Thursday, July 17, 2014

Like Normal People Do...

Atwood's Tavern - Somerville, MA

     Someone said to me the other day, "You only blog about restaurants if they're good, right?" I had to take a moment to think about that one. On one hand, yes, but on the other, no. It's a real rarity that I go some place I don't like, or that I eat something that is bad. I like all things... and I really don't have super high expectations, so I'm generally pleased. If there is an aspect of the meal I'm not fond of, then sure... I'll say so. Also, if I go to a restaurant and order something like a house salad or some roasted veggies, I'm not going to blog about it. No one wants to read that. There's only so much excitement one can derive from 5 grill asparagus spears. I also won't blog about a place if I go and just sample someone else's food. That's not my food, and I don't have a full plate's worth of experience and knowledge about it to write about it. Which brings me to my point.
Don't be fooled. They're not as good as they look.
     I went to Atwood's in Somerville with Melanie and Frances a couple months ago, but I brought my pb&j that I had packed for lunch with me because A) I was in weight cutting mode and B) Well... pbj is pretty much the best thing ever. I did, however, sample their salads and their sweet potato fries, which were one bajillion times better than the sweet potato fries I had there most recently. No joke.  I went to Atwood's again with a bunch of people from work, and we got some sweet potato fries for the table to share. They were absolutely the worst sweet potato fries I've ever had. I haven't a clue why they changed how they made them because they were incredible before. Lord knows what they covered them in, but they had been dipped in some sort of batter that looked like paste (the kind you used in grade school). The only thing good about them was their texture. They were a good level of crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. But the "batter" was flavorless, the sweet potatoes were flavorless, and I found myself eating them just because they were a vehicle for the garlic aioli that came with them. That's the wrong reason to eat fries... for many sad reasons.
Mediterranean Plate
     Aside from the fries, I ordered their Mediterranean plate and was very happy with it! It was a
combination of a "cucumber salad" (basically marinated or pickled cucumbers), marinated mushrooms, olives, pita triangles, hummus and a roasted eggplant goat cheese. Gosh, let me explain that cheese first. At first I had forgotten what the menu said was on this dish, so I kind of assumed it was baba ganoush based on the color and texture. However, this had a much more rich flavor and was creamier. It was delectable. I was confused because it was much much finer than the hummus, but I hadn't even thought of it being goat cheese because it didn't have that bite and was softer. Regardless, it was the best part of the dish...even if it looked like poo.
     Their hummus was great too, and more along the lines of homemade hummus because of its grittiness, unlike the smoother stuff you buy in the store. It was fun to just pick and choose your spread on the pita and throw in some of the cucumbers or mushrooms. Finger food. I love it. Of course I'm still working on liking olives, so I still ate them. I'm not fully to the point of enjoying them yet, but I'm on my way there. Trying hard. Real hard.

The Bent Spoon - Princeton, NJ

Coconut and Mint Chocolate Nib Ice Cream
from the Bent Spoon
     Sometimes one serving of ice cream just isn't enough... even if it's frozen yogurt. After our last race at trials, Joan and I scouted out a place for frozen yogurt. It was called Fruity and was in downtown Princeton. They had a lot of different fruity flavors I'd say it was a little bit below your standard frozen yogurt, and therefore I'm not going to write about it. I am going to write about The Bent Spoon however. Alyse raves about this place all the time, and every time I go to Princeton, I intend to find it and try it out. This was my moment. While meandering around the city, we turned down a small street, and I saw the simple sign for The Bent Spoon. It was a very tiny little shop with a wide variety of unique and pretty expensive ice creams. I went with the small and got one scoop of coconut ice cream and one scoop of their fresh mint nib. The coconut ice cream was probably the smoothest ice cream I've ever eaten. I tried comparing the texture to something else, and the closest thing I could come up with was like a chocolate mousse but without all the air (which I realize is why mousse is mousse). It had a lightly sweet coconut flavor and was absolutely delicious.
     The fresh mint nib was definitely my favorite,  however. Never have I ever tasted a mint ice cream like this. It had a completely different flavor than any other mint ice cream. This tasted like actual peppermint. Like they took peppermint leaves fresh from the garden and infused an ice cream with them. It was so refreshing, light and only mildly sweet. Instead of chocolate chips, they used cocoa nibs which, if you're unfamiliar, are pieces of cocoa beans that have been removed from their husks and roasted. The nibs have a mild chocolate flavor, but are not sweet. Regular chocolate is made by combining these nibs with sugar (and in some cases a bunch of other stuff). Anyway, the fresh mint ice cream had a bunch of the crunchy nibs throughout, giving it a really unique texture. The small scoop I got wasn't nearly enough. If you're ever in Princeton, you must go to The Bent Spoon. Alyse was right!


