to being a demonstration kitchen. The major chains all have food & drink sections but they are not independent and usually lack the more esoteric titles.  Boston needs a specialized food & drink bookstore with a significant inventory of both new, esoteric and used titles.

The closest such bookstore is probably Rabelais in Portland, Maine, a worthy destination for a day trip. Other cities around the country have excellent food & drink book stores, such as Omnivore Books in San Francisco, California. Whenever I travel, I seek out such stores, if they exist in the city I am visiting.  Most recently, I had the opportunity to visit The Cookbook Store in Toronto. Located on Yonge Street, at the intersection of Yorkville Avenue, it is easy to find, and there is a parking lot nearby.

The Cookbook Store has been around for over 25 years, and the store manager, Alison Fryer, has been there from the beginning. It is a small store, but there are thousands of books lining the shelves, separated into various categories, from International to Vegetarian. Essentially, all of the books appear to be new and in print, and include a number of more esoteric titles.  You will also find books by Canadian authors and publishers that you won't find in the U.S., such as the fascinating Taste Buds and Molecules by Francois Chartier. Unfortunately, they do not carry used or antiquated books, which would make it an even better store.

The books are well organized and neat, so it is easy to peruse the shelves and you could easily spend a few hours checking out all the available titles. There are even a few chairs where you can sit as you skim through the various cookbooks and other food-related titles. The store also runs many different events, hosting numerous authors and famous culinary professionals, as well as running demonstrations and seminars. I am sure this is a very popular destination with local food lovers, and it is good that the locals are supportive of this independent shop.

Overall, I enjoyed the store and wished I could have spent more time perusing the titles. I purchased a couple interesting books, which are not readily available in the U.S. As I mentioned earlier, my only minor complaint is that the store does not carry used or antiquated books like Rabelais and Omnivore Books. If you visit Toronto, stop by the store and find something new to read and enjoy.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Rant: How Memorable is TasteCamp?

Two weeks ago, under dreary skies, I visited the vineyards and wineries of the Niagara region, both on the Canadian and New York sides. This was TasteCamp North, the third such wine blogger conference and I have been pondering various matters about the event since then. One of the questions that came to mind concerned the overall impact of TasteCamp, and whether the attendees would still be talking about Niagara wines in a year from now. And of course that made me consider whether the attendees of the TasteCamps in Long Island and the Finger Lakes still talked about those wines. What is the long term impact of TasteCamp?

I have attended all three TasteCamps so feel I have a good understanding of them. TasteCamp is a small, intimate wine conference, limited to approximately 30-40 bloggers and their significant others.  Lenn, of the New York Cork Report, deserves much of the credit for originating the concept of TasteCamp, though numerous others have contributed to creating and arranging the three TasteCamp events. The main idea is to highlight some lesser known wine regions, areas which don't often garner much attention in wine print media.

Over a three day period, you visit numerous wineries, meet various wine makers, and have the opportunity to taste 200+ wines. It is an intense weekend, dedicated to an educational experience concerning the wine region. Yet there is plenty of fun to be had as well, and overall it is an extremely enjoyable time. There are no seminars or classes on blogging, though some independent discussion inevitably occurs. The weekend is devoted to wine. In those respects, it is a much different experience than the Wine Bloggers Conference.

The attendees pay for much of the trip themselves, such as travel and hotel costs, though some of the meals are partially or totally subsidized. Plus, there is not a cost for the various tastings. The attendees are not obligated to write about TasteCamp, and if they do write something, they have full discretion to write whatever they feel, whether positive or negative. Obviously, it is hoped and encouraged that the bloggers will choose to write about their experiences. And everyone should be able to find at least a few story ideas out of the weekend.  

Though only two weeks have passed since TasteCamp North, it has already generated over 25 blog posts, with more to come. That certainly seems a very promising start, garnering plenty of publicity for the Niagara region. TasteCamp Finger Lakes and TasteCamp Long Island each generated at least 50 posts. How many articles about these regions have appeared in wine print media during the last three years?  I bet there have been only a handful of printed articles at best.

