Monday, January 12, 2015

Burrito Tetris

Lulu's Restaurant and Bar - Allston, MA

Lulu's Burger     

     This Head of the Charles was definitely my favorite to date for two main reasons. 1) The number
of old teammates in town and 2) the food. Because I wasn't racing lightweight (and honestly wasn't sure if I would be racing at all because I was a spare), I was able to partake in activities I normally wouldn't, like spending hours and hours walking around the course, getting dinner and drinks with friends and staying up until 4am. I just really enjoyed the relaxing weekend of endless and spontaneous fun. I could write a novel with all of the stories from this weekend, so I'll try to stick to just the food.

    The first new place I tried was a restaurant/bar called Lulu's here in Allston. Meagan and I had both heard this place was good, and it seemed like the perfect, relaxed atmosphere we were looking for. So Jim, Cory, Kevin, Courtney, Meagan and I walked over and happily took the table reserved for our man Dennis who failed to show up for his reservation. They sat us at their "VIP" table tucked away in a little corner with its own private tv. The dining area itself was a darker, open space that gave off a modern, hipster vibe. The table we were seated at was one irregular shaped, thick slice of a tree. Such a beautiful piece of work.

Mexican Cheetos
     I was really impressed with their menu too, as it was much more intricate and unique than I expected from an Allston bar. In a way, this restaurant seemed a little out of place (but in a good way). Dissecting the menu options was difficult and fun, and we tried many things. For an appetizer, I was debating between the curry, caramel popcorn with pumpkin seeds and the Mexican Cheetos. I ordered their Mexican Cheetos. Never have I ever heard of someone making their own homemade cheetos, let alone a restaurant offering them. To be truthful, they were definitely a little weird. They weren't as flavorful as regular cheetos (obviously because they weren't chocked full of chemicals), and while the texture was crispy and airy like a cheeto, they didn't taste like much more than a lightly powdered, cheese covered air. They came in the shape of pumpkins and were served with a spicy hot sauce called Tapatio. Definitely worth a try, but I wouldn't get them again. Upon further investigation, I just realized they were vegan. Perhaps that's why I was only slightly more than unimpressed. Hmm...

     I opted for the Lulu's burger. It just looked so good as I walked in. Natural beef with herbs and butter, local cheddar, secret sauce, lettuce, tomatoes, and onions on a brioche roll. The burger was a little too well done for me, so I wanted some more juice to the whole ensemble, but it was still delicious. I loved the herb-y flavors, and I was also a huge fan of the brioche roll. It was really different in that the outer layer of the roll seemed almost separate from the insides of the roll. I compared it to a soccer ball being wrapped in wrapping paper and no one understood my analogy. It was a big, wide, warm roll, so it was nice to not fear of running out of bread. You know how sometimes the buns are so small and the insides get all pushed around? This was not the case here. The burger was served with their hand cut fries which were stellar. They reminded me of the fries from b.good, but were less crispy, and that was fine. Just very irregular shaped and sized and dusted with coarse grains of salt. So tasty.

     Friends who love food are great because they always let you try their food. So Jim let me try his herbed tots, which were super crisp on the outside and salty. I love love loved them! And I loved the garlic mayo they were served with. His short rib mac and cheese was tasty too. It was definitely a homemade cheese sauce, making the whole dish seem less gut busting.

     Lulu's had so many delicious looking and sounding dishes coming out of their kitchen that I'm definitely coming back. It helps that it's right down the street from me too. Can't wait!


Totto Ramen - Allston, MA
Look how happy and cute Jim is with his ramen.

     This New York ramen joint just recently moved to Boston, and I had never even heard of them until Jim suggested the place in response to an evening Asian craving. I've only had ramen once before in Portland, and I loved it. Jim and I both loved this experience at Totto Ramen so much that we came back two days later with seven more people :] Not only was the food delicious, but the wait staff was super friendly and the food came out quick.

Pork buns

     In contrast to a lot of other Asian food restaurants in Allston, this one is pretty modern and doesn't give you much of the Asian vibes you might get in a more traditional restaurant. Or maybe this is more representative of a younger and more modern Asian dining experience.

