Wednesday, June 23, 2010


After pulling a twelve-hour day at the office on Monday and then coming home, making dinner, and suddenly having to handle a work emergency, I decided that Tuesday was going to go like this:

1. Punch out at 5.
2. Meet a friend to catch up.
3. Have a nice dinner out with Jim.

And lo! That's exactly what happened.

Despite it being located right at the top of Penn, Jim had never eaten at Sonoma Wine Bar (I'd been to the bar once for a happy hour), so since that's where I was meeting my friend, I figured we'd snag a table. The original plan was just to wing it, but when I arrived at 5:45, the bar was mobbed with Hill-types (at least two Representatives and their assorted staffers), so as I waited, I used OpenTable on the iPhone to confirm a two-top at 7. (And people say smartphones are ruining society. Bah.)

Enough friends have reported back on Sonoma that I wasn't expecting anything revelatory; just something solid that didn't require me to turn on the stove. Quite honestly, Sonoma outperformed my expectations, at least a bit.

We started with the house-made burrata, chive, tomato jam, fried bread ($11). This is the one dish I'd tasted before, in fact, and it was better last night than the first time I had it, with one exception -- the burrata was served too cold. I would prefer my burrata be cool, of course, but as though it had been in les caves, rather than bearing a level of chill that brings to mind the refrigerator (even if it's never seen the inside of one). However, despite its temp, the burrata was delicious, flecked with chive, creamy and spreadable. Being just a bit warmer would have allowed it almost to melt into the crispy bread, but each bite, topped with a bit of the sweet/sour tomato jam, was still a lovely contrast of tastes and textures.

We also had the grilled calamari, paprika, red pea salad ($11). This was outstanding, my dish of the night. The calamari were charred just enough to impart a great smoky flavor, and retained just enough chew (but weren't chewy) to set off the tender peas. The peas themselves were infused with a different, but complementary, kind of smokiness from the paprika; eaten on their own, they were good, but taken together with the squid, the flavors dovetailed in unexpected ways. 

Jim got the small portion of the pappardelle pork bolognese ($13), the noodles made in-house. I didn't try any, but it was a perfect size, sauced not too heavily but not too sparsely, and he finished every bite. I had the roasted rainbow trout, zucchini purée, zucchini, aleppo aioli, squash blossoms ($20) -- I seem to be on a trout kick. This presentation came as a lovely piece of skin-crisped fish, the flesh juicy and flavorful, next to a dollop of aioli, three lightly-fried squash blossoms, some sautéed zucchini coins (should have had a few more of these), and a bed of the purée. The last item had an odd bitterness to it when tasted by itself, but that flavor disappeared when paired with the sweetness of the fish and the buttery zucchini. 

With a glass of the belle glos “oeil de perdrix” 08 pinot noir blanc (rosé) ($14) and Jim's rye old fashioned ($8), the meal was complete, and quite a nice treat on a steamy summer Tuesday.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

one conference call, two conference calls, 3 bar and grill

Clarendon is three stops from Foggy Bottom. Which means that so is, among other good places, 3 Bar and Grill.

Bleu Cheese Chips, Point Reyes Bleu, House-Cured Bacon ($9) are messy as sin and a true guilty pleasure: hand-cut, house-fried potato chips with scads of melty, tangy cheese and crispy chunks (not bits) of smoky bacon. They're like everything you want nachos to be, but so rarely are.

The Smothered Trout, Pan Seared, Shrimp, Mussels, Tomato, Asiago Grits ($18) was quite good, the skin very crispy and the flaky fish set off nicely by the acid of the tomatoes and onions. The two head-on shrimp and the mussels were flavorful and cooked properly, and the grits were outstanding, creamy and very cheesy without being overwhelmed by salt. An overly-heavy hand with an overly-buttery sauce provided the one off-note; luckily, the grits could be used to make a nice little barrier to prevent the sauce from drowning the rest of the dish.

After conference calls til nearly 8 p.m., it was just what the doctors* ordered.

It wasn't until the bar emptied out completely around 10 p.m. that we realized how loud it had been. It was a bit like eating with Dr. Kakofanous A. Dischord and the DYNNE. That said, it wouldn't stop me from coming back. 

 *No, really. Many of the doctors I work with would totally have ordered this, I swear -- "heart-healthy" be damned.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

that is one hungry mother ....