Besides the blog posts, TasteCamp also generated hundreds of tweets, before the event, during the event and after the event. Those tweets reach many thousands of wine lovers all across the world, giving lots of exposure to the wine region. Less documentable, TasteCamp also generates plenty of word of mouth recommendations concerning the wine regions. There are also additional benefits, from attendees who purchase wine from these regions, to attendees that might even become wine ambassadors.

I am curious though as to whether the wineries involved in TasteCamp consider all of that sufficient coverage and publicity for participating in TasteCamp. The participating wineries do incur expenses, including time, money and product. Do they feel they obtain a good return on their investment? To me, I think the overall wine region receives plenty of great coverage, more than they might receive from many other events. With the wine print media, some of these wine regions might see only one or two articles in a year. With TasteCamp, a region is likely to garner over 50 articles, many hundreds of tweets, and much more.

Particular wineries from each region may only receive a little, if any, specific coverage. I am sure that may disappoint those wineries, but there are no guarantees of coverage. They may feel their investment was largely wasted. Speaking for myself, some of the participating wineries do not offer wines that excite me, and sometimes the wines are just not very good at all. I prefer to highlight the wines which most impressed me, or the stories which most fascinated me.  I have little motivation to write reviews of mediocre or poor wine. Maybe a lack of coverage should be a wake-up call to those wineries to step up their game.

I am especially curious though as to how memorable TasteCamp is for the attendees. Does it have a lasting impact? Or is its influence limited to the immediate period surrounding the event?  As for myself, it has had a lingering effect and I still discuss and recommend wines and wineries from both Long Island and the Finger Lakes. I know people who have made plans to visit these regions and I have offered suggestions of which wineries they should visit.  Prior TasteCamp wines have been included in my year-end Top Ten Wine lists, and I think it is likely that at least one, if not more, Niagara wines will end up on my 2011 Top Ten Wine lists.

But am I alone? Or do many TasteCamp attendees feel the same way?  It is a given that the attendees who live in the respective wine regions will continue to talk and write about those wines. But what about the outsiders, especially when most of the wines from these regions are not available outside of the region? Even though Massachusetts is next to New York, few wines from New York make it to our wine store shelves. So I cannot locally find some of my favorite wines from Long Island and the Finger Lakes.

From some limited discussions with other attendees, it seems that a number of them are like me, and still talk about wines from prior TasteCamps. So at least anecdotally, it appears that TasteCamp can have a lingering effect on attendees. But I would like more evidence to support that theory, and to see what percentage of attendees feel that same way. If it is a significant percentage, then TasteCamp generates more than immediate publicity, but also creates permanent advocates for a region. And that is a valuable thing.

So, if you have attended the prior TasteCamps, please tell me whether you still discuss and/or write about the wines and wineries from those regions.  If not, please give an explanation.

Let us answer the question: How memorable is TasteCamp?

Saturday, May 28, 2011

51 Lincoln: Local, Artisanal & Delicious

The suburbs often don't get enough credit for having some top notch restaurants. Boston and Cambridge garner most of the publicity, thus some of the best suburban restaurants remain largely hidden treasures, known mainly to locals or others in the know. I have to admit that I knew little of 51 Lincoln until very recently, when it seemed to pop up more and more in the news. But, it is well deserving of even more attention and gets my highest recommendation.

I recently ate at 51 Lincoln as part of a media dinner, and I will be hurrying back to experience even more of its cuisine.  The restaurant has been around for about five years and the owner/executive chef is Jeffrey Fournier, who previously worked at a number of top Boston restaurants, including Locke Ober and The Metropolitan Club. Local ingredients are emphasized and the restaurant even has a rooftop garden. 

The restaurant is medium-sized, with a separate bar and dining area.  The dining area, which seats around 60 people, has wooden tables and chairs, with unique colorful paintings on the walls. At the bar is a blackboard listing food and drink specials. There is a casually elegant ambiance, and it would be a good spot for a romantic date, drinks after work, or just a dinner out with friends.