     Anyway, in our first trip, we ordered the pork buns as an appetizer. These are really simple. The put a thick slice of what I think is pork belly in a steamed flat, folded bun with some lettuce and tartar sauce. The pork had such a great, salty (and fatty) flavor, and the bun was soft and spongy. It seemed more like a dumpling texture. During our second visit, I ordered the congee which is basically rice cooked in chicken broth that had a texture similar to that of porridge or oatmeal. On top they cracked an partially fried egg and shredded scallions. When I cracked the yolk of the egg, however, I was really confused because the yolk itself was ice cold. I have no idea how they got the whites of the egg cooked and warm while keeping the yolk cold. Either way, using one of those big scoopy spoon things, you'd get the best bite when you got a little rice, egg and some scallions all together.
     For my meal on both trips, I order the Paitan Ramen, which included their long homemade
noodles cooked al dente style in a whole chicken and soy sauce based soup. It was topped with scallion, onion and a nori (dried seaweed). The first time I added the Kikurage Mushrooms, which were actually harder than normal mushrooms and came in these short brown shreds. They were good, but didn't add much to the dish overall. I was much happier the second time when I added the fresh seaweed and the seasoned soft boiled egg. The seaweed was soft but chewy, and I really liked the soy flavor that permeated the white of the egg.

     For dessert, I tried many different mochi balls. If you're unfamiliar, mochi ice cream balls are a Japanese dessert that consist of a ball of ice cream covered in a soft, pounded rice layer. I love that rice layer. I could eat just a
ball of that. We tried the red bean (which was the sweetest of all), the black sesame (which tasted like sesame seeds... duh), vanilla (meh), mango (sweet but refreshing,) and the green tea (refreshing and light). Green tea and red bean were my favorite.


Commonwealth Restaurant and Market - Cambridge, MA
     Well... I've got to say that it's honestly been nearly 3 months since I blogged, and even since I touched this one post specifically. So I'm jumping in, head first, attempting to remember my food life.

     Zach and I went to Commonwealth forever
and a year ago, but that doesn't by any means mean that I don't remember it. Commonwealth is near Kendall square by MIT in cambridge. I found it unique because even though it's situated within a very modern, technology-centric area, walking in the front doors transports you to a more rustic, farm or marketplace atmosphere. With the mission to provide local produce and farm fresh eggs and dairy, Commonwealth's entrance boats a little market area with a bunch of fruits, vegetables, grains, and treats scattered among a bunch of beautiful antique stoves, chairs and desks. It's adorable.

     When we were led to our seat, we headed into a room where the walls and ceiling were made out of wooden pallets and had large-bulb incandescents hanging from them. It looked so cool and gave the room such a fun ambiance. The food was nothing short of spectacular either. To start, they brought out this tiny ramekin with fluffy pull apart bread. It was so soft and warm inside, and the sweet butter was delicious. I seem to recall they make their own butter. As an appetizer we ordered these pork short ribs that were to dieeeee for. They were probably my favorite part of the whole meal. It was one of those dishes were you can't possibly pinpoint all the flavors because so much is going on. They had some sort of spicy light brown sauce on them, but wasn't like a barbecue sauce at all. I want to say there was a chili taste, with lime and cilantro. But there was also some sort of caramelized sweetness to it, and they were dusted with a cashew dust. Weird, right? But so so good.
     For the entree, we got one and a bunch of sides to split because we wanted to try all the things. This place is a little pricey, so I was hesitant at first, but then I gave up. Zach was in the same boat. He was super pumped about the duck before we had even gotten there, so we ordered the half Long Island duck with cranberries. The meat was really tender and juicy, and I loved the complement of the cranberry and... mint? There was an herb in the cranberry mixture on the side and it was fabulous with the duck. We both agreed at the end that while it was delicious, it wasn't worth the $25, especially considering how small the portion was.
Duck Fat Fries (top left), Oyster Mushrooms (top right), Mac n' Cheese (bottom right), Long Island Duck (bottom left)
     For me, the mac n' cheese side was non-debatable. It was GREAT. It was definitely a homemade
mac n' cheese and boasted a unique blend of local New England cheeses. It was thicker too (which I like). You know... like velveeta thickness but actually cheese and delicious. (That comparison should be considered a sin. Shame on me.) Anyway, it was a very, very rich dish with a special touch of some sort of toasted cracker crumbs on top. I love that additional texture within creamy mac n' cheese.
     The duck fat fries though. My second favorite. If you're confused, what I mean by duck fat fries is that they cook these thick cut wedge fries in duck fat. Don't ask why... just know that they'll be some of the best fries you ever eat. They were very rich, heavy feeling, and salty. Oh so salty. It was lovely. They came piping hot and crispy on the outside, just as every fry should be. These could be a meal in themselves.

