Our Hub Grub correspondent takes a break from the Northeast and rediscovers a delicate Vietnamese favorite in Minneapolis.
When I went to Black Birch for the first time last week, I didn't know how I'd missed it for so long. It's what every neighborhood restaurant should be: low-key, cheery, and reasonably priced with food that's well-executed and imaginative but not flashy; a great beer list; and fun cocktails.
Giulia, the stylish yet low-key Porter Square space that opened last December, came with the promise of Michael Pagliarini, his Umbrian roots, and his considerable pasta-making skills. That kind of profile breeds high expectations—expectations that Giulia meets.
For a long time, Mandalay lahpet was the only Burmese salad I'd ever had (or heard of), but there are 10 others on the menu at YoMa, and this past weekend I tried three more.
Chicago lived up to the food hype I'd heard so much about. There wasn't a dud bite over the 5-day stretch, from the stunning hibiscus-lemongrass agua fresca at XOCO, to the harissa and prune pork pate at Publican Quality Meats, to the dreamy pies I ate (for breakfast!) at Bang Bang Pie Shop and Hoosier Mama Pie Company.
Like most everything I've had at Sofra, the coffeecake exceeded my expectations, and not just because there were exotic flavors in the mix.
Duck fat-fried fries and doughnut holes. Duck confit. Poutine with duck gravy and, if you want, a fried duck egg. Suffice it to say, Duckfat in Portland, Maine, has become a destination for all things anti-diet. That's not to say fried food is all the Old Port cafe offers, but it's what they take most seriously and what they've always done best. Lately, however, the menu's grown, attracting patrons looking for both guilty and (relatively) guiltless pleasures alike. I went in for the latter.
Most of us who ate at Cantonese restaurants in the '80s (or earlier) recognize the name egg foo yung from menus. As the article notes, it falls under the same umbrella as Chinese-American classics like moo goo gai pan and chop suey. And yet, I'd never actually eaten the dish before, my parents' and my Chinese food order rarely diverging from beef with broccoli and pan-fried noodles. I've always been curious, though.
This Boston area boulangerie is best known for its textbook-perfect baguettes, butter-laden brioche (weekends only), and heavy German ryes, but frankly the shop's sweets deserve their own post. Behold, a survey of just a few of their rustic, mostly French wares—all of which justify standing in the usual around-the-block line.
I wasn't expecting much for $32, even if these were mid-coast Maine prices, and even though I'd heard rave reviews about Suzuki. But I could get a spicy salmon roll anywhere, so I figured I'd give the omakase at this cute Rockland sushi joint the benefit of the doubt.
Finding a Thai restaurant that serves rice noodles is about as hard as finding a Thai restaurant—period. But finding a Thai restaurant that makes its own fresh rice noodles is another matter. And finding that restaurant on the mid-coast of Maine? Let's just say I planned my entire weekend around eating there.
Frankly, the idea of making bagels from scratch just to tear up and fry sounded as ironic as making brioche specifically to make bread pudding. (Isn't that what leftovers are for?) But once I started eating the bagel's crisp, seed-covered crust and soft-yet-chewy interior, I was ready for an I-told-ya-so.
I think I assumed Dumpling Cafe's Twice Cooked Preserved Pork would just be your typical Chinese double-cooked (simmered and then stir-fried) pork belly with some pickle-y "preserved" vegetables like cabbage or mustard greens. But there's more going on in here.
If there's one takeaway that's stuck with me since my trip to China last Spring, it's that vinegar and pickling are fundamental to Sichuan cuisine--at least as fundamental as the chiles and heat that food is so well known for. It wasn't until that trip that I made a connection about a bunch of my favorite dishes at Fuloon, arguably one of the best Chinese restaurants in the Boston area: They've all got a sour component.
As much as I love Sichuan Garden's Chongqing dry-fried chicken and double-cooked bacon, I'm also very satisfied by the restaurant's produce-heavy options.
You'll know Shangri-La by the line the snakes out the door—a guaranteed sight every Saturday and Sunday between the hours of 11:30 a.m. and 3 p.m.
Following my first trip up there last spring, I gushed at length about chef/owner Gene Wu's hand-pulled noodles (biang biang mian) and chilled noodles (liang pi). Since then, he's introduced the cold noodles: long fresh wheat strands as thin, slurpable, and springy as ramen, topped with expertly julienned carrot and cucumber, bean sprouts, cilantro leaves, a tea-infused hard-boiled egg, and generous helpings of mild chili oil and fresh garlic.
Between her butter-laden pastries, stunning cakes, and inspired (and well-crafted) sandwiches and salads, it's no wonder that Joanne Chang's Flour Bakery is turning into a mini Boston enterprise. (Flour4 is due to open any time now.) Here are a few reasons why—all of which are Chang's personal favorites.
In the pantheon of white sandwich loaves, shoku pan one stands out because it achieves a seemingly impossible textural contrast: a crumb that's light, springy, and sturdy in spite of its high ratio of rich dairy.
Pad Thai Too fed me more than any other Waterville kitchen during college—maybe even more than the dining hall. Everybody had their go-to dish, be it the drunken noodles, the excellent curries, or the namesake (and really well-executed) pad Thai, but the order that appeared on almost every table was the fried dumplings.
There are a few things to know about Tacconelli's Pizzeria before you go, and it might sound like a lot of planning for a pizza joint, but the pies are worth it.
The 10-inch pie is ultra-thin and delicate with a blistered, bubbly, crisp-chewy edge, but the topping is anything but light: heavy cream, caramelized shallots and garlic, and the meat of a two-pound lobster, plus handfuls of ricotta salata and Parmesan. In other words, its like pizza topped with lobster bisque.
The lemon-ginger mousse at Myers and Chang is silky, rich, and light all at once. I quickly became addicted, so luckily chef Joanne Chang was willing to share the recipe.
The food at this small North African restaurant is flavorful, fresh, and satisfying. The prices are right—especially given the generous portions. And it's open straight through from breakfast until late snack break time.
A few weeks ago, I overheard a colleague raving about the lobster rolls at Portland's gleaming new raw bar, Eventide Oyster Co. "They're so good," she said, "my husband usually gets two."
Al Forno's grilled pizza needs no introduction, but the restaurant's desserts—particularly the free-form tarts—don't get the chatter they deserve. Chef/owners Johanne Killeen and George Germon run three or four of them at a time, filling the same ultra-flaky tart dough (flour, sugar, salt, water, and lots of butter) with a variety of produce: apples, peaches and raspberries, plums—and during the fall months, sugar pumpkins.
As food aesthetics go, the murky, rust-brown, pebbly lalla musa dal at Tamarind Bay Coastal Kitchen can't compare to the restaurant's other specialties like the fennel cream-sauced cauliflower dumplings or the spiced lobster tail. But famed Indian chefs like Julie Sahni don't consider this dish "the most exquisite of all dal preparations" for nothing, and speaking in terms of decadence, it outclasses the rest by a long shot.