They have a full stocked bar, and make both classic and innovative cocktails.  The wine list has about twenty wines by the glass ($7-$14) and about 100 bottles (many $40+). The list has a good and varied selection of wines from all over the world, though I would have liked to see some local Massachusetts wines on the list. Restaurants that promote their use of local ingredients should also promote local wines, especially as there are some excellent Massachusetts wines that are now being produced. They carry a number of local beers so why not carry some Massachusetts wines as well?

I was intrigued by their eclectic menu with its mix of cuisines, including Italian, Latin, French, Thai, Cambodian and more. The menu includes Appetizers ($9-$12), Cheese & Charcuterie ($4-$5), Pasta ($9-$15/appetizer size & $18-$25/entree size), Entrees (most $22-$27), and Sides ($6).  The prices are reasonable for the quality of this restaurant. You can also order a three-course Prix Fixe menu for $35, which is a Chef's Whim menu meaning that the three courses depend on what the chef wants to prepare that evening.

Your dinner begins with a basket of various house-made breads, the types varying day to day, accompanied by oil with tomato chili jam and their house-made hummus spread. I really enjoyed the warm and moist corn bread, though I would have liked some butter to spread upon it. Neither the oil or hummus would have really enhanced the cornbread. The other breads were quite good too.

We started off with a platter of house made charcuterie, including pork salami, bacon chorizo, duck prosciutto, black pepper pork jowl, kidney terrine, and head cheese. They obviously are very passionate about their charcuterie, and you can even see a small refrigerator in the bar area where they keep and age their meat. I savored all of the various meats, with their vibrant flavors, and was especially delighted by the thinly sliced head cheese. Head cheese is often served in thick slices, and sometimes can contain gelatinous pieces which can detract from its taste. But these thin slices lacked that potential problem and provided only rich flavor.

The Salmon Sashimi, farmed in Canada, came with ponzu sauce and microgreens and tasted very fresh, with a silky mouthfeel that nearly melted in my mouth. This was as good as anything you would find in a high-end Japanese sushi restaurant.

The Classic Caesar Salad ($11) had large, crisp pieces of fresh Romaine lettuce, topped by a light and flavorful dressing.  It was accompanied by a hunk of Fiore di Nonno Burrata atop a crunchy crouton. The Burrata had a firm exterior, hiding the creamy insides, and was very pleasing.

One of the specials that evening was a Duck Egg atop fiddleheads, duck confit, and mushrooms. Quite a savory dish with a nice blend of earthiness with tender duck meat and the gooey yolk of the egg. Why can't you find these duck eggs at most breakfast places?

Based on the photo, you might think this is a piece of tenderloin yet it is not even meat. In fact, it is a Pan Seared Watermelon Steak ($11) with eggplant chicharron, confit cherry tomato, french feta, and fried parsley. When you slice it open, it resembles seared tuna and when you eat it, your taste buds explode in delight from its savory flavors.  Even tasting it, you would be hard pressed to identify it as watermelon. Frankly, it is compelling enough I would almost consider ordering it just as my entree.  This was clearly a "wow" dish, indicative of the chef's creativity.

For my entree, I chose the Cambodian Fluke Amok ($27), which has jasmine rice, curry, lemon grass, ginger, and coconut milk. There were two large pieces of flaky, sweet fluke with a compelling and balanced Asian sauce, providing some additional sweetness but also some spicy undertones. An excellent dish, using a fish you don't often see on the menu. Three of us ordered the Amok and all of us enjoyed it.

We tried a couple sides, both of which thoroughly impressed me. The Fried Housemade Pickles ($6), which come with a Remoulade, were probably the best fried pickles I have ever tasted. First, they possessed a light, crunchy coating and the pickles were moist and crisp.  Unlike many other fried pickles, these pickles were thinner slices, providing just the right amount of contrast for the coating and also preventing the coating from getting soggy. They were addictive and I could easily order them as an appetizer.

The Polenta Fries ($6) with a truffle parmesan dip, were also very impressive. Looking like French toast sticks, the thick fries had an excellent crispy exterior with a light and delicate corn-flavored interior. The dip was a rich and creamy spread that enhanced the polenta, and actually would have been great with the corn bread too. This would also make an excellent appetizer or bar snack.

