Sunday, January 20, 2008
221 Northern Ave, Boston
A feeling of suspicion arises when a brand new chunk of land is predicted to be the latest desirable neighborhood. A neighborhood should naturally become desirable after years of being inhabited by artists and other single people with good taste. Boston's latest self-described hip hood, the seaport district, seemed destined for failure because it is not an organically evolving community, but virtually empty land developed by businessman. And yet, surprisingly, the scheme for the district might just be working.
Salvatore's, a restaurant relatively new to the seaport district, (it was opened this past June) was almost entirely filled on a recent chilly and overcast Monday night. The weather's quick transformation from summer to fall that evening prevented the large outdoor patio from being crowded, but the bar and the dining room were bustling. High-rise luxury condo buildings that flank Salvatore's can be blamed for the crowds on a less-than-desirable night to eat out. The condos are home to fortunate college students, young professionals and rumor has it, to local heroes Jonathan Papelbon and Coco Crisp. But the bar's design itself should also be held responsible for the crowd. Plasma televisions are hung discretely, but efficiently, around the centrally located bar. Sleek metal stylings make the bar feel contemporary and urban. The same look carries over into the dining room, but here the room is softened by the carefully arranged orange throw pillows and candles in copper holders.
Glancing at the menu prices, one would not assume they are dining off the beaten path in a neighborhood whose success is still uncertain. However, when the dishes arrived absolutely heaped with food, it became obvious how much more bang is bought for a buck. The shrimp crostini appetizer, for example, is served with about ten jumbo shrimp and roasted cherry tomatoes in a brandy tomato sauce with garlic and basil. Three large, thick slices of country sourdough bread are piled high in the middle of the dish, waiting for their inevitable ride through the sauce. A dip in the sauce will bring the taste of fresh tomatoes with subtle hints of garlic and basil. The shrimp were cooked perfectly; they were tender, crisp and juicy with good flavor and coloring. Although the sauce wouldn't have been spoiled by the addition of a tad more garlic and basil, it achieved its presumed goal of having a big tomato taste.
The antipasto plate is a great choice for a table to share. The aesthetically pleasing plate is filled with rows of rolled slices of imported sopressata, sweet capicola, and parma prosciutto. The rows of cured meat are interrupted twice, once by slices of fresh mozzarella and once with large pieces of sharp provolone. A handful of baby greens, and a selection of olives placed at the top of the plate add texture and color.
Our waitress, clearly passionate about the menu, was quick to offer recommendations for dinner; she said that those who like a bite on the tongue will love the spice shrimp and scallop fradiavolo. Shrimp and scallops are sautéed with olive oil, garlic, cherry tomatoes, chili peppers and white wine and served with mafaldine paste. This type of paste, not frequently seen on menus, is long, flat and wide with rippled edges. The pasta's shape, which is similar to lasagna, allows for it to hold its own in the most robust of sauces. A good use of this pasta is in Salvatore's mammarosa piccante which features the mafaldine in a rich tomato cream sauce tossed with fried pieces of prosciutto.
The waitress also recommended, what is clearly a specialty of the house, the pork chop with vinegar peppers. The dish was presented by the chef himself, along with an anecdote about the dish in his mother's kitchen, and her method for pickling peppers. The pork chop is sautéed in extra virgin olive oil with garlic, shallots and cherry tomatoes and served with the much lauded vinegar peppers. A love of vinegar is a must for the dish because the peppers infuse each bite and cannot be ignored. Asparagus, cooked to perfection, and potato wedges accompany the dish.
Another specialty of the house is the dessert pizza. About eight slices of crispy pizza dough are topped with a generous spread of Nutella and drizzled with chocolate sauce.
It would be hard to make a mistake choosing the right beverage to go with your meal. Salvatore's wine list is quite extensive and features wine from all parts of the world in a variety of prices. A beverage list featuring martinis, margaritas and even sangria is also available.
The seaport district will continue to thrive if more businesses like Salvatore's place their trust in the real estate. Although the restaurant is shiny and new, it has staying power because the people behind the scenes have passion and experience. The passion was evident in the attention to details like the slices of lemon and lime brought with the tap water. It was also evident when the executive chef served our dishes with a side of conversation and made a point to stop and do the same at each and every table. The restaurant is owned by the experienced team who also owns Sal's pizza. The executive chef arrived in Boston from Italy years ago to work with Frank De Pasquale at Il Panino. If the seaport relies on establishments run with the right mix of passion and experience and not just cool architecture, in the near future Bostonians could be lunching in the district, reminiscing about the day when it was only some land and a lot of ideas.
