Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Prune (New York City, NY)

I first heard about Prune via a post on Keith Law's blog The Dish about Gabrielle Hamilton's memoir Blood, Bones & Butter, which he raved about.  His description, and several quotes from the book, made me want to immediately drive down to New York City and go to Prune.  Hamilton's philosophy is simple:  good, unpretentious, fresh food, and this ethos won Hamilton a James Beard Award in 2001 and 2011, as well as multiple additional nominations as Best Chef in New York City.  While getting a reservation for dinner can supposedly be difficult, brunch--served on weekends from 11:00am to 3:00pm--is first come, first served.  Luckily, less than two weeks after reading Keith's post, I was on my way to NYC to see a friend, and she very nicely agreed to accompany me to brunch.

We arrived a little before noon, and were told it would be an hour wait, so we decided to wander around the area a bit, returning after about 35 or 40 minutes, only to find that they had already called for us.  However, we were put right back on the list, and within the next few minutes were being seated at the bar.  The restaurant is tiny, with tables for maybe three dozen people, packed in pretty tightly, plus another ten or so at the small bar, which has bright magenta stools that goes with the rather eclectic look of the whole place.  The menu doesn't look like anything special, with mostly old favorites like the Monte Cristo sandwich, steak and eggs, and even huevos rancheros.  There are also some more creative and non-traditional options, such as spicy stewed chickpeas, egg "en cocotte," coddled egg with chicken, and even spaghetti a la carbonara and a sausage and oysters dish.  The drink menu includes a number of traditional and non-traditional brunch drinks, such as a variety of Bloody Marys, Mimosas, and the bizarre Chicago Matchbox, which includes homemade lemon vodka (I presume that means they take regular vodka and add the lemon flavor in house, rather than actually distilling the vodka), pickled Brussel's sprouts, baby white turnips, caperberries, green beans, and radishes, and is served with a chaser of my personal guilty pleasure beer, Red Stripe.  It sounded interesting, but not quite interesting enough to get one.

I went simple, with the Classic Eggs Benedict, my all time favorite breakfast dish, which was served with "potatoes rosti," which was really just a giant potato latke, albeit a very good one.  My friend

Eggs Benedict, Potatoes Rosti, and Mimosa, with pickled veggies in the background
ordered the Soft Scrambled Eggs, served "on the wet side" according to the menu, with fresh chopped parsley, bacon, potatoes rosti, and a toasted, buttered English muffin.  Since she is gluten intolerant, I was the happy recipient of her English muffin.  We also both ordered Mimosas, because...well, does that really need an explanation?

My Eggs Benedict was perfect; the Canadian bacon was not chewy, a common problem with it, and the eggs were perfectly cooked, spilling the runny yolk all over as soon as I cut into it, giving me something to dip the potatoes and my extra English muffin in, which was exactly what I was hoping for.  The hollandaise was light, but very tasty, and definitely homemade.  The potatoes rosti were crisp on the outside, slightly chewy on the inside, and delicious, though if I had to make a complaint it would be that they were a little under-seasoned; Julie added salt and pepper, but I just used the egg yolk to add flavor.  With a bit more salt, however, it would have been just about perfect, reminding me of eating latkes during Hanukkah as a child.  Julie was also very happy with her food, saying that though the eggs were cooked rather less than she was used to, she really enjoyed them.  The Mimosas were the perfect accompaniment, with good, though slightly pulpy (I hate pulp) orange juice and actually decent champagne.

At just under $47 for our meals, drinks, and a good tip (the bartender was fantastic) this was an exceptionally reasonable meal, especially by New York City standards.  The service was great, the restaurant beautiful, and the food was superb; I cannot recommend it enough.  It is also very vegetarian friendly if that's your thing.


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Friday, March 15, 2013

GORUCK and St. Baldrick's

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In yet another departure from my normal subjects, I would like to talk about two fantastic organizations. 