Though I had little room left in my stomach, I did have enough space to taste a few of their desserts. They make their own Frozen Custard, including Honey Lavendar, Chocolate Expresso, and Madagascar Vanilla Bean as well as their own Sorbet, such as Cinnamon and Cranberry. The custards were pleasantly creamy and both the custards and sorbet were certainly rich in their respective flavors. My favorite was the Vanilla Bean, with the Honey Lavendar a close second.

The "Where is the Cake Lebowski" is an homage to the movie The Big Lebowski, and consists of a white Kahlua cake, cocoa powder dust, and toasted coconut. Besides being a cool idea, the cake is also scrumptious, being moist and with a strong coconut flavor.

Service was very good, and my overall experience was excellent. It reminds me in some respects of Bergamot, its use of local ingredients, its artisanal foods, its innovative and delicious cuisine. 51 Lincoln offers compelling cuisine, reasonably priced for the quanity and quality, and it is a top notch culinary destination. I will be returning there soon, to partake of more dishes from their menu, as well as enjoying again some of my favorite foods.  My only regret is that I had not known of this restaurant before now.

51 Lincoln on Urbanspoon

Friday, May 27, 2011

Dinosaur BBQ: Cornbread & Ribs

When I sought some restaurant recommendations for Syracuse, New York, the vast majority of people told me to dine at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que. With all that positive support, and after a review of their website, I figured I would stop there for dinner. Founded by some motorcyle enthusiasts, the restaurant is open for lunch and dinner, with outside tables, plenty of interior dining space, and a lengthy bar.  The walls are adorned with an eclectic mix of old signs, posters, music pictures, and other quirky items. It has a fun ambiance, a casual place to have a good time.

They have a full bar, with a long list of beers, including numerous local brews. The wine list is less compelling, with the usual major commercial wines on the list. The food menu is fairly extensive, with primarily BBQ and southern dishes, including appetizers, sandwiches, entrees and over fifteen sides. You'll find items including Drunken Spicy Shrimp Boil, BBQ Salmon Fritters, Bronzed Catfish, Mojito Chicken Steak and much more.  Entrees generally cost under $15, though some of the larger entree plates are more expensive. There are plenty of combination plates, allowing you to sample several different dishes.

As I am not a fan of beer, I decided to partake of a pint glass of Woodchuck Cider, a nice accompaniement to BBQ.

The meal began with some Fried Green Tomatoes (3 for $5.95), which are topped by Pecorino cheese and served with a cayenne buttermilk ranch dressing. The thick sliced tomatoes were tasty, surrounded by a nice, crunchy coating, though I would have preferred the cheese to be melted. They actually do have a version with melted cheddar cheese, ham and shrimp.

We also had some Catfish Strips ($5.95), cornmeal dusted, with spicy tartar sauce and BBQ dipping sauce. These were quite delicious, with plenty of flaky, sweet catfish and a light fried coating with a subtle corn flavor. You could easily make a diverse and enjoyable meal of just appetizers here, and if so, you should try the catfish.

The Pork & Brisket Plate ($13.50) comes with pulled pork and sliced brisket, your choice of two sides, and a piece of honey hush cornbread. The above platter has the Mac-n-Cheese and Mashed Potato sides. The pulled pork was ok, though a bit dry, and really needed the sauce. The brisket was also ok, though neither of the two really impressed me. You could find the same at any average BBQ place. The potatoes and mac-n-cheese were good, and sides I would recommend.

The cornbread was top notch, moist and with a slight sweetness to it. I even ordered some cornbread to-go as I enjoyed it so much. That cornbread must have been just out of the oven and was still hot, so I had to eat another piece before leaving. I would come here just for the cornbread!

Above is a 1/4 rack of BBQ Pork Ribs ($9.50) with French Fries and a Salad. After the ok pulled pork and brisket, the ribs were a pleasant surprise, tender and flavorful meat that nearly fell off the bone. The spicy BBQ sauce atop the ribs impressed and these ribs are probably some of the best I have had at a BBQ restaurant. Next time, I would select a larger order of these lips smacking ribs.

