Friday, June 20, 2014

Legal's Test Kitchen (Logan Airport, Boston, MA)

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Renowned local seafood chain Legal Seafood has gone regional, and now has 34 restaurants from Massachusetts to Georgia, including their "Test Kitchens," restaurants where they try new recipes, as well as showcase old favorites.  Featuring both local and nationally sourced seafood, they espouse a philosophy of using fish from sustainable sources and fisheries, and offer a high level of service and product.  This review is a little different from most because it is not of a restaurant that is accessible to the daily diner; it is, rather, of one of their locations that happens to be located inside Logan Airport.  That said, Legal's Test Kitchen (LTK, or like the rest of the restaurant group, colloquially, Legal) Harborside is a restaurant I have tried in the past, and it was just as good (if not better) so I feel confident in recommending that restaurant as well, and even would go so far as to recommend the entirety of the Legal Seafood line.

As I am about to embark on a vacation abroad, I find myself in one of my least favorite places; the airport.  Not just any airport, either, but Logan, a hellish place that typically is among my least favorite places on earth.  Today, however, I arrived at lunch time, and since all I had had to eat was a doughnut at a staff meeting this morning and a piece of toast before leaving western Mass to head out to Boston, I figured food was a good idea.  LTK happened to be situated directly in front of my gate, so I decided to grab a beer and a bite to eat.  They do not have a particularly extensive list of craft beers, but old mainstay Allagash White was among them, so I cannot complain too much.  The menu is rather limited at this particular location, but they had gumbo on the menu, a personal favorite and something I rarely pass up when the opportunity to order it presents itself.  Meals come up quickly here, as they should at an airport restaurant, with a clear recognition of the fact that people often are grabbing a quick meal between flights and have limited time, so mine came to me in probably five minutes.  Despite the rapidity of the cooking, everything was prepared pretty well, from the fried okra (breaded, strangely; it worked though) to the shrimp to the scallops; my only complain was a little bit of grit in the seafood, but considering the okra was not at all slimy, I am willing to call that a wash.  The gumbo was served with a mound of rice in the middle, which was simple white rice, but with the gravy-like soup it was very good, as the gumbo itself had a fair amount of flavor; clearly a proper roux was made in the preparation.  The dish included generous amounts of everything, and I am definitely not hungry as I write this.  That is a very good thing, seeing as the beer (only a 16oz, not the optional 23oz) and gumbo came to $26 before tip; nothing annoys me more than needing more food after spending that kind of money on lunch.

Airports are not typically known for providing good, or even acceptable food, but in this case Logan, and Legal's Test Kitchen, break the mold, and for that I am quite thankful.  I highly recommend stopping into Concourse A (across from A5) for lunch if you have the time while at Logan, or hitting up one of their nearly three dozen other locations throughout the northeast, mid-Atlantic and Georgia.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Guest Chef Dinner, The Gill Tavern (Gill, MA)

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The Gill Tavern is a very good restaurant in its own right, a solid mix of modern upscale and simple pub-like fare.  Founded by the owner of The People's Pint, a Greenfield brewpub that has good food, great beer, and (at least the last time I went there, which has now been a few years) absolutely horrific service that prevented me from enjoying the good food and beer, The Gill Tavern has been successful since the beginning, and since it really is unique in Franklin County, I suspect they will continue to be for a long time.

This review, however, is not about the restaurant's ordinary operations, but rather about a Guest Chef event they now hold yearly.  Julian Proujansky, an old schoolmate of mine, and Heather Bortnem, have come to The Gill Tavern for the last three years to display their talents.  Both are highly successful in New York City:  Julian is the Chef de Cuisine at Omar's La Ranita, which has received significant acclaim, and formerly worked at the famed Eleven Madison Park, recipient of three Michelin stars; Heather is head baker at Commerce Restaurant, famous in its own right, and a truly impressive title for someone so young.

This year's dinner was an interesting look into the current state of haute cuisine, with a combination of primarily simple ingredients and sophisticated concepts, it was all in all a very successful meal.  Five courses were served, consisting of canapes, a salad, an appetizer, entree, and finally dessert.  My only complaint had nothing to do with the food, which was that we were seated family style, and since I am not a huge fan of strangers, that was less than entirely comfortable for me.