The first, GORUCK, is both a company that produces field gear for soldiers and some other apparel and equipment, and also an organization sponsoring several events designed to, as their website says, "teach others lessons learned on teamwork, leadership, and survival."  These events include the GORUCK Challenges, which range from the "Light" challenge to "Selection," testing the participants' mettle with some of the training that the GORUCK cadre, all US Army Special Forces (aka Green Beret) veterans or active duty members, had undergone in their careers.  These events were started, according to the company's founder, as a way to test their new "rucks," or the packs that soldiers carry their gear in.  While I am nowhere near in good enough shape to attempt one of these (not even the 4-5 hour long "Light" challenge), I am in more than good enough shape to attend one of their non-physical events, "War Stories and Free Beer."  This event is exactly what it sounds like; it's a bunch of people telling their stories of war and the military, with a lot of free beer. 

GORUCK patch given to each attendee at War Stories and Free Beer
Held at the Crossfit Boston gym, about 100 people (having sold out the tickets to the event, which were $10 to cover costs) gathered to drink some PBR and hear the stories of some of our best trained soldiers.  Speakers, of which there were five, were a major in the Green Berets, an Israel Defense Forces recon sniper who trained American snipers in urban combat and ended up unofficially becoming a patrolling member of a Marine sniper unit in Fallujah, Iraq, two enlisted Green Berets, and an enlisted member of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne), the elite "Night Stalkers" of Black Hawk Down fame.  Their stories ranged from poignant (one Green Beret's description of a mission to rescue a kidnapped 11 year old boy named Wi'am) to hilarious (the description of shitting his pants during that unexpectedly long mission).  The IDF soldier's story of losing his brother Marines (because he did, in effect, become one of them) to a pair of IEDs, that he barely survived, was heart-wrenching, and he could not even complete that part of his War Story as it was still, after all this time, too painful for him.  The stories of embedding in Afghan villages told by the major and one of the enlisted soldiers were hilariously different, as the officer talked about the positives and how he was proud of what he did, and the enlisted man discussed his boredom and the immature (his word, not mine) activities that took place during these missions.  After each story, though, I felt like I, as someone who has never served in the military, had a better sense of what these men and women go through and experience, and I had a really great time.  If you get the opportunity to attend one of these events, do so; it is a really, really fantastic opportunity.  A lot of the money that GORUCK makes, through donations, sales, and event fees, goes to charities that work with veterans and military personnel.


St. Baldrick's Foundation is straight up charity.  Devoted to curing childhood cancer, St. Baldrick's events are all about shaving your head.  As their website says, "It's an easy and fun way to raise money for a very serious cause--like a walkathon, but without the blisters."  I have a few charities that I really care about and donate to every year, and this is the one that, no matter how short money may get, will never go a year without getting something from me.  Many of my friends participate through their work, and I have a rule; whoever asks first gets my donation.  This year I donated in honor of someone very near and dear to me, the woman who ran the daycare I went to as a child, who is like a member of my family and who spoiled me rotten, and who is suffering a second time from brain cancer.  In FY2012, 82% of the money raised (over $33 million) went to research, 16% went to fundraising efforts, and just 2% went to management and other expenses.  If it comes in, it goes out; they do not hold on to money, they put it to work.  Compare this to most other charities, and you will not see many who come even close.

Boston Trip (Boston and Cambridge, MA)

Regina Pizzeria is, by all accounts, a Boston landmark, a restaurant famous enough to have its own page on Wikipedia, and a real icon in the predominately Italian North End neighborhood.  With 21 locations ranging throughout greater Boston, this is a still-growing business serving the same great pizza they have since 1926.