Service was very good, and overall I enjoyed the experience, though was a little disappointed with the pulled pork and brisket. But, there is plenty of other impressive and delicious food to be had here so it is a worthy dining destination.

Dinosaur BBQ on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I briefly highlight some interesting wine and food items that I have encountered recently.
1) On June 6th, Legal Sea Foods will welcome Olivier Humbrecht, Master of Wine, owner and winemaker for Domaine Zind-Humbrecht, to their Park Square Wine Cellar. Domaine Zind-Humbrecht wines hail from the Alsace region of northeast France encompassing concentrated, fruity-styles with low yield and biodynamic viticulture. At this dinner, guests will enjoy a five-course meal complemented by Olivier Humbrecht’s selections from the vineyard.

Jumbo Lump Crab Tartelette
Shrimp Queso Fundido
King Crab Tempura with Wasabi Crème Fraîche
Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Pinot d’Alsace, 2008

Smoked Wild King Salmon Tartare (fried capers, dill aïoli, dark rye)
Domaine Zind-Humbrecht “Gueberschwihr” Riesling, 2007
Domaine Zind-Humbrecht “Clos Hauserer” Riesling, 2006

Grilled Rainbow Trout and Juniper-Scented “Choucroute Garnie” (bacon wrapped potatoes and whole grain mustard)
Domaine Zind-Humbrecht “Brand” Grand Cru Riesling, 2007

Hickory Wood Grilled Duck Breast (mango curry chutney, english sweet peas, fava bean ragoût)
Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Rangen de Thann “Clos St Urbain” Gewurztraminer, 2008

Pear Rhubarb Napoleon (cinnamon puff pastry, vanilla ice cream)
Domaine Zind-Humbrecht “Vieilles Vignes” Pinot Gris, 2008

WHEN: Monday, June 6th at 6:30pm
COST: $85 per person (excludes tax and gratuity)
Reservation required by calling: 617-530-9397.

I'll be at this dinner so I hope to see you there.

2)  The Reserve Bin, a specialty wine and craft beer shop will be celebrating its One-Year Anniversary on June 10. The Reserve Bin has one of the largest selections of local wine in the state. In honor of all the customers who have dedicated to shopping locally, The Reserve Bin will be hosting an all local wine tasting featuring numerous wines produced throughout New England. The event will take place on Friday, June 10, at 5:00pm.

Owner Kristin Braga states: "Buying local wine and supporting small businesses has had a resurgence in the south shore. It is important to support local area businesses and showcase their great products. The wines from New England often are underappreciated and with help from The Reserve Bin, many area residents have been able to have access to and enjoy local wine. This event is a way to get acquainted with local varietals, along with the individuals dedicated to crafting them."

There will be also special giveaways that will be offered to attendees sponsored by the local vintners:
• A private group tasting and tour for 10 people at Travessia Urban Winery in New Bedford, MA hosted by owner and winemaker Marco Montez.
• Two bottles of local mead produced by Isaaks of Salem in Salem, MA.
• Two stemless glasses and locally made jam from Plymouth Winery.
• A private group tasting for 10 people at Truro Vineyards hosted by owner Dave Roberts in North Truro, MA.
• A private wine tasting for 2 at Westport Rivers Vineyards in Westport, MA.
• Two tickets to the Jonathan Edwards Summer Concert series at Jonathan Edwards Winery in North Stonington, CT.

This should be an exciting event, and I agree people should get to know local wineries better. You can read my prior review of The Reserve Bin, a place I highly recommend to wine lovers.

3) AKA Bistro and the Clark Gallery are collaborating to develop an outdoor sculpture park on the green surrounding the bistro’s seasonal outdoor terrace. This month, a second, 8-foot tall granite artwork was installed. The two-ton Voluta is made of glacial boulders harvested from around artist Gary Haven Smith’s New Hampshire home. The two sculptures on Lincoln Road, with an expanse of grass between them, make a contemplative and engaging outdoor venue for enjoying the bistro’s creative menu of French and Japanese fare.  Future art installations for the green are being readied.

In addition, beginning in mid-June and continuing through October, the green will be the site of the Lincoln Farmer’s Market, every Saturday from 9am-1pm.