The canapes were spectacular, four small bites that offered different textures, flavors and visuals:  chick pea "fritters;" roast carrots with za'atar; black rice crisps with English peas; and deviled quail egg.  The fritters were small logs of mashed chickpeas lightly fried and topped with a mild sauce; it tasted like a mild falafel, which works for me since I absolutely love falafel.  My only criticism was that the exterior was not very crisp, so there was not a ton of textural contrast, but that is kind of nitpicky.  The black rice crisps with English peas were my favorite, with a chip-like vessel of the rice holding the peas and a sauce.  I wish I had been taking notes, because I would love to describe the flavors that this presented, but honestly there was so much going on in that one bite that I am struggling to really remember individual aspects.  Suffice it to say I would eat an entire meal of just that preparation.  Nearly as successful were the deviled quail eggs, topped with truffle; not featured on the menu that was e-mailed out to those with reservations, this was a great little surprise, an absurdly good, fancy version of one of my favorite party snacks from childhood.  Quail eggs are super flavorful to begin with, and adding in the truffle flavor really did bring it to a whole new level; if only quail eggs were not so tiny!  Lastly, the roast carrots were good, with a slight Middle Eastern flare to them from the za'atar.  This was a fine couple of bites, maybe a little different from how I have seen carrots prepared before in a restaurant, and quite tasty, but there was nothing insanely creative about it.

The salad was my least favorite dish of the night, though I think that was simply because of my own personal tastes and not anything to do with the quality.  There was, quite simply, just too much sweet involved for me; the candied pistachios were delicious, as were the pomegranate balls (made with pomegranate juice and agar agar; cool preparation that threw us all for a bit of a loop), and even the crisps of goat cheese, but all had a sweetness to them, as did the dressing, which added up to just a lot of sweetness.  For people who are not as bothered by that, it was probably great, but for me, I could have done with more tang and salt and less sweet.

The appetizer course was probably my favorite, a rabbit torchon with pickled ramps, fava beans, and what we decided must be shaved asparagus.  The torchon was deceptively brilliant, with huge rabbit flavor (not too gamy, but you knew you were eating rabbit), perfectly acidic and crisp ramps that were picked and pickled by Julian's mother up in Leyden, and a nice crunch from the asparagus, though they did not add a ton of flavor.  There were also rye crackers, which I did not love, though with the combination of everything on one, they were pretty tasty.  I wish ramps could be farmed properly, because they are incredibly delicious, and these were perfectly pickled.

The entree course was almost a deconstructed ravioli, with "stained glass pasta" topping braised lamb, almonds, chickpeas and a soft cheese that tasted like a whipped Boursin to me (my step-dad disagreed and we never did remember to ask what it actually was) in a sauce that was primarily jus with a little red wine.  The pasta was delicate, delicious, and beautiful, the lamb essentially pulled, the chickpeas actually tasty (despite my love of falafel, I hate whole chickpeas), and the cheese beyond delicious.  The only failure in this to me was the addition of the almonds, which seemed a little superfluous, and were not necessary for texture since the chickpeas were still rather crisp.  Again, I'm being nitpicky, because they were not a negative for me, simply unnecessary in my opinion.  The lamb was truly delicious, and reminded me again how much I wish mutton were popular in the USA, since I love that flavor and, as long as it is cooked long enough to eliminate the toughness, it is simply a stronger lamb.

Dessert was perfect for me, a strawberry (not blackberry like the pre-sent menu; that would have been sad if I had remembered, since I love blackberries more than almost anything else) mousse on a shortbread like crust.  I was worried about how sweet it was going to be, but it was just perfect, mildly sweet, full of strawberry flavor.  It was delicate looking, but had good body to the mousse; not quite the ethereal lightness that I think most people associate with a proper mousse, but that is good in my opinion, as I like the food I am eating to have some texture.

I was worried that by going to this dinner I would end up surrounded by old elementary school classmates, and I was only half wrong, but the food was so good that even if I had been 100% right it would have been worth it.  The food was original, delicious, at least partially locally sourced (always a positive), and it was nice to see someone from my past doing so very well, and clearly having fun.  I hope to have the chance to go again next year, and I am so glad I finally made it to one of these.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Fat Cat Restaurant (Quincy, MA) and Patron's Mexican Kitchen (Allston, Boston, MA)

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Two of my best friends from college got married this weekend, and we had the bachelor party for the groom Thursday.  We went for laid back, going to the F1 Boston kart racing track in Quincy, which was a blast, followed that with lunch, then went climbing at Central Rock Gym in Watertown, and finally drinks and some food in Boston at Patron's Mexican Kitchen.  Both F1 Boston and Central Rock were a blast, though I highly recommend you have some cold water on hand for the kart racing, as it is pretty easy to get overheated in there.