I met an old college friend at the restaurant for dinner a little after 8:00pm on Wednesday, having just started to recover my appetite from my trip to Tacos Lupita, and having done a fair bit of walking already that day (from Allston to Cambridge, then from Quincy Market, where I had a couple beers with another friend, to the North End), I was ready for some pizza.  My friend had a coupon for a couple different pizzas, which is good, because the place is not cheap; their "gourmet" pizzas, as they refer to them, are around $20 for a large.  We ended up going with the Classico, which consists of tomato sauce, pepperoni, artichoke hearts, fresh mushrooms, mozzarella and parmesan.  It was really good, with a crispy exterior and a thin crust in the middle, which could not hold the weight of the toppings.  The sauce was nothing particularly special, though it had a nice sweetness to it.  The pepperoni was mild, with almost no spice to it, but I wasn't expecting it to be the star; that honor fell to the artichoke hearts, which were delicious, but not quite what I expected.  When I think of being served artichoke hearts, I think of just the heart itself, that meaty, delicious chunk of buttery flesh in the center of all those leaves, but in this case, they left some of the more tender inner leaves attached.  This wasn't exactly a problem, but it wasn't what I expected, and it's certainly not how I would have gone about making it; then again, they're the ones who have been open for almost 90 years, so who am I to talk? 

Overall, the food was solid, though not as amazing as I expected, and it was a fun place to grab some pizza.  We had a few slices left over that my friend took home, and they were huge slices.  I would say it's a good place to go, but also that there are better options in the North End.


Mr. Bartley's Gourmet Burgers identifies itself as being a Boston landmark as well, but that is just a flat out lie; after all, they're not even in Boston!  Located in the Harvard Square section of Cambridge, this is a really good place to get a burger, offering thirty cleverly named burgers, mostly political or sports related, that range from "The (Sexy) Rexy Ryan," a chicken burger with blue cheese, hot sauce and french fries, to "The Chara," listed as "'wicked good' w/ bbq sauce, bacon, jalapeno pineapple relish and grilled onions w/ baked beans."  I met another old friend from college there on Thursday for lunch, and it was pretty well packed still at almost 1:30pm, but we got squeezed in immediately.  The atmosphere is fun, with the waitresses screaming the orders to the cooks and a lively crowd of mostly college aged people eating there, though by no means was the crowd limited to twenty-somethings.

I went with "The Mark Zuckerberg," described as "(Richest geek in America) with boursin cheese, bacon, and sweet potato fries."  It was delicious.  Cooked perfectly rare (so hard to get people to do that these days!), it was a hefty patty, seemingly larger than the 7oz the website claims, on a delicious sesame bun with a mound of delicious, creamy boursin and a pile of super crispy bacon on top.  The fries were actually reasonably crispy (awesome!) and had that strong, sweet flavor indicative of fresh sweet potato, and they provided so many that even as hungry as I was, I ended up giving my friend the last two because I was unable to stuff them into my already overfilled gut.

Since I walked about 12 miles in two days, I felt it was completely acceptable for me to also get a root beer float, and I felt completely vindicated when it arrived; it was absolutely delicious, with good root beer and delicious vanilla ice cream.  This is just one of many specialty drinks, including lime rickeys, egg creams, and a number of frappes.   My friend went with "The Michelle Obama" burger, "(she's hot & spicy) blue cheese burger with cajun seasoning and french fries," and she swapped out the fries for sweet potato fries of her own.  She enjoyed it, and also her raspberry lime rickey.

I would definitely recommend this; the burgers are better than the nearby Charlie's Kitchen, with more variety and options.  Unless you are going for the booze, I would definitely say Mr. Bartley's is the better choice if you don't mind spending a few dollars more.  After tip, we were in the $40 range between the burgers and drinks, so it isn't cheap, but I really enjoyed it.


I went to Crema Cafe twice in my two days in the Boston area, once on Wednesday to waste a little time before meeting for drinks at Quincy Market, and again on Thursday to waste some time after lunch.  Located just off Harvard Square, this is a moderately sized cafe, offering seating on the main level and also in a small loft section.  Offering gourmet coffee and a variety of food, this is a great, albeit expensive place to hang out and read a book, or just grab a coffee on the way to work.  I had iced coffee on Wednesday since it was beautiful out, though they were out of their cold brewed coffee unfortunately, and it was good, much better than some crappy Dunkin' Donuts or Starbucks (both of which are in the area) coffee.  Thursday was a bit chilly, so I ended up with a hot coffee, which was one of the best I'd ever had; it was strong, but not bitter, and after 16oz of it I didn't feel like I'd been bowled over with caffeine, nor did I feel like I needed more; rather, it was just right.  I also grabbed a couple macaroons with my hot coffee, and they were ridiculously good.  Light, moist, slightly but not too sweet, with a crisp exterior, they were as good as I've ever had, and I had to struggle to convince myself that I didn't need more than the original two.

