Monday, August 8, 2022

Rant: More Bread Pudding!

For many years, I've been saying that we need more Bread Pudding, more restaurants willing to place it onto their dessert menus, more bakeries willing to offer it, and I'd even love to see a bakery specialize in Bread Pudding. There once was a bread pudding bakery in California, which advertised 108 flavors, broken down into Classics, Chocolates, Fruits and Seasonal. Why can't such a bakery start up in the Boston area?

The origins of Bread Pudding extends back to the 11th century, as people tried to find ways to use their stale bread. A couple hundred years later, in England, it was known as "poor man's pudding" because it was popular with the lower classes. Essentially, Bread Pudding is made with some type of bread over which a custard-like sauce is poured before it is cooked. Numerous other ingredients can be added, from nuts to fruits, and you can use any type of bread, or bread-like food, such as muffins or donuts. 

It's relatively easy to make, versatile and can be absolutely delicious so why isn't it more prevalent? I still don't understand why it remains relatively rare in the Boston+ area. A few local restaurants offer Bread Pudding, and my favorite is created by Chef Marisa Iocco at Spiga, in Needham, and which is pictured at the top of this post. 

I first tasted her Bread Pudding back in 2009, and it captivated me then, being just as delicious now as it was all those years ago. I've told people they should start their meal with the Bread Pudding, to prevent them from being otherwise too full to eat it after dinner. What brought the topic of bread pudding back in the front of my mind was news concerning Chef Iocco.

Chef Iocco has recently opened Market-Tiamo in Newton Centre, a market specializing in imported Italian delicacies, handcrafted prepared items for takeout, hard-to-find Italian wines, dry and fresh pastas, cheeses, and more. In addition, her superb Bread Pudding will also be available for sale, so you can enjoy it at home! I'll soon check out this new Italian market and will report back in the near future. 

If you'd like to make her Bread Pudding at home, Chef Iocco allowed me to post a recipe for her Bread Pudding, though you're on your own for creating an interesting sauce to top it.

2 lbs. crusty, day-old Italian bread
1 quart heavy cream
1 quart whole milk
6 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise

--Remove the bread heels and cut bread into small cubes
--In a saucepan, combine cream, milk, sugar and vanilla bean, and bring to a slow boil. Remove the mixture from the heat and allow it to cool and steep for one hour.
--In a bowl, whisk the eggs, then pour in the vanilla-cream mixture and stir. Next, add the bread cubes and allow it to sit just long enough to soak up most of the liquid.
--Pour mixture into a rectagular cake pan at least 4” deep. Cover tightly with foil. Place that pan into a slightly larger pan, then add about two inches of water to the larger pan to create what’s called a “bain marie” or water bath. This provides moisture during baking.
--Bake at 375 degrees for two hours. Remove from oven; let pudding “set” briefly. Cut into squares. Serves 8 generously.

Readers, would you support a local bakery specializing in bread pudding? What local restaurants have you enjoyed bread pudding? Do you make bread pudding at home?

(This is a revision/update of a prior post which is just as relevant now as it once was.)

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I'm back again with a new edition of Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food and drink events. I hope everyone dines out safely, tips well and are nice to their servers.
1) Happy Hour doesn't have to be about alcohol! At Karma Asian Fusion, at the Burlington Mall, hosts their own Happy Hour, on Monday to Friday, from 3pm-5pm. During this special time period, you can obtain $1 Oysters, straight from Duxbury, and accompanied by an Asian-inspired brine. Happy Hour also includes $5 Spicy Salmon & Tuna Maki, $6 Spicy Salmon & Tuna Hand Rolls, $5 Crab Rangoon (6 pieces) and $5 Salt & Pepper Calamari. This is the time to check out Karma and get a great deal on some oysters and Asian-inspired snacks.

2) R.F. O’Sullivan & Son, in Somerville, is debuting a “Board of Burgers Challenge” where hopefuls will try to polish off a massive platter of food. Challengers order up a board of five half-pound burgers, of their choosing, that are complemented by a bed of onion rings and French fries in addition to five pickle spears. The mission is to clean the board in one sitting (no time limit) without an assist from your friends. To the victors go the spoils: your photo on the Hall of Fame board, a commemorative t-shirt and RFO’s will comp your conquest.