4) On June 14th, at 6:30pm, Legal Sea Foods will honor dads a bit early with a Legal Holiday: Father’s Day. Legal Sea Foods will celebrate in Park Square’s wine cellar with a trio of offerings including the following:  
Chilled Calamari Salad With Citrus, Cherry & Banana Peppers, Crispy Tortilla Cup
Paired with Victory Prima Pils

Barbacoa Tortas With Queso Fresco, Avocado, Pickled Red Onion, Cilantro, Smoked Tomato Salsa
Paired with Allagash White Ale

Strawberry Bread Pudding With Colombian Dark Chocolate, Fresh Berries
Paired with Lindemans Framboise Lambic

COST: $35 per session (includes tax & gratuity)
Reservations required by calling: 617-530-9392 or make them online.

5) This week, Downtown Crossing will welcome its newest dining destination: 49 Social. With a refined seasonal American menu executed by Michael Lishchynsky and an inventive craft cocktail and wine program managed by Kim Frankson, 49 Social will offer guests "the comfort of an inviting social setting in a lively yet sophisticated, sleek-meets-vintage atmosphere."

Executive Chef Michael Lishchynsky has spent time in the kitchens of the Four Seasons Hotel in Boston and David Burke Townhouse in New York City. Boasting a menu of moderately priced refined American cuisine, 49 Social will offer a lunch, dinner and bar menu.

Highlights from the upcoming lunch menu include: Caprese Salad (house-made mozzarella sphere, baby arugula, tomato, prosciutto vinaigrette - $13); raised Rabbit Croque Madame (ricotta herb spread, mornay sauce, gruyere, topped with fried egg, served with spring greens - $15); Seared Salmon (chickpea panisse, pipérade, harissa, blood orange emulsion - $19); and, Duo of Chicken (crispy breast, confit of thigh and leg, collard greens, truffle mac and cheese - $17). In addition, Chef Lishchynsky will offer guests a selection of six gourmet flatbreads on the lunch and bar menus, including: White Clam (Wellfleet clams, garlic, Italian parsley, shaved fennel, fennel oil - $13); and, Truffle (wild mushrooms, truffle, baby arugula - $14).

For dinner, guests will enjoy options such as: Duo of Beef (tea smoked ribeye, Korean-style beef tartare, jasmine tea cracker - $16); Tuna Sashimi (broken garlic chili vinaigrette, radish salad, soy pearls - $17); Seared Sea Scallops (red lentils, napa cabbage, pickled daikon salad, curried blood orange emulsion - $24); and, Berkshire Pork Tenderloin Roulade (wild boar sausage, pancetta and spring pea risotto, pork jus - $27).

From the afternoon and late night bar menu, signature items include: Fried Oyster Po’ Boy Sliders (celery root slaw, bibb lettuce, tomato, Old Bay aioli - $12); Tempura Garden (asparagus, shitaki mushrooms, fiddleheads, baby bok choy, miso broth - $10); and, the House Burger (sharp cheddar, crispy leeks, bibb lettuce, tomato, truffle aioli, rosemary garlic pommes frites - $17) which will also be offered during lunch and dinner service.

Managing the 49 Social beverage program is Kim Frankson (formerly of Radius). 49 Social has a full liquor license and will feature a variety of specialty cocktails in addition to its extensive wine list. Highlights from the cocktail list include: Amor (gin and Lillet with splashes of rose water and lemon juice, finished with a fresh strawberry); Sugar & Spice (tequila, tagarshi, agave nectar, lime and orange juices, kumquats); and, Field of Dreams (Reyka, organic citron liqueur, tarragon and grapefruit juice). 49 Social will also produce homemade infusions, such as rosemary gin and lavender-rhubarb syrup. The beverage program will also feature 28 bottles of wine for $28 and an additional 50 bottles ranging from $30-$100. The wine list will be complemented by a select variety of reserve bottles to accommodate all tastes.