     The last side I ordered was their oyster mushrooms. I'm not sure I'd had that variety before, and they were awesome. They were soft and chewy, light and garlicy. A necessity, I think, after all the other super rich dishes.

     We weren't going to get dessert... but then we came to our senses. Their dessert menu is cool. You pick an ice cream, pair it with a building block of sorts, and add a sauce and/or another topping. We got the butter pecan ice cream with a blondie as the base, topped it with "notorious P.I.G. tracks" (chocolate peanut or chocolate almond clusters maybe?) and a peanut sauce. Health. It was stupid good. That blondie was so warm and a tad gooey still, the clusters added a nutty crunch, and that ice cream was probably some of the best butter pecan I've ever had. Smooth and simple, but rich. They make their own homemade ice cream here, and now that I think of it, that was the original reason I wanted to come here. Now I want their breakfast. I want it all.


Cactus Grill - East Boston, MA

     Cactus is David's happy place. I've never met a man who loves burritos as much as he does, and it's endearing. I had a steak quesadilla from there once, but there was no photographic evidence, so I didn't write about it. Regardless... it was so juicy from the steak and so cheesy it pleased me (rhymes).  This time, David brought me home a burrito, and I'm proud to say I'm on the Cactus bandwagon. Easily the best burrito I think I've ever had in my life... not just in Boston. Look at the photo. You see how the rice and the vegetables are around the entire burrito and the steak is in the middle? I have no idea how they do that. But either way, it ensures that each bite gives you a little bit of everything so you're not stuck playing burrito tetris and strategizing your next bite. The steak inside was just like the steak from my quesadilla; all super juicy and flavorful. Oh... and the deal sealer... was the grilled tortilla outside. They don't just wrap it up and send you on your way. They press it, so the tortilla has a thin, browned exterior. This isn't only delicious, but it also seals in your burrito contents so the tortilla doesn't go exploding and releasing the tsunami of innards all over your pants. Props Cactus.


Sushi Station - Mission Hill, MA

     Writing about sushi is sometimes obnoxiously difficult. If you've ever eaten it, you can pretty
much assume why. Anyway... Meagan, Jimmy and I went to Sushi Station in Mission Hill a couple weeks back because I had this gift card, and I chose to take it there. Sushi Station is a mini restaurant with only a couple tables. We were the only people dining in there the whole time, but the waitstaff was super friendly and offered us complementary edamame! Bonus! I love seaweed salad (mainly because of the texture), so I got that and shared it. I love its sweet and sour flavors. Reminds me of my grandpa's three bean salad he used to make with vinegar and sugar. We ordered a bunch of different rolls to hit out $25 minimum. Honestly, I'm not all that sure which rolls we got, but they were all great. We got a range of spicy and mild rolls, a few with shrimp, crab, and tuna. I don't think they were as fresh as they could be, probably because of a slower stream of customers in the door, but it was still delicious, cheap and we left stuffed, satisfied, and it didn't break the bank. Definitely worth it if you're looking for a good bang for your buck!

Spike's Junkyard Dogs - Allston, MA
Spike's Junkyard Dog

     Spike's was (admittedly) one of the first restaurants I wanted to go to when I got to Boston. A restaurant that sold mainly hot dogs was different, and I could only imagine how good they had to be if that was basically all they sold. After the Relient K concert down at Paradise Rock Club, David and I were walking home hungry. We kept walking and walking and he was getting impatient, but I assured him I had a place in mind (I always have a place in mind).  I didn't realize that Spike's sold more than hot dogs though! Apparently they have burgers, chicken fingers (which we got and are pretty good) and a few other things. I had to get the dog though. I ordered the junkyard dog, which is their main act. It came with Spike's mustard, tomato, hot pepper rings, and chopped scallions. Wowiezowie. This was goooooood AND huge. The hot dog itself was really thick and plump with juicy (got ahead... laugh), and the bun was like a soft baguette with little grits of cornmeal dusted around the bottom. It was like a real bun, not the standard one ounce white hot dog bun you normally get. The hearty bun and thick dog made just one hot dog pretty filling. That didn't mean we didn't get chicken fingers too. It felt so good. It felt amazing to be able to just want to eat something late at night and do it without remorse (<<< reflections on my lightweight days).

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