The burgers cover more classic preparations like The Celtic with lettuce, tomato, onion, bacon, pickles and American cheese; BBQ with bacon, onion rings, pickles, bourbon BBQ and cheddar; Bloody Mary with tomato, onion, bacon and sriracha; The Pub with lettuce, onion, tomato and mayo; and Mushroom & Swiss with horseradish pepper sauce. Twists on the basic burger are seen in The Greek with lettuce, tomato, onion, tzatziki, roasted red pepper and feta; Don’t Poke the Bear with bacon, maple bacon glaze, fried egg and cheddar; Bacon & Blue with crumbled blue cheese, lettuce, tomato and mayo; The Green Monstah with chipotle mayo, lettuce, pickles, beer cheese, sauteed onions and peppers; The Krabby Patty with pineapple, lettuce, onion, pepper jack cheese and a sweet ginger glaze; and newcomer the PB&J with peanut butter, bacon, jalapeño, onions and cheddar. There also is The Impossible, a plant-based patty topped with lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle.

The “Board of Burgers” is available for $60, if you want to share it with friends or if you cannot finish the challenge.&

3) Sumiao Hunan Kitchen is very busy this month. First, they are participating in Dine Out Boston, from August 7-20, offering a 4-course lunch for $27 or 4-course dinner for $41. Plenty of excellent choices on their menu. Second, they are also participating in World Baijiu Day on August 9. Although they always have Baijiu cocktails available, they have created two new ones this month, including the Fung Wah (Sesame Baijiu, Chrysanthemum, Honey, Ginger, Lemon, Peated Scotch) and the Baijiu Blast (Baijiu Gin, Green Tea, Midori, Pineapple, Lime)

So, next week, you can actually participate in both of these events at the same time. Check out my experiences at Sumaio from last year, where I did just that, enjoying a 4 course lunch with their new Baijiu cocktail. And I'll probably dine there again, to check out their newest Baijiu cocktails.

Monday, August 1, 2022

Rant: Eating Salad With Your Hands

Over the weekend, I watched a movie with a scene of a man eating a salad with his hands. Someone asked him if he needed a fork and he responded, "No. I prefer to use my hands. I believe people have lost their relationship with food. They do not think 'this is something that died for me so that I would not go hungry.' I like that connection with something you die for. I appreciate it more."

There is truth in his words. 

It's probably not a coincidence that some of our favorite foods, from pizza to burgers, tacos to cupcakes, are eaten with our hands and not utensils. This creates a greater connection between us and our food. There isn't an intermediary of metal, wood or plastic utensils which might interfere with our enjoyment of these foods. 

Yes, it's a psychological issue, and one which most people don't even think about except on an unconscious level. They understand they enjoy these foods and can detail the reasons for their enjoyment, but they will rarely mention that part of the reason is that they can touch the food.

Eating with your hands can even lead to you licking your fingers, savoring the sauce, condiments, cheese, frosting, and other items that might accumulate on your skin. There is a certain intimacy involved in eating food with your hands, one which we appreciate though usually on a deeper level. Yes, you can enjoy food which you eat with a knife and fork, but there is something more satisfyingly primal with being able to use your hands.

What may make us think more closely about this issue is when we are confronted with a situation outside of the norm, when we are unable to eat a certain item with our hands that usually we should be able to do so. For example, sometimes burgers contain so many ingredients, especially messier ingredients, that you can't just pick it up and eat it. You need a knife and fork to eat it, thus losing part of the essential aspect of the dish, the direct connection of flesh to food.

I'm not sure all restaurants understand how certain foods should not require utensils to enjoy, that part of the allure is being able to hold them in your hands as you eat them. Do your own test at home. Try eating some of the foods with your hands and try some with utensils. And I bet, if you're being honest, you will notice a difference.

Enjoy touching your food!