Sandwiches, soups, salads and sundry other foods are also offered, so this is a really good option if you are looking to just hang out and grab lunch, and while I cannot speak to the quality of that food, if it is anything like what I had you will not be remotely disappointed.  My friend Joe goes there when he is not at the library at the Kennedy School, and he spoke highly of it as well.  This is definitely a highly recommended spot.


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Tacos Lupita (Lynn, MA)

Tacos Combo platter
On occasion, in the course of doing my job, I am required to attend trainings, and since I actually tend to enjoy these breaks from normal work (and the overtime pay that accompanies them) I volunteer to take many of them, oftentimes in places that I wouldn't ordinarily go.  On Wednesday, I did just that, going to Lynn, MA, where I have never been and thus knew nothing about the local food scene.  Taking advantage of a widespread membership of an unrelated forum I am a member of, I solicited suggestions, and ended up at the fantastic, authentic, Tacos Lupita at 129 Munroe St.  A short walk from my training, I, of course, made it longer by taking a wrong turn, walking about a mile the wrong way, and then walking back when my backup plan (formulated when I realized I had gone the wrong way), The Earl of Sandwich, turned out to be closed.  I am so glad it was.  No matter how good the sandwiches there are (or were; it may only have been closed because I was there at about 11:20am, but it did look closed for good), they could not have compared to Tacos Lupita.

A little hole in the wall at the corner of Washington St and Munroe St, Tacos Lupita was already starting to fill up when I arrived around 11:45, and is clearly a very, very popular lunch joint.  Offering a variety of Central American foods (Mexican and Salvadoran) from pupusas to tacos to the USA pleasing burritos, this is a great option if you are in or around Lynn.  In fact, I would brave the absolute crime ridden crap hole that is most of Lynn (sorry, but it's true) just to eat these tacos. 

I ordered the taco combo meal, which offers three tacos and a side of rice and beans.  I went with each of the three main meat options (pollo/chicken, al pastor/roast pork, and carne de res/beef), and they were each fantastic.  Served with a large wedge of lime and a cup of salsa verde, these rivaled the tacos I ate in my trip to Mexico as a kid, and the rice and beans were legitimately addictive.  I started with the chicken, which was delicious, a strong flavor as if grilled over charcoal instead of simply done on a flattop, and the slightly spicy salsa verde played nicely with the fresh salsa in the taco and the acid of the lime juice I squeezed over it.  The pork, crispy and delicious, was even better, still juicy, and it also benefitted nicely from the acidic lime juice.  Lastly, the beef taco, which like the the chicken was small chunks of flattop grilled meat, was really great, with just the right amount of crust on the meat, but also managing to remain juicy, just like the pork.  Accompanying these were the aforementioned rice and beans, which were a lot different from the standard you would find in a Tex-Mex restaurant.  The beans were slightly citrusy tasting, soft but not entirely falling apart, and the rice had just a hint of saffron flavor that drove me to eat every last bite of it even when my stomach was screaming for me to just stop shoveling food into my mouth.  For a drink, I had an horchata, a traditional Salvadoran (and Spanish, Guatemalan, Mexican, etc etc etc) drink made from, in the Salvadoran case, morro seeds.  I'm not sure if this was actually morro or rice, but it was a little different than I've ever had it before (always made with rice); it was good, but not my favorite that I've had.  That said, I'm not a big fan of most aguas frescas, so this was my best option if I didn't want a Coke or other soft drink.

All in all, this was a really great lunch, which totaled $10.70 after tax, and I was beyond stuffed; by the time I ate dinner at a little after 8:00pm, I only just starting to get very hungry again.  I think vegetarians would be fine here, but I can't guarantee that as I wasn't paying that much attention to the other options on the board.


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