The last night in Cambridge was with my dear, dear friend Sam at Hungry Mother. Sam has lived with me a few times in the past, and is an up-and-coming young home cook and learning about drinks and food, too -- let's say a burgeoning foodie of sorts. He had gone to this restaurant recently and loved it so much he said we had to go when in town -- it's Southern comfort food done with an incredibly refined sensibiilty, and in Boston that's even rarer than it is here -- and so we checked it out.

And hoo boy, was Sam right.

Sam told me beforehand that their cocktails were fantastic, so I was looking forward to it. They number the drinks instead of naming them, but that reflects an overarching element of humor and (somehow inoffensive) cleverness to the menu (food as well as drinks; more on this to come). After the weekend I'd had -- and seeing that they recommended it as a pairing on the dessert menu -- I ordered a Sazerac ($9), which was slightly less fantastic than what I had at Temple Bar, but still made spot-on and quite delicious. Sam had the No. 43, Old Overholt Rye, 10 yr Ferreira Tawny Port, maple syrup, bitters ($9.50), but he vastly preferred the No. 2, Maker's Mark, sorghum syrup, Luxardo Amaretto, boiled peanut ($9), which Jim started with. It was perfectly balanced and possessed a great depth of flavor that was, truly, awesome.

The drinks menu also includes the No. 99, Bartender's Choice ($10). This is essentially the speakeasy element; you get as vague or as specific as you like, and the bar sends you something. Jim asked for "smoky, I like whiskey, with some citrus" and got a drink comprising mezcal, green chartreuse, Rittenhouse rye, and orange curacao -- and it was exactly what he asked for and more. The only downside is that the time it took made our second round arrive in the middle of our entrees ... but honestly, it was worth the wait.

We started with the "To Tide You Over..." order of Spicy Pimiento Cheese ($4), which was an amuse just the right size for three people. Perfectly spreadable, with a kick, it was a traditionally Southern presentation and absolutely went with the first cocktails. Next we shared the Local Lettuces, cucumbers, radishes, cherry tomatoes, mint, cornbread croutons ($9) and the Pork Plate ($10), which that night was housemade bratwurst cooked in beer, served with homemade stone-ground mustard and a beer shot. All the pork items are made in-house and they are amazing; if you did nothing but eat the pork products (guanciale, ham, bacon) I think you would walk out incredibly happy.

For our main courses, I had the Carolina Rainbow Trout, hakurei turnips & greens, sea island peas, bacon ($24). It was outstanding, with the accompaniments absolutely spot-on to add all the flavor elements (the bitter greens, the umami long-cooked peas, and the salty, crispy bacon). The fish was so perfectly cooked that I didn't want to share it, but the Veal Blanquette, carrots, potatoes, toasted bread ($23) was also so delicious that I had to keep trading bites for pieces of wonderfully tender veal in an incredibly flavorful gravy. The Cornmeal Catfish dirty rice, mustard brown butter, chow chow ($18) arrived masterfully done, crispy and flaky and seasoned with an assured hand to avoid the trap of under-flavored or over-salted fish that so often happens with catfish, in my experience.

Amazingly, we had room to try dessert. I only tasted my own, the Rhubarb Cobbler, black pepper ice cream ($8), but the reason I didn't try the others is because mine was so good -- not overly sweet, which I dislike, but allowing the pure tart rhubarb to shine through, with a traditional cobbler topping and the mild spice hit of the black pepper ice cream -- that I refused to share. I have it on good authority that the other desserts are quite good, although one of the cakes erred on the side of a bit dry, for which the housemade mint ice cream more than compensated, and the Taza Chocolate Sundae, sorghum marshmallow, black walnuts, cherry on top ($8) was raised to an ethereal level by the bruléed sorghum marshmallow ... heavenly.

This was the big blowout dinner, the "I haven't seen you in ages and we are going to tear. it. up." night on the town. We ended up back at Sam's place playing board games and drinking Kraken on the rocks after our multi-hour feast in a space that really feels like you're in the house of someone who just wants to feed you well: whitewashed brick walls, wooden floors and rustic tables, a staff who clearly cares what's going on, a kitchen bent on putting out incredible food (even on a Sunday night, which after reunion and Commencement weekend couldn't have been the biggest or most important night for them). I honestly wanted to go sit at the bar for the next three hours and just find out everything about this group, this place, that is doing what no one was doing in Cambridge when I left (except maybe Tony Maws, and funnily enough his new space is right around the corner). I am so impressed with this place .... I can't wait to go back.