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I'm back again with a new edition of Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food and drink events. I hope everyone dines out safely, tips well and are nice to their servers.
1) Faccia Brutta, a new coastal Italian restaurant from chefs and restaurateurs Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette, opened earlier this week for dinner service. This restaurant "focuses on seasonal dishes highlighting the diverse cuisine of the coastal Italian region, drawing inspiration from their travels across Liguria, Sicily, Sardinia, and more." It will serve seasonal cuisine with locally sourced ingredients featuring snacks, crudos, housemade pastas (with gluten-free options cooked in a separate kitchen) and more. 

Menu highlights include: 
Grilled Octopus with black rice, guanciale and fava beans
Live Scallop served in the shell with lardo, crunchy endive and black truffle vinaigrette
Squid Ink Trottole with Maine uni, melted leeks and Calabrian chili
Pansotti, a half moon ravioli typical in Liguria with swiss chard, ricotta, walnuts, brown butter and fiddleheads
Orecchiette Baresi with inspiration from Puglia featuring an beef gravy with nduja, tomatoes
Christmas Style Branzino, a whole fish butterflied with one side cooked with salsa verde and the other with pesto trapanese
Grilled Lobster with Calabrian chili butter, fregola and clam vinaigrette

Their beverage program includes cocktails such as 1794 (Capari, rye, sweet vermouth, chocolate mole bitters and an orange twist), a fun twist on the Negroni; a selection of Spritzes, and more. The wine list focuses on approachable wines from the coastal Italian area, as well as selections from around the world, all sourced from smaller organic producers. 

Faccia Brutta is now open six days a week, with service starting at 5PM to 10PM, Monday through Saturday.   

2) Rochambeau has now initiated Rochambeau After Dark. their new late-night weekend programming. Every Friday and Saturday night, Rochambeau will now open its doors for weekend evenings full of live music and fun. The party starts with live jazz in Rochambeau's café space from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. followed by cocktails, dancing, and a DJ in the restaurant's first-floor bar/lounge area from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Rochambeau After Dark is free to attend but VIP table reservations are available for purchase and can be made by calling (617) 247-0400. VIP includes prime table seating and access to a special VIP martini and wine bar.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Nightshade Noodle Bar: Tasting Menu Delights

Nightshade Noodle Bar is one of my Top Three Favorite Restaurants in the Boston+ area. It's consistently excellent, with killer cuisine, an interesting drinks program, top-notch service, and a cool ambiance. It earns my highest recommendation (check out prior reviews) and I have encouraged numerous people to dine there, who also loved their own experiences there. Thus, when I was deciding where to have a celebratory dinner for my birthday, I chose Nightshade. 

For this visit, I opted for the Blind Tasting Menu option, where you simply choose the number of courses and then the Chef decides which dishes to serve you. You can suggest a course or two you would like included in the menu. The Tasting Menu options include 7 courses ($85), 9 courses ($110), 12 courses ($140), and 14 courses ($160). In addition, on Wednesday evenings, they offer a special 5 course menu ($50). For an additional fee, they can also create Custom Drink Pairings for your dinner.

This was my first time trying one of their Tasting Menus, and I chose the 9 course dinner, without the custom drink pairing as I decided to select my own wine. I also asked for the Dry-Aged Duck Breast to be included in my tasting menu. I was thoroughly impressed with my dining experience, greatly enjoying the various dishes, which presented a nice variety. Some of the dishes were presented in a single dish, to be shared with my dining companion, while others were presented in individual dishes, one for each of us. By the end of the evening, I was sated and very, very happy. A wonderful birthday celebration.

As I was there more for a celebration, I took photos but no notes, so I don't recall all of the specific details of each dish. Our server, who was personable, knowledgeable and attentive, did explain each and every dish. Some of the dishes were prepared fairly simply, while others were more complex, with a greater amount of ingredients, and each dish was well balanced, with both taste and texture. 

We started our dinner with a glass of a Brut Nature Cava, as all celebrations should begin with some bubbly. It was a very dry and flavorful Spanish sparkling wine, which ended up being a great choice for our initial food courses. 

