Restaurants


I wanted to treat myself on my last night in Boston and, from what I could see online, Craigie on Main in Cambridge was exactly what I was looking for – serving modern cuisine made from local ingredients. With a James Beard Award winning chef (Tony Maws) at the helm and with other numerous awards, it was certainly going to be good; I booked myself in for a solo dinner on a Friday night. When I arrived that evening, the place was packed, again a consequence of that ridiculously busy weekend, but the hostess, seeing that I was by myself, did her best to seat me as soon as possible (and at a lovely window seat overlooking the entire restaurant too). Service overall was excellent – my waitress had already picked up on the fact that I was from out of town (the mobile phone number for my booking gave that away).

A number of options were available in the evenings, three courses of your choice, a 6-course tasting menu and an 8-course tasting menu. It was the 6-course tasting menu ($98) for me. Bread and butter were promptly set before me and I tried my best not to fill up on it!

Bread and Butter

The meal started with an amuse of green tomato gazpacho with golden raisins and peekytoe crab. I loved the slight tang of this cold soup and the raisins and crab added a good balancing sweetness to it. I never would have thought of eating green tomatoes in this way.

Green Tomato Gazpacho

The first of the tasting menu’s six courses was sashimi of madai with heirloom tomatoes, a confit tomato and crispy quinoa. I enjoyed this light start and could see that this was going to be a good meal. Actually, all the tasting menu dishes surprised me that night as I had originally expected perhaps smaller versions of the dishes on the a la carte. But this wasn’t the case – everything was original.

Sashimi of Madai

Another fish dish came next – slow cooked swordfish and shrimp in lobster sauce with seabeans and chorizo. The textures of the seafood were incredible, both turning out completely differently after slow cooking – the meaty swordfish and the silky shrimp.

Slow Cooked Swordfish and Shrimp

I loved the handmade trofiette pasta with sweetbreads and mushrooms that came next. The mushroom sauce coating the pasta was incredibly rich and the fried sweetbreads made it all even richer. Heaven.

Handmade Trofiette Pasta with Sweetbreads and Mushrooms

For the meat course, I was surprised to be presented with lamb – it’s not a meat I come across very often in North America. Here was lamb two ways – confit belly and leg (I think?) served with couscous, green tomato puree and shishito peppers. And it really was some of the best lamb I’d had all year.

Lamb Two Ways - Confit Belly and Leg

I was then presented with the first of my sweets: a Riesling sabayon with local wild blueberries and raspberries. While this was tasty, I did think the portion size was a bit mean. And with the second dessert being light and fruity, I did wish that this was something richer.

Riesling Sabayon

The light and fruity second dessert was a melon sherbet terrine with compressed spiced melon and mint meringue. This was a lovely end to the meal – very refreshing.

Melon Sherbet Terrine

Overall, it was a great meal and a great end to the trip. By the way, I hear they also serve an excellent brunch (I had originally planned a brunch there but the schedule didn’t allow for it).

Craigie on Main
853 Main Street
Cambridge, MA 02139
USA

Craigie On Main on Urbanspoon

You can’t go to Boston and not have seafood and one of the hottest places in the city to dine on seafood is the highly lauded Island Creek Oyster Bar and I managed to get a table for 5 of us at 9:30pm one night. Island Creek Oysters is still a working oyster farm today and we even had some of their oysters at Myers+Chang – this restaurant, Island Creek Oyster Bar, brought the farmer even closer to the diner.

Despite our making a booking though, we had to wait for almost an hour for our table as the restaurant ended up with more people than it could handle. (Actually, this seemed to be the case at all of Boston’s restaurants that weekend – there just seemed to be a huge influx of tourists in the city.) And we weren’t the only ones – we were all crowded at the entrance and the front of house did their best to calm the screamers (I’m not joking – there were some nutjobs waiting for a table too). When we were finally seated, we could see that the restaurant was larger than expected, curving round to the side, and that it looked great. And yeah, it was packed.

We ordered quite a few things and shared them all. We started with their Clam Chowder, made with hand-dug clams and house-cured bacon and a little buttermilk biscuit on top. The restaurant was kind enough to split two orders into five bowls for us, removing any need to figure out how to share it without swapping germs. Creamy and good even if the very strong bacon flavour surprised me at first.

Clam Chowder

A side order of a full-sized buttermilk biscuit was utterly gorgeous. American-style biscuits are one thing I really miss here in London and this one was just perfect, all tender and flaky and glazed with honey.

Buttermilk Biscuit

Fried Clams were insanely good – actually, all the fried seafood I had in Boston was excellent.