Peach Yogurt Muffins - My Kitchen, Cambridge, MA
Peach Yogurt Muffins

     I hadn't been in the door ten minutes after returning from trials before I had preheated the oven. My excuse to make a batch of muffins was that I wanted to make something for Natassya for letting me borrow her boat cover. I mean... truthfully, I really did want to do that. I also wanted to try these muffins for myself. They were super simple to make, very moist and I loved the hunks of fresh peaches inside. They weren't overly sweet either, so I'd say they were definitely healthy muffins. I found this recipe on a blog called Savory Simple. Totally worth a try!

Peach Yogurt Muffins

2 cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon cinnamon
2 eggs
1 cup plain greek yogurt
¼ cup + 2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted
¼ cup nonfat milk
1½ cup frozen or fresh peaches, chopped

1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a large muffin pan or line with paper liners.

2) In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon. 

3) In a separate bowl, vigorously whisk together the eggs, greek yogurt, coconut oil and milk.
Immediately pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients along with the chopped peaches and mix together with a spatula until just combined. Do not overmix.

4) Scoop the batter into the prepared muffin pan. Bake for 20-23 minutes. Allow to cool in pan for 5 minutes and then gently move to a cooling rack.


Ole Mexican Grill - Somerville, MA

Not the most elegant of photos, but it's still worthy
of display. The taco on the top was the carnitas,
the middle was the arrachera and the bottom was the baja.
     I love how much my coworkers delight in getting lunch for me when I can eat. They seem to get almost as excited about it as I do. Right after trials they wanted to get food with me, so I chose Ole in Inman Square because I had been craving Mexican food for months. Ole is a larger restaurant that is part of the Ole Restaurant Group. They have another location in Brookline too called Olecito. We ended up getting it delivered because people were busy, and that was just fine with me. I still wanted to try all the tacos (and the world cup was on). They may not have looked as appealing, but they tasted great. 
     All of the tacos were served in 2 corn tortillas. I loved the corn tortillas so much more than I had anticipated. I had only had them once before and it was some random brand in the grocery store. They were awful. But these tasted like real corn and were soft because they were warmed. Stacking two on top of each other made eating the taco much easier because your contents weren't busting through the tortilla. Smart. The carnitas taco was braised pork with salsa verde, pineapple salsa and pickled cabbage. Aside from the pork being a little dry, I loved the combination of the savory and salty pork with the sweetness of the pineapple salsa. And they sure didn't skimp out on the meat. That thing was loaded. 
     The arrachera taco was marinated steak, pinto bean spread, jack cheese, avocado sauce and lettuce. This one was my second favorite. The bean spread together with the jack cheese was a deadly combination. Everything was so warm and melty. The avocado sauce was basically guacamole, and it added the formulaic cool component to the warm taco. 
     My favorite was the baja taco. This one had battered shrimp, picked cabbage, chipotle mayo and cilantro pesto. I love shrimp. I love cabbage. I love mayo. I love cilatro. This one had all the best things. The shrimp were battered nice and lightly and I think they had a mild lemony taste. However, that bite may have been the pickled cabbage. I am unsure. The chipotle mayo added a very mild heat, and when it blended with that cilantro pesto it was just incredible. There were so many different flavors, but they all complimented each other so well. 