We began our dinner with Caviar Service, with an eggspuma dip, garlic, and crisp potato chips. The caviar, slightly sweet and mildly briny, went nicely atop the creamy dip and the salty chips. There is some creme fraiche in the intriguing and tasty dip too. I liked the fun pairing of caviar with potato chips, rather than the usual blinis. 

The Second Course included more unique treasures from the sea, Percebes and Uni. The chilled Percebes, also known as gooseneck barnacles, commonly come from Spain and are very dangerous to harvest. They are found on rocky coasts, in dangerous surf, in Galicia and the fishermen risk their very lives to obtain them. Their shell almost looks like talon, and you simply need to twist off the shell to get the tubular meat inside. The meat is tender, lightly sweet and briny, a definite taste of the ocean, and they were served with a Vietnamese lime pepper dipping sauce. A delicious and unique treat. It's been a long time since I enjoyed percebes, so it was a pleasure to have them again. 

I've long been an Uni fan, so was also pleased to enjoy some again too, this time in the shell with some Thai basil. Creamy, salty, and tasty, the Uni also went very well with our bubbly. This duo, of Percebes and Uni, was one of my favorite dishes of the tasting menu. 

For the Third Course, we received Kabocha Squash Bot Chien, which is composed of Vietnamese rice cakes, crispy confit duck tongues, green chili sauce, duck egg, and pickled carrots & daikon. As I've said before, this is an intriguing and creative dish, which was a fine blend of textures and flavors, all meshing well together. The crispy duck tongues were a nice addition and unless you knew what they were, you probably never would have guessed that they were tongues. This is a fine example of a more complex dish, which is well balanced and works extremely well. 

The Fourth Course was Peach Bahn Mi, with green chili citrus butter and pickles, atop toasted bread. A nice treat, with some sweetness from the peach, a nice crunch from the toast, more crunch from the pickles, as well as good acidity balancing the sweetness. 

It was difficult to get a good photo of the Fifth Course, as it was deep down inside a a small cup. It was Dry-Aged Duck Breast with braised yuba, smoked pork broth, and a tamarind bbq sauce. The duck was exquisite, tender, moist and flavorful, and I could have easily devoured a much larger dish of the duck. What looked like thin, wide noodles was the yuba, dried tofu skin, which was a little dense and sopped up the broth and sauce well. Highly recommended.

The Sixth Course: The Homemade Egg Noodles, one of my favorite dishes on their menu, made with caramelized garlic sauce, peanuts, Thai basil, and chili crisp. A superb dish, with immense flavor, lots of umami, and a great balance of textures and flavors. I think I've eaten this dish every time I visited Nightshade, and I'm sure I'll eat it again many times to come.

Onto the Seventh Course: Amarena Cherry Claypot Caramel Foie Gras atop grilled coconut sticky rice. A decadent dish, with delightful textures, including the silky foie, and a nice blend of flavors, from the cherry to the coconut. 

As a palate cleaner, our Eighth Course was light and refreshing, although I can't recall exactly the components. Our Final Course, of which I didn't get a photo, was a small dish of Chocolate Mousse. a rich, creamy chocolate with a subtly complex taste with hints of citrus, dried fruit and spice and enhanced by a touch of sea salt. And there was a lit candle in my dish for my birthday. A nice little touch. 

During the course of the dinner, we drank a bottle of the 2018 La Tintorera “Kira-9” Rosado, a Spanish Rosé made from 95% Mencia and 5% Dona Blanca. It was fermented and aged in stainless steel. Delicious, dry, and full of bright red fruit flavors. Easy drinking and very food friendly, it went well with the various dishes we enjoyed. Great summer choice! 

If you haven't dined at Nightshade Noodle Bar then you should make reservations to do so soon. If you have been there before, why not visit them again? I'll also note that I made a brief stop at their new Sin City Superette, which is adjacent to the restaurant. The small shop has a wide variety of items, from basic essentials to Sushi, from fresh veggies/fruits to frozen meats, from cheeses and tortillas, and much more. You can get Nightshade's Chili Crisp! And earlier during the day, you can get freshly made sandwiches, such as cheeseburgers and special hotdogs. I need to return there to spend more time checking out everything they have for sale.