Fried Clams

The clams came with some fries but we ordered another side of them just in case we didn’t have enough food. It turns out we had enough food and really didn’t need these fries, however excellent they were.

Hand-cut Fries

I’d heard a lot about the restaurant’s Ethel’s Lobster Roll and we ordered two to split. They were delicious, each was overflowing with lobster pieces just held together by the mayo dressing. Forgive me, but I would have preferred fries to the potato chips (crisps) on the side but that’s just my preference.

Ethel's Lobster Roll

Another favourite of mine was Mrs Bennett’s Seafood Casserole. This was a very generous mixture of seafood cooked with seafood stock, cream and a bit of tomato paste amongst other nice things and topped with crushed crackers. It was lush and we kept finding lots of things including a small lobster tail that we split between us. I need to learn how to recreate this.

Mrs Bennett's Seafood Casserole

A colleague’s order of Herb Crusted Gloucester Cod was fine but not as exciting to me as all the other treats. Still, it was a unique to me combination of beans, yellow beans, chorizo and hot peppers underneath that large chunk of cod.

Herb Crusted Gloucester Cod

Orders from the raw bar took the longest as they were clearly getting hammered by the late night crowd. Fluke Crudo were slices of raw fluke marinated with orange, lime and sesame and there was a bit of chilli in there for spice too.

Fluke Crudo

A couple of us got oysters – these Chatham oysters were lovely and meaty (I prefer the flat meaty kinds to the large plump creamy types). I’ll never understand the need for cocktail sauce on an oyster though.

Chatham Oysters

I felt like exploding after that meal – there really was no space for dessert. I wish I’d left a little space for their peach cobbler but we were having trouble keeping our eyes open too after the long day (yeah, everything after this was a bit of a blur). Actually, I wish I could have tried everything on their menu.

If you’re curious, I think it worked out to about $45 per person. It’s a really fun, buzzing restaurant that I certainly highly recommend. Bookings are a must.

Island Creek Oyster Bar
500 Commonwealth Ave
Boston MA 02215
USA

Island Creek Oyster Bar on Urbanspoon

I had been Googling for places to eat in Boston and I gotta say, Boston is one major foodie city. I was there with colleagues for work and in just one week, I managed to eat very very well and very very easily (I made bookings for almost everything only 1-2 days prior). High on my list was Myers+Chang, a restaurant owned by Christopher Myers and Joanne Chang (the latter is also the pastry chef and owner of the very popular Flour Bakery) featuring an Asian fusion menu. I was intrigued. And on Mondays and Tuesdays, they have a Cheap Date Night offer – set menus for two for $45. Budget menu? Excellent! Five colleagues and I were game.

The place (in South Boston) is a bit of a walk from the closest metro station and it being Monday night, the streets were empty – a huge contrast from the hip hop music blasting through the packed restaurant. Between the six of us, we ordered one of each of the three available Cheap Date Night menus. Everything came out at once, necessitating the addition of another table, but I’ll break them down here.

The “Bro Date”

Their Green Papaya Slaw, chilis, peanuts, fish sauce had a good chilli heat that was unexpected. Though it’s “fusion” cuisine, the seasonings haven’t been dumbed down.

Green Papaya Slaw

We had no idea what to expect with the Crispy Arctic Char Roll, nori, hot Chinese mustard but what arrived was fantastic. It’s a whole piece of arctic char wrapped in a spring roll wrapper and fried – gorgeous.

Crispy Arctic Char Roll

Of course, the Grilled Pork Belly Porchetta, shiitake, black vinegar, soft egg was one of my favourites! You can’t go wrong with tender pork belly and a soft boiled egg!

Grilled Pork Belly Porchetta

Spicy Silky Tofu, peppered pork, scallions, kimchee was pretty good, though perhaps lacking in spice.

Spicy Silky Tofu

The “Girls Night Out”

The Fresh Rolls, herbs, lettuce, tofu, chili peanut sauce were very much like the Vietnamese summer rolls.

Fresh Rolls

I love anything to do with roasted or fried cauliflower so the Sweet and Sour Cauliflower Bites, pickled shallots, fresh mint, toasted rice was right up my street.

Sweet and Sour Cauliflower Bites

A particular favourite of the table was the Kale and Sungold Salad, Korean chili vinaigrette, crispy shallots. Kale salad! I mean, really! It’s excellent!

Kale and Sungold Salad

The only slight dud in this menu was the Black Pepper Shanghai Noodles, tofu, shiitakes, peanuts, cilantro which I found a bit dull. Oh well, they’re fine as a filler-upper but I think there are other more exciting-sounding noodle or rice dishes on their regular dinner menu that might work here.