Georgetown Cupcakes - Boston, MA

Chocolate² and Peanut Butter
     Talk to any cupcake connoisseur in Georgetown, Bethesda, New York, Boston or LA or Atlanta, and they'll say that Georgetown Cupcakes has some of the best cupcakes in the country. And now...I can confidently say that I agree. It was Joan's birthday, and she wanted some form of cake. I had to work all day, so when I got out we decided to go try out Georgetown Cupcakes because neither of us had been there before but had heard so much about it. We wanted to get cupcakes and go eat them at the park (where I proceeded to look like a fool and skin my arm trying to climb a tree... but that's irrelevant). If you know me, you know I love chocolate. I love chocolate, and I love peanut butter. So what did I get? First I got the Chocolate² which is "Valrhona chocolate cupcake with a whipped Callebaut chocolate frosting topped with a fondant flower." Valrhona and Callebaut are both different brands of chocolate, and I think this made all the difference. You could taste the quality. The cake part was so moist, and full of a rich chocolate flavor. But the frosting was a noticeably different chocolate flavor. It was a little deeper. The frosting was so smooth but very thick. Not as tough as a ganache, but not airy like a mouse. It wasn't buttery, and I'm guessing it's made similar to a ganche though. I'm not sure how they make it, but that really was just "the icing on the cake."
     My second cupcake was the peanut butter banana. This was a completely different experience than the Chocolate². The texture of the banana cake itself was similar to the chocolate cake; moist, fluffy, and held it's shape nicely. But the frosting was much lighter. It had almost a whipped texture. It was very airy and was more sweet but less rich (if that makes sense). Peanut butter and banana is one of my all time favorite combinations, so this cupcake was out of control delicious.
     I really liked the ratio of cake to frosting at Georgetown too. Sometimes specialty cupcakes stack the frosting so high that it makes it nearly impossible to eat effectively or cleanly. Also, Georgetown posts a secret flavor of the day everyday on their facebook and twitter, and it's free if you ask for it by name! Can't wait to go back for more... especially if they're free :]


Grendel's Den - Cambridge, MA
Nachos Supreme
     Well... I've been to Grendel's Den before but didn't write about it because the food memories are rather non-existent. I'll leave it at that. This time, after a trip downtown (and post cupcakes), Joan and I headed back to Cambridge and went to Grendel's to sit outside on their patio. It's a pretty small area, but it runs along a tiny little park which facilitates some great people watching and a great atmosphere. For her birthday, she just wanted to sit and have some drinks and food... like normal people do (we could debate what normal means here, but we won't). It was a beautiful evening and felt so nice to just sit and relax. Before Lauren and Joan's friend Austin showed up, we ordered some nachos to start, and they were great. I'd say some of the best I've had here in Boston. Definitely better than Hill Tavern in Beacon Hill. Not as loaded as Cambridge Brewing Company or Coolidge Corner Clubhouse. Anyway, what I liked about them was that they threw on four huge globs of guacamole, sour cream, their meatless chili and house-made salsa. The cheese was distributed nicely, but other than that, I liked that there were plenty of the toppings to go around, so you could find a chip and dip it until it satisfied your topping needs. These weren't the kind of nachos where things are falling off your chips constantly and you struggle to get all the flavors in one bite. They were simple and a unique approach to presenting nachos.


Mass Ave Diner - Cambridge, MA

Chocolate Chip Cranberry Pancakes
     If you've been reading my blog for long, you know I'm not the kind of person to just see a place I want to eat and walk in. Only in my dreams would I and could I do that. I put a lot of thought into what I eat, where I eat, and when I eat because of my lightweight rowing status. I realize that it's all part of the package, but sometimes, I long for the freedom to just grab an ice cream cone while out and about just because it sounds good. Well... a couple of days after trials I was walking towards Central Square in the morning, and I passed by a tiny little diner I had never seen before. As soon as I saw it, my tummy rumbled, and I shamelessly bee-lined for the door. Mass Ave Diner is a very small diner with your standard (but not so standard) breakfast fare. They make their own homemade corned beef hash (which I'll have to go back and try sometime), and they have some of the BEST pancakes I've ever had at a restaurant. I'd have to say PJ's pancakes in Princeton takes the cake on that one (haha... that was a pun). I ordered their chocolate chip cranberry pancakes, and they were ... perfection. Perfectly golden on the outside, these pancakes boasted a stellar flavor combination of the fresh tart cranberries and sweet mini chocolate chips. I had assumed they would use dried cranberries, but these were fresh and insurmountably better. I also really liked that they used mini chocolate chips. Sometimes chocolate chips in pancakes can start to get overwhelmingly sweet if you're sitting down and attempting to demolish a hefty stack. These mini ones provided just enough sweetness and chocolate flavor to contrast the cherries and make for a very flavorful pancake not needing any butter or syrup. Mmm mmm!

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