Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Red House (Cambridge, MA), Machu Picchu (Somerville, MA) and Farmer Brown's Farm Stand (Middleton, MA)

Oysters and 18yr Glenfiddich
As you have probably discerned by now, oysters are just about my favorite snack, so when I found out a few years ago that there is a restaurant in Cambridge that serves them, two for a dollar, from noon to 6:00pm, I was determined to go.  And now, I finally made it!

The Red House is located a short walk from my other Cambridge favorites, Charlie's Kitchen and Crema Cafe (where I also stopped afterwards for a coffee to help wash down the beer and Scotch I had just consumed), down narrow Winthrop St.  During the six hours after noon, your first dozen oysters per person cost just 50 cents a piece, and while that limit is not advertised, I suspect most people do not have more than a dozen by themselves.  No worries for those of you like me who only stop eating oysters after you run out of money or stomach space; they are only one dollar apiece after that first dozen.

The oysters are currently Island Creek's, out of Duxbury, MA, and while they are no Kumamotos or Damariscottas, they are pretty damn good.  Their failing in comparison to those two varietals, which are my favorites, is their lesser quality (and quantity) liquor, which is only a little briny in the Island Creeks.  That said, you could never get Damariscottas or Kumamotos for this cheap even in a good fish shop like Harbor Fish, much less in a restaurant. I paid $12 for the dozen and a half oysters I ate, a tremendous deal beaten only by J's Oyster's freebies, but for those you have to wait until the waiter comes to you with more on their timetable, instead of just ordering them up as you want.  They are served with some mild horseradish and a very ketchup-y cocktail sauce, along with a large slice of lemon and some mixed greens; not sure what the deal with the greens is, since they do not give you a fork.  Maybe they are supposed to be eating with the oysters, but I have never heard of such a thing.

I sat at the small bar, which has maybe eight or nine seats; there are also a small handful of tables for about another dozen people in the bar area, while the dining room seats another 65 according to their website.  The oyster deal is only available in the bar or on the patio (weather permitting, of course, which in New England means about four months out of the year), so do not go expecting to sit in the dining room and receive these prices.  You can start out at the bar and then migrate to the dining room though, or eat from the dining room menu at the bar if you want.  They have a solid list of draft beers available, including the ever more popular Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier from Bayerische Staatsbrauerei Weihenstephan, one of the highest rated beers on BeerAdvocate.  I went with a Founders Brewing Company Breakfast Stout, which has a perfect rating.  One of the best beers out there, it is strong, dark and heavy, without being overwhelming.  It has a definite sweetness and the malt flavors are huge, with some oatmeal flavors that are just plain delightful.  I do not taste quite as much coffee as some other people in it, but that could just be my palate.  They serve it a little too cold, so I let it warm up for a couple of minutes before drinking it; as it warmed the flavors opened up a great deal, and it became better and better as I took my time drinking it.

After finishing my beer, I moved on to Scotch, since they have ridiculously good prices; the 18 Year Glenfiddich I had was just $11, much, much cheaper than I have ever seen it.  Now, this is not the same as the 18 Year Ancient Reserve I reviewed at the beginning of January, but it is a very good, very smooth Scotch.  It lacked the character of the Ancient Reserve, and seemed not to have taken on a great deal of flavor from whatever wood it was aged in.  All in all, a good single malt, and worth trying, especially at such a reasonable price, but there are far better options out there, especially for those of us who like peaty, smoky whiskys, which this was certainly not.


It is always a good sign when you show up at an ethnic restaurant to find a family who appears to be representative of the culture having a meal or event there; upon entering Machu Picchu in Somerville, MA, that was exactly what I saw, a giant table filled with what I deduced was several generations of a Peruvian descended family.  My expectations were immediately raised, and eventually well met.

I went with my best friend from high school, and we decided to split the Yaquitas a la Huancaina (fried yucca with a creamy, slightly spicy sauce) and the Palta Primavera (halved avocados filled/topped with a chicken and nixtamal, or hominy, salad).  Both were delicious, as the yucca was crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, not unlike very good steak fries, and the avocado was firm but creamy, with a simple chicken salad topping it.  My only complaint was the abundant use of mayonnaise in the salad, which was unnecessary.  The hominy was a great touch, and definitely needs to be used more.

For my entree, I had the Bisteck a lo Pobre (poor man's steak, essentially; a large steak served with white rice topped by a sunny side up egg, french fries, and a few pieces of sweet plantains), and it was just flat out awesome.  The steak was slightly more done than I like (which is basically not at all), but was a fine medium rare, incredibly tender, perfectly seasoned, with beautiful cross-hatched grill marks.  The rice was fine, nothing special, but once the egg yolk was broken into it it definitely got more interesting.  French fries are among my favorite things, but these were the only real miss for me, being rather limp and unseasoned; the platanos more than made up for that though, and they proved yet again why they are among my favorite things ever.

They have a few beers on the menu, including a couple from Peru, one of which I had, though I cannot remember its name; it was pretty good, but nothing super interesting, reminding me of a Czech pilsener.  They also had a pan flute band playing, which, once I got over my initial reaction of amusement (thanks to South Park's Pandemic episodes) was actually kind of nice.  All in all, this is a pretty great restaurant, and I look forward to going back in the future.


I spent three days in Middleton, MA this past week as part of a training, and since it was close and cheap, I went to Farmer Brown's Farm Stand each day to pick up some lunch.  They offer a large salad bar that appears to be filled with fresh vegetables and lettuce, as well as nearly a dozen soups, which is what I decided to partake in.  Over the course of three days I had the Hungarian Mushroom, Cream of Broccoli with Aged Cheddar, and finally the Italian Wedding Soup.  That last is served every day, one of four such, while they rotate through a dozen or so others; all are homemade, and you can really tell.  The Italian Wedding Soup was my favorite, with delicious little meatballs in it, but all were great.  Prices were spectacular, as a bowl of soup and a roll (all the soups were also good for dipping bread) ran about six bucks.

They also have some specialty items, including olive oils, balsamic vinegar, and dried pasta from Italy; I picked up a bag of cavatelli that looks great.  Their deli is stocked with Boar's Head, which is about the peak of normal deli meats, and there was plenty of meat and fish portioned or marinated and ready for the grill or oven.  If I lived close to this place, I would probably be a lot poorer and a lot fatter (the soups were pretty fattening) but it made my training days a lot better.


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