Black Pepper Shanghai Noodles

The “It’s Complicated”

Their Island Creek Oysters, yuzu snow were utterly fantastic – very fresh and set off with the slightly sweet and highly aromatic yuzu snow.

Island Creek Oysters

These grilled Peel and Eat Szechuan Shrimp, caramelized lemon, mouth numbing pepper were also excellent, with a kind of fusion Sichuan sambal thing going on on top.

Peel and Eat Szechuan Shrimp

I also enjoyed the Stuffed Rainbow Trout with Coconut Rice, tomato ginger jam, Penang spice – why haven’t I paired rainbow trout with sambal? It’s fantastic!

Stuffed Rainbow Trout with Coconut Rice

The Hakka Eggplant was very good, being all soft and silky, but the seasoning on it seemed a bit muted to me.

Hakka Eggplant

For six, this was just the right amount of food, leaving a little space for dessert (I was looking forward to trying Joanne Chang’s creations). It was a little difficult to split some of the items and I reckon it’s easier to split things between four rather than six. It’s clear though that these Date Night menus are well designed for two.

A Silky Chocolate Mousse, black and white sesame brittle, tamarind caramel was certainly very rich and very popular with our table.

Silky Chocolate Mousse

The Frozen Vanilla Bean Parfait, fresh orange granita was a cute play on the orange creamsicles I grew up with. And it was certainly superior to the creamsicles I grew up with.

Frozen Vanilla Bean Parfait

My favourite was the Lemon-Ginger Mousse Coupe, homemade fortune cookie and yes, there was a message inside the fortune cookie! I normally hate cheap fortune cookies but this homemade version, with lots of ginger in the batter, was outstanding, all buttery and crisp.

Lemon-Ginger Mousse Coupe

This is the kind of food I love – it may not be entirely “authentically” Asian but it tastes good and that’s what matters. I’m just upset I never had a chance to eat off their a la carte menu! There are so many things on their menu I want to eat: Korean bbq sloppy joe, fried chicken and ginger waffle, beef and broccoli chow fun…

Anyway, reservations are imperative for Cheap Date Nights.

Myers+Chang
1145 Washington St
Boston, MA
USA

Myers + Chang on Urbanspoon

We spent a morning at the beach in Barcelona and packed up come lunchtime and starting thinking about what to eat. Nothing at the beach looked appealing, with most of the xiringuitos blasting out extremely loud music. I suddenly thought of a Japanese place I’d been wanting to try and as we hadn’t had Asian food in a while, we were both game.

We hopped on the Metro and went to Passeig de Gracia and from there walked to c/Rosello and c/d’Enric Granados – it’s strange how just walking a few blocks from Rambla de Catalunya causes all the tourists to disappear! It was pretty much tourist-free around Akashi Gallery. For yes, the place I wanted to try is not only a sushi bar and restaurant but also a photo gallery and travel consultants. The restaurant could have been lifted directly from Japan – quirky furniture, cool plants, a raised tatami section, and even a small garden in the back. And the menu is full of things I want to eat – lots of authentic Japanese savouries but with an element of fusion apparent in the dessert menu.

Blai and I both went for the Akashi set (yes, one of those menus del dia), which included a nice little selection of different things from their menu. There were other sets available: sushi, sashimi, donburi. First to come was the miso soup, served like a first course. I would have preferred for it to be served with the rest of the food but my hunger meant that I slurped this up in no time at all.

Miso Soup

After our bowls were cleared, the sets were then brought out. Salmon sashimi, chicken and okara patties and a salad topped with Japanese potato salad were first served…

Akashi Set

…accompanied by onigiri (with mushrooms mixed in with the rice) and tamagoyaki. There’s enough variety there to keep you occupied!

Onigiri and Tamagoyaki

The sets come with ice cream or coffee/tea. Naturally, we both went for ice cream. Ginger for me (with lots of lovely candied ginger embedded within)…

Ginger Ice Cream

…and green tea for Blai.

Green Tea Ice Cream

We couldn’t help ourselves – we then asked for their dessert menu and ordered another one! An original old-fashioned kakigori ice shaver was calling to me by the sushi bar and it was the perfect weather for it too. Blai chose the strawberry and condensed milk kakigori which came out all luridly red but was utterly delicious.

Strawberry and Condensed Milk Kakigori

I finished the meal with coffee though from what I saw, it looks like they serve some fantastic tea. I’ll have that next time.