49 Social will open at 49 Temple Place in Boston’s Downtown Crossing neighborhood in the space formerly inhabited by Ivy Restaurant. 49 Social will be open Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner. The lunch menu will be available in upcoming weeks from 11:30am through 2:30pm. Dinner will be served from 5:00pm through 10:00pm. A bar menu will also be available from 2:30pm through 12:30am.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Five Guys Burgers & Fries: Now Open in Stoneham

I love a good, juicy cheeseburger so was intrigued when I learned that Five Guys Burgers & Fries would be opening in Stoneham in the Redstone Plaza. Five Guys is a fast food chain, with over 750 locations across the U.S. and Canada, and about four new restaurants in Massachusetts. They concentrate on burgers and fries, with only a few other items available on their menu. It is meant to be a step-up from places like Burger King and McDonalds, and it certainly succeeds in that regard.

The Stoneham location opened on May 9 and I have eaten there several times since that date. It has been a popular place, and there are usually plenty of people eating there. It is open seven days a week, from 11am-10pm and you can even place your order online.  As it is in Redstone Plaza, there is plenty of parking available.

The menu is very simple, basically burgers, hotdogs and French fries. There are four basic burger choices, in two sizes, including: hamburger, cheeseburger, bacon burger and bacon cheeseburger. The regular burger ($4.99) is a double patty, and the "little" burger ($3.59) is a single patty. These are very reasonable prices for the burgers.  There are fifteen toppings you get atop your burger, such as onions, mushrooms, jalapeno peppers, hot sauce and BBQ sauce. All of the toppings are free, and you can mix and match whatever combination you desire. Burgers only come well done, and they won't prepare them any other way.

Also on the menu is the Kosher style hot dog ($3.39), which you can have with cheese and/or bacon. Fries come as Regular or Cajun style, in regular ($2.99) or large ($4.69) sizes. They also have a Veggie Sandwich, Grilled Cheese and a Veggie Sandwich with Cheese. For drinks, you can order soda (with free refills) or bottled water. Note that the soda choices include unsweetened and sweet iced tea.  You won't find salads, chicken, onion rings, soups, or anything else. I like the simplicity of the menu, as allowing them to concentrate on fewer items should enhance their quality.

The restaurant has a bright red and white color scheme with soft tan wood colors on the tables and chairs, providing a welcoming ambiance. About 40 people can be seated within the restaurant and the kitchen is open so you can watch your food being prepared if you wish. All orders, even if you are eating in, are placed in to-go bags, and you won't even find trays. It takes a few minutes longer to receive your food than it might at Burger King or McDonalds, but that is not a problem as your food is being freshly prepared.

Above, you can see a Little Cheeseburger and a Regular Bacon Cheeseburger (a double patty). These are not pretty burgers, as wrapping them in foil does crush them a bit, spreads some of the grease and the cheese often sticks to the inside of the foil. But the primary concern is their taste, not how pretty they look. Now, I generally dislike my burgers being cooked well done, as it tends to dry out the burger. But these burgers were quite juicy, and not what you might have expected for being well done. The sesame seed bun was soft and fresh, and there was plenty of melted cheese and crisp bacon slices. It seems like an old-fashioned burger, very tasty and definitely better than most other fast food burger joints.  Plus, as it is very reasonably priced, this is a value burger too.

The grilled Hot Dog with cheese and bacon also was not pretty, but it was quite good. The lengthy dog is sliced down the middle and is covered in melted cheese atop a layer of several slices of crisp bacon. This is certainly better than the usual hot dogs served at fast food places. I would order this again.

The regular -size fries come in an overflowing cup, and are sufficient to feed two people. The fries, with the skin on, are thicker than you find at some other fast food places, and their crispness varied on my different trips. Sometimes they were crisper than other days.  The Cajun style fries have a spicy kick to them which I enjoyed, and probably prefer to the Regular style of fries.

Overall, I liked Five Guys and certainly prefer it to many of the other fast food burger joints out there. These won't be the best burgers you have ever had, but for the price, they are a delicious value and should satisfy your burger cravings.  If you want a quick and casual lunch or dinner, and want a burger or dog, then I recommend Five Guys. It is a welcome addition to the culinary scene in Stoneham.

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