Thursday, January 3, 2008
For a little over a year now, I have been writing restaurant reviews for the website tablecritic.com. It hit me the other night, at like 3:38 am when I'm convinced my best ideas happen and I just rarely remember them, that I should post my reviews here as well. Starting today I'm also going to post pictures of me and my dining companion's outfits, and if I have the balls to approach, what the other diners were wearing that night as well. These posts will combine my two loves; food and fashion. I don't know why I didn't think of it before!
1735 Centre St,
West Roxbury, MA
West Roxbury, Jamaica Plain’s more conservative neighbor, has remained a stranger to hipsters, artists and the trendy bars and diverse eateries that usually follow the younger, cooler sect. But with the arrival of the Himalayan Bistro, the area’s first Nepalese restaurant, West Roxbury is beginning to shed its conventional skin. The bistro’s interior, reflective perhaps of the town’s character, is a bit too formal and could stand to be infused with a dash of cool. The sparse dining room feels like one vast box with booths lining the perimeter and tables methodically placed in the center. To one side of the front door, nestled in the corner, is a set of couches facing a round table. The mini sitting area is the only interruption from the restaurant’s extremely orderly set-up. Other decorative touches include pieces of Buddhist art on the walls and wooden ceiling beams painted in a pastel orange hue, but these do little to offset the empty feeling created by the room’s high ceilings and wood floors so well-polished they seem almost reflective. The slight decorative missteps can be forgiven when one hears that the space used to house a Brigham’s ice cream shop.
The Himalayan Bistro looks and acts much different than its predecessor, although there is still ice cream on the menu. Because of Nepal’s geography, the country’s cuisine is influenced by its Indian neighbors and therefore the Bistro’s menu features Indian as well as Nepalese dishes. Ice cream flavors include the traditional Indian flavor kulfi badam pista as well as mango, pistachio, ginger and coconut. There are the other usual suspects anyone familiar with Indian cuisine can expect such as samosas, biryani and vindaloo. Chef Dumbar Thapa has mastered tandoori cooking and any one of the tandoori specialties deserve a try. I would also recommend the cheese pakora; homemade cheese slices dipped in chick pea batter and fried. A spicy filling that tastes of cinnamon and nutmeg prevents any comparison of this appetizer to the omnipresent mozzarella stick found on American menus. My favorite curry on the Indian side of the menu is the shrimp curry from the coastal region of Goa. The sauce, made with freshly ground coconut, is a successful combination of savory and sweet. And as usual, the garlic naan is the perfect tool for scooping up leftover sauce.
Although Chef Dumbar Thapa proves his Indian cuisine rivals any other in the area, a more remarkable dining experience is had tasting the cuisine of Nepal. This side of the menu is more interesting mostly because of two ingredients native to Nepal, jimbu and timur. Jimbu is a herb that resembles grass, grows in the Himalayans, and is used to add savory flavor to some Nepalese dishes. Timur is a Himalayan peppercorn, and although it resembles the black peppercorns commonly ground in shakers to add spice, its taste is actually quite sweet and floral. Timur is used not only as a spice in some Nepalese dishes, but also as a remedy for altitude sickness. People suffering from the ailment chew on the peppercorns to elevate their nausea and dizziness.
Chef Dumbar Thapa has developed a love affair with the spices from his homeland. He speaks of them proudly, handles them gingerly and has learned of their distinct personality from his mother. As a child, he would hover in the kitchen watching her cook, and ask question after question. Each carefully prepared Nepalese dish reflects the answers he learned.
Any dish flavored with these unique and rare spices is a must. Another favorite dish from the Nepalese side of the menu is the steamed momos. Perhaps the most commonly known Nepalese dish (a version of them are served in restaurants around Boston and in their native country they are served as a snack in the streets of Kathamandu) at the Himalayan Bistro the steamed dumplings can be filled with chicken or lamb or they can remain vegetarian. Several come on a highly decorated plate, and our choice of chicken momos had a tender pasta shell and a juicy stuffing tinged with hints of ginger. No accouterment was needed to enhance the flavor of the dumplings, but the side of cilantro dipping sauce was too delicious to pass up.
Each dish ordered at the Himalayan Bistro, whether it be Indian or Nepalese, is cooked and served with the utmost of care. Each server that came to our table was friendly and informative and each dish was served in a decorative copper fondue pot and kept warm by a single lit candle. It is well worth the trip to skip the coolness of Jamaica Plain to enjoy the delicious food and warmth at the Himalayan Bistro.