Coffee

Of course, you’re not limited to the set menus at lunchtime. There’s an a la carte menu available at lunch and dinnertime too. It’s a shame though that the gallery closes between lunch and dinner – their desserts would be fabulous for tea time! Nutella dorayaki or matcha tiramisu anyone?

Akashi Gallery
Rossello, 197
08036 Barcelona
Catalonia, Spain

That brings my holiday by the Med 2014 series to a close. All photos from Marseille and Barcelona (and Aix-en-Provence, Arles and Banyoles) can be found in this Flickr album.

We travelled onwards to Barcelona from Marseille, stopping by in Montpellier on the way there. After a whole week of eating out, it felt great to dine on home cooking again, all thanks to my fabulous mother-in-law! And this continued untl a few days into our visit, when we all took a day trip to Banyoles, a beautiful little inland town in northern Catalonia with a huge lake that, legend has it, has a dragon (we didn’t see any – Blai, you owe me a dragon). There’s plenty of history in the town and that lake – that lake! It’s all quite beautiful.

The Lake of Banyoles

Untitled

Untitled

It’s a lovely spot to visit if you can. There’s swimming in the lake and lots of nature to enjoy. However, after a long drive there, food was the first thing on our minds. I had done some googling the night before and Blai’s mother had reserved a table for us at Can Banyoles, a restaurant that was only about a five minute walk from the information centre at the lake.

Their lunch menu is only €12 per person (I’ve written about the menú del dia before) and you’ll see soon enough why this is quite the deal if you order well. For my first dish, I chose the local pear tomatoes with ham. These tomatoes were amazing – grown locally and with, yes, a pear shape, they were simple but fantastic. They were ripe and full of flavour and only needed a pinch of salt and a drizzle of olive oil.

Pear Tomatoes with Ham

But Blai and his mother chose even better than I did – they ordered the rice cooked in a cassola. This took absolutely ages to arrive and when we demanded an explanation, we were told that this was cooked to order. What came out was a magnificent sight. That cassola was still bubbling as it was brought to our table.

Rice

The rice was portioned out for the two of them but the four of us could have easily shared all this. The rice had been cooked with some pork and peas and was infused with the flavour of seafood as well. It was delicious even if it was a bit on the soupy side. I helped myself to quite a bit as well – so so so good.

Rice

Second courses were good and hearty (seriously generous portions here) though not amazing. Blai’s botifarra with a garnish of grilled peppers and boiled green beans and potatoes was fine.

Botifarra and Garnish

Blai’s father’s curry was not too bad – quite a nice curry actually! The meat was tender and had a good spicing.

Curry

My calamari was well fried, not too greasy and generously portioned but became a bit dull halfway through. A garnish of some sort would have been nice.

Calamari

Desserts were very simple but it’s exactly what one wants after all that food. I went with juicy slices of watermelon…

Watermelon

…while Blai’s parents chose the crema catalana…

Crema

…and Blai went with a simple slice of torró ice cream.

Ice Cream

So yeah, really quite a bargain for €12, especially if you order that rice. Bookings are essential, even for lunch on a weekday – the place is popular with locals and visitors alike! I understand though that rice is only available on Wednesdays (from a conversation I overheard between a waitress and another customer). Go on a Wednesday!

Restaurant Can Xabanet
Plaça del Carme, 24
17820 Banyoles
Girona, Spain (Catalunya)

I happened to be browsing on my phone in Marseille when I came across an article that stated that the Cours Julien was where the young people go in the evenings. I immediately Google mapped it and to my surprise, it was not far at all from our flat, just in the opposite direction to that we’d normally instinctively go. And it turned out that the Cours Julien is a fabulous area – there are boutique shops and lots of restaurants and a big communal square and a playground. It’s a lovely place to be. We wandered around for a bit but immediately knew when we stopped in front of Le Resto Provençal that this was where we wished to dine.

And yes, their menu was full of Provençal specialities. In addition to their a la carte menu, they had two set menus and we opted to choose from their slightly cheaper one of €18,50 for three courses. There was already so much choice on that menu and there’s even more with their €24 set menu.

Blai went for the Petites seiches au basilic, which were served cold on a salad. Refreshing but simple, they were exactly what he desired, proclaimed he.

Petites seiches au basilic

I, remembering how good the soup was at Chez Fonfon, opted for the Soupe de poissons, which was listed as a house specialty.

Soupe de poissons

Oh glorious, glorious fish soup with your crunchy croutons, spicy garlicky rouille and shreds of gruyere waiting to melt on top of it all. And if the rouille wasn’t garlicky enough for you, a garlic clove was also provided to rub on the croutons. It was utterly delicious.