Lunch was at The Fat Cat Restaurant in Quincy, a superb little pub with some of the best bone-in chicken wings I have ever had.  I went for a Philly Cheesesteak, which was well made, on pretty standard bread, but with roasted peppers, caramelized onions, smoked shiitake mushrooms, and both cheddar and mozzarella cheeses.  The steak was perfect, still juicy and delicious, and the vegetables were spectacular.  It also came with hand cut french fries, which were really good and insanely crisp, but which I did not end up having much of because I was so full from the sandwich and a few wings.

Those wings were really the key to the meal; we ordered 50 for the table, as three people were having them for their primary meal, and one other person and I were just having a couple each.  The wings are big, but not gigantic, cooked perfectly so the skin was crispy and crunchy, but the meat did not seem overcooked or dry.  The exterior held the sauces well, so it did not just slough off and leave just a small amount on the wing or drumstick, but instead coated them completely and evenly.  Those sauces were the best part, and we picked three:  XXX, Cajun, and Qcity.  The XXX is a buffalo style, made with house-infused habanero vodka; it had far, far more flavor than any other sauce of an equivalent heat level that I have ever had, including the Mango Habanero from Buffalo Wild Wings, a personal favorite.  The Cajun comes as either a sauce or a dry rub, and we went dry; it was good, a little spicy, but nothing super incredible.  Qcity was my top choice, and it was also probably the simplest; essentially, it was just honey and pepper, and it was just absolutely awesome, with intense honey flavor without being overly sweet.

For dessert, I had bread pudding, which was served in a giant ramekin.  Essentially just big pieces of bread with a slightly sweet sauce, but so, so much more in flavor.  It also had a giant mound of delicious homemade whipped cream, which was closer to clotted cream than the stuff that comes in a can, both in flavor and texture.  By this point, I was so stuffed that I could not finish the bread pudding, which was very disappointing considering how incredibly good it was.

Fat Cat had a couple good options on draught, including Belhaven Scottish Ale, which I love, and Berkshire Brewing Company's Steel Rail Extra Pale Ale.  They also have a handful of interesting looking cocktails and alcoholic coffee drinks.  They do their own infusing, including the aforementioned habanero vodka.  Since Dan, the groom, is obsessed with insanely spicy things (the table gifts at the wedding were bottles of various hot sauces) we got him a shot, and the waitress (an awesome Irish lady) added a second on the house to congratulate him on getting married.  We each tried a tiny bit, and as soon as I took a very tiny sip, I felt an incredible burning sensation in my mouth and began to hiccup instantly, a phenomenon that has never occurred before.  I think Dan enjoyed the vodka, but if not, it was at the very least a very cool concept and it makes one hell of a wing sauce.

All in all, this was a really good meal, and pretty reasonably priced at under $130 for 50 wings, my sandwich (only $7, which was insane considering how much food there was and its quality), an order of fish and chips, four desserts, plus about a dozen drinks between the five of us.  I highly recommend it.

Not so long ago, Allston's Sunset Grill and Tap was topped by Big City, one of the greatest beer bars in the northeast, with about 130 taps, good food, and great ambiance.  Sadly, it is now Patron's Mexican Kitchen, a mediocre bar with a couple mediocre pool tables and seriously lacking staff.  Our waiter was acceptable at best, but the manager was a major asshole, making rude and snide comments about a couple members of our party to some employees who were playing pool next to us.  We ordered wings again (they were also served the following night at the rehearsal dinner, and ordered at Amherst Brewing Company when we went out after that...Dan really likes wings), which were decent, but nothing special.  I ordered nachos, and instead of nachos, we received the $7 bowl of multicolored chips; absolutely pathetic.  The beer list has been cut tremendously, to only a couple dozen options on draught and a similar number in bottles.  I do not know what the reason for this is, as downstairs still offers over 130 taps and 380 bottle varieties.  All in all, this is no longer worth going to; just have drinks and food down at Sunset Grill and Tap.  That said, we had a good time, but only because it was a great group of people.