It was just after we finished our starters when the heavens opened and it started pouring. Proper buckets with lightning and thunder and everything. People who had been sitting outside all somehow managed to squeeze inside… and it was a tight squeeze! Luckily, by the time we finished our meal, the rained had slowed down but we did have to wait it out for a bit.

Pouring Outside

All the better weather for us to dive head first into our comforting main course – Alouettes sans tête, served with pasta. These long-braised stuffed rolls of beef were fabulous – full of garlic, parsley, pine nuts and bacon. They were cooked to falling-apart tenderness and were incredibly moreish and comforting. Oh wait, I said that already…but it’s true. So so so comforting.

Alouettes sans tête

Desserts were simple but perfect endings to the meal. We split a Petit flan de romarin

Petit flan de romarin

… and a Salade de fruits frais.

Salade de fruits frais

I never would have thought of incorporating rosemary into a dessert but it did work! And the fruit salad was a proper one full of ripe fruits. Ripe fruits.

It was a shame they close on Sundays (most of the restaurants on the Cours Julien do) as we were hoping to repeat this meal!

Le Resto Provençal
64 Cours Julien
13006 Marseille
(6e arrondissement)
France

We arrived quite late on our first evening in Marseille and after dumping our stuff in our flat, we walked straight to the port, hoping that our noses would lead us to something good to eat. Unfortunately, most of the places we could see were chains or very expensive or blasting music (read: looking like a disco); later we would encounter the south side of the port and its plethora of tourist traps. It’s not easy to eat well by the port. There was one place on my list though – La Kahena, a Tunisian restaurant that was well rated. It was brightly lit and open (relatively) late and we got a table easily (it was a Tuesday night).

I couldn’t eat in a Tunisian restaurant and not have one of my favourite things in the world – brick (also spelled brik). This was a brick au thon, a thin pastry sheet filled with tuna, onion, parsley and egg and fried. Yes.

Brick au thon

We also split a couscous mechoui. Mechoui is a roasted lamb dish and sure enough, here was a big hunk of roasted lamb on our couscous…and lots of vegetables….and a boiled egg. Portion sizes were big here and we saw people ordering one for themselves and failing to make any significant indentation in their bowl.

Couscous Mechoui

On the side was a bowl of the broth the vegetables (and usually lamb) cook in. Pour it over the couscous and there’s some mighty fine eating.

Couscous Sauce

We finished the meal with sweet mint tea with nuts (pine nuts in my case and toasted almonds in Blai’s). I loved the pine nuts but we both got a bit fatigued by the almonds…there were just so many! (Not a normal complaint…) The Tunisian sweet we also ordered was alright, but had clearly been sitting around for a while.

Mint Tea with Nuts

La Kahena
2 Rue de la République
13001 Marseille
France

And that was our first taste of North African food in Marseille – we were hooked and we needed more. Luckily for us, there was a good restaurant only a 5 minute walk from our flat and we ate there twice during our visit. Their menu’s very similar to that at La Kahena but prices are lower (portion sizes were still large) – it’s only something like €7 for the basic lamb or chicken couscous. We found it quite easy to get a table (there were quite a few tables and most people didn’t linger).

We went for the most fancy couscous combination they had – the couscous royale. Again, couscous and the broth (the vegetables stayed in the broth this time) and a plate of meats.

Couscous Royale

Let’s take a closer look at that meat plate, shall we?

Boom.

All the Grilled Meat

A grilled lamb chop, braised lamb (in the vegetable broth), a beautifully braised tender meatball, a grilled lamb brochette and grilled merguez. It’s a bit too much meat for one but perfect for sharing between two.

And again, one of my favourite Tunisian things ever – another brick au thon! And it was another excellent specimen.

Brick au Thon

We even had it on our last night in the city (a Sunday). It being France, many restaurants were closed on Sunday night but not this place! We repeated the couscous and the brick as they were both brilliant and we added a salad as well.

Dinner

This was a mechouia salad – lettuce, tuna, boiled egg, tomato, olives and a roasted pepper relish. I loved those roasted peppers that seemed to pull everything together in this salad. Delicious.

Mechouia Salad

We finished our last meal in Marseille with mint tea….two mint teas each actually! Their tea was cheap and excellent – not too sweet. We did try their sweets but again, they were on the stale side – a bit of a letdown these sweets were.

Excellent Mint Tea

Saf Saf
29 rue Vincent Scotto
13001 Marseille
France

It’s no surprise that the French have embraced North African cuisine, especially couscous. It’s all delicious! If you’re interested in reading more about North African culture in Marseille, I recommend this article